Category Archives: Adult learners

Lifelong learning in the digital age



John Watson, Fallen David (2005). Retrieved from

Teachers are tasked with the huge privilege and responsibility to shape their students into lifelong learners, giving them the skills and curiosity to continue learning on their own initiative beyond their formal education. Howell (2012, pp. 39-43) outlines the significance of lifelong learning as recognised in various policy documents, notably the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008), which acknowledges the speed at which technology is developing and the necessity for young people to be ‘highly skilled’ in its use. Such competence is essential for the reasons outlined in my previous post on the ‘digital divide’, notably to maximise students’ employability and aptitude for student-centred tertiary study, in addition to shaping the ‘active and informed citizens’ envisaged by the declaration.

The digital age has certainly facilitated independent and lifelong learning, with constant connectivity and information on demand meaning that any information is available at any time. Whereas twenty years ago a large portion of the population was limited to physical books and television in obtaining information, this is no longer the case for the vast majority of the Australian population. The internet equally facilitates online communication with co-collaborators domestically and internationally for only the minimal cost of the connection, lending itself to collaborative learning. Evidently, the technology will continue to evolve and increase the already seemingly endless possibilities for online learning.

Although students can already access information online and learn in a less formal way, online materials that are specifically created for education provide engaging ways of integrating technology into the classroom and ideally peaking students’ interest to the extent that they are likely to revisit them in their spare time. In this way, students will adopt the habit of accessing and interacting with educational content from home, therefore accelerating their learning and setting them up for lifelong curiosity. Examples of such content include online games, for example the enjoyable and somewhat addictive Corporation Inc to teach various economic concepts and financial literacy, and Vicki Hollett’s One Minute English YouTube series to present grammar and vocabulary for learners of English as a second language in an engaging way. For upper school students, particularly the gifted and talented, content can be taken from MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) or the more user-friendly Coursera site, which runs free online University courses (many of which are introductory). The essential element here is selecting content that excites students and clearly explaining or showing how the content can be accessed from outside the classroom.


Expecting students to become lifelong learners without providing a role model is, however, a more challenging task. For this reason, and many others, teachers need to continue their professional development throughout their careers and ensure that their students are constantly aware of it. For example, teachers could briefly tell their students about a professional development day when they return to school or show them a book they are reading. Even online courses which are unrelated to teachers’ specialisations could spark interest among students. As such, teachers need to be active in lifelong learning themselves and open with their students about their learning.

In summary, available technologies and particularly internet access are gifts for educators in terms of encouraging lifelong learning. Teachers need to grasp such technologies and engage learners by integrating them into their lessons and encouraging follow-up after class, as well as sharing their personal learning experiences with their students.


Barr, A., Gillard, J., Firth, V., Scrymgour, M., Welford, R., Lomax-Smith, J., . . . Constable, E. (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. Melbourne: Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs.

Howell, J. (2012). Teaching with ICT: Digital Pedagogies for Collaboration and Creativity. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.


The DALF C2 Preparation: My Crack at the most difficult French exam

Flickr: PaintedWorksByKB

Flickr: PaintedWorksByKB

Before I head off to Australia in two months’ time, I’ve decided to sign up for the Diplôme Approfondi de la Langue Francaise – Niveau C2. When I tell people about it, they almost almost respond with, “Why? You already speak French!”. I’m not sure if it’s because of my love for standardised testing, being a TOEFL and TOEIC teacher myself, or if it could be my frustration at my French not being perfect yet, after so many years studying. I would just love to have a certificate that said I was at C2 level! I honestly doubt that it will get any better once I’m back down under.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the test, the DALF C2 is an exam that is made up of two parts: a listening and speaking part, and a reading and writing part. For the first part, candidates listen to an audio recording twice, (generally from radio stations that are equivalent to BBC radio). They then have one hour to prepare a 10-minute presentation of its contents, followed by a debate with the jury. For the second part, candidates have 3 1/2 hours to read a variety of texts on a single topic and write an essay.

