Did you know that learners reject materials that aren't relevant to their needs?

by Louis Alexander

Here are two key questions you will ask when learning English:

Will I ever be in a situation like the one that has just been presented in the course?
Will I ever talk about the kind of subject that has just been presented in the course?
If your answer to these questions is 'No', then you will quickly reject the course materials and rapidly lose your motivation to learn English.

Let me give you examples of the kinds of situations that are wholly irrelevant to your needs. If a course presents you with and English or American family at the breakfast table and then asks you to take the part of a member of the family, you will quite rightly conclude that you will never be in a situation like this. 'Problem' situations can also be highly irrelevant, for example: 'You are the headmaster (or headmistress) of a large school ... ' Again, you will conclude that you are never likely to be in situation like this. Culture-bound texts (e.g. concerned with the details of cricket or baseball) may also be remote from your experience and therefore uninteresting. Particular topics on political, social and moral issues may also be irrelevant (or even offensive) in a general course in English.

A general course in English must steer a careful middle path and must not impose situations and topics which are rejected by most learners. If learners are interested in life and institutions in the USA or Britain, then they should seek out textbooks which provide this kind of information (and there are many of them). If learners want to discuss contentious political, social and moral issues, then there are plenty of textbooks which present this kind of material.

In general courses there are two criteria for selecting and presenting topics which will appeal to learners:

What kind of English am I likely to use in my own country?
What kind of English am I likely to use when I am travelling outside my own country?
When you are in your own country, you are likely to use English when entertaining visitors from other countries. This will involve taking them to restaurants, showing them the sights, interpreting, explaining, etc.

When you are outside your own country, you need English for survival (obtaining accommodation and food, getting about and shopping). In both kinds of situations, there are topics you are likely to discuss in the company of foreigners. These topics are likely to cover things like family, home life, work conditions, commuting, and so on.

Direct English ensures that irrelevant topics are rigorously excluded and you are fully prepared for using English both at home and abroad. The course covers numerous transactions which you are likely to need like checking into hotels, ordering meals, making reservations on airlines, using public transport, etc. and also topics you will discuss with the people you meet covering family, home life, education, travel, etc. It also presents general argumentative topics, so you can state your case 'for' or 'against' in an argument. Additionally, there are situations where characters visit the English-speaking world. For example, we have situations where a trade delegation from China is visiting Boston, or situations where Bostonians are visiting the Czech Republic: in other words, we experience English being used as a foreign language when travelling abroad or when meeting locals in their own country. The essential point is that learners are never likely to feel that the topics presented are too far outside their experience to be of use. Every attempt is made to meet the two key questions posed at the beginning of this article.


© LG & DE Limited 2006


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