Speaking Levels vs Reading/Writing Levels
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
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.
>but when I think ofFrills? No kidding. When I taught in China we had chairs, a
>all the frills we have in the USA, and how weak our students still
>are...it makes me wonder time and time again..."Why?"
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.