martes, 29 de marzo de 2016

Teaching EFL Beyond The Textbook

                                                      By Carmen Hurtado

The need to learn English nowadays
The ability to communicate in English has become necessary nowadays for two main reasons: first, the compelling interaction among people in their different ethos/cultures; and second, the impact of IT and global communications. This has steered students’ attitude towards the completion of a better communicative competence in EFL after graduate school. Consequently, our educational system which strives for a better approach to nurture EFL-school students as well as the teachers who undertake a role as facilitators seems to still require techniques to make students performance in class effective, in order to help them reach this competence. Thus, teaching and transferring EFL beyond textbooks constitutes one of the main abilities to be developed in the educational field and teachers should go for it.

More than learning a system of signs
It is common knowledge that learning a language is not only acquiring a system of signs, but that it also includes a cultural meaning; in other words, a system of interpreting reality. This prompts teachers to be creative and competent in class. Planning is very important in order to attain our goals. No matter the approach or institutional policy normally applied at school from an educational point of view, the curriculum or program could be attuned –should it become necessary.
As a measure of teacher’s creativity, we grasp several and assorted tools (i.e.: textbooks, graded readers, on-line resources, you name it!) to support students tackling of learning in a more stress-free atmosphere, thus feeling driven towards acquiring the language in genuine contexts where motivation is a key factor in the learning process. What's more, instructors support learners broadening their minds to a foreign culture naturally and effortlessly.

Using the book creatively -- one of the premier teaching skills.
Alternatively, one of the foremost things that teachers consider among their teaching resources is the textbook ‘to be used in classes’. Spending hours and striving for ‘the best’ in fact challenges the main duties of the teacher –as the facilitator of the language- the one that should provide learners the right strategies and techniques to be the genuine performers of their acquisition.
Additionally, it is known that in methodology, we study about the best use of the textbook in class; but once in the field, we are tempted to follow not only the book content and sequence, but also the instructions as they are presented in the texts. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten also how important it is to plan ahead and take many aspects into consideration, such as the student’s background and their real interest in learning EFL. At that point it will be the teacher’s methodology that will determine the impact of acceptance among students in getting into the learning environment the teacher creates by being as much ingenious as possible to come up with different activities to engage students into the class.
Impartially, we can say that pupils learn more when they have their say and do: using visuals, timelines, and graphics; read effectively but critically. Our job as teachers is to bring the English textbook to the world of our students. Use the textbook like a ‘magic box’ for games, stories and activities.
Remember, there is no regulation or requisite that establishes you must carry out all your English language teaching from a textbook starting on page one and continuing pay by page until the end. When you adapt and modify textbook activities, stories or exercises to your own classroom, you encourage students to boost the use of English for several different purposes.

Assuring readiness for the next level
So let’s think of what it is like going beyond the textbook and not doing it word by word. Let’s discover how to choose the best pieces and use them creatively to make learning more attractive for our learners. However beware, there’s something important to be careful about: do not forget the textbook lesson completely. That is, we may get so excited about technology and the great amount of good quality materials at our disposal, which we may find and use in class, that we forget leading topics. The appropriate development of the course structure as well as the right adaptation of the free material we may get from the web and other sources should guarantee the success of students to be ready for the next level.

So, what’s your opinion? Do you think teachers at school are aware of this? How far have we gone over the years in trying to overcome the temptation of just going to the classroom and start our lesson by saying: ‘Open your books to page…?’

Leave us your comments and let us know you your opinion.

How to teach English by Jeremy Harmer. - 2007
The practice of english Language Teaching. Jeremy Harmer - 2011.
A Course in Language Teaching by Penny Ur - 2011

Carmen Hurtado, graduated in the educational field; she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Educational Science, and has the title of Licenciada en Educación by Universidad Nacional de Educación. She has also finished her master’s studies in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at Universidad de Piura, and taken some specializations in the EFL and Spanish fields. She has taught English and Spanish for over 20 years. She currently works teaching fully online courses. A lecturer in the late Annual Congresses at CIDUP, she works as a Pedagogical Specialist, Teacher Trainer and is a member of the Research Area at Universidad del Pacifico Language Center.

miércoles, 23 de marzo de 2016

Is teaching Lexis an easy task?

By Mayra Yaranga

Classes have just started and there is a high level of enthusiasm and motivation among both teachers and students. We have already started thinking of new (or not so new) fun activities and games for class, and planning for the whole year. Lexis is one of the topics that we will find most frequently in lessons, and the simplicity of terminology (e.g. food and drink nouns, job nouns, adjectives expressing feelings) may lead us to believe that teaching and learning it may not be very difficult. Let us stop and reflect on lexicon teaching and the issues it entails.

