How did I decide to teach a foreign language?
I believe that if a language instructor does not try to challenge her/himself by learning a foreign language, she/he can never understand what the learners’ struggles are. We always need experiences with languages. Unfortunately, my undergraduate education was focusing only on the rules and grammar of the Turkic Languages which made me understand that we cannot perform languages without communication.
While learning, we should also share something with the target language by thinking, presenting, hearing, reading, reacting, and feeling.
However, the important skills that I gained in the Department of Contemporary Turkish Dialects and Literature were the methods of comparison of the languages in the same language family. I am mentioning these methods by expanding to languages of different families in my classes to make the learners aware of the nature of language. Besides, by comparing the Turkic languages, I could deeply understand Turkish and its distinct features.
I decided to learn English to support my interest in languages. My learning process was quite complicated since I had no foreign language learning experience, I have made almost every mistake! Until that time I have never think about language learning as a scientific study but my mistakes helped me to discover second language acquisition theories. I started with some academic readings and figured out that I must be exposed to the language to demonstrate my knowledge. Going to the target language’s country seemed to me as the best way to absorb the language. I went to the UK for 11 weeks where has shown me the importance of interacting with culture during the language learning process. Maybe it is not always possible to have an opportunity like that. However, in this way, I discovered which aspects of culture can be reachable in another country. Maybe we cannot experience the cultural practices or products, but we can explore the perspectives behind it via social media, literature, online news, humor products, etc. Following the UK, I had an opportunity to participate in the EVS (European Voluntary Service) program for vulnerable children in Bucharest, Romania where through games and art we aimed for cultural enrichment and better social inclusion for groups of Roma, disabled, and leukemia patients minors.
While volunteering, we could not speak with the children because of the language barrier but we shared something real. There was no obstacle to have fun together. Having activities with children without a common language has made me aware of the desire and effort of the human mind to understand others.
One day, our mentor Andrea wanted me to teach some Turkish words to children, but I was hesitant. Because I did not want to be an authority in front of them, I was their friend who plays football, paints, and takes photos together. In those days, I was afraid of being a teacher since I thought a teacher must be an authority in the classroom.
Holding teaching to very high regard, and not seeing myself as a teacher yet, I reluctantly taught a couple of workshops with surprising success to younger me. Upon returning to Turkey, I got involved in the SPI (Small Projects in Istanbul) project. SPI supports Syrian refugees of Istanbul and I was a part of its childcare team. This time, when I was asked to teach Turkish, I took up the responsibility, and I immediately knew that I had found my calling. It was the first time that I teach and I immediately felt at home. I understood that teaching does not make me an authority but a learner. Because when I am teaching, I am also collectively discovering with my students.
After the class when I was helping a kid with writing, and a little girl nudged me and showed me the board. I looked, there was a sentence with the Latin alphabet, but I couldn’t figure it out. She said, “I wrote this for you.” I thanked her, but it seemed still very complicated. I asked her to read the sentence and she read in Turkish: “I love you, my teacher.” Then I recognized that she wrote the sentence right – to – left as in Arabic. I could not say anything just looked at her with misty eyes. That day, language showed me that it can build bridges with the most innocent and sincere manners.
Seneca says, “Homines dum docent, discunt,” in Epistula Morales (7/8).
That means “Even when they teach, men learn.” After that day, I recognized that if you have passion, teaching does not make you an authority, it makes you a learner. Because when you’re teaching, you are also collectively discovering with your students.
After that day, I recognized that when you are teaching a language, you are sharing a new world. I started to comprehend that language learning is not only about reading, listening, speaking, and writing but also is the way of being part of the universe more than the country you were born in.
The first day I taught Turkish changed my life. I finally found that my duty in the universe was learning through teaching and I devote myself to improve my abilities. In my opinion, all teachers need an endless desire for learning. Since my first day in the field, I believed this approach as my motto: We teachers, learn while teaching.
My Teaching Philosophy
I base my teaching philosophy on the belief that the only element we need for teaching is the learner. If we do not have a student who requests to learn the target language, there will be no need for teaching. Every dimension of language teaching must be based on student’s profiles, demands, and goals. Hence, I am applying a student-centered teaching model.
