Language Learning Strategy Instruction

This month we are publishing Learning Strategy Instruction in the Language Classroom edited by Anna Uhl Chamot and Vee Harris. In this post Vee explains the inspiration behind the book.

The inspiration for this book emerged from a chat with some colleagues at the end of a busy day. The discussion centred around research into language learner strategies: those internal tactics that people use to help them memorise vocabulary in another language or to make themselves understood, for example. Thinking perhaps there was something we both had missed, we tentatively suggested that there was a lack of research into how to actually teach these strategies. In the course of our classroom-based research, we had been struck by the way studies into Language Learning Strategy Instruction (LLSI) described in detail research methods and results but said little about the rationale underlying the teaching activities and approaches used. To our surprise, our colleagues shared our concern and we agreed that a book devoted uniquely to this area would be a valuable resource for both researchers and teachers alike. We decided to widen our enquiry to colleagues in a range of other countries and contexts, inviting them also to contribute a chapter on a topic of their choice. Committed to bridging the gap between research and practice, we stressed that their chapters could deal with the theoretical issues LLSI raised but could equally well describe concrete materials for teaching strategies to different age groups.

We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm to participate whether from colleagues in the USA, New Zealand, Canada, or the UK. However two further areas emerged from their suggestions. The first was to have a section on those strategies that have been under-researched and therefore not frequently taught, such as strategies for learning grammar or developing Critical Cultural Awareness. The second would address the lack of guidance on integrating LLSI into pre- and in-service teacher education. Hence there are four parts to the book: parts 1 and 2 deal with issues such as the range of approaches to LLSI, and identifying and teaching the under-researched strategies. Parts 3 and 4 focus on the implementation of LLSI whether through the use of technology and the coursebook or through engaging with teachers.

Our book draws on scholars with a long-established, international reputation such as Andrew Cohen, Rebecca Oxford and Joan Rubin as well as new researchers and practising teachers. The contributors use their extensive knowledge and experience to present a ‘state of the art’ picture of Language Learning Strategy Instruction. However the book also looks to the future; so each chapter ends with key questions to be resolved within that topic area and the book concludes with a chapter that offers a map for future research directions.

The book will be an important resource for researchers both for its critical perspectives and for supporting them in designing interventions to implement LLSI. It should prove equally valuable to all informed languages teachers and students studying to become languages teachers, since it is one of a very small number of publications to include detailed teaching materials and activities. Although many of the illustrations are for ESL/EFL students, some are in French and German.

Finally it should also be relevant to all those with an interest in Second Language Acquisition since the mental and social processes of language learning, the reasons for differences in the rate and route learners take, and why some learners do so much better than others lie at the heart of our understanding of language learning strategies.

Vee Harris

This book is published in memory of Anna Uhl Chamot, who sadly passed away during the publication process.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.

10 Tips for Teaching Multilingual Learners

This month we published Language Learning and Teaching in a Multilingual World by Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes, Jean-Paul Narcy-Combes, Julie McAllister, Malory Leclère and Grégory Miras. In this post the authors give us some advice for teaching multilingual learners.Teaching a language or content in a multilingual classroom (or any type of learning environment, such as telecollaboration or distance learning) is becoming the norm as well as a challenge faced by more and more teachers. But it is also an asset, as learners have opportunities to communicate with peers of different origins, cultures and backgrounds and thus develop tolerance and respect for others. To maximise the benefits of these opportunities while minimising the potential threats, here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Take each learner as he/she is, as a unique, complex and multifaceted individual who brings their knowledge, skills and cultural understandings to the learning situation. A one-size-fits-all approach is likely to prove ineffective in a multilingual environment (and in other environments too).
  2. As a teacher, always be kind and supportive and learn why you should be.
  3. Value (and use) all the languages of each learner in the classroom equally. No language should be ruled out.
  4. Propose clear and realistic learning goals and ensure that learners understand them. To that effect, use the language resources available (virtual or physical).
  5. Adapt the work to the needs which emerge as the project moves forward instead of following a predefined sequence. However, never lose sight of the initial goal: it can be reached in many different ways.
  6. Propose meaningful tasks that are connected to the world outside school. By doing so, the learners will get involved in the activities, which in turn will foster learning.
  7. Arrange for the learners to communicate and interact in the target language with people from other countries, as a meaningful way to use and practise the language they need for their schooling.
  8. Identify all the tools that can be made available to students to help them become independent language learners and users. A teacher does not have all the solutions, but learners can be resourceful and incredibly helpful when trusted. Resources can be available in the learners’ original language and connected to their culture.
  9. Encourage peer collaboration and interaction: see number 7. Interaction helps students make meaning and learners’ explanations are often more understandable to their peers than the teacher’s. In a multilingual class, learners who have the same original language could work together.
  10. Work to foster learner creativity and engagement by providing stimulating learning environments.

Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes, University of Nantes
Jean-Paul Narcy-Combes, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle
Julie McAllister, University of Nantes
Gregory Miras, University of Rouen
Malory Leclère, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle

Contacts

mf.narcycombes@wanadoo.fr

julie.mcallister1@univ-nantes.fr

 

For more information about the book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Multilingual Reality by Ajit K. Mohanty.

Taiwan’s Gendered Language Learning Ideologies

This month we published Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital by Mark Fifer Seilhamer. In this post the author talks about the research that informed the book.

The title of my new book just out this month is Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital: Taiwanese Narratives of Struggle and Strategy, with ‘Gender’ prominently foregrounded as the first element of this title. But while ‘Neoliberalism’ and ‘Distinction through Linguistic Capital’ had been dominant themes since the very beginning of the manuscript’s preparation, the extent to which my focal participants’ (female) gender impacted their experiences is an issue that was addressed only fleetingly in the manuscript I originally submitted to Multilingual Matters back in 2016. This early version featured a fairly straightforward class-focused Bourdieusian analysis of my participants’ narrated experiences, seemingly (in retrospect) oblivious to the fact that gender does indeed play an outsized role in my participants’ stories, as well as in the dynamics of multilingualism in Taiwan more generally.

The centrality of gender to my participants’ experiences as language learners was pointed out by a reviewer, who asked what I made “of the fact that some students are quite successful at making friends with foreigners, getting free language practice, lining up Skype partners, having boyfriends to talk English with and to pay for trips abroad”. This reviewer went on to pose other questions that served to guide my radical overhaul of the manuscript: “Are young women considered ideal candidates for the sorts of international marketing/public relations/sales jobs many of the women get? How are ideologies of language acquisition gendered in Taiwan, and are these women seen as compromised in terms of their relationships and friendships with foreigners?”

Ideologies of language acquisition are indeed highly gendered in Taiwan, with the idea that males are simply no good at learning languages regarded by many as a commonsensical notion. This common belief results, of course, in language study beyond minimum requirements being almost exclusively the preserve of females. At the start of this research, I did not set out to include only female participants. In the junior college program specializing in languages that I was recruiting participants from, male students were, however, very much in the minority and my pool of possible participants consisted almost entirely of female students. Because it is commonly believed that female brains are specifically wired for learning languages, young women are encouraged to study foreign languages and pursue careers in international marketing, public relations, and interpreting – the sorts of occupations that my participants did, in fact, wind up in. My participants, in their interviews, had indeed addressed Taiwan’s gendered language learning ideologies and the notion of gendered language work, as well as positioning by others due to their relationships with foreigners. In my revisions, the focus on gender and the intersectional questioning that this focus necessitated really did change the fundamental character of the book.

In what now seems to be a glaring omission, I neglected to include an ‘Acknowledgements’ page for this book. This can be attributed to the extreme sense of relief I felt when the editors allowed me to go over the stipulated word limit with my final revised manuscript. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure they would have had no problem with my adding an ‘Acknowledgements’ page, but at the time, I was reluctant to request any more words for anything. I will take this opportunity now then to acknowledge the assistance and contributions of numerous individuals: my study’s participants, without whom the research and book would not have been at all possible; my doctoral thesis supervisors, Lionel Wee, Joseph Sung-Yul Park, and Mie Hiramoto; and everyone at Multilingual Matters, who were all incredibly patient with me, granting me extension after extension as I struggled to address reviewer concerns. And I am also immensely grateful to the anonymous reviewer who alerted me to the inadequacies of the earlier version of my manuscript – before gender was prominently brought to the fore.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language, Education and Neoliberalism edited by Mi-Cha Flubacher and Alfonso Del Percio.

How to Give Your Child the Best Chance of Learning a Second Language

This month we published Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition edited by Joanna Rokita-Jaśkow and Melanie Ellis. In this post the editors suggest the best ways to teach your child a foreign language.

Knowing I am an expert in teaching English to young learners, many parents approach me asking, WHEN is it best to start teaching their child a foreign language?