Introducing new terms
The initial stage in teaching lexical content consists in conceiving a presentation scheme. We often spend time searching for and printing captivating visual aids, devising games and even employing an engaging song that uses many examples of the new nomenclature. Up to this point, everything seems to be fine. However, the first risk lies in that the words we teach might appear isolated –that is, without a context, either linguistic or situational-- to be “noticed” in their real usage, or perhaps ignoring the usual ‘chunks’ or collocations in which they often appear. This leaves students with vocabulary that they will probably have to memorize from lists that are commonly found in coursebooks. Another danger is that our presentation might cover a comparatively long time, leaving little or even no time for practice. This is the point when we should reconsider what our aim is: presenting, or providing opportunities for practice?

Real-life practice
The second danger in the paragraph above raises an issue: do our students have the opportunity to revisit the vocabulary they studied in the lesson, to use it in a memorable and life-like manner? We are commonly under pressure to comply with the contents of a textbook, and for this reason we may be satisfied with presenting it so that we can move on to another topic, such as reading or grammar. Conversely, we may feel satisfied with having our students repeat the words by themselves, and not in statements or realistic conversations. The truth is, displaying vocabulary is not enough, especially if we are planning to test our students in this type of content. The solution is not hard to discover: how about choosing three new lexical items and insert them into questions to generate discussion? Even an activity as simple as “find someone who” can become very communicative and useful if the new content is added. If the texts we are using provide lexis in decontextualized boxes, we have an incredible opportunity to adapt this material to apply the principles of contextualized presentation and maximized practice.

Higher levels
When students have reached a level close to B2 (intermediate-upper intermediate), most English grammar has already been studied, but the same cannot be said of lexis. For this reason, vocabulary deserves special attention at all levels. One typical question from our students is how to increase their already good-sized vocabulary. Although the typical answer involves further exposure to the language, we are ignoring a crucial factor: the students’ interest should direct them to authentic (non-graded) material that they will find enjoyable. Some students may be familiar with comics, online tutorials and others, so why not try them in English? Familiarity with certain types of discourse and contents is a hugely motivating factor, and taking advantage of it can be extremely beneficial for our students.

A final word
Teaching vocabulary, as opposed to teaching grammar, may appear simple and easy, but it is not. Context, practice and further development are necessary in order to guarantee a true increase in our students’ proficiency.

What do YOU think?
How do you challenge your students to use new lexis communicatively in class?

Lewis, Michael (1993). The lexical approach. LTP/Heinle, London.
Scrivener, Jim (2011). Learning Teaching, Third Edition. Chapter 8: Teaching Lexis. Macmillan, London.

Mayra Yaranga (1985) has completed Doctorate studies in Education at UNIFÉ; she holds a Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London)  revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada from IPNM. Currently she works as Pedagogical Specialist and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacífico Language Centre. She is also Associate Professor at UNIFÉ. She has published papers in the fields of English Language Teaching and Cultural Studies

jueves, 17 de marzo de 2016

Middle-aged English Students:
my Favorite Bunch of Learners
                                                                            By Marita de la Lama

I have always enjoyed teaching English and very fortunately during my teaching career I have had the opportunity to teach all, children, teenagers and adults. Although I undoubtedly have no memories of my teaching years at primary school, I must confess that it was not until I started working with middle-aged students that I definitely fell in love head over hills with my English teaching career.

I believe that it is quite unfair of many teachers to consider that middle-aged students scuffle considerably when learning a foreign language, a struggle that in turn may make almost all their instructors’ efforts ineffectual. But nothing can be further from reality! Let me underline some characteristics of this cluster of apprentices that make them so special and valuable:

1. The  teacher gets a boost of professional self-confidence
This group of students values all your teaching efforts and never limits their compliments to your teaching or method after a single good lesson.  As a consequence, teachers end up developing a strong bond with their students. 

2. An ideal atmosphere for learning and practicing a foreign language
As a set, middle-aged students develop good rapport within themselves. Frequently, they enjoy socializing after class or getting together to prepare projects or special assignments. They see their language course as a good opportunity to make friends and have fun, something that I do appreciate.

3. Substancial living experience that enrich class discussions
When performing communicative activities teachers do not need to strive to elicit students‘ opinions. In fact, they will be interacting and exchanging opinions as soon as you ask them to start. Perhaps the struggle would be more likely to emerge when you need them to stop talking!

4. Knowledge of how to learn
This particuar assembly of learners knows they learn better and they are willing to apply this know-how to their own gaining knowledge of English. They feel responsible for their own learning and progress and so not rely completely on th eteacher as a younger group of students commonly does.

5. Deep Analytical skills
The analytical skills that characterize this segment of the student population optimize the learning of grammar and syntax.

