Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


1 Comment

Oxford Teachers’ Academy 2012 – Reflections

Teachers working togetherMirjana Podvorac, an attendee of the Oxford Teachers’ Academy: Teaching English for Adults course in July 2012, talks about this life-changing experience.

I feel really privileged to have been a part of the Oxford Teachers’ Academy course Teaching English to Adults 2012. Being able to meet people from all over Europe and beyond, who are in the same profession of teaching, who are really dedicated to what they do and are experts in their area of interest, is inspiring and makes me personally want to learn more and push my own limits.

These few days in Oxford have really been rewarding in many ways; famous Oxford University and prominent Keble College provided a perfect setting for the course, stirring our imagination and taking us back to the times of Tolkien, C.S Lewis and other prominent Oxford scholars.

The course consisted of 18 hours of intensive teacher training divided into 9 sessions over the course of three days. Tim Ward, the tutor, professionally covered all language skills providing lots of useful tips, techniques and ready-to-use activities to make our teaching more efficient, varied and fun. Personally, I admired his calm, friendly, and engaging attitude. At the end of each day there was some time left for reflection, going through our notes and handouts, summing it all up, which have proved to be very useful now that I want to use the activities and ideas in my class.

We were also given the opportunity to meet the editors of Oxford University Press Adult course book classics, English File and Headway, which enriched with the new, inventive iTutor and iTools digital features, continue to be teachers’ favourites worldwide. Being able to convey our opinion to people who are engaged in the process of the development of new courses and to assist with the usability testing of the online test project was really rewarding. The OUP team have proved once again to be trustworthy ELT partners who truly value teachers’ feedback encouraging all the participants to continue working together and contribute to future projects.

Meeting fellow colleagues from different countries was another benefit; 36 enthusiastic people who like this tricky, yet wonderful profession. We spent most of our free time together as well, sightseeing, taking photos, buying souvenirs and getting to know each other over dinner and a pint in famous Oxford pubs or, again thanks to the OUP, enjoying fabulous Lebanese food. We continue to keep in touch exchanging ideas, useful books and links. Hopefully, the OUP OTA 2012 will result in some inspiring international partnerships as well.

In conclusion, although Oxford is known as the City of Dreaming Spires suggesting the melancholy, poetic echo of the rich history, we have found the City and the University itself to be vibrant, stimulating and fully awake.

Finally, I give my appreciation to the Croatian OUP team in Zagreb, who have been reliable partners for more than thirteen years, for their support and this memorable experience.

Bookmark and Share


11 Comments

An interview with the authors of English File, Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig

English File third editionEnglish File third edition is here! We went behind the scenes to find out what makes the authors Christina Latham-Koenig and Clive Oxenden tick. They tell us about their inspirations, their own struggle with learning Polish and Spanish, and they muse about the future of English language teaching.

What made you decide to become a teacher?

Christina Latham-KoenigTo be quite honest I hadn’t actually thought of becoming a teacher. I studied Latin and Greek at university, and I knew I didn’t want to teach that. When I left university I got a job at the British Council in London, and that’s where I learned about TEFL, as we had to organise courses for people. I then decided I’d like to go and live abroad for a year, and thought that the easiest way would be to teach English. In fact I loved it right from the start, and realised that I had accidentally found the right career path.

Clive OxendenAfter university I worked as a volunteer for a while in the Middle East with a lot of young people from different countries. It showed the importance of English as Lingua Franca and I found that I enjoyed helping people with their English. When I came home I went to the local library to look up English teaching (this was a few years before the internet was invented!)

Where did the idea of writing English File come from?

Christina Latham-KoenigBasically it responded to a need – we didn’t find that the material we were using as teachers was appropriate for our context, teaching monolingual classes abroad. In particular there was very little material that helped to get students talking, which is why we have always really focused on this aspect of teaching in English File.

Clive OxendenWe wanted to write a book that reflected our view of teaching which was that while learning should, of course, be approached seriously and  in a very professional and organised way it is vital that the experience should also be fun and motivating. If not, students quickly get bored and disheartened.

When you were learning a foreign language, what did you find most challenging?

Clive OxendenPronunciation! I came to live in Spain and at first I had a lot of problems with certain sounds in Spanish, especially ‘r’ and ‘rr’. When I went shopping in the market I sometimes could not make myself understood and I spent several months ordering pork (which I could pronounce) when I really wanted steak (which I couldn’t ). It certainly showed me the importance of pronunciation and how it affects a learner’s confidence and willingness to speak. I think the fact that Christina and I wrote English File while living in a foreign country explains the emphasis we always give to pronunciation.

Christina Latham-KoenigAs I’d studied Latin at university, I have found learning Latin languages relatively easy, in fact I was convinced that I was a very good language learner. Then a few years ago I decided to learn Polish. It was a real shock to learn a language where you couldn’t rely on Latin-based words being the same. It has taken me forever to learn certain basic things, like the months, or telling the time. And the grammar, the different ending for nouns and adjectives, is a nightmare.
Continue reading


4 Comments

10 Commandments for motivating language learners: #9 Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom

Blonde woman smiling in college classContinuing the 10 Commandments for motivating language learners series, Tim Ward, a freelance teacher trainer in Bulgaria, takes a closer look at number nine of the 10 Commandments: Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.

