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Learning with Steve: Language Instruction and Motivation

Why do you think language instruction in Canadian schools is so unsuccessful?
Essentially the main language taught in the English Canadian school system is French. Very few students who graduate are able to speak French. This is a rather sad statement on the quality of French language instruction in our school system. The problem is that teachers are stuck with antiquated teaching methods. They emphasize output — the ability to speak and write the language correctly — and focus on grammar. Since we only gradually learn the correct patterns of a new language, this method of instruction is bound to fail.
What would you do differently?
I would make comprehension — the ability to listen and understand — and the ability to read the main focuses of language instruction in our schools. If a person understands the language and has a rich vocabulary, it will be much easier to learn to speak. The challenge is to find content that suits the wide range of interests of learners. Nowadays with the Internet and the range of media available in different languages, it has become much easier to satisfy the varying interests of young learners. Tools like MP3 players and iPads offer interesting ways of delivering language instruction. But there is also nothing wrong with books.
How do you deal with the lack of motivation of young learners?
This is a problem in all subjects. To begin with, we should offer learners a greater choice of languages. Right now it seems that everyone in the Canadian English language school system has to learn French. I would let students choose the languages that interest them the most. With the Internet we no longer need to have qualified teachers for every language in every school. That being said, it is impossible to motivate some learners. But testing them for 10 years and having them graduate without any ability to speak the language serves no purpose whatsoever. I believe that with some imagination and the intelligent use of new technology, we can motivate more young learners to learn languages.

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