Professional Development

Social Isolation Time Is Time to Look Outward

Acquire a brand new language and become a better language teacher

I have been glued to the internet, feeding my anxiety and increasingly high blood pressure. It is time to step back. Now that I have the basics under control for the next several weeks (food, water, an ample supply of champagne), I am now focusing on acquiring a new language because when else do I get this amount of free time!?

If you’re a Spanish teacher, consider embracing a non-romance language. Starting from nothing will best acquaint you with the struggle that your slowest-processing students feel in your own classes.

I start with a website called iTalki. The world economy may be crashing, but iTalki helps you find support from a tutor anyplace in the world. If you can, record the sessions. We language teachers know that re-reading a text is powerful for our students; in the same way, building in time to re-watch the iTalki session will give your brain plenty of time to soak in the language. Oh yeah, re-watching is great!

If you have not yet discovered iTalki, it is easy to navigate. In the beginning I look for native speakers from the target language country who are also fluent in English so that they can translate when needed. It is just so much quicker to be able to verify meaning in English and return to the target language.

Your iTalki tutors will have a lesson plan ready, but why not take control and get the maximum amount of CI possible? A simple first day is to have 5 questions ready (like a student interview) and go slowly one question at a time. I supply each question to the tutor in writing in order to cut down on the amount of spoken English; the tutor then asks me the question in the target language. I answer in English, and the tutor repeats my response in the target language. I have the tutor write what was just said, and then I ask the tutor the same question. Write again. Then I ask the question about someone else: their parents, siblings, favorite celebrities. We stick with the same question as long as we can. Get it all in writing. Pretty soon I am asking the question in the target language, except when the tutor needs to translate a word or two. Next lesson, with a different tutor, I start with these same questions that I have mastered and can now start a conversation pretty darn quickly in my new language.

Chatting with an iTalki tutor is like chatting with a student. Some are naturally animated but, like students, some tutors have little to say and a knack for killing conversations. I would say that my best tutors are older people, whereas the younger tutors often seem to expect me to entertain them. Not always, of course, but as you browse through the list of potential tutors keep in mind that the older tutors often bring a lot of interesting life experience to the conversation.

I posted a few One Word Images made with Japanese tutors on my YouTube channel. Adapt your tried and true CI activities to your own learning and see what works. I haven’t done a OWI with a tutor for awhile… I should upload some more!

Look for easy reading to do on your own. In a completely new language your outside of class reading will first be the texts that you make with your tutor. Reread. If you have some experience with the language, however, you’ll be able to hunt for reading material on the internet. For what felt like the longest time finding reading material in Japanese was painful for me because it was all so hopelessly out of reach, but after some time working with tutors I can now easily work with materials posted by teachers Matthew Russell (Easy Japanese Stories) and Clay & Yumi (The Japan Shop).

Exercise. Lose some weight. Get your blood pressure down so that you’ll be in fighting shape if you do get ill. Scientists suspect that 80% of Covid-19 infections in South Korea were passed on from people who were NOT showing any symptoms. Isolate even from apparently healthy people!!

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