I believe the importance of experience, but it does not make me careless or reduce my responsibilities.
An instructor must feel the excitement of the first day for all the classes she/he had. I make a new plan for every lesson by considering classroom dynamics and take notes about productivity after the class.
I started my teaching carrier in Bab’ul Ilm Turkish Language Course and Gaziosmanpasa Public Education Center at the same time. Both institutions developed my carrier in different ways. In Bab’ul Ilm, most of my students were learning the target language for communicative purposes. Thus, I designed the curriculum by focusing the speaking skill. On the other hand, in Gaziosmanpasa Public Education Center, I encountered varied classroom dynamics. I taught two groups of refugee children, one of the classrooms was consist of students between the ages of 6 and 8, and the other one was between the age of 10 and 12. These two classrooms were requiring completely different teaching concepts which made me aware of the age factor’s importance in the learning process. Besides, I also taught parents of the kids on weekends. Due to the financial difficulties, we could not use any book and I prepared all the sources which made me aware of using real-life materials such as shopping or address description for the learners who learn Turkish as a second language.
Since it will not be possible in the case of teaching as a foreign language, I am trying to present the target language’s world by using authentic materials for my online students who are learning the language from different parts of the world. My understanding of authentic material covers more than a popular song or a movie scene, it includes a wide range of sources from subway line maps to supermarket bulletins. In my opinion, authentic materials give room for the learner to relate their interest and hobbies with the target language environment.
I choose these materials by considering their appropriateness for students’ proficiency and interests. If the material has a higher language use, I simplify it for the students. However, there is no authentic material that can be beneficial just by itself. Before I present the material, I prepare pre-activities and after-activities to get maximum benefit.
At the same time with my master’s, I had the opportunity to practice my theoretical readings in a real teaching environment. Besides independent online one-to-one private classes, I taught A1, A2, B1, and B2 level Turkish in TAC Kizilay Language Course. Those times were a milestone in my teaching carrier since I was responsible for designing curriculum and preparing exams and as a result, my university’s library became my second home. I made long researches in the library and tried to learn how to set an exam by assessing four language skills. While doing these researches, I discovered new techniques and principles in language teaching that lead me to the methods such as Total Physical Response, Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Story-telling, Content-Based and Task-Based language teaching. I was markedly influenced by these methods and I have concluded that student’s intrinsic motivation is irreplaceable and that the learner should be front and center. This is why I am actively trying to reduce my talking time and support them in taking initiative and practicing their skills. I am, on top of that, trying to implement a blended approach model by including virtual classroom applications such as Edmodo and Flipgrid. Thanks to the Blended Language Learning model, my role has changed from teacher to facilitator.
I sometimes in everywhere of the classroom with my role-plays but sometimes I just sit and watch my students’ collaboration during the task. Since languages are the consequence of our needs for social interaction, I care about group and pair work for exercises. I prefer to organize reading and writing exercises as workshops and also for every level I gave a long-term reading project which includes summarizing, interpreting, and question preparation about the text as part of the final grade. Those kinds of assessments are significantly fair for students who have exam anxiety.
I consider the listening skill and the speaking skills as outputs in the language acquisition process and suggest to my students some focus exercises before listening to the passage. Besides comprehension of every skill appropriately, I use energizers for a smooth transition. After they gained some grammatical aspects via story-telling, I am sharing my language chunk lists for different themes with the students to improve their speaking skills.
During my thesis studies, I started to work in Akdem Istanbul Language Schools. Teaching in multicultural classes in this institution helped me to understand my readings about inter-cultural awareness and communication better. I started to assume the awareness of cultural differences as the fifth skill in language teaching. Through culture, I am aiming for my students to feel lucky for learning the target language.
In Akdem Istanbul, I also learned to organize the process for different learning goals since we have students with varied expectations from their learning. Since we also have a wide range of students in age from 15 to 50, I learned to find a common way that suits classroom settings.
Eventually, I believe that the language learning process is a personal journey. Hence, when it is necessary, I try to reduce my active role to allow my students to experience their learning. In this context, I organize self-study time every week and share exercises for different skills. In these times, students can study their own sources or choose the ones that I presented. Either way, I am there for them to help and to complete their learning as their lifelong teacher, facilitator, and guide.