Sun, Aug 13, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Teach strategies, not just English

By Kao Shih-fan (高士凡)

Due to the strong demand for learning English in Taiwan, there is a bewildering range of quick and easy courses, promising that "You will speak English like a native speaker within one month," or "You can master English grammar within just 10 minutes."

Of course, most of us know that there is no miraculous formula for overnight success in English learning. But many learners are disappointed at their progress after completing a course. The courses offered by private schools may provide a good start or refresher; but due to the huge complexity of second language acquisition, a great deal more than the contents of any one English course is required for competence in the language, much less native-speaker "fluency."

Although acquiring a high level of English proficiency has no short cut, it does not have to be a difficult and tortuous task if learners have a battery of effective strategies. Current research suggests that the persistent use of a comprehensive set of strategies for language learning is among the main factors that determine how well non-native learners ultimately acquire English -- and this applies whether the student is in a traditional English classroom or working through a self-study program.

One of the most important missions that a qualified English teacher should undertake is to teach students strategies for effective learning.

Although strategies-based instruction is a relatively new approach to foreign language education, it is gaining in popularity, and certainly cannot be ignored in the profession of English Language Teaching (ELT), especially in this era of communicative, interactive and learner-centered teaching.

Put simply, strategies-based instruction focuses on teaching learners the principles of successful learning and helping them develop their own strategies for success. Based on my own research, it is clear that many English teachers in Taiwan are actually quite dedicated in the classroom -- they work hard, cover a lot of words and phrases, and impart a solid core of grammatical knowledge.

Some people say that many teachers are simply "teaching for tests," but students undeniably do acquire at least some linguistic knowledge from even the worst English teachers.

However, in almost all cases, teaching the English language in only in classrooms cannot make learners acquire a high or native-like level of language proficiency, which may partly explain why many learners in Taiwan do not consider their English good or even passable after six years of studying it in high school.

In my opinion, one of the fundamental reasons for this problem is that English learners don't have effective learning strategies to continue their own English learning after they leave the language classroom.

In other words, though making great effort to teach English in the classroom, teachers often neglect one more important duty -- helping students to ultimately become independent learners. In doing so, it is compulsory for a teacher to teach students effective strategies for continuous learning.

While students might learn some English while under their teacher's instruction, they tend to forget or stop using what they learn after leaving the classroom. And let's face it: Students will leave the language classroom sooner or later. Some day, they will be in charge of their own English learning.

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