• Problems for learners in a Country of your choice: Italy

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    In this paper I will address the issues I face as a teacher from the context of living and working in Italy, as well as the common problems my students encounter while learning and speaking English. I also want to draw attention to the input culture and society has on language, and look at how these factors influence dynamics within the classroom. Of course, it is nearly impossible to view ones self outside your own given cultural perspective, so as a result of this I will also be discussing my own assumptions on how I "imagined" people might act, compared to the reality of the situation. Often I neglect to take into account these differences, simply because I was raised in America, where I am used to a different set of cultural dynamics.

    I recently attended a University of Cambridge conference for teachers teaching English as a foreign or second language. One of the speakers was a man by the name of Tom Hutchinson, who gave a lecture on "Language, Society and Culture" (Hutchinson). I found this topic extremely relevant to the problems I face in the classroom. As I will mention later in this paper, the issues both my students and I face, tend to be more complex than just simple technical speech problems and more focused around differences in what is so called "normal" in the English language and general culture, and what is "normal" in general Italian culture.

    I in no way want to make negative generalizations about the Italian culture. I believe in order to become a more efficient teacher, I must first understand why and how students act, react and participate the way they do. I can then better judge a situation and perhaps alter my lesson planning and teaching style around these factors.

    Hutchinson states that there are three main levels of culture that need to be considered.

    1. Lifestyle and institutions. "Everything within a culture carries assumptions" (Hutchinson)

    • Houses, apartment or common shared living space - this can affect economic opportunity as well as where and with who people live
    • Education, universities and schools life. Often the amount and availability of education can affect weather or not education is viewed as a priority, therefore affecting participation.
    • Jobs and Working. In some countries having a full or part time job is economically necessary, where in other countries and cultures it is not. Other factors include food, meal time, opening and closing times and much, much more. All though I found these last points interesting, I didn't find them as relevant for myself and my students as I did the points before.

    2. Social customs.

    • Currently in much of Britain, England and America, "official titles have almost disappeared" (Hutchinson). First name or last name is almost always ok, instead of more proper titles such as Mr., Mrs., Doctor, Professor, Sir, ext ... This is important in how students may view each other as peers, as well as how they view the teachers.
    • Talking about wages and income in some countries is normal and acceptable, where as in many countries it is not. This is important also in explaining that all though people may be conversing in English, different cultures carry different taboos. What is polite in one country to say or express, may not be ok in another.

    3. Interaction. Again what is polite and not, depends on "the code of politeness" (Hutchinson). How you may respond to questions or request may be viewed as polite or inappropriate. Hutchinson asks an important question: "How do you build a conversation? What do you talk about, what do you avoid?” I felt like number 3 was also relevant for my self and my students, as it is important for me to realize what Italians think is polite and socially comfortable, and what is not. Once I am more clear on these factors, I can better interact with students and inform them of other cultural norms and dynamics.

    Common problems for many Italians Students

    • Most Italians spend more than double the amount of time learning Italian grammar than do most native English speakers. For this reason, often the first thing they want to focus on are "rules" and "structures" of grammar instead of other parts of the language that are equally, if not more important. As a result, my students often have the ability to write or construct a sentence if given word choices, but lack vocabulary and speaking ability. This is both frustrating to the student as well as the teacher. As a solution for these situations, I write on the board the amount of time we will dedicate to grammar and other subjects, but then over lap them with each other when possible. This assures everyone involved that there will be a proper balance.
    • Many Italians in general (especially in the northern region of Piemonte where I am teaching) seem to be more comfortable remaining safely positioned as a part of a group, verses wanting to express personal opinions or react without the knowledge of what the others might think. In class this results in few people wanting to state, share, or initiate conversation. I often try to engage them in a particular subject, but find that I must call on someone in particular to get the ball rolling. Once conversation has been initiated, there is less tension, and people feel more comfortable to speak. This is of course common in other cultures, but since I’m focusing on problems students face in Italy, I must state that this is a large problem that can sometimes inhibits the possibility to learn.
    • Games, speaking activities and the engaging phase tend to be a bit difficult. Culturally the people of Piemonte are well known for being more reserved, quite and less likely to speak up, both in voice and opinion. Most people are concerned with their own business and seldom make it obvious if they want to know something about someone else. This is not true for all parts of Italy so, it often helps group dynamics if there are students from different parts of the country in class together. Personal information is not something people here are used to giving out, so getting students engaged often results in a classroom full of blank stares. They understand the directions, but do not often consider games, exercises and free speaking activities to be fun or helpful. Therefore I have found that the engage and activate stages are often not as fun as they could be. It works better if there are clear rules, reasons and expectations stated on the board. These problems get easier for the students as well for myself as time goes on and they realize that in order to improve, we all must step outside our comfort zone and try, even if it means making mistakes it’s all part of learning.

