Interview 1: "My Philosophy, My Experience"

or "What I Know After 30 Years of Teaching English!"

Marianne Raynaud speaks of her career both the mistakes at the beginning and the success that led to her philosophy about teaching ESL effectively using dynamic techniques. These are the ideas she has developed in "QualityTime-ESL - The Digital Resource Book" .
To read more and get all the files that Marianne refers to go to "Ordering the book"

I teach “Speaking Skills in English”

Laura Lerner: Marianne, you’re an English teacher; but you often say you "don’t teach English". What exactly do you mean by that?

Marianne Raynaud: Basically, I mean I don’t teach English as a subject. I don’t teach linguistics or literature or even civilization for that matter. Instead, I teach students "how to speak English". Speaking skills in any language are difficult to acquire, more so than basic reading or writing skills. That is why I make it very clear from the beginning that the goal of my teaching is to make my students operational in “spoken English”. Yes, I teach “Speaking Skills in English”.

Laura Lerner: In what way is your course different from an ordinary English class?

Marianne Raynaud:
It is different, because the role of the teacher is not the same. I can use a comparison with sports. For example if I were the swimming instructor at a school with 15 to 30 students, I could of course start by doing a few strokes in the water myself to show the students what I wanted them to do. But I would NEVER spend half an hour doing laps while they watched passively by the side of the pool! Whatever their age they would soon become restless and turbulent, and my so-called teaching would be useless.

Instead I would very soon tell them to start doing certain exercises in the water in pairs. I would encourage them to try these exercises by themselves using certain techniques to enhance their confidence. And I would vary both the exercises and the techniques as often as possible.

Laura Lerner: You mean students should participate actively from the start!

Marianne Raynaud: Yes. I believe students can teach each other or at least understand the principles of a sport or a foreign language by experimenting with a partner, but naturally this should take place under the attentive guidance of a teacher. The mission of the teacher is to make sure each and every student speaks as much as possible during a lesson. My goal is always 75% of the hour or in other words 45 minutes per hour.

“IST” for “Individual Speaking Time”

Laura Lerner: But the teacher has to explain a lot of things and give examples and ask questions to see if the students have understood. Isn’t that so?

Marianne Raynaud: Yes, but I believe teachers don’t realize they do most of the speaking, and there is simply not enough speaking time for the students. I call it “IST” for “Individual Speaking Time” which I consider essential. That is why students should quickly experiment with what they are being taught. If they are told precisely what to do and the instructions are clear and logical, they’ll go ahead and do it. They don’t need to be “supervised” or “watched over” all the time. They don’t even need to be in small classes. What they do need, though, are activities that will really motivate them when learning a sport or in our case a foreign language.

Learning a foreign language is like learning to swim

Laura Lerner: But, say, if some of them were unable to swim, left to themselves they might risk drowning! When would you intervene?

Marianne Raynaud: (Laughter) Of course, I would come immediately to any student’s rescue if needed! In fact I would never ask them to do anything they might not be able to do. The most important thing is to avoid from the very start any form of fear, inhibition or even reluctance. Learning a foreign language is in many ways very much like learning to swim. Some students get off to such a bad start that they become scared of English just the way others get scared of water and that fright never seems to go away.

Laura Lerner: So how do you go about teaching?

Marianne Raynaud: Again supposing I was a swimming instructor, my students would start at the shallow end of the pool. I would have them practice in steps: first with a buoy, a surfboard or a ring, then with a partner by their side in shallow water. Only when they felt confident enough, would I have them go to the deep end or swim the entire length of the pool. I wouldn’t stand over them and force them to go into the deep water in front of everybody else. The same goes for language teaching.

Laura Lerner: But, that is common sense, isn’t it?

Students want to express themselves

Marianne Raynaud: To me it seems the most sensible way to go about teaching English. And let me add I am not just talking about beginners. All students even at the intermediate to advanced level both need and want to get out of the passive position of the listener. They want to express themselves. They want to interact. They don’t just want to sit and listen. One of the main reasons for this is very simple: being passive is extremely frustrating. Our mission as language teachers is to motivate and to excite our students to the point that they realize that they can do it! They can speak a foreign language! We teachers don’t need to practice “our” English. We are English teachers. We can speak English already, but our students need hours and hours of practice.

Laura Lerner: What you are saying is that in the traditional teaching system the teachers spend too much “speaking” instead of letting the students practice on their own.

Staying away from the “Question-Answer Ritual”

Marianne Raynaud: Yes, and most importantly learning should be enjoyable. Getting back to the swimming metaphor, the teacher should let the students little by little become familiar with the water on his or her own but always together with a partner. Gradually the learner will acquire self-assurance and autonomy. What we should stay away from is the “question-answer ritual”, in which the teacher asks the questions and the students are supposed to raise their hands and answer individually when called upon.

Laura Lerner: That is what we are generally taught to do: have the students read a text out loud one by one or silently and then answer questions coming from the teacher.

