Learning foreign languages has always been important for the Greeks. What initially started as a status symbol gradually became available to the masses. Nowadays, everybody learns English and manages to pass some sort of exam and get a kind of qualification. This happens so naturally and so frequently that our students have come to believe that language certificates grow on trees and when the time is (literally) ripe, they will collect theirs in a seemingly effortless way. Much like with any other popular tendency, fallacies have been formed over the years about proper language learning and these are what this month’s article sets out to examine. One might wonder why we should do this. I feel that it is always useful to know what our clients think and be ready to face them with valid arguments.
On top of that, it makes me feel disappointed that these fallacies have been fed and bred by some of the experts of our field, who, for fear of losing a student, are prepared to play right into his parents’ hands and sacrifice what they know to be methodologically sound, just to appease the clients. The other day, I read the following quotation: “Do not focus on the moment. Focus on the duration.’’ If we want to maintain our clientele and the reputation of our school, it is our duty to focus on the duration and help the non-experts, understand why what they believe is untrue or simply wrong. ‘’What if they can’t understand it?’’ one might ask. Well, in that case we ought to remember that no school is built for all and we have the right too to choose our clients. What we cannot do is compromise our principles.
‘’Pre-Junior classes are a waste of time and money.’’
This fallacy led FLS owners to offer Pre-Junior classes for free with the immediate loss of the bulk of their learners once the ‘’free’’ period was over. This happened because clients were not given the chance to appreciate what they were being offered. In their mind, there was no need for a Pre-Junior class because when they learnt English, they started in some class of the Primary School and learnt Grammar from day one. What this aims to point out is that we should not be offering things for free (at least not before our clients have given us something to merit the freebie) and secondly we should inform parents about what we aim to achieve through this Pre-Junior class and how we will do this. Level presentations were never more useful than at this stage and organizing these events for parents can bring back great benefits.
‘’If you know all the words, you can build a sentence, then a paragraph and then a text.’’
The crux of the sentence above is ‘’all’’ the words. This relic of the bottom-up approach has made many parents scream because their precious one cannot withstand ambiguity and needs to have all the words explained in Greek and written (with the pronunciation) on the whiteboard, so that the precious one can spend 45 minutes copying and speaking Greek, thus doing anything but develop his communicative abilities. Investing on duration means disillusioning the parents and explaining that what once perhaps worked, does not fly anymore. Mention has to be made of what constitutes the ability to speak a language in the modern society, which sub-skills and abilities the learners of any language will have to develop, not in order to cope with an exam, but in order to become actual independent users of the language. Teaching learners to understand words from context, to withstand ambiguity and to focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t, is actually us doing a great service to the parents and training their offspring to cope with any academic exam, let alone with life itself.
‘’Let him take the easy exam! He was never much of a student!’’
When parents say things along these lines, especially in the presence of the students themselves, I feel bitter. It is not because these parents have obviously no expectations from their offspring; it is more that they set an example for their child which is altogether negative. Instead of working harder to become able to take the worthy exam, do it now, do it fast and just take the second best, because second best you’ve always been! No wonder then that these children never see themselves as language learners nor invest on the learning process. Our first duty is to tell those parents that we have run out of ‘’easy’’ exams and ‘’fast’’ certificates. Intensive classes are meant for learners who have achieved a great level of knowledge, not for anyone willing to pay. Exams are designed to reflect a level of competency and this level has been described by the CEFR down to its last detail. Individual exams might opt for a simpler form and compensate that with much less thinking time for the learner, but simple they are not.
‘’My son has κενά.’’
I have avoided to translate the word ‘’κενά’’ to highlight its very Greek connotation. Greek mothers suffer from errorphobia which is an irrational fear of the red marks on their children’s work, as these do not signify their children’s effort to learn, but the failure of their own parenting skills. Any mention of a lower grade or a test that was not perfect will send those mothers to a crisis. ‘’But how can that be? We spent the whole weekend studying!’’ Notice the crucial ‘’we’’ which shows that the homework is a family affair, not the learner’s responsibility. After the mother has dealt with the shock, she collects herself and says: ‘’He’s got κενά! We ought to have some extra Grammar private lessons for him.’’ The holly goddess of language learning, Grammar, comes in every such discussion, because it seems teachable and therefore manageable and parents want to do something to save their children from the imminent disaster.
Most Greek mothers are also wanna-be teachers and are the first to purchase a copy of the teacher’s book. If the school uses the publishing house test book, they have a teacher’s copy of that as well. They also buy another grammar book, so that they can teach their own children. Colleagues, forget the threat of private lessons. These mothers are our true competition! Dealing with them cannot be easy, firstly, because ‘’Mummy knows best’’ and secondly because their ideas have been so deeply ingrained that they cannot be shaken. The best way to reason with them is by analysing the consequences their attitude might have. In the next article we are going to examine the fallacies FLS teachers and owners hold near and dear to their hearts. Till then a Happy Festive Season to all and to all a good day!