The Only Way for Language Acquisition to Take Root

language

David D. Perrodin

The wonderful Dr. Willy A. Renandya from the National Institute of Education, Singapore made a monumental statement during his keynote presentation at the International Research Seminar 2019 held at Chulalongkorn University Language Institute in Bangkok, Thailand. He said that “WE as English teachers must expose our students to the target language again, and again, and again.” He continued that ongoing exposure to the target language is the only way for language acquisition to take root. In a personal email from my SLA hero, the inspiring Professor Stephen Krashen, in response to a question I had about the Natural Order Hypothesis wrote that the key to language acquisition is receiving a copious amount of comprehensible input. Professor Krashen kindly shared with me one of his more recent works as an example of a remarkable case of language acquisition (Lao & Krashen, 2014). You should check it out for yourselves at https://tinyurl.com/yalk5xx9.

Is Limited Exposure to English a Damaging Element?

I spend much of my time in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, observing and training predominantly English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English as a Second Language (ESL) Non-Native / Near-Native English Speaker (NNES) teachers. In doing so, I have witnessed that English is seldom used as a medium of instruction in Indonesian, Filipino, and Thai English classroom settings. The first language (native language or mother tongue), Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), Filipino, or Thai respectively, are often the chosen medium of classroom instruction thereby limiting the exposure of the language learners to English. This attitude of limited English exposure in the EFL/ESL classroom, as suggested by Dr. Renandya and Professor Krashen, often fails to create a functional English learning environment, and thereby hinders the learners in gaining a sense of purpose of learning the target language (Musthafa, 2001). 

I have observed during my tenure as an accredited international EFL/ESL teacher trainer that unsurprisingly NNES ESL/EFL teachers are typically better able to relate with their learners regarding the barriers in learning English as a second language or foreign language. These barries which initiate language production anxiety such as a lack of confidence, limited proficiency, negative attitude towards English, and overall deficient linguistic performance than their Native English Speaker (NES) colleagues (Crystal, 2003; Tangen, 2007). In recognition of the above, I always give a short inspirational speech at the beginning of every new training session with NNES teachers. I share the notion that as EFL/ESL teachers, our desire is for your students to ultimately be able to communicate in English comfortably. Therefore, as NNES teachers, they should be examples of how to overcome anxiety in using English.  

How to Overcome Anxiety in Using English?

I have been conducting interviews for about the past four years with participants from teacher training programs in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand to gain a deeper understanding of how to best instill a sense of urgency within the teacher participants for exposing their learners to English. One interesting fact that has been a recurring theme in the interviews is that a great deal of NNES EFL/ESL teachers experience a bit of anxiety due to various linguistic challenges when having to speak in English while teaching English.

A number of interview participants have suggested that for them to overcome their “fear of speaking English,” they feel that their schools should provide more exposure to qualified international teacher training programs. Their definition of an “international teacher training program” is one in which the teacher training program is either held in an “Inner Circle” country or entirely conducted by a qualified trainer from the same. Inner Circle countries are countries in which English is the first or the dominant language such as Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. They also added that they felt that a fully English immersive environment was necessary for them to overcome any apprehension of using English.

Is Team Teaching a good idea?

The teacher participants stated that they strongly support the integration of more English into the classroom to improve the general attitude of the students towards English as a Second or Foreign Language. The teacher participants from Indonesia and Thailand felt that incorporating a “team teaching,” system (Native Subject Teacher + Native English Speaker teacher) would be more suitable in Indonesia and Thailand at this time because English is taught as a Foreign Language rather than a Second Language. The participants strongly felt that with the “team teaching” system the learners would have both the benefit of the Indonesian English teacher using Bahasa Indonesia and the Thai English teacher using Thai to communicate abstract grammar points and new vocabulary, and the opportunity for exposure to English with a better model of pronunciation and intonation from the NES teacher (Floris, 2013).

Furthermore, the teacher participants from the Philippines felt that incorporating an NES teacher into the classroom environment would be ideal for teaching speaking classes since they were able to speak authentic English fluently. The participants also felt that having an NES teacher in the classroom both the Subject Teachers and the learners would be able to openly practice the target language with confidence, therefore making it easier for the learners to use English when they are exposed to real-world situations. See Rose & Galloway (2019) for a more thought-provoking discussion on Global Englishes.

Some Closing Thoughts

The study concluded that the teacher participants felt that establishing an international teacher training course which would answer the need for qualified English as a Second or Foreign Language teachers must become a priority the education system.

hey continued that formal teacher training programs in teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language should be provided as a prerequisite for employing teachers to teach English as well as to enhance the knowledge and confidence level of currently employed English teachers in countries where English is a second or foreign language.

Also, they suggested that a short coaching session should also be offered to presently employed school administrators regardless of their profile, to cultivate a better understanding of English as a Second or Foreign Language teaching and learning.

Lastly, they felt that an English as an International Language promotional campaigns should be implemented to foster a more favorable attitude towards English not only in their respective nations but in all countries where English is a second or foreign language.

References

  • Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lao, C. & Krashen, S. (2014). Language acquisition without speaking and without study. Journal of Bilingual Education Research and Instruction, 16(1), 215-221. Retrieved from https://tinyurl.com/yalk5xx9
  • Rose, H., & Galloway, N. (2019). Global Englishes for language teaching. Cambridge University Press.
  • Tangen, D. (2007) A contextual measure of teacher efficacy for teaching primary school students who have ESL. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Learning and Professional Studies
  • Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology.
  • Wati, H. (2011). The effectiveness of Indonesian English teachers training programs in improving confidence and motivation. International Journal of Instruction, 4(1), 79-104. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED522911.pdf