Who ever Said a Second Language Teacher Had to Be a “Bore”?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I met numerous second language teachers in the course of my practice and… Gawd! are they tedious! Where does that come from? I have no idea!

I remember, a couple of years ago, there was this full-time French class with probably 8 or 10 civil servants… they had already been in training for three months at the time and, whenever I was on a break and walking by their classroom, I could see them yawning, studying the ceiling, dozing off or reading dictionaries! Their teacher, who was a middle-age woman, was sitting at the end of the table most of the time reading the paper (if not knitting one of those tacky dishcloths!)… It crossed my mind, a few times, to enter the room and throw some shocking statement at them so they would come back to life! But hey! It was none of my business, right?

They spent nine months in that classroom and I never heard them laugh even once! If they ever kept memories of their learning experience, the only thing they probably remember is the daily omnipresent heavy atmosphere: I doubt they have any good or funny stories to tell their colleagues and friends.

If I am never thrown off by my new trainees’ negative attitude or distrust, it is precisely because I know where it comes from! It only comes from their peers’ disappointing experiences. Therefore I do not blame them for giving me that dirty look the first time they meet with me.

I know, for a fact, I have only 60 seconds to grab their attention and arouse their curiosity… If I ever miss the train, I am in trouble for sure! Fortunately, I am an expert in the field… Thanks to the time I spent behind bars!!! I do remember “vividly” that very first day when I was introduced to the 78 convicts I would spend my entire days with… Slowly walking through the study room with the warden, I knew I had to show them right away who would be in control… Yet I also had to let them know they could trust me: they would always be welcome to voice their opinions and I would listen to any reasonable requests…

I did manage to establish that connexion in less than two minutes and, because of that, what could have been the worst time of my life became the most enjoyable experience…

When I accidently recycled myself into a French second language teacher and had no interesting materials to rely on, I created my own method and program using what I knew would captivate my “picky” clientele’s attention: their life experiences!!! And… what do inmates best relate to? CRIME!… I knew that trying to teach them a language using “political correctness” and generic topics (take traveling for instance… no one sentenced to life in prison shows interest in such stuff! Why? Simply because they will not be traveling some time soon – if ever!) would not be efficient.

Having been blessed with a super-imagination and quite a creative side, I started to write stories and dialogues about hold-ups, criminal investigations, murders, forensic analysis, trials, con-artists, police interrogations, etc… making sure to have policemen, prosecutors and judges look ridiculous and criminals look smart! It had an immediate and resounding success at the jail box-office… and useless to mention it had a direct impact on these guys’ learning! They started to discuss in French like Molière in no time!

After I left the milieu, I continued to use the same approach… either in the corporate world or in the Public Service… Everybody has life experiences and I bank on those to teach. Also, I do not know anyone who is not passionate about something… I give them the opportunity to talk about what they love most (instead of talking about internal policies, health and safety programs or some other boring work related topics).

For instance, a professional fisherman managed to communicate his enthusiasm for fishing tournaments to a bunch of incredulous women… Another one who was partial to gamble designed a conjugation activity around crap… A fellow who belonged to a Rocket Club had us build rockets that we launched in a park downtown Ottawa (we were like kids and our unusual activity attracted quite a crowd that afternoon!)…

Launching Rockets in the Elgin Park - Ottawa

Launching Rockets in Elgin Park - Ottawa

And, since I do not know a woman who does not enjoy a shopping spree once in a while, I took a couple of them on a day trip to Montréal…

Wine loosens the tongue!
On a Patio Downtown Montréal: Wine Loosens the Tongue!

All it takes to improve learning and turn it into a fun adventure is the will to achieve…


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