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                                  Reflections on EFL/ESL Teaching

 

 

Following a week of Spanish immersion instruction this past month has been one filled with induction, instruction, synthesis and daily revelations about the fascinating world of EFL/ESL teaching which for my purposes encompasses teaching English while in a foreign Spanish speaking country as well as teaching English to a multi-ethnic and possibly predominantly Asian clientele back in my home province of British Columbia, Canada

 

As a new ‘jubliada/pensionada’ of only a year who wishes to return to Mexico or explore other Spanish speaking countries during the winter months, this training course has been a very good prerequisite to further professional development opportunities like the TESL Canada Level One certification that I can take online through the Victoria International Academy culminating in a week of practicum in Victoria, British Columbia later this year.  I have also started to explore opportunities in the Lakeside area either as a volunteer at the Lake Chapala Society or a part time instructor at the English Works/Spanish Works language learning center in San Antonio, Jalisco which is not very far from my snowbird home in Ajijic,

 

As we wind down our intensive 140 hour training course it is an optimum time to look back as well as look forward on what we have learned pinpointing areas for further development and improvement.  Teaching is a living, breathing interactive activity where often the teacher learns as much or more than the learner. This has certainly been the case. Our ten plus teaching sessions with students at a wide variety of levels has afforded us the opportunity to cycle through the five types of lessons to better determine where our teaching strengths and weaknesses might lie.  With an online portfolio/resume established this week I can easily add to both my theoretical and practical knowledge base in the coming years of retirement.

 

First and foremost for me, as I transition from the teaching of early childhood students to adults, is the all important issue of improving the ratio of teacher to student talk time.  Taking on more of a ‘guide on the side’ facilitator role while not totally unfamiliar I would have to admit that this is not my ‘default’ setting when it comes to preparing for instruction and teaching. This one aspect is the one that I have singled out as the area that I need to be most conscious of as I organize future lessons in any of the areas of language learning.  This would be my major consideration and my minor one would be to also be very aware of the speed and enunciation of my speech as the Western Canadian English accent is less familiar in this part of Mexico, for example.


How to Reduce Teacher Talk Time

http://www.learnenglish-online.com/ http://www.eslteachingideas.blogspot.com/

 

Insofar, as my teaching strengths, though, I would have to say that my thirty years of literacy teaching in primary have held me in good stead with respect to the phonetic section of the course. I do have a background in fundamental grammar but need to brush up on the finer points.  The purchase of the familiar bright yellow, ‘Grammar for Dummies’ book at the local bookshop would be a good reference for me as I have used other titles in the series in graduate school with good results. As an experienced teacher, I am also proficient at efficiently organizing activities and materials for instruction and while I understand the need for consistency at IMAC have found the multiple small box lesson plan template confining and not very well designed for practical purpose. I have seen other EFL/ESL templates printed out on ledger sized paper that would be a better match for me.

 

As a complement to the course, I have explored six other areas of EFL/ESL teacher training via the available videos and even though they are outdated by a good twenty years and badly in need of updating the content has proved valuable to my study. The one on role plays effectively changed my mind on the value of role plays. Also, the one on the Language Experience Approach which interesting enough was the approach in ‘vogue’ in the late seventies when I did my Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Alberta were notable.  Until now, I did not realize that the LEA could be effective used in the teaching of English at lower levels.  The same goes for the Total Response Approach which pre-dates speaking, reading and writing and requires only listening on the part of the early learner.

 

In terms of another literacy approach that is used in EFL/ESL when I looked up English Works/Spanish Works in San Antonio they listed another approach called TPRS which is Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. I have only done a preliminary scan of one site that describes this literacy approach.  This bears more research as do Jazz Chants which I believe would suit my individual teaching style as I am not musical.

