My teaching philosophy

זאת פילוסופיית ההוראה שלי, כפי ששלחתי עם מועמדות למשרה מסוימת. זה גרם לי לעבור את הסינון הראשוני ולהגיע לשלב הראיון, עדיין לא ידוע אם המשרה שלי או שהיה מישהו עוד יותר תותח ממני. בכל אופן, אם כבר כתבתי אז שווה לחלוק גם אתכם.

תקציר מנהלים: לימודי שפה צריכים להיות כיף, והתלמיד צריך לגלות יותר מאשר ללמוד.
כמו כן, המורה אינו חף מטעויות.

Statement of Teaching Philosophy – Persian teaching
Thamar E. Gindin, PhD.

In Sanskrit literature, the study of Sanskrit language is one of the most difficult tasks in existence, but there is a shortcut: Sometimes, the student only has to realize he already knows Sanskrit from a past life, tap into a dormant memory.

I don't expect my students to know or remember Persian from a past life, but my main goal is to make their experience – as much as possible – one of learning rather than studying; discovering rather than being taught; understanding rather than memorizing.

In almost each one of my classes, there's a part of self-discovery. E.g. on the first class we start with a simple dialog (my name is… what's your name? what's his name? what are their names etc.), then they listen to a similar dialogue, see it written, and analyze the language by themselves: how the letters sound, place and stress of the different components of the sentence; after learning the declined copula, they define the structure (stem + person suffix) themselves, and for "to have" I give them the declined verbs in random order for them to sort; for the perfect subjunctive they get a text abounding in this form, and define it themselves (name and meaning) by its structure.

When teaching a language for beginners, I strive to be as normative as possible, as long as the normative forms are natural. In Persian I adhere to the farhangestān (Persian academy) rules, except when unnatural, e.g. glide consonants for the short copula after ā and u. As we advance, I take a descriptive (what there is) rather than a normative (what should be) approach.

It's important for me to teach students the real, natural language. On the first semester making up or modifying texts is inevitable, but starting from the second semester I give them real texts from the web or sentences I've heard from natural speakers in natural speech (i.e. not examples they gave me but things that came up in conversation). When I do make up sentences or stories (I write my own comic strips), I verify the text with up to 4 native speakers, depending on the complexity of the text.

In language learning, there's an inevitable memorization portion: person suffixes, glide consonants, vocabulary etc. For these, my goal is to make it as pleasurable as possible using songs and games – e.g. Ali Akbar-e Badbakht (Poor Ali Akbar), a small teddy bear that I bring to class for the students to throw at each other while declining verbs or adding possessive suffixes to nouns.

I like using slang or – if the environment allows and with the consent of all the students – "dirty" words to explain phenomena. As a linguist, for me these words are not dirty, they're just as legitimate as straitlaced words – and certainly more interesting. The phonological and morphological phenomena are the same, but because it's funnier and a bit embarrassing, they remember the paradigm better. For word formation and structure, I give them slang or funny words to analyze and define (e.g. the noun of action khoddāfpendāri "considering oneself hot" and their favorite present participle – gušpākkon – Q-tip).

There is also a neurological justification: first, the more neurological paths lead to a piece of information, the easier it is to retrieve it. Secondly, emotional reaction causes the brain to secrete a specific kind of adrenaline which enhances memory. This is why you remember what you did on September 11th 2001, but probably have no recollection of October 11th of the same year.

The other day I gave my 12 year old daughter a short Persian class as we were walking down the street. I taught her a song that she can sing to her baby brother. It's a song I made up with three present-tense verbs in the 2nd sg. I told her the meaning, and we discussed the verbs. She found them on her own – three words with similar structure. She found out the verbs come at the end of the sentence. She noticed they all start with mi- and end in -i. I gave these parts names and explained their function. Then I taught her to decline the verbs in all other persons, and in order for it to be more memorable, I had her decline the slang verbs for "to pass wind (loudly)", "to pass wind (silently)", and "to defecate".

Another way to minimize memorization is by emphasizing word formation. This way, not only do my students avoid memorizing, they don't even consider some words as vocabulary items. E.g. on one of the texts we had the verb sarpiči kard, which the students have never seen before. They do, however, know the noun sar "head" and the verb pičidan "to turn, twist". By the structure of sarpiči they realized the literal meaning was "she turned her head", and with the context, they understood it meant "to refuse".

Another purpose, not directly related to language teaching, is "infecting" them with my love for the culture. When I taught Sanskrit, I used to tell my students mythological tales on various grammatical subjects and had an Indian-food party every year. When I taught Hebrew in Hamburg, we had a Kabbalat Shabbat with the Israeli students. In teaching Persian, we use Taarof in class (e.g. when asking to go to the little Iranist's room) and I invite all the students for a Nowruz (Persian New Year) party with Persian food and a lecture. I show my students that there are people on the other side, even if their regime is now "The enemy". I do that by selecting texts that would demonstrate different sectors of Iranian society and identity: from poetry – both protesting and "benign", to Fars News, Keyhan and Asr-e Iran on one hand, and Radio Farda, Facebook and blogs on the other hand. I strive to refresh my texts every year so as to keep up with current affairs and keep my students – as well as myself – interested and up to date.

In the 21st century, oral and audio skills are no less important than literacy skills. Many of the sources available online include audio. Oral skills are important more for extra-academic purposes: I want my students to talk with Iranians and encourage them to find VC partners on Facebook (sometimes I'm the go-between), though I advise them not to talk about politics. I strive to teach my classes in Persian. With the very advanced students, I end every class with a 10 minute "lecture" by one of the students on a topic of their choice. It comes out quite interesting – we learn about each other's interests – from bats (the animal) to cardiology, and of course allows the students to practice their oral skills.

In our day and age, typing is more relevant than handwriting. This is why on the first class I teach how to install a Persian keyboard, and give typing exercises. Ideally, all assignments have to be submitted typed (preferably digitally – it's better for the environment and for me to keep record). I don't ban paper dictionaries, but don't encourage their use either. The first class of the second semester is dedicated to online and CD dictionaries.

One of the major challenges in a diverse classroom is "not leaving wounded soldiers in the battlefield" on one hand, but not on the expense of the brighter students on the other hand. For weaker students, I offer more exercises, and once in a while I hold a boost-up class for students who need it, with a smaller group, no A or B students allowed, so the weaker students feel more comfortable to ask until they understand. There I also use more slang and dirty words, if the environment allows (this year I had too many religious students and used only mild slang). At the same time I allow the fast learners to rush forward in the book on the first year, I supply them easy-Persian books with audio and exercises (from Iran Language Institute) to do on their spare time, and later translate articles and stories they find on their own. They submit their translations and exercises for me to check and make sure they rush forward in the right direction and don't go astray.

Lastly, I see myself not only as a teacher but also as an educator. The most important thing is to teach my students to think for themselves. They have to know neither I nor any other teacher is infallible. I encourage them to make up new explanations, mnemonics and examples, which I use later with the next generation of students (e.g. from my last course – the difference between subjunctive and indicative moods is the difference between job positions and police "wanted" ads). More importantly, I encourage them to challenge everything I say, find flaws in the theory or offer their own views. My last words on every living-language course are these: "Language is a living being. A language that doesn't change is a dead one. If you see interesting examples of phenomena we've learned – please send them to me to show the next generation. If you find examples contradicting what we've learned here – by all means send them to me. Maybe you've just detected a change or a flaw".

רוצים להיות תלמידים שלי? הנה ההזדמנות שלכם: קורס קיץ מרוכז בפרסית.

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