And of course they would like to get a clear-cut answer, which would help them to make the best decision. They are usually very ambitious, conscious parents, often middle-class, who are focused on bringing up children and willing to do their utmost to make the best of their young child’s ‘window of opportunity’ for language learning.

However, the answer to when a child should start is not that simple. First of all, you need to know that if you don’t start teaching your child a foreign language early, it does not mean that your child will miss the learning opportunity. You can compensate for a later start by having more classes more often at a later age, living abroad or by using out-of-class learning opportunities such as the internet. Foreign language (FL) instruction is a part of school curricula in many settings, and if the teaching is high quality, your child will benefit from instruction at school too.

Rather than asking when learning a foreign language should start, if you decide to enrol your child in early FL instruction (which you usually have to pay for), you should rather ask HOW the language should be taught to get the best learning outcomes. Popular demand from parents has seen the rise of numerous private schools which are flourishing, but which do not always offer high quality teaching.

  • First of all, you should aim to give your child as many opportunities to learn the language as possible, remembering that they forget quickly and learn slowly, and need frequent revision and contact with the language. For this reason, choosing a bilingual or immersion type of nursery or school may be the best option, as instruction there takes place most of the time in the foreign language.
  • If this type of schooling is not available in your area or is too costly, do not forget about your own knowledge of the FL and use it as an asset to support your child in foreign language learning. You can revise the FL class material with your child, play simple games in an FL, join them in playing online games or watch cartoons in an FL with them. A parent must be present to keep the child focused on the task and explain words and expressions that they don’t understand.
  • Reading in the FL is the key to speaking in the FL. Reading a picture book together with the child in an FL helps visual and critical literacy to grow along with competence in the FL. Likewise digital books on apps or on websites are freely available and can be used for parent-child reading.
  • It could be a good idea to design an FL corner with self-access material (books, toys, board games, tablet etc.) both in the school/kindergarten and at home. Children could freely reach for FL materials for play, and in this way may act out the FL lesson.
  • Finally, parents need to take an interest in what happens in the language class, not only to keep track of what the children learn, but to be aware how the lessons are taught, particularly in the private sector. The teaching should emphasise play and using the language for communication, but it will only be successful if the teacher is able to control the group of children and at the same time communicate with ease in the FL. So the teacher needs really good managerial, teaching and language skills. Unfortunately, such teachers are difficult to find, which calls into question whether a very early start is the best idea.

Our book looks at these aspects from a research perspective. It outlines critical issues that influence the learning outcomes in young and very young learner classrooms that should be looked into. It will be of interest to teachers, teacher educators, researchers and also parents, who are keen to get more information before making any decision about provision for an early start.

Additionally, it should be remembered that the learning trajectories of early starters vary considerably throughout their lives due to the impact of various social, affective and cognitive factors and go beyond the impact of the starting age. Thus there are many pathways from an early start and not all young learners will reach the same competence in the foreign language.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren.

Bilingualism Matters: The East of England Branch

Bilingualism Matters East of England is the newest UK addition to the Bilingualism Matters team and is based at the LaDeLi research centre at the University of Essex in Colchester. 

Bilingualism Matters is an international network of centres and information services run by experts on bilingualism and language learning. It was originally established at University of Edinburgh in 2008 by Professor Antonella Sorace and is now an official Centre in the school of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences. Since then, more than 20 branches have opened in 13 different countries, including several EU member states, Israel, USA, and Norway.

The East of England branch, one of the three UK-based branches of Bilingualism Matters, was founded in March 2018 as a part of the Centre for Research in Language Development throughout the Lifespan (LaDeLi) at the University of Essex. This branch particularly focuses on promoting bilingualism across the lifespan, educating and encouraging the wider public to make informed decisions on bilingualism and language learning, and providing advice, consultancy, and information sessions about bilingual development for parents, teachers, nursery staff, and speech language therapists. Its outreach work is mainly set in East Anglia and London.

One of the most recent events organised by the branch was We are what we speak, an interactive workshop for children and adults held on 3rd November in Colchester as a part of the nationwide Festival of Social Science hosted by ESRC. Its purpose was to allow people to discover more about language and identity through a series of games and short talks hosted by lecturers and researchers in the field of language development from the University of Essex.

Dr Ella Jeffries at We are what we speak

Another recent event BM East of England was present at was the Language Show at the Olympia exhibition centre in London, where the branch staff promoted Bilingualism Matters as one of the language services offered at the University of Essex and in the region of East of England as a whole.

