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Advanced Listeners?

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Back to the advanced stuff – it seems that this arena is where we are most tested as language teachers – it seems the lower levels still flounder about with grammar and those rather inane games rigged to get students to produce “the right thing”. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll have to think some more about it first.

On to the Advanced lot. Two observations this week. Had a class full of fluent, mostly accurate, highly competent communicators. First observation – extended listening (anything between 10 and 15 mins) made them crazy. They didn’t realise at first that they weren’t actually processing anything after the first 3 or 4 minutes. (Neither did I to be fair). Got the global message in less than expected detail. Were cracking out the answers to questions related to the first three minutes, but after that were completely lost – EVEN THOUGH THEY THOUGHT THEY HAD HEARD EVERYTHING! Hmmm. Interesting. They absolutely acknowledged that after three minutes, they had lost all concentration except at the very basic level of being aware that things were being said in English.

Second observation – although this isn’t new. Had a young student – enormously competent, fluent and confident. Made typical advanced speaker Franco-isms and mistakes (no past tense endings – “but we never pronounce zees in French”) no third person “s” (same excuse) “I am not concentrated”, oddly enough “me either” in response to a positive statement. But generally very very good. Problem – no motivation to improve – but he thought he wanted to improve.

My reasoning and a question for anyone who reads this: If a highly competent student is NOT generally in a native speaker environment and the English that he/she has poses no comprehension difficulties to the people with whom they communicate on a daily basis, HOW does one motivate them to improve? Essentially they don’t need to for general communication purposes and the mistakes that they do make are SO fossilised, it’s impossible to break then down in a week without tortuous training and huge commitment on the part of the student. The mistakes essentially are grammatical – (it’s true that grammar really does come second to speaking/conversation/communicating) and although I as an EFL teacher have got so used to them they don’t bug me, they obviously bug the students, but they cannot get motivated enough to change them. Ditto vocabulary – what they have is good enough for daily purposes – but they want more. How will they assimilate the new stuff, if they don’t use it, which they won’t because it is essentially non essential stuff?

My answer to this week’s particular student was to do some sort of exam – either an English something or other or an MBA or something similar. This would give the student a focus and hopefully motivate him/her to sort out their fossilised stuff and develop new and improved vocab. Not sure though.

Any ideas?

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