In the last post, I looked at why confidence is so important for learning a language but I did not look at why confidence is low in the first place. Today, that is what I will be doing. How do we lose confidence or not develop it at all? Why is it so low for some people?
We already know that bullies, and being too hard on yourself can hurt your confidence. But what about your education? Are your own teachers stopping you from achieving your goals in English? You are probably thinking....no way! My teachers help me with my English studies! Maybe they are, but ask yourself this......if they are successful in helping you with your English, can you speak English? (This is assuming you want to speak English)
Unfortunately, for many people, the answer to this question is no. They spend years studying a language but they cannot speak it. A good example of this is found in Japan. Students study for at least 6 years (3 in JHS and 3 in SHS), but many of them still cannot speak English. So what went wrong? The answer lies in the educational culture.
In Japan, lessons in the classroom are often teacher centered. All students be quiet and listen to the teacher while he or she goes on and on with the lecture. Regrettably, this teaching style does not work well when teaching languages. Rather, student centered classes are much better suited for learning a language because they are a lot more interactive. To speak a language you need to talk, and talk, and talk. You need to practice the language. Sadly, students in Japan mainly study grammar, and they are not exposed to the interactive activities required for language learning in the classroom which builds confidence. They are taught that "Sensei" is a master, and that they must listen to the master talk, and that if they answer with a mistake they may face embarrassment. However the correct view is that the language teacher is a facilitator of learning, not a lecturer.
The second shortcoming is found in testing. In Japan, tests are a big deal. School entrance exams start as early as junior high school. While some of these exams include English, the skill of speaking is often overlooked in favour for the input skills of listening and reading. So here you have a culture where teaching to tests is popular, and the tests do not assess speaking well. The result is that students do not focus on speaking! One popular English proficiency test guilty of this is Eiken (test developed in Japan).
So what can you do? Unfortunately regarding junior and senior high school, not much (you cannot choose your teacher! unless you take private English lessons). However if you are focusing on English tests, stop and ask yourself what your personal goals are? If you want to take an English proficiency test, and you want to improve your speaking, then you should choose a test that covers speaking well. Do not take the TOEIC Reading and Listening test if you want to improve your speaking! Remember students will study what is on a test. So if there is little to no speaking on the test, then you will not focus on speaking!