Put Your Grammar Where Your Mouth Is: A Mini-Manifesto

As we inch closer to the opening of The English Schoolhouse, I'm thrilled with the amount of calls we've been getting from learners of all ages and backgrounds about the courses we offer.  When you start something new, especially a business, you never really know if the idea you have is a keeper.  The feedback we've gotten thus far has been so overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic that we know we're onto something great, and while I'm happy with all of the wonderful response, I do have to note that there is one type of question we receive ever so often that...well...it irks me.

Me: Hello?
Caller: Yes, is this The English Schoolhouse?
Me: Yes, it is.
Caller: I'm interested in English classes for my six and eight year-old children.  Can you tell me about what you do?
Me: Sure! Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...and check out our website--www.theenglishschoolhouse.com...blah blah blah.
Caller: Do you all also do exams--Cambridge? Trinity?
Me:  (Sigh) No, and we don't want to.

I guess I should start off by saying that English in Rome is big business.  And that would be alright, if everyone were doing it right.  Whereas I went to school for ten years to learn the art of teaching and have taught for ten years as well, to teach at many language schools in Rome you need a pulse and to verbally claim that you are a "mother tongue" English speaker.  Got those two things? You're hired!  You start on Monday!  It's Saturday!  Don't have experience in teaching?!  No problem! We've got a curriculum! *picks up 582-page grammar book* and a method: "Carla! Ask Wendy if she likes chicken!"  It's absurd, and insulting to real teachers.

That's not my only issue.  I also loathe this whole culture of testing, especially when young children are involved.  Any teacher worth their rulers in the states knows that the real teaching isn't what you find is some manual or book, it's what happens when you close your classroom door.  It's how you connect to your students and build upon their experiences to connect new material to their existing knowledge.  I mean, come on.  What polyglot do you know who learned the languages they are fluent in from a thick book alone.  Zero? Yeah, that's the same number I came up with.  The truth is, not only is English big business, these tests are, too.  Are some of them necessary at some point, maybe for college admission or extra high school credits? Sure, but they can and should be prepared for authentically--not sold as some gimmick to reel you in.

Here's how you learn a language, in my opinion: you follow a natural attraction to it.  You have authentic experiences with it.  You live it, learn to love it, breathe it, and use it.  You make connections with it.  You eventually dream in it and communicate with it and find it relevant to your life.  And THEN you blow the top off of whatever test is placed in front of you in whatever language it is.

If I were a parent, and one of the main attractions of a language school I was considering for my kid was that they offer exams (STARTING AT AGE 6!) for learners, I'd run, not walk, in the opposite direction.

If you wanna know if a kid really speaks English, talk to them and give them the chance to put their grammar where their mouths are instead of on some asanine multiple choice exam.
My sentiments exactly.

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