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The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachers

The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachers Texts have always played an integral part in classroom learning, for skills development and as contexts for language study. It has long been acknowledged that choosing texts that are interesting and motivating is key, but we also need to ensure rich and meaningful content. Katie Wood, teacher trainer and materials writer, suggests using four key questions to assess whether a text meets these criteria and discusses why it should.

Question 1: Does the text contain information that can be of use in the real world outside the classroom?

In today’s fast-moving and increasingly digital world students are less likely than ever before to read or listen to something solely because it’s good for them, or because it contains examples of a particular structure. They are likely to want to know which specific skills they’re working on, but also what information they can take from the text and make use of in their life outside the classroom. A good text needs to be engaging, but it also needs to contain information that remains relevant and useful to the student once the lesson is over. Texts need to provide take-away value both in terms of linguistic development and real-world knowledge.

Question 2: Does the content help students relate their experiences, situation and country to the world as a whole?

More than ever before, both students and teachers have access to information from a variety of truly international sources on a grand scale. Facebook, Twitter and the internet in general mean that students are communicating internationally both in terms of their career and social life. As a result the communications themselves have become more related to matters which cross boundaries and borders.

Question 3: Is the text generative and can productive tasks be tailored to students’ needs?

The challenge is to provide both students and teachers with texts that have universal appeal, that are relevant, yet are in some way not already worn out by digital media. Choosing texts which are content rich increases the likelihood that they will generate different responses and points of interests from different individuals, and this includes the teachers. Maintaining the enthusiasm of a teacher dealing with the material for perhaps the fifth or sixth time should not be underestimated. In addition, a large number of students learn English in a General English class, but increasingly they have a more defined purpose in learning than they did in the past. In one group for example, a teacher might find students who want to pass an exam, want to improve their English in a business environment, or want to focus more on social English. A genuinely generative text provides the opportunity to lead into productive work in more than just one of these areas.

Question 4: Is the content of the text authentic and does it lend itself to further research and exploration?

As previously mentioned, students want to feel that what they spend their time reading and listening to in the classroom, has real world application. A text that satisfies this criteria should ideally create a desire in readers or listeners to discover more. Consequently, texts need to be authentic and googleable, and this should be true for all levels. So, while a text chosen for elementary learners will need to be adapted in terms of language, we need the content to be real. A student can then go away and find out more for themselves.


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How to survive in the freelance market – Part Six

How to survive in the freelance EFL market - difficulties and successThis is the last of a six-part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they give advice on how to manage the ups and downs of running your own business.

In the previous articles in this series, we gave advice on setting up your own freelance training business. In this final article we discuss how to manage some positive and negative challenges that may come up as you are running your business. No business comes without its challenges, and it’s vital when starting out to be aware of what’s ahead and to have a rough plan for handling the bumps along the way.

Adding to the team

As demand for your services grows, you might find yourself with a fully booked schedule and a phone that keeps ringing. This is great, and you may soon need to bring on more trainers to fulfil the needs of your clients and to alleviate some pressure from your own schedule.

The laws associated with subcontracting trainers in your country may be pretty straightforward and easy to set up. Nevertheless, you should look into these laws and check with an accountant before you actually engage anyone.

When looking for trainers, it can be a good idea to use the same tactic as for finding your clients: word of mouth. You may already know some good trainers in the network who would be interested in cooperation. If so, get their CVs or profiles (ideally in the language of the client so they can be easily sent on to your clients, if requested) and find out what sort of hourly rate they’d be happy with.

From there, you’ll need to add on a certain amount to cover government charges, business expenses, your time spent doing admin, contracts, quality control, any testing, etc. Always draw up a contract with the trainer, which should include details of the number of hours, the hourly rate, payment conditions, any cancellation policies, and a clause protecting the relationship between you and your client. It should also be noted that not only is it poor business practice to (attempt to) steal clients, but it is illegal in many countries.

As you work with more and more trainers, concentrate on hiring those with specific and marketable talents. Those with sector relevant backgrounds, such as legal or technical, or those with skills specific experience, such as negotiations or presentation skills will be good additions to your team. Consider also hiring someone who can respond to a call for bids and who writes very well in the local language. Seek out trainers who have the people skills to meet with HR managers and build rapport on your behalf. After all, your new team will be working together to maintain the quality of your “brand”.