The part that scares me the most is the writing part. For the C1 level exam that I did last year, I managed to get 11/25 in the writing part and 21/25 in the speaking. I suppose this is because I’m used to speaking French everyday, but my writing is usually limited to writing business emails. I think that the reputation French has for being difficult in terms of grammar is rightfully. It took me quite a while to figure out the difference between ceci/cela (meaning this), and celui-ci/celle-ci (which can replace it in certain cases).

My preparation for the exam actually started last year when I started thinking about doing the exam, but in typical student fashion, I didn’t really start studying very seriously until about a week ago. I’ve now got just one month until I sit the real thing, and during a lot of that time I’ll be on holiday in England.

And so, not wanting to cough up to pay for a French teacher, (unfortunately there are no group classes available in Dijon for this level), I’m going to try to get away with self-study and ‘community correction’. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of friends who I visit at the weekends to practice the speaking task. As for the writing, I’ve opened up a google docs folder that I contribute to several times a week and asked a group of French friends to make corrections and add their explanations in comments section. So far its working really well and I’ve been getting some really constructive feedback.

Although I love learning and I hope to perfect my French, this exercise has left me wondering about how necessary it really is for advanced students to work with a trained teacher. My ‘correction community’, which is made up principally of non-trained teachers, is doing such a great job correcting my writing. What’s more, if there’s something I don’t really understand, I seem to be able to find some pretty good answers when I google it. I suppose I am just really lucky to have so many supportive people around to give me a hand.


Update 28/06/2014

I am proud to say that I have finally received my results for the DALF C2 exam and I passed! All that hard work paid off. I’ll have to make sure I keep reading in French and listening to the French radio so I don’t lose all my skills.

TESOL France Presentation Overview – Tailoring ESP courses – Part 2: Technical English for the Construction Products Industry

Flickr,   DaraKero_F
Flickr, DaraKero_F

2014 has arrived and the end-of-year rush has given way to a calmer time for reflection on new year’s resolutions, both personal and professional. My free time in December was taken up with learning Mandarin and Spanish, and preparing for different running events. This year is going to be a big change for me as from tomorrow I will be working as a freelancer. Although I will continue to teach business English, I think that the competitiveness of the market will no doubt be a harsh reminder of the importance of tailoring courses to clients’ specific needs. In this light, I’d like to return to my thread on using companies’ promotional materials in teaching to make courses relevant to students’ jobs. This time, I’m going to discuss a project I did for a construction products company.

The company I worked with makes products for concrete such as admixtures and fibers, liquid pigments and air and vapour barriers. My students here included a maintenance manager, logistics people and a marketing and communication assistant. To be honest, I had no idea about what a ‘surface-retarder’ was when I first arrived. The only interaction I had ever had was walking on it. And so, when I first arrived on the site, I wasn’t used to seeing the forklifts driving around, the industrial-sized barrels of salt water for defrosting the ground or the people dressed up in their overalls, facemasks and hard hats. The first thing I did was to ask my elementary-level maintenance manager for a tour of the site. He showed me the safety equipment (I had all that vocabulary mastered at least) and we went on our way. There were machines for grinding, mixing different powders and packaging them. One part had different brightly-coloured dust scattered around the workshop, which reminded me of an Indian dye festival. At this point I had difficulty imagining what exactly the products were for and didn’t really have the technical vocabulary my student needed to be able to explain how the machines operated and common repairs he made.

With regards to the technical parts, I had to do some good old-fashioned online research. I asked my student to bring me some technical drawings and looked up translations for French words in the dictionary. I did have some textbooks in my office to help me with some of the vocabulary we needed, although it makes sense that publishers aren’t going to produce textbooks for industries so specialized and limited in size. To help me understand what exactly they were making, brochures with colour photos of the products used on real concrete structures. The fireproofing, waterproofing and graffiti-proofing weren’t so hard to get my head around, but the pigments and textured finishes were a little more complicated.

