I'm having some free time on my hands now that I'm on holiday so I read, take photos, relax and browse the web a lot. And I must make a confession: it drives me crazy when I see advertisements inviting me to 'learn English without [certain attributes]', such as without taking classes, cramming, commitment, effort, conscious studying, translating, pressure, stress, coursebooks, boring grammar and vocabulary, etc.
I'm willing to admit that people can learn a language without cramming, under some circumstances. I also think it's highly probable that people will learn an L2 without coursebooks. Why shouldn't they? I believe in the dogme approach after all. They might even learn English without taking traditional classes or classes in general. Although pressure and stress can be helpful for some, I don't suppose they are vital aspects of successful learning so I'm fine with that too. Translating is rather tricky. Gone are the days when translation in ELT was a taboo subject. On the contrary, nowadays translation is seen as beneficial. So what's the point in making classes without translation special or groundbreaking? So far so good. I can understand, to a certain extent, the train of thought of those who made up those ads. But how on earth can anyone learn something properly without conscious effort or commitment? And what I can't get at all is the conviction that a language can be learnt without studying 'boring' grammar and vocabulary. It's like claiming that it's possible to satisfy your hunger without eating.
The English language has apparently become a huge business and we (English teachers and business owners) have to slog away to find our places in the sun. I understand we need to differentiate from each other to attract customers and that's why we give our businesses and courses all kinds of weird attributes, which will unfortunately deter rather than allure. Well, they may eventually attract those who have no knowledge of how languages are learnt but .... isn't it simply short-sighted? Doesn't it discredit the business or the individual at once?
I can't help feeling that the business of ELT strongly resembles the dieting & weight-loss business. Like losing weight, learning English has become an obsession. Although we all know it takes time and effort to slim down permanently, we long for quicker, brand-new methods and we even believe they will work. I suppose it's the same with learning a language, English in particular. That's why we (customers = learners) are so susceptible and trusting. We long for courses and methods which will help us master the language without taking classes, cramming, commitment, effort, conscious studying, translating, pressure, stress, coursebooks, boring grammar and vocabulary, etc. Unsurprisingly, we usually end up disappointed and deceived.
The only attribute I accept (though reluctantly) with 'learning/teaching English' or any other foreign language is effectively. Anything else is, if not deception, just a complement, addition, embellishment and redundancy. I know it's cunning because the term effectively can cover almost anything. But I'm not going to withdraw my claim because I truly believe that one can learn English in all sorts of ways and environments, e.g. outdoors, indoors, in Japan or England, night or day, with one teacher or twenty teachers, alone or in class, but never without effort and conscious learning. And I suspect one will need some vocabulary and a bit of grammar to be able to communicate.