OLGA LYSUN: THEORETICAL AND PRACTICAL APPROACHES IN LANGUAGE TEACHING AS A BASIC DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NEW ZELAND AND RUSSIAN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS

Greetings from New Zealand! My speech is a brief comparative analysis on two basically different approaches in teaching English in context of two educational systems: Russian and New Zealand.

I often follow the popular saying among researchers that you must immerse yourself in an unfamiliar world to better understand your own. It gives greater opportunity to reveal advantages and disadvantages for further development and improvement. It concerns English teaching in both countries. The target of any comparative analysis is to find the best balance. In recent years I have been living in New Zealand and it is not enough time to catch all details of New Zealand educational system. My permanent object of comparison of English teaching is my daughter who attended first primary school for the last term, then Intermediate school for two academic years, now she is enrolled in High School.

Furthermore, my long-term teaching experience and professional skills as well as a bright NZ experience being as an attendant for ELP Tutoring course gave me the chance to reveal some basic differences.  First of all, I’d like to define the meaning of approach. According to Russian definition “approach” is a science-based strategy of teaching, a set of principles which impact on the choice of methods and technique. I would add that it even influences on a set of subjects for students and for training teachers doing a TESOL degree. I will illustrate them later.

The extreme difference in approaches, methods, sets of subjects and curriculum is highlighted out. In New Zealand the dominated approach in teaching is the practical one at all levels, schools through to adults. Otherwise, in Russia it is theoretical one. NZ is a diverse country where there are students from dozens of different countries in one group or class. So, the prime objective is to include a student into a process of learning as soon as possible, to get his/her English to an acceptable level while to respect their individual languages.  No doubt, NZ has a unique experience in teaching students of different nationalities and of any English level using various interactive methods of teaching.  Interactive learning in a classroom is to maintain a teaching style that encourages healthy debate between students and the teacher.

Students are able to express out their own opinions during the class. So, this will help them to gain self-confidence to talk. This interactive environment is good for the learners to present themselves, to train them and to develop communicative skills.  However, theoretical subjects, studying English language itself, its morphology, syntax, grammar, phonetics and other science-based subjects are not taught at all level of English language education. At school students don’t study English Grammar, they can’t recognise parts of speech and parts of sentences, suffixes, prefixes and many other basic knowledges of language which open the whole structure of English language.

If we look at subjects that are taught at TESOL degree at University of Auckland, we can see that there are no subjects for studying English language itself. The set of subjects for TESOL Bachelor Degree  is the following: Introduction to Language Teaching, Pedagogy, Teaching and Assessment, Theory and practice of language teaching, Interdisciplinary Approach in TESOL, Instructed Language Learning, Contemporary Issues in TESOL, Foreign language teaching experience, Developing literature in the second language, Language and Technology, Forms in Academic English, Academic English Writing and some others.

It seems that the theoretical approach in teaching is completely replaced by a practical one. NZ students gaining the TESOL Bachelor degree have a maximum 17 subjects. In comparison, Russian students  have 35 subjects for getting the same Bachelor Degree studying the set of compulsory theoretical subjects: theoretical grammar, theoretical phonetics, history of language, lexicology which includes several branches of science, then stylistics, methodology as a science, typology of native and foreign languages, theory of  intercultural communication as well as practical grammar, functional grammar, practical phonetics, foreign literature,   socio-territorial variants of the English language, fundamentals of written speech and others. The difference is obvious.

The curriculum, including standards, for universities in New Zealand is not determined by the state or descended from the top. It is specified by professional organizations. The professional bodies of some professions specify particular subjects. In effect that sets at least the central parts of the curriculum. It will be true for many degrees leading to admission to professions entry to which is controlled by professional bodies. Those professional bodies are not ‘the state’. There is not ‘state specified’ curriculum for the Universities. It is the big difference because in Russia all educational standards are determined by the state and descended from the top.

At present the Federal State Educational Standards are being changed often without explanation of why the new standards are better than the old ones. The process of making all methodological programmes constantly falls on the shoulders of university teachers.  I am convinced that current trend in Russia undermines the educational base of universities. As a result, the quality of education is getting worse. However, theoretical approach in teaching gives a chance to remain the education as consistent, systemic, science-based, fundamental, methodologically well-grounded and develop sciences.

As we see basically different approaches in teaching creates different system of educations and curriculums for teaching and learning English. But the golden balance is always in the middle.

Olga Lysun.


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