STRUCTURAL METHODOLOGY OF FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHING AND LIVESCRIPTS
Foreign Language Teacher
Eoi Terrassa College. Spain.
President. LiveScripts Non-Profit Association
Abstract: After 20 years of a multifunctional approach to FLT, which supposedly pays equal attention to all four skills, most of my colleagues in our country will agree that the state system of foreign language education is not giving the results expected from six years of obligatory schooling; and the very existence of an army of private language schools proves it.
On these regards, and from our Non-profit Association, Livescripts, we are suggesting the State Department of Education, schools and teachers to adopt a more traditional, systematic and structural methodology like that of intensive media courses, Assimil books and language laboratories of universities worldwide, but equally based on the direct method of Berlitz Language School, or private classes from the NorthAmerican Institute and the British Institute.
Totally aware that repeating verb tenses can be monotonous, we are suggesting schools to convine this structural approach with a more modern audiovisual methodology of reading scripts -from TV epysodes, complete feature movies and documentaries- before watching them on the screen. While textbooks must show a finely-tuned input to encourage language learning, reading scripts in tandem with their projections display a more roughly-tuned input which fosters language acquisition.
Very often, countries which do not dub foreign language movies do have a higher level of foreign language command than other countries who translates them. Of course, there should be other reasons for that circumstance but we will all agree that having Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie as speech models could be a tough foreign language resource to beat up.
Recently created LiveScripts can legally edit a paper magazine with the movie script from the next DVD or TV premier, or even bring out a pack of magazine and DVD of those movies which now belong to public domain; and we are now trying to reach formal agreements with the Writers Guild of America and other unions for an International LiveScripts Association.
As a Spanish teacher for Berlitz Language School in Torrance, California, we usually had one or, at most, two students in the classroom and we followed the "direct method" which was based upon the "Natural Method". The main principle behind these methods is that all instruction is given in the target language as opposed to more traditional grammar methodologies coming from teaching classical languages. In our training sessions for this position, instructors used to emphasize three points that we should always bear in mind: First, the already mentioned rule of avoiding using the student's native language; second, making sure students's answers are longer than teachers's questions, that is, students should actively speak for more than half of the class session; and third one, asking student to repeat new vocabulary at least three times for the new word or exppression to sink in.
Our class involved repetitive spoken drills in the very beginning of the course, turning into real dialogues -or so we tried- as contextualized, communicative and natural as possible without any reading nor writing at all which were left for homework. We teachers rotated in front of our customers who typically included company personnel in managing positions to be transfered to Spanish speaking countries in a short period of time. A basic course would consist of four one-hour sessions per week during three or four months. After that period of time, the student was likely sent abroad where he was expected to complete the skills needed for a successful foreign language learning process.
What could be the level of these students after a 60 hour course of private classes? Not an easy question to answer -which means it could be a good researching area- but likely they would reach an intermediate level in listening and speaking skills and a beginning level of reading and writing. However, customer satisfaction in Berlitz Language Schools must be high judging for their whole century of existence and expansion around the world, which proves that students do have the linguistic resources to adapt to the new environment and for sure, a language class should be mostly speaking practice so, perhaps, writing is not as necessary in lower levels as we think it is.
I left this position in Los Angeles after one year but Berlitz' teaching experience has always been useful to assess the particular needs of my students in other environments and methodologies. Senior citizens, for example, often get lost with modern textbooks because they can not understand what to study or they just want to concentrate on speaking skills for their travelling communicative skills. Technical students like electricians, car mechanics, even nurses and erasmus students also have listening and speaking priorities to be acquired in a short period of time, four or five months. Forced absentees assigned to foreign countries for most of the course also come to us for advice. As their teacher, I have the responsability to give them options other than shrugging it aside. I often suggest them to follow an intensive self-learning and structural method like Assimil books -:75 years of publishig business teaching 35 languages should be a guarantee. Their reaction is often the same: Why haven't teachers told us about it before? Had I known this before, I would doubtlessly have a better understanding and speech command. It's so easy! These students are not the only ones, while most widely used languages like English, Spanish, French, German, etc... have many published materials, other languages like chinese, arab, catalan, euskera, etc... hardly have any didactic resources, and Assimil books constitute almost the only method to rely on for students and teachers. It has been on the grounds of this positive feedback that dweling on it, I came to the conclusion that the method could motivate students so much because it was short and sweet.
My next job was at the New School for Social Research, a faculty of New York University in the East Coast, where I taught intermediate courses to credit and non-credit adult students following a modern multifunctional approach to FLT, which supposedly pays equal attention to all four skills. A methodology that it is still in use for English teaching in secondary education, eoi colleges, private language schools and universities worldwide, often backed up by audiovisual and on-line support.
