The Value of Observed Teaching Last year, I had the opportunity to
Last year, I had the opportunity to study for a semester in Senegal, West Africa. Though I went largely to practice my French (French being the national language of Senegal), I was more than excited to take the Wolof language class that my study abroad program required us to take. That class, combined with my longstanding desire to teach children, made me realize that teaching English was the perfect opportunity for me.
Moutarou, our Wolof teacher, was friendly, goofy, and approachable from the first moment. Since Wolof was an utterly foreign language to all of us and included many strange and embarrassing-sounding sounds, it was essential that Moutarou made us feel comfortable from the outset. He taught us the Wolof alphabet and made fun of the strange sounds, as well as himself making these sounds. This not only helped the students feel like Wolof would be a fun language to learn, but allowed us to feel comfortable learning the language with one another, students we'd only known for three days.
The first week of class, Moutarou taught us 'Survival Wolof'. He first taught us salutations, and would always enter the classroom with a 'Salaamalekum, na nga def'' (hello, how are you'). Very soon, all of us were greeting one another in Wolof rather than English! Then we learned how to bargain and ask directions in Wolof, as well as how to speak to our elders, taxi drivers, and beggars. This first week of class not only gave us a taste of this new language, but it also allowed us to begin to understand the culture of Senegal and to feel comfortable in our new surrounding.
After Moutarou had taught us enough Wolof to survive on the streets of Dakar, he began to teach us the grammar behind the language so that we could begin to construct it ourselves. But he always made sure to mix up the grammar with the introduction of new vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentence construction. We'd chant pronunciation together, fill in the blanks on the board as a class, recite dialogues, and figure out the meaning of paragraphs and sentences. This made the students feel like we were discovering the language on their own, rather than being taught by a teacher.
Moutarou used movies, Senegalese proverbs, and pictures to help the language come alive. As we got better at speaking Wolof, he would have us begin the day by telling everyone, in Wolof, what we had done the previous evening or what we were planning on doing later that day. One of the students was a great guitar player, so sometimes he would play melodies on his guitar as all the students invented songs in Wolof. We would create stories together, each student writing a sentence and having the next student add a sentence to the story. This interactive method of teaching always held the students' attention and made us excited to come to class and learn.
Moutarou also used many different ways to test our progress in Wolof. Very rarely would we have an in class exam based on memorization of vocabulary. Rather, our exams would be oral, and often written (where we'd be asked to write paragraphs which incorporated vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure). Because of this method of testing, I felt like I was actually understanding and grasping the language, rather than spitting out things I'd memorized like a robot.
This Wolof class gave me so many ideas for how to teach a TEFL course. I realized how important it is for the students to feel comfortable, particularly when learning a new language and also when the students don't really know one another. I became aware that the enthusiasm and interest that the teacher has in teaching truly rubs off in the students' enthusiasm and desire to learn. I learned how valuable and interesting it is for students to learn about the cultures of English-speaking countries as they learn the language itself. And I received several ideas for how to creatively teach the language and keep students motivated and interested while still actually learning something. The things I learned from Moutarou (which were all re-emphasized in this TEFL course) have made me excited and confident to take on the challenge of teaching English to students around the world!
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