viernes, 15 de junio de 2018

Two Heads Think Better Than One
or Don’t They?
By Flor de María Vila

We have been told that, especially when learning a language, students need to interact in order to accelerate their learning, a point that has been demonstrated time after time. However, we have also found cases in which students either take longer together or do not show any real improvement. Thus, working in pairs or in groups may not be as useful as it seems, may it?
I would say “yes”, and “no”.  I would even say that it depends on many aspects. Do you know which ones? Let´s try to proceed a little further. Help me by answering the following questions:  
1.    Does everybody work at the same pace?
The inescapable answer will be negative. Everybody takes different times to assimilate what they learn or to process information and integrate it into their store of knowledge. Each person decides what to do and when to do something only once they feel comfortable enough to do it.
2.    Does everybody have the same language level?
This is clear as crystal: pupils show different levels of competence of the language, even if they are in the same class. Definitely, our students will show a common level of understanding that can allow us introduce them to new knowledge, but we do realize that these differences will show different outcomes.
3.    Does everybody feel comfortable working with somebody else?
The first reservation that comes to my mind is whether students are extraverts or introverts. Even though there is no direct connection between personality type and language performance,1 we are aware that these types make it more likely to prefer to work in a certain way or another.  
4.    Does everybody have the same background?
The sources of knowledge vary and they are directly linked to the environment in which each individual is involved as well as the type of input to which learners have been exposed.

5.    Does everybody learn in the same way?
The logical answer would be “no” and probably many concepts would come to our minds. Students are attributed to have different learning styles2 or cognitive styles3. We could also consider the different ways of constructing knowledge4, which are  directly associated, for example, to the students´ current stage in their knowledge of the topic, their phase of development, their reasoning abilities, as well as their cultural background. In fact, we can even recall the famous 8 types of intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner, since based on them we probably have adapted our approach to teaching.

I do believe that the big question relies NOT on whether students should work individually or with other people but on when they should work individually and when working in groups or in pairs would be a better choice. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages, and we need to consider both to be complementary in the classroom in order to provide ample opportunities for the construction of knowledge and thus for learning a foreign language.

When do our students need to work on their own?
Possible situational advantages:
1.    When they are presented complex concepts: students need to be allowed to integrate them at their own pace. Once they have processed them, they will be ready to interact and reinforce their knowledge or to complete the scheme in order to understand better and integrate these concepts to their knowledge.
2.    When they need to understand basic notions such as the irregular forms of verbs in the past. They will need to try different strategies to file that information and be able to recall it when necessary. I found it difficult to accelerate this memorization by just interacting with others. One can put into practice what has already been processed and understood. Otherwise, it may look like trying to dance tango by just following the music without having first tried the steps on your own.

When do our students need to work in pairs or in groups?
Given the nature of language learning, students will necessarily have to work either in pairs or in groups since interaction and exchange of ideas foster the process. Learning in social contexts is meaningful and it occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities such as the ones done in cooperation with other people, peers or the teacher. FURTHERMORE, working with somebody else gives the chance of being exposed to other points of view and a friendly feedback received can help to improve and develop the first generated conceptions (5).
In any case, guidance is necessary. We have to take the role of guides or facilitators since knowledge cannot just be transmitted magically. Whether they are simple or complex concepts, we need to find ways to help our students construct their own concepts.
Let´s keep in mind that some students in the classroom may grasp new info quickly while others need to struggle with it for a while. Thus, we have to monitor what students do and how they do the tasks assigned in order to ensure that everybody benefits from the process.

Helping our students learn a foreign language is our ultimate goal. In order to achieve that we try different methods of teaching, and a variety of strategies; we use a diversity of resources to make sure that our pupils are exposed to different kinds of input with the purpose of attending different learning preferences as well as keeping them motivated.

In which other cases do students need to work in pairs, in groups or individually? Can you share your views?

(5)  VIDEO- Cooperative Learning: critique and feedback

viernes, 1 de junio de 2018

TO BE (contextualized) OR NOT TO BE? That is the question!

By Enrique Rojas R.

Since men started to inhabit the world, we have tried to develop ways to communicate with each other orally. Thus, different human groups developed diverse languages. In order to connect with other groupings, at least some of the individuals had to familiarize themselves with the language of others. And that is how, through history, so many systems and approaches to teach foreign languages have developed.