How to deal with challenging clients

At some point, you may have a challenging client who requires more time (e.g. additional administration, testing, follow-up meetings with HR, frequent quality control, difficult trainees, etc.). Perhaps you’re helping them set up their training programmes, or maybe they’ve had bad experiences in the past and want to keep in extra close contact to ensure maximum ROI. You should be aware of the time investment necessary for each client, and budget your time and costs accordingly. Having a range of service models will make this easier and more transparent for everyone. Of course, don’t underestimate the goodwill to be generated by going the extra mile.

The extra time you spend on that one client could eventually pay off with additional participants, top management signing on, or other company referrals.

How to deal with clients leaving

Almost every freelancer will lose a client at some point in their career. This may be something beyond your control, but you should still reflect on why this is. Obligatory calls for tender, budget cuts and changing priorities can all result in your loss of contracts. In any case, you should get feedback from them as to why they don’t want to (or can’t) continue the relationship. Any feedback you can get should be seen as developmental and necessary for your future growth. In the unfortunate event that the company is forced to close and lay off all of their employees, you should stay in touch with your trainees: they could refer you to their new HR manager when they move on to other companies.

Get in touch

Whichever way your business grows and develops, your chances of success will be much better if you are organised, focused, and prepared for a range of eventualities, both positive and negative.

We hope you’ve enjoyed and benefitted from this series of articles and would love to hear your feedback. We look forward to connecting with you either on LinkedIn or our about.me pages.

 

This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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You’ve got to have a system: vocabulary development in EFL

vocabulary development in ESLJulie Norton, a university lecturer and materials writer, considers the benefits of adopting a systematic approach to vocabulary development and suggests a checklist for evaluating the vocabulary included in teaching materials.

Takeaway Value

All learners want to feel that they are making progress, so it is important for them to take away something at the end of each lesson. Learning new vocabulary is very motivating, particularly for adult learners, because they often feel they have learnt a great deal of grammar at school. Vocabulary is an area where they can make tangible gains relatively quickly, provided they are given appropriate guidance and support.

Vocabulary learning is more effective when it is focused and systematic rather than incidental (Nation and Newton, 2009). For example, explicitly teaching the form and meaning of a word, including its spelling, pronunciation and grammatical requirements (e.g. irregular plural, countable noun, phrasal verb etc.) is more effective than leaving vocabulary learning to chance or dealing with it on an ad hoc basis as it arises in class. Learners usually need to encounter a vocabulary item several times before they can recall it. It also helps them to see a word or phrase in a variety of contexts and to have the opportunity to use it to express their own meanings, so practice is crucial.

Coursebooks have several advantages when it comes to presenting vocabulary in a systematic way. For example, they aim to teach a certain number of words per lesson and per unit. These words are recycled in revision sections and in consecutive units of the book. Word lists and extra practice activities are often included at the end of the book.  There are also other components, such as workbooks, online practice, and apps which can usefully support and extend vocabulary development inside and outside class.

Knowing you are learning the right words

Coverage of the most important words should be a priority of a language course. Learners have a finite amount of time, so it seems sensible to focus on the most useful lexical items and the most frequent or prototypical meanings of these items first. A systematic approach to vocabulary development can assure learners that they are focussing on the right words and help them gain control over essential, high frequency items.

In recent years, computer corpora (electronically held collections of spoken and written texts) have been drawn upon to inform the development of language teaching materials to ensure coverage of the most frequent words and phrases.  The Oxford 3000™ is a corpus-informed list of the three thousand most important words for language learners which have been selected according to three criteria: frequency, range and familiarity. The keywords in the Oxford 3000 are frequent across a range of different text types and from a variety of contexts. The list also includes some words which are not highly frequent but which are familiar to most users of English (for example, parts of the body or words used in travel).

Developing awareness of vocabulary as a system

Words do not exist in isolation: they form partnerships and relationships with other words and pattern in certain ways (e.g. regular spellings and sound patterns). Presenting vocabulary as a system by focussing on word-building (e.g. affixes); the underlying meanings of words; and collocations (words that often occur together), for example, can make aspects of this system more explicit for learners, speed up vocabulary learning and develop greater language awareness.

