Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

How I’m learning Polish

Slowly. Without lessons. Mostly by myself. These things will hopefully all change as we move into the next academic year, but until then I’m…

Using Memrise

I started doing this as soon as I found out I’d got the job in Poland. I’ve been using a range of different sets, and spend 5-10 minutes on there every day.

Leeds University beginners’ Polish
The best Polish course I’ve found on memrise, though I didn’t find it until much later than the other sets linked here. It has a range of useful vocabulary sets, with words and phrases I’m highly likely to need. Unfortunately though, quite a few of the words don’t have any audio.

Beginner Polish
This was the first set I used, and I finished it a few months ago. It has a lot of useful vocabulary, but not so many complete phrases.

Beginner to Intermediate (no typing)
There is a lot of incredibly random vocabulary here, and I’m not sure I would describe it as beginner, though some of the words scattered through the sets are. The first 19 or so levels are quite useful, dealing with verb conjugations, but then set 20 is clause linkers, most of which I ignored. I’m about halfway through, and find that the lack of typing means words sometimes take a while to stick in my head. There are also some words which are a bit confusing because they are presented completely out of context, so it’s not always clear which meaning of the English translation they correspond to. Most of the words have audio though, which is helpful. There are times when I think ‘When am I ever going to need that?’ often shortly followed by said word being key in an article I’m skimming in the magazines left in the school kitchen, or appearing in film subtitles:)

Days and Months
Colours
I found these two sets when I was trying to find something more useful than the Beginner to Intermediate set. They are short and quick to finish, which was motivating.

For a long time I got a bit too lazy, and memrise was the only thing I was doing for Polish. It felt like once I’d reached my daily goal, there was no need to find the time to do anything else. Some extra practice came to me, like buying things from the counters in the supermarket or reading subtitles when I went to the cinema, but it wasn’t much. About a month ago, I decided it was time to change this, and have now added a few other things, starting with:

Harry Potter

Inspired by Lizzie Pinard, I downloaded the Polish version of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone audiobook way back in September. I enjoyed the books the first time round, as well as the films, but haven’t read/seen them for a long time, so this is a great opportunity to revisit them and learn at the same time.

Until about a month ago, I’d only listened to the first two chapters once or twice each, but then I decided that if I was really serious about learning Polish just doing memrise wasn’t going to cut it. I put the audiobook on my iPod, and before I listened to any podcasts each day, I had to listen to some Harry Potter. I’m about 2/3 of the way through the book now, and try to listen to each chapter at least twice, and often four or five times, before moving on to the next. Every time I listen I notice more of the vocabulary, and some of that ‘When I am ever going to need this?’ vocab from the Beginner to Intermediate memrise set has actually come in quite useful here! It’s also a great way to help me pick up on the pronunciation of words I had only seen and not heard before, and to notice the case endings which are used throughout Polish.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Polish cover)

Having enjoyed puzzling through Game of Thrones in Russian previously, I decided to buy the book of Harry Potter a couple of weeks ago. I tend to read one or two pages every night before bed. I finished chapter one last night, and want to go back and listen to the audiobook chapter again as I now understand so much more of the text. This is the last thing I do each night, and I read until I can’t keep my eyes open. Before that I…

Write in my journal

Writing is often the skill which is most neglected when learning a language. My receptive skills are pretty good in Polish, around pre-intermediate level I’d guess, because of the Czech and Russian I have learnt before. Unfortunately, my productive skills are lagging far behind this. I’m reluctant to speak because I end up producing a mix of Czech, Russian and Polish, though this is getting easier as time passes. A lack of practice doesn’t help.

I’ve had previous success with journal writing in Russian, and I try to do it with my students, so on the same day I started reading Harry Potter, I also decided it was high time I started writing a journal in Polish. By writing, I’m forcing myself to produce the language, but I have none of the time pressure of being in a conversation. I tend to only write the date and two or three sentences about what I did that day or some general fact about me if the day was quite boring. I’m trying to push myself to pick out something different to write about each day, even when the days are very same-y. This is also because nobody has read or corrected my Polish writing yet, so I don’t want to compound a particular mistake too much until they do! The whole process takes a while because I’m also…

Reading a grammar book

[The image is an affiliate link…I’ll get a few pennies if you buy through it]

Of course, saying it like that makes it sound really dull, but two things make it much more interesting. The first is that Discovering Polish is very accessible, with a limited amount of metalanguage and lots of examples to support rules. The second is that every time I pick it up it’s because I’m looking for a particular bit of grammar which I need for my journal but have no idea how to use. Whenever I start reading about it, I normally end up finishing a whole section or even a whole chapter. There are a couple of bits I’ve read more than once, and I’ve already noticed that these rules are starting to sink in. By reading more about the grammar, it’s also helping me to notice grammatical features when they appear in other places, like the Harry Potter book or…

At the cinema

I’m currently living right next door to the cinema, and have an unlimited card, so have been making full use of the combination of this and my summer holidays to go to the cinema as much as possible. However, the only dubbed film I’ve made it to is The BFG, which while it looked beautiful, was way too linguistically complicated for me to understand much of what was said. This wasn’t helped by me not doing any preparation before I went, like watching trailers or clips of the film in English first to know some of the language. It’s also a very long time since I read the book so I didn’t really remember the story, though I did manage to pick the main events up well enough from the images. It’s temporarily put me off watching dubbed films, though I know it shouldn’t because I got a lot out of watching Zootropolis a few months ago.

The subtitles are quite good for picking up bits and pieces of language, but I do have a tendency to ignore them completely after a while, especially if it’s a particularly gripping film. I should definitely go and see more dubbed films, and maybe even venture to a Polish film or two.

In the future

I really want to be able to communicate confidently in Polish and understand much more so that I can:

  • go to the cinema to see any film I like without needing to prepare first
  • understand everything at my flamenco classes
  • volunteer at Guides or Scouts
  • speak to parents and low-level students without an interpreter at school
  • deal with life admin without needing an interpreter
  • socialise more easily with monolingual Poles
  • and generally have as independent a life as possible here.

To do this, I’m planning to continue with everything I’ve described above, time permitting. I have CDs of the next two Harry Potter audiobooks which I found very cheaply in a second-hand DVD store, so that’ll keep me going for a while.

I’m also hoping that we’ll have higher-level Polish classes at school from October, which I should be able to join in with. This should give me more opportunities to speak. I have a few Polish friends here, but we almost always speak English, and it’s very hard to change the language of a relationship if you’ve started in a different one. I’m hoping to get a few more friends and to start the relationship in Polish if I can:)

I will inevitably come back to the blog at a later date to reflect on my further Polish learning, so watch this space to find out how it goes.

