Pourquoi j'enseigne ?
... or, why do I teach?
As a native English speaker from a solely anglophone family, I believe that the process of learning French requires time, gradual immersion and integration of the language into everyday life and contexts, and continual encouragement to consider the inevitable mistakes as wonderful opportunities to learn and grow. As a 2L learner, there is just as much frustration in the early stages of not knowing anything about a language as there is when the student is just on the cusp of fluid, communicative speech. Without the constant tension of wanting to know and continually learning how much one doesn’t know, there are endless possibilities and routes to acquiring a language.
As far as my own experience as a language learner and considerations for how language instruction and absorption could work most efficiently, there are three major areas of focus that have been imperative in my own development as a speaker and lover of French. (1) It is imperative to emphasize the creative freedom that the strict structure of the French language allows the speaker, (2) simultaneous and continual inclusion of culture and the “fun stuff” to remind the learner that there is much more than verb conjugation and gender agreement rules to dictate the reach one will have with their French proficiency, and (3) the early inclusion of phonetics instruction. This last necessary element may find itself only in the 300- and 400-levels at most collegiate institutions in the United States. It is worth examining the value of incorporation phonetics into early curricula, simply because early exposure to the logic and rules of the phonetic universe serves to effectively demystify the complexities of French pronunciation. This third necessity of French instruction falls in its place simply because one of the core reasons I have found many 2LA learners let their French pursuits fall to the wayside is the result of feeling like the pronunciation alone is unattainable. Integrating a holistic approach to structure, daily immersion (even if for short amounts of time each day), and practical cultivation of oral skills allow for acquisition barriers to be at the minimum and the learner to progress at maximum potential.
To implement these pedagogical principles, having a consistent cultivation of the French language structure, refreshing variety of culture and daily life exposure, and phonetic instruction should be applied in the class setting regularly and encourage individual exploration outside of the classroom. Each component should be taught through interactive exercises that create the environment for students to make the language and their individual acquisition their own. Conversation groups as an outside-of-class activity have also proved significant in the development of personal confidence and individual sense of competence and accomplishment.
With these underpinnings and goals in mind, the role of the teacher is unique from the traditional, austere, strict professors of the classical languages. French is a language that is very much alive, therefore, the role of the instructor should be to create an environment as full of life and a guide to all the places where speaking the language can take the learner. Maybe even more fundamentally, the role of the teacher should not be to spoon-feed or create mere parrots of the language but provide springboards for curiosity to be the fuel of students' curiosity.
Charlotte Bulkeley, 2020-2021.