Context Is King

One of the problems with learning English in the classroom is that there is seldom any context to what is taught. You are taught bits and pieces of information. You learn a lot about the English language, but you don’t really learn to use the language to communicate because it is taught completely out of context. And context is everything.

The All English program uses video to tell the story of a group of young people finding their way in the world. These young people use real language in real situations. It’s language that is meaningful, authentic, and relevant.

The story provides the context in which the language is used. Because there is context, the language is whole and integrated.

There are two types of context:

  1. Context of culture
    Speakers within a culture share particular assumptions and expectations. They know that certain things are done in certain ways. In that cultural context there are specific ways to greet someone, to order a meal, to participate in class, to ask for help in a store, etc. While the purpose for using the language is the same in different cultures, the way the language is used varies from culture to culture.
  2. Context of situation
    The way language is used depends on the situation or the occasion. Two important things that affect the situation are 1) the relationship between the people speaking and 2) the topic that they are talking about. For example, think about the different ways you would use language if you were talking to a child, a young person who is your age, or an older person you respect.

Communication is much more than knowing words (vocabulary) and rules for putting words together in sentences (grammar).

What you say and how you say it depends on the context. You need to understand the relationships and situation. You need to understand the topic that’s being talked about and the tone or mood of the conversation. Communication also includes facial expression, gestures and body language. It involves not just the words being spoken, but the rhythm, rate, volume, stress and intonation of speech.

You can’t understand this if the method of instruction is mostly written. The words and their order in printed text is just simple structure. Reading and writing is like having a conversation with a skeleton instead of a real “flesh and blood” person.

On the other hand, if the instruction is video-based, you get lots of information. You get more than just words. You are immersed in a rich, multi-sensory world with language used in a variety of contexts, both cultural and situational, that help you more fully understand the meaning behind the words.

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