Monday, 6 August 2012

A Fish Out of Water

Earlier in the year I made the decision to step out of my comfort zone for a few weeks and try my hand teaching different learners in a new location. So here I am, working with EFL learners from all over the world in an Edinburgh summer school. In this school, learners study English in three week blocks: the courses are structured and serious and quite emphatically not "summer fun" courses. My learners come from Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Italy, Russia and the Netherlands: an eclectic mix of backgrounds, ages, needs and expectations.

I was a little nervous about leaving the safety and comfort of Adult Learning, Lerwick behind. me. During the interview, my future employer seemed at pains to stress the difference between what he perceived as the cosy, relaxed world of ESOL with the fast paced, competitive demands of work in the EFL sector. As my start date drew nearer I started to panic: would I be able to handle the many and varied demands of fee paying groups from such diverse cultural backgrounds?

Well, to be honest, I have found the change challenging. (Hence the break in blogging!) However, it has also given me plenty of  food for thought. Over the next few days I plan to keep a brief record of some of the activities I have been doing in class, accompanied with reflections which I can follow up on my return home. 

An Effective Listening Activity

Although my morning class are studying at Upper Intermediate Level, they experience great difficulties in decoding connected speech. Even simple listening texts containing a high proportion of familiar words result in confused stares, particularly from my Japanese and Thai learners. The following website contains graded dictation activities: The texts are short (I chose one which lasted only 19 seconds) and learners have the opportunity to listen several times, guided by the instructions on the website. I asked learners to compare their answers in small groups (thereby minimising anxiety among less confident listeners) and finally learners compared their texts with the correct version. This enabled us to focus on the most problematic areas of the text. Finally, learners read out lines from the text, providing further opportunity to focus on word and sentence stress and features of connected speech.

Over the next few days I will continue to focus on ways in which I can help my learners to  improve their listening skills. As many of them will be returning home at the weekend, I also need to make sure that they are equipped to carry on this work in  their own countries. 


  1. Thanks for putting me on to dictions online. It will be great for my IELTS students.


  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your feedback! Yes, I have only just discovered dictations online too - they're great for class use and for learners to work on at home too. Enjoy!