A Frequent Mistake Even Long-Term Teachers Make

Three people were on a train in England.  As they approached what appeared to be Wemberly Station, one of the travelers said, “Is this Wemberley?”  “No,” replied a second passenger, “it’s Thursday.”  Whereupon the third person remarked, “Oh, I am too; let’s have a drink!”

Listening is a skill that needs to be practiced.  It happens so often that students signal the teacher to write the word on the board.  “I need to see it to understand,” they claim.  To just hear the word challenges them a lot because the spoken word is not permanent.  Reality is that our students have to learn to understand people in conversations, and nobody in this world is going to write down the entire conversation for them.  They have to listen and understand. So here is something a lot of teachers do wrong.

Developing listening skills is of utmost importance.  Back in the days, teachers wouldn’t even pay attention to this skill, believing it develops automatically as we learn a language.  As a result, learners would have the hardest time understanding a native speaker.  Even worse, when they eventually visited a country in which English was the mother tongue, they couldn’t understand the average person and felt deeply frustrated.  This is not the kind of experience our current English students should have. We want them to be exposed to the target language and think to themselves, “Wow, I can really understand this.  My English class helps me a lot.”

During our TEFL training, we dedicate a good amount of time to listening skills.  After we cover the basics for this skill development, our TEFL trainees have to prepare classes in which they pay particular attention to practicing listening.  And it’s not enough to walk into your class and say, “Today, we are going to listen to a story from the New York Times,” and wonder why your students just don’t get it.  The answer is sequencing.  We develop listening skills gradually, starting from the individual sound, to the word, to the phrase and to the sentence–whatever we do, depending on the level of the student.

In our TEFL certification programs, we have individuals new to teaching as well as seasoned teachers.  A frequent mistake they all make is that they give English students the text of the listening activity.  Whenever they do that, it is no longer a listening activity.  It becomes reading, and the English student loses a valuable opportunity to train his/her ear for the challenges waiting in the real English-speaking world.  I know that our trainees do that uncontientiously; I am certain that there are countless teachers in the field who do that on a daily basis without being aware of it.  The result of their unawareness are individuals who don’t understand the native speakers.

So, when you walk into your class tomorrow and you want to develop “listening skills,” don’t give your students the text while reading it to them or having them listen to an audio clip.  Obviously, this entire class segment needs to be prepared professionally, and this is the topic of another blog.

Every now and then, it happens that TEFL trainees comment, “Wow, I never thought that a teacher has to know so much!”

In order to help our English students to quickly acquire the language, a teacher has to know what and how to present it.  And it is not enough to say, “Well, I am a native speaker.”  If you are a native speaker, that’s great; however, you have to know what you do with the student.  As an untrained teacher, you will have a student around for two or even three years (if they can pay that long).  As a trained teacher, your student will speak the target language beautifully in three quarters of a year or in even less time, depending on the method you use.  Why?  You learn how to professionally assess weaknesses and work on those to overcome them.  The untrained instructor doesn’t even know all of that.  And here is the reason why our graduates land jobs with the best schools.  Nothing beats expertise in your field.

Adriana Blumberg  holds an MA TESOL and has been a TEFL trainer for 20 years.

May 20, 2016

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