Creating Productive Communicative Contexts With The Foreign Students

Abstract

Educational activities carried out in a positive, entertaining and challenging atmosphere arouse the students` interest, increase motivation and desire for getting involved into the tasks. Consequently, interactivity derives not only from the application of modern teaching methods, but especially from the skill and the sense of humour of the activity coordinator.If game playing is the main form of organization of work in childhood, then we can say without hesitation that laughter remains the necessary ingredient of any successful interactive teaching activity, regardless of age or social status of the protagonists.Open discussions on our weaknesses and strengths, successes and failures, on whatever we love or we abhor are all helpful for a better integration within the group, and they are good prerequisites for socialization and empathy. Students must be happy simply because they are in classroom in one another's company. It is good if we can strengthen their sense of belonging to the group and remind them the reasons why all of them are lucky to be there together. Our paper aims to bring into the attention of those teachers involved in training the foreign students some suggestions of modalities that come to support activity development by creating relaxed didactic contexts, beneficial to interrelating and learning in general.

Keywords: Adult language learnerschallenging didactic activitiesinteractivityself-confidencegood practice

Introduction

For some adults, language learning can be a common and easily mastering process, while for

others it becomes one of the most frustrating experiences. In the former case, there is aptitude for

language learning that permits acquiring a lot in a stress free mood and without dedicating so much time

to it. In the latter situation, there are many reasons people consider when it comes to being discouraged

about their skilfulness in learning. Among these reasons, there are aspects learners can control and things

that go beyond their control: personality type, lack of motivation, improper learning environment, not

inspired learning strategies. They all may affect the quality and quantity of language acquisition. That is

why some people are discouraged and abandon “the war” even before getting started.

Most of the debates lie on the differences between the adults` and the children`s learning capacity

because there are studies which state the scientific recognition of the adults as poor/not so successful

language learners. Yet, some other specialists stress the opposite idea: “Research comparing children to

adults has consistently demonstrated that adolescents and adults perform better than young children under

controlled conditions” (Snow & Hoefnagel-Höhle, 1978). Intellectual curiosity, self-confidence, intuition

are all prerequisites for identifying, sensing and making correlations between the already-known

structures and the new ones. Adults are not “older children” just the same way children are not “miniature

adults”. There are considerable differences and they cannot be ignored or discredited, but these age-

related anxieties should be abandoned as soon as possible in order not to let them pull down the edifice of

language learning. Students need permanent encouragement and reinforcement of the idea that any theory

circulating all around is not necessarily and unanimously available; one cannot accept isolated

descriptions and misconceptions about the individuals` potential. In turn, anyone can explore his inner

forces and talent while manifesting strong self-confidence. It`s up to each learner to get closer and closer

to his language learning purpose.

Several Tips to Success in Language Learning

Firstly, we admit that writing, reading, watching, listening, speaking are all-essential in language

learning all over the world. Up to this point, things are crystal-clear and firmly stated by scientific

research.

Secondly, each day of the week should be a day gained to the benefit of learning with writing,

reading, watching, listening, and speaking activities. An American professor stated that anybody could

progress in language learning on condition that one makes quite a bit of effort on a daily basis. And this

daily spoken practice is a basic condition from the 1st day of “study”. Every single day postponed is a lost

one and the best path to developing a defence wall out of reasonless hesitation.

The task of learning a new language comes with lots of new words to understand, keep in mind

and reactivate as many times as needed. Under these circumstances, one will hardly consider himself

ready for language interaction. Yet, there is the following message that teachers should convey to their

learners: students are not supposed to know all the words but the necessary ones to express their own

main needs and requirements for the beginning. Language learning is not about memorizing everything at

once, it is more about getting to know those words and expressions that work well for specific

communication contexts.

There are simple and handy things one can do about it, such as learning the main linking words

(preposition, conjunctions, adverbs of mood/time/position etc.) This is a promising step because the

linking words will be largely used throughout the whole learning process and there is no risk of forgetting

them once one memorized them. They are basic elements for building and structuring any sentence, text

etc.

Cognates - those words one recognizes from his/her native language – are good friends to any

learner at the beginning of the language absorption process. A list of such familiar terms gives everyone a

feeling of security and self-confidence. Once one has it downloaded from the internet, making simple

sentences with the words is the best option possible: make them work to one`s advantage even from the

first contact with the list.

Basic vocabulary acquisition helps everyone build many new contexts and enrich language

comprehension. Yet, getting to know one thousand words all by heart is less important than knowing only

one hundred and integrating them properly in everyday conversations. Memorizing words and phrases is

only the first step to making them produce effective conversation, and then enlarge sentences and nuance

them progressively. Mnemonics technique is the shortest way to memorizing some new words by

integrating them into attractive contexts. Once one created the “reminding device”, the possibility to

forget the basic word is practically non-existent. They can make sure the memorization is good enough by

using them regularly and even more often at the beginning. An exchange of mnemonics among the group

members would be interesting, amusing and useful.

