Teaching and Learning English

Teaching English in an FL Context: a Challenge for English Teachers

By Drs. Abdul Muth’im, M.Pd.*)

A Introduction

The learners who learn English in a second language (SL) context have more benefits than those who learn it in the context of foreign language (FL). In the context of SL, though English is not native for them, they still can directly be exposed to English through the four language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing used around them. Wherever they go: to the market, to campus, to government offices, to bus station, to the airport, or anywhere – they will find English used by the native speakers (NS) easily. Whatever the learners do: attending lectures, buying something, asking for information and direction, etc. they will encounter English used as medium of communication. This situation enables them to develop their skills in English quite abundantly.

The case will be different if the learners learn English in an FL context. The learners who learn English in an FL context will have limited exposure to English. If they go to the market, to campus, to government offices, to bus station, or to the airport they will not find English used as the means of communication, as the SL context offers. For example, when the learners attend lectures, the lecturers do not teach the subject they are teaching in English; when the learners buy something, the sellers do not do their business in English; and when the learners ask for information, the people do not give the information in English. The language used as their means of instruction and communication is their own language, either local language or national language, not English. As the cosequence, the learners do not have enough exposure to English.

The only place and the only time where the learners might be exposed to English is clasroom. Outside the classroom, it is a very rare occasion to find people, included the learners themselves, use English. It is no wonder why English learners seem to have difficulty in communication in English, though they actually have learned the language for years.

The issues that will be discussed in this paper among others are: the difference between second language (SL) and foreign language (FL), the status of English in Indonesia, the objective of teaching and learning English in Indonesia, English as a means of communication, classroom as the centre of communication in English, and the role of English teachers in helping learners in communication in English.

B Two Potentials in Developing Language

Experience has shown that any normal child born and raised in certain language millieau will certainly be able to communicate in the language. This is proven by the fact that any Banjarese, Dayakese, Javanese, Sundanese, Batakese, or Balinese children, for instance, though they do not go to school or they are illiterate, they are still able to communicate in Banjarese, Dayakese, Sundanese, Batakese, or Balinese without deliberately spending special time to go to school to learn the language. There must be some extraordinary powers that enable this to happen.

There are two powers that may explain this amazing phenomenon. The first power is what Chomsky called as Language Acquisition Device (LAD) and the second one is what Krashen coined as Comprehensible Inputs.

With LAD he or she owns, a human is assumed to be able to understand sentences that they never heard before. With LAD a human is also able to detect whether the pronunciation, the stress, the intonation, the pause, or the juncture used by the speaker meet the requirements of sound system of the language. Similarly, with LAD, a human will be able to comprehend whether or not the orthographical systems implemented by the writer deviate from the language system or not. Also, by that devise a human can determine whether a sentence produced is grammatical or not. In short, with the device a human will be able to feel whether the words chosen in a sentence are polite, impolite, appropriate, or inappropriate.

With LAD a human does not only understand, but also is able to produce unlimited number of sentences and in various ways. For instance, in asking someone to do something, such as opening the door, he or she does not have to use imperative sentence, “Open the door”. To convey the same meaning he or she may choose one of the following, instead:

“Please, open the door”,

“Open the door, please”,

“Will you open the door, please”,

“Do you think it’s hot here?, or

“I think, it’s hot here”.

Exposing the learners to the language they are learning, is a prerequisite in giving them comprehensible inputs. In an SL context, this is possible to happen because the circumstance, as illustrated above, is rich of the materials needed to facilitate learning. However, those enormous learning materials and activities are not available in FL context. The learning materials and the learning activities must be created and provided. If not, the development of learners’ English will be very slow. In other words, the more often and the more intensive the learners are exposed to English, the result is predicted to be better.

C Second Language (SL) or Foreign Language (FL)

For some linguists, these two terms refer to the same thing, that is, the language learned after one’s native language. This is valid among North Americans linguists. However, in British usage, these two terms are distinguished. According to them, “a foreign language is a language which is taught as a school subject but which is not used as a medium of instruction in schools nor as a language of communication within a country”. Whereas SL is a language which is not a native language in a country but which is widely used as a medium of communication (e.g. in education and in government) and which is usually used alongside another language or languages” (Richards, 108).

A question that may arise is, “Is English SL or FL in Indonesia?”. Before answering the question, some other questions related to it must be answered first. For example, “Is English taught as a school subject?”, “Is English used as a medium of instruction when other subjects such as mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, history, or civics are taught?”, “Is English is used as a medium of communication within the country of Indonesia?”.

For question 1, the answer is surely “yes”. This is especially true in junior and senior high schools. The students of these levels of education cannot graduate from their schools unless they reach at least the passing grade of English. If not, they have to remain in the school for one more year. This condition is really the same with the condition for other school subjects.

For question 2, the answer is positively “no”. In Indonesia, the subjects such as mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, history, civics and some other subjects are also taught as school subjects. However, the medium of instruction in teaching those subjects is not English, but Indonesian. Even, in lower classes, local language or a combination of Indonesian and local language is used as medium of instruction.

For question 3, the answer is certainly, “NO”. There is Indonesian people who use English as their means of communication. To communicate with other Indonesian citizens, they usually use their local language, or if they come from different ethnic back-grounds, they will use Indonesian language as the medium.

D The status of English in Indonesia

The description above leads to the conclusion that English is not a first language (L1), nor it is a SL. It is a real, real FL. Though it is taught at schools, but it is just taught as a school subject. The parameter for evaluating the success in learning English is the score not the four language skills.

E The objectives of teaching and learning English

F Classroom as the centre of English communication

G The Role of English Teachers in providing exposures in English

H Closure

It cannot be denied that English is one of the languages that is used the most all over the world. It is not only used Americans by the people who live in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia as native language but also it is learned and used by non-native speakers of English either as a second language or as a foreign language. According to ……….

The question that has been raised very often is, “How can someone master English?”. According to Krashen (19….), there are two modes of mastering a second/foreign language. The first mode is through acquisition, and the second is through learning. What is the difference between these two modes of mastering language?

Acquisition is …………………………………………………….

Learning in the other hand is defined as …………………………………….

This essay tries to discuss the possibility of improving English teaching and learning through the optimalization of classroom activities and school environment.

I English as foreign language

Foreign language, as defined by …………………………., is …………….

J The objective of teaching English in Indonesia

a) The objective of teaching English at junior high schools

b) The objective of teaching English at jsenior high schools

c) The objective of teaching English at jsenior high schools

K The Role of Exposure to language development

L The Role of English in Providing Comprehensible Inputs

M Teachers that are able to provide comprehensible inputs

N ……………………………..

O ……………………..

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