Tuesday, May 20, 2014

(re)Discovering Translation in ELT

One of the very first things you learn on your CELTA course is that translation or using the students' mother tongue in any way is a big no-no. And although it's really hard on you as a teacher to teach, very often, beginners solely in English, it does prepare you for real life classroom situations.
I had the opportunity to experience that natural communication barrier twice, in Turkey and in Spain, and it certainly was difficult. At the same time however, the satisfaction I felt when the students understood what I was trying to say was immeasurable and clearly worth the effort.

Looking back, I am absolutely positive that making us all sweat eliciting the Present Perfect Continuous was the right thing to do. Let's not forget that some of us teach in multilingual environments where relying on translation may be impossible. Also, having the easiest way of conveying meaning crossed off the list makes you dig deep and discover ways of expressing yourself you've never thought you had in you.

On the other hand, do you remember your CELTA foreign language class?
Do you remember how you felt?

In my case it was a class of Japanese and I felt like a complete idiot. Not only because I had no idea what the teacher was saying. I had the feeling that everyone apart from me understood everything. Also my fellow trainees were able to memorize and repeat the phrases much faster than me. So I stood there mindlessly repeating stuff which later turned out to be 'I'm a student' and 'You're the teacher'. Who would have thought!

I also remember my Turkish class two years later. It was not even remotely connected to communicative approach and my level higher than elementary but I do recall feeling the constant need for clarification. Not knowing what a particular word or structure meant was sometimes driving me crazy.

As my knowledge of both Turkish and Spanish grew, I started using my students' L1 in some cases. To get rid of some classroom management issues, to speed things up etc. You can read about the reasoning behind using L1 in class in one of my previous posts here. Even though using translation was(is?) 'forbidden', it did come naturally and to tell you the truth, felt far from wrong.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled to listen to Philip Kerr's talk about using L1 during the IH Barcelona conference in February but Paul Seligson was the one who hit the nail on the head during the TESOL Spain colloquium in March.

The ideas Philip Kerr presented were based on his experience teaching English in Austria to, I assume, mostly German speakers. One of my favourites was 'the sandwich technique' he showed, used mainly for instruction giving. It consists of the teacher saying the instruction, or parts of it, in English, students' L1 and English again e.g. 'Could you open, abrir, open the window?' Once your students get the word/ phrase, you simply stop using L1 and continue in English. This technique worked really well with my beginner classes as it did give the students some help with understanding, boosted their confidence and created a much more relaxed atmosphere.

Some other great ideas were:
  • using a red and green card; red meaning that English is spoken only, green meaning that L1 is temporarily allowed
  • teacher's position in the classroom meaning 'English only' or 'L1 allowed' e.g. when the teacher is standing next to the window, the students may use L1
  • having a list of false friends on the wall but also a list of true friends i.e. words or expressions that are the same or very similar in English and L1
  • having examples of bad English (resulting from translation) on the wall
  • allowing students 2 min prep time in L1
  • appointing a Language Monitor (student or teacher) - someone who will silently note down all the examples of students using their L1 in class. Later students will have to translate them, with the help of the teacher, dictionaries, apps or as homework
  • Own Language Mirroring - if a student says or writes something incorrect in English, the teacher translates it back into L1 the way s/he understood which should make the student see the mistake more clearly.
Paul Seligson's talk, to take the matter further, was specifically aimed at teachers of English to Spanish speaking students. Instead of constantly telling the students to 'think in English' which he believed just does not happen, he presented a bunch of activities focusing on using Spanish as reference, building on already existing knowledge. Knowing that around 60% of English vocabulary is of French/ Latin origin and that in some cases grammar rules and structures are (almost) exactly the same in both languages, it does sound ridiculous not to take advantage of something that is presenting itself in plain sight, right?

Paul quite severely criticized the communicative approach, pointing out that, very often, we tend to pray for the weakest students to understand our instructions or explanations being satisfied with one bright individual (who he called 'wikipedia') supplying the answer on the spot. He claimed, calling students 'victims of the system',  that there are people for whom the communicative approach in its pure form simply doesn't work. Does that ring any bells?

