Teaching a second language in a minority context is a challenging task. The classroom teachers’ level of language proficiency is paramount since learners are often exposed to a limited number of language models and their ability to learn and acquire the language accurately is dependent on the quality of the language presented by the teacher. Those who speak multiple languages are often aware that the general improvement and maintenance of language skills is an unending process.
In 1995, the American Association of Teachers of French published Susan Colville-Hall’s article Regaining Language Loss: An Immersion Experience for French Language Teachers (See The French Review, Vol. 68 No. 6 (May, 1995) pp. 990-1002 also available from Jstor.org). The author explores language loss and states that it may stem from the following:
• Absence from the language classroom;
• Teaching another subject area or language;
• Teaching at a beginning or introductory level without the opportunity to fully use or interact with the language;
• Lack of experience travelling to a region where target language immersion is possible.
Teachers who experience language loss or feel that they have not acquired a suitable level of language, are at risk of experiencing low levels of professional confidence and may experience a decrease in enthusiasm for the job, according to Colville-Hall. These teachers may experience the following:
• Have inadequate preparation in the functional use of language (studying in a majority language context);
• Lack practical, functional vocabulary;
• Struggle to meet expectations to conduct class in target language and to interact with colleagues of higher language or native speakers;
• Experience varying levels of language attrition patterns depending on their ability. (The ability to speak a language is rapidly impacted by limited use whereas listening and skills related to auditory comprehension are not.)
Colville-Hall indicates that the last language learned is the first to be forgotten, especially when it is used in isolation and for limited amounts of time. Of significance, the level of language acquired during learning determines how easily it will be lost. The incomplete mastery of language structure or skills are most easily lost or forgotten- even by language teachers.
According to the research, teachers who themselves decide to retrain in language often experience unintended positive consequences. Those who do retrain report the following:
• Experience more resilient language gains that are less vulnerable to attrition;
• Often apply additional effort to maintain their language skills and are successful in doing so;
• Reacquire lost language skills or improve base skills thanks to language training exposure or doses of language immersion.
According to Colville-Hall, the intensity of the immersion experience is stressed to be as significant as the longevity. Nevertheless, short immersion exposure allows for rapid language recovery of a teacher’s original language competence.
In Colville-Hall’s research findings, language retraining results in the following:
• Increases the language proficiency of teachers;
• Exposes teachers to effective techniques for more effective use of culturally authentic materials;
• Creates a sense of capability to adapt diverse language instruction tools for personal teaching use;
• Demonstrates a positive attitude towards maintaining language proficiency.