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Friday, June 11, 2010

Getting the Buggers to Speak English!

I have often though about trying out different teaching approaches in my lessons, and to some extent I have done so, but some approaches such as Task Based Learning do not work as well as I would like. The main reason for this is the difficulty (impossibility?) of getting my learners to use English during the task. This problem usually occurs with Young Learners. I'm not really thinking about children here, as they do not have enough language to be able to discuss things in English, but teenage learners, for example, a PET or FCE group. At these levels, the students should have enough language to be able to talk about problems and do simple tasks without L2 interference. However, even if they start to do the task in English, they will always end up speaking in Spanish.

So, I'm thinking of doing an experiment to try to make them aware of how much Spanish they actually use in class, as I'm sure they don't realise how little English they use when left to their own devices. What I plan to do is:

a) Give them a task based activity to do in small groups and write down the number of utterances I hear in both English and Spanish on a piece of paper (using a simple five-bar gate method) and later transfering this to the blackboard. I think that if I did this directly on the board, they would ask me what I was doing rather than concentrate on the task. So I will have two columns on the page; one labelled English and the other labelled Spanish. Each time I hear a word or sentences in either of the two languages, I will mark it in the right column. This of course would not work with a large class. Seeing this on the board will give them a visual image of the amount of Spanish they use. We could even transfer the numbers into a bar or pie chart.

b) Record a lesson, either audio or video. For this I will need a good quality microphone that the students can't see in order to pick up the speech whilst drowning out the background noise. It is probably not feasible to record the whole lesson, but just a short part of it should be enough. I have actually done this before with a very small class and a tape recorder. I will then play the recording.

c) I also thought it might be nice to make it more fun. I could bring in two large jars or boxes and a big bag of sweets and a bag of chickpeas or dried beans. Everytime I hear an English sentence, a sweet will go into one jar, and every time I hear Spanish, a chickpea will go into the other. At the end, the jar with the most items will be given to the students.

I don't think the last idea is right for the experiment as I don't want to bribe them into speaking English, but to do a realistic experiment in order to show them the real results. My hopes are that the students will become more responsible and try to speak English as much as they can, without having to be reminded constantly.

What do you think of these ideas? Do you think they could work? Do you have any better ideas?
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