I was explaining in the introduction to this website that my favorite word is “dépaysement,” and this directly impacts my teaching. As an instructor, it is my job to walk students 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 amiable, safe and respectful. Too often do we associate what’s beyond our comfort zone as a place of hardship, when in reality it is where the magic happens. Learning is stepping out of the comfort zone—it can be painful at first, but it is also rewarding and fulfilling to no end. Stepping out of the comfort zone is stepping towards others. For this reason, teaching for me is an instrument to reach more social consciousness and 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 it really makes a difference in the long term retaining vocabulary. For me, teaching French is not about lecturing or doing drills, it is about preparing students to travel and study abroad.
At the basis of language is human contact. Interaction is both the best way to learn and also the end goal itself—we always learn languages to connect. This emphasis on connection and communication is the reason why my French classroom is fundamentally student-centered, collaborative and oral-intensive; I am but a facilitator orchestrating students’ discussions and offering my cultural perspective.
It is crucial for me that class be conducted 100% in French and that the atmosphere be 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 because they make us vulnerable and laughable. In reality, errors are what make 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 cost 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. I encourage students to find their passion within French. For example, in my oral practice class, this translates into me making the course calendar around their own choices of presentation topics.
I approach language with an interdisciplinary perspective and I invite students to connect the dots themselves between French and what interests them, whether it may be for example feminism, art history, Caribbean studies, or (post-)colonialism. However, my students and I keep in mind a fundamental fact: the classroom is a safe place. Through these dialogues, ideas are what we critique, never individuals.
- Clarity and accessibility
Constructing a French course is about clarity in terms of goals, expectations, class rules and work demanded. I do not compromise between the amicable atmosphere and the rigor expected of students. Teaching is about respectful intercultural dialogues, and 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 at the click of a button. This allows me to save both paper and class time. I then make those PowerPoints fully available to students right after class. Since these resources are posted online, I believe it is more beneficial for students to pay attention in class rather than writing down everything.
French grammar can be very subtle, and me using clear dynamic online tutorials has shown great results among visual learners. To cater to auditory learners as well, I make sure to explain and repeat every structure displayed on screen out loud, so they can also benefit from me being a native speaker. It is important for me that both my class material and myself be clear and accessible. By this, I mean being easily approachable and available, and keeping universal design in mind every time I create activities. Technology also allows me to make French more engaging and stimulating. What better way to explore culturally authentic material from across the world than to rely on multimedia content?
All of these notions—interconnection, cultural breadth, clarity and accessibility—tie in together with the idea of 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.