Teach English in Hongshan Zhen - Jinzhong Shi

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There are many problems facing learners of South Africa regarding English learning. I chose South Africa, as that is my home country and I can speak from personal experience along with research, as to why this country’s learners struggle when it comes to English learning. English is not only viewed as a lingua franca between members of different language groups in the country but it is further seen as the model language in commerce, industry, and education (Ebersohn, 2009) Parents, therefore hope that their children will be empowered in English and be able to face the outside world in the future (Smith, 2014). To create some context for clarification; South Africa has eleven official languages. This in itself creates many difficulties as the majority of South African learners are bi- or multi-lingual and attend school in a language that is not their first language. Another factor is that the student per teacher ratio is generally much higher than the recommended ratio; with overwhelming numbers, like 45 to 60 students to one teacher, it is easy for students with difficulty reading and writing to not receive the attention they need to progress (Smith, 2014). Another factor which is the most prominent problem (in my opinion) is the socio-political state of the country. Too many learners come from poverty-driven areas that influence their learning. The learners of South Africa, with uneducated parents and no money for resources and support, have a rather tough time learning and showing progress. Four main problems will be discussed in this essay, namely: Socio-political state of the country, different levels of English-language proficiency, learner fears and classroom sizes, and management. Each of these problems will be interlinked and elaborated on. The socio-political state of the country influences the learners’ ability to study in an extremely negative way. Learners are supposed to have stable home lives with resources and support in their daily lives. For many South African learners, this is not the case. Learners come from very poor backgrounds. Many students come to school hungry because they didn’t have dinner the night before or breakfast the morning before school. This has a direct influence on the learners’ learning ability as the body and brain needs food/nutrition to concentrate. Also, as the families of these learners do not have the financial ability to provide resources for their children, learners often attend school without any books, stationary or even proper clothing (Smith, 2014). These facts do make learning and progress grueling because learners cannot complete activities etc. at the teacher’s instructions due to insufficient resources. As English is the medium of instruction for businesses and media in South Africa; it is not the first language for many of the learners or their families. Teachers now strive for advance English-language proficiency from second language speakers. However, the gap in skill level within a class is so vast that teachers struggle to find a teaching balance between the advanced learners, who are almost fluent speakers, and the other learners who can barely form a sentence. The pressure is now on the teacher to create a variety of learning activities etc. to cater to all learners (Ebersohn, 2009). This is not an easy task as the availability of resources is not on par with the supposed standard. Also, with the class sizes being what they are, it is an impossible task for the teacher to address every individual learner’s needs. It is however proven that learners who excel are the ones who practice daily. Learners should take responsibility for their learning as well. But once again, with the current living conditions and socio-political state of the country, it is not always possible and learners do either not have the support, knowledge or necessary skills to practice by themselves or to take responsibility for their learning. Learner fears are probably the main cause of not seeing progress in English learning. This is specifically targeted at speaking. Learners have a phobia of “sounding stupid”. But what learners do not understand, is that without practice and hard work, how will a new language ever be learned? Learners would rather sacrifice marks by not doing assignments (especially orals) in fear of not sounding like a normal home language speaker. Not only do these learners now not improve their English ability but they also miss out on marks that could increase their averages for general academic use, such as applying at universities. This is a serious problem and the mindset of these learners need to change regarding English learning. This can also be linked to classroom sizes. There are simply not enough teachers to provide individual learning/practice. However, this will need to improve so that learners can practice, one-to-one, for example, so that the fear of “sounding stupid” can be limited to the teacher only. When that learner is comfortable with speaking fluently and with pronunciation, then only does the learner have to speak in front of the whole class. Schools should try and strive for learner support rather than ridicule. But, then again, learners can be brutal, especially teenagers and that is not a simple task to change Monyai, 2010). Classroom sizes and management are the leading problems when it comes to the learning of English. One teacher can simply not control a class of 40 to 60 students. When studying teaching (at university), we were taught that the maximum number of students to one teacher should be 32. Schools are not universities where students are old enough to take responsibility for their own learning. Classes should be smaller so that teachers can pay individual attention to each learner. That is the only way to determine if learners are progressing. Strong and confident learners may also always answer questions and provide feedback, and in such a big class, the shy, more reserved learners fall behind (Monyai, 2010). Many contributing factors lead to the obstruction of English learning in South Africa. It can, however, be improved with support from families, friends and also the country’s education department. Even though these learners are constantly suffering from these socio-political circumstances, which is in itself unfair, learners should also be strong enough to take responsibility for their learning and strive towards a better future. Learners should actually be more motivated to learn English and try to excell since this is the language of Business etc. These various problems should not be cause for excuses but must be kept in mind as to why learners are not learning the language as well as they should.