Why I’m doing it

This course, run by University of London and UCL Institute of Education, was recommended by Helen Legge. Having just finished a course on FutureLearn I thought it would be interesting to compare the two MOOC platforms. I won’t go into anywhere near as much depth in this post as I did on the Italian course though! I’m also interested in finding out more about Task-Based Learning, something I’ve only touched on in passing on a few courses I’ve done, and have never explicitly tried out. Finally, reading is an area I’ve been reading up on over the past year to try and balance all the research I did on listening for my Delta. Many birds, one stone:)

Coursera logo

First impressions

As soon as you arrive on the Coursera site, it emphasises deadlines, and there are reminders of these in various places, including at the top of the to-do list. This is coupled with getting grades (“If you submit late, you might not get a grade.”), a word which I don’t remember ever being mentioned on FutureLearn.

Every Coursera task has an estimated time next to it, very useful for working out what you might be able to fit in in one sitting. Each section terminates in a peer graded assignment (due in 5 days for me) and ‘review your peers’ (due in 8 days), both of which are graded. This will potentially give more purpose to the community/discussion side of the MOOC than on FutureLearn, where it often seemed to lack purpose. There are clear links to references and further reading to enable you to take your learning further.

It’s a six-week course which I know I won’t have much time to do the second half of. You can see all of the tasks for the whole thing, including the deadlines, unlike FutureLearn which releases the tasks a week at a time. I wonder if the Coursera tutors are able to be as responsive as FutureLearn were, adapting the course based on feedback each week. Progress can apparently be carried over from one session to another, with most courses having a new session starting every few weeks. This is very different to FutureLearn, where many courses only seem to run once a year from what I’ve gathered (please correct me if I’m wrong).

These impressions are just based on skimming the interface: I’ll actually start it tomorrow. Anyone want to join me on the course?

If all goes to plan, I’ll share another post when I finish the course to reflect on what did and didn’t work. If you decide to join the course to, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Having written a post about my first year as a full-time DoS a few days ago, it occurred to me that this time two years ago I was training up as a CELTA tutor, and that it would be interesting to write a similar post about that journey. Then I realised I’d kind of already done that by reflecting on a year of CELTA:) It turns out I’d already mentioned a few things that being a CELTA tutor has taught me, but here are some that I missed:

  • The mix of personalities in a TP group (the group of up to 6 teachers who observe each other and work together in teaching practice – real lessons) can make a real difference to how you need to work with them, and tutors need to learn to read this, as well as how to support the individuals and encourage them to work together as a group.
  • A lot of trees are sacrificed during a CELTA course, and many of these end up in trainees’ folders, which are often a good three or four inches (7-10cm!) thick by the end of the course.  Input session notes should therefore be as concise and easy to navigate as possible, and trainees should be encouraged (or sometimes told how!) to file them in a logical order. Sometimes it’s amazing to see how challenging organising a set of handouts can be for some people!
  • There may be a lot of right ways to do things as a teacher, but the amount of information overload on a CELTA course means that for some trainees it’s often better to give them only one option, walk them through it step-by-step, and let them see the results, before offering them other options later if they have the mental processing space with everything else they’re being asked to take in. Otherwise it can get too overwhelming. Simplify.
  • Whenever possible, showing concrete examples of things you’re suggesting is much easier for trainees to take in than abstract talk. This particularly seems to apply to requesting a more detailed lesson plan: showing trainees what to aim for tends to result in much more solid planning, and in turn, much more confidently delivered and useful lessons.
  • The CELTA is as much of a learning experience for the tutors as it is for the trainees. Through reflection and experience, we can become better tutors, but we also learn a lot from our trainees, who bring so much life experience to courses. For example, on the course I’ve just finished I learnt about daily life in South Africa, something I knew very little about before.

I’ve only done two courses over the last year, one part-time in Warsaw and one full-time in Milan.

View from the Duomo terraces

View from the Duomo terraces, Milan

I’ve also worked with a lot of teachers who are either fresh off CELTA or in their second year after the course, including doing formal observations. This has really shown the importance of the caveat (which should appear) on CELTA certificates that the candidate can ‘teach with support’. Although it seems to be forgotten sometimes, CELTA is an initial training course, and those who are newly-qualified continue to need support and development, particularly for the first year or two of their careers when they are building on what they have learnt. I’m lucky to work at a school which gives me the time and space to be able to really support our teachers in this way. An interviewer expressed surprise that one of our teachers only got a CELTA Pass when asking me for a reference for her, because she was so confident after her two years with us that the interviewer thought she must have got at least a Pass B, if not an A:)

The combination of these factors, plus having a bit more time to ‘play’ when preparing sessions, and often having 45- or 60-minute input sessions instead of the more standard 75 also meant that for the course in Milan I tried to make my input sessions more streamlined (as well as working on my feedback) and my handouts more useful both during and after the course. I always email them to trainees as well as giving them a paper copy, as I know that a huge binder is not normally a priority in your luggage if you’re moving around from place to place! I’m hoping to share more about how I design my input sessions in a future post.

In the meantime, here’s to another few years of learning and training:)

Week 5

I accidentally did the first five tasks of week 5 before I did week 4, so I’ve decided to combine the last parts of the course into a single post.

I watched the video about food before, and never asked for food from a deli while I was in Italy because I had no idea what to say. I should have worked through this section before I went! It’s taken me a long time to work up the courage to ask for food from counters, as it’s something I never did in the UK (and still haven’t I don’t think!) In Poland I had to learn that you ask for things in ‘deka’, or multiples of ten grams, so 200g is 20 deka. Apparently in Italy, you say ‘un etto’ for 100g, ‘due etti’ for 200g etc – interesting:) The communication video also introduces the names of containers (tin, bottle etc), then asks you to name some containers in the discussion, but introduces ‘glasses’ which weren’t included in the list. Always check your controlled practice only has the target language in it, and nothing else… Made me wonder if I’d missed anything, but ‘glass’ is definitely not in the video!

The first quiz makes you put words into lines of a dialogue, which works well. The second asks you to categorise items as ‘food and drinks’, ‘quantities’ or ‘containers’. This is a good idea, but the three categories are always listed in both Italian and English. Perhaps the English could be removed in later questions to increase the challenge?

The second video is Mike cooking for Anna and Lisa, so it now makes sense that food is introduced after clothes (week 4) as it leads into this video. It’s a nice context for apologising, the topic of the next section. ‘Olive’, ‘spaghetti’ and ‘vegetariana’ are the words selected for pre-teaching, which seem a bit pointless really, since they’re all the same in English, the language of the course.

It leads in to vocabulary about the order of courses in Italy, something which confused me when I first arrived: I couldn’t understand the difference between a ‘primo’ and a ‘secondo’, but later learnt that the first is normally something with carbohydrates (rice, pasta etc), and the second is normally meat or fish with salad or vegetables. Mystery solved! The two quizzes to practise make use of matching functions on Quizlet, one to match courses to pictures, and the other to match sentence halves.

