Why ESL doesn’t work (very well)

Article Summary:  Human speech uses  1) the brain for language memory and language coordination,  2) ears to monitor pronunciation, and  3) the mouth to make the sound. All three must be retrained to speak a new language.ESL trains both  1) language memory and  2) visual memory. However, visual memory is not required in spoken language.Therefore, ESL is ineffective in teaching spoken English because it trains only one of three areas required for spoken language fluency.

As humans, we use three body parts when we speak any language.

  1. We use our brain for memory and speech coordination.
  2. We use our ears to monitor our pronunciation.
  3. We use our mouth to make the sounds.

We use our brain for memory and speech coordination. Our brain is doing two big jobs whenever we speak. 1) First, it remembers all of the vocabulary words in the language and organizes the words into the correct order to make sentences. 2) It also remembers all of the muscle positions which are necessary to say each word. Just think of how many different movements in your vocal cords, your tongue, your jaw, and your lungs are needed just to say one word. Now think how many movements it must make to say even one sentence. The brain must remember all of that information so that it can produce speech.

We use our mouth, vocal cords, and lungs to make sounds. This is easy to understand. We all know where the sound for speech comes from — it comes from our mouth and all of the related parts of our body which control speech.

We will use the word mouth to mean all of the parts of our body which are used in speech. This includes the tongue, the jaw, the teeth, and everything to do with breath control and the nose. (English does not use many “nasal” sounds, but many other languages do.) We use our ears to tell us what our mouth is doing. How do we know if the sound our mouth is making is correct for the word we want to say? We use our own ears for that information. As we are speaking, our ears send thousands of nerve messages to our brain. Our brain then coordinates that information so that it knows what our mouth must do in order for the next word to be pronounced correctly.

However, the brain has a much bigger job than just monitoring the nerve messages from our ears. There are thousands of nerve sensors throughout our mouth, our tongue, our vocal cords, our lungs, and every part of our body which are sending messages to our brain when we speak. The brain must coordinate all of the messages from both our ears and from thousnds of nerve sensors. This coordination is necessary for human speech. It is very complex. It is a marvelous ability that only humans have.

How we learned to speak as a child. All normal children younger than 12 years of age can learn to speak any language fluently because the mind, mouth, and hearing of a child allow them to perfectly mimic others’ speech. Their brain will coordinate the nerve messages from their ears and mouth so that they can accurately reproduce the words and sentences others use.

How we learn to speak a new language as adults. It is much more difficult to learn a new language as an adult because our brain no longer has the natural ability to accurately reproduce what we hear other people saying. (Our ears can actually become deaf to sounds we do not use in our own language.) However, our brain, ears, and mouth must still be trained when we want to learn a new language.

In order to learn to speak a new language:

  1. We must retrain our brain for new memory and speech coordination. We must also retrain our brain so that it can respond to the thousands of nerve signals from our mouth which are different for the new language.
  2. We must retrain our ears so that we hear sounds which we do not use in our native language.
  3. We must retrain all of the thousands of nerve sensors in our mouth so that each part in our body which is involved in speech can reproduce the new words and sentences.

ESL teaches two things.

  1. ESL does a good job of teaching language memory. It teaches both vocabulary and grammar rules.
  2. When ESL gives writing assignments, it also teaches visual memory. The student learns to recognize the written assignment as words which mean something in English. Though visual memory training is a good memory aid, visual memory is not used in spoken language.
  3. However, because ESL typically gives so little spoken language training, it fails to teach the student how to hear all the sounds used in English. It also fails to retrain the thousands of nerve sensors in the mouth so that the student can speak English.

ESL is ineffective in training students to speak English because it does almost nothing to retrain the brain to coordinate hearing and to control millions of nerve sensors in the mouth. ESL emphasizes language memory, but it does almost nothing to help the student’s brain coordinate all of the new information into spoken English.

(Is it true that ESL spends little time actually teaching students to speak English? That can be tested very easily. Simply watch several students in a typical ESL class. In a one-hour class, few students would actually speak English for as much as 10 minutes. When students are not actually speaking, the important training of hearing themselves speak and the resulting coordination of the muscle control of their mouth are missing. Listening to either an instructor or other students talk cannot replace that important area of training.)

Students universally complain because ESL does not teach them to speak English. It can’t. ESL principally teaches two things (language memory and visual memory) and only one of these is required in speech. At its very best, ESL partially teaches only one of the three essential elements required in spoken language.

Spoken English Learned Quickly

Spoken English Learned Quickly was developed to teach students to speak English. These lessons were developed to enable students to quickly retrain their brain, ears and mouth in order to speak English.

This is why we say, “The best way to learn English is to speak it.” It is also why, in hour-for-hour of study, students using this method can learn to speak English in half the time it takes students to learn English in college ESL courses in the United States. However, because it is even more difficult for students to learn to speak English in countries where English is not regularly used, our international students will learn to speak English in even less time than it would take them in ESL classes in their home country.

For a more complete description of this new language learning method, see Chapter 1: Teaching Your Tongue to Speak English from the book Speak English (It is also available as an ebook by Lynn Lundquist) This new language learning method is called the Feedback Training Method because it emphasizes retraining the brain’s ability to use feedback from the ears and mouth while learning a new language.

Technical topics relating to spoken English study:

A technical comparison of Spoken English Learned Quickly and ESL

Grammar and writing in spoken language study

How to Study for TOEFL

Can beginning and advanced students use the same lessons?

Socialization versus language instruction