Updated: Jan 26, 2021
One of the best ways to demonstrate or showcase your personal creative expression in your new language is the through the management of a language portfolio. Similar to the way portfolios are used in art, photography, writing, and other creative disciplines, a language portfolio can be used for you to track your language progress through the regular creation and submission of audio examples of whatever you are learning. I want to help you answer three questions:
What is a language portfolio?
Why should you create a language portfolio?
How do you create a language portfolio?
Specifically, a language portfolio for our purposes is a collection of audio pieces that describes or “showcases” what you have done in the language; in other words, what you can do. In short, you can make a portfolio in your new language. And you should. It’s a great language practice, and as we’ll see, a great gospel fluency practice.
A portfolio is an intentional collection of work guided by learning objectives. Whether art, photography, writing, or language, a portfolio is a collection of your work. In this case, your language work. It is your way of saying, “Here’s what I can do.”
Language portfolios comprise recordings and reflections of real-life simulations demonstrating your ability to handle events, tasks, topics, functions, interactions, activities, conversations, discussions, lessons, explanations, and descriptions in your new language.
So, why should you create and manage a personal language portfolio?
• Portfolios can help you to demonstrate and track your personal progress in the language. It’s a great way to show those around (who need and want to know) how you are doing. To celebrate your progress with you. And to help guide you as you continue to make progress.
• Portfolios can help you to develop good learning habits. They should never be viewed as something extra to do that takes us away from our language learning. They are essential and best practices. Learn to do portfolios, and you’ll learn the language better!
• Portfolios can help to give you confidence for formal language assessments. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like formal language assessments. Portfolios can help to mitigate the stress related to these tests in a lot of ways, and can even help to validate them.
• Portfolios can help you to sustain ongoing learning. Do you wonder why people often stop learning right about the time they complete formal required language? It’s not always because they don’t value ongoing learning and deeper ministry skills in the language, it’s more often because they just don’t know how to continue! Portfolios promote the kind of ongoing learning practices that will help give you the confidence, desire, and ability you need to keep our foot on the gas to never stop learning.
• Portfolios also can help you really get into the practice of gospel fluency in everyday conversations. How? Because you will intentionally add to your portfolio a growing repertoire of gospel content from scripture and from your testimony that relates to all the everyday life things you are learning to talk about.
• You’ll be able to look back on what you were able to do just a few months ago and see the amazing progress you have made. Getting to gospel fluency is journey and creating and managing a portfolio can help you chart the journey with joy and confidence.
How do you create a language portfolio? I offer the following 10 steps which I list below and then discuss in more detail:
1. First of all, choose what you want to talk about.
2. Then, gather resources (stories, items, illustrations, texts, conversations, etc.)
3. To kick it off, you will need to get it started on your own and practice through it. Do this before you meet with a language partner. Have something ready to talk about. Even if it’s unfinished. Actually, it should be unfinished because your main practice is with your language partner.
4. And this is exactly what you will do: Practice through it more with a language partner.
5. You’ll want to get immediate feedback from your language partner.
6. Then, you’ll record it with your Language Partner (5-15 minutes). Don’t confuse this with having them do a recording as part of the feedback, which you can and should do as well. But, for our purposes in creating your portfolio, you need to record with them what you can do in the language on your chosen topic or task. Make it a dialogue with your language partner but be sure to feature your ability in the recording.
7. You need to write up a reflection of how you (and your partner) felt about it. Was it a good representation of your ability? What did your language partner think? This becomes an important part of your portfolio.
8. Then, send the recording and the reflection to your coach or colleagues. Do this at least once a month.
9. Feedback from your coach will help you ensure you are on track in your progress, plus will provide encouragement and further helpful tips. It’s important that you sustain communication with your team and coach as you continue in language.
10. Finally, name it and store it within your portfolio. Make sure you work out a way that your coach or colleagues can help you keep track of your portfolio. This is a major way to show that you are making progress in the language. And that is an important part of the language assessment process.
Here's a recap of these steps with some details.
First, what kind of topics or tasks can and should you choose for your language portfolio? Here are some ideas:
Getting a haircut – something we all need to be able to do in our new language (with obvious successful or not-so-successful results!)
What's for breakfast? – this can be from a shared experience of having or making breakfast, or a verbal demonstration of the process of making breakfast (which in many parts of the world is an art-form itself!)
Making coffee – Where I live, the art of Turkish coffee or tea is truly an experience that everyone should know how to do, talk about, and fully live.
Talking with neighbors – Conversations define relationship and community, and we learn to talk about anything and everything – including the gospel – in the context of life on life interactions.
Whatever you choose to talk about, keep it simple, relevant, interesting, and understandable. Most important, practice it. Get help, correction, work on the dialogue, and then practice it again, and again.
Here's the key: practice it with your language partner. Come with something that needs work, so you can get input to improve it. You want to leave with something you can continue to work on. There just is no substitute for this kind of rich language learning experience. Your language partner’s job is to give you great feedback. Your language partner should:
• Encourage you as much as possible, recognizing your effort and progress.
• Provide useful language tips – pronunciation, words, phrases, expression, grammar – anything that can help you improve expression.
• Provide useful culture tips – deeper understanding of things around you, idioms, illustrations, potential responses of different people – as you learn more and more not just how to tell the gospel story, but how to converse it with your neighbors in all scripts and contexts of life.
• Help you learn the topic or task through role play, dialogue, or some other engaging way.
• Record what you want to learn to say and talk about.
• Give you a few simple next steps you can intentionally work on.
Before you move on, make sure to record your portfolio piece. For example, it could be a 5-minute personal description, or a 15-minute dialogue or role play with your language partner. It does not have to be perfect. You may record some mistakes. That’s OK. The point is to show that you’ve done it, and that you are on a path of making progress.
Be sure to reflect on what you just did. Ask yourself and answer these questions in a short write-up for your coach. Describe how you felt you did. Describe how you think your language partner felt you did. What did you learn? How did you feel you improved? What are your next steps? These are just examples of the kinds of questions you want to work through as you reflect on the experience of doing the portfolio piece.
Submit the audio and reflection to your coach for acknowledgement and feedback. Remember, this whole process will really help you, your coach, and your team to know how you are doing, and to encouraging you in your language progress.
Finally, be sure to name and save your recording and reflection to your personal portfolio. Your portfolio then becomes an important part of your language journey to gospel fluency.
You may not see a lot of progress from one month to the next, but over the course of several months you will see a big difference. It also gives you a lot of evidence to show the progress you are making, which is really important as a part of the assessment process. And this should encourage you. I promise you, as you do this it will also encourage your coach and your team, and probably your language partner, and national partners. This kind of practice really does put you on the path to gospel fluency.