Czech EFL

Let the Czech check it out

Monday, October 31, 2005

Amazing student

At the beginning of each of my courses I introduce some classroom questions/requests useful for student - teacher interaction such as "Sorry, could you say that again?" and go on to dictate a short text while the students are expected to use the questions. It's a sort of drill really!

As a kind of learner training though I thought it's a good idea to tell my students something about one of the most amazing students I've ever had and so I put together the following text:
Amazing Student

This is a story of a Malay lady in her late forties. Her name is Sharipah and I clearly remember when she first came in the classroom back in Malaysia. She was very insecure and after the class she didn't feel she could carry on for long because she couldn't understand much.

But guess what? She managed to stay on and after a year she could handle English speaking customers! She is definitely the most grateful student I've ever had.
After the dictation I get the students to refocus from any spelling errors or new vocabulary and elicit how they think she managed to achieve that. Their ideas, I realized, nicely reflect their own view of the perfect way to learn a second language. I go on then to stress that different learners may learn in different ways and we discuss how THEY would like to learn in and away from the classroom. Finally, I draw their attention to the last sentence, which is actually a sentence frame, and ask about the best teacher they've ever had.

However, the most important thing about the whole activity is likely to be something which I didn't plan for and so it emerged somewhat unintentionally. Some of my students pointed out that it's in a way their own story. They could relate, mainly because of their age I suppose, to the story of a middle-aged woman who managed to succeed against all the odds. I could see they derived a sense of "Yes, I can do it TOO!" from the story and so it was a nice way to round off the lesson.


I know some TEFLers groan at the idea of teaching children but there is no doubt children are the most amazing learners and I was truly blessed to teach everything from preschoolers to teenagers and young adults in my previous job.

I can see it now every day how we need to re-learn from the little ones what we have lost - to overcome our fears, be open about how we feel and grab every opportunity that crops up and learn from it.

Being with children is a tremendous experience for any adult learner as Jane Tyson Clement puts it rather exquisitely in this poem:

Child, Though I Take Your Hand
Jane Tyson Clement

Child, though I take your hand
and walk in the snow;

though we follow the track of the mouse together;
though we try to unlock together the mystery
of the printed word, and slowly discover
why two and three make five
always, in an uncertain world —

child, though I am meant to teach you much,
what is it, in the end,
except that together we are
meant to be children
of the same Father
and I must unlearn
all the adult structure
and the cumbering years

and you must teach me
to look at the earth and the heaven
with your fresh wonder.

(via Daily Dig)

Friday, October 28, 2005

I kick ass

There's yet another brilliant post over at Effortless Language Acquisition and yet another blog on my Bloglines account.

There's been a lot of reflection recently from AJ and others on what makes an outstanding teacher and that got me thinking about MY best English teacher (I'm actually the only one who can reflect on my English teachers because AJ&Co. are all English native speakers!). I was blessed to meet Andrew, who I hear is supposed to be now in Korea again, at Lewis School in Southampton back in 2002. He was one of a kind as he could lead every single one of us out of the "I suck" zone in no time. With him all students, even the shiest Korean girl, were always successful.

However, by the time I decided to go to Southampton I'd been through more than 8 years of some of the worst possible primary and secondary school grammar-translation you can imagine. Have you ever seen a 1960's-like coursebook in which each unit consists of a short text about the highs and lows of one family coupled with an illustration, list of vocabulary, some new grammar and several exercises?

In September 2002, on my first day at Lewis School I was put to higher intermediate class but clearly my only asset was good knowledge of grammar and some reading skills while my communicative competence and confidence as well were non-existent. I was deep in the "I suck" zone and I'd always thought I didn't have a good head for languages!

Six months later though everything had changed and I collected the following compliments from my teachers:
  • Without doubt, you are off the scale. (Andrew)
  • It has been utterly fascinating teaching such a talented linguist. (Jill)
  • I was extremely impressed by your linguistic ability. (Kathy)
  • What can I say? You've achieved legendary status! (Tom)
All of a sudden, I was in the "I kick ass" zone!

Recently, I got an email from Tom asking for a testimonial for the school. He wrote:
You are one of the most remarkable language learners I've ever met, and in particular what you and Andrew achieved together as learner and teacher was truly memorable. And then to go and become an English teacher yourself - that's a pretty special story.

I put together the testimonial and wrote back:
Jiri studied at the Lewis School for 6 months from 2002 to 2003. He took a General English course, plus English for Business (LCCI) examination course. Since then, he has passed CPE and taught English in Malaysia for 18 months under AIESEC international exchange programme. Although Information Management major he continues to pursue his career in TEFL.

"The Lewis School is forever an important milestone on the journey of my life. I was blessed to travel in the company of some of the most remarkable TEFL guides and what was originally thought to be a step ahead eventually opened up an exciting brand new world. Thank you!"
Remarkable? God's grace, I'm compelled to say as I was an atheist back in 2002 but am an ardent believer now!

You guys can help your students achieve exactly this! You can help them discover linguists in themselves! You can help them discover a brand new world of possibilities! You can help them believe...

So six months later and from then on, I've been a passionate user. I've become an English teacher myself!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Moving Image Archive

One last for today... I've just stumbled upon lots and lots of free movies. There's also a free educational video, Connect with English, over at

Movies and interactive stories

I'm not trying to hide it, I steal a good deal from AJ. Anyway...

Dogme, I realized, is by its very nature very personal. To provide more comprehensible input in a not-so-much-personal and therefore less demanding and more creative way I've started using interactive stories and movies.

First, I came across Focal Skills Approach and its Movie Technique and I immediately took to it like a duck to water. It all makes a lot of sense to me and as I had wanted to use movies anyway it only bolstered my confidence that it's not a waste of time. Then AJ posted about interactive stories and I realized it fits well into my concept of context developing activities. I used it the first time today with this little "business joke" because jokes are naturally meant to be told and often contain an element of story and guess what, it worked very well.

I asked the student then to look at the verbs in Past Simple and try to retell the story next class but I may be pushing here a little too much...


I came across the whole idea of Dogme some time back in Humanistic Language Teaching and have just subscribed to its very lively discussion group. Both the magazine and the group contain wealth of information and excellent ideas - highly recommended!

My take on Dogme is this: we spend about half of the time speaking on general topics (eg. work or learning) while practising functional language (eg. How do you get on with your boss? or How do you find the book?) in a meaningful, personally related context using the teacher and student as a resource. The amount of new language at this level is quite large and there's lots of pressure on the students as this session is conducted in a highly interactive/communicative way. Therefore, the students are required to give simple answers or speak Czech if necessary. I then try my best to model what they wanted to say in English by putting the phrase on the board and repeating it twice or three times. After that, I repeat the question and the student reads the answer from the board. As a sort of equal opportunities policy, I also encourage the student to ask me and then tell a short story in the form of carefully controlled comprehensible input.

Of course, I've got the topic and some bits and pieces of the functional language prepared as a sort of framework but the whole session also turns out lots of student-generated language.

Classroom techniques

I started this blog with an outline of my approach to teaching English as a foreign language and now I'm getting to explore how it could be best translated into real classroom experience for my elementary BE students:


No textbooks

Other Material:

Supply large amounts of authentic comprehensible input (Natural Approach): student – teacher interaction (Dogme), short interactive stories and movies (Focal Skills Approach) and graded readers (Free Voluntary Reading) for homework. The student is responsible for the choice of movies and graded readers.


Focus on functional language in chunks (Lexical Approach): fixed phrases, sentence heads, semi-fixed frames, collocations, phrasal verbs (around 10-15 of such introduced and practised every lesson)


Cover only necessary amount of grammar, especially tenses and questions


No writing


Main goal of the course is to dramatically improve listening comprehension skills (Focal Skills Approach) so the student is ready for English as both target and medium of instruction delivered in a native speaker's fashion.


Observe the silent period for as long as necessary so the student doesn't feel pushed for production too early. Production takes place during student – teacher interaction mainly in the form of repeating personally meaningful prefabricated language and short answers during interactive stories and movies.

At the end of the course the student should be able to talk about themselves (cover the functions as outlined in Inventory of Functions, Notions and
Communicative Tasks of Cambridge KET exam
) and ask simple question.

Pronunciation is treated as an integral part of all lessons and is dealt with as and when needed, ie. in case it gets in the way of effective communication.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Kick off

I'm getting to see I've got a lot on my plate now. If I'm disciplined enough (hard to steer clear of any booze in this country, you know) I get just about 6 hours of sleep a day because all my classes begin early in the morning. Obviously, it's a little hard to get into it at 7a.m but as the classes gain momentum I always feel more and more energized. So it's a great way to kick off the day after all.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Context over meaning

I believe that as we draw the focus of our attention from single words to chunks (especially fixed phrases, sentence heads, semi-fixed frames and the like) we also have to increasingly rely on context in which the chunk is usually used as its defining element.

I've had a couple of really interesting business people today (incidentally, all have been put through a few years of devastating grammar-translation) and when the issue cropped up I took the phrase: "You alright?" as an example. If we want to look at the meaning the translation inevitably comes in and it becomes clear that a Czech native speaker may get easily offended by such a question when it's fired at him right at the outset of any conversation because it simply suggests there's something wrong with them!

It's much easier to describe the context in which it's usually used and have the learners each suggest their own L1 equivalents. In this way, we let the learners construct the meaning for themselves and lay the foundations for introducing a more meaningful (sorry, contextful) approach to L2 learning.

