Rant about the "English Education" System

This is the Flame Forum, so I’m letting my alter-ego, Pissed-Off Tomas, out of his cage.

I get evaluated by my students, adult learners preparing for standarized exams, four times a year. My statistical ratings are always about the same, but comments will vary from the mundane to the truly unique.

The most ridiculous comment award from last quarter’s evaluations goes to a student in my Reading Methods class, who wrote on her evaluation (translated from Chinese):

“He is a good teacher, and his Mandarin is excellent, but he was ocassionally imprecise in his use of spoken Mandarin. This failure to achieve 100% accuracy in the use of Mandarin is a shame. I wonder if he truly understands all of the obstacles Chinese (sic) students face in learning English.”

Yes, I think I do understand the obstacles you face in learning English. I believe that the biggest obstacle you face is that the FUCKING EDUCATION SYSTEM you participate in for six years sets you up to fail by:

  1. Using Mandarin, exclusively, to teach you English, thereby instilling in you the firm belief that you can only think about a foreign language in Mandarin. What the hell are your teachers thinking, teaching a foreign language in Mandarin?
  2. Teaching you to translate each sentence, paragraph, and article you encounter word for word in order to understand its meaning. This gives you the false belief that in order to understand what an author has written, you must first translate his or her writing entirely into Mandarin. It also makes you insecure about your reading skills. Don’t know the meaning of a particular word? Ah! Then, you can’t understand the sentence.
  3. Boring you to tears with badly written, ineffective teaching materials that utterly fail to instill in you any sense of the joys of learning a foreign language.
  4. Teaching you that memorizing lists of vocabulary is of any use when in fact, learned outside of any meaningful context, this method of acquiring vocabulary is useless.
  5. Putting you under the tutelage of “teachers” who have never lived in an English-speaking country, and who lack the ability to pronounce and write English properly.

I strongly dislike teaching in Mandarin, not because I don’t enjoy speaking Mandarin, but because I feel that I am an unwilling participant in a giant fuck-up, otherwise known as the Taiwanese concept of English education. Even if I spoke very slowly and selected only commonly used words and phrases, 80% of my students would walk away having comprehended less than 50% of what I teach them. More importantly, the difficult and abstract subject matter of these classes would be impossible for most of them to comprehend if taught in English. They pay money to learn how to succeed on tests, so I’m forced to use Mandarin as a short-term solution to the problem of getting ready for a test in a short period of time. My students don’t suck. They are victims of a system that sucks.

Precisely. And then they have the temerity to comment on accents !

This exactly why I don’t teach adults, except for one teeth gritting conversation class for $1000/hr once a week for 1.5 hours. I’ll happily take the pay cut and sing Raffi songs with kindergarteners and young anchingban students.

Thank you for making me realize my focus and why I am where I am.

You get them late, while I start them early.


So how do you get adult learners to open their minds? i actually had an adult student get mad at me becuase I wouldn’t assign a section of the dictionary for her to memorize!!

I’m convinced that starting adult learners on the Oxford Bookworms series of readers is the way to go. Getting them to read FOR PLEASURE, which I know is an alien concept, will give them the vocabulary repetition that they need and allow them to eventually teach themselves.

Tomas, maybe it’s worse for you because you’re doing test prep. If you could get your hands on another class where you could guide the curriculum, it might be better. But then test prep pays very well doesn’t it?

Tomas, maybe it’s worse for you because you’re doing test prep. If you could get your hands on another class where you could guide the curriculum, it might be better. But then test prep pays very well doesn’t it?[/quote]

I do guide the curriculum, but the curriculum is dictated by the tests I am preparing the students for. Students don’t come to us a year in advance to develop skills in reading, writing, and listening for an upcoming test. At best, they come four to six months before test day, which means they can only take a skill building course, and then a course focused directly on the test they have to take.

I know that choosing to work where I do has its costs. I accept them. I just sometimes have bad days, and I blame much of the frustrations my students and I encounter on the unenlightened and ineffective English education system here.

The system still sucks, I just understand it better now. Lately, I’ve been speaking English almost exclusively in my classes, and it seems to be helping my students, at least with the listening portions of their tests. I also think I underestimated their ability to understand me when I speak slowly and clearly in English.

In Taiwan, English is still viewed as a laboratory science, something to be analyzed empirically. This is dead wrong. English is organic, natural, both an art and a science. So I’ve decided to wage my own little war against the system and speak English in my classes.

There is a time and a place for Mandarin, and a time and a place for English.

Thanks, I feel better now.