I´m not sure when or why it happened, but somewhere along the line someone decided that language students, especially beginners, needed to be bombarded with hundreds of words and grammar rules in every class. You’ll see the alphabet, numbers, colors, and other topics in the preliminary chapter of some textbooks on the market today. Those topics alone can take at least ten hours to get students to really master, so I can´t understand the thought process behind that concept.
Why did this happen? What happened was that standards were put in place that were completely unrealistic for students to achieve any communicative ability whatsoever. Teachers rush through the curriculum at record speed trying to cover everything that needs to be covered in the book, and the end result of this is that students can’t actually “do” anything in the language. How many people have you heard say, “I took Spanish in high school, but I didn’t really learn how to speak it. All I remember is ‘hola’.” It’s the same story over and over again -- whether it happened in high school or college, Spanish class or French class, students spend hundreds of hours in the language classroom and can’t hold a basic conversation. Unfortunately, I was also a product of this poor methodology and curriculum design.
So, it can´t be that all these teachers are “bad teachers.” The problem that teachers face is that they have given up quality for quantity. They focus so much on getting through the book and covering the vocabulary and grammar that they forget about setting communicative objectives. When I asked my 13-year-old son what he learned in Spanish class today, his answer was, “We learned the verb jugar – to play,” instead of “We learned how to talk about the sports we like and don’t like.”
On the students’ end, they have to memorize so many lists of words, phrases, and verbs that there is no time for context. For some reason, the people who established these rules of engagement for language teaching and learning decided that context was secondary to vocabulary and grammar. Now, if you look at the field of English as a Second Language and the books on the market today, they understand it. These people were able to fix what was broken and change course, but for some reason, foreign languages are still catching up. I can see that in my son’s Spanish textbook.
So, it falls on the teachers to break up the book into chunks and present it in a meaningful way that students can actually absorb and master the language objectives. There is no “perfect” book out there because all groups are different and no one book will meet all your needs, but when you are reviewing class textbooks, be sure to keep “quality” instead of “quantity” in mind.
Ensuring that students don’t get overwhelmed with vocabulary and grammar is one part of creating an appropriate language learning environment. Look for more articles in the future on this topic at: www.stmpublishing.com/language-teaching-blog.