A Student to Be Proud of

Even after my students graduate, they call me and want to spend time with me.  Today, one of my students called me who was an English major when I was a professor at Korea Christian University. He is now getting a master in English and plans on teaching English as a second language. He is working on his thesis now, and he is going to give a presentation on his thesis topic later this week, and wanted to discuss it with me.  I was complimented when he said he got the idea for his thesis from thinking about his classes with me.  Professors love to see their students go on and do well.  His thesis is a study of teachers and students opinions of teaching either what he calls “implicit” or “explicit” grammar.  He and I seem to be on the same page about what we think about the way English should be taught. He is going to help a lot of people learn English.

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Here in Korea, there is a method widely used in teaching English that I don’t agree with.  They employ native speakers of English who don’t speak any Korean at all which is fine if the native speakers know how to teach, but they don’t always hire English teachers, and many of these teachers don’t even understand grammar themselves. The Koreans just hire people who are supposed to get up and speak English to the students.  They may even give them a book to teach from, but the students don’t understand what the teachers are saying.  Only the smartest most diligent students can learn any English with that system.  I heard about this system a long time ago, and I never agreed with it. Some have tried to get me to teach this way, but I just won’t.  This is what my student is calling “implicit” grammar. I know that many of his teachers here in Korea and some back in his home country taught this way.

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When I was in Japan, I had a Japanese teacher who taught me Japanese who didn’t speak any English, but she knew what she was doing. She was teaching grammar, but not implicitly nor explicitly, but a combination of both.  For example, she pulled out a match box. She took a match out of the box.  I am sure she used matches because “match” in Japanese is “matchee.”  She knew we would understand.  She held a match up and said. “Matchee desu,” meaning, “It is a match.”  We understood, but she didn’t have to translate. It was self evident. After that, she showed us the match and said, “Kore wa matchee desu.”  She then set the match away from her and said, “Sore wa matchee desu.”  We got “This is a match,” and “That is a match” without any problem.  When she said, “Hako desu,” we understood after what she did with the match that she was saying, “It is a box.”  After that, she took the match and put it on the box, in the box, under the box, etc., and speaking to us in Japanese, slowly taught us prepositions in Japanese. She slowly built our Japanese. She understood grammar, and she was completely organized.  She never spoke a word of English, and I really liked what she did.  She taught us grammar without actually having to explain it to us in English.  She built our Japanese like building blocks.

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Here in Korea, I always got a batch of students who I was supposed to speak English to, but who couldn’t actually speak English.  They were given hard English books to study. I often used a combination of what my Japanese teacher did with us plus “explicit” grammar (actually coming out and explaining the grammar in their first language) because my school expected me to speak in English, but I knew the students would never get it if I didn’t speak to them in Korean because the level they were supposed to be studying on was just too complicated for them. I would write a sentence like “I go to the door” on the board.  After that, I walked to the door.  After that, I walked back to the board and explained the grammar of the English sentence in Korean. I would then write on the board, “Where do you go?” and explain it in Korean. Then, I would explain, “Go to the door” at the board in Korean.  After that, I would say to a student, “Go to the door.” When they got up to go to the door, I would ask, “Where do you go?”  If they have been listening all along, they can say, “I go to the door.”  I took that beginning and built on it. I would ask the other students, “Where does he go?,” and they had to learn, “He goes to the door.”  I would ask a group of students to go to the door and say, “Where do you go?.” and they would have to say, “We go to the door.” I would ask the other students, “Where do they go?,” and they would have to say, “They go to the door.”  I then could take it a step higher and begin with “I am going to the door,” then “I am at the door,” and “I went to the door,” and even, “I have been to the door,” etc., adding all the appropriate sentences and questions to continue slowly building like my Japanese teacher did.  I wrote everything on the board, and explained everything we said in Korean because the classes I was teaching were students who were having a hard time getting English because they had been in too many of those “implicit” grammar classes.

This is my student, Shohag, with his thesis in hand.

When I was eating lunch with my student today, he said he really appreciated my classes because he said I always took time to explain even the simplest grammar.  He was never lost in my classes.  His English is off the charts now!  His sentence structures are amazing, better than the sentence structures of some native speakers, and his English was built like building blocks by coming to my classes. He really believes in explaining the grammar to the students and not just throwing it out there like they do with what he calls “implicit” grammar. He said he always took my classes because of how I taught.

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From the way he was talking today, he has lots of excellent ideas for teaching English, and he plans on going back to Bangladesh eventually and making a big difference for the students who study English in Bangladesh.  There are so many different methods, but each teacher has to find something that works.  When I was taught to teach essays as a graduate student, I was told to let the students write, then mark their papers up, and then let them write again and again.  However, when I was an undergraduate, I was taught to get something out of a student, you must first put something into them.  When I teach essays, I always explain the structure before they begin because the essay structure is where most students mess up in the beginning. Often, I begin by explaining a paragraph and letting them to learn to write a paragraph before they write the essay.  I knew a woman once in America who was flunking her English class and asked for my help.  After talking to her a few minutes, I figured out that her teacher was using the method of letting the students write, then marking the student’s papers up, and then asking them to write again. I sat down and explained the structure of an essay to her. She ended up making an A in a class she had been flunking and changed her major and became an English teacher. It really helps to put something into the students before you ask anything out of them.

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When the student I ate lunch with today was in my classes as a senior, the other students from lower grades were going to him for help on their papers.  I was proud of him for being able to help the other students and get their trust.  When you speak to him in English, he seems to have a heavy accent, but when I first met him, his pronunciation was so bad you couldn’t even understand him. He has come so far!  His original plan was to be a business major, but English and teaching click in his brain.  I am very proud to call him my student, and he will be helping a lot of people in his life time of teaching.


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