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Is it always preferable to employ only native English speaking teachers?

Is it always preferable to employ native English speaking teachers?

Image courtesy of Flazingo Photos

There are widely-held perceptions that numerous language schools refuse to hire non-Native English Speaker Teachers (nNESTs). In this guest article, teacher, teacher trainer, and founder of TEFL Equity Advocates, Marek Kiczkowiak, shares his thoughts on how this can have negative effects on students and teachers alike, and looks at an alternative, more egalitarian hiring model, that emphasises qualifications and experience, regardless of their mother tongue.

Dear Student,

I would like to tell you a few things about your English teachers which you might not have been aware of. As a teacher, I really care about your language progress and I would like you to understand what characteristics make certain teachers unforgettable, so that you can make an informed choice and pick the best language school.

It is very common for language schools to advertise only for and hire exclusively native speakers (NSs). I am sure that you have come across (or perhaps even studied in) institutions that boast having only native English speaker teachers (NESTs), who will teach you the ‘real’ English. In theory, this sounds fantastic. After all, who wouldn’t like to speak like a NS? In practice, however, there is a catch. Numerous non-native English speaker teachers (nNESTs), that is teachers for whom English is not their first language, have been rejected out of hand, not for lack of qualifications or poor language abilities, but simply for not being a NS.

It is very likely, then, that among those rejected nNESTs there were numerous teachers with higher qualifications and more experience than the NEST who was hired. The recruiter might have based their choice on the assumption that all nNESTs speak ‘bad’ English. While I certainly agree that language proficiency is very important for a successful teacher (I certainly wouldn’t like to be taught by somebody who doesn’t speak the language well enough), I agree with David Crystal, one of the ultimate authorities on the English language, who in this interview said that “Fluency alone is not enough. All sorts of people are fluent, but only a tiny proportion of them are sufficiently aware of the structure of the language that they know how to teach it.”

In addition, there are language tests (e.g. IELTS, TOEFL, CPE) which can be taken to prove a teacher’s proficiency. And there is no doubt that you can reach native-like level in a language – people did that even in the dim and distant past when teaching (and certainly language schools) was almost non–existent, or simply backwards by our standards. Take Joseph Conrad, for example. Born, bred and baptised in Poland as Józef Korzeniowski, he only emigrated to England in his late teens. Yet, he still managed to outwrite most of his contemporaries, introducing the English to the beauty of English.

So yes, of course, a successful teacher should be highly proficient in the language. There is no question about that. You need a good language model. However, it is a mistake to assume that only a NS can provide it, and to dismiss any nNEST out of hand.

What is more, being proficient in a language is not the only characteristic of a good teacher. For if it were, there would be no need for teaching courses and university degrees in pedagogy. Successful language teaching is so much more than merely knowing the language and I think this should be reflected in the way language schools hire their staff.

So, if as a student you want to know whether a particular school is worth investing your money and time in, ask them how they recruit teachers. On the whole, more trustworthy and renown schools select successful candidates based on logical and measurable criteria which are independent of and irrelevant to being a NS or not. For example:

  1. Qualifications
  2. Years and variety of teaching experience
  3. Language proficiency
  4. Personal traits

As a teacher, the best staff rooms I have worked in, and the best language schools with the happiest students, all have a healthy mix of NESTs and nNESTs, an opinion confirmed by many Academic Directors such as Varinder Unlu, who works for International House London. This is because the two groups can bring different characteristics into the classroom, learning from each other and improving as teachers. So while NESTs might be experts in language use, nNESTs have many important strengths which should not be overlooked.

For example, having mastered the language themselves, a nNEST can serve as an excellent learning role model. They can give you numerous tips that will help you learn faster based on their practical insights. They might also be more aware of the difficulties you are having since they have been through them too. And empathy and understanding are vital for successful teaching to take place. Many nNESTs have also studied the language on university level and can therefore bring a deep understanding of its mechanics.

I suggest then that as a client you question how your school chooses its teachers. Do not be swayed by slogans such as: We employ only NESTs because we care about your progress.

If they did, they would be employing the best teachers out there: native and non–native alike. And you have the right to receive the highest quality of education. So get involved and support equal teaching opportunities for all teachers.

Best regards,

Marek Kiczkowiak, TEFL Equity Advocates

 


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Teaching teens in the EFL setting: Grammar

Group of teenage friendsJoan Saslow is the author of numerous widely used multi-level courses for teens, young adults, and adults. She has taught English and foreign languages at all levels of instruction in both South America and USA. Allen Ascher has been an English teacher, trainer, intensive English language program director, and consultant. He has also been a publisher, developing ELT materials for students of all ages. Ms. Saslow and Mr. Ascher have co-authored materials together since 2002. In this article, they share their tips for teaching grammar to teenage EFL learners.

