[LETTERS to the editor]A novel way to teach English

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[LETTERS to the editor]A novel way to teach English

I have read with interest several letters and columns about the need to change the methods of teaching English in Korea. One issue that keeps cropping up is the need for new textbooks, especially in the universities.

I wish to relate my experience while teaching English to university-level students.

I have taught English in Korea for 12 years, but took a break and decided to do a year in Saudi Arabia. The system employed there is unique and takes time to implement, but once understood and embraced, produces incredible results.

Let me begin by saying what is not done in the classroom. There are no textbooks, no tests, no lectures and grammar is not allowed to be taught.

The linguistics theorist S.P. Corder talks about a language learner’s built-in syllabus. This refers to the language that the learner is interested in and ready for. Usually this is in conflict with the teacher’s syllabus or the school syllabus.

In my Saudi class I had no syllabus. The first week was spent having each student write his own syllabus. It was submitted and approved by the teacher. The student was then responsible to keep to his syllabus.

The course was divided into two sections, reading/writing and speaking/listening. Each section was two hours per day, five days a week, for a total of 20 hours of English per week.

Let’s examine an example of one section: reading/writing. A student decides he needs academic writing so decides to write eight essays of 1,500 words. In addition, he chooses to read two short stories and one novel as pleasure reading. The teacher agrees to this syllabus and sets the rules regarding references, in-line citations and bibliography styles. The teacher also refers the student to Web sites or online materials about outlines, styles, etc. The student submits his work. The teacher highlights problem areas but does not correct errors. The student must discover what the problems are and correct them. When the teacher enters the classroom, students are all working on different things. One may be reading a book, another editing an outline, another writing poetry. At the end of the semester a student is either passed onto the next level or has to repeat the level until the teacher is satisfied with his progress.

I ran the course as a paperless classroom. Each student brought a laptop computer to class. All their work was “blue-toothed” to me or given on a flash memory stick. There is constant interaction between teacher and student as well as student to student, who would send their work to a classmate for proofreading or help. Proofreaders got credit for their work as well. Students love the high-tech approach to English learning and threw themselves into the paperless classroom.

The final result: Students were exceptional in their English writing growth. I would love to see a pilot project like this in Korea. This is a big change and will take time for teachers and students to adjust to, but the fruits of the effort will be sweet.

The bottom line is that we have to get away from teacher- and book-centered teaching and focus on a student-centered approach. We need to help students discover English in a heuristic and natural manner.

David Woelke, Youngsan University, Busan
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