Racist pronunciation work

I’ve never been a fan of pron work. Back in the day, students learned the symbols then spent hours in the lab listening to natives and covering themselves in saliva as they wrestled with their tongues.

I’ve always felt that it’s something students need to work on at home. I’ve done the symbols and transcription, motor skill activities, recorded pron, analysed pron, used Soundcloud, then all the other stuff like chunking, stress etc etc BUT when it comes to L1 interference I have a problem.

When I used to teach in a language school, I had groups of eager students and did pron sections of books. This went down well but rarely was suitable as about 60% of the class could do whichever sound it was. As for activities, I did drilling, eliciting, correcting, practice, games and also researched which countries had which problems (also on the CELTA) and highlighted them and gave tips.

With 1-2-1s and monolingual groups things are different. I find that students really don’t like being told their pron is bad and they REALLY don’t like t when you say it’s due to L1 interference. 1 local teacher even said I was being prejudice. Probably because he used ERRRR between every other word and that had been what I was discussing with a colleague.

Other private clients have just not wanted to work on their problems. I think for these reasons:

1) They don’t see pron as important.

2) They don’t think they have a problem as they sound the same as the other locals.

3) They take pron correction very personally. They wouldn’t get so upset if I said they added ED at the end of every irregular past tense verb.

4) If they admit they have a problem, they lose face.

5) They see it as an attack on their L1 and some countries, like France, really love their language.

For these reasons, I am very reluctant to go into too much pron work with clients or groups. I just raise their awareness, show them a video of the motor skills, give them some practice and then move on. Yes, they really need more and have to put in the effort but it’s probably not going to happen.

C’est la vie!!!

The joy of tests

I have taught a bit of a dull topic in grammar class for the past week. to treat the students I’ve provided several interesting online English resources to reward them for their hard work. I’ve given them a choice of a video-based activity, songs, reading+interactive questions and a test.

90% of people have opted for the test. My description was “this is a test that covers most of what we’ve done so far this term”. 

Maybe, they all really wanted to measure their progress or perhaps it’s just that they are so into MCQs and online tests that they aren’t used to or enjoy (??) anything else. It’s strange as other schools/classes I know would be on the video one before I even finish speaking. Actually, I’d say that video-based activities seem far less popular this year than last. I wonder why….

Numbers

5,10,20,40,60.

These are important numbers in my teaching life. They dictate what I do, how much of it I do and when. They are the contact hours, course hours or teaching hours I have with students and corporate students.

I have long contemplated about the ideal golden course length i.e. how many hours makes the perfect course? How many do I need to get students to where they need/pay to be? How many do I require to get them their grades?

I’m still not sure but I have reached some conclusions:

  1. 5 hours split into 30 minute phone lessons is great IF they call on time and the lessons are regular such as twice a week for 10 weeks.
  2. 10 hours is OK for an exam prep crash course with a student who already has the level but just need to learn and practise the test. An ideal course would be 5 sessions of 2 hours.
  3. 20 hours is fine for a language or uni course with weekly 2 hour slots but a break after the first hour is needed. 90 mins is better I feel.
  4. 40 is a good length for a regular corporate student who wants 90 mins or 2 hour sessions every week and is willing to put in self-study time. Twice a week is perfect as the course is then 10 weeks.
  5. 60 is a bit long, in my opinion for a 1-2-1. You can cover most needs/requests in less than that so you end up out of ideas and materials half way and motivation and “how many hours do we have left?” kicks in.

EAP, the lack of

I first taught EAP back in 2002 when it was all the rage. We had few books but loads of foundation and pre-MA students who all needed to be prepared for the demands of studying in an English uni.

The books included the basics of writing essays from researching to topic statements and referencing. They also had stuff about seminars and sot things like planning your week, month and year. The latter seemed a bit childish and never went down well, despite the fact that it was really needed.

So, roll forward 10 years and I know don’t teach EAP but do teach courses in English. At one place, I do a speaking-based course and a grammar one. I guess the second is a language support class in a way as it’s for A1/A2 students. the other is for B1+. In the last place I worked we also had English-based classes using a CUP ESP book but, like now, some students just didn’t have the level. Eventually an ELT support class was set up to push low levels up a few grades. It was a typical ELT class with a horseshoe, copies of Inside Out and games.

