I considered myself lucky (though some would say I am crazy) to be given the chance to teach English language to several groups of foreign students at a local university. Not because I get to know students from different countries, but it allows me to cope with diverse challenges in English language teaching. The students that I have taught thus far, are mainly with low proficiency level since their country of origin does not have proper English language education due to several political and social issues. Some are keen learners, some are simply lost (perhaps due to cultural shock). Yet, I tried my very best to ensure they can at least communicate sufficiently in English.
In was not long ago, one student came to me during the first week of class and asked this question “Teacher, why you no teach grammar?”. It’s pretty hard for me to justify my teaching methodology to her, so I answered “Well, you are learning it every second in my classes“. Not convinced, she showed me a thick book on English grammar and asked me to check the exercises that she did after class. I checked for her but told her that it’s good to do exercises but there is limited room for improvement if she does not practise those “rules” in context. She was still a bit pessimistic since in her country, everything needs to be memorised and the learning environment is rigid.
However, after spending several weeks with me, she noted improvements in her use of the language, particularly in speaking and writing. The same with other students. To me, while it is possible to highlight the sets of English grammar rules (e.g. the difference between adjectives and adverbs), it is always good to embed them according to skills and context. In teaching the students how to write a specific academic genre, for instance, students are explicitly told to focus on certain sets of language features salient in that genre. This is better than forcing them to do pages and pages of grammar exercises without knowing its proper use in context. The same with vocabulary. Highlighting list of words commonly used for a context helps students to practise them properly. Of course, it can always be mixed-and-matched with other activities in the classroom in order to engage the learners.
A lot of patience is needed when teaching beginning learners, particularly when the motivation to learn is low and they come from diverse countries. I am deeply humbled by some of their comments upon completing the intensive course with me, not their “thank you” or compliments, but the way they convert their thoughts into comprehensible English sentences when talking to me by the end of the course. Some may not be sufficiently ready for undergraduate studies but they have improved from perhaps a level of Primary 3 English to Form 3. They just need more time and hard work.
“Y U NO Teach Grammar” or not, U Cannot Give Up on Them!
Well, I think many of you out there may have similar experience, and I would love to hear your stories too.