THE PRACTICABILITY OF A THEORY

A theory becomes a law after it is put through many tests that yield the same results among different groups of people spread over many locations. In the event that a test yields a different result from what happened in the previous tests, the theory is modified to accommodate the new finding. Now and then, changes do occur on all fronts in the physical world. Mankind has learned to accommodate to these new changes. As such, a theory, which has become a law, may be subjected to changes in the future.

What about a theory which has yielded nothing but failures in many examples used among different groups of people spread over many locations? How would one describe that theory? A successful failure? Would a scientist test and re-test a hypothesis forever if it yields nothing but failure in many examples?

Such a theory is producing failures among different groups of people in many countries and it exists in the English teaching and learning world. As a matter of fact, that particular theory by the name of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) Approach doesn’t even deliver the intended results in English proficiency and usage in English-speaking nations as proven in the PISA Reading Tests conducted from the year 2003 onwards.

“PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling. PISA is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries, and is conducted in the United States by NCES. PISA was first administered in 2000 and is conducted every three years. The most recent assessment was in 2012.”

Take the recent PISA 2012 Reading Test Results. The results clearly show that no English-speaking nations dominate the top 5 spots in the test. As the population of English-speaking nations are IMMERSED in the English language 24 hours of the day, every minute and every second, they should dominate the top 5 spots in the Reading Test EVERY TIME IT IS HELD. IT’S A GIVEN! The so-called IMMERSION technique in learning English doesn’t even deliver the results for students in English-speaking nations.

Why is that so? Couldn’t the students in English-speaking nations perform in the PISA Reading Test well owing to their incompetent English teachers, lecturers and professors? Are their English teachers, lecturers and professors inept in even equipping students to read? Or are they incompetent in the language? Shouldn’t the CLT Approach be blamed here? Gloating over the CLT Approach in any context is erroneous indeed as the REALITY in the PISA Reading Test 2012 for these English-speaking nations prove otherwise. It speaks volumes of the impracticable CLT Approach that promotes IMMERSION in English as one way of acquiring proficiency in the language. That IMMERSION doesn’t even work in a native speaker’s country let alone in a foreigner’s country.

The foreign nations which dominate the top 5 spots in the PISA 2012 Reading Test must have achieved those positions employing a different approach from the CLT Approach. They didn’t definitely achieve those positions via IMMERSION in English as they are non-native speakers of the language. Surely, a different approach was used. It’s really flabbergasting and dumbfounding to see people teaching and learning English through an approach that doesn’t deliver the workable results in proficiency and usage of the language for decades. That shows their level-headedness. Are they blind in sight or blind in mind? Or both?

Are communicative tasks in daily activities all there is to English teaching and learning? What about writing skills which prepare a student to write essays and answer examination questions? Isn’t it the duty of English instructors to equip a student to express himself in adult life by training him to write formal letters, reports, e-mails, etc.? Doesn’t the writing skill aid a student to think clearly before he writes clearly? What is the purpose of an outline in essay writing then?

For 11 years (in primary and secondary schools), I was taught English by teachers who used the CLT Approach. In that 11 years of schooling, none of the teachers taught me how to use grammar as an aid to composition. Not much prominence was given to it as well as sentence-structures (totally absent), construction of sentences or variety in sentence-building. During English lessons, the emphasis was more on communicative tasks in given situations. It was just simple tasks like how to order something, decline an offer, pass information, guide a motorist, etc. Although grammar isn’t fully neglected in the CLT Approach, it is very much neglected.

Written English work testing grammar and sentence-building was too minute to help students learn the language well. After leaving school, I enrolled for a Diploma in Business Studies programme offered by a British institute in Malaysia. The concrete slab fell on my head as I didn’t even know how to write simple English sentences. I had to learn how to write English through grammar study. Otherwise, I will never be able to answer the subjective questions requiring a candidate’s ability to understand, criticise and expand on a given topic. Of all the four skills in learning a language, writing requires a lot of hard work involving grammar study. Those who aim to write English well without grammar study are deluding themselves, for a lasting impression is created when their written English reveals their level of education and thinking.

Anyway, it took me more than a decade of self-study to really understand English. Later, I became an English trainer for working adults. I taught English via the CLT Approach in the beginning without any success. This is not an exaggeration. When clients weren’t satisfied, they chose not to pay. However, some clients weren’t honest with themselves as they chose to remain in a delusive state regarding their English competence.

When I delivered English learning materials using the Structural Approach, the response and the results were apparent among different groups of foreign learners with differing capabilities.

As someone who has learned English in school for 11 years via the CLT Approach and also taught it using the CLT Approach in the earlier stages, I find foreigners who gloat over the CLT Approach to teach and learn English as idealists as well as “delusionists” with a wrong objective. I know for certain that it is definitely not suitable for foreigners who are serious in mastering English as I understand the foreigners’ shortcomings (being one myself) and the pitfalls of the CLT Approach in a foreigner’s setting.

Under British rule, Malaysians were exposed to many methods or approaches to learn English. The British first set foot in Malaya in 1786. In 1816, they set up the first school introducing an English-medium education in Penang. Books written on English (the language itself and how to teach it) by British educators for the various dominions were also sold in Malaya at that time. Come 2016, Malaysians have been exposed to English teaching and learning for two centuries.

