CAN ENGLISH BE TAUGHT LOGICALLY?

Many experts with their various approaches teach English. But one fact that they definitely cannot deny is that English can be taught logically.

Teaching English to non-native speakers of the language presents numerous challenges to a foreign English teacher or trainer and these challenges are many.

In a country like Malaysia, there are three different races living under one roof. If English teachers or trainers here were to adopt L1 to translate and teach English, it will be mayhem. So, I have adopted the Structural Approach which emphasises the various patterns of sentences shown via Substitution Tables to teach and train English here. One of the reasons is very obvious. We are not native speakers of the language and we require some sort of help to enlighten us as to the structures of the language. A native speaker cannot see that and will not see that.

A foreign learner of English requires a different approach to learn English. It is only proper that he learns it in a methodical manner outlining the various structures. This is only possible if he has a prior knowledge of basic grammar. Grammar is used to help a foreigner to speak and write the language. Speaking and writing are the transmission skills. Native speakers are natural speakers of the language. Like the foreigner, even a native speaker must be taught how to write the language.

In order to present my materials in English learning, my relying on a logical order of presentation is no accidental discovery. The Structural Approach employs the scientific method throughout the study of grammar. This approach was successfully employed in the teaching and learning of English in Malaysia prior to 1970, when English was the medium of instruction in schools and colleges.

Various English experts from around the world have come to Malaysia to teach and train local teachers as well as students the English language. The majority of them failed to deliver. The standard of English here deteriorated further despite these native experts roped in to teach the locals. These experts with their vast knowledge in psychology, teaching and learning couldn’t even turn around the standard of English here for the better.

Also, the materials used to teach English from Britain, US or Canada are not suitable for learners here. Only grammar or vocabulary books are suitable since these two areas are universal in English learning and teaching. As for listening, speaking, reading and conversational materials, they are not suitable for foreigners. The cultural aspect in these countries makes it difficult for the Malaysian learner to understand.

Language is not an exploration of the slipshod or illogical kind. Nay, it is an exploration of the logical kind which leads to better understanding of its usage. Look at how Mr. Somervell taught Sir Winston Churchill. It definitely wasn’t illogical.

This is an excerpt from Randolph Quirk’s “English Language and the Structural Approach”, in which he quotes a passage from Churchill’s “My Early Life”.

[In his autobiography, Sir Winston Churchill tells us that, through BEING TAUGHT the old and rigorous English grammar, he “gained an immense advantage over the cleverest boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell – a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great – was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing – namely, TO WRITE MERE ENGLISH. He knew how to do it …… Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis. Mr. Somervell had a system of his own. He took a fairly long sentence and broke it up into its components by means of black, red, blue, and green inks. Subject, verb, object: Relative Clauses, Conditional Clauses, Conjunctive, and Disjunctive Clauses! Each had its colour and its bracket. IT WAS A KIND OF DRILL.

We did it almost daily …… Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence – which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down to common English, TO EARN THEIR LIVING OR MAKE THEIR WAY, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for is not knowing English. I would whip them for that.”]

The words in capital letters are done by me for emphasis.

Isn’t it obvious? Even a native speaker needs to be taught how to write mere English. And he or she needs to be taught to write mere English via the study of grammar. Anyone who says to the contrary is misleading others. “Communicative” activities to teach and learn English do not cover English grammar extensively as does the Structural Approach. It is merely “embedded” in the “communicative” syllabus.

The Structural Approach doesn’t encourage grammar learning as a separate subject entirely from the rest – vocabulary, sentence structures, syntax, composition, etc. It just gives prominence to it as it is the bedrock of advanced English learning for the purposes of expression.

Grammar learning in its entirety is just a mechanical exercise. Grammar should be an aid to composition. It takes centre stage in the Structural Approach as it also helps the spoken form via the drills incorporated in the Substitution Tables, which help the foreign learner tremendously. Kill two birds with one stone. The grammar learned helps in the spoken and written forms, which are the transmission skills and require an adequate command of language.

The Structural Approach covers rigidly the study of English and its grammar as tools that enable a foreigner to attain the same proficiency and usage as that of a native speaker of English in his country. After the necessary building-blocks to understand and apply English have been mastered, the foreigner is introduced to much higher work which he takes on easily as the basic rudiments have been thoroughly practised. Confidence in using the language in work and social environments becomes a stepping stone for the foreigner to achieve even more in later life.

Besides, the foreigner doesn’t need to grope in the dark as he has Substitution Tables to rely on in his time of learning. The various structures enable him to progress as he already has the necessary knowledge of grammar. As I’ve said, native speakers can’t and won’t see that.

As such, I am also able to identify clearly the deficiencies inherent in some native speakers of English to write English well. These deficiencies explain their inability to write a piece of prose of five to six paragraphs clearly and correctly in English.

If languages are indeed illogical, they can never be taught. The very act of learning a language can put people off as it will be illogical to do so. For instance, if English was truly illogical, the English people will never have been able to devise the system called GRAMMAR. They not only devised it but also compiled it. Of course, it has its exceptions in usage here and there. For example, I have, He/She has, an umbrella, a uniform, an hour, a hotel, etc.

An English language authority once noted that this device called GRAMMAR has been successfully adopted by some other languages too. Based on the English Grammar system, these languages have come up with their own grammar with modifications here and there.

When the British Empire ruled the waves, the colonised countries were introduced to the British educational system delivered in the English language. Some of these conquered people learned the language and the legacy continues till today in some former British colonies. There was no issue of illogicality back then.

Where others see mass of confusion, I see layers of order.

What works in a native speaker’s country, where English teaching and learning are concerned, doesn’t necessarily mean that it should or must work in a non-native speaker’s country. Logically, if these methods/approaches work in the native speaker’s country, they MUST work in a non-native speaker’s country. But they don’t.

It’s very simple. If the approach works for one environment, then it should work for ALL environments with the same rate of success.

In the future, I don’t want the services of doctors, lawyers and engineers, who can’t even present their cases in written English well. These people lack true professionalism. As they have studied in the English language all their lives, they MUST express themselves well in written English too. This shows their education level as clear thinking precedes clear writing.

What others perceive or brand an approach as outdated or outmoded may be the very thing sorely needed to solve or overcome the problem. If the same problem persists for decades, then something is definitely wrong with the approach used. If the same approach doesn’t deliver results for umpteenth years, then it definitely needs to be eradicated as it serves no purpose anymore.

Thus, in English teaching and learning in Malaysia, the “communicative” approach has FAILED to deliver despite being around since 1970. Malaysians from all strata of society wail and bemoan the standard of English daily.

The Structural Approach did deliver the practical results in English proficiency and usage among Malaysians before 1970. Its success in the Malaysian context has been proven. That made me find out more as to why this approach delivered the results in English teaching and learning back then. If a theory delivered the practical results in English usage and proficiency in the Malaysian environment in the past, why can’t it deliver the same practical results in the same Malaysian environment now?

With the Structural Approach, I get results. They may not be immediate or instant, but they “empower” the student and participant during teaching or training. Their understanding and usage of English is “awakened”. I have used the Structural Approach in teaching and training English among locals and also some foreigners. They attest its efficacy. Wouldn’t I conclude that the Structural Approach indeed delivers? Wouldn’t this be measured and called a success?

So, can English be taught logically? Yes, it can.

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