martes, 31 de julio de 2018

Listening: a Skill Difficult to Teach!

By Flor de María Vila A.



         You may have overheard your students say: “I love my English classes but when it comes to listening I feel terrified and frustrated!” In fact, this is what many language learners feel or express. But why does this happen?
          It could be argued that they frequently consider that improving their listening skills is like memorizing historical data. When they learn a number of dates, events and the like by heart, they can feel that they could take a test about that information and be successful.  
          Nevertheless, making progress in listening involves more than just memorizing some facts. Listening is a capacity and, because of that, its upgrading depends on a process. In case you want to have a better idea about this method, take a look at the following link from a previous article.
          At any rate, one of the implications your students need to consider is that an ability can only be developed in one way: by practicing. It sounds so simple and yet not so many people do it and if they do it, they don’t do it in the right manner.

          You may ask your students: “Do you practice listening outside your classroom? If the answer is “no”, you may present the following scenario to them: “You want to be a pilot, so you need to study, among other things, the safety rules. You learn them, and pass the test on that. However, you are not yet ready to fly an airplane. You need a certain number of hours of supervised flying experience to qualify for a pilot’s license. The safety rules are somehow like the vocabulary, grammar structure and knowledge of the topic that you need in order to build sentences; that’s the minimum you have to learn. But in spite of knowing that, you are not ready yet to understand all kinds of audio material. You need at least a certain number of hours of exposure to spoken English in order to begin feeling that you can grasp the meaning of what it is being said. Thus, provided that you practice on your own, additionally to what you do in class, your plane will probably never take off.

          If the answer is “yes,” but they still feel that they cannot fully understand or not comprehend enough to feel satisfied with their performance, have them check the following: They already have a schema of how language works in Spanish, a sort of pattern with all the characteristics that this tongue has. For example, Spanish is a syllable-timed language whereas English is a stress-timed language. In the former, every single sound is pronounced; in the latter though, that doesn’t happen. Then, Spanish speakers are expecting to hear every single word and sound and that causes a huge problem. When a native English speaker says: “My sister’s got a terrible teacher. She doesn´t teach her anything.”, a Spanish speaker might hear: “My sisters te robo a t-shirt. She doesn’t teacher anything.” In the first sentence “t-shirt” sounds more logically connected to the verb “steal” (robar) that the Spanish speaker thought he had heard. In the second sentence, a learner may not be aware of word boundaries and how connected speech works in English. Instead of saying “teach her” separately, a native connects the two words and makes them sound like one term, which may lead to confusion since the foreign speaker may not be aware of those differences between the two languages.

          Thus, in essence, what they need to do is to get familiar with those characteristics, especially become aware of the differences, so they can apprehend what they are hearing and comprehend the meaning of the message. The only way to do it is by listening to different kinds of audio material such as podcasts, YouTube videos (many of them come with the audio script on the screen), songs, lectures (Tedx, for example), watch films in English, TV shows, TV series, etc.

          But just “listening” is not enough, they need to listen to English audio every day and at least an average of two hours (might be more depending on their current level of English). Tell them they should take advantage of any spare time they have, or make the most of the moment when they are doing something else, for instance, driving, having lunch or waiting for something or somebody. It is convenient to listen to the same material as many times as possible, until they can recognize without much difficulty what is being said.  Remember, they need to familiarize with the language and build a new schema; and that won’t happen overnight. How many years have they been listening to Spanish? They should not expect to dramatically improve their listening just with an exposure to spoken English of only a few minutes per day. That won’t possibly work!  
          The type of material to be employed will depend on your students’ current level of English. If they are beginners or pre-intermediate learners, podcasts could be the best. For higher levels, the other sources mentioned above would work best. Deciding what type of material, they will listen to is the first step. The second one will be the amount of time they are going to devote to this endeavor. Third, if they are beginners or pre-intermediate students, they will need to try to match what they hear with what is actually being said. I always suggest listening to the audio material while reading the script to start sounding out the written words. Furthermore, that helps them to get familiar with the way people connect words or sounds, as well as rhythm, and intonation. You may even suggest reading after the speaker or shadowing him trying to imitate his pronunciation, intonation, and rhythm. Recording themselves wouldn’t hurt because that would enable them to recognize better how words, phrases and sentences are supposed to be uttered and how they are actually pronouncing them. Remember that they are sort of reconstructing their schemata, and that needs lots of practice. Moreover, input is a must! They need to become passionate about listening to make sure they can start flying! To the great blue yonder!

