Monday, April 21, 2008

Native speakers vs. Second language speakers

I have recently been talking with friends about who makes the best ESL teacher. Is it the native speaker or the second language speaker? I have heard that some professor at Laval University thinks that in a perfect world native speakers would be the only ones to teach English. Personally, I strongly disagree with this person. I am pretty sure, in fact, that second language speakers are privileged in some ways that native speakers are not and vice versa. For example, second language speakers had the chance to learn the language being taught and therefore are more aware of the difficulties of learning the language. On the other hand, native speakers naturally have a perfect syntax and speak at a normal pace with proper stretches.

Regardless of teaching skills (such as the ability to explain), I would like to know what people think about this matter. Therefore, this post is an attempt to discuss the pros and cons of being a second language/native speaker. Please, use the comment section to do so. Thank you for participating!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Forums to leverage education

For a few months, I have been using the language forum on Since then, whenever I have a translation or a grammatical question, I go on the language forum, and it works really well. For example, I've asked a question on the use of There is and There are because I've heard one of my teacher use (many times) There is with plural-countable nouns (i.e. There is two players). According to what I've learned in the past, this use was incorrect, but my teacher was a native speaker so I doubted my knowledge. After a short discussion on the question with other members of the forum, I found out that, according to prescriptive grammar, she was wrong. However, these people told me that native speakers of English frequently do this mistake orally but rarely on paper. The best explanation I was given for the occurence of this error was "I think it's because it flows off the tongue easily". Indeed, second language learners are often more aware of what they say than native speakers, which is probably why I was shocked by that mistake whereas native speakers did not react.

That upper paragraph was simply an introduction to how forums can be used as an educational tool. The one I talked about is worldwide, which means that there is a good sample to go over the questions being asked. If someone does not tell the right thing, chances are that someone knowledgeable will correct the mistake. Plus, moderators make sure that discussions remain focussed.

During the last week, we have been asked (in my Computer Applications in ESL Teaching class) to post in Mark's forum in order to know how to use a forum and discuss the relevance of implementing its use in teaching. For my part, I believe the idea isn't that bad. Often, students are more aware of their difficulties than the teacher is; this is because they themselves had to get over the difficulties. Therefore, letting students answer to other students' questions on a forum is certainly a great idea.

Similarly to the case of students, some studies show that second language speakers are better language teachers than native speakers since those teachers too understand the difficulties of the language being learned. Definitely, learners are the one that should teach to other learners.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The PROTIC environment vs. Non-specialized programs

When I was a High School student, I used to play Insaniquarium during my Computer class. I must say that this game was very entertaining. Still, I did not learn much in this course. Some schools offer special programs such as PROTIC (École secondaire Les Compagnons-de-Cartier) where students have to work on personal projects using technological tools. Since adolescents seem for the most part to like those technologies, this project is certainly extremely motivating for them. However, there is a downside to using technology in a classroom, and I am one good example of it; it is very hard to make sure that every student works on his or her stuff.

At Les Compagnons-de-Cartier, students are chosen according to different factors: (1) motivation towards technology; (2) personality; and (3) tests. Therefore, it is not very surprising to hear that their program is successful; students are chosen to fit with the program. For this reason, it is very hard to claim that using technologies in usual High Schools can be as effective as in PROTIC. Indeed, students do not all share an interest for technology and have differing personalities. Since I haven't heard of a program that works with non-specialized programs and haven't tried using it yet, I remain sceptical towards using technology as an educational tool.

Upon looking at PROTIC, I deduce that projects have to be interesting (or motivating) and must allow students to personalize what they do. I believe in prevention over punishment, and keeping students motivated is probably the best way to deal with Insaniquarium.