The death of General English
And if it isn't dead, it damn well should be
General English? Dead? It should be!
Let me begin by defining what I mean by ‘General English'.
The approach is adopted by many schools and most private language centres in SE Asia, and here it is.
Students work their way through a series of textbooks, New Interchange, et al, and start as beginners and work their way up to upper intermediate level.
Beyond this lay higher level textbooks that native speakers would be expected to study in their final years of school before moving on to university. These books and this level are not the subject of this article, so let's take a step back to the beginning.
As most of you know, there are two types of beginners: beginners and false beginners, the latter being those who have already had some exposure to English.
What I'm saying here is that there are also false pre-intermediates, false intermediates and false upper-intermediates. And all of them are products of General English.
So what's wrong about this?
"What's wrong about this?!!"
‘What's right about this?' is the question that should be being asked.
And my answer to that is that there is very little right about this.
Students study English with local teachers or native English speakers (NES), or both, but what they're ultimately looking at is a textbook, many of which were never published with Asian markets in mind.
And how are students graded? Through walled-garden tests: gap fills and multiple choice questions. The fact that too many students can't actually use this language in conversation should be setting the alarm bells off, but it doesn't when the onus is on the completion of a textbook and ‘guess tests', hence ‘false' applying across all levels.
Yes, there are quite a few schools where NES's are required to build on the textbook work that is already being delivered by the local teacher, but all they're actually doing is giving students more grammar and no proper conversation.
And if a student is unable to verbally communicate in any language, then they won't retain what they're being taught over the mid- to long term.
This is why illiterate people don't become mutes: they have to regularly and actively use their language.
Hence the rise of international schools, English Programs and after school/weekend tuition, all of which are ideal for the minority of families that can afford them.
Through my own personal experience and after chatting with other teachers, both off- and online, what I'm seeing emerging though is an excellent approach that I referred to in my ‘Short and Sweet' blog: whereby, skilled local teachers handle the ins and outs of grammar and qualified and experienced NES's top it off with listening and conversation.
And this works infinitely better than ye olde General English.