 

 In my last paper, I listed a video that demonstrates what a Jazz Chant is and how it is used in an EFL/ESL classroom. I was a bit disappointed that this well established resource was not used and practiced in this course as it is a ‘low prep’ portable technique that does not require a cd player.


http://www.onestopenglish.com/skills/listening/jazz-chants/ 


 I also felt that the technology facet was significantly lacking especially since a SmartBoard white board was available in our classroom.


http://www.teacherslovesmartboards.com/2009/03/smart-boards-and-an-amazing-esl-website.html  

 

In the area of teaching with limited resources I would say this course did a good job as there was not a well stocked preparation room (as I used to have in my public teaching days) per se and once we were not allowed to use the established text with the students we were forced to use the extension activities in the teachers’ manual and to find alternative resources on the internet.

 

However, we all worked in isolation and teacher to teacher sharing was not built into our training curriculum other than the brief period of reflections that opened our day. When I attended graduate school most professors established a class website for communication with each other and the instructor and where we could collectively share tested electronically available resources and post comments. As we are going our separate ways as of Friday, this website could also be used for networking a la Dave’s ESL Café but of course on a micro-scale.  I think we have done a bit of this informally but not nearly enough, in my opinion.  Present day collaborative adult learning extends beyond using the daily ‘jigsaw’ technique to ‘cover’ the material.

 

What I also discovered when I did the peer observation with Mr. Izzo on Saturday morning was that EFL/ESL teaching lends itself very well to team teaching.  Although this was not the intent of the Saturday morning teaching experience I can see how two people could very effectively meld and integrate their background experience and strengths in a classroom of English learners.  Perhaps in the future, I will be fortunate enough to be able to collaborate with another teacher either here in Mexico or elsewhere in the world.  This would definitely suit my teaching and learning style as in the EFL/ESL field I sincerely believe that I learn as much as I teach with the added benefit that I can combine two passions in my retirement years; teaching and traveling the world. 


http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Benoit-TeamTeaching.html 


 

 

Integrating the Four Communicative Language Arts Skills in EFL/ESL

 

 

In light of the coursework and practicum teaching experiences thus far, it is an optimum time to consider the four language arts skills, the two receptive skills of listening and reading the two productive skills of speaking and writing and how they differ in an EFL/ESL context.  While these aspects are rather sequentially ordered from listening to speaking to reading to writing when learning our first or native language, they are not so clearly separated when learning a second (or more) language.  The receptive and productive aspects can and do overlap and this is a help rather than a hindrance to the learner as this integration can be beneficial for better adapting to individual learning styles be they visual, auditory or kinesthetic or a combination thereof.

 

 Another important factor for the teacher to consider is the actual locale of the second language learning; whether English is being learned in an English speaking country or otherwise.  This may affect the students’ motivation in terms of how much immediate practice and application there is for the learner outside the classroom setting. In other words, will the student be listening, speaking, reading and writing English in his/her daily life?  If teaching English in a foreign country, the teacher will also need to be conscious of the materials which may have been created outside the country and also the prevailing cultural norms of the host country to make the necessary adjustments and modifications to best serve the students needs and interests. 

 

Receptive and Productive Language Skills

 

Any language learning whether is the first or second language starts with listening which can go hand in hand with a technique called total physical response in which speaking is not immediately necessary to demonstrate comprehension in L2.  The ESL teaching video on this topic available at in the IMAC computer lab showed a demonstration lesson where the teacher used the topic of visiting a doctor as a springboard for acting out physically the actions of a typical medical appointment.  Using this type of lesson organization can be a low stress/high success way to build relevant vocabulary at lower levels for use in real life situations.  Certainly, the kinesthetic component reinforced the students’ memory when it came to the medical vocabulary that the teacher was using.

 

Once the learner has about a comprehension vocabulary of about 400-500 words in his or her linguistic repertoire authentic speaking practice and application can be meaningful.  And as we have extensively discussed in class, the emphasis should always be on encouraging and increasing the amount of student talk time and decreasing the amount of teacher talk time.  The communicative approach that we have discussed extensively works on designing authentic meaning based student to student dialogues that go beyond the scripted ‘scenarios’ of some readily available ‘canned’ language learning programs like Berlitz to use just one example.

