Why is Practising ‘Real’ English So Important?
Dec 3, 2010 English Language Learning (ELL) 4008 Views
One of the most common classroom teaching methods is to follow a carefully graded English textbook, suitable to the learner’s level. Most books adopt a multi-faceted approach, with direct and indirect focus on key grammar, language and generalised topics relevant to a given learner’s level. This also means that both student and teacher follow a carefully planned curriculum, with difficulty level increasing in a controlled and appropriate manner.
While the benefits of this approach cannot be denied, it does mean that the material is focused on general rather that individual student requirements. As textbook authors cannot possibly predict the language needs of individuals, material is necessarily generalised in design. Often, the material is expected to assist students with future language they may require – i.e. the student does not usually put what they have learned into immediate use.
That’s not to say that textbook learning is not an invaluable means of addressing current and potential needs. The opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of language, with or without other non-native students, can be very useful when it comes to using English in reality.
But, unless the student can quickly use what they have learned, in a practical and realistic manner, a significant percentage of new language may be forgotten. Practising the language of shopping in a classroom, for example, is a far cry from practising the same language in a real English-speaking supermarket.
The difference between the theoretical classroom versus supermarket example is ‘survival’. If a student does not need the language for any immediate purpose, the ‘survival English’ element is naturally missing. If language is required for a real situation, however, the individual’s ‘survival’ instinct is more likely to kick in, resulting in a more effective retention and reinforcement of language learned.
No matter how good a course or textbook is, this ‘survival’ element is likely to be absent when the language is not immediately needed in real situations. Even in a school where English is the only permitted language for communication , once a student leaves the school premises, they immediately revert back to their native language.
The idea of practising English in a native-speaking environment is not a new one, of course, but it is not the first option that students are usually presented with when they decide to improve their language skills. English schools and teachers proliferate around the world, which means that a high percentage of the world’s population can gain affordable access to learning opportunities close to their home base.
Spending time in a native English-speaking country, however, is undoubtedly one of the best ways for students to immerse themselves in a language and, importantly, the culture arising from that language.
The reality of using English continually ‘for real’, with no other way to communicate, ensures that language learned is both targeted, useful and realistic. Language reinforcement and retention is more probable when this ‘survival ‘ aspect of using English is a driving factor.
Whether the student stays in the country for a week, a month or a year, the English they retain is likely to be more practical and longer-lasting than language learned from the more generalised curriculum of a classroom.