Textbook Scams

When I first moved to South Korea in 2003, I was just learning about teaching language. I worked in a private English school -hagwon - where I was given a series of books titled English Time. I was very excited about how easy it was going to be to teach English with these books that were laid out in a simple fashion and made class time easy to get through. I did not really have to think much, just follow the book, draw a few things on the board and make the kids laugh. Awesome.

What I slowly began to realise as I delved further into the incredible amounts of information and research that was becoming available on language acquisition was how useless most of the book was. I started to see just how things worked in the book industry, and it did not seem to have much to do with helping people learn language. It became apparent to me that it was the business of promoting English language schools by making it take longer than necessary to learn English.

Koreans, as well as most other Asian countries had already convinced itself that learning English was an agonising task that was nigh on impossible. Due to lack of understanding of second language acquisition theory, stables of teachers prepared to teach heaps upon heaps of useless grammar set about boring their countrymen to death in classrooms filled with books that made not sense.

With the internet and the plethora of materials and research out there, there is no need for a textbook anymore…if you have a good teacher. There is one exception, however.

Students learning language need to read. I have had great success with book clubs incorporating graded readers that are used to teach every aspect of the language. I have even set up a program in northern India, at the monastic college at Sherab Ling, where 150 monks study to become teachers for Tibetan Buddhists around the world. I set up the program, showed them how to do it and then let them to their own devices, without anyone to teach them. They have been improving steadily and love their class, despite the lack of a native English teacher to guide them.

In future postings I will present the methodology used in this unique program that will not be popular among teachers who espouse the false idea that it is them who make language learning possible.

So much grammar, so little time…

It is very frustrating to be a teacher who has experienced learning another language, teaching in another country and being told to do something that you know does not work. People in countries such as Japan and South Korea have been studying English for many years, but they have focused on grammar. The reason for this is not very difficult to understand, actually.

When you try to teach someone a language that you do not speak well, it is only natural that you focus on something which does not require you to speak the language and which can be written on the board in a classroom, supplemented with lots of paper to complete in class, tons of homework to assign and then it is easy to have numerous tests. This is the life of many non-English speaking English teachers.

Most of my student are familiar with my Grammar Machine story. When you spend a lot of time studying English grammar you think that there is a right and a wrong way to speak English. You begin to build a machine in your head that reviews and judges everything you want to say. In Japan and South Korea, where there is a deep sense of saving face, a fear of embarrassment, this means that most students do not want to try to speak, especially in a class with other students. It is too bad, because often I see students who really want to participate in a conversation, but they just cannot keep up with what is happening because of the grammar machine in their head.

Point of View story classes are a great way to learn how to use grammar well and have fun while studying. Grammar sheets and repetitive homework is not done in my class. And it will never be that way.

Too Much Studying…

and not enough living. That is the constant struggle for people who are trying to find the balance between classroom learning and realworld usage of a new language.

I always tell students that it is best if they spend more time “out and about” and trying to communicate using the new language that they learn here in Canada. Every week you should take a coupe of the things you learn in your language classes and apply them to your real life!

I recommend taking a grammar point, several vocabulary words, and and idioms or phrases you may have learned in class a try to use them several time during the week. Always check with your teacher about proper usage of these before you “hit the street”.