Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. It has arrested ten thousand lightning flashes of genius, which, unless thus fixed and arrested, might have been as bright, but would have also been as quickly passing and perishing, as the lightning.
–Richard Chevenix Trench
Language is a unique human experience. From the time we are infants to the time we die, we have an innate desire to communicate with others. But, how do we learn language, what is effective communication and how do we effectively communicate with others?
Exploring different answers to these three questions has been key to developing my own teaching philosophy. Humans are social animals, we need to communicate. If we’re all human, we likely all have similar things to say, just different ways of saying them.
How many languages are there in the world? How about 5 billion! Each of us talks, listens, and thinks in his/her own special language that has been shaped by our culture, experiences, profession, personality, mores and attitudes. The chances of us meeting someone else who talks the exact same language is pretty remote.
Also essential in developing my teaching philosophy is my experience as a student. During my ten years studying Spanish, I’ve had excellent language teachers, I’ve had good language teachers and I’ve had bad language teachers. So what makes good language teaching? Hands-on learning, relevant contexts, and an emphasis on students’ fluency rather than their accuracy.
Having majored in Communication Studies in University, I am especially keen on the fact that my students communicate successfully, but there are a number of barriers that can obstruct communication especially when someone is speaking or writing in a language that is not their mother tongue.
Particularly informative in my studies of communication is a mathematical representation of communication called the Shannon Weaver Model.
Communication is much, much more than speaking and listening, as we can see in the Shannon Weaver Model. First the speaker (or sender) must decide exactly what it is they want to communicate. Once they know what they want to communicate they must transfer that thought into words, a process which Shannon and Weaver call encoding. By encoding, the sender selects the words she wants to use, but those words pass through noise before they are received by the receiver. Noise is any interference in communication; this can be static on the telephone, accidentally saying “o sea” when speaking in English, misuse of a word, or if the speaker uses a word that the listener doesn’t understand.
After the message passes through any noise, the receiver must decode the message. But, the message that the receiver decodes is actually modified because it is the sender’s original encoded message with any noise that it picked up on the way to the receiver. The receiver then decodes the message and responds with feedback, which must also pass through the noise before reaching the receiver (who was originally the sender).
Regardless of the language we are speaking, we must pass through all steps of this communication model for any communication to happen. When speaking our mother tongue, encoding and decoding messages can be quite easy, but when we begin to encode and decode messages in a language that is not our own, the noise begins to become a problem.
I believe by focusing on effective communication strategies, encouraging students to speak fluently, and informing students of this process that students become confident and successful communicators.