This is the latest of the blogs dealing with the vexed matter of motivation. A recap: I’ve been musing on the 10 Commandments of Motivation as categorised by two top Hungarians, Zoltan Dornyei and Kata Czizer, and wondering what their practical ramifications might be. In some senses, I’ve left the most interesting two till last. One is the imperative to create a pleasant relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. This is about the physical properties of the classroom, by the way, and not so much about the human relationships inside it – though one way of looking at it is to think about how the classroom atmosphere can facilitate good relationships and an atmosphere conducive to learning.

I’m loath to provide any recipes here as so much depends on the context you’re working in and, for example, the physical condition of a classroom in a state university in my part of post-communist Europe is very different from the state-of-the-art hi-tech private schools students might be in. But atmospheres can always be better and there is a framework to think about them provided by the senses. Why? Well, we know enough from research to have, to say the least, strong suspicions that brains do not thrive in environments with a narrow range of stimuli. In plainer English, poorly kept classrooms inhibit learning. I should say here I’m relying on one of my favourite books on this area – it’s Using Brainpower in the Classroom: 5 Steps to Accelerate Learning by Steve Garnett, and it says some hugely useful things about the classroom environment.

One place to start is with the display. I’m a great believer in displaying students’ work, even that of adults (as long as of course that it’s not kept on the wall too long). It’s not just about self-esteem, though seeing your work displayed is likely to increase that. There are also important learning points here. Writing should always be for an audience, and displaying writing gives any bit of work a wider audience than just the teacher. The posters that come with English File can be enormously useful too. If they are legible from anywhere in the room and positioned at eye-level, long term recall of their learning points can be as high as 75%. If we replace these learning displays frequently, then obviously more knowledge can be learnt, almost passively, in this way.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Pronunciation Matters – Part 2

Continuing from last week’s post about teaching pronunciation, Robin Walker, author of Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca, talks to us about the challenges of teaching and learning pronunciation.

Q: What are the challenges for teachers when teaching pronunciation?

RW: The main challenge is the need to gain and maintain an adequate level of pronunciation knowledge and competence in each of three areas:

  • your own competence in the pronunciation of English. This doesn’t mean having a perfect accent (whatever that means), but there is obviously a minimum competence with pronunciation, just as there is with grammar or vocabulary.
  • your knowledge of how the pronunciation of English works. Obviously if you don’t understand this, it’s unlikely that you’ll be very effective in helping your learners to improve their pronunciation.
  • your competence in terms of teaching strategies and techniques. It’s not enough to know ‘about’ pronunciation, or even to be a native speaker. You also need to know as much as you can about teaching pronunciation to others.

Q: What challenges do students face when learning pronunciation?

RW: The first challenge is to do with the distance between their mother-tongue pronunciation and that of English. In that respect Dutch, Polish, or Scandinavian students, for example, have a lot less of a mountain to climb than Spanish, Greek, or Japanese learners.

A major challenge for most adult learners of English, however, is to ‘re-tune’ their ears so that they become sensitive to sounds and other features of English that don’t exist in their mother tongue pronunciation. I’m struggling right now with some of the consonants of Polish precisely because we don’t have these sounds in English. And if you can’t hear a sound, you’re not going to be able to pronounce it.

And an increasing challenge now that English is a lingua franca is the variation in accents – both non-native speaker and native speaker – that learners will encounter as they travel around the world and put their English to use.

Continue reading


14 Comments

Pronunciation Matters – Part 1

Pronunciation could be a tricky area for both students and teachers, but it is a vital skill for students if they wish to be understood in the real world. Pronunciation expert, Robin Walker, author of Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca, gives his views on teaching pronunciation.

Q: How has the attitude to teaching pronunciation changed recently (if at all)?

RW: I don’t really know, but if I think about pronunciation at teacher’s conferences, I have to conclude that the attitude most prevalent today is lack of interest. There are very few talks on pronunciation at conferences now, and attendance at these talks is too often closer to ten than to a hundred and ten. Similarly, if you browse through teacher’s magazines, you don’t find too many articles or regular features on pronunciation.

Q: Does pronunciation matter?

RW: Teachers know from experience that poor pronunciation means poor fluency – you can’t be fluent if you can’t get your tongue around a sound, or get the words out of your mouth. In fact, learners actually avoid words or grammatical structures that they find difficult to pronounce. Then of course, if your pronunciation is poor, listening can be a nightmare, either because you simply don’t hear key sounds or words, or because you have to dedicate so much processing power to listening that your brain very quickly overloads and blocks.

Less obvious is the impact of poor pronunciation on reading and writing. At the level of writing, the impact might be merely anecdotal. My students would often write ‘crap’ instead of ‘crab’ because of limitations in their pronunciation. But at the end of her talk on L2 reading at the 2008 IATEFL Conference, OUP author Catherine Walter told the audience that if their learners wanted to read better, they would have to improve their pronunciation. She was not being facetious here. She was basing this invaluable piece of advice on serious academic research into how we read.

Speaking, listening, writing, reading – competence in all four skills is closely related to competence in pronunciation. The same is obviously true for vocabulary, and even for grammar, as is witnessed by the pronunciation CD that accompanies the Oxford English Grammar Course.

Continue reading