Language teaching and language learning focus on four skills: Reading comprehension, Aural Comprehension, Writing and Speaking. Most course books authors organize their materials so as to teach these skills in an integrated way.
This seems eminently reasonable, but is it?
Have you ever had a class wanting/needing to improve conversational skills on the post-intermediate level and chosen an integrated skills course book for them – only to find yourself getting bogged down in long texts for pre-discussion work? Have you ever had a class wanting/needing to improve writing skills on the pre-intermediate level and chosen an integrated skills course book for them – only to find yourself tied up with audio materials to present the topics? The reason for this is that the underlying assumption of the integrated skills approach to language learning: That all four of the learners’ skills are equal to each other at the beginning of a course and they progress at the same pace during a course.
Not long ago, a (non ESL) teacher/friend noticed the term ‘graded material’ in an article and asked me: ‘ What? Are ESL teachers expected to grade (mark) their material as well as their students?’
Graded material, as any ESL teacher knows, is material arranged in order of difficulty – progressing from the simple to the more complex. Carefully graded materials are important in most areas of teaching, and in language teaching, they are essential.
What is the criterion for determining difficulty?
Forty years ago, difficulty was determined solely by word level: There were official wordlists for beginners all through to advanced learners. Structural levels of difficulty were largely ignored, and you could find sentences in basic level textbooks/readers such as: ‘And he was never heard from again’ (because the lexical item again appears on the basic level wordlist). Just imagine having to teach/learn English that way!
About thirty years ago, the emphasis shifted. Structural level became the criterion for determining difficulty and materials were graded accordingly.
The field of ESL for adults is booming. Even so, it is barely able to keep pace with the ever-growing needs of today’s world.
Registration for English courses at international language institutes (Wall Street, Berlitz etc.) is at an all-time high. Locally owned language schools and chains are mushrooming all over the globe.
Alongside all of this, ESL for adults is witnessing an exciting trend: The rise of the personal trainer.
Why do people prefer to hire a personal trainer rather than join a class?
For the same reason that the idea of personal trainers caught on in the world of physical fitness! Needs and abilities vary and one program cannot possibly encompass them all.
Both individuals and companies have realized that study time is far better utilized in 1:1 sessions. This is especially true in ‘conversational English’ courses where actual speaking time has to be shared with others. For this reason, many language institutes offer individual instruction programs.