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I’m warning you straight off that this is probably going to be horribly boring: I’m even boring myself at the moment.  I’m thinking it is because I’m not teaching at the moment. I have only taught about 80 hours this year. The rest has  just been interminable admin and learning new software applications and attending dreary meetings and wondering if the “new” name for what is fundamentally a “conversation class” actually DOES mean there’s a difference really really; and struggling to fit “large non-residential language school” requirements into “small residential language school” practicalities; trying to understand how “big” organisations function without coming to the -I have to say “inevitable”- conclusion that there is just a lot of needless protocol, leading to endless delays and spiralling ramifications of what essentially are very simple things.

It is all very simple, isn’t it? Or am I just being naive and not a little bit dense? I’m talking about English language teaching. I know it isn’t easy – in fact it is usually quite a challenge – but it is simple, or should be. Take Needs Analysis. Even those words carry connotations of some sort of scientific research into the ineffable. Then there is all that jargon about systems and skills and whether they are receptive or expressive  and which should come first and which are more important and what each MEANS actually; and strange collocates like “rising terminals” and “multi-word verbs” and “noun phrases” and ” lexical chunking” and my personal favourite “mixed conditionals”.

These make us all sound very knowledgeable and they do help us as practitioners and theorists and researchers to talk to each other. But honestly, how can any of them be used effectively – and I mean EFFECTIVELY – to analyse what a student needs? He needs “noun phrases”. Why? Needs to work on her “rising terminals”. Why? Introduce “multi-word verbs.” Again Why? Without the question “why?”, this isn’t analysis, it’s a list of instructions.

So here’s what I do. I’m not saying it’s the panacea or the answer to all the questions of the Universe, or that it will make everyone’s life easier or simpler or more worthwhile. It just works for me and maybe you’ll find it useful too.

NEEDS (or GOALS, if you will)

What do you need to DO with English? Speak to native speakers so I can integrate into an English speaking country (shame if you are in England, we’ve just cut the budget so you’ll have to integrate all on your own); negotiate with suppliers in Mexico, socialise with my husband’s work colleagues, go shopping in London… infinitum.

Right. So in order to DO that stuff you need a set of SKILLS such as

  • asking questions to get things like information or a beer; 
  • saying it in another way if someone else doesn’t understand;
  • describing something so people know what you’re talking about;
  •  getting advice from people when you’re working in an unfamiliar environment or with a new product or process;
  • helping a conversation along a bit if others are shy;
  • getting someone to see your point if you need their support; 
  • what to say after you’ve said “Pleased to meet you”, so you don’t feel uncomfortable. 

That sort of thing.

But, to perform these skills you need some TOOLS like vocabulary, some bits and pieces of grammar and reasonable pronunciation.  We’ll find out which tools you already have and which ones you might need to add to your toolbox.

So ask and then listen and take it from there……it’s as simple as that.


9 responses »

  1. synchronicity!

    I’ve lost hours and hours of watching movies because I was designing forms, table of levels, guidelines, needs analysis questionnaires, learning preferences grids and all the frills. And then what happened?
    The average (bad) teacher would take all that info and do it all wrong anyway.
    The good teachers would go to class, meet students, “ask and then listen and take it from there” regardless of need analysis, because yes Candy, “it’s as simple as that”

    Have you seen this?
    Good for chuckles.

  2. I sympathise with Willy. Some teachers just ‘get it’ and engage students naturally and some just bumble about. I used to think when I was doing training courses in Athens, you know, I can’t dance to save my life. Utter klutz in the kinesthetic dept. Therefore I make bloody sure I never find myself auditioning for ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. So why do some of this lot imagine you they are teachers?

    • Thanks for stopping by, Steve. Bet you could do a very creditable “Alas, poor Yorick…” ,but Britain’s got Talent is probably not the best arena. I think teacher training courses should hold auditions…..

  3. Anthony Gaughan

    Oh yes – I think we were destined to find each other over time, Candy. Been telling my trainees (in fact anyone who would listen – which wasn’t many…) that “it’s simple – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy”. You are so right about this.

    Why the jargon? Why the esotericisation (to coin a word..) of earthy fundamentals? Why the reification of pseudoscience? Why the b*ll*cks without the b*lls?

    Teaching is not a science and not an art – it is a basic human function, a bit like eating, sleeping and sex. It is messy, heated and unpredictable – and insofar as this is true, it defies analysis – whether some think this is need(s)ed or otherwise.

    Thanks for another cracking post.

    • It certainly is messy, if you try to do all three at the same time.

      • Anthony Gaughan

        Or indeed, all four (including needs analysis). And if such a thing can be conceived (as it just has) then it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a school out there already using it as a USP…

        Note to self: write out 100 times “I mustn’t lower the tone on someone else’S blog…”

      • David! and I’m not quite sure which “needs” would be analysed!

    • Anthony – you can lower the tone of my blog any day as long as it’s relevant. and calling language teachingand learning messy, heated and unpredictable is certainly that!

      Thanks for stopping by….


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