Thursday, September 15, 2005

Results of 4 Berlitz classes on a private student.

I have been teaching a intermediate-level student for the past 10 months. When we first started, she lacked confidence and had the common problem of focusing on perfect grammatical accuracy first, rather than communicating an idea. This resulted in her over-correcting constantly and causing problems in comprehension for listeners because she was so hard to follow. She slowly improved over that period as I worked to get her focus off of form and on fluency.

Well, one month ago she started a Berlitz eikaiwa class at her company. Her fluency and speed have deteriorated to the point to which they are worse than when we first started working together. She cannot get half a sentence out without correcting things which are not even wrong to begin with. She is constantly stopping and searching for the "right" words. Frankly, most native-speakers would not be able to talk with her for long if she spoke like that.

It is obvious why this happened. She told me that her "teacher" is a 10 year Berlitz vet who is very strict on grammatical errors, correcting them all immediately, critical or not. Berlitz itself claims to have gone to a communicative approach in which this type of error correction is not done because the vast majority of modern research indicates that it is counter-productive. But in fact, most Japanese students have been incorrectly conditioned to believe that grammar is the most important part of acquiring a foreign language and that 100% correction is the best way to achieve accurate grammar. Sort of like this is still 1940, which conveniently matches the era that Berlitz operates in. And, of course Berlitz doesn't care as long as "the students enjoy the class and think they learn something." And come back and waste another $3000 for 50 40 minute "classes."

I would never go to Berlitz for language lessons. Mere exposure to the language and use of it generally will provide some benefits for most. The question is, is it the most efficient, effective use of one's time and money. Personally, I want someone who can effectively teach instead of being forced to follow a one-size-fits all model.

Unfortunately, I cannot do much for her if she continues to go to this class with such incompetent teaching, and then come to mine to practice what amounts to stuttering instead of speaking. I may have to stop teaching her as long as she is with Berlitz. It will be a waste of her money and my time to try to again get her off the conscious focus on form. It is a shame as she was making progress.

Update: 2 March 2006. She finished the Berlitz classes in December and has just gotten back to the point where she is able to speak much more quickly and fluently. She began to realize what she was doing, so she has made an effort to get off the excessive worrying about grammar and form. Her knowledge of grammar was already well above average, but she occasionally makes the normal grammatical errors when speaking, most of which are insignificant.