The grammar focus is on using ‘mi piace’/’mi piacciono’ to express likes, clearly showing how the verb structure is different in Italian as compared to English. There’s also a friendly reminder that everything gets easy with practice. It’s nice that they’re trying to reduce the pressure, but I feel like the challenge could be upped sometimes.

The cultural notes are about a couple of common expressions: I like how these are introduced as chunks within clear contexts. In this case, there’s something a bit tantalising: “However, they can vary from region to region within Italy.” Unfortunately, they don’t follow through by telling you if the three expressions introduced are peculiar to Siena, or used elsewhere too. Skipped the discussion point task again, for the sake of finishing the course (and because I can’t be bothered at this point…)

For the final section of this week, the focus is on discussing the weather, introduced through the video and both the communication and vocabulary sections. There’s a Quizlet quiz to help you practice the phrases, again with no capital letters in either Italian or English. Later, there’s an inline quiz and a LearningApps one – it’s good that they’re mixing up the ways you can practise the new language. I’m doing all of the inline and LearningApps quizzes as I still find them motivating, but can’t be bothered with Quizlet at this point. Grammar is the prepositions ‘a’ and ‘in’, with an inline quiz, and the exploring Italian section is about ways of expressing surprise. I like that at the end of each of these sections it emphasises that the words are only used in spoken Italian.

Week 6

The final week of the course begins with describing an apartment. The variety of set-ups for the videos makes them more interesting, with this one as a Skype conversation between Mike and Anna, including her using her phone to give Mike a tour of the apartment (something I’ve done with my friends many times!) Other ones have been set in a shop, a supermarket, on the cathedral steps, in a park etc. They feel a little more authentic that way, and production standards continue to be high. I also like the fact that there are little jokes in there linking back to previous videos, strengthening the idea that it’s a story, not just isolated scenes.

The comprehension quiz on the video is really difficult. It’s asking me to remember the relative positions of the rooms at one point, something I wasn’t paying any attention to while watching. This emphasises the importance of the ‘task before text’ dictum, as learners should know what to focus on before they listen to/watch something.

In the communication video, there are links back to previous units, showing how the same language is being reused in different situations. I’ve also just realised that communication is always prioritised over vocabulary, which is prioritised over grammar: very good in my opinion, as if you stop partway through the week, you’ve done the most important things first! There’s a quizlet set to practise, again with the typical mistake of translating ‘com’è’ as ‘how’ not ‘what’ in the question ‘What is the apartment like?’

The house vocabulary set is extended in the next video, which finishes with a picture quiz where you have to unscramble the words, something which has been used occasionally earlier in the course. As before, these are extra words, and they encourage you to use a dictionary to help you. I cheated and just looked at what other people had written in the comments. I also noticed I’m not the only person still completing the course – the last comment was written four hours before I looked, and there have been two or three comments most days since the course ended. The first quiz asks you to categorise items (rooms/other areas/objects), with the same lack of a push to understand the Italian by removing the English names for the categories as the quiz progresses. The second asks you to complete dialogues in which quite a few items are recycled from earlier in the course. These are only in Italian, so you have to understand what they say to choose the correct item.

Grammar is the Italian equivalents of ‘there is/are’, contextualised through the original video in the section, then extended by showing how they could be used to describe a photo of your family. It’s useful to see it used in two different contexts like this, and is also a bit of recycling from earlier in the course. The section is rounded off with a look at the different uses of  ‘tutto’, including one which is in spoken Italian only.

The next clip is about arranging to do something in your free time, like going to the cinema. This leads into a set of functional language for making and responding to suggestions for arrangements. The first quiz only has two options for each question, so you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right by just guessing – not particularly challenging. There’s a LearningApps quiz to follow up, with a longer dialogue to complete. Again, only two options per space. It’s good that this uses the characters from the video, Mike and Lisa, so you feel like you know the characters, who you’ve built up a store of knowledge about over the course. There’s also another little joke at the end of the dialogue, raising a smile – bits of humour help.

The vocabulary video introduces more free time activities, and you’re encouraged to write a couple of the activities that you like to do in the discussion. I did bother this time😉 There’s a bit more processing required in the quiz, as you have to choose the correct word order from four different options – this is more motivating for me than choosing between two words to fill a gap. There’s also more revision, as it uses a variety of different conjugations and pronouns, testing your understanding of them. The second quiz also has some level of challenge: you read a sentence about things you can do and choose the correct location from a list of six. Much better quizzes this time round.

Grammar is negation this time round. Although this is a pretty easy grammar point which could have been introduced earlier in the course, I suspect they saved it until now to highlight other uses of the word ‘non’, like in the suggestion ‘Perché non…’ The quiz involves putting words into the correct order, but again, frustratingly, none of sentences in the multiple choice are punctuated. There’s also a question which tests something that wasn’t covered explicitly in the video – the use of ‘non’ with a reflexive verb. Examples were given, but the rule wasn’t highlighted and I clearly didn’t take it in as I got the answer wrong. One good thing is that alternative correct answers for structures with ‘mi piace’ are offered in the comment when you submit a correct answer.

‘Allora’, another word which I heard all the time in Italy but didn’t really understand, is the subject of the article at the end of this section. Nice to have this cleared up!

I really don’t get why the discussion points are 2/3 of the way through each week: “In this step, you have a chance to practise what you have learned so far and what you will learn by the end of the week.” How can you practise something you haven’t learnt yet?! I suspect this is one of the reasons why I’ve been so reluctant to do them.

The final clip of the course is Mike finally starting the language course he came to Sienna for, though he probably doesn’t need it, since he apparently hasn’t made a mistake in any of the videos so far! It’s nice to see that Mike’s teacher is Sabrina, who’s been presenting all of the functional videos and some of the grammar ones during the course. A few of the students in the class introduce themselves and give their reasons for studying Italian: it’s good to see a range of nationalities and reasons. It’s all in open class, which is great for the sound quality on the video, but doesn’t strike me as hugely communicative! Mike’s final line is another little in-joke from previous videos.

‘Expressing motivations’ is the functional language for this section, practised through a two-option multiple choice quiz. I was rushing to finish so didn’t read all of the questions properly and got 6/7. Oops! There’s also an extra LearningApps quiz, matching sentences about motivations to pictures – nice idea. Vocabulary extends this by adding more possible reasons for studying Italian, and you’re invited to share your reasons in the discussion thread. After the inline quiz, there’s a Quizlet set requiring you to match sentence halves. It’s good to see richer sentences being used by this point in the course, testing your understanding more and pulling lots of things together. Again, I actually bothered with this, playing Scatter(my favourite function) for about five minutes, and ending up in second place on the leaderboard.:)

The last grammar focus looks at ‘dovere’ and ‘volere’, two very important irregular verbs. There’s also some revision of ‘potere’, and all three are covered in the quiz.

