miércoles, 27 de septiembre de 2017

The Myths About Teaching Listening

By Flor de María Vila A.
One of the most difficult skills to improve is listening. This is true for both the teacher and the students. For the former, it is necessary to find a way to guide students to achieve their objective and, for the latter, they need to find a plan that suits their needs.  Definitely, everybody has tried to facilitate the task in class; however, so many times it has met with failure.
 “Why is it so difficult to teach listening comprehension? How can we teach it if that´s kind of a “personal” action? Why my students find it so hard to develop this skill?” These are some of the questions I have frequently heard from some of my colleagues. Here are some ideas that could help you to go through this journey.
First of all, we need to stop believing some myths that have been living with us for a long time, probably many years.

MYTH # 1
Listening is a task performed on your own. This is usually thought considering just the act of hearing. It is true; nobody can do that task for you. However, listening is not only hearing; this notion does not reveal the magic of the work involved. Did I say “work?” Yes! You understood well. Work implies a process and that´s the main subject matter here.
Many times we overlook several important facts. We hold the idea that we should provide a lot of material to practise. That´s good! Still, we usually provide a lot of links, exercises and so on to hear. But students are already able to hear without our help!

When listening, two types of processing take place: Top Down and Bottom Up.

Top-down processing happens when we use background information to predict the meaning of the language we are going to listen to or read. That means, that all our experience with the world, all our knowledge and, in this case, our prior knowledge of English and our own language are also used to hypothesize and infer. Metaphorically speaking, we use our “Spanish brain and its background data” to interpret what we listen to in English. Most of us take this processing into account when we have our students predict, do brainstorming, or give us the gist and specific information. Nevertheless, we fail to notice that when listening naturally our students will use any resources available, that is what they know in Spanish. They use their Spanish schemata to understand, to listen in English. This reality  takes us to instances in which students misinterpret one word for another.
For example: Real sentence: “We’re not gonna take it” from one of Twisted Sisters´s songs. People learnt the song as “Huevos con aceite.” Take a look at this video. https://youtu.be/35PocLHx534
If you need more examples, just take a look at this: https://youtu.be/_6DD1CU8ltE
Even though this may be hilarious, this is not so much when we, as teachers, do not consider this a fact.
We need to understand what problems arise when students do a listening comprehension exercise. Transferring their Spanish schemata without considering the differences between the two languages is one. We should help students become aware of the similarities as well as of the differences.

Bottom-up Processing: It happens when someone tries to understand language by looking at individual meanings or grammatical characteristics of the most basic unit of the text (e.g. sounds) and moves from this to trying to understand the whole text. We use our linguistic knowledge and ability to process acoustic signals, which we first decode into phonemes, then words, phrases, and finally sentences.
Unfortunately, bottom-up processing is hardly taken into consideration when “teaching” or working on the development of listening skills. We scarcely work with listening sub-skills. How frequently do we propose exercises that enable students to recognize and understand connected speech, word boundaries, weak forms, contractions and so on? For instance, have you ever taught how “of” is pronounced? Have you done that in different contexts? Check this and you will see if your answer is right:
We are so preoccupied about providing the “new vocabulary” that we forget these sub-skills. Again, we need to evaluate what happens (process) when a person tries to understand what they hear, that is, when they try to “listen.” Do you think they just “hear”?

Listening is a receptive skill, but that does not mean it is passive. When we consider listening a process, we are aware that it involves work and that implies a productive activity. Many times we see ourselves presenting the exercise, giving the instructions and playing the audio until it is over. If we always do that, it will disgracefully be called a passive exercise.

Do brainstorming, for example, before the listening exercise, but do not stop there. It is necessary to help students find the connection of that information with the one they are about to listen to by creating a gap. To do so, make them produce hypotheses of what might happen for instance. Create the need for listening. While listening, students should be asked to show that they are in fact listening. Have them respond to the listening exercise by doing, drawing, choosing from a list, matching, following a route etc. Stop the audio and ask questions about it; you do not have to wait until the audio is over to have them “produce.” A listening exercise must not look like a test in which we want to know who has the right answer, right?
We need to monitor what is happening.
Is there another myth about teaching listening?

Share your expertise with us!

M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Teacher trainer, Pedagogic Consultant and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico. She is Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory) and relationship manager for American universities´ MBA admissions officers with International Contacts. 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, 22 de septiembre de 2017

Are we in Fact Teaching How to Write?

                                                              By Enrique Rojas R.

Teaching students to write graciously in a foreign language has always been very challenging since it is common that they strive to do it decorously even in their native language. Now, if we dared wonder how many of the foreign language teachers can manage to communicate at least with a certain grace in writing, wouldn’t we be shocked by the realization? Then, how can learners be taught to write acceptably in English?

