What Should Foreign Teachers Teach?The Foreign Teacher's Job ought to be "To get the students to put into practice what their grammar teachers have taught them". Unfortunately, whilst all textbooks provide conversational exercises, students do not actually learn to think and use English when they do these exercises. Instead, they just memorize preplanned conversations. This does nothing for the students ability to hold a conversation. Whilst a foreign teacher can listen to students reading and then correct their pronunciation, or teach them some theory of conversation, the only effective way to make students improve their conversational ability, is to make them actually have real conversations.
This is the 12th article in this series that I have published at King's Calendar in relation to teaching Chinese students to speak English, but it is perhaps, one of the more important.
The Most important article that students should read is No. 17. (Conversational English: Breaking Through the Chinese Culture Barrier) which talks about why students have such a hard time learning to actually speak English in a natural way.
In this article, I present my own opinions about the Foreign Teacher's job description, and will discuss why my opinion and therefore my approach to teaching English is important.
What is the Foreign Teacher's Job?
What do the Students think is my Job?
When one asks students to describe the foreign teachers job, they reply with one or more of the following:
1. To teach us English
2. To teach us correct English
3. To teach us Oral grammar
4. To tell us about foreign culture
5. To Improve our English
6. To correct our pronunciation
7. To get paid a lot of money for talking talking talking
You may well laugh at that last point, but I have heard it from students. It is a great answer, and an ironic one at that.
You see, in my 4 years of teaching so far, I have found that students hate to talk to the Teacher in English, and yet hate listening to the teacher talk talk talk! One day after class, a student approached me and asked: "Why did you teach us that lesson?"
I replied: "For the same reason I teach anything, because you guys won't talk, and I have to do something to earn my salary.
So the first point to notice is that:
Foreign Teachers are not paid to Talk Talk Talk!
They are paid to help students improve their own talking.
If students won't talk, the teacher has no job to do!
Looking at points 1 to 6
No 1. To teach us English
Really? What have your other teachers been doing for the last 5 to 8 years?
Foreign teachers are not there to teach you English.
No 2. To teach us correct English
Really? What have your grammar teachers been teaching you? Incorrect English?
Point No. 3 To teach us Oral English.
What does Oral mean?
It means by mouth.
No foreigner can teach you to open your mouth and speak.
If you can't do it at your age, you will never learn to do it.
Point 4. To tell us about foreign culture
Can't you learn this from a book?
Western Countries are multicultural. How can a teacher from one culture teach you about other cultures?
Does a foreigner really need 1 or 2 semesters at 45 or 90 minutes per lesson to teach you everything he knows about culture?
Point 5. To Improve our English
Now we are getting somewhere.
But tell me: How can I improve your Spoken English?
The only person who can do the improving is the student.
Point 6. To correct our pronunciation
Finally something solid.
Yes! The foreign teacher can correct your pronunciation.
Then again, so can listening to a tape recording!
So What is the Foreigner's Job?
All of the points listed above including point 7, have something to do with what the foreigner's job really is, but when one asks students how does the foreigner achieve the task, the answers are either not forthcoming or too vague to qualify as definitive answers.
If there is one thing that I know it is that if Students really apply themselves to their grammar studies, and constantly practice speaking what they learn, they will never need a foreign teacher. Unfortunately, the percentage of students who do this is quite small.
So the Foreign Teacher's Job is: To get the students to put into practice what their grammar teachers have taught them.
There is only one effective way that foreign teachers can do this, and that is to teach the students to have group discussions. Unfortunately, whilst all textbooks provide exercises to that end, students do not actually learn to think and use English when they do these exercises. Instead, they just memorize preplanned conversations. This does nothing for the students ability to hold a conversation.
Why are Group Discussions Important?
They are important because they force students to rely on their knowledge of English, and as that knowledge of English is imperfect during conversations, the physical act of having a real life conversation creates the situation in which the foreign teacher can be the most effective at his job. He or She can
Correct Grammatical construction
Point out and Correct Chinglish
Point out and Correct Ambiguities
Point out and Correct Slang
Offer more direct methods of stating ideas
Provide cultural information revelant to the topic under discussion.
In order to achieve all of this, students need to learn the basic skills of conversation covered in this series of articles.
The difference between an Oral English Class (Conversational English Class), and a tutorial or teaching lesson, is that it is hands on and/or interactive. This means that students learn the correct way to express their ideas, whilst they are having meaningful conversations.
I use the words "meaningful conversations" deliberately, because a real life conversation requires not only some interest in the topic under discussion, but the necessity to follow changes in the topic as they occur as a result of some persons interest in a particular aspect of the general topic.
Such occasions provide opportunities for students to learn the skills of conversation in a practical 'hands on' way, and forces them to drag up forgotten vocabulary necessary for the new conversational direction. In Short, it forces students to begin thinking in English.
Whilst a foreign teacher can listen to students reading and then correct their pronunciation, or teach them some theory of conversation, the only effective way to make students improve their conversational ability, is to make them actually have real conversations.
