Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beginner Learners of English: The Double Edge Sword Challenge

It is no big secret that I cut my teeth as a teacher under the NOVA system. Now, back in the old days teaching by using just what NOVA tells you is a really shit way to teach but no one will call you out on it. These days things are different. There is pretty much no standards unless politics are involved. Usually they leave you alone to teach the way you want as long as the money flows and no one wants to use you for a self centered agenda. This is sad but that is the state of affairs these days. I have never actually worked for the investor group, first G.Com now who the fuck knows, of NOVA.. I have always worked for a company formally known as Seikatsu Kobo Ltd which is now known as GEOS Corp. It is a long story how this company ended up taking the name of yet another defunct English school so that is a post for another day. I just wanted to provide a little back story before getting into my own personal teaching methods.

So, one of the biggest challenges for me as a teacher has been teaching mid-level beginner students. At this level most of the students at least have a base understanding of present/past simple and have been exposed to present/past perfect.  Vocab. must be expected to still be very limited. Independent production comes and goes depending on how familiar they are with the conversation topic of the lesson. They will also often confuse gender pronouns. Getting the student to improve is where the double edge sword comes into play. How to: get the students to overcome their nature cultural fear of foreigners, maintain and improve their confidence, and ensure they retain new English they learn.

Getting them over that damn Japanese fear of foreigners must happen pretty quickly. I do not brother trying to a `popular` teacher. Fuck that! Teachers who do that are just trying to protect themselves. I know how the dirty business of English education works in Japan. It does not matter how `popular` you are as a teacher. If the student numbers drop YOU will be blamed for it. It does not matter how much the students like you. If shit goes bad it is always the teacher`s fault. Instead of  trying to be `popular` I just want them to respect me. To defeat that odd fear students have, I treat the student with basic human respect and demand they do the same. Once they catch on that I will not play the `popular gaijin` game, that fear goes away or they stop taking my lessons. I end up with students who actually want to try hard and become better English speakers.

Confidence is another matter all together. Lower level students make mistakes often, which is expected, and can sometimes stop trying to speak good English. There is only so much a teacher can be in order to maintain the students confidence. To be honest, there is a whole damn host of factors which effects confidence. Often it is something personal which is effecting their confidence. I am not a psychiatrist. I am a teacher. Yet, if I really want the student to get better I must find a way to keep their confidence level stable. I always start off mid-beginner students with something I know they can do. I don`t give them something new at the start of the lesson. It only confuses them and hurts their confidence. After they have been able to use the English they know, I try to do something from the last lesson. I attempt to get them to try to use some of the language form the last lesson; which gets into retention. Building on things and letting them use English they have mastered really goes a long way in maintaining confidence.

So yeah, retention. This is one of the hardest things for any type of beginner student. I have found that it is important to establish that when the student comes to class they should expect what was taught in the last lesson will come up again in the current lesson. There must be some kind of connection between one lesson to the next. Getting the students to do a little homework from time to time also helps. If there is little or no connection between lessons, no homework is ever given or done, and past lessons are not injected into further lessons the students will have a hard time retaining what they are taught.

These are just a few of things I believe should be done in order to help get beginner to mid and high beginner students to improve their English ability. All of these thing can also be applied to higher levels as well. With all of these things said, these methods get screwed up by me being forced to work at four or five damn branches a week. Nothing can be established with the students when the teacher is not at one school on a regular basis. I feel that in order to develop high quality lessons and turn a profit, it is important to stop pandering to the lowest common factor. No more `popular` teachers I say; yet that is a post for another day.