by Jolanta Nitoslawska That´s all it takes – Speak English! That´s the CLIL philosophy – it´s really simple: Speak English all the time and […]
by Jolanta Nitoslawska
That´s all it takes – Speak English! That´s the CLIL philosophy – it´s really simple: Speak English all the time and everywhere! Speak English! – even if your students don´t understand, or you think they don´t understand. Speak English! even if your command of the English language is not what you would like it to be. Speak English! even if your pronunciation is not native-like. Speak English! and insist that your students – or rather the life-long learners who are in your classes – also communicate in English. Believe that they can! Pretend you don´t understand when they speak anything but English. (they know you really do, but still, pretend that you don´t). Insist that they communicate with you – and hopefully with each other – in sign language, with invented English-sounding words, using wrong verb tenses, and maybe using only a few correct English words. Praise any minimal effort to communicate in English. Provide learners with the right words, model the correct way of saying things and encourage them to repeat the word, the phrase, the sentence, the request … and when they do, celebrate! and of course, respond; but try not to respond until they say it in English or at least, repeat what you told them to repeat.
Bilingualism is defined as the ability to speak two languages- but how well? how much? Should reading and writing count too? There are so many variables and degrees that it is difficult to define bilingualism or multilingualism adequately; and does the degree of bilingualism really matter for the learners in our schools? Probably not for communication purposes, but maybe so, if you need diplomas or degrees- and that will come in time.
In schools, our focus must be communication: the exact expression, the right vocabulary word, the correct grammar will all happen if we provide an atmosphere where the second language is heard, is spoken, is present. We now know that a toddler in a literate environment has heard approximately 4.5 million words – many repeated over and over again – by the time he/she is 4 years old. Toddlers in non-literate environments hear approximately 1.3 million words. That is what it takes to begin to build up oral language skills in our mother tongue. So if we know that learners need to be exposed to language in order to absorb and then produce it, and if we want them to absorb a second language, it stands to reason that they need to be immersed in a second language environment as much as possible. What are we doing in our schools to ensure that this is happening? Is it enough to provide a rich second language environment and is it possible to do so in a unilingual society? Do we need to teach grammar rules or do we mostly need to provide opportunities for practice, and at times, promote structured practice?
Coming from a multilingual family and a bilingual society, (high immigration rates, now making it often trilingual) and having worked for over 40 years in «bilingual education» of some sort, it is my contention that a learner´s second-language acquisition rate is mostly determined by the emotional atmosphere generated by the teacher and the school. It is also determined by the consistent use of the second language in the classroom and in as many school situations as possible, and perhaps mostly by the school community´s belief that all learners can communicate in some manner in a second language and that correctness is not important at first. Anyone can become bilingual if they need to, so let´s create that need!