Slowing it down

Published on 25th May, 2011 in Global Bloggers by Scott Shelton

Life is often in a rush. It either rushes past us or we are rushing towards it. Today’s world is full of applications and gadgets that are all in a hurry to be developed to work quicker than the previous one. Vietnam is certainly no exception and the pace of life in Hanoi is at full tilt for just about everyone. The roads are full of motorbikes and cars overtaking one another and the non-stop blaring of horns might make you think that everyone is either rushing to hospital or just plain mad.

Our students are all conditioned by this non-stop pace, and they are all intent on mastering English in record time. In the classroom, you must be careful not to disclose too much at once, for as soon as you bat an eyelid, they have completed the entire page in a mad rush to the finish, often without even considering why they are actually doing the exercise in the first place.

The rush to the finish line isn’t a particularly a Vietnamese classroom issue, but in my experience it is usually the younger set, no matter where in the world, who pride themselves in shouting out ‘finished’ before the others. In my classes, it goes all the way across the board.

In our Thursday lesson with the group using Global, we initiated our task-based learning approach to the task of producing a short list of the five most important elements of a job. Learner training is crucial in my context, and I’ve found that staging a brief example in front of the class with a few volunteers works wonders.

The Vietnamese are truly masterful at reproducing what they see or hear, so they tend to catch on right away. By nature they are also competitive and individualist – so reaching agreement through negotiation is not their favourite activity. However, once it was clear to them (through overt explanation and demonstration) that the real aim of the task was to use the opportunity to stretch their English, through persuasion, or concession, and by giving supporting reasons and examples, they managed it very well.

It was made clear that there was no need to rush, so that there was ample time to have their say and conscientiously work towards a final list and to prepare a brief presentation of how it was agreed. The presentation phase was done first by swapping one member of each group to another so that they could have a private practice presentation. Then they returned and explained what they had learned and had to decide if they wanted to make any final adjustments. Finally, each group explained to the class and myself, their ideas of what was important in a job and why. The results were tangible and well rehearsed, and the relaxed atmosphere led to a more elaborate and accurate end result than if they had rushed to the finish from the word go.

Slowing it down has its perks and in the business of learning a new language, getting your thoughts together before ‘getting it right’ is but one of the strategies I like to employ with Global with my classes.

Until next week,

Scott (slowing down)