Like all language teachers, I use excellent coursebooks tailored to the age and language proficiency of my learners. Students can also use the growing range of online learning content to supplement their learning, which, over recent years, has transformed the way in which language students can learn and access education.
Most of my students are learning English to give them the high-level skills needed to either travel or work in an English-speaking country or work for an organisation needing a professional level of spoken English. Students are therefore looking to develop their language skills further than the basic level of conversation that a tourist may need. I need to take them beyond conversational English to help them communicate fully in the real world.
As I am based in Spain, my students are living and learning in a non-English native-speaking environment and can miss out on important exposure to the spoken language. Rather than simply provide opportunities for conversation in English I believe it is vital that students are able to fully immerse themselves into English life, its language, politics, culture and environment; offering them as much content as possible to experience a more authentic learning experience.
I fully believe in teaching based on language immersion; employing what is learned in the classroom to real-world experiences. From experience, this has been the most effective way to gain proficiency and to help them to think like a native speaker.
It was during the move to online learning triggered by the onset of Covid-19 that the opportunities for students to even have a conversation with their teachers became more difficult, so considering other ways to ensure they received the in-depth level of experience they need was essential.
Rather than just offering students the skills to be able to hold basic conversations, another essential element of their learning is the ability to navigate new cultures. If they are to live or work in England or an English-speaking nation it is important that they also develop an increased empathy and appreciation of the country’s culture.
Whether through remote learning during the pandemic or face-to-face classroom-based learning, I believe that providing students with complete immersion, and uninterrupted communication in the English language is the best way to gain the effective fluency they need.
During the pandemic, to give students the level of auditory support that was no longer available, I started using an online language resource that doesn’t just offer lessons in terms of teaching the words, grammar punctuation and sentence structures, but also fully immerses them in English life with daily international news reports, both written and spoken in English. It offers hundreds of real news videos and articles for the students to listen to and read every day, which allows them to be fully absorbed in the culture. Videos of real news reports which include subtitles have been wonderfully effective. It has been amazing to see how much language learning takes place while the students are watching video reports, and the cultural knowledge gained is priceless.
I have been able to allow my students to be fully immersed in the language and culture even if they were not in the classroom with me – an invaluable resource in the time of coronavirus and social distancing.
A common solution for students learning English is to encourage them to watch films and sport in English and listen to English radio, music and entertainment. To a certain extent in today’s Internet world of YouTube and podcasts, this should be easy to achieve but the challenge is that for all students other than those at a very advanced stage, the language level is too high, the conversations too fast and the chat too colloquial.
Whether the report is about ‘Diving for wild oysters in Sweden’ or the ‘Crisis in Lebanon’, the learning platform we now use provides each report at five different levels (from elementary to advanced) so learners can have the audio file at a normal speaker’s pace or slow it down to hear each word slowly so they can more easily understand the dialogue. These ‘real world’ materials also have English subtitles so they can see and hear the words at the same time.
Concentration can also be an issue for young people. I have found that bite-size articles and little video clips from around the world make a difference, especially for teenagers who access digital content as their main source of information. Gamification is very popular with learners old and young nowadays. They are attracted to online materials that encourage participation, from quizzes to puzzles to problem-solving activities. In fact, many students expect this now as a matter of course.
Having access to so many multimedia resources also means that we can make the learning more relevant and topical. When we are working on a topic such as an environment, I might use a short, related video clip so students can hear vocabulary such as drought, carbon footprint, greenhouse effect and verbs such as reduce and preserve in context. Once they are familiar with the vocabulary and syntax, I might use an online magazine article or a news report as a stimulus for class debates or consolidate learning at the end of a unit.
As all teachers know, differentiation is vital. I always want to be sure that our less confident learners have a lesson that matches their abilities, and that the more advanced students are being challenged. For students, the language immersion content is also making education more personalised. I’ve been able to tailor the information to the interests of a particular age group and level of development.
I have found that when the students are in charge of their learning, their confidence increases. With more advanced groups, I can set a project where they can choose their own video or podcast and use the news sources to produce in-depth reports or presentations. I also find that an element of competition helps to enliven lessons, especially with my teenage classes.
Regardless of whether students have participated in remote online learning or in-person language learning courses (or even both), the real-life videos have motivated them to learn.
Because I use resources that introduce authentic language into the classroom, my students are not only getting to experience the real-world English language but are able to learn it from authentic content. The impact has been significant, not only in their proficiency but more importantly in terms of their interest in their learning.
Veronique uses Sensations English https://sensationsenglish.com/