Saturday, December 17, 2005

Crisis in the English teaching business

When I did my training to become an English teacher, the school recommended that we all buy a book called "Learning Teaching" by Jim Scrivener. Scrivener is an ESL teaching guru, his book is accepted as being one of the best guides for teachers available, and he writes a column for the English teaching website, onestop english. Personally, I find everything that he writes to be intelligent, realistic and practical. How surprised I was (pleasantly surprised) to read his latest article entitled, "Is it possible to teach grammar?" You can read it here.

So what does Mr.Scrivener say? In a nutshell, that he is not sure whether the grammar lessons we teach have any effect on students. For instance, after giving a lesson on comparatives - bigger than, more interesting than, he was dismayed to find that his students could find nothing wrong with the phrase "*more cheaper than...".
And I have to say that this is my experience too. We have just spent 4 weeks with a group of false beginners teaching and drilling "do you?, does he, I don't, he doesn't". But when I gave them the sentence "John doesn't have a car", they all thought that it was incorrect. A little discouraging, I must say.

This takes me back to a previous post of mine where I wrote that error correction has little or no impact on the student's ability to produce correct phrases. I wonder if Scrivener has read the book "The Lexical Approach" by Michael Lewis. Lewis made this point several years ago, and stated that most of what we teach is ineffective. While this book gives some fascinating insights into the language-learning process, it doesn't really offer any practical alternatives. (You have to fork out another 35 Euros for the sequel). So please read Scrivener's article, it is refreshingly modest for such a senior figure in the world of ESL. Then visit my pages on tips for learning, bons conseils for practical techniques such as mind-maps and songs.

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