Karla Drpić (left) and Dr Coralie Hervé (right) from BM East of England with Professor Antonella Sorace (middle) from Bilingualism Matters’ Edinburgh headquarters

The staff at Bilingualism Matters East of England believe that bilingualism is for everyone, not just those who grew up in bilingual households, and that investing in language learning at school or nursery is a great chance to give children the best possible future. Therefore, they are open to providing accessible and informative talks about bilingualism and second language learning with community groups and parents’ associations, state-run primary and secondary schools, nurseries and early years centres, and private schools, colleges or venues based in London and East of England (Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk etc.). You can follow or contact them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or e-mail.

What Does Language Learning Outside the Classroom Look Like?

This month we published Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom by Miho Inaba. In this post the author explains what inspired this study and how she carried out her research.

I first became interested in out-of-class language learning more than 10 years ago when I had just started my career as a teacher of Japanese at a university in Sweden. I vividly remember how in my very first week at the university, some of my students told me about their favourite Japanese pop culture, such as anime (Japanese cartoons), manga (Japanese comic books) and movies. It was shocking to me at that time – I wondered how they could know Japanese pop culture better than me even though they were on the opposite side of the planet. I was also surprised by the fact that they could speak Japanese even before completing beginner level. It all started from there.

I then started asking my students what they had done in Japanese outside the classroom and realised that almost all do something extra in Japanese alongside their classroom-based study. At the same time, I started wondering what I could do to support their study as a teacher of Japanese. This question motivated (and still motivates) me to dig into out-of-class language learning for my research.

One big challenge when conducting this research was to decide which data collection methods to use. Out-of-class literacy practices are usually ‘hidden’ from teachers, and students undertake such activities irregularly. The very nature of out-of-class language learning might make the research on this topic complicated. However, when considering the different data collection methods available, I came across the ‘diary study with photos’ method in several papers in the field of literacy studies. Visual information is crucial to be included because one feature of literacy in this digital age is its multimodality.

In the end, I decided to employ this diary study with photo method alongside interviews, and asked the participants to include visual information as much as possible, for example, screenshots of websites and photos of books that they had read. I also asked them to bring paper-based materials to class (e.g. their books and essays for the Japanese classes) if possible. In the interviews, I used such visual materials to trigger the students’ memory when they engaged in particular literacy activities in their diaries. They sometimes even used my computer to demonstrate how they utilised online tools and websites. I think this method enabled me to collect rich data in a less intrusive way than either observations or video recordings and also helped me to understand the contexts of their literacy practices.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen.

(Re)imagining Japan’s Internationalization via Akogare [Desire]

We recently published Transcending Self and Other Through Akogare [Desire] by Chisato Nonaka. In this post Chisato talks about the need to get the discussion moving on Japan’s internationalization.

A whirlwind of events have taken place since my recent move (back) to Japan. Settling into a new job, finding a new apartment, meeting new colleagues and students (and remembering their names!), etc. but above all, I’m experiencing a serious case of reverse culture shock on a daily basis. So much so that I’ve started to wonder if I’ll ever “recover.”

For instance, I stand out like a sore thumb at high-level meetings, full of male directors and professors—mostly middle-aged and well into their careers. These meetings follow the agenda to a T and few express support for or opposition to the speaker.

Why do we hold a meeting if nobody really discusses anything? I asked a senior professor point-blank (capitalizing on my “naïve” and “relatively young” “female” positionality). The answer I received from him was shocking – “because there is no reason why we shouldn’t hold a meeting.” This response in fact provides a clue to understanding the complex nature of Japan’s internationalization.

The author on her wedding day

In my upcoming book (Transcending Self and Other Through Akogare [Desire]: The English Language and Internationalization of Higher Education in Japan), I focus on Japanese higher education and its ongoing internationalization efforts. While I don’t necessarily take up the above case in my book, I show that the apathetic and strait-laced attitude towards something different, new, and/or the so-called “non-Japanese” is quite telling of Japan. In other words, for the meeting attendees above, not holding periodic meetings is perhaps more troubling than sitting through them. This may sound all too familiar to those who have done research and/or worked in the field of higher education within and outside of Japan.

The akogare framework

What is unique about my book, however, is that I showcase multiple versions of “Japan” that we need to acknowledge and honor, in order to finally get the discussion moving. Specifically, through the construct of akogare [desire], I demonstrate that Japan’s internationalization is more than what the statistics and bar graphs can show. It is more than just the range of internationalization policies and programs that the government is advancing. It is in fact “us”—educators, students, and others who may not even be living in Japan—that are responsible and accountable for (re)imagining what Japan is and where Japan is headed in the coming years. It is my sincerest hope that educators and students in similar circumstances will find a meaningful and constructive connection to my work, and in turn, I look forward to engaging in a further dialogue with fellow educators and students.

