Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Five Creative Methods of Teaching English to TEFL Learners

As English teachers, we’re almost always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to stimulate our language learners. It was ELT author and researcher Stephen D. Krashen who gave us his Affective Filter hypothesis of Second or Foreign language acquisition. (Krashen – Terrell, 1983) His hypothesis states, that conditions which promote low anxiety levels in class allow improved learning on the part of students. When learners enjoy class activities their Affective Filter is low and they learn more. New and different activities “out of the norm” also lower learner affective filters.

Here are some not-so-commonly-used techniques for adding that “new twist” to your English or foreign language classes. Giving learners something new does wonders in relieving boredom, spiking interest and lowering the Affective Filter of learners on whom you may have “tried everything”.

1. Using an iPod

Do you learners carry iPods or cellular phones? Don’t curse and swear at them for using technology in their lives. Turn it to your advantage! A number of good websites now exist that can get you and your learners up and running using this latest new technology for language learning and practice. Here are useful website for more podcasting information:

Podcasting: Audio on the Internet comes of age

Morning Stories

Podcast Pickle <

Internet TESL Journal

2. Let Mr. Bean Help You

You all know him and love his humorous twists on daily living. So don’t just sit there nodding, grab a CD or VHS full of episodes and try a few out on your learners. Let them do the talking. They can offer suggestions, write to Mr. Bean and his other characters, express opinions and do comparisons of his world vs. their own. By the way, is he REALLY an alien? Follow his antics, get video clips, program guides and more at:

3. Ask Walt Disney for Advice

Although I’m old enough to remember his presence and passing, Walt Disney can still make us laugh, smile, cry and cheer with the antics of scores of his characters and their families. Take some short “clips” from his animated stories. Change the situation. Alter the characters. Modify an ending or a beginning to cause a whole different outlook on age-old themes. Are your stories and characters better? As long as they’re different, stimulating and generate interest or discussion, that’s all that matters. Everyone, even you, will have a great time coming up with new twists on these classic themes. Try it!

Visit Disney online here:

4. Letting Learners Create Lesson Materials

Turnabout is fair play, or so they say. Take a day to switch roles. Have you ever let your learners write an exam? How about planning a fun class? Having a “hot” conversation on a topic that THEY want to talk about – music, movies, cute guys / gals, techno-babble? Nothing is taboo – well almost nothing, anyway! What do you think they’ll talk about? You’d be surprised!

5. Join the Club

Let’s all go to the Conversation Club. What you don’t have one? Okay then, start one – every Thursday from 2:00 pm to 2:30 pm or whatever time, day and duration may suit you and your learners. The key is to give THEM the majority of control, or at least as much as possible. Use props, use realia, use pictures, music or whatever you and your learners may have on hand to start, stop and sustain the activities. Other “clubs” you could join include:

· Pronunciation clubs
· Reading clubs
· Movie clubs
· Acting Clubs

Use your and your learners’ imaginations. The sky’s the limit – or maybe the Administration’s sky is the limit. But no matter, just try something new for starters.

Try some of these not-so-commonly-used techniques for adding that “new twist” to your English or foreign language classes. Give your learners something new to relieve any boredom and spike their interest. Can’t you just hear those Affective Filters falling now?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

6 Ways You Can Develop New English Language Skills or Learn New Information

A New Approach Every Decade

It seems with every decade a new approach or theory of English or other foreign language learning comes into vogue. Keeping up can be daunting, even exasperating for TEFL English teachers worldwide. Each of us has our own environment and particular situation in regards to materials, facilities, time constraints, knowledge, training, skills and abilities among other venues. Let’s not even talk about administrative demands. Despite these, there are some commonalities. Our EFL / ESL learners all want the same thing in varying degrees – to develop English language skills.

So first, let’s consider some ways people can learn new information or develop new skills and abilities. Regardless of currently accepted approaches or theory some aspects are staple and constant. There are, essentially, nine ways students learn new information or develop new skills. These key methods are:

Observing someone else, then copying their actions

We all know this one. It made millions for Arthur Murray and numerous other dance instructors. We watch, and then we try until the movements are fluid and natural looking. It takes two to Tango in more ways than one. Ever watch an infant? As you coo and talk to him / her, they watch your mouth intently. Later, they’ll try to mimic you and other speakers. It works, of course. After all, YOU can talk quite well now, can’t you?

