My favorite word in French is “dépaysement”. It has no direct translation in English, but I define it as the positive feeling of being out of one’s comfort zone in a new scenery, country, or environment. This is what I want my students to experience. It is my role to walk them out of their comfort zones and welcome them to a new one. For this transition to go smoothly, the atmosphere in the classroom has to be amicable, safe, and respectful. Teaching for me is all about reaching a better understanding across people and cultures. The best way to achieve these goals of interaction and breadth of perspective is to be as clear and accessible as possible. For this reason, my Teaching Philosophy revolves around three sets of principles:
- Immersion and interaction
Language is not something you learn; it is something you live. Grammar is but a tool to articulate ideas and exchanges between people. One thing I love to do early in the semester is to prompt students to switch their phones’ language setting from English to French. It throws them off at first, but most students have expressed that it really made a difference in the long term retaining vocabulary. For me, teaching French is not about lecturing or doing grammar drills, it is about preparing students to travel and study abroad.
At the basis of language is human contact. Human interaction is both the best way to learn and also the end goal itself—whether it is to speak to locals during travels or to read the words of writers in their native tongues, we always learn languages to connect. This emphasis on connection and communication is the reason why my French classroom is fundamentally collaborative and oral-intensive; I am but a facilitator orchestrating their discussions and offering my cultural perspective.
It is crucial for me that class is conducted 100% in French and that the atmosphere is comfortable. A cornerstone of this approach is to encourage mistakes and to be playful with the language. As adults, too often do we develop a sense that mistakes should be avoided at any cost, that they make us vulnerable and laughable. In reality, errors are what makes progress possible, and this fear to be wrong cages us in the comfort zone. I demonstrate this by sharing anecdotes of mistakes I made myself during my journey learning English. I teach them to laugh at themselves, not at others. The French classroom is not about me and them, it is about we, and we are immersed in as much cultural authenticity as possible.
- Cultural breadth and cultural depth
Teaching language in this day and age is preparing students to be global citizens. Cultural proficiency helps us move beyond stereotypes. However, I avoid the trap of eurocentricity at all costs because there is so much more to Francophone culture than France. Class time should introduce students to a broad spectrum or cultural aspects and issues, and also invite them to explore their own interests. This is where cultural breadth and depth intersect, and targeting students’ interests is also the best way to keep them involved and motivated.
To achieve language proficiency, intrinsic motivation is key. Specific cultures, authors or social questions are what create long-term vocations in the field. I always ask students’ goals in learning French at the beginning of the semester to be able to cater to these interests and make my teaching aspirational. I encourage students to find their own passion within French, to find what interests them. For example, in my oral practice class, this translates into them choosing their own presentation topics and me making the course calendar around their own preferences.
However, my students and I share a fundamental notion—the classroom is a safe place. Through these exchanges and self-expressions, ideas are what we critique, never individuals. I do not compromise between the amicable class atmosphere and the professionalism expected of students. Teaching for me is about respectful intercultural dialogues.
- Clarity and accessibility
Constructing a French course is about clarity in terms of goals, expectations, class rules and assessments. Being an instructor in the 21st century also means using technology to make French as clear and accessible as possible. I create interactive PowerPoints presentations for every class, cueing up activities and displaying explanations and answers with my clicker as I walk around the semi-circle space. This allows me to save both paper and class time. I then use platforms like BlackBoard and make those PowerPoints fully available to students right after class. Since these resources are posted online, it can be more beneficial for certain students to pay close attention rather than writing down everything.
French grammar can be very subtle, and me using clear dynamic online tutorials has shown great results, especially among visual learners. To cater to auditory learners as well, I make sure I explain and repeat every structure displayed on screen in a loud clear voice, so they can also benefit from me being a native speaker. This constitutes a kinesthetic learning experience promoting Universal Design for Learning. To achieve that goal, it important for me that both my class material and myself are clear and accessible. By this, I mean being easily approachable and available, and creating activities that rely on a broad array of learning methods. The other benefit of technology is that it makes French more engaging and stimulating. What better way to explore culturally authentic and exciting material from across the world than to rely on multimedia content?
All of these notions (interconnection, cultural breadth, clarity and accessibility) are imbricated with a common goal in mind—inclusivity. The French class for me is fundamentally a collaborative group in which no one is excluded regardless of their aptitudes, ways of learning or interests. On the contrary, these differences should be celebrated and explored to cultivate students’ own intrinsic motivations in learning the language.