1/19/2016 Peter Durantine

Learning Languages Through Teaching and Tutoring

When he left Brazil to attend Franklin & Marshall College, Pedro De Almeida, whose native tongue is Portuguese, was still mastering English. Having learned Spanish in high school, he decided to study a new language — Italian.

"Now that I've been studying Italian for two years, it's almost tough for me to speak Spanish," said De Almeida, a senior economics major who is minoring in Italian.

De Almeida was among four students invited last fall by F&M's two language departments, German and Italian, to serve as class preceptors for a credit-earning program launched this academic year. Students earn half of a course credit for volunteering.

"While the professor is working with one student, I'm working with the others, correcting pronunciation and directing the conversation to keep it going in order to make minor corrections and guide them," De Almeida said.

  • Associate Professor of German Curtis Bentzel, who heads the preceptor program, met with the preceptors regularly to discuss articles on language pedagogy. Image Credit: Peter Durantine

Associate Professor of German Curtis Bentzel said the language preceptor program, now offered each fall semester to those studying German or Italian, benefits student teachers in many ways, including providing valuable teaching experience. And the students learning from the preceptors benefit from peer-to-peer subject matter lessons.

"Preceptors get to see things from the professor's perspective," said Bentzel, chair of the German and Russian departments. "And the students are more comfortable talking to them because it's student-to-student communication. The preceptor is not evaluating them."

As program head, Bentzel met with the preceptors regularly to discuss articles on language pedagogy. He also helped each of them identify an authentic text they then taught to a class.

For her class, Lenna Knoerr, a native German who is majoring in German and anthropology, gave the students a take-home paper: a dating profile written in German.

"I kind of overwhelmed them a little bit, but after they looked at it, they realized how much they already understood," Knoerr said. "In class, we discussed it, and then I had them fill out their own dating profile."

Preceptors attend the class they tutor, which helps them better understand the language they are learning and the students they are teaching, Bentzel said.

For Colleen Gallagher, a senior chemistry major tutoring for the first time, serving as preceptor helped her better understand Italian.

"I started learning Italian when I got here," Gallagher said. "Learning a foreign language is rather difficult, but it was helpful to see the other side of learning."

Clement Mirol, a senior Italian and creative writing major who is studying Italian, said he benefited from the post-class tutoring.

"I enjoyed helping students who had doubts after class — helping them figure out their homework, helping them go over their exams, and things like that," Mirol said. "That's the aspect that I got the most out of."

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