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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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Digital Divide: What Is It And How Can You Bridge The Gap?

woman sitting on the ground and working on her laptopWe can safely say that, through the difficulties of 2020, English language teachers have grown accustomed to delivering online classes and learning to use new digital tools. Some teachers may face many weeks ahead of continuing such classes if high Covid-19 cases see a resurgence, their new academic year does not start until 2021, or they have become ‘online teachers’ on a semi-permanent basis.

As a result, some teachers have found themselves dependent on the help of parents to ensure their children are online at designated times and able to access class materials. Parent support is especially important for younger students who perhaps did not originally have the necessary computing skills to act independently.
But what about our students who cannot access the internet from home, or do not have reliable electricity supplies? Not only is infrastructure an issue, but also the lack of digital equipment, e.g. when siblings and/or parents require the use of a laptop or computer simultaneously. Similarly, adult students may have to share their bandwidth and equipment with a partner, or family, who all need to work online.

These are examples of what the ‘digital divide’ is beginning to look like in many of our societies – those with an unproblematic ability to access the internet or digital equipment, versus those with regular difficulties to reliably access either the internet or the necessary equipment.

This article focuses on the two issues of lack of connectivity and dealing with the parents who have this problem.

Helping students with connectivity issues

Many teachers have had few options but to carry on delivering online classes, while being unable to meet the needs of those students who cannot get online when they are delivering their ‘live’ (synchronous) classes. Here are some practical solutions to help address some of these problems:

  1. Upload materials to your school or institution platform that allows students to be online to download materials then work with them offline. The same can be done with a video of a lesson that you delivered. This, however, depends on your institution having a digital platform.
  2. If you use a digital platform, don’t upload pdf documents because they require a lot of memory and can take up a lot of space on a smartphone, which may be the only device a parent can use to download learning materials for their child.
  3. Use G-suite (Google Docs, Sheets and Slides) or Microsoft’s One Drive. These can be used to upload learning materials which you can save so they are available offline. For this the teacher, if using G-suite, needs to use Google Chrome and be online at the time of saving the materials. By adjusting the Settings, you can turn on Offline Setting, then send it as normal. Students do not need to be online to access it via WhatsApp, nor do they need to download it. If using Microsoft’s One Drive set up One Drive to Sync, and you simply drag it into a file that you have shared with your students (or parents).
  4. While you give an online class, simultaneously record yourself so you can send the recording to your students who could not get online at the time. The mp4 recording can then be converted to an mp3, so that it is not such a large file and it will not require a student (or parent) to be online for hours, and therefore at great expense, simply to download materials. The same thing can be done with a Zoom recording to reduce memory, before making it available to students.
  5. While doing an online class live, you can use Google Docs Voice Typing. This simultaneously types what you say and allows you to save it as a Google Doc. This way you can allow students, who could not attend synchronously, to have a transcript of what was said during the lesson. Tip: You do need to speak very clearly, which may help you be mindful about your pronunciation and clarity when you speak to your students. It is worth doing, simply to see how clear the app thinks your voice is – this is a good reflective task for any ELT teacher!

Working with parents to solve connectivity problems

Being able to help students with connectivity issues, of course, depends on the teacher setting up an understanding relationship with the parents. They are the ones who have connectivity issues. But if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that remote learning for students below the age of 18 must be in collaboration with parents. Here are some ways to help such collaboration:

  1. Establish WhatsApp (or equivalent) contact with parents of students. You could set up a special group only for you and the parents of students with connectivity issues. Then, while you deliver an online class, call the group (but only using the audio function because it needs less bandwidth) so any parent can help their child hear the class and even participate.
  2. If you are distributing worksheets or planning to use one in a live online class, send a WhatsApp message or email to the parents with connectivity issues the day before.
  3. You can also print the worksheet or materials, photograph it, and send it to the WhatsApp group for parents who do not have email accounts.
  4. Similarly, if you used Google Docs Voice Typing to use as a transcript (as described above), or any Google Doc, Sheet, or Slides, it can be saved using the Offline Setting. Similarly with Microsoft’s One Drive. Which means that the parent does not lose valuable time (and money) online accessing your teaching materials. The parent does not even require a Gmail account to be able to access any of the Google applications.
  5. If, for some reason, you do not get on well with G-suite or Microsoft’s One Drive you could convert a document to a QR code and send the code to the WhatsApp group. (Please follow this link to a YouTube video showing you how to do this).

