(It’s appalling that I’ve been given a great opportunity — to blog here at LLU — and I haven’t taken advantage of it. It’s further appalling that I preach reflective writing to my teaching and non-teaching colleagues both but I don’t practice it. Enough with that. You’ll be hearing more from me in this space.)
This past spring, I wrote for another outlet a short piece (that may never see the light of day) after reading and being inspired by Guy Cook’s Language Play, Language Learning. Since then, I’ve only seen more that persuades me of the value of enjoyment in the language classroom and the value of getting students to appreciate the fun of language learning.
Part of what has happened since then has been my child’s impressive acquisition of language and my observations of how he learns it. One of the most interesting aspects is just picking up on what he likes. There are phrases or words (or sounds) that will send him into paroxysms of laughter, and they are ones that he loves to repeat. They don’t always mean something, or don’t always mean something out of their original context, but I love to be reminded of the conventional nature of words. We’re giving him some Italian here and there, with no real effort to teach him to be bilingual, so that probably reinforces for him that the names for things are just sounds that someone attaches to a concept. Why is this thing he eats with both a “spoon” and a “cucchiaino”? Are the utensils he uses called the same thing as the ones that Mama and Daddy use? What about the different kinds that he uses — are then all called the same thing? I have a penchant, acquired from my father, for addressing children in as sophisticated language as I can while not making them lose interest in me, so my child will hear bells and say “chiming the hours”, as if he knows the denotative meaning of those words. By the same token, he knows that the phrase refers to bells, so maybe that’s good enough.
He’s also an incredible mimic. Maybe all children can be, since we start with few limits on our abilities (generally speaking), but you should see the delight when he’s able to repeat nihao (OK, ni3 hao3 / 您好) or annyeong haseyo (안녕하세요) or “Bom dia” to parents at his preschool. The delight is on his part and the parents’ part, as best as I can tell, which brings me to my only real point of this entry, to wit, that language play and playing with language is all well and good, but we who teach languages or support language teaching have to refresh ourselves constantly about the fun of it all. If going into the classroom on any given day is no fun for us, it’s unlikely to be fun for any of the learners. As many of Barbara’s posts say explicitly or implicitly, we’re all in it together, during every interaction. One of the many hard parts is staying refreshed (keeping in mind the sense of “fresh” to describe the first breeze you get when opening a window after inclement weather), keeping a sense of wonder about the whole thing. Seeing my child toddling on feet and words is doing it for me, and that’s enough for now.
(See what you get when I don’t put hours into a short piece? You’ll have to get used to it.)