Practicing doing something on our own

Actually, I learned to play rudimentary chess this way, practicing by “playing” against myself for hours on end. Many fishermen learn and develop their skills using this method as well. For language learning, students could try using CDs, tapes, videos or mimicking speakers live, on TV or radio.

Having a personal instructor or trainer

From learning to skate to getting a Black Belt, this is a preferred method for many physical skills. When learners attend a formal class this method is being incorporated too.

Taking a course from a knowledgeable person or source

For study and learning of abstract knowledge like the arts, language or music, most people would tend to use this method. At some point or another most learners do attend a class in the target language, especially in the USA, England, Canada or Australia where English is the first language of the people.

Keep trying and failing until the action, sequence or information is “acquired”

Whether growing a new business or learning to ice skate, this is one way, albeit a painful one at times, to learn a new skill. In acquiring speaking and listening comprehension skills, learners need to continually try and “fail” in the production and comprehension efforts.

Following guidelines or instructions on how to do something

Want to build your own computer? Assemble a model plane, car or boat? Hit a straight drive or bowl a 300? Most likely you’ve used this method with electronics or in assembling a toy, a framework, and a piece of furniture or something like a tent. In a language pronunciation segment, learners follow speech reproduction guidelines to improve their sound production accuracy.

Think about each of these methods or approaches and I’m sure you’ll come up with some skill, ability or knowledge you obtained using several of them. You’ll likely also note that different types and kinds of skills required different approaches on your part. You likely tried to learn something in one way, failed, and then tried another approach or two successfully. So keep learning. Keep growing and Good Luck.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Could Computers and the Internet REALLY Replace TESOL English Teachers?

A Controversial Question

At ELT English seminars, workshops and TESOL conferences, one question I’m frequently asked is whether I think computers will eventually replace English teachers. I flash back to the film “Matrix”. In an early scene, our neophyte hero “Neo” is learning Kung Fu by being plugged in to a computer. Scant hours later, he opens his eye, sits up, and announces, “I know Kung Fu!” The ensuing scenes depict how an older, more experienced mentor (a.k.a. a teacher) follows up by evaluating young Neo’s “skills”. “Show me”, the teacher asks in typical fashion. Now if you’ve been following along with me so far, you already have a clue as to my asnswer to these teachers’ question.

Computers replace a human English teacher?

Are you kidding?

“Ain’t no way, Jose.”

But English teachers, don’t totally relax just yet. What I think we DO need to do is to “re-invent” a portion of the concept of “school”. Here’s what I mean.

Reinventing the Concept of School

Schools, at virtually any level, will need to be virtually and interactively linked to an extensive array of external resources. This means that the “traditional” board, markers and OHP will need to give way to additional, integrated resources that expand the classroom environment to an almost unlimited degree. I mean the works; audio, video, internet, webcams, IM, TXTing, chat, e-mail, RSS, even real-time multi-media input feeds. The classroom and its students would be linked to additional resources like:

Government facilities
Science, technology and medical centers
Other learning Institutions

In this way, students would more normally utilize learning activities such as web quests, inter-active dynamics and virtual tours to expand and deepen their knowledge on principles and concepts. The learners would no longer be limited to the knowledge, resources and facilities available at the institution where they attend classes. Instead, the world, literally, is their classroom.

Impact on Learning

How would this directly impact learning? Well, if you’re learning computers, wouldn’t direct access to Microsoft Corp. materials and training be a real boon? Technology students would doubtless derive immense benefit from direct links with MIT (, Cal Tech (, or Lucent Corp. ( Engineering students would thrive on access to NASA located online at: (, Boeing (, Westinghouse (, Dupont ( or a host of other high-tech corporations.

