There are many challenges that Mozambican professionals face, in their endeavor to learn English as a second language. One of the challenges that they face is thinking in their native language, Portuguese. According to Benny Lewis, a renowned language researcher, thinking in the native language results in learning the language slower. As a result, this delays your fluency. However, beginners have not always found it easy not to think in their native language. Most of them prefer to find a word for a word and a sentence for a sentence.
After having taught English for more than ten years, I tend to discourage this way of learning. I encourage conceptualizing material in the language the students are learning. The reasons being:
- Research has proved that by thinking in English, students do not have to translate, which will help them to become more fluent.
- When students think in English, it helps them to internalize the language and they do not need to remember rules. That is, they just speak it.
My own ways of dealing with the challenge have been:
- In the classroom, I give simple activities of single English words that lead them to think in English. I do this when they are relaxed. This is also accompanied by the actions that I show the students which include gestures.
- Sometimes I introduce very simple dialogues with a few more words. For example: At the bus stop:
- A: What’s your name?
- B: Answer.
- A: Where are you going?
- As homework, I encourage students to use their phones as reminders to think in English.
- To motivate themselves, students give themselves points as a game if they remember to think in English.
- Encouraging them to use English to English dictionaries because they have explanations and definitions
In learning English, as a second language, what happens outside of class matters most. Hence the limited learning environment is a huge challenge for second language learners of English as is certainly the case with the majority of Mozambican nationals studying English.
Students have a chance to speak English in the classroom. In their home and work environment people speak Portuguese or local language. As a result the crucial element of speaking practice cannot be sustained.
Our proposed solutions
We encourage our students to make deliberate and conscious efforts to learn on their own without a teacher. This can be done in a variety of ways namely:
- Limiting the use of Portuguese during lessons so as to think in English.
- Using audio materials with correct pronunciation like cds that accompany most books.
- Setting the Internet browser to English as default language
- Getting into the habit of being avid readers of news in English language on the internet.
- Making it a habit to watch TV or Internet programmes of special interest like football, cooking etc. in English language so as to enhance vocabulary and keep in contact with the English language.
- Surf the internet to look for appropriate learning programmes that extend knowledge gained in the classroom.
- Trying to have conversations in English with family members or co-workers to practice.
- Practicing by travelling to neighbouring English speaking countries.
Good luck to our students and all English language learners!
Senior Lecturer at International English College