” If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart. ” – Nelson Mandela.
Students learn by doing and by imitating others. Foreign language teachers must therefore use the target language in the classroom, as often as possible, until it sounds and feels natural to the students. The teacher should also use a variety of techniques to cater to the various learning styles of the students. Teachers of foreign languages should cover the four language skills in every lesson. They are listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Listening and reading are receptive skills while speaking and writing are productive language skills. Students must be able to understand and produce communication in the target language.
Teachers must speak to the students in the target language in the classroom. This works best for learners who have reached an intermediate or advanced level of proficiency in the target (foreign) language; but it is still very helpful for beginners if it is tailored to their level. The goal is to immerse learners in the target language as much as possible. Arranging trips to a country in which the foreign language is spoken will provide total immersion for a period of time and accelerate the development of the students’ receptive and productive language skills. They will also realize that foreign languages are not dead subjects but living languages spoken by millions of people everyday. Teachers need to sensitize students to the culture of the countries in which the target language is spoken.
Teachers must create an environment and everyday situations in the classroom, which make learners use the foreign language in a real-world setting. There must be authentic dialogue, discussion, pair work, group work, and role play centred around situations created by the teacher. These may include conversation, in the target language, relative to shopping, asking for and giving directions, personal daily routines, school life, family life, social activities, and so forth. Of course the teacher must give them the requisite vocabulary and grammar to memorize first, for each topic. This explanation of the main elements of each topic should be done in the students’ first language. Communicative drills and activities are very useful.
The teacher must create a relaxed and tolerant atmosphere in the classroom, in which students feel comfortable and accepted even when they make grammatical errors. The main goal is communication. The grammar can be corrected in a collaborative manner at the end of each situational activity.
After the communicative activities mentioned above, the students can proceed to written exercises based on the same grammar and vocabulary they were using. The teacher can create relevant worksheets and exercises that students can use for practice. Oral repetition and games are also important.
Teachers can also arrange for students to communicate via email with their counterparts from a country which speaks the target language, and encourage them to surf the internet, watch videos, films, TV programmes, read stories, and listen to radio broadcasts in the foreign language, even if they do not understand much at first. They will understand more and more if they persist.
Enthusiasm is contagious. If teachers show passion for the foreign language this will motivate the students to work harder.