Sunday, 27 December 2015

Getting learners to ‘think in English’

There was this following discussion in EFL group at LinkedIn:

Do you think we should tell students to "think in English"? by Theresa Pole Baker Gouveria. She further stated:
Students are often exhorted to "think in English". I don't think it is necessary to tell them this, because when they build communicative confidence, they do this naturally. What do you think?

Obviously, this question doesn’t arise in the case of native children in England since they were fed English while in the womb and they breathe English at home, in the neighbourhood etc. Nor in the case of English-speaking persons who settled in the States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or other countries.

This question might not arise in the case of children whose ancestors emigrated speaking a language other than English. They learn English as another tongue but their mother tongues may not stop them from thinking in English for they hear it in all the places other than their homes. So thinking in English is likely to be a natural process.

This question definitely arises in the case of children who live in their own countries, who have their own languages to communicate in and who listen to (and speak?) English only in their classrooms. With one exception: children who learn all subjects in English including English and who use English for communication in school and even at home (encouraged by parents).

Teachers (native an locals) may tell and encourage their non-native learners to think in English. And they may employ strategies to make this work. But will their efforts bear fruit?

I present below a few thoughts expressed in the thread:  
Telling won't help. Only sustained desire to learn beating the odds, seeking avenues (reading, watching films) to be in as much touch as possible (and increase its width gradually) with the language because opportunities are hardly available in the environment, practising it with friends and relatives (if educated)--listening and speaking can help learners think in the language they're learning only in the classroom.

English Teacher (TEFL)
Telling does help and it works for me as I am extremely persistent and consistent. It is a slow process because the students spend little time with me each week. Ideally the student needs to be engulfed in the English language as much as possible (24 hours a day would be best) to really begin to consistently think in English. Trying to learn a language for 2 -4 hours a week is makes it difficult. Here is another topic : I tell my students to learn English from documentaries and not to try to learn from regular movies. There are very few regular movies which produce good English nowadays.

Business Development Manager
I concur with JR.    (‘JR’ refers to me)

Co-operative Teacher Mentor/English Language Educator/Project Teacher
I concur with KR and Kim. I work in Taiwan and listen to Chinese 90% of my day, teach English in English for 20 hours a week, and think more in Ukrainian (my mother tongue) than in English.

As an ESL learner, even though I have been speaking English for 50+ years, and teaching English Language, Literature and Composition for more than 30, when I am in a foreign country, surrounded by a foreign environment, I think in Ukrainian a great deal of the time. I don't try, it just happens.

When students in their own country, spend maybe, 4 hours a week learning English and then are surrounded by their mother tongue for the rest of the time, thinking in English is beastly difficult, although they will try. They will succeed now and again. But to expect them to think in English is an unrealistic request. And I think, it is unkind. The persistent expectation that this will improve their English language skills puts a great deal of stress on an already stressful endeavor.

Ukrainian is my 1st language and the language of my heart, my cultural core, my beliefs and my values. Telling me to think in English, no matter how persistent you are, doesn't work, so I sure the heck don't, and never will, tell my students that it is something that they have to do in order to improve their English language skills.

Experienced English teacher (individuals and groups), owner at CHATTERBOX
I concur with KR too. Their exposure to the English language and their involvement will lead to more natural constructions which is often not the case when translating literally. In order to have natural flow and use the right idiom you must listen a lot, read a lot and speak as much as possible. After a period of intensive accumulation you reach a stage at which you juggle with words and do not constantly translate what you want to say. I am three-lingual but I hardly ever use my mother tongue, not even in my dreams. It is true that I do not live in my home land, but you would expect that I resort to my native tongue when I am emotional but I do not do that either. I would like to emphasize that it does not help to tell them that they should think in English but help them reach the stage at which they can play with different entities and spontaneously produce the language that is natural and authentic.

I’m a non-native learner and teacher, and I taught in non-native environments for 43 years. I used the mother tongue or the regional language liberally to help learners see how differently their languages and English structure thoughts. 

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