A fictional student from Korea is having trouble with listening skills and speech fluency. We are told she has ranked high in vocabulary and grammar andprobably feels very confident in these areas. Using her strengths as a springboard, the teacher must devise a balanced plan including the four systems and skills. If her listening skills do not improve, she will have trouble understanding lectures when she attends her target university. She’ll also have great difficulty asking questions if her speaking does not improve.
I feel that listening and speaking should consume the majority of her study time with material she will likely encounter at the university as the majority of the content.
Testing the Student
Let’s utilize our student strengths in grammar and vocabulary from the beginning by giving her a multiple choice assessment test to discern her vocabulary and reading levels using topics she might encounter at her new university. Then, using the results from the test, devise tasks such as listening to university lectures, reading from a textbook or news articles. By doing this, the teacher can further asses our student’s abilities. If the student has chosen a college major, the teacher should find words that her professors might use during lectures. By reading and listening, the student can improve her production and receptive skills.
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Balancing the Skills with the System
Now that the student’s vocabulary has been assessed, it might be time to practice helping the student differentiate the sounds of the vocabulary she has worked so hard to acquire. We can create sentences using words that sound similar but are not homonyms (i.e. bamboo, baboon); then, compare these two sentences: The fence was made with bamboo or: The fence was made by baboons. Which is correct? Since our student ranks high in vocabulary, reading from a list of these ambiguous sounding words and connecting them to sentences may also prove beneficial to grammar. Here the receptive skills of listening and reading should be practiced about 80% of the time while the remaining study could be used to focus on the grammar of the sentences. This type of work relies strongly on a lexical / phonology type approach. And for our student, I believe it is practicable way if done systematically and objectively.
After introducing university level topics, our exercises should be mostly listening and speaking. These topics can be read out loud with the student mimicking what the teacher is reading. So, my approach would be to focus on reading and listening while taking advantage of her grammar and vocabulary strengths.
It is likely that our student has gained her grammar / speaking imbalance from over exposure to the grammar-translation method. This method is a poor way to achieve fluency in speech and listening. To reduce her dependency on this method a counter-balance is needed. The aware teacher could create lessons plans relying heavily on the functional approach. This could be just what the teacher ordered and is probably what our student is lacking in the most.
Even though I strongly favor the productive and receptive skills of listening and speaking, function should play a strong role in de-programming her dependence on the grammar-translation method. Finally, I chose an overall balance of 80% listening/speaking and 20% reading/vocabulary. I base this conclusion on my personal teaching experience, searching the internet, soliciting the opinions of more experienced teachers, and from reading modules 1-3.
The History and Spelling of English
By Bruce W Mills
Language History in the Classroom
Knowledge of English language history can be helpful to the ESL teacher when teaching special purpose classes such as Legal English. This is often taught as part of a Business English course so, knowledge of the historical origins of archaic, specialized, and borrowed words can help the teacher explain why such words are used in contracts. Legal words are rarely encountered in a typical ESL course so it is prudent to prepare our students for some of the obscure words they will encounter in contracts and other obligations.
Historical knowledge of our language is also an excellent way to teach the past tense: “After the Norman invasion, many new words were brought into the English language such as â€¦”
And, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the qualified English teacher should be an expert in the field. After all, we expect computer scientists to know who Alan Turing was or, how the Babbage Difference Engine influenced the modern digital world.
Our students are probably more curious about English language history than we are and as teachers, we should be prepared to indulge their curiosity.
When students come from totally different language backgrounds such as German, Spanish or Chinese and Korean, the teacher, who is likely a native may have an easier time communicating with the Spanish or German students because of alphabetical and phoneme similarities as well as cultural commonalities such as holidays, food, religion etc… Therefore, the teacher must take care to share his teaching resources equally.
Many Asian languages are character-based and tonal, largely without emotional inflection. Stressing vowels may not be understood by these students. For them, let’s go, and Lets GO! sound the same.
Because of alphabetical and structural similarities, German and Latin students will have an advantage over Asian students. Therefore, the Chinese, Japanese or Korean student must be give more practice time with spelling and pronunciation, whereas the German and Spanish student may benefit more from grammar and vocabulary studies.
The Asian educational system is largely teacher-centric. Students have been taught to sit silently while the teacher lectures. For them, answering questions could be seen as “showing-off” knowledge. The ESL teacher is challenged to have them “open up” while at the same time allowing them to appear modest and respectable.
The best overall approach may be for the teacher to become familiar with each students L1 background, culture and educational system.
The best strategy for dealing with potential spelling blunders is preparation. The prepared teacher will anticipate difficult words as part of the lesson plan process.
First, the teacher cannot be in “spelling denial” and must admit that he/she has problems with spelling. Next, find out what these problem areas are and work on them. After taking these measures the teacher should not assume her spelling problem is under control but, continue taking preventive measures such as reviewing lesson plans before class and bringing a laptop with dictionary software open, and ready to use. Using a dictionary will only draw attention to the teacher’s weakness in spelling but, the laptop will allow for privacy. The prepared ESL teacher should also keep a list of problem words so that when a troublesome new word is encountered, can be added to the list.
Pronouncing words exactly as spelled may help, for example: believe can be pronounced as three distinct words: bee-lie-eve or broken into syllables: be-lie-ve. If one approach doesn’t work, try the other.
There are other well known ways to memorize words such as finding words within words (believe) or adding words to a word: fri-the-end (friend).
If a mistake is made during class such as misspelling a word or mispronouncing a correctly spelled word (equally bad), there is not much a teacher can do. Immediate response and correction is probably the best measure. Maybe the best prevention is to let students know on the first day that you are capable of making errors. There will always be students who expect perfection from the teacher. For these students, the teacher may be wise to have a damage control strategy.
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