In today’s world where being multilingual is becoming a necessity and no longer just dependent on interest and free time, is learning English a responsibility?
We are all students of life. And as such, it is our responsibility to keep on learning and grabbing on to knowledge in whichever and whatever way or form it presents itself — in particular, learning English. We owe it to ourselves to further and nurture our knowledge as much as we can, for as long as we can.
Before anything else, let us break down what makes up the word responsibility…
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines responsibility as “a moral, legal, or mental accountability.” Furthermore, the dictionary also associates the words’ reliability and trustworthiness to it. From these definitions, from a highly reliable source at that, it is apt to say that students are accountable for learning the English language. Then it must also be true that teachers see their students as reliable and trustworthy individuals with the determination to learn the language.
Now, a second definition is also given…
“something for which one is responsible: Burden”
Not to question the highly revered online dictionary, but isn’t this definition just a tad bit off (more like way off) when referring to learning English? Call it a biased opinion, but from Denwa Sensei’s eyes, learning English may be a responsibility, but it is not and will never be a burden.
So on that note, we must get a second opinion from another trusted source, Cambridge Dictionary. It defines responsibility “as a duty to take care of something,” which is highly on point with the topic at hand. It is without a doubt a duty of students to take care of that something, in this case, learning English.
With such rich definitions and context, an unsettling thought still lurks. Why is the question: “Is learning English a responsibility?” seems to be giving off a negative connotation? Perhaps it is partly our fault. The world has given the word responsibility such heavy and dire associations that hearing or reading it will make anyone think of the burdens they are currently handling.
Is Learning English a Responsibility: The Importance of the Craft
Language barriers have been dividing nations since the beginning. Each has its own unique form of communication that having a universal one is ideal in order to understand one another. Not only that, but employment opportunities are also more accessible.
Being the third most spoken language globally, English is taught in over 118 countries and is used all around the globe as both a diplomatic and trade language. It is also the language of science, the media, and, today’s online world, the Internet.
So to further convince you of the importance and applications of English, here are some of the other reasons:
More Access to Entertainment and the Internet
Nowadays, almost all types of media are created and published in English. And if you have noticed, it seems like the governing norm is to provide English versions and translations alongside their original counterparts. You can observe this in many (if not all) films, shows, books, and even music.
As a matter of fact, even the Internet is filled with things in English. It may just be that English is the “official” unofficial language of the World Wide Web, huh? Just think about this, about 52% of the most visited websites online are in English. You can see just how much access the language provides. That is already over half the content of what is on the Internet. With a good command of English, you are guaranteed to be able to exchange information with people and use more materials freely.
Language of Internal Communication
Is learning English a responsibility? Well, it is slightly shocking that English is not the most spoken language in the world. But it is spoken as a first language by around 400 million of the population and is the official language in 53 countries. However, it does bag the title of being the most common second language worldwide.
According to the British Council, 2020 has seen a record-breaking of two billion people studying English. So the chances are extremely high that you will be able to communicate using English if you are ever to meet someone from a different country.
Based on the numbers stated prior, learning English makes it much easier on your part to travel just about anywhere! The majority of the information seen on airports, train stations, and street signs is in English, even in countries with a different alphabet.
This should alleviate any traveling woes you may have because it is a guarantee that you will be able to find someone who understands at least some of the basics of the language.
Makes One ‘Smarter’
How so? Well, learning a foreign language is known to enhance one’s analytical and cognitive abilities. Learning something that you are unfamiliar with can be difficult and will involve constant mental exercises. Studies have shown that a brain’s structure changes when learning a new language. The parts responsible for conscious thoughts, creativity, and memories are all impacted. Looking at a long-term perspective, being bilingual keeps the brain healthy and strong during old age while also supporting concentration and memory skills. Moreover, learning English can also help with self-worth and improves personality. Think about the satisfaction you would feel when making progress during your English lessons.
Overall, this form of learning keeps the brain versatile and stronger.
For the students: Responsibilities and Role in Learning the English Language
Allotting time and effort into learning English will make reaping the reward incredibly sweet. And one English proverb stands by this. It states that:
“You get out of life what you put into it.”
Thus, we can conclude that more effort equates to far greater rewards. And with such accomplishments come the satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment.
But what does learning English entail? For most students, it means attending an English school where a teacher presides in front of the class and will give assignments after the lessons. Is this where it begins and ends, though? We think not. Because that scenario only captures the teaching aspect and not the learning part. Learning happens when you fully understand the topic discussed and are able to apply it correctly.
