The New Responsibility of the Second Language Teachers

Jędrzej STĘPIEŃ

An EFL teacher and an entrepreneur. He runs the Language parlor Mentals in Warsaw where he innovates the second language teaching with no technology.

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Jędrzej STĘPIEŃ: "The New Responsibility of the Second Language Teachers"

How the L2 teachers can innovate education beyond technology

The school is losing out against new technologies and the widespread access to knowledge and information.

The most popular massive open online courses such as the Kahn Academy, Coursera or Udacity are currently doing the same as traditional schools — they deliver knowledge, only more conveniently and for close to no costs.

Consequently, the position of the teacher is being threatened by the search box.

Yet, apart from being cheaper than human teachers, the educational technology does not offer a qualitative change. Its entering into the school curricula and classrooms is unlikely to close the debate on the efficiency of the education system and the impact it has on economic success.

What the EdTech offers is a perhaps necessary, but merely cost-cutting revolution, at the center of which are, among others, the second language (L2) teachers.

.The L2 teachers are, however, in a unique position compared to the rest of their colleagues for several reasons.

First and foremost, the demand for their competences does not shrink, but grows alongside globalization and the increasing use of technology.

The more so, since the mastery of a foreign language requires personal contact with the teacher like no other subject, because language is not only a set of vocabulary items arranged into more complex sequences, but a complicated communication system based on emotional intelligence.

Most importantly, however, language is inextricably entwined with sense, which is why its mastery extends beyond the sheer knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, rules of pronunciation or even elements of a foreign culture, all of which are so efficiently being delivered by the machines today.

Thus, the search box cannot fully replace the L2 teachers who freed from the role of information providers, can finally concentrate on exploring what any language is but a medium of, but what is of paramount importance for progress and prosperity — namely sense.

.The shift seems insignificant at first, yet it entails profound consequences for the whole system of education, whose chief aim so far has been the delivery of knowledge. For knowledge is something merely external, allowing one to recreate, but hardly ever to consciously create.

Only understanding puts the human being in command over their knowledge.

Understanding, however, might be conscious or subconscious. Humans understand the majority of concepts subconsciously (for more see the works of Daniel Kahneman). It is especially so if they think and speak in their native language. They will, for example, hardly ever misapply words such as ‘fresh’ or ‘new’, even though they may not know the exact difference between them. They will say ‘a fresh lemon’ but hardly ever ‘a fresh car’. They do not bother about deeper understanding, for subconscious understanding does not impede their communication.

Still, such superficial understanding does not guarantee the command over a given concept, not to mention the possibility of its creative application. Such privilege is granted only to those who understand consciously, i.e. those who are able to verbalize the difference between two or more closely related concepts.

Now, the conscious understanding of the concept of ‘freshness’ allows one to gain control over it. It is the first — and indispensable — step towards its creative application in fields as diverse as pharmacy and automobile manufacturing. Such is the power of the difference between knowing and understanding, and it all begins at the level of language.

It should be clearer now, why teaching foreign languages is where the real, qualitative revolution in education may begin.

Learning a foreign language provides a unique opportunity to explore the meaning of even the most basic of concepts which have long been taken for granted in the native language.

Grasping the simplest concepts leads to understanding more complicated ones, for Man can understand something new only on the basis of what he has already understood.

Now, foreign languages would not be in this case the first discipline oriented on sense, for such task has always been at the center of attention of philosophy. However, in our materialistic times preoccupied primarily with utility, it is difficult to imagine another discipline better suited for asking questions about sense, without raising the suspicion of unnecessary philosophizing.

.The new responsibility of the second language teachers, and teachers in general, lies therefore in prioritizing understanding, while delegating the more tedious parts of learning to technology.

Having the unique opportunity of asking various questions during their classes, the L2 teachers should form such which are conducive to the recovery of sense from the subconscious to the conscious.

Their questions should be simple, impersonal and adjusted to the level of the interlocutor, for there is little use, as far as the recovery of sense is concerned, asking ordinary people about the meaning of life, personal matters or things they have no idea about.

Most importantly, however, the L2 teachers can do it all without resorting to any new and expensive technology — doing what they have been doing so far, only paying greater attention to the questions they ask and the answers they receive. If they are honest and persistent, they will have a chance to create a new model of education based on understanding and conviviality. Something indeed qualitatively different from the delivery of knowledge and information offered by the EdTech.

Jędrzej Stępień

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