Remember the function of language
I’ve been thinking lately about language as the medium of human connection. It’s the way we find emotional comfort and safety from our fears. Ultimately, I think when we say “connection,” we mean safety. The emotions experienced in a conversation might vary a bit between excitement, wonder, relief, amusement or more. But it seems that each of these emotions strengthen a bond that exists to preserve your existence. Because your existence is part of a web of individual existences that hold together a community. Strength in numbers.
Communication, of course, is not limited to words. Words might actually be the least efficient carriers of meaning and sometimes even serve to muddy the water. Non-verbal forms of language seem to fall into either bonding or breaking categories – serving to bring people together or push them apart. Hugs, raised eyebrows, lowered voices, leaning, in, waving a hand. Touching, facial expressions, body movement – these all signal the deepest of meanings – I accept you, I trust you, I need you…..or conversely I reject you. And words are not needed for clarity most of the time.
Body language is largely intuitive. It probably doesn’t need to be taught in a foreign language learning context. The point of this bit is that teaching a foreign language is fundamentally providing another source of emotional stability….safety. As a teacher of foreign language, you are helping someone feel connected to an additional web – a web spun with a different type of thread.
This of course starts with the connection that YOU establish with language learners. The long road of language learning becomes much smoother when the ultimate goal of connection can be sampled along the way. As the learner experiences connection through this new language, the confidence and desire to continue the struggle grows.
Without this accompanied experience, the effort to learn becomes detached from the final goal of human connection. And it has long been established that ANY activity devoid of purpose or meaning will not be sustainable.
As I prepare to step into a room and meet a group of tired college students, or a busy company executive, or an energized 12 year old, I take one slow breath and remember that the next 60 minutes are an opportunity and an exercise in the wonder of human emotional connection – a connection that refreshes and re-energizes.
If you teach English, don’t forget to teach language too.