[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Functional EnglishCanst thou minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote,
Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous
Which weighs upon the Heart?” ― William Shakespeare
With these words, a student completed his oral presentation to showcase his English ability. “Good job Eric,” I said. His reply, “Teacher, ummm, toilet go?”
Eric is typical of many university students in Korea. He sees English as merely another requirement to graduate. I believe this is one of the problems in English learning. Students, universities and teachers tend to treat language acquisition as a series of syntax and grammar to be memorized and spewed back in order to receive a piece of paper which indicates that the recipient has ability in English. The result is a student with a tremendous TOEIC score but unable to communicate at a basic level.
Although volumes have been written on this problem and so much more needs to be said, one issue I would like to address is the language conflict of “form follows function vs. function follows form.” I strongly support learning vocabulary and grammar, however, I think that we must focus on form following function. In the example of Eric, his form was perfect but was functionally defective. In my travels I experience this problem often. If I ask the question “How are you?” I receive the expected response. As soon as I say to the same student, “How are you today?” I get a blank stare and a shaking of the head. He had not learned this form. Teachers need to rethink the effectiveness of the English that is taught. Universities need to reconsider the evaluation and assessment structure of language learning. Students need to approach English as a life skill and not view it as just another credit required to graduate.
by David Woelke
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