 

Reading and Writing

 

If the learner uses the Roman alphabet in his or her native language then it makes sense to start using print even at the early levels to work on building a sight vocabulary with an eventual learning outcome or having the learners put the words into sentences in a variety of situations working in pairs and small groups. Whether it is using a standard textbook/workbook or expansion activities or games the teacher should once again be conscious of maximizing student talk time which can include oral reading.  Reading short passages on a topic of interest or the use of poetry, songs or Jazz Chants can also add variety.

 

Although independent writing generally does not come up until at least the early intermediate level written language can be modeled earlier with the Language Experience Approach whereby the students own oral language is written down by the teacher and this text is used for reading purposes by the students.  The ESL video available at IMAC although rather dated does provide a good look at how this approach can be very effective and of high interest to even lower level students.  In fact, the viewing of this video led me to the formulation of a learning activity that uses all four language skills; that of preparing food or drink.

 

Learning Activity:  Making Tea

 

The four skill integrative activity that I have chosen is actually the one that was very effectively demonstrated on the LEA video.  The topic was making tea and the whole lesson had to do with making mint tea. In my province, British Columbia that has a large Asian population jasmine tea would be a good choice.  The lesson used realia and was multisensory as the students first listened to the teacher talk about the making of tea, a common cross cultural activity that most students could relate to.  The students may well know how to make tea but do not yet know the words to use to describe the various grocery items, dishes/cutlery or appliances that are used as well as the verbs used in the step by step process. 

 

Listening and Speaking

 

 The students learn tea making vocabulary both nouns and verbs and discuss and dictate the steps of the process as the teacher writes the sentences on the board without doing any editing.  It is important that the students ‘own’ their paragraph. Meaning is more important than form.  Then the paragraph is read as the students follow their own instructions and have the opportunity to actually make a cup of tea for their classmates asking them if they wanted milk or sugar.  So by this point there are a lot of listening, speaking and verbal and non verbal clues for the students on a topic they are familiar with.

 

Reading

 

To prepare for the second part of the lesson the teacher needs to make copies of the paragraph that has been dictated by the students and the sentences have been printed out on separate lines so that the paper can be cut apart, mixed up and reassembled.  This is an excellent sequencing activity that can be a successful reading activity for even lower level students as the language used is theirs.  It is not an artificial scenario having to a fictional character doing fictional activities in an EFL/ESL workbook as is often the case.

 

Writing

 

Because the LEA approach does a good job of modeling sentence patterns that the students actually use a natural extension activity would be to have the students use the vocabulary that they have learned and used in the dictated paragraph.  In the past, I have found that an effective way to teach writing about a sequential process or activity is to teach the transitional words, ‘first’, ‘ next’, ‘then’, ‘after that’, and ‘finally.’  Naturally this would depend on how many LEA lessons the students had experienced but I believe that this could be the natural progression on the LEA continuum and would suit my individual style of teaching.

 

As the LEA approach was the one that was currently in ‘vogue’ in the late 70s when I trained to be an early childhood teacher in university I find it very interesting that it has since been ‘revisited’ in an EFL/ESL context.

A quick literature search turned up an abstract by Adrian J Wurr entitled Language Experience Approach Revisited: The Use of Personal Narratives in Adult L2 Literacy Instruction (2002) which listed the five steps very clearly.


 1. Teacher and student discuss the topic to be focused on in the dictation. Observations and opinions are exchanged. Oral language skills are developed and reinforced.


2. The student dictates an account or story to the teacher, who records the statements to construct the basic reading material.


3. The student reads the story several times (with the teacher helping as needed), until the story has become quite familiar. Reading comprehension is made easier by the fact that the student is reading material that is self-generated.


