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Developing Intercultural Competence In Your Classes

group of friends socialisingAs a Spanish learner, I once faced the awkward situation of thinking I was having a conversation about new potatoes being on the menu, when in fact the hotel manager had diverged from the conversation to give me the news that there was a new Pope! Being in a Catholic Latin American country at the time, I should have been more aware of the context and cultural importance of the vote going on in the Vatican that week. However, my focus was simply on the words. Hence intercultural competence is so important and should not be ignored in the language classroom. It is especially so with English because it facilitates communication between so many people from diverse backgrounds (ELT Position Paper on Global Skills, 2019).

If we are to successfully communicate with people, we need to appreciate different perspectives to be able to understand how someone on the other side of the planet might view things. Open, respectful, and tolerant communication enables interaction with diverse cultures effectively, enabling us to connect with people. From researchers to taxi drivers, gaining intercultural competence alongside language skills can help smooth out communications and help reduce the stress of communicating in another language.

Intercultural competence in the ELT classroom

As an English language teacher, you may wonder if your students will be interested in such a thing as intercultural competence. A useful exercise to help students understand its importance is to ask them to write down what different interests, groups of people, clubs/societies, communities (local/national/international) they belong to. As an English language teacher, perhaps you listen to music in English and are part of a fan group of certain music artists; belong to an association of English teachers; run a book club. You might enjoy super-hero films; be a fan of Liverpool Football Club and watch every press conference Jurgen Klopp makes. – Incidentally, as a German manager of players of 17 different nationalities, living in England, he is an excellent example of what intercultural competence means.

  • The activity helps us understand how we belong to different communities and are multi-faceted in terms of our cultures. In other words, multicultural is the norm, not the exception.
  • For the teacher, it becomes a multi-purpose activity, because students are using English to discuss and write down the communities they belong to, whilst the teacher simultaneously discovers students’ interests and online communities they belong to.

Many students are keen to learn about Korean culture to understand their K-Pop idols better and so might combine Korean words with their English in their chats on fandom pages. Greta Thunberg is a climate activist that has captured the interest of many teenagers and young people. The sports fans may prefer Naomi Osaka – a Japanese tennis star born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, brought up in the US. Whatever the interest of your students, the chances are high that they visit and possibly engage with other fans, in English, on pages/websites, so they are probably already reading in English to find out about the people/topics they are interested in.

English language and citizenship

As our students are online much of the time, it is essential that we can help them to be aware of their responsibilities as fair-minded and respectful participants. Bullying is a topic that we can investigate and learn about its effects together so that those who may have thought being anonymous removes responsibility realise that there are consequences of actions.

We can weave citizenship into example sentences while helping the understanding/practice of language items. E.g. because, because of, that is why, as a result of, consequently:

“I know a few words of Korean because I love Rain’s music.”

“Lewis Hamilton is one of the best F1 drivers and he is not afraid to promote Black Lives Matter. That is why I like him the best.”

“Billie Eilish is vegan, believes in sustainable fashion, and consequently signed a contract with H&M for their sustainable fashion line.”

“As a result of Greta Thunberg’s activism, more young people understand the need for replacing petroleum as an energy source.”

“Because of bullying, I refuse to have an Instagram account.”

Encouraging learner autonomy

After using the above kind of examples to illustrate how we use these connectives, we can ask students to do an internet search on a person/topic of interest and note down 5 sentences that use a variety of the same connectives. A follow-up to this could be they write out the sentences they found with a blank for the connective and provide it as an example for their peers to complete.

Another meaningful way to get students to further practise connectives would be to ask students to reflect on what issues/cultural aspects they feel strongly about in their communities and if there are any that have influenced their behaviour/habits. This would lead to them creating their own sentences using the connectives to describe why or how these issues have influenced how they live. Hence while they are using and practising English, students are also becoming more conscious about reasons for good citizenship and opinions on cultural values.

Download the position paper

 


Zarina Subhan is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. She has taught and delivered teacher training at all levels and in both private and government institutions in over fifteen different countries as well as in the UK. Early on in her career, Zarina specialised in EAP combining her scientific and educational qualifications. From this developed an interest in providing tailor-made materials, which later led to materials writing that was used in health training and governance projects in developing countries. Since 2000 she has been involved in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), materials writing, training trainers and teachers in facilitation techniques and teaching methodology. Zarina is published and has delivered training courses, presentations, spoken at conferences worldwide, and continues to be a freelance consultant teacher educator.