Now, to me I think an EAP class is needed in both situations but not a EAP course as a course but an extra support course which blends in with current courses. Thus, it helps them prepare for essays coming up soon, works on presentation skills for next month’s presentations etc. This way, it’s relevant.

I’m all for EAP but when so many many schools and unis in France are delivering classes in English, is it needed? The PPT is often created and delivered by locals in a mix of L1 and L2 so they only need very basic English. Perhaps it would be best to just teach the subjects in the L1 and have one ‘Eng for…’ class. Yet, that’s what we did last year and it failed as student’s didn’t have the right level. Or maybe the English route is best of putting  students on a one year foundation courses and only letting them start the degree when they get a 6 on IELTS. After all, what’s the point in them attending classes in English if they are only IELTS 4 or below and busting a gut in their EAP class to try and get them up to a 6.

Cancellations and noshows

121, private and corporate teaching share a common difficulty. What is it you may ask? Well, it is that they have a higher chance of cancellations and noshows.

Now, if you have some kind of cancellation policy then you should get paid, unless the cancellation is just before it kicks in i.e. an hour. For no shows it should be no question about getting paid if there is a signed contract with a clause mentioning such a situation.

It’s in these situations that us teachers have to put our business hats on. Personally, I like to keep my teacher hat on but it seems that the more freelancing I do, the more I need to get into the business side if I want to get paid. It’s definitely a plus working for a school which pays you a flat fee, cancellation or not but I don’t think the majority of us are in that situation.

Enforcing the cancellation and noshow policy can be uncomfortable but if it’s in a signed contract then it should be followed, in theory. I mean, we block out the time, plan etc. In the case of working at a school, there are more costs incurred.

I know several students who are professional and are fine to pay for cancellations and noshows but I’m pretty sure I know others who wouldn’t be. the same as I know people and organisations who don’t seem pleased to pay for their training at the end of the course. For independent freelancers who take on one big in-house contract this can be terrible. I had a friend whose company was in this situation too. Letters were sent and lawyers were mentioned. Maybe he got paid in the end but how can you survive for months with no pay, even worse, how can you fay the costs of your business?

I’ve come to trust my instincts now. When you meet new or potential clients you do get a sense of if they understand the rules and will follow them. After all, I think most of us live up to our end of turning up and delivering quality so why should we have to enter conversations about getting paid for our work. One reason may be the opinions some clients have of the service we deliver. Here are some I have heard:

“They’re only English classes, it’s not serious”

“I thought it would be OK”

“Why should I pay for a class I didn’t have?”

On my end, I tend to dress and behave professionally. It’s a job and when you’re working with business people you have to look and be the part. 

I resit therefore I am

I have resit students. Why? Because they failed the course and need to do it again. Fair enough but resit students bring with them one or two points to consider:

1)Motivation. Are they motivated to improve and pass the course?

2)Will the materials be the same or will they be changed to accommodate a few resit students?

3)Do students lose points or get punished for resitting or is it just an easy doss?

4)How much blame should the teacher take for these students resitting?

5)How many times have they resat? It could be just once or twice.

6)Is there a problem with the actual course or the final test which is creating failure?

I am currently wrestling with all of the above.

A good day to moan

Bad lessons call for reflection to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. It doesn’t help wallowing in fail mode. So, by the time I got out of the building I was already figuring out what was wrong with my lesson.

I had prepared, delivered etc etc, all pretty similar to last year’s method but slightly improved. FYI I’ve been developing my own debate style/method since 2007. Yet, things didn’t work. 

The difficulties

1)Students peaking L1

2)Students joking and messing about

3)Students not doing the PW/GW tasks properly

4)Students not talking enough when called upon for a group debate

I grabbed some students at the end to tell them off but turned it into a Q&A to find out why they were how they were. My findings were that they were just doing what they did last year i.e. speak the L1 and behave like they were.

This means that no matter what I had done they’d have been like that. It wasn’t my lesson but the past teacher’s ‘training’ that was the issue.

Solution

I think I need to start off the next classes with a ‘talk’ about what I expect, what they need to do and also to find out what they are interested in and work from there. I tried that last year but got nothing back but maybe these students are different, maybe.