Correspondingly, the teacher’s role is usually the aspect bounded by the classroom. But the students’ part in the learning process goes beyond four walls.
It is a combination of:
- Completing homework regularly.
- Attending class diligently.
- Knowing that every minute of the class counts because being late means missing important information that impacts their understanding of the current lesson
- Taking notes and organizing them for effective review afterward
- Paying attention to class without being distracted by electronic devices
- Engaging daily with the English language
- Experimenting with helpful learning methods like talking to themselves while doing daily tasks
- Thinking in English
- Immersing oneself in different forms of media that are in English
- Conversing and continually associating with people who speak the language
- Most of all, having fun with it.
Improving one’s English prowess is majorly dependent on one’s self. It is a personal decision and a responsibility. Your teacher/s cannot make you learn it, for the control over it lies with you. Just think about all the hopes, dreams, ideas, and opinions you have that will be left unsaid without the English language.
Remember, the key is right in front of you. It is almost a crime not to grab it and utilize it as much as you can, don’t you think? And yes, the key we are talking about here is learning English.
Why Take Responsibility?
Your English teacher/s will be there to teach you the things you need to learn and will be readily available when you have questions. Still, you can be an independent learner who takes responsibility for your own work. You can start by:
- Setting your goals
- Identifying strengths and weaknesses
- Discovering and further developing an effective learning style or method
But why take responsibility?
See Progress and Results. No one size fits us all. By tailoring your learning methods to yourself, progress is bound to be faster. You might even realize your long-term goals along the way. More so, the results that await will be much sweeter and of special importance to you.
Become an Independent and Capable Thinker. Your English teacher/s should never be seen as the defining factor in your success in learning the language. They are merely your guides in the right direction. Being able to manage your studies outside of the classroom can help develop your independence. Too, deciding on activities that work for you and discarding those that do not make you a capable thinker who can respond accordingly to various settings.
Acquire Transferable Skills. Time management, problem-solving skills, and self-assurance are just some of the skills that play a part in having an effective learning method and schedule. But aside from what is current, you can also hone these skills for your future education and career prospects.
For the Teachers: How to Help Students be More Proactive in Learning English
Commodity. This is how learning is seen by many. This connotation is even more obvious in higher education, where degrees come with expensive price tags. And the sad part of it all is that students weigh the value of a certain degree based on the institution and the future salary that the degree will allow. This kind of perspective sets everyone involved up for failure. As such, it would be wise to turn away from such notions.
As already established before, teachers cannot control learning, whether they are teaching English or any other subject. It is up to students, the learners themselves, to do that. What then should teachers do to help their students become successful in their English learning journey?
Providing a Welcoming Environment
While it is not the teachers’ responsibility, they can still support the growth and progress of their students by first creating a positive learning environment. Students thrive more in a setup where a sense of community, routines, procedures, and expectations are well managed. Beginners are most especially prone to anxiety, and so it is up to teachers to foster feelings of safety and comfort. By providing clear classroom patterns and predictable structures, teachers can guarantee language development among their students.
Some examples may include:
- Using predictable procedures when giving and passing out learning materials
- Posting a daily schedule and keeping it as constant as possible
- Consistency in the morning, afternoon, or evening routines such as greetings and turning in homework.
- Using similar signals to get the students’ attention and other related gestures.
It is in patterns, predictability, and familiarity that students feel at ease.
Aside from these, teachers can also encourage other students to welcome their fellow English learners in the classroom. It will also help if teachers talk to students regarding the challenges of learning a foreign language. They need to ingrain in their students that mistakes are a part of the process and nothing to be ashamed of.
Knowing Each Student
Teachers often miss the importance of knowing their students. It is through this act that they can get a glimpse of how they can help them. Teachers need to be encouraging when it comes to class participation. If initially, students are not comfortable with verbal communication, they do not have to force them. Instead, teachers can help the students ease into speaking the language by enforcing a buddy system. Not only can this offer comfort for the students, but it can also help them adjust to the classroom setting. And although learning English is the goal and practicing it is beneficial, teachers still need to allow their students to communicate in the language they are used to.
Teachers cannot expect their students to be able to understand everything they are saying so soon. It would then be better for all parties if teachers:
- Speak slowly while enunciating carefully and still using a natural tone
- Provide visuals during discussions to give their students a better idea of what is being taught
- Use gestures when they speak, facial expressions, and other kinds of body language
- Adjust and pose questions depending on the level of the students’ English proficiency
For the latter, teachers can resort to demonstrating, nodding, or pointing during the early stages of learning English. They can also use short and direct questions. Once students are able to respond well with these, teachers can then move on to one or two-word responses and allow students to answer questions with options. And if the students are in the intermediate fluency stage, teachers can use longer sentences and questions. Grammatical errors may still be present but will be less compared to when the students started.
