martes, 23 de febrero de 2016



  Is faster = better?
How often should one take lessons in order to be able to know English?

                                                                                  By Zarela Cruz 


When someone decides to study a new language, the first question that comes to mind is: How frequent should my classes be? Once a week? Twice a week? Every other day? Every day? And the next question popping out is: How long should my classes last?  3 hours? 2½ hours? 1½ hours? 
When I interview a new student seeking registration, I usually ask them: What do you need English for?  How long are you planning to dedicate to your studies? Do you have a job? Are you a university student? Many times, prospective students want to do it all: e.g. work, attend classes within a master’s program, go to the gym and, the cherry on the cake, take English lessons.
Not only the regular study hours should be considered, but also the time you have to dedicate to prepare your classes, assignments, review grammar points, not to mention the practice of the language outside the classroom. Another aspect that should not be neglected is the schedule: If you are an adult, probably very early or late classes will be the best choice for you. Most of the students in those time slots are working people or university students. It is also important to feel comfortable with your classmates. Teenagers grasp the language faster and some adults will feel discouraged if they cannot go at the same pace. Some students prefer to make groups with their coworkers so they can be in the same class, which is a usually pleasant, but consider that the exchange of information from different backgrounds is useful as well, since it contributes variety in the classroom.

So, when students ask themselves about the best frequency for them to learn the language, they have to keep in mind a number of aspects such as: commuting time, schedule, activities before / after their classes and study time and, most importantly, their own driving force for studying the language. Inner motivation is a factor we should not neglect; therefore, all the above aspects are relevant.

My own experience

To me, frequency is not the only aspect to prioritize but dedication as well. I taught once a week courses for about 3 years.  They consisted of a 3-hour session every Saturday. Students came to class relaxed and they knew in advance they would share a space of knowledge and practice with students from different academic backgrounds. It worked really well. I remember particularly a student from Ayacucho, who came from her hometown every Friday night. Classes started at 8 am and, needless to say, she was the most dedicated student ever and an inspiration to the others.

I also took part in the launching of a Saturday program, with a weekly session of about 7 hours. I recall we started at 12 p.m., had a 30-minute break for lunch, another break in the mid-afternoon and soon afterwards the lesson was over!  The program was a success because it included the development of the four language skills. There were students from Chincha, Cañete and nearby provinces. The long trip was ideal for people who wanted to sleep a bit after a hard working week.


When I taught 1 ½-hour or 2-hour daily sessions, it also went well, since those students were eager to practice on a daily basis and were very enthusiastic in class.

Currently, I teach in a program that offers 3-hour daily sessions. It is not an easy task, since you need to use different strategies to keep the students’ attention, plan your class carefully with a variety of activities, and bring back the topic the following day to reinforce contents. It shouldn’t be forgotten that, according to cognitive theories, repetition is a key factor when learning.

Practicing the language outside the classroom walls
Last, but not least in importance, in former articles I have pointed out the transcendence of practicing the language outside the classroom walls and including it into their daily lives. For instance, when using Whatsapp, Facebook, or while talking on the phone, I always encourage my students to use technology. For example, intend to form a Whatsapp group and keep in touch using English. To my surprise, very few consider it as a means to practice the language. They are so keen on using it to chat about personal issues that they forget this can be an interesting learning tool. Learners should live and experience the language: listen to music in English, watch films with or without the captions in English, read books and newspapers, watch their favourite TV programs or the news. Each one of these is a valid technique when it comes to practice and/or reinforce what they have learned in class.

And now, it is YOUR turn:
What kind of courses do you prefer to teach?
Daily? Weekly?
Twice or three times a week?
What about your students' response?
Share your experience with us and let us know!


Further information
How many hours does it take to be fluent in English?

How long does it take to learn English?

