I taught English in South Korea for three years, and during that time, I was exposed to many different methods for teaching English as a Foreign Language. However, in much of South Korea, learning English is valued as more than a foreign language. Looking at many street signs in South Korea, one would find English along with Hangul (Korean). In fact, due to the large amount of trade between Korea and the United States, many companies require employees to take an exam proving fluency in English in order to be hired or promoted. In these ways, one can see that many Koreans value knowing English as a second language, not a foreign language.
With this emphasis on using English in a country with a different primary language, I saw many ways that educational institutions tried to compensate for the fact that it was still an EFL environment. By EFL, I mean an environment in which students learning English spend most of their time surrounded by and using a language other than English.
From an educator’s standpoint, the point of moving EFL education towards ESL education is to bridge the gap of sometimes using English towards using English regularly, along with your first language. The goal here is to mimic an ESL environment by giving your students access to speaking, hearing, reading and writing English outside of the EFL classroom as much as is reasonable. This is because the more exposure that your students have to English, the more confidence and fluency they will be able to gain.
Here are some of the ways that I saw students gain more access to English:
At some schools, an English teacher or tutor (henceforth teacher) will have a weekly phone call with students. First, the teacher will have a short informal conversation with the student, such as “How are you doing today?” “What did you learn in school today?” Next, the teacher will ask the student the key question that they have, which will require the student to answer in a structured manner, giving reasons and details. After the student has given their answer, the teacher will paraphrase what he or she heard the student say and ask the student to confirm if the teacher had understood them correctly or the student will clarify his or her answer. In the final step, the teacher will ask the student to answer the question again, like a “final draft” of his or her answer. This helps the student to refine their listening and speaking structure when they answer questions. A phone call can also be an opportunity to discuss homework problems or literature outside of the classroom.
From personal experience, I can say that a phone call like this can be helpful to language learners, whether in an EFL or ESL environment. When I was in South Korea, I took Korean lessons once a week. I found that in my Korean lesson, I could understand and speak Korean a lot easier than I could outside of my lesson. I think this was partly because as a second-language speaker, it can be intimidating to use your beginner-level language skills with people who might not be as helpful or flexible as your teacher. Further, sometimes students relate language knowledge to specific places. If you only study in one location, such as your classroom, than you might find it difficult to retain your skills in other settings, such as the market, even though you may have studied those words earlier that day in class. Therefore, having a phone call outside of class can be really helpful for using the language you are learning in another setting.
In keeping with the concept of taking English learning outside of the EFL classroom, the Internet provides numerous opportunities for student to read and write in English at home. This is isn’t simply doing homework. With blogging and social networking platforms, the homework possibilities become so much more with the added element of interactivity. A teacher can set up a class web page or blog and require students to respond to a question each night. This simulates a journal; however it takes the journal to another level because instead of it being a personal journal that is only sometimes shared with the teacher and classmates, it will always be viewable on the class’s web page or blog. By reading each other’s comments and responding, the students can also learn from one another.
Learning Management Systems
The best advancement that an EFL institution can make in trying to simulate an ESL learning environment is investing in a Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS can provide a wealth of opportunities for EFL students to engage with English outside of the classroom by sharing data, such as videos and documents. Students can also collaborate on the LMS, perhaps working together with live video chat options. Teachers can require their students to keep a study group and work on projects together outside of class. With the study group taking place on the LMS, it takes out the hardship of meeting in person for a group project; instead, students interface with each other in real time on the LMS and still get access to improving their language learning outside of the classroom. Another strength of the LMS is that it has limited public access, protecting your students’ privacy.
In this age, there’s a lot of technology that we can use to simulate an ESL environment for our EFL learners. There are many practical ways to integrate technology into our lesson plans so that students can gain confidence in using English as a second language, no matter what geographical barriers they may face. Access and practice hold the key, and we can learn how to improve our students’ access to education and practice by learning from others.
Whitney Hunter is currently pursuing her Masters of Arts in Teaching at the University of Southern California’s education program which prepares teachers to earn their California teaching credential online.