Only together can we make a difference.

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Only Together Conference 2019

Last month, Woodmont Hills Church hosted the Only Together Conference aimed at connecting Nashville’s refugee service groups to each other. It presented a great opportunity to learn more about the refugees who make Nashville their home and the services available to them, to network with other agencies and to share about TLC’s programs. Erin Keafer, Assistant Director of English Programs at TLC, highlighted our ESL to Go program, which takes the classroom to refugee communities and helps to eliminate the transportation barrier. Since many of the volunteers in attendance teach informal English to the refugees who they mentor, we wanted to remind them what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk.

Heather Seybold teaching a German lesson to the audience.

When we talk about teaching our new neighbors English, it’s good to be reminded of how humbling the process of learning a new language as an adult can be. We thought it might be better to show rather than to tell, which also gave us an opportunity to talk about our Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) and World Language courses. I presented a German lesson using NO English! “What?!!”, you say, “How is that possible??” Well, it’s the difference between explaining the grammar in English or teaching the target language phrases in context. Your brain is MUCH more engaged when it has to work not only to remember the phrase but to understand its meaning based on context. This is what sets our communicative approach apart from traditional teaching methods.

Many of our ESL students don’t share the same primary language in the classroom, so we must teach them in English using different methods that explain the meaning of the words rather than just presenting the vocabulary in the language they are most comfortable speaking. If you have ever experienced teaching or learning a new language using the communicative method, it sounds much easier to do than it is—both as a student and a teacher. The TESL program at TLC helps set teachers up for success using these effective teaching methods.

So let this serve as an invitation. Come learn a language with us or learn how to teach a language — we’d love to help! Only together can we make a difference.

Learn more today by visiting www.tlc.tennessee.edu or calling us at 615-741-7579.

Heather Seybold

Assistant Director, Foreign Languages

Contact

Phone: 615-741-7579 x119

Email: heather.seybold@tennessee.edu

More Than Just Night Classes – How TLC Helps Homeschool Families

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I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Connie Barrow, a nurse practitioner from White House who homeschools her two kids, Wesley (age 15) and Shannon (age 13). They have been attending our classes since January and just recently completed their third term. She sits patiently in our lobby twice a week for two hours while Wesley and Shannon take their evening world language classes and has become a dear friend of ours.

One of the reasons Connie sought us out was because of her son’s interest in learning Russian. Private video lessons with an instructor based in the Ukraine sparked an interest in attending an in-person class. With a quick search on the internet, Connie found TLC.

The combination of the private tutoring and attending our in-person classes year round is how her kids achieve the required amount of homeschool credit every year. Although year round classes are a big commitment, Connie appreciates the continuity of the language learning and says it quickly became about more than just achieving the school credit – both kids are very committed to and excited about learning their prospective languages.

Connie says that one of the perks of studying here is that her kids can be around adult learners who take their language studies seriously. Her kids don’t have to worry about other students in class goofing off or distracting them from learning.

She also really appreciates the breadth of world language options when compared to regular school systems who typically only offer a few language options. As a mother, she thought it was important that her kids have the option to choose their own language interests from a large variety of options. Having lots of choices helps them think outside the box and enjoy being different. She is very proud that her kids authentically picked their own languages to study and believes it shows them that learning to pursue personal goals and dreams is valuable. “Sometimes teenagers feel the need to conform, but they need to know that it’s okay not to conform. I definitely recommend TLC to homeschool parents. Even if it’s not for credit, it encourages independence even within their own family and gives them something that makes them unique.”

Pictured are Wesley and Shannon Barrow after class.

I was also very happy to hear that both kids absolutely love their teachers. Wesley’s Russian teacher, Tatiana Logsdon, is a native of Russia. Wesley enjoys the stories she shares from her homeland, the culture, and learning what it is really like to live there. Shannon enjoys French because it is different from what her big brother is studying, but also because her French teacher, Jennifer Pitts, is consistent and understands what it is like to be in her student’s shoes with learning a language from scratch. Also, Shannon’s aunt lives in Quebec and speaks French, so it has been exciting for her to have that connection to her extended family members in Canada.

Connie has picked up some world language skills from her kids, too! She can say some basic sentences in Russian and French, thanks to her well-studied kids. The Barrow family recently attended the 2019 International Pathfinder Camporee event in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin, where they got to meet and spend time with hundreds of different families from different countries and cultural backgrounds. The Barrow family believes that seeking out and celebrating diversity is important for their kids’ character development. “It is important to know there is a way to show kindness even if you can’t understand what the other person is saying. It is exciting to be in a multi-cultural setting. They are people from other places, but they are just like you and me. There is so much value in being bilingual.”