A check-list for evaluating systematic vocabulary development

Here is a list of questions that teachers can ask to engage more critically with the vocabulary content of their teaching materials.

  1. Can you easily identify the target vocabulary in the lesson?
  2. Why are students learning this vocabulary?
  3. Is it useful and appropriate for their level?
  4. How much new vocabulary is taught in each lesson/ in each unit?
  5. Have students been presented with enough information to use the new vocabulary? (e.g. context; collocation)
  6. How many opportunities do students have to use the new vocabulary in the lesson/in the unit? Is this enough?
  7. What strategies are included for learning and developing knowledge of vocabulary (e.g. developing awareness of vocabulary as a system; recording and recalling vocabulary)?
  8. What opportunities do students have to revise and study this vocabulary outside class? Does the course package provide other components to facilitate vocabulary development?

Reference

Nation, I.S.P. and Newton, J. (2009) Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking, New York and London: Routledge.


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How to survive in the freelance market – Part 5

Quality control and maintaining satisfied clientsThis is the fifth of a six part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they share advice on how to develop long-lasting relationships with your clients.

In the four previous articles, we discussed conducting market research, reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses as a business owner, how you can market your services to your clients and how much to charge. In this part five we will discuss what goes into maintaining satisfied clients. The exhilaration you feel when you sign with a new client is great indeed. Your business is now officially growing and it’s time to celebrate. But the honeymoon should be quick because you’ll have to jump into quality-control-mode right from the start.

In a 2013 webinar, James Schofield listed the three most common ways to annoy the training manager of a company.

  • Lack of professionalism
  • Lack of appearance
  • Lack of time keeping

These three elements are crucial in order to build and maintain relationships, and make sure your clients are satisfied with your services. From day one of the training, show up on time (or a bit early just in case), prepared, and looking like a true professional.

Communicating with HR

Don’t hesitate to frequently report to HR on how it’s going. Stop by their office or send an email and say, “Today went great. We covered these topics …” If you do stop by, and it’s been a long day, be sure you check yourself in a mirror before knocking on the door. Freshen up first, and don’t let your appearance give them reason to worry about the quality of the lessons.

If there’s ever an issue in or with your training, you need to take care of it immediately. For example, your clients want to get the best Return possible On their Investment (ROI), and they’re not getting that if your participants are either absent or not focused. It’s good business practice to inform the company when these or other factors that may affect their ROI happen; they will genuinely appreciate that you understand the importance of this. Transparency is key to building trust and relationships, and your honesty is an extra plus the client may or may not have gotten with a previous service provider.

Quality Control Methods

Questionnaires, handed out at the end of the training, are the most common form of quality control. Standardised corporate feedback forms are generally the same for any type of training delivered within the company, e.g. IT training. You could ask if you can adapt these to include specific questions about the course content, the materials and the methodology used. Most of the time, HR will agree to this, but if they are unable to, you could ask if you could also create your own, personal feedback form.

Secondly, ask the training manager if you can hand out the questionnaire half way through the training instead of at the end. This will help catch any issues that might develop into dissatisfaction before they get out of hand and affect your chances of signing on with that client in the future.

Thirdly, don’t hesitate to show HR the results of the questionnaire. Don’t hide from positive and negative feedback, and explain how you will modify the training to better meet the needs of their employees next time.

And finally, keep copies of the questionnaires because they can be an excellent source of praise for your company to put on your website (with the client’s permission, of course). Of course, in addition to the formal feedback and quality control of questionnaires, you should also always be carrying out informal verbal feedback by just talking to people. Ask them how they’re getting on and if you can be doing anything more/less/differently to be helping them reach their goals, and adapt accordingly.

Tough situations

Satisfaction can come at a price. Some clients may ask for things that are in contradiction with your company policy. One common example is a client insisting on having native-speaker-only trainers while your company uses a more inclusive approach. In such cases, you could sit down with the client to explain the benefits of both types of trainers and suggest a trial period with a non-native speaker. Another example is with issues surrounding downward price pressure. In the previous article, we warned against clients trying to set the price far below the local market value. In the end, you will waste an enormous amount of time on admin and/or commuting and it will have a negative effect on the quality of training you offer if you accept such contracts. Sometimes it’s best to maintain your own sense of integrity and know when to decline such training requests.

