The mythical “wall”

Speaking English in class is bad. USING English in class is very good practice indeed. There’s an enormous difference.

Recently, a teacher wrote on a well-known e-mail list for foreign language teachers:
Why are the students writing English in Spanish class? IMHO, you are making them pass through the English (brick) wall to get to Spanish (or vice versa).

Ah, the fabled “wall”.
Why is it that in all the other classes, crossing into other things is good? Reading across the curriculum. Math in Spanish class. And so on, ad nauseum, even to a point that really doesn’t serve the class being crossed into.

And people LOVE LOVE LOVE the wall. Every time the subject of using English in the FL classroom comes up, I get angry email. Literally. People write to me — people who aren’t even on the list — just to tell me off. I don’t get that much love ever outside of if I miss an estimated income tax filing date.

The minute anyone uses (note I said “uses”, not “speaks”) English in class, everyone is up in arms. “Bad practice! Bad practice!” How about the results?

The result of not using English is wasted time. Loads of it. Time preparing “realia”. Time finding pictures. Time making the inevitable PowerPoint presentation (ooh! we’re using technology, too!) that will somehow more effectively express the meaning of “apple” and “orange” in Spanish than saying the words in English in two seconds would.

I don’t buy it.

We have about 110 hours a year in most high school programs. The average teacher probably spends an hour per unit on “introducing” vocabulary in this way, plus all the time that’s spent dancing around meanings when kids just don’t understand. Spanish spanish spanish spanish WORD-HE-KNOWS Spanish spanish spanish. It’s frustrating, it’s inefficient, and it’s one of the time-honored traditions that are now being enshrined in the new not-really-CI movement among output-centric teachers.

Just. Tell. Them. What. It. Means.

When you forbid the use of a shared native language, you’re forbidding the use of a logical tool that has been used in 2nd language acquisition (way before academe horned in on the process) for thousands of years: the native language. It’s on the naysayers to prove to me that it’s more efficient to “teach language” without using the native language in a principled manner.

Pictures, gestures, mime, actions. All of them are imprecise and time-consuming. The native language requires no comprehension effort, no effort in production, and precisely captures the meaning in most cases. There are truly
very few words that have *no* equivalent or means of being expressed in another language.

The “brick wall” you refer to is another piece of Accepted Wisdom.
Grammar instruction did not yield the desired results, pairwork failed, so people figured it must be that there was too much English being spoken. So, no more native language in class!

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