Great Debate

The Great Debate: Engagement vs Attendance?

The fourth blog in this series has been written by Emilie Poletto-Lawson, a BILT Fellow and language associate in the School of Modern Languages. 

Have you ever tried to learn a language? Gone to your local bookshop or library and brought home the best resources you could find, sat in front of them, very excited and determined, that day is the day you start your journey! You booked on the highest rated course and sat there listening. And yet, ten minutes later, half an hour later, two hours later, one year later you realise that, well, you cannot have this philosophical conversation you dreamt of having with a native speaker, you cannot read your favourite writer in her/his original language, you cannot watch the latest film by your favourite foreign director without subtitles. Why? Because no matter how good the resources, no matter how good the facilitator, if you do not engage, if you only sit there, it will not work, it is about you.

I chose this example because I am a language tutor and this is a story I hear often but I think this applies to anything you do in life. Attending a talk, a workshop, reading a book, going to university etc. it will not work unless you engage with it. You might need to define what engaging is to you but it certainly is not sitting there, waiting for a miracle. You are the key and that can be daunting or extremely empowering.

As an educator, It think it is essential to build a supportive community in class, of course, but also outside of class. I remember amazing lectures from my time at university but my fondest memories are the activities I chose to engage with and the human adventure they were. Bearing this in mind, I try to offer those to my students. Starting a radio show in French, directing the French year abroad on stage acts, running subtitling workshops are all activities I love and that bring me closer to my colleagues involved in the project, and to my students. Seeing colleagues come together and students engage, build their confidence and further their language skills is the best reward for a teacher.  As facilitators we can make offers, we can listen, we can guide but the key lies with the students themselves.

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