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When we hear about the implementation of tri-lingual policy reform in Kazakhstan, the methods of teaching that will ensure efficient acquisition of three languages tends to be ignored. From my perspective, the Ministry of Education mainly focuses on academic and organizational improvements in education. The role of the methods and approaches in the process of education is of paramount importance since this reform generally hinges upon a language proficiency.
Kazakhstani schools and universities are expected to use English as a language of instruction in chosen range of disciplines. The use of three languages equally in the classes is one of the key features of tri-lingual education policy, therefore its widespread establishment tends to be the most ambitious plans of the Ministry of Education. A relevant examples of the multilingual education practice are Nazarbayev intellectual schools (NIS) and Kazakh-Turkish high schools for gifted boys and girls where chosen subjects as math, physics and biology are conducted in English on par with Russian and Kazakh. Thereby, students are expected to obtain enough input in three languages as they have to perceive crucial information from a teacher which is planned to lead to the increment of their linguistic competence in target languages. However, shifting the language of instruction is not the only measure on the way to trilingualism since there is a need for powerful techniques and approaches.
In my opinion, current methods in language teaching occur to be not as effective as they were expected and need to be complemented by various tools, effective and effortless ones. Therefore, there is a need in diversifying the approaches in language teaching which can significantly increase the pace of multilingualism development. For instance, the Natural Approach in teaching recommended by American linguists Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell which is one of the efficient approaches to language teaching which helps beginners to become intermediate level speakers (Krashen &Terrell, 1995). Krashen & Terrell (1995) claim that the reason of unsuccessfulness of the majority of audiolingual approaches lies on the fact that these theories were not focused on language acquisition, but on language structure instead. Thereby, the lessons conducted in such approach are “about the language” instead of being “in”, so to speak. It is important to simplify and naturalize the process of language learning for students, because:
We acquire language when we obtain comprehensible input, when we understand what we hear or read in another language. This means that acquisition is based primarily on what we hear and understand, not what we say. The goal, then, of elementary language classes, according to this view, is to supply comprehensible input, the crucial ingredient in language acquisition, and to bring the student to point where he or she can understand language outside the classroom. When it happens, the acquirer can utilize the real world, as well as the classroom, for progress. (Krashen & Terrell, 1995, p. 1)
For decades, school students have been learning and memorizing conversations and collocations like “London is the capital of Great Britain” or “Hello! How are you? I’m fine, thanks, and you?” and as a result many students struggle with the structures, “mathematic formulas”, of tenses and can barely construct complicated sentences orally because formation of speech through grammar rules create a mental obstacle in producing free and natural speech. Therefore, it is clear that audiolingual approaches in foreign languages teaching, currently practiced in the range of state universities and schools of Kazakhstan, should be rethought and reformed in favor of much more actionable ones such as Natural Approach to language teaching provided by experienced linguists.
Furthermore, the Natural Approach led to the formation of many efficient ways of teaching and learning languages. An appropriate example here is Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) method developed by Blaine Ray which is based on the combination of reading and storytelling aimed at foreign language learning. The supporters of TPRS method claim that the best way of increasing linguistic competence of the students is to provide as much comprehensible input as possible, founding their position on Krashen’s second language acquisition theories (Ray & Contee, 2004, pp. 137–138). In TPRS method, teacher tells a story and asks questions depending on the story’s plot; and the effectiveness of this method entirely depends on the teacher’s capability to motivate and affect the students through emotional narration creating positive psychological atmosphere which contributes to language acquisition. This approach is likely to the process of language acquisition of children when they listen to interesting and exciting content in tales and cartoons. For instance, my nephews sometimes pronounce new expressions and constructions in their speech obviously subcoinsciously acquired from a cartoon where they understand semantic basis of the words and utterances as they see a situative context.
The stories in TPRS contain necessary grammar “messages” which are present in every session, and this peculiarity of the method enables those students who missed previous class to perceive and acquire a grammar rule from the following ones. Even though TPRS tends to be considered as “for children” and beginners, it might also be an effective tool for more advanced language learners since the stories may present any grammar rule “message” of any level through telling and asking process where students develop both their listening and speaking skills and acquire the structures of sentence formation subcounsciously.
To conclude, I suggest that the use of such methods as TPRS must be encouraged in multilingual education on par with any other methods. Do you agree that the methods used in Kazakhstani schools need to be improved? In order to avoid unnatural and complicated use of “math formulas” in children’s speech, what kind of methods and approaches in teaching three languages would you suggest to use? And do you appreciate the use of TPRS in multilingual education?
Ray, B., Seely, C. (2004). Fluency Through TPR Storytelling: Achieving Real Language Acquisition in School (4th ed.). Command Performance Language Institute, Blaine Ray Workshops. ISBN 0-929724-21-6.
Krashen, S. D., & Terrell, T. D. (1995). The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom. Hayward, Calif: Alemany Press.