When it comes to learning English (or any other foreign language) there are no secret recipes, nor guarantees on how quickly a student will improve or become proficient. Studying a language involves a lot of hard work including practice, repetition and revision.
Students - or parents of students - who think that their or their offspring's English skills will skyrocket in a short period of time are nurturing unrealistic expectations. Getting better at English is not something which happens overnight, but depends on a lot of variables.
Apart from the hard work I already mentioned, students should ideally have a purpose for studying English.
Trying to teach English to a student who has absolutely no desire to learn it and thinks that being in the classroom is a complete waste of time is tantamount to mission impossible. Without purpose, motivation or willingness to learn, students will hardly ever get anywhere.
What I've written so far isn't new or earth-shattering; it's just that I wanted to revisit this topic because I feel that sometime parents are pushing their children too hard when it comes to education.
Time to be a child
Although I wholeheartedly agree that getting a decent education is one of the most important things in one's young life, we shouldn't forget that there is a time to study and a time to play. Having fun and being allowed to horse around and just be kids shouldn't be denied to anyone.
The demands and expectations that some parents burden their children with are alas often too great. At the moment I'm teaching a kid who hasn't even turned six, yet his life revolves solely around learning.
Although little ‘Jimmy' lives in China, his spoken English approaches that of a native because he lived for several years in Canada. In kindergarten he already started learning basic phonics, so he is able to read many 3-letter words. He's quite good at writing the alphabet as well.
One should think that his parents ought to be as pleased as punch about his accomplishments so far, yet nothing seems further from the truth.
Instead of rewarding him and allowing him some time to play after a long school day in first grade, he is dragged three times a week to tutoring classes in order to improve his English.
This in itself would be acceptable if he was just given the opportunity to practice and enhance his English skills in a relaxing environment. It would also be easier for the teacher that he wasn't overly tired when attending classes, especially not to the point of physically falling asleep.
Instead, his parents came up with a wish list of nearly impossible demands, including intensive vocabulary building, reading and writing.
They mentioned that they expected the boy to be able to write essays after one year of study (that's just before he'll turn seven). Well, to be honest, not real essays, but just sentences and stories about his life and surroundings. But still, these are not exactly the favourite leisure activities of a young boy.
Detailed lessons plans from the teacher on how to achieve this were part of the demand package, plus a phone call from a sibling criticizing the materials used for being too easy (remember that the boy can't even read most words). Mission impossible if there ever was one.
It is often said that parents are the best teachers. I agree, but only when it comes to certain life skills, such as teaching children how to speak their mother tongue when they're young, teaching them table and other manners, how to ride a bicycle and fly a kite.
The worst teachers
When it comes to teaching kids a foreign language or mathematics, parents are often the worst teachers imaginable. Not only are they too demanding, they also don't seem to realize what they are putting their children through. Not to mention their criticism of experienced and qualified teachers who have been doing this for years.
I think it is a wonderful idea to give someone a head start in life. Tutoring centres can play an important role in this process, especially if children aren't getting the necessary education they deserve in school. However, parents and students' expectations alike should remain realistic when they sign up for classes.
As said, the student's hard work, motivation and cooperation are every bit as important as the instructor's experience, attitude and teaching skills. Miracles don't happen in this world and as I've said before, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
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