The course input closes off with a focus on ways to express your likes and dislikes, but because it’s the ‘Exploring Italian’ article, there’s no practice to follow up on it, although some people have used the comments to do this. This is a shame, as it’s very useful language, arguably more so than some of the other language chosen for focuses during the course.

All of the presenter-fronted videos in this section have ended with them saying goodbye, a nice touch, and with an invitation for you to study Italian in Siena. I wonder how many students actually go from studying this online course to doing a full-time paid one at the university. It’s certainly a good advert for the city and the university, though it’s a lot of work too!

Anna and Mike in Siena

Anna and Mike in Siena

To encourage participants, there’s a discount of up to 20% on the course fees if you’ve completed the FutureLearn course, and you can register your interest through the final page. Finally, you can pay for a certificate of completion if you’ve marked at least 90% of the steps complete, or a certificate of participation if you’ve marked 50% of them complete. Needless to say, I won’t be doing this for this course, but I may consider it for another course at some point. Sorry FutureLearn!

Overall

Despite the many holes I’ve picked in this course, no MOOC is ever going to be perfect, especially considering that it’s all being offered for free (unless you want to pay for the certificate at the end).

As a taster course, I think this worked pretty well, though the lack of productive practice is frustrating. I know you can use the discussion, but there’s no real communicative purpose to this, and there’s no production at all within the controlled practice exercises. It’s good to see the creators responding to comments from students each week – they clearly read and respond the comments while the course is running.

The FutureLearn interface is very easy to find your way around and you can see your progress clearly in a variety of places, including a to do list, a progress wheel (with more of the wheel completed as you go through the course), as well as the number of the step you’re on and how many more in that week as you work through the activities. It’s definitely something I’ll do again, and I already have a management course waiting for me (though I’ve completely missed the four-week window it was run in), as well as the rest of the ‘Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching‘ course which I did one and a half weeks of a while ago before being overwhelmed by work, then getting distracted by this Italian course! I’d definitely recommend exploring their list of courses and registering for ones you’re interested in, even if there are no dates at the moment. They email you when the course is coming up, which is what I did with the dyslexia course – I think I was doing the third iteration of it.

And now that I’ve finished the course, I’m off to complete the post-course survey, then voglio mangiare pasta al pesto.:)

After a couple of crazy weeks at the end of the school year, two weekends of travelling to Warsaw for CELTA and two days off sick with a bad virus (completely recovered now!), I’m now well behind with the course, as tomorrow will be the beginning of week 6 and I’m only just starting week 4. This shows the importance of having time in the evening or at weekends if you want to keep up/not spending your evenings messing about on social media when you sh/could be studying…😉

This week starts with going to the supermarket, and a dialogue at a deli counter. This was one of the things which most scared me when I first started living abroad, as in the UK I never bothered with the deli counter, and just picked up what I wanted from the shelves. I started using them in Russia, and in Poland, I use them all the time, so I think this language will come in very useful for me.

Mike at the deli counter

For some reason, the transcript is in English. I don’t really know why this is, and it definitely defeats the object of the comprehension quiz which follows! Luckily I didn’t have time to see any of the answers before I noticed.

Just managed to do steps 1-5 of 36 in this sitting, and since my friend arrives tomorrow evening, I suspect the next time I’ll get chance to study will be in at least a week, by which time the course will have finished (although I’ll still be able to access the materials) and, more importantly, I’ll be in Italy:)

A little while later…

Or to be more precise, nearly two months later, it’s now 12th August. I spent a month in Italy, and have now been back in Poland for at least two weeks, and I’m now wondering whether it’s worth continuing with the Italian course. I stopped using the memrise course a few days before I left Italy, not helped by very irregular net access while I was there. That, coupled with an intensive CELTA, meant I definitely didn’t have the time or energy to bother continuing with the FutureLearn course while I was there. I managed to get around fairly well with my prior French/Spanish knowledge, the few words/phrases of Italian I’d managed to learn, speaking German (with the fluent speaker who looked after my flat!) and (mostly) resorting to speaking English when I needed to say something. I’m interested in Italian, but time is precious😉

But…I’ve started so I’ll finish (though I suspect nobody other than Lizzie is reading these posts!)

Continuing where I left off…

I’ve now realised that the video of the deli I watched above was actually from week 5, and I didn’t notice until now. Oops!

Week 4 actually begins with a video about habits. As always, the comprehension questions test your memory, and sometimes use phrases and vocabulary that haven’t been covered on the course at all so far, like the last question: “Anna e Lisa vanno a pranzo da Mike a mezzogiorno.” I have no idea what ‘a pranzo’ means, and I’m guessing many of the other words from Spanish/French. I’m assuming the sentence means “Anna and Lisa will go for lunch at Mike’s at midday.” but I could be wrong.

The communication video relies exclusively on translations, with each phrase written out and translated into English. This would be the perfect place to use images as extra support, with phrases like ‘goes swimming’ and ‘sleeps’ among the vocabulary. It would be an extra ‘hook’ for learners to hang the new language on.

After a short quiz, the next communication video is about days of the week. I’m continuing to be lazy and just reading the transcripts for these now because it’s faster to scan them than listen, and I don’t feel like I need to hear the pronunciation for most of these things. The discussion task for the comments section is “Which day is your favourite day of the week and why? “Il mio giorno preferito è la domenica”, because I can sleep in! Tell us in italian what your favourite day is and, if you want, you can add why in English, in the discussion below.” It’s fairly typical of these in that it doesn’t seem to have any real communicative purpose – there’s no real reason to tell anybody your favourite day of the week. How about writing which days you study this course on? Then people can compare their answers in some way, and it’s also useful information for the course writers. The quiz for days is good within the restrictions of a multiple choice: you have sets of three days and have to choose which set is in the correct order, though it works through the week in order, which helps a lot. There’s an optional quiz outside the platform to help you practise the days too.

Reflexive verbs are the first grammar point and are explained clearly, with two fully conjugated examples, and two other examples from previous lessons highlighted but not conjugated. It’s good to see links between the weeks. After the quiz, there’s an article about fillers (though they’re not called that) used in spoken Italian, with some transcripts and the chance to listen to the sentences. The sentences are from the video, but the recordings are somebody else, and the fillers seem a bit over-emphasised. On the plus side, at least you can listen to them, which you haven’t always been able to do with similar articles earlier in the course.

To finish this section, there’s a section on double consonants. They’re divided into ones which are pronounced more forcefully and those which are pronounced longer than single consonants. I thought at first that was because the person being recorded knows that these would be pronunciation examples, but listening to some of the words on forvo, I’m not so sure. To me they all sound more forceful in the audios of the words chosen – I can’t differentiate between the two groups. I’d like to be able to compare the ‘longer’ group with words with single consonants so that I can hear the difference.

