The other day we were discussing Chomsky in class and the idea that we slowly lose access with our innate grammar after adolescence, which is why children are better language learners than adults. (I am being vague here, but only because this post isn't about whether and when this hypothesis was disproved.) It's about children and languages and how desperately I miss teaching.
The discussion reminded me of a "German for Kids" class when I taught verb conjugations without actually teaching any of the fearsome grammar that all parents strictly told me to avoid. See, these eight year olds just needed to know German or speak German or read it, without having to learn the grammatical rules and terms, which would obviously suck out all their interest in the language.
"Why do we change verbs?" I looked around expectantly at my group of five learners.
"Because...", one of them started tentatively, "Because, I run, but he runs." He fell back into the rehearsed pattern.
"Yes," I agreed, "But why?"
There was a long pause and amidst the few distant and puzzled gazes I noticed one of them struggling for the right words. It's amazing how you actually see it in their eyes, the expression as it travels from dazed confusion to twinkling clarity.
"Because...?" I asked her specifically.
"Because... then we can say two things." She declared, adorably oblivious to the simple brilliance of her assessment.
I was thrilled. In a bunch of school children who'd only ever been taught "I run, he runs, because I say so, now learn it by heart," I'd found someone who had just given it some thought of her own.
And I miss that so much. That feeling of excitement at getting your point across successfully. At making a disinterested kid understand that spellings are important because what more is there to a word than its spelling? (so when Priya makes a spelling mistake, she gets called Triya for the rest of the class, for believing one letter is not all that important!), at helping a kid understand verb conjugations and noun articles without really teaching them.
It's indescribable, the sheer delight I felt when the kids didn't want the class to end, when they wanted to finish reading that German book or playing that quiz, when they asked me to teach them prepositions because they just had to say something, when they developed a fondness for the language so great that they continued to learn German even after I left the city. That they loved German more than they loved having fun in class - that's my greatest happiness.