Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

How English Language Learning Should Change in the Future

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 @ 08:51 AM

English language learning New York BostonEnglish language learning methods, for both students and adults, need to change in the future. What should change about the current methods? Aaron Myers has written an exellent blog post with his 9 Ideas for Reinventing America's Language Education System. Most of his ideas are concerned with the way that kids learn languages in school. However, we work with English language learners who are international professionals in New York and Boston and I believe that the old way of teaching and learning a language is similar in many education systems around the world.  When our students come to the United States to work and need to improve their English to communicate in their company, they often have certain ideas about how English should be learned based on the old, ineffective methods of language education that were used in their home country. It's time to change those old methods and focus on what's really important in language learning. In this post, I will point out some of Aaron's ideas and I will add an idea of my own that I think has been overlooked.



Aaron's ideas about how language education should change:


  • People need to learn to love the process of language development: If this starts in the classroom with young students, it will continue as the student enters the professional world. A lot of our English students in Boston and New York never got to the point where they enjoyed learning English in school. In their classes, the most important thing was passing every exam and as a result, it is hard to find the joy in learning English now that they are international professionals and they need the skills for their career.

  • Students should take responsibility for their learning: This is another pattern that can be changed in grade school and will allow people to become more effective language learners later in life when they need it for their career. In the past, students have often assumed that by working with a language teacher, that language teacher was somehow 100% responsible for their improvement. This does not work.  Improving English takes real dedication from the student. A student must understand her own learning style, must have sufficient time in her schedule to practice the new skills learned in the lesson and must take on the primary responsibility for improving. The teacher or tutor can guide the student, create exercises and serve as a coach, but the student is the one who will make the real improvement happen.

  • Human interaction should be the goal and the method: When you learn a second language, what is your final goal? It is almost always to be able to communicate with other people. Even if you are preparing for the TOEFL exam, you need to get a certain score so that you will be able to enter an educational program and use your English skills to communicate. A lot of language education programs forget this important point and learning English becomes written grammar exercises and repeating phrases after the teacher. We are not only learning English to eventually communicate with people, we should also be using communication as the main method of learning English. In our private English classes in New York and Boston, we focus on the communicative approach and we truly believe in the power of this method.



A crucial point that is missing from the list:


  • If human interaction is the goal...we must understand culture as well as language: At English and Culture, we are firm believers in the importance of not only learning the English language, but at the same time, acquiring a deep awareness of the cultural values, assumptions, communication patterns and styles that exist within the language. If the final goal is to be able to communicate in English, a student must be able to recognize the ways in which culture is present in language and communication (verbal and nonverbal) in order to communicate effectively in a new country. A language student should also become aware of his own native culture and how his culture is present in his native language- in the casual expressions, idioms, grammatical structure and use of non-verbals.

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