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TEACHING ENGLISH TO THE BEGINNERS
The Adult Learning to Speak a New Language. While the day-school has carried on a great many heated controversies as to the best methods for teaching modern languages, the night-schools for the adult non-English-speaking immigrant have been compelled to face the problem and attempt to solve it in the light of expediency. It can be said with a fair degree of assurance that the direct method of teaching English to the nonEnglish-speaking adult, has worked out successfully in a large number of cases, in fact, so large a number that there is no longer any thought on the part of teachers of returning to the old translation methods.
To learn to speak a new language after an individual has reached the adult stage, is a task by no means trivial. Experience, however, has shown that a grown person can master a new language, and attain in it a degree of fluency equal or nearly so to that which he possesses in his native tongue. The degree of success attained depends upon the English-language environment of the individual. His mental capacity and educational background determine the extent of his mastery of English expression and vocabulary. The schools which teach English will, therefore, find as many varying results as there are types of individuals taught, but it has been found that improvement in methods of teaching language can bring results up to a higher level. Each individual can thereby
go beyond what would ordinarily be his maximum English-language acquirement.
There are, however, teachers and individuals in both the day and night school who believe that a new language can best be acquired by the translation method. They argue that the direct method can never give the student exact and precise meanings of expressions and vocabulary in the new language. Much time, they say, is wasted by trying to discover devices for transmitting the meaning directly, when the exact meaning can be arrived at immediately by looking up the word in a foreign-language dictionary, or by having a teacher who can interpret. All this may sound very true, theoretically speaking, but practice has shown that all translation methods are, in the long run, a hindrance to "thinking in the new language."
Factors Involved in Teaching the Adult to Speak English. Before considering the procedure in English-language instruction, it is important to take note of the factors which are involved when an adult non-Englishspeaking immigrant sets out to learn English. Briefly stated they are as follows:
1. The educational background of the student. 2. The native language spoken by the student. 3. The aspect of language that the student desires to learn.
4. The uses to which the student wishes to put the language.
5. The extent to which the student desires to learn English.
6. The manner or method by which the student wants to learn English.
To enlarge upon each of these points, it can be said that:
1. The educational background of a student indicates to some extent the degree of fluency that he possesses in his native tongue. There will be a tendency to attain a similar degree of fluency in English.
2. If the native language spoken by the student contains no elements similar to English, the learning process tends to be slower. For example, the Chinese, Japanese, Hungarians, and Persians do not learn English as easily as Germans, Italians, and Scandinavians, because the languages of the former differ remarkably from the English, while the languages of the latter contain many similar elements.
3. If a student desires to learn only a practical English, his attention and interest are not so easily held on subjects of mere literary value.
4. The adult student tends to assimilate such knowledge of English as he finds he can use. He tends to slight instruction which he finds he cannot use.
5. A program of language instruction can only be as ambitious as is the student himself. If he cares only to learn a practical English, it is difficult to give him a more extensive course of instruction, but if he wishes to express his thoughts and feelings and his knowledge with as great a facility as he does in his native tongue, a course must be worked out to meet his needs.
6. Many adult students come with preconceived ideas as to how they should be taught. Some think that they must have a foreign-language dictionary, some that technical grammar must be stressed, and others believe that a great deal of oral reading is
important. Each one of these notions must be humored to a certain extent, otherwise the student may drop out of school before he has gained confidence in the teacher.
In view of the above factors it is evident enough that teachers of the adult immigrant need to be well-informed in regard to each case, for, no matter how excellent their special methods may be, they will surely fail if some readjustments are not made to meet the language or educational background of the individual students.
First Principles in the Direct Method of Teaching Languages.-Language teaching should proceed by dealing with things and actions that can be seen and dramatized, and not with words and grammatical abstractions. The basis of language is in our very lives and in our environment. He who teaches language must find its direct bearing upon life itself. It is of utmost importance, that he discover, if he can, just what the individual student wishes to express in the new language. Then he must create a desire to express, and, simultaneously, in the presence of the correct associations, he must put the words and expressions into the mouth of the student. Suggestion should play a heavy rôle in the art of teaching language. If an instructor can create situations and make use of them to teach new expressions, he has, indeed, the secret of teaching language. No text-book and no stereotyped series of language lessons will accomplish what such a teacher can.
The method of teaching language set forth here is far more ambitious, and reaches farther than simply to teach the adult immigrant a few practical phrases in English. It aims to assist him in mastering the English language
to the same extent of fluency that he possesses in his native tongue and if he so desires, there should be opportunity for him to attain still higher development in English. Although the number of immigrants who want to learn English is decreasing, the demand for more thorough instruction in English is increasing, and teachers must be trained to fill this need. The last restrictive measure on immigration is responsible for the influx of a better educated and vocationally trained individual.
The Direct Method Defined.-By the direct method of teaching a new language is meant the immediate association of words and expressions of the new language with the objects, actions, or ideas for which they stand. It is diametrically opposed to the translation method which conveys the meaning of the new language to the mind of the student by giving equivalent expressions in the native tongue. There have been many attempts to develop and improve upon the direct method of teaching language. Among these, the names of Gouin, Berlitz, and Jespersen stand in the first rank, and of these three, Gouin has perhaps built up the most logical and thorough system. No one of these methods can, however, be accepted without modification, but all can assist in finding a practical method which applies particularly to teaching English to the adult immigrant.
Despite the direct methods that have been tried out in the evening schools, it has been found that teachers carry over a number of classical methods into direct English-language instruction, and it seems necessary to call attention to these before going into definite detail on direct method. The incorrect methods most prevalent are listed below: