Last week while in class, I was having a hard time explaining to my students why English is one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world. My aim was not to discourage them but to make them realise how much of the language learning happens outside class in form of wide reading and listening to language speakers more often.
I always try to use every opportunity I can get, to remind my students that the secret of learning a language is practice, practice and more practice.
However the problem is that generally most schools in Africa and Rwanda in particular, have too little reading materials for their students.
Some schools I know have many books but only a copy of each. Such a situation often dictates that this book will always be the reserve of the teacher.
The ideal situation would be that of having enough copies of the book for the students to read and grasp the numerous intricacies of the English language.
But that is rarely the case anyway. So what is one supposed to do in such a scenario? In Africa where the right things for development are often scarce, we are often encouraged to be innovative.
We need to always devise ways around the obstacles before us. Where I teach we have enough books for students to read, but I am still not that satisfied with the amount of literature that students today are exposed to.
More so some of the books that students read do not appear interesting to most of them. It therefore creates a situation where students read in class just to please the teachers.
To many of them, English is simply a classroom affair. Outside class, it can hardly compete with Kinyarwanda or Swahili.
This therefore creates a situation where language teachers or precisely English language teachers have to be much more innovative in order to lure their students into more and more reading of literature.
Based on the above premise, I sometimes distribute old copies of English newspapers to my students. I randomly give them out encouraging them to look at the pictures and try to find out what the story behind the picture is about.
Usually these newspapers have pictures that easily catch the eye of the student. A glamourous photo of a famous footballer like Didier Drogba can really light up a student’s face.
He will then be so eager to know what they are saying about his star or idol. The similar attention will be accorded to any photo of a popular politician or artist.
Now as the students inquisitively read through the information in the newspapers, I ask them to get a piece of paper and write down some of the new words they come across in the newspaper.
After a while I find myself explaining to them the meanings and contexts of the new words that they have written down.
I am an ardent reader of various newspapers and magazines. Overtime, these newspapers pile up in my place and then I am forced to devise ways of getting rid of them.
Now instead of just throwing away what to some may appear waste, I always give them to my students to read and learn new words and phrases.
My method of disposal has instead proved to be an innovative way of not only encouraging students to read more but also to introduce them to the habit of reading newspapers. After all if in future they buy and read more then my pay check may get bigger!
On a serious note though, teachers have got to keep thinking of new ways of teaching language to their students. The importance of reading a lot cannot be over emphasised.
Get your students to read anything that is interesting and is written in good English. A newspaper is a good start.
Remember it’s never old unless you have read it!