A teacher asked me how to go about giving a lecture to students on why English is worth learning.
This teacher is working in Indonesia where the government is reinforcing English in the national curriculum. One of the main problems teachers face is that students often tend to be shy and unsure of themselves and somewhat apathetic about learning English.
Here are my notes for the lecture. It’s not an English lesson but a lecture on motivation to learn.
My first comment is to make this a participatory lesson rather than a lecture where the teacher talks for and hour in front of a screen while students quietly expire from death by PowerPoint. On the other hand it would be tricky getting any response out the class if you walk in and start by brainstorming for ideas on why English might be useful in life. If students are naturally shy and not used to thinking for themselves then you may be met with silence.
Here’s a game idea from my book for teens and adults
where students have half a sentence and have to find the other half by walking about the classroom consulting with the others until they find a match. Usually this is done with English grammar but you could write out reasons to learn English in the native language and use those.
For example, here are some reasons to learn English which should be written in the mother tongue. Chop them in half and distribute to the class.
1. English is the most widely spoken language internationally. When world leaders meet the language used is English.
2. Imagine your friend is allergic to peanuts and has a fit. A medic arrives on the scene but she only speaks English and you can’t explain to her what the problem is. Your friend dies because the medic could not give the antidote to peanuts in time and you couldn’t explain that it was an allergy. If you know the world’s number one language you have more chance of being able to communicate.
3. The biggest industries in Indonesia are petroleum, gas and textiles. What is the international language used to export all these? That’s right, it’s English. If you want a high-profile well paid job in Indonesia the big companies will be more likely to recruit you if you have extra skills, like speaking English.
4. Tourism is big business in Indonesia but how many tourists do you think speak Indonesian? That’s right, not many! What language do you think they speak to travel about? If you want to run a hotel, a bar, a restaurant, a shop and sell to tourists you’ll find it a LOT easier to make sales if you speak English.
5. You might fall in love with a beautiful foreigner but not be able to invite them for a drink because you don’t speak English.
6. You might get to travel in your job if you speak English and see the world all paid for by your boss. Handy!
7. If you go on holiday to Egypt and you don’t speak Arabic, don’t worry, all Egyptians who work in the tourist industry speak English so you’ll be fine. On the other hand none of them speak Indonesian so your trip will probably be a nightmare since even getting a glass of water will be hard work. Might be best to stay at home.
What to do next…
Once you have done that warm up game students will have been chatting to each other comparing their sentences and have some ideas of their own to add to the list. Make a list of all the ideas on the board, including any new ideas from students. E.g. Get a good job. Travel for work. Travel for pleasure. Save a life. Communicate with strangers. Learn about a new culture. Earn more money. Earn money through tourism. Take on a new challenge. Enjoy speaking a different language. Understand foreign songs, etc.
Ask the class to get into groups of four and choose the most important reason between themselves. Go around the groups asking each one what their most important reason is and keep score on the board. At the end you’ll see globally which reasons are seen by the class to be the most important by them.
Get students to imagine themselves twenty years from now being fluent in English and what their life looks like because of that. What was possible for them specifically because they spoke English that they would not have been able to do otherwise? Ask a couple of volunteers to tell you their dream.
This is not a lecture but a participatory experience and as such it is likely to be more memorable and interesting for students.
You could finish with a game like Relay Race, which is short and simple, and have the class pass down something like “I want to learn English / I don’t want to learn English”. This short easy game builds confidence in speaking. It shows students that learning English can be fun and that it is possible.