Señor Wooly

Señor Wooly (aka Jim Wooldridge) kicked off iFLT 17 with an amazing keynote!  He spoke about the role of authenticity versus inauthenticity in his life.  He used his story as a musician to explain that he felt as if his musical career was representative of inauthenticity.  He was not born into a musical family nor environment.  He received training but it was classical.  He was not able to branch out with his music and use it with fluidity and improvisation.  He felt that he had to work at the skill and would lose it if he did not practice.  He lacked a certain authenticity.

Does this resonate with you on your journey as a language teacher?  Are you not a native speaker?  Were you born into a family where no one speaks another language other than English?  I was as were many other language teachers present this morning.  I received my training in Spanish in high school and college with what would be defined as “traditional methods”.  If I do not constantly use Spanish, watch and read authentic resources I will lose this skill.  However, does this mean that I am lacking authenticity in my classroom?

ACTFL defines authentic resources as resources written by native speakers for native speakers.  With this definition, Wooly questioned, “does this make me a total fraud?  Am I fundamentally corrupting my students?”   Well I was glad to hear that Wooly doesn’t think so.  He ultimately overcame his fears and doubts.  One enlightening moment for Wooly was a day he was cutting his lawn.  A man asked him in broken English, where the library was.  He answered the man and communication occurred!  Perhaps there was not great depth to this communication, but it can not invalidate that an interaction did happen.  No matter how small, we must praise any communication that our students make to keep them on their path to proficiency.

Wooly warns of making a big deal about the idea of authenticity being “over there”.  Yes, we do want all of our students to have the opportunity to explore other countries and cultures.  But, why can’t it be in your own school or community?

In his joking manner he said, “Words that come out of their mouths are REAL!”  and yes we all chuckled but it IS true!   They need to believe they are learning a REAL language and not a classroom one.  Another myth that we must dispel is that only “over there” can they speak REAL language.  Wooly says that authenticity is not defined by skill and culture but instead by one simple question and that is, did communication occur?  Language in our classrooms is REAL and communicates messages.

He listed the triumphs of the students in his classroom to dispel the myth that we are not authentic.

-When students in Spanish 1 come running back to him and say that they said, “¿Cómo estas?” to a native speaker in the school AND that the native speaker answered them!

-When students report to him  that they went to an all inclusive resort in Mexico and even though everyone in the resort spoke Spanish, the student still left their comfort zone to engage in L2 communication.  This is a major step outside of the student’s comfort zone and therefore a teacher win!

-His ultimate triumph was when someone mistook a student in his video for a native speaker.  Her name is Silvia and even though she is not an authentic resource she is providing wonderful comprehensible input in many classrooms with one of Wooly’s newest musical hits, “No lo tengo”.

Finally Wooly reminded us that to create a nation of advocates of second languages our teaching focuses on messages as opposed to grammar. Authenticity is about communication but it is also about pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone.

Thanks Señor Wooly for a truly awesome keynote.  It made my first iFLT unforgettable!

Blog post by Arianne Dowd, our official blogger of #iFLT17!

Stay tuned for more updates from iFLT throughout the week!

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