A Dutch Lesson

A Dutch lesson was one of the most memorable parts of a teacher training course I took many years ago at the British Council, Bogota, Colombia when I was a young, inexperienced teacher.
The course is now known as the Cambridge ESOL CELTA course which leads to a basic but very practical and useful teaching qualification called “The Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults” for those who pass it.
The lesson in Dutch was taught by Catherine, one of the teachers at that time at the British Council in Bogota. She only spoke Dutch throughout the 60-minute lesson. She did not speak a word of English. I thought it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it greatly as did all the other trainee teachers except for one woman and by the end of the lesson, we could say simple greetings and make some simple sentences in Dutch. Catherine used a lot of gestures and picture cue cards to present the target language, and then to get us to repeat and practise the language. I think she did an excellent job teaching us.

Why did we have a lesson to learn Dutch, the language spoken in the Netherlands or Holland, when we were learning how to teach English?

The reason for doing this exercise was to make us realize how it feels to be a student being taught a foreign language only using that foreign language. Teachers of English as a foreign language working in language schools in the UK or other English-speaking countries have mixed nationality classes. In a classroom in England there may well be Russian students, Chinese students, Brazilian students, Spanish students, Turkish students, Thai students, Japanese students, Italian students, Saudi Arabian students etc. Clearly the teacher cannot use the students’ own languages in that class! Therefore these classes have to be taught only in English.
In Japan, however, 99.99% of my students are Japanese. Even so, teaching English in English is excellent preparation for the time when these students want to or need to communicate with non-Japanese speakers in English. Using a little Japanese may help in some cases to clarify meaning quickly but extensive use of Japanese in an English lesson will automatically reduce the students’ exposure to and practice of English. It also makes the students believe that they do not need to listen or read English carefully because a Japanese explanation will follow. I personally think it is also rather lazy and unimaginative for a teacher of English to constantly rely on translation to explain meaning.
Skilled, professional teachers like Catherine can teach a foreign language very well only using that language.

However, there was one student in our group who could not understand or produce the target language that Catherine was teaching. When I saw this student’s problems, it made me think that there are some students who cannot cope with the mental exercise and stimulation of learning in a foreign language.
Sometimes when teaching in Aizu, we come across students who cannot cope with being taught almost exclusively in English. Maybe these students would prefer to learn English with a teacher speaking Japanese to them frequently. I think this is unfortunate because that style of teaching obviously reduces the chances of a student becoming a fluent and confident speaker of English.
After all, surely the purpose of learning English should be to enable students to use the language confidently to communicate.

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