ESL – Subject or Communication Tool?

What happens in a math class? There were so many rules, but only one answer. You sit there and listen. Maybe the teacher asks you to come up and work out some problems on the board. But, honestly, if you find math boring, then you probably just copy the homework off your friend. Exams are an exercise in guesswork.

And, you know what? You were right, and your teacher was wrong – this stuff really isn’t useful after high school.

Of course math is absolutely necessary for certain professions, and some people really love it. I have engineer friends who use it all the time. But for your average high school screw-up, math isn’t nearly as useful as, say, a foreign language.

I teach university in Mexico. I see the looks on my students’ faces on the first day of class – the dull glaze to their eyes, the fear of losing so many hours of their young lives in stuffy classrooms at the mercy of some bore droning on and on.

This learning method – teacher speaks, students listen, students do exercises, repeat – has been beaten into them. It sure was beaten into me back in my university days when I was forced to study Spanish.

How ironic. Back then Spanish was one of my most boring classes, right up there with math. And now I live in Mexico and study Spanish as much as I can. What happened?

While in university I zoned out in class and barely learned a thing. Now, here in Mexico, studying Spanish is a means to an end. That end is communication.

My Spanish teachers taught Spanish like how my math teachers taught math. Learn the rules and formulas. Listen to some explanation and then do exercises from the book. Sure, to her credit, one of my Spanish teachers put us in pairs to get us to practice, but it just didn’t work. We all had a common language, English – too easy to fall back on.

My point is, why teach a language the way math (or history, or science) is taught? Languages have much more in common with music or sports, and they should be taught that way. Practice is vital. Mistakes are normal, even to be encouraged.

You don’t learn piano or hockey by opening up a book and answering questions. You learn by doing it. Your students should spend the majority of their time in class practicing, usually by speaking. Explain the grammar, give some examples, and then give them plenty of time to speak, with corrections of course.

Have you studied the P-P-P teaching method: presentation, practice, and production? It really does work. The presentation part, where the teacher explains the grammar topic, should be as brief as possible, maybe only five minutes in a one-hour class. The other two parts, practice and production, are when the students use the language. Maybe they make a survey, give a presentation, or have a conversation. Remember, it’s not only practice, but practice with correction. Strive to correct every mistake. Make notes if you have to.

That’s the benefit of learning in a classroom, which is why ESL teachers still have a job in this Internet age. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, which isn’t the same as, say, studying to be a doctor.

Fun Classroom Games that Every ESL Teacher can Use

Getting English learners to speak up in classes can be really tough. Learners can however be made to participate actively if the learning is fun. This is particularly true of young men and women in their teens taking ESL lessons, teachers have discovered. Learning is fun when they are coaxed with games. Keep the games as simple as possible and in no time you will get them involved and talking. Fun games can really break up the silence that pervades language classes. Games will make your classroom reverberate and lively.

Here are 3 games for ESL teachers who have tough time in making their students speak up. As a teacher of ESL, make the games an integral part of your students’ experience. They have been tried and tested and there is no reason why it should not work in your classes as well. Depending upon the age group you are handling, you can vary the games.

Game # 1: Dice Game

This is one of the simplest of games, and all that you need for this game is a dice. You can buy a poker dice in a sports goods shop; they cost very little. The next thing that you need to do is prepare 6 questions that are simple to answer, but need eloquence to answer. Make the questions relevant to the learner – it should relate to the learners’ family, the college where the learner studied, places they have visited or would like to visit, foods they like most, dresses they would like to wear, what their parents do, about their siblings, or any question you guess will make them think.

You can either write a list of question for each individual (though that will take time) or make a common list of 40 or more questions and let the learners choose 6 questions each. The learner will choose and write down the selected questions on a piece of paper and number them from 1 thru 6. The game begins by each leaner rolling the dice. The number in the dice is the question that a learner will have to answer. Give students enough time to rehearse their answers and then speak to the classroom.

