My son recently started playing T-ball for the first time, and at his first practice, I immediately started making parallels to the path to proficiency that we are on as teachers and as language learners ourselves.
"Let's run around and touch all of the bases!" Coach yelled. Sounds easy enough, but this simple exercise showed me just exactly how novice these T-ball players were. All at different speeds, some kids took off with twists and hops. Others stopped along the way to pick a blade of grass, or play in the dirt. A few kids ran with determination. What really struck me as Jake and one of his buddies rounded third base, was a parent yelling out, "Touch the base! Touch the base!" One little boy was happily trotting through the infield toward home plate, and skipping all of the bases. Big grin on his face, he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing, he was running near the bases, but not tagging them.
I, along with most of the parents on the sidelines, were laughing at our own children and how cute it is that most of them have no clue what they are doing yet. They are complete novices in this skill. It struck me that none of us were chastising our kids, or punishing them for not being better T-ball players. Instead, we understood that as they practice, they will become more proficient.
Also interesting to note, the coach did not sit them down and immediately start teaching them the rules of the game, or the history of the game, or even a giant framework and structure of how points are kept, etc. Instead, after a few kids successfully touched most of the bases, he broke them into groups, and sent one group to hit balls, one group to try throwing and catching, and one group to try fielding ground balls. And after only 1 practice, the kids played their very first game.
Did they know all of the rules? Nope. Were they proficient? Nope. But did they still engage in playing T-ball? Yep.
While no metaphor is perfect, this really "hit home" (couldn't help it), the idea of teaching a second language from a proficiency mindset.
Finally, in the first game, Jake had made it to second base, and another kid was up to bat. It looked like Jake would be able to make it home, so as he ran toward third, I yelled, "Keep going! Keep going!" He tagged third base and ran toward home. Then he tagged home, and took off again toward first base! He ended up rounding all of the bases a second time. "Well, I did tell him to keep going", I thought, and I didn't specify when to stop. So, as cute as it was that he ran the bases twice, it also reminded me that when we are working with novices, sometimes we don't even know exactly how much they don't know.
World Language Teacher Support Specialist (and Language Enthusiast)