Why schools and online platforms so often fail

It’s back to school time for many students and teachers. Time to learn. Time to set some goals, get some grades.

terrific

But we have to ask ourselves and be honest with ourselves.  When it comes to English language class or any language class – are students really “making the grade”?

say what

Yes, dear parent. It’s true.

Let’s be honest, so many students study so many years, getting so many passing grades. Yet they fail in the biggest school of them all – LIFE.   They leave school and can’t function in English on the job or in a university or out on the town. Why? We’d love to hear your own view and opinion in the comments.

And let’s be really, really honest – this applies too, to so many online learning sites/platforms. We don’t have to name them (du*l***o, r*s*t**s*o*e, *ox*, etc ….. will do) but you know them and that they don’t cut it.  So many students feel like this …

seriously

So again why? 

Let us make a few points regarding why so many teachers, so many language learning platforms, so many students fail. We’ll even use a few examples from our competitors, just to really hit home.

#1.  No reality.   Language is something we learn in the real world. Teachers need to bring reality into the classroom.  Language is learned while doing it and every day, every moment is game day.

football

Online learning should also  be “real” and authentic.  Not much of that around, out there. Reading pre-fabricated news articles, listening to a canned voice and answering phony questions – is that real?

not authentic

Reality needs a face, a person, motion, something created outside of education and with people communicating not to teach you but to “REAL”ly communicate, to exchange information and meaning.

#2  Too much control.  Yes, language learners need to learn the skill of dealing with language “in situ” that they don’t understand. Great language learners, take reality and go with what they know … they run with it. We call this “ambiguity tolerance” and the only way to get better at it is by diving in, dealing with authentic language and getting comfortable with what you don’t understand.  Otherwise, you get these boring classrooms, online sites and students feeling like this.

school boring

and you end up feeling like this ….

fun

and sure, they try to fool you, teachers and UX designers. They feed you candies, points and rewards. But you know the truth and reality which is really, you ending up like this ….

treadmill

#3.  Too much translation.  Too much grammar.  We don’t learn when we are constantly focusing on translating the language or focusing on form and how to put things together.  A little when necessary but too often the whole lesson and even the whole approach of a class or online learning site is translation. And when combined with grammar, we get something that is broken, doesn’t work – grammar translation was discredited years ago but people are still making millions $$$$ and selling this snake oil. For example, do you think this approach works????

translation

Students don’t come to teachers or pay money online to learn grammar nor to help translate boring sentences.

grammar

They pay and come to class to learn, to acquire a skill.  That skill is learned only on the feet. By doing, by being immersed in the real world of language which is used purposely.

4.  It’s boring.  Students are always going to turn off from boring content, no matter how you dress that lady up. Keep it real (point #1), let students learn at their own pace and choice (point #2), focus on immersion not translation (point #3) and you get = engagement, student motivation.  There is no other way. 

That’s why at EnglishCentral, we focus on great, authentic content.  Immersion and just providing enough support so students will be able to help themselves but still be in the water, swimming, learning to swim…..

keep it real

Comments

  1. The main reason why schools so often fail that they cannot find the best method to teach a second language.
    Since the English become the most popular language in Hungary a lot of people want to
    learn it.That’s why they often are in fault and not always find the best age when children
    are able to learn a second language.

    Nowadays there is wide choice of English books but not every of them is good for
    non-native speakers.Unfortunately there are a lot of teachers who not always choose
    the appropriete books.
    Students learn a lot of “unnecessary” words,strict grammar rules but they are not able
    to use them in the everyday life.
    That’s why a lot of university students in Hungary cannot get their degree because
    they fail in an English examination -the main reason is the wrong method.

    Fortunately the computer opens a new window to the world. There are great choice
    of the excellent websites – likewise the English Central- which helps us a lot
    to find the best method to develop our knowledge of English.

  2. First let me congratulate you on your use of live visuals. Great. innovative. Second, it’s a concern every teacher and learner should think and do something about.

    I feel the responsibility lies with the student to learn, rather than with the teacher to get the learner to learn. That is, the learner must be intrinsically motivated to learn and sustain it throughout the period of learning. Humans have wrongly taken this responsibility and have been trying their best to remedy the situation–CLT, Learner centredness, conceding the central place to the learner. But we’ve never asked the learner to take the responsibility and yet we blame the learner and ourselves and try harder, harder. But no, not until the learner is made to realise that learning is their responsibility, not the society’s, not the teacher’s, not the examiner’s.

    Then whatever be the approach, method, syllabus design, activities, the learner will learn.

