L'Intime

How can we open our hearts to our students? How can we make the language we teach beautiful to them? We must do so consciously through our voices.
The first thing is to remember that just the sound of any language is a beautiful thing in and of itself. So, to reach this place of pure shared meaning with our students, why not focus on speaking the language beautifully?
Secondly, we must focus on how are students are perceiving and absorbing the words we say. Why not try to understand what our students are really hearing us say? Why not make that effort to put ourselves in their shoes?
Doing both of these things will take us closer to true teaching but out of our comfort zones. We cannot be what we currently think teachers are and succeed at this new work. We must first change our very conception of what a foreign language teacher is. How do we do that?
We just keep pushing out on our comfort zones, filling real space, by softening our voices in the direction of what the French call “l’intime”, pausing and pointing a lot, going slowly, making sure we WBYT, doing the mechanical skills, but adding in a certain quality of voice, not a whisper, but a kind of “these-events-I am-telling-you-about-are-only-for-your-ears” and “this-is-very-special-stuff-I-am-telling-you”, as well. We must actually change the tenor and timbre of our voices! If we do that, we immediately move closer to the Pure Land.
When we do change our voice quality, our kids will respond a bit awkwardly at first. They are used to living in noise. But they will settle into this “elegant word space” when we make it clear to them that we are not going to stop speaking to them in this delicate, soft way, which is far above a whisper but below our “normal” teaching voices. We thus save our voices.
We use our story to share something very special with the kids, things that we would not say to just anybody. We tell only them about an individually created invisible skeleton named Frederick who only LOOKS scary on the outside but really wants to find friends if he could just stop scaring people away, just like the student who created him.
We tell only our students – other people, other classes, can’t know it. A person has to be in this very classroom at this very moment to know these things!
We use the tenor and timbre of our voices to convince our students that we would say these things only to them because we respect that they are the only ones who could have ever created this particular story. So we spend our class periods in a kind of bowing down, via soft language, to them, to the amazing events that they create with their cute answers to our questions, to the astounding beauty of the events they think they have created before our eyes.
As the story unfolds, we realize that the Pure Land is reached when we use our voices to create a certain purity of sound, of words elegantly spoken, not barked or yelled, but served up on a silver platter just for them, like a good meal, specifically because they are so wonderful.
Now, in future classes, I will try to remember that all I have to do to make CI work for me is to combine the basic skills of SLOW, Walk Before You Talk, etc. with making the language beautiful just for my students.
I don’t need lesson plans. I really don’t. I mean, I just don’t. In fact, lesson plans deaden everything. I do need faith, and skills, and I do need to be aware of how I am using my voice.
Knowing that human beings are irresistibly drawn to beauty, I use the language I teach as a beautiful bridge into my students’ hearts.

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3 thoughts on “L'Intime”

  1. All the love and human longing to connect here is such a salve for the alienation and loneliness so many teens feel in our broken culture…

  2. I’m fussing a lot, as we approach the end of the year, with creating novel learning experiences for my students. Most of what I come up with is a waste of time, unless, that is, it’s a team building kinda activity. This post helps me relieve some anxiety, this fussing around. Just remember to make the language comprehensible, compelling, and beautiful.

  3. Yes Sean that is your old training from being a student and earlier days as a teacher. The message stuck in our deeper minds is: “teachers fuss”. Now we have to relearn/undo/let go of that deeper mind patterning. With NT, for me at least, it’s “teachers don’t prepare – they enjoy”.

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