The next section starts with a video of the group getting breakfast at a coffee bar. The transcript under the video is in English (maybe for all of the videos, but I didn’t notice before?) and you can download the transcript in Italian. I’d prefer the other way round so that I’m not overly reliant on the English, but can access it if I want to. I find it interesting that they chose ‘euro’ as one of the words to pre-teach, but not ‘cornetto’, which is actually a false friend (in British English at least!)

Cornetto ice cream

What ‘cornetto’ means to me

Reading the ‘communication’ transcript about how to pay the bill, I find it annoying that there seems to be a complete disregard for punctuation at times:

Let’s see what we say when we have to pay the bill for example when we go to a bar as Mike, Anna and Lisa do in the clip Let’s watch […]

I realise that some poor sod has had to type up the transcript, but it perhaps should have been proofed before being put on the site. To practise there’s a dialogue reordering activity on LearningApps (another interesting function of that site) and four Quizlet flashcards in a set (where they include ‘cornetto’), but nothing within FutureLearn.

The next step is a focus on food vocabulary, including some useful cultural notes, like when it’s acceptable to drink cappuccino. The vocabulary input here is supported by pictures, which is good. In the LearningApps quiz, you write the missing letters to complete the words. However, most of the words have a double vowel at the end, which is quite confusing :s There’s a pdf version of the quiz within FutureLearn, which doesn’t have this problem.

The grammar here is the indefinite article, and there’s a link back to the week 2 video if you want to review the definite article – again, useful to have a link between the lessons. Two quizzes test you here, first selecting the correct indefinite article, then choosing whether you need a definite or indefinite article. Useful revision.

The article at the end of this section answers a question I had throughout my time in Italy: what on earth does ‘ecco’ mean? I heard it all the time! In this case, it just means ‘Here you go/are’ when things are handed over. Again, you can listen to phrases from the video, but somebody else saying them. The discussion point is designed to get you to revise by writing a text about what you eat/do and when, but I can’t be bothered. Lazy student! I ticked ‘Mark as complete’ anyway, which highlights one of the problems with a course like this: you’re relying on self-reporting to find out whether the students have actually done activities or not.

The next day

The final section for this week of the course is about buying clothes. I find it a little odd that this is introduced before buying food, which is arguably more important, but maybe that says something about Italians versus Brits! Having said that, Lisa looks beautiful in the dress she wants to buy😉

The vocabulary video focuses on clothes and shoes, but I’m not really clear about what ‘vestito’ and ‘abito’ mean. Initially it seems like they’re ‘dress’, as in, ‘She’s wearing a beautiful red dress.’ But from the video, it looks like they actually mean ‘formal clothes’ as he says they can be used for a man or a woman, with pictures of a dress and a suit. Hmmm. This is one of the problems with using images with vocabulary, and demonstrates that you still need to check it carefully, as it may not be completely clear. The activity at the end of this video is the first one for a while with a real reason to do it: “Unfortunately in the next slide our graphic put the wrong words next to the image. Can you help us match them up correctly?” It might be obviously fake, but it’s more motivating than some of the other tasks! Two quizzes from LearningApps help you to practise the clothes and colours together. This is useful as you’re seeing the colour adjectives change form right from the start, and not internalising the masculine singular form only, though as with most of the quizzes (apart from the occasional crossword), it’s receptive only with no production.

‘Potere’ (‘can’) is introduced in the grammar video, and the conjugations are tested in order in the quiz. Mixing them up a little could provide more challenge, though I recognise that this may be too much for somebody for whom Italian is a first foreign language. I wonder if FutureLearn offers the option of randomly mixing questions in exercises?

The last input for the week is about words used to encourage/convince somebody to do something, with the first example taken from the video (again with random audio) and the other examples put into a selection of short conversations. As always, there’s no clear task other than just to look at the examples. Some people have taken it upon themselves to write encouraging phrases in the comments, but it’s noticeable that this number (200) is much lower than in the matching task from the colours/clothes video (1100).

A disclaimer

By the way, I’m aware that I’m going through the whole of this course picking holes, and just wanted to emphasise that it’s well put together and you can learn from it, but I feel the whole experience can be improved in lots of ways to make it more useful for learners. Reflecting on what does and doesn’t work for me as a learner will hopefully help me if I ever come to design a similar course in the future, and I hope anyone from FutureLearn/University of Siena or who is thinking about doing the course takes these comments in the way that they’re intended.

Richard Branson, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.”

I saw this quote on Jane Cohen’s blog a few days ago, and feel like it sums up my job at IH Bydgoszcz pretty perfectly, as well as being from one of the managers I admire most.

When my predecessor, Tim, first mentioned the possibility of taking over from him as Director of Studies (DoS) managing a team of 18-20 teachers, I really wasn’t sure I could do it. After all, I’d only finished Delta a year or so earlier, and had done very little teaching since then to see if I could apply what I’d learnt. I was a fledgling CELTA tutor with only four courses under my belt, and still very much felt like I was learning how to do that job. Although I’d worked as the DoS at IH Sevastopol, it was a very different school with a much smaller team of only 3-6 teachers, and where I was still teaching 18-24 hours a week. Thankfully Tim talked me into visiting the school to see what the job really involved.

Less than a month later I spent four days in Bydgoszcz and Torun, visiting the school and the surrounding area and shadowing Tim at school for two days. I spent the first day continuing to think there was no way I could possibly do this job, and it took a couple of conversations with some of the teachers on the second day to persuade me that I would manage it. Thank you – you know who you are!

The result was that when the end of August 2015 rolled around, I found myself moving to Bydgoszcz, and entering a near-empty school just waking up from the summer break for the best induction I could possibly have hoped for. Tim spent nearly three weeks with me, introducing me to various procedures at the school and helping me get a handle on many of the things I’d need to do the job. He’s always been on call to help me throughout the year, and I’m immensely grateful for his help.

At the beginning of September, the senior teachers arrived and together, with Tim’s help, we planned the induction week for new and returning teachers. Throughout the year Luke, Sam and I have worked well as a team (in my opinion!) to support the teachers and keep everything running smoothly. I have relied on their prior knowledge of systems at the school to help me work out what needed doing, when and how. This is also true of the admin staff, and especially of the school Director, who is amazingly supportive, and one of the best bosses I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

Together, we have:

  • placement tested new students and organised the timetable
  • done drop in and formal observations to help our teachers develop
  • provided weekly professional development workshops
  • run collaborative level planning meetings covering about half of the groups at the school
  • had weekly meetings and senior meetings to keep everybody up-to-date
  • organised a teacher training day, two adult social events and two young learner socials
  • run a day of Cambridge mock exams
  • coordinated and checked reports for students
  • organised tutorials and parents’ meetings
  • recruited new staff and organised accommodation for them
  • dealt with problems that teachers, students and parents have had
  • chosen new course books for the next school year
  • and probably many other things which I’ve forgotten!

