Mark Trombley





My teaching approach

Oxbridge TEFL Essay

Mark Trombley                                  July 22, 2013

 

INTRODUCTION

The more you live internationally, the more you realize that there are many ways to learn a second (or third, or fourth) language.  I come from a “study hard, get good grades, and you will be successful” school of language learning. English is my first language. I studied Spanish as a second language for eleven years in classrooms, where speaking a language traditionally takes a back seat. I also came to Spain three times in order to approach some semblance of fluency. It was during these visits that I met other people who had acquired Spanish fluency from birth or by simply moving to a Spanish-speaking country for a couple of years. That’s when I began to ask myself, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Further reflection made the issue clear to me. The question, “How long does it take to learn a language?” has a universal answer, or rather, another question – “How long do you want it to take?” Do you want it to take a decade or more of study? Or would you rather take the fast track? With this idea in mind, I propose a school of language acquisition which is diversified in its actual activities, as well as in its target audiences.

 

THE OBJECTIVE

The main objectives of the following proposal are that students learn to speak and understand English. It will also offer some reading instruction, since the materials will be more visual in nature. Writing English is not a main objective of this method.

 

LIVE ENGLISH EXPERIENCES

It is a truism that the quickest way to learn a language is to live where it in spoken. This school’s first method of helping a student to speak English would be an immersion experience for adult learners. It would be a boutique language-learning immersive experience in an English-speaking country with stays of least two weeks, and up to a month. This idea is akin to fantasy sports camps in which adults can train with professional athletes in professional sports facilities. The learning would take place in as functional an environment as possible, with the client living through real-life situations in English with a maximum of contact with native speakers. However, unlike a foreign exchange program, the content (target language) during the experience would not be left to chance.

The experience would begin with the target language for the first day emailed or downloaded by the client to study before arrival in the English-speaking country. This study is important, as the client will be negotiating his or her way through the airport, to the taxi, to the hotel by himself, guided by an English teacher/visit coach who will ensure that each interaction is conducted in English, as well as providing a safe environment for the client to engage the target language. While the larger goal would be on productive language skills, receptive skills would also be constantly engaged, since the student would be listening to English speakers and reading signs, menus, etc. throughout the experience.

The experience would continue with a daily schedule of stops to restaurants, shops, historic sites, farms, factories, families, and even the board room (if business English is desired). Preparation for each encounter would be provided on paper, email, or for download. The student would be expected to review each day’s target language before arriving at each encounter. The incentive to learn the target language would be great, since the client would be expected to engage with the native speakers at each encounter. The English teacher/guide would provide corrections as needed, after each encounter or (in dire circumstances) during the encounter. However it must be emphasized: the teacher’s role is that of a safety net for the student, not of a translator.

While these experiences would be an excellent way for, say, a P3 student to make substantial strides forward in their acquisition of English, it could serve as a powerful affective factor, giving lower level students a taste of what they have yet to master.

These English-only experiences could also be tailored for specific purposes – sports, engineering, the arts, etc. – at an additional cost. Admittedly, they are not for everyone. They would be our flagship offerings for the client with the desire and the financial ability to invest in an immersive experience.

 

ENGLISH PLUGGED IN

Of course, not everyone can afford such a luxurious language package. The second branch of the English training school would also offer classes in the students’ city whose syllabus would be based on the goals of the student – English for the sports lover, English for business, English for the world traveler, general English, etc. Each specialized module would build on the general English course. A student would need to acquire or demonstrate a higher level of English (P4, for example) before being admitted to the specialized program. This system would offer an incentive to the student to successfully the lower levels in order to move on to his or her favorite topics.

Students would be sent an email reminding them to log in to review the latest lesson’s target language. All of the lessons applicable to a student’s course and level would be stored in the cloud, available always and everywhere to students and teachers. In-class lessons would be conducted by teachers in person on iPads, Android tablets, laptops, or even the client’s own computer, since lessons would be available for download for use where there is no internet access, or access is unreliable.  Vocabulary, structure, and topic activities would be conducted, with corrections and praise delivered in the most nurturing way possible. Some praise could even be programmed into the activities, with applause sound effects, or balloons and confetti animated graphics appearing at the successful conclusion of an activity.

Drills and gap fill exercises would be non-existent. Inter-language would be tolerated as a natural part of learning a second language, of course depending on the student’s level and if such errors are not part of the activity’s target language.

The use of electronic tablets during class also opens the opportunity to use music and video judiciously during class. A topic could be introduced with an actual news report, rather than a printout of a news item.  An activity could be made up in which a video clip is shown and students need to explain in English what will happen next (in the style of America’s Funniest Home Videos). Of course, all materials (except video) would also be available for printing, as well.

This technological approach has several other advantages. Students can review target language where and when they are, even on the train going home. In addition, the public is already addicted to mobile devices and software, and the use of technology plugs into the current zeitgeist. While it may or may not be true that technology improves learning, if students gravitate to it and actually use it more, then the practical result is that it can improve learning. The attractive appearance of the materials also plays an important role among the affective factors that attract students to a program. Lastly, by making lessons available on the computer, it also offers the possibility of plugging in assistance software to allow students who are blind or hearing-impaired to use the software.

The “cool factor” of technology cannot be ignored if a language program is to distinguish itself from its competitors. A program which uses the latest technology can be viewed (at best) as utilizing the latest in language acquisition technology or (at least) as keeping up with the times. And the beauty of the latest technology is that as long as you have access to it, both teacher and student can always go back to paper and ink, if desired.

 

MY LIFE IN ENGLISH

There is a third aspect to this language acquisition model. This technology model would also be ideal for teaching children, who are already enjoying software which introduces English language to then on their parents’ mobile devices. While this market would initially not be the target for our English language school, it does offer another way to diversify its offerings.  Introductory software could be developed for self-study on the web. The self-service software could be subscription-based, and available only on the web to avoid internet piracy. If successful with the children’s market, it could be expanded to older ages.  This self-study software is by no means a replacement for our in-person training. It is, rather, an introduction to our systems, serves as an additional income stream for the school, and is effective marketing for our language school.

 

CONCLUSION

This proposed language acquisition method could become a lifestyle brand, offering English instruction with the goal of learning to speak English from early life through school and career, and even after retirement. It could be the Pixar to Berlitz’s Disney, the cool, revolutionary, fun way to learn a language. It would maintain all of the positive aspects of Oxbridge’s approach, while keeping up with the demands for flash and convenience that are craved by this and coming generations. It also diversifies the channels through which clients may come to know the brand and learn to speak English.

 

 



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