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Why English Is So Hard

Popularity 2Viewed 5459 times 2019-7-3 19:28 |System category:News

Dr. Kato Lomb, likely, the most famous polyglot in modern times, said,
"Language is not learned from grammar. Grammar is learned from language."

Every day that I live here in China, I meet with many people who are struggling to learn English. Many of them have been studying English for more than ten years. What amazes me is that their level of perseverance is utterly astounding. They never give up.

I've been both a student and teacher of the most popular language learning method in America for the past 8 years. It is called, 'The Natural Approach' and was reintroduced to the academic world by Dr. Steve Krashen. The reason that Dr. Krashen says that he only 'reintroduced' this method is, the method has been in existence as long as languages have been learned.

Consider how a newborn baby acquires language. As I've stated in numerous other blogs, the baby spends 3-4 years hearing others speak and can only make a few sounds that are often unintelligible. That's thousands of hours hearing this language without making an active effort to learn it. Nonetheless, amazingly, they learn it. Seemingly without effort.

By the time that they reach school age, they have acquired more than 1,000 words. In addition, they have absorbed the required grammar to use those words. Prior to starting school, they knew little about spelling and nothing about grammar rules. In China, most Chinese language classes do not teach any grammar rules, though grammar rules do exist for Chinese.

Once they have this foundational basis for language, then, it is natural that grammar and spelling instruction should follow.

English, on the other hand, isn't taught this way in most English classes in China. Students start learning grammar right away without any foundation of speaking even 100 words. Chinese English teachers ask me often, 'Michael, what's the problem with so many students failing and never mastering English?" To me, the answer is simple. It is being taught in a very unnatural way.

Most English training in China is taught for the purpose of taking an exam. It isn't being taught as a language to be acquired and actually used. It is solely taught to get a score on an exam.

So, the answer to why English is so hard is quite obvious. English is not taught as a language in China. It is taught as an exam score to allow the student to gain greater educational opportunities in the future.

'The Natural Approach' to language learning is not genius. I recently communicated with Dr. Krashen and he told me, "Michael, this isn't difficult. We've made it difficult by totally confusing the natural method in which human beings have learned languages for a few thousand years. These methods fail because human beings don't learn language in the way that schools and teachers have taught."

As I talk to many Chinese English teachers, my heart goes out to them because I know their frustration. In fact, there is little to no speaking foundation for learning grammar. What I've found is, even though 'grammar' seems to be the all important focus of English training, even after a decade and thousands of hours of classes, students still struggle with the most basic aspects of English grammar. 

Why? I have found that is largely because they were never taught to build the foundation of listening and speaking when they were young. They have followed an approach that makes language learning nearly impossible.

What's the solution?

The solution is to teach English language starters, at an early age, listening and speaking. Once their speaking and listening foundation is strong, then, building on it with grammar which will take them to higher levels of mastering English.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report SEARU 2019-7-15 22:39
Yes, the serious exam system has made Chinese education go in a strange way which has wasted too much for the nation!  Our physical education program should make ordinary kids become healthier and stronger rather than prepare thousands of athletes for few champion gold medals! All subjects ought to train children to do independent thinking with their own head instead of repeating others' sayings without one-word-changing!
(A long time ago, I posted one blog (or thread)titled ‘We should learn English as kids’ .)

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Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.


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