It’s vacation time already! I have 11 days off thanks to Toussaint. Then there are only 7 weeks left of the semester (one of which is shortened by the jour férié on November 11) after that. Time flies when you’re having fun, eh? I wish I could do this job forever. I know my next job (whatever it will be…) will not give me nearly as many days off and the possibility of sleeping in almost everyday. But it hopefully will involve more French and less English and a higher paycheck, though I’m not too optimistic about that in the land of low salaries.
But back to my current job. At the beginning of the semester, I like to torture encourage my first year students by forcing asking them to speak spontaneously in English for a whole 60 seconds on a subject that we have already covered in class. Considering they have been learning English for 7-9 years already, this should be rather easy. However, by the looks on their faces and the dead silence that lasts for 5 minutes before one of them is brave enough to start talking into their microphone makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s as if no one has ever asked them to SPEAK in English before and considering France’s current system of teaching languages, that may very well be the case.
So I will be spending my vacation listening to and grading some 50 recordings of these timid students who are afraid to talk in the language that they are majoring in. Few of them seem to understand the importance of speaking out loud when learning a new language. Not just for pronunciation, but to remember the correct phrases and to train the muscles in the mouth to get used to a new way of forming sounds and words and sentences.
Ok, they record themselves speaking English once, but then they think it ends there. No no no! You must listen to yourself speaking. Does your pronunciation sound good? Can you spot some mistakes in grammar? Are there a lot of hesitations and unclear utterances? What do you need to improve on? Try another recording and listen again. Then do it again. And again. None of this “once is enough” attitude and doing it just for the sake of getting it done.
And the whole point is to get them speaking spontaneously, without any written preparation beforehand. They are so used to writing everything first, and then reading it. But that’s not real life. I seriously wonder how some students think they will be able to work for an Anglophone company in 3 years when they won’t even try to speak in English in class, where there is a native speaker to help them and it’s ok if they make mistakes because I will correct them. What are they going to do in the real world when they’re asked to talk to Anglophone clients or interpret at meetings or (worst of all!) answer the phone in English?