          Are there any other strategies you have tried to improve your students’ listening skills? Can you share them? Would you challenge them to do something different to find a different result? Let us know the results!


BIOGRAPHICAL DATA
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).

jueves, 26 de julio de 2018

¡FELICES FIESTAS PATRIAS!


A nuestros seguidores connacionales, maestros de lenguas en el Perú, un abrazo fraternal al conmemorarse un aniversario más de nuestra independencia, especialmente al acercarnos a los 200 años de vida republicana.
A nuestros lectores en el resto del mundo les enviamos  un saludo cordial, junto con nuestro agradecimiento y deseos de paz, justicia y libertad para todas las naciones. Y que al enseñar lenguas modernas construyamos un puente que ayude a la consecución de estos logros.

To our fellow countrymen and women followers, teachers of languages ​​in Peru, a fraternal embrace to commemorate another anniversary of our independence, especially as we approach the 200 years of republican life.

We also send a cordial greeting to our readers in the rest of the world, together with our gratitude and wishes for peace, justice and freedom for all nations. And that when teaching modern languages ​​we are building a bridge that helps to achieve these feats.

miércoles, 18 de julio de 2018

Is Innovation Really Welcomed in Education?



By Enrique Rojas R.

                                   
         With the advent of the Communicative Approach in the English class  the then interminable practice of drills and choral repetition of the Audio Lingual method were stashed away by language teachers who adopted other didactical strategies such as pair-work, trios and group work; teacher talking time was denounced and trimmed off, and role-plays were put to frequent use. In the beginning even the teaching of grammar was disparaged and later minimized.

         That is teachers became convinced of the benefits of such methods since they were convinced of their usefulness. But nobody petered out a moment to think how the learners were receiving those changes. It was just assumed that, since it was for their own good, they would be happy with it all.

Who has the upper hand in methodology?

         The truth is that even today, after so many years, some students, and particularly adult ones, seriously dislike some aspects of those procedures. For example, we teachers discern that it is convenient to vary the interaction patterns and, for that matter, we change from duos to trios, to groups of four and so on. And this frequently implies that the students have to change seats. Do the students like this dancing of chairs? True, perhaps kids even love it, but older learners not so much and when they are the ones who have to stand up and move to another chair on many occasions you can see them frown. It is also not rare that they feel uncomfortable to be forced to participate in role-plays, some hate to sing and there are those who think that the so called “Didactical games” are just a waste of time or, worse yet, a way for teachers to just kill time.

         If you call on the students to talk to their peers from the front of the class or to write something on the board, perhaps the answer to an exercise, and that way you ensure that they stay alert and awake after a long day of work, several pupils may think that you’re treating them “like children” and resent it. Instructors also try that, as much as possible, the verbal interchanges, to be meaningful and communicative evolve about their existence and reality, but have to be extremely careful not to poke into their lives or personal businesses.

         Teachers may argue that it is they who know what should be done and not the students, but this argument turns out to be feeble. It’s been several years since educational institutions adopted the marketing principle that the client is always right and now that schools of all sorts are deemed as business centers, the clients/students can decide which teachers should be given classes and which not and, therefore, the methods they want used in class.