With the time, vocabulary acquisition mainly depends on the exposure learners may get to the

language. Usually, an informal context will create better acquisition opportunities than a classroom.

Nevertheless, if we create both formal and informal learning contexts right into the classroom, success is

definitely ours.

Defining language goals for short and medium-sized periods is a clear measure of the personal

progress recorded and a source for frustration avoidance. Connecting is essential in language learning.

Language exchanges are important, that is why expanding the social circle is always advantageous. One

decides, for example, that within a definite period he will be able to have casual verbal interaction with

the next room Romanian mate. Learning from one another and even from the other students` mistakes is a

good opportunity for avoiding their repetition. Relating to people by means of conversation brings

students much further in terms of fluency than any other method. Conversation should be on varied topics

and constantly progressing in vocabulary volume and length (duration).

Mistakes are a source and a reason for correction as well as for entertainment. Everyone makes

mistakes and this is nothing else but a sign of effective learning.The position of a beginner learner saves

one`s “reputation” while he keeps mastering the new language. Native speakers will never be offended by

a foreigner`s vocabulary or grammar imperfections. On the contrary! Mistakes become sources of

amusement and determine the native to get to “support the error-makers” unconditionally. However,

learners should be made aware of the fact that pronunciation comes with the time: understanding is much

more important than sounding because communication is the immediate goal for language learning.

Communication is essential; perfection is a daydream!

Getting to know as many things as possible about the other group members is very important.

Each student needs to be aware of the fact that his colleagues are just in the same position, they all share

the same range of feelings regarding the new learning experience: they are anxious, suspicious, hesitating,

curious etc. They are very much alike. Starting from this idea, in the beginning, when students find it

difficult to make up correct language structures (sentences/phrases), they may receive a set of personal

questions – questionnaire – together with a large number of possible answers to them. They will only

have to choose their own answers from the list of ready-made alternatives and practice questions and

answers as many times as necessary. A short personality-type description will come soon to confirm and

strengthen learning. Once he starts to accumulate new words and expressions, this may be one of the first

short personal communications every student is able to perform. Their sense of skilfulness, confidence

and energy mobilization is getting stronger and this is a good premise for going to the next step.

Learning Experiences with the Foreign Students

As far as Romanian language teaching - learning is concerned, multinational groups of students

should be made aware of the following requirements:

�Language items must become oral speech as soon as possible

�Oral speech should be practiced extensively and on a daily basis

�Homework is very, very important!

While the first and the second statements are common and perfectly logic, the third one must

appear strange and even exaggerated, especially when it comes to proposing interesting, non-boring

approaches to adult language learners. Yet, from our experience with adult language learners from many

regions of the world, we drew the conclusion as it is stated above: students should be given varied and

complex studying tasks for home no matter their age, preoccupation, beliefs. Homework is good for

keeping learners involved, for having them permanently connected to the language reality, and usage

requirements. It forces students out of the comfort zone and urge them into manifesting their attitude,

knowledge, language comprehension. Yet, one thing is worth reinforcing here: homework items must be

exciting, surprising, funny, creative, challenging! If all these requirements are met, students will never

feel homework as a burden but as an opportunity to enjoy language learning, and they will be curious

about finding out how the following one will be enunciated.

Although adult students are more disciplined and more resistant to effort, boredom can still push

them into inactivity at times. They are much aware of the reasons of their learning and they definitely

know what they want to achieve. Yet, motivating them to get full involvement into the class teaching –

learning approaches needs attentive planning and consideration of very many variables. However,

didactic tasks, exercises with a high level of challenge will never fail: “Let me first of all mention the fact

that learners do not necessarily learn what we believe ourselves to be teaching… What we can do is give

our learners an awareness of how they think and how they learn – anawareness which hopefully will help

them come to an understanding of themselves and thus increase their self-esteem” (Dam, 2000, p. 18).

In the following, we are offering examples of good practice with some homework-type activities.

Reading storiesand memorizing short simplified rhymes for kids can be a beneficial approach and

a task not so hard to accomplish. Students find it funny and amazing to receive such a “mission” and they

will be looking forward to the next class to introduce the content of their narrative/poetry to their

colleagues. The texts will be finally used for vocabulary and grammar comprehension as well as under

the form of a basic start for other compositions. The quality of reading is a matter of self-confidence and

consistent repetition. This activity can be done during the class or at home. In the latter case, each student

is given the possibility to choose his favourite text, study it thoroughly and narrate, recite or interpret it.

Everyone will enjoy this activity to a great extent and the outcome in terms of cheerfulness, involvement,

and language acquisition will be at its maximum level. Generally people choose to do those things that

bring them pleasure and joy and they avoid stressing or too demanding tasks.Learning a foreign language

is a not so easy activity and that is why it is important for any teacher to make sure that language learning

is taking place as a pleasurable experience for students (Caon, 2006, p. 18). A positive environment will

always have a beneficial influence on the people working or studying in it: “Positive emotions and the

broadened thinking they engender also influence one another reciprocally, leading to appreciable

increases in emotional well-being over time” (Fredrickson, 2004).

