Being an Elementary language learner again…

I’ve already written a couple of posts related to being a language learner again, due to my general lack of Italian combined with a job in Palermo – you can see those posts here and here. In contrast with those, this post focuses on being in the language classroom.

I haven’t been a language learner *in a classroom* since I left university in 2006. I haven’t been an elementary language learner in a classroom since I was about 11 or 12. When I went to Indonesia, I didn’t have formal lessons – I learnt from a mixture of self-teaching from a book and ad hoc ‘tuition’ from colleagues (of the “Say it like this…. x” variety).  Today I had my second lesson. Two weeks after the first.

It turns out I’m the world’s worst student. This might come as rather a surprise to my tutors at Leeds Met and, indeed, my course mates there, but it is true! Perhaps, then, what I should say is, I’m the world’s worst *language* student. I love learning languages. But, I discovered, I hate being in the classroom as an Elementary (or less) language learner. I basically was the student that no teacher wants in their classroom.

What did I do? Let’s see…

  • I wasn’t properly engaged with what we were doing.
  • When we did alphabet flashcards, I didn’t say the letters loud and clear – I mumbled them under my breath.
  • I didn’t take notes properly.
  • I didn’t participate whole-heartedly in the group work (we had to introduce ourselves and ask basic questions to each other).
  • When we did a matching artists to their nationalities activity, I said words instead of sentences in the feedback.

I’m really not proud of this. My poor, poor teacher (who is really lovely!)…  I wasn’t being deliberately obnoxious, though – I promise! I *do* want to learn Italian. I’ve even been trying to teach myself using Memrise (the ipad app version) and reading Harry Potter in Italian, switching between the Italian and the English version. I’m really enjoying it too – it’s so interesting finding all the similarities between Italian and French.  I’ve done some studying of this sort most days since I have been here. I think I have missed either one or two. This weekend I am going back to the U.K. and will finally be reunited with the books I had bought with the intention of bringing here and learning Italian from and accidentally left in my sister’s flat.

So it’s not that I lack motivation. So what is the problem then?

I think a big part of the problem was I hadn’t finished planning the lesson I was due to teach half an hour after the Italian class was to finish. I had done some planning prior to the class but I also had a bunch of other stuff to catch up with – paperwork, things I’d promised students I’d do etc. So I wanted to be planning. When I’m at work, I want to focus fully on work. Whereas, when I study at home, usually between 8 and 9 in the morning, before I go to work, I can then focus fully on the studying.

However, I will admit, I was also frustrated by the lesson content:

  • The flashcards annoyed me. Not in and of themselves, but what was on them. Which was a letter, a picture and an example word. What annoyed me was that I was trying to guess the letter pronunciation by how the letter is pronounced in the example word/picture. But it was random – some worked like that, many didn’t. G is a soft ‘g’ when you say the letter but was a hard ‘g’ for the example word, which was il gatto if I remember correctly. Also, prior to forgetting my books in the U.K., I’d had a look in them and had looked at the sounds of Italian and how letters are pronounced in combination. But when you say some as the letter of the alphabet, it sounds different. Much like happens in English. And some I had forgotten probably. So all in all, I kept getting caught out, which frustrated me. Of course it’s useful to be able to spell your name etc., so I’m not knocking it. I’m just pondering why I got so fed up with this activity during the lesson. Maybe I would have been happier if the flashcards had had only letters on and nothing else! I.e. if the picture/word isn’t going to help me say/remember how to say the letter, then I don’t want it there. I already know ‘c’ is for cat or, rather, ‘g’ is for gatto… :-p
  • Matching the picture of the painting complete with artist’s name with said artist’s country and nationality didn’t grab me. My bad – I should have focused on the fact that knowing nationalities is a good thing. (Of course, that was towards the end of the lesson so the start time of my as yet incompletely planned class was getting imminent.)
  • Other than the fact that this is a basic Italian course, I don’t know anything e.g. where we are going: we don’t have a course book – which is fine, no problem with that. But in its absence, some kind of vague plan of what we are going to cover would be nice. So that when I get frustrated with the alphabet, I can think, “it’s ok we will be covering x soon, that will be really good.” Of course, I could/should have asked. It’s only occurred to me now, as I reflect, that this is is one of the underlying things that was bugging me/making me irate earlier! So again, my bad.
  • I’m not averse to pair/group work (you would not have believed this if you were in the classroom earlier…) but I want to be saying more than “What is your name, what is your address, what is your email address etc”  (Oooh but it was interesting that the word for the @ symbol in Italian is the word for snail – or is it snail shell, I’m not quite sure – either way, very cool!) Which means, I’m impatient? I’m a less than elementary language learner, “my name is” etc is appropriate, surely? So yet again, my bad…

