Recently I published a blog post called “4 Reasons Why Studying English at School Won’t Make You a Fluent English Speaker” where I discussed drawbacks of the traditional way of studying the English language.Â I’ll give you a quick overview of the previous article but of course if you haven’t read it you’d better check it out – it might prove to be quite an eye-opener for you!
So why am I so much against the traditional English teaching methods?
❗ First of all, the grammar translation method which is still prevalent even in this day and age, was founded back in the 18th century. Back in the olden days foreign language learning was still in its infancy and academics assumed that it had to follow the same pattern as other disciplines – Math, Physics, and Chemistry. Fast forward to the 21st century… and they still teach English at school with the same grammar translation method that is unnatural and uses students’ native language as reference medium to acquire the target language!
❗ Second reason – school English studies focus on STUDYING the language rather than LEARNING English. English students are required to know all about grammar constructs, word types and syntax but real, spoken English is being neglected at the same time. This doesn’t make any sense to me; it’s like learning all about your leg muscle fibers and leg movement kinetics if your main goal is to learn how to dance!
❗ The third reason is something even you might find hard to agree with, namely – English grammar difficulty levels. What I’m saying is – there’s no such thing as difficult or easy grammar, if you learn English naturally all grammar already comes with it and the ability of speaking efficiently is mainly down to every individual’s vocabulary size. The old school supporters argue that it’s not the case and one has to spend long years studying English Grammar from the beginner’s level up to advanced. But you’d better go back to the original blog post to read about it in depth and figure out where you stand on this.
❗ Lastly I presented a number of counterarguments to approaching English and exact sciences with the same teaching methods. To put it simply, it’s all about recognizing that in the word driven by technological advancements during the Industrial Revolution, exact sciences where in the biggest demand and the modern educational system still mirrors those old, archaic assumptions about how students are to be taught subjects at schools and colleges.
But why am I returning to the same topic again? Well, I simply couldn’t pack all the information I wanted to in a single blog post because there’s a whole lot more to say about the traditional way of teaching English!
So here we go again with another 3 shocking reasons why academic English studies inhibit your English learning progress.
Real-Life English is All About Speaking, English at School is About Reading and Writing!
I’ve reiterated this opinion a good few number of times on my blog, and now I’m mentioning it once again.
So – why do we learn English at schools at all? If you asked an old linguistics professor whose hobby probably is researching English irregular verb origins, you’d get a completely different answer than from a person who’s just traveled around the world and has spoken to thousands of people using the English language.
If the former would tell you that you have to study English hard to achieve good grades at school and acquire the necessary amount of points to enter a college or university of your choice, the person who’s been out and about for a good while will tell you that the REAL APPLICATION of the English language is VERBAL COMMUNICATION!
Just think about it for a second. While being an English literate definitely involves being able to read and write very well, isn’t interpersonal communication skills that dominate every aspect of our lives?
Let’s say, you’re aiming to get a job in a multinational service providing company. While any service desk’s job specifics would definitely include e-mailing and non-verbal communication, isn’t phone conversations that would make up the biggest part of your daily routine? And what about effective communication between employees and also managers and team leaders?
I think that everyone has to agree that while formal English knowledge plays an important part in going through modern educational system, at the end of the day it’s how well you’re able to SPEAK in English that determines your success ❗
OK, I agree that spoken English isn’t completely ignored throughout school English curriculum. There’s some degree of English speaking incorporated in English lessons along with the traditional grammar, writing and listening parts. But if you look at the way English classes are normally organized, there’s no way your teacher can dedicate enough attention to every student to get everyone in the class naturally involved in a real English conversation.
And by the way – the highest English curriculum standards and requirements are achieved probably only by a handful of students. So while English fluency at school is probably achievable in theory, in real life it’s just an unattainable ideal.
It’s not a secret that school and college students generally will try to make the minimum effort needed to achieve good grades. And the English teachers also won’t mind if students’ spoken English doesn’t match the required standards as far as the grammar and written part are quite good. After all the whole educational system is built on assessing students’ knowledge by written material they produce in homework, tests and exams.
So as a result we have a steady yearly flow of foreign national English students leaving different educational establishments with very little or no skills in real-life English communication! 🙁
Only Small Percentage of Total Time in English Class is Dedicated to USING English!
I think it’s pretty straightforward. Given that each individual English student has very little opportunities to speak English during English lessons, all students should be exposed to as much English as possible. Once they’re past the English language basics, the native language should be done away with thus encouraging everyone to use English only.
❗ Teacher should talk to the students using English ONLY.
❗ Students should communicate with each-other using English ONLY.
❗ New English vocabulary should be explained with other, simpler English words, again – English ONLY!
This approach would do wonders in terms of facilitating thinking in the target language and therefore making students USE English to express themselves instead of memorizing separate words to construct artificial sentences in a copybook.
The bleak reality is, however, that English teachers don’t use REAL English to communicate with students because many students wouldn’t understand what’s being said. In the early stages of English language acquisition many students don’t learn all new English words and expressions so the teachers have to keep translating and explaining things in students’ native language.
This in turn leads to a situation where the students use their native language more than English during English lessons thus depriving them from any possibility of using natural English in the English class ❗
The way English learning is going now, the students get only a tiny exposure to the English language compared to what someone gets when living in an English speaking environment, for example. So it’s no wonder that the worst English student from the class can become fluent in a few months after moving to an English speaking country, while the best students are still struggling with speaking in a natural environment! 😯
It shouldn’t actually come as a surprise if you think about the total time you spend ACTIVELY involved in English lessons. If you share the same classroom with another 20 – 30 students, the chances are that you get to speak just a couple of sentences during an average English lesson.
