Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Love of Learning

Three of the best years of our lives were when Terry and I taught English as a second language (ESL) in Korea. This is a lesson I learned about the process of learning English.

I had a class of about 8 women who were between the ages of 30 and 45. They all had university degrees and economically were upper middle class. They had all been studying English since they were 12. Their English training was similar to the way we teach core French. Each one had averaged about 4 hours per week of English for 25 years. 4 hrs X 50 (weeks) X 25 (years) = 5,000 hours or the equivalent of 2.5 years of full time work.

The result. Their level of English was about low intermediate. That means they could go to a store and ask the price of an item and as long as the clerk spoke clearly and slowly they could understand the answer.

They knew they would always need to go to class to maintain their level of English because when they had taken time off for things like having babies they lost the little bit of English that they had.

If you asked the mothers if they had always been in good English programs, they would answer, yes. If you asked them if they liked going to classes, they would answer, yes. If you asked them if they liked their teachers, they would answer, yes. If you asked them if they were happy with their results, they would be uncomfortable answering the question and would say that it is better than nothing.

But they wanted something different for their children. For those who could afford it, they sent their children to English countries for 1-2 years to learn English naturally by being immersed in it. The result was that the kids (aged 10 or 11), with some proper support being given, became native like in their ability to speak English.

For the rest of their lives they would always be able to speak English and never need to go to classes again.

About 5% of the people who went through the Korean core English program actually did become successful in speaking English at a much higher level. It’s obvious from this result that it is the rest of the student’s who were failing to use the program effectively.

When I left Korea I know without a doubt that the majority of my students will continue learning English like they always have. A few will give up and move on to other things and the dedicated ones will see them as quitters.

The business men who owned the private schools worked very hard to ensure high quality programs that their paying students would feel good about. The basis for this desire for good programs wasn’t so everyone could eventually speak English, but rather on everyone wanting to learn English. If everyone really learned English their business would go bankrupt.

Back in my pastoring days I was teaching a bible study on hermeneutics. (how to study the Bible) I had this question/observation posed to me. "If you really teach us how to study for ourselves, then we won't need you." I smiled with the knowledge that I wasn't teaching them well enough for them to not need me. I didn't know about the lucrative business of teaching English in Korea at the time but I've come to really appreciate the true genius that those business owners possessed.

The parallels between the results in church programs and the Korean English programs are very similar. The only difference is that adults in church don't know that true teaching should equip people to apply and pass on the information; not to hold them captive to their teacher. Ultimately the biggest lesson that they have learned and can pass on to their children is “be faithful by staying in class, you can really love learning.”


Jamie A. Grant said...

The parallel between those English classes and our approach to teaching Christians in church is remarkably similar...and therefore quite disconcerting.

Lori said...

That's... sad.