Those good solid works give us a firm grasp of the subject, citing motivation, aims and goals, lesson planning and classroom management. Following students’ needs, being a guide not a god in the classroom, individual approaches to teaching and learning are notions familiar to every experienced teacher. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, therefore, I decided to share my ongoing unusual experience and to show how I suddenly found myself in the role of ELT – Facilitator, with a difference.
My manicurist, aged circa 40, asked me timidly if I thought she could “revive” her English, which she had never had to use since her school days. I inquired why she needed that and what her requirements, as well as her goals, were. She literally needed to revive her forgotten language skills, since she was wobbly on the alphabet; the only thing she could quote about the English pronunciation was, “it is difficult”; and naturally grammar and the four skills were a complete mystery for her. What she needed was a start, a way to remember and accumulate a minimum vocabulary, and then some speaking, listening and understanding. Simple.
My role became clear: a facilitator. I brought her an Agatha Christie, and explained the methodics of reading. Page 1, a nightmare; page 10, the reader begins to recognize some words and even sentences; page 50, one can read. I explained to her that the best way to memorize words was to write them out into a notebook as many times as necessary, and demonstrated the usual organization of such vocabulary work. Divide every page into three vertical rows; write down the word in the first column, the transcription (pronunciation) in the second one, and the translation in the last one. I also carefully explained the concept of polysemy to her.
In two months time, my unofficial student proudly showed me her notebook, and told me I was right about page 50. I was absolutely thrilled to see that carefully lined notebook filled with words and expressions. One more month passed, and she shared her views on the plot development with me. By now she was clearly caught in the story. Once she is done with this book, I will see what can be done next.
My own aims and goals in studying Italian are different. I want to be able to speak and understand a few basics. To facilitate my own learning, I began with the web resources. Beginner lessons in any language on youtube are fine. Once I was sure I could understand the major sounds, and I accumulated the minimum vocabulary, I started with a series called Tell Me More, Intermediate level. I listen to dialogues on various topics, and then talk back at my disc. I also do several types of exercises which are useful for me, and skip others. My only difficulty is, though I now choose the correct answer most of the time, my disc often tells me, “Speak faster!” I believe it is especially difficult for us teachers to do that, since we are so used to talking in a nice measured way! Well, it seems to me that Italians naturally speak faster than, say the English. When in doubt, or whenever I feel the need for more information, I browse the web.
These varied experiences show me that today, it is possible to pick up a language without any textbook, and even without a teacher, as long as you an adult learner are clear about your own goals and needs. Which in turn makes me wonder about the traditional school and university curricula in the era of ICT.