An Innocent (¿?) English Only Question Posed…. How Was It Answered?

blue-thistlesHey all!

Okay, English Only rears its ugly head again (seems to occur about once every four to six months in the forums I follow!), this time in a seemingly innocent question about how to get students to use English in the classroom instead of their native language. If you’ve read my earlier thoughts on this, you can imagine where I’m coming from and where I’ll be heading.

My response was three posts (three because of word count limits on the forum) first chiding teachers for not realizing that they are confusing a silly rule (English Only) with the absence of attainable objectives. I don’t know if what I had to say will help any of those teachers or the original poster who asked, but well.

What I want to look at is the type of answers that were given. There were over sixty replies to the question, and I’d like to share the categories those replies covered with percentages.

The question: How do I get students to speak and use English more in class?

Categories of answers:

  • Suggestions for activities: 33%
  • General pedagogical thoughts: 28%
  • Punishment for L1 use 12%: (“punishment” used 4 times, once by myself to say “don’t!”)
  • Make rules: 10%
  • Reward for L2 use: 9% (“reward” used 5 times, twice by myself)
  • Enforce English Only 7%

Now, those are, generally, heartening numbers. A full third of the comments involved activities that teachers suggested, that might help in specific cases to get students using English in the class, though any of these suggestions can be found in any good pedagogical end-notes in any teacher’s edition of any good ESL text, or on this type of forum.

More than a quarter of the answers waxed pedagogical, even linguistic, suggesting motivations both on the part of the teacher and the students. That’s nice.

As I noted, the word “punishment” was used three times by others, and was inferred without using the actual word in other instances. I just don’t have any use for this kind of attitude in a class, be it ESL or Nuclear Physics. That 12% of the comments suggest punishment is worrying.

On the other hand (skipping “Make rules” for the moment), not even 10% made a suggestion of rewarding students for using English. And in many cases, those suggestions of reward were tied into the idea of punishment in the contrary situation (using L1). Fines were suggested at least twice, extra writing homework (yeah, let’s make them hate writing, associate it with punishment, good idea!), expository speech in front of the class (great! we’ll teach them that something that is already not that easy for most is also the best punishment we can come up for just because you didn’t speak English in your ESL class, that’s motivating! Zeus!).

Skipping back, 10% made some comment about making rules, which in itself is not a bad idea, even my own comments discussed rule making for the ESL class. Pity is, the tone seemed to indicate that those rules had to be enforced with whips and chains, and that making those rules would be closely tied to the punishment (remember, 12%) concept.

That 7% vote for enforcing English Only, well, I rant about that elsewhere. My lips are pursed in disapproval.

So, there is still a great deal of confusion on this subject in the ESL teaching community. I was pleased to see both activities and pedagogy ranked above the same old, same old. But if we add up the best, we have just 70% of those comments actually making worth-while suggestions, while the other 30% are lost in the world of enforcing English Only. Evidently, we still have some work to do on this theme. Sigh.



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