What is Language Teaching?
Language is culture. Culture goes beyond language, but all of language is a part of culture. The awesome thing about culture (and thus, by extension, language) is that it is created and changed and influenced by those who use it.
I think that because of this, a language classroom goes beyond worksheets, grammar charts and vocabulary notebooks. It’s also more than the prettily packaged “culture lessons” that we often teach: apple pie, 4th of July, time as a commodity, etc. It’s not that these things aren’t of value, but that the language classroom can be a space for so much more than that. Culture (and thus the classroom) can include topics such as discrimination, health, self-identity, values, stereotypes and the list goes on.
In the past few weeks I have taught classes on obesity in the US, MLK Jr.’s “I have a dream”, stereotypes about the US and Colombia and explicit vs. implicit teaching styles, to name a few. Just to give credit where it’s due, all of these topics were suggested by the teachers I work with except stereotypes which was suggested by students. In these classes, it is not that I, as the “all-knowing teacher” impart wisdom to my students. Instead, it is that I create a space for students to express opinions and ideas of their own. I simply ask the question that starts the dialogue. In doing this, I often learn as much as the students do.
In my class on MLK Jr.’s “I have a dream”, we discussed racism, classism and peaceful protests both in the US and Colombia. Students discussed how prevalent classism is and how peaceful protests often turn violent because of government involvement and are often ineffective because of dishonest media coverage. In my class on obesity in the US, one student asked me, “If you know that your system is making people sick, what are you doing about it?” After finishing a debate on explicit vs. implicit grammar instruction, a student asked, “Why do we have to pick a side? What’s wrong with using a combination of techniques?” In talking about stereotypes, a couple students have commented to me that they feel that Americans hate and/or fear them because of the way Colombia is associated with drugs and violence in the American media.
Many of my students have asked me why I want to be an English teacher. This is why. Because in teaching English, I’m allowed to constantly question and discuss life and how I live it with other people.
Also, today marks my one month anniversary in Colombia. I think I’ll buy an arepa to celebrate.