Needless to say, I had no idea how to do a lot of those things before I started the job! I was lucky to have inherited a lot of systems which I’ve been able to build on, making the whole thing a lot easier for me. A selection of the skills I think I’ve learnt or developed over the past year include:

  • using many features of Excel I had no idea even existed before!
  • how to use Outlook (something I’d thankfully managed to escape before – I hate it!)
  • communication skills: when to listen, what to ask, when to talk, what to say, how to say it
  • awareness of relationships around the school and how they impact on people
  • recruitment
  • balancing timetables fairly and taking into account the needs of teachers, students and the school
  • helping teachers fresh off the CELTA to build on what they’ve learnt
  • classroom management with teen classes (I had my own teen group for most of the year)
  • time management, and knowing how to manage my office door
  • balancing school work and out-of-school activities (I’d say ‘life’, but a lot of it has still been work this year – already have plans afoot to change this next year!)

Of course, there’s still a lot I need to work on, including many of the areas mentioned above. To help me with this, I’d like to get some more formal management training, as like many people I’ve been learning on the job. So far I’ve been relying on a combination of instinct, past conversations with my mum when she was managing a large organisation, Business Studies from school, management books I mostly read as a teenager, and asking for help from my ever-supportive network.

As I enter my second year at IH Bydgoszcz and am now more aware of the background I’m working with, I’m starting to make deeper changes, beyond the occasional rewriting of a document or update of a system. These include modifying the already very strong professional development structure, changing the way registers are set up with the aim of making them easier to fill in, and introducing some shared groups. Watch this space to find out what works and what doesn’t!

As both a CELTA trainer and a Director of Studies, a key part of my job is giving feedback to teachers after observations. I was prompted to write this post after listening to Jo Gakonga, a fellow CELTA trainer, talk about feedback on the TEFLology podcast, and looking at her new teacher feedback site. One of the things she said was that after our initial training as managers or tutors, we are normally left to our own devices with feedback, something which I’ve often wondered about. It’s useful to reflect on how we’re giving feedback, and I’d really like to develop this area of my practice more. Here’s a bit about where I am now…

I’ve just finished working on a CELTA at International House Milan, where I had two main development goals for myself as a tutor. I tried to revamp many of my input sessions to make them more practical and to make the handouts more useful and less overwhelming, and I also worked to improve both my written and oral feedback, again to be more practical and less overwhelming.

I have previously been told that sometimes my feedback can come across as negative, and that it’s not always clear whether a lesson has been successful or not. I also catch myself taking over feedback sometimes, and not allowing trainees the time or space for their own reflection or to give each other feedback. Timing can be a problem too. On the CELTA course, you can’t really afford to spend more than 15 minutes on oral feedback for each trainee, as there are other things which need to be fitted in to the day. The positive response I got from trainees at the end of the Milan course in response to changes I’ve made means I think (hope!) I’m heading in the right direction.

We had 45-60 minutes for feedback after each TP (teaching practice). By the end of the course, we were breaking it down into 15-20 minutes of peer feedback, with trainees working in pairs for five minutes at a time to give individual feedback to each of the three teachers from that day’s TP, with the person who taught reflecting on their lesson first. I then summarised the feedback and added my own for another 10-15 minutes, and answered any questions they had about the lessons. This was based on three positives and three areas to work on for each trainee, and I tried to make sure that they were given equal weight. The last section of the feedback involved taking an area I felt the trainees needed to work on and doing some mini input, either demonstrating something like how to give instructions to pre-intermediate students or drawing their attention to the good work of their fellow trainees, for example by analysing a successful lesson plan to show what they might be aiming for themselves. Where possible, I also referred back to handouts from input sessions to strengthen the link between input and TP. This seemed to work, and is a structure I’d like to use again.

Other feedback activities I’ve used successfully are:

  • a ‘kiss’ and a ‘kick’ (thanks for teaching me this Olga!): trainees share one positive thing from the lesson, and one thing the teacher should work on. This is done as a whole group, and everybody should share different things. The person who taught should speak first.
  • board-based feedback: divide the board into +/- sections for each trainee. The group should fill the board with as many things as they noticed from the lessons as possible, which then form the basis for discussion. The teacher can’t write on their own section.

Another thing I’ve been trying to do is make the links between the skill of teaching and that of learning a foreign language as explicit as possible. Reflection on teaching should be balanced between positives and negatives, in the same way that you wouldn’t let a student continue to think that they are the best/worst student ever. During input sessions, I highlighted things that trainees could steal and take into their own lessons, like how to set up particular activities, and also made clear what areas of my own teaching I’m working on, such as giving instructions, and when they were and weren’t successful, to exemplify the nature of being a reflective teacher. Although it’s often quite natural, trainees also shouldn’t beat themselves up for not taking previous feedback or new information from input sessions on board instantly, just like it’s not possible for students to use the present perfect without any problems as soon as they’ve learnt it. One mantra during our feedback sessions was that CELTA tutors are looking for ‘progress, not perfection’.

If you’re a trainer or manager, do you have any other feedback techniques you can share? And as someone who’s being observed, what do you want the observer to do/say in feedback?

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan, as seen from the roof of the Duomo

Torre Velasca, home of IH Milan

I’m very happy to be able to share another guest post by Emina Tuzovic with you. The first time she appeared on this blog, she wrote about how to help Arabic students with their spelling. Now she’s back to tell us more about working with Arabic students, this time focussing on helping them develop their reading skills.

In the UK, a growing number of Arabic learners are joining English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and IELTS courses as they would like to enter British universities. Generally speaking, this group of students tend to have very good communicative skills; however, they considerably lag behind when it comes to reading and writing. As in the Anglo-American educational system, these skills are paramount, Arabic learners tend to struggle with their studies here. As a teacher, I often felt I didn’t know how to cater to their needs which led me to research this topic in more detail. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on reading and give you some tips which will hopefully help your Arabic learners improve this vital everyday, as well as academic, skill.

Now, think about how many times you have asked your students to skim or scan an academic text. While most of the students get to grips with the task, our Arabic students generally struggle with this. So how to tackle this problem?

I think what we teachers need to do is break things down instead of throwing our students in at the deep end. We should start with reading words, before moving on to reading sentences, paragraphs and finally the whole text. If we build things up, reading will suddenly become a less daunting process for our Arabic learners.

There are several reasons why they find reading challenging. Firstly, how much students read in their L1 usually predicts how much reading they do in their L2. Judging from what my Arabic students tell me, they don’t read that much in their mother tongue. This is reflected in their reading habits in English, where suddenly they are faced with a different script and a different orthography, as well as a different reading direction – all of these making the reading process much more challenging. As they lack exposure to print, they often do not accumulate a sufficient range of vocabulary. This, in turn, affects their reading comprehension, which is the reason why they do not want to read in the first place! This vicious circle needs to be broken.

