I think you’ll agree with me when I say that the reason most people study a foreign language is so that they can speak with other people in that language. And yet, because of the entrance examinations and other factors we have a plenty of students who don’t know how to speak English and everyday students lose the will to learn English because the material is so grammar-centered.
It would be my dream to roll back the current system or make communication a central part of that test. But just because that is not going to happen, doesn’t mean we teachers have to sit down and roll over. We can circumvent the system by teaching students communication skills by bringing communication activities to the classroom and the hallway. We can change the system from the ground-up in the way we present material to students. There are plenty of problems out there in the English education system in Japan. I believe that communication is the answer.
10 Reasons Communication is Needed in and outside the classroom
Whether it is 5 minutes of back-and-forth communication between teachers and students, or a full, 50-minute communication class every week, here are 10 reasons why we need more communication in our English classes.
1) It Improves English Ability
If students get a chance to use what they have learned, they are more likely to remember it. Communication also gives them a way to use new vocabulary and grammar in the future
2) It Reinforces Learning
Students can review and consolidate what they learn by trying to use grammar from the regular class and textbook.
3) It Motivates Students to Learn More
Students get tired of English because they are frustrated they never get to use what they learn. When they have the chance to use what they learn, they can understand why it is important to study more vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.
4) It Builds Confidence
“Japanese students are so shy!” This is often said. But if we build a safe place for students to practice speaking and expressing their ideas, they can build confidence in English and in life.
5) It Teaches Social Skills
Communication classes allow students to practice speaking with many types of people. These social skills benefit them in their future. Plus, they can build better relationships with their classmates and their teachers.
6) It Builds Curiosity
English, like all languages is incredibly interesting. But most students don’t get a chance to discover that on their own. Giving students a chance to experience more spoken English makes them more curious about the world around them.
7) It is Pleasant and Interesting
In all my experience as a teacher, I have never seen so many people smiling, laughing and enjoying English class. It is not a game. It is exciting and rewarding communication.
8) It is Good for ALTs and JTEs
JTEs and ALTs can improve their team-teaching relationship by working together on their lesson plans. ALTs can get more experience teaching and interacting with students. JTEs can practice using more conversational English and improve their skills.
9) It Opens Students’ World
A communication class gives teachers an opportunity to tell students more about English language than they could ever learn in the regular classroom. It is a great chance for ALTs and JTEs to share their ideas, culture and xperiences with students for the benefit of everyone.
10) It Teaches Students How to Speak
This may be the most important point of all. Of course the goal of English class is to learn many vocabulary words and how to use English grammar correctly. But English class is also about learning how to speak with people in a different language. Only a communication class can do this.
What do I mean by “Communication?”
I mean learning how to use the vocabulary and expressions from a textbook in a conversation. I mean learning skills and techniques for maintaining a fun and comfortable conversation with another person. I mean transforming English expressions from the abstract (demonstrated by grammar and example sentences) to the functional (used in conversation and with consequence, personalized).
Communication activities and communication classes will teach students important social skills and speaking techniques that will give them confidence using English. More than that, it will teach them how to use English and give them a reason to learn more.
What about Grammar?
Personally, I don’t believe grammar is useless and that we ought to throw grammar lessons and grammatical explanations down the stairs. Grammar is an essential part of learning and using a language.
But grammar has taken center stage in many classrooms…so much so that often grammar has overstepped its boundaries and it has gone from being a way to quickly explain the nuances of English to becoming the sole objective of the English class. The question changes from “Can you understand English?” to “Can you understand English grammar?” And students & ALTs suffer from it.
The good news? Experience has shown us that grammar and communication need not be in conflict with each other. We don’t need to sacrifice one for the other necessarily. Grammar and communication are self-reinforcing. Learn a little grammar, practice it with communication. Use some communication, learn a little more about grammar. Communication and grammar become mutually reinforcing tools.