Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
I started learning to rollerblade in April as an “intercambio”. Usually the deal is an English-Spanish exchange but I figured Spanish is only going to be useful in a limited number of countries and situations whereas anywhere there’s concrete I can skate. Well…and these reasons.
My 9 month rebirth from absolute beginner to…pretty much beginner is remarkably similar to my skating teacher’s transformation from Elementary to… slightly more fluent Elementary.
At least some of the blame for this lack of progress can be attributed to aptitude. I have weak co-ordination and balance. He has terrible pronunciation and listening skills.
The key to overcoming our limitations lies in effort. I love skating and every time I have a lesson, I resolve to go at least twice a week to practise alone. He hates English but needs it to be promoted at work so I give him advice on daily ways to make his work provided English lessons more useful.
Neither of us is making much progress. Although the park is about ten minutes from my house, I just never get round to going. He never takes any of my advice on how to study alone. We have our intercambio sessions, at most, twice a month for just long enough for us to get back to where we were the last time.
If braking, turning and jumping are the grammar of skating, I’m getting along fine without any of them. I can barrel along happily giving my Writer’s Bum muscles a workout and I make do with anticipating stops by slowing down or grabbing something. It’s all very Miami until something unexpected happens.
He bumbles along with broken present continuous (I running) and the occasional past tense. What he’s lacking are phrases, words and the noticing skills to hear/read and copy something and, of course, speaking practise. He’s not getting any of those from his English lessons but he does do gap fills, tests and reading comprehension exercises. He thinks he’s Intermediate because he’s finished Pre-Int English File but to do these exercises in English File Intermediate he translates every word with a dictionary.
I showed him how to use the texts to find phrases and words he can use but he only cared about getting the exercises done and the Review Test because that’s what his teacher had set for homework over the holidays. (3 weeks to do it, done on the last day). He didn’t try going back to the texts to help find the answers, thereby reviewing rather than testing, and he actually hadn’t done all of the exercises that the Review covered in the first place. The Review had two sections on identifying words with similar vowel sounds and picking the right word stress pattern. He can’t pronounce most of those words and since I met him, he’s not fixed pronouncing “week” as “weep”.
I’ve just talked him out of spending 675 Euros on an “intensive” 3 month English course at one of the big providers. In this case intensive equates to 4 hours on Saturdays instead of 2 x 2 hours per week. Intensive seems to mean covering the material in a bigger chunk not more in depth, leaving students even more to assimilate alone, fewer opportunities for recycling, and so, less likely to manage it.
Intensive should mean going over and over the language points raised until students are able to demonstrate them. I know plenty of teachers who have no time to get students practising in class because they’ve got to cover everything for the test. If the students pass, they are then sold the next level until they reach the stage where they give up because they’ve not made any actual progress.
Students need to be taught the how of learning as much as they need the what. And that what probably doesn’t consist of comprehension questions, tests and gapfills. The only advantage of the intensive course as far as I can see is that for 4 hours a week, he’d actually do something in English. I’ve told him to watch films, note down phrases, talk to himself in the shower and go to some of the many intercambio nights that are organised around the city.
He probably won’t. Just as I probably won’t get my skates on today.