Language Learning and Teaching Beliefs (or myths)

Donald Rumsfeld

I’ve always been a big advocate of continued reflection by teachers, especially regarding their own beliefs vis a vis teaching and learning. Especially the continued development of one’s philosophy of education.

I don’t think we pay or give much attention to this in teacher training programs. Many teachers don’t create their own system but are many times ruled by another’s (to paraphrase Blake).  Too often teachers just adopt a certain belief system – be it that of their textbook (say Gass & Selinker), their TEFL trainer, the CELTA or even just remaining mired in their own belief system created and ruled by 1,000s of hours sitting in  class – how they were taught.

In my teacher training, I’ve often given teachers this short questionnaire and then got them discussing their fundamental beliefs about being a teacher and teaching.  I’ve yet to do the same regarding teaching and learning a language (save for my reflective journal – Zen and the Act of Teaching which kind of does so) but I think our profession needs to develop a platform to do so.

So today while listening to Erdogan detail the crimes of the rich and mighty regarding Khashoggi – I tapped out these statements.  Which do you believe as true?  Which do you fundamentally disagree with?

They are a rough copy and maybe a lot of them aren’t phrased well enough, clear enough, but it’s a start. Later, I’d like to comment on each and add references to each detailing research that proves or disproves.  So stay tuned.

But here are the statements. What do you believe?  Which are true?  Which are in the realm of myth?  Comments appreciated.

  • Students prefer native speakers as teachers.
  • Students acquire and learn the linguistic errors teacher make when teaching.
  • The accent of a teacher affects the learning of their students.
  • Native speakers are the best models for pronunciation.
  • Students learn what teachers teach.
  • Students acquire language in the same set order.
  • A noisy class is the best class and a sign of language learning.
  • There is a one standard correct English language.
  • You need to know the underlying rules of a language in order to learn the language.
  • There is one correct way to learn a language. Some know it. Some don’t.
  • There is one correct way to teach a language. Some know it. Some don’t.
  • You can learn a language just by attending school and doing exercises.
  • The more a teacher knows about language and language learning, the better they can teach.
  • We think in a language.
  • The best way to learn a language is to speak it.
  • You have to know you are learning or you won’t learn any language.
  • The language we speak changes the way we see and experience the world.
  • Adults aren’t as good at learning languages as children.
  • Teachers need at least a C1 level to teach English.
  • The more words a student knows, the better they can speak a language.
  • Women make better teachers for young learners.
  • Teachers with lower level fluency should teach beginners.
  • It is best to learn to both speak and write language at the same time.
  • There is a special area of the brain devoted to language and making meaning from sound.
  • Words are stored in special parts of the brain.  Language learning is an effort to better retrieve and access this storage.
  • Among average people, some are innately better at learning languages than others.
  • I’m bilingual so I’m more intelligent than my monolingual peers.
  • If my children are hearing many languages at home, they’ll get confused and never learn to speak one language well.
  • There is a sexual differentiation governing the ability to learn a language.  Girls learn languages quicker and better.
  • If a student can speak a language well, they are fully fluent in the language.

 

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ddeubel

Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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4 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    Some very interesting statements here. After all this time, second language acquisition remains such a mystery…

    One that I definitely disagree with is that just attending classes and doing exercises will enable a learner to learn a language. Well, sort of: passive knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, and some success with skills (likely stronger in the receptive skills than the productive), but overall, those students who treat English (or any language learning) as merely a subject will likely find it the most difficult to get over the intermediate plateau.

  2. ddeubel says:

    Daniel, Sorry for delay in posting your comments. Somehow didn’t get posted automatically. Now good.

    Totally agree with that comment and I think teachers need to be more honest with everyone, students, parents, admin alike – learning in a class will help but there is much more to becoming a fluent speaker than just attending a class. No magic bullet!

  3. Niall says:

    I have been teaching English language for 6 years and, this past year, I have also been managing other teachers. I am interested in how I can help my colleagues improve as (unfortunately) many of them are inexperienced and largely untrained.
    I will be watching how this post develops as I think it would be an interesting exercise for them to read these statements and decide if they agree or disagree. I would love to be able to show them further information on whether their beliefs are based in up-to-date research. They mostly seem to teach based on how they were taught.
    Thank you for the interesting read.

  4. ddeubel says:

    Yes, I think the teachers you mention would benefit. I will get back to the list and reference and clariify most of the statements.

    Most of the statements are strongly “false”. However, a number are in the realm of belief and not so easily to label as true or false given what we know presently about second language acquisition. This is where one’s belief system kicks in and is part of what determines how teachers teach.

    Glad you got something out of this “work in progress”!

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