Humanising Language Teaching
Dear HLT fellow Readers,
Greetings from Cusco in the Peruvian Andes.
Binational Center, Cusco , Peru. Amparoga@yahoo.com
Having belatedly read Daniela Cammack's article that was published in HLT, May 2003, about her problems teaching in China, I found myself both sympathising and frowning. It's a horrible situation to be in. We invest much of ourselves into our teaching and it is hard to accept that criticism of our teaching is not criticism of ourselves.
Nevertheless, once we have got over the initial discomfort, resentment and aggrievement, such criticism and our reaction to it can initiate a step forward in our professional development. Now is the time, a few months after Daniela's experience, to consider whether or not her “assistant” may have had a point. Grammar as a subject to be taught is often very boring for students and may best be avoided. Grammar as an explanation of what has been said or what could be said, on the other hand… much better. In other words, ground the grammar in what is coming out of the students' mouths. Incidentally, why students need to work on question tags has always been beyond me. They seem to be one of the first things to disappear when us native speakers are abroad, no?
Daniela might also feel aggrieved that her “assistant” spoke to her before the lesson, but it would be in keeping with Chinese cultural values if the students had asked her to do so. Chinese students prefer to get an intermediary to help them negotiate any problems they may encounter. It's not telling tales, it's just the way their culture works. Go to a mutually respected third party and ask them to raise the matter with the teacher. This way face is preserved all around. If Daniela is planning on staying in China, I'd recommend some books and a website.
For getting to grips with these painfully sharp yet misleadingly subtle cultural differences, try Turning Bricks in to Jade, published by the Intercultural Communications Group ( I think).
For ideas on making grammar less of theoretical concern, try Uncovering Grammar by Scott Thornbury, published by Macmillan. And for a group of people who believe that the disastrous situation in which Daniela finds herself is in fact the perfect situation for real and effective teaching, visit www.teaching-unplugged.com
With best wishes