Tuesday, November 7, 2017

EFL Teaching in Israel, Sigh...

Tzivia, Adventures in AliyahLand, recently posted about her opinions of the "English" her kids are "learning" here in Israel, Unseens: How NOT TO learn English in Israel. Sigh...

It's hard for me to get started on the topic without getting lots of people upset and angry. As you probably know, not only have my own children gone through the system, sometimes as the only home grown English speaker in the class, but I've also spent more than a decade as a teacher and am still called on to help.  I've even opened up an official "small business" to tutor, though I still must get receipts printed.

First of all, an "unseen" is the term used for a Reading Comprehension. It can be as simple as a sign or invitation or as long and complex as a multipage article or essay. The emphasis on answering questions about a text is because a very large grade percentage of the Bagrut, Israeli Matriculation/College Boards/Regents whatever you think of as a national "final exam," is made of unseens. And, unfortunately, instead of concentrating on teaching Israeli children ENGLISH, the powers that be want high/passing test grades, so they teach for the test.

In all honesty, I was horrified to discover that even in the good schools, it can take more than one year to learn how to read English. The Education Ministry has been trying to give the impression that the students are learning more English by starting it earlier, but all they have done has been to divide the few hours allocated to elementary schools into more years. So, just like if you take a teaspoon of cream and divide it among four cups of coffee, the coffee will still be very black, giving the kids one or two hours a week of English from the 3rd grade won't teach them more than if they learned four or five weekly hours from the 5th or 6th grade. And for effective teaching/remembering these hours must be daily, not in two double lessons a week.

For decades it has been proven that the most effective way to teach a foreign language is to first speak, sing and play in it, even ulpan style. Yes, the classic ulpan, which emphasized functional spoken Hebrew and then reading and writing, was extremely successful. A half a century ago, my sister was in an experimental program which gave the students oral French before they began reading and writing the language. That produced students fully fluent and comfortable in French.

Another problem in the Israeli system is that, especially in the smaller schools, all of the elementary school students learn English together, whether they know the language from home, don't even hear it on the TV, are gifted learners or have problems even reading their native Hebrew.

That is why I would never teach classes younger than high school.

Parents must be proactive and take the initiative. Don't trust the school to know what's best. Get together with other parents to make groups, even if it cost money. Pressure the school to start English later with more hours per week.

Even more important is to make sure that your kids have good Hebrew language skills, grammar, literature, composition-writing etc. That is something that Israeli EFL teachers must lobby for, but that's for another blog post.

I had to teach these very basic elementary words to my high school students last year. 

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