4. Individual story words are learned, and other reading skills are reinforced through teacher-designed activities related to the story.


5. Students move from reading their own dictation to reading other-author materials as they develop confidence and skill with the reading process. From there they can extent their learning to the writing process as they become more familiar and comfortable with simple language patterns that have been modeled and practiced in class.


6.  My addition to this list would be to add a repertoire of well made EFL/ESL oriented how to videos like those found on these sites on the receptive language side and basic expository paragraph writing on the productive side. 


http://www.eslvideo.com/esl_video_quiz_beginning_start.php   This is well organized and TESL teachers can upload their own videos!


http://www.manythings.org/b/e/  A bit more difficult to navigate but a plethora of choices.


http://www.stanford.edu/~arnetha/expowrite/info.html   Superb resource for expository writing.


Reference Website:   http://www.readingmatrix.com/articles/wurr/  Complete abstract available online on this site.



                                Grammar Reference and Communicative Activities

 

Form

 

 This refers to the mechanics of the language, either in terms of grammar or vocabulary. With regards to grammar, students must understand the sentence structure of a specific grammar rule.

 

 Meaning

 

This is the mental image/comprehension that is generated by the grammar or vocabulary. Students connect the grammar structure with the meaning. For teaching this well made videos (not amateur low production value whiteboard DIY YouTube videos) or charts are helpful for visual learners (and visually oriented teachers).

 

Use

 

This refers to how the grammar or vocabulary gets used.

 

The form/use/meaning framework is also very well described visually on

 

http://www.algeriatesol.org/frameworks/fump-/form-meaning-use-framework

 

 

 

1. Count and Non Count Nouns

 

In general, count nouns can be quantified and non count nouns cannot but there are many intricacies that are explored in detail on the following website.

 

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/noncount.htm 

 

The excellent website http://faculty.washington.edu/marynell/grammar/noncount.html  lists the non countable nouns under categories as abstract nouns, groups with individual parts, things with no definite form, things with tiny parts too small to count, natural phenononmena, ailments, languages and academic subjects

 

The site also lists nouns that can be both.

 

Food (non-count)

chicken

lamb

liver

fish

Animal or animal part (count)

a chicken

a lamb

a liver

a fish

non-count

wine

food

fruit

meat

education

experience

count (means "a kind of ___")

a wine, wines

a food, foods

a fruit, fruits

a meat, meats

an education

an experience

non-count

glass (the material)

 

paper (the material)

 

iron (the metal)

fire (the gas)

 

time (an abstract idea)

count

a glass (something to put liquid in)

a paper (a report or newspaper)

an iron (for pressing clothes)

a fire (one specific occurrence of fire)

a time, times (a specific occurrence or period)

 

Communicative Tasks: 

 

The basic and likely easiest task for the beginning student to understand would have to do with food; buying it in stores, ordering in restaurants or preparing a meal and following a recipe.  The Level One Side by Side has many resources and expansion activities that would be very concrete and relevant for the learner.

 

 

 

 2. Verbs

 

A Useful All Purpose Verb Reference is:

 

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/verbtenseintro.html which shows the following useful comparative chart that can be used for many follow up lessons and made as a wall chart for future reference.

Verb Tense Overview with Examples

Simple Present

Simple Past

Simple Future

I study English every day.

Two years ago, I studied English in England.

If you are having problems, I will help you study English. I am going to study English next year.

Present Continuous

Past Continuous

Future Continuous

I am studying English now.

I was studying English when you called yesterday.

I will be studying English when you arrive tonight. I am going to be studying English when you arrive tonight.

Present Perfect

Past Perfect

Future Perfect

I have studied English in several different countries.

I had studied a little English before I moved to the U.S.

I will have studied every tense by the time I finish this course. I am going to have studied every tense by the time I finish this course.

Present Perfect Continuous

Past Perfect Continuous

Future Perfect Continuous

I have been studying English for five years.

