Time and again, we’ve discovered at Teach The World Online that students only improve when teaching methods are used which correspond with studies in neuroscience on how the brain learns.
Two years ago, Lhamo Tsering a very smart 14 year-old girl from the Himalayan region of Nepal, was not showing much improvement in her spoken or written English during Teach The World Online Skype classes. Despite our best efforts to teach the rules of grammar from a well known ESL lesson plan, she and several other students often walked out of the class from sheer boredom. We could do nothing about this from the other side of the world.
Lhamo Tsering and fellow students learning English via Skype video.
Then, we discovered a study suggesting that second languages are learned in a different area of the brain than first languages. A Cornell University research team showed that native and second languages are spatially separated in Broca’s area, a region in the pre frontal area of the brain which controls the motor part of language-movement of the mouth, the palate and the tongue. However, two languages don’t reveal much separation in the activation of Wernicke’s area where comprehension takes place.
This means that people learning a second language have a problem pronouncing and forming the words with the mouth and tongue rather than with comprehension. Consequently, students of second languages should concentrate on formulating words through lots of speaking and interactive dialogue rather than the memorization or study of grammar.
With this in mind, we began writing a short novel about a Nepali brother and sister who achieve their dream of acquiring an elephant. The students read and discussed the book each day via Skype video with their U.S .based teacher. As we read the book, Lhamo Tsering and her friends became intrigued. They were soon discussing the day’s reading in English. Within weeks they were rapidly increasing their ability to speak and read. They also drew illustrations for each chapter and we had the book printed. It’s called ‘An Elephant In the Himalays’ which they now sell in their village to passing trekkers in order to help pay for their future education.
Next year, Lhamo Tsering, who is now fluent in English, will attend a School of Tibetan Medicine in India where she passed the entrance exams with ease. By using Skype and the principles of imagery and interactivity endemic to brain based learning, we helped this young girl and others in her class succeed.
We encourage teachers using the Internet around the world to embrace similar methodologies geared to the brain’s learning capacity, so that they too, can maximize the full potential of Skype technology and consequently achieve maximum educational success for their students.