By Selena Padilla - Student of English Teaching and Translation
"Let's simplify grammar before grammar ends up simplifying us" - Gabriel García Márquez
For several years, the Costa Rican education system has now involved the English language in its curriculum, putting this subject as the acquisition of a second language. A language that is of utmost importance as it is the universal language. The educational system is based on a process of teaching "verb tenses" and grammar. However, there are still areas that are not covered including even grammar which is the first thing taught in primary school. The national education system lacks innovative teaching methods that help students learn grammar effectively and feel engaged.
One of the main methods of teaching a new language is to teach grammar, in a method called the grammar-translation method that is basically “based on the belief that language learning is a type of mental training and that the learner’s mind is stimulated through direct translation between languages” (International TEFL Academy, n.d.). The problem with these methods is that they are often based on the memorization of structures and not on the application and practice of these structures. Students need teaching methods that help their listening and speaking skills increase, for example, Project-based learning “that requires teachers to think about the real-world task that they want students to complete [...]focused on an end goal of having learners complete real-world tasks and is not focused on a particular grammar point or lexical context” (International TEFL Academy, n.d).
On the other hand, we can say that students do not feel identified with the system and the teaching method. Commonly, students are left with doubts due to the fear of participation and failure because they do not have the confidence to speak the language. In addition, the most common way to evaluate students is through tests that do not really measure the students' understanding of the subject but only their ability to memorize. There are very good alternatives for students to collect their knowledge while analyzing, deepening, and being self-critical about the subject matter. For example, the 'Learning Journal' in which students will write down daily their impressions regarding the content taught in class and about what they want to continue learning (Education 3.0, 2018).
Traditional methods work and have been used for many years aiding language acquisition. However, just like society, the language also evolves, and it is necessary that the way of teaching also evolves. That is why it is often said that to speak English and learn the language well it is necessary to memorize a large amount of vocabulary and grammatical rules, but "English is a language that consists of millions of words and you only need about 20% of the words in about 80% of real-life conversations you are going to have in your lifetime." (Spoken English Practice, n.d.). Furthermore, the only effective way to acquire vocabulary is through the spoken practice of the language, which schools lack. According to Spoken English Practice (n.d.), they have found that speaking in the language that you are learning with people that know the language too is the most effective way for English language learners to get better.
In conclusion, teachers need to be aware of how the area they teach is evolving. The education system in Costa Rica for public schools and colleges is not as efficient as it should be. The implementation of methods that help students learn grammar in a natural and unforced way, as with the first language, is necessary. This evolution and reform are of utmost importance to make the national population bilingual in a good way. The analysis of the students and the goal to be achieved is necessary, as well as researching and experimenting with different techniques, allowing teachers with a vision to try more methods.
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EDUCACIÓN 3.0. (2018). ¿Son los exámenes la mejor forma de evaluar a los alumnos?https://www.educaciontrespuntocero.com/noticias/evaluar-a-los-alumnos/
International TEFL Academy. (n.d.). What are the Recommended Methods & Approaches for teaching English as a Foreign Language? https://www.costaricatesol.com/tefl-costa-rica-blog/what-are-the-recommended-methods-approaches-for-teaching-english-as-a-foreign-language-333
Spoken English Practice. (n.d.). Why Traditional English Study Methods Don’t Work. https://www.spokenenglishpractice.com/4-myths-about-learning-to-speak-english/