lunes, 29 de abril de 2019

Reading in English and Spanish: two sides of the same coin?

By Flor de María Vila A.

One of the advantages of living the Fourth Industrial Revolution (1) is that our access to knowledge is unlimited. Any person with access to the internet can obtain information about anything in less than a minute. This chance takes us to the inescapable question: How much of what we read, we really understand? Are we, teachers, helping our students to go beyond identifying specific information, for instance? Are we teaching how to read?

Some educators may say that the answers to these questions depend on different factors: the age of our students, the place where we are teaching, and the purpose of the course we are giving among others. It is true that it is not the same to teach small kids as to teach teenagers, young adults or adults. Their cognitive development and their motivation, for instance, are different.  It is not the same to teach in a school as to teach in a private language institution. In a school, all courses may be part of a cross-curricular approach whereas, in a private venue, the course stands by itself. When teaching English, we may be teaching it to people who just want to learn the language or to others that study it to sit an international exam, for example.

In any case, our main objective is to help students achieve theirs and to do so they must receive a lot of input as Krashen (2) states. One of the ways is through reading. Reading is an important source of a number of samples of what good language is as well as of the knowledge required for different purposes. We need to point out this to our pupils even if we think that it is obvious. In addition, we could show them how the language written in the texts display how language is constructed as well as how the ideas are presented by native speakers. If we help them make a deep analysis of the passages, we will aid them to find a wonderful spring to which they can always return over and over to learn from it.

Needless to say, we have to help them go beyond the well-known and useful strategies used before, during and after reading. We also have to show them how to use the metacognition while reading in order to monitor their understanding, for example.
You may want to take a look at the following articles to review some of the strategies and other important aspects of the reading process.

It is valid to say that there are people who are motivated, will read and find the information they need. Others are accustomed to finding the answer to a specific question and sometimes used to building knowledge with pieces of information as if they were making a kind of "patching reading".  The problem with that practice is that it doesn’t help much to develop critical reasoning. It is as if some are finding the pill for the pain but not curing the illness. In our case, students learn to answer questions for a text, but not necessarily know how to read. This may be observed in exams that require to answer questions which evaluate different levels of comprehension.

Thus, in addition to asking for information that requires literal or inferential comprehension, why don´t we ask questions that require the reader to make a personal response to a character or situation in the story or to the author’s purpose? With this, we will be helping students to develop their appreciative comprehension. We can always pose questions the request our pupils to make a judgment about the author’s use of language, style of writing, execution of the text, or the author’s ideas in the text. This will enable them to reach a critique comprehension of what they are reading. If we want to help our students develop an evaluative comprehension, we will need to propose questions that help them make a judgment about an aspect of the story such as a character’s actions and demonstrate or support that judgment.

Even though, it is clear that some students engage in reading in order to gain specific information and that is enough for them, our job is to enable them to go beyond and reach little by little different levels of comprehension. This will inevitably help them achieve their goals and at the same time show them the entrance of a world of wisdom and culture.

Now it´s your turn:
What else can we teach about reading?
Is it easy to teach how to read? Why? Why not?

(2)    Krashen, Stephen D. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Prentice-Hall International, 1988.
(3)    Estrategias de comprensión lectora: enseñanza y evaluación en educación primaria

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)

jueves, 18 de abril de 2019

Can we Truly say we Teach Writing?

By Enrique Rojas R.

            The idea in this particular series of articles is to deal with those things that are necessary for students to know but, for a variety of reasons (call them school programs, syllabus, time constraints or whatever) teachers neglect to address. The conundrum is that this article deals with teaching writing and the author believes that we language instructors really do not teach our students how to write. That makes it an arduous task to pinpoint what is not being imparted.
            For the wide majority of the textbooks our students use their approach to teaching writing consists on presenting a model of a piece of writing, for instance an email. Then they try to familiarize the students with its parts, strategy, register and wording, perhaps teach some useful vocabulary and then ask the students to produce something similar.
            This helps the learners become familiar with different formats and types of communication but it is a long way away from teaching them how to put the words together to communicate, to transmit, to inform, to instruct, to provoke, to excite, to convince, etc., in a meaningful, pleasing or unpleasing, emphatic, authoritative, suggestive or any other way.
            The classical strategy to give students a topic and tell them to write about it does not do it even if we carefully correct their mistakes. It is necessary to show them the route and not just redirect them when they go astray.
            Fortunately there are some educators who teach writing as a process, and this is much more useful. It involves pre-writing, drafting, revising, rewriting, evaluating or proofreading and publishing. They are going in the right direction.

