Tag Archives: esl

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.

Young learners activity – teaching numbers and actions

Flickr - Rameshng

Flickr – Rameshng

On Saturday mornings I have the pleasure of teaching a nine year-old boy English for an hour. Although I prefer to have a good range of tasks in each of my business English classes, the energy of my younger student is always a fresh reminder of the importance of variety. We read books, use flash cards for vocabulary and sing songs. In the spirit of learning by doing, today we tried a new game for practising some action verbs and numbers (I suppose you could use this for any vocabulary really), and I’d love to share it with you!

What you’ll need:
– About 10 post-it notes
– Enough space for your student(s) to run around without hurting themselves

What to do:
– With your students, write a different number on each post-it note (for example my student has problems with 11-20, so we used those numbers today)
– Ask your students to stick the post-it’s randomly around the room
– Now give the students instructions on which number to go to and how to get there, for example “Run to number 11”. You can also use different actions for movement like hop, skip, jump, walk, swim, fly. Be creative!
– I think this would be great if you had a group of students and they could take turns to give instructions
– When the kids are out of energy, you can ask them to bring you the post-its back one by one and tell you what is marked on them

I’d love to hear from anyone who has other suggestions!

The language teachers’ curse: my life as a series of authentic teaching materials

107095332_831de94784_oI remember my CELTA trainer Jo telling us that once you started teaching, it would completely change the way that you read anything or listen to anything. The teacher in me is no longer capable of flicking through an English language article or reading a blog without asking myself questions such as ‘What kind of grammar could I teach with this?’ or ‘What level would this be appropriate for?’. My love for teeny-bopper pop music hasn’t managed to overcome this instinct. Last week I was singing along to Bruno Mars’ ‘When I was your man’ in the car, and my inner teacher was rejoicing at the examples of third conditionals I was hearing in the chorus.

You can access the lyrics here if you’d like to create a gap-fill.

I think this one would be best for intermediate students and up, and is great for starting a discussion about the compromises in grammar and particular pronunciation in pop music.

Teaching with coursebooks- a supplement or a restriction?

George Chilton has an excellent post (with some equally excellent feedback) that can be found here. A key criticism of the use of coursebooks is that they are designed to compensate for the fact that many ESL teachers are undertrained and underqualified, and are not capable of designing their own curriculum and preparing the relevant materials. I agree with this point, as when I first began teaching I had no training whatsoever in TESOL and had absolutely no idea where to begin. My first project was in English for special purposes, and there was no textbook. I had a tendency to teach too much too quickly, and expect content to be absorbed without giving the students enough practice. I also had a heavy grammar focus,which was completely inappropriate for students on a short course in need of functional English for their work.

So would I have been more comfortable and taught more satisfactorily should I have had an appropriate text to help me along the way? Most definitely! I think it would have allowed me to create a plan for the course as a whole, the points that we would focus on and examples and practice that I could provide to students.

How can I get rid of my accent? Or Is it really necessary? – Some thoughts

In my second year of university, I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to spend my summer studying French at the University of New Caledonia. The trip was great, but the teaching and learning wasn’t. At the time, I felt completely uninspired by what was happening in the classroom. We were in such a culturally rich and vibrant country, and we were spending far too much time in the classroom, doing lessons on translation, (of nineteenth century English texts that I didn’t understand, into French of course), watching long lectures on various subjects and – my worst experience – the speaking class.

Highlights of the class (taught in two-hour sessions, in a classroom filled with hot computers, and no air-conditioning) included learning the the phonetic alphabet, reading tongue-twisters such as the one I photographed below and looking at diagrams of where our tongue should be when making sounds.


So what did I learn from this class? At the time, not very much. I could already pronounce all the sounds the teacher asked us to when we began. I struggled with phonetics when I started, and I struggled equally as much when I was tested on it at the end. I simply was not invested in the class. In retrospect, however, it gives me an image of how I don’t want to teach. I learnt that it is not very interesting to learning pronunciation in isolation. The fact that there is no context also means that students find anything they might learn more difficult to remember. I also learnt that, like in all things, not all language learners are created equal.

I have met very few people who have absolutely no accent when they speak a second language. Sometimes people can get away with saying short utterances without being noticed, but after awhile something usually gives them up. But obviously, some find it easier than others. A student of mine has shared the theory with me that people’s ability to produce native-like pronunciation in a second language, follows their ability to learn music. For more information on this, check out Lorraine Gilleece’s thesis on the correlation between attitudes for music and foreign languages here.