Providing Opportunities for Interactions
Application is crucial in any learning. And so, students must be given the opportunity to practice speaking in English. One way of doing so is by allowing students to interact with each other, which will naturally enhance and develop English proficiency. A few things teachers can do include:
- Allotting time to help each student in formulating responses during group works
- Using cooperative learning projects where students work in teams to solve puzzles, word searches, and reading activities where each student reads a different text and then reports the information back to the group
- Incorporating think, pair, share strategy where students think of a question, discuss it with a partner, and finally share insights with a larger group.
- Providing time for reading activities with a partner that is beyond their independent comprehension level
- Doing conversational role plays like interviewing someone, resolving conflicts, and other common scenarios.
Decoding words individually is important, but for teachers to help students to make meaning of texts is essential. It would be helpful in building fluency in word recognition, all the while focusing on comprehension strategies to read texts multiple times.
Some examples of these comprehension strategies are:
- Previewing. This strategy entails paging through a text to look at pictures ahead of time. Doing so can activate students’ prior knowledge that will help them in decoding and making meaning of the text in front of them. Teachers also need to take the time to help their students to build basic knowledge of common English phrases, especially since varying cultural backgrounds play a part in learning.
- Predicting. This involves making predictions during reading regarding what will happen next. Not only is this an effective comprehension strategy, but it is also an excellent motivator. How so? It builds up the anticipation and motivates the students to keep on reading to see if their predictions are correct.
- Connecting. It is effective for students to connect what they are reading to personal experiences, other texts they already encountered prior, or existing knowledge. Making connections aids in comprehension and helps the students in internalizing texts.
- Summarizing. Students read sections of texts silently and must be able to generate a few sentences that summarize the gist of the passage. Teachers can also ask their students to retell a story in front of the class or ask students to dramatize what they read to make it more fun.
Developing Writing Skills
The ease with which students learn to write in English can be based on their opportunities to practice reading and writing in the language from the very beginning. One way of supporting students in their English learning journey is by aiding them in developing and communicating ideas first and worrying about proper grammar and spelling later.
Teachers can incorporate process writing, which is an interactive process of conferencing. This method provides an opportunity for authentic conversation practices as well as to develop pieces of written work. But full participation will require students to be on the intermediate or advanced level of English proficiency. Students just beginning writing can start by simply drawing pictures and labeling them. Over time, teachers can encourage them to write short sentences. Several strategies for supporting beginner writers:
- Teachers can provide simple writing prompts to help students formulate ideas for stories.
- They can also consider allowing students to use computers from time to time. The functions of writing tools can aid students in identifying and correcting their errors.
- Require students to use journals to help fluency
- Teachers can help students learn to combine two short sentences into one sentence to add sentence varieties.
- Doing lessons focused on using precise vocabulary. Students can make a list of synonyms that they can access during writing lessons.
Widening of Vocabulary
Doing vocabulary activities can help in building background knowledge. By introducing new terms and reviewing those already encountered, students can organize those into a conceptual framework.
Creative activities that can enrich students’ vocabulary are as follows:
- Dramatization. Teachers can have their students act out words or particular situations wherein the word is used.
- Word Walls. Content vocabulary is posted on the classroom walls. Students can then add an illustration to one word for the word wall. Every addition will provide connections to meanings that the students must interpret.
- Word Sorts. Words are written on paper, and students must sort the words categorically.
Sharing Learning Strategies
Learning independently is a great area to nourish, but students may have difficulty figuring out the learning technique that would work best for them. While others may naturally use strategies, some will need to be explicitly taught how to employ them. These strategies are divided into cognitive, metacognitive, and social-affective.
- Repetition: Reviewing a concept multiple times
- Using available resources: Dictionaries, word walls, etc.
- Summarizing: Reviewing main ideas in written or spoken form
- Connecting: Taking new information and relating it to prior knowledge
- Self-assessment: Assessing how well one did
- Advanced organization: Planning how to organize and use learning materials
- Selective attention: Focusing on keywords
- Self-monitoring: Checking personal comprehension
- Cooperation: Working with classmates
- Questioning: Asking others for help and clarifications
- Self-talk: Incorporating mental techniques to boost confidence and reduce anxiety