Why it’s just as important students listen to each other, as well as the teacher:
Language students tend to rely quite heavily on their teacher; looking to their teacher for all the answers, depending on the teacher to model the target language, believing that only the teacher can provide the solutions to their language learning problems. And teachers are often guilty of fostering a behaviour that encourages this perspective. However, there are plenty of ways to encourage students to see their peers as a good resource for new language and correct language, and to encourage them to listen to and rely on each other.
Why is it important that students listen to each other?
Surely students are better off ignoring their classmates whose language is full of errors, and just listen to the teacher who will model the language correctly?
- Get with the accent: It is very likely that whatever language someone is learning they will be speaking to other non-native speakers of this language in the ‘real world’. It is important to get used to a range of accents and to be able to ‘interpret’ the message that it being communicated, regardless of the first language of the speaker.
- Learn from mistakes: Students should be encouraged to identify and learn from each others’ mistakes. Rather than relying on the teacher to give the correct answer every time an error is produced, the teacher can encourage the students to correct each others’ mistakes. This can be via on-the-spot error correction, or by boarding errors and getting students to discuss corrections in pairs before feeding back to the class.
- Emerging Language: Students often use the classroom environment to ‘test out’ new expressions they have read or discovered outside of the classroom. This ‘emerging language’ can be a great resource for the teacher and for other students to learn from. Students can be encouraged to listen to each other to notice new and useful expressions/vocabulary. In open class feedback students can listen to count and note the number of new expressions that are used, for example.
- If you don’t know, ask: Students should be encouraged to ask questions about the language they are learning – not just to the teacher but to their classmates and other people they meet outside of the classroom. A language learner is never going to get very far by relying on only one source of information (the teacher) during their entire language learning journey. They should be asking questions and thinking about the meaning, form and function of the language as they advance and progress, wherever they are and whomever they are with.
- Building confidence: Peer teaching gives students the opportunity to clarify what they already know in their own minds. It is much more useful for the student to reinforce their own understanding of the target language by explaining to a peer, rather than listening to the teacher repeating something for them. It also engenders a ‘I actually know this stuff!’ feeling in the student, which is both motivating and rewarding.
Even though teachers often secretly feel they should be ‘masters of their kingdom’ when they are in class, it is important to remember to constantly hand over to students. Look for new ways to make students independent learners both inside and outside of the classroom, to build their confidence, and to always facilitate, rather than dictate.