Have you ever asked a teacher trainer exactly how they became a trainer? What answer did you get? I’m sure it was rather long, full of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’. At least mine was, when the charming pair at the TEFL Training Institute interviewed me as part of their podcast on the same topic. That chat inspired me to plan what I’d do if I started all over again…
This year’s IATEFL was superb – lots of polished presentations and an excellent venue made for copious amounts of brain food and ideas to mull over.
It was heartening to see that several presentations drew on ideas and research from outside the world of ELT. I often feel that as an industry, we’re quite resistant to studies and research from the wider arenas of psychology, sociology and linguistics.
Learning how to use phonology seems to be a low priority for many teachers… but teaching spoken language without it is like trying to drive with the handbrake on… lots of wasted energy and getting anywhere takes ages.
Teaching using phonology effectively is a challenge… here are some thoughts on how to integrate it in your classes (with some great resources at the end).
How much time do you spend updating your knowledge? How many of your TEFL teaching beliefs are now outdated?
New research is released daily, about language acquisition, linguistics, neuromyths that just won’t die. … how sure are you that what you know is really up to date?
One of the most important skills we need as teachers is the ability to critically reflect in the face of new evidence – and to actually keep up with new ideas.
The Speed of Knowledge
There are some bodies of knowledge that are fixed, where very few (if any) changes occur. Chess, for example, or music – the theory of each of these updates relatively slowly, as their fundamentals stay the same.
There are also fields of study that change almost daily – computing would be a good example.
Language learning and teaching are somewhere in the middle. I would argue that the speed at which this new knowledge is generated is getting faster, along with just about every other field of study.
So what can you do about it?
Learn – Unlearn – Re-learn
That’s the new paradigm. The ability to unlearn what you already have learned, and then re-learn from new evidence and data.
If you don’t, though, you’ll fall increasingly out of touch. New teachers will enter the profession, with new methodologies and new TEFL teaching beliefs. You’ll be a fossil in 10 years.
So why don’t we all just stay up to date all the time? What’s stopping us? Three things:
Let’s take a look at each of these.
This one is obvious. We’re all busy people, with more to do than we can ever get done. I recommend the productivity system ‘Getting Things Done’, (buy the book here), but you’re still going to be busy. The answer is simply to schedule time for professional development, and stick to your schedule. It’s as easy and as difficult as that.
I’m going to give you a pass on this one as you’re reading this blog, which is all about professional development. Clearly, you’re already motivated, and a fantastic human being. 🙂
This one is a killer. Ego gets in the way after you spend long enough studying or working in a field to be labelled an ‘expert’. Suddenly you have a reputation to defend, and a vested interest in being right. Your ego doesn’t allow you to have a free and frank discussion of new ideas anymore – there’s too much at stake.
Suddenly you’re that annoying person that no-one likes to talk to about interesting new ideas because you’re a know-it-all.
So never stop asking questions, stay humble, and remember it’s OK to make mistakes.
Your Re-Learning Challenge!
So your new challenge is this – update your knowledge in one area, this week. To do:
- Think of a topic that you’re interested in, but haven’t read about in a while.
- Make a cup of tea.
- Do some research (start by browsing Google Scholar) and see what the most recent research is.
- Do some reading, follow some links, get lost down the internet rabbit hole.
- Take notes, tell a friend or colleague, and spread the word.
- Give yourself a pat on the back for being incredible.
- Have another cup of tea.
Which area of knowledge are you going to update? Let me know in the comments below!
…and what you can do about it.
All of our students want to sound natural and have a ‘native-like’ accent. As a teacher it’s important to understand the reasons why our students struggle to produce the right sounds, so we can help them improve.
There are four reasons that students have trouble producing the correct sounds:
- They Can’t Pronounce
- They Don’t Pronounce
- Literary Interference
- Problems with Connected Speech
Let’s look at each one in turn and see how we can help our students overcome the problem.
They Can’t Pronounce
The Problem: there is no equivalent sound in the student’s own language.
A classic example for Chinese learners is the /θ/ sound (as in ‘think’). Chinese learners typically pronounce is as /s/, leading to ‘think’ to sound like ‘sink’.
The Solution: raise the learners’ awareness of the sounds. Use the phonemic chart. Model how your lips move. Show them a diagram of the mouth and throat and show them where to place their tongue, lips, etc. A great resource: http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics/
They Don’t Pronounce
The Problem: Students know how to produce the sounds but don’t.
There are a couple of reasons that this occurs:
- Sometimes the students are just being lazy (it can be quite an effort to contort your mouth into new shapes for a whole lesson!)
- Sometimes they’re afraid of sounding silly in front of classmates.
The Solution: if the students are afraid of sounding silly, then make it a game. Model yourself exaggerating the sounds and pulling silly faces in the process. Also remind them that if they keep their lazy pronunciation, they sound particularly silly in English!
If the students are being lazy, turn it into a game as well – and that students can lose points every time they mispronounce a target sound during a lesson. Non-verbal correction (i.e. tapping your pen) every time they make a pronunciation error with a target sound can be a great way to focus their attention.
The Problem: this happens when students mispronounce a word after reading it (and assuming it sounds how it is spelled)
The Solution: For younger learners, it could be an idea to brush up on their phonics if they display consistent errors with standard pronunciations. Otherwise, correct as and when they appear, when appropriate.
Problems with Connected Speech
The Problem: When learners sound like a robot, pronouncing every word fully in a sentence, rather than shortening them in ways a native speaker would.
The Solution: Raising awareness of connected speech (e.g. weak forms) and making sure that you’re teaching them http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/connected-speech.
Good luck and good teaching!