miércoles, 24 de julio de 2019

¡Felices Fiestas Patrias!

Este 28 de julio
celebremos a nuestra patria
valorando su riqueza cultural
transmitida en 47 lenguas nativas
que valen un Perú!

miércoles, 17 de julio de 2019

If you can say it, you can write it. Can you?

By María de la Lama

Almost fifty years ago, Wilga Rivers said that the old saying “If you can say it, you can write it” was simplistic in its concept of the communicative aspect of writing. However, even today we tend to consider writing as a final product, too often for evaluation purposes. Therefore, from our teaching perspective, we are concerned about our students’ written product, but not the process they go through to create, organize and transmit ideas. Paying attention to a final product and not to the process of writing itself, makes us focus only on grammar, vocabulary, and spelling, that is mainly the use of the language.
In the eighties there was an important transformation in the way the development of our students´ writing ability was seen, going from focusing on the product to focusing on the process, a transformation that, unfortunately, is not shown in many of our courses today.

The first step we must take to see writing as a "process" is to pay close attention to how our students develop good quality ideas and how they plan to organize them within a text. Let me emphasize the phrase "good quality". In general, and I have seen this in many university students, there is a misconception that writing in a foreign language prevents us from generating intelligent and solid ideas.

Students believe that when we write in English, the use of the language is what matters, not the content. Therefore, whenever a text is free of language errors, the quality of the content is relegated to a second place. Unfortunately, this lack of quality content will become a source of difficulties when students need to pass international English exams such as the GMAT or GRE, required to pursue graduate studies.

What then are the indicators that we should bear in mind if we want to develop the process of creative writing in our students?
  • Students have a lot of practice in the generation of ideas and how they relate to each other.
  • Students learn to analyse if the idea they are considering is powerful enough to be a "topic sentence" which in turn can be developed into a paragraph.
  • Students are taught how to plan, review, reread and rewrite each time they realize that they are not conveying their ideas clearly.
Becoming a good writer will give our students an invaluable competitive advantage for academic and professional life. So, what can we start doing?
  1. Develop in your students the ability to generate "powerful ideas" and then find logical relationships between them.
  2. Begin your writing lesson generating ideas by using brainstorming techniques.
  3. Consider quality content as a necessity. Content is as important as the use of language.
  4. Think process": teach your students how to review, rewrite, clarify and, why not, write it again!
  5. Always start by writing only one paragraph.
  6. Incorporate activities in which they can evaluate how coherent a paragraph is. That is, how clear and logical the ideas presented in a paragraph are.
  7. Train your students in the use of connectors and always recommend grouping them by meaning. For example: However, nevertheless, but have same communicative function.
  8. Provide students with good practice in the use of cohesive devices that allow them to connect words at sentence level.
  9. Style is important! Students must learn how to address different audiences by selecting the tone needed to convey their ideas: formal, business, informal, etc.
To develop good writing skills in your students you need to “Think process”. A good start is paying attention to how your students come up with good ideas and how effective they connect them rather than rushing to grade grammar and vocabulary.

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.

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miércoles, 10 de julio de 2019

Autonomous Learning: a Dream or a Reality?

By Flor de María Vila

       Nowadays, in the technological and digital era, acquiring knowledge is at the tip of our fingers or should we also say that an oral message would be enough to search what we want?
      Even though the answer may be affirmative, we need to consider that finding the right information does not necessarily mean learning takes place. If we want learning to be achieved, we must at least have a plan and other components. Nevertheless, even if we did, we may still need the help of a professional, the teacher.  

 What happens in an everyday class? Who decides what needs to be learned? 

        Apparently, that is the teacher’s job: to decide what has to be done in order to help students achieve their goals. In fact, that is why everybody registers for a course in an institution or takes classes with a private teacher. Most of us need somebody to instruct us in what we need to do. Thus, a teacher would perform many of the following tasks:

1. Identify what students want or need to accomplish.
2. Make a diagnose of students’ level of English.
3. Determine how much time the student will need to reach the required level.
4. Choose the best material: a textbook if possible, and additional material to provide
 further practice. 
5. Others.

What else do you think a teacher must keep in mind?

What about methodology? 
         This must be connected to the students’ learning style, rhythm, and skills. We teachers always have to adjust our teaching strategies to our students’ needs and interests so as to keep their motivation buzzing. 
If we do all this, why are there still students who either take too much time to learn or seem to learn nothing at all?
  Unfortunately, many times some students think that because they attend classes, they would just learn magically as if we teachers had a sort of powerful mind able to transfer all our knowledge and enable them to either speak or write, for instance, in the blink of an eye. It is true that a good class should be such that students will leave the classroom knowing what was taught; however, what the teacher does in the classroom is not the only element that should be considered when measuring results. Actually, there are many other factors intervening and the students themselves constitute an important one. Thus, whatever they do or fail to do certainly affect their learning as well. Acquiring would depend on a number of different experiences provided by the teacher as well as by the students themselves. This number of experiences will affect learning as you will see in the following simple graph.

         I also need to underline how important it is to recognize that the more learners practice, the better and faster they will learn. Experience in this context will be connected not only to what students do in class but also to what they do outside the classroom. Furthermore, we need to remember that mastering a language is the result of developing both, motor and cognitive skills, which are closely related according to Piaget (1). I always compare mastering language with flying an airplane or how driving a car. Nobody, as far as I know, would be able to fly a plane or drive a car by just reading the manuals. It is necessary to practice an extended period to begin doing it and then a large number of hours to overcome the skill. Thus, anybody who thinks that attending classes will be enough to gain control of a language is mistaken. In order to make it possible for a person to lodge something into their long term memory, they have to “experience” or practice many times, especially if he wants to learn fast. If a student relies only on what the teacher offers in class, he will certainly take more time to absorb anything. 

What does a learner have to do then? What suggestions could we give him? 

   In order to help students practice intelligently, the teacher has to help him by recommending the following:

1. Review what has been done in class

2. Apply what he has done in class in something he is doing at school, university or work.  That is, if he has learnt how to give suggestions in class, he could start writing or recording recommendations to people in his environment. The student must experience that what he has been taught proves useful.

3. Watch videos. Just make sure to teach students how to take advantage of the videos. It is not useful at all to only share links without telling them what to do. Even better, open one of those links in class and model how to use them. Otherwise, watching videos or listening to them would be a waste of time and energy, yours and his.

4. Organize his time to practice constantly. There is not much efficiency in doing some exercises from time to time. Just remind them how many hours pilots, for instance, invest in their flights before becoming authorized pilots. 

5. Monitor their progress. For this, they first need to set objectives. Without them is like going to the supermarket and buy something and then return home and start wondering: What can I cook today? A waste of time and money, isn´t it?

By the way, some of these suggestions could also be useful for self-taught students who would try skipping classes or saving some money. In any way, one always needs some guidance. If one happens to have a kind of coach, as most of us teachers are, it could be better because we will save them time relying on our experience and knowledge, though I have met some students who needed merely very little help because they were already accustomed to studying on their own. 
                                   What else can we suggest to our students? 
                                    Share your experience and ideas with us* 

(1) Piaget, J. The origins of intelligence in children. Norton & Company, New York,   NY; 1952


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)

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miércoles, 3 de julio de 2019

Artificial Intelligence in The Classroom: A Threat or a Helping Hand?

                                                                                  By Zarela Cruz

         We all know the scenario: robots overtaking humans…how scary is that? When it comes to our classroom, what are the chances to be displaced by artificial intelligence or mere chatboxes?

         First of all, let’s get information about what artificial intelligence is capable to accomplish. I quite often read information about algorithms, chatboxes and apps, not only to be updated but also to try them myself. There is an important distinction to be made: technology used by teachers and technology employed by students.  Each one has definite purposes, to say the least.

         Below we can find some reflections about my findings:

 AI is already being applied in Language Acquisition In fact, this is not new at all. The application of AI started about 30 years ago. Duolingo is a free app used to learn languages and it is quite popular among students, since it is free. This app has recently included a new feature: a chatbot, which allows students to practice without feeling embarrassed of making mistakes, especially if they do not feel particularly confident when speaking. We were all new to the language once; would you not have preferred if there had been absolutely no potential of anyone taking notice of those mistakes?

2.   AI is really effective in terms of collecting data, which allows the standardization of information regarding students’ production, let’s say in written tasks, and also provides instant feedback. There are platforms that are available 24/7. This gives the students the sense of always getting attention. Who would not like getting immediate replies when practicing? Waiting for feedback may be quite discouraging.

3.   LUMILO is an augmented reality assistant which, together with the teacher, monitors students’ performance in real time and allows the teacher to assign more challenging activities to stronger students and provide support to the ones that are struggling with the tasks. If we do not step up and accept the challenge that the ever-improving augmented reality technology presents, who will?

4.   GRAMMARLY corrects students’ writings. This means saving a lot of time in class. What can a teacher do then? Identify the students’ weaknesses and providing them with practice on that particular issue. Besides, this application helps students to know their scores, how well they are doing, but NOT how to write and/or organize a text. Because of this, students will still ask themselves “but what can I do to improve?” which will result in them seeking advice from their teachers.

