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Imagine that moment when you are learning a language and finally realise you have to divulge something very important to you to others in that new language. If you can imagine that feeling, you as a teacher can see what it takes to bring up that information and lay it on the table (so to speak). It isn’t an easy thing to do but when it happens you feel, not only have you been brave enough to divulge something of yourself but in another cultural context.
This sense of power that happens when a student can do this is a phenomenal moment. This is when the person truly engages in the language, because it has profound meaning for them. The follow through of this is that from this point forward (assuming the student did manage to get engagement and interest from others in this language) the student then feels so much more comfortable to discuss things in this new language.
Once this happens, so many other things will emerge for the student, e.g. they will get the jokes, they will care more, they will be able to get things done, they will be able to initiate ideas…and so on. This is the goal of any ESL teacher. But how do we get the student to this point?
If you follow a recognized textbook, I have to say they do do a good job and building the students confidence through carefully graded exercises. However, the teachers imput can make or break this experience. It is the ‘accidental curious question’, or the humour found in the statement, or the basic need to know more about what the person just said that eggs the student to give more. This comes usually first from the teacher and if the teacher has set up a culture of this in the class, the other students will follow through also. They too are gaining linguistic confidence from the experience.
It is these small cornerstones in the classroom experience that lift the student from the textbook page to the real world of communicating in English. If the teacher has set up an atmosphere of keen listening and sharing in a comfortable space, the world is right there in every students hand to move forward.
When a student says something important in English, they are moving forward with their language learning in every respect.