Using Our Voices

How can we open our hearts to our students? How can we make the language we teach beautiful to them? We must do so consciously through our voices.

The first thing is to remember that just the sound of any language is a beautiful thing in and of itself. So, to reach this place of pure shared meaning with our students, why not focus on speaking the language beautifully?

Secondly, we must focus on how are students are perceiving the words we say. Why not try to understand what our students are really hearing us say? Why not make that effort to put ourselves in their shoes?

Doing both of these things will take us closer to true teaching but out of our comfort zones. We cannot be what we currently think teachers are and succeed at TPRS. We must first change our very conception of what a foreign language teacher is. How do we do that?

We just keep pushing out on our comfort zones, filling real space, by softening our voices in the direction of what the French call l’intime, circling more than usual, pausing and pointing a lot, going slowly, doing the mechanical skills of TPRS, but adding in a certain quality of voice, not a whisper, but a kind of “these-events-I am-telling-you-about-are-only-for-your-ears” and “this-is-very-special-stuff-I-am-telling-you”, as well. We must actually change the tenor and timbre of our voices! If we do that, we immediately move into the Pure Land (see PQA in a Wink!).

When we do change our voice quality, our kids will respond a bit awkwardly at first. They are used to living in noise. But they will settle into this “elegant word space” (the Pure Land) when we make it clear to them that we are not going to stop speaking to them in this delicate, soft way, which is far above a whisper but below our “normal” teaching voices. We thus save our voices.

We use our story to share something very special with the kids, things that we would not say to just anybody. We tell only them about a knight meeting a magical tree in the middle of a forest just north of the Massif Central in France. We tell only them – other people can’t know it. A person has to be in this classroom to know these things!

We use the tenor and timbre of our voices to convince our students that we would say these things only to them because they are the knight, the tree, the story. So we spend our class periods in a kind of bowing down, via soft language, to them, to the amazing events that they create with their cute answers to our questions, to the astounding beauty of the events they think they have created before our eyes.

As the story unfolds, we realize that the Pure Land is reached when we use our voices to create a certain purity of sound, of words elegantly spoken, not barked or yelled, but served up on a silver platter just for them, like a good meal, specifically because they are so wonderful.

Now, in future classes, I will try to remember that all I have to do to make TPRS work for me is to combine the basic skills of circling, etc. with making the language beautiful just for my students. I don’t need lesson plans. I do need circling, and I do need to be aware of how I am using my voice.

Knowing that human beings are irresistibly drawn to beauty, I use the language I teach as a beautiful bridge into my students’ hearts.


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