Oct 292008

London                                                                                                             October, 29th

As you all should know by now I’m doing a course on TEFL at International House in London. It’s not the first one I’ve been through along my studying and professional career. Last year at Bell’s School in Cambridge we (me and 49 other teacher pareticipants)  had a clear view of how languages should be taught and learned through meaningful and school-profitable content, i.e. CLIL. The basics for this approach stand on the grounds that no real and natural learning takes place without a real, inmediate purpose. Thus, only through the use and continuous exposure to the new language in a meaningful context (the school subjects for our students) could a language be properly acquired. That means that any syllabus should include some subjects to be taught in second or third languages. Nothing new to us I should say. In fact we (the Basque Country), are commonly regarded as pioneers and experts on the teaching of a second language through the syllabus, be it Spanish or Basque. What we are doing with the teaching of English is quite a different matter.

This year at IH London we are being acquainted to the Natural – Lexical Approach which emphasizes the importance of exposure to the language in a natural, realistic and meaningful context for any of the learning process to be succesful.

Both at Cambridge and now at London we have let our teachers know our concern about the impossibility of applying these methods in our school environment. Be it understood that, by environment, we mean 20 to 30+ teeenage students per classroom, with an average of 3 or less sessions per week and a level of motivation ranging from low to nought.

How could we possibly ensure that our students get the sufficient amount of exposure on a 3 lesson-per-week basis? How can we put into practice the new, state-of-the-art new teaching approaches if they were designed for 10 student-size classes whereas ours are 3 times bigger.

The problem is about to be worsened by the fact that our governments do nothing to improve the situation by, for instance, granting the necessary weekly sessions and finding the way to make groups smaller. One thing they do is to set our aim much higher than we could reach in real practice by demanding from our students B1 and B2 language acquisition levels by the time they reach 4.ESO and finish bachilletato respectively.

The bottomline for all this is no other than this: longer hours for the 2nd language and smaller groups for the necessary exposure for the language to be obtained.

If we are to reach European standards in language teaching, there’s still a long way to go.

And this is a battle to be fought by all of us.

Parents must be aware of the fact that no higher studies will be worth considering by any company if they don’t come along with a  high level certificate of English. In fact, this is already so. So all our efforts and our children’s aiming at University and higher education would end up accounting to little or nothing in a global labour market.

The same applies to our students who still dont realise that the world they are going to live and work in will be terribly limited if they are not proficient in the lingua franca of the 20th and 21st centuries. They certainly wouldn’t like the prospect of seeing their CVs thrown to the waste-bin.

Our politicians must hear our voice on this matter. They sure know it is so and have taken steps to provide their children with a good level of English. But if English is going to be the sinequanon for future medium-high working posts we cannot permit it to be just a sinecure for the elite.

Santi G.

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