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Eureka: The language learning curriculum Eureka: The language learning curriculum
by Akli Hadid
2018-11-09 07:20:03
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In France they focus language learning on reading. That is you read a text, and the teacher lectures you on pronunciation, grammar, synonyms, definitions, reading comprehension and at the end you get an essay question or a translation drill. No conversation takes place; language is not learned in a natural setting.

lang0001_400In Korea it's multiple choice questionnaires. The boy dadada to school. A walks B walking C walkman D walk. And that's all they do in the classroom, while the teacher drills students on whether they picked the right answer or not.

This article is the result of a daydream. In the daydream I was asked to design a language learning curriculum and here's what I came up with.

Stage 1: conversation, tolerance of mistakes, the end goal being the ability for students to sit down at a café with someone else and converse in the target language.

Stage 2: professional use of the language. Less tolerance of mistakes, more focus on writing. No focus on marketing or human resources, but more focus on drafting memos, contracts, emails, speeches, presentations, negotiations, discussions.

Stage 3: academic use of the language. This means expanding the horizon of the language by studying science, technology, geography, history, politics, the economy, society, math, physics etc. all at the basic level in the target language.

Let me break these down for you.

Stage 1: what language learners should start with is not texts or multiple choice drills, but conversation. You can get a 990 score at the TOEIC, but if you can't sit at a café and chat in the target language, your language skills are pretty useless.

So the idea in stage 1 is to focus on conversation, that is on oral production of the language. Do conversation exercises, ask questions, play role games, have natural conversation, have students talk about their weekends and what they want to be later in life, what food they like and what their favorite television programs are.

Tolerate mistakes, tolerate gaps in vocabulary, help them when they're looking for a word, have them listen to natural conversation or semi-scripted conversation, have them read dialogues, have them write about themselves, have them write dialogues, have them write letters or simple conversation drills.

What about grammar? Grammar is easy. Unless you teach syntax. Syntax is complicated. But if you teach simple patterns, students will pick them up pretty quickly. If you teach the science of grammar your students will fall asleep. Spelling rules? Don't insist on those until the next stage.

Stage 2: Now language learning becomes more stressful and less fun. There's more tension in the air. Students have to avoid mistakes and hand in neat assignments, and have to be able to express themselves more neatly.

A lot of “professional” or “business” English textbooks focus on things like “marketing” or “human resources” or “sales” but that's not what professional English should be. Students don't always end up in business, and business is so vast. Oil and gas dealers don't need the same English as vegetable importers or ceramics exporters.

So you need to stick to the basics. Writing letters, drafting contracts, writing emails, negotiating deals, small talk, introducing yourself, introducing your company, introducing your product. But the language use should be flawless and spelling and formal language use should be taught. By formal I don't mean respectful, I mean formal speaking and writing rules as opposed to casual conversation and snapchat talk.

Stage 3: Academic language use. I've been a freelance language teacher for over a decade, and a lot of my advanced students confess to me how relieved they are to find someone like me who can take them to the next stage. Those students master conversation, master professional language use, but want to focus on intellectual language use. There's a great demand for intellectual language learning from advanced learners, but who always end up with good old grammar teaching teachers.

So what is academic language use? It's being able to say things you are not sure you could even say in your native language. It's discussing topics like politics, science, technology or law, areas which you don't always master in your own native language.

Where is the demand for academic language use. There are basically four categories of language learners. There are those who learn languages because they have to, because it's a national education requirement. Then there are those who want to travel or to make casual use of the language. Then there are those who might, in insist, might, need it at the workplace, occasionally work in the target language. An untapped market is those who always use the foreign language at the workplace. That is imagining a French man who works in London, at a British company, and who does 100% of his work in English. Those are the people who need academic language use.

Such learners need not only to perfect their language learning, but go beyond anything they already know in their native language. It's tough for teachers as well, as teachers also have to master, at least at the basic level, different levels of academic topics.

Finally, where does culture come into play? Should native speakers teach the language, or should local teachers teach the language?

Regarding culture, a lot of people know very little about culture yet perform very well at the social level. When it comes to culture the less you know, the more you are likely to be forgiven.

Should native teachers or local teachers teach foreign languages. If the local teacher can teach conversation, professional use and academic use of the language, then there should be no problem. The problem is a lot of local teachers could not handle conversation, much less teach it, do not use the language accurately, and would be completely incapable of teaching academic uses of the language. In that case, if human resources lack, using native teachers tends to be better. If native teachers are guided in their language teaching, by guided I mean follow some sort of curriculum, they should get by fine.

As for co-teaching, I have always been completely against it. Co-teaching, or the idea of coupling a local teacher with a native teacher, has never been about maximizing teaching efficiency. It has often been in attempts of direct surveillance of native or local teachers, often in totalitarian or authoritarian countries.


     
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