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Jan 13

Second Language Anxiety

Posted on Sunday, January 13, 2013 in Education, French, Second Language Acquisition

The semester has started and the first week passed without much issue. My concerns are that 12 hours is a crazy course load for graduate school. I am taking two graduate French courses, French Syntax and Meaning, essentially a linguistics course presented in French instead of English, and Art and Literature in the 19th and 20th century. This course is one of those dreaded esoteric french courses that made me change my major as an undergrad and gives me huge impostor syndrome. I am not an expert in analyzing and interpreting literature in my first language and I suffer from huge anxiety trying to do it in my second language.

My anxiety about my skills in my second language go farther than just my ability to analyse literature. I know I can speak French but I always feel as if I have to be perfect. I have to prove it. I can’t make mistakes. And when I do make mistakes, I feel a complete sense of shame.

I realize these feelings, while normal in language learners, cannot control me. I cannot let fear of making mistakes keep me from my dreams. For years they did. I stopped speaking French after I got my diploma and when I would try I would make mistakes and I would just shut down.

When I started studying the research going on in second language acquisition, I learned things that made me feel more comfortable with my shortcomings as a second language learner.

1.) Language learning is a continuum. Regardless of one’s proficiency, if one is  learning the language he is  a speaker of the language. I took Spanish in college and felt a huge sense of failure when the language did not come naturally to me. I do not speak it well, but I can speak some Spanish. Spanish is my 3rd language. I cannot speak Urdu but I can understand a great deal. I am somewhere on the continuum for learning Hindi/Urdu. This is my 4th language. I no longer diminish my language abilities by dismissing the efforts I made to reach where I am on the continuum with any language I have tried to learn.

2.) One should not expect to speak like a native speaker. This one is hard. The nature of language learning is to want to become fluent. And fluency means to speak as much like a native speaker as possible. But to seek perfection is unrealistic and one will never speak exactly like a native speaker. Nearly perfect proficiency is possible but I have banished this kind of perfection from my mind.  I speak French well, as a second language. There are things I say that a native speaker would not. My accent is not perfect. There are ways I phrase sentences that are more like a native speaker of English speaking French. This is because my native language is English. And I am ok with that.

3.) One develops proficiency in the area of the language they practice. There are four aspects of language learning. Speaking, listening, writing and reading. To develop a complete proficiency, one must practice in all areas. Some courses are focused on one thing, for example academic language courses focus on reading. Conversation courses focus on developing communicative competency. For years the only input I had was to sporadically to read something in French. I did not have opportunity to speak it, I did not listen to native speakers of the language, nor did I have chance to write anything in French. I would freak out completely when I had difficulty trying to do one of these things.

As a future French educator, I enjoy learning the research and theories about SLA. They both comfort my own anxiety and short comings and help me to become a better educator.

Sep 16

The Genre of Narrating

Posted on Sunday, September 16, 2012 in Education, French, Linguistics, Teaching

I had a fairly hard time getting through the first few chapters of one of the textbooks for my Educational Linguistics course but chapter 8 has blown me away and now I can say that it’s awesome. The book is Genre, Text, Grammar: Technologies for Teaching and Assessing Writing by Peter Knapp and Megan Watkins. Chapter 8 is The Genre of Narrating.

Narratives are one of the most popular genres of texts used in the classroom. But direct instruction helps students develop their narrative writing skills better than just assuming they will “pick up” how to write a narrative.

Narratives do not have one purpose, like some genres. They can be used for entertainment, but to also provoke changes in social opinions through telling stories.

This chapter discusses how to teach basic techniques to students can write effective narratives. What I love most about this chapter and other chapters in this book is that it provides actual activities to do in a classroom, graphic organizers for scaffolding and even assessment rubrics.

Narratives have distinct grammatical features:

  • Narratives use past tense, action verbs and temporal connectives when people and events are sequenced in time and space (whenever I hear “time and space” I think of the Doctor, I am such a Whovian)
    • Action verbs in the past tense: went, did, ran, drive
    • Temporal Connectives: then, after
  • Action sequences use action verbs, mental verbs are used in evaluations or reflections.
  • Action verbs are used metaphorically to create imagery.
  • Sentence structure can be played with in narratives.
  • Rhythm and repetition are also litarary devices used for effect in narratives.

Now all that seems easy to understand but students are often understood to just naturally know the parts of a narrative. In my language classroom, telling students the structure to follow can help them focus on their L2 development instead of being unsure about how to go about writing a narrative. How many times have you seen a student staring at a blank piece of paper because they didn’t know how to start?

Narratives have a structure. They need to orient the reader, present some kind of complication, and there needs to be a resolution. There can be a coda or evaluation at the end. This basic structure can be played with and extended. Novels are complex narratives. But this basic structure is present in all narratives, from simple recounts to full length novels.

When students get older, about high school age, their written language skills expand and they can produce narratives that are more literary and less like spoken language. Since I want to teach at a high school level I will have students who are able to create imagery and write in a literary way in their first language, while they are developing their second language, their written proficiency will likely mirror younger students L1 production. Providing them scaffolding like that is shown in the chapter to help them develop narratives in their second language will help them focus on form instead of text type structure. But teaching them to write a narrative in a second language from the very start will be amazing. There is quite a jump from the written output expected in the high school language class to university level language courses, especially if a student is majoring or minoring in a language. Having these tools at their disposal will be valuable to students.

I am most impressed with the assessment rubrics provided by this book. I love rubrics!

