Learning to speak a language has intrigued me since my own sons were born and then continued to be something that I observed, reflected, and questioned when we lived in Germany and then Spain when our sons were young.

When our sons were infants my husband and I audio taped their sounds. Later when they were older we listened to those tapes and we were fascinated to hear language development! When you’re so close to an infant you don’t hear as much but if you can put yourself in a situation where you can objectively listen and it’s amazing what you hear.

In Germany and Spain I worked as a conversational English instructor at Berlitz School of Languages and it was that training that convinced me that the underlying motivation for learning to speak a language is the need to communicate. The more I could create a real need for communication the more a student would try to find the word to explain their thoughts.

Have you experienced trying to communicate an idea to someone whose first language is not English? If you really need to have them understand, you phrase the ideas you’re trying to express in different ways if the first way meets a blank stare. As they ask you questions, you respond. You ask/answer/ask/answer until you have communicated what you need them to understand. It’s not one way — it’s an exchange.

Mathematics is a language. We have to establish environments in which students feel a need to communicate. How do we create the need?

When you are communicating with someone and you don’t quite understand what they mean, you ask questions.

* I’m not sure I understand.
* How does that work?
* Why did you use “(insert a word)” – can you tell me what that means?
* Why did you say that?
* Can you tell me more?

I wonder how they might be communicating?

What happens when you think of your students as communicators?