Here’s an example of what concrete pigment looks like:

Concrete pigment

Concrete pigment

There’s also something else called pre-cast concrete. Essentially the company prepares the concrete in specially-made moulds for the customer to give it different textures and patterns. You can have concrete with different finishes to look like bricks, wood or even bamboo.

And so, with my intermediate level marketing and communication assistant we worked with a number of brochures and samples to help her to be able to present her company’s products. The company also has a wall outside with different samples of decorative pre-cast concrete, so it was an excellent exercise to take my students out of the classroom and have them touch and describe the different textures. On a more technical level we could also look at and measure the depths of different grooves and the measurements of each panel, and imagine the applications of each mould. Here‘s an example of the kind of catalogue we worked with.

Other exercises that could be done with any products (obviously this is much easier of you have a brochure or a selection of products in front of you) is to compare their prices, sales and perhaps customer feedback.

And so, this job has given me a great insight into an industry that was previously foreign to me and as a result of exploiting companies’ promotional materials, my students completed their training with a lot of the vocabulary they needed in their work. I would love to hear from any other language trainers about how they have tackled such technical subject matter.

TESOL France Presentation Overview – Tailoring ESP courses – Part 1: Comparing hotels with travel agents

Wharariki Beach

Wharariki Beach

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the TESOL France annual coloquium in Paris, where I met some great teachers and attended some excellent presentations. I gave a presentation myself about exploiting companies’ promotional materials for teaching and I thought I’d write up a little overview here. Here’s the first part, watch this space for the construction and pharmaceuticals industries, as well as some FAQs.

The problem: Business English and ESP teachers aren’t always trained in whatever they need to be teaching

My first few teaching jobs were disasters. I prepared my classes on my own and oblivious to pedagogy and professional objectives, I taught grammar-heavy classes which were simply too general. My CELTA helped with the pedagogy side of things, but didn’t give me any better idea about how to make my classes more relevant to my students’ jobs. And while I do cringe when I think about some of the classes I taught in those beginning days, they do serve as excellent lessons as to what not to do when teaching BE and ESP classes. I know teachers are really busy and aren’t always specialists in the areas they’re teaching in, but at the end of the day we’re being paid to teach relevant skills that students can use immediately in their jobs.

How can we keep our teaching relevant?

Here are a couple of things that are particularly important

Needs analyses

Schools generally do these at the beginning of a course as well as an oral evaluation, (if your school doesn’t, you’ve got a problem). It’s important to read through them regularly throughout the course to keep the students’ objectives fresh in your mind. However detailed the reports you get may be, it’s still important to talk you your students about their objectives when you first meet them, as well as the situations where they need English.

Every lesson, ask your students what they’re up to

Needs change, and to be the most effective teacher you can be, you need to keep up with them. Ask your students about projects they’re working on at the moment and ask them to bring along an email or a plan and talk you through it. Have them practice their presentations on you.

Troll for information about their job and their industry

Pick up brochures at reception (if you’re lucky they might be some in English). Take a look at the company’s website and websites of competitors. Another suggestion I had was to contact the HR department and get a job description to give you a better idea.


  • A little background

The company my student works for organizes international group travel to Eastern Europe, the Americas and Asia. Although the organizational side of things is in French, my student and her colleagues accompany groups to different locations. She needed to be able to fulfill the roles including guide, interpreter and support person. My student began at an elementary level, so it was important to break the course up into manageable chunks and balance the practical English focus with fundamental grammar. You can see here the topics we covered, they’re all pretty straightforward ‘travel English’, although I didn’t manage to find everything I needed in textbooks and travel guides. Finding materials for the airport English part was easy enough online, and the textbooks we work with seem to all have parts with some vocabulary for recommending places and giving directions. Explaining to an Indian police officer that your wallet and passport have been stolen or that your client is having a heart attack is a different story.

