Case study

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 Levels

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

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Textbooks have provided ESOL teachers and students with a measure of structure, consistency, and logical progression through their language development. Textbooks have evolved over the years to reflect new findings in ESOL language research and its understanding of how to improve their efficiency in learning.

However, our role as language teachers is to ensure they are used at the right time, place and for the right purpose. We integrate the content of a textbook into a class to make the learning an interactive and meaningful experience, rather than a silent self-directed study session.

Textbooks certainly have their advantages.

Whether you’re following a functional, lexical or good old fashioned grammar syllabus, textbooks greatly reduce our preparation time. 

However, there are of course also disadvantages.


However good the textbook is, by offering different editions for each level of development, they can restrict a lesson as there is never one book to suit the individual needs of each student in a class. Textbooks are often written to fit a majority of students and, even then, fail considerably at addressing all the issues necessary for most students; as we know, every student is unique and so is their progress.


The other challenge we find is that in general, textbooks do not inspire today’s digitally driven students to learn and often result in them becoming disengaged.

Textbook copy rarely relates to the reason that each student is learning English. For example, reading an extract in English about a child visiting the zoo may help them to learn certain verb tenses and new vocabulary but can be demoralising to someone wanting to secure a job in banking. I’ve taught classes in the past to introduce a topic such as ‘going to school’ and see the students sitting and rolling their eyes.


A major aspect of learning a language, especially for people who want to be able to become fluent, involves verbal communication. I certainly introduce activities with live or recorded radio broadcasts to expose students to authentic language material, but it can be time-consuming to find the right material to match each student’s level of development. Added to this the audio material is unlikely to be made specifically for ESOL students.

LSI Portsmouth

LSI Portsmouth is a large, year-round English language school judged to be the leading English Language Centre in the UK; this was partly because we offer a truly personalised, bespoke learning experience for each student.

Appropriate online content

I am always looking for audio learning content for the students and recently have used software that has been specifically designed for ESOL students. The website is, for all intents and purposes, designed to replicate a news website with reports on current breaking news and other topics. Ideal for the age of students we teach, the content is immediately appropriate for their areas of interest.


I wanted to enrich English language learning, making it accessible, fresh and rewarding for all. You could certainly spend time researching appropriately levelled news items on YouTube but for me, Sensations English makes it easy to find the right level.

For every news report, students can select one of five stages of development from elementary to advanced and the news report, both written and audio, will be aligned to that student’s level; developing their skills while learning about real-world events. What’s really nice is the way that they can switch the level; starting by reading and listening to the A1 level content and moving up to B2 or C1 level.

They may not understand all the words but may still be able to follow the information. This is a great way to engage the students with very few demands on my time. For one lesson on Space Travel, I used the Sensations English video on the SpaceX launch with the associated questions at their specific level of development. This is all perfectly tied in with the Cambridge Advanced practice on Space exploration.


I also welcome seeing each student’s scores; which questions they got right, and which were more challenging for them. Being able to give them instant feedback and additional support has resulted in a notable improvement over the past two to three months.

With the online ESOL resource we use, there is never going to be a topic they’ve already done as it’s all about daily breaking news. They may have heard about the news item or read related articles which makes it a lot easier to get their interest and make it relevant to the current landscape.

In my opinion, textbooks are still an important part of my teaching; they certainly provide a starting point. However, to maintain LSI Portsmouth’s level of excellence I am always looking for new ways to engage the students and give them the most wide-ranging experiences to broaden their understanding of the English language. My life is so much more efficient using authentic copy with audio content to back up the learning and make it relevant to their daily lives and aspirations.


Lewis Tatt uses Sensation’s English online daily news content which is offered in written copy and audio formats at different levels of complexity.

Biography: Starting his career as an English language teacher at the Wuhan University of Science and Technology in China, Lewis Tatt spent two years teaching IELTS classes for students preparing to study abroad. He has since been a senior teacher at Web International English, designed ESP courses for several companies including Power China and worked as an in-centre teacher trainer for EF. He now teaches pre-sessional EAP courses and Cambridge Advanced courses at LSI Portsmouth.

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