I learnt English as a foreign language in a small town school in India. The current boom in Business Process Outsourcing or call centers as they are known is just one of the indication of the importance placed on learning English in Asian countries. With over thirty three official languages and great regional language differences, English is a great unifier in a country like India. The most commonly used method of teaching English is whole language.
This method is the more traditional one, but its success in countries where English is not the native language has shown that it is the most effective teaching strategy. In order to bring kids back to books from other visual aids, and to encourage them to avoid slang, whole language teaching is a much better option.
Whole language method of teaching a language relies on books and literature. It forces children to learn new words and understand their meaning, thus improving their vocabulary. If you learn the language purely based on what you hear around, you are likely to speak incorrectly. This may be why elegance in writing has taken a back seat and colloquialisms have crept in.
With a number of words that sound alike, we find today that even many adults make mistakes. We often misuse here, hear and hare. My favorite malapropism is bear and bare. These mistakes are not picked up even by the spell check programs.
The whole language approach has other benefits, such as encouraging children in creative writing, becoming critical of what they hear, see and read. It emphasizes quality in all forms of language rather than just basic communication. Experts also argue that to some extent, phonics is embedded in the whole language philosophy. It also makes it easier for teachers in a classroom where a number of children do not come from families where English is spoken regularly.
The whole language strategy for teaching a language has proved successful the world over. We need to go back to this system again to make significant and rapid changes in the way our children perceive the language today.