Foreign Language and Authentic Teaching

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Last night I read two posts on Facebook from foreign language teachers who were looking for ways to use projects in their classrooms.  Initially, I felt that I really hadn’t thought about foreign language and authentic projects before. After thinking about this for awhile,  it dawned on me  that in actuality I had.  Working on my Martian Colony Project, the largest and most comprehensive authentic project I was involved with, many of the children were ESOL.  The Martian Colony was a fantastic way for them to learn English.  Authentic projects are rich with language experiences.  So if we were using authentic projects to teach English to speakers of other languages, then we were using authentic projects to teach a foreign language.

I thought back on my own foreign language classes, and the one lesson I remembered from high school (it’s been a few years) was an authentic project where we wrote letters to pen pals in Mexico.  I definitely learned and retained more from that project than from anything else we did that year.  It was real, it mattered, there was ownership, pride, and expectation of a return letter.  (The letter might even be from a boy – I was a teenager, boys were what I thought about most of the time, ok – all of the time!)  The letters went back and forth several times (my pen pal was a boy!) and for every letter I increased my Spanish vocabulary significantly – not only from writing my letters but from reading his.

Take any authentic project that is of interest to the teacher and students, bring it into a foreign language class, and I can guarantee the engagement and learning will greatly increase.  Writing to pen pals in another language is a great authentic project.  Going through a quick list in my head of projects I have been involved with, I can’t think of one that wouldn’t work for foreign language, and as the school I taught at had a large ESOL population, all of the projects I worked on were used to teach another language.

Good Luck!  Buena suerte!  Bonne chance!  Buona fortuna!  Viel Gluck!

*One School’s Journey, written with my former and forever principal, will be published and available on Amazon by the end of this month.  This book tells the story of the journey our school took as it set down the path using authentic projects to teach.  Stay tuned for more information.

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