If we, English teachers, examine ourselves candidly, could we say that we have been really teaching students how to write?

The order in which you take in the language abilities in your first language or in an additional one is quite different since your general knowledge and preparedness for receiving and transmitting information and other contents is quite dissimilar. When you learn your native language the first ability that you acquire and put to use is listening. But when you are already capable of reading in Spanish you are going first to adapt that knowledge in order to pick up English. But in all cases, the last capability to develop will be that of writing

.   And that is very logical since to be able to write with minimal correction you need to have moved on in the attainment of all the other capacities. You need to structure your utterances in a logical manner and, therefore, require an acceptable knowledge of grammar; you are in need of a sufficient vocabulary; you certainly know by then how to read and would be expected to speak.

As part of the grammatical knowledge that should be your baggage as a writing learner basic structural concepts like phrase, clause, sentence, subject, predicates must be present, you should be familiar with objects and complements and usage of verbs, you must have a good grasp of spelling and cope with the rules of punctuation, among other things.

Only then you are ready to be instructed on the specifics of writing like the topic sentence, the thesis statement, controlling idea, supporting sentences, paragraphing, coherence and cohesion, clarity, conciseness and the like. These are extremely important characteristics of good writing but we don’t teach them unless it is in a highly specialized writing course.

But we all usually evaluate those characteristics in our students because we do test writing. We look for clearness, fluency, good grammar and spelling, unity, coherence, focus, sentence variety and possibly other things we have never taught them.

The publishing houses in their textbook series adopt a practice of showing models of pieces of writing like an application, a letter, an email, etc., but neither instruct on the fundaments nor in the process of writing. And this is what the overwhelming majority of teachers undertake in their lessons. As a consequence, students learn about the characteristics of various types of documents but nobody really teaches them how to write. And we cannot ignore the reason for this deficiency. It is like walking on a treadmill.

           Were you aware of the difficulties we encounter when Teaching Writing?
         If you are already familiar with them, let us know what your viewpoint is!

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, US. .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. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 18 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He is also a member of its Research Area.

miércoles, 13 de septiembre de 2017


                                                            By Zarela Cruz


The questions above are reservations we all teachers lay to ourselves when preparing our classes. Providentially, there are new tendencies regarding this topic we should consider. Ready to revise some of them?

Let’s start with the definition of Grammaring which is a new word coined by Larsen-Freeman1” The ability to use grammar structures accurately, meaningfully, and appropriately”. According to her, we should stop teaching grammar just as a set of rules, and teach it in such a way that students learn how to use it.

This idea, is not totally new as you can see in the chart. Grammar can be taught either as a product, as a process and as a skill. Moreover, we have shifted from teaching exclusively a set of rules to teach absolutely no grammar at all. Why? The former method was the Grammar Translation Approach and the latter the Communicative approach, which has communication as its main aim.

Let’s take a look at the ways grammar has been taught so far:
-    -   As structured input activities (the focus should be in meaning)
-     -  As input enhacement activities  (using visual aids and  phonological    modifications)
-     -  Interactional feedback (reformulation, paraphasing a faulty statement, self-  correction)

The Communicative Approach is not new at all. After more than 50 years from its creation, it is clear now  the absence of grammar instruction has not helped to achieve language acquisition. Students do communicate and are fluent, but form is neglected in most cases.

So, what can we do now? What is the new approach? The new approach considers grammar as the fifth skill and adds a new dimension to language teaching: form, meaning (semantics)  and use (pragmatics.)

Let’s see an example to clarify what this means:
CAN=  a modal verb
FUNCTIONS: permission, ability, requests  and possibility
How can we teach all these functions: by contextualizing them.

                          AFFIRMATIVE     : SUBJECT + CAN+ MAIN VERB+
Situation 1: You need to answer an urgent call
Can I leave for a minute, please?

Situation 2: You are talking about skills you have
I can use Excel really well.

Situation 3: It is summer. It is very hot.
Can you open the window please?

Situation 4: You and your friend had a good time at a party.
Do you think you can drive? You have been drinking
at the party.

You see? The same structure with different meanings according to the situation. It is a must to facilitate learners to detect the pattern (using either a deductive or inductive approach) from authentic situations instead of teaching them in isolation. It is also a must to allow students to produce their own statements and to promote peer correction. This way, you will promote autonomy as well. Ready to give a try?

Are you ready to try out this Grammaring Approach? 
If you are already familiar with it, let us know what your most effective strategies are!

