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


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.