              You have to keep in mind that you are never going to write acceptably without an appropriate knowledge of grammar, so the instruction of it should go in parallel. Then an able handling of collocations is a must together with familiarity and dexterity in the use of discourse markers, transitions, connectors and the like.

            Another point that is absolutely basic but we usually take for granted is punctuation. The result is that a very large number of learners ignore how to use those ‘strange symbols.’
            The Spanish syntax possesses extraordinary flexibility. You can vary the order of the sentence elements in a countless number of ways. When Spanish speakers speak or especially write in English try to exercise the same capacity but the possibilities are much more restricted. We must teach them to widely use the subject / verb /complement structure and leave for later the specific occasions in which we are allowed to subvert that sequence.
            And these things are just the most basic bits of wisdom we should give our students on the matter. From then we should move on to things that are still fundamental but that hardly anybody teaches like topic sentences, thesis statements the three or the five paragraphs compositions, the cyclical structure in which the conclusion reinforces the introduction, paraphrasing and many other important things, that the limitation of space forestalls  further expansion.

Now is your turn:
Ask the question to yourself and respond sincerely: Do I really teach my students how to write?

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 19 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He has been a speaker in every Congress of English for Special Purposes organized by Centro de Idiomas de la U.P. He is also a member of its Research Area. 

jueves, 11 de abril de 2019

Beyond Nodding When Developing Listening Skills

By Mayra Yaranga

Receptive skills, in contrast to productive ones, are mostly taken for granted since they are assumed to be easier to develop. Just by nodding, learners may show they can follow someone’s ideas or that they have “understood,” but can listening be reduced to this? In this article, I would like to mention several aspects that are often overlooked when teaching listening.

One of the most important aspects is that all listening tasks have a purpose, and that students should be trained to achieve this purpose rather than “just understand.” This involves, for example, helping them to distinguish between general and specific when they are listening for gist, or ensuring that they understand how to answer certain types of questions if they are being trained for the listening component of an international examination. There are sub-skills and techniques galore for each particular listening purpose, and we should do our bit of research when planning lessons. What is more, we should think of how those strategies will help them cope in real life.

Another neglected aspect is that of the actual nature of speech as opposed to writing. Many students may expect that the information given in a listening task will come in the same neat way as a reading text; that is, with a clear layout and clear progression. The truth is, spoken language is rarely like this in real life. We incur false starts, we get lost for words, we paraphrase ourselves a bit too often, we use malapropisms, we contradict ourselves… Are our students being trained to deal with these “faults” in spoken communication? Or do they always face listening expecting to visualize every single word, with the consequent frustration of not being able to make them all up?

One final aspect is that spoken English can no longer be neatly labeled as “American vs British.” Currently, the idea of English as the language of a few powerful countries is rather contrived. It is best to think of English as a lingua franca, with proper varieties appearing in every country where it reaches official status or is spoken by a sizable percentage of the population. Each variety will have its own idiosyncrasies, particularly in terms of pronunciation (not just “accent”). I recommend Jennifer Jenkins’ seminal book The phonology of English as an international language: new models, new norms, new goals for further insights). Do our classroom materials reflect this reality in any proportional way? How can we compensate for this dangerous lack of diversity?

All in all, listening provides countless opportunities for improvement. It is not just about pushing play on a recording device and throwing students at the deep end. Rather, it is about developing a set of strategies to cope with pedagogical listening tasks and real-life listening.

Now, it’s YOUR turn

What difficulties do your students find when developing listening skills? What strategies do you provide?

Mayra Yaranga (1985) Doctor in Education (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 is Cambridge Oral Examiner and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacífico Language Centre. She is also ESP coordinator and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ.


martes, 2 de abril de 2019

What Students Should Know and we do not Always Teach

                                                                                  By Zarela Cruz

          At some point in our teaching practice, we may have wondered if we are teaching our students everything they should know in terms of English as a Foreign Language. Frequently, it seems that we have to follow a very strict layout of a course due to our institution’s impetus to achieve the set objectives. But, are we really teaching them all that students should know considering their level?  Are there any things that we could be missing?

          In this new series we are about to launch, our team of researchers will share some insights about the teaching of Listening, Writing, Reading and Vocabulary. We are sure their reflections on these topics will be food for thought and may imply some changes in our teaching daily practice.

          Look forward to the first post next week and to your appreciated feedback!

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 the Teaching of English and Spanish. She has also completed some 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 for more than 25 years. She has just finished her master’s studies in Translation. This article aims to introduce this important issue as part of our reflective teaching practice.