One of the things I’ve really enjoyed through my
teaching career is that our classes provide indeed the best opportunity to find
out about how people learn foreign languages.
As reflective teachers, every day we have a chance to see how new generations incorporate new
techniques to their learning style while
keeping, at the same time, those
techniques that have proved to be effective when dealing with a foreign
language. Let me share with you my observations
on how students seem to react in class when dealing with: communication, error
correction, usage of textbooks and the acquisition of new words.
1.To communicate is still the most important goal for our
students. No grammar exercise, reading or writing activity can produce in them
the thrill to engage in a real communicative situation. Being able to connect in
a foreign language is one of the most powerful sources of motivation.
To enhance communication, bringing the real world into the class does pay off. By engaging the
teaching and learning of a foreign language with the written media, TV,
literature and music, the learning of a foreign tongue becomes a fun and
interesting experience which makes the desire for mastering it sustainable
2.Error correction: When correcting mistakes, students seem to prefer the teacher not just supply the
correct form, but to guide them in discovering and solving their mistakes on
their own. By the same token, our students seem to prefer us to furnish them
with strategies to learn on their own rather than being
spoon fed with language knowledge. It’s
important to reject a still unfortunately common idea: that the very manner in which we learnt (many
years ago) is the best way for our students to learn. We can realize how wrong
this idea is if we consider that today most of our language learners belong to
the Y generation.
3.Using the textbook: A recipe that never fails is to constantly innovate
the way we do things in class. As I said many times to other colleagues, “predictable”
teachers who tend to stick to a textbook seem to have more difficulties to
connect with their students affecting their rapport with them. The idea is NOT
to stop using the textbook but to use it in a creative way. It’s incredibly
boring for students to know that after exercise A, the teacher will continue
with exercise B and C... This can be done by inserting in the lesson plan
activities based on different sources; much better if they are authentic
4.Learning new words: Teaching collocations has given way to a more
effective way to improve the vocabulary of our students. Thus, instead of
providing them with a set of new words, even if they belong to the same
semantic field, students seem to learn more easily a new word if this word is
learnt with the words that usually go with
it. Thus, instead of “wine” students can learn: red wine / a glass of red wine,
etc. In this manner they do not only
increment their vocabulary but their recalling of new words seems to improve.
Most importantly, the learning on collocations contributes to their fluency.
5.Pronunciation: the ugly duckling? Quite contrary! Adult students, in particular,
highly appreciate the teaching of pronunciation since they need simple
explanations, rules and demonstrations of how the phonological system of the
language being learned works and what are the main differences with their own
DE LA LAMA,
MARIA, holds a Master´s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Bachelor´s Degree in
Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California; MBA Universidad del
Pacífico. Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad
begins another year, usually feels one can start anew. It´s like beginning a
new relationship or moving to a different house. Do you remember establishing a
new friendship or moving to your present home? Doesn´t one try to enhance
oneself or embellish one´s new place?
beginning a new relationship with that teacher we carry inside? What would you
need to enamor that educator? What about brightening ourselves up?
we will do is trying to enhance what we already possess or are. As an
alternative, we would dare to do new things in order to have more chance of
becoming interesting enough to captivate that teacher. Thus, we need to
identify the qualities that should be beautified or try new deeds.
that first impressions are the ones that may open opportunities or, adversely,
narrow our chances down to zero. So, let´s start with the most important: your
business card. What is it? It is quite difficult to choose, but I will venture
an attempt and make a list with the minimum to embellish our qualities. You can consider it to decide what to study in summer.
1.Language: It should be like the
irresistible song of a mermaid.
In order to
achieve that, we need to reinforce at least pronunciation and grammar. There
are always pronunciation, advanced grammar or conversation courses that could
be useful to help you accomplish that goal. Even better, we could take a
preparation course to take an international exam and obtain a certification of a
higher level. If you are well organized, you could always study on your own.