5.   Technology promotes collaboration. Forums and wikis work really well. Teachers start the thread and students participate by answering the main questions and replying to at least two of their classmates. Rules regarding participation must be clear to make the most of it.

    6.   Technology reduces repetitive tasks by programming the feedback of each question in an exam after it is finished, for example, which in turn allows not only to get the score, but also statistics of the classroom’s results. It is also very handy when getting the final scores of a course since we upload each activity’s grade all along the duration of the course or the term; when it is finished we are able to get the final score just by clicking on it. As teachers, we deserve some help with data organization too, don’t we?

7.   And last, but not least important, when dealing with this fear of being substituted by a contraption, rest assured, technology will never be able to replace teachers. However, our roles are constantly changing, and this is no exception. We will turn out to be supervisors in the learning process. Once again, this is not breaking news. With the Flipped Classroom, we have a similar role. It is a matter of not losing perspective.

Now, what about you?
Have you ever felt threatened by technology that your institution has invested on?
Do you think it is not a fair competition or just not possible to compete with Artificial Intelligence?

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 has just finished her master’s studies in Translation. This article aims to reflect on this important current topic, the use of Artificial Intelligence in the classroom.

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miércoles, 26 de junio de 2019

Tempted to Use Translation When Teaching a Foreign Language? Two Reasons Why it Can be Effective

By Mayra Yaranga Hernández

When we think of a traditional foreign language lesson, we immediately picture a class with well-behaved students aligned in neat rows, dusty books, a green board, white chalk and a method which nobody would dare to contradict: translation. We might think that, after the arrival of Communicative Language Teaching translation would be gone for good, wouldn’t it? Actually, things are very different and I would like to argue for its use in the language classroom.

Different approaches and methods have told teachers to prevent their students from using the L1, since this may have seriously detrimental effects on their learning process. However, using the L1 and translating are not problems in themselves, but regarding how they are used to aid learning. After all, we all translate, even if only at the beginning of our language learning process!
In order to make the most of translation, we should not think of it as a method like the much-maligned Grammar Translation. Instead, we should try to think of activities in which translation and interlinguistic awareness could be challenging for our learners. Using translation wisely can help students in two ways:

1. Language Awareness:

Thanks to a comparison between lexical chunks, learners can become aware of many interesting peculiarities of L1 and L2. For example, the differences between collocations in the two languages (e.g. “depende de” versus “depend on”), false friends (e.g. “actual”) or even the shocking lack of equivalence in idiomatic expressions and popular sayings (e.g. how would you say “ir de Guatemala a Guatepeor” in English?). Although knowledge of these features does not in itself guarantee lexical mastery, at least it prevents some recurrent interference-based mistakes and creates a habit of L2 fact-checking, especially now that most students seem to be so keen on Google Translate instead of a good online dictionary.

2. Cultural Awareness:

Two different language systems operate in different ways in their respective contexts. There are assumptions, beliefs, and ways of seeing the world which are not necessarily apparent when we expose students to L2 content. Translation can help students realise that, in the real world, what they consider “normal” in L1 simply does not apply in L2. Think, for instance, of students asking you how to say “de nada” in English as a response to “thank you”. Would you simply throw out “you’re welcome” or the old-fashioned “don’t mention it?” Or would you think twice about when this kind of phrase is used and when not (most of the time)?

If we want to incorporate translation into our teaching, we should consider how our learners will benefit from it. If they require systems work, then translating or comparing L1 and L2 could be beneficial if we detect areas needing special contrastive attention. If they require work on skills, translation can help them go beyond their current capabilities by providing them with language they can use in communicative settings (for example, when preparing questions for an interview). If they require more challenging practice, we can set up lively activities requiring students to identify, produce or give feedback on translations of language chunks in context. For further suggestions, I would recommend the eyebrow-raising work by Guy Cook, “Translation in Language Teaching”.

In conclusion, translation is definitely here to stay. Certainly, teachers can rest assured they do not need to revert to Grammar Translation. Instead, they should not be afraid of using some activities requiring L1 and L2 working together, and perhaps they will discover how useful it can be.


Have you ever used translation in class? If not, What prevents you from using it?

Mayra Yaranga (1985) Doctor in Education (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 Team for Universidad del Pacífico Language Centre. She is also an Associate Professor and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ.

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miércoles, 19 de junio de 2019

The Hottest Issues of Language Learning

By Enrique Rojas R.

