| | Re: 5 Steps to an English Only Classroom
An "English only environment", as Diana pointed out, is indeed an ideal situation for accelerating the learning process. However, if English is being taught in a country where L1 is a language other than English, there is no English "environment" outside of the classroom, and any English Only environment created within the classroom will be temporary and artificial at best. The teacher will naturally scale down his/her use of English to assure that the students are understanding at least the gist. The students will be limited by their own proficiency in the language. This artificial environment is not necessarily "bad", should rather be taken advantage of. A chat with friends over a beer is not artificial. A game of Trivial is artificial. Playing Trivial in English Only might be wonderful, it is taking a real-life artificial environment and making it into a learning experience.
Understanding, comprehension comes from recognition. You can not understand a word you've never heard before in your life, a word you do not know how to say or are unaware of its meaning. So, when that scientist begins using $100 words you might get the gist of his sentences because you recognize the grammar he uses, but you won't understand what he's talking about because so much of the sound output will be unfamiliar to you. Yet, if you were also a scientist, if you also used those words on a daily basis, you would recognize them at once, you would not need to go through the task of separating words, translating them into meaningful units, then plugging them back into the sentence. An ESL student is only going to be able to understand language that he/she already controls to a certain extent. If words or constructions are used that are not within the student's language bank, there will be no recognition and thus not cognition and finally, no understanding. One does not improve listening and comprehension skills through passively listening but rather through actively speaking and adding vocabulary and structures to language.
English Only makes the head feel swollen. For the teacher it may be the feeling that he/she is always speaking ESL, or worse, that the "natural language" used is not getting through to that student with more difficulty in understanding. For the student there is that feeling of a huge cloud around their head, a cloud that sometimes is very thick and dark, other times is thin and only partially covers the sky of understanding and communicating. With both the teacher and the student feeling "uncomfortable" with the language being used in the class, the environment becomes strained and the steps forward become like walking through thick mud.
A balance, then, must be made. Perhaps it is the balance that Diana has found in her classes. Her experience is similar to mine, concerning younger kids and pre-teens. If I restrict the younger kids to English Only the only language they produce is the parrot-like "I am 6 years old" stuff that their schools teach them. If I encourage the older kids to use only English, they are more willing to create sentences based on their limited lexicon, albeit broken, fragmented, grammatically and structural nightmares of sentences. Adults feel limited, embarrassed, ashamed of their inability to communicate, they can be perfectionists or they can be shy or they can be whatever you imagine them to be, but if you shut off their natural means of communication they will shut up in all languages and you will end up with a question-very very short answer session, not with a pleasant chat or conversation.
English Only is just one of many tools that can be taken advantage of in the ESL classroom. I only wish to advise that it should not, in my opinion and experience, be made into an iron-clad rule. As an ending note, besides appreciating a teacher who is able to explain or translate a word here and there in L1, students also have a living example before them that their teacher knows what he/she is doing. If the teacher has learned the L1 of the students then that teacher has been a good student and can share that experience with his/her students. If the teacher stubbornly insists that he/she only speaks English, who is he/she to insist that the students give up their language in favor of English. The end result of the class should be gradual improvement and communication, not the application of a rule with possible punishment for breaking such.
But again, I'm pretty hard-headed and outspoken on this subject. Thanks for reading.