Chisato Nonaka

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Learning, Gender and Desire by Kimie Takahashi.

What is “The Tornado Effect”? Successful Language Learning and Strategy Use and Development

We recently published the second edition of The Strategy Factor in Successful Language Learning by Carol Griffiths. In this post Carol explains how the new edition builds on the first and introduces us to the new concept of “The Tornado Effect”.

The book begins with the author explaining why, from personal experience, she believes learning strategies to be important, and a number of other personal narratives from well-known people in the learning strategy field are also quoted. This second edition builds on the material in the first edition, but with a number of important additions. In particular:

  • The existing literature has been updated, since quite a lot has been written in the five years since the first edition was published.
  • The conceptual perspectives have been refined and extended. The issue of strategy definition has been tackled again, and some adjustment made in light of the ongoing debate. The underlying theory has also been re-examined and extended, along with issues of strategy classification. Issues of strategy effectiveness have been considered, especially in light of contextual, target and individual differences. And research methodology, which has attracted criticism in the past, has also been addressed, with suggestions added for data collection and analysis.
  • In the section dealing with quantitative perspectives, new studies have been added and the old studies have been re-analysed.
  • The qualitative section, which examines interview data obtained from students of different levels of proficiency, ages and genders, and varying learning strategy use has been updated and extended
  • The section on pedagogical perspectives has also been considerably extended, with further consideration of issues of strategy instruction. Most notably, strategies appropriate to different knowledge areas (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and function/pragmatics) and skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) have been added and/or extended
  • In addition, the glossary, which received much positive appraisal in the first edition for its helpful definitions of key concepts, has been updated and extended.

So, why the Tornado Effect? The Tornado Effect hypothesises that learning is not a linear process: it is spiral, with one piece of knowledge or skill helping to support the next, and so on, in an ever-increasing spiral, much the way a tornado expands into a powerful force. As the section on pedagogical perspectives concludes: “If we could only discover how to harness the power of this Tornado Effect, what a wonderful teaching/learning tool we would have!”

For more information about this book please see our website.  

Language Textbooks: Windows to the World?

We recently published Representations of the World in Language Textbooks by Karen Risager. In this post Karen explains what inspired her to write the book and tells us what we can expect from reading it.

It is often said that language teaching opens windows to the world. Learning a new language is even sometimes said to further our development as world citizens. But when we look closely at textbooks (and other materials) used in language learning, what images of the world emerge?

I have always been interested in explicit and implicit cultural representations in textbooks, and one of the earliest examples I remember from my own experience is a chapter in a textbook for French produced in the 1970s (used in Denmark where I lived and still live): The book dealt with the (very dull!) daily life of a middle-class family in Paris consisting of a father, a mother and their children, a son and a (younger) daughter. In the chapter in question, there was a drawing of a small square near the family’s house. There were no people, but a dog and a cat were standing on the gound. The accompanying text ran approximately like this (in French): ‘The dog and the cat do not fight, for in France dogs and cats are good friends’. The microcosmos of the square thus suggested a country characterised by harmonious relations between groups that might very well be in conflict in other countries.

In Representations of the World in Language Textbooks I analyse cultural representations in six contemporary language textbooks (used in Denmark), one for each of the languages English, German, French, Spanish, Danish and Esperanto. I have chosen to take the idea of the ‘world’ literally, that is, while I examine representations of the respective target language countries, I also examine representations of the world at large, the planet: Which regions of the planet do the textbooks refer to, directly or indirectly? Do they take up global issues, such as climate change, or inequality? Do they touch on transnational processes, such as migrations, or the worldwide use of IT?

My professional background is both in languages (sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language education) and in cultural studies (international development studies, intercultural studies, studies of migration). Therefore, it is important for me to emphasise that the analysis of cultural representations in textbooks is greatly furthered if one is aware of which theories of culture and society one draws on. In the book I distinguish between five theoretical approaches:

  • National studies
  • Citizenship education studies
  • Cultural studies
  • Postcolonial studies
  • Transnational studies

Each of these approaches gives rise to a number of analytical questions concerning the cultural and social universe of the textbooks.