One of the suggestions given during the talk was providing students with cognates first and consciously using them, especially at low levels during instruction giving and all other tasks. For example, it will be easier for the students to understand 'It's not necessary' rather than 'You don't have to' as the first expression bears a resemblance to Spanish.

Students should also be made aware of how certain suffixes translate into English and encouraged to seek patterns e.g. English plastic, traffic becomes plastico and trafico in Spanish. There are some useful examples here, here and here.

Here are some other ideas:
  • tell the students to think of: 1 day of the week , 4 numbers up to ten, 2 colours, 3 parts of the face, 5 common clothes etc. that are similar in both languages 
  • provide the students with a list of words e.g. months or animals(cognates) on the board and letting them think and decide if the stress in those words(pr the pronunciation) are the same or different in Spanish and English
  • make use of contrastive (as opposed to inductive and deductive) grammar e.g. by writing a sentence in Spanish on board and asking the students to translate it stressing at the same time the similarities or possible differences. In my case, it worked really well with articles. (If you prefer to stand by eliciting grammar rules, take a look at this fantastic article by Alex Case.)
  • lett students whisper in their mother tongue
  • encourage your students to write translation in their notebooks in pencil and then rubbing it off once they remember the word/expression
The best thing about all those ideas is that the teacher does not actually speak any Spanish in class. The students, similarly, mostly do only the 'thinking' in Spanish.

The worst thing, well, you have to know your students' L1 in order to help them make use of it while learning English.

Should we let translation sneak into our classrooms and perhaps into the CELTA syllabus or is it something a teacher should naturally discover?
Maybe we should continue looking at translation with disgust and stick to English only?

Last but not least, thank you Philip and Paul for some wonderful and inspiring ideas.
It was a pleasure learning from you!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fun and Games - activities

I've decided never to produce worksheets but here we are :)

After my Fun and Games workshop on Saturday, I started receiving emails from teachers who either attended or couldn't attend my session, asking for a worksheet summarizing the activities I presented. And although I believe in learning by doing and feel that no worksheet will show you how much fun you can have playing games, I felt obliged to write something. 

What you can see below is partly a collection of my older blog posts (this one and that one) plus three new ideas.

If you were there on Saturday, thank you for coming (especially if you were sitting on the floor or 'volunteering')! If you couldn't make it because the room was full, sorry! I do hope I'll get the chance to do that workshop again.

1. The Spelling Race – students line up in 2 rows facing the board. Make sure you draw a line on the floor and let students know that only the person with the marker can cross it. The teacher calls out a word. Students have to write it down letter by letter i.e. each letter is written by one student. Every student has one move – s/he can write down a letter or make one correction if a mistake has been made. The team that finishes first wins (provided that they spelt a word correctly!). You can ask the team that lost for a definition, if they are able to provide it, they might get a point as well. Perfect for a revision before an exam!

2. The Dolmuş game – a dolmuş is a shared taxi. Once you get in, you have to pay the driver which is complicated if you sit somewhere at the back. So what people in Turkey (and elsewhere, I guess) do is pat the person sitting if front of them on the shoulder and ask to pass the money forward.

During the game, students sit in rows, one student behind the other facing the board. Each student has a pen and the ones sitting at the end of the rows hold a piece of paper. The teacher then calls out a category e.g. words beginning with S, animals, past tense verb forms etc. Each student writes one word belonging to the given category and passes the paper forward. The team that hands the paper to the teacher first, wins. Extra points may be given to the team that wrote the longest/ most sophisticated word. Also, you may make it more fun by letting each group have only one pen that has to passed along with the paper.

3. Hot seats - the class is divided into two teams. A member of each team sits facing the class, with his or her back to the board. The teacher writes a word or a short phrase on the blackboard and the team must define the word or give examples of its use – without saying the actual word itself. If the student guesses, the team gets a point. I always subtract points if the students speak their mother tongue and at the beginning give each team three points for a good start!

