English. Languages. Teaching

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I think it’s no secret that I am going to be an English teacher after I have graduated (if everything goes according to the plan). I am currently undergoing my last teaching practice and I thought I’ll share with you what’s on my mind. I already got to know that I will be teaching Year 3 students (i.e. 9-year-old kids) for the next three months.

Last year, I have done an assignment for one of the course subjects, Research Methodology. The assignment was an Action Research Proposal. My topic was The Efficacy of English-Only Instruction on Primary School Students. The purpose of the research was to see whether English-Only Instruction can help students improve their English language proficiency, as in, whether by solely using English during the English lessons will the performance of the students be enhanced. I have selected this topic because I am very concerned about the effect of using Mother Tongue in the classroom, whether it is detrimental or it is actually helpful.

A real action research is only carried out after identifying what the problems are occurring in the particular classroom and what strategy can be appropriated to solve them. Apparently the proposal I handled in was only generated in my mind as in I imagined a problem based on my experiences instead of a real classroom issue. However, I am lucky to have chosen such a broad topic so now what I have to do is to narrow it down and work on it. I have met with my students today and have seen the English teacher in action. Out of my expectancy, the teacher was using the students’ Mother Tongue every once in a while. I have also spoken to a senior English teacher regarding this matter. She said and I quote (after we talked about using only English), it’s no use if the students don’t understand.

All this time that I have been reading journals about the inclusion of Mother Tongue in the English classroom, I must say that they truly changed my mind. I used to adopt the prejudice that using Mother Tongue ain’t professional at all and that there must be ways to teach English with only English, to learn English with only English. Indeed there are but are they really effective at all times, at all circumstances? No. In fact, using Mother Tongue is proven to save time, it is faster and easier. But it’s not just that, it’s not just because translating the meaning of sleep as 睡觉, tidur or 寝る is so much convenient than showing a picture of a boy sleeping, which has to be big enough for the whole class to see in a classroom of a school that has no access to the projector. It’s more about the cultural and psychological aspects – to help the students feel familiar and more confident.

As I went to Japan myself last year, apart from the pleasant memories, I also remember being suffocated in a land where everybody around me spoke only the language I can’t speak. Reflecting my own journey of learning a foreign language, I understand my students. Look at me, all the materials I am using, Japanese textbook, phrasebook, the app Memrise and Youtube videos, everything is translated; everything is explained in English. How can I expect my students to understand me (especially that I am told they are so weak I can assume that they are beginners, just like me in my Japanese)?

However, I still have my doubts. I wanna see it for myself the improvement of the students if I am using Mother Tongue judiciously and meticulously. So I am going to focus on the two skills, Listening and Speaking for this project, hoping to yield some insightful findings. Wish me luck!

 

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