Saturday, November 22, 2014

How to Choose an English language school –part one of many --Student Ethnic Composition

How to Choose an English language school –part one of many
Student Ethnic Composition

Greetings. This is the first of a series of posts aimed at prospective English as a Second Language students who are trying to decide how to choose an English language school. In other words, if you are considering coming to Boston or some other city in the USA to study English then these articles are aimed at you. They are intended to provide you with some useful information that will help you select a good school from among the many available.
There are many factors involved in choosing an English language school and this series each article should focus on a different part of choosing the right one.  
When seeking a language school I think that one factor that should be considered is ethnic composition and diversity.
In a good English as a second language school, there are students of many nationalities. The teacher teaches using the English language and the students learn using the English language.  This is called the “immersion method” of learning English. As one school I once worked at used to advertise “English, English, everywhere.” (Now, whether or not they actually fulfilled this is another matter, but that was the goal.) In this environment, students must communicate with each other in English unless they have another common language, but since they are mixed, they usually don’t have a common language other than English. Therefore English is required for daily interaction among students.
Now, of course, other systems of education are possible for teaching the English language. Sometimes it is desirable for students to be taught in their own language. For instance, I know of a fine not for profit English as a second language program located in Boston Chinatown where the lowest levels are taught in a mixture of English and Mandarin Chinese. The program is aimed at immigrants who speak Chinese, and the first two levels of the program’s E.S.L. (English as a Second Language) classes are almost or entirely Chinese speaking students. However, once the students get beyond the first two levels, the classes are much, much more integrated, containing students from all backgrounds and the instruction is entirely in English.
Such a system works best when the students are integrated and contain many diverse languages.
If students contain a predominant ethnic or language group, then the system can sometimes break down.
For instance, the teacher will try to explain a grammar point or a vocabulary item. A student will find it difficult to understand. Instead of working with their teacher and using English language interaction to resolve the problem they might turn to a classmate and ask them, using their native language, to explain the issue or vocabulary item.
Unless the teacher understands the language being used, he or she has no way of knowing if the information was transmitted correctly unless he interrupts to check with the student and test their comprehension. The student, missing a chance to practice their English and having their belief in the need to use their native language for communication reinforced, loses out too.
In extreme cases, a teacher can find it difficult to teach a student or a class without having him or herself interrupted by an unappointed interpreter. As an aside, sometimes this problem is not limited to a whole class. More than once I’ve had this problem with married couples, where one spouse learns and the other is content to look at their partner and ask them for the answers class after class, day after day, week after week, until stopped.
In a highly motivated class, where students are learning English for a purpose and to achieve goals, this won’t happen.  
But in some classes, if a single ethnic or language group predominates, then it can make teaching difficult.