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Speaking Levels vs Reading/Writing Levels

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  • Linell Davis
    Barb Yes, you would think that it is easier to learn listening and speaking than reading and writing, That is the way we all learn our first languages. The
    Message 1 of 3 , Mar 31, 2001
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      Barb

      Yes, you would think that it is easier to learn listening and speaking
      than reading and writing, That is the way we all learn our first
      languages.

      The problem is that for many years and even now in many places, students
      learn English by the grammar translation method. I think this came from
      the Soviets who were so influential in educational practice in China
      during the fifties and sixties. I found the situation even worse in the
      former Soviet republic of Tajikistan where I taught there last year. I
      met many educated adults who could read English but who could not speak
      even one word. In my classes I had to fight hard to keep my students
      from translating everything I said or wrote on the blackboard into
      Russian. I frequently observed local teachers translating everything
      they said in English into Russian immediately. The students never had to
      understand what was said in English.

      In this method language is taught as an object to be studied and not as
      a means of communication. From that point of view it makes sense to
      study Mark Twain. He is a famous writer. There is no attempt to connect
      language to the here and now world. Translation is the key skill and
      knowledge of grammar is prized. In Tajikistan one student told me he ate
      corn flakes for breakfast. I expressed surprise. Corn flakes are
      expensive and only available in shops for foreigners. Later I realized
      that the student did not even know what a corn flake was. He was
      reciting a phrase he had memorized from a text he had studied in class.

      The preferred method of teaching language is now the communicative
      method that stresses proficiency in listening and speaking. Texts are
      still used but they are shorter and taken from daily life rather than
      from literary works. The texts are used as models students can use to
      create dialogues or to answer the kind of question you asked in class.
      The problem is that there are thousands of Chinese teachers who learned
      English by the grammar translation method and continue to use that
      method when teaching.

      Linell
    • Sam and Lily
      ... Frills? No kidding. When I taught in China we had chairs, a blackboard, and some paper. But I m teaching in America now, and I don t wonder why the
      Message 2 of 3 , Apr 4 2:04 PM
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        >but when I think of
        >all the frills we have in the USA, and how weak our students still
        >are...it makes me wonder time and time again..."Why?"

        Frills? No kidding. When I taught in China we had chairs, a
        blackboard, and some paper. But I'm teaching in America now, and I
        don't wonder "why" the difference in student skills. Our cultures
        have vastly different attitudes toward learning. Teachers are paid
        better and treated better in China because teaching is revered.
        Today at school (in America) I was wondering if it was really safe to
        turn my back on my students. See a difference?

        There's also a lower level of distraction in the classroom in China,
        since studious behavior seems to be expected of the kids (by parents
        as well as staff). I taught the same age level in China as I do
        here, and there were maybe one-fourth the number of disruptions in
        China, enabling the class to hear and concentrate better.

        Cheers!
        Sam
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