How Should Languages Be Taught in School? - Steve Kaufmann

I favour using content of interest, compelling content, to make language learning enjoyable. But many school learners simply aren’t interested. Can setting a specific list of words to learn make things better?

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From my experience, both as a learner and as a teacher, the problem usually lies neither with the teachers nor with the students. It´s the school system itself, whose latent main function is to assign grades that decide students’ career paths.

Grammar, learning a certain number of words, etc. are easy to test, so it´s easy to assign grades. As long as this logic isn´t challenged, students are systematically demotivated, and interest in foreign language learning declines. This is probably true for all countries - not just the UK.

However, we know strategies that work well:

  • Be learner-specific, not teacher-specific, ie: The teacher should help students become independent (language) learners (for life) by becoming a mentor/coach and facilitator. 
  • Give students control over the content.
  • Use story-based learning.
  • Make it personal, i.e.: students' personal interests are key. 
  • Introduce bilingual instruction, as this is one of the absolute success stories in school-based language teaching! 
  • Follow a grammar-light approach. 


But forget the motivation thingy, because it’s impossible to just “motivate others.” It doesn’t work that way. Instead, change the environment by using some of the strategies above to help students find reasons to motivate themselves.