"Listening to Learners" Readers' Theater
Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
New York, NY - April 16, 2004
The opening general session of the 2004 Northeast Conference
reflected NECTFL�s move to Broadway. Instead of a keynote address,
attendees were treated to a moving, thoughtful, provocative journey into
the minds of our students who had shared with us their thoughts and
experiences as language learners.
We asked students throughout the NECTFL region the following questions:
w What surprises you most about learning the language that you are studying?
w If a new student came into your language class, what would you tell him/her about it?
w What would you say about learning another language if you thought no one was listening?
w What do you wish you had known about learning another language before you began studying one?
w What do you wish foreign language teachers knew about their students?
w What will you always remember about your foreign language classes?
Through the efforts of Diane Whitmore, hundreds of responses which we received from learners of all languages , all levels, all ages, all types of schools and many regions were reviewed and analyzed. Diane wrote the following script and in her guise as the Stage Manager was joined by the �NECTFL Players�, all students of foreign languages themselves. If you saw the performance in New York or are reading it for the first time, we know that it will leave a lasting impression on you.
Daishawn: I love saying words in another language.
Tatiana: I think it�s cool to be able to speak in German with my friends. I even think in German sometimes. I�d like to go to Germany and speak to people there someday.
Edward: I will always remember my college professor who taught me the most simply because she taught completely in the target language.
DW: Listening to learners. We think we do that every day. But do we ever really hear what they�re saying? The Northeast Conference asked learners from elementary school through university. And today you will hear their answers. Some of what we heard will please you. Some of it will surprise you. Some of it may upset you. But all of it will make you think about your teaching.
Here are our six questions, and the student�s answers � in their own words.
DW: One. What surprises you about foreign language learning?
Rhiannon: It�s too hard.
Tysean: The words sound funny.
Ian: How many endings there are and how they always change.
Tatiana: How excited people who speak the language get when I try to speak to them.
Edward: All the different dialects.
Jaechoon: How younger children retain a foreign language better than older children.
Daishawn: That French is a lot like Spanish.
DW: Two. What do you wish your teachers knew about your foreign language learning?
Tatiana: Not all people share the same passion about language as they do.
Ian: How hard it is to learn a new language. We aren�t sponges. We can�t soak up the information right away.
Rhiannon: I wish they knew that everyone has different learning styles.
Edward: It is easier to learn the language when you understand the origin of an idiomatic expression or a word.
Jaechoon: That we struggled not just with learning foreign language grammar, but also with the mechanics of the English language.
Ian: I wish they knew more about our homework schedule for other classes.
Tatiana: That not everyone wants to participate in class.
Rhiannon: That we are not always going to do it right the first time.
Edward: What seems obvious to the teacher is not always obvious to the students.
Jaechoon: What background the students have regarding their heritage languages.
Ian: That the students want to learn more about the slang used in countries and not so much the proper grammar.
Rhiannon: Students learn best when they are hearing and speaking the language they are learning. In my first year of foreign language, I had a teacher who never spoke Spanish in the class. As a result I learned very little and was unprepared for the second year. In the second year my teacher only spoke Spanish. I was slightly confused at first, but I learned so much more.
Edward: Teachers whose first language is the language being taught should make an effort to understand the English-speaker�s point of view.
Jaechoon: We need to be able to ask questions in English if we�re very frustrated.
Tatiana: Not everyone is going to have the perfect accent. No matter how much one may speak, not everyone will acquire the accent.
Edward: I am studying to be a foreign language educator so I can see both sides of the coin. I wish that more of the educators in the foreign language field understood that learning is so much more conducive with meaningful tasks, not rote memorization.
Jaechoon: As a senior in college, I feel that we have strayed away from what I need to know and remember. I have not learned Spanish well enough to say on my resume that I got a BA in Spanish. We have concentrated too much on the literature and not enough on the writing and conversation.
Tatiana: Teaching straight from the book does not allow students to practice real-life situations. That�s one of the main reasons for learning a foreign language in the first place.
DW: Three. What do you wish you had known before you started taking a foreign language?
Daishawn: Nothing. My mom is a foreign language teacher so I was prepared.
Edward: I wish I had known that studying another language, though hard work, is also a lot of fun and very rewarding. I might have been motivated to study more languages if I�d known this.
Tysean: How to roll my R�s.
Jaechoon: I wish I had known how important it would be in the work force. If you have a second language, you have a better chance at a better job, which is what we all want.
Rhiannon: It is important to study the basics because everything builds off that. If I had taken Spanish more seriously in earlier years, it would be a breeze now.
Ian: I wish I had known the English language better. It�s hard to learn direct objects, indirect objects, and prepositions in Spanish if you don�t already know them in English.
Tatiana: I wish I had known that you really do need to practice outside the classroom.
Jaechoon: I wish I had known that there were programs that started younger than ninth grade. If I had started learning younger, my grasp of the language would be greatly improved. I would be at a more advanced stage than I am right now.
Edward: I wish I had taken Latin. I have found that Latin is the root of many of the words in the Romance languages.