The first 20 hours: How to learn anything


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 English and Spanish: Higher Education, Virtual Courses Design, and Spanish for Foreigners. She has also completed a number of certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses.   During her more than 20 years’ teaching experience, she has taught different courses, programs and levels. This article depicts her work experience.

29 comentarios:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article because it included all the aspects you need to start learning a second language. Personally, I think students like to study with people of their same age because they have many topics to talk about, argue, express a point of view, and in the end learn something new. When age is taken into account,students enjoy and participate in a better way.They forget about being shy and start to be more communicative.
    I like Zarela's pointing out her own experience of teaching a second language because we could see the different ways of doing it, advantages and disadvantages, schedules and frequency that come up for teachers and students. Years ago we used to read Journals for teachers, their experiences in class, achievements and difficulties, and so on. Nowadays we can get a hold of them on the net. Amazing!!!!!
    Personally I prefer to teach daily two-hour classes to begineers.Three times a week to Intermediate and Advanced students.
    Thank you very much.

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    1. Thanks to you Arminda for letting us know what you think and sharing your experience.
      The distinction you make regarding teaching different levels is really interesting. Can you tell us why you think different frecuencies work better in different levels? I am sure your answer will help other colleagues as well.
      Looking forward to your post. ZC

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    2. Zarela, On the first hand , I truly believe that new students or even false beginners need to study the target language every day because they have to be exposed to it in order to practice the four language skills at least in class from the very beginning. We do not know if they could have the chance to use it out of class.
      On the other hand, both Intermediate and Advanced students could take every other day classes because they already know how to manage the language. Of course, if they had the chance to study it daily, it would be much better for them.A.L.G.T.

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    3. Dear Arminda,
      I do appreciate these further details. I am sure other teachers will benefit from your experience and advice.
      Until soon! ZC

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  2. Excellent topic. Personally,I prefer to teach the same group a couple of hours two or three times a week. I like to give my students time to "digest" all the new information.

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    1. You made a good point, Giovanna. Some students need time to
      -as you well said, 'digest' the information seen in class. Sometimes this is crucial regarding grammar topics such as reported speech or passive voice. Besides, during this non-classes periods, the brain activates some connections that made students learn more effectively.
      Keep following us! ZC

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  3. Nice article. I really appreciate when somebody (like your student from Ayacucho) has the guts to focus on the course. This type of person can be taught for many hours without stress and it is just for a self-motivation. I really think that is not about hours or techniques , it is about attitude. However, I understand that everybody is a different story, so that is why teachers should be adapted to the group and try to settle them in.

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    1. You are right, Renato. When it comes to students, there is no 'magic formula' to find the right approach. Attitude makes the difference at all ages and levels and teachers should be aware of it.
      Best of luck in your teaching practice! ZC

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  4. Fantastic article, it is definitely the student´s motivation that will take her/him to advance and progress more.

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    1. Thank you, Efrain. Glad to see that we see eye to eye regarding student's motivation.
      Regards. ZC

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  5. I also agree with Renato, attitude is really important. You don´t have to love the target language but you know that learning a second language- English- will open doors. That's the so called 'instrumental' motivation. On the other hand, it's true that we need further practice outside the classroom but also age plays an important role here. Younger ones sometimes flick through the book before every class and can recall quite a lot of vocabulary and grammar, which is something different from a middle-aged student.

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    1. Dear Monica,
      nice to see that you and Renato have similiar viewpoints and thank your for adding information about instrumental motivation as well. I am sure your post will encourage other teachers to get to know more about it.
      For many years, the main concern was to deal with a mixed-ability class. Currently, age is another important aspect to be taken into account to succeed in teaching a foreign language.
      Until soon! ZC

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  6. Great article. Even though I plan on teaching in the future, I'm still a student. I remember how it was for me to learn English the very first time, from the very basic. I used to have classes every Saturday for 4 hours. However, what really helped me was my motivation. After every class I was so eager to practice what I had learned that I even used the new words and expressions while thinking. Constant practice can help a lot and it depends mostly on students.

