viernes, 22 de septiembre de 2017

Are we in Fact Teaching How to Write?

                                                              By Enrique Rojas R.

Teaching students to write graciously in a foreign language has always been very challenging since it is common that they strive to do it decorously even in their native language. Now, if we dared wonder how many of the foreign language teachers can manage to communicate at least with a certain grace in writing, wouldn’t we be shocked by the realization? Then, how can learners be taught to write acceptably in English?

If we, English teachers, examine ourselves candidly, could we say that we have been really teaching students how to write?

The order in which you take in the language abilities in your first language or in an additional one is quite different since your general knowledge and preparedness for receiving and transmitting information and other contents is quite dissimilar. When you learn your native language the first ability that you acquire and put to use is listening. But when you are already capable of reading in Spanish you are going first to adapt that knowledge in order to pick up English. But in all cases, the last capability to develop will be that of writing

.   And that is very logical since to be able to write with minimal correction you need to have moved on in the attainment of all the other capacities. You need to structure your utterances in a logical manner and, therefore, require an acceptable knowledge of grammar; you are in need of a sufficient vocabulary; you certainly know by then how to read and would be expected to speak.

As part of the grammatical knowledge that should be your baggage as a writing learner basic structural concepts like phrase, clause, sentence, subject, predicates must be present, you should be familiar with objects and complements and usage of verbs, you must have a good grasp of spelling and cope with the rules of punctuation, among other things.

Only then you are ready to be instructed on the specifics of writing like the topic sentence, the thesis statement, controlling idea, supporting sentences, paragraphing, coherence and cohesion, clarity, conciseness and the like. These are extremely important characteristics of good writing but we don’t teach them unless it is in a highly specialized writing course.

But we all usually evaluate those characteristics in our students because we do test writing. We look for clearness, fluency, good grammar and spelling, unity, coherence, focus, sentence variety and possibly other things we have never taught them.

The publishing houses in their textbook series adopt a practice of showing models of pieces of writing like an application, a letter, an email, etc., but neither instruct on the fundaments nor in the process of writing. And this is what the overwhelming majority of teachers undertake in their lessons. As a consequence, students learn about the characteristics of various types of documents but nobody really teaches them how to write. And we cannot ignore the reason for this deficiency. It is like walking on a treadmill.

           Were you aware of the difficulties we encounter when Teaching Writing?
         If you are already familiar with them, let us know what your viewpoint is!

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, US. .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. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 18 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He is also a member of its Research Area.

miércoles, 13 de septiembre de 2017


                                                            By Zarela Cruz


The questions above are reservations we all teachers lay to ourselves when preparing our classes. Providentially, there are new tendencies regarding this topic we should consider. Ready to revise some of them?

Let’s start with the definition of Grammaring which is a new word coined by Larsen-Freeman1” The ability to use grammar structures accurately, meaningfully, and appropriately”. According to her, we should stop teaching grammar just as a set of rules, and teach it in such a way that students learn how to use it.

This idea, is not totally new as you can see in the chart. Grammar can be taught either as a product, as a process and as a skill. Moreover, we have shifted from teaching exclusively a set of rules to teach absolutely no grammar at all. Why? The former method was the Grammar Translation Approach and the latter the Communicative approach, which has communication as its main aim.

Let’s take a look at the ways grammar has been taught so far:
-    -   As structured input activities (the focus should be in meaning)
-     -  As input enhacement activities  (using visual aids and  phonological    modifications)
-     -  Interactional feedback (reformulation, paraphasing a faulty statement, self-  correction)

The Communicative Approach is not new at all. After more than 50 years from its creation, it is clear now  the absence of grammar instruction has not helped to achieve language acquisition. Students do communicate and are fluent, but form is neglected in most cases.

So, what can we do now? What is the new approach? The new approach considers grammar as the fifth skill and adds a new dimension to language teaching: form, meaning (semantics)  and use (pragmatics.)

Let’s see an example to clarify what this means:
CAN=  a modal verb
FUNCTIONS: permission, ability, requests  and possibility
How can we teach all these functions: by contextualizing them.