  • A mini-presentation to work on hotel vocabulary and comparatives

When designing a package, my student needed to decide on which hotels groups would stay at and obviously compare them based on criteria including location, facilities and price. To begin with, I gave her a little presentation about two hotels in a destination I had chosen myself and showed her their websites. The presentation I did with my student was simply browsing the net, so the preparation was minimal. I simply looked at the hotels’ webpages and their corresponding TripAdvisor reviews to look at vocabulary for describing hotels as well as comparisons.

HW Beach photo

I’m going to go on holiday with my mum to the Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. It’s a region with beautiful hills, forest and beautiful beaches. The most famous beach is called ‘Hot Water Beach’. It gets its name from the hot water that comes up from springs under the ground and at low tide visitors like to dig holes in the sand and sit in the hot pools. I would like to spend one week relaxing on the beach, doing some bushwalks and reading books. I need to book some accommodation, and I have two possibilities in mind

The first place I’ve found is a bed and breakfast called ‘Hot Water Bed and Breakfast’. Does a bed and breakfast. It has a view of the ocean and is very close to the beach and the forest. There is a balcony where I can read my book and relax. The beds are queen-sized and the price is $120 per night which is around 75EUROs. It has tea and coffee making facilities and breakfast is included. Unfortunately there’s no wifi, so I won’t be able to upload my holiday photos until I get home.

The second place is called ‘Whitianga Beach Motels and Cabins’. It’s also very close to a beach, although you have to drive for half an hour to get to Hot Water Beach. Here, it’s possible to order breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are laundry facilities, so I can wash my clothes and the rooms have single and double beds. The price is $110 a night, which is around 65EUROs. There are also tea and coffee facilities and wifi. 

Which of these do you think I should choose? Why?

(write target language on board – comparatives and facilities)

Perhaps before I book I should have a look at some reviews to help me with my decision?

First, let’s have a look at the reviews for the bed and breakfast. You can see that 28 people have reviewed it as ‘excellent’ and it only has one ‘poor’ review. The last reviewer ‘loved it’ and overall it looks like a pretty popular place.

Here you’ll see that we have a review that would be too advanced for my elementary learner; with a lot of vocabulary that might not be particularly useful for her (I’m not sure when she’ll have the opportunity to use “wallowing” or “nomads” in the future). Here I think it would just be best to focus on the title of the review.

Now let’s have a look at the Beach Motel and Cabins in Whitianga. Oh dear, this doesn’t look good. We have four ‘average’ ratings and three ‘terrible’ ones. And the most recent person didn’t like it at all. Here I think it’s important to look at the vocabulary ‘disgusting’, ‘filthy’ and ‘smelly’ and it could also be a good time to talk about things in hotel rooms like sheets, pillowcases, tea and coffee facilities, mould…

I then asked her to prepare a similar mini-presentation of two hotels at a destination of her choice. The students I have worked with have all enjoyed this exercise as I suppose it was interesting in that they discovered a new place in the world they might not have hear about before. I think they also appreciated doing something a little different from the textbook, although I did use the textbook as support for a clear presentation of comparatives. They could see the point in it and would use the same skills in their work immediately after.

3 things I’ve learnt from kids classes about teaching adults

Flickr -  woodleywonderworks

Flickr – woodleywonderworks

Next week is “la rentrée” in Dijon, meaning that all the kids are going back to school after their two-month holidays. I remember when I was younger our summer holidays felt like they lasted an eternity and I always almost forgot what school by the time I needed to go back. Some of the French kids I know have been to summer camps in the mountains and having fun zip-lining, rock climbing and visiting fun parks. This week, however, is the week where they start preparing for next week’s classes and I am lucky enough to be able to work with a couple of kids one-on-one to get them back up to speed. I spend most of my time working with adults and these kids classes have really got me thinking about some similarities and differences between working with kids and adults.

Here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Some kids are shy, so are some adults. We need to make them comfortable.