I had been studying English for five years before I moved to the U.S.

I will have been studying English for over two hours by the time you arrive. I am going to have been studying English for over two hours by the time you arrive.

 

 

 

 

 Present Perfect and Present Continuous Verb Tense


http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/presentperfect.html

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/presentcontinuous.html

 

Communicative Activity  

As verbs in English are endlessly complicated the teacher needs to only pinpoint one or two grammar points per lesson using lots of modeling including call and response drills and pair/share questioning activities. If there is access to computers many ESL sites have interactive quizzes that can also help with correct pronunciation.  It is useful for the teacher to know why the students may be having problems in English because of the differences between L1 and L2 but it is not necessary to point this out to the student as this would only be confusing for the learner.

 

3. Active and Passive Voice in Sentences

The site www.englishclub.com offers the following reference and includes quizzes to use with students.

 

Passive  Voice Passive Voice | Active or Passive Quiz

 

Form

There are two special forms for verbs called voice:   They are called active and passive.

The active voice is the "normal" voice. This is the voice that we use most of the time. We are probably most familiar with the active voice. In the active voice, the object receives the action of the verb:

active

subject

verb

object

 

>

Cats

eat

fish.

The passive voice is less usual. In the passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb:

passive

subject

verb

object

<

 

Fish

are eaten

by cats.

The object of the active verb becomes the subject of the passive verb:

 

subject

verb

object

active

Everybody

drinks

water.

passive

Water

is drunk

by everybody.

 

 

 

 

 

Passive Voice

The passive voice is less common than the active voice. The active voice is the "normal" voice. But sometimes we need the passive voice. In the following examples we examine how to use the passive voice, when to use it and how to conjugate it.

Construction of the Passive Voice

The structure of the passive voice is very simple:

subject + auxiliary verb (be) + main verb (past participle)

The main verb is always in its past participle form.

Look at these examples:

subject

auxiliary verb (to be)

 

main verb (past participle)

 

Water

is

 

drunk

by everyone.

100 people

are

 

employed

by this company.

I

am

 

paid

in euro.

We

are

not

paid

in dollars.

Are

they

 

paid

in yen?

Use of the Passive Voice

We use the passive when:

  • we want to make the active object more important
  • we do not know the active subject

 

subject

verb

object

give importance to active object (President Kennedy)

President Kennedy

was killed

by Lee Harvey Oswald.

active subject unknown

My wallet

has been stolen.

?

Note that we always use by to introduce the passive object (Fish are eaten by cats).

Conjugation for the Passive Voice

We can form the passive in any tense. In fact, conjugation of verbs in the passive tense is fairly easy, as the main verb is always in past participle form and the auxiliary verb is always ‘be.’

 To form the required tense, we conjugate the auxiliary verb. For example:

  • present simple: It is made
  • present continuous: It is being made
  • present perfect: It has been made

Here are some examples with most of the possible tenses:

infinitive

to be washed

simple

present

It is washed.

past

It was washed.

future

It will be washed.

conditional

It would be washed.

continuous

present

It is being washed.

past

It was being washed.

future

It will be being washed.

conditional

It would be being washed.

perfect simple

present

It has been washed.

past

It had been washed.

future

It will have been washed.

conditional

It would have been washed.

perfect continuous

present

It has been being washed.

past

It had been being washed.

future

It will have been being washed.

conditional

It would have been being washed.


Now check your understanding »  This site has good interactive quizzes for the student (and the beginning teacher who needs grammar tutorials).

Communicative Activity 

 As mentioned earlier, as the complexity of the verb study progresses more and more oral and written practice is necessary for understanding, practice and application. A good game site for ESL learners is  http://bogglesworldesl.com/esl_games.htm   which has board games in PDF format that can be printed out, enlarged, laminated and files under the different grammar points.

