Teach English in Jinluo Zhen - Luliang Shi

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For many teachers, their students are attempting to acquire English language skills entirely within their own country, where English is not the native language, with limited to no opportunities to practice these skills in an immersive environment. While this can be a very frustrating experience for the student and teacher alike, I personally believe that it is possible to study in a manner that is very similar to being in an immersive environment. I’d like to discuss what it is about immersive environments that makes them so beneficial in learning a 2nd language, how to generate interest in students for learning English and overcoming typical problems associated with learning a 2nd language. As I personally teach kids, the majority of my examples relate to teaching kids but could also apply to adults in some cases. 

For any student attempting to learn English, I believe it’s very important to consider why learning in an immersive environment is much faster than a non-immersive environment. The answer is very simple; repetition. Within an immersive environment, phrases, words, grammar structures and other linguistic devices are repeated heavily and often without regard for the learner. That is to say, the learner is not able to control everything that is said within his/her vicinity, but is instead forcibly exposed to it as everyday language. So, in learning English in a non-immersive environment, I believe the most effective means of study is to replicate this repetitive environment. In terms of structure, this means focusing on one grammatical unit at a time and repeatedly practicing it until the student is able to use/understand it without conscious thought. Of course, while this is the most effective means, it presents an obvious problem for the student with low motivation or who has been forced to study English; it can become tedious very quickly. For my lessons, I like to draw student’s attention away from the heavily repetitive nature of given exercises by using games, occasionally providing variety in the exercises by asking questions about the student and by having a sense of humor/keeping the atmosphere fun. Having said this, even the most motivated students can potentially be worn down by this heavy repetition approach. So it’s important to dedicate parts of the lesson to generating interest in the English language generally. Personally, I think having enthusiasm when you teach is the most effective means. If the student can see that the grammar and vocabulary personally excites the teacher, they are most open to the idea of experiencing that excitement for themselves. I also like to ask students to come up with one reason/purpose for continuing English study as a lifetime pursuit that is not considered typical. For example, a typical reason for studying English would be to help foreigners who are in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. This is perfectly ok, but it’s finite. After the Tokyo Olympics are finished, the student is likely going to experience a large decrease in motivation. Here are some more personal, less typical purposes for studying English: My English ability is MINE. It’s a part of me and it’s special and defining. Therefore I take pride in it and make it as good as I can I want to know what it feels like to continue with one activity for my entire life, to have the satisfaction of knowing that I committed to the activity whole-heartedly and never gave up no matter how hard it got This often makes for a good first lesson for students, albeit a little embarrassing for high school students I encourage students to write it in the front of their books and refer to it when necessary. So now we have an effective methodology and have increased the student’s likelihood of persevering with it through motivation. But it’s still important to address problems as they arise. I’d like to discuss two major problems associated with learning English in a non-immersive environment; the use of the student’s native language and studying for examinations. As someone who has lived and worked as an English teacher in Japan for 3 years, I have spent a great amount of time considering the use of Japanese in the classroom. I speak Japanese to an almost native level by using the methods discussed above, and have attained that level through using my native language when necessary. That is, when I have personally decided that the amount of time I have spent thinking about something and my inability to understand it warrants the use of English. Basically, I use very little English when I study Japanese and this has benefitted me a lot. However, young Japanese students have a tendency to necessitate the use of their native language very quickly when faced with difficult tasks. Ideally, English lessons wouldn’t contain any Japanese, but this can be too discouraging for young learners. My solution is this; Keep any Japanese used in the classroom to a set point in the lesson. Explain the grammar point in Japanese, then use English for the drilling, games and everything else that follows. This ensures understanding while enforcing their ability to use the grammar. Studying for examinations is another sore point for students, as they attempt to retain certain information for a set period of time with no regard for their long-term future ability to use what they have learnt. My solution for this is not always viable, but can be made possible through communicating with parents; Choose to take exams in the distant future and slowly work your way up. For example, encourage a student who wants to take the Eiken two six months later to instead take the Eiken one 18 months later. This provides a longer time span to work with and will increase the likelihood of achieving a good result.