How Languages are Learned

pd Oct 13, 2021

“Approaches that integrate attention to form within communicative and content-based interaction receive the most support from classroom research. “(Lightbrown & Spada 2006:176)

If you studied Second Language Learning at University, then this was most likely one of your textbooks. If like me, you are a primary teacher first and a language teacher second then I highly recommend this book to help bring you up to speed. I don’t know about you, but I often feel self-conscious about many things, but mostly my lack of formal Second Language Learning qualifications or my lack of language teaching experience, but also my Indonesian language proficiency. I feel super self-conscious admitting all that to you all! Running Teaching Indonesian is a joy, but as part of that, I have learnt to rely on others more knowable than myself to ensure we have quality products and aren’t limited by myself.

If you are a primary teacher who is new to teaching Indonesian, then I understand what you are going through. That was me just a few short years ago. I was conversational in Indonesian, and a qualified primary teacher, so I took on a maternity leave position for Indonesian teaching. If this is you, then welcome to the game! Being a specialist teacher is crazy, but also so much fun. The way I overcame my lack of training was to get myself a mentor. Not just the school appointed one, but an experienced Indonesian teacher to help guide me through. Bu Sharon had been teaching Indonesian for 30 years, she is a pro, head of LOTE at her school for many years, she also taught French, and she is a fountain of wisdom. There is nothing quite like someone who has done it all and seen the full cycles of teaching fads multiple times, to help you gain perspective. If you don’t have someone like Bu Sharon to mentor you, then join the Primary Indonesian Teachers Facebook Page and enjoy their collective wisdom, and maybe approach someone to be a mentor for you.

Other than getting a mentor, my second advice is to find some good quality books. I looked at masters degree courses and downloaded their booklists, and had fun working out which ones might be most helpful. How Languages are Learned by Lightbrown and Spada was borrowed from Matt who works with Teaching Indonesian. He oversees many things, but his Masters of Education and specialisation in Second Language teaching & TESOL had been invaluable in informing our practice at Teaching Indonesian.

There is so much to learn about second language teaching, so I encourage you to grab “How Languages are Learnt” by Lightbrown and Spada. For primary teachers, it is a great book to look at what we do with young students and how we can best teach a new language to our students. It gives you that ‘zoomed out’ perspective of any theories and philosophies that all form our understanding of how we teach Indonesian. I love that it talks about scaffolding language learning, that is isn’t a linear process, but as we circle back on language structures and words students have already learned, students begin to build a meaningful language ability. The book touches on student motivation and engagement, and the sometimes unintended effects our approaches can have in the classroom.

“The principle way teachers can influence learners’ motivation is by making the classroom a supportive environment in which students are stimulated, engaged in activities that are appropriate to their age, interests, cultural backgrounds, and, most importantly, where students can experience success. This in turn can contribute to positive motivation, leading to still greater success.” (Lightbrown & Spada 2006:185)

There is so much wisdom in this book. Take a look at this quote below…

“As we have seen, language learning is affected by many factors. Among these are the personal characteristics and experiences of the learner, the social and cultural environment both inside and outside the classroom, the structure of the native and target languages, opportunities for interaction with speakers of the target language, and access to correction and form-focused instruction. It is clear that teachers do not have control over all of these factors. Nevertheless, a better understanding of them will permit teachers and learners to make the most of the time they spend together in the twin process of teaching and learning a second language. (Lightbrown & Spada 2006:194)

I really feel that being a teacher first has informed the way I teach Indonesian in a good way. If you are just starting out your Indonesian teaching journey, then we would love to encourage you and support you. We are looking at setting up a group of Indonesian teachers that are teaching Indonesian for the first time in 2021, so we can mentor an guide you along your way. If you are at all interested we would love you to get in touch.

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