Is innovation welcomed?
         Most educational institutions pay lip service to innovation. But do the conditions exist for the teachers to be innovative? For instance, the textbooks should be just instruments in the hands of teachers. They as educators are the ones who are supposed to be the best for their students. But there are always those learners who demand that every single line of the book be covered in class. In a group there’s bound to be one or two conservative individuals who are appalled by modifications or reforms. In a small group one person can make a big difference in the teacher’s survey. Is the teacher likely to try new things when they know it may mean not to be given classes the following month? In fact, we’ve been told by several teachers: “I try to conform and go with the group of instructors as much as possible and not stand out in any way.” I cannot say I blame them, but perhaps we should all give a second thought to this complex problem.

NOW IS YOUR TURN:

Is innovation needed in education?  Or maybe
It is better to leave things the way they are, they have worked so far…
Would you dare to be an innovator? Is it worth it?

BIOGRAPHICAL DATA
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. 

miércoles, 11 de julio de 2018

Studying English Online or Face-to-Face? Two Sides of a Coin


                                                                                                      By Zarela Cruz


Currently there is a wide range of options available when it comes to studying languages. Some websites have a very well structured marketing; others are on the web, waiting for a chance to catch the learner’s eye offering them a trial session, course, or update.  The question your students may ask you is: when it comes to languages, which is better: to study English online or to register in an institution to have fixed-schedule classes?

Let’s start by listing some of the alleged advantages of studying a language online:
  • It saves money.
  • The learners study when they feel like doing it.
  • They can have access to class from their own phone.
  • Weekly tasks can be done at any time during the week.


But, can we call them advantages? To start with:  Do they save money because they have a sort of token to be used all year long? It may end up like registering to the gym for a year and attending sessions just one or two months! What is the gain, then?

It is true that studying when they are in the mood is more productive, but, what happens if they are never in the mood? They will not take any lessons, will they?

Everyone has a smartphone, but how smart is it to study using one’s phone? Unless the sessions are micro sessions and/or one has permanent Wi-Fi access, it will not be that cheap in the end.

Let’s talk about weekly assignments now: Are they going to be done in the last minute? What is the aim of doing homework then? (See https://languageteachingblogger.blogspot.com/2018/05/is-doing-homework-must.html)

As teachers with extensive experience in the teaching field, we are definitely in favour of students attending classes regularly, not only because “Practice makes perfect,” but also because the learning environment promotes participation, working in pairs or groups. Interaction in class has obvious benefits:

*     
  • Make a study time part of one’s routine.
  • Take notes depending on one’s own learning style.
  • Find at least one learning partner.
  • Make sure they track their progress.


When they have fixed-scheduled-classes, they develop self-discipline and they are focused on learning.

On the other hand, everyone wants to be understood and in class, their teacher will be eager to help them fix mistakes that can be fossilized if repeated over and over.

When working with a classmate, benefits are multiple: not only they may find interest and academic background in common, but they can socialize in a real learning environment.

What is not easy to admit for some people is that not everyone is a natural born self-learner. Some guidance is needed and functional language requires a real interaction environment.

To make the right choice, students should set their aim first: What do they want to learn English for?

They must keep in mind their level of English. How long ago did they take formal lessons? How often would they like to have classes? What kind of student are them? Has their learning experience as a language student been successful so far? Do they know other people who have had positive experiences? Are they ready to do their own research? Once they gather all the answers to these questions, then they will be ready to choose the most suitable side of the coin for them.


NOW IT IS YOUR TURN:
Do you have experience as an online instructor/teacher?
 Have you always been a face-to-face teacher? 
Which one do you prefer and why?


References
Retrieved from

Biodata
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 taking fixed-schedule courses over online ones.

viernes, 6 de julio de 2018

Why is it Vital to Maximize Our students’ Oral Production?

                                                              By Mayra Yaranga


It may seem obvious to say that students should be given the opportunity to speak as much as possible in language class. Although “TTT” has become a sort of monster that we should avoid at all costs, the truth is that it remains high in our lessons. Let’s revisit some of the rationale behind maximizing our learners’ talking time:

For students, there are several clear benefits of speaking repeatedly in class. First of all, the classroom is the safest setting where learners can practise what they have been learning in class. Teachers should correct mistakes which impede communication and provide feedback on the speaking activities so that students can reflect on what they did well or not. Furthermore, practising speaking from very basic levels –-with carefully graded activities and language patterns, of course-- can boost the students’ confidence and prepare them to face greater challenges in the real world. Finally, when activities, interaction patterns and degrees of challenge vary from lesson to lesson and within lessons, students will need to adjust their effort to meet the demands of the language class.