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Teaching During The Pandemic: Postcards From Around The World

Postcard with the message "Wish you were here!"This year may have been difficult for everyone across the globe, but it has been especially challenging for teachers. They have had to transform their lessons into online sessions and adapt to rules and advice to keep their students safe and make sure they can continue learning. In this two-part blog series, we contacted this year’s Headway Scholars to find out more about their pandemic teaching experiences and any advice they have for our teaching community. Read their stories below!

Comments have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Dr. Ahmad Khalil Awad, Saudi Arabia

This pandemic has taught me to value everything we have; our families, friends, books, life, pets and countries. It has taught me a priceless lesson of not taking things for granted. Life is full of ups and downs, but there is no mountain too high nor is there an ocean too deep.

It has been really challenging to teach students during this time. Their fears and uncertainty around the situation overwhelmed their thoughts so we have had to help with this. Teaching online was new to all of us and it was difficult not being able to meet our students face-to-face.

TOP TIP: Sometimes, I felt like I was talking to myself and no one was participating in the online lesson. Using a flipped-classroom approach with tools such as Kahoot, Wordify, Padlet, and Oxford Learn are amazing in helping us achieve our teaching and learning outcomes.

“The pandemic has taught me to value everything we have.”

Fariha Haidary, Afghanistan

During the pandemic, I have been teaching English to business and journalist students at university. Although it was my first time teaching online, I received good feedback from my students and felt satisfied with my teaching. They said that they didn’t feel like they were online during my lessons as I made it feel like the usual classroom experience.

TOP TIP: WhatsApp has been very helpful during this time. I make sure to share the link for the online lesson and lesson recordings in our WhatsApp groups before and after our sessions. Google forms have also been useful for producing quick online quizzes for students.

Safa Abdul Razak, India

The most challenging part of online lessons in India was how many students were not able to participate because of a lack of technological know-how and poor internet connection. It was also difficult to get students to understand the importance of attending these sessions.

There have been many funny (meme-worthy) incidents over the last few months, where students were eating, watching television, conversing with their siblings, arguing with parents or generally distracted, while I carried on. However, on the bright side, since students have less school work, we have been able to explore new surroundings, talk about incidents that we would never have thought of until this lockdown, and spend a lot more time learning English.

TOP TIP: Connect with other teachers and students around the world! I started a pen-pal project with several schools in other countries and it yielded wonderful results. My students were able to learn about other students’ lifestyles and how the pandemic was affecting them.

“There have been many funny (meme-worthy) incidents over the last few months, where students were eating, watching television, conversing with their siblings, arguing with parents or generally distracted, while I carried on.”

Begoña Urruticoechea, Spain

Teaching during the pandemic has been very intense. Online lessons have been tailor-made to fit my students’ needs and this has been very demanding. Despite it being really tiring, it’s also been satisfying. Students’ good results are always gratifying for teachers, but to be told that they have enjoyed my lessons is equally delightful.

TOP TIP: Teachers should inspire students and the best way to do this is showing our enthusiasm for what we do. I make sure to establish a close connection with my students and get to know them and their needs. I then pick materials according to their interests and needs to help stimulate their learning process and help them become autonomous learners.

Santina Mandelli, Italy

My experience was challenging as I had never taught online lessons. It was also difficult to get students to attend and concentrate during these lessons. Some struggled with their internet connection and others did not have a laptop or tablet. I had to be very patient, but eventually more and more students were able to attend lessons. Does teaching online mean avoiding books? Of course not! Sharing the pages of Headway through video lessons was great because I could show pictures, texts and the corrections of the exercises straight to the students’ screens.

TOP TIP: I split the classes into small groups. Students seemed to attend more frequently and willingly because there were less of them and I was able to help and listen to them more carefully. This solution was quite difficult because I had to increase the number of sessions in our timetable, but it was more satisfying for me and my students.

“Students seemed to attend more frequently and willingly because there were less of them and I was able to help and listen to them more carefully.”

 

Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, this year’s Summer Seminar at Oxford University was cancelled. Instead, we are excited to welcome our winners to Oxford in 2021 and thank them for sharing their stories and advice.

 

How have you found teaching during the pandemic? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

 

Coming soon: For more stories from our Headway Scholars about teaching during the pandemic read Teaching During The Pandemic: Postcards From Around The World (part 2).