Two of my 11-12 year-old students are really shy. In our first classes they had real troubles saying “hello” or even “bonjour”. This has absolutely nothing to do with their English ability, but rather their shyness. But by no means is this something exclusive to kids. I have also had adult classes where certain students were initially afraid of speaking, in a group setting in particular. Perhaps they were afraid of making a mistake or felt that their level wasn’t as high as that of their classmates. In my experience the French school system is more lecture-based, where students are expected to listen and take notes rather than use the language they are learning. This could partly explain why kids can have a hard time speaking and why adult students, who learnt in the same setting, have the same difficulties.

So how can we make speaking easier for kids and adults? I think it’s important to go gently in each case to begin with, until you’ve built some rapport and made them comfortable with anyone else they’re working with. Another thing to think about is keeping it relevant. I remember my CELTA trainer Mo Killup telling me about a trainee who had designed a lesson that included a ten-minute freer practice activity where students were asked to “discuss the differences between Beethoven and Mozart, and tell your partner which you prefer”. Needless to say this activity bombed, given that this group of students was not made up of classical music buffs. Just as I’ve had to take the time to figure out what my younger students are into (one likes koalas and another likes fastfood and martial arts), my adult students also respond better to topics they know about and are interested in.

  • Kids like songs and games. Adults too can learn better using them.

My first fun-sized student was a ten-year-old boy who loved everything musical and had ants in his pants. He wanted to dance, sing and jump around. After making the rookie mistake of wearing high heels to the first lesson, every week I dressed for a workout. We covered actions with “Simon says” (run, jump, stand up, sit down, turn around) as well as singing songs for learning animals and body parts. One of his favourite games was running to post-it notes with different vocabulary items spread around the room. Is a game-based and song-based approach appropriate for adults? Absolutely! Keeping in mind that business English students probably don’t want to be seen singing in front of their colleagues, or running around the room sweating in their suits. Adults enjoy a challenge every bit as much as children do. Games with competition between colleagues (for example the ‘circle board game‘ can lighten up the dullest vocabulary revision exercise. Throw a ball around the room for grammar drills, eliminate students as they make mistakes and it will all of a sudden become more of a challenge. Teaching kids reminds me that it’s always possible to teach whatever I’m teaching in a more stimulating way.

  • Kids like and need repetition. So do adult learners.

Last summer I had the opportunity to teach some groups of kindergarten-aged kids (4-5 years old) everyday for two weeks. Our theme was Julia Donaldson’s the Gruffalo, a mystical beast who lives in the forest with his little animal friends. On the first day, after our “hello, how are you?” song and a few flash card games, I read the book to the class. They sat and listened, and one or two were already telling me the names of the animals on the pages. On the second day, near the end of the class, we read the same book again, this time looking not only at the animals but also at the different colours. The kids really enjoyed it and more of them were participating. On the third day I figured they could do with a little variety (or perhaps the reality of the situation was that I was bored of reading the book again and again, and naively assumed my students were feeling the same way). I gave them a colouring activity which they were happy with, but when they were done and I told them the class was over, they were absolutely gutted that they couldn’t read the book again and tell me he names if all the animals. The following day when we did read the book, even the quieter kids were participating and telling me the animals and colours hey saw.

I think that deciding how many times to review content with any particular students, is a skill that is developed through experience. Over time I’ve become better in tune with students’ needs and won’t hesitate before I squeeze in extra review. It can never hurt to present target language in a new way and to make students more just a little more familiar with it.

Week 1: The Fundamentals of Online teaching: Teaching by doing

This is my second post on a Coursera course I’m currently doing on online course design and teaching. This week the focus is on teaching theories and in particular the importance of having students learn in a hands-on way. Our first assignment was to reflect on some excellent articles and videos provided to us on teaching with technology.

