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Teaching foreign languages

Goals of foreign language programs vary, depending on the nature of the language taught and methodological preferences. Since there are many different approaches to teaching a foreign language, you will need to work closely with your course supervisor to ensure that your instruction is compatible with your department’s approach.

General principles for teaching foreign languages

Here, we include a few general principles that should apply no matter what language learning approach you employ: addressing student expectations, creating a positive learning environment, and finding a balance among modeling, explaining and practice.

Address student expectations

Make clear to your students your approach to language learning and provide a rationale. Students’ initial expectations for your course may be based on previous language learning experiences that differ significantly from the one that you will provide.

Create a positive learning environment

Research suggests that a key factor in effective language teaching is the creation of a comfortable classroom atmosphere. Some ways to do this include:

  • Assure students at the beginning of the course that it is normal to make errors and that they need not be afraid to respond in class.
  • Provide plenty of positive feedback. Even when responses are incorrect, look for ways to comment positively before correcting.
  • Correct selectively and carefully so as not to intimidate students.
  • Use pair work, group work and quick writing tasks to provide students with “thinking time” before conducting large-group activities.
  • Arrange for students to meet with you during your office hours for short, individual conferences. Some students find this one-to-one situation less stressful than speaking in front of a group. Such meetings can also increase student-instructor rapport, which, in turn, may increase students’ comfort with participating in class.
  • Encourage equal participation by all students, so more-advanced students don’t intimidate weaker students.

Find a balance among modeling, explaining and practice

Some modeling and grammar explanations are always necessary, but students will only master new material through practicing it intensively. Maintaining an appropriate balance of modeling, explanation and practice in your classes will contribute significantly to the effectiveness of your instruction.

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