A man went to see a psychologist. The doctor said, “How can I help you?” The man said: “Doctor, I feel like nobody understands me.” The doctor said, “What do you mean by that?”
A good psychologist listens. When a patient speaks, a psychologist often asks for more information. But in the above joke, we see a twist. The doctor asks for more information — as usual. But the man said he felt misunderstood, so the doctor seems to say: “I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU EITHER.”
Introducing Community Language
Psychologists and counselors help people understand and better deal with their feelings and emotions. Like counselors, good teachers care because learning is person-centered. Good teachers care about students, their feelings, and their self-esteem.
In our chapter on “The Input Revolution,” we see Krashen’s theory about emotions and language acquisition. It’s called the affective filter hypothesis. But one scholar has more than a theory about emotions and language learning. He actually created a language teaching method that “cares” for students. The scholar’s name is Charles Curran (1976), and he called the method “Community Language Learning.”
Community Language Learning comes out of a more general teaching approach called Counseling Learning. These approaches use an analogy for teaching and learning. The teacher becomes a counselor, and the students become clients. We do not want to take this analogy too far. Of course, teachers are not actually counselors, and students are not clients.
However, the analogy is helpful. Learners feel numerous fears, anxieties, frustrations, and motivations. They also experience failures and successes. And good teachers learn how to help students through these feelings and experiences. With Community Language Learning, teachers take the counseling analogy very seriously — maybe too seriously. But this method reminds us of an important value. Language learning is whole person learning.
Person-Centered Theory into Practice
With his person-centered theory, Curran created a radical way to make the syllabus for Community Language Learning. The students create the syllabus. Students motivations, feelings, and needs are central; therefore, students generate the content for their language courses. This seems like a surprising idea, but let’s see how it works.
The Procedures of Community Language Learning
If teachers carefully follow the method of Community Language Learning, they do lessons in five stages. Stage One: The Reflection Stage. The students sit in a circle, and the teacher stands outside the circle. Students think silently about what they want to talk about. When they are ready, they list up their topics for conversation. Then from their list, they choose one topic for conversation.
Stage Two: Recording Stage. One student starts. In her first language, she tells the teacher her message. Then the teacher stands behind the student and translates the student’s message into English. Then when the student is ready, she speaks and records her message with an audio recorder. Next the teacher repeats this process with the other students. Each student tells the teacher a message. When ready, each message is recorded. And the class creates a recorded conversation in English.
Stage Three: The Discussion Stage. In this stage, the class talks about the recorded conversation. They answer questions like these: How did it go? How did you feel about hearing your voice? How did it feel to say your message in English.
Stage Four: The Transcription Stage Now students listen to the tape. And they write down (transcribe) the conversation. The teacher only helps when the students ask. Over time, the teacher wants the students to become more and more independent.
Stage Five: The Analysis Stage Next students analyze the language of the conversation. They look at the transcript and answer these kinds of questions. What verb tenses did we use? What new words did we use? What language problems did we have?
The Problems and Benefits of Community Language Learning
In the lesson, the teacher acts like a “Human Computer.” A student says a part of a conversation. The teacher translates it (like a computer) as many times as the student wants. When the student repeats the translation, the teacher doesn’t correct the student. Correction creates negative emotions. Students only learn to correct themselves by imitating the teacher.
If a teacher becomes a Human Computer, she also needs to be highly bilingual. This will challenge many teachers who may not feel confident enough to become a Human Computer. However, if students can generate their own conversations, they may become more motivated as learners. But this also presents a challenge. During The Reflection Stage, some students may not easily think of what to say. They may have trouble getting started.
However, Community Language Learning reminds us to keep people at the center. The five stages may help us build trust and cooperation. As the teacher supports students, she gives them the words to say. The students only need to repeat, and this may help students overcome fear and negative feelings. Most teachers today do not use Community Language Learning. But it represents an important contribution in the field of language teaching, and students may enjoy it for an occasional lesson.
- Do you think correction creates negative emotions in students?
- Do you think the Five Stages will help students build trust and cooperation with each other?
- Do you think students will acquire the language they use in the recorded conversations?