Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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The current government guideline is that reading and writing should not be taught in elementary school English classes. Having been very involved in training teachers when English was being introduced into elementary schools in Korea and having also been a consultant and trainer for the Ministry of Education in Thailand, I think I'm in a position to offer an opinion on this.

The guideline is very understandable, but it is misguided. There is clearly a danger that reading and writing would be taught in the way that was used when the Japanese teachers were students at junior high school simply because those methods are familiar. This would be difficult and demotivating for many children. It is also true that teaching reading and writing requires training.

Training elementary school teachers to teach English is actually surprisingly easy. Having trained tens of thousands of teachers over the years, I can say without hesitation that it was much easier to train Korean elementary school teachers with very limited English ability to teach English than it is to train most native speakers of English who are not professional teachers of children. This is true even though I speak almost no Korean and I was sometimes training hundreds of teachers at the same time. The Korean teachers had a deep sense for how children learn things and quickly latched on to the basic principles involved. It was a question of showing them how methods they used for teaching other subjects could be applied to the teaching of English.

Reading and writing can be a lot of fun and taught in ways that are achievable for all children in a once-a-week class. Without reading and writing the children cannot retain much of what they learn and cannot use the time between lessons effectively. It really comes down to method, and I'll write more about that next week.

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