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.

miércoles, 17 de febrero de 2016

Who is Likely to Handle Grammar better: 

Native or Non-Native Teachers?

By Carmen Hurtado

There is a lot of interesting research in this area, specifically comparing the grammar skills of native speakers’ vs. the ones of non-native speakers of a given language. You have probably heard expressions like, ‘If you really want to learn a language you’d better be taught by a native speaker,’ or ‘There’s nothing like learning a language from a native speaker,’ or so. Well, the truth is that is not necessarily truth. You can learn either from a native or an assimilated speaker as long as they are well prepared or had become specialists; that is, someone who had studied the language properly as a career, for instance.  

Alternatively, you might have noticed some unthinkable expressions such as: I didn’t see nothing’, ‘There’s many people around here,’ ¿There were less than 20 people in the show last night’? ‘I’ve went to Brazil two times’, and the list goes on. Indeed, these expressions belong to native English speakers, or to those who have acquired the language and still lack grammar accuracy when using their mother tongue to convey messages orally or in the written form. So, where’s the mistake? What prevents natives from becoming proficient in managing their own language? Why is it hard for natives to be aware of those common mistakes? Let’s review briefly what Noam Chomsky states in his research which has contributed to linguistics, and especially to language acquisition, establishing four key concepts that support the objective of the article. 

Noam Chomsky is acknowledged as the best known and influential linguist of the second half of the Twentieth Century, who has made a number of strong claims about language.  In particular, he suggests that language is an innate faculty -- that is to say that we are born with a set of rules about language in our minds, which he refers to as 'Universal Grammar.'

The ‘Universal Grammar’

The Universal Grammar is the basis upon which all human languages are formed. If a Martian linguist were to visit the Earth, he would deduce that there was only one language, with a number of local variants. He would be able to study the language and determine the rules based on the patterns he hears and the patterns of other languages. 

Children do not simply copy the language they hear around them. They deduce rules from it, which they can then use to make sentences that they have never heard before. They do not learn a repertoire of phrases and sayings, as the behaviorists believe, but a grammar that generates an infinite number of new sentences. Have you ever been around a toddler as they are acquiring new language? They suddenly change from “I play.” to “I’m playing.” without any formal instruction. Children are born, then, with the Universal Grammar wired into their brains.

Language Acquisition
Language rules are complex. If there is not a Universal Grammar, how do children make sense of it all? When a child begins to listen to his parents, he will unconsciously recognize which kind of a language he is dealing with, and he will set his grammar to the correct one -- this is known as 'setting the parameters.' It is as if the child were offered at birth a certain number of hypotheses, which he or she then matches with what is happening around him. The child knows intuitively that there are some words that feel like verbs and others that sound like nouns; and there is a limited set of possibilities to fit them within any sentence. This is not information that the child is spoon-fed directly by adults, but rather offered to the child to interpret. That set of language learning tools provided at birth is referred by Chomsky as the “Language Acquisition Device”.

Generally, this disparity challenges linguist Noam Chomsky’s theory of a Universal Grammar by suggesting that being a native speaker does not mean that you’re automatically a master of your own grammar.

Why aren’t some native English speakers good at grammar?
Over the years, we have noticed this as a common aspect among native English speakers. Very often, they disregard the simplest rules, or lack the essential/appropriate usage of their own language. The opposite is seen among people who learn the language as a foreign one, they usually strive to master these aspects better than native speakers do. One reason for doing it might be the need to study the language to master its use either for educational or professional purposes. Nonetheless, these learners will frequently have the same problem in their own language, particularly when using it in everyday conversations and for communicative purposes.

Language exists for the sole purpose of communication, and if you are not able to speak or use it well, then you won’t be successful in that language. Therefore, some questions arise whether a native or non-native speaker will guarantee a successful language learning experience. 

What do YOU think?
If you are thinking of learning another language:

   Would you like to learn it with a native or non-native speaker?
 What would be the advantages and disadvantages in one or the other     scenario?

Leave your comments and keep following us… more to come to the fascinating world of languages in the next articles.

Noam Chomsky and Language Acquisition Theory

4.1 child language acquisition theory – Chomsky, Crystal, Aitchison & Piaget

Noam Chomsky on Universal Grammar and the Genetics of Language with Captioning

What is language acquisition device?


Carmen Hurtado, graduated in the educational field; she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Educational Science, and 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.

jueves, 11 de febrero de 2016

Travelling to an English-speaking country:

Does it guarantee fast and effortless language learning?