See a related article: Context developing activities

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Letter to Thammasat University rector

Uff, this one took me a while:
Dear Sir

I am writing regarding the dismissal of one of your English teachers, Allen J. Hoge, from Thammasat University.

It appears that Mr.Hoge has been dismissed on the grounds of what he has published on his weblog at If this is so I have no other option but to deem your decision wrongful. Please, allow me to explain why.

There is no denying that the weblog in question contains a number of questionable remarks but there is also no denying that Mr.Hoge as a teacher is one of a kind. I have never seen any teacher that would strive for excellence with such passion. As the weblog clearly documents Mr.Hoge has been consistently working in his own free time only to learn how to deliver Thammasat University students the best English instruction possible. Through his continous research Mr.Hoge has amassed an enormous wealth of innovative ideas on English teaching which most English teachers have no clue about.

There is no doubt Mr.Hoge is a convinced innovator and it is understandable the system perceives his innovations as a potential source of threat and resists to change. However, from a long-term point of view, we have to ask whether it is better to expel a subversive element or to contain it with a view to thriving on diversity of opinions and thoughts.

George Bernard Shaw is believed to say: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Jesus or Copernicus, to name but a few, are today recognized as great teachers yet that has not always been the case. Like many other great teachers they were once regarded unreasonable men.

I believe Mr.Hoge is an unreasonable man too for how much he sacrifices from his personal life and devotes to his students. For this single reason he is unreasonable but the entire mankind has to rely on such 'fools' for any progress at all while the rest of us sit down and fold their arms.

The word about this case has been spreading on the internet for a few days now and from an international perspective, it sheds a very negative light on Thammasat University for how it handles the case and for what kind of message it gives: conform and sail through, try to innovate and get the sack. Doesn't it fly directly in the face of what leading universities all over the world strive to pursue?

I am convinced we are in agreement on most of the points covered in this letter. Therefore I should like to ask you to kindly instigate a thorough investigation into the matter.

Yours sincerely
Will you join in? Write to Thammasat University officials.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blog Business

Imagine you have a multinational. The substantial majority of their employees needs or will in the near future need to have a good command of English to be able communicate across the company. The training scheme have been up and running for a few years and is very well designed as far as the incentives are concerned and fits well into the overall HR development programme. However, it's coordinated on the national level at best and there's no link whatsoever among regions. So in effect there are 1to1 learners in one country completely isolated from 1to1 learners in other countries. The scope of this may be thousands of people on the global level.

Now, isn't this a huge potential for putting the idea of connectivism in practice?

Inspired by all the blogging going on around I thought we may look at it with my BE students as well. It clearly is a good idea, but blogging taken from a university environment straight into business comes up against some obstacles. First, not all businesses are terribly happy to see their employees blogging in their free time because sooner or later they start bitching about the company. Second, if it's an approved scheme it requires lots of legal stuff to be sorted out. Lot's of extra work!

Now, how do we get round this problem? How do we connect and streamline the network?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Evolutionary Lesson Style

Recently I attended a workshop on lesson planning and it was both good fun and very informative. It turned out we, conciously or not, use one of the 5 lesson styles:
  • progressive
  • topical
  • unconnected
  • skills-centred
  • evolutionary
During the workshop I remarked that the evolutionary lesson style (ie. kick it off, wait what comes up and deal with on the spot) appeals to me greatly as it is definitely student-centred and student-driven but, like most non-native teachers, I am not very confident about putting it to use. The very prospect of facing the unknown and handing the reins over is intimidating to many.

It dawned on me though that encouraging learners to take charge of our lessons and bring their own materials imposes the evolutionary lesson style and requires lots of self-confidence, experience, knowledge, creativity and flexibility on the teacher's part. This prospect is indeed worrying and my only hope is that the teacher - student distinction disappears as both learners work together to unearth the meaning and learn from each other.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Possibly one of the greatest teachers of these days was fired for his unconventional, innovative approach which didn't comply with the system!

It's obvious such people are few and far between - it takes lots of guts to go against the flow even if one believes it's right but we are in desperate need of such radical teachers because they tread paths where no one has travelled before. They create maps for others to read and help them discover things for themselves.

I salute you!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Green Cross Code

This is what happened during one of my classes this week:

I introduced the phrase "Let's get down to business" and put it on the board right away. Even though I also explained when and in what kind of context (eg. meetings) we use the phrase the student, as he was trying to figure out the meaning for himself, asked about the word "down". I then introduced the phrase "It doesn't make any sense" and went on to elicit the continental Green Cross Code - look left, look right, look left again and if it's safe then proceed - which I came across in Michael Lewis's Implementing the Lexical Approach. We then applied the code on the peculiar word "down" and together made an important breakthrough...