                          AFFIRMATIVE     : SUBJECT + CAN+ MAIN VERB+
Situation 1: You need to answer an urgent call
Can I leave for a minute, please?

Situation 2: You are talking about skills you have
I can use Excel really well.

Situation 3: It is summer. It is very hot.
Can you open the window please?

Situation 4: You and your friend had a good time at a party.
Do you think you can drive? You have been drinking
at the party.

You see? The same structure with different meanings according to the situation. It is a must to facilitate learners to detect the pattern (using either a deductive or inductive approach) from authentic situations instead of teaching them in isolation. It is also a must to allow students to produce their own statements and to promote peer correction. This way, you will promote autonomy as well. Ready to give a try?

Are you ready to try out this Grammaring Approach? 
If you are already familiar with it, let us know what your most effective strategies are!

(1) Diane Larsen-Freeman, Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring. Heinle.2003

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 English and Spanish. She has also completed a number of 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. This article aims to reflect on the new tendencies of the Teaching of Grammar.

miércoles, 6 de septiembre de 2017

What Makes Reading Tough For Students?

By Mayra Yaranga

Reading skills are difficult to develop and students’ problems vary. Here is a list of factors that create some problems for many students and a few aspects to consider in order to tackle them:

Many students are accustomed to providing in their response the information required using the same words as in the questions. This is a problem that they carry from L1 reading, which often causes a great deal of confusion, especially as the difficulty of texts and questions increases. Therefore, it is necessary to train learners, from the beginning, to recognise information given through different words or structures so that they focus on the meaning of the text, rather than only the words appearing in a text. Comparison of question text and reading passage is a good way to encourage this understanding of meaning.

Wanting to Know Every Word
Some students look up every word they do not understand from a text, presumably because this is going to help them understand the entire text. This bad habit is time-consuming and shifts the focus to words that might be irrelevant to the overall meaning of the reading passage, or even a specific section. Teachers have a key role to play in order to avoid this. Pre-teaching some important vocabulary may help students focus on relevant words only, as could also benefit building up skills for deducing meaning from context.

Lack of Strategies
Different types of questions will need application of different strategies. Many students are not aware of how to deal with reading texts, so intervention may be necessary. Introducing the concepts of strategies such as skimming or scanning is important to improve reading speed, and underlining/highlighting relevant sections of the passage can also help check that students have identified the words or phrases providing the correct answer.

Little Time to Answer
Learners facing reading comprehension examinations often find it difficult to answer questions confidently when time is very limited. Here, knowledge of the above-mentioned strategies and overall test technique training may help enormously reduce the time spent looking for answers. Encouraging extensive reading and working with small tasks with very strict timing may help students become familiar with such time constraints.

Teachers’ Planning
A factor that must not be overlooked is that of lesson planning. Sometimes, effective comprehension is hindered by factors such as irrelevant activities to engage students, poor timing or inadequate task choice. In consequence, teachers need to provide activities that will ease the reading process by quickly activating prior knowledge, language or create expectations about the text. In addition, suitable strategy work and careful timing will probably create much better conditions for learning how to deal with texts.

Now, it’s YOUR turn
What other challenges do you face when teaching reading?

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 works as IELTS trainer, Cambridge Oral Examiner and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacifico Language Centre. She is also ESP coordinator and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ.

viernes, 1 de septiembre de 2017


                                                         By  María de la Lama

Without any doubt, the use of phrasal verbs when speaking can turn out to be a challenge for our Spanish-speaking students. These idiomatic collocations, which native talkers use so naturally in their discourse, are difficult for foreign learners to acquire and, therefore, to deal with. It’s worth then summarizing the reasons why our students find them so difficult and how our methodology could help them.

Usually we give our students lots of practice in understanding the form of phrasal verbs since their arrangement can be confusing if we consider that there are two-word phrasal verbs or three-word phrasal verbs. Compare: look up vs.  look up to. Also, if we match break into vs. break in, we’ll come up with another classification: transitive and intransitive verbs. Finally, there is another important aspect that has to do with the form affecting meaning. If we compare pick up (the noun) vs pick up (the verb) we’ll notice that the stress on the preposition will make the difference on whether we are using the noun or the verb.