Game # 2: Bingo Game

Most students are familiar with the rules of Bingo so you will not much of instructions to give. The purpose of this game is to get each learner know about the other. Prepare a chart with 5 numbers on it. In this game every learner will prepare a list of experiences they have had – a trek in the forest gone bad, first-time exciting scuba dive, a day in a deserted island or the first cake the learner made in her lifetime are all typical examples to write. After the learners have written down their lists, learners must sit together and pick out at least 40 great experiences to talk about. Of course the teacher can write her own experiences to talk about, but a better way is to let the learners do it.

Next, on the bingo board ask each learner to write down the experience he or she would like to talk about. Match the experience with each other learners and form groups of 2 or 3 and ask them to talk about their common experiences. Each learner should be given a minimum of 2 minutes to talk on their topic of interest. The game comes to end when a particular learner has talked on 5 experiences. He or she is the winner of the game.

Game # 3: Hidden Speaking

Hidden speaking is a fast and energetic game. You can begin the game by writing down several questions on an index card each. Every question should relate to questions that tests the learners abilities at comprehension. The purpose of the game is to improve your learner’s vocabulary. Questions should be as objective as possible. Typically questions that rest on grammar are fine. Even before the learners have arrived for the class, each of the index cards must be kept hidden within the classroom.

Now break your students into two teams (to make them compete) and make them aware that somewhere in the classroom you have hid index cards and it is for them to search and pick one card each and no more. When a student is able to find a card, he or she will have to answer the question they see on the index card. If the answer is correct, then the team to which the student belongs wins a point by retaining the card for the team. A student who finds a card and is unable to answer the question on it also has the option to find someone within the team to find answer for it and then answer it.

Once a card has been answered correctly, the student can search for another and another. Every card answered correctly will add points to his or her team. At the end of a certain time, or when all the cards have been found the game comes to an end, and the team with the most number of cards answered wins the game.

The key to teaching an alien language is in making it fun, and this is especially true of ESL classes, teachers have discovered. The three games here can be adapted to your particular needs.


Using Music in the Classroom

Nothing breaks up a long class like listening to a song or two. But don’t just hand out lyrics and play the song. A little preparation will help you get the most out of a music lesson.

First, it’s a good idea to remove some words. It encourages the students to actively listen. Put some thought into which words you choose. By removing certain words, you can introduce new vocabulary, emphasize phrases that illustrate some grammar point, or draw attention to something that isn’t sung clearly but can be guessed from the context of the song.

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Circle Time

“Good morning!” I say, just loud enough to turn heads, silencing all other conversations.

“Good morning,” answers the class. There are eleven students, from teenagers to 50-year-old retirees.

I look to my right and ask Carlos, “How was your weekend?”

Carlos sticks to just a few short sentences. “It was great. I went to Mexico City and saw a concert.”

I look around the class, silently inviting the other students to ask Carlos, “Who played?” “How did you get there?” “Was it crowded?”

Carlos then turns to his right and asks Cynthia, “How was your weekend?” She answers, and the class has a few follow-up questions for her too. “How was it?” “Why did you go there?”

The question goes around the circle. Every student asks and answers. Later I will ask them questions more related to the grammar theme of the day, such as “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

My next class is for total beginners. “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “Do you like X?” “Do you have X?” We repeat questions every day, adding or changing a few at the whim of the students. Many of them make mistakes, which I correct immediately. If they have trouble understanding I’ll write the correct answer on the board, and then cold call the same question around the room.

When I first taught children in Korea we called this technique “circle time.” We sat on the floor in a circle and asked the same questions every day. Since then I’ve found it works in nearly every class – only advanced students don’t need it.

Students can study many parts of English at home – reading the newspaper, listening to podcasts, cracking open the textbook and doing grammar exercises. There’s no reason to spend a lot of time on these in class. Students want to talk and they need correction.

Though they don’t just want to talk, but talk freely with no rush and no interruption. Learn to relax during silences. After you ask a question – “Have you ever seen a ghost?” – allow that silence to hang there unpressured.