Be Referral-Focused

Depending on the country in which you live, obtaining new clients often depends on the referrals of others. Therefore, the more you concentrate on the needs, goals and satisfaction of your clients, the more likely they will refer you both internally and to other companies.

Bearing these factors in mind will help you lay the foundations for solid and long-lasting relationship with your clients.

Reference:
Schofield, J. 2013. What are the issues training managers face. February 27th webinar. Cambridge English Teacher.

 

This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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How to survive in the freelance market – Part 4

ESL freelance invoicingThis is the fourth of a six part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they share advice on how to handle the tricky subject of pricing your services and billing clients.

In the three previous articles, we discussed the areas you may wish to target as a freelancer, your strengths and weaknesses as a business owner, and how you can market your services to your clients. Following a logical progression of developing yourself and your business, the next three articles will look at pricing and billing, maintaining clients, and dealing with success and failure.

How much do I charge?

In a previous article we recommended assessing your current (or desired) standard of living on a monthly and yearly basis and then calculating the income necessary to sustain that lifestyle. Following this, you will also need to assess the market value of language training in your area. Many countries have seen increased price sensitivity in recent years, with per-hour training prices steadily decreasing and making it difficult to make a comfortable living. Therefore, we suggest you remain flexible, at least in the beginning. For example, will there be commuting time involved? Will it require a significant amount of preparation time or none at all? Will you need to invest in training for yourself so that you can better adapt to your clients’ needs? What sort of peripheral services will you include (e.g. placement and progress testing, correcting, proofreading or translating documents, follow-up meetings with HR, etc.)? All of these factors will influence the per-hour or per-package price you should set for your training.

Beware of clients that try to set the price far below the local market value. Accepting it may have a detrimental effect on your quality, and your well-being. Some freelancers are afraid of asking for too much, however setting prices too low is to be discouraged. This doesn’t help the value of the ELT industry and moreover, it might draw your own credibility into question. Be prepared to justify your prices and the value your services will bring.

Just like your marketing plan, how much to charge clients may always be in a state of flux. If your business becomes more successful you can consider charging higher prices. Monitor your income regularly and adjust as necessary to react to the changing market value and additional expenses you take on as a business owner.

The first meeting

Congratulations! A prospective client wants to discuss a training programme. Do your homework before you meet them: Google them, learn as much as you can about their industry. The size of the company, the number of employees, and whether it is public or private may have a strong influence on the amount of money they will be able to invest.

During the meeting, money probably won’t be the first question on their minds. Some clients prefer to sit down and tell you what they want, while others expect you to give them an overview of your services. It’s crucial that you tailor what you offer to what you learn about the client: so ask lots of questions.

When the conversation turns to money, don’t be shy, but also don’t feel obliged to quote a price spontaneously. Many clients expect a quote along with a detailed training programme (in the local language if you can), which can take a day or two to write. In the quote, it’s also advisable to include the conditions of payment, however, depending on the company (public or private), they may or may not be able to meet these conditions, so you may have to be flexible. Whatever the payment conditions are, be absolutely sure they appear in the final order/ proposal confirmations.

Billing clients

Surprisingly, many freelancers struggle with this area of their business. Some admit they feel uncomfortable asking for money while many forget to bill their clients. However, with all the balls you have to keep in the air, billing clients is a ball you shouldn’t drop – your livelihood depends on it!

Send invoices that look professional. On them put your company logo (if you have one), your company information (address, phone numbers, email address, government- issued company and tax numbers if applicable), the title of the training, the dates and times, the hourly rate, the total, payment method and conditions.

Some clients are better than others at paying on time. Sometimes, you may have to deal with a client that refuses to pay an invoice. In such cases, you should get assistance from an accountant or lawyer. Otherwise, expect delays, and be prepared to send friendly reminders. You should also budget accordingly so that you’re not under too much financial pressure if a client is a month or two late settling their invoice. Now that you’ve got some clients to be invoicing, you need to think about keeping them. We’ll be looking at this topic in the next article.

 

This article first appeared in the February 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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