Wednesday’s article elicited this, from club member Richard:
“Your contempt for your students is evident in every paragraph. If they sense it—as I’m sure they do—you are doing them more harm than good. They deserve a teacher who genuinely loves the job.”
Which seemed a bit strong, but at least provided a topic for today.
The students themselves seemed happy enough and, Tuesday evening’s lesson (briefly described in Wednesday’s article) being the last in the ‘module’, they cheerily agreed to pay for another five weeks of being treated contemptuously.
Perhaps a quick coda is in order?
Teaching kids a foreign language means building knowledge and skills over a number of years, until puberty kicks in. At which point they’re unteachable for a while, but after which they become nice young people, and start to chat away happily in their second language, using their new found self-confidence and everything they’ve learnt from teachers since the age of three. Or whenever they began. It’s very predictable – just a matter of time and biology.
Teaching adult learners, however, and that might be any age from college students to retired people, and any professional level (last night’s class featured a factory electrician, a teacher, and a woman who is in charge of the building code for a region with millions of inhabitants), invariably means doing the opposite.
If you are an American, learning Italian for the first time, Richard, I can see how you might want clear, unambiguous rules.
You’ll waste vast amounts of time on that, before realising that you’re on the wrong track. But each to his own.
Ignore my advice to read, listen and speak as much as possible, and to not worry overmuch about acquiring a complete understanding of the grammar system (much of which is never used, or is used differently, in speech.)
But I’m getting paid to teach Italian adults, almost all of whom have been failing to learn English for most of their lives. When they reach me, they are demotivated, confused by the previous teaching which didn’t help, and above all, want to speak and understand English NOW!
Reteaching the grammar system would take multiple years of evening classes and, even for a non-contemptuous teacher, offers no guarantee that it would be any more effective than the teaching that came before it, which left students looking for some other solution.
With adults, the trick, I’ve found, is to shortcut the whole process, by only bothering with the things that cause the greatest friction between the corpus of (Italian) grammar in the students’ heads, and the corpus of grammar in the heads of native speaker users of the language the students are paying to learn.
The students typically assume they’ll need to learn everything, from the beginning, and the prospect rightly depresses them.
Of course, I could teach them everything, in the same way their high school teacher tried to. But as it didn’t work previously, why might it work this time?
More’s to the point, they were legally-obliged to sit through high school language lessons, whereas now, as adult learners, if they don’t feel they’re making progress and getting value for money, they’re off!
The areas to teach are the things that everyone gets wrong (where Italian and English are different) but which CAN ACTUALLY BE LEARNT BY A TYPICAL PERSON IN THE TIME AVAILABLE. Cioè, not everything. Choices need to be made.
And the way to teach it is with as much interaction, speaking and dare I say it, respect, as possible.
I aim to treat people like the intelligent adults (and paying customers) that they are. Kids too, because Italian kids are spoilt rotten, and if they tell their moms they don’t want to go to English class any longer, that’s the end of that.
Areas of grammar that I’m well aware, after 23 years teaching exclusively Italian students, are effectively unlearnable by a typical adult, still do need to be touched on. But that can be done in ways (feedback on errors, answering questions, brief explanations) which don’t take too much time away from focusing on what’s achievable.
In short, THIS teacher tries to add value by reflecting on all the things he’s done ineffectively with his students over so many years, and hopefully finding other, better ways to do things.
So far, I’ve discovered no magic wand. But I have established some guidelines:
- reassurance is important
- building self-confidence is important
- giving everyone lots of time to speak and interact is important
- banging people’s heads against brick walls (or boring them to death) is unhelpful
One guy from Tuesday evening’s class was with me online during the pandemic lockdown last academic year. Then he was A2 (pre-intermediate), now he’s B1 (intermediate).
Over the summer, he told me, he went to a wedding (in Italy) where he was introduced to some other guests, from the USA, none of whom spoke a word of Italian.
But it wasn’t a problem, he found, as he was able to understand what they said. And reply! They had quite a chat, apparently. He was very pleased.
Ebook offer, last reminder…
If you haven’t bought a copy of our new Italian ‘easy reader’ ebook, Il calendario di Laura, you have until Sunday night to do that.
From Monday the price will be the usual £7.99, rather than the discounted £5.99.
It’s not a vast difference, and the ebook is worth the money anyway. But still, no one likes missing a discount, right?
N.b. There’ll be another new ebook next week, and the two week’s after that (pandemic stockpile!)
A lunedì, allora.