The teacher gets to speak the most – that’s for sure! – although it should be quite the opposite. But then you have to take into account the plan that the English teachers are required to go by, and they simply have no choice.Â New grammar rules have to be explained in the front of class, and the teacher has very little room for maneuver, that’s a fact…
As a result you probably get as much English practice throughout the whole academic year as you’d get in a few days time spent in a natural English speaking environment! That’s shocking, but it’s true nonetheless ❗
Also there’s another factor to be mentioned here. I’ve always advocated for USING English instead of STUDYING it, and what would be a better way of using the language than learning other subjects through it? That way English students would get constant exposure to English language, and even if some things would have to be explained in their native language, at least students would be required to actively USE English in order to learn other things!
Yes, what I propose is – learning English by using it to acquire knowledge in other subjects such as Geography, History, and Literature. I strongly believe that if they’d get rid of boring English Grammar studies and use the English language as a REAL LANGUAGE, students would be more enthusiastic about learning it and language acquisition would come naturally to them.
But let me put it in context if it’s not completely clear for you as to what I propose.
Let’s take English irregular verbs as an example. Throughout generations English students have been simply cramming irregular verb lists into their brain. But when you memorize word strings like “spring – sprang – sprung”, they’re only good for written tests where you have to put in the correct form of a particular verb.
When it comes to speaking real English, students start to hesitate because they have to go through the same process in their head. First of all they have to choose the proper verb, then they’d be thinking over the correct irregular form, and the resulting English speech is far from being natural 😥
If, on the other hand, irregular verbs are acquired as part of real English used in a classroom to learn about, say, Biology, they form natural speech patterns in students’ heads. By learning a new irregular verb in a sentence “New shoots sprang up three days after we sowed the seeds”, the English student isn’t required to learn WHY “sprang” is used. He simply learns that the verb “spring” turns into “sprang”, and that’s exactly how every person on the planet acquires their native language!
And here we’ve come to the last point, namely –
Traditional English Studies Create a Terrible Habit of Overanalyzing!
Your studying habits inevitably shape your way of thinking and you might even not notice that you’ve become like those grey-haired English professors who write English grammar books and create schoolÂ curricula.Â Long years of English studies – learning English Grammar rules and memorizing words through your native language – have left mark in the way you perceive English language.
So if you’re a victim of academic English education, there’s a high risk that you:
- tend to look at English you hear or read from grammar standpoint;
- try to explain why certain things are said in a certain way and question if something doesn’t make sense;
- speak and write English trying to make everything perfect, just like in an English Grammar test!
And now I’ll explain all the above mentioned in detail and you’ll see what exactly I’m talking about.
Once you’ve been studying English for a long period of time following grammar translation and similar methods, you’ve been constantly exposed to English language analysis. Word order in a sentence, correct verb forms, proper tense usage – there’s loads of factors coming together when one expresses oneself in English.
When you speak in your native language, you don’t constantly check your choice of words, grammar tenses and other things that you’re required to do at school when studying your native language. I don’t think there’s a single student who’d enjoy analyzing sentence structures in their native language. But when it comes to using that language, the lack of enthusiasm simply turns into everyday necessity.
So why learning and using English would be any different?
Well, those who’ve created English teaching programs have decided it for you… By teaching English from grammar standpointÂ you’veÂ been forced to perceive the language in an unnatural way and it’s formed into a habit that’s darn hard to break!
Instead of speaking naturally and without much thinking about what words to choose etc, you’re paying way too much attention on grammar details simply because that’s the way you’ve been taught to speak English ❗
Over time a nasty habit of overanalyzing has developed and you may perceive every new bit of information in English as mixture of tenses, verbs, nouns and prepositions rather that verbal information. This extreme assumption might sound too crazy to be true, but in fact I’m not far from truth. You don’t necessarily have to be aware of this process going on in your mind; it can be concealed within the depths of your subconscious mind. For you this overanalyzing may manifest as a very hesitating and unnatural speech, and it can be very frustrating indeed!
Once one is used to creating English sentences in a textbook using various grammar ingredients following precise grammar rules, you can’t expect that person to be able to speak fluently. Speech is a spontaneous process; it’s more like improvising rather than an exact science!
Another way how this overanalyzing manifests itself is through trying to make perfect grammar sense out of everything you hear in English.
To be honest with you, I was the most terrible over analyzer you could ever find! I remember back in the days when I had just moved over to Ireland, I used to spot ‘mistakes’ in others speech considering myself a proper English speaker. “I’m good” was incorrect for me because “good” isn’t an adverb, it’s an adjective… “I’m well” was how I’d always say and praise myself for using proper English… I remember when I heard someone say “all is fine”, I thought – “how can he speak like that, doesn’t he know that “everything is fine” is the right word combination?”
Back then I hadn’t realized yet that real-life spoken English doesn’t always confirm to formal English grammar – pretty much like my native language ❗
So I used to analyze nearly everything I heard or read; and whenever a particular word combination or phrase didn’t make a grammar sense I tried to figure out why it is so. I used to learn long lists of when this or that grammar rule didn’t apply, in other words – I was trying to categorize and systemize the English language like a huge catalogue.
Those who learnt English purely by speaking, however, didn’t give a damn about grammar rules or syntax. They perceived English language for what it is – means of communication, no more than that! 😉
I, on the other hand, with my analysis facility and good grammar knowledge, was a poorer English speaker. I was striving for perfection – just like it’s required in an English class as you quite naturally aim for a better grade – but as a result was making a whole lot more mistakes!
I was trying to sound fluent, but my hesitant and interrupted speech made native English speakers assume that my level of English was very low.
And it’s all down to the distorted image of the English language that I was having in my mind thanks to the long years of academic English education!
So what do you make of that? Have you got a story to tell from your own experience? Share it with me and others using the comments box below!
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