Year 2016 in review and looking forward to 2017!

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

Prosperous and healthy new year!!! Bonne année ! ¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Frohes neues Jahr!

As 2017 has just begun, I am full of inspiration and hope! I am committed to be a patient and loving mum taking care of my family. I am inspired to tell and create stories to help learners from all over the world to acquire another language naturally and joyfully.

Some weeks ago, I watched Marie Forleo’s video about reviewing last year by answering three simple questions:

Reflecting on the year which has just passed is an excellent way to start the new year on the right foot, so here are my answers to Marie’s questions:

    1. What did I do, create or experience last year that I am really proud of?
      I have tried to implement a “pure comprehensible approach” to get my learners to acquire a language naturally by focusing on the content rather than on the form. I now let my learners drive the stories we create together, I don’t really have set structures nor vocabulary in mind, I just let my learners make up their own stories so that they have true ownership of the acquisition process. I also no longer circle and circle to get repetitions of target structures. Instead, I let the stories flow. As Dr. Krashen states in his article about non targeted input: “Flow is the state people reach when they are deeply but effortlessly involved in an activity. In flow, the concerns of everyday life and even the sense of self disappear – our sense of time is altered and nothing but the activity itself seems to matter. It is when this happens that language acquisition occurs most effectively.” I have also experienced story listening which has proved to be very beneficial to my language learners, especially those who have learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.
    2. What mistakes did I make that taught me something?
      I did want to do everything at once: being a good mum, the perfect housewife and a good language teacher… Well, the truth is I cannot do it all!!! I so wanted my house to be spotted clean and at the same time I wanted to dedicate time to my boys and also to blog regularly and to post language resources I would have created. So I started to stop practicing yoga every day and to do little things to keep my sanity. And as result I started to lose my temper and it would impact my family in a negative way. The snow ball effect was setting in!
    3. What am I willing to let go of?
      I am willing to become less of a control freak! It is OK if my house is not perfect (as long as it is not a complete mess!), and it is OK if I am not on social networks every day! I need to allow quality time for my family and myself and I am aiming at being on the yoga mat nearly everyday of this year because it helps me to keep balanced and happy: positive snow ball effect!

Question number three is actually a good summary of my new year’s resolution. On the working front, I want to share the “pure comprehensible approach” or in other words the natural way to acquire another language with the most people because I believe it is the RIGHT way! I am so enthusiastic about this approach and I so do believe anyone can learn another language effortlessly and happily that I would like everybody to try it out!

This month of January 2017, I will posting two videos weekly on YouTube where I will be telling short stories in French for anybody who wants to learn or improve French. You can see for yourself that it is fun to acquire French (but please be kind as filming myself has been a big learning curve for me!).

This is my big 2017 project and I hope it will motivate and inspire you to learn another language! Be sure to check out my YouTube playlist: January Challenge – Learn French the natural way! where I will posting a new story every Tuesday and Thursday.

What about you? What is your big project this year?

Language game to provide more comprehensible input: Guess Who?

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

As I mentioned in my previous post about story listening, I am part of an amazing group on Facebook called “CI Liftoff” where educators around the world are discussing about how to use pure comprehensible input in the language acquisition process. I am learning so much from this group and the posts are always so thoughtful with in-depth analysis that if I could I would spend my days reading those beautifully written posts but unfortunately I don’t even have enough hours through the day! This morning, one post from Tina Hargaden caught my eye. Tina was writing about the common belief that children and adults learn differently and that children can learn another language faster than adults because their brains are like sponges. When it is true that children may seem to be able to speak another language effortlessly, is it really true that they can learn another language faster than adults?

Tina writes that: “Forty years of research on adult second language acquisition has cast serious doubt on this; in fact, in some quarters of second language research the evidence overwhelmingly points toward the same mechanisms underlying language acquisition in both children and adults.

To be sure, there are external differences:

1. Adults “like” to be in control of learning, children not necessarily so.
2. Adults “like” things to be explained to them, children not necessarily so.
3. The communicative demands placed on adults are different from those placed on children.
4. Adults tend to find themselves in formal language-learning environments (e.g., classrooms) whereas children often do not…(if we are considering first language acquisition).

But internally, adults and children appear to be constrained by the same mechanisms during language acquisition regardless of context, and the fundamental ingredients of language acquisition are at play in both situations:

1. Input (communicatively embedded language that learners hear),
2. Universal Grammar coupled with general learning architecture,
3. Processing mechanisms that mediate between input and the internal architecture.