 In my earlier Spanish class at IMAC in the Latina 1 book there was a double sided board game that our class played with dice and individual markers and it was lots of fun and provided practice in listening, speaking and of course the various grammar and vocabulary learning objectives that we had been working on earlier in class.


3. Phrasal Verbs   www.englishpage.com


Form

 A phrasal verb is a verb plus a preposition or adverb which creates a meaning different from the original verb.

Meaning

Example: I ran into my teacher at the movies last night. run + into = meet He ran away when he was 15. run + away = leave home

 

 

Some phrasal verbs are intransitive. An intransitive verb cannot be followed by an object.

 

Example: He suddenly showed up. "show up" cannot take an object

 

B) Some phrasal verbs are transitive. A transitive verb can be followed by an object.

 

Example: I made up the story. "story" is the object of "make up"

 C)  Some transitive phrasal verbs are separable. The object is placed between the verb and the preposition. In this Phrasal Verb Dictionary, separable phrasal verbs are marked by placing a * between the verb and the preposition / adverb.

Example:

I talked my mother into letting me borrow the car. She looked the phone number up.

D) Some transitive phrasal verbs are inseparable. The object is placed after the preposition. In this Phrasal Verb Dictionary, inseparable phrasal verbs are marked by placing a + after the preposition / adverb.

Example:

I ran into an old friend yesterday. They are looking into the problem.

E) Some transitive phrasal verbs can take an object in both places. In this Phrasal Verb Dictionary, such phrasal verbs are marked with both * and + .

Example:

I looked the number up in the phone book. I looked up the number in the phone book.

 

Useful Interactive and Self Checking Quizzes can be located on  www.englishpage.com

Mixed Phrasal Verbs 1

Mixed Phrasal Verbs 2

Mixed Phrasal Verbs 3

Mixed Phrasal Verbs 4

Mixed Phrasal Verbs 5

 

 

Communicative Activity

 

Besides all of the activities listed and described in the foregoing pages another useful material to have on hand to use is phrasal verb flashcards to use with students and for the students to use with each other. This builds in repetition and practice in an interesting faster paced format.  A great site to use to start building a set of flashcards (that can even be printed out in colour) is http://bogglesworldesl.com/cards.htm

 

 

4.  Unreal and Unreal Conditionals

 

Real Conditionals

Form

[If / When ... Simple Present ..., ... Simple Present ...]

[... Simple Present ... if / when ... Simple Present ...]

Use

The Present Real Conditional is used to talk about what you normally do in real-life situations.

Unreal Conditionals

Form

[If ... Simple Past ..., ... would + verb ...]

[... would + verb ... if ... Simple Past ...]

Use

The Present Unreal Conditional is used to talk about what you would generally do in imaginary situations.

Meaning

www.englishpage.com  also has interactive, self checking quizzes that could be done orally in small groups or pairs or on the computer.

  • Conditional Exercise 2 Present Unreal Conditional
  • Conditional Exercise 3 Present Real Conditional vs. Present Unreal Conditional
  • Conditional Exercise 6 Present Unreal Conditional vs. Past Unreal Conditional

Communicative Activity

Compare and contrast sentences using real and unreal conditionals even exaggerating the unreal conditionals since they are imaginary anyway. The usual pair/share, discussion and conversation oral class activities are appropriate and can be quite interesting and humourous for both the teacher and the learner.


Teaching English to Seniors and More Mature Students

 

As a recent retiree and beginning Spanish learner myself, I am very interested in the pertinent factors to be considered when teaching (or learning) a second language to/as a mature adult.

 

My subject, Benedicto Silva is a Mexican man who only started learning English the two years following his retirement from the military and is in a World Pass Class Level 2B class. In his needs analysis questionnaire he told me that his motivation to learn English was to be able to travel to English speaking countries.  As his motivation is very similar to mine (in reverse) in addition to enrolling in a TESL certificate course in a Spanish speaking country I decided to explore some salient aspects of later-in-life language acquisition for the first essay.