We’ve all been in a class (or a work meeting) where someone asks a boring question, then immediately rephrases or simply repeats it, and maybe eventually answers it himself. Don’t be that teacher!

In ESL there are concepts called Teacher Talk Time (TTT), Student Talk Time (STT), and Wait Time (WIT). Here are a few questions for you, the ESL teacher or aspiring ESL teacher:

What do you want more of in class, TTT or STT?

Do you want more or less WT?

Is there a maximum limit of WT, say a minute or more?

An awareness of how much you are speaking in class in comparison to the other students is a fundamental part of ESL. Please leave a comment with your answers and ideas. And thanks for reading!

So How Do I Get The Perfect Job?

It is my opinion that many people seem to respect the idea of teaching overseas. Certainly where I am from there are numerous people who have been here in Korea or Japan, not to mention so many who have a friend of a friend who is currently teaching overseas.

So how does one go about getting a decent job?

The first thing I would suggest is to research your target area. Where do you want to go? What type of living conditions do you like, does it matter, etc. This is very important as I’m sure those of us who are here now can remember someone who came to Korea; didn’t like it and went home! Such a waste of potential adventure and talent.

So choose your destination, Middle East, Europe, Asia, South America. From there before you go any further you should do a check online (with government sites – not recruiter sites) as to what the requirements are to teach English in that particular region / country. If you do not qualify, best look somewhere else!
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The Recruiter

Jobs Pages

As a recruiter, agent, job placement supervisor…whatever….I have a few points I wish to post in hopes of getting responses from teachers who have used recruiters, who have not, like/ dislike us-them etc…

1. Do job seekers realize that not all recruiters are scam artists? Some actually try to do a decent job inspecting schools personally, walk teachers through the process, and even maintain contact with past clients regularly.

Some of us even consider this a real job, not a fly-by-night operation! Those of us legally allowed to work in Korea can sometimes even run our business like we would in our home country….with standards and ethics.

2. Yes we make money off placing teachers, that’s our job. Is it easy?

Yes it can be….but it can also mean holding hands with clients for 3-6 months to prepare them for their adventure. It means we are responsible for showing stacks of resume, and highlighting key points about a client even though we have never met most of you!
When the very real Korean bias comes out about hiring the proper ‘looking’ or ‘sounding’ teacher to please the mothers/investors/themselves…we have to tactfully try to deal with that issue in a way not to lose our placement contract, tempers etc….
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Curriculum Standards

The number of non-native English speaking students in the United States has increased drastically in the past years. According to the 1998/1999 Florida Department of Education ESOL report, there were limited English proficiency students (LEP) from 53 countries and 49 different languages in this writer’s county. Despite of the ever-growing ESOL population, national ESOL standards are still quite unclear for parents and some educators.

The NCTE – National Council of Teachers of English – Website clearly states the national standards for the English language arts. Nevertheless, standards for K-12 ESOL are not specifically addressed. Students whose first language is not English are mentioned in item number 10 of the standards’ list, which states that non-English speaking students make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum. The vision guiding these standards is that all students must have the opportunities and resources to develop the language skills they need to pursue life’s goals and to participate fully as informed, productive members of society.
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Developmental Trends

This writer teaches English to speakers of other languages and therefore has decided to critique articles discussing the linguistic development of non-English speaking students and studies of second language acquisition.

Much research has been conducted on linguistic development and second language acquisition. Nevertheless, the ever-present conclusion of this research seems to be the fact that complexity is a determining factor.

The range of beliefs and definitions of second language acquisition is as diversified as the population researched. As the number of children entering early childhood education programs with limited English proficiency increases, the need to know how to access these children’s language development also increases. Understanding children’s language development can be a daunting task due to the fact that second language learners come from different cultural, social, and linguistic backgrounds.
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Common Sense Approaches to Teaching ESP

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.
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Graded Materials, A Perspective

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.
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