4. Stand up if you.../ (Change your seats if you...) – students sit in a circle, the teacher stands in the middle of the circle and says: ‘Stand up if you have brushed your teeth today’. Once students stand up, the teacher sits down on the nearest chair and students quickly do the same (no need for explanation, they just get the idea!) but one is left standing. S/he must now say ‘Stand if you have...’ and ideally sit down on the nearest seat available once the students stand up wishing to change seats. There is no winner in this game and it may continue for as long as one desires. You might want to add an extra rule and forbid changing the seat for the one on the right or left as it's too easy that way.

You can play this game to practise a number of things:
- past tense e.g. ‘Stand up if you watched a film yesterday.’
- like/ hate etc +V ing e.g. ‘Stand up if you like swimming.’
- describing appearance e.g. ‘Stand up if you have blue eyes.’ (this is my Turkish students’ favourite :)

5. Papers on Walls - students and the teacher write their name on the top of pieces of paper (A4 or half the size) and stick them all randomly on the walls (using blue tack or anything you wish to use). Next they have to write three questions they can ask the people in the class; when they're ready the teacher walks around and corrects if necessary. After that the students stand up and ask each other the questions on their list. However they mustn't write anything and can only ask one question at a time. They also have to try to remember what their classmates (and the teacher) told them. After 10/15 minutes (depending on your class size), the students are told to take a pen and write whatever they can remember about their classmates on the appropriate papers with students' names on the walls. When the teacher stops the activity, everyone collects the paper with their name from the wall, reads it, checks if the information is right and corrects the mistakes as homework.

This game is great for the first day but you can play it to revise and practise many structures for example by limiting the questions to present perfect only. You might as well ask the students to begin with questions words (where, when, why, what etc) or make the focus only on one topic e.g. education. 
Alternatively the questions may refer to past, present and future and each student might be focusing on a different topic (decided by you). With low levels, you could simply give them the questions or provide a simple gap fill e.g. What __ your f___ colour?, When ___ you ___ go shopping? etc.

6. Prefixes/ Suffixes race - students sit in two, three groups (depending on the size of your classroom and the board) and choose a runner-writer that will represent each team. The teacher calls out a suffix e.g. -less. The students shout out all the words containing that suffix to the runner and he/she has to write them all on the board in e.g. 1 minute. The team with more words or the team with a bigger number of words that are different, wins. Also, you may give different suffixes to each team because, as many of you can imagine, students simply love cheating while playing this game :)

Instead of suffixes and prefixes, you may want students to write e.g. words beginning with 'sp', 'br' or simply any letter if they are low level group. My students really liked writing words that contained 'oo' 'tt' etc.

7. True/ False Coin game - students stand in two lines facing each other, make sure everyone has a partner (if not, there might be one group of three). Each pair has one coin. Tell them that they will have to toss the coin and depending on what they get say something to their partner. If what they get is a head, they need to tell the truth, if it's a tail, they must lie (in a convincing way!).The teacher decides on the topic and says e.g. tell your partner about the food you used to eat as a child or tell your partner about the worst restaurant you've ever visited, if you are talking about food. Having listened, the partner then has to say if what he/she listened to was true or false (a lie). Next they coin goes to the other student in a pair (the one who was listening), he/she tosses it, the teacher reads a new sentence and the game continues. 

Have fun playing the games with your students! 

For me there's nothing better than to hear them laugh and enjoy themselves while learning English :)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fun and Games

Next Saturday, 8th March, I’be doing a workshop during the TESOL Spain convention in Madrid. It’s my first workshop for TESOL Spain and I’m really excited! In November 2013 I had the pleasure of sharing my ideas with the teachers attending the TESOL France colloquium in Paris. Although I can’t say for sure if everyone enjoyed themselves, the attendance surpassed all my expectations. Let’s hope it’s going to be the same next week!

To cut a long story short, the workshop is a reflection of my newly discovered attitude to teaching which you could probably call ‘less is more’. Recently I’ve become a sucker for any sort of games or activities that are adaptable to many levels and reusable. I guess I just got really tired of worksheets and spending hours looking for appropriate stuff in books and online. Or maybe my inner self wants to go green? ;)

Anyway, if you’re in Madrid, feel invited! I’s going to take place at 17.00.