 

As the time draws closer to the actual one to one individualized tutoring session near the end of the month, I will re-contact Mr. Silva once again and plan an individualized lesson according to his specific learning needs at that time.  In the meantime, as a result of my interview with Mr. Silva I became interested in researching the topic of later-in-life language acquisition.

 

So what are the things to keep in mind when teaching more mature students?  The first thing that comes to mind is the materials and methodology themselves.  Many commercial texts are geared to or are assuming a younger student demographic and as such some of the icebreakers or the exercises for example could be perceived by an older teacher and/or learner as simply ‘lame’ or irrelevant and not of much interest or practical value.  Or the content may be noticeably dated and need extensive preparation with materials that may not be easily available depending on the locale and situation of the teaching practice.

 

Hence, having a collection of ‘field tested’ high interest/low preparation icebreakers and an annotated list of useful ‘go-to’ websites for vocabulary, grammar, listening, conversation and reading would be of immediate use in all settings. By the end of this course this is one of my TESL teacher preparation objectives to be uploaded on a pre-existing tripod.com online weblog/ portfolio/resume site that can be subsequently accessed from anywhere in the world on a portable IPad tablet.

 

In terms of a preliminary literature search, quite recently Durán G. Mairene, Maestría en Segundas Lenguas y Culturas at an international TESL conference in November of 2010 presented some key findings of a research study of 66 older learners aged 57 -73 both male and female of differing educational levels and from urban and rural backgrounds. 

 

The main conclusions drawn by this one study will be outlined and used for illustrative purposes followed by references for possible further study in the future.

 

Cerebral Plasticity

 

Lenneberg (1967) as well as other early brain researchers have long claimed that between the ages of birth to nine years old language acquisition occurs naturally and relatively effortlessly because the neurons in charge of storing information and making connections happen at lightning fast speeds.  After what was termed the ‘critical period’ the ability was demonstrably lessened because the brain neurons do not make those vital connections at the same rapid pace.

 

This view, however has since been challenged by Robertson(2002) among others who have stated that there are other compensatory factors besides age that may be even more significant in terms of successful second language learning, such as personal motivation, anxiety, input and output skills, setting and time commitment. This view, of course, gives renewed hope to older language students and their teachers.

 

Thompson and Geoff ( 1996) felt that older adults who are exposed to appropriate cognitive strategies using the communicative model of language acquisition could actually fulfill complex linguistic tasks at in some cases very advanced ages.  However, the teacher needed to be conscious of the need to modify and adapt learning activities so that they will be a suitable ‘fit’ for mature students and their interests.

 

An excellent website that clearly explains what communicative language teaching is and most importantly isn’t can be found at:

 

http://raghdah.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/what-is-communicative-langauge-teaching-clt-its-misconceptions/

 

 

Informal Cognitive Learning Activities

 

In the study cited, data was collected on the learning process of the older adult’s cognitive maturity: that is, how they used their life experiences to activate semantic and grammar linguistic learning. The mature students were exposed to stimulating cognitive functions via organizing information, dialogues or role plays, finding similarities and differences in drawings, mazes and crossword puzzles, contextualized activities that encompassed listening, writing, reading and viewing videos and informally socializing in conversation groups. Lots of variety using multisensory modalities was strongly recommended to sustain interest and maintain extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

 

Use of Mother Tongue

 

It seems like this is a very controversial subject in many TESL methodologies and guidebooks and there are many ‘purist’ TESL advocates that consider the use; any use of the mother tongue to be strictly verboten.  However, the conclusion of this particular study took a moderate and ‘ad hoc’ case by case approach which made more sense to me both as a mature teacher and second language learner. 

 

 The older students in this study were sometimes traditionally instructed on grammar and vocabulary using a deductive method using their mother tongue when absolutely necessary to help their comprehension.  The researchers concluded that an overly rigid adherence to total immersion English tended to limit the older student’s cognitive processes resulting in confusion, frustration and possible withdrawal from further English study.

