Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Engaging Content

by AJ

Today I shifted gears with my Advanced class. Up till now, Ive used mostly romantic comedies for the movie technique. These have been fairly popular.

But the last few weeks, we've been reading articles about the immigration fight going on in America right now. Yesterday we read about a library in Lawrenceville, Georgia (a redneck suburb near my hometown) that has decided to cut all funds for adult Spanish language books. This article led to a discussion about racism in America... and my students expressed an interest in the history of this topic.

So, having just finished "Good Will Hunting".. I decided to go with a documentary on the American Civil Rights movement. I think it was a good choice. I realized that while most foreign students are vaguely familiar with this part of American history.. most really don't know much about it. Today we watched a series of interviews with people who took part in the movement. They described their experiences with cross burnings, intimidation, segregation, lynchings, etc. It was very powerful...

As you might imagine, such a film provides for many serious and interesting discussions... and also stimulates a lot of questions about American history and its impact on the present day.

As we discussed these issues, I realized how childish and condescending most ESL materials are... even for advanced students. Most ESL textbooks focus on two general themes: extremely boring tasks (shopping, eating at a restaurant, etc..) or lame pop culture (dumb articles mostly appropriate for adolescents).

Why do we subject them to this tripe? There is an inherent and usually unstated assumption in adult ESL education... that lack of English ability equals lack of intellectual ability (an assumption with subtle rascist roots, in my opinion). Thus we have the absurd practice of teaching students "study skills" and "reading skills" (students who study and read very well indeed in their native languages). We also insult their intelligence with childish and simplistic topics. As a Spanish learner, Id certainly be insulted if a Spanish teacher insisted on teaching me how to "find the main idea" when reading.

Of course, beginning students may not have the language ability to discuss an extremely complex topic like racism. But that doesnt mean we have to condescend to them... or pretend like they have no clue how to study, live, find a main idea, organize their thoughts, etc...

They dont need lessons on these subjects. What they need is more authentic, comprehensible, meaningful, and interesting English content.

San Francisco, CA