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Thursday, January 14, 2010

What Do Students Learn When They Learn a Second Language?

The Ideal Teaching-Learning Environment

After reading Shelly Terrell's latest post (Goal: Reach Out), I thought about how unaware many times we, language teachers, are of the fact that we are not only helping our students develop language skills but also contributing a great deal to their growth as social beings. Many times we have heard the phrase "The classroom is a small community" and as such we should model how to interact as members of that community so as to build an ideal environment for the teaching-learning process to take place smoothly.

Social Skills

Many times students participate in pair work or group work and we should walk around the classroom making sure they use the second language for communication. However, that is not the only point that should be raised. We should also check our students are putting into practice the right social skills required for a cordial interaction. Students should be able to express their thoughts, to listen to others and react accordingly. I have seen students developing monologues in a conversation, in which each of the members make a comment and continue adding details without paying attention to what the others are saying. For that reason, the notion of turn-taking is essential.

Ways of Making Students Aware of Social Skills

We should design tasks intended to make students aware of how they should interact to be competent speakers. At the same time, it is important for them to see the wrong way of doing it. In that way they will understand why it is wrong: communication is unsuccessful. It is not easy as in real life, at least in my country, adolescents are used to speaking all together, in a loud voice to be heard without listening to what others are saying. We should provide them with a clear list of items to respect in pair work and group work tasks.
Another interesting task to do is to organise group tasks in which one of the students is in charge of making comments as to their way of interacting. As students know the items to be respected to interact successfully, they will be able to decide if the ones that are interacting are doing it properly. This position of student-observer can be switched so that all of them have the opportunity of participating in peer correction.

Teachers' Attitude

Our attitude in the classroom teaches a lot to our students. If we smile, look at our students in the eyes, speak and listen with respect, our students will receive those values and learn how to interact in harmony. What they will be learning will be useful for oral exams and for their real lives.


  1. Marisa,

    You're right that we should reflect on our attitudes. I remember one semester when I became overwhelmed with work. The students noticed and misbehaved more. It really hit home when one asked me why I didn't smile as much anymore. I apologized to all my classes for my attitude for those weeks and began meditating before class and really mentally preparing myself not to let my stress get in the way again.

  2. Shelly,

    How kind of you to apologize to your classes. I always compare the class to the theatre. When the performer is on stage, they should forget about their problems and act out. Well, we, teachers, should forget about our problems and teach. In that way, our class becomes a healer. It has always worked for me.