Another source of difficulty lies in deducing the meaning of phrasal verbs as in the case of “keep up with” where the three words together are acting as a unit of meaning.

Finally, their use proves to be very challenging. We know that our students are reluctant to incorporating them in their oral production in spite of the fact that their use is a very natural trait of native speakers. Spanish-speaking students, in particular, would tend to select a single-word verb instead of a phrasal verb.
If the meaning and use of phrasal verbs are as difficult as their form, then our practice in class should go beyond intensive form practice such as determining whether phrasal verbs are transitive or intransitive. If we bear in mind that the meaning and use of phrasal verbs are as important as their form, then we would be leading a more communicative practice aiming to facilitate their acquisition.

What do YOU think?
Do you also find it  difficult to learn (and use) them?
How do you deal with incorporating them in your everyday speech?


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.

martes, 22 de agosto de 2017

Cognates: Two-edged Swords

By Flor de María Vila

One of the main concerns and deep-rooted wishes we, as teachers, hang onto is for students to start talking as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the barrier most students encounter is their insecurity to communicate in the new language and their fear of losing face before their classmates. Students do not want to sound awkward or silly, so they wait until they feel safe to start speaking in English, a state of affairs which may take sometimes many months. Regrettably, few students try to do it from the very beginning, even though we always encourage them to do so. Many learners get overwhelmed by the scary process of acquiring so many words. But most students feel that they have found a lifesaver when they discover that Spanish and English possess many words which have similar meanings, spellings, and sometimes pronunciation. We call them cognates.
I love my job for many reasons; one of my favorites is that we are always learning from everything and everybody. I treasure the moments when I have the opportunity to see how my students manage to express themselves and one way they do it is by using cognates as a bridge to the new language. They take advantage of the fact that English and Spanish share a great deal of the same Latin roots and exploit that feature as an instrument to understand English, as well as to send their message across.  Unluckily,    students might run into some words that are false cognates, not surprisingly also referred to as “false friends”. These are words that look very much alike, or even exactly, but do not have the same meaning in English and Spanish. The students who are not aware of this fact mistakenly generalize the use of cognates causing comprehension problems for the people who listen to them.

We will find a student saying “my wife is embarrassed and didn´t feel well yesterday, that’s why I couldn’t come to class”. What he actually meant was that his wife is pregnant, and not ashamed or in debt. Thus, we, teachers, need to help them deal with this peculiarity of the language and maintain students motivated to use the language even if they confuse some words.

First of all, we need to find out how our students learn new vocabulary. It is necessary that we determine the strategies our students are using or if they are using any. You can have them share their strategies in small groups of three. Why do we need to do this? To begin with, we have to make sure that they are aware that it is essential to have a strategy to learn, especially new vocabulary. Learning does not happen miraculously. Another important reason is to avoid furnishing them the same strategies they already know. In fact, we might probably learn some tricks from them. One more aim, we need to get the students actively involved in the learning process and to abstain from making them feel as mere spectators. 
Secondly, we have to take into account that it is essential that learning takes place in every class. Taking in vocabulary must be an ant’s work. Let´s remember that learning a language means acquiring a skill and that does not happen in one day. Learning a language is an aptitude just like being trained to drive a car. Could you do that in one day? Can you pick it up just by reading about it? I am pretty sure your answers will be “no”. Thus, we need to nurture their minds every class with a couple of cognates and the following class go over them and present the new ones. You could always have a quiz disguised as a game to test some of them. Bingo, memory game, puzzles and other ones are appropriate. Learning is a process, and so is acquiring a language. And, as in all progressions, there are ups and downs. We need to review material previously presented when students are likely about to forget what they absorbed before. That is the only way of making sure that they will remember such important information as false cognates. Here is a list of some of them.

“globo” (balloon) mundo
“pie” (foot) pastel
“ropa” (clothes) soga
“sopa” (soup) jabón
“largo” (long) grande
“éxito” (success) salida
“hay” (there is) paja
Now, it is your turn,
Do you know others? Can you share some strategies to teach them? Share with us your expertise.


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 Pedagogic Advisor and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico and Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory). 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, 10 de agosto de 2017

This is pure grammar! How do I teach it?