Admittedly, some systems were more effective than others, but, in the end, they all achieved their purpose and responded to the reasons why they were created. For example, in the late 19 century, behaviorist theories, combining elements of philosophy, methodology and psychological theory dominated society and determined the way a second or foreign language should be taught. Nevertheless, eventually cognitivist views took over establishing that human beings’ behavior adjusts to the cognitive and to the expectations of what is known. Since learning began being considered a process which brings about the adaptation of significances in the interior of the minds, new proceedings had to be established for the teaching of second/foreign languages.

A number of approaches or systems for the teaching of new languages were created and used, mostly related to the psychological theories prevailing in the time. And they all produced a result. Thus, we arrive at the 1970’s with the advent of the Communicative Approach with the theory that the best way to learn a language is practicing and using it in a meaningful way, this is, really for purposes of communicating something instead of studying the language just as a body of words, sounds, and systems.

Together with communicative language came the issue of Contextualization that is providing learners with language items “into a meaningful and real context rather than being treated as isolated items of jargon for language manipulation practice only.” (British Council, 2006). Halliday defines it as “the events that are going on around when people speak,” in other words, it refers to the situation in which people speak. Spolsky accentuates the importance of social context. He remarked: “…a social context results in learners having different attitudes towards the situation they are in or at least perceive themselves in. This leads on to a higher motivation in learners, which in the case of a task helps learners to focus on it and solve it.” And then he added: “In the model the motivation and other aspects of the pupils’ personality lead to learning opportunities. The context itself can also offer learning opportunities.”

So, for the first time, language was being used in classroom teaching for its communicative function and not just as raw material or educational matter for learning the subject of “language”. Roland K. Yeo et al supplement that learning language in context permits: “Through an integrative framework, we demonstrate that the interplay of cognition, behavior, and context offers insight into how and why learning occurs at multiple levels.” 

In spite of this, it has been contended for a long time that textbooks present language that is a poor representation of the real thing. David Crystal & D. Davy (1975) see it as: “far away from that real, informal kind of English which is used very much more.” (Crystal & Davy 1975: 2) Crystal, D. & D. Davy (1975). Advanced conversational English. Harlow: Longman)

On the other hand, if we are to take as model the way children learn their first tongue there are those who sustain that the way in which children learn their native language is more frequently than not, decontextualized. They say that children learn decontextualized vocabulary from their parents’ speech, language that is deprived of the here and now containing pretend, narrative, and explanatory discourse, with preschool children. Meredith L. Rowe offers examples of these with explanations by parents on why we do things or how things work, commentaries about things that took place in the past or could happen in the future, make believe expressions used during imaginary play, and non-immediate talk during book reading. She observes: “Decontextualized language is challenging for children for several reasons. First, because the meaning of decontextualized language is conveyed primarily through the linguistic cues and not through the context, it requires a more abstract level of analysis by the child than does comprehending contextualized talk that is focused on the here or now, such as object labels… and the linguistic nature of decontextualized language is itself more complex.” (Rowe, 2013)

At any rate, the magic wand to teach foreign languages quickly, effortlessly and ultra-effectively is yet to be found. The best advice is still “Use out of each method those things that work for you and your students.”

And now it is your turn:
What do you think about contextualized language teaching?
Do you employ it? Habitually or sporadically?


Bauer M., 2014 The Role of Contextualization in Teaching and Learning English Retrieved: May29, 2018.
Halliday, M. A. K., Mc Intosh, A. y P. Strevens. 1964. The Linguistic Sciences and Language Teaching. London: Longman.
Rowe, M. 2013 Decontextualized Language Input and Preschoolers’ Vocabulary Development, Ed.D.1 Retrieved: May29, 2018.
Spolsky, B. 1969. “Attitudinal Aspects of Second Language Learning”. Language Learning 19, (3 / 4), págs. 171-185.

Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a MA in Journalism and MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; an MA in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and BA in Education from Universidad Federico Villarreal. He has also obtained Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and the Diploma for EFL Teachers from Universidad del Pacifico. He is an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge University exams and has been awarded the title Expert in E-Learning from Asociacion Educativa del Mediterraneo and Universidad Marcelino Champagnat. He has worked as a professor in universities in Peru, Mexico and the United States; as a newscaster and a producer in radio and television stations in the United States and Mexico, and as a writer and editor in daily newspapers of the same countries. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 19 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He has been a speaker in every Congress of English for Special Purposes organized by Centro de Idiomas de la U.P. He is also a member of its Research Area. 

jueves, 17 de mayo de 2018

Is Doing Homework a Must?

                                                                                                                                                                           By Zarela Cruz

 When this topic arises, we may harbor mixed feelings: as teachers we do know that doing homework is beneficial: as parents, we may not want to add another item to our kids’ or our own long daily to-do list.

There is not a single answer to this question. Children, teenagers and adults all have different routines and different schedules as we well know.

      Let’s start by children: nowadays children stay long hours at school and most of them take part in different extracurricular activities.

      Besides, we all know that when arriving  home from school , children do need a break. On the other hand, research shows that it is best to create study habits since childhood. Most children do homework before dinner, after dinner or before going to bed.

When parents arrive home, probably the last thing they want to know about is the loads of work their children have pending for the next day. However, they want their children to be considered compliers and responsible students. So, some of them actually do the homework for them. This is not good at all. At any rate, what parents should do is supervise, lead, advise, but not carry out the assignments themselves. When exam time comes, this kind of parents is more stressed than ever, since they feel as if it were their own exam time! And the real students don’t get any benefit from the homework done!

What about adults? Most probably they have a fulltime job. If they take daily courses, it is unrealistic to expect them to do homework; if they take classes twice or three times a week, things do not look much brighter. They prefer to come to class some minutes earlier to take a quick look at what was done the previous class or to catch up if they were absent.

   Now, let’s analyze some reasons why it is convenient that homework
   SHOULD be done:

1. It allows teachers and students to stay tuned with the topics viewed in class.
2. It can bring the family together since support is given when needed not only by parents but also by siblings or other members of the family. There will always be a helping hand when needed.
3. Practice makes perfect.  The more we  practice, the  more we learn
and master.
4. It helps learners develop and assume responsibilities. It also helps them to work on their punctuality by handing on assignments on time.
5. It is an excellent way to perceive how our kids learn and what the teaching style is.

    Let’s take a look at some reasons why homework SHOULD NOT be assigned:

1. We all need time to relax and to refresh mind  
     and body.
2. It restricts the family time both parents and children can spend together.
3. It can be a source of strain for the members of the  family.
4. It can end up in cheating as a shortcut  to finish all the assignments 
    on due time.
5. Teachers may be too busy to grade homework  promptly, so
     feedback  may be delayed  and the  work turn useless.

   Nowadays there is a strong controversy about this topic. You may have seen letters on the social media asking parents to get more involved in their children’s education as well as parents demanding teachers not to add more stress to their lives. For the time being it all depends on the school, institute or university our children or we ourselves are attending.

And now your turn:
               Is doing homework necessary to learn?
              Are we overloading children with assignments?
              How much homework do you assign to your students?

Retrieved from:

Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her master’s studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas in the Teaching of English and Spanish. She has also completed some online certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses. She has taught different courses, programs and levels and has been a teacher trainer, a lecturer and online instructor for more than 25 years. She is currently studying a master’s degree in Translation. This article aims to reflect on the convenience of doing homework to optimize the student’s learning process.

miércoles, 9 de mayo de 2018

Is Memorizing Analogous to Learning?

By Mayra Yaranga

The role of memory in foreign language learning has always been acknowledged. Hardly anyone would argue that there are elements of language which need some rote learning, However, does memorization guarantee effective learning?

Those of us who grew up in our traditional education are probably familiar with the idea that certain items have to be learnt by heart. This is the case, for example, of lexical set phrases (“Nice to meet you”, “What do you think about…?”) which enable communication and yet require no explanation at the level when they are taught. Another area in which memorization is crucial is grammar; it is hard to ignore how students strive to learn irregular past tenses, the order of adjectives, the correct prepositions, among others, by means of old-fashioned rote. And there is little to support another way of internalizing this type of content: explanations matter little, if at all, and so these bits may, we hope, remain in the learners’ repertoire in the long term. Do they?

