Since the late 1980s language drilling has been looked down upon as being bad. They’d say its mechanical, boring and irrelevant for the students. Students aren’t automatons to be repeating meaningless sentences or vocabulary.
And it’s true that too much of a thing (even if a good thing) can be its own death. But as the old saying goes “don’t throw the baby with the bathwater”. Language drills have their very good value: by repetition they can help students identify their questions and problem areas while leading them towards specific language goals and targets, therefore, drilling can help students focus.
In the not so distant past, language labs were the rage. All the “respectable” language schools had their laboratories with those sessions inserted in their lesson grid where students would be sent to a stuffy room (no air conditioning then) and they’d spend 40-50 minutes listening and repeating to an outdated audio recording, while a teacher dozed off (sorry, listened in and monitored the students).
With the ubiquitous presence of smartphones now students have a language school and lab in their hands but their needs are still the same, including the need to practice.
Spaced repetition – reviewing words over a sequence of days will work wonders on vocabulary retention, concentration, and patience.
Practice makes perfect, but only if you practice in the right way.
“How you practice and what you do matters more than how long you practice”, Jeremy Harmer has said more than once.
If you get your heart involved you will get better chances of learning.
Drilling should be genuinely communicative, psychologically authentic, focused, and follow a regular pattern.
Quite often teachers of English as a Foreign Language find themselves between a rock and a hard place concerning teaching pronunciation. If they’re native speakers they hesitate in constantly correcting their students fearing they’ll pass an overbearing image and many times thinking … “well… I can understand them … whatever”. If the teacher is a nonnative speaker of English they might feel insecure about their own pronunciation or even worse… they might not be aware of the proper pronunciation of specific sounds in English which are different from their mother tongue.
So… why bother teaching pronunciation?
Students want and need to speak clearly.
Their phonological awareness has an impact on all areas of their language learning besides speaking: reading, writing, vocabulary, etc
But what’s the right pronunciation? What’s a standard accent? British RP? Only 3% of Brits actually speak it. American Midwestern? What about Mississippi or Alabama? How about global English?
That’s why it’s important to know why your students are learning English.
The teacher must then focus on speech comprehension rather on the student’s accent being good, bad or proper.
How to do it? Teaching pronunciation works best a little during every lesson instead of once a week or whatever frequency students have.
“The teacher must”, as Richard Cauldwell wrote, ‘focus on:
the greenhouse: isolated words.
the garden: mixing and growing words together, linking words.
The jungle: where everything is mixed”
The best way will be to integrate pronunciation with other skills and lots of repetition (practice).
In conclusion, our insecurity about the way we speak can be managed by raising our awareness and practicing to the student’s heart’s content.
N.B – Many thanks to Laura Patsko with her great YouTube videos on the subject of pronunciation – https://youtu.be/yyga6vIAroE
That’s a common complaint by language teachers everywhere: after a weekend, long weekend, and heaven forbid, after 20 days of vacation, students return rusty and despondent. Allow 2 to 3 weeks for students to get up to speed, depending on their language class frequency, which in my case, most students have classes only once a week.
So… they return to class, I’m talking about adult students, but the same applies to children, with their ears and tongues hardened by lack of exercise in the target language, even if they’ve done their “assigned homework.”
Bear in mind that our brains also need some rest, and that’s ok. But language-wise, I’m not talking about reviewing grammar rules and prepositions or phrasal verbs, which can bore both teachers and students to death. I’m talkingincorporating language to their routine via give and take.
When learning a language we must be receptors – take Language from different sources. Listen to a podcast, or internet radio, watch a movie or TVs series, read all sorts of texts, etc. Take in as much language as you can… but, you must also become a giver.
Start producing the language. Be a transmitter of English or any other language you are learning. How? By trying to speak that language even if to yourself. Another great way to transition from a simple receptor into a transmitter is by taking small pieces of text – books, newspapers, magazines or online, and reading them aloud. Nowadays, there are many text to audio resources which you may use to check your pronunciation. Otherwise just listening to your own voice and working on the sounds you produce will work wonders in your language process.
Many English language students find listening comprehension a daunting task, even those more outgoing and who manage to communicate their ideas, despite poor pronunciation and grammar, find it daunting to understand native speakers of English.
Students say that they can more easily understand other foreigners speaking English. Well… in a world where English is increasingly the lingua franca and most English speakers today use it as a second language, that is not so bad. But it’s understandable their frustration when trying to understand what somebody in the US, Canada, the UK or New Zealand is telling them.
Why is it that when they hear fɵˈɡɛɾəˌbæʊɾɨ they feel they might as well be listening Chinese or Martian? But when they read – “forget about it” they totally get the idea and message?
Firstly, listening comprehension is a skill which can be acquired.
For decades, English Language Teaching manuals have been presenting the following steps:
A. Set the scene – look at the pictures if available
B. Get students excited about what they’re going to listen to.
C. Pre-teach any key words and new vocabulary
D. Ask them some pre-questions to focus onto during their listening
E. Repeat the previous steps.
That approach has been tested millions of times and with some success, otherwise it wouldn’t have been around for so long. However, students still often get frustrated because they couldn’t understand part of it or even most of it. What should we do as teachers?
We must help students decode the sounds they will hear – practice the linking and Schwa sounds that so often block their comprehension.
They’ll try to hear “dwa challenge” not “do a challenge” – “lookintwit” not “look into it” – “igwout” not “I go out” “dijeet yet” not “did you eat yet?”
By practicing those “micro-listening” skills and sounds they will be better prepared to understand the spoken word, even if not able to spell it out.
English is a flexible, malleable language. It is constantly changing, maybe even faster than other languages due to the huge influence it has worldwide in addition to the different cultures and languages immigrating into English-speaking countries.
