Teaching my L1 through my L3: My reflections and strategies (by Dr Emmanouela Tisizi)

For the first time this year I took on the responsibility of teaching a course in French, my L3. While in the past I have taught courses in Greek and in English -my L1 and L2 respectively- at the primary, secondary, and tertiary level, I must admit that this year’s experience was different in many ways. First of all, while I taught the course through French, the course was actually about Greek. Let me explain. The course is entitled Grec moderne and it is addressed to absolute beginners who wish to learn modern Greek. The course is offered by a French-language university, which in my case meant that the language of instruction was a mixture of French and Greek. As I clarified to my students from day one, my plan was to start by using a combination of French and some Greek, and gradually transition to using more and more Greek. Indeed, while we did not reach a ‘Greek-only’ state (perhaps we will in the next term!), I’d say that each week both my students and I consistently used the target language more and more. Seeing their progress in such short time was very rewarding, and I made sure to highlight their success and acknowledge the difficulty of the task they had undertaken.

Having seen the previous course outlines for the course, I knew we had to cover many topics; we had to go over the Greek alphabet, pronunciation basics, verb inflection, noun declension, adjectives, articles, pronouns, among others. Teaching Greek in a French-language context was a unique experience to me, as it tested my abilities in both languages. Every week, I created PowerPoints presenting Greek grammatical phenomena with references to their equivalents in French. On numerous occasions throughout the term, I had to go back to my French grammar book to ensure that the connections I was drawing between the languages made sense and were actually helpful for the students. When there were no equivalents in French, I would refer to other languages shared by the students and myself. In this example, I draw on both French and English grammar to help explain Greek possessive pronouns:

*En grec -contrairement à français – on marque le genre du possesseur quand on utilise la troisième personne du singulier. Le pronom possessif à la troisième personne montre le genre du possesseur.

Ex. : Το βιβλίο του. / Το βιβλίο της. [anglais → His book. / Her book.]

Using the students’ multiple languages to help them draw connections and acquire knowledge in Greek was an effective strategy. It was evident that students were able to use knowledge already acquired in their L1 or L2 to make sense of new rules that I introduced to them. And since I was allowed to use all of our shared languages, so were the students. One student, who spoke some Spanish, remarked: “Θεία και θείος sont des mots faciles à retenir; ils sont comme tía y tío”. They are, indeed.

While I understood that I would have to emphasize grammar rules in class, I also wanted to make sure that class discussions would be relevant and interesting to the students. To get to know the students and get a sense of what they might find interesting, I invited them to tell me why they wanted to learn Greek, and created a word cloud based on their responses:

I was pleasantly surprised by the responses of the students who listed many reasons for wanting to learn Greek, including their love for languages in general, their appreciation for the Greek culture, their love to travel, their hope to be able communicate with Greek relatives, and the fact that Greek is a beautiful, interesting, and very old language. When I got these answers, I knew I had to incorporate them in the course, to make sure that the students would feel motivated and engaged in our weekly, three-hour long, late evening sessions. We used a lot of group activities and role play and improvised dialogues while taking the roles of relatives, colleagues, and friends. We also saw how we can order something in a restaurant or a cafeteria, and how we can communicate with a kiosk owner.

When designing the course outline, I made sure to leave the two last classes for revision. When the time came, I was really glad I had saved myself some time, as this provided me with the opportunity to go over all the rules and exceptions once more, but also to talk to my students about the origins and the evolution of the Greek language and culture. We talked about ancient Greece in all its glory but then we also referred to modern Greeks and their contributions to their fields and to the modern world as we know it. We looked at the rich history of the language and the culture and took some time to remember why we had started this journey together and why it was all worth it.

Knowing how to end a course has always been tricky for me—I always have this feeling that there is more to discuss, more to learn and share. This course helped me see that returning to the students’ interests and needs can help bring everything together and further motivate them to continue learning.

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