Blog post: A day engaging with meaning in language learning

By Katherina Walper Gormáz, PhD student in Language & Communication, University of York

This is the third MILL event that I have attended and it was great to see some (now) familiar faces again and to have the chance to talk about topics of interest to language teachers and language learning researchers and students.

The event started with registration and coffee. I had the chance to meet some very nice language teachers and we had an interesting talk about our profession, living in a foreign country and the need to keep practicing our foreign language(s). It was the perfect chat to get us thinking and to prepare us for the day.

Then it all started: three sessions in the morning, a discussion session, a great lunch – with some learning on my part. . . I’ll tell you all about it later – and two more sessions in the afternoon with a discussion session to expand on the most relevant topics for us.

In the morning we had sessions on teaching, material development and multilingualism. I particularly enjoyed María Muradás-Taylor’s talk in which she delved into the negotiation of meaning in the language classroom. Through clear and step-by-step sample activities she showed us how to foster collaborative work and engage students in authentic learning. As a language teacher who is now (again) a student, I must confess that seeing María talk about teaching so passionately and with such an energy made me miss teaching very much!

Lunch time was perfect: food was great and company even better. Ok here is my story. For dessert there was a platter with tropical fruits and some round orange fruit that I had never seen before. We didn’t know what its name was, and as an eager learner of English as a foreign language, I made it my goal to find out. I set out to explore and found Peter, head of the Language and Linguistic Science Department at York, standing next to them. I greeted him and told him I had a question for him (I am pretty sure he was expecting a very difficult question about syntax!). I pointed to the fruit and asked him if he knew the name in English for those little things. He looked at me, laughed, thought for a second and said it: kumquat. Then he googled it, the pictures matched and goal accomplished, I can now say I had kumquats for dessert!

Anyways, back to the sessions. In the afternoon we enjoyed two talks: one on meaning from phrases to words by David Stringer; and one on the role of explicit instruction, by Kevin McManus. Both were very insightful sessions and explored the subject of meaning from complementary perspectives: on the learning of formulaic expressions and the French imparfait, respectively. These then led to a rich discussion which grew to encompass a range of questions about what topics from the whole day mean for teachers at schools.

As you can see, it was a great day where we got to talk about meaning from multidisciplinary perspectives and the leading role we teachers play in raising awareness and making our students intrinsically interested in languages.

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