Let’s start from the beginning. We need to tackle words in isolation first.

Vocabulary and word decoding

As we said above, vocabulary size plays a significant role in our students’ reading comprehension. Lack of vocabulary slows down the reading process and hinders their understanding of the text. Additionally, when I ask my Arabic students to read something for homework, they will often translate a lot of words, most of which are low frequency and therefore not very useful:

Translations by an Arabic-speaking reader of English

Therefore, in order to catch up with other groups of learners, I think it’s important for a teacher to prioritise useful, higher frequency lexis and monitor what vocabulary students actually record. For instance, I usually check the words they have selected during a speaking activity. I allow my students to look up no more than ten words per text which will force them to prioritise vocabulary that is worth looking up!

Secondly, like all other learners, they need to be able to guess unknown lexis from the context. One of the most useful lexical aspects for this group to focus on is word formation. It is a very important lexical process in Arabic therefore our learners will be able to identify with it. So whenever possible, I get them to extrapolate the root, notice any affixation and derive other parts of speech:

Word formation example

I would also strongly suggest pre-teaching vocabulary before reading a text. The next day you could do a spelling exercise as vocabulary revision. You can give your students an initial letter string with the exact number of gaps and get them to produce the word they learnt the day before:

  • st_ _ _ _ _ _ _ (strenuous)
  • acc _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (accidental)
  • sl_ _ _ (slope)

[Read more about how to help students with spelling in Emina’s previous post, and find out more about why it’s a particularly difficult problem for Arabic learners in one of my posts.]

Word decoding

Another reason for poor reading skills in Arabic learners is slow and inaccurate processing of words, (word decoding). When it comes to multisyllabic lexical items, my Arabic students often read the beginning of the word and then unsuccessfully predict the rest of it. Also, it is not uncommon that words get confused with similar lexical items (negative L1 transfer). This group of learners will tend to focus on consonants so century might become country, revelation becomes reflection, etc.

To fix this problem, one of the most important exercises to recycle vocabulary would be gapping vowels. This will help them not only to improve their spelling but also their word decoding:

  • c_rt_n               (carton)
  • _xh_b_t_ _n   (exhibition)
  • _cc_l_r_t_       (accelerate)

I think it is also essential for Arabic learners to learn to divide words into syllables which will also markedly improve their word processing (e.g. con-se-quence). They can clap/tap syllables and while doing so. I ask them not to look at the words as irregular spelling patterns will only confuse them (e.g. just think about how we pronounce common words containing ‘ea’ – meat, learn and heart).

Overall, I believe, starting with vocabulary accuracy is paramount. Once the visual form of the word is consolidated, students will decode it more quickly and as a result, they will eventually get faster at reading.

Sentence level

Besides working on accurate word decoding, I get my students to focus on the sentence structure at the same time. I think it’s really important to pre-teach sentence elements (S-V-O: subject-verb-object) and parts of speech (noun (n), verb (v), adjective (adj), etc.) as this will immensely help our learners ‘decipher’ long sentences and orientate themselves in a text. ‘Grammatical labels’ might seem superfluous; however, I’ve noticed once the students get the hang of those, it’s much easier for me to give instructions and explain various grammatical structures e.g. passive, relative clauses, participles, etc. As students gain the knowledge of the sentence structure, they will start processing sentences faster.

Another thing I do is give students the beginning of a sentence which they have to finish e.g. I went to the shop (to)…; My car stopped in the middle of the road (because)…. This is how they learn to predict the content and increase their reading speed.

Last but not least, it is already at sentence level that I get my Arabic learners to start noticing punctuation. We often analyse sentences and I get my students to answer the following questions:

  • Is there a capital letter? (Where is it? Why is it there?)
  • Is there a full stop? (Where is it? Why is it there?)
  • Is there a comma? Why is it there? (How is it different from a full stop?)

Try to do it every day (or as often as possible) until you see your Arabic students use capital letters and full stops automatically in their writing. While analysing the sentence(s) in terms of punctuation, you can also ask them to find the subject, verb, etc.

Complex sentences

In EAP and IELTS classes I have noticed that it helps a lot if we break down complex sentences. I get my Arabic learners to pay special attention to subordinate linkers (if, when, in spite of; however, etc.) as these do not feature very prominently in Arabic. After they have grasped the concept of sentence elements and parts of speech, I get them to focus on complex noun groups (consisting of head nouns, prepositional phrases, (reduced) relative clauses, etc.) as well as to notice the difference between active and passive. For example, I put a complex sentence on the board:

One surprising factor is the willingness with which the public in most countries accept the by now well-known risk of developing lung cancer in spite of the evidence of its connection with cigarette smoking published by WHO.

Taken from Nuttall (1989)

They can answer these questions either individually or in pairs:

  • Mark the beginning and the end of the sentence with a double-slash.
  • Can you find the linker? What does it express?
  • Divide the sentence into two clauses.
  • Can you find the head noun? Which verb goes with it?
  • What is additional information? Use a slash (or underline it)
  • Is published by WHO active or passive?             (passive)
  • What is missing before published by WHO?     (which was)

So in the end, we get something like this:

//One surprising factor is the willingness/ with which /the public in most countries accept/ the by now well-known risk /of developing lung cancer

in spite of the evidence/ of its connection with cigarette smoking / published by WHO.//

I try to stick to colour-coding and always use one colour for nouns, another one for verbs, etc.

Afterwards I give students another complex sentence which they have to break down answering the same questions as the ones in the grid. Alternatively, you can give them the key words beforehand and get the learners to develop their idea(s) of how to build it into a sentence first:

factor…willingness…public…accept …risk…lung cancer… in spite of…connection…smoking

How to extend the activity: After they’ve received, read and analysed the complex sentence in detail, you can ask them to cover it and go back to the key words. Now they have to try to produce the complex sentence just by looking at the key words. This will additionally consolidate their awareness of the English sentence structure.

Paragraph and text level

The analysis of punctuation continues when we read paragraphs and subsequently texts. If you teach multilingual classes, you can give these questions to your Arabic students separately on a piece of paper and tell them they need to answer the questions every time they read a text for homework.

  • How many full stops are there?
  • How many sentences are there?
  • Do all the sentences start with a big letter?
  • How many commas are there? Why are they used?
  • How many linkers can you see? Circle them.
  • How many paragraphs are there?

It’s particularly important for this group of learners to become exposed to whole paragraphs and texts as soon as possible. In this way they will be able to internalise the structure of a paragraph/a text which will also help them with their writing.

In order to generate interest in a text and for Arabic students to be able to identify with the topic, I would suggest tackling familiar topics for them (e.g. family and relationships, food, technology, customs and habits, weather, travel and transport, etc). In a multilingual class, I usually get non-Arabic students to explain various cultural references to them (e.g. the Beatles).

