Why it matters that this blog speaks to teachers AND learners

Most language education sites target either teachers or learners. This one targets both.

Blue and Orange teaching and learningWhy? After all, it’s not really good for business: Teachers may decide that the articles about reading habits and other language learning routines aren’t relevant to them, and people learning languages on their own may decide the same about the posted lesson plans and activities. I assume there are people who don’t subscribe to this blog or don’t follow @IndwellingLang because the density of posts they consider relevant to them is too low.

But I’m deeply committed to the intertwining of teaching and learning languages. Here are two theoretical and two practical reasons.

 

1. Languages are learned, not taught

Changes that happen in the learner’s brain are what constitutes the acquisition of a language. No one else can cause these changes. Rather, the changes happen when the circumstances support their happening. (These circumstances are described throughout this site, including in the posts The Number One Mistake in Language Learning and Grammar Is Not a Skill, or What Does it Really Mean to Know a Language?)

I encourage all language teachers to consider themselves not transmitters of subject matter, but people who (a) do what they can to create and sustain circumstances suitable for the necessary changes to happen in learners’ brains, and (b) help students see how to seek or create such circumstances themselves. With this mindset, any idea about effective language learning practices is relevant to a teacher.

I encourage all language learners to view themselves as serial seekers of circumstances suitable for acquiring a language. With this mindset, knowing how skilled teachers create such circumstances is relevant to a learner.

 

2. There is no teaching without learning

Learning can happen without teaching. It happens all the time. But if learning hasn’t happened, then teaching didn’t happen. I sometimes hear teachers say, “I taught them X, but they didn’t learn it.” This is like saying, “I helped my grandma get across the street safely, but she didn’t get across the street safely.”

I’m not trying to make teachers responsible for every time a student doesn’t learn what the teacher hoped the student would learn. There are tons of issues beyond teachers’ control. I am saying that the very concept of teaching only makes sense as a set of practices that support learning. This is the case in any area, but it’s true-times-two in language education because acquiring a language isn’t an academic process in the first place. It’s a fundamental human process that can be supported by people who have an idea about how the process works and who themselves have the linguistic proficiency to create suitable environments to catalyze the process. By convention, we call these people language teachers.

 

3. Teachers who are current language learners are likely to be better teachers

Here are six reasons why. These reasons apply mainly to learning a language other than the one(s) you teach, but it’s also worth noting that teachers aren’t generally “done” learning the language(s) they teach.

 

4. Learners who are aware of issues in language teaching are likely to be better learners

Unless all you do in order to learn a language is live in immersion and/or consume content created for native speakers, then you rely on language teachers in some way, even if you’re not taking a class. The people who have created Duolingo, Anki, Memrise, Lingq, Yabla, your textbooks, and songs and stories for language learners are types of teachers who made decisions based on what they think language teaching and learning should be like. Your awareness of these decisions and the issues involved can help you choose your resources and habits wisely.

It’s true that, if you are a learner uninterested in teaching, you don’t need to know about this or that teaching activity. But the specific kinds of teaching tips and principles featured on this site are likely to give you ideas you can apply in your own learning practices.

 

There are other ways in which teaching and learning are intertwined, and other reasons I remain committed to addressing both teachers and learners, even if doing one can seem like a timeout from doing the other, but I’ll leave it at four for now.

What are your thoughts on the learning-teaching relationship?

Posted in Learning, Teaching and tagged , , , .

2 Comments

  1. Your blog has helped liberate me from the prison of grammar – an especially frustrating focus in latin where proficiency is not an outcome of knowing grammar per se. Not being in a class situation, your blog has helped me recognize what I need to do to teach myself and improve the situation for learning what I want to do with latin instead of what I know about the grammar. Grammar could be profitably taught completely separately from specific languages just as a facet of human psychology and society. Students who don’t know a noun from a verb would do well to explore Nahuatl or Japanese or the like and not just the usual German, French and Spanish. Not too many books about that at the high school level. Chomsky’s TG is over 50 years old and is rarely met with outside linguistic journals. The various theories of how people learn language should be developed for earlier discussion by younger students so they get a grasp of what a crucial aspect of humanity languages are. Every language is a valuable comment on reality if taught as the key to the culture it carries.

  2. I certainly can testify that the process of learning new things has greatly informed my teaching practices. When I struggled as an adult to learn music theory, starting with connecting the bass and treble clef, I had a new empathy for my students’ predicaments. Same thing with trying to master white water kayaking, clawing my way out of the concrete channel at the white water center in Charlotte bloody elbows and all, i said never again. My teacher led me down the wrong channel, so I confronted class III rapids in my second lesson. Good metaphor for what not to do in teaching.
    I’m just trying to emphasize that the things we teachers of language need not be limited to new language teaching methods, or languages. The lessons are everywhere⛲

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