Humanising Language Teaching
by a student of Ahmed Bakkali, Arabic teacher, I.E.P.S.C.F. - Uccle, Belgium
For professional reasons I often come in contact with the Arabic world. In fact communicating with my circle of friends has never been a problem as most Arabs speak one or the two languages I master i.e. French and English. However I realized that communication was much easier when I made the effort of saying a few words in Arabic. Besides/Indeed just greeting people with “salamou alaikoum” made the relationship easier.
Such were among others my motivations for learning this language which I thought to be very difficult. I was rather sceptical when I arrived at the IEPSCF. I nearly felt paralysed with fear. When I tried to enrol in the beginner level I was asked to take a test. I didn't see the need for such a test but I was told it was just a formality. This “testing” proved to be very positive because I took the opportunity to ask the teacher all kinds of questions. The answers were straightforward and clear but I still had some misgivings. The first lesson was called “lesson zero” and was divided in 3 parts/steps :
When I went home after this first lesson, my mind was not completely set at rest but at least most of my questions had been answered and I felt brave enough to try out this adventure.
(I wish to make it clear that) out of the 5 modules of 160 hours each I followed only 2 with a four-month break in between (and this was due to professional reasons). I have to admit that the first two weeks were very difficult for me but with some goodwill and thanks to the solidarity of the group I stuck to it. Not everyone seemed to encounter the same difficulties. My Flemish friend sailed through it all. I must also pity (?) and praise the teachers who showed an unlimited patience.
My four-month break was not wasted since I spent 3 months in an Arabic country. There I realized that I had learned a lot during only one module: I knew how to greet people, present myself briefly, ask my way, read the names of the streets, order food and drinks, go to the market and so on.
The practical aspect of the methodology encouraged me to follow a second module. As soon as I find the time I'll do a third one.
You learn Dutch- you meet people from 101 countries
by Laurent, student of Julie Lecomte (module2), Dutch teacher, I.E.P.S.C.F.
One of my teachers at the I.E.P.S.C.F. - Uccle asked me to write about my experience in the school. I accepted because looking back I realize it was a fruitful experience.
I landed in the school by chance. I just wanted to learn Dutch. I had already studied Dutch for 6 years in Secondary School but I was still unable to make a correct sentence or to understand a simple conversation. My problem was that I couldn't study a foreign language; I usually got bored so I forgot everything very quickly. I was so lucky to find this school because here you don't study the language, you try to learn it. This makes all the difference.
At first, the method is surprising: you need time to get used to the fact that you have to live the course and not undergo it passively as is often the case in secondary school. This is an asset as well as a drawback. The success of the method depends above all on the student's involvement and the teacher's capacity in creating a group dynamics; everybody has to work together ! Unfortunately a couple of unmotivated students are enough to hinder the group's progress. The same goes for the teacher: a good group leader will do better than a very gifted linguist.
Another asset of the school – notwithstanding the method – is that you find yourself in a multicultural world where you feel as if you were abroad. While I was there 106 different nationalities were represented. This gives you the feeling of being on holiday and helps you discover other languages and other cultures. Not everybody speaks French and so you have to find other ways if you want to be understood.
During one “module” (the school is organised on a modular base) I was in a group with a majority of Congolese students. The atmosphere was really good and we didn't feel we were following a course. We played and talked exclusively in Dutch; sometimes we used mimes and drawings if we didn't know the words. After a few weeks, speaking Dutch had become such a habit that when we met outside the class, we kept on speaking Dutch. To give you an example: at the end of the course we organized an African dinner party and after half an hour we realized we were still speaking Dutch although everybody could speak French… Just a good habit!
Studying English has been and is still an enriching experience .The evolution is more than obvious because the English language is not an enigma anymore for me .I am not yet completely satisfied with my level of knowlegde of the language but it is already so positive in such a short time. Moreover meeting students from different horizons and other cultures has been so beneficial. B
rian (module 2)
Learning English at the I.E.P.S.C.F. Gatti de Gamond has not been a burden for me, because our teachers have always been very motivating and ready to help. Of course one has to work at home too, and, being 'open ' to other centers of interest is also an asset. Studying at this school has allowed me to meet students from different nationalities, which has given me an approach to their cultures too : that's very motivating when you study English.
Virginia (module 3)
When I arrived at the I.E.P.S.C.F. Gatti de Gamond my aim was to improve the English grammar and then to perfect the language in England .I thought I would improve only the grammar but soon I was nicely surprised by the method : indeed , the boring grammatical exercises were replaced by games and conversations based on the grammar points the teacher wanted us to practice. It was no more a torture to memorize the irregular verbs.
My desire to improve the grammar was more than fulfilled and thanks to my teachers I got to like English and its difficulties. I soon replaced my bedside book by an English one .
Sharon (module 3)
I.E.P.S.C.F. is a rather unique school in Belgium : the method used there is really efficient : an intensive practise of the language (4-5 hours a day in the chosen language) as it is really spoken by natives. Why has this obvious and simple way of practising the language forgotten in most other schools ?
When I enrolled for this course I was afraid to find traditional school desks which I had left quite a long time ago. I was really astonished the first day to see there were no desks and then later on to find out how quickly I was improving.
What I learnt, as a teacher, from being a student
by Sophie Caldeira, 23, French teacher and former student at the IEPSCF:
When I started studying Dutch at the IEPSCF, I had already known both sides of the learning method employed by the school. I had indeed taken several teaching courses in language training e.g. in Russian and Arabic.
Aside from learning to dare to speak Dutch, being a student for 6 months reconfirmed for me, the efficiency and the sound basis of the method. It also revealed a numberr of pedagogical mistakes that should be avioded.
Indeed, these 6 months helped me to feel from the inside, the difficulties students might encounter and their reactions to whether or not activities are well organized and relevant.
The method is great but teacher can never be perfect. Don't you agree?
As I was hired by the school just after finishing one module in Dutch, I could immediately put into practice everything I had learned from this rich experience, to the ultimate benefit of my students.
In a period of one month I made, of course, a lot of pedagogical mistakes but I could feel with such intensity how they effected the students that it motivates me to try and do better everyday. I really hope that I will never forget that I too have once been a student.
To conclude, I strongly recommend that all the teachers who have the opportunity, follow foreign language courses( 2 – 3 modules or perhaps in the evening).
If I am lucky enough to keep teaching at the IEPSCF, I will be happy to share my experiences with others who have had a similar experience.