Awesome Insights into Teaching Italian Beginner Students
2019-03-07 Jon ITTT Alumni Experiences
When starting a career in teaching, regardless of age,gender and nationality, a prospective teacher should always bear in mind one fundamental skill:patience. This particular talent is what I personally believe distinguishes a competent teacher from the incompetent one, and is crucial in establishing the overall success of each and every student. So, how patient should teachers be and, particularly, how patient should the teachers at beginner levels be?
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Katarina K.
I have been a TEFL certified teacher for a short time. However, I have been teaching for the past 5 years. I distinctly remember how every level of teaching used to be hard when I lacked the proper know-how of a lesson plan, or a method and I was not certain whether what I was doing made any sense at all. These uncertainties had always cleared out in front of this very special group of students starting from scratch. So what made them so special and why are they still my favorite teaching group?
The influence of the student’s first language
First of all, I would like to point out that I mainly work with Italian students of all age groups. Every now and then, I come across a Spanish native and very rarely I bump into a French student. Which makes Italian students my predominant teaching target. Italians have a highly elaborate grammar structure which bares little to no resemblance to the English one. Where English is rigid, pragmatic and extremely guided, Italian is the whole opposite. To make matters worse, Italians have an interestingly free flow of speech pattern, dominating not only their oral production but the written one, too.
Hence, an Italian beginner student is very difficult to control and needs to be constantly reminded to leave their beautiful, native language behind. This apparently simple technique does not happen easily and implies a lot of patience. When making oral productions we tend to activate a subconscious comparative filter where everything we think and say has to pass through our native language.
Due to this, beginners tend to think of new vocabulary through the phonemic system of their own language. They will expect that “cat” begins with the “g” like it does in the Italian “gatto”. This system can sometimes be of a great aid as a lot of English vocabulary derives from Latin and there are fortunately words in both languages with the same root and sound. More often than not it is misleading. Teaching new vocabulary to beginner level student is a painstaking job requiring a lot of repetition and visual aid. Generally is is an arduous memory work but it always proves to be more efficient when students’ minds are liberated from their native language input.
Problems with possessives, prepositions and plurals
Another speech category I have always found to be quite difficult to explain to beginner students are small word categories such as possessive adjectives or prepositions. The former are challenging as the possessive adjectives qualify the noun but they don’t determine the verb. For instance in the following sentence: “His brothers are Spanish”, a lot of students expect the verb to be “is” implying that “his” determines the choice of a verb. Prepositions on the other hand have a special status in each language and very often do not match. For beginner students this can be an extremely demotivating part of language learning and they tend to make several mistakes before actually learning the rule.
At this level, every rule is held onto and whenever an exception breaks in, beginner students tend to become easily confused. After spending hours learning that the plural is generally represented with “s”,”es”, their hearts skip the beat when encountering irregular plural such as feet, teeth or mice. After all it did take time to include “s” in the plural, a practice so hard for most Italian students. They simply tend to omit or just forget about it.
Knowing when to correct
Controlling their utterances is another hard part. How do you correct their mistakes without being too intrusive and disheartening? Here I believe the best approach is to carefully examine the students and try to figure out a technique suitable for each. It is much more difficult when working in big classes but usually games or other classmates can be a valuable tool when doing this partly because it is more face saving.
Patience is key
Patience is the key to teaching beginner students because practice makes perfect. Without practice they would not be able to drill the words or grammar parts which would lead to an unsuccessful learning outcome. Drilling and hashing over the elements studied in the previous classes is of an extreme importance. In order to actively start using the elements studied, students need to have practiced them several times in different contexts, including the unexpected ones. This is why it is important never to start working on new units before having made sure everything has been learnt from the previous ones. They appreciate it and feel more pleased with both the teachers and themselves for the great work accomplished. On a psychological level it gives them a possibility to observe and hover over their progress which in turn might make them feel more motivated when tackling something more demanding.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that a real beginner has a methodical and thorough approach to studying unlike the students who have eventually picked up a language without really having understood how. When presented with new items, rules and vocabulary, a beginner student mainly ponders upon it and as his language becomes richer, his thoughts continue to be more surveilled which facilitates progress and passage from one level to another. For all these reasons, no matter how challenging and at times excruciating it may be, teaching beginner students has always been the most rewarding part of my job so far.
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