However, after 20 years of a multifunctional approach in our country, most of my colleagues, government representatives, students and parents will agree that the state system of foreign language education is not giving the results expected from three hours per week, nine months per year, and four to six years of obligatory schooling -and the very existence of an army of private language schools proves it. In other words, after 500 or 600 hours of study, most of our students are unable to perform well in basic skills.
Of course, the point here is 'interest', a motivated student will overcome any obstacle towards his/her objective whatever it is, and will accomplish it. I have seen A students in high school classes with excellent foreign language skills who have never attended private language schools. So, while the multifunctional approach can work in an ideal situation of continued motivation for five whole years of study, in the real world and basic levels, it is not enough -I did not say it fails. It only needs a backbone of good systematic structural work for these reasons:
it discourages oral drills of verb tenses and structures particularly during the first stages of language learning when little communicative work can be achieved.
there is too much grammar contents which not even native speakers know about,
textbooks do not include an immediate phonetic transcriptions or translation, only sometimes in the back of the book.
general students, not only senior citizens but also young students often get lost in fancy designs which do not clearly specify what to study -of course, everything has to be studied but, how can you say that to someone who just wants to speak for travelling or work?
All in all, two or three years seem to be a long period of time for students to keep up their interest. Besides, contents are very repetitive from one year to the other, and students often forget during summer vacation,
Considering that, our overall suggestion is to focus on listening and oral skills during a school year to produce the grammar contents of the three first courses, beginner through intermediate, at the same time that students follow their regular textbooks.
Obviously, we are aware that we can not assign a private teacher for each and every student. However, Assimil books, for instance, are divided into a hundred lessons, every one has only several sentences to read out and memorize and it takes about ten to fifteen minutes to go through them. Teachers could devote fifteen minutes of their classes to do a follow-up of voluntary students who compromise for that kind of effort -and research- with the promise that they will improve their English language commad beyond their imagination in just six to seven months. Those students should prepare the lesson the day before, listening to the audio recording and reading out those few sentences, first, from the book, then, speaking them up without reading. Next day, their teacher will pair up students who will repeat the drill taking turns. It might be very repetitive and monotonous during the first month but dialogues should become more alive and varied afterwards. Then, the teacher would go on with the regular textbook and class materials.
If students stick to their compromise of reading around five Assimil units per week, by the end of one single schoolyear, they should meet that goal beyond their widest dreams of using another language to communicate effectively. Good listening and speaking habits should stir up their curiosity for other language activities whether on-line chats, games, watching films... and trigger off the improvement of the rest of skills.
An overall consensus on spoken drills of structures and vocabulary with a listening support -that keeps grammar explanations to a minimum- should yield effective group and pair-work speaking activites as well as self-learning abilities to improve all skills and turn teachers into simple coordinators of a linguistic effort which behooves students of course.
This way, instead of teaching English, we are teaching to learn English -and any other language. So we foster self-learning and multilingual skills leaving room for even another language to be studied in obligatory education. We simply can not think a better and more systematic way to research and likely implement the European Common Framework of Reference for Laguage Learning.
Totally aware that repeating verb tenses can be monotonous, we are suggesting schools to convine this structural approach with a more modern on-linn technology and audiovisual methodology, like reading scripts for instance -from TV epysodes, complete feature movies and documentaries- before watching them on the screen.
While textbooks must show a finely-tuned input to encourage language learning, reading scripts in tandem with their projections display a more roughly-tuned input which fosters language acquisition.
Very often, countries which do not dub foreign language movies like Holand, Denmark or Greece do have a higher level of foreign language command than other countries like Italy, France, Spain, etc... dubbing those same movies. Of course, there should be other reasons for that circumstance but we will all agree that having Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie as speech models could be a tough foreign language resource to beat up.
Considering that, we have created LiveScripts, a non-profit organization whose main objective is to provide students with movie transcripts in a paper magazine as a reading guide and foreign-language teaching or self-learning resource previous to watching the film in original version and without distracting subtitles. We rely on the only exceptions to the exclusivity of copyrights ownership, that is, research and education.
On these regards, as of March 26, 2008, the Department of Justice of Generalitat de Catalunya sent us a certified assessmet on our mission statement and just pointed out minor details to correct; then, as of last August, 25 our Association was officially registered in that Department. In other words, we can legally edit a paper magazine with the movie script from the next premiers on DVD, or broadcasted on TV, or even edit a pack of magazine and DVD of those movies which now belong to public domain.
Although we are not obliged to, it is our firm commitment to collect an agreed percentage of the sales generated by the publication and offer that amount to the legal screen writer who authored the published transcripts. By proceeding this way, and far from causing any damage to the movie industry, we benefit all parties involved, students of primary and secondary schools, language schools and colleges, movie distributors, studios, authors and the general audience.
We do believe that exceptions to the exclusivity of copyrights must exist in the legislation of all countries and therefore we are trying to reach formal agreements with the Writers Guild of America and other unions for an International LiveScripts Association, each country having some degree of autonomy but at the same time with global compromises to increase our decision power before third parties.