by Aleta Loftis
gReetings aLl yoU eXCeL rEaDerS! It is Hard to belIeve, but there ar just a fEw mor moths of skOol lefT!
Were you nervous when you tried to read my opening so full of mistakes? Did you think Яанаа, Aleta is getting really bad at her English? Well, don’t worry—it was intentional. However, I do make a lot of mistakes when I type in English, and I make even more mistakes when I speak Mongolian. In fact, I even make a fair amount of mistakes when I speak English!
Just this morning I was talking to my 86 year-old mother’s doctor about how the carpet looked crooked. He teased, “Maybe it shrink.” That was a cute joke. Then a few minutes later I thought to myself, That should have been in the past tense, but is it “shrank” or “shrunk”? Thus, just now I checked in two dictionaries and found that the past tense can be either “shrank” or “shrunk.” Strange language we have, isn’t it?
I’ve been living this English language for over 50 years, and I still don’t have a handle on it. Like I mentioned in the last PET Journal, language is vast—even infinite. We won’t ever know it all. That is true about language and about life, so maybe we should try to be a little more gracious about others’ language skills.
Let me ask a question. What was your English class like yesterday? Did your students speak perfect English? Of course not, but how did you react to their mistakes?
When I know someone cares, I am thankful when he corrects my Mongolian. I feel safe and really want to understand; I want to improve. However, when a person has an arrogant or critical attitude and makes my mistake look like the worst blunder in the history of humankind, I feel embarrassed, hurt...even a little vengeful. Haven’t we all felt like that at various times in our language learning? This reminds us of our students and their feelings. Let’s be honest, when I feel hurt, embarrassed, and a little vengeful, it isn’t right, but it happens. Let’s be really honest; it is pride, and ironically, pride will keep us from improving our language skills. We must try to not let that happen.
As for our students, we really need to treat their mistakes with a gentle touch. Even if you haven’t done so in the past, begin now to show them graciousness. Be soft, show that you care, tell them you understand because you often feel the same way, even though you are the teacher. Let them see that you are there to help them improve their English not to condemn them for their mistakes.
Let’s look at the other side: Yesterday, did you speak perfect English to your class? Of course not! Even native speakers don’t know all the ins and outs of English, so how can you? The problem is that when an English teacher is afraid of making mistakes, he tends to resort back to Mongolian, even when saying simple stuff. Again, this isn’t right, but it happens.
What should an English teacher do? Well, no matter how afraid or embarrassed you are, just go ahead and speak English all through the class period. Don’t use Mongolian out of fear. Yes, you will make mistakes, but the VERY best way to improve your own English is to JUST SPEAK IT! If you are afraid, don’t let your pride hold you back. Tell the students, “I don’t know English perfectly, but I want to improve. You don’t know English perfectly, but you want to improve. Thus, let’s improve together. Let’s be brave, let’s JUST SPEAK IT! Soon our bravery will pay off and we’ll be much better by the end of our time together. Let’s share our desire to learn English well, overcome our anxieties, and make progress.
All you EXCEL readers, if you decide to make this kind of honest commitment with your students, will you write and tell me how it is going? I think your Ss will be immensely blessed by your frankness and that they will be willing to advance along with you in their language growth. Like they say, "Honesty is the best policy".