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.

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