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Festive Resources and Activities for your Class | ELT

festiveIt’s that time of year!

To help you celebrate, we’re sharing a collection of Festive ELT activities to get you and your class in the holiday spirit!

We’ve prepared some multi-level ELT activities for you to use online or in the classroom. We’ve got something here for all.

All activities are photocopiable and shareable online using the below-sharing links.

Beginner 

  • Decorate your tree
  • Festive Wordsearch

beginner

Shareable link -> https://oxelt.gl/2JTJjrf

Intermediate and above

  • Gapped-text exercises
  • Extensive reading resources
  • Festive sing-along

intermediate

Shareable link -> https://oxelt.gl/37glVgr

Happy Holidays from all of us here at Oxford University Press! ❤️

 


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What Could An English Test Do For Your Student’s Future?

Marina & NicolásMarina, a 27-year-old teacher from Zaragoza in Spain, loves learning English.

“I love English vocabulary. It’s both practical and beautiful, and it’s easier than other languages.”

For Marina, English presents the opportunity to communicate, not only with native English speakers but with people from across the globe who also have English as their second language.

“On vacation, I like to communicate with other people, go shopping, and eat in restaurants – everywhere you need to speak with other people. Last year, I went travelling and spoke in English with people from many different countries, including Italy, Portugal, and China. So languages are very important for me.”

Her English skills have also come in handy during her professional life, as well as on vacation.

“Before I worked as a teacher, I was a tour guide – a job I needed English for. When my boss asked if I had a certificate to prove my English level, I could say, “Yes, I have one for the Oxford Test of English!”

How do you choose the right English test?

One of the appeals of taking the Oxford Test of English in the first place was that it is certified by the University of Oxford. “That is important to me because it is such a famous university. I also prefer the Oxford Test of English because it is faster than other tests. You take the test in two hours, you have the results in 14 days, and the price is good.”

She enjoyed the experience so much, she recommends the test to everyone she knows.

“I always recommend the Oxford Test of English to my students, friends, and family. My brother is a marketing student at the moment, so I told him to take it. It’ll be useful for his future, too.”

Does she have any advice for her brother when he does take it?

“Don’t hurry, use all of the allocated time for each section, and you’ll do great.”

English for everyday life

Meanwhile, Nicolás, a 33-year-old teacher from Argentina, finds speaking English is an important part of his everyday life.

“I use English for nearly everything. When I teach biology in a secondary school, I have to read resources in English and understand them quickly. I also need it as a JavaScript programmer because all the programming language’s documentation is in English, and some of the team speak English, too.”

And it’s not just at work — Nicolás also uses English when he’s relaxing at home as well.

“I need English even when I watch baking tutorials or play video games because most of them are not translated into Spanish. Learning English is an important tool for me.”

Why take an English test at all?

When it came to advancing in his career, Nicolás found himself in a situation where he needed to prove his English level quickly and found himself limited by the options on the market.

“I needed to certify that my English was at a B2 level quickly so I could add it to my CV and do my master’s presentation. I researched several tests online, but they all took months to prepare for – I didn’t have that kind of time.”

Luckily he found the Oxford Test of English.

“I then called my local Approved Test Centre in Buenos Aires and was able to sit the test and get my results quickly, which meant I was able to do my master’s presentation and progress to my PhD.”

Like Marina, Nicolás would recommend this adaptive test to anyone who needs to prove their level of English; be that for work, travel, or academic pursuits.

“A test that adapts to the student and tests them to their limit? That’s a really good idea. I think the Oxford Test of English was the very best choice for me – and it’s certified by the University of Oxford, which is world-renowned!”

You can read more students’ success stories and find out how your students could benefit from taking the Oxford Test of English on our website.

Find out more

Like this? Now read: An English Test For Schools: Introducing Ana And Her Students

Don’t forget to share this link to our Learning Resources Bank with your students – where they can find additional tips and support to guide them through their English learning journey.

 


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Take Online Lessons To The Next Level With Authentic Material

A student in online lessons

If we’re looking for positives from this year’s enforced move to online lessons, then surely one is that authentic material is easier to incorporate!

Unlike coursebooks which, as good as they are, often employ language graded to the level of the students, authentic materials give students the chance to experience language through natural means and with a real-world purpose. Additionally, they can provide an insight into the target language culture and if introduced well, can be motivational.