By Enrique Rojas R.

What English teacher hasn’t had problems presenting the combination of one verb following another, particularly to speakers of Spanish? You have to tell your students that some verbs are necessarily followed by an infinitive while others are ineludibly tailed by a gerund. The trouble is if you have analytical learners within your pupils who ask what the criterion is to decide which verbs take one or the other, you have to confess that you have no idea. In fact, nobody in the world seems to know that. There is a list and you just have to learn it and use it. Not an answer full of logic.

But the conumdrum doesn’t end there. It turns out that certain magnanimous verbs allow you to take your pick of infinitive or gerund without changing their meaning, while others, quite more sternly, provide different meanings when followed by an infinitive or a gerund.

And to make matters even worse, some verbs are followed by infinitive with to, some others without to, some others by a gerund but with an object pronoun in between the verb and the gerund, then the gerund becomes infinitive (required writing / require her to write)

Not in vain our colleague blogger from Spain, Cristina Cabal has said about it: “I always claim that English grammar is easy, especially when compared to the Spanish or French grammar, but it gets a bit messy when it comes to verbs followed by infinitive or gerund.” (Cabal).

The use of the gerund has some basic differences in English and Spanish. In cases in which in English you can use an infinitive or a gerund interchangeably, in Spanish only an infinitive is possible. In the language of Shakespeare both, the infinitive and the subject take the function of a noun although they retain their verb meaning and so, they can be subjects of sentences (Exercising / To exercise is healthy) or direct objects (My mother wanted me to call her / I enjoy driving). In the language of Cervantes only the infinitives (or subjunctives) are appropriate for that purpose. And that is the reason why your students tend to overuse the infinitives in English.

Then the only solution appears to be giving your pupils the wearisome lists of verbs followed by infinitives / gerunds, etc. to be memorized by them on their own, that it constitutes for them a huge, lifeless and humdrum job. But we figure that is the textbooks’ fault that this is a topic that teachers have to deal as one whole big chunk. As a rule of thumb, the natural way is usually the best way. And the manner in which native speakers learn this is not memorizing lists, but as collocations. They listen to it, they learn it and then they use it. For this purpose they don’t even have to know what a gerund or infinitive is.

We think that if we don’t focus on teaching the grammatical process but just in associating the use of certain verbs with gerunds or infinitives, we don’t have to wait until the intermediate level. They can start as basics with verbs such as like, enjoy, adore, hate, can’t stand to learn activities, sports, foods and others, and work their way up with more complex verbs maybe to express opinions, for instance. The important thing would be to make the collocations memorable and you achieve this through extensive practice of these structures. For that you can use fill the blank exercises, complete the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning as the first, etc. Although we prefer oral practice, like, for example you ask the first student: “What do you like doing in the evenings?” He/she answers and then asks the next student: “What do you like doing on weekends?” and so on.

Some may think that this is drilling and dream negative reminiscences of audio-lingual practices, but put your mind at rest! Not all drilling has to be bad, especially if students are communicating what they really do or like, etc. Remember that two factors spur the memory: interest and repetition. Just try to do the reiteration as enjoyable as possible. For this very purpose you can use stories, bingo, dominoes, hobbies cards, multiple answers with flashcards and other resources that have been specially designed to teach this and you can find in the internet free of charge


Cabal C. Grammar for Intermediate Level: Gerunds and Infinitives

Cabal, C. Some Activities to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives. C. Blog de Cristina

Gerunds and Infinitives

Gerund and infinitive Dominoes. TEACHTHIS. EFL/ESL Resources

Gerund and infinitive Master. TEACHTHIS. EFL/ESL Resources

Gerunds and Infinitives Worksheet


How to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives to ESL Students Without Confusing Them. FluentU English Educator Blog.

Infinitives and Gerunds. Grammar and Beyond Communicative Activities © Cambridge University Press 2012

Joyce B. I Like Swimming. 3 Tremendous Techniques for Teaching Gerunds and Infinitives

Some Activities to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives

Song Worksheet: Gerunds or Infinitives?

Trusler, T. Gerunds and Infinitives: Helpful Teaching Tips

Use of gerunds in Spanish

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 18 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.