    Technical speech problem s students in Italy face

    • There is no H sound in the Italian language, so words that start with H such as, hope, happy, hospital and hungry are almost always difficult for students to say. Usually the word is pronounced without the H sound, but the rest of the word gets said. We try to work on this sound whenever it gets brought up in class by doing drills individually as well as together.
    • There is also no TH, X, Y or K sound. All though students learn fairly quickly the X, Y, K sounds; the TH presents much more a problem. We do mouth exercise where you are not allowed to use your lips when saying a TH word, only your tongue and top teeth. This helps but it remains difficult for many students.

    These are only a few of the issues students in Italy face, but the once I have mentioned seem to be the main issues in my particular classes. With my limited teaching experience I feel it is important to recognise these factors not as problems, but more as a personal challenge for me as a teacher.

    In conclusion I feel it is necessary to draw a connection between some of the cultural and social factors mentioned previously. Many Italians live in houses or apartments with relatives, this really strengthens the family unit, and helps with economic support. Students before the age of 25 usually do not work and live at home, as education here is viewed as a high priority. Since families often live in a common area, money is often spent on children and education first. This is very helpful and beneficial in the way students view school and language. I almost always feel that my students truly understand that learning English is important. I also feel that all though at first opening up is challenging, most students like the interaction, and especially enjoy information about other cultures and traditions. I feel extremely fortunate to be teaching in such a culturally rich country as Italy, and hope that my experiences will grow with each new class.

    Amanda Giovannoni

  • Problems for learners in Russia

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    I have been teaching English as a foreign language for five years to mostly Russian and Kazakh students. From my experience I know that several aspects of English present difficulties for learners in Kazakhstan.

    One of the biggest difficulties is speaking. Unfortunately in most of our state schools and universities this aspect is neglected. The most commonly used way of learning English is grammar translation. Classes are usually very big and students are taught grammar and vocabulary, they have to write compositions and translate long articles but they do not have enough speaking practice. Therefore they are afraid of speaking. I think it is a very big drawback of our educational institutions and my task as a teacher is to stimulate and motivate my students` speaking. In my opinion, conversation should be the main focus.

    Secondly pronunciation also presents difficulties. Some of the English sounds do not exist in Russian and Kazakh languages and students really struggle to pronounce them. Intonation, sentence stress and other aspects of connected speech make the process of language learning more complicated. Choral drill might be a good way to practice pronunciation in class. However sometimes students’ independent work is required. Most modern course books include CDs with pronunciation exercises and when it is possible I ask my students to practice pronunciation outside classroom as well. It gives excellent results.

    Another difficulty is listening. Learners do not have big problems when they see a speaker as they may guess some information with the help of his gestures and look. The biggest difficulties appear when they listen to recorded speech or talk on the phone. Listening is included in most English language tests, such as IELTS and TOEFL; this aspect should not be underestimated. I practice listening with my students on almost each lesson and always recommend them to listen to audio books and radio programs in English, watch films in English.

    Finally, English structure also presents some difficulties for learners. It is especially true about those tense forms and grammar constructions which have no equivalent in the students` native language. So popular in some countries grammar translation method fails here. Subconscious language acquisitions, for example through listening or reading, followed by proper study and activate elements work much better. It gives students opportunity to think in English rather than find equivalents in their native language and makes the whole process of language learning much more interesting.

    In conclusion, I would like to say that for different learners different aspects of the language may present difficulties. It often depends on their native language and educational background. A good experienced teacher will always find the ways to overcome these difficulties.

  • Problems for Learners in Bosnia

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    I’ve been teaching ESL to adults here in Bosnia for about two years. I’ve taught classes from the intermediate level to the advanced levels and there are some common problems that I’ve seen in each class.