Working online opens up a wealth of material that can easily be shared with our students. If we are teaching synchronously then it can be shown through screen sharing and posting the link in the chatbox. Asynchronously we can either share the link or embed the materials directly into our site. If you’re not sure of the difference, linking means when students click on the link they are taken away to a different website, while something that has been embedded can be viewed directly within your site. The advantage of embedding is that it keeps students on your site and stops them from getting distracted.

Considerations for choosing

When choosing authentic material, think about how accessible the material is in terms of language, relevance and overall content. With online materials you should also consider:

  • Distraction – When showing students something online, be wary of other factors such as the type of advertising and appropriateness of other links that might appear on a website.
  • Copyright – It is one thing to show the site, it is another to download or take things off websites without permission. This is a useful area to discuss with students to raise their digital literacy.
  • Be authentic – Try and use the material in a real-life way.

Using authentic texts

A simple way to share an online text is to copy the link and share it in the chatbox. However, bear in mind:

  • Online reading tends to make use of strategies such as skimming and scanning.
  • Reading in detail would be a waste of time if we find out the web page is not relevant.
  • Online texts are often nonlinear. Unlike a printed text, you don’t start at the top and read to the bottom. You’re often presented with additional video, audio, reader comments, along with texts full of hyperlinks that drag you off to other websites.
  • When using online texts get the students to read it authentically, to both practise these skills and build their confidence in independent learning. For example, one digital literacy task is to get the students to consider the impact of the hyperlinks in the text. Get them to click on each hyperlink and discuss where it takes them. This does not stop you exploiting the material later for focus on language work.

Using authentic video

An obvious goldmine of authentic material is online video. YouTube, for example, has everything from songs, stories, and videos to contextualise most coursebook situations.

One of my favourite activities is based on the Facebook idea of the watch party, where people watch and interact with video content at the same time. Incorporating this idea into your online lessons means you’re using the video in a more authentic way, as opposed to creating a worksheet to accompany the students’ viewing.

  1. Before the lesson, open a browser and find the video you want to use.
  2. In online lessons, ‘share your screen’ and show the browser so everyone can see the video.
  3. Before pressing play ask the students to type into the chat box ideas about what they’re going to watch based on the still image.
  4. As you play, encourage the students to react in the chatbox. The first time you do this you might need to prompt them with questions i.e. ‘What do you think of…?’
  5. After viewing use the chatbox entries to prompt post-watching discussion. Depending on video type, exploit further by putting students into breakout rooms and get them to work together to retell what they watched.

This concept can be used for most video types. For example, if you choose a video of someone being interviewed, then get the students to react to what is being said. If you’ve chosen a song, get the student to type lyrics they hear. After they’ve done this you can then go to a site like lyrics.com and show the lyrics on the screen.

Other types of authentic material

Not all the texts online are stories. There are restaurant menus, advice sites, and blogs! So, in a year when travel has become difficult, then we can bring the world into our online lessons.

  • Plan a group trip or holiday. Using break out rooms each group plans their trips and collects information. Students put it together to share with the class using collaborative tools such as Jamboard, Padlet, or Google Docs.
  • Encourage students to use free image and sound sites such as pixabay.com or freesfx.co.uk for enhancing storytelling activities.
  • Employ the same sites to create guessing games to practise language i.e. practising modals by showing an image or playing a sound and eliciting language such as “it might be a car engine, it could be a cat.”

Student engagement with authentic material

In the online classroom, everyone has the same access to materials. Don’t ignore the fact that students could choose the materials for online lessons! Instead of you choosing the YouTube video, why don’t they?

  • Build motivation and improve class dynamics by letting each student show the class one of their favourite websites/videos. Additionally, this provides a neat brain break between all the online learning the students have to do during your lesson.

Finally, remember that not all authentic material in our online classrooms needs to be online. At home, students have access to plenty of authentic materials that can be exploited. Over the course of lockdown, I’ve had students creating Lego models, showing their favourite possessions and even cooking and showing their favourite food.  So, to go back to where we started, while the online classroom is seen by many as a poor substitute for the bricks and mortar one, there is a certain irony in that it many ways it can lead us to more authentic language learning.

 

Are you ready to explore digital tools for teaching and learning?

Do you need help getting started with the digital tools in your Oxford course?

Or are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?Move forward together

 


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP. He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group. He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.