Practicing any language outside the classroom has never been easier. I have used this comic graph before but it is worth repeating it here. Most students need little encouragement to use English outside the classroom. They just need to be reminded of the opportunities that are out there, and to echo the message of my previous post on this blog, to get meaningful homework tasks.
My methods for learning English
As the graph quite humorously and succinctly suggests, we need to harness the amazing power of learning outside the classroom. Song lyrics, rather than being vulgar and meaningless representations of a world we as teachers do not inhabit, provide a wealth of practical language. Similarly, not all computer games are virtual terrorist training camps, and we should definitely not eschew these for a round of pointless time wasted playing Hangman.
Blocking the use of social networks at schools under the guise of student protection is counterproductive. Instead, we should help them to learn the rules of safe engagement, and exploit social media for all the learning opportunities it provides. Showing films that students enjoy and trying to find value in what they watch will also help them to learn. It’s time to be less judgemental and a bit more accepting, so that we can have better communication with the new generations than our parents and teachers used to have with us.
What English is there in an average central European teenager’s life these days, and how can teachers take advantage of this?
The typical teenager will:
- Wake up to music, 90 percent of which is in English. Task: Describe the kind of music you like waking up to.
- Check Facebook. Half of the posts from their friends are cartoons, videos or music, with the occasional article, all in English. Task: Choose the best video or comic your friends have posted this week and choose the group top list.
- Go to school by public transport, and listen to music during the journey. Task: Talk about the soundtrack to your daily journey, and why you choose this music.
- Have English classes, in a group of 15-36 others. They get input that’s irrelevant, uninteresting, not engaging, and alien to their everyday life.
- Finish school for the day and listen to more music, and share videos and jokes with friends – again, mostly in English.
In my opinion, the time they spend in class is the least significant contributor to most students’ language learning. Of course, there are great schools and great teachers who use classrooms as a workshop and language learning as a 24/7 activity rather than something they have to take sole responsibility for. Letting English out of the cage and the world into the classroom is the way.
There is English all around our students these days. We should acknowledge and actually embrace the value this has for both the students and us as teachers.
I remember my teacher’s face when I told her I had spent the weekend translating Iron Maiden lyrics, only to realise that it was the adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7zk4as9kzA) I was translating. There is value in whatever our kids do in English and we should encourage them to do more and more until they find something to fall in love with. Once we manage to achieve this, there will be no stopping them from exploring and experimenting with their English and the English lesson will become a source of inspiration for further investigation and a synthesis of learning.