Monday, April 23, 2012

The myth of language labs

Immediately after Jiang Wei-ning, the education minister, announced that 12-year compulsory education was underway and English listening comprehension to be tested along with the joint examination, panic erupted among students, parents, and teachers over the fairness of such test. Students were worried about how they should prepare for such test. Their moms and dads frowned that some money had to be spent for their beloved to go to bushibans for extensive training. And teachers of remote rural areas questioned the minister how they should teach their students English listening skills when a single CD player was unavailable in their country schools. How would their students compete fairly with their urban counterparts whose schools owned fancy language labs?

Before going further, let us review a page of modern Chinese history. During the hard years of Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the National Southwestern Associated University (西南聯大) located in Quinming did not even have classrooms, so they borrowed common people’s ancestral shrines instead; it did not have a comprehensive library, so students read the few books by copying them; yet its department of physics, which had only blackboards and white chalks to offer its teachers, produced two Nobel Prize winners in theoretical physics: Yang Jeng-ning and Lee Jeng-dao. (楊振寧與李政道) Students nowadays in Taiwan are luckier than their grandpas and grandmas. They are equipped with all the teaching hardware and software and they need not to run for air-raid shelters to escape from Japanese bombers in the middle of their classes. Do they learn better than their forefathers?

I am a veteran English teacher. I never believe that language labs, computer learning software, DVDs, or CDs are the panacea for learning English well. As long as students are willing to learn, I believe I can teach them to learn well with just a blackboard and a piece of chalk. 

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