Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The ‘Phalange’ Effect - Report on Georgios Chatzis's Session

George Chatzis was one of the presenters at the 23rd TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Northern Greece Annual International Convention in March 2016. The title of his presentation was, to say the least, intriguing. No wonder, Mr Chazis started his presentation with the following questions: "What is 'Phalange'?" making his point at the same time right from the start of his session; unknown words removed from their context have little, if any, meaning to any learner, whereas, on the contrary, they become meaningful when presented in a context.  

                                                                                                                                             Photo by Margarita Kosior

                                                                                                                        Photo by Margarita Kosior

 Therefore, teaching and learning should be all about putting things in context. In learning, just like in cooking, separate ingredients may be meaningless, and it is a complete dish that has real flavor.

Unfortunately, in the exam-oriented environment of many education systems, there is little room for teaching, and the focus is on testing. This creates anxiety in many language learners who often focus exclusively on unknown lexis. They misunderstand the process of learning and believe that in order to understand a reading passage they need to know the meaning of every single word in it and this leads to L1 interference. The role of the teacher is to shift students' attention from single words to contexts, from word-by-word translation to adaptation, and cure this, as the presenter humoristically put it, "student myopia" as a result of which our students focus on the ball and miss the whole court.

                                                                                                 Photo by Margarita Kosior

Putting things into context gives learners a chance to present more than one interpretation. On the other hand, learning words for tests and exams involves memorization and gives only one possible answer.

                                                                                                                  Photo by Margarita Kosior

 Our job as teachers is to switch the students' focus and make them realize that context is important. It can be summarized in one sentence: "if you want to teach a language, don't teach a language". In other words, our role is to guide our students and encourage them to involve in extensive reading which presents the language in context, but also show them practical applications of the language they use, since only then it acquires real meaning.

Report by Margarita Kosior

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