Law, Government, Human Rights and Political Science students would be at the top of their game hard-wired into Federal, State and local government databases, or FBI (, the London Metropolitan Police (, the CIA ( and ATF ( ) databases with their accompanying local, regional and national resources. Health majors could be up to date with real-time events in Pathology, Epidemics research, natural disaster response resource information and population health threats through the CDC (, medical and health networks or the UN ( The possibilities are almost endless.

So, I agree that the “traditional” approaches to teaching and learning, not only English and other foreign languages, but numerous other fields as well, will continue to evolve to serve the needs of learners, business and educational institutions. With CBL (Content-Based Learning), well-prepared TEFL English teachers, armed with knowledge, skills and continually developing technology, have nothing to fear from computers. Technology is yet another powerful tool in promoting the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, now and in the future. What do YOU think?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Using Short Paragraph Stories to Teach Simple Past in English – Part 1

Whenever I have to teach the Simple Past tense in English, one activity I always use is speaking and writing practice using some short “stories” that I made up. Writing them was a lot more difficult than I’d originally imagined since use of only regular verbs in a narrative is not really authentic language. Native speakers simply don’t talk that way. But, to give my EFL English students some practice in writing the forms of regular verbs in past and especially in pronouncing them, I came up with a couple of shorts using only this form. They’re harder to read and pronounce than “normal”, but the intensive practice seems to be quite helpful. So, I continue to use them even though I know this speech pattern is not going to occur in natural English speech.

Since my learners are all from a Spanish-speaking country in South America, Colombia, they typically exhibit a problem in pronouncing the –ed verb ending in its various forms. I’d noticed the same propensity towards pronunciation problems with –ed regular verb endings in other Spanish-speaking areas, so I prepared exercises to help with this early on. Students in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama and Ecuador have all benefited from these simple “stories” I hope that perhaps your EFL / ESL students will too.

TEFL Learners can read the story paragraphs aloud, focusing on the correct pronunciation of the verb ending forms. They can fill-in the blanked out endings in the paragraph to practice adding –ed or just –d as required. Also they’ll practice with when to change “y” to an “i” before adding –ed. For example, Play becomes played, and stay becomes stayed, but try and cry become tried or cried. The stories could be cut into strips and re-ordered, acted out as a “skit”, pantomimed, or a variety of written exercises and comprehension activities could be added. As an added feature, I boldface the verbs in the paragraphs.

I attempted to create short paragraph stories that would be of some interest as well. One is set in the Old West and is called, “The Sheriff of Calico County”. The others take place during a visit to the zoo, and during a bank robbery, respectively. They’re entitled, “The Zoo” (169 words) and “The State Bank” (131 words). Kinda catchy titles, ain’t they? There was just a bit of “writing license” taken in the creation of these short paragraph stories. Hey, it worked for Shakespeare, didn’t it?

Here are two as examples for you to try out.

The Zoo
Last Wednesday we decided to visit the zoo. We arrived the next morning after we breakfasted, cashed in our passes and entered. We walked toward the first exhibits. I looked up at a giraffe as it stared back at me. I stepped nervously to the next area. One of the lions gazed at me as he lazed in the shade while the others napped. One of my friends first knocked then banged on the tempered glass in front of the monkey’s cage. They howled and screamed at us as we hurried to another exhibit where we stopped and gawked at plumed birds. After we rested, we headed for the petting zoo where we petted wooly sheep who only glanced at us but the goats butted each other and nipped our clothes when we ventured too near their closed pen. Later, our tired group nudged their way through the crowded paths and exited the turnstiled gate. Our car bumped, jerked and swayed as we dozed during the relaxed ride home.

The State Bank
This morning at 8:33, someone robbed the State Bank downtown. The thief entered the bank and stated that he wanted all their money. The thief smiled but looked very tired. The tellers seemed worried. The thief received the money he requested, asked to be excused, then stormed out quickly as the door revolved. He dashed down the street and screeched away in a damaged car that rattled, squeaked and smoked. It appeared that he really needed the money. The police soon arrived. They barreled and chased down the street. They searched and questioned bystanders, but the thief vanished. The police failed to catch him. Investigators abandoned the case and neglected to do anything else. The money was never recovered and the thief was never identified the report of the incident ended.

