Czech EFL

Let the Czech check it out

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Prison pen pals

I've just stumbled across and while browsing through a number of profiles it struck me that this is a vast pool of possibly highly motivated pen pals. Clearly, murderers and the like wouldn't make the best match for kids but adult learners who would like to find someone interesting to write to could give it a go.

Here's what Mumia Abu-Jamal, one of the more famous prisoners, has to say on prisons:
When one considers prayer, one thinks of those instances in life when divine intervention seems most needed: in times of oppression, burdens, and peril. As Sir Francis Bacon put it, "Troubles and adversities do more bow men's minds to religion."

If that is so, then prisons, places of the most profound repression, must be sites of profound religious experience, of contemplation, of transformation, of insight, and of prayer.
Why not add a bit of EFL learning then?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Subversive teacher

I've been watching in awe how Allen is going crazy about his experiments. Allen is clearly one of a kind and I personally learn loads of new things by simply reading his blog. I just wonder what's going to happen of him. It was the first time here where Allen admitted he would, sooner or later, be fired. Now wouldn't that be a shame?

I can see Allen's point of view as a teacher who loves his students but doesn't give a damn about the system... Isn't learning, though, first of all a long-distance run? Getting the boot then would be a great disservice to the students and eventually a great failure too. Like Aaron in the discussion, I believe the better way is to try working within the system.

I may be here somewhat influenced by AIESEC, a student organization which promotes leadership and encourages young people to take on leadership roles in society, but I believe that teachers are in such a power position that teaching must essentially be about leadership.

Admittedly, it takes a good deal of effort to make any sort of change in mammoth institutions such as universities. I personally draw great inspiration from what Scott Peck said on this: “The only purpose of power is to empower others.”

Become a leader. Empower others. Let them become leaders.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Silent period

I'm now reading Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning, an ebook by Stephen Krashen and I personally find it an utterly fascinating read. The model he outlines on the first few pages looks simple yet groundbreaking. It boggles my mind though that 20 years after its original publication most EFL folks around here still seem to take it for granted that what Krashen calls 'second language learning' should help learners improve production, let alone fluency.

One thing I've come across only recently is the term 'silent period'. I understand Krashen and others have done quite a bit of research on this but none could explain the phenomenon better than my 3-year-old niece. We started watching Magic English recently and when I asked her the other day if she wants to speak English as well she firmly replied that she would only listen!

It is tempting to draw a parallel between children and adults as far as the acquisition is concerned and I wonder if adult learners should imitate the way children acquire their mother tongue and therefore should be encouraged to observe the silent period. A lot of comprehensible input in rich and personally meaningful context is crucial BUT an adult learner can voluntarily decide to analyze little bits and pieces of new language they personally find useful or interesting. This analysis may also include an attempt to use the language in their own, personally related context. The two important implications are that first, they make the language their own and establish a kind of pattern or relationship and second, they are likely to make a mistake first in writing before they do so in speaking, which for all too many people is a painful and embarrassing experience.

The question therefore is whether the silent period should be consciously applied to both speaking and writing (blank period?) or whether adult learners should be encouraged to attempt some production in writing. What do you think? Can you point to some research/papers on this?

By the way, my niece produced her first English word as we were about to watch part four. She was asking if there would be the 'baby' we had seen in one of the previous parts...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Learner-centred discussions

After some time in my previous job I came to realize how often I had dominated our discussions with my adult classes. Being very opinionated I simply didn't steer clear of presenting my own views and by doing so I effectively stifled any further opinions on the subject from my students.

Now it makes me wonder. If a student makes an effort to express themselves in English we sure ought to praise that effort and encourage the students to keep on. So what exactly would you do if a student, out of the blue, presents some ideas that you strongly oppose, eg. gives reasons why they admire Adolf Hitler?

On the lookout for a pick-up

I set out to get myself a teaching job in Prague and it seems there are lots up for grabs. The specific thing about the market here however is that most schools get the bulk of their business from arranging tailor-made classes for corporate clients, while running in-house courses is a marginal thing. The implication obviously is that a teacher's life here involves lots of travelling every day.

I've already secured a part-time job with one of the most prestigious schools and it's clearly going to be a whole lot different from my previous job where I taught mainly children. I relish the challenge though... from a senior position in a foreign country back to the beginning at home!

My approach

Once I answered the previous question I feel it's crucial to set out the key points of my teaching approach.

  1. I believe learners acquire much of their L2 lexicon naturally while reading and listening for pleasure away from the classroom. This input must be comprehensible and therefore require little effort on the learner's part.

  2. I believe learners have to gradually acquire skills and tools necessary to process the L2 input. These include awareness of the language (especially collocations), an appropriate monolingual dictionary, the IPA and lexical notebook. Learners also have to use these skills on a regular basis to study and analyze a little bit of authenthic input they personally choose.

  3. I believe learners have to try to put what they have learned to use and make a conscious effort to produce the L2. As for writing they may try weblogs or penfriends, speaking on the other hand may first be best practised in a safe and supportive environment which has been designed for this purpose – the classroom. Such efforts are understandably painful as they inevitably involve making mistakes. However learners have to embrace mistakes as a natural, and indeed beneficial, part of learning without which no progress at all is possible.

  4. I believe the role of formal lessons is to create a social environment for the learners to try to practice what they have learned, exchange their experiences and help sustain their motivation. Ideally, the lessons should be managed in a highly personal and communicative way.

  5. I believe the role of the teacher is to facilitate the student-driven learning process by consulting and helping them acquire the learner's skills.

Why teach?

I was thinking why I love teaching so much and eventually came to several reasons:

  1. Leadership – I enjoy the power to have some impact on society.

  2. Creativity – I enjoy myself preparing for classes. The endless choice of what you can do in 90 minutes can stretch any creative mind and eventually yield some wonderful results.

  3. People - I enjoy working with people face to face and learning how to appreciate the sheer diversity of all humanity.

  4. Independence – I enjoy being in charge and working on my own.

  5. Learning