I left the lesson with every intention of opting out of future lessons. But on reflection, I will definitely give it another go next week. I will try and be more organised with my lesson planning i.e. just get into work earlier (I faffed a bit this morning, I’ll admit. I wasn’t in *quite* as early as usual – though still pretty early. Not early enough with the list of things to do that I had…) so that I can eliminate that stress. And I will ask about the syllabus, maybe initiate some negotiation too. This will be a much more positive response than “I don’t want to do this anymore”! Especially as I fully recognise how fortunate I am that IH Palermo offers new teachers who need it the chance to have 20hrs of Italian lessons for free. It really is a brilliant school to work for. I am so lucky to work here.

Anyway, apologies for this self-indulgent reflection, but on the other hand my blog address is, so…. 😉 I do find it incredibly interesting, though, being in the learning seat, especially the elementary learning seat, for the first time since qualifying as a teacher. (Not counting Indonesia/Indonesian because as I mentioned I had no formal instruction…)  I think it’s a very valuable experience. What do you think?

Have you undertaken formal language instruction, esp. in a language you have no prior experience of learning, recently? Are you a good language learner? I’d love to hear about your experience of being a learner in the language classroom instead of a teacher. Has anybody else ever been as bad an adult learner as I was today?!

Meanwhile, here’s hoping next Friday will be a very different story from today for me! 🙂 Watch this space. :-p

6 thoughts on “Being an Elementary language learner again…

  1. A very interesting reflective experience you had!
    Generally i’ve come to conclusion that for a teacher it’s very hard to be a language (or anything, like dancing or drawing, for that matter) learner – we think, expect and reflect too much…
    I had an experience of being a very clumsy elementary student a dancing class -while dancing, i was reflecting on what my elrmentary students must be feeling, but here i was really lucky with instructor…
    When i was tryung to learn Spanish with a very nice colleague of mine,it wasn’t that great though)

  2. Yes, it has been very interesting! – For me, anyway…. :-p
    And at least as a result of reflecting, I’m ready to turn over a new leaf in my class on Friday… much better than giving up. Meanwhile, much self-study going on. This, I enjoy.
    Anyway thanks for commenting, interesting to hear what someone else thinks! Someone commented on the link on Facebook (TeachingEnglish British Council page) also saying they were a bad learner in the classroom. And a friend of mine, also a teacher, said she’s also a bad classroom learner sometimes. So at least I’m not the only one! 🙂

  3. Lizzie – I don’t think there are bad learners. We all differ. I loved reading your account and it provides a good lesson for all language teachers. It’s important to remember that most of our adult learners have busy lives, demanding jobs, varying degrees of authority and control, but with anxieties and ‘baggage’ which naturally they bring to the classroom. They then have to switch to a world where they are in an unfamiliar, semi-helpless state grappling with the unknown. I see part of the adult learner’s teacher’s role as providing activities to help the student make the transition into a relaxed ‘childlike’ state of mind, receptive to learning.

    As part of our course, we were treated to a morning of learning Turkish – a new language for our very mixed nationality group. The objective? … the end of the session we would be able to order a simple meal in a restaurant and hold an introductory conversation. Wow….exciting and relevant to us. Although some of us had classes that pm for which we had also not fully prepared, we soon became absorbed in the learning, found it fun and achievable. We all became good students/learners. However the main obective of the exercise was for us to put ourselves in the shoes of the language ‘learner’.

    As a language teacher learning a new language concurrently helps us understand our learners. However in a classroom we probably spend more effort in watching and analysiing the teaching process. Probably most learning takes place outside the classroom. Bad learners – no! Just different.

    • Hi Mary, thanks for responding.:) Exactly part of what I have found so interesting is how my experience is giving an additional angle of thought to my lessons, pre- (planning) during and post (reflection)! So I agree with you, there is a lot to learn.
      I’ve got my next lesson tomorrow, straight after a workshop and a staff meeting and, of course, just before I start teaching. See how it goes…

  4. Pingback: How I’m learning Italian (inspired by the one and only Sandy Millin!) | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  5. Pingback: Diary of an intermediate language learner (Part 1) | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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