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Why Grammar Based English Teaching Doesn't Work

Viewed 2801 times 2016-12-31 22:36 |Personal category:English|System category:News| Teaching, English, American

Someone just sent me a link to a Chinese English teacher who is quite popular in China. The link was to his podcast. After translating it, I see that he is telling students that they don't need to learn listening and speaking to master English. He said that grammar based teaching/learning is the best way to learn English. In fact, in China, you learned Chinese without ever being taught Chinese grammar.

In America, we haven't taught any language in this way in my lifetime. I've lived almost 6 decades. We haven't used that method to teach any language in 40 years. By the time that I started to school, educators, teachers and experts had already abandoned this idea.

To learn a language, the process is very obvious. All you have to do is look at how languages are learned around the world.

No matter what language or country, people learn their language through the process of listening, speaking, writing and reading. This is how language is naturally learned. Not just English. This is true for every language.

Common sense shows you how you learned your own language. You listened to your parents speak and you mimed what they did. Then, after 6-7 years of gaining a vocabulary of about 3,000 words, and learning a lot of grammar naturally, you went to school and your teacher started teaching you to write and read. (Can you imagine how difficult or perhaps, impossible, it would be for a teacher to teach you writing and reading if you didn't have the foundation of listening and speaking? Every teacher depends upon parents teaching their child to listen and speak before they ever start to school.)

When I was in college in the 1970s, I took a required class in Spanish. I really didn't care anything about trying to learn Spanish. I only took the class because it was a required course for me to graduate. 

The first day of class, the professor walked into the classroom and told the class that he would be speaking English for the first two classes. After that, everything would be in Spanish. (This is called 'classroom immersion.') It is how every student will learn a language here in America. Did we always understand what he said? No, we didn't. But, we were forced to learn quickly. It was hard. (Of course, college is hard in America.) 

Like I said, I cared nothing about trying to learn the language. I only studied it for 2 years (4 classes total). I just wanted to meet the requirement so that I could graduate. Also, I was working a full-time job, a part-time job and taking a full load of classes. I slept about 4 hours every night and was under enormous pressure.

Yesterday, I was in a local store here in my hometown. On the aisle next to me, there was a Mexican woman and her children. She was talking to them in Spanish. My assistant, Lily, was with me. I told her what they were saying. I didn't understand every word, but, I did understand most of what she was saying. I haven't studied Spanish 40 years. When I was studying it, I wasn't really trying learn and acquire the language. However, after all of that time, I still can understand most of the language.

Why can I still understand Spanish? Well, there is no doubt that it is because of what my teacher did 40 years ago.

Language cannot be learned when you separate the parts (listening, speaking, writing, reading). If you try to learn writing and reading without first learning listening and speaking, you will be like a car with no wheels. You'll go nowhere. You'll never be able to use English (or whatever language you want to learn). And, in fact, you will still make a lot of grammar mistakes in your writing. If you can write in a language and do it well, then, you should be able to speak that language fluently. Writing is simply words from your brain on paper. And, if you speak well, you'll  have no problem in writing.

It is sad to know that some teachers in China are still teaching with ideas and methods that are ineffective and really never teach the student. I meet students who have studied English for 10 years or more and who can't hold a conversation for more than 1 minute. This is why I decided to stay in China after coming there 5.5 years ago. I saw the low level of quality of English proficiency of most students. I wanted to help. That is why I do what I'm doing today.

If you want to learn from me, I'll give you free lessons every day. Just connect with me on WeChat. My WeChat ID is BigTEXZZ. I'll help you take your English ability to a higher level than you've ever been.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.


Recent comments

  • Challenge Your Child 2019-12-13 11:51

    I talk to a TV set in front of hundreds of people, after my careful reading, the sentence is like that. Hilarious.

  • Challenge Your Child 2019-12-13 11:50

    我在数百人面前向电视讲话。This sentence means I talk to hundreds of people in front of a TV set. That is very ridiculous unless you talk to a set which is displaying Nick Armstrong is looking at you from the moon. You might be taken to the nearest hospital to have a check on the head.

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