Now that I am teaching adults online, I have come to realize that the above points are true. It is true that “adults “like” to be in control of learning and that they “like” things to be explained to them”. However when story asking and story listening, adults are put in a “child’s situation”. They create stories and they listen to tales and legends, the same things they did when they were children. They do not need to be in control of learning any longer, they need to focus on the content and not the form. Their need for things to be explained (like grammar rules for example) tend to disappear. Therefore, they can learn/acquire another language as fast as children!

Another tool which can be used in language acquisition and which take adults back to their childhood is the use of games. Children like to play games and they learn by playing games. Adults can do the same too but language games need to be an input provider. They should not force output. Games should generate more input for learners.

The Jean-Jacques Julier game generates the use of target structures and gives access to a wider range of vocabulary. Another well-known game called Guess Who? is perfect to provide input to describe people. When story asking, I usually start by describing someone or something and by asking my learners for details: ” Est-ce qu’il est grand ou petit ? Est-ce qu’il est beau ou moche ?… “. The Guess Who? game goes hand in hand with stories.

In the actual game, players take turn to ask yes or no questions about the people on the cards but in my version of the game, I tend to only talk and ask questions. All the learner has to do is to listen to my questions and to answer by yes or no in the target language. Learners are listening to a lot of comprehensible input, they are focusing on me guessing the right character on the card and therefore they are acquiring the language unconsciously. In a classroom environment, I would either show all the different cards on the board or I would give out one set of cards to each learner (but they would have to be printed in color). I would ask the class or one student in the class to choose one character for me to guess.

Since I have been playing with French learners, I have used the wonderful sets created by Tiphanie Montus on her blog BonjourFLE!. I have used the Astérix version which also ties in with French culture. I can then speak about the comics and how the French love Astérix and Obélix as a symbol of French independence and stubbornness!

As a reading extension, I then give my learners sentences describing one character to read and they have to guess to who the description refers to. It allows for even more comprehensible input!

When learners are ready to produce output, we can then play the game properly and I can even ask learners to write a description of the characters for me to read and guess!

My adults learners enjoy playing at this game and some can remember playing it when they were children! It also fuels our co-created stories as the characters from the game inspire my learners to invent funny characters for our stories (i.e. the man has a big nose, a mustache, she looks furious…)!

What about you? Can you share a fun game which allows for more comprehensible input?

Story listening is powerful!

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

To me, developing listening skills are vital in life, yet not practiced enough. As teachers, we are told to let students learn by doing (which is valuable too in some cases) and that classrooms should be students led. As a consequence the skill of listening is being put aside, which I do believe is not helpful to students. According to Dr. Kari Miller: “Skillful listening requires the ability to stay focused on the message, resist other distractions, and make a meaningful connection with the content of the message. Good listening requires practice because it involves effort to do it well. ” In my opinion, students need to learn to listen to the teacher as well as their classmates because it will then help them to build successful relationships and careers. Therefore when I read about “story listening” as a powerful technique to acquire a language, I was thrilled!

As a matter of fact, some teachers are trying to liberate the way we teach students to acquire another language. I am part of a fascinating group on Facebook called “CI Liftoff” where the idea is to innovate and explore using a “Pure Comprehensible Input” approach. Tina Hargaden (who created this group along with Ben Slavic) mentions: “Dr. Beniko Mason asserts, based on Dr. Krashen’s research, that the conscious mind has no place in a classroom whose goal is true language acquisition. The students must be led to focus on the message and only the message. If they are focused on the form of the language, their acquisition is inhibited and might not happen due to learning.

Furthermore Dr. Beniko Mason explains in an in-depth article entitled “Self-Selected Pleasure Reading and Story Listening for Foreign Language Classrooms” : “teachers must understand that consciously learned knowledge is fragile and easily forgotten, but unconsciously acquired language competence is permanent.

I therefore decided to have a go at Dr. Beniko’s technique which unfolds as follow: “Story listening is used for aural comprehensible input. It involves a focus on vocabulary, but the purpose in doing this is comprehension of the story. Students are not required to practice and remember the key vocabulary. The teacher decides which story to tell. and which words to introduce. The teacher tells the story. The teacher draws pictures on the board to make the story more comprehensible. The teacher writes the words on the board to let the students know that he/she is using the words to tell the story. The teacher asks the students to write a summary of the story in their native language. The teacher can evaluate her/his lesson that day by reading the summary of the story they write.