This series of short articles will address the three-part reality we face: the social nature of the teenaged learner, the challenges of learning English outside of an English-speaking environment, and the limited number of class hours devoted to English study per week. Each article will focus on one aspect of language teaching and learning and examine pedagogical approaches to maximize learning and success.

See our previous article on teaching vocabulary to teenage EFL learners.

Grammar

There’s no escaping the importance of grammar. It has to be taught. It has to be learned. But, as with all language learning, motivation is key, and for the teenager grammar is not the most motivating part of English study. Let’s examine some ways to keep teen learners interested and focused long enough to master the essential grammar points.

A purposeful methodology

1. Show grammar in its social use

Since teens’ social life is paramount, connecting grammar to its social use makes grammar feel useful and valuable to them. The following natural interaction on social media foreshadows the use learners will make of the present continuous, by the end of this textbook unit.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

2. Clearly illustrate form, meaning, and use of grammar

If we illustrate grammar in actual use, students see its value, increasing their motivation to learn it. Explaining grammar rules simply and explicitly is helpful for teens too. Clear examples with color highlighting and boldface type ensure that learners focus their attention on the point of the presentation.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

3. Include pronunciation practice

Grammar charts in textbooks present grammar forms for students to read and study. Though such charts are necessary, students don’t have many opportunities to hear and practice grammar outside of class. Two important benefits of listening to and repeating grammar examples are:

  1. Repetition increases the memorability of the grammar because it involves two more skills: listening and speaking.
  2. Paying attention to the sound, rhythm, and stress of the grammar leads to clear, comprehensible pronunciation.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

4. Vary practice exercises

Increasing the variety of grammar exercises in a lesson boosts the speed and depth of learning. Adding listening comprehension to the mix of grammar exercises broadens the contexts in which the grammar is used, making it more memorable.

Exercises that provide learners with an opportunity to use the grammar to talk about themselves are particularly motivating to teens. Here are three varied grammar exercises for practicing the present continuous: a traditional completion exercise; a listening comprehension exercise; and a freer and more productive exercise.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

5.  Continually integrate and recycle the grammar

Integrating and recycling grammar into teen-relevant reading texts further extends exposure to and reinforces newly learned grammar. In the following example, the present continuous is richly integrated. It’s also contrasted with previously taught structures such as the verb be and can for ability.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

6. Provide social practice of the grammar

Natural, informal social language has compelling appeal to teenagers. Model conversations that integrate the grammar with this type of language motivate teens to practice. In the following conversation, students practice the social use of the present continuous in a conversation they might really have.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

7. Personalize the grammar

But it’s important not to stop with mere practice of model conversations from a book. Guided conversation practice offers learners an essential opportunity to use the new grammar in their own social conversations, bridging the gap between controlled practice and productive use. Notepads and visual cues increase each student’s involvement, motivation, and success.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Grammar exercise

Summary

In the reality of the EFL setting, with very few class hours, teen learners need many opportunities to observe and practice new grammar. And because they are teens, integrating the grammar in relevant social conversations ensures motivation, memorability, and mastery of new grammar.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.

For more expert advice on teaching teenagers from Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher, don’t forget to visit the OUP ELT global blog regularly.

To communicate with the authors directly, you can also take part in their interactive webinars:

Teaching vocabulary to teens in the foreign language setting
Friday, October 11, 2013: 2pm-3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Teaching grammar to teens in the foreign language setting
Thursday, November 7, 2013: 2pm – 3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two, a Secondary course for teens, by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.


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Teaching teens in the EFL setting: Vocabulary

Group of teenagers walking to schoolJoan Saslow is the author of numerous widely used multi-level courses for teens, young adults, and adults. She has taught English and foreign languages at all levels of instruction in both South America and USA. Allen Ascher has been an English teacher, trainer, intensive English language program director, and consultant. He has also been a publisher, developing ELT materials for students of all ages. Ms. Saslow and Mr. Ascher have co-authored materials together since 2002. In this article, they share their tips for teaching vocabulary to teenage EFL learners.

This series of short articles will address the three-part reality we face: the social nature of the teenaged learner, the challenges of learning English outside of an English-speaking environment, and the limited number of class hours devoted to English study per week. Each article will focus on one aspect of language teaching and learning and examine pedagogical approaches to maximize learning and success.