Other elements which slow down their reading

We’ve probably all witnessed many of our Arabic students using their finger in order to read in a line. To help them drop this habit (apart from the obvious: Don’t use your finger!), I would first of all use regular typeface, such as Calibri or Arial (not the ornate ones that look like script!), as well as font size 12+ as this will genuinely improve their word decoding skills and consequently their processing speed.

In order to help them follow the text on the line as well as to monitor their speed, I would get the students to use a ‘mask’ (see below). This will also discourage them from using their finger!

Mask for reading

Taken from: Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language by Nuttall (1989)

You can make it yourself by cutting a window in a sheet of paper. Get them to place it over the line and as they read, and pull it down to uncover the remaining text.

Another prominent feature which slows down our Arabic learners is subvocalisation (pronouncing words under their breath). Reading aloud and subvocalisation are commonly used when reading in Arabic, therefore this, in many ways cultural difference, needs to be pointed out early on in their learning process.

In order to read faster, as we all know, predicting the content is vital. I have noticed that stories often go down very well with Arabic learners. I give them a text and ask them to read the first paragraph. Afterwards they need to predict what will happen in the next paragraph, etc.:

It was a cold, dark night

Taken from: New English File Pre-Intermediate by Oxenden et al. (2011)

You can also give them a series of pictures and ask them to explain to their partners what they think happened before they read the story.

Extension of this activity: Afterwards they cover the text and tell each other the same story but this time in more detail, based on what they have read.

Skimming

So we’ve finally come to the notorious skimming. This technique works well with students who are competent readers in their L1 and who can successfully transfer their reading skills into their L2. Apart from expanding lexis, if we want Arabic-speaking students to improve their skimming and pick up their reading speed, our students also need to learn to ignore non-key, usually low-frequency words and just continue reading!

I choose a text and gap every eighth word in it, next time every seventh, sixth word, etc.:

Read the text. Ignore the gaps.

Grace Simmons is only fourteen, and she speaks French, but she’s famous in Paris. She’s become a _______ model for a well-known _______ designer. Grace is from _____, Michigan. Her father is ______ car salesperson and her ______ is a teacher. Grace_____very unhappy as a _____ girl because she was _____ tall-almost six feet. _____ other children laughed at_____all the time and ______ had very few friends. ______ she was eleven years _____, Grace’s mother took her ______ a modelling school.

Taken from: More Reading Power by Mikulecky & Jeffries (2004).

How many words you gap depends on the students’ level and the lexical density of a text (the denser the text, the fewer the gaps). You can also gap grammatical words (determiners, prepositions, etc.) as well as adjectives and adverbs (basically words which are not absolutely essential to understand a text).

When we get our Arabic students to attempt to skim a text, I recommend selecting texts which are considerably below their oral level of proficiency. I don’t think there is much point in getting them to skim a text which contains a lot of lexis unknown to them. Another piece of advice would be, as mentioned before, to pre-teach new vocabulary.

I also get my students to skim a text more than once. But the most important thing is that they get into the habit of doing it on a daily basis, either in class or at home or even both! I also get them to time themselves and write down how long it took them to skim a text the first time, second time, etc.

Last but not least, it’s very useful to set up a reading routine. You can get them to choose the texts they want to read in their free time. I usually put a grid on the wall where they write down what they read the day before:

Reading grid

To recap…

Reading is a very complex cognitive process which requires a long time to ‘master’. Our Arabic speakers are in many ways disadvantaged as when reading in English, they are faced with a completely different writing system alongside considerable linguistic as well cultural differences (e.g. knowledge of the world; various cultural references) which influence their reading in English.

I believe we can help our Arabic learners a lot if we break things down, starting with words in isolation before moving on to higher levels of processing. In the same vein, I think accurate word decoding should be tackled before working on reading speed.

After skimming for the gist, I think it’s vital to do the post-reading analysis in terms of:

  • prioritising vocabulary and breaking the words down into syllables;
  • guessing key vocabulary from the context;
  • analysing the sentence structure (especially in complex sentences);
  • analysing how ideas are developed in each paragraph and in a text as a whole;
  • analysing punctuation.

All of these things will help our Arabic students improve their accuracy and speed when reading. This will build up their confidence which will motivate them to read more in their free time. And we all know developing extensive reading is paramount if you want to become a competent reader!

After employing all the strategies that I have outlined in this blogpost, the reading skills in my Arabic learners have improved significantly within a fairly short period of time. It did require a lot of time and effort on both sides but as I always say, hard work pays off! So in the end, the majority of my students got significantly higher scores in their IELTS reading as well as their writing, which got them a step closer to getting into a university of their choice. Vicious circle broken, mission accomplished!:)

References

  • Mikulecky, B.S. & Jeffries, L. (2004) More Reading Power (second edition) Longman
  • Nuttall, C. (1989) Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language Heinemann
  • Oxenden, C.; Latham-Koenig, C.; Seligson, P. & Clanfield, L. (2011) New English File Pre-intermediate Teacher’s Book OUP

About Emina

Emina Tuzović works as an English language teacher at the London School of English, predominantly on EAP, ESP and exam preparation courses. She has designed an online spelling module for Arabic learners of English for CUP as well as reviewed various syllabuses for spelling materials for the Middle-East market. She is currently completing the final year of a PhD on word recognition and orthographic awareness in Arabic learners of English at Birkbeck College, London.

Emina

I’ve just got access to a short video made for the Teaching English British Council facebook page at IATEFL Manchester 2015 which I’d completely forgotten about! In it, I describe a method you can use to encourage students to notice mistakes they make in writing and try to reduce them. Unfortunately I can’t embed the video here, but I can give you the link to watch it. I’m not sure if you need to be logged in to facebook to see it, and I don’t know how to get around it if you don’t have a facebook account – sorry!

You can see examples of how I used this kind of error categorisation in my own Russian learning in the ‘Writing’ section of the post How I’m learning Russian (part 2).

Russian journal

Russian journal

Have you tried anything similar?

Yep, clickbait title I know. Sorry. But it’s true…these two little tips have probably saved me countless seconds since I discovered them…

Making sets of cards

Before you cut up a set of cards, mark them quickly with different coloured pens. You can do it on coloured paper too if you like, but that’s more expensive and a lot more faff!

Mark paper on the back to put it into coloured sets

Once you’ve cut them up, you can then divide them quickly into separate piles. If they get mixed up, or one falls out of a set, it’s easy to see where it belongs.

IMG_5659

Folding piles of worksheets

Once you’ve printed them all, fold the whole pile in one go.

Folding piles of worksheets 1

Separate them out into a messy pile.

Folding piles of worksheets 2

Sharpen the fold, a few at a time if necessary.

Folding piles of worksheets 3

Folding piles of worksheets 4

Repeat until you’re happy with the result:)

Folding piles of worksheets 5

What silly little things do you do to save yourself a few seconds of precious time?

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