To prepare students for such conversations, I usually give them a list of questions that derive from some generally stated topic. As one follows the list of questions, one can see the topic changing. I get students in groups to discuss and understand the questions, and to find suitable answers. Then they have a week to think about the correct English to use in answering the questions.
The following week I will call different students from different groups to discuss the issue. This becomes difficult, for while students might have tried to memorize conversations with their original group, in a new group, they are forced to recall the English they have practiced, and to put it into a new conversation with new students whose conversational direction may not be the same as was originally practiced.
This process forces students to think in English in Real Time Conversations. You know if you send emails to someone, your conversation is spread out over a period of time that may include some days, but if you chat on line your conversation is immediate, or in real time. This is what I try to teach the students to do in the English conversations.
Students Learn from Each Other in Group Discussion.
In addition to all of the ways in which a foreign teacher can assist students to learn and improve during group discussions, group discussions provide great venues for students to learn from each other.
During Real Time Discussions, students often forget how to express themselves in English, and so others in the group can translate a Chinese word or phrase. At that moment, everyone can learn something.
It is truly amazing how much students improve once they begin to engage in Real Time Unplanned English Conversations. Students begin to believe what I keep trying to tell them, that
They have a wealth of knowledge stored in their heads.
All they need to do is to get it to come out through their mouths.
Once they do this, they progress very rapidly.
So next time you are in class with the foreign teacher, remember that the success or failure of a foreign teacher depends upon how willing you are to speak and be corrected.
Students must begin to Learn, as opposed to waiting to be taught!
Luo Laoshi has been a successful teacher of English as second language, because he learned how to break through students educational and cultural barriers, to connect with them on a personal basis; to motivate them to be successful in English by teaching them the Skills (mechanics) of language use. If the purpose of learning English is just to pass a grammar exam, then Chinese students would be better off studying Chinese grammar. Luo Laoshi believes that the key to student success in studying English, is to learn 'the language' first, and the grammar second. Since the Education System in China puts such an emphasis on passing grammar exams, many students never learn the language.
Improving Spoken English in Chinese Classroom Just answering questions with one or two words, or a phrase, is not a real conversation. It is more like a Police interrogation. In a real conversation, people share information, expressing their thoughts, opinions and ideas. If you want to have a real conversation then you must speak in whole sentences, using keywords [for effective communication,] and you must also learn to give Informative Answers.
Conversational English for Chinese Students: It does not matter if you do or do not like foreigners; or if you do or do not believe Chinese people should speak English; or if you will or will not use English later in life; or whether you did or did not have any other Major to choose from. What is important, is that you do your best to be successful in all your studies. The purpose of language is to enable you to communicate with others. If you can do this using good grammar and perfect accent and pronunciation, then that is wonderful. But if your knowledge of grammar is perfect, and your pronunciation is perfect, and your accent is perfect, but you can't talk to people, then all your knowledge and skill is useless.
Teach English in China: Reflection: Keywords: Changing Topics - Using keywords is very important, even if they are the wrong keywords. It helps us to make sure that we are both talking about the same thing. Speaking in whole sentences, using Keywords, and giving informative answers, is very important for effective communication. The key to Changing Topics in a conversation is to use the Key words of a question or an answer, to change the direction of the conversation.
What does Effective Communication mean? Effective Conversation! Effective conversation (communication) is a conversation in which no one gets confused by the other person's MEANING. The first thing you need to do to ensure effective communication is to use reflection (key words). The second thing is to ask Clarifying Questions; questions that try to find out the other person's true meaning. An effective conversation can also mean a conversation in which something is achieved. It can be a conversation in which two people both enjoy the conversation and learn something. We should never assume anything in conversation. We should make sure.
Effective Conversation and Group Discussions in English In Group Discussions, it is not enough to KNOW language skills, you actually have to be able to USE them. In order to be successful, you have to forget that you are shy; you have to develop a strong voice; you need to learn how to 'butt in', and of course, you need a good vocabulary. In a group discussion the 'topic of conversation' will change several times, as participants use their skills to avoid topics they do not wish to discuss, or to 'force' the group to discuss specific topics that skilled speakers wish to discuss. Group discussions are not 'orchestrated role plays' that can be practiced in advance.
Answering Questions with informative answers: Informative Answers make conversation more interesting. They make Changing Topics far more easy to do through the use of reflection. They make communication far more effective. Answering specific individual questions and actually communicating, are not the same thing. Informative answers are not just about giving the answer to one question. They are about communicating with the other person, and sharing with them something that you think might interest them or which you know that they either want or need to know.
Asking good questions in English: Closed Questions: In essence, closed questions do not ask for more than one piece of information. They are conversation killera - Open Questions: Open Questions are questions that provides people with an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings. - Multiple Questions: Multiple means 'more than one". "Multiple questions" ask more than one question at a time. - Informative Questions: If you ever find yourself wondering why a person is asking you certain questions, it means that the person has failed to make their question informative.
How to Think in English: Memorize means: "to learn by heart" - Understand means: To grasp the meaning of something or to have thorough acquaintance with it; to be thoroughly familiar with it. Just because you memorize something, does not mean that you understand it. When you give a presentation, make sure that you know and understand what you have written. If you do this, it is less likely that you will forget your place.