I wanted to try this technique because some of my French learners are at beginner level and I only see them once a week after school when they are already quite tired. I figured that the best way for them to acquire some French would be to listen to stories. Another point is that they are shy and I can sense they feel stressed to have to respond when I ask a story. Therefore I started last week by telling them a ghost legend from Québec in Canada entitled “La Dame Blanche de la chute de Montmorency”. At first, I told them I was going to tell a story in French and that the only thing they had to do was to listen with the intent to understand. If they didn’t understand a word, they did not have to worry because their goal was to understand the story as a whole. I then started to tell the story but I did not draw pictures (because I don’t feel comfortable at drawing!), I mimed the vocabulary I thought they would not understand and I also translated some words from time to time. I told the story quite slowly but not too slowly. At some point I could not help asking them a few questions to check comprehension (which I think is not “true” story listening)! Finally, at the end of the story I did not have them to write down a summary of the story but instead I asked them to retell the story in English. And to my surprise, they understood all of the story, even the details which I thought would be hard for them to understand! I was so happy for them and I praised them on their achievement: they had listened to a ghost story in French and they had understood all of it!!!

I asked my eldest son to film me when I was telling the story:

Story listening is truly a powerful tool! I also told a the Red Poppy Story to my English learner who has had 10 hours of English with me so far and he could understand all of it although it was all in the past tense and there was a lot of new vocabulary related to war.

What about you? Have you experienced story listening?

How to improve attention by breathing consciously?

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

Conscious breathing exercises are a big part of yoga and I must admit that at first they were not my favorite part. I started doing yoga because I wanted to get back in shape after giving birth to my third child and I wanted to exercise. Breathing was something optional to me. Needless to say I was completely wrong because breathing is of course essential in yoga!

One particular practice I got to really enjoy is what is called alternate nostril breathing. It was challenging for me at first to get used to this conscious breathing exercise. It felt uncomfortable to breathe in only one nostril but after several attempts and because Adriene made me do it in many of her videos, I found that it helped me to release stress and anxiety and even fatigue. Although it is not the typical body workout, it is still a powerful act. “It’s a direct path for us to communicate quickly to the brain via what we do with our body. It also offers a direct link for balancing the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-relax) branches of the nervous system.” notes Dr. Paula Watkins in her article about why everyone should try alternate nostril breathing.

This breathing technique works also wonders as a brain break with language learners because not only it is good for our hearts, lungs and our heads, it improves attention and fine-motor coordination/performance. It is great for concentration, cleansing and is a fantastic headache cure too!

Here is a demo by Adriene:

What about you? Does conscious breathing practice help you? Have you tried it in the classroom?

How to find out about your learners interests in a compelling way?

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

I have started teaching French to a group of 3 girls aged 10 years old. They are native German but they have been attending a primary school where they were taught French intensively, it was like an immersion type of school so their level is very good. Last week was a “Schnupperstunde” meaning it was my first try out lesson with them. I must admit I was a bit anxious, I did not know how nor where to start! I was afraid to either teach stuff that would be too easy or too difficult for them. I find it hard to start with a group of learners who have with previous knowledge of the language! However TPRS came to the rescue and asking a story is an activity which adapts itself to any learners! Since they are young girls, I thought of starting with Ben Slavic’s marvelous one word image . The problem was how to start talking about something? What is the “something” you choose? Do you choose an object, an animal, a piece of cloth? How do you let your learners choose from a wide range of anything? It can end up being confusing for a group of learners who have never created stories before.

Best is to get to know your learners first and to get to know what interest them. I therefore decided to start with personalized questions using ” L’étoile du jour. This was the perfect starter to dig for information about my girls.

I then started looking for resources in the FLE world (Français Langue Etrangère) and I found this great activity called ” Portrait Chinois “. Originally a clever word game, the Portrait was in vogue in the salons précieux. In time, it expanded with different variations, the most famous being the Chinese portrait, so named, because of its ingenious complications. It is basically a set of questions based on what you would be if you were… It is not too complicated in terms of structures: ” Si j’étais…, je serais… ” and it allows learners to talk about what they like and their interests. For example, I found out that a girl would be climbing if she was a sport because it is her favorite sport! In terms of vocabulary, even if your learners are beginners, you can help them by giving them examples using cognates or near cognates, for instance: ” Si tu étais une planète, tu serais Mars ou Vénus ? “.

You can find a whole list of different questions here:

Not only was this activity perfect to get tons of repetitions of a complex structure using the conditional tense, it was also great to find out even more about the girls’ interests in a fun way! It led beautifully to then describe one of the things the girls would be and thus to create an image together.

We actually could not start creating an image because we spent a long amount of time talking about ourselves and I showed the girls an example of ” Mon Portrait Chinois “:

We also did a brain break disco party which the girls loved!:

Phew! I think I have successfully passed the “Schnupperstunde“! What I love about facilitating comprehensible input is that it is not restrictive. Even if a structure seems too complex, the fact that we establish meaning first means that you can talk about anything, you can communicate in a real natural way!

What about you? Have you done le ” Portrait Chinois ” with you learners? How do you start a one word image?

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