I’m interested in other teachers’ opinions regarding the use of bilingual textbooks.
The current ‘language learning’ philosophy in Taiwan is immersive study. In class, students aren’t aloud to speak, read or write Chinese. Teachers are asked not to use Chinese. New material is presented in English, defined and explained in English via words, whiteboard sketches, and pantomime. The schools in which I taught kids would not even allow the kids to use bilingual dictionaries.
Immersion study works. It’s how I had learnt English until I moved to Taiwan. It’s how Taiwanese learn Mandarin. It’s normal.
However, I don’t think it’s the most effective way to learn a second language. The assumed goal of any student (and/or student’s parent) is to be able to use proper English as quick and inexpensively as possible. (This, of course, contradicts the goals of school owners and possibly teachers, but let’s slice that off as a separate topic.)
Even if we neglect the fact that English study in Taiwan is hardly immersive since students live such a small portion of their lives in an all-English environment, immersive study is very slow in the beginning; new vocabulary can only be expressed with other new vocabulary. Unless a teacher is skilled at sketching and miming, a student is lost. Abstract ideas are impossible to teach until a student has spent considerable time understanding lesser abstract ideas.
I agree that, in English class, students should listen to and speak in English. However, I disagree with the use of English-only texts and dictionaries. Students often already have a firm foundation in Mandarin before starting to learn English. They already can communicate abstract ideas and can read and write vocabulary for these ideas.
So, why waste the limited time these students have in English class by playing Charades to teach vocabulary when in a fraction of a second students can understand the definition of words by reading them in their own language?
The analogy might be a town using narrow dirt roads and horse-drawn buggies. The wisest way to accomodate cars is not to knock down all the buildings and rebuild the city with wider paved roads; but it is to pave over the dirt and make the streets one-way. By the time the use of cars becomes too great for the downtown streets, the suburbs and superhighways will have already sprouted, and the old downtown will be made quaint, quiet and for pedestrian traffic only.
My stance is that students should have textbooks with Chinese translations and be allowed to use Chinese-English dictionaries; however, they shouldn’t speak Chinese, nor should the teacher.
For those of you who use Shi-Da’s textbooks to study Chinese, you might realize how much faster we can learn Chinese than if we had to use an all-Chinese text. After just one year, we understand how to talk about politics and religion - things that Taiwanese adults typically cannot speak in English about even after several years of studying using English-only texts.
Whew… out of breath… pant.