Tuesday 3 June 2008

Vocabulary Tips: Learning New Vocabulary

I recommend that students don't try to learn too much vocabulary at once. It's better to choose six words a day than to learn a great big list of them at the last moment. Also, they should try to categorise the words they learn into concept groups, such as weather, food, jobs, etcetera. There are many things to pay attention to when learning new words. Here are some suggestions:

  • The translation
  • The pronunciation
  • Parts of Speech
  • An example of the word used in context
  • Collocations (which words it is commonly used with)
  • Concept Groups

I'll provide you with an example to show what I mean:

It's a hot day.
day, drink, weather,
Weather, Food

Obviously, it isn't necessary to use all of these headings, and different students will need to learn different aspects of vocabulary, but noting down a few more ideas than just the translation helps a great deal when they come across this word again. One more suggestion for the really disciplined is to use a vocabulary notebook, so that revision of words learned is more organised.

Friday 16 May 2008

Grammar Tips: Present Perfect

Teaching the present perfect tense in Mexico is a little difficult, as it is not used extensively in Spanish here, and there are many other ways of expressing the same concept using different tenses. What we have to do is teach the idea it represents at the same time as we teach the structure. I see the present perfect as a tense which bridges the gap between the past and the present, and I think we usually see it that way when we begin teaching it.

The present perfect can be broken down into three areas: experience, a change in circumstances and duration. Here are three examples to help illustrate this:

  • I've never been to Cancun. (experience)
  • He's lost his job. (a change in circumstances)
  • We've celebrated Independence Day since 1810. (duration)

As you can see, all of these examples involve some connection between the past and the present. The first connects the speaker's entire life with this moment, the second involves a change in the past which affects present circumstances, and the third shows us a tradition which began in the past and is still in effect. If you can keep the concept of this tense clear when teaching it, it should be easier for students to understand it and use it.

Monday 5 May 2008

Pronunciation Tips: B and V

One of the most common mistakes in terms of pronunciation for Mexican students is the difference between B and V. These sounds are not distinct in Latin American Spanish, and so the hardest task is distinguishing the two sounds to begin with. There are two things to teach here: position and voicing.

Basically, B is in the same position as P and V is in the same position as F. So, we really have to teach the difference between B/P, and F/V. This is where voicing is important. B and V are voiced sounds, and P and F are unvoiced. I think the trick is to build up to this with minimal pairs. Try 'ban' and 'pan' to get a feel for the difference between the voiced B and unvoiced P. Next, try 'van' and 'fan' for V and F.

This can take a while, and it helps a lot if you've already introduced the idea of voiced and unvoiced sounds. However, it is possible to teach the difference, and I believe that breaking down the problem in this way makes it easier to conceptualise. Remember, our first goal is to make sure our students can distinguish different sounds before they are able to produce them. If they can't hear the difference, they won't be able to pronounce it.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

The Teaching Knowledge Test (continued)

Here's a bit more information about the TKT, from my notes on last week's seminar. There are three modules to the exam, which can be taken in any order. Each module is one hour and twenty minutes long, and comprises eighty questions. This means you're answering one question per minute. It's objectively assessed, so all questions are multiple choice, one-to-one matching or odd one out. Grading is on a banded basis, and consists of four bands, one being the lowest and four being the highest.

Module One covers aspects such as defining terms, identifying learner needs and presentation techniques. It's broken down into three parts: describing language and language skills (40 questions), background to language learning (15 questions), and background to language teaching (25 questions). The TKT glossary is very useful for the first area, whereas the others can be researched from a variety of sources, of which The TKT Course from Cambridge University Press and The Teaching Knowledge Test from McGraw-Hill are a couple of examples. However, the knowledge a teacher has accumulated in the classroom is also invaluable for this exam.

If you would like more information about this test, I have found the TKT Handbook to be very useful. It includes more detailed information than I've given here, as well as practice tests and an answer key for those who wish to take the self-access route.

Monday 14 April 2008

TKT Module 1 Seminar

Here's a quick report on the Teaching