Dubious success?!

Dubious success?!

In the 2017 school year, 8 elementary schools and over 3,000 elementary school students participated in Tainan city’s trial run of integrating English teaching and learning in subject classes.  The results and effectiveness were evaluated by the research team from the Foreign Language Center at the National Cheng Kung University after school visits and gathering 100 hours of in-class auditing for the entire school year.

Students could not use English in conversation nor answer their English teacher’s questions in English, but they could understand all English instructions issued by the English teacher.  This is the successful achievement noted after one full school year of implementing the trial program.

Apparently, the study results have been submitted to the 11th global English forum in July, 2018, at King’s College London.

[Master Chen says]

I seriously doubt that this trial run of integrating English teaching and learning in subject classes was as successful as the research team claims.

First of all, elementary school children should have been able to pick up “expressions” very quickly when playing team sports such as soccer.

Secondly, contextual learning of a foreign language, in other words, learning of a foreign language in context, would involve not only specific terminology, context related nomenclature, but also questions and answers related to the subject, and such communication would facilitate rapid advances in conversational skills.

However, the achievements of the program do not indicate that the students were able to communicate in English within the context of the subject class.

So why weren’t the students in the trial run able to answer questions in the English integrated subject classes?

The implementation of the trial program overly emphasized “comprehension’ but failed to provide sufficient inducement for student response in English within the context of the subject class.

Thirdly, mandatory responses by students in the target language are necessary for the students to overcome communicative and conversational shyness and timidity, and the smaller the class, the more easily it would be for the student to overcome such timidity and shyness.

It seems that the trial run has failed in all of these aspects.

The trial run seems to have provided mostly opportunities for comprehension (listening and understanding) rather than opportunities for instantaneous verbal responses by the students.  This by itself is a gross failure of any language teaching program.

The report also says that students who have participated in the English integrated subject classes might lose interest and enthusiasm in regular English language classes.

Traditional language teaching classes such as those in colleges and universities are almost useless and much less effective and efficient than self learning and self taught a foreign language from internet sources such as foreign language movies with subtitles, foreign language newscasts and written news items, and foreign language alphabet tables easily found on the internet.

The foreign language textbook is an ineffective and an inefficient teaching tool.  Repetitive audio-visual presentations are much more effective and efficient.

“Repeat after me!” is less effective than “Give me a short answer” in the target language.

Grammatical features should be taught in context rather than in grammar books that require hard memorization.  For example, the use of prepositions in any language, be it Chinese, Hindi or Russian, is easily learned in context but difficult to remember and recalled from a grammar book.

Sentence patterns, cases and word orders are also much more easily learned by repetition and imitation than from grammar books.

Here is a good example:

Arnold Schwarzenegger was replaced by a heart valve.  [Internet machine translation]

In the original Russian, it is:  Arnold Schwarzenegger [direct object] replaced [third person plural, meaning “impersonal they”, passive] heart valve [subject].

Thus properly translated, the original Russian says:  Heart valve was replaced “to” [indicated by direct object case-(y)] Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Regular foreign language classes should rely mostly on audio-visual teaching, and foreign language teachers should not be “readers of grammar” but should prompt the students to answer in the target language in response to the audio-visual material presented.

For example: After watching an online foreign movie with understandable subtitles, the teacher could ask the students:

“Class!  You have just finished watching a Russian movie with Chinese subtitles.  So, what do you say at the end of a telephone conversation in Russian?

The answer is “Paka!”

If one does not remember, one can always watch the movie again and again.

Online foreign language teaching knows that a 30 second video is more effective than a lengthy hour-long reading of a vocabulary list.  Sometimes, a 1 minute long video seems overwhelmingly lengthy, difficult to remember and tiresome.

Foreign language learning is opportunistic, and so is human memory.







About masterchensays

Victor Chen, herbalist, alternative healthcare lecturer, Chinese affairs analyst, retired journalist
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