Thursday, July 06, 2017

TEFLology Episode 62: English-only Policies, Leo Van Lier, and ELTons 2017

(TEFLology Podcast)

New episode of TEFLology Podcast HERE.

The episode was on English-only Policies, Leo Van Lier, and ELTons 2017

My thoughts briefly below.

English-Only Policies
If nothing else, this is an interesting topic.  There's lots to be said on this, and it's something every English teacher has an opinion on.

However, in this podcast it was a little bit unclear to me what the exact parameters of the discussion are.  Are we talking about whether or not the teacher should teach only in English?  Or are we talking about whether the students should be forced to speak only in English?  It seemed to me that at times the discussion was jumping back and forth between the two issues.

I'll make a couple comments on both issues:
Point 1
* During my time in Japan, I occasionally taught some of my lessons in Japanese.  I couldn't do that now, mind you (after several years out of the country, I'm not nearly as proficient in Japanese as I used to be) but I was confident enough in my Japanese at the time that I could pull it off.
Now, however, I'm living in Vietnam, and I couldn't ever imagine teaching in Vietnamese.  The pronunciation and tones of this language are so difficult that I can barely make myself understood when I'm ordering a cup of coffee.
I suppose in theory all languages are learnable.  (The U.S. State Department successfully trains people in every language).  But not all languages have an equal difficulty level for a native English speaker.
I thought about this when the TEFLologists cited opinions from people who think that the preference for teaching in English-Only is just because English-speakers are too lazy to learn other languages.  Possibly this is true in countries France, Spain, Germany, and Japan, but I wonder how many of these researchers spent time in Vietnam.
Or am I just making excuses for myself?

Point 2
* Enforcing an English-Only classroom is something I've gone back and forth on over the years.  I have the bad habit of being influenced by whoever I've read last.
At my previous job in Cambodia, I was under the influence of a number of authors who said that students should be able to speak their L1 in the class--for ideological reasons (it's their right to speak their native language) as well as pedagogical reasons (discussing new grammar and vocabulary in their L1 can help them better understand the new language.)

However, when I started a new job in Vietnam, I got marked down on a formal observation by my supervisor because their was too much Vietnamese being spoken in my classroom.
"Now I know what you're thinking," he told me afterwards.  "They're adults, they're paying their own money to come here, if they want to speak Vietnamese, that's their choice."
"Exactly," I said.
"But," he said, "the students can benefit more if you encourage an English-Only environment, and in the end their appreciate the fact that you pushed them."
I countered by citing some of the authors who said that the use of L1 was beneficial in the classroom, and in the end we agreed on a compromise.  I would experiment with an English-Only policy in my classroom just to see how it went.
So, based on my supervisor's suggestion, I started a system where my adult students were fined a small amount of money for speaking Vietnamese.  In my children's classes, they lost good behavior stars for speaking Vietnamese.
And I've got to say, I've noticed a huge improvement in the English ability of my classes.

In fact, I think I've become a convert.

Every book I've read on ELT says that there's benefits from increased input, interaction, and fluency practice.  All of those happen more in an English-Only environment.
For example, in my children's classes, I've noticed that if I force all the interactions to take place in English-Only, at first only the higher level students will be able to perform certain functions.  But gradually the lower-level students will pick up on the words that the higher level students are using, and start using them as well.
If these interactions were happening in Vietnamese, all this peer-to-peer input would be lost.

...I've got a lot more opinions on this, but I'm going to cut myself off here.  The goal with these TEFLology reviews is just to write short mini-reviews.  I'm going to avoid the temptation to empty out everything in my brain and write epic essays about all the topics that this podcast touched on.
With that in mind, I'll try to be brief on these next two topics.

Leo Van Lier
I never heard of him before, but it was interesting.

ELTons 2017
I don't have any strong opinions on this either, but I like these ELT news segments.   I like the way the TEFLology podcast helps to keep me in the loop on what's happening in the broader ELT world.

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