(Photo credit http://bit.ly/Z3hI9E)
Yes, sounds impossible doesn’t it.
And there are many people who will advocate that esl students in their early days of learning a language should be taught by bilingual teachers to help explain. Well I will jump right out there and say NO!!! The best thing in the world for a person who doesn’t speak any English is to have someone (who really knows what they are doing!) to teach them solely in English. Being taught by bilingual teachers at the early stages can create confusion and slow down the acquisition of English later. What an esl student learns in the first few months of English is the foundation for their English for life, so it needs to be ‘pure English’ right from the start.
So why am I so adamant about this?
Firstly, most students (99%) who take an English course have had some kind of basic English training dating back to primary school. Most primary and secondary curriculums around the world have some form of English programme even if it is only one hour a week, and the student learns only the abc’s and a few words here and there. This then means that when a student begins an English programme later, they will have some starting point. Actually in the ESL world, these beginners are called FALSE BEGINNERS.
(I will talk about the other 1% in a minute)
False beginners actually find learning English (from the absolute beginners level), quite easy with a native speaker. The textbooks available internationally for Beginners and Elementary students are targeted directly to the kind of beginning levels of English that a FALSE BEGINNER has. These carefully designed textbooks use vocabulary and phrases that most international primary and secondary school curriculums can feed into, and together with a very skilled native English teacher who brings their language level down to this textbook level, the student can very easily and gradually pick up the language.
At ELIT Language Centre, we only use native teachers for all levels including the beginners. This is for two reasons. Firstly for the reason mentioned above, and secondly because the students themselves demand it. They pay almost twice the fees to have a native teach them and want it right from the first level.
So what about the other 1%?
Up until the early 1990s in the western world, all students of English were FALSE BEGINNERS, it really wasn’t until the massive influx of refugees who had never been to school at all and couldn’t even read and write in their own language, that everything in ESL teaching got a big shift.
Huge studies were conducted on how to integrate these newcomers into the western world. In the past all immigrants had to do an English course before they were allowed full citizenship, then suddenly these countries were confronted with thousands of people who had lived only a nomadic lifestyle with little or no education in their own country, and not only this, they didn’t want to be in the western world full stop, and the very last thing they wanted to do was learn English!
So how did these countries deal with this?
These students were firstly separated from FALSE BEGINNERS and given a new name TRUE or ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS. Then everything had to go back to Primary school level with the teaching of ABC with some people even having to learn how to hold a pencil!
Gradually over time, with regular revision and persistence, a large amount of this group did manage to make it through their course and came out with at least a smattering of English to get them by in their daily life in the western world. The teacher uses not only simple words and pictures, but actions, dramas, games and role plays, not to mention taking it slow.
All this was done with a native speaker. If these classes had had a bilingual teacher, due to the lack of enthusiasm and negative view on education generally, very few would have made it as far as they did.
Saying that, the reason why some of these TRUE or ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS did fail was not because of their teacher, it was more because of their unwillingness to learn.
So I will say it again, I don’t think there is any legitimate reason to put a bilingual English teacher into an elementary class level to help them with the vocabulary and explanations. It will do more damage than good!
- Teaching English to absolute and false beginners
- False beginners
- TEFL teaching beginners
- English for beginners