Thursday, 2 October 2008

English teaching at meilahden ala-aste: primary level

Sari was a very elegant English teacher, and spoke a perfect English accent (as did the other English teacher I met as well).

She had prepared questions in a little box for the kids to draw and ask me. It was a lot of fun and most of the students were very interested in a random guy from Hong Kong. They asked me questions about sauna, recycle, favourite food, computer games, Saturday activities (sauna day in Finland), siblings, really fun questions. I learnt that a couple of the kids were half American and half French.

It was a pity I didn't get a chance to see how a normal English lesson works in primary schools. However I had a chance to talk to her about it. I know that they adopt a communicative approach. They started by engaging in conversations and putting the language into context. It was really great that they had trained the students to be really responsive and communicative.

I think two key reasons for the high English standard in Finland are:

1. the high quality of teachers in Finland. English teachers are near native speakers, and students of course get exposure to good English. Just one native English teacher in Hong Kong is really not enough.

2. textbooks are very good: The topics are interesting and relevant to daily life, eg the first topic I saw on their textbooks for children is 'ICE CREAM ISLAND', and students practised how to order ice cream, asking each other about their favourite food, etc.

Their approach to English teaching is language immersion in primary schools. They barely teach grammar to young children, but build their foundation on the basis of speaking and listening, rather than reading and writing. They learn what they use, and they use what they learn.

In fact, this reminds me of an article I have read before, which criticises the language education in Hong Kong for starting from reading and writing - this can very well lead to a dead language. Language is for use in daily communication between people! I remember how dumb (in the literal sense) when I went to England - I felt as if I didn't speak English at all.

(Unfortunately I didn't take any photos!)

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