We are faced with a dilemma here in Morocco.
By Ali Anthony Bell
Casablanca – 85% of Moroccans surveyed believe that English should replace French as the 2nd language; however, the Cultural, Economic, and Political ties with France and the French language are so strong that this change is difficult for many people to imagine.
While I completely agree with the importance of making English a priority and integrating it into the primary school curriculum, I do not agree that English should replace French as L2. In my opinion, eliminating French will do more harm than good, also creating a communication gap between the generations.
It is my sincere belief that Morocco, for the sake of its future, should make English a priority and start including it as of the first year, alongside, and not in competition with Arabic or French. Keeping one’s roots is also essential. All of the languages spoken in Morocco are a part of its identity, and replacing one language with another in the educational system, would be a fundamental error. English should not be a replacement for either French or Arabic, or even Amazigh for that matter; it is a complementary language skill.
Why is it necessary for Morocco to adopt and learn English?
Only in this way can we work unified as global citizens to meet the challenges we are facing. I do not want to see Morocco excluded from the international dialogue which will shape the future of this planet. And it is an established fact that English is the language of international communication. “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein. Why limit our possibilities? As for who will train the teachers and design the curriculum, these are good questions, however they are only questions to be resolved, and not obstacles.
At any age, even for an adult, undoubtedly the single most effective way to learn a language is total immersion. I can say that I’ve been a bit slow at learning Darija, perhaps because I speak French. Sometimes I think that what I should do is go and isolate myself for a year in a small village somewhere where no one speaks French! Being obliged by the circumstances to learn a language in order to communicate is a guaranteed success. We could imagine that this method of learning languages, i.e. total immersion, wouldn’t do us much good as a solution for curriculum in the educational system; however I will suggest that it is perhaps indeed a solution, at least for young learners.
Language acquisition follows a different process for children than for adults. This makes the teacher’s job completely different depending on the age of the learners. To begin with, children’s cognitive processes are not as developed as adults, also, their attention span is much shorter and they are not influenced as much by affective barriers. Children are less self-conscious about making mistakes and do not feel intimidated by their peers, something which becomes very apparent from early teens and upwards. As a child, language isn’t learned; it is absorbed like a sponge. For young learners, total immersion can be practiced in a classroom setting.
The teacher doesn’t need to resort to any other language than the one being learned. The lessons should be supported by visual and audio props. They need to be involved by engaging in activities, creating, singing, playing games, and in general interacting and having fun with the other children in a relaxed environment. The children will pick up the language naturally. At this stage, there shouldn’t be the complications of explaining grammatical rules, which will only confuse them and inhibit the learning process. They learn by repeating, by trial and error, just as they learn L1 in the home environment. This facility for language learning at an early age underlines the importance of integrating English language learning into the public and private primary school curriculum. Furthermore, it has been shown that children can learn four or five different languages simultaneously with no difficulty.
As of the early teens, children start to become more self-conscious; they become afraid of making mistakes in front of their classmates. Putting the emphasis on teamwork and having discussion between partners as opposed to making a student speak in front of the whole class can help to avoid the affective blocks which are possible due to fear of being laughed at. Many of the same teaching methods, e.g. singing and games, can still be very effective; they should be involved in activities which interest them. Use of new technologies is very stimulating (let them use their smart phones to work on projects!).
In the case that the target language has similarities with the L1, these can be used as well for reinforcement, as the learners will be able to make correlations. This may also allow them to feel more comfortable. It is helpful from this stage onwards if the teacher has at least some basic knowledge of L1, which will allow better communication and even explanations. Resorting to a familiar language can even be a real advantage to learning vocabulary for teenagers and adults because of words which are common to one of their first languages, e.g. between French and English.
There are some 25,000 common words between French and English, 99% of which mean the same thing. This is another reason for keeping the French language alive in Morocco; it can only help in the acquisition of the English language for many people. Grammar should be taught, but should not be the core of the teaching; it should only be used to explain why a structure is used in a given circumstance. The learners should first be exposed to the language and use it in context to communicate. The grammar can be taught afterwards to help them to understand, but in no case for the sake of the grammar itself.
We must also bear in mind that while the methods of teaching differ depending on the age of the learners, the ultimate goal is the same; communication. Learning a language without this goal is meaningless, and if you don’t set clear objectives for your lessons the efforts will be fruitless.
Speaking of efforts; learners of any age need to have their efforts recognized. This helps to build confidence and self-esteem and develops a growth mindset (Dr. Carol Dweck), which motivates the learners to take on new and more difficult tasks.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin
In fact, Benjamin Franklin was far ahead of his time, for he was already describing what we now call the communicative approach. The first phrase “tell me and I forget” corresponds to an old traditional model where education in general, and not only in language learning, has been ineffective using the teacher over student approach. The second phrase “teach me and I may remember” is equivalent to the teacher to student approach, and is still ineffective.
The last part of the quote “involve me and I learn” brings us to the communicative approach, which is now a widely accepted standard. The language teacher’s role is firstly to be a model for correctness of expression that the learners can emulate, and secondly to stimulate interaction, communication, and extensive speaking by the learners. They should be involved in interactive communication throughout most of the lesson. It is the learners who need to learn to speak the language, not the teacher! Involvement also means making learning tasks meaningful and relevant, in this way the learners are communicating as if in the real world. They are involved in learning, and they will remember what they’ve learned.
The key to effective language learning, as Dr. Stephen Krashen puts it in a nutshell, is “comprehensible and interesting input in a low anxiety environment”,” i.e. without the affective blocks of low motivation, low self-esteem, and high anxiety which can act as a barrier to the input reaching the “Language Acquisition Devise” of the brain.
There are many conditions for success in language learning, such as; positive attitude, developing a growth mindset, creativity, adaptation, and using effective tools and methods which have been tried and tested. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we only need to use what we have in a creative way. In my opinion, however, having “Native speakers” as teachers is not one of these conditions.
Every new language we speak opens new possibilities, and likewise, our possibilities are limited by our languages. We are called to expand the limits of our horizons to encompass the whole world, and English is the only language which has this possibility. For the next generation, and for the future of the planet, let us make global communication a priority.
Ali Anthony Bell – Head of Studies BKHS Language Center, Casablanca
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