Knapp, P. & Watkins, A. (2005) Genre, text, grammar: Technologies for teaching and assessing writing. Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
Butt et al. (2005) Towards a functional grammar in Using Functional Grammar, An Explorer’s Guide, p 22- 44.

Jun 9

French & American Measuring Spoons

Posted on Saturday, June 9, 2012 in Food, French

My mom sent me a recipe for homemade tortilla chips in French today, I suppose to help me practice my reading comprehension. And that is fun! But there was one thing I couldn’t quite understand in the recipe. The recipe measures things in “cuillères à soupe” and “cuillères à café”. I was a bit befuddled over that. Spoons for soup and spoons for coffee? What? So I researched and this artile about the differences (and ultimately similarities) of French & American measuring spoons. Turns out that cuillères à soupe is the equivalent of the American tablespoon and cuillères à café is the equivalent of the American teaspoon. Simple!

Jun 9

French Study Update

Posted on Saturday, June 9, 2012 in French, Second Language Acquisition

French studies are going well! My grammar and verb review is progressing very well. I’m reviewing concepts I haven’t studied in detail for years. I’ve been diving into an in-depth review of irregular verbs, passe compose past participles, reflexive verbs, definite articles, indefinite articles, possessive pronouns, negating sentences, and more.

Even though these are all languauge concepts that I have previously mastered, I think it’s worthwhile review going on. Why bother with these things? Well for one I haven’t studied them in detail since high school? Research suggests revisitng concepts over time helps reinforce and more deeply learn concepts. Another reason is that I spent many years letting grammatical accuracy be trumped for fluency and there are real possibilities that there may be things I have been doing improperly for years and I do not want to fossilize any grammar inaccuracies. A teacher cannot be cemented into errors.

Revisiting these concepts with an adult mind also makes me more focused on details. Instead of learning a new concept and doing a few exercises and then forgetting them I am understanding why things are the way they are. An example is the many verbs with spelling changes in their conjugations. While I always knew verbs like acheter, esperer, payer, manger and commencer  have spelling changes, I didn’t understand why phonetically. Approaching these verbs with a more mature mind that is more focused on a real goal helps me not brush past these concepts and focus more on understanding them.

Another facet I have found to be advantageous about reviewing this stuff is while I review I start to formulate plans on how I would present these concepts to a class full of beginning language learners. Therefore my reviews are dual purposed, I am reviewing concepts that I haven’t for years and also rehearsing in my mind how I will present these concepts to  beginning students.  Overall a good exercise!

I have enjoyed two French Movie Night Friday’s. I’ve watched Le Chevre and Les Noms des Gens. This is my favorite night of the week for many reasons.

So oui, mes etudes vont tres bien!

May 14

Summer: French Plan of Study

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2012 in French, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

A large portion of my summer plans include daily French study. After last semester, I would say my current proficiency in specific grammar concepts is lacking. I mean, I did fine in the French course I took, I got an A-, but there is definite room for improvement. Lesson learned: When one takes 8 years off of French learning, one tends to forget parts of the language. To receive certification with my MAT program with UGA, I will need to score Intermediate High the ACTFL Oral Proficiency test, which I will take during the cohort portion of the program where I complete my practicum courses and student teaching/internship. While I am not doing my cohort this coming fall, I intend to complete my G-4 Certification requirements during the 2013 – 2014 school year, I am not taking classes this summer, so now is the time to get it up to par.

In the curriculum design course I took last semester, I learned a lot about how languages are taught and therefore am using that information to approach my studies in the most efficient metacognitive style. I know that in order to develop all areas of language proficiency I will need to practice all four areas of the language: Reading, writing, listening and speaking. I also Think the four strands principle of language learning is a wise approach: Language-focused learning, meaning-focused output, meaning focused input and fluency development. Another principle I intend to employ is comprehensible input (thank you Stephen Krashen!)

So below is my plan of attack for maximizing my language development over the short summer months.

Focus: Grammar

  • Reading: Read sentences and paragraphs employing the grammar concept I am focusing on for the day. I will utilize Google and my existing coursebooks and texts to find relevant examples of the grammar concept and read them.
  • Writing: Practice the grammar concept in focus using the Ultimate French Review and Practice book I am using.
  • Listening: Listen to French podcast, find content related to grammar concepts.
  • Speaking: Simulate conversation and make up sentences utilizing the grammar concept.

Focus: Culture

  • Reading: Read the news/current events in France and French speaking countries.
  • Writing: Write a blog post about current event that interests me.
  • Listening: Watch French news broadcast about the current events.
  • Speaking: Record the blog pots that I write, and upload it to the blog as a sort of podcast.

Focus: Verbs

  • Reading: Read sentences with verbs I am focusing on today employing them in a variety of verb tenses.
  • Writing: Write sentences using verbs in focus using in a variety of verb tenses.
  • Listening: Find reading paragraphs using the verbs.
  • Speaking: Read the sentences out loud. Make up sentences using the verb in a variety of verb tenses in a simulated conversation.

Focus: Reading Comprehension

  • Reading: Read from graded reader a chapter at a time.
  • Writing: Answer questions in the books about the chapter.
  • Listening: Read out loud.
  • Speaking: Read out loud.

Focus: Movie day

  • Reading: Read review about the movie before watching it.
  • Writing: Write a blog post about the movie after watching it reflecting on the movie.
  • Listening: Watch movie, listen to dialouge.
  • Speaking: Record blog post and post to blog as a podcast.


This is just a rough plan!