In my case I feel passionate about the English language, the sounds, the complex yet simple grammar. How many books do I have about the English language? Most definitely over 22 – just about the English language – I’m not counting grammar or literature books.
Now many people learn English through their gaming addictions.
As an ESL/ EFL teacher, I try to encourage my students to enjoy the language learning process…. don’t see it as an end in itself but rather as a means towards an end.
One point of contention is that some students want to learn grammar while others just hate the sound of the word.
Since the inception of the communicative approach, the main trend in teaching grammar has been as an integrated part of the lesson. When teaching the simple past for instance – regular verbs – many false beginners have already seen them but never learned the proper pronunciation.
They will be fated to fail when trying to say these verbs for instance.
So the best approach is to integrate grammar into the other skills, they’ll learn the grammar but also the listening and speaking part of the language .
Defenders of teaching grammar as a stand alone part of the class is that it would get lost in the noise of other points – it’ll be explicit teaching. Many times the proper grammar has never been acquired because it’s never been noticed.
So a blending of the two approaches would bring the best of the results. That’s I would call the Blended Approach.
We have amazing computers disguised as phones and it’s time for the teacher and students to feel smarter than their phones. You can use Siri or other voice assistant apps to practice and even learn a language.
If you have an iPhone, Siri can be your language practice partner. To ask Siri a question, you have to pronounce the English words correctly in order to get an answer, so you get a chance to work on your speaking skills. Through Siri’s answers, you’ll hear proper or standard pronunciation and learn the right ways to respond to certain questions.
You can ask Siri:
what’s the weather today?
How’s traffic now?
Set an alarm / Set a timer
Send an email to … / call …
You can also have some fun with Siri’s pre-loaded messages such as
When is the world going to end?
will you marry me?
can you teach English?
I’m fed up.
Just dictating a word if Siri gets your pronunciation correctly.
You can also say:
show me images of a “porcupine”
Although technology is extremely helpful when you’re learning English, real-world, human interaction also matters, but no question Siri can have more of a say in your language adventure.
This is another question that comes up quite often in the language classroom:
“Teacher, what’s the difference between accent and pronunciation?”
Well… in simple terms, accent is the voice you’ve developed based on where you were born and raised, your parents, family, classmates, etc all played a role in developing your accent in your mother tongue. Anyone has an accent! You realize it every time you move out of your area or comfort zone where most people speak like you.
Don’t even get me started with different British accents – one for every village and town.
Now… pronunciation refers to your intonation – the way you enunciate words and phrases.
I always tell my students that they don’t have to lose their accents – they are many times even considered charming by other speakers…. but they must be careful with their pronunciation so that they can be understood and not break down any communication attempt.
One example is the pronunciation of the letter R /r/ as a consonant sound. Many Brazilian, French and Spanish-speaking students find it hard to pronounce words such as
Rabbit – Raccoon – radio – red – Recipe – run etc
many times their default pronunciation with be with an H sound – they’ll say
Habbit – Haccoon – Hadio – Hed – Hecipe – Hun etc
My role as the teacher is to identify these problem sounds, raise the student’s awareness to it and encourage them to produce the adequate sound.
Speaking another language requires skills which can and must be developed.
So happy practice and keep on speaking.
A student of mine, who is very keen on learning and has a strong motivation and passion for reading and encountering new vocabulary, has started his own glossary. Here are some tips that might be useful to any language learner.
PURPOSE: why create a glossary if you can go online or use even a paper dictionary? A glossary will provide a one-stop place for students to go to in order to check and review new vocabulary. Moreover, it’s more meaningful – the student has created HIS or HER own glossary. It will also allow access of information in the future.
WHAT TO INCLUDE: you can divide your glossary by subjects – verbs, nouns related to technology, finance, communication, presentations, etc. It becomes much more than a glossary.
USING THE GLOSSARY: you can revisit the glossary in case you get stuck on a certain word or concept. A way to quiz yourself before an upcoming test, for instance.
MAKING THE GLOSSARY: you can use a traditional notebook or index cards. Write definitions and pronunciation.
When possible add also the pronunciation of the word – either the phonetic spelling or just the way you hear it.
Add context to the words – include examples of word collocation. Use pictures and visuals when possible – words that go together “like a horse and carriage”:
Examples of word collocation:
to feel free
to come prepared
to save time
to find a replacement
to make progress
to do the washing up
Please feel free to take a seat and enjoy the show.
Make sure to come prepared for the test tomorrow.
You’ll save time if you turn off your smart phone and concentrate on the lesson.
We need to find a replacement for Jim as soon as possible.
We’re making progress on the project at work.
I’ll do the washing up and you can put Johnny to bed.
Cheers and happy learning,
For over 25 years I’ve been mostly teaching English or Spanish on an individual basis. Excluding my volunteer work on Saturdays when I teach English and the Bible to a group of around 80 people. Hmmm… imagine if I charged a little from each of those 80 people… stop it, Mo! Volunteer work is not paid by definition. Don’t be greedy.
So… going back to 1-2-1 teaching … what are the advantages and disadvantages for students and teacher?
- Lessons focused on the student’s needs: customization
- immediate attention to weak points and questions student may have
- choice of time and location for the classes whether online or onsite.
- Lack of shyness or embarrassment
- greater levels of production and (hopefully) rapid progress
1. Keep the student motivated;
2. Deal with class cancellations;
3. The lessons can be quite intense and tiring. How to maintain the energy?
4. High expectations need to be managed
5. Pricing and travel time must be factored in
6. As in any sort of business negotiation, teacher and student must develop rapport and feel they’re getting value for money.
The dynamics between an individual lesson and a group are quite different but can be extremely rewarding, both depending on the teacher’s full preparation.
Useful link: ELT Training: one to one teaching video https://youtu.be/FwGdvwmMS8w