Teaching English in Southeast Asia: Challenges

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Challenge #1: Use of Target Language

One of the major challenges the English language teacher may face is the reluctance of students to use the target language as a means of communication when they are expected to do so. For example, when asked a question in English, early learners in particular, who have already undergone the comprehension stage, may intuitively respond in their mother tongue. To encourage the use of the target language, the teacher needs to set up fun, play-based reward systems that motivate the students to use the second language. For example, students who use the second language receive a ticket, which is entered in a weekly lottery. The teacher needs to provide students with ample and various opportunities for speaking and to praise students appropriately for using the target language. With the help of different prompts and games in English, the teacher aims to ignite students’ curiosity and enthusiasm for the language.

Challenge #2: School and Classroom Environment

Another one of the challenges that could be faced by the English-language teacher represents the environment itself. Is the school environment conductive to learning and maximizing students’ potential? Is it equipped with the necessary facilities (such as classroom, library, playground, and canteen) where learning can take place? Does the classroom provide appropriate tools and materials for the overall development of children with different learning capabilities and styles? If that’s not the case, then the teacher needs to design such settings and activities that reflect real-life situations and enable the realization of different learning scenarios. Whenever this is not possible, though, paradoxically, it opens up opportunities for teachers to stimulate students’ imagination by having them imagine and invent the tools or settings that are not available.

Challenge #3: Cultural Characteristics

One major challenge to teaching Asian pupils is related to their collectivist cultural characteristics such as conformity and obedience. Group contexts determine students’ likelihood of freely expressing their honest thoughts and opinions. Students tend to seek fitting in with group decisions and maintaining conformity with group members . They are conditioned into aligning their views to maintain conformity with prevailing group opinion. How do we encourage Asian pupils to take part in group discussions and share their honest opinions? I have noticed that this tendency starts to emerge among students at the age of 8-9. Before that age students feel comfortable speaking their mind. That is why one of my first and foremost lessons of grade 3 students pertains to Western and Eastern values and beliefs. Understanding one own’s culture paves the way for a much more open conversation. I have found this pictogram a great visual resource that depicts complex cultural concepts with brilliant simplicity. Also, the teacher must strive to create a safe space for students to be themselves fully by adopting a non-judgmental, real, and down-to-earth approach where differences in opinion are welcome and valued.

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