In part two of this article series, I demonstrate the use of a similar style, but much longer piece for practicing simple past of regular verbs. If you’re successful and want to try another of my “stories” or two, just e-mail me for more. Better yet try your hand at coming up with a couple of your own. Either way, I’m happy to be able to share these with you and I’d be happy to hear how these worked for you and your EFL / ESL English learners. So, feel free to let me know how well these worked (or didn’t) for you.

Good Luck

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Do EFL English Schools Really Need Native English Speaking Teachers?

The Need for Native English Speakers

As the need for proficiency in the English language continues to explode worldwide, there is an ever-increasing need for more and more EFL teachers. All too often however, non-native English teachers find the phrase “native speakers only” included in adverts and English EFL or ESL requirements. But, do schools really need native-speaking English teachers? On ELT forums like , blogs and web pages across the internet, commentary flies back and forth at a fast and furious pace. Here are some opinions regarding native vs. non-native English speaking EFL / ESL teachers:

A Problem for Non-Natives

When a prospective non-native English teacher posted about his inability to gain an ELT position in his native country, his error-filled post was responded to as follows:

“…I counted around thirty mistakes in your message. If I was a school owner, why should I hire someone whose written English skills are poor, or who writes so sloppily it looks like they couldn't care less? Alright, so some of your mistakes may be due to the way we have become used to writing on forums, "dumbed down" if you like, but if you want to show people you have the skills that you claim to have, then why not show them by at least writing in proper English?”

The Whole Package

The ensuing comments give some insight as to why schools would “openly” target native English speakers only, when they say:

“Unfortunately, most ESL positions in Asia and particularly China specify native speakers only, moreover, they want those from certain countries like UK, Australia and the USA. A non-native speaker’s language and teaching ability may be better than a lot of native speakers but I doubt whether administrators or recruiters will want anyone other than blue-eyed, blonde Caucasians to parade in front of prospective parents and their students.”

“As has already been mentioned, the reason people want native speakers is that they want "the whole package". Someone who can talk about odd British sayings, what Americans eat for breakfast, differences between UK regional accents; things a native speaker will know instinctively, things a non-native speaker may not. Or simply the chance to talk to "a native speaker."

Not Everyone Agrees Native Speakers are “Best”

But not all necessarily agree that a native speaker is always the best option. Consider this alternate opinion posting:

“…it's more often than not better for the students if their teacher is a non-native speaker (providing of course that you CAN use English as good as a native speaker). That is because you had to learn this language as well as your students do, so you know exactly which things will be difficult and how to explain them most efficiently.”

Need For EFL Teachers is HUGE
The Need for EFL / ESL Teachers is HUGE Right now. It would be foolish to think that only native speakers can fill all the positions available worldwide. Non-native speakers should look for jobs in less discriminatory areas and countries after ensuring that their English communication and teaching skills are honed to their best. Non-native speakers will usually find that their best allies in their quest the native-speaking English language teachers.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 80 countries. Get your FREE E-books, “If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" or "7 Techniques to Motivate Your English Language Learners and Make Your Classes More Dynamic" by requesting the title you want at:

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What Makes Listening Difficult?

Of the four basic English language skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening, the most difficult to acquire is listening comprehension. It is also the one skill which cannot be “taught”.
In evaluations that university English and foreign language institute EFL students must take at least three times a semester, the area which is most critical and the one in which they experience the greatest difficulty is listening comprehension.

What makes Listening Difficult?

There are four clusters of factors which can affect the difficulty of language listening tasks. Here is what they are and how they affect listening comprehension skills.


• How many are there?
Is one person speaking at a time? Are there a number of speakers? Do some of them speak at the same time?

• How quickly they speak

Does the pace of the speaker allow sufficient “time” for mental processing of the speech by the listener? Does the language of the speaker flow at a faster or slower rate than the listener is accustomed to?

• What types of accent they have

Does the speaker (or do the speakers) have an unfamiliar accent or manner of speaking that is less comprehensible to the listener? Is the listener accustomed to variable accents and speech types?


• The role of the listener
What is the listener’s purpose in listening? General comprehension? Specific information? Pleasure? Business? Extraction of critical data?