At this point, I would argue that not enough is being done to ensure real learning beyond mechanical, detached repetition. Testing the students on verb tenses or words helps little in this respect. In order to ensure that the memorized bits of language are effectively retrieved later and truly help communication, it is absolutely essential to provide learners with the opportunity to turn this input into something meaningful. Here, we may have to push the boundaries set by our educational system and consider carefully how to go further.

Let me provide an example: if students are to learn the irregular past tenses, they also need to know the kind of nouns they collocate with and need to see them in a relevant context. If all of this information is provided, students should be more likely to produce – can we argue that fostering production is a less effective way of guaranteeing learning than memorizing? Another very similar situation occurs when students are being trained to take international tests. They may have thousands of learnt expressions to ‘interact naturally’ during a speaking test. However, factors such as social meaning, register, communicative function or paralinguistic devices are meant to play an important role as well. There is nothing more unnatural than to use expressions for agreement without any accompanying non-verbal language, for instance. Are we working on those elements too?

To some extent, it is true that sometimes teachers and students may forget they are not teaching/learning the language as a system, but as a means to enable communication in said language. Blaming robotic memorization for unreal communication would certainly not solve the mistakes memorizing may bring but working on further real interaction and a realistic use of language could, I am sure, prevent learners from deriving a false sense of achievement from parrot-fashioned learning.
It’s your turn

What do YOU think?

Does memorization guarantee effective learning?

Mayra Yaranga (1985) has completed Doctorate studies in Education at UNIFÉ; Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London) revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education - UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada - IPNM. Currently she is Cambridge Oral Examiner and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacífico Language Centre. She is also ESP coordinator and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ.

jueves, 26 de abril de 2018

What controversies do you find in ELT?

Have you ever felt a little puzzled
about which approach to take in 
class? We invite you to share with us
those questions that sometimes 
constitute a burden on our backs and
feel uncomfortable about asking in
our institution.

jueves, 12 de abril de 2018

Unmasking the “Robot” Inside You

By Flor de María Vila A.

Becoming a victim of “robotizing” is truly menacing for our profession. Turning into a sort of teaching android is something that should be avoided at all costs. But before taking distance from this danger, we need to check if we have not already become a prey of it, or if we are not in the process of becoming one.
Choose an answer to the questions.
Here are some ideas:
1.    Today you have a class and you haven´t prepared anything special. You have had a very busy week or you have had some problems at home or maybe you haven´t felt very good recently because of an illness or something similar. So you take the book, read the title of the unit and prepare yourself to decide how you are going to have your students do the exercises. Whatever the circumstances are, you check the teacher’s guide and the students’ book and you feel that just doing the exercises as the book indicates will be just fineYES or NO?

2.    You feel that you must begin every lesson with a warmer, so you always use the same game or the same question. The idea is to help students connect with the lesson, so it doesn’t matter too much the way of doing it. Besides, students love that. Do you always begin / do / present an activity in pretty much the same manner?  YES OR NO?

3.    You have had a great lesson with your teenager students. In fact, they loved it. You feel satisfied. You have been assigned to give the same lesson, but with a group of adults in the evening class. Since you had such a success with your teenage class, you don’t hesitate to use the very same strategy with this evening group. It has to be a sensation too. Do you use the very same lesson plan with all your students without considering the big or small differences that might exist?  YES OR NO?

4.    You propose, for instance, that learners work in pairs and that they do so with the person next to them. To introduce some variation, you have them move around and find another partner to work with. This definitely works because students have the chance to use the language being learned with different people. Do you always organize the experience of interacting in the same way? YES OR NO?

If you have 4 yeses, you regrettably are on a first name basis with C3PO and R2D2.
If you have 3 yeses, you unfortunately have already adopted the robot style.
If you have 2 yeses, you pitifully are on the way of embracing the robot style.
If you have 1 “yes,” you, possibly inadvertently, are on the verge of espousing the robot style.

If you need more ideas and reasons to avoid becoming a victim of “robotizing” check the following link.

Can you give us more examples that show evidence of “robotizing”?
Can you mention how to avoid any of the symptoms mentioned above?


M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Teacher trainer, Pedagogic Consultant and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico. She is Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory) and relationship manager for American universities´ MBA admissions officers with International Contacts. She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS).

viernes, 6 de abril de 2018

Do You Feel Like a Pawn on your Employer’s’ Chessboard?

