Thursday, May 04, 2006

Three Mistakes Foreign Language Teachers Make That Cause Learners to Fail

Are you guilty of any of these erroneous practices in ELT or language teaching? Any one of them can easily derail the students’ efforts in language acquisition and learning or cause them grave problems. So, review these areas, make any needed adjustments to your teaching practice. Don’t you be a stumbling block to your learners’ progress.

1. Don’t adapt materials to the learning style and characteristics of the students.

Unfortunately, the learning style most reflected in the classroom is that of the teacher. It is paramount that concepts and material be presented in a way most suitable for the learners. Jack C. Richards, principal author of the widely popular Interchange textbook series said, “Student learning styles may be an important factor in the success of teaching and may not necessarily reflect those that teachers recommend." Why? Because teachers use their own preferences in the class room, not necessarily those of the students. Do an analysis of your class group’s learning characteristics, then apply the results to your teaching.

2. Follow the course book

A course book is usually not intended to be a “bible”, but all too often teachers follow it “religiously”. They do nothing else, nor include outside materials in their teaching. If you read the teacher’s notes that typically accompany an English or language text, you’ll most likely note that the course book is intended to be a guide for teaching with supplementary materials widely used to expand, deepen or reinforce presented materials and themes. Use the course book sequence as a guide. Freely supplement its exercises and course materials with your own creations or at the very least with materials adapted from other sources. As mentioned in point number one, plan your lessons and materials to meet the needs, learning styles and characteristics of your learners.

3. Don’t encourage and promote language practice outside the class room

With an alarming number of schools and institutes decreasing student to teacher classroom contact hours per week it is essential for learners to receive additional practice and input. There are requirements of as little as four hours per week or even less in many publicly or government-funded educational centers. Can a student really learn a language in only 45 hours? Or put it this way, is it reasonable to expect mastery of any sort in a language after six or seven days in a foreign country where that language is spoken? Spread that contact intensity over a six-month period; does that make language learning and acquisition better or worse? Now, throw in the learners using their first language half of each day of language learning and you have a situation degraded to a nearly impossible state. Finally, factor in class and semester breaks of several weeks per year and it’s certainly no wonder Jorge, Chen Shen or Efrosini can’t hold even a basic conversation after studying English (or another foreign language) under these conditions for two, three or even more years. Encouragement and promotion of foreign language practice outside the class room is absolutely vital to the success of the learners.

So again, don’t you be a stumbling block to your learners’ progress. If you are guilty of any of these erroneous practices in ELT or language teaching, make any needed adjustments to your teaching practice ASAP. Then watch your learners grow, improve and practice their new language like never before. Please feel free to contact me with your questions, comments or requests.


Sean said...

Those are three solid points of advice. Sometimes though point number one is the most difficult to do due to the variety of different learning styles present in a large class. But by doing activities that use different learning styles that can be partially overcome.

Anonymous said...

Ever since I finished school I didn’t think I would want to have anymore lessons ever again, however recently I have wanted to learn a language, maybe become fluent in one and basic in a couple of others. I did a bit of research and found there were loads of different packages available I went with one that claims you teach yourself Spanish and I was impressed it was a computer program that helped with pronunciation and speaks back to you so you can hear it too.