Writing essays about themselves is a good chance for the class participants to get to know one

another better and to improve the cohesion and communication within the work group. Besides, it is

easier to write about somebody and something familiar than have to find the scientific information first

and put it in a logical and grammatically correct speech afterwards.

Amaze me with a new reply/saying today! Every class may have such a funny and useful way of

setting off. All the students are supposed to come up with something new every day: a traditional saying,

an expression they read somewhere or heard it in the street. This exchange of “language experience” will

highly multiply each student`s knowledge base and it will help them establish a better communicative

mood while explaining the context where and when they “picked up” the respective saying and its

meaning.

Watch the TV commercials and choose a slogan you considered inspiring and convincing!

Watching TV is very important for immersing into the language as much as possible. Commercials are

generally captivating and that is why watching them attentively and extracting their message will not be a

hard to accomplish homework.Listening to the local/national radio stations, music channels, together with

watching various TV broadcasts, commercials are of much help for the foreign students to get closer to

the Romanian language. TV commercials and even street billboards generally draw their attention and

make them curious about the phrases and the message rendered. That`s why focus-group-discussions on

commercials can be relaxing and entertaining approaches to language learning.

My monologue – is an activity that can take part consequent to receiving a topic that brings each

student into the position of thinking deeper about the “Philosophy of one`s life”, for example. They are

supposed to meditate on it and prepare a few lines to interpret them during the class. Their life

experiences can be used in order to embroider around them. The monologue generally turns into a parody

and everyone enjoys it largely.

Recitation session is a two-hour lesson dedicated to the Romanian poetry. Students are asked to

look for a poem they like, memorize a few lines and give them an expressive recitation during the class.

Vocabulary and grammar discussions will follow the “performance”.

Music time can take place under different forms: students can choose, learn and play a part of a

Romanian song they enjoyed most or they are listening to a fragment of a given song and their listening

skills are tested by writing/saying the verses of the musical play, if possible.

Role-play brings joyfulness and involvement while students have the opportunity to manifest their

talent, language knowledge and personal charm at times.

Conclusions and Recommendations

To conclude, we will start from the idea that “What really matters, for teachers who wish to grow

and develop as they teach (and for the students whom they work with), is that practices should be

constantly scrutinized to see if they are working and why or why not.”(Harmer, 2001, p. 97) We only

offered examples of good practice we experienced in class. All these activities proposed above proved

highly challenging and enriching. Students opened both their minds and their hearts and communication

developed in a coherent and efficient manner out of a mechanical framework. We tried to change

teaching in the direction of interactivity as much as possible being aware that the teacher`s modelling

influence on learners can make the difference. Listening to songs with fewversesthat repeat as a refrain,

watching movies without subtitles, listening to news programs, writing informal letters to family

members, friends, all the communicative contexts, which give learners the chance to express their own

needs and beliefs, are activities with often spectacular results regarding the acquisition of vocabulary and

grammar elements.

Any beginningis difficult and it seems hard to take a good start.Progress making is always

associated to mistake making, but this is acceptable because language reinforcing is permanently

necessary. “The popularly held view that there is a “critical period” for language development is not

generally subjected to more than rather superficial scrutiny. Most adults simply take it for granted, for

example, that children are of their nature equipped to learn a foreign language with much less effort and

in a generally more competent manner than they themselves are able to manage”. (Singleton, & Ryan,

2004, p. 31) However, once the learner feels confident enough to start to speak the language at any

expense, he will more easily understand the grammar structures and the exemplification of how they work

exactly. Under-confidence is, in fact, the only weak point to deal with as far as the adult learners are

concerned. If this aspect is quickly removed and they stop worrying about their diminishing intellectual

endowment, both the trainer and the trainees have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Foreign language learning is a long lasting process during which learners continuously improve

their acquisition techniques. At the beginning, a teacher will guide them into the “unknown”, opening the

doors of basic understanding and of the simple oral and written communication. Comprehension highly

depends on each and every learner`s involvement and conscientiousness, and it comes later on, with a lot

of practice and language exposure. Language production is an edifice that can be builtonly with the time

and with assiduous repetition and receptive skills consolidation.

References

  1. Caon, F. (2006). Pleasure in Language Learning: A Methodological Challenge. Guerra, 18
  2. Dam, L. (1990). Learner Autonomy in Practice. Gathercole, I., CILT. Great Britain: Bourne Press
  3. Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotion. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.
  4. Harmer, J. (2001). The Practice of English Language Teaching, England: Pearson Education Limited
  5. Singleton, D. and Ryan, L. (2004). Language Acquisition: The Age Factor. Toronto: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
  6. Snow, C., E. and Hoefnagel-Höhle, M. (1978). The Critical Period for Language Acquisition: Evidence from Second Language Learning. Child Development:Vol. 49, 1114-1128

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Publisher

Future Academy

First Online

18.12.2019

Doi

10.15405/epsbs.2017.05.02.248

Online ISSN

2357-1330