There are lots of problems standing in the way for the majority of English learners in China to make any substantial progress in the acquisition of English. We need to identify some typical problems in EFL learning in China before we provide an effective way of learning English.. Two major problems are evident. First, many learners in China have been learning English for years, with some of them learning for as long as over twenty years. Yet no obvious substantial achievements are seen. Their English may still stay at a very low level. Some of them may have been spending 10-20 years learning but they are likely to stay where they are and suffer for the rest of their life. Second, they speak and write in ‘Chinglish’. That means they translate their mother tongue expressions into English words often with a misunderstanding of these words while keeping the structures and even some pronunciation traits of the first language. This indicates that the existing mainstream teaching philosophies and teaching practice in China have so far helped little to facilitate effective learning. Therefore, it is high time we looked for a new method that can solve the above-mentioned problems.
The Piano Method is such an approach to bring about a substantial improvement for learners in China in their EFL learning. Based on my classroom teaching experience using L.G. Alexander’s New Concept English textbooks and the research work with my colleagues at Zhuhai Far East Language Training School, the Piano Method is both a holistic teaching approach and a learning method which believes that learning a language is process of acquiring a complelex behavioural system which is closed, static, and self-contained, therefore resistant in general to influence from outside this particular system. Theoretically, the Piano Method is built on a particular definition of learning. Learning is a process of the formation of a particular behavioural pattern.
We name the method the Piano Method because learning a particular language is like learning a particular musical instrument, which is also a self-contained behavioural system. One cannot use the techniques characteristic of playing the violin to play the piano. And, in order to master this behavioural system, teachers must minimize the negative influences that hamper healthy substantial progress in EFL learning. While protecting learners from any further negative influences of the first language, the Piano method focuses on building up a self-contained English language system for learners. To achieve this ambitious goal, this method facilitates constructing a standard teaching and learning process that simulates what we believe to be the real acquisition of the mother tongue. Some British psychologists have studied how a baby learns the first language. They find babies do have teachers—their mothers, who teach a special language—Baby Talk, which is simple, slow and repetitive. Babies have set up a language system by the age of three owing to the instinctive and encouraging slow baby talk, without which, the final mastery of the mother tongue is impossible. As we believe that the acquisition of any language is a faithful reproduction of that language, the standardized teaching and learning adopted by our method emphasizes the use of variety of ways of accurate input exercise starting with comparatively simple, slow and repetitive English. We also devise tasks to make learners ‘think in English’.
The Piano Method also sees the importance of both the recognition and deep understanding of learners’ individual learning styles and a consensus between the teacher and the learner on how to learn and what to learn. The method is also democratic in that it endeavours to bring about progress for all learners in a class. The most important beliefs of ours are: (1) as man’s potential to learn language is gifted, any one can learn a second language well so long as he or she is competent of his or her mother tongue; (2) also, a systematic, frequent, repetitive practice of language inputs is essential, as faithful outputs are almost impossible without such practice; (3) learning can never do without some seemingly boring drills because challenges and stresses are as an inseparable part of sustainable learning progress as they are an inseparable part in one’s life. Many teachers in China are lost and helpless when they become mere entertainers. In-class and out-class quality control of each learner’s learning cannot be ignored, as learners need adequate time and efforts for effective learning.
Having practiced this method for over five years, we have been encouraged by the majority of our students at Far East School, who are able to learn from beginners’ level to advanced level. Many of them make faithful reproduction of the target language. They have made substantial progress and they speak less ‘Chinglish’.
The Piano Method; L.G. Alexander’s New Concept English textbooks; substantial progress; EFL learning in China; ‘Chinglish’; behavioural system; self-contained; a particular definition of learning; behavioural pattern; negative influences of the first language; Baby Talk; a faithful reproduction; inputs