By Mayra Yaranga

It is no secret that many factors, not just one, make someone achieve proficiency in a foreign language. Several have been suggested, such as motivation, age, method, adaptation and particularly exposure to the target language, which has become the main justification for language immersion courses. These offer quick learning, sometimes in courses as short as two weeks, with good results. Is this the solution to all our language learning needs?
English abroad? Yes, please!
Schumann’s Acculturation theory (1978, 1986) argues that there is a close relationship between the leaner’s interest in the target language culture, the chance to interact with native speakers and the degree of success in mastering a language. Language programmes in English-speaking countries take advantage of this assumption. For one thing, students receive a great deal of language input all day long. Since they wake up, everything around is in English: the TV programmes, the transport signs, the ads in the street and the contexts for interaction, such as asking for directions, shopping, travelling around, etc. Without any doubt, these scenarios are translated into unique opportunities to use linguistic tools and interact in REAL LIFE situations (not “life-like” ones).
Another popular advantage is being taught by native speakers. Indeed, students will benefit from accurate pronunciation, not just in terms of articulation and stress but also pace of delivery, and will have the tools for imitation. It is also common to hear that being in an English-speaking country “unblocks your ears”, as learners will become aware of the vast diversity of accents in multicultural contexts, for example, if they are studying in cities like London or New York, with a high influx of foreign population.
Not all that glitters is gold
Indeed. Studying a language abroad may seem the perfect way to learn, but it should be noted that it has a number of limitations. In the first place, it is relatively prohibitive due to its costs; not everybody can easily afford a three-month stay in countries with a high cost of living, especially if they are not working at the same time (student visas may not allow them to work).
Other than that, there is an important point to make regarding language studying abroad. While studying in the target language country can cause excellent results and a marked improvement in language proficiency, some students may feel anxious because they do not have a language background solid enough to have a simple conversation. They are perfectly aware of this fact, which increases their anxiety enormously, making learning not easier, but a lot more challenging and somewhat frustrating. Time could also be a factor inducing anxiety, especially when the courses are very short and there is external pressure to perform; for example, someone who is sent by their company to learn quickly because there is urgent demand for a bilingual professional. Both cases echo what Krashen referred to as the “affective filter” hypothesis.
Final verdict
Language courses abroad, whatever their nature, are effective. We can be sure that there are countless success stories worldwide. However, we should be aware of their restrictions. In order to take full advantage of an immersion or language study programme abroad, the students interested should have a basic command of the language before travelling. Upon their return, the learning which took place abroad should be consolidated by means of formal instruction that helps learners use their experience abroad to develop their skills even further.

When your students ask you if it is a good idea to learn English abroad, what do you say?

Krashen, Stephen D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon. Retrieved from
·     Schumann, J. H. (1978). The relationship of pidginization, creolization, and decreolization to second language acquisition. Language Learning, Vol 28/2
·      Schumann, J. (1986). Research on the acculturation model for L2 acquisition. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, Vol 7/5


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

miércoles, 3 de febrero de 2016

Pronunciation and Grammar: 
two sides of the same coin

What does “grammar” mean?

Usually we equate the teaching of Grammar with the teaching of Syntax.  However Grammar is defined   as the total knowledge of a language and as such  it is much more than Syntax. When we talk about grammar, Phonology, Morphology, Semantics, and Pragmatics also need to be considered. This common equation of grammar = syntax has contributed to the omission of the teaching and practice of a very important component of the language: Phonology. 

Typically, a grammar lesson provides students with oral and written exercises followed in most cases by a hand-on- experience in which the new structure is used in a   real communicative situation. Even in this new millennium a pedagogical harmful trend persists when teaching grammar: students do not get any instruction on how to pronounce the new structure; in most cases not even a hint!  The truth is that we have separated Grammar and Pronunciation when in fact they are the two sides of the same coin. The following examples will show us how these two areas of knowledge need to be taught together.

Much more to learn than word order

Let’s consider that our students are practicing giving commands or instructions such as   “Give her an apple”.  Apparently, if we only consider its structure we can assume that it is quite a simple utterance which poses almost no difficulties for our students. Its simplicity may cause that important phonological components may pass unnoticed for our students while in fact there are plenty to teach in the given phrase if Phonology is considered. relevant aspects such as the emphasis of content words: give and apple; the omission of the sound /h/ in the pronoun her since this sound is linked to the previous word and the fact that this phrase needs to be pronounced as one piece and not as four different words according to the linking patterns that characterize natural speech such as consonant +vowel and vowel +vowel. Also, our students need to get the right rhythm pattern when saying the phrase which usually requires practice.

Another example is the teaching of phrasal verbs which is quite a challenge since teachers spend valuable lesson time explaining   the difference between transitive or intransitive phrasal verbs or on motivating students to use phrasal verbs   when speaking English, not an easy task for Spanish speakers. However, usually a basic instruction on how to pronounce phrasal verbs is not given and then our students do not know if they have to stress the word speak or the preposition up in the following example: Please speak up.

Pronunciation and listening comprehension

The teaching of pronunciation will enhance the listening comprehension skills of our students. Once   our students have developed a good understanding of the main features of the English phonological system they will be able to cope with the characteristics of natural speech.   Going back to our example of “Give her an apple,” if our students are not trained on its correct pronunciation they will not be able to understand it nor to say it in a natural way. 

Should Grammar and Pronunciation be taught apart?

What is Grammar anyway?

An Introduction to Language. Victoria Fromkin and Robert Rodman.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, editors.

Maria de La Lama: 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 del Pacífico.