    The language spoken here is Serbo-Croatian and the Latin alphabet is used mainly in the Muslim and Croatian areas, while Cyrillic is used in the Serbian areas. There are also 3 dialects within the language. Everyone understands these dialects, but each dialect is striving to be distinct. For instance, the Muslim dialect has many Turkish words incorporated into it. The Ottoman Empire was influential in this area only until the late 1800”s. The Croat dialect is developing new words to differentiate itself from the other two and the Serbian dialect is remaining static. So, a classroom of Bosnians, even though they have different dialects, would be considered a monolingual class.

    A typical problem encountered with students is the fact that the word order is different. I think this is a common problem with Europeans learning English. There are many ways that are used to help form the correct word order, such as drilling, reading, and writing exercises. I’ve found particularly helpful is the use of journals. Journals allow the time for the student to think in English and place the words on paper. It is extremely helpful for me as the teacher to then review these and make corrections that the students can see and use for future reference.

    Because the alphabet in the Serbo-Croat language is set up to have a single sound for each letter, it is very easy as a foreigner to pronounce words in Serbo-Croat. However, that transition to learning English presents many problems in pronunciation for the language learner. One particular problem students have in pronunciation is producing the “th” sound. There is nothing close in their language and the pronunciation of it is very uncomfortable. It takes the side view of the head to show the students the placement of the tongue.

    The Serbo-Croat language doesn’t use articles, so extra work is required to have the students use articles.

    Since English is needed here for better jobs, people use any method they can to learn English. By listening to music and watching films and TV programs, as you can imagine they may not have the best grammar or suitable vocabulary. It is a problem to have the students un-learn these bad habits.

    Due to the culture, everyone wants to impress the teacher with how much they know so this is a serious problem, even with adult students. This excitement also transfers to great serious discussions on all matters of issues. It seems this is the greatest cause of disruption in the classroom. The amazing part of this is that no one takes offense at being talked over. They just wait for the louder person to finish.

    In the two years I’ve been here I’ve really enjoyed learning about this culture and how to effectively teach English. They are a very intelligent people and it is a joy to see them learn new things.

    Bill Eberle

  • Problems for Learners in Japan

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    Japanese students spend a lot of time and money trying to perfect their English. They usually start formal English education in junior high school and this continues on until they leave high school and for some, even beyond into university and adult life. However, they seem to lag behind in their ability to use the English language effectively when in comparison to their Asian counterparts and have their own unique problems for learning English. Why?

    Firstly cultural reasons

    Japan is not only distinct geographically but also in the basics of their language. They have no land borders with any countries and this heightens their perception of being “different”. They share a commonality with Chinese but little in common with English in terms of sentence structure and grammar. When a student tries to formulate a sentence often it is found that the verb is at the end and the SVO sentence structure is all muddled up. They try to construct a sentence modeled on Japanese lines. Hence they end up frustrated and confused.

    Some Japanese feel they do not need to speak English as this takes away from their “Japanese ness”. The Japanese people are proud and have a strong sense of who they are and take pride in being distinctly Japanese. With this sense of pride comes the idea that it is not okay to make mistakes. Many a student has come to class with the idea that one can only speak English perfectly without mistakes. They feel that making a mistake means people will laugh and the student will lose face. However the key to learning whether this be in life or language, is to make mistakes so one can learn from them. As a second language learner, my speech is peppered with mistakes but I try to communicate my ideas and my friends correct them. Hence Japanese students are reluctant or reticent to speak for fear of being laughed at or making a mistake.

    Secondly there are the pronunciation problems. Japanese students have problems with pronouncing the letters R and L. R occurs in the Japanese language but L does not and many students struggle with L. V often causes some problems – the sound is distinct but to many Japanese students it is said like W – the sound they make is more like “wee” than “vee”. “Th” combinations pose some problems particularly where they occur after an R or L. However these are not major problems and with some drills and lots of practice students can grasp the sounds.

    Thirdly listening. For me as a teacher from New Zealand, many students had problems with my accent. The majority of English publications and programs used in Japan are American based and many students have not had the luxury of hearing a different accent. Many complained that NZ and Australian accents were the most difficult to understand. In New Zealand we speak quickly and do not enunciate clearly. An Australian accent is difficult because the vowels are said differently to American or British English. Students in Japan need to be exposed to many different accents and this in turn will improve their listening skills.

    Lastly, motivation. Many students in Japan are not in English classes because they want to be but merely because they are fulfilling a requirement. Many companies require that their employees satisfy a minimum English level for promotion or bonuses. English is also the “thing” for young children – it ranks up there with swimming and ballet lessons as extra-curricular activities for elementary school children. Often they do not want to be in class because they are “forced” to go. This hinders their attitude to English and they may perceive English as an arduous task and something they “have” to do and they in turn dislike the language. This makes the teacher’s job extremely difficult as they are faced with this prejudice.

    However in conclusion, there are always diamonds in the rough – many students who although face difficulties, go on to be great English speakers because they had great teachers who helped them through their problems and learning difficulties. I hope I can say, I was one of them.

    Carey Andrews

  • Problems for Learners in South Korea

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    There are many hurdles facing learners of the English language in South Korea. As I see it, four of the most common difficulties students have with acquiring English are alphabet related difficulties, Grammar/structure, loan word confusion and lack of exposure to actual English communication.

    The first, and most obvious problem a Korean learner will face when learning English is the fact that Koreans, unlike ESL students from say, European countries, do not use the Roman alphabet. This must be learnt first. This is not a particularly arduous task, but it has some tricky aspects. For example several consonant sounds in the English language are not present in the Korean alphabet. Those are, F, V, Z also the L/R sound is indistinct. This can lead to some real problems with pronunciation.

    A final problem regarding alphabet is that Koreans are used to a fairly strict phonetic alphabet. Therefore a “?” character will always sound like the English “G”. However English often has some unusual spellings with for example silent “P” or different pronunciations for the same spelling. E.g. Cough and Dough. This can give rise to spelling and reading difficulties.

    Another fundamental difference between Korean and English is the fact that Korean grammar is arranged SOV (Subject-Object-Verb) this is almost completely opposite of the common English structure SVO (Subject-Verb-Object.). As a result Koreans often have great difficulty with the syntax of English, frequently placing the verb at the end of the sentence as they would if they were speaking Korean.

    Another major characteristic of Korean grammar is that it is agglutinative; that is, the smallest meaning units of the language are stacked up and merged together, unlike in English, which tends to isolate them. -

    A less obvious issue Korean students often have is the inaccurate use of loan words. Loan words are both a blessing and a curse for the Korean ESL student. On the plus side is the fact that even a Korean who has studied no English already has a large English vocabulary of English loan words. However these are often used inaccurately and prove to be a difficult habit to break. For example some inappropriate English loan words common in Korea are Gag man (comedian) eye shopping (window shopping) live beer (beer on tap(draft)) tire punk (a tire puncture) etc. The student, considering these words to be already English will use them frequently during English conversations. It is quite a struggle for the teacher to convince the students to use the standardized English phrases instead of the “Konglish” ones.

    One of the greatest impediments the Korean learner (in Korea,) will face in their quest to become fluent in English, is the lack of opportunity to practice one’s English in a real world situation. They will attend their language academy and speak English to the native ESL teacher. The Korean teachers however, often deliver their lesson in Korean with actual English communication nowhere to be found.

    Outside of the language academy English is nowhere to be heard, save a few grammatically awkward phrases on advertisements and billboards.

    Thus the short amount of time the students spend with a native speaking English teacher is often the only time they spend communicating in English. Unless they arrange a conversation club with fellow learners or are fluent enough to make English speaking friends

    Darian Godfrey

  • Problems for Learners in Vietnam

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    The Vietnamese language was originally represented by Chinese-style characters until Portuguese missionaries translated the written form into modified Roman script.

    I’d like to buy a vowel.

    Whereas the sound of the vowels in English is dictated by the structure of the word in which they reside, the VN alphabet includes several additional forms of Roman vowels, modified by diacritics which specifically determine their sound.

    Because the Vietnamese (VN) alphabet does not include f, j, w, or z VN learners must become familiar with the sound of these consonants. To complicate the matter the letter ‘t’ represents a sound somewhere between an English ‘d’ and ‘t’ while ‘th’ at the beginning of a VN word is closer to the English ‘t’. There are two versions of ‘d’, both of which are only found at the beginning of a word. The ‘d’ with a line crossing the upstroke like a ‘t’ is similar to the English ‘d’ but the uncrossed ‘d’ has a ‘y’ sound. Throw in combinations such as ‘gi’which is a ‘y’ sound in the south of the country and a ‘z’ sound in the north, and the VN learner has a lot of habits to break.

    Tree is my favourite number.

    The English ‘thr’( three, through, threadbare) is a particularly difficult sound for the VN learner and without pronunciation coaching and practice it will always be ‘t’.

    VN words do not end in voiced consonants and learners find it difficult to end a word with a harsh plosive like ’p’ or ‘t’ and consequently many English words remain unfinished.

    Don’t take that tone.

    Unlike English VN is a tonal language. This means that the pitch of a word is dictated by tone markings, in addition to the diacritics found above modified vowels. Two words spelt the same will have entirely different meanings depending on their markings. Each word is at the mercy of its tone marking, or lack thereof, to determine whether its pitch rises, falls, dips then rises, includes a glottal stop, remains high and even or stops suddenly with the final consonant remaining unvoiced. In English, tone is usually spread throughout the sentence and is contingent on the message of the whole sentence. With no tonal markers as guides, VN learners can struggle to find the appropriate pitch and the result can sound unusual to the native English speaker.

    To compound the problem most VN question words, usually found at the end of a sentence, have a falling tone whereas in English it is not uncommon for a question to end with a rising tone.

    We’re too tense.

    Whereas English is riddled with tenses VN has only three and of these the present tense is the most commonly used. VN words cannot be altered which means sentences are constructed like a mosaic with additional words added to modify verbs. There is no ‘ing’ or ‘ed’ but an extra word (‘dang’ with a crossed ‘d’ for present tense) is positioned in front of the verb to indicate tense. To avoid using past or present tense the Vietnamese will include a time reference e.g. ‘Today at 3 o’clock I swim’, or ‘I meet him already’. As a result, the extremely complex nature of English tenses and the resultant verb structures present a nightmare to the VN learner.

    Soup tasty very.

    In VN, adjectives follow the noun so a ‘small town’ becomes a ‘town small’. Pronouns (usually kinship terms) don’t change form even when possessive, however when used in a possessive sense they follow the object of possession e.g. ‘my name’ would be ‘name I (my)’.

    VN is a mono - syllabic language which means that many words are compounds e.g. ‘now’ in English is ‘bay gio’, plus diacritics and tone markers, in VN.

    VN does not have infinitives in the English sense and there are no plurals.

    Because of these and a host of other grammatical differences, early VN learners struggle when translating back and forth between their native tongue and English, until they learn to think in English.

    I would if I could.

    Vietnam is a relatively poor country and English lessons can be prohibitively expensive.

    The main forms of private transport are the bicycle and the motorbike. Because of the country’s monsoonal climate and appallingly chaotic traffic conditions, it can sometimes be a life threatening ordeal simply to get to school.

    English and Vietnamese evolved in isolation to each other and represent two uniquely different approaches to language. The conversion of VN into Roman script gives VN learners of English a significant advantage over their Thai, Lao and Chinese neighbours who must also deal with an alien alphabet. Regardless of this, English is still a tough nut to crack, and with social and complex cultural issues in the mix, the Vietnamese learner has a lot on his mind.

    I have lived and travelled with a Vietnamese family in southern Vietnam, and have witnessed some of the problems facing Vietnamese students. I am currently learning Vietnamese at the Asian Language Centre in Adelaide, Australia and the knowledge gained has been useful for this assignment. I have also spoken to Vietnamese born residents of Australia regarding the difficulties they have encountered learning English.

    John Pedler

  • Problems for Learners in Japan

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    I have been teaching in Japan for a year and I have noticed some significant differences with the Japanese students compared to those of other countries. I think the biggest difference is the culture. The Japanese people do not feel comfortable touching and making eye contact. (1) It is difficult to get them to look at each other when asking a question. When I am teaching class and I make eye contact with a student they normally look away. At first this mannerism comes across as shyness, but in actuality it is just their culture.

    The students are taught to memorize what the teacher says and not ask questions or think for themselves. This causes problems because they tend not to admit when they don’t understand a topic. They are also taught to complete the assignment they are given. (1) If they do not understand the assignment they will copy off the person next to them instead of getting help. Another cultural problem is the students are not allowed to talk in class. (1) When I ask a question no one raises their hand to answer. The classrooms are for the teacher to teach and not for the student to speak.

    The Japanese also have problems with recognizing and speaking different sounds. The most common is [l] and [r]. In the Japanese language there is no [l] sound, only [r] but they pronounce the [r] like the English [l]. This creates difficulty because they believe they are pronouncing the [r] properly. I have to constantly teach my students to keep their tongue down when they say the [r] sound. Another difficult sound to make is [th]. This sound is rare in most other languages. (2) The act of putting their tongue forward to make a sound is new for the Japanese. My students also have a hard time with [b] and [v] and [f]. They find it difficult to use their lips to make a sound.

    Japanese students force vowels between constantans. (2) An example would be milk. The students try to pronounce it as miruku. In Japanese no word ends in a constant. The student will try to add vowels at the end of the word. For example, redo instead of red. Another problem is word stress on the foreign words they use. The word margarine is pronounced ma-ga-rine. They have a hard time pronouncing clusters of sounds. (2)

    The Japanese students take English in junior high and high school. (2) Most Japanese people know English but cannot use it. The English in school focuses on grammar and reading therefore the students do not learn how to listen and speak. I feel this is extremely pointless. Most students go to school all day and then have English test classes after school. In the test class the students spends several hours taking a mock test. No English is spoken in the class. I cannot see the point in learning English if you will never use it. This method also makes the students unwilling to practice. They may know the right way to say it but they have never been given the opportunity to practice in a safe environment and do not want to embarrass themselves.

    In conclusion, there are some cultural differences to teaching in Japan as there are in any country. They all can be overcome with a little time and patience. No country is perfect and they do have some things to learn about the methods they use. The Japanese government is starting to change. They have begun programs like JET, which puts a native English speaker in the class with the students. There are Japanese people who speak English perfectly. It can be done, it just takes time.

    Katrina Raymond

  • Problems for learners in India

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    About 10% of the Indian population speaks English and the rest, it sometimes seems try to. Indian English is widely resented as a symbol of colonization.  English was adopted as a foreign language not out of admiration for its linguistic virtues but as a necessary expedient. In a country with over1600 regional dialects including 18 major ones, a neutral outside language has certain obvious practicalities.

    The sort of English the Indians have developed over the years is so quaintly un-English in idiom and syntax that it will not be acceptable to the international community. The Indians have learnt nothing despite their two hundred year long British connection. But, at the same time, the quantum and quality of creative and critical writing by Indians are amazingly on the increase.

    Most of the people who spoke functional English were poorly educated or never went to a school which taught English. Most of them felt proud of speaking a language which they never learnt at school and picked up on their own. Most foreigners would understand and get by the communication cycle fairly easily, as it did not involve discussing politics or the disadvantages of smoking. Not many feel that they need to learn to speak English as they have never faced great difficulties. Usually when they don't know how to express themselves they utilize Hinglish, a wonderful blend of Hindi and English.

    The teaching of English to Indian students by all accounts does not appear to be an easy task. The handicaps are many, such as the lack of clear objectives, the absence of motivation, out-dated syllabi, poor quality of teachers, irrelevant and antiquated examination systems, over-crowded classes, dearth of suitable textbooks and other reading materials for learners and insufficient exposure to intellectual interaction. Students are bad because teachers are worse and teachers are worse because teaching as a career has a distressingly low priority in India.

    English over the years has developed certain marked features in India, not only in pronunciation, but in spelling, vocabulary and grammar. The special vocabulary of Indian English comprises words from Indian languages commonly used in English books, journals and newspapers published in India and English words that relate to specific Indian contexts or have acquired a special meaning or form in the country. Some of these words and phrases are either used only in India or have, by constant usage, adapted themselves to the Indian situation and begun to mean different things to us.

    I have compiled a short list of such expressions.

    Auto-rickshaw, basic education, crore (equivalent to 10 million), dacoit, godown (warehouse), prepone, tiffin, temple, indianisms.

    When I was in school attending a class, sometimes it would start raining heavily and one of our teachers would very proudly ask us to, “Close the doors of the windows.” Also, if you are in India and go to an office don’t be surprised if they ask you, “Your good name please?": "What is your name?", carryover from Hindi expression "Shubh-naam", literally meaning "auspicious name".

    Like most users of English as a foreign language, Indians first think in their regional languages before expressing themselves in English.  Some of the common phrases Indians would use are – Alone alone eating, the rain is falling, don’t eat my head, go eat some air, I am owning a flat, let’s go out for some ice-cream-vice-cream (ice-cream and something else), I am basically from Delhi. These are some terms which are a transliteration from Hindi to English.

    Most parents now realize the importance of English as a global language and work hard to send their children to English medium schools. But the predicament these children go through is that most parents cannot speak fluent English. The child only communicates in English in his/her classroom. Once outside they still use their native language. The future of English in India looks bright but I think getting rid of some of the problems mentioned above might be very difficult.

  • Problems for Learners in the Czech Republic

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    I have spent almost five years teaching English to Czech students of all ages. I am Czech myself so I know the major differences between the two languages and this helps me to predict the possible problems in the learning process. I know this can be very difficult for native speakers as they are not aware of them. I would like to note a few major differences and their effect on the learning process.

    The biggest problem for Czech / Polish / Slovak / Latvian / Bulgarian (perhaps many other) learners must certainly be articles. We do not have any articles in our own language therefore we have to memorize the situations when to use them and how. We don’t see their importance and tend to leave them out or use them far too much. It’s very important for tutors to point out the correct usage and also their importance. Proper and frequent practise is absolutely essential. Explaining students that articles are there to make the dialogs, sentences or articles clearer, can be hard work but it will eventually pay off. Reading and possibly analyzing easy reading books (eg Penguin) can be great help, as students will see the importance on the meaning. The teacher should let learners discover the meaning of the text with the article and the same text without it. Students find this entertaining and by discovering it themselves they will remember it better.

    Another difficulty is called “perfect tenses”. This term is not in our language so to use eg: present perfect correctly will involve a lot of drill and practise. Generally students have problems with any kind of grammar that they cannot compare with their own language. Students should be encouraged to read, listen to English radio programmes or watch films in English. This will help them see the tenses used in practise and give them better ideas on when to use them.

    Czech language is based on different verb endings for each person so there is no need to say the pronoun itself, as it is in Spanish or Italian. Students should understand that this doesn’t apply to English and that they always have to mention the person (apart from imperative). Again a lot of practise will help.

    Compared to German I consider English quite easy when it comes to grammar. But a big disadvantage is the pronunciation. For all students it is very hard to write something else than what they hear, especially when there are not any proper rules to help. Students should be encouraged to learn the alphabet that can help them a bit. After this course I can see the importance and possible usage of the Phonetic alphabet. I can see now that it can help many students. I have never done it with my students, apart from some sounds. I am trying to change this now.

    Generally Czech students don’t have problems with the sounds apart from the sound ?. That is very hard for us to pronounce. Students either produce a sound [f], [t], or [s]. It is up to the tutor to explain them that this can cause some confusion eg: three x tree, think x sing… This involves plenty of pronunciation practise, games and activities.

    Over all, Czech people are quite well motivated because the knowledge of English is very important now and they can work hard if they are well motivated.

    Renata Hejnysova

  • Problems for Learners in China

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    China is growing at a rapid rate, some say too fast, others say it doesn’t matter. Either way, with this growth in China, students are encouraged, even required by law, if they attend college, to learn English. Companies look for students whose English level is the highest. As for teaching English in China it has gone through many stages, from the traditional teacher drilling vocabulary into the students to the introduction of new, more inspiring ways of teaching. Some of the problems that you will run into will mainly come from getting the students to relearn how they are taught. Most students have been in school for a long time, working twice as hard as I ever had to in school. There will always be the normal problems, students coming in late, things like that.

    Student in China start early in their learning English and they are subjected to many hours of school. This does make some matters more difficult, most of the students already have ingrained into them some bad habits that you will have to work very hard to overcome in the students, mainly pronunciation and shyness. For the shyness it is easy to overcome; they love to laugh and have fun, and once they get to the point when they open up to the teacher, they become more willing to speak out and participate. When dealing with their pronunciation however the only way I have found to help them so far is working with smaller groups at one’s home, using tongue twisters and a lot of encouragement.

    The standard method of teaching and the method that they are used to, is to listen and write down everything the teacher says about English. Then they memorize the vocabulary. The students are basically left to themselves to learn how to actually use it. The reading abilities of these students are phenomenal. They have a huge vocabulary, but they have no practice with pronunciation or general sentence structure (in writing or orally). So the problem for a foreign teacher coming in and teaching these students is two fold, (a) the students have little to no practice with speaking in English and if they were taught, most of them were taught incorrectly, and (b) the methodology of teaching them; students are used to a certain way of doing things and find it difficult or bothersome that they have to change the way in which they learn.

    Getting these students to open up and communicate can be very difficult and frustrating. One of the things I have noticed is that every term it starts all over again, once you think that you have them opened up and the class is doing well and the students are making leaps and bounds in their English ability, you get stuck with new students who you have to teach the new method to all over again. This can become a little aggravating after a while, but the key is to be patient and understanding to the students’ needs. When you are teaching college students I think the main focus for you the teacher is to help them feel comfortable using the language. So basically you are using a communicative approach.

    For a communicative approach to succeed in China, the issue of student autonomy must be addressed as it relates to student-generated learning activities. Due to Chinese cultural traditions, language classes are teacher dominant. Because of the cultural norms of "social relations in the classroom," the teacher is viewed as the authority and source of knowledge, and "Chinese students would not find autonomy very comfortable, emotionally, or indeed intellectually" (Ho & Crockall, 1995, p. 237). However, autonomy can be encouraged if the students use language in "personally-meaningful, real-world context(s)" (p. 242).

    This is where being patient and understanding come in, because you have to realize that not only are you working with them in a language in which they are not comfortable, you are also teaching them in a way that they do not understand at first. Do not be discouraged by some of the students who do not want to work and, despite your best efforts, will not participate. When this happens, move on and just focus more of your attention on the ones that do want to learn. Always remain pleasant; never become angry with them, this is a huge wrong-doing in China. So most of the troubles come in the form of trying to get the students involved with learning what you have to teach them. Encourage them as much as possible (with them, “flattery always works.”)

    Richard Jordan

  • Problems for Learners in South Korea

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    Korean students are being driven harder these days to learn English by their parents and Korean society. As a result, English proficiency tests are being taken more and more by Korean students, which are putting more and more stress on them. These tests are ones such as the Primary English Level Test”, “TOEIC Bridge, “Junior English Test” and the “Junior General Test of English Language Proficiency.” They are starting these tests at a very young age which Kim Young-hoon, an instructor working in Seoul said, “is very undesirable for very little children who are just beginning to study English because most students who fail to catch up with others easily feel frustrated when they are arranged in a level-differentiated class.” Classes are often put into classes based on ability and not age.

    That is creating major social issues for children across the country. Younger students who show good proficiency in English are being placed in classes with other children 1 or 2 year older than them solely based on a test score. These tests often to gauge how their level is progressing as more and more high schools and universities are opening specialized English language programs. Entry into one of these programs is highly competitive and mostly based off of these test scores; hence the reason testing is beginning at such a young age. Children can expect to have to take these tests at least once or twice a year from the time they start kindergarten to when they enter high school several years later.

    Many of these proficiency tests are new and have not yet been approved by anyone at the Korean Ministry of Education. To prepare for them, many children are being sent abroad to places such as Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand by themselves to study English for up to 3 months at a time. There was a dramatic 10 % increase in the number of Korean children going abroad to study English from 1998 to 2004 with a much larger 30% increase for elementary students alone. If children are not being sent overseas to study, then their parents are often moving them into private English academies to study, even pulling them out of regular kindergartens or pre-schools. The parents are willing to shoulder huge financial burdens to ensure that their children are learning English.

    As I’ve been working for these private academies for 3 years now, I’ve had to administer many of these tests and seen the pressure it is putting on students. If a student performs poorly on one, they are made to feel like failures and that is not a good thing for a child.

    As English is becoming more and more the dominant language on the planet, Korea has decided to put an emphasis on it and more and more of these academies are opening all of the time. There are now even specialized “cram schools” where students go simply to study for the proficiency tests. One of my elementary students recently told me “I’m really tired teacher and I still have to go to study academy for 2 more hours because of test next month.” This was at 6pm in the evening and the child had gone to school first at 8:30am that morning.

    It is hoped that all of this learning will allow students to gain better jobs once their schooling is finished. The students are paying an enormous physical and mental price. While I personally feel that learning English is going to be very beneficial for Korean students in the long run, I do feel that these children need to be given a bit of a break and they shouldn’t be discouraged for occasional poor performances.

    Ryan O’Dowd