 

The researchers ultimately concluded that limited but judicious use of their mother tongue during the learning processes served to activate neural connections which helped not hindered optimal learning in relation to real life concepts and experiences.

 

Contextual Memory Strategies

 

The researcher stated and I would tend to concur, that short term memory in older learners is affected (brain plasticity and neuron connection) and does declines with age. I would illustrate this point with my retrospective observation that the overall value of my past attendance at the so called short term ‘travel’ Spanish classes  was really quite limited in terms of real life operational functionality in the host/target language abroad for this very reason.

 

On the upside, however, the researcher claimed that long term memory on the other hand can function better when the mature student is exposed to a wide variety of informal and formal inductive strategies using the communicative teaching model. Then older learners can recover and compensate for their diminished capacity to retain information while relating directly to carefully planned contextualized activities. It is essential that mature students make those vital connections with real life experiences to understand grammar and vocabulary for long term retention and subsequent application using the target language with any degree of confidence.

 

In contrast,  while comparing my experience with ‘travel’ Spanish to my more recent experience with the popular but perhaps not widely TSSL endorsed Warren Hardy approach, the latter program does build in extensive practice and repetition and does not consider some translation (in the lower level at least) verboten and counter productive. This was not my experience with learning French, Canada’s other official language, and which at that time was the only second language option offered. 

 

Being a Canadian who supposedly ‘learned’ French in all three levels of school from Grade 5 to 12 in immersion classes but still does not consider herself competent beyond a survival level of French despite this I personally welcomed a more moderate approach learning Spanish with the Warren Hardy Program.  I definitely believed that this was a better ‘fit’ for my present style of language learning within the context of living in a Spanish speaking country for four months where I have continuous opportunities, times and places to practice with native speakers.

 

 

 

Conclusions and Recommendations

 

 Explicit deductive grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation instruction needed and may be familiar and predictable to mature students due to previous language learning experiences.

 

 Emphasis on knowledge construction on what students already understand as learners scaffold higher order linguistic abilities related to semantics and grammar application.

 

 Realization that exclusive English exposure may limit cognitive processing resulting in confusion, frustration and stress for older learners that may result in them dropping out of classes.

 

 Occasional use of the students’ mother tongue during knowledge processing activities can serve to activate neural connections to help construct meaningful knowledge using the real life experiences of the learner.

 

 The importance of employing a wide variety of informal, lower stress learning activities to help the older student practice, retain and apply learning. Hence the importance of each TESL teacher’s personal ‘bag of tricks!’

 

 Placement of learners in homogenous groups using up to date appropriately leveled materials. However, opportunities for multi level open access/open topic conversation classes like they have at IMAC are definitely relevant and worthwhile.

 

 The final recommendation of the previous study in question was to emphasize formative rather than summative evaluation which can be deemed stressful and also because the motivation of mature students may be more personal than academic.  Formative subjective assessment as opposed to summative objective evaluation in TESL teaching and learning is an important issue that bears further inquiry.

 

In conclusion, the contribution of perusing a research excerpt of this type as well as others on the same topic can serve to raise aspiring but mature TESL teachers awareness that senior citizens can indeed successfully learn a second language if they are taught using an appropriate approach that can best address their unique learning and cognitive needs.

 

Johnson, J.S.; Newport, E.L. (1989). "Critical period effects in second language learning: the influence of maturational state on the acquisition of English as a second language". Cognitive Psychology 21 (1): 60–99. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(89)90003-0.

PMID 2920538.

 

Thompson, Geoff (1996) ELT Journal Volume 50/1 January 1996 page numbers 9-15

 

Website on Communicative Approach in TESL 

 

http://raghdah.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/what-is-communicative-langauge-teaching-clt-its-misconceptions/

 

Warren Hardy Spanish Program

 

http://warrenhardy.com/school/