It turns out that this is a major hurdle for low level English learners who approach new vocabulary as unrelated single word items. By introducing the code, I helped the student discover how the English language must be understood in chunks if it is to be understood at all.

Great stuff, Michael!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Some reflections on week #1

The first week of teaching is over - 8.5 hours total - but from next week on the regular weekly load should be up to 10 hours, including 2 exam preparation classes.

I see 3 of my individual students twice a week and I can already say they're going to stretch my ability to adapt. It's truly amazing to realize over and over again how diverse people can be and my prior teaching experience never really called for an individual approach which with bigger classes is never wholly possible. I find it impressive how some learners without any formal knowledge of learning&teaching instinctively echo all Krashen's ideas on second language acquisition, learning and production while some of the others who have been through several years of grammar-translation demand the same old sh..!

They're all elementary level business people in their early thirties and they seem very open to new ideas. I'm extremely pleased they take the letter seriously and so one of them is looking at setting up his blog, with another we will stick to a traditional journal. We're also going to work on stuff (eg. newspaper articles, movies) they bring to the class though we may restrict this to a half of each lesson only.

What I definitely enjoy is the general level of motivation on their part. It seems to be encouraged a good deal by the company's training scheme which I already mentioned in the comments on the previous post.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Business English - Setting measurable goals

In my previous post I pointed out that I would focus on long-term goals but now I'm facing a task of setting such goals that would be measurable!

I understand that any business spending lots of money on their employees' education wants to see some measurable ROI. Prior to breaking into EFL I specialised in e-marketing and in that area almost anything could be defined, measured and analysed. BI software such as SAS can do wonders. On the other hand, some time ago I came across a harsh social critique of our endeavour to turn to numbers and measure anything and everything.

Where does EFL stand here? The usual (and the easiest) thing to do is to give 2 tests over a set period of time and compare the two scores. It's clear though that the bulk of such tests is all about grammar...

Now, how do you measure that a learner is able to:
  • engage in small talk,
  • answer/make a phone call,
  • hold a conversation on a business topic or
  • deliver a presentation?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Czech learners

I guess probably all EFL teachers in Asia have at one point or another complained about their students' lack of willingness to speak out in the classroom. Well, I wasn't an exception and back in Malaysia I was often thinking what it would be like to teach my fellow Czechs..

Now I've had only 2 one-to-one classes so far but I'm already pleasantly surprised by how well the students respond and participate. I'm not going to be fooled by the first impressions though. I don't mean to make a habit of chatting the class away but focus on the long-term goals as outlined in my approach and defined by the students.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Virtual classroom

Having been inspired by Allen's on-line course I'm thinking of setting up a blog that would bring all my individual students together and create a sort of virtual classroom with all the benefits of a social environment. Another purpose of such a blog would be to introduce the idea of blogging as I can't expect all the students to be familiar with the concept.

As for the content and features, I've got a few points so far:
  • learning tips & announcements with audio files attached (
  • business news concerning their company and the market
  • links to useful self-study resources
I'm struggling now trying to figure out how I could incorporate the news/links from Google News or another news aggregator.

One-to-one handout

Okay, so I'm starting a bunch of one-to-one classes with business people next week and this is a handout I'd like to go through during the first lessons.

Prague, 5 October 2005

Dear Learner

It's my pleasure that we've just started our classes. I'll try my best to help you improve your English and meet your goals. However, the total amount of our classtime is very limited and by no means sufficient. Therefore, you might want to take the following advice:

  1. Read for pleasure

For many learners reading for pleasure is the key to success! You can read a story book or a business magazine - it doesn't really matter as long as you like it and it's not too difficult for you.

Guess what? It's absolutely free!

  1. Use a good dictionary

While reading you'll sometimes find yourself having to use a dictionary. It helps you learn much more if you use a good monolingual (English-English) dictionary.

  1. Keep a lexical notebook

While using the dictionary you're likely to come across lots of useful words and expressions. It's good to write them down in your lexical notebook along with their definition and one or two sentence examples – one from the original source and one of your own. Don't forget to revise, of course!

  1. Bring your own material

While reading for pleasure you may realize that you'd like to discuss the material with me. Well, I'll be more than happy to do so. Take charge of our classes, decide what YOU want to do!

  1. Set up your own weblog

Finally, it also helps a great deal if you reflect on your learning. Some people set up their own weblogs (eg. and write about what they've learnt and how they feel about it. Now, that's a great idea! You can then give the link of your blog to your friends and they can comment on your posts and you can do the same thing as well. It's fun and it works!

Please, do ask me if you want to discuss any of the above points or if you have any other idea how you could improve your English away from the classroom.

I look forward to our next class!

The aims are clear:
  1. Encourage active authentic input seeking (eg. free voluntary reading)
  2. Encourage meaningful analysis of lexis
  3. Encourage learner's autonomy