The past year I have really dedicated my time to improving my French in particular my listening, reading and writing skills. I have found a multitude of activities that will keep me engaged and lead to measurable improvement. However, in the midst of my learning I have noticed quite a bit about my learning preferences. Although I enjoy learning about social justice and geopolitics in my L1, it is a strain to focus on these topics in French. Despite my ability to listen to the news and understand the gist, I truly struggle with comprehension questions. I also feel that the questions and the directions are vague and unclear. Thus, I find myself confused and discouraged from the start of the listening or reading comprehension exercises. These are the types of exercises that I do two or three times a week, right after I feel completely relaxed. When I work on my listening skills and want to be entertained, I watch a YouTube actress named Natoo, Le Petit Nicolas and a Netflix series called Au Service de la France. In all of these scenarios the environment and my general mindset plays a large role in my ability to focus, hear and understand the words. When I attempt to watch or listen to French and I am under distress it’s as if I am a student in a classroom on Charlie Brown. I literally hear “womp womp womp”. I think the environment and clarity is even more important when learners are taking exams. Recently, I took a proficiency test to assess my reading and listening skills. Although I felt prepared and thoroughly relaxed, I was still tense and drained by the last 45 minutes of the exam. After completing these two separate two hour exams I felt like my head was going to explode, I was extremely tense and I found it difficult to concentrate.
All of these experiences have helped me put things into perspective. I understand a bit more when my upper intermediate students say they understand the news but they find it hard to articulate their response in an intelligent manner. There have been several instances when students have noted that they feel like different people based on the language they are speaking. And despite their ability to understand English, there is still something blocking them from simply being able to engage in a conversation (fluency). Students have told me that being in an environment which requires them to communicate in their L2 leads to a sense of limitation and a stifled sense of self. Regardless of where I teach, I have noticed that students seem to turn into zombies after an hour of class and about twenty five minutes before the class ends. It’s as if I am watching mannequins stare at me and wait for me to give them the answer that I pose to the class. However, I think it’s the natural response to stress and exercise of the “brain muscles” in a language class.
Therefore, I have tried to implement very small but hopefully helpful changes to my lesson. I try to start or end my class with a song that the students have selected. I attempt to play this song throughout the week so the students can notice the rhythm and stress of the words and sentences. In addition, students can here intonation and pronunciation and eventually (with upper intermediate or advanced learners) we can have a larger discussion about the meaning of the song or the feeling that it evokes in the students. I think that music is a nice way to appeal to multiple senses and inadvertent way to help students focus. I also like to play funny clips from different shows. These clips are easy ways to review idioms, phrasal verbs, tag questions, common expressions, greetings etc. In addition, it’s a nice segue into a writing or speaking activity. Another activity I have added is the use of ambient music or other instrumental music and drawing activities via desuggestopedia . I tend to incorporate this about halfway through the class or after we complete a more intensive grammar/listening activity it really seems to help the students relax.