When learning a language, the most common first step for people is to attend classes. The concept of most classes is to first place students according to language ability. Though there are other ways to set-up classes, by age or interest or availability for example, by level is usually considered the most effective set-up for teaching a class of students. However, this first step is a long way from the final goal of most students, to be able to function effectively in the world. It is common to hear students say that they understand
everything in their class, but cannot understand anything once they leave the classroom.
This happens because in the classroom, the students are in a very safe place in terms of language use. Even in an English only classroom environment, the teacher and students know each other, over time, quite well. The teacher knows where the students are in terms of their language skills and has a plan for helping those students learn more about the language and then carefully guide the students through the plan. Perhaps it is a bit like going on a tour to a foreign country that you know nothing about. You have a tour guide that takes care of everything. You just have to enjoy the experience.
If suddenly, the tour is cancelled and you are completely on your own, needing to find your own accommodation, your own food, your own way home, no matter how carefully you paid attention to the tour guide during the tour, most of you would find suddenly being on your own a terrifying experience. It is a very big step to go from the classroom to the "real" world.
What makes GLV different from most language schools is that it has a different goal. GLV, of course, must provide opportunities for students to study English, but our goal, just in terms of language learning, is far more than that. Language is a tool for communication and like any tool, to be able to use it effectively requires more than just study, it requires practice. Language schools generally leave the practice part up to the students to do, or not do, outside of the class, in the "real world". This requires students to jump directly into the world and see how they do. Most do poorly or do not even try.
How GLV differs is that it provides a series of steps for student to take in preparation toward functioning in the world outside. These provide students with a safe environment in which to practice the language.
The first step, as in language schools, is the classroom, the safest environment to learn what to do with the language. At GLV this means that students are placed into small classes (no more than 15 students) first according to level (initially determined by placement test and subsequently by teachers' recommendation), and also, if possible, by age and/or area of interest. Currently the same group of students is with the same teacher for a minimum of 28 hours in a two-week period. They become comfortable with each other and
their teacher over time, which is important for this level of language learning. The goal of the teachers in these classes is
to provide support for students in order for the students to learn more about how to use the language.
The second step is to take students a bit away from the safety net. This step, in the current form of our program, is manifested mainly through our electives and to a lesser extent through our workshops. The electives are still of the classroom format, which students are familiar with, but they are not with the same teacher (usually) or with the same group of students. They are in a less comfortable environment. They are also with a more varied group of students in terms of language ability. Also, they are in a class that has a very
different purpose. While the skills-based class is mostly concerned with teaching students more about the language and how to use it, the elective and workshops are opportunities for the students to use the English language as a tool to learn about the world around them. Knowledge should be the goal, not language learning.
The third step is now to take the students away from the safety of the classroom environment into the much less structured evening program. Here GLV is placing students in an environment that has not been carefully planned with their individual needs in mind. They are experiencing an environment that requires them to interact with a wide variety of people, both Chinese and foreigner, who may have a variety of reasons for being here. However, it is still a safer environment than the "real" world because for the most part, for
whatever reason someone has come to participate in the evening program, most everyone wants to improve his/her English.
By this time, when students finally take that last step into the real world, if they have taken advantage of all GLV has to offer them, they should find that they have the confidence and have reached a certain degree of comfort in the language to use it successfully in the world outside.