          It is said that all social animals are able to communicate with each other, whether you refer to insects, like ants or bees; birds, like pigeons or parrots; or mammals like dolphins, dogs or apes. They do it through a set of prearranged signals. Those signs or gestures do transmit certain information. But if we refer to communication as the sending or exchanging of thoughts and opinions by speech, writing or signs, then we are denoting human exchanges and pointing to an exclusively anthropological creation: language.

        It is thought that men were using it a million years ago, although little we know about its origins and we probably never will. What we do know is that different human groups spoke diverse languages. The socialization process then made it necessary for some people to learn the language of others.

      To learn the language of the parents and the own human group has always seemed to be a natural process that pretty much takes care of itself without requiring much science or methodological development. But learning a “foreign” language demanded extra effort and perhaps the elaboration of certain methods. It is interesting to mention that about five thousand languages are spoken in the world today, though they can be grouped in some 20 families.

         Since then the humanity has been developing methods to learn and teach foreign languages. A. P. R. Howatt & Richard Smith make reference to the history of foreign language teaching as a rather lengthy and complex sequence of schemes, within which it seemed each one replaced the one before. They also mention “the large number of named ‘methods’ of language teaching that appear in some sources and the way in which they are sometimes strung together as in a necklace of beads.”

         We have been following the Communicative Language Teaching Approach for over half a century now, although we can distinguish that the way this methodology was perceived in the 1960’s and 70’s is quite dissimilar to how we understand it today.

        Linguists, psychologists and educators continue formulating theories and methods to improve the practices employed in the teaching of foreign languages. Our team of researchers has decided to take a look at which are today the most interesting and debatable issues in second or foreign language teaching. In our eagerness to deal with topics of relevance for our colleagues, we are beginning today a series of articles on The Hottest Issues of Language Learning.

Howatt , A & Richard Smith. 17 Sep 2014. The History of Teaching English as a Foreign    Language, from a British and European Perspective. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/1759753614Z.00000000028.

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; a MA in Linguistics from Universidad Iberoamericana del Atlántico, Spain; a 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 20 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

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miércoles, 12 de junio de 2019

For Whom is The Teaching of Grammar Still a Security Blanket?

                                        By María de la Lama

Frequently, in TEFL “grammar” equals “ syntax”. Thus, for many English teachers grammar is the teaching of how to build structures in order to  develop in students, in a later stage, the   ability to  transform them when communicating.   But the linguistic concept of grammar "as the total knowledge of a language" offers a much broader understanding of this term. Therefore, an effective teaching of grammar should allow students not only to form structures, but also to know how to use them in a meaningful and appropriate way.
The teaching of the Simple Past tense will exemplify this point . On the one hand, when the term grammar is limited to syntax, the methodology will emphasize more the use of the auxiliary "did" and the transformations that irregular verbs undergo in this tense. On the other hand, a broader conception of the term will motivate the teacher to teach other very important aspects of the mentioned structure, such as the pronunciation of regular verbs and, what is more important, the communicative functions of the tense.
Why is it then that this narrow perception of the term "grammar" is still rooted in our daily teaching? Maybe because the focus on teaching structures still works as a security blanket for teachers. Let’s see some of the reasons why we are fond of teaching structures:

      There is a belief that if students analyze the language they will learn it more effectively. However, the main tenets of the Communicative approach prioritize language use over rules of usage.
      The teaching of grammar (grammar= syntax) demands the use of schemas, charts or written exercises,  activities that many teachers are keen on doing in class.
      Structures are always testable. In fact, grammar quizzes  are easy to prepare and to grade.
      This narrow conception of grammar gives teachers a false control of the lesson performance. After all, teachers always have  the correct  answer!
      Teachers seem to perpetuate the way they learned a foreign language when they teach. There has been a great emphasis on teaching language rules during the last decades that’s way following the Communicative approach does not seem to be an easy task.
      An overemphasis on structure formation may give students the idea that forming structures is enough to communicate in a foreign language without focusing on other important aspects such as pronunciation, vocabulary and use.

A good tip for preparing our grammar lessons bearing in mind that “grammar” involves much more than syntax, is to identify the challenging aspect of a given structure for our students. In some cases, the pronunciation of the structure, and not its form, will pose a challenge for adult students, such as the pronunciation of the phonemes /s/ or /z/ in the formation of plural nouns. In other structures, the challenging point will come from the meaning of the structures. The use of the possessive illustrates this point as in the phrase “a month’s holiday”.  

Challenging points can arise from other aspects rather than the form of the structure. They may come from the phonological component of the structure, from the correct understanding of its meaning or from its use. Overemphasizing the teaching of the form may hinder the students’ communicative competence.


Why doesn’t our teaching of grammar move towards more communicative ways? Is the teaching of grammar our security blanket in class?

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.

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