Marianne Raynaud: If you analyze what really goes on in such a situation, you will soon realize this puts tremendous pressure on the students, pressure comparable to being asked to jump into the pool at the deep end, when you are not even sure you know how to breathe under water! I have often heard students speak about their experiences in high school English classes and how embarrassed, incompetent or plain bored they used to feel. These were intelligent students, who knew some English but didn’t really speak it. They were students, who were excellent in math but never dared to put up their hands in English class or who would sit in the very back and hope they would never ever be called on.

Even today in the 21st century both in high school and in university classes students are asked to answer questions in front of the entire class. I mean questions are fired at them when they still haven’t acquired the linguistic tools necessary to communicate. No wonder they seem tongue-tied or bashful and reluctant to throw themselves into the water and speak!

Laura Lerner: I see your point. The traditional “question-answer” technique does put a lot of pressure on the students.

An “embarrassing” situation

Marianne Raynaud: I feel the average language student, who has done four or more years of study and still doesn’t speak English very well, is often asked to do straight away what is most difficult for him i.e. answer spontaneously a question put to him point blank by the teacher. When the student can’t respond correctly, the teacher takes over and does most of the talking explaining to him and to the others what he should have said.

Can you imagine a situation where a student is almost drowning and the instructor hoists him out of the water and tells him all the things he did wrong? The swimming instructor would probably feel a bit guilty, so why shouldn’t an English teacher feel slightly guilty in the same situation. I know for a fact most, if not all of my students, have experienced numerous times this kind of “embarrassing” situation in language class.

RMT Learning to Acquire Real Speech Production

Laura Lerner: So what do you recommend the teacher do instead?

Marianne Raynaud: I feel the learning has to be gradual, goal-oriented and systematic. I agree the teacher’s role is essential. I am definitely against just having machines take over the "teaching role". But there are certain techniques, which have been ever so valuable in the past, that seem to be neglected in our day and age.

Laura Lerner: Which specific teaching techniques are you referring to?

Marianne Raynaud: There has to be what I call RMT learning, in other words "Repetition", "Memorization" and "Translating".

A parallel with tennis

Laura Lerner: But some people say "Repetition" and "Memorization" are techniques that are too old fashioned today, now that we have the Internet. Isn’t that so?

Marianne Raynaud: No, not at all. You must bear in mind what I am interested in is the result, in other words the degree of proficiency the learner can attain. I rely greatly on information technologies. I have my students work with the Internet or with DVDs. I feel audio language labs are almost indispensable; but I think we should never neglect the “acquisition” phase. Multimedia may be "more fun" and seemingly more entertaining, but there must be enough learning to lead to real speech production.

I wish to draw another parallel with a second sport I really enjoy: tennis. I once watched the U.S. champion John McEnroe up close when he came on court for a training session just before a Davis Cup match here in France. He and his coach didn’t start out by hitting away with all their might. No, McEnroe started very slowly with almost beginner’s strokes, repeating the same movements over and over again. Then there were series of shots all going to the same exact spot on the court. And finally towards the end of the session there were some points played.

Laura Lerner: And this made you think of an English class?

Marianne Raynaud: I strongly believe even at the higher intermediate level there must be a lot of repeating, and this is best done in an audio lab. It is the only way to acquire authentic pronunciation. Then there must be memorization. Teachers seem so reluctant to ask students to memorize anything, even a dialog or a poem. Young people are so good at memorizing that it is amazing, but you have to start off with short pieces. The memorizing can be likened to hitting the same shot time and time again in tennis. You do it so that the body can "memorize" the gesture and execute it perfectly when the time comes to perform i.e. in a tennis match or when speaking in real time in a real situation.

Linear translating

Laura Lerner: You spoke of the "RMT" techniques. "R" for repetition, "M" for memorizing. What does the "T " stand for?

Marianne Raynaud: The "T" stands for translating, and I mean linear translating from one’s native language towards the target language. Many teachers today feel language should be taught entirely in the targeted language. I disagree. I feel students (at least those older than 13 or 14) must know the meaning in their own language of every word they use. Furthermore, translating is similar to trying to "correct a faulty stroke in tennis". If you are hitting the ball incorrectly, you must transform your old way of hitting into a correct movement. You have to force yourself to do something, which at first may seem unnatural. That is why I often use exercises with translation into English.

Most students have acquired over the years some very strange ways of expressing themselves in English. These weird, incorrect expressions are direct, word for word translations from their mother tongue. Their minds have “learned” these incorrect translations, because the students were never asked to train with the correct ones. If you are trying to speak a foreign language and do not have enough authentic structures at your disposal, you will naturally transpose sentences from your mother tongue. So we teachers have to help students get rid of the bad habit of producing English based on the grammar and vocabulary of their native language.

The best way I have found to correct these mistakes is through translating. In other words you have to force to students to acquire correct equivalents between their native tongue and the language they are learning. They must learn to produce English that can be easily understood and which is acceptable as far as grammar and vocabulary are concerned. And this I can assure you takes a lot of undoing! It is far from an easy task, but it can be done…

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