by David Fay
Bolivia and Peru’s Ministries of Education have prescribed two class hours per week of English language studies in the secondary school system. Colombia and Venezuela have three. A class hour is usually 40-45 minutes long in these countries, and the secondary is five to six years long, depending on the country, which means English instruction ranges from a low of about 300 hours in Bolivia to over 700 hours in Colombia.
However, the lack of progress in English is frustrated by other factors more than by the total number of class hours. Most educational systems lack materials, clear goals in the form of standards, a curriculum that guides teachers on how to achieve the goals, and sufficiently strong pre- and in-service professional development programs, which should include ongoing language development for teachers.
While Colombia has ambitious standards, other countries in the region do not. It is worth considering some of the fundamental objectives that should be achieved. These should serve as a threshold – rather than final goals – and be the gateway for more progress in language studies as the student grows. They should also ensure one main goal: a positive view of the language learning experience, regardless of the language, and help the student better understand her or his own native tongue or tongues. The following recommendations are designed more for English teachers, but will hopefully also be appreciated by administrators and parents:
1 – Ensure students know how to ask and answer basic questions. Role play.
How are you?
What is your name?
Where are you from?
2 – Ensure students know how to ask more intricate questions and listen for key words in answers. Role play. Anticipate answers, let students listen and guess answers.
What have you seen in my country?
What did you like most?
Why did you decide to visit my country?
3 – Invest in an inexpensive mp3 player and speakers (total about $30). Download free content from various websites. (Check out the February 5th, 2013 blog entry “Listen in…”)
4 – Connect English to other subjects. Meet with the math and science teachers and find ways of including a short text or problem in English in their classes, that the English teacher supports in her own class.
5 – Find ways to connect English language learning to the world of the internet. Even if one does not have access in the classroom, use copies at least once a month of screen shots with interesting reading, where students try to understand the gist. (Introduce “Mick Ebeling: The invention that unlocked a locked-in artist“). If possible, download and show the video clip.
6 – Create a clear understanding of the connection between language and culture by introducing aspects of native cultures connected to English (US, UK, and S Africa, Nigeria, Jamaica, etc.). Use simple short stories, poems, songs, ads, etc. (all of which can be found on the internet).
Please write back and share any further ideas you have for creating a positive, relevant experience for students learning English.