By Enrique Rojas R.
On our last article we reflected on the importance of being identified with the goals of the institution you work for. Now we offer a questionnaire so you can measure your degree of 

   1.  Do you see yourself working for the same school or institute…
a)    for many years?
b)    for four or five years?
c)    Until the end of this year?
d)    I may leave any time.

             2.  Is it easy for me to build strong relationships with my co-workers?
a)    Very easy.
b)    More or less.
c)    Not too easy.
d)    It is hard for me.

           3.   Do you expect to find opportunities for progress in your present job?
a)    Very much so.
b)   Probably with time
c)   Perhaps
d)   Not really

  4. Do you picture yourself as part of a team with authorities and other teachers?
a)  I feel I’m part of a well-oiled machine.
                 b)  We generally work in accordance.
c)  We agree on certain basic points.
d)  I do the best I can and don’t worry about the others

  5. Do you set goals for yourself…
                 a)  both for major problems and for minor endeavors.
                 b)  only for major projects.
                 c)  when I feel there’s need for a change.
                 d)  no. I just make sure to follow the program for each course.

6. Do you show concern for the students’ individual goals?
                a) I try to find out and consider the reasons why they want to learn.
                b) I teach trying to cater to the needs of the majority of students.
 c) I understand there are different needs for learning.
 d) I think their reasons are irrelevant for me. I’m only concerned with                  teaching   well.

7. Do you usually change jobs?
               a) Only if a major chance comes up.
               b) Not very often but I keep an eye open for opportunities
               c) Each year I try to find something better.
               d) I’m always ready to switch where I can find better conditions.

8. When your boss asks you to do something that is not part of your regular duties…
                a) You cheerfully accept.
                b) You sometimes accept with reserves
                c) Sometimes you accept.
                d) You never accept.

9. In your work…
                a) you strive for excellence out of your own impulse.
                b) you always try to give a good impression to your bosses.
                c) you comply just to stay out of problems
                d) you do as little as possible if you can get away with it.

10. When you get ready to begin your class…
                a) you leave your personal problems and life outside the classroom.
                b) you don’t let your state of mind affect your performance.
 c) your personal problems or state of mind doesn’t affect too much the way you treat your students.
 d) your optimum performance is only when you’re in a good mood.

11. The paperwork and other things the institution requires from you…
                a) It is always handed on time by you.
                b) You generally hand them in on time.
                c) Once in a while I’m a little late.
                d) I’m not very timely with those things.

12. Are you familiar with your institution’s mission and vision?
                a) I know them well and I can tell what they are.
                b) I’m familiar with them in general terms.
                c) I have some idea of what they are.
                d) I have no idea.

13. Do you identify with your institution’s mission and vision?
                a) Yes, one hundred percent.
                b) I do in general terms
                c) I coincide with them partially.
                d) Not really.


14. When you think about your future you feel…
                a) your institution offers you a career line?
                b) your employer cares for you as a person?
                c) like a replaceable convenience for your employer?
                d) like a pawn on your employers’ chessboard?

15. Do you think your efforts and merits…
                a) are being fairly appraised and recognized by the institution you work for?
 b) are given some recognition by your employer?
 c) are minimized and overlooked by your organization?
 d) go usually unfairly unrecognized?

Reflect on your answers to the above questions. If you have answered mostly with
a You and your institution have convergent goals. This is a win-win situation
b You can say that you run in parallel with the institution where you work
in relation with objectives and identification.
c You don´t pursue the same goals as you employer. This may be an
amber signal. Proceed with a lot of caution.
d It is absolutely unlikely that you and your employer can have a very good
relationship for a long time.
Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a MA in Journalism and MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; an MA in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and BA in Education from Universidad Federico Villarreal. He has also obtained Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and the Diploma for EFL Teachers from Universidad del Pacifico. He is an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge University exams and has been awarded the title Expert in E-Learning from Asociacion Educativa del Mediterraneo and Universidad Marcelino Champagnat. He has worked as a professor in universities in Peru, Mexico and the United States; as a newscaster and a producer in radio and television stations in the United States and Mexico, and as a writer and editor in daily newspapers of the same countries. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 19 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He has been a speaker in every Congress of English for Special Purposes organized by Centro de Idiomas de la U.P. He is also a member of its Research Area.