As we were thrust into digital teaching, there was an assumption that teachers must synchronously teach the same number of times as they had been doing face-to-face. But by doing things alternatively, as outlined above, that is not necessarily the case. I propose that this would improve the lives of not only teachers but also students and parents.

What have you found to be of help?

Feel free to use the comments section below to share your own experiences with our community of teachers!

  • What have you found most difficult about moving your teaching online?
  • What are your coping strategies?
  • Has your institution found a solution for students who cannot join online?

 

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?

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

 

 


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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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.


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An English Test For Schools: Introducing Ana And Her Students

Ana and her studentsEarlier this year, Oxford University Press launched the Oxford Test of English for Schools – an online, English proficiency test recommended for 12-16-year-olds. It’s flexible, fast and available at Approved Test Centres worldwide. Plus, it’s the only proficiency test certified by the University of Oxford.

Teacher Ana Isabel Vázquez from Spain is excited for a version of the Oxford Test of English that has been designed especially for younger students – as she says, it’s “a test adapted to give them the best start on their English journey.”

“The younger we are able to test children’s English, the farther they will be able to take their language learning.”

She uses the Oxford Test of English for Schools to motivate her students, so they “find the confidence to keep learning and using English.” And it works!

An English test that motivates students!

Nerea, 16, one of Ana’s students, is proof: “English will help me get a job, go abroad, learn about other cultures, and be able to communicate with people around the globe. That’s fantastic.”

“It makes me so proud to see the students develop, learn, and feel more confident in how they use English to communicate.”

The Oxford Test of English for Schools assesses 12 to 16-year-olds’ abilities in Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. The Listening and Reading modules are adaptive, so the difficulty adjusts in response to students’ answers, while the Speaking and Writing modules use task randomization.

This personalized experience makes the test shorter, less stressful, and more precise than traditional proficiency tests.

“Because a 12-year-old doesn’t want to write about work or finance,” Ana explains: “The Oxford Test of English for Schools will have content adapted to suit children’s interests and life experience. It’ll cover topics like free time and what they did at the weekend.”

A change students welcome

Veronica, 16, says: “We like to answer questions about friendship, free time, cinema, culture – things that affect all of society.”

“I like that I can speak English everywhere and most young people are going to understand me, which gives me the freedom to travel and know I’ll be understood,” adds Fernando, 16.

Like many institutions worldwide, Ana’s school, Colegio Nuestra Señora del Pila, has become an Oxford Test of English Approved Test Centre, meaning they can offer the test securely within their computer room.

“It only takes two hours, and the results are ready in 14 days, which makes everyone feel really comfortable and confident,” says Ana.

“My biggest hope is that the children maintain their English and use it throughout their lives. Our objective is to give them the ability to have a conversation, to be able to communicate – we don’t drill grammar here, we just want them to love English as much as we do!”

And it seems they already do. Maria, 16, says, “Knowing English helps me when I travel to other countries; for now, I can understand other cultures and communicate with people, but maybe speaking English will also help me get a job when I leave school.”

Opening Doors

Ana believes the Oxford Test of English is “a great starting point for showing future generations that they are our hope and that they can conquer the world. Being able to speak English will open doors for them and set them on their journey to success.”

 

Fast-track your 12 to 16-year-olds’ English language certification with the Oxford Test of English for Schools.

Learn how the test could benefit you and your students on our website.

Oxford Test of English for Schools

 

Like this? Now read: Watching students find success with the Oxford Test of English

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.