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English Language Teaching A Parable for the Future by jaj75621


									English Language Teaching :
A Parable for the Future
                                                                        Dr Gail Schaefer Fu
                                                    Chairman, English Language Teaching Unit

Although a certain number of the incoming students at The Chinese University are
required to take the first year General English course, many more are exempted
because (1) their English is already genuinely proficient or because (2) staffing con-
straints prevent us from placing them in classes. We do know that many students who
have been exempted would prefer not to be . We know this from students' self-reports
and from the fact that some of the placement/exemption test scripts have been returned
blank with only the student's name at the top, a perfect "guarantee", in other words, that
the candidate would be placed in a class . We have also learned from some students that
they had been advised by upper classmates not to do their best on the test so that they
would be assured of a place in the course .
      Because we knew of this desire on the part of some students, it was decided at the
beginning of this academic year (1990-1991) to offer a "trial" section of the General
English course for Arts and Social Science students . This section would be open on an
elective basis to students who had been exempted from the English requirement as a
result of their performance on the ELT placement/exemption test. During the registra-
tion period, there was active interest in the course. All places in the course were taken
and a waiting list was made of still-hopeful students .
      After the teaching term began and things had begun to settle down, it became
clear that the course was over-subscribed and that a good proportion of the students
were in fact Chinese majors . When asked why they had elected to take an English
course which they were not required to take, the students were almost unanimous in
their explanations and rationale. To illustrate, a sample of their reasons :

        I want to take this course simply because I want to keep on my study of
        English. When I was exempted from taking "General English", I became
        worried. It seemed that there are fewer chances for me to learn English here
        than in the secondary school . Then I began to ask myself, "Will my ability of
        using English decline? How can I keep up English?"
        Though I am studying in Chinese department, I think English is more impor-
        tant to me compared with those who can use English as their medium of
        writing papers in the university such as the history's students . I believe that I
        will have a few chance to use English in the Chinese department . As a result,
        I should find some methods to ameliorate my English in order to keep pace
        with those who can use English frequencily [sic] .
        I am major in Chinese Language and Literature, I am afraid that if I do not take
        an English course, my English level will decline sharply. I think that this is a
        golden chance for me to improve and keep up my English.
        Although my major in CU is Chinese, I like English very much. I hope to learn
        and practise my English in CU. Moreover, English is very important in Hong
        Kong. In order to get a good job in the future, I have to improve my English
        level further.
      During the course, a concerted effort was made to provide constant opportunities
for students to use English in non-threatening and interactive situations, in pairs or
small groups, on topics which had been suggested by the students themselves .
Throughout the term students wrote on assigned journal topics and rotated the
notebooks with members of their small group, writing responses to what other mem-
bers had written . Regular reading and activity assignments were made from H . Douglas
Brown's A Practical Guide to Language Learning, a book which encourages students
to develop strategies which are successful for them in acquiring another language. Each
week students were also asked to define a language task which they would like to
accomplish over the next seven days . Examples of such tasks might be to see a movie
in English, to read an English newspaper for 15 minutes every day, to learn ten
expressions in English and so on. The focus of the course, in other words, was on the
students' use of English in ways which were of interest and relevance to them .
      By the end of the first term, students seemed to be approaching the learning and
using of English with newly opened eyes: few of them, it seemed, had had the "luxury"
of speaking and using English to this extent and for these purposes in their previous
English classes . Again, a sample of their reactions :

         After two months, I found my self-confidence of speaking English has grow a
         lot . I feel my English is improving, and this do comforts me.
         Today I have General English lesson . I know more vocabulary from my
         classmates. Sometimes I have pronounced the words wrong, my classmates
         can tell me the correct pronunciation . I feel very happy. I also find that in the
         class I can have more opportunities to use English so I feel happy when I have
         English lesson .
         In the beginning of the class, I am afraid to say something about my own
         feelings and opinions . I just listened to the others . Then I thought it was not a
         listening class . It was an English class for me to learn English . Then I tried to
         take part in the class activities and it had some success . Moreover, I was very
         interested in the kind of learning activities . It was really interesting and funny.
         This also gave me more confidence in both my language and myself.
         The past secondary school was a barrier to the improvement of English since
         many subjects were taught in Chinese and English class was mostly just doing
         exercises in the workbook and checking the answer. If learning English is only
         examination oriented, it is uninteresting . Recently, I read English cartoons and
         news of entertainment as my weekly project and I find they are interested and
         full of fun .
         I think I feel more motivated than at the outset of the term because the lesson
         states the importance of English in the future and always required us students
         to think more, to speak in English and do a lot of journals . It somehow forces
         us to learn English but it's really good to us. By the help of the teacher and
         classmates, I am motivated to do better. Also, I am more self-confidence in my
         language . One of the rules in the class is not allowed to laugh at classmates
         that means even I say something wrong, no one will laugh at me, so I feel quite
         confident to say in English and do not hesitate to express my idea.

     I submit that there is a "moral" to the story that these young people are telling us
and that if we listen to their voices we will hear much that can inform our teaching of
English in the future . Some of the messages, as I hear them, include the following :
        that a group of students who elect to take an English course may inject more
        energy into that course than those who are "forced" to take it;
        that small group/pair interaction is crucial in language learning activities and
        class size must allow for maximum opportunity to do this;
        that the perceived value and importance of English will most likely be main-
        tained in future even (or especially?) for those whose need for using the
        Chinese language is high;
        that self-confidence and motivation are important factors in language learning
        and our teaching practices must seek to enhance these;
        that student input into course content and design should be encouraged when-
        ever and wherever appropriate;
        that students should be helped to an awareness of their own language learning
        strategies and should be encouraged to make decisions about and commit-
        ments to learning how to learn;
        that if The Chinese University wishes to be genuinely rather than nominally
        bilingual it must recognize that English language courses are regularly over-
        subscribed and must take measures to address the imbalance.
      Confucius once wrote: "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you
teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime ." He wrote this hundreds of years ago
but the message is as relevant for the 21st century as it was in the time of Ch'un Ch'iu.
Our challenge for the future in the teaching of the English language is to wean students
away from the concept of English for examination purposes and to instill in them a
concept of English for active use in their individual lives and for their individual
purposes .

MtFo~       t ( WJgV*_ ® )

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