The initial approach was simple: each student had to decide whether he/she agreed or disagreed with a set of statements about language learning and then they formed groups to discuss answers and tried to reach a group consensus. The statements encouraged students to explore their thinking about the ways to learn a language, and included ideas like:
- Making errors is not always a serious problem
- When I read in English, I should look up every word I know
- Language games take up valuable class time
- Teachers should not correct mistakes that students make when speaking
Once group consensus was achieved, the groups then came together to present their findings to the rest of the class and further discussion was had to clarify and justify opinions. After much debate, the class agreed on the following principles:
- Making errors was not a serious problem – what mattered more was having the confidence to speak English as much as possible.
- Often it was not necessary to look up the meaning of every word that was read because it was more important to get a gist of a passage in order to extract the main idea
- Language games were a fun way to remove anxiety and encourage reluctant speakers to ‘have a go’ and acquire new skills and vocabulary in a relaxed and challenging environment
- Speakers liked to have their mistakes corrected because it was a means of getting immediate feedback and they could adjust their speech accordingly.
The students then formed different groups and brainstormed as many strategies as they could to help them learn English better. Once an extensive list was drawn up, individual students rated each strategy according to his/her own experiences and expectations. After this, they formed groups again and discussed which strategy would be the most and which would be the least useful.
Finally, they were able to articulate a set of 7 strategies that they felt would most help them learn English over the year.
The strategies, in order, are:
- Speak as much English as you can, as often as you can – in other words, find lots of opportunities to use English outside of class
- Do not be afraid to make mistakes and welcome corrections from native speakers
- Use your native language, gestures, or other strategies when you can’t find the right words
- Find creative ways to remember important words or phrases, using ideas that look like, sound like and remind you of words in your native language
- Keep a language journal, diary or notebook to record important grammar AND mistakes to avoid making social gaffes
- Read a lot in English, especially for enjoyment.
- Reward yourself for your successes
After these lessons, the students were then given a reflective journal to record how they had implemented their strategies. Interestingly, once they began using the journal, they generated further strategies to include
- Visit a ‘learn English’ website and play daily games and quizzes
- Watch foreign films with English subtitles to encourage faster reading
- Explain things in English to EAL peers during other lessons
Learning a new language is never an easy thing and while these strategies and ideas are by no means comprehensive, they do illustrate the willingness by British International School Pudong EAL students to take ownership of their language acquisition and use active methods to ensure that they improve.
As a result of their progress and hard work, all of the present year 11 EAL students at the British International School Pudong were entered into this year’s IGCSE First Language Literature examinations where they are expected to perform strongly.