3 Key Factors when Learning a Language

I’m currently learning a language using the Say Something In series. Apart from finding the series remarkably effective, what I’m particularly delighted by are the additional tips and tricks the course provides to help you become a better language learner.

Concept of six ability in human brain

The study of any subject, be it history, biology or a language, requires developing good study habits. This is something which is often overlooked in today’s education, as most schools and institutions have to focus on the transfer of knowledge and high-stakes assessment.

In most learning establishments, teaching is seen as a universal trait: what is good teaching for one subject is good for another. However, I think the approach to effective teaching should vary from subject to subject, particularly between diverse topics such as history, calculus and grammar.

To learn a foreign language you need effective teaching techniques as well as effective learning techniques. So what makes for good learning habits when studying a language? Keep reading to find out… Continue reading

Listening, Beginners and Authentic Materials

When you’re learning a new language, authentic materials can be quite scary and off-putting. While this is true for all skills, such as reading a newspaper or trying to maintain a conversation with a native speaker, it’s particularly true when it comes to listening. When turning your ear to an authentic radio programme, TV episode or eaves dropping on a conversation in a café, it can be so hard to make heads or tails of what’s being said.headphones-791078_1280

This is because listening is live: the words are spoken and then are gone again in a split second. You don’t have the option to go back and look at the words again, like in reading, or check that you’ve understood it correctly, like in speaking. Listening happens in real-time and you’ve got to get it the first time, otherwise you might not get it right at all.

Listening is a challenge for language learners of all levels. However, where higher level learners can manage to understand a lot of what they hear, lower level learners are lucky if they can pick out a word or two from what must seem like a sea of noise.

Listening isn’t easy for lower levels, which is why we often use specially-made materials for these levels. Such materials often take the form of dumbed down texts, with high frequency words, clear pronunciation and a slow pace. Of course, the pedagogical justification for this can be found in theories of learning, such as Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.

However, despite the methodologically sound reasons for simplifying listening texts, is there any justification for exposing lower level learners to authentic listening materials? Keep reading to find out… Continue reading

The Basics of Course Planning

As the new academic year comes closer, many of you will be starting to plan your upcoming courses. Educational courses are usually governed by the basic principles of Curriculum Design and language courses are no exception. These principles included, among other things, the following:startup-593327_1280

  • Course goals
  • Course objectives
  • Course materials

However, for many in the English Language Teaching world course design isn’t an integral part of planning and preparation, though it probably should be. Most language teachers simply receive a coursebook from the school and are told to teach it over the course of the year.

The teacher who takes the coursebook and divides it up according to each month of the academic year has already taken a significant step in the right direction. However, this can be taken a little further.

How should a simple language course be laid out? What are course aims? Where does a coursebook fit into a course syllabus? These are some of the questions this post will try to address, so keep reading…  Continue reading

When the Learners Take Over

I can’t remember if it was Jim Scrivener in Learning Teaching or Jeremy Harmer in the Practice of English Language Teaching who said what is important in a lesson isn’t what the teacher does but what the learners do. Either way, it’s a recurring theme in ELT pedagogy, with other notable authors of language methodology referring to the notion of creating an environment which is conducive to learning.team-1480072_1280

In fact, this concept of creating a learning environment in which there are ample opportunities for learning to take place was something I didn’t quite grasp when I first started teaching. However, a few years into the job I came to understand that what is important isn’t what I do, but what my learners do. They are, after all, the ones doing the learning.

It wasn’t until I had finished the Delta that I realised it really is all about the learners. I remember one of my Delta tutors talking about how in a pre-service training course he overheard a trainer describing a committed and excellent teacher is one who runs around the classroom and the school, so much so their clothes stick to them from the ensuing perspiration. Of course, my tutor was quick to point out that if anyone should be sweating from a lesson, it should be the learners – they should leave the room having been pushed to their learning limits.

While that sounds all nice and dandy, it is hard to put into practice. How do you design a lesson which really maximizes learner engagement, so much so that it pretty much removes the teacher from the equation? How do you pass on the learning to the learners to the point that the teacher plays nothing more than a supporting role?

Well, this week I got the opportunity to do just that. Keep reading to find out more… Continue reading

Weekend Traffic Lights

An earlier post looked at learner language and ways it can be used most effectively in-class as a learning tool. However, for a teacher to use Learner Language as a tool for Language Input, the learners actually need to produce some language. The underlying prerequisite to emergent language is that learners be put in a Communicative Situation, so that they can produce language.
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However, getting learners to talk at length about a topic while giving them free reign over what language they choose to use to express themselves is perhaps easier said than done. Not all topics engage all learners, and the ones which do are all often too sensitive or cause divisions, such as politics or religion.

That said, there is one topic which learners are usually willing to talk about at length: the weekend. From the previous post you have 5 ideas for what to do with learner language, so this post will look at a simple classroom activity to get learners communicating and producing some language for you to later feed back on.  Continue reading

Lesson Aims in Dogme ELT

I was first introduced to the concept of Dogme ELT a few years ago. It was a very foreign concept to me at the time, but its attractive promise of an Materials Light approach was invigorating. This was at a time when I wanted to make lessons more Learner Centred and I wanted to spend less time on Lesson Planning in order to spend more time on the learners and on my Professional Development.

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Source: Scott Thornbury’s blog

As you can probably imagine, Dogme seemed to offer all of that and more. Its only requirement was a group of learners and a knowledgeable teacher. Although since then I have learnt far more about the English language then I could have ever thought possible, at the time I felt confident in my understanding of the mechanics of English linguistics.

After purchasing the seminal piece on the topic, Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, I immersed myself into the world of dogme-esque ideas, activities and approaches.

Since then I have completed further training, including a course in Advanced Methodology, a Teacher Training certificate, and the Cambridge Delta, all of which has led me to re-evaluate my beliefs and principles about teaching and learning.

As a result, I have found myself coming back to Dogme, with varying results. However, I think this time I have come to a principled conclusion about going materials light. Continue reading

Observing a Real Lesson

There has been plenty of debate in English Language Teaching about the value of observations. Some of the key questions that have come out of the discussion so far have been:correcting-1351629_1280

  • Is the purpose of an observation to develop teachers or check standards?
  • Does a good observer need a plan to understand what is going on in the lesson?
  • Why do schools require written formal plans when this doesn’t happen on a day-to-day basis?

In this episode of The TEFL Show Marek Kiczkowiak and myself got into an extended debate on the subject of preparation, planning and formal observations. In the show, I emphasised how I had always had observations which were focussed entirely on Professional Development and resulted in professional development goals. I also pointed out that I saw the value of formal written lesson plans mainly because this gave the observer a greater deal of insight into the planned intentions of the teacher, which can later be compared with what actually happened during the lesson.

However, this week I had the opportunity to be observed by the Assistant Programme Manager who was quite happy to see a real lesson i.e. no formal written plan, no pre-meeting going over the stages, aims and intended outcomes, just simply watch and observe the lesson.

It has been quite an experience and has made me question how observations are currently executed. Keep reading to find out more… Continue reading