When I first began reflecting on ‘learning by doing’ I thought of baby cheetahs learning to hunt. They learn by hunting themselves and if they don’t do it correctly there won’t be anything to eat. Perhaps this can be applied to business language learning: if you can’t communicate effectively it can be very difficult to do your job!


Here are my reflections:

The first article ‘The Trans-classroom Teacher (Lowes 2008)’ had me thinking very deeply about the process of adapting a course from a face-to-face format to an online one. It reminded me of ESL veteran Thomas SC Farrell’s plenary session at last year’s TESOL France conference ‘Reflecting on Reflective Practice’ when he encouraged us to consider very closely why we do what we do in the classroom. This is equally as important for the big things as the small things (the words we say, the gestures we make and the order of activities). I was unsurprised at the teachers’ reports that this reflection led them to make changes that significantly improved their face-to-face classes too. ‘Brain-based learning’ (Clemons 2005) reiterated the importance of structuring materials into ‘chunks’ in order for students to integrate these into their spatial memory. My attention was drawn in particular to the importance of emotions in learning and students’ tendency to close-up when they sense anxiety, threat etc. As a language teacher, it can be challenge to teach in a way that is sufficiently intense and varied enough to peak students’ attention while being careful not to make students feel anxious or threatened. This is something that varies between students, so teachers’ adaptability is paramount. I wonder if a one-size-fits-all online system will be able to address this for all students?

‘What we learn when we learn by doing’ (Schank 1995) was a scathing criticism of rote-learning and teaching for the sake of teaching and reminded me of the importance of teaching what is immediately useful and in a meaningful way. For me, this is particularly relevant in the context of adult learning and English for business. Motivation is natural when the student needs a particular language to do their job and when the motivation wanes the first question to be asked is ‘Is this material immediately relevant?’ The students at Carnegie Mellon West seem extremely motivated and can see straight away how the skills they are learning are applicable to the work environment they will soon enter.

Overall, I really appreciated having the opportunity to reflect on the question of doing vs reading/listening in learning. While it isn’t something new for me (as teacher-training has been centred on ‘doing’ for some time now), these resources are a fresh reminder of the importance of taking a step back and really putting this into our courses.

English afternoon tea: An opportunity for English conversation practice


I really do believe that the best way to learn a language is to use it. In Dijon we have numerous groups where people can meet to speak English: the English table at the Café Polyglotte, SpeakEnglish at Caf and Co and numerous onvasortir ‘sorties’. In October I started organizing my own onvasortir English Afternoon Teas, which have been a real success. Every fortnight or so a group of about ten of us meets in a different Dijon café and speaks English for a couple of hours. We have many regulars, as well as new faces each time and a range of levels. Everyone who comes is always ready to speak English and even though some members struggle to find vocabulary, I have been extremely impressed at their determination not to resort to French!

Admittedly before I started the afternoon teas, I did have some reservations. Firstly, would I feel as if I was teaching? I didn’t want to feel as if I had to constantly correct people or have the onus on me to keep conversation going. Secondly, would the more advanced English-speakers in the group resent having to speak to those with a lower level? Advanced English speakers are great, and I wouldn’t want them to decide not to come back. Finally, would it get boring after a couple of meet-ups with the same people? We might run out of things to talk about.

I am delighted to say that none of these fears have come to bear. For the first, I think that being married to a bilingual Frenchman, I am more than capable of having a conversation in English without feeling the need to correct mistakes. I can still relax, drink tea and eat cakes without worrying about grammar and vocabulary problems. If people want English lessons they will take them. For the second, the advanced members of the group keep coming back, so they must be happy! I suppose they come to have the opportunity to put their English to use, so don’t really mind if the response is a little slow from the other party. And lastly, it doesn’t get boring. The people who come back every time have become friends and there are always new faces to keep things fresh.

And so, if you are an ESL teacher and you’d like to give a little back to the community that you’re living in (and network at the same time), this is a great way to do it. I would also love to hear from anyone who organizes meetings like this already!