Teachers can also see benefits in having their students talk most of the time. Obviously, this has a very positive impact on classroom dynamics, because the students become the centre of attention; what they say is the most important thing, much unlike the traditional “let-me-tell-you-about-my-life” teacher that we’ve all had at some point. Lessons in which the students are doing most of the talking are less predictable and the teacher will have the chance to try different activities or techniques to cater for their groups. This extra effort, which may seem exhausting in the long run, can be truly appreciated by students in the end. Let’s not forget that the result of a good class will always be identified in students’ production. If we decide to show off our command of the language and not provide chances for experimentation, we are talking to ourselves, not teaching.

All in all, leading a change in class towards helping our students to maximize their oral production sounds logical though very challenging; nonetheless, we should not neglect it.
It’s your turn

What do YOU think?

What do you do to maximize your students’ oral production in class?

Biodata

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.




miércoles, 27 de junio de 2018

Teaching English in Schools: How Should we Group Our Students?



                                                                            By María de la Lama 


 
In schools, the group composition for teaching English poses the dilemma of whether to have multilevel classes or group students according to their knowledge of English.

Some of the reasons why schools may resist the idea of ​​ convening students according to their knowledge of English, which may imply mixing students from different school grades, are the following:



  • More English teachers would be needed since English classes would be taught simultaneously, probably to a larger number of groups. In addition, organizing students in groups according to their English proficiency will make it difficult to structure the school's class schedule.

  • In a heterogeneous group, usually made up of students of the same grade, all students in the class have a unique learning goal despite the individual differences that exist between students with respect to their English proficiency. Therefore, you may find cases in which a student who has a level of Elementary English must reach the Intermediate level at the end of the academic year. 

  •  It is presumed that in multilevel groups strong students can help weak ones and that weak students will be motivated to work harder than the rest. The formation of pairs in which one of the students has strong skills in English is considered a suitable way to deal with heterogeneous classes.

  • Usually in a multilevel distribution of students, schools establish a specific objective that must be achieved in terms of international exams according to the grade. Therefore, a curricular objective such as "at the end of fourth grade students must pass an international B1 exam" is frequently seen.

  • Although multilevel groups are usually larger than homogenous ones, it is expected that class participation will not be affected since communicative activities can always be carried out.

But are these arguments solid enough not to promote the formation of groups according to students’ English proficiency?

  • The number of teachers required has to be proportional to the number of groups into which students will be divided. Often, schools improve the results of their English program grouping only into three levels: Elementary, Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate groups.
  • As with any other subject, not all the students have the same skills for learning mathematics, history or foreign languages. If mastering a foreign language is the ultimate goal, students need to be grouped in homogeneous classes aimed to reach feasible objectives. Thus, students with an Elementary level can reach a solid Pre-Intermediate at the end of the year while students with a better command of the language can achieve a more advanced level. When students are kept in a multilevel system there is a risk that the students with lower levels of proficiency may not be able to succeed in the course.

  • Conducting activities in pairs where a student with strong linguistic skills gets to work with a partner whose skills are not that good should not be done frequently since the weaker student may feel overwhelmed while the other one may consider the activity a waste of time with little or no chance of improvement. 

Most of the time, adopting a multilevel system to compose groups in schools responds to administrative reasons. However, maximizing opportunities for effective English learning should be a priority and a very valuable investment rather than an administrative issue.


BIODATA:

DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Bachelor in Education, has a master's degree in Applied Linguistics and a Bachelor's in Linguistics, both obtained at the University of California, Davis. She also holds an MBA from Universidad del Pacífico. She currently serves as the Director of the Language Center at Universidad del Pacífico.

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