She also wanted to point out that it was a fairly easy process of registering her kids and getting all her questions answered. “I really like TLC’s gentle approach to helping us, whether on the phone or in person, it was important to me to ask questions. I absolutely recommend TLC to everyone.”

Our current class offerings are Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. If you are interested in getting more information or registering for classes, please visit our website at http://tlc.tennessee.edu or give us a call at 615-741-7579.

Non-native Teachers

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As I’m writing this, we are wrapping up registrations for another term of classes, and I’m finding myself talking about our courses and teachers to many prospective students. I often get asked if the teacher in a selected class is a native speaker of the language they teach. It’s a simple yes/no question but I have so many problems with it!

The question usually comes from the underlying assumptions that native speakers…

A) are better teachers

B) know the language more extensively

and

C) students will learn to speak the language with their teachers’ native accents.

Because English is the most widely taught foreign/second language in the world, the issue of native-speaker preference is already being tackled in that universe and there is a lot we can learn from it, but let us take a moment here to discuss what we know from working with teachers of different languages and tackle the three assumptions mentioned above.

There is no research that supports the assumption that native speakers make better teachers; there are no studies or statistics showing that students learn more, better or faster from native vs. non-native speakers. Where learning is concerned, other characteristics of a teacher are a much better measure. You will find that a teacher’s personality traits like patience and creativity, as well as, positive attitude and personal investment in teaching are the main predictors of students’ overall success.

Good teachers are those who are trained to teach foreign languages, have a passion for it, are kind and respectful towards their students, and continue to grow professionally. Both native and non-native teachers have the opportunity to become exquisite teachers, and the mere fact that someone is a native speaker doesn’t bring them any closer to being a good language teacher.

On average, indeed, native speakers know more of the given language than non-native speakers, but only if we control for education levels. If we, however, compare a well-educated non-native speaker with a native speaker with less education, we will find that the non-native speaker will speak more intelligibly and will be able to use the language correctly in a wider range of situations, including professional and formal circumstances.

Something else worth noting is teaching a language requires what we could call “meta-knowledge” of the language, or some rudimentary linguistic awareness of the language. Let’s observe some examples of different language features that must be taught to students: the passive voice in English or German, the subjunctive in French and Spanish, the gender-number agreement in Russian and Polish. Native speakers of these languages use these features in their language every day but of course they never think about them. If asked, “why do you say it this way” they may have no idea. Alternatively, not every non-native teacher would do a good job teaching a class about it (see point A), but every one of them would know the concept of “passive voice, subjunctive, etc.”, why it has to have a place in the curriculum, why it needs to be used, and what is the difference between the passive and active voice – just to use this one example.

So what a teacher needs regarding language knowledge is both the functional ability, which is similar type of skill to riding a bike – you don’t know the mechanics of the bike or anatomy behind your muscle movements but you can ride a bike; and the analytical ability, i.e. having the awareness of each grammar point, sentence structure, fine differences between similar words and so on. On average, non-native teachers will have higher level of awareness of grammar and structures of the language than native teachers, but native teachers will have, on average, higher functional ability.

The trouble with accent is that although some (very few) people will actually pick up an accent from another speaker or their teacher, and to a minimal degree all of us can and do even in our native language (i.e. we try to accommodate the speaker by speaking similarly to them), most of us are not able to mimic perfectly the pronunciation or intonation of someone else, especially in a foreign language. If we were able to pick up accents just like that, I would now (after living almost 4 years in the United States!) have a perfect local accent. I don’t and I won’t, although I listen to and speak with Americans all the time. Typically, your accent in a new language is determined by your first language: most of us, saying things in a new language, sound like we are speaking our native tongue with new words and sentence order! Your accent will also be determined by other languages you learned or use. Finally, we might hear a little bit of your teacher in you, but probably no more than a tiny percentage.

This is all to say that having a native speaker as a teacher does not in itself give students any particular advantages.

Some teachers actually say being non-native is an advantage in a classroom!

But ultimately, rigorous training, actual and certified language proficiency, as well as personality and attitude should be the only selection criteria when hiring instructors in all language teaching institutions, for both native and non-native teachers.