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Posts Tagged ‘English as a Second Language’

In recent months, I have heard from too many friends and too many students entering my classes that their high school teachers – and sometimes college instructors at other institutions – graded the work they did in their English and writing classes by content alone, with no attention paid to grammar, spelling or punctuation.  I don’t know what their teachers thought they were doing.  Did they think the business world pays no attention to how content is presented?  Did they think that a garbled, misspelled, clumsy message was going to carry professional weight?  Did they think for one moment about preparing their students for the job market?

I’m furious at teachers who have done this, and not for my own sake.  Granted, I spend more time than I would like doing some remedial teaching to students who shouldn’t need the instruction by the time they get to college.  But most of all, I’m furious that these teachers have betrayed their students. 

Add to that the fact that the schools are forever asking for more money in order to succeed, and I really start shaking my head in disbelief.  Maybe they need more equipment in science labs, or for band instruments, or sports, or shop, or any of a number of other classes that use equipment.  But all you need to teach a decent use of the language is pen and paper.  A dictionary.  You don’t even need a computer (Shakespeare didn’t have a computer; neither did Homer, or John Steinbeck – or the writers of the U.S. Constitution.).

You need an instructor who cares about a well-crafted sentence; you need an instructor whose love of literature and love of communication comes through in every class session.  You need an instructor who is willing to take the long way around, with no shortcuts.  You need an instructor who understands that how the content is packaged is as important as the content itself; that it’s important to tell students about subject/verb agreement, about run-on sentences, about fragments, about the need for a subject and a verb, and a modifier that isn’t left hanging as if ready to fall off a cliff.

Does that take more money?  No, absolutely not.  It takes instructors who know the language and have a passion for the language as well as a desire to help students be the best that they can be.

That a full third of our area high school students don’t graduate is alarming and indicative of this same trend.  In addition, our local Oregonian newspaper reports that most students who take classes in English as a Second Language don’t learn English.  A dear friend back in Montana used to prepare his college students for a semester studying in Vienna by taking them out for beer once a week and allowing only German to be spoken there for several hours.  Immersion still works.  If you have a few basics, your ear will pick up the rest, and pretty soon you’ll be speaking the language.  When my friend Magda, from Poland, lived with me the first year she was in the U.S., she would call home every Saturday morning, and after a while I came to know what subject was being discussed. I could figure out when she was talking about school, about work, or about other family members.

Why, then, is it so darned difficult for teachers of English and writing to hold students to standards that will help them succeed on the job?  Why is more money necessary?  Why can’t a given instructor simply tell a student, “No, you can’t use a plural form of the verb and a singular form of the noun.  They have to both be plural or both be singular.””  What’s so hard about that?  Are teachers afraid of hurting students’ feelings?  Why?  Isn’t it going to hurt a whole lot worse when they lose a job – if they get hired in the first place?  What on earth is going on here?

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