(1) Diane Larsen-Freeman, Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring. Heinle.2003

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. She has also completed a number of online certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses. She has taught different courses, programs and levels and has been a teacher trainer, a lecturer and online instructor. This article aims to reflect on the new tendencies of the Teaching of Grammar.

miércoles, 6 de septiembre de 2017

What Makes Reading Tough For Students?

By Mayra Yaranga

Reading skills are difficult to develop and students’ problems vary. Here is a list of factors that create some problems for many students and a few aspects to consider in order to tackle them:

Many students are accustomed to providing in their response the information required using the same words as in the questions. This is a problem that they carry from L1 reading, which often causes a great deal of confusion, especially as the difficulty of texts and questions increases. Therefore, it is necessary to train learners, from the beginning, to recognise information given through different words or structures so that they focus on the meaning of the text, rather than only the words appearing in a text. Comparison of question text and reading passage is a good way to encourage this understanding of meaning.

Wanting to Know Every Word
Some students look up every word they do not understand from a text, presumably because this is going to help them understand the entire text. This bad habit is time-consuming and shifts the focus to words that might be irrelevant to the overall meaning of the reading passage, or even a specific section. Teachers have a key role to play in order to avoid this. Pre-teaching some important vocabulary may help students focus on relevant words only, as could also benefit building up skills for deducing meaning from context.

Lack of Strategies
Different types of questions will need application of different strategies. Many students are not aware of how to deal with reading texts, so intervention may be necessary. Introducing the concepts of strategies such as skimming or scanning is important to improve reading speed, and underlining/highlighting relevant sections of the passage can also help check that students have identified the words or phrases providing the correct answer.

Little Time to Answer
Learners facing reading comprehension examinations often find it difficult to answer questions confidently when time is very limited. Here, knowledge of the above-mentioned strategies and overall test technique training may help enormously reduce the time spent looking for answers. Encouraging extensive reading and working with small tasks with very strict timing may help students become familiar with such time constraints.

Teachers’ Planning
A factor that must not be overlooked is that of lesson planning. Sometimes, effective comprehension is hindered by factors such as irrelevant activities to engage students, poor timing or inadequate task choice. In consequence, teachers need to provide activities that will ease the reading process by quickly activating prior knowledge, language or create expectations about the text. In addition, suitable strategy work and careful timing will probably create much better conditions for learning how to deal with texts.

Now, it’s YOUR turn
What other challenges do you face when teaching reading?

Mayra Yaranga (1985) has completed Doctorate studies in Education at UNIFÉ;Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London)  revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education - UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada - IPNM. Currently she works as IELTS trainer, Cambridge Oral Examiner and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacifico Language Centre. She is also ESP coordinator and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ.

viernes, 1 de septiembre de 2017


                                                         By  María de la Lama

Without any doubt, the use of phrasal verbs when speaking can turn out to be a challenge for our Spanish-speaking students. These idiomatic collocations, which native talkers use so naturally in their discourse, are difficult for foreign learners to acquire and, therefore, to deal with. It’s worth then summarizing the reasons why our students find them so difficult and how our methodology could help them.

Usually we give our students lots of practice in understanding the form of phrasal verbs since their arrangement can be confusing if we consider that there are two-word phrasal verbs or three-word phrasal verbs. Compare: look up vs.  look up to. Also, if we match break into vs. break in, we’ll come up with another classification: transitive and intransitive verbs. Finally, there is another important aspect that has to do with the form affecting meaning. If we compare pick up (the noun) vs pick up (the verb) we’ll notice that the stress on the preposition will make the difference on whether we are using the noun or the verb.

Another source of difficulty lies in deducing the meaning of phrasal verbs as in the case of “keep up with” where the three words together are acting as a unit of meaning.

Finally, their use proves to be very challenging. We know that our students are reluctant to incorporating them in their oral production in spite of the fact that their use is a very natural trait of native speakers. Spanish-speaking students, in particular, would tend to select a single-word verb instead of a phrasal verb.
If the meaning and use of phrasal verbs are as difficult as their form, then our practice in class should go beyond intensive form practice such as determining whether phrasal verbs are transitive or intransitive. If we bear in mind that the meaning and use of phrasal verbs are as important as their form, then we would be leading a more communicative practice aiming to facilitate their acquisition.

What do YOU think?
Do you also find it  difficult to learn (and use) them?
How do you deal with incorporating them in your everyday speech?


DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Bachelor in Education, has a master's degree in Applied Linguistics and a Bachelor's in Linguistics, both obtained at the University of California, Davis. She also holds an MBA from Universidad del Pacífico. She currently serves as the Director of the Language Center at Universidad del Pacífico.