How is language acquired? The most popular answer among the general public would be in the school classroom. There we learn a lot of things like syntax, grammar and the like. However, children come to school with language components. They have learned sentences and words without knowing what they are. Because a huge part of learning a language is in conversation. Thus, parents have, long before the beginning of school life, taught children terms of everyday life, elements of nature, family, etc.
Other languages will be studied compulsorily or to the taste of the learner during the course of school. Each time, he will acquire lexemes and grammatical rules. In order to master and consolidate them, nothing beats discussion since it involves the vocables and forces one to use them intelligibly.
Creating pretexts for conversation
While some students benefit from immersion in living environments in the language studied, not all will have this chance to discuss with native speakers. Nevertheless, the teacher can create conversation workshops. For example, the University of Ottawa's Institut Des Langues Officielles Et Du Bilinguisme has designed such groups to improve students' French proficiency. For about an hour, participants exchange in connection with the topic decreed by the facilitator. This can be as simple as debating about student life or as literal as fictional simulations.
Other activities can be organized to generate discussion. They may involve a book that has been checked out by all students, a current event chosen by the class, or a self-awareness activity. Debates are possible, but this requires tact when they touch on more critical topics. The important thing there is then to remember to criticize the ideas and not the person expressing them. Whether it's in English, German, Polish or even French as a Foreign Language, any excuse is good in order to discuss and practice mastering a language.
There are even online solutions like this one in Canada called eh-plus which offers the opportunity for students to chat in video conference. A teacher in attendance will be able to correct in real time and provide a list of identified errors, corrections and new vocabulary words to learn. The idea is to provide an opportunity to speak English with others without censoring yourself or thinking about theory. This will come later.
Turn and Talk
A strategy often used in the American setting, among others, is the "Turn and Talk". Two learners have a brief discussion about course content just given. For example, imagine a class discussing travel-related vocabulary. The teacher might ask the pairs to each tell each other about a short tourist memory or a place they want to go someday, explaining why. While peers discuss, the teacher listens to the different groups and notes which ones follow the instructions and which ones do not. Once the exercise is completed, a large group feedback can take place with some sharing what they said.
Some critics reject this approach saying that it does not go far enough and does not force students to use and learn more words. Yet there is nothing to prevent more depth as long as you really teach the art of discussion controlled. That is, teaching them to stay on topic, actively listen to each other, and respect each other's words.
In addition, the teaching job requires ensuring that tandems are well balanced and that there are no "dominators" in the conversation, even if it means changing teams. Because, although it can be improved, the method adds more interest to the classes, offers an opportunity to practice speaking and listening skills, and is meant to be more engaging for the learners.
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