A lesson in trust


What could be more weird than a language teacher who almost never speaks in class? Maybe a dancing teacher who can’t dance.

That’s what I did many years ago. The lesson was recorded and a kind person transcribed it but I’ve only now translated it into English and put it on line here: A Dance Lesson.  The lesson couldn’t have taken place if my student (and friend) Christiane Rozet hadn’t trusted me and I hadn’t trusted her. It also helped that we both adhered to the same conception of how people learn and what the teacher’s role is.

Most of my professional life was spent quite otherwise: teaching a skill I do master myself. I’m a native-speaker of English who is lucky enough to both speak with a variant of RP and to write Standard English with very few hesitations. I also know quite a lot about the language: grammar, phonology, history, etc. Over the years, I’ve picked up hundreds of pedagogical techniques for “getting across” various aspects of the language. But all that can be a hindrance to being simply present to a particular student and responding to their needs “here and now”. Choosing to “teach” a subject about which I know next to nothing freed me from all that irrelevant baggage. It was scary but also exhilarating.
(Read more…)

Teaching Pronunciation Differently – 1

Professor Higgns teaches Eliza phonetics

Professor Higgins explaining some of the finer points of English phonetics to Eliza.
(from My Fair Lady, 1964)

If you’re a language teacher you’ve probably already seen diagrams of the inside of the mouth showing the position of tongue and lips when certain sounds are produced.

I’ve looked at them with interest but much in the same way that I look at cross-sections of car engines or volcanoes.

On the  12th of January, at the beginning of their EVO course Teaching Pronunciation Differently, Piers Messum, Arizio Sweeting and Roslyn Young presented us (the participants) with such a diagram but with a very significant difference. (Read more…)