I can still remember my very first nursery rhyme I learned in English, many moons ago. It was called “Baa, baa black sheep.” I also remember my father signing me up at an English institute during that summer; I was reluctant but he insisted it would be good for my future. I can still picture him studying and practicing himself. Having purchased an English course called Hemphill School, I recall hearing him listen to his vinyl 33rpm records over and over. Well, that summer I fell in love with the language and I still am to this day. As far as my dad, he tried his hardest but I assume because of his age he never became fluent, yet he became a citizen and now resides in the States.
English became something magical for me at an early age. I discovered I had a knack for learning and enjoying it. Everything that had to do with the language suddenly became interesting to me, especially music and American history. My favorite subject in high school here in Peru of course was English, where I would always get the best grades. Those were the good old days, but so much has changed since then.
After having lived in the U.S. for approximately half of my adult life, I’ve returned to my native country. I am an English teacher now at what I consider a reputable institution and my experiences have been a mix of emotions and self-rewarding feelings. Honestly I’m not doing this for the money but for the opportunity of being able to share with new generations of Peruvians all of my life journeys living abroad. I would also like to mention that this is the first time working in my own country since I migrated to the land of opportunity at an early age. Language institutes sure have proliferated throughout the capital and have become a very lucrative business. Many different and interesting choices for learners.
Technology definitely has played a key role on language teaching as well as the methodology being applied. Classrooms are no longer places where learners do repetitive drilling like parrots to the point of exhaustion. The dynamics are much different where STT (student talking time) is encouraged in a big way and in my opinion it definitely helps fluency and acquisition of the second language. Learners have many more ways to be exposed to the language now than ever before because of technology. As I tell my students from all levels, “what you get here in the institute is not enough if you want to excel, you must do your part.” And what I mean by this is that outside the institute they may not be forced to practice the English language, but it’s not impossible to do so. Follow my example. Even though I live in Peru I spend 90% of my time speaking English, not only because of me being a teacher but because I read books, watch news, movies, send emails, text, and Google everything in English. I feel most comfortable speaking English as it feels really natural to me now.
I have also noticed the hunger for knowledge when it comes to languages from learners, not only English but Portuguese, French, Japanese, Chinese, etc. A lot of them have achieved a much higher level than I had expected, mostly from being exposed to the language at an early age either at their own schools or at language institutes. Some have traveled and lived abroad briefly which is a plus as far as fluency is concerned. In some schools I have noticed that they have incorporated to their academic curriculum teaching some subjects in English as well as Mandarin Chinese. I find that innovating and refreshing.
I can’t help to compare the disinterest in American society for learning foreign languages to the culture here in Peru. Young people in the States are more concerned about mundane things and since English is an international language they don’t feel the need to acquire a new language besides their own native language, especially Spanish. As far as I’m concerned, such thinking is very ignorant.
Even my uncle, an Italian-American, and my Native American brother-in-law, never felt the need to learn their spouse’s mother tongue even though they were exposed to it in a big way and visited Peru many times. I’ve come to find out that somehow the majority of people look at Spanish in a contemptuous way. I have heard general comments from Americans that reflect an idea of, “What is the use of learning Spanish? To speak with whom? My gardener? My nanny?” Maybe this perspective has a lot to do with the heavy Mexican migration to the States where they play a key role as the Latino community especially in California, where I lived and where my four daughters were born. Nevertheless the power of acquiring a new language under your belt has become a very powerful tool to open new doors in people’s lives in many ways.
As far as Peru is concerned I feel it has progressed as far as the language institutes, but there is still so much more to improve on. A lot of these institutions have become money making machines and, as a means of dealing with such a high demand, are deviating from their main objective which is to provide quality education. Some of them work under the umbrella of universities to gain credibility. One of the main issues I noticed is the absence of native English teachers. I feel there is a big difference between someone who has lived abroad for many years compared to those (and there’s a lot of them) who have never even left their hometowns, let alone the country. Native speakers are for introductory and basic levels, since pronunciation is pivotal. Intermediate and advanced levels also benefit from native teachers who can go the extra mile in elaborating vocabulary in various subjects, including society, culture and politics. Methodology along won’t do the trick.
The other main issue I noticed is that after a student completes the entire course and graduates as a so called ‘bilingual,’ he or she may not have enough skills to attempt to pass any of the International Certifications. That makes me wonder about the intentions of the institutes; is it all about the money? As far as I’m concerned, native fluency is a task that is not always easy to achieve but one teachers should give their best. I want my students to see with my eyes what I have experienced, what I have seen and what only a few of them may be able to have a chance to experience.