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English Enlightenment

Viewed 10991 times 2018-6-23 02:58 |Personal category:Education|System category:News

Seven years ago, I was sitting in Texas (USA), semi-retired while hosting a syndicated radio program called, 'Success In Living.' I would rise up at 4 a.m. to go in and prepare for the day's show. It would start at 6 a.m. and focused on getting people inspired and motivated for their day of work.

At that time, I had been featured on the back cover of SkyMall magazine, which was found in the seat pocket of nearly every American airline (Delta, American Airlines, etc.). I was featured for my support of the largest language training company in the world, Rosetta Stone by Fairfield Languages. Literally millions of people had seen my name, comments and promotion of this fine software program for holistically learning of many languages. I had used it to learn basic Russian while making several business trips there.

From that, I had a contact from China who was interested in me assisting him with creating an advanced English language learning system. He felt that China was in desperate need of some cutting edge technology in both learning and especially teaching English. 

At first, I looked for a person to send to to him and later, decided that I should go myself. I went and planned to stay a year, do whatever I could to contribute to the English training of students and teachers, and then, go back to my comfortable life in the USA. Now, 7 years on, I'm still in China training young students how to learn English.

Though I was able to partner with Henan Publishing Company and training more than 350 Chinese English teachers, my primary focus has been to understand how to make English teaching and training more efficient and effective.

I've been here long enough that I've seen long term students go from learning the English alphabet to making scores of more than 110 on TOEFL. I've watched them go from phonics training to conversational English fluency. I've watched students go from primary school to gaining admission to such highly prestigious schools as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Johns Hopkins Universities. In the program that I teach in an international high school, a part of No. 19 Middle School of Zhengzhou, I consistently see my students get acceptance into top 120 universities in the USA, Canada, Australia, the U.K. and other European countries.

The biggest challenges I've faced have been (1) the low level of foundational abilities by middle school and high school students, and (2) the inability of 3-5% of parents to accept Western teaching methods and perspectives of how English education should be taught. 

The first challenge is something that comes from students not getting a proper foundation in English learning. It is difficult to un-train them of bad and wrong habits and get them to adopt new and correct ones. 

The second challenge of getting parents to understand Western teaching and learning methods involves only a small fraction of parents that I've encountered. It has been somewhat surprising to me to see the obstinance of these few parents and the presumption that they know how their child should be taught even though they possess little English skills and abilities themselves. 

I've learned that with parents who resist and don't trust my Western ways of teaching, that it is better to let them go quickly when I meet with their resistance. The aggravation that this minority of parents create can wreak havoc on me and my team staying focused on helping children. I didn't come to China to try to change their thinking ways. That isn't my problem nor my focus. I came to China to focus on the students and most importantly, parents, who understand and who can accept my methods and want the results that I am affecting. Trying to convince such parents otherwise is not something that I do. 

The biggest key to mastering English and effective English training for a child is to build a strong foundation of phonics. The evidence is overwhelming that shows that students with strong phonics (and phonetics) foundations are the ones who easily achieve English fluency and experience academic success later. Those who don't will struggle the rest of their academic English learning experience and fail to ever achieve fluency.

English Enlightenment has become quite popular in China with the introduction and promotion by a Chinese lady who is known as 'Annie's mom.' She and her family immigrated to Canada where she meticulously analyzed her daughter's, Annie, English development. 

My oldest daughter, Courtney (who is here in China working and teaching with me) and my professional assistant, Lily Wang, both told me about Annie's mom a few years ago. Lily had read two books that Annie's mom had written about her experience in teaching her child to become fluent in English and another book on Chinese students studying abroad. Last year, I sent Lily to a seminar conducted by Annie's mom in Beijing. She was able to not only meet Annie's mom, but, she also met Annie's father and was able, along with several others, to get valuable after-session instruction and information from them both.

Courtney, my daughter, holds a Masters of Education in TESOL (Teaching English As A Second or Other Language) from Sam Houston State University. She is likely one of ten foreigners who hold such a degree in China. Sam Houston State is one of only three universities in America who offer such a degree for those who desire to teach English abroad. 

In her studies, she became deeply engaged in Annie's mom's 'English Enlightenment' due to the fact that she was already implementing nearly all of her ideas and methods in her classroom. 

The basis of English Enlightenment is the holistic approach to English training. It is far from the 'grammar based' teaching that is predominately used in teaching English in China. Annie's mom, through her own experience, recommends a four year foundation in phonics. We believe that four years is a bit too long and only teach it for two years. In Lily's subsequent discussions with Annie's mom and dad, they too have come to understanding that fewer years are required.

What does it mean to 'build the foundation of phonics' in English training? 

Essentially, it means that students will learn songs, rhymes and reading in the early development stages. Listening is key to developing the sounds and rhythm of English which are essential in proper development. Annie's mom observed, learned and adopted Western methods of teaching English. What I believe is most important is, she did it from the perspective of a native Chinese speaker simply teaching her child to become fluent in English.

When we heard about her and how famous she was quickly becoming in China, we got very excited because, as we read her material, we discovered nearly an identical method that I had been using since I arrived in China. Her ideas and writings validated what I'd been doing since I came here. In addition, coming from a native Chinese person made that much more exciting for us.

Her approach is very Western and is often contradictory to common Chinese methods of teaching English. I've also found that for a small percentage of parents, these methods are extremely difficult for them to accept. As Annie's mom said, "Some parents have not had their minds and eyes enlightened because they weren't taught English that way. They find it very hard to change their thinking and accept Western ways. The little they know about English was learned the hard way. In China, it is believed that 'harder is better'. In Western countries, you have a totally different perspective that opens up to innovation and creativity. You look for and believe that 'better is better'." 

I personally believe that results are better. Not just a high score on Zhongkao or Gaokao, but, beyond that. TOEFL and even college entrance exams offered by Western countries. To me, that is the ultimate test for those who desire international education. We know and have gathered the resources to teach a child either way. (We have built the largest database of resources for SAT, ACT, Xiao Sheng Chu, Zhongkao and Gaokao on the popular Quizlet online platform.)

As I've read her materials, I have discovered a Chinese parent who really 'gets it.' She has fully grasped what can and I hope, will be, revolutionary for English education in China. I will continue my work in doing what I can do to positively affect Chinese children's lives in teaching them in this way. I expect that there will always be a small percentage of parents who resist it and don't understand. That's o.k. with me. I've learned that this mindset is present and may always be present in China. However, for the students whose lives we can continue to affect, we will give them the chance to learn English well enough and set them up for their future success.

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




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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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