The aim of this piece is to share one marvelous way to maintain language competency. This is important because language competency is not something that remains the same over the entire lifetime of a teacher’s career. “Use it, or lose it”, is what teachers have to deal with. Therefore, language maintenance is a critical issue for all teachers, both native and non-native English-speaking teachers.
To be clear, you do not lose your language overnight. You don’t just wake up one morning and discover that you can’t speak English anymore. At least, I have not heard of any reported cases of acute loss of English, from one day to the next. No, that does not happen. What does happen, however, is that after years of hard work to attain a high level of proficiency, we don’t have sufficient opportunities to practice our language at a high level.
Let’s face it: if our students could communicate at a high level, they wouldn’t need us to teach them, would they? Of course not. So, we often find ourselves using language at a very low level, for years at a time. Without us noticing it, our own ability to use language competently has decreased to an unacceptable level.
What can be done to maintain our language proficiency? As you can imagine, there are literally hundreds of options to choose from. Depending on the unique circumstances of every teacher, the most convenient choices will present themselves to us.
Among the many choices available, one marvelous way to maintain language proficiency is one that serves a dual purpose. Instead of simply serving the needs of the teacher, it could also serve the needs of the teacher’s students simultaneously. I’m talking about a shared activity, one in which both the teacher and the students engage in together.
By now you must have guessed I’m talking about reading books. Obviously, the students can not read books at the same level as the teacher can. What the teacher has to do is choose books about which there is a genuine shared interest between the teacher and students.
The teacher reads the book, written at an advanced level, if not in the original, without translation. The teacher brings the book to class, and shares her personal reactions to the story.
In the teacher “book talks” with the class, teachers can address such topics as time, place, setting, plot, characterization, rising and falling action, foreshadowing, symbolism, metaphor, simile, alliteration, language choice, etc. There is really no limit to the innumerable possibilities to exploit what the teacher is reading.
The students benefit by having the teacher as a credible model of a person who enjoys reading books. With this role model, the students are encouraged to also become readers, to emulate the teacher who reads, and then shares, books that they read. Obviously, both teacher and student get the exposure to language, vocabulary, grammar, dialogue and critical thinking as well.
Let’s call reading, a “two-for-one“. The teacher has the marvelous possibility of enriching students, on the one hand, and maintaining language competency, on the other. Again, “reading to speak“, as described here, is but one of many ways to maintain language competency. There are others, if reading and sharing is not your “cup of tea”…