Introducing Yourself: Does an introduction require skill? In fact it does. This is so because of the nature of an introduction. An introduction is your presentation of yourself, and your skill or otherwise at doing this, will effect the other person's judgement about who and what you are. The essence of good public Speaking is first found in the Preparation. A good public speaker knows exactly what to say, because they have developed very good preparation skills.
Vowels and Consonants: They say: 'Pronunciation does not have to be exact!' and they are right! Sometimes! Exact pronunciation can make the difference between being understood and either shocking foreigners or causing them to fall on the floor laughing. You have to be careful with your vowels. Do you have 'Six' lessons or 'Sex' lessons? Blue eyes or blue arse? And do you like fighting or farting? Or do you just like eating "ships"?
Mispronouncing English: A student who reads 100 words per minute clearly and precisely, pronouncing each word correctly, is much better to listen to than students whose faster reading slurs their speech, and makes their words incomprehensible. Reading fast often gets students into trouble, because they have not learned to pronounce every syllable in each word. You should not speak at a faster speed than 160 words per minute when reading or giving an Oral Presentation. While each word on it's own has a stress or accentuation on one particular syllable, those stresses are not supposed to dominate the sentence in which the words are used. Words are Stressed in a sentence to give them prominence (an importance) so that the listener knows the true message. The emphasis or stress we give to certain words, can change the grammatical meaning of the sentence.
Some Fun with English Words Here are some oddities concerning the English Language. You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which, an alarm goes off by going on. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
Business English for Chinese Students: There are two inescapable observations when it comes to the topic of Business English. The first is that studying Business is about Learning Theoretical Knowledge and the second is that Studying English is not meant to be theoretical. It will not be until you are in the business environment that you get your hands on experience of the Business world, and at that time, you will need to recall all that you have learned at University about Business. The purpose of your studies is to give you the practical ability that you will need when you enter the English Speaking Business World. In terms of your education, If you get the top English score in China, but can't do the job you are hired to do, then it is clear that you have concentrated on quantity (exam results) instead of Quality (being successful in your learning). A quality student Understands what he has learned. A quantity Student, just gets good marks.
Foreign Trade Assignment: Many Chinese Students think that opening a business requires little more than finding suitable shop or office space. They know little about the legalities involved in starting up a business, of import / export licenses, tariffs, insurance, advertising, legal fees, demographic studies, business plans, office rentals or the initial cost of purchasing equipment. They express a desire to get rich working overseas but have no concept of overseas living costs. They have no concept of how various aspects of life are interdependent eg: how the price of oil effects life and business in general, and world trade in particular. They feel that someone should teach them rather than learning for themselves. Students need to learn how to research.
Business English Exams: The Chinese Educational System inherently leads students to believe that teaching is the process whereby students learn what the teacher says. Learning therefore, is the memorization of what the teacher teaches. Conversational English is about learning the skills of natural [business] conversation. The purpose of the test is merely to discover if the student has at least basic conversational ability. While social issues may not seem to have anything to do with business or politics, the fact is that when it comes to politics and business, one thing that is needed in every country is a stable social environment. Such environments are fostered by the benefits that result from the successful interplay between political decisions and business development.
Language Skills: Memorandum, letters, thesis, speeches: Improving Oral and Written English: A major skill lacking in most Chinese students is that of "word association", which is a thinking skill that connects words to ideas or concepts; linking one keyword with another but different keyword and topic. Word association allows us to think of more than the specific topic under discussion. The problem most students have in writing, is that they can't think of 'what to write next'. Using word association skills, the problem is not 'what to write', but what to leave out of your writing.
Writing Skills: Speeches and Letters: Everything - Memo, letter, fax, email, speech, Thesis, business report, essay or a novel has 3 basic sections that are the same. Introduction - Body - Conclusion. The Introduction and Conclusion are easy because you do them after you have finished writing the Body of your report / speech etc. That 'BODY' has 'BONES' - the outline that results when using a professional formula to construct the composition. The bones of the speech derives from your ability to apply word association to your topic.
Writing: Facts: Summararies: Reviews: Chinese Students do not know how to summarize what has been written. They know how to give their opinion on what has been written; often given through the lens of political or cultural ideology that is not related to the written work. They do not understand the difference between writing objectively and writing subjectively. Writing about an author's purpose, is not about 'offering your opinions' on the writer, or the correctness or otherwise of what he writes. It is not about your 'opinion'. 'Your opinion' is subjective. Objectively writing about 'the writer's purpose' requires understanding what he/she has actually written.
Descriptive Writing: What you do not see is just as important and relevant as what you see! What you do not say or write, is just as important and relevant as what you do say or write! Do not give your opinion, nor use your imagination. Observe and Describe! What do you think the message of the whole picture is. What story does it tell. This does not mean that you should invent a story! The message is derived from the observation of the evidence. You may speculate or draw an inference from what is evident. Learn to describe what you see - not what you imagine about what you see! Learn to write about what is written - not what you imagine about what is written!
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