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The Wonderful World of Foreign Language

July 16, 2018
By Cindy Abbatemarco

It is a new era in the world of language teaching and language learning, and it is a wonderful, exciting time to study languages!

Having been a part of the World Language education field for more than 30 years I have seen and utilized many approaches, but this new wave of thought, based on how the brain naturally acquires language, is absolutely effective, and in my own words - magical.

It is referred to as Teaching with Comprehensible Input (TCI) and involves a collection of approaches, techniques, and strategies for teaching language that engages the learner and provides compelling input in the target language that the learner can understand. While students are focused on the activities, their brains are acquiring the language naturally, much like the first language was acquired. Grammar and vocabulary are learned through exposure to the language as opposed to traditional grammar charts, vocabulary lists, and boring textbook exercises.

The content is tailored to meet the interests of the learner with a variety of engaging activities that provide repetition of material in the target language. One of the most effective strategies is the use of storytelling techniques. It is well known that engaging a learner through a story will create long term recall of even the most complex ideas.

Utilizing this concept in language acquisition is equally effective. With just a few words and lots of gestures the learner can begin to comprehend the message right away. The goal of stories is to provide enough repetitions of vocabulary and grammatical structures that students pick them up naturally. As the learner becomes more proficient, stories are chosen that utilize more vocabulary and more grammatical structures. Stories can be listened to, read, spoken, written, drawn, sung, and acted out which provides the repetition the learner needs, as well as the exposure to the particular learning style that best fits the learner.

This past year 3rd and 4th grade students worked with a funny story involving a man's quest for a new pet. 5th graders read and utilized the Readers Theater approach to a story about a young boy trying to get to Hawaii. Some of the best stories are created by the students themselves. Young learners have creative tales to tell and are eager to find the right words to share their ideas. Middle schoolers wrote many individual stories as well as whole class stories. One of the favorites was about an elderly soccer-playing frog named Phyllis who lived in Seoul and was plagued by a deep, dark secret.

Language learning is a long journey and cannot be accomplished in a few years in a classroom setting. It takes consistency, practice, and the courage to put yourself in situations that aren't always comfortable. The classroom is a lab and the teacher is the coach and facilitator for each individual on the language proficiency path. I am still on my Spanish language journey and am enjoying every minute of it.

Today's technology allows for free, accessible language input for all levels. YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Podcasts, Duolingo, Apple and Android apps, DVD's and television programs with subtitles and language options offer ways to expose language learners to all kinds of authentic language and culture at their level in their language journey.

This summer I have watched a Mexican telenovela, followed my favorite Spanish musicians on Instagram and Facebook, and listened to newscasts and stories for the Advanced learner on Podcasts and Duolingo. As I continue on my path I hope to inspire, educate, and guide others in the beauty of learning another language and its culture. We live in an automated, connected global world and we must all learn how to interact with one another through multilingualism and interculturality and this starts with our youngest citizens.