All the speakers were asked to fill in a questionnaire about themselves as a part of the Meet the Speakers initiative. You can take a look at them here.

Below you can see my abstract for the conference.

Fun and Games
We spend hours looking for supplementary materials and then copying and cutting what we find.
Having done just that for the past couple of years, I’ve had enough. Therefore I decided to focus on games and activities that are adaptable, reusable and require little or no preparation.
Sounds interesting?
Then come and join us! Audience participation is required!

Keep your fingers crossed everyone and hope to see you there!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Using students' L1

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend the annual IH conference in Barcelona and listen to whole lot of fantastic speakers. One of the sessions that stood out for me in the programme was Philip Kerr’s ‘Using the students’ own language: a toolkit’, a presentation full of practical ideas on how to use L1 in the classroom.

I don’t know about you but during my CELTA training we were told that L1 was not to be used at all inside the class. Students needed to be constantly encouraged to speak English and teachers were taught techniques that were totally independent of students’ L1. Using Turkish (in my case) during TPs was completely forbidden and even though teaching 100% in English seemed like an impossible task at that time, it turned out to be quite possible indeed.

I understand that we, as teachers, have to learn the hardcore way. It’s an undeniable fact that some of us teach in multilingual environments. Besides, if you start teaching in foreign country, chances are you don’t know the language yet or might not be interested in learning it all. The majority of us, I daresay, don’t fall into these categories and using L1 is frowned upon and treated like a dirty little secret by many of us.

The thing I keep asking myself now is why? I’m sure that 99% of people reading this will admit to having used L1 with students in real life, as opposed to TPs. Because it might save a lot of time, speed up activities, make things much clearer or help you with discipline. It might let you play great games with complicated rules that once explained using L1 can be played many times again. Sometimes students simply need a breather and apart from that they will surely appreciate the fact that you’re trying to use their language. And don’t get me wrong here, I’m not talking about explaining grammar rules in students’ L1 or translating every single word but using it with moderation when (absolutely) necessary.

According to Philip Kerr the general attitude to L1 use in the classroom is changing. 
Does that mean classes on L1 use will be included in the CELTA syllabus some time soon?

What do you think? Do you ever use L1 in class?  Why do you do that?

PS Practical ideas on using L1 coming up soon!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why taking a break from blogging has made me a better teacher

I started blogging in October 2009 and managed to do it regularly for about a year. It was the most exciting and thought-provoking time in my career as a teacher. I learned lots and met a group of fantastic teachers from all over the world who in most cases turned out to be good friends offline as well. But then I had to leave Turkey and start a new life in Spain. I had no internet access for quite a while and due to a whole bunch of major changes, blogging became a thing of the past.

I never stopped lurking though. It was sad to see so many other great blogs go. It was even sadder to see my blog disappear from people’s blogrolls. The time I spent away from it all however, has had its benefits as well.

To begin with, taking a step back made me see a much bigger picture. I know why I want to blog. I realized what I’m really into and what will never make me go wild. Take teaching with technology, for example. I used to dream about IWBs and free youtube videos and now, my main goal is to train myself how to teach without almost any resources.

Life in another country forced me to learn a new language from scratch once more. That gave me yet another advantage as I was once again able to observe how a language is acquired, learned and taught. The whole process raised a whole lot of issues and doubts (was Krashen right?), some of which I hope to blog about soon.

Finally I realized how little I know and how much there is to learn and understand. I became humble.

What I really missed is interacting with people online and meeting them face to face, the rush of adrenaline seeing a comment, the company of like-minded people, their support and kind words.

What I didn't miss is being online 24/7. I've been there and done that. During a TEA conference in Vienna  a few years ago, Hugh Dellar was telling me how he hated Twitter and how people who spent their time there surely had no life offline. I disagreed then but clearly see his point now.

No more two posts a week. No more spending hours reading posts and leaving comments everywhere. If that means no comments on my blog, so be it.
I want to have a life and keep on learning. 
That’s what it’s all about, right?