Rhiannon: About all the different irregular verbs! Arrrrrrgh!
Tysean: It wasn�t as hard as I thought it was going to be.
Jaechoon: I wish I had taken Spanish all four years of high school and really tried from the beginning.
Edward: I wish I had known the importance of actually using the language in daily life�such as speaking with native speakers or reading in Spanish on a regular basis.
Ian: I feel like I should have explored the practical use of the language in the world before I chose which one to study.
DW: Four. What would you say about your foreign language class if you knew your teacher wasn�t listening?
Rhiannon: I only take a language because my mother is a language teacher, but it comes in handy sometimes, like when I listen to my grandmother, or when I went to France.
Daishawn: That a lot of us are actually smart and we just play dumb to get easy assignments.
Tatiana: I do not see the point in learning another language and if my mother was not making me, I would not take it.
Tysean: We prefer interaction over just reading out of the book and stuff.
Edward: We spent a whole semester reading a book that any fifth grader in Mexico could have read in a few hours.
Rhiannon: I�d like to have more modern culture-like what the kids over there like. We do mostly historical things when we do culture.
Tatiana: Talk about the culture more. And really connect with students � like our teacher doesn�t really seem to enjoy it. She�s just giving us the work. You need to be passionate about it �cause that�s what motivates the kids.
Daishawn: I wish everyone could have one language that everyone could understand.
Ian: I wish everyone would just speak English.
DW: Five. What would you tell a new student in your class?
Tysean: That it�s a fun class.
Ian: That French may be hard to learn at times, but it is good to know more than one language. Don�t stop at French, learn more languages.
Rhiannon: You have to want to know something about the language in order to have fun with it.
Daishawn: That if you do what you�re supposed to do and be quiet you�ll get really far in this class.
Tatiana: You have to put a lot of effort into it. It�s not like art, where some kids are more talented than others. Everyone starts on the same level at the beginning. You just have to study.
Tysean: That the class is not that hard, you just have to pay attention.
Jaechoon: It�s a great opportunity to learn about another culture and expand your view of the world. It�s probably the most important thing I could learn in college.
Daishawn: This class will help them be able to talk to people all over the world.
DW: And finally, six. What will you always remember about your foreign language class?
Daishawn: The time the bird flew in the room.
Tysean: That I learned how to say hello.
Rhiannon: That it�s a good feeling when you finally learn something.
Ian: Food days rock!
Tatiana: How much Latin and English are alike.
ALL: The parties!
Rhiannon: The teachers inspired me to keep going on, because you never know when you�re going to speak to someone who doesn�t know English.
Edward: I�ll remember how much fun it was to learn the language, especially when the professor was enthusiastic about it.
Jaechoon: I�ll remember those little memory tricks I�ve been taught to remember some of the basic grammar rules.
Ian: The days I understood everything.
Daishawn: The Cinco de Mayo fiestas.
Tysean: The crazy songs.
Jaechoon: I will always remember the fun of learning about and participating in another culture. Trying foreign foods, listening to other music, and laughing good-naturedly at our cultural differences.
Edward: I�ll remember feeling really good when I became able to carry on a conversation in a foreign language.
Jaechoon: My foreign language teachers were always more energetic and enthusiastic about learning than any other teachers.
Daishawn: Making stupid jokes in Spanish that only made sense to me and my friends.
Tatiana: My teacher. She is so excited about teaching kids Spanish!
Edward: Getting to know people. More than any other subject, foreign language classes force you to interact with other students, so you get to know more people.
Jaechoon: I will always remember how much interaction there was between the students and the professor.
Tysean: My teacher acting crazy so we�ll remember the words.
Ian: I tried to listen when the teachers spoke only Spanish, but I had a hard time getting what they said.
Jaechoon: The little stories professors tell about their experiences in other countries. It really brings what they�re teaching to life.
Rhiannon: How hard it was and how much I dreaded coming.
Tatiana: How wonderful it was to discover that I wasn�t having to think about things first in English before I said them in Chinese.
Daishawn: How fun it was to learn about another culture.
Rhiannon: Being corrected or laughed at, after pronouncing the words wrong.
Tysean: Getting names in another language.
Ian: The people. After many years I probably will never remember whether to use apporter or amener. But I will always remember the crazy lady who tried to teach us and the crazier kids who made it to French III.
DW: Now that we�ve listened to the learners, what are they saying? First, students had a great awareness of learning styles. And they expect teachers to keep their diverse learning styles in mind when planning for teaching. Second, they realize that the teacher�s passion for the subject is an indispensable element in their learning. Third, the overwhelming majority of students described language learning as hard. What does that mean? Harder than other subjects? Harder than they thought it would be? Or should be? Finally, students want to learn more about the culture of their target language countries. So we invite you to join us next year at the 2005 Northeast Conference. Our conference theme for 2005 is �Opening Cultural Windows in the Year of Languages.�
Daishawn and Tysean: Come back to New York next year!
As you take advantage of all this weekend�s conference has to offer, think about what the learners have said to you today. Look for opportunities to listen to the learners more, at this conference and in your future. Thank you.
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