Vocabulary

In the EFL setting, the teenage learner, highly social yet easily distracted, must acquire a large volume of vocabulary in very little time and with little opportunity to practice. Lessons that provide enough exposure, practice, and recycling of vocabulary are hard to create, and time is never adequate. A middle school schedule of two class hours per week yields 72 class hours spread over a year. While a year of instruction may sound substantial, 72 hours only add up to 3 days! What methodology, then, can increase exposure, practice, and ‘stickiness’ (memorability) of vocabulary?

A purposeful methodology

1. Explicit presentation

The first step in learning a new word is understanding what it means. Though an occasional quick translation into students’ first language is convenient and harmless, using translation as the principal method of teaching vocabulary can lead to students’ paying more attention to the translation than to the actual English word being learned! A captioned picture-dictionary style illustration, on the other hand, can clearly show the meaning of a word. Captioned illustrations remain on the page of the student’s book for later study, reference, and review. When accompanied by audio, captioned vocabulary illustrations afford students a chance to read, listen to, and remember new words.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

2. Repetition

After students have seen each new word and heard it pronounced, an essential step is repeating the word to practice it. Imitating the speaker on the audio ensures that students focus on the English words, helps them remember them, and builds accurate pronunciation.

3. Immediate practice

We cannot expect students to master vocabulary without repeated intensive use and recycling. In the following exercises, vocabulary is practiced and used, first in a controlled contextualized exercise based on meaningful visual cues. Then a second exercise permits students to personalize the vocabulary, giving it additional memorability.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

4. Integration and recycling

New vocabulary should not just be limited to vocabulary exercises. Grammar exercises, listening activities, and reading texts can provide convenient opportunities to increase the exposure and practice of vocabulary.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

5. Social application

Because teens are very social, model conversations that show real social language in interactions teens might really have in their own lives ensure memorability of new vocabulary like nothing else.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

6. Personalization

It’s important not to stop with mere practice of model conversations from a book. Guided conversation practice offers learners an essential opportunity to use the new words in their own conversations, bridging the gap between controlled practice and productive use. Notepads and visual cues increase each student’s involvement, motivation, and success.

Extract from Teen2Teen - Vocabulary exercise

Summary

In the reality of the EFL setting, with very few class hours, teen learners need many opportunities to observe and practice new vocabulary. And because they are teens, integrating vocabulary in relevant social conversations ensures the memorability and mastery of new words.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.

For more expert advice on teaching teenagers from Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher, don’t forget to visit the OUP ELT global blog regularly. Their next blog on how to keep teenage learners interested in grammar will be available here from September 27th .

To communicate with the authors directly, you can also take part in their interactive webinars:

Teaching vocabulary to teens in the foreign language setting
Friday, October 11, 2013: 2pm-3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Teaching grammar to teens in the foreign language setting
Thursday, November 7, 2013: 2pm – 3pm or 6pm-7pm BST. Watch a recording here.

Text and illustration examples in this article are from Teen2Teen Two, a Secondary course for teens, by Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher.

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Bring your ELT coursebook to life!

Students with a textbook in the parkKolos Esztergályos, an Oxford ELT Consultant based in Hungary, gives his tips for how to breathe new life into your ELT coursebooks.

Most teachers would agree that no matter how attractive an ELT coursebook might look, its real strengths and hidden weaknesses will unfold only in action, that is, in actual classroom use. And then, it’s not long before teachers start saying things like “Oh, that text didn’t go down particularly well with my students” or “My group couldn’t care less about pop stars”. With the new academic year looming ahead, it looks like a good time to start thinking about your new classes, your present coursebook, and how to match the two by tweaking some elements to your and your students’ tastes.

Generation gap 1: You know the movie star? Chances are, your students won’t

You have a charming Pierce Brosnan smiling at you next to a reading text about James Bond movies. You might find that your students will have a different idea of a heart-throb. With today’s online resources it’s only a matter of a few clicks to revive the personality and put them into a present-day context through Wikipedia or IMDb facts and links. Start off with a topical bit of information or a recent photograph that can spark a discussion about a life event, a controversial topic, or the social issues a celebrity is likely to stand up for. With less advanced groups you can use the photos only: in pairs, one student describes the person in the photo from years ago, the other will do the same with a more recent one. Later, they will show their pictures to each other and find out that they have been describing the same person – with a lot of differences!

There are many various possibilities, but the main thing is to find a way to relate the person to your students’ present reality.

Generation gap 2: You can’t relate to a topic

You’ve never followed the Premier League events. You can’t see how designer brands make a difference. Your worst idea of a holiday is couchsurfing.

