I have been studying languages for almost all of my life. It started with Spanish in Cuba, where my whole family lived for two years when I was 10. In addition to Spanish, which attracted me, I was lucky with my teacher of the Russian language. She never stopped telling us about the origin of the words, which was both fascinating and useful for learning the spelling. That’s how it all started. For all of my conscious life, I was surrounded by dictionaries and books in different languages. Some languages were managed to be learned to a decent level, like English. Some languages turned out to be forgotten because there was nowhere to use them, like French. But I still learn languages with alternate success, and at the time of writing this text, I’m studying — or rather revising — my Spanish, which I only spoke a little bit of about 40 years ago.
I recommend everyone learn foreign languages, particularly the teachers of Russian as a foreign language who are also native speakers. It’s always beneficial to put yourself in your students’ shoes and gain experience from their perspective. Teachers who stop learning and growing professionally are losing their skills and simply fading away.
Here is some advice from me as a teacher of the Russian and English languages and a person who is fond of learning and constantly doing this:
1. Language cannot be taught, it can only be learned.
This rule doesn’t diminish the role of a teacher in the learning process at all. Believe me, when I had been studying English, I had to deal with different teachers, particularly in high school.
This rule helps us put things in the right places and defines the role of a teacher. And it turns out that a student has to do a job — learn words or read a text. Only he can do this; nobody else can. A teacher serves as an assistant or adviser here. To tell the truth, I know a lot of people who have perfectly mastered a language by themselves.
Have you ever learned how to ride a bicycle or swim? If you sit on the beach and watch how your coach swims, will you learn how to do this? I hope you get what I mean. A language cannot be taught; it can only be learned.
2. Language enters through the ears.
Regular listening is the most important part of language acquisition.
Yes, we need to do writing, reading and speaking, but listening is something we must do frequently and a lot. Before learning, we need to hear a foreign language. Then the issue of pronunciation will be eliminated as we hear a word and repeat its sound. And the issue of reading rules will become irrelevant because we see the word and we read it. Also, the issue of intonation will be resolved, which is rather important for Americans studying Russian, for example, especially in a question. The difference is that in English, questions are frequently formed using auxiliary verbs, whereas in Russian, questions are frequently formed using intonation. You can miss the question if you are waiting for an auxiliary verb in it. Listen carefully to the words and the tone, and learn how to use them in the right way. Memorizing words by ear and then reading them is an effective way to learn to understand speech in a foreign language.
I don’t underestimate the significance of reading and writing, but let’s look at life. There is a huge number of languages in the world that do not have a written form. There are also many people in the world who can’t read or write, and they will never learn. At the same time, they live, raise children, and work. In their lives, everything goes on as usual without the ability to read or write.
Listening and speaking abilities evolve naturally in native speakers. If there are no physical deviations, a child will understand and speak a language without reading and writing skills. Among the four types of speech activity, only reading and writing are taught individually.
I advocate for the balanced development of all types of speech activity. With all things equal, we begin with hearing.
Thus, we remember that language enters through the ears.
3. The head absorbs information as long as you can sit on the soft spot. You know what you are sitting on.
Keeping it in mind, I always plan the lesson in a way so that students can walk around the classroom. We constantly switch activities since starting a new one is equated with rest.
Still, take into account that if your students started walking around, then you should know how to seat them back. This mainly refers to group work. As for individual work, everything is easier.
Alternate activities, move if possible and rearrange objects. Tired of writing? Sing in the language you are learning. Your hands and eyes work first, followed by your ears and voice. A lot more information will enter your head this way, and I hope it will remain there.
Now that you’ve learned my three rules, use them!