Teaching to Teach Languages
With its series of publications devoted to the ‘Best Educational Practices’ conference at the International College for Arts and Communication (MKIK), the Global Women Media news agency keeps sharing the most interesting reports on teaching approaches. In this article, we brought together the experience of pedagogues who train students specializing in intercultural communication: linguists, interpreters, translators, and teachers of foreign languages.
PhD in Philology, linguist, Dean of the Faculty of Linguistics of the Institute for the Humanities and Information Technologies (IGUMO), Dean of the Linguistics College of the International College for Arts and Communication (MKIK), developer of special courses
founder of the B2B Perevod translation agency, translator and orientalist, expert in cross-cultural communication, Dean of the Chinese College of MKIK, Dean of the Korean College of MKIK
Chinese language scholar, pedagogue, translator, Associate Professor of the Department of Oriental Languages at the Omsk State Pedagogical University
The International College for Arts and Communication (MKIK) includes a range of fields of secondary vocational training. Three of them are directly linked to establishing intercultural communication. Thus, the Linguistics College, the Chinese College, and the Korean College operate within MKIK. The uniqueness of their curricula lies in focusing on training versatile professionals able to teach a foreign language. At the same time, MKIK graduates can not only become teachers but also choose a different development trajectory and try their hand at carrying out commercial, social, or cultural international projects.
During the ‘Best Educational Practices’ pedagogical conference, the Deans of the Colleges shared their experience and approaches to the organisation of the learning process.
Advantages of Group Work
The Dean of the Linguistics College Oksana Kurenya devoted her report to the potential of students’ work in groups and pairs during their classes. That is a very simple and frequently used format of activity in the educational process. Such a format gives a deeper and more comprehensive result than it might seem at first glance.
Oksana Kurenya is an education expert with 18 years of pedagogical experience. Over that time, she has adapted a method, according to which student work in pairs and groups within not only practical but also theoretical disciplines. For example, students regularly team up within lectures on the Methodology of Teaching Foreign Languages to Children. They jointly analyse existing options for educational assignments. During Individual Design classes, students create their own teaching aids and educational games in teams.
One of the unique features of Oksana Kurenya’s approach lies in allocating a limited amount of time for group work: no more than one class or even a part of it. Within the established deadline, students have to demonstrate the concrete result of their work: a small project or processed and systematized information.
Due to the fact that such an approach presupposes a ‘quick’ format, students often form groups of two to four people themselves and are guided by personal preferences. A pedagogue can assemble student teams according to their qualities and characters. However, that approach is more effective for long-term activities because it requires time to adapt and to get used to one another.
Group work makes it possible to change the student’s role. Previously being just the one to whom the teacher imparts knowledge, the student is turned into an active cognitive actor.
The cognitive process becomes more effective within group work. Students perceive the new information much better in such a format even if not preparing a specific project but just processing information. They have an opportunity to let the new knowledge pass through themselves. That complies well with what Confucius said: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand”.
Interestingly, teamwork in small groups promotes individual activity pretty well. On the one hand, students support and complement one another by completing a common task. On the other hand, due to the small size of the groups, each participant has a specific function and is responsible for a specific set of tasks. Therefore, teamwork helps students who are shy or don’t manage to open up within standard classes.
When different people discuss the same topic or solve the same problem, they exchange their experience and ideas. That often results in a deeper and more comprehensive view of things.
The final part of the class presupposes the presentation of small projects. Each team presents a different block of material, which fits the overall picture harmoniously. Analyzing the enormous amount of information in theoretical classes individually would require much more time. Working in groups makes it possible to divide a large amount of work into parts and share the results. In other words, the experience of others is accumulated. Each student can then use that experience in his or her studies and work.
Of course, teamwork also contributes to developing a number of soft skills in students: from the ability to build communication and organise teamwork to critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Moreover, when presenting their small projects, students learn to convey information correctly and clearly. That’s especially important for those professionals dealing with foreign languages.
Tradition and Innovation
Maria Suvorova, Dean of the Chinese and Korean Colleges of MKIK, shared her experience of combining traditional and innovative methods in the curriculum. According to the expert, Russia doesn’t yet have a knowledge base related to teaching Chinese and Korean at the secondary vocational level. Therefore, MKIK lecturers have to rethink huge amounts of material in order to provide the younger generation with systemic knowledge in an exciting and modern format. At the same time, Russia has a strong tradition of teaching Oriental languages in general. That is the foundation on which education can and should be based.
