Foreign Language Lesson

One interesting feature of the CELTA is the inclusion of a beginner level lesson in a foreign language. This session is a useful reminder that learning a foreign language is not easy. Trying to concentrate on getting elementary phrases correct in a foreign language is exhausting, even for just a short time.

Introduction

The CELTA foreign language lesson typically centres around learning some simple phrases such as hello, how are you, i’m good/fine/bad, etc. As a participant, you may be drilled in these phrases and subjected to much repetition of them in pairs and whole class mingle activities.

Obviously, this is difficult to do online. Instead, watch the elementary level Spanish lesson in the video below which focuses on colour and fruit vocabulary.

While you are watching, think about the following questions:

  • How difficult is it to follow the lesson? Why do you think that is?
  • Does the teacher always use Spanish?
  • How much can you understand?
  • What words are you able to distinguish from the lesson? What makes their meaning clear?
  • Can you distinguish any questions or phrases from the lesson? What do you think they mean?

If you don’t know Spanish you probably found this quite tiring. Certainly in the beginning you are more alert. However, as the lesson goes by our mental energy is drained. Typically our brains filter out stimuli which is not intended (or of interest) to us, and so we are fighting the brain’s urge to ignore what we are hearing.

The teacher always uses Spanish – for instructions and to present language.

Even if you don’t know Spanish, you probably understood the colour and fruit words. You may also have picked up some phrases and questions.

Your Experience

Think again about the video you have just watched and any language lessons you have had before:

  • Did your teacher use your first language or the target language to give instructions and explanations?
  • What percentage of the lesson(s) did you understand? What percentage would make you feel uncomfortable?
  • Did the teacher have you/the students repeat words or phrase after the teacher said them? How did you/they feel about this?
  • Did you/the students have to speak in front of others in the class? How did you/they feel about this?
  • Did the teacher correct you/the students? How did you/they feel about this?

Generally it is accepted that, as much as possible, the target language should be used throughout a language lesson. With absolute beginners teachers may be more flexible about this.

Good students have, or develop, a tolerance of ambiguity. They accept they might not understand 100%. However, no matter how tolerant students are, they are going to need to understand instructions to be involved in the lesson.

Drilling (listen and repeat activities) is a perfectly acceptable activity that students expect to some degree. However, students may initially be reluctant and feel silly doing this. On the other hand, students often like it because at this point they simply have to copy and they feel it is good practice for saying something in a real conversation.

Talking in front of others is often terrifying. Extroverted students may not mind, but we should try to help all of our students. We can reduce the stress levels by having students talk in pairs before they are asked to talk in front of the class.

Correcting students directly is often seen as problematic. It challenges face (especially important in Asian countries), can lower motivation and disrupts communication. It is generally preferred therefore for teachers to correct anonymously after speaking activities.

Comparing Languages

Students often compare what they learn about a new language to their first language. This is a useful process because students know they need to expend more effort to learn parts which are different.

Teachers can therefore help students more if they are aware of differences between the two languages.

Think about these two points:

  • Did you notice any differences between Spanish and English from the video?
  • What other differences do you know between English and other languages?

Notice

While this session is based on material typically covered by a CELTA, it is not a substitute for one. The contents of this session are intended to help teachers who plan to take a CELTA, or as a refresher for those who have.

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