teaching bad english

February 17, 2015

 Teaching Bad English

An increasing number of schools in the world teach English as a Second Language (ESL). This is encouraging and the numbers should continue to increase. But if you look at the real numbers, the numbers that matter, that fact becomes less encouraging.

Fact: "In Mexico 4/5 secondary-school graduates have 'absolutely no knowledge' of English, despite having spent at least 360 hours learning it in secondary school."* 

So if students are being taught the language why is there such a gap in numbers?

As far as I can remember I've always known how to speak English. Keep in mind that I was born and raised in a Spanish speaking country. But I did always attend a bilingual school until I was 18 or so. So my education was always taught in English for the most part. All schools I attended were fully bilingual - not only teaching English as a subject but most if not all subjects were taught in the English language.

You would think I speak English to perfection. And for the most part I do but I have a heavy accent. Even though the vocabulary is there you can definitely tell I wasn't born here. However, I speak English correctly - for the most part.

Based on my experience and research, here for you are what I believe to be the true determinants in whether students are successful at their English learning:
1. School's approach
2. Teachers

1. School's approach: It is not enough to teach English as a subject. When you teach English as a subject it becomes tedious and boring for students. Moreover at most schools subjects are taught for 1 hour each day. 5 hours of tedious language teaching is not doing students any service, especially the young audience.

Instead, schools that are trully committed to being bilingual should teach every class in English. This displaces the focus on English literature and language rules and focuses on the acquisition of the language. This way students grow up knowing the language and practicing it daily.

2. Teachers: One of the reasons why many ESL students in other countries do learn the language correctly is because they are taught by qualified ESL teachers. There is some disagreement out there to whether teachers should be native speakers or not. However it remains a fact that listening to the language spoken by an accent-less and well spoken person is more effective.

Knowing how to speak English properly and apply it to every day conversations, professional life, etc. should be the goal. Little is gained by students when schools approach being "bilingual" the wrong way - [Tweet that!]. In the world that we have today this is almost a crime. I encourage all schools, bilingual and those trying to attain bilingual status/certification to adopt this system and hire qualified ESL teachers to do the job. 

*Source: "The mute leading the mute" - Article on The Economist