Thursday, April 26, 2012

Professional development of foreign language teachers (1 of 2)

Here we present the first part of an article written by the head of studies at Tía Tula. The article was written for the Language Magazine and is about the training of foreign language teachers:  


The reasons for becoming a teacher of a second language or a foreign language (FL) can be numerous: having studied a language and it being one of the job opportunities at the end or having given individual, private or group classes; having helped foreign friends in the study of their own language, having lived in a country where demand in that field is important (although initially it doesn´t count as concrete training), etc. In the moment in which - in a constant and conscious way - one starts to work in this field (not as mere fun or to help friends), we can call this person a foreign language teacher. In many cases this person will become a professional who will develop their career throughout their whole life.

However, being a FL teacher isn´t simply about being a native and passing on knowledge to a greater or lesser extent, this is what language teaching manuals set out. When this happens, the teacher is limited to going over the content and activities that they have to do, just before the class, then interact during and after the class with their students and on a few occasions analyse the development of their classes and evaluate the learning process. Nevertheless, being a foreign language teacher goes further than mere repetition of instructions and activities with the language. The teacher should be able to analyse the entire language curriculum and know how to pass on this knowledge whenever it´s needed to all levels at a gradual pace and also in accordance with the capability of each student. Only in this way do we achieve a solid, seamless learning foundation where students won´t suffer from frustration or anxiety when they are learning. Furthermore, the teacher should be able to analyse and assess the manuals that they will have to work with, weigh up the proposed activities from the manuals and be able to use them, reuse them and adapt them to the concrete characteristics and the characteristics that differentiate each concrete group. They should even be able to create their own material that can be used to teach, reinforce and clarify, these being: specific teaching materials for communication and interaction activities that can cover and accomplish the needs of the students and can be adapted to different language levels. In this way the teacher will not fall into the routine of just transferring information. The more years a teacher is in this profession the more capable they will be of analysis, therefore there will be more scope to be creative and adapt to the interests and needs of the students.

In contrast, being a teacher in whatever area is about accepting the constant need for training. Just like a surgeon should do research his whole life because medicine advances and new technology allows him to discover new tools, a teacher should take the same measures. The starting point when a teacher starts in this profession is to know, as I’ve mentioned before, that a FL teacher doesn´t just pass on theoretical knowledge but should be an actor who teaches his students through the use of their own language in a descriptive and practical way, explaining why, when, how and for what for every communicative use.  The second stage will be the ability to adapt to each teaching level, being able to pass on information whenever it´s needed, so that the student can use it with the level they have. For example, if a teacher gives beginners classes (A1 level in Europe), he or she must be able to overcome the difficulty that teaching involves when the student has a lack of knowledge in the target language, which in turn complicates their understanding of explanations. Therefore, this will make the teacher give more visual and imitative explanations and more importantly, be more intuitive than in any other phase of teaching/learning. It is pointless if one knows what to explain well but doesn´t know how to make one self understood.

(To be continued in Professional development of foreign language teachers (2 of 2))

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