  3. Before starting the discussion of this topic, we should select one of two options:
    1. Language is information to be learned.
    2. Language is a skill to be acquired or trained.

    If you select the information option – you will be with the majority of language teachers and schools. This explains why we have 95% failure rate of learning a foreign language. Learning a language as information will help you to read and write but not to communicate. What most language students want to do is communicate. To communicate in a foreign language, you need to develop language skills, not acquire the knowledge about the language.

    If you select the acquisition option, you need to start speaking from the very first moment, even before you have learned grammar and vocabulary lists. Unfortunately, there are few teachers who can help you with training English skills.

    I disagree with the comment that the learner should realize that learning is his responsibility; mainly because the learner follows instructions of his teachers, which too often are based on misconceptions. The learner can’t learn by himself. Only 5% of people can do it; 95% can’t.

    We spend years in school learning a lot of subjects. Schools teach most subjects using textbooks, lectures, notes, memorization, and tests. The teacher is a guru on a pedestal, and his main objective is transferring knowledge to the students in a class. This is classic passive learning, and it survived for such a long time because we still are not aware of the difference between knowledge and skill.

    Adults should make the choice up-front: either to learn English as knowledge to be memorized, or to acquire English skills by using or training the language. However, we can’t expect learners to be able to make this selection without being educated first. Even teachers often ask: why the students don’t use the grammar they learn in their speech. The problem is that language skills cannot be learned as all other subjects in school; any more than you can learn to play the guitar or drive a car by reading or memorizing its instruction manual. You acquire a language by actively engaging with it until its essence, not just its rules, is familiar and natural to you.

    When you are in a real-life, real-time conversation, there is no time to think about grammar or sentence structure, or to access your knowledge database. Because the education system continues to try to teach languages by measurable outcomes (how many words, you have memorized and how many grammatical rules you can explain) rather than how well you can communicate when you really need to, the failure rate for the traditional method is absolutely appalling.

    Despite the failure of most “successful” students to speak the foreign language fluently, schools continue to use their traditional methods. We need to create a new approach based on acquiring language skills, not on learning rules or lists of words. The transition from traditional classroom methods of language learning to language acquisition through mobile applications requires a redirection in what we think is involved in acquiring a foreign language. How to change our beliefs and misconceptions which we followed for so many years – that is the question!

    This video https://vimeo.com/129326384 demonstrates the foundation for re-design and re-engineering of language learning and gives examples of how it is achieved. If you could disremember your own beliefs for a few moments while watching this video, and ask your intuition instead, it may be very helpful in opening a new vision for you.

  4. One of the big problems I see as a High school teacher is students coming in not knowing their math facts or how to write in a complete sentence. I expected this when I was an ELD teacher for 10 years. Why is the same true when I get mainstream, Caucasian, middle class students from everyday American, then? We believe in “Social Promotion” in elementary and middle school in America. We want a good reputation. However, it is the High School teachers who get the dumping of America’s lacking when they hit 9th grade. And we are the ones who get the blame for bad State test results! I believe that if you fail middle school, you go somewhere else until you are up to par, unless you are Special Ed, that is. And, if you are labeled “Special Ed” then you should be re-evaluated at the 9th grade level to see if developmentally something has changed. We need a separate “Academy” if you will, for kids who are not ready to enter high school. We make “remedial” students entering college go back and take “remedial” classes before grades count toward a degree, so why not the same hierarchical system for high school? High School teachers should not have to make up for 8 lost years of public education paid for by the tax payers! And I, as a tax-payer also, and a 9-12th grade High School English teacher, should not have to make up for 8 years of lost time either! Success should be earned, not given to a society of self-entitlement! Kids don’t’ leave my classroom, no matter what grade they come to me with or to, without the basics. I can sleep at night! All those “paycheck-collector” teachers need to hit the road! It’s time for a new paradigm shift!

  5. David, I congratulate you on making some valuable points but, dare I suggest, your article would be much better without the annoying visuals. Bridge2English, I couldn’t agree more. Listening, reading, preferably graded, and speaking, when ready. Our job is not to teach but to motivate our charges and provide them with the very best opportunity to acquire the language, though we can refine their skills once they are comfortable with oral communication. It’s simple really.

    • Alan,

      Your phrase “speaking, when ready” is the opposite to the LBT approach; the latter creates environment for starting speaking before you learned the grammar and vocabulary. Your perform simultaneously three actions: reading, listening and speech shadowing; in the course of this activity your brain is trained to recognize English patterns. You are training English skills, and it is much faster than learning!

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