Let’s start by looking at what is now commonly accepted as decidedly NOT the best way to learn English!
Technology is not a magic pill. Get real. That swanky i7 laptop/ Macpro/ iPad, or those expensive apps/software are not going to help your children in their studies. According to a BBC article: “If you look at the best performing education systems, such as those in East Asia, they’ve been very cautious about using technology in their classrooms.” The report goes on to state that those students who use tablets and computers very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately.
If this is not enough, then remember that parents in the Silicon Valley are now sending their children to a tech-free environment; one of the students is the son of Steve Job!
My own teaching experience in England grudgingly supports the above report. I like Information & Communication Technology (who doesn’t), and for one year at Telford College I taught English through the use of ICT. In the end I had to admit defeat.
It was a waste of time.
The teenagers who came into my class were all tech savvy; every time I wasn’t looking they switched to YouTube or Daily Motion or Nasza Klasa or Whatever. They weren’t interested in Headway English or any related activity, no matter how creative or useful I thought it was.
Get real. No matter how interesting the educational website, after a while, the students will tune off. They want interaction with a flesh and blood teacher across the table.
- English classes.
Now wait a minute. I teach English in a classroom. And I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe in its intrinsic value.
But going for classes is not enough.
A student who is serious about improving his or her language skills needs more ‘affective’ and ‘authentic’ inputs such as:
Music : Listening to English music AND poring over their lyrics. Try Vincent by Don McLean for increasing your vocabulary, Roger Whittaker’s If and Blowing in the Wind by Bob Dylan for conditionals, Freddie Mercury’s We are the Champions for phrasals etc. ( I will keep updating this list, so do come back in a week)
Reading: The benefits of reading are endless, you simply cannot ignore it. And now the print media has truly wisened up. Waterstones, the big bookshop in the UK has taken the Kindle off its shelves, and replaced them with paperbacks!
Now there are books geared to dazzle you with their enthralling pictures and pleasing fonts, books that will the engage the imagination of the children, children’s authors exploring new themes and adventures, abridged classics, interactive books with flaps, fold outs, puzzles, touchy feely theme books …
Reading is far from boring. Visit a big bookstore and see for yourself!
Extracurricular activities: When I was teaching in England, we were once inspected by a team from the British Council. They came and observed us teach in class, how we deftly used the Smart Board, how we used ‘differentiated’ resources, how we laboured over elaborate lesson plans…and remained quite unimpressed.
In the end they told us they wanted to see how we were increasing fluency in English ‘outside classroom walls’. One of the teachers weakly remarked that one crazy teacher (me!) conducted a drama club in English, and even played badminton with his students! Those kind of extracurricular activities really mattered, according to the British Council.
I also teach yoga in Spain; and sometimes my students tell me that they prefer I conduct the class in English!
You can also befriend a native English speaker, join an English choir or even learn a new word everyday.
This is the key word for most learners. The students in my advanced class swear by this method. (I think they just want an excuse to travel; in any case, it is a good enough excuse!)
This option might not be open to everyone, but it is probably the most important. So no matter how short the trip to an Anglophone country, go for it!
But don’t ignore English syntax and lexicon. Continue going for English classes as your teacher will correct and help improve your spoken English, increase your lexical base and better your language skills in general.