As an online tutor we are always trying to find the right balance for our classes. In school, when you are learning a language, you often get 3-4 long classes a week but that is rarely an option when teaching online. With Oxinity we frequently do short 30 minute classes twice a week, so finding ways to build engagement in the class and optimise the time we have available is paramount to giving our students the best shot at learning their new language.
So we, along with teachers and tutors at influential teaching administrations across the globe, are choosing to focus on Student Talking Time (STT). The theory is simple, language fluency is about confidence and intuition. There is of course the long start, where you are picking up vocabulary and getting used to new sounds. But we have long since moved on from the repetitive wrote learning and the slow monotonous methods that it utilized.
There was a time where language students were forced to work long hours, memorising increasingly complicated language rules, practicing intricate tense set ups and sitting in silence as their tutor reads out a list of irregular past participles. Having to learn the minute difference between Past Perfect Continuous and the Past Perfect Simple in intellectual and disenfranchising terms. But this is not how anyone is taught their native language, and it is not how we are built to learn.
When we are children we didn’t learn how to speak with our parents standing in front of us with a whiteboard explaining the difference between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. Our parents taught us by talking to us slowly and in context, getting us to repeat back to them in longer and more accurate sentences and making small occasional corrections as we progressed. They didn’t constantly interrupt us, breaking our confidence and they didn’t make us memorise the definition of a predicating subject.
As a tutor I had to relearn my own language, I have been speaking English my entire life, but had never heard the word ‘Determiners’ until I entered this career. And I am not diminishing the importance of learning it. As a language teacher it is my job to know what my students need to learn, but the Communicative Language Technique (CLT) which we use, and which is becoming more and more popular amongst language tutors and apps alike, highlights that whilst we need to learn the correct terminology and precise rules, often, our students don’t.
When I teach the Conditional Forms, I don’t say “Today we are going to learn about real and unreal conditional forms” I say “Today we are going to talk about what you are going to do if you win the lottery.” And then ask questions like, “If your parents had won the lottery, what would they have done differently?” It prompts a conversation between my students, based almost entirely in the Conditional Form, it allows me to make corrections on the use of lexis and grammar, it ticks the box for conditional form and most importantly MAXIMISES MY STUDENT’S TALKING TIME.
We need to give our students the confidence to use their new language skills. And they will only get that if they have the chance to speak in a judgement free zone. Language learning is undoubtedly about practice but it is also about courage. And by switching the focus to CLT students are given the space to exercise their new understanding, and learning new lexical laws, without being put off by the scary grammatical labels.
In short, with this process, students get to grasp a language in the way we were supposed to, through practice, patience and imitation whilst teachers get to switch the focus from us lecturing, to our students learning. A win-win for all, and a more inclusive structure for the future of learning.