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The parent as master myth-maker

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Don’t worry, they are not alone:) Back in the day people thought smoking and drinking were good for you. Genuinely they believed that you could relax with a cigarette (before the overwhelming evidence of disease was too great to deny), and drink was a way to chill and help you communicate - ‘veritas’ was ‘in vino’ (before the overwhelming evidence for disease and social discord was too great to swallow...okay, that was a haha)

Believing what others believe is how we develop and extend our culture, and it takes a lot to change it.

Parents are no different. We need to see the parent as master myth-maker. They believe in myths about teaching and learning that it will take you time to change.

Parents cast a long shadow over English classrooms. Their misunderstandings about language teaching can grow into all kinds of headaches for teachers. Many of them will have experienced language learning themselves as children. These experiences ferment into strong opinions about what should and shouldn’t happen in language classes. Here are our top five points from what you will face as a teacher, and some suggestions about how you change the learning culture your parents have so you can be a better teacher. What can we (teachers) do to help parents better understand language teaching?

Myth 1. Children should be able to speak after a short period of learning

Fact 1. Language learning takes a long time. Just as adult language learners get frustrated by a lack of progress, so do parents. Language learning takes years, not hours. Help your learners’ parents understand how long this process is by comparing it to first language acquisition. Children get years of input in their L1 before they start talking. Why would students start speaking after only a few of hours of input in L2?

Myth 2. Learning language is learning vocabulary and grammar

Fact 2. We need to recognize what language progress looks like, and it is largely a matter of assembling a system of skill, not adding together discrete items of learning. But how do parents measure their kids progress? I suspect it's often by asking "What did you learn today?" on the car journey home, or by pointing to words in the course book and saying "read this". Unless you've spent a lot of your class teaching reading or prepping students to answer the "What did you learn today?" question, you’re going to have more disappointed customers on your hands. Show parents some of the games and activities you play in class and encourage them to replicate these at home. And of course, tell them more about how learning a language actually occurs.

Myth 3. Translation and L1 is the enemy

Fact 3. These aren’t the enemy. Translation can be a brilliant route to meaning (and we all want that). Sadly, countless teachers report "Parents complain if we use our students first language in class." Parents need to know that their child's L1 is a resource in learning English, just as it is in learning math.

Myth 4. There is a standard English to learn and speak

Fact 4. There’s no single standard English. It’s impossible to know who today's young learners will communicate with when they grow up. To prepare them for this uncertainty, students must hear a range of different accents and dialects. If the only person children can confidently communicate with is their primary school English teacher, they’re going to have some issues in the real world. That means it’s not a bad thing if they change teacher now and again. It’s also not a big deal if your coursebook uses British or American English. You actually need to be able to understand both, and more.

Myth 5. My child can sound like a native

Fact 5. Your child is not going to sound like a native speaker. Because they’re not a native speaker. Having an accent influenced by your mother tongue is part of the beauty of language and your identity as a person. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. Something like 70% of the English speakers in the world are not native speakers. They’ll be in good company.

Perhaps the parents of the students you teach have different misunderstandings about language teaching. Whatever their misunderstandings are, it's our responsibility as teachers to help. Explain what English is and isn’t. Clarify why you teach in the way you teach. And it also doesn’t hurt to ask your students "What did you do and learn today?" before they meet myth-making mum and dad on the other side of the classroom door.

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