Written by Richard Roberts, a Foreign Service officer, and Roger Kreuz, a professor of psychology, Becoming Fluent is a book that connects cognitive research to language learning to help adults learn a foreign language.
While its audience is language learners, teachers of English who work with adults can benefit a good deal from reading this book too. It’s extremely well-researched but also very interesting; the authors are great at mixing funny anecdotes and interesting analogies in with the more academic portions.
For ESL teachers who have done their MATESL degrees, you’ll get a refresher on a lot of contents from your courses: the Zone of Proximal Development, scaffolding, fossilization, interlanguage, and (an interesting view of) the critical period hypothesis are all here. If you’re an ESL teacher without any formal training, this book provides great explanations of all of those ideas.
The following is a list of things that I thought were interesting or useful for teachers of English or any foreign language:
It was the first week of class at Sunduck Middle School in Seoul and the students were giddy and excited to see me: their new American English teacher. I looked the part: I was wearing a tie and was standing in front of a very professional-looking (or so I thought) PowerPoint with a question and answer game. I was beaming a confident smile that hid how completely terrified I was. It was my first time in front of a classroom ever.
The “Me” Game
The question and answer game was all about me. When I asked my co-teachers what I should do for the first day of class, they told me to do something fun and introduce myself. I talked to a few other new teachers from Canada and America who were teaching at different schools around Seoul and they gave me some ideas. So I slapped together one of the most narcissistic and yet boring PowerPoints I’ve ever created: questions about which state I’m from, what my mother’s name is, my favorite food, etc. Students worked in teams to answer these boilerplate questions about me. After each group said their answer, in a complete sentence shouted in unison, I awarded points to the teams that got the correct answer.
And that was it – I just moved on to the next question. I didn’t go on to talk about what my mother is really like, how she can bake great apple pies, or about the best places in my hometown to get pizza, my favorite food. I just gave a point if they answered “a) Joan” or “b) pizza” and moved on.
I’m a learner of three languages: Spanish, Korean, and German. In each of these languages, I can verbally put some sentences together and describe my day. And sometimes I do just that – to no one in particular. Either when I’m in the car alone or lying in my bed just before falling asleep, I’ll start rambling on…
Heute habe ich etwas spannendes getan…
Mañana voy a ver mi amigo…
I’ve talked to a few other people who are at similar phases of learning languages, and some of them say they do the same thing.
I really think it helps keep the language fresh in my mind. It keeps me fluent. And it’s just fun to see how long I can go.
I made the connection with this kind of practice (what should we call it? is there an academic name for it yet? how about “unrestrained solipsistic L2 vocalizations”?) when I recently re-watched a favorite YouTube video of mine.