Monday, November 13, 2006

The English Only Rule in the Classroom

A new teacher started at the company I work for (for whom I work, if you prefer), and she asked me about the English-only rule that is insisted on here. Her concern was that as she had a class of very low elementary students, how would it be possible to do everything in English?

This is something that has caused me a lot of concern, too. English-only is the ideal, to be sure, but is it really possible? More importantly, is it really beneficial for the students? If your intention is to use a communicative approach in your lessons, how long will you be able to keep up the English-only rule when you have a group of beginners or low elementaries in front of you? I'm afraid that in a lot of classes the English-only rule is only maintained by avoiding real communication and replacing it with grammar exercises or other activities that involve giving the students handouts and telling them to read the instructions. It's a very brave teacher indeed who can go empty-handed into an elementary lesson and try to facilitate learning in a natural, communicative way.

Personally, I believe that translations are necessary and useful for adult learners. while child-like learning has many advantages, there is no risk of first language(L1) interference, it's drawbacks are also numerous:
It's very slow: a lot of time can be spent defining a new word, when a one-word translation would have been sufficient
It could insult your learner's intelligence: I have often drawn pictures, gesticulated wildy, played all kinds of games in order to avoid translating, only to be asked, "so what is it in French?" If the students know you can speak their language, it's hard to pretend that you don't.

If you have a class for an hour and half once a week, it's unrealistic to expect to do everything in English, students need quick, clear explanations before moving on. On the contrary, if you are teaching in an English-speaking country, not only will you have international classes where translation is impossible, but also your learners have the opportunity to put into practice every day new language they acquire, thus accelerating the assimilation process. In no way is it necessary to use L1 in those circumstances.


viagra online said...

I had attended classes where the english-only rule applies, I think it depends on the level of the class for the rule to be implemented.

Jackson said...
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Mahler said...

I am studying the ill-effects of English Only curriculum for one of my Graduate classes and I was wondering your views on how English Only Curriculum hinders democracy?