A Horse Of A Different Color: Language Classes At Home

Now that I’ve taught English abroad, generally in a communicative-ish setting, I look back at my own language classes in another light.

Mostly – they were really different! From the classes I teach and I assume most EFL teachers teach, that is. I guess a main conclusion would be “don’t expect teaching abroad to be like your language classes at home.”

Direct translation played a recurring role in all my classes, and while I think we routinely planned, wrote and acted out dialogs, and did book exercises as pairs, I don’t recall much free speaking or conversation, or even, say, jigsaw readings or crossword puzzles.

Lower levels were definitely taught in L1, and while there were contexts provided at all levels, they tended to be in the form of two- or three-person dialogs, or fairly dry texts. I know my students are generally not enamored with Headway, Cutting Edge or Market Leader…but those texts are downright intriguing compared to some texts I recall. To be honest, I can’t even really recall the texts, but I can recall being uninspired by them.

And I did have one native speaker French teacher.

This guy still taught us mostly in English; he was married to an American and mainly worked as Assistant to the Dean … and PE teacher. I don’t think he had training or experience as a teacher of his own language – which quite frankly is not that different from many EFL teachers, especially new ones, even with a TEFL certificate. With all due respect, this was pretty apparent, maybe more so though because there were almost no other native speaker teachers. I’m sure it was still useful for us to hear an authentic accent and so on, especially in a language like French with what I consider its various pronunciation challenges.

Given all this, as well as my current endorsement of communicative, not-so-grammar based EFL teaching, it’s worth pointing out that I do still feel that I learned something from these classes. I wouln’t really look at my French (in)ability today as proof, but I did still learn and do use things I learned in another language course which turned out to be more practical for me. And I learned French at the time, I just haven’t used it since.

What about your experiences in language classes in your own country?