There are so many free websites and apps that could serve like a dream. Just
type the exam you want to take and there will be thousands of entries from
which to choose. Furthermore, having a higher certification will give us many
more opportunities to get a job and even better to choose the job we want. A
higher certification also means a better salary or the possibility of exploring
new areas, courses and so on.
2.Methodology: It should be connected
to the idea of innovation
this: How much of what we do or use in our classes is truly ours? Have we been
copying or adapting materials? Have we incorporated new tools, technological
tools for instance? Who can innovate?
means change, and that could be drastic or progressive. But, how is it done? I
would say that the only way to have new ideas is by exposing ourselves to new
knowledge and, most importantly, by daring to try new things in class. We need
to leave our comfort zone and gently move to a routine laboratory experiment.
Our classes should be that space that creates new types of engagement,
experience, and commitment.
We do not
need to invent the gunpowder, just use our imagination!
to picture innovation is to think of it as an ability to combine existing
resources. Thus, we need to learn about those resources. We need to nourish
creativity by permeating it with reading.
We need to
set goals if we want to feel we´re moving forward and even better to feel that
it is worthwhile to spend the time we´ve got on whatever we decide to do. You do not need to set out to make
far-reaching change, just start with the simplest.
need a single butterfly to change everything. Do you remember the following
saying? “When a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world it can
cause a hurricane in another part of the globe.” (Authorunknown).Then, merely dare to begin
What about sharing your ideas about this topic? What do we need to "upgrade" ourselves? Is it necessary to make structural changes?
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).
very few people refute the convenience of using textbooks in the endeavor of
teaching English as a foreign language, at least at the primary or secondary
levels of instruction, when they are considered indispensable. The question is:
what considerations should we have at the time of selecting a textbook or a
series? There are various important points to be reflected.
Textbooks are deemed useful because they
guarantee a quota of structure, consistency and logical progression in a class.
Besides, they meet the expectations of having something concrete to work from
and take home for further study that also allows them to review past material
or preview future lessons.
For teachers, they minimize class
preparation time and for novice instructors they provide guidance in course and
activity design. Many books in our times also provide multiple resources:
tapes, CDs, videos, self-study workbooks etc.
Before everything else, we should have perfectly clear in our minds the reason
or reasons why our students are trying to learn English; what sort of students
we have, their ages, aspirations, necessities, etc. And decide accordingly.
Among the apparent characteristics we should look for books that were recently
made. In a world that changes as fast as the one we live in now, it is
important that the text deals with recent things and does not display old
fashion matter. Another point is the ratio of print to pictures. We don’t want
a purely illustrative manual, as we wouldn’t accept pages covered with just type.
The book should tell the reader what they
will learn. It ought to be weighed if the textbook should be part of a series
since this can be
helpful to your ESL program, or your multi-level class, as students never have
exactly the same level, a uniform text and activities across levels would provoke
a better result. And a consideration that must always be present is price. Can
the students or the students’ parents afford to pay the price tag?
Other concerns are of a methodological
sort. The textbook ought to appeal to students of different learning styles,
cover all the receptive and productive skills, along with grammar and
vocabulary, suggest different interaction patterns, activities in pairs, groups
and team work, be contextualized, present the vocabulary and recycle it a number of times; all the new items should
be revised later, the pace should be according to the level while being
flexible enough, it must integrate writing activities in the text, offer
interactive and communicative exercises and preferably be useful for individual
learners as well as for group classes and certainly incorporate higher level
thinking skills and problem solving.
Additional advantages that the good textbooks
of today offer are recordings, DVDs, digital books, a website full of extra
material and other technological features. It is very convenient when they
provide teachers with unit tests and final tests. Each educator will adapt them
according to their own reality, but they are a valuable start. Finally, we must
remember that every language textbook should promote cross-cultural awareness.
And now, YOUR TURN: What considerations do you or your institution take into account when it comes to choosing a textbook? Would you suggest any other? If so, why?
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 17 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in
International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He is a
member of the Research Area of Centro de Idiomas de la UP.