Today’s young people need modern educational approaches. However, innovative methods simply can’t exist without relying on well-established classic tools. Otherwise, the bright picture of such education will not have a proper deep meaning.
The curricula of the Chinese and Korean Colleges of MKIK include several main blocks of disciplines: subjects focused on language learning and teaching methods; disciplines related to the country’s culture and history; and those dedicated to the arts (such as calligraphy and traditional painting). On the one hand, all those types of subjects are interrelated. Studying one discipline often makes it possible to delve deeper into another one. On the other hand, mastering not only the language itself but also other aspects related to China or Korea broadens the horizons of professionals and provides them with different development paths.
Most classes at the Chinese and Korean Colleges of MKIK are a synthesis of several disciplines and approaches. Lecturers often touch upon topics from related subjects and incorporate new techniques into the classic lesson structure. Maria Suvorova gave several examples of the most effective formats in terms of engaging today’s young people in the educational process.
For example, students adore classes with the native speaker named Li Guogang. He has been teaching at the Chinese College since the very first year of their studies. The lecturer delivers a huge range of workshops on a wide variety of topics. He always demonstrates the cultural peculiarities of his country with great passion. Li Guogang even cooks mooncakes, a traditional Chinese holiday treat.
The native speaker communicates with the students as their mentor and friend. Thanks to the lack of strict rules or barriers and the warm and trusting atmosphere, young people practice their new language with pleasure rather than fear.
During Introduction to Foreign Language Teaching classes, students learn about the works of prominent educators, study existing teaching methods, and then develop their own exercises for children. During the first years of their training, students create language-oriented games and activities. In the senior years of study, they create educational board games focusing on the culture and art of the country.
Maria Suvorova often uses a project-focused approach during the classes presupposing the study of a large amount of theoretical material. For example, she creates a ‘virtual museum’ together with the students. Within that activity, ‘artefacts’ are displayed on slides for students to watch them and argue about their origin and purpose.
Developing an SMM account for a historical figure is another interesting activity. Students create a real social media page and fill it with information about a particular person. Using the stories format, they publish images or videos related to the main events in the life of the chosen person in addition to posts with their quotes. That format is a more creative option if compared to classic reports.
Importantly, those creative and communicative skills acquired in the course of studies will be valuable for all professionals, not only those who devote themselves to teaching. They will be useful in all fields of activities thanks to the professional’s ability to turn any material into something interesting and eye-catching for one’s audience, clients, and business partners.
Integration of Subject Areas
Tatyana Ioffe continued the topic of a comprehensive approach and integration of different subject areas in the in the practice of teaching the Chinese language. The beginning of her professional path had taken place at a time when learning Chinese was just gaining momentum in Russia. Curricula and teaching approaches in that area have undergone a huge number of changes over the past 30 years. Many new teaching materials have appeared. However, the belief in the importance of a comprehensive approach to learning Chinese has remained unchanged to this day.
A comprehensive lesson can have classic or integrated content. Both approaches have their pros and are effective for different goals.
The principle of ‘four more's’ reflects the classic filling of the lesson quite accurately. According to it, students need to listen, speak, read, and write more to make their learning as effective as possible. Such an approach makes it possible to develop specific subject-related competencies in students and helps them master all types of speech activity.
Integrated (or linguo-cultural) filling of the lesson presupposes teaching the disciplines considering their interrelationships. Such an approach strives to bring up students' systemic thinking and eliminate split perception of the Chinese language. For example, Reading and Literature as disciplines have meta-subject links through Hieroglyphics, Language History, Phonetics, Stylistics, Literary Analysis, and Lexicology. In addition, such an integrative discipline as Linguistic and Cultural Studies can combine History, Literature, Oral and Written Practice.
At the same time, one may divide classes into several phases. Tatyana Ioffe gave an example of comprehensive work with the text of a Chinese poem. The basic phase is about learning about the work, the author, and the epoch, in which he or she lived. The cognitive phase presupposes updating information using data from other subjects (for example, those related to stylistics, translation, and history). The integrative phase is an analysis of the work according to different parameters: stylistic, translation, literary, and diachronic analysis. That work engages several blocks of knowledge already mastered by the students. Such a process makes it possible to demonstrate their meta-subject interrelationship.
Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov