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Watch a video, learn English

Traditionally television was considered to be a passive means of implementing child learning and therefore inferior. To be sure there is nothing that can replace a real, flesh and blood teacher who can lead, inspire, facilitate and transmit the love of learning. However, the television programme ‘Sesame Street’ proved that the screen does have its place in child education, notably in the development of language and numbers.

Jim Scrivener, whose book ‘Learning Teaching’ is required reading in many CELTA courses for ESOL teachers, asked the question, “What has a video recording got that my classroom/text book/CD player hasn’t got?” He then goes on to produce a list of bullet points enumerating some of the useful features of video in language learning. The one I prefer is, “a video has moving pictures: the pictures give context to the sounds we hear. We can see facial expressions, eye contact, physical relationships, background, etc.” These non-verbal supports account for a great deal in making language understandable. Babies and children who learn their first language from their parents don’t just listen to sounds that hold meaning. They derive meaning from the looks, attitudes and movements of the parents, as well as the environment in which the communication takes place. Video can also achieve these things, albeit to a lesser extent.

Video can be a useful tool in the hands of a qualified language teacher. But what about in the classroom where the teacher is neither qualified nor competent in the language they are supposedly teaching? In those cases video can be an indispensable tool to the teacher in charge. Their role becomes one of facilitator who accompanies pupils in their learning. They encourage the pupils as they learn alongside them.

A couple of weeks back I met a primary school teacher from Germany. She was a specialist teacher of English. Her English was excellent though she spoke with a German accent.  She was both qualified and competent. However, most primary schools in most countries do not have the luxury of having specialist English teachers. Primary school teachers are generalists, qualified to give lessons in several learning areas such as the local language, mathematics, social studies and perhaps even science. It is wholly unreasonable to think that these same teachers should also teach a foreign language.

Now is the time that primary schools teaching English as a foreign language should take advantage of broadband internet to deliver video English lessons into all the classrooms where over-worked teachers need a solution that their education ministries seem unable to supply.

Tony Gallagher 25-May-2015

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