Among the numerous results of the analyses of the six textbooks is that the enormous continent of Africa, encompassing a large number of countries, ethnicities, issues and inequalities etc., is almost invisible – with some exceptions. So one may say that the textbooks examined, with all their qualities, are certainly not windows to Africa.

 

Karen Risager, Professor Emerita, Intercultural Studies, Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University, Denmark, risager@ruc.dk

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Teaching Intercultural Competence Across the Age Range edited by Manuela Wagner, Dorie Conlon Perugini and Michael Byram.

 

Making an Impact: Language Teachers that Left an Impression

Next month we will be publishing Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. The book begins with an invitation to the reader to reflect on their own memories of language learning: “If you think back to your language learning at school, you might remember specific tasks or projects you did, but, even more likely, you will remember your teachers.” This sparked a conversation in our office about language teachers we’ve encountered over the years, which we thought would make for an interesting blog post. Here are some of Laura, Flo and Tommi’s reflections on the language teachers that have stuck with them. 

Laura

My first ever French teacher was obsessed with songs. Every single unit of vocabulary was accompanied by a song and action routine that we all had to learn and perform to the class. I imagine that for the quieter students that must have been a terrifying experience but for the rest of us it was great fun. The songs were incredibly catchy and have stuck with me and my school friends…so much so that we can still recite them off by heart, even 20 years later!

When I was in 6th Form I had French first thing on a Monday morning – not the best time of the week for teenagers! Our teacher came up with the idea that we’d take it in turns to bake a cake over the weekend and bring it in to share with the class that lesson. It was a brilliant idea – not only were we more enthusiastic about coming to class but it also brought us closer together as a group as we were more relaxed while chatting over cake. Some even tried their hand at baking French specialities!

My school German teacher made sure that lessons went well beyond the syllabus. She took the time to get to know us as individuals and often recommended German films and books that she thought we’d like. She made me realise that there’s so much more to studying a language than the topics in the textbook and that languages stretch far beyond the classroom walls. It was also a very good way to get us to engage with German outside lesson time too!

When I was on my year abroad in France I lived with some Spanish students. Over the course of the year they made sure that I learnt basic Spanish, not through formal instruction, but by making sure that they used Spanish as we did things together, such as cooking. Over time I picked up all sorts of vocabulary which has stuck with me since, including the phrase “¿Dónde están mis llaves?” (“Where are my keys?”) which was used on a near daily basis by one forgetful housemate!

Flo

During my year abroad I studied Russian at a French university. The course was taught by two teachers – the first was terrifying: incredibly strict with zero tolerance for mistakes. She called me “the foreigner” for the first few weeks, until I got so fed up I wrote my name in huge letters at the top of my essay in the hope she would get the hint. This was juxtaposed completely by the other teacher, who was kind, patient and very understanding of my predicament as a British student in a French classroom learning Russian! He made many allowances for my odd-sounding Russian to French translations and always made sure I understood definitions, often asking me to provide the class with the English translation, which helped me feel less useless! I really appreciated his acknowledgement and thoughtfulness, which meant I never felt lost or excluded from his lessons.

I have French lessons once a week and it’s probably my best language learning experience so far. My teacher has a great sense of humour, is patient, reassuring, and full of praise but never lets mistakes go unchecked. He’s obviously passionate about French culture and during our conversations he often plays us clips from French films, shows us books and photographs or plays songs. The atmosphere in his classroom is very egalitarian – there’s no tangible student/teacher divide and he is quick to be self-deprecating about his own English, which levels the playing field and reminds us that actually we’re all learners.

Tommi

My A-Level German teacher at school recognised that I hated grammar tables and all of that formal language learning. He would quite often set the class an exercise to do with “der, die, das, die” or whatever. Noticing that I could never really get going at all, he would then come over and chat to me (in German) quite casually for 5-10 minutes, then he would finish with “right, you are now 10 minutes behind the rest of the class, you’d better get some work done”. I suspect I learned more German in those chats than I ever did from grammar tables…

My Italian teacher at Cultura Italiana in Bologna sat with me one day for a private lesson. During the lesson, she would talk, and I would sit leaning back with my arms folded across my chest. Eventually she grew exasperated and said “Tommi, do you care about any of this?” to which I replied “of course I do! I am listening very carefully!” “Argh, no, if you want to learn Italian you mustn’t listen, you need to lean forward, interrupt me and talk over me, that way I will know you want to be part of the conversation! We often go out, everyone talks at the same time, if you are not always saying something I will just assume you are bored and want to be somewhere else!”

For more information about the book that inspired this post, please see our website.