After 9 years mandatory learning of English in school the result is what?

English is taught as a compulsory subject in Israeli schools.

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Its importance can be measured by the fact that a person cannot get a High School Leaving Certificate or matriculate to University without passing some measure of proficiency in English reading comprehension, writing and listening skills. It is on a par with Mathematics in importance. Then again once in academia there is no degree without passing the requirements for English proficiency. Logically therefore much energy is invested in teacher training and the production of teaching materials for instruction in English.

The English curriculum goes through seasonal enhancements, yet the fail rate remains inexplicable. Aside from teaching competence, why are so many children achieving so little after nine years of study?? The first blatant flaw in the system is that English is being taught in the same manner as history, two or three lessons spread out over a week. The study of history requires the accumulation of facts along a time line, which can then be viewed or interpreted from a variety of parameters, whereas learning English goes beyond the accumulation of grammar rules or vocabulary through formal learning, rather the brain is required to process information in order to develop the necessary algorithm for communication. Another failing is the lack of clarity in the definition of the difference between English as a second language and English as a foreign language, as a result of which curriculum development is flawed. A second language is based on natural language acquisition, which requires consistent exposure and where initial communication in English is via nouns, whereas learning a foreign language is a formal task based on pre-acquired linguistic knowledge and therefore needs to incorporate verb based sentence structure at its core.

True second language acquisition is age sensitive, the younger and more consistent the exposure, the faster the learning. The degree of exposure to English during formal instruction, as compared to that when living in a new country is at most nominal. In a classroom setting, even with very young pupils, fulfilling the requirements of exposure and interaction is nigh-on impossible. The lesson time is neither long, nor intense enough and the class numbers are too large for the teacher to be able to give the pupils the degree of individual attention necessary to acquire verses to learn a language. Some overcome these obstacles by dividing the children into smaller classes according to their level of proficiency.

Seeing as English is such a mandatory element of the Israeli reality it's a pity that an opportunity for exposure to English at a very young age is needlessly lost. In infancy a child's mind is finely tuned to the function of deciphering auditory signals and visual images representing together the ciphers of communication. Today's reality also has small children spending an incongruous amount of passive time in front of the television or computer screen. Since the 1980s a number of animated shows have been commissioned by BBC TV for very young audiences as the need for English language enrichment of immigrant children was recognized. These exceptionally well made shows filled this gap for the toddlers needing to learn English and though not as ideal as interactive exposure to language they make a worthy contribution. Israeli television also has specific early morning or afternoon viewing hours or cable channels which broadcast for very young audiences. The sad irony is that these excellent British TV programs are broadcast with a Hebrew voice over.

How effective would leaving the original English language broadcast be without the voice over? Could the children possibly understand anything without translation? How would it hold their attention so they could enjoy it? Would the show fulfill its babysitting function and keep the children occupied? You can believe the answers to all of the above are yes. Besides the precedent with immigrant British children who grow up listening to one language on the TV and speaking another, the fact is that children's brain are attuned to language acquisition. First exposure he may not understand but if he is watching high caliber TV he will be attracted and curious, and if we can shake him of the bad habits we have instilled in him, by two or three exposures he will already be picking up some words, especially from the title song, as well as the phonological rhythms of English. In general learning language from television is a poor idea, it is missing one of the vital parameters of language acquisition – interaction, and it usually only exposes the listener to the register of spoken language. However we may still give the child passive exposure and he will benefit from it. There is no comparison between being read to from a good book and watching television, the benefits of a good book far outweighing anything TV can offer, especially in the realm of literary language. Nevertheless television is being watched; a good story is a good story whether in a book or on the screen and a child's brain is tuned to do the work. There is no reason why after a getting-used-to period a child wouldn't enjoy the original to the same degree he would enjoy a translated program and gain the satisfaction of learning some English words on the way.

While a child is being read to his brain is actively working. To suggest that watching television in any way develops thinking skills in the same way that listening to a story does is nonsensical. Yet the passive state of the child when viewing a good children's program, which is not translated for him, is aroused by the need for the brain to process auditory and visual stimuli. Now if learning English were not going to be compulsory for this very child a few years down the line, what language he watches his 'kiddy program' in would be irrelevant. However he is going to learn English in just a few years' time. Giving him the exposure while his brain is tuned to receive it will be of huge benefit to him, since he will passively internalize not only vocabulary and grammar but also the phonemes (sounds) of English. Children exposed early enough to these sounds will have less difficulty later on learning to enunciate and differentiate between the unfamiliar sounds of English. Since it is compulsory anyway, by having this early start children will be more enthusiastic when the time comes for formal learning of the language in school.

 


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