As well as being unable to hear the different sounds produced in a second language, I believe that a fear of sounding ridiculous while producing unfamiliar sounds prevents students from having a more native-sounding pronunciation. While I’m not sure that this was the case when I was teaching multilingual groups in New Zealand, (made up of Chinese and Spanish speakers), I feel that this is definitely the case in France. This suspicion increased when I heard some of my students doing ‘Speedlingua ‘ lessons (online individual learning, focussing on natural pronunciation and intonation. Their pronunciation sounded much more natural than it did in class, and they were speaking louder than they usually would. Perhaps this was because they thought nobody was watching.

But at the end of the day, is accent really that important? Yes and no. Yes, because people need to understand you. Language is a means of communication, so it is useless to speak a language if others can’t understand you. As an English language speaker, (and I’m sure that others out there feel the same), I find it much easier to listen to someone who has less of an accent. So there could also be some interest in ‘improving’ your accent if you’d like people to be more attentive when you’re speaking. However, variety is the spice of life. Our accents are showcases of where we’re from, and give us a bit of individuality. They make us interesting, and give us a talking point when someone asks us where we’re from (I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “Vous avez un petit accent mademoiselle. Vous êtes de quelle origine?‘. So to ahead and do some pronunciation work, but don’t get in a pickle because it’s not the end of the world if you still have an accent!

Bribe ’em once – and it might not work the second time.

Larry Ferlazzo has blogged on a study, which found that people were unlikely to donate to a charity for a second time if the said charity threw in a sweetener for their first donation. The post can be found here.


I think that this behavior is definitely reflected in the classroom. Once last year I gave away a tote-bag as a prize, and during my CELTA, I tested a little bit of bribery with a chocolate fish. Both of these lessons worked just fine, and the students were very motivated. Although the tote-bag lesson was a one-off, I had the interesting experience of sitting in on some lessons with the class that had been competing for the chocolate fish. They were disappointed with other teachers that weren’t offering prizes, and were even more disappointed when I arrived the next day to teach them empty-handed.

So, in my experience, bringing one chocolate fish to class means setting a precedent, and making a commitment to bringing one every lesson from then on. It would be interesting to hear if any other teachers have had any different experiences.

Total Language Immersion – What does that mean?

I spent my weekend in the beautiful Burgundian village called ‘Pommard’ where my husband is from, and where his family lives. This weekend it was a time for a family reunion, celebrating a new addition to the family and a milestone birthday. Needless to say, there was excellent wine, a lot of delicious food and – the inspiration for my post today – endless amounts of conversation. Relatives and friends, people who are very close and care about one another, get together and speak as much and for as long as they can. Topics can range from the weather, to politics, to the latest tractor breakdown – always with a lot of humour mixed in. And admittedly, I didn’t understand everything.

But this is what I would call ‘complete immersion’. I would like to mention that just because you live in a country, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will be immersed in its language sufficiently for you to learn it. Unfortunately for my language skills, my new living arrangements mean that I don’t have to speak French all the time. I no longer have to speak only French at home, as my husband understands if I speak to him in English. Also, being an English teacher rather than working in a restaurant with French colleagues and customers, I speak a lot of English at work. And being in Dijon, a city, I’ve been able to find English-speaking friends who I spend more time with than the French.

Admittedly, if I really wanted to ‘integrate’ more into French society I could. But I believe that human beings are linguistically lazy, and will (consciously and subconsciously) try to speak their mother tongue whenever I could. I first noticed this with the French community in Wellington, New Zealand. Many of them would share a flat with a group of other French people, work in a French restaurant with French managers and colleagues and only go out with other French speakers. As a result, some of those who had been there the longest didn’t necessarily have very high levels of English.

Another eye-opener was teaching some of the elementary-level students in Wellington, at the Campbell Institute during my CELTA course. The majority came either from Chile or from China, and had been in New Zealand for different lengths of time (from 6 months to 10 years) and were aged from 23 to 72. I was initially surprised that some of the students had such a basic knowledge of English, but when I got to know particularly two Chilean students, I had a much clearer picture of why they had effectively avoided learning English. Similarly to the French ex-patriates that I spoke about, these Chilean students were very established in the Wellington Latino community. Neither had yet found work, so they spent all of their time with their Chilean flatmates and socializing with other Spanish speakers.

So how can we maximise these opportunities for total language immersion, such as my social family weekend? I think it’s important to make friends who speak the language, and who ideally won’t speak your mother tongue. And the more the better – don’t just make one friend, but make lots of friends and have them speak to each other at a natural pace while you try to follow. This is the principle. But my English-speaking bubble is very comfortable, so it will take some motivation to put the plan into action.