• The level of response required

What does the listener have to do in response to the speech? Act? Respond? Think? Enjoy? Nothing?

• The interest in the content or subject

Is the listener involved in the content or subject matter? Is it something they want to, need to, or must know?


• Grammar
Is the grammar and structure in use familiar to the listener? Is the listener able to use or assimilate the grammar – structure used in this context?

• Vocabulary

Is vocabulary or lexis that is new to the listener being used in the speech? Is the quantity of new words substantial? Noted linguistics author Scott Thornbury says, “Count 100 words of a passage. If more than 10 of the words are unknown, the text has less than a 90% vocabulary recognition rate. It is therefore, unreadable.” The same holds true for a listening comprehension passage.

• Information structure

Is the information or material being presented by the speech in a form that is clear and understandable to the listener? Is the presentation order logical, progressive, have redundancies or is presented non-sequentially?

• Background knowledge assumed

In comprehension of the speech, is prior knowledge required? Is any prior knowledge required substantial, highly specialized or technical in nature?


What kind of support, if any, is available? Support in this context refers to whether there are pictures, diagrams or other visual aids to support the text.

While there are a number of approaches that can be utilized to improve listening comprehension, one important key is regular and consistent practice. An EFL or ESL teacher may also provide a measure of guided practice in developing key listening comprehension skills. Taking these other factors into account, listening comprehension segments can be identified which may tend to cause problems for learners or that have a sufficient number of suitable aspects to make them practical and useable.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Three Mistakes Foreign Language Teachers Make That Cause Learners to Fail

Are you guilty of any of these erroneous practices in ELT or language teaching? Any one of them can easily derail the students’ efforts in language acquisition and learning or cause them grave problems. So, review these areas, make any needed adjustments to your teaching practice. Don’t you be a stumbling block to your learners’ progress.

1. Don’t adapt materials to the learning style and characteristics of the students.

Unfortunately, the learning style most reflected in the classroom is that of the teacher. It is paramount that concepts and material be presented in a way most suitable for the learners. Jack C. Richards, principal author of the widely popular Interchange textbook series said, “Student learning styles may be an important factor in the success of teaching and may not necessarily reflect those that teachers recommend." Why? Because teachers use their own preferences in the class room, not necessarily those of the students. Do an analysis of your class group’s learning characteristics, then apply the results to your teaching.

2. Follow the course book

A course book is usually not intended to be a “bible”, but all too often teachers follow it “religiously”. They do nothing else, nor include outside materials in their teaching. If you read the teacher’s notes that typically accompany an English or language text, you’ll most likely note that the course book is intended to be a guide for teaching with supplementary materials widely used to expand, deepen or reinforce presented materials and themes. Use the course book sequence as a guide. Freely supplement its exercises and course materials with your own creations or at the very least with materials adapted from other sources. As mentioned in point number one, plan your lessons and materials to meet the needs, learning styles and characteristics of your learners.

3. Don’t encourage and promote language practice outside the class room

With an alarming number of schools and institutes decreasing student to teacher classroom contact hours per week it is essential for learners to receive additional practice and input. There are requirements of as little as four hours per week or even less in many publicly or government-funded educational centers. Can a student really learn a language in only 45 hours? Or put it this way, is it reasonable to expect mastery of any sort in a language after six or seven days in a foreign country where that language is spoken? Spread that contact intensity over a six-month period; does that make language learning and acquisition better or worse? Now, throw in the learners using their first language half of each day of language learning and you have a situation degraded to a nearly impossible state. Finally, factor in class and semester breaks of several weeks per year and it’s certainly no wonder Jorge, Chen Shen or Efrosini can’t hold even a basic conversation after studying English (or another foreign language) under these conditions for two, three or even more years. Encouragement and promotion of foreign language practice outside the class room is absolutely vital to the success of the learners.

So again, don’t you be a stumbling block to your learners’ progress. If you are guilty of any of these erroneous practices in ELT or language teaching, make any needed adjustments to your teaching practice ASAP. Then watch your learners grow, improve and practice their new language like never before. Please feel free to contact me with your questions, comments or requests.