During these two centuries, the Structural Approach made the most impact in terms of English proficiency and usage amongst Malaysians as is evidenced by the generation who studied it prior to 1970. But the generation of Malaysians who studied English via the CLT Approach post 1970 don’t display the same English proficiency and usage. As such, a comparison can be made between the Structural Approach and the CLT Approach in terms of successful acquisition and usage of English. This is evidence that the Structural Approach is suitable for foreigners. Its suitability was also apparent in other foreign nations such as India, Burma, China and Japan. This was stated in a book written by F.G. French who wrote books on English teaching and learning via the Structural Approach.

The CLT Approach cannot be compared to the Structural Approach in terms of content and delivery. But the successful outcome and effective use of either of these approaches can be compared. After all, the target audience of both these approaches is the English language learner.

An individual isn’t in a position to differentiate the suitability of other approaches in a foreigner’s setting if he has been exposed to only one approach in teaching and learning English. Has he been exposed to other approaches in teaching and learning English in his country? Does he have materials from different approaches to make a comparison? It is futile of that individual to gloat over the success of only one approach to teach and learn English when its success rate in other non-English speaking countries is hardly something to brag about. Look at Malaysia.

In any language, the basics in the four skills are very important. There is a big difference between a language used colloquially and a language used formally or professionally. Practically, everyone can speak his mother tongue with ease. But can he speak it in a standard way bearing in mind the niceties involved in an occasion? Furthermore, can he write the language of his forbears in a standard way reflecting his ideas and feelings to others? In order to do that, he must possess knowledge of how his language works in a standard way. Otherwise, he is resigned to accept his lot among those who can aspire and achieve only little in life.

The English language is a tool that nobody can do without in this fast-changing world which requires competency in the language. Realists know that and they don’t need convincing. They are convinced.

Realising this fact in mind, they will strive to be competent in English using an approach that delivers the maximum results proportionate to the time, effort and money spent. Being intelligent individuals, they will also see to it that they receive practical results which aid them in their future endeavours. They don’t have the luxury of time at their disposal. Time and tide wait for no man. But they seem to wait for those who learn English using the CLT Approach.

A theory used to teach and learn a language that delivers no results is a farce. It is farcical indeed to pursue the same theory if it only produces nothing but failures in the form of incompetent users of the language. It is not workable or practicable.

In this case, there are many examples of the failure of the CLT Approach spread throughout a number of countries over a period of time. And these many examples of its failure in teaching and learning English are more pronounced in non-English speaking countries.

When foreigners can’t even get their basics in the four skills of English right, how on earth can they communicate their ideas and feelings to the rest of the world?

Of course, in the implementation and execution of theories or policies concerning language teaching and learning techniques, the kind of approach and instructors play a very important role. But when many instructors in many countries use the same approach to teach and learn English without achieving the required proficiency level (in all the four skills) amongst its learners over a period of time, then that approach MUST BE FAULTED.

Malaysians have been employing current trends in CLT Approach to teach and learn English. They have been “importing” native English speakers with strings of doctorates to guide them. Results – A BIG ZERO FOR 45 YEARS. A successful failure?

Precious time is wasted arguing on this line: how to make an unworkable theory work? If a theory hasn’t produced the intended results, it should be discarded altogether.

A globalised world will not tolerate the antics of incompetent individuals for long. It demands and looks towards realists to run it. Idealists and “delusionists” can’t survive long in a harsh globalised world. A globalised economy with the participation of various countries can be a harsher environment for those who can’t communicate in the language of economics – English. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon the individual to accept reality and equip himself in the English language using the right approach.

Incompetence breeds incompetence.

In the “leadership industry”, some instructors are imparting the fictitious qualities of non-existent superheroes to others. Dear reader, when was the last time a superhero saved you? In the real world, does one depend on one’s wits or the qualities of superheroes to solve a practical problem?

In the “English teaching and learning industry”, some instructors are equipping others with language skills which will not aid them in a practical and realistic world.

“Realism depends on reason rather than on our sentiments and wishes; it is prepared to find that the world is quite different from what men might wish it to be.”

“The realistic view is the common-sense view and the ONLY one that will stand up amidst the practical activities of life.”

Reason dictates clearly the failure of the CLT Approach in delivering the practical results in Malaysia, in other foreign nations and in reading tests even amongst native speakers from English-speaking nations.

What does common-sense say? Can’t it be observed and verified by everyone in the objective world?

Only idealists and “delusionists” refuse to see that.

Suffer the young. As the powers of expression have been snatched away from them, they face the globalised world with a delusive set of skills that will kill them at the outset.

It’s a competitive world. Competition will determine which theory lives or dies.

Just like any other subject, English is a serious subject requiring serious study which must incorporate grammar as an aid to composition as well as the powers of expression.

Many ordinary people pride themselves on being logicians but they are unable to recognise the worthlessness of a theory in any endeavour unfolding right before their eyes. It is the worthlessness of sticking to a theory that delivers no practical solutions.

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