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360 Blog: Relationships Guide the Way in Language Acquisition
By Blair Richards, French Teacher

Perhaps language courses looked for you like they did for me as a student - a strong focus on vocabulary lists and conjugation, with a small side of communication. In the World Language Department at Park Tudor, we do things differently. We lead with language’s primary purpose in the classroom: Community.
 
Entering into French class each day means that students enter a sacred community of positivity. Classroom norms, such as starting each class with ‘Salutations’ by standing and greeting each community member with a high-five, fist bump, handshake, or hug remind us that we’re all in this together.
 
There are a myriad of ways that teachers build rapport and community with their students, but here are some examples of what happens in my sixth grade French, French II, and French III courses:
 
Attention to active listening in class: Our mantra in class is ‘One person speaks and the others listen’ with attention on what active listening looks like. When we pause to listen to each other, we let our community know that what they have to say is important to us.
           
Special person interviews: Bryce Hedstrom, a leader in Comprehensible Input methodology, gave me the idea to conduct interviews of our community members with questions ranging from, “What is your favorite color?” all the way to “What do you think is humanity’s greatest problem”.  Everyone gets a chance to be in the spotlight—everyone in our community gets to be seen.
 
Jokes and laughter: Running class jokes, class-created nicknames, board games, and other positive interactions make each class feel like a safe, carefree space - one of the most important parts of lowering a students’ affective filter, a phenomenon that occurs when one’s amygdala feels stress and shuts down, prohibiting further acquisition.
 
Students’ lives as curriculum: In the Comprehensible Input classroom we focus on the most frequent structures in any language, but allow great flexibility in how we get repetitions on those structures. Often childhood stories, discussions around a certain sports game, or big events happening at school guide those discussions instead of arbitrarily themed units.  
 
In his book, Social, Matthew Lieberman writes:
 
“The mentalizing system (the social brain) is not just for social thinking - it is also a powerful memory system. Under certain circumstances, it appears to be a more powerful memory system than the traditional one, as social encoding leads to better memory performance than actually trying to memorize.”  
 
The social encoding that happens during classroom interactions in French class means deeper encoding, richer acquisition, and happier students. The joy that happens each day by focusing on knowing the students in the room will always be paramount to verb conjugations in my book.