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    1. Dear Maria Fernanda,
      you are a living example of how well once-a-week classes work!
      I am sure you will make an excellent teacher.
      Keep following us!Many more interesting articles are on their way! ZC

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  7. Very interesting article! The attitude that students have towards learning definetely makes a difference. Their motivation makes them go further the classroom hours and this is really important when you study. People study English for different reasons. I have met a lot of people that have to do so because they need it for their jobs, so reminding them of what they want (or need)to achieve can probably help to keep them motivated. Being in touch with the language from an early age helps a lot too, I always (literally) recommend people with small children to take them to schools where English is an important course.

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    1. You are right, Danitza. Motivation is a key factor regarding learning in general.
      As you well pointed out, English is essential nowadays and, if your friends have the chance to register their kids in bilingual schools, these kids will make the most of the language since an early age.
      Until soon! ZC


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  8. Great article, as usual! I can simply say that I agree with you. In order to teach a language, you must have an overview of the factors you'll consider importants to develop a class (kinds of students, age, culture, etc). Not all students have the same skills, knowledge or abilities so as it will depend on the teacher, it also depends on the students. Although students must show real interest to start learning, they should practice as much as they can by using technology or not. That's my opinion: "no pain, no gain".

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    1. I love your quote. You sound like a hard-working person and seem very well informed about what goes on in a classroom.
      Keep following us to share your experience and viewpoints!ZC

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  9. Great article. Motivation and commitment are essential when it comes to learning a new language. I know people that only have a couple of hours each week to study English and they are having wonderful results because they do not think of practicing as a duty, but rather something they do for fun. In order to do this, they use their favorite social media or they read an article about something they like.

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    1. You made a very good point here, Andre. When you learn by pleasure, your learn much faster and you do enjoy the process. When you learn something because you have no choice, that is another story for both teachers and students.
      Thanks for sharing! ZC

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  10. I really like the article and I would like to share two cases from people I know:
    A. My cousin has been studying English for more than 3 years and she is still studying in a Basic level. She has tried everything: change schedule, another group, another Language Center, but she doesn't learn because she doesn't like it.
    B. A former colleague started her English classes two years ago and she left after four months because she felt she was being forced to learn it and she doesn't like it either.
    In both cases they knew English was important for theirs jobs but they failed because they were not really interested in learning.
    I think you need to enjoy doing something if you want results. It doesn't have to seem forced.
    You don't have to feel the class as an "English" class, like math or science classes. You have to think it's a conversation class about different topics and if you want to express your opinion you need a tool - the language. And finally, you need to practice before/after the classes, doing different activities, for example: reading books, playing video games, watching films or TV series subtitled in English.
    And that's why I think there is not a number of hours to study English because yo continue practicing all the time. Well, if you like English.

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    1. Thank you for sharing these two experiences which allow us to see the important role motivation plays in learning. Even studying in the best institutions and having the best teachers will not make any difference if there is no commitment to learn.It is necessary to go further and focus on the comparative advantages you will have when mastering a language; and of course, to incorporate its practice in our daily lives.
      Stay tune! ZC

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  11. I agree, that you really need to like what you do to be able to learn faster, I remember at school never learn anything about English even the verb to be, because really wasn't interested.
    Beginning of 90's I joint English classes at catolica center at Camana avenue, I spent 2 years of my life to finish all the levels but at the end I was able to understand a book but my skill to talk was bad, because never practice speaking in my day to day life, times has change now English is part of our everyday life since the internet and social pages came to our life.
    So in my experience what make me improved my English are movies with subtitles and listen to music. I'm still far to have a perfect english but everyday I keep improving it, by the way I have no choice because I live in an English speaking country, but my grammar was acquired in my English classes 20 years ago.

