We should be teaching learners the skills they need to learn a language, not just the language itself.
Where students are too young to understand this, we should be motivating them to want to ‘do stuff’ at home in English.
According to the Common European Framework, students take 700-800 hours of guided language learning to achieve C1 level (i.e. being relatively competent). However, the quantity and quality of self-study that the students engage in massively affects this number.
If learners only have two hours a week with you, that’s nearly seven years of study. That’s sssuming that they’re motivated and on top form every single lesson (ha!), otherwise it’ll take even longer (or more likely, the students will just give up).
So as well as giving them motivation to want to learn, we need to give them the skills to learn outside of our supervision. Anything less is a disservice.
How do we Give our Students Learning Skills?
Have you ever learned a language? I know most TEFL teachers I meet like to at least dabble with learning the language of the country they’re teaching in. Some I’ve met are hard-core linguists with multiple languages in their arsenal.
So teach them to learn how you like to learn.
Teach them how to :
- Learn vocabulary at home
- Reading interesting stuff (that they’re interested in); reading books, magazines and comics for fun, e.g. skimming for gist.
- Watch movies and TV in English (without worrying about understanding every detail). Show them how to download English subtitles.
- Listen to music and podcasts (there are lots designed for English language learners on iTunes)
- Play computer games in English
- Where to find great resources for free on the internet
- Get in touch with native speakers online (language exchange)
- How to construct an English language environment at home
Basically, teach them how to have fun in English.
Objections to Making Students Self-Sufficient (and Why They’re Invalid)
From a managerial point of view, creating self-sufficient learners sounds counter-intuitive. If you give them what you’re selling for free, why would they come back? Won’t all teachers lose their jobs?
What you’re actually doing is creating a deep trust with your customers, also known as ‘education based selling’. By teaching them the skills to do the very thing you’re selling, you become a credible ‘expert’ that they’ll come to first for further instruction.
Think about how students feel when they’re learning. If you create a deep rapport and trust with students (and/or their parents), then they’ll keep coming back to you.
Your focus is now different – you’re selling an environment to practice in and on-going motivation, not just language knowledge. Anyone can get language knowledge for free online.
Motivate your students by giving them the skills to learn a language and the motivation to do so. Then give yourself a pat on the back for changing someone’s life :-).