One of the largest failings I see of EFL education in general, including some of the best schools, is the total disregard for modern 2nd language acquisition pedagogy. Linguists have demonstrated time and again that a purely skills-based approach to teaching a second language does not work very well. And yet, a skills based approach is what is practiced in over 99% of all EFL classrooms in Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
Perhaps the most influential L2 acquisition linguist, Stephen D Krashen, has long maintained the importance of massive comprehensible input for language learners. Mountains of research make it quite clear that no matter how many vocabulary words and grammatical structures students of a 2nd language memorize, they will not be able to write well until they have done a considerable amount of reading. Likewise, students will not speak well until they have heard a great deal of the target language. The most important thing, however, is that the input be comprehensible.
In nearly all big EFL cram school chains, native English speakers teach at least half of each class. Students do receive massive amounts of authentic English input. The problem is that far too little of it is understood. In order to be acquired, new vocabulary and grammar structures must be encountered hundreds of times in contexts where they are fully understood. Very few schools will give their students this opportunity. Memorizing and reciting difficult speeches may impress parents, but it does little for the language development of the students. The same problem exists with the reading included in EFL curriculums, if it is included at all. Despite the overwhelming evidence in support of extensive reading, most curriculums focus exclusively on intensive reading.
In most big chains, students receive massive incomprehensible input, and the results are terrible. At the better schools, the students receive a modest amount of comprehensible input, and the results are better. I’m convinced that the results would be far better, if the students had reading homework after every class, starting towards the end of the first year of their study. Ideally, they would have to read a paragragh per class at the beginning, would be reading 20 pages a week by the end of the second year, and 50 pages per week by the time they graduate. Provided the reading material is at a level such that it can be read at good speed without a dictionary, they would receive large amounts of comprehensible input and improve much more quickly.
Fortunately, my boss agrees. I think we have a good chance to make the best English educational program in Taiwan. I’m psyched. My next article will be on extensive reading.