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    1. I really like it so much when I read posts like yours. First of all, you are not alone. At high school, students may not be aware of the importance of learning a second language. The fact that you started taking classes and studied for two years shows commitment to learn. Perhaps you should read our first post. There you will see that Arminda pointed out the importance of practicing the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. You also have to take into account that we did not have as many resources as we do now to keep on practicing outside the class.
      Last but not least important, glad to know that you are living in an English-speaking country and you can keep on improving the language.
      Best of luck! ZC

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  12. Indeed, enthusiasm, dedication and motivation are elements that could enable learners to acquire a new language as there seems to be a tight correspondence between the ways that students learn and the effectiveness of their learning.
    The comments the author makes: “she was the most dedicated student ever and an inspiration to the others” and “students were eager to practice on a daily basis and were very enthusiastic in class” tell us only about class performance. The teacher is pleased that students show a good attitude towards the contents of a particular English syllabus to which students feel obliged to comply with. However one thing is, as a learner, to do things to please the teacher and another is to embrace the learning of a language as a personal endeavor. The latter, in my opinion, yields better lasting results in terms of effective learning. Sfard & Prusak (2005) coins the terms ritualistic and substantial learning to explain this difference.
    No information is given about the students’ progress along a period of time or scores obtained through a standardized test; which could make the statements made by the author more credible and less subjective as it is their teacher who is writing about her students and her techniques. In times of accountability this statistical data should not be disregarded.
    Furthermore I believe that in the age of information, autonomous learning is a key element in the learning process. Individuals should take on the mastering of a subject as a personal challenge and become involved. Being a good English student in a Ms. X class does not necessarily mean good results in the overall task of acquiring a language. This is the essence of a more substantial learning as stated by Sfard & Prusak (2005) “one whose effects would outlast classroom activities and could be gauged according to criteria independent of the tastes or personal opinions of a particular teacher”. (p. 19)
    Becoming involved with the subject matter in question -not with a particular English class in an x language school, is tantamount to showing responsibility and awareness of the learning process. Autonomous learners act more critically and make decisions about what to do and what not to do and, in some cases, they do more than merely following the teacher’s advice in terms of exercises and homework and arrange their learning material more independently.

    Sfard A. & Prusak A. (2004). Telling Identities: In Search of an Analytic Tool for Investigating Learning as a Culturally Shaped Activity. Educational Researcher, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 14-22.

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    1. Thank you for writing this detailed post, Oswaldo. I am sure it will encourage other readers to find out more about the authors you refered to.
      On the other hand, to avoid being subjective, a rubric must be used. That way, we focus on what has been taught and is expected to be achieved.
      You know that there is nothing more satisfactory for a teacher than seeing how independent a student turns out to be, as facilitators ourselves.
      Keep following us! ZC

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  13. Good evening Mrs. Zarela and thanks for sharing your insights from your own experience. I strongly agree with you concerning the inner motivation and, I myself am witness of the results and efficiency of pushing yourself to achieve your goals. Although I am not a teacher, I'd like to say that my experience with English language was kind of tangled. I learned to "speak" English by repetition at first, then I tried to read as well, on the other hand my grammar wasn't that good though. With these tools I dared to work abroad where I realised that I was able to speak English and be understood by natives English speakers. So, as you know Miss, the writing skill was the last part to be developed for me. The point is that no matter how long we study English but, as you just mentioned, we have to practice the language outside the classroom walls. Thank you once again for blogs like this one. Regards.

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    1. Nice to hear from you again, Daniel! And thanks for and letting us know about your learning experience.
      There is another related post you may want to read, about another student who is living abroad nowadays.
      Coming back to your post: I am sure being understood by native speakers encouraged you to keep on trying harder and harder.
      Writing (like speaking) is a productive skill and we should integrate them both with receptive skills like listening and reading.
      For improving your writing, try not only writing itself like writing a topic sentence, supporting details, paragraphs and so on, but also punctuation and connnectors. All these aspects should not be neglected when it comes to writing skills.
      Until soon! ZC

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