It’s very likely that your students will be experts on the topic, so the best thing is to own up. Argue that you don’t see why brands / clothes / having the latest gadgets / etc. are important. You’re sure to instigate a wild classroom debate, especially with the 14-18 age group.

Tom, Dick and Harry

By the very nature of coursebooks, exercises are often riddled with general, “faceless” names. You might want to try and add a little flavour by replacing these with the students in your group. “What time does Ivan get up?” will have a totally new interpretation if Ivan is the regular latecomer in your group! “What would Mr (eg. history teacher) say if he found out that you had copied your homework?” will also shed a new light on typical questions. But even without direct references, any mechanical exercise will benefit from turning fictitious names into flesh-and-blood people. Of course, it is your responsibility to avoid sensitive issues and to maintain the integrity of all people involved.

 “C, final answer”

Multiple choice tasks are prevalent in any ELT material, obviously, for good reasons. But don’t forget that any classic MC task can be turned into a ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ quiz item to involve groups of students and to increase motivation. There are some great online tools to create your own quiz show. You will have to introduce “cat mode” (ie. multiple lives) if you want to play it with more students or groups of students simultaneously; all students or groups will mark an answer, but those who get it wrong can also play on with a life lost, or, alternatively, by earning no points/”money” for that round. Even more engaging if played with toy money, where culturally acceptable.

Video killed the radio star

ELT materials today tend to cater for the fact that students are brought up in a multi-sensory environment. As a result, these materials make use of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic channels to accommodate different learner types and to make content more memorable. This, in turn, allows us to transform material by “switching off” channels to leave more to the imagination. If you have a listening text, first use the transcript only to let students make guesses about the age, sex, occupation, etc. of the characters. If you have a video, use the audio only and get students to make the same inferences. This may sound time-consuming but will help students focus on the linguistic material to make judgements and to work with the text more intensively.

My test, my learning

It is indeed very appealing and time-saving to print off a ready-made test, but you can make students part of the whole learning process by involving them in test design. Use your review lesson to get groups of learners to write tasks for an ideal test they would be happy to take. This will make them go through the material covered and they will be likely to use the task types found in the coursebook. Collate and correct the tasks, go through some of the items together. The remainder will give you the basis of a test, ideally to be used as it is. When compiling the actual test, give students credit for an extra morale booster. I’ve found that this works especially well with students who need extra support.

Naturally, this is a list of recommendations only, but I hope that these ideas will give you enough inspiration to look forward to a new academic year!


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Talking in Class: How to Use Repetition to Teach Everyday Conversation from Day One

Lauren Bailey is a freelance blogger who loves writing about education, new technology, lifestyle and health. Here she talks about using repetition to teach everyday conversation in the classroom.

Before ever working as an English instructor, I taught dance for many years. Teaching new combinations to classes of dancers and getting them to remember the steps is a task typically met with varying degrees of success and frustration. My entire perspective changed, though, after taking a master class with a choreographer whom I admired greatly. Not only was this teacher able to teach the movements in a fun and fluid way, students of all ages caught on immediately and had the routine memorized and performed fully by the end of the hour-long class. The secret to the method of teaching was consistent repetition, without breaks. It was interesting to see a teaching technique that was completely new to me, yet worked so perfectly. It changed the way I thought about teaching dance, and it also influenced my method of teaching in various disciplines throughout my life, from then on.

Basically, the method goes like this: The instructor puts on music and simply begins to dance the first few steps. The students then copy the movements. The instructor does the first steps over and over, without stopping, and the students follow along. Then, after almost everyone is in synch, the instructor adds on the next few steps, without pausing. The students then follow along, incorporating the steps they just learned with the new, additional steps. This method is repeated over and over, without breaking, until the entire routine has been covered. By that time, students have memorized the movements with their bodies, without even realizing it.

The point of teaching this way, the instructor said, is to get students to stop thinking and start doing. Constant repetition is also the best way to engrain new information quickly and with few errors.

I used this teaching method during my time as an ESL instructor, and it worked wonders.

In an English language setting, I found that this works best for practice with speaking out loud.

Instead of practicing speaking aloud with a particular unit and then moving on to the next, students can learn basic communication much better by continuous, repetitive practice of simple exchanges, which are built upon bit by bit. This simple dialogue does not need to move as quickly as the lessons themselves. Instead, start small and keep building as soon as the majority of the students can comprehend and respond fluidly. You can ask simple, conversational questions in the beginning of class as students are getting situated, then ask them anytime throughout the lesson. Start out by writing a simple exchange on the board. Practice it all together, first. Then, starting the next class, you can begin to practice it in repetition.

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