>Know thy student

>Yesterday, I passed out a slip of paper to my college students and asked them to write two things, their English learning problem and anything else they’d like to say to me. I also asked them to put their name on the papers.

I have only done this with 200 of my students and I’ll do another 100 on Wednesday but I don’t expect the feedback to be very different.

The main thing they tell me is that they have a real hard time learning new words.

I believe this is because they believe when they “learn” a word then it should be “known”. I’ve been trying to steer my students away from deeply ingrained this idea but I can see how difficult it is for them to give it up.

At best, our students can only be “introduced” to a word in much the same way we introduce one friend to another friend. At that point, the friends will only know each other’s name and a couple facts like their jobs and place of origin, etc. They will only know each other about 1%. If these two newly acquainted friends got married and would spend a year together, work together, play together, go through hardships together, they would know each other more completely but still not completely know each other.

So the only way students can really learn words is by constantly coming in contact with them. That is why I favor English learning approaches that lean towards extensive contact with English such as Extensive Reading and also watching a lot of English TV, movies, etc.

The second biggest lament was learning grammar.

I am not the grammar teacher in this school so I don’t know how that goes but I can imagine. It makes a lot of sense that our students should be able to learn a lot of words and then learn all the grammar rules and put it all together into sentences and communication. It makes great sense but it doesn’t work. The mind is unable to mechanically put it all together at the moment of communication. Again, that is why I favor an approach which leads to massive exposure to the language as well as using language to communicate as per the Communicative Approach.

I was not surprised that my students had those feelings about vocabulary and grammar. I was surprised that despite my bringing this up with them a couple times already they are still thinking they have to do it the old way. This shows me that they haven’t bought into the better idea and I haven’t done a good job in helping them understand.

Photo: My students giving me feedback.

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