There’s more to learning a language than just working your way through a textbook, say these MIT instructors.
By Peter Chipman, OCW Digital Publication Specialist and OCW Educator Assistant
Aside from English, MIT offers courses in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. (MIT students wishing to study a language not on this list, such as Arabic, Irish, Swahili, or Tibetan, can do so by cross-registering for courses at Harvard or Wellesley.) Many of MIT’s language course offerings are represented on OpenCourseWare, and several of their OCW course sites include Instructor Insights either in text or video form. Here are five OCW offerings that feature Instructor Insights on approaches to teaching languages:
Haohsiang Liao believes strongly that, as he puts it, “the way you behave in a second culture is as important as your use of the language.” In the videos on the Instructor Insights page for this course, which are presented in both English and Chinese, Dr. Liao says that this is why cultural competence is a core part of MIT’s Chinese curriculum. He also explains the importance of creating an immersive classroom environment, and the rationale behind the curriculum’s covering speaking and listening before reading and writing. Among the helpful details Liao shares in the videos are explanations of how he uses a daily grading system to provide continuous feedback to students, how students can develop their ear for a language by listening to audio files, and why he asks struggling students to physically show him how they prepare for class.
“The way you behave in a second culture is as important as your use of the language.”
In Min-Min Liang’s Instructor Insights videos, which like Haohsiang Liao’s are offered in both English and Chinese, she discusses her philosophy of teaching (“The main philosophy for me is to have a welcoming environment to help students to speak the language, not to talk about the language”) and explains why the curriculum and structure of the streamlined course is well suited for heritage learners of Chinese. She also shares practical details about how using an online tool makes it easier for students to practice and receive feedback on their pronunciation, how she assesses student learning, and how authentic texts might supplement the somewhat contrived material presented by language textbooks.
“The main philosophy for me is to have a welcoming environment to help students to speak the language, not to talk about the language.”
When Peter Weise set out to teach an advanced German course on the kinds of language used in professional settings, he discovered that there was no textbook available for the kind of course he wanted to teach. “It’s much easier for students to learn language through content they find relevant and engaging than it is through textbook materials,” he observes. In his written Instructor Insights, he describes how he assembled a customized curriculum based on authentic texts, how he uses video recording and native speakers to provide feedback on students’ speaking skills, what role guest speakers can play in modeling authentic speech and speech behaviors, and how he uses reflective practice and student feedback to improve his teaching.
“It’s much easier for students to learn language through content they find relevant and engaging than it is through textbook materials.”
The Instructor Insights page for this course features English and Japanese videos in which Takako Aikawa discusses various aspects of how she and her co-instructor Emiko Rafique approach the teaching of Japanese, using separate grammar sessions and drill sessions, daily grades along with two interview tests to assess students’ fluency, the incorporation of body language lessons and cultural tips in each grammar lesson, and community social events that give students opportunities to interact with native speakers.
“Language needs to be learned together with context.”
Like Peter Weise, Margarita Ribas Groeger finds that the best way to motivate students to develop their ability to write and speak in a second language is to give them something to write and talk about that they’ll find relevant and interesting. On the Instructor Insights page for this course, she describes how “looking at Spanish-speaking societies through the ways they have been affected by science and technology offered an alternative thematic focus to the fifth or sixth semester Spanish language curriculum.” She also lists the recurring questions that the course explored, all themed around the social and cultural impact of technology in Hispanic societies.
“Looking at Spanish-speaking societies through the ways they have been affected by science and technology offered an alternative thematic focus to the fifth or sixth semester Spanish language curriculum.”
-Margarita Ribas Groeger