Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Teaching Foreign Languages

airport departure signCurrent best practices in foreign language teaching recognize the roles of input and interaction in the acquisition of a second language. Input can be defined as the language that a student hears (or reads) that contains a message to which she or he is expected to attend, and interaction can be described as any conversational (or written) exchange in which the student must communicate with one or more partners. Providing ample opportunities for exposure to input and encouraging student interaction in the target language are at the core of successful learning in the foreign language classroom.

Another consideration for the foreign language teacher is the mission statement of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which states: “At the core of a liberal arts education are research and informed engagement with global issues, multiculturalism, and diverse experiences; these goals represent our greatest hope for a better understanding of differences in the human condition and the potential for enhanced tolerance.” The foreign language classroom is uniquely positioned to engage KU students in the endeavor to become informed citizens of our global community. It can do this by fostering exploration of the cultural realities of the peoples who speak the language being studied and encouraging students to reflect on their own cultural experiences and practices.

Successful foreign language teaching and learning can make use of a wide variety of approaches and practices while keeping these fundamental goals in focus. Based on the experience of foreign language faculty members, several factors can improve the experience for teachers and students:

Consider using the target language as much as possible, if not exclusively, during class time. Students have such limited contact with the language that maximizing every opportunity to provide input and foster interaction is crucial. A natural tendency is to switch back to English to take care of classroom and course management, but resisting this instinct will lead to authentic opportunities for communication. Students will attend to the message in the input and interact in order to indicate what they have not understood in the target language, especially when teachers talk about what will be on the next exam!

Encourage students to work collaboratively in groups for a period of time during each class meeting to provide opportunities for interaction. When one instructor attempts to interact with each individual student, no matter how engaging the instructor and active the participation, the occasion for target language use by students will be necessarily limited. In contrast, when students are accustomed to communicating and working collaboratively with each other, the opportunities for negotiating meaning increase significantly.

Make use of the wide variety of resources available at KU. The Blackboard course management system provides a suite of tools that can be exploited by the foreign language teacher, such as Wikis for collaborative writing and group projects, blogs for journal writing, and Wimba (a tool for synchronous and/or asynchronous verbal communication) for oral interaction outside of class or creating listening comprehension assignments or oral testing from personal computers. The Ermal Garinger Academic Resource Center, an invaluable resource for foreign language teachers, has a knowledgeable and accessible staff that is always willing to collaborate on projects to foster cultural learning and help teachers with using technology in the classroom. Other resources on campus, such as the International Student Association, work collaboratively with foreign language teachers to facilitate interaction with native speakers at KU.

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