6. Goal-oriented and discipline
With this human assemblage teachers do not need to motivate pupils to learn. Its members are goal-oriented people who direct all their effort, discipline and concentration to absorbing the language.

7. They have already developed better skills to learn and do remember new words.
Unlike a younger cluster of students, middle aged scholars have a good deal of mnemonic strategies that help them develop a worthy amount of vocabulary.

So next time that you have a chance to teach a section, in which the youngest student in the class is in his forties, go right ahead and do it! You'll end up discovering what a terrific teacher you are.

Adult Education, Dharon Hills.
Teaching English as a Second Language, Marianne Celce-Murcia, Editor.
Principles of Language Learning and Teaching, Douglas Brown, Longman.
DE LA LAMA, MARIA. Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Bachelor’s Degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California; MBA  from the Universidad del Pacífico.  Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico.

miércoles, 9 de marzo de 2016

Does shyness inhibit learning?

By Flor de María Vila A.

When we teachers think of the ideal attitude of students in the classroom, probably the first desire that comes to our mind is to be blessed with students who are collaborative, outgoing, and eager to interact with other students, since this way our work will be easier and the pupils will have more opportunities to learn. But, what about shy students?  Will they have the same chance?


There are many definitions. One of them is Buss´s (1985) who defined shyness as an inhibition of expected social behavior, together with feelings of tension and awkwardness. This delineation regards shyness as a social phenomenon, and a form of social anxiety. Another scholar defines it as an excessive self-focus characterized by negative self-evaluation which creates discomfort and/or inhibition in social situations and interferes with pursuing one's interpersonal or professional goals.  

Regarding our everyday context in classes, we could say that somehow part of our students show these traits: they are shy students. They are self-conscious and lack confidence when they must face new or socializing situations or when the focus is placed on them. They may eventually become socially rejected and subsequently develop low self-esteem or worsen their current low self-esteem.  This is not beneficial for the learning process at all.


Shyness has multiple causes. Some can be handled by teachers; some cannot. With regard to what we, as teachers, can and should do, we need to be aware of the emotions that are hindering our students´ full involvement in the learning process. We need to identify what are those obstacles that do not allow students to take advantage of the opportunities they have to improve their performance and learning. It is necessary to identify the barriers that do not match with the way students are expected to learn.

According to studies, shyness is not related to intelligence; however, the “display” (evidence) of their intelligence is expected to show in the classroom in some pre-fixed ways according to the teaching method used. For instance, many times teachers’ perception of students who never raise their hands in class is that they are less competent. Not volunteering themselves to give an answer when the teacher asks questions to activate previous knowledge may be a symptom stemming from the “source” of the problem and not the problem itself.  For example, the reason for the scarce or non-existing  participation may be that they are afraid of making a mistake and won´t venture to say anything, even if they know the answer to the question asked. In that case, we should help them make sure that they have the right answer before sharing it with the whole class. We can do this when they work in pairs exchanging their answers. This would create a safer learning environment and procedure for shy students and would eventually help them gain confidence and motivate them to try other ways to improve their learning. 

Shy students need to understand that their inhibitions are natural and common and that it is natural to be exposed in some way when showing evidence of the use of the language; in the same manner, they should be aware that nothing or nobody is perfect, so everybody is “allowed” to make mistakes, and they should try again and again until, with the practice, they improve.


The communicative approach calls for real-life situations that demand communication. The teacher sets up a set of circumstances that students are likely to encounter in real life and in which learners communicate in meaningful ways about meaningful topics. Students are expected to interact frequently in order to practice and improve their performance.

Shy students find it extremely difficult to overcome the feeling of embarrassment whether because of low self-esteem or due to their tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, even if they are simulated. Alternatively, “shy” students may be just perfectionist students and won´t say a word unless they feel they are going to sound perfect both phonetically and grammatically. This last type of “shy” students monitor too much (correct) their utterances before expressing  them.

Shy students will also learn, but they may take a while to become aware of the importance of using the language more actively to accelerate their learning. As mentioned before, they need to be shown that they can do it and will work in a safe environment, an environment created by the teacher, an environment in which the teacher guides them little by little using scaffolding strategies to ensure their success.

By all means, teachers must take into account one of the most important foundations and tenets of teaching: know your students and be acquainted with their characteristics; even further, meditate how these individualities match with our teaching and how both merge to achieve our main goal: students´ language learning.

Have you identified the shy students in your classroom? 
Can you describe them for us please?
While you are delivering your class, what impasses does a student’s shyness introduce at the moment of developing the lesson? What actions can be helpful to solve such impasses?
What should never be done in these cases?

Further information
Kalustskaya, Irina N y otros (2014) Shy children in the classroom: From research to educational practice. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, Vol 1(2), Jun, 2015. Special Issue: How Psychological Science Can Help Improve Our Classrooms. pp. 149-157.

Flor de María Vila. 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).

viernes, 4 de marzo de 2016

                                                       By Enrique Rojas R

Among the many myths related to acquiring a foreign language, there is one, very widespread, about children being facile second language learners.  In fact, there are many people, including numerous English teachers, who think that children are better qualified than adults to learn a foreign language. However, scientific research does not seem to support this belief.

Such line of thinking argues that children are superior to adults in learning second languages because their brains are more flexible (Lenneberg, 1967; Penfield & Roberts, 1959). The argument contends that children can learn languages easily because their cortex is more plastic than that of older learners. The critical period theory, which started for other learned abilities, extended to this field, trying to involve second language acquisition.
The critical period hypothesis (CPH) that was developed in Canada, in 1959, by Wilder Penfield and Lamar Roberts, and popularized by Eric Lenneberg in 1967, specified that there are maturational constraints on the time a first language can be acquired. They contended that first language acquisition relies on neuroplasticity. And they went on to warn that if language acquisition did not occur by puberty, some aspects of language might be learned, but full mastery could not be achieved. This was based in the belief that first language acquisition must occur before cerebral lateralization is complete, at about the age of puberty. However, when they tested the naturalistic acquisition of Dutch by English speakers of different ages in Holland by assessing several aspects of their second language ability, they found that the subjects in the age groups 12-15 and adults made the fastest progress during the first few months of learning Dutch and that at the end of the first year the 8-10 and 12-15-year-olds had achieved the best control of that language. The 3-5-year-olds scored lowest on all the tests employed (Snow and Hoefnagel-Höhle, 1978). These data unquestionably does not support the critical period hypothesis for language acquisition.

Further experimental research has been carried out, comparing the performances of children and adults in their efforts to acquire a foreign or a second language. The results have consistently demonstrated the inferiority of young children under controlled conditions (McLaughlin.1992). Additionally, naturalistic research comparing children and adults learning second languages as immigrants does not support the notion that younger children are better at second language learning.

Moreover, studies comparing the rate of second language acquisition in children and adults have shown that although children may have an advantage in achieving native-like fluency in the long run, adults actually learn languages more quickly than children in the early stages (Krashen, Long, and Scarcella, 1979).
Dr. Mary  Schleppegrell, a renowned linguist and author of a number of books in this discipline, as well as language Professor at the University of Michigan, insists that there is no decline in the ability to learn as people get older. She states that, contrary to popular stereotypes, older adults can be good foreign language learners and that  “the difficulties older adults often experience in the language classroom can be overcome through adjustments in the learning environment, attention to affective factors, and use of effective teaching methods.” (Schleppegrell, 1987). Although she admits that there could be certain impediments due to mature age, such as hearing and vision loss, she disparages that as minor considerations and goes on to say that there is no decline in the ability to learn as people get older.

Notwithstanding this mental capacity of the elderly, it is true that many chronic diseases can affect their ability to learn, like hearing loss and decreased visual acuity. These factors should be contemplated by teachers, as well as considerations about the different ways young people and seniors learn. The first ones rely significantly on their short-term memory, while older adults “integrate new concepts and materials into already existing cognitive structures” (Schleppegrell, 1987)

However, there is an area where children are at an advantage over adults. It is in the area of listening, which it necessarily reflects later on the quality of pronunciation. Scientists assert that babies are born with the capacity to hear all the sounds of human speech, whichever the language or geographical location of the speakers. They possess then the dormant capacity to discriminate all possible speech contrasts (phonemes). Little by little, as they are exposed to their mothers’ language, their perception becomes language specific. They only develop the capacity to recognize and eventually understand that one language (in some cases babies are exposed to two different languages and they learn them both), while they lose the capability to distinguish sounds that do not belong to their language system. This ability begins to decline around the age of nine months. A quantity of studies have established that the younger one begins to learn a second language, the superior his accent in that language will be (Asher & Garcia, 1969)

Another fact that plays in favor of children learners is that they usually do not question what they are taught by their instructors. They are constantly learning new language and immediately put it into practice without a second thought. On the other hand, the adult learner reacts to all the things that they find in the target language which are different to what they use in their own tongue. By then the basic grammar rules are well rooted in their minds and they counter with “why?” “how come” or even “that is not logical.” They are not so ready to accept the differences as children are. They have a pretty good knowledge about how their language is structured, but that sometimes works in their favor and some other times against them. The phenomenon of interference is much more common and frequent then in adults than in children.

Of course, all these considerations are of a general nature. Each person lives their own process in accordance with their background, environment, culture, experiences and personal potentials. There is only one thing we can promise: IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN.

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.