French and history double major Matthew Rollo ‘22 (McCordsville, Indiana) is working this semester as an English language teaching assistant at the Centre de Ressources et d’Apprentissage des Langues (CRAL) at the University of Strasbourg.
Every Thursday, Rollo observes two intermediate-level ESL classes that are conversation-based, revolving around presentations and discussions.
“For example, students have given presentations on local organizations aimed at mitigating food waste,” Rollo explained. “After each presentation, there is time to discuss the ideas on which the students presented. I participate alongside the students in these discussions, often asking many of my own questions for the presenters. I have even given my own presentation on food waste in America, where I talked about our food-shopping culture and the problems that come with our often-buying large quantities of food at a time—here, it is more common to only buy what you are certain you will eat within the next few days.”
While the professor does the overt language instructing, Rollo serves as an “ambassador of sorts” for America.
“I place their discussions within the context of American society, telling them how their ideas would hold up or flop in the U.S.” he said. “I also teach them American lingo. One time, a student used the word ‘lousy’ in a presentation. During the discussion time, I asked her if she knew its opposite, and when she said no, I told her that it was ‘swell.’ That’s not much teaching in-and-of itself, but my purpose in the classroom isn’t necessarily to overtly teach them English, it’s to serve as a personal connection with America and the English language.”
In addition, Rollo leads an optional, more relaxed one-hour chat session where students discuss a variety of topics, including subjects like French rap and American musicians.
“This time offers cultural exchange for both the students and myself,” he added. “For instance, they enjoyed learning about Taylor Swift’s stardom in America—she isn’t as popular in France, according to the students—and teaching me about the modern French rap tradition. It also allows the students to pick up on how to informally chat in English. I use everyday speech—’wanna’ instead of ‘want to’—and talk at what is a normal pace for me so as to create as genuine a language environment as possible. I want them to have a space where they can feel immersed in authentic American English for an hour. Most of all, I want to create an atmosphere where learning English isn’t a chore but a fun way to connect with another global community.”
Rollo decided to apply for the CRAL internship, because he thought it would be a great experience for him. As a French major, he thought the internship would be a way to get to connect with French people his age.
“I am very grateful for this experience that Centre and the University of Strasbourg have offered me,” Rollo said. “Of course, my internship with the CRAL is teaching me how to be an instructor of foreign languages. Beyond that, my internship is also an opportunity to become a more global citizen. When I help students learn the English language, I am engaging in cross-cultural contact that allows us both to develop understanding of the various peoples who make up the world and how they view it. When we talk about our cultures’ various traditions, like those of music and food, we do more than communicate in English. We inform one another of a new, different way to see the world.”
Rollo has already seen how this internship is helping him understand how individuals learn foreign languages, specifically through the importance of oral communication.
“The students are used to hearing English on a daily basis,” he shared. “They watch Netflix shows like ‘Stranger Things’ and listen to American singers just the same as any American would. However, the students tend to be more reserved about communicating in English than listening to it. I try to help them bridge this gap by being someone they want to talk to.”
Through this experience, he’s learned that learning a foreign language is more than memorizing vocabulary lists and grammar tables or reading books and watching films. It’s about getting to know people who speak a different language and using it to connect with them and their culture.
“I am especially thankful for the passion of the students and the professor I work with,” he continued. “They are all so enthusiastic to engage with English, and it’s refreshing to realize that there are people out there who are willing to connect with me, an Anglophone, as someone who’s more than an ESL assistant. Everyone has been kind and welcoming. It’s been so fun to get to talk with the students and the professor and make friendships as I help everyone out. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
March 12, 2020