A few years ago while attending a large workshop for English teachers, I had the chance to pose some questions to one of the presenters. I asked her, "What is the best way to help students start to speak from themselves?" She looked surprised at my question and said, "Oh, they don't speak spontaneously! Not here in Japan where most classes are held just once a week." I was equally shocked and surprised by her answer. I thought to myself, "Then what are we doing?" "What are we teaching?"
At that time, I felt a renewed challenge. I felt challenged to continue with my original and basic beliefs about the reason I am teaching English. I want my students to be able to speak English spontaneously. My overarching goal is to help students learn how to communicate. I want my students to communicate well in English. I am very happy to say that this is what they are doing.
Every time my students greet each other spontaneously and engage in small talk or encourage and compliment each other in English, I feel deeply satisfied. I also love to hear, "Michelle, I have a question..." or "This is for you!" when they give me small handmade gifts.
Just last week, a first-year student gestured with her hand over her head, smiled mischieveously and said, "Mistletoe!" while singing Skidamarink, a Valentine song. (Mistletoe is a word she remembered from our December Traditional Christmas celebration.) She used her body language and English to communicate a simple memory with a positive, fun feeling. This is just one small example of the start to a wonderful world of communication via English!
I know that for my older students good grades and test scores are important. Those things are important. Even so, my hope is that they will never lose sight of the big picture, the long-term picture. I want them to always enjoy speaking freely and communicating well in English.