Language Schools of Singapore | English, Chinese & Indonesian

How to Prepare For a University Foreign Language Course

The successful completion of a foreign language sequence is often a requirement of many undergraduate degree programs. This may mean re-entry into the workforce or even furthering studies. Because of this, students must be proficient in the ability to communicate in the major foreign languages. This may mean learning a new language or two. Or it may mean ending up on the international job market. Whether students plan to become teachers of English or another foreign language, they likely have not taken any university foreign language courses in English. Such courses are important to students for many reasons. First, the skills learned through such courses prepare students to be proficient in English. Second, it is common for degrees in the United States to require a foreign language proficiency, meaning that a student’s degree is in a major language, such as French, German, Italian or Spanish. The courses that prepare students for this latter require close study of the major languages.

There are two difficulties that teachers have in teaching English as a Second Language. The first involves understanding the technical, scientific and/or technological terms used by the native English speakers. The second is mastering the social, cultural, and colloquial aspects of communication, as well as the affective components. The vast majority of transfers of language occur through teachers utilized on-the-job training and informal education. Thus, it is critical for the teacher to be able to understand the basics of the foreign language spoken by the students and translate it technically and culturally. Teachers may choose to enroll in specialized online or classroom courses with enabling technologies and linguistic channels of approach.

The study of the fundamentals of a foreign language opens up a host of problems for the teacher. Language-learners make up a significant portion of the student population in any high school (ESL, IELTS, etc.) and a typical class has at least one. Ideally, a class should have two or three students learning at a time. By far the upper age-group should have completed the course by the time they reach the university level. It might be reasonable to assume that a teacher should be fluent in the major languages of the target language-and in many cases it would be beneficial to the teacher to be.

By learning the major languages, this way the teacher could approach the language to convey the meaning in English. For example, in a conversation about the World Cup, the teacher would not simply assert that the student understood the World Cup. The teacher would make specific predictions such as: “The student will say/he does not understand– because he/she is not too familiar with the World Cup.” The teacher would be using specific information and would not require the student to recall certain facts. But even before the teacher presents the World Cup information, the student may think he/she knows the information and respond accordingly. Granted, there are advanced preparations that teachers can pursue in order to help their students translate the technical and academic information presented in the text books and make it happen in the classroom.

I would certainly encourage the use of preparation software, which many teachers have access to now as another method of ensuring literacy in the students. Prep software can supplement whatever other activities teachers are already doing within their English as a Second Language program. For example, if logs are created to show how the student is progressing through a particular lesson, the teacher can have the students read the same logs at home and discuss them with their parents. The parents can then monitor how well the child is making use of the information. The importance of informed and learned parents is always placed on display through the similar public education system that they are a part of. In doing so, it is necessary for teachers and parents to collaborate in the achievement of educating their students. This is a shared responsibility. That is the beauty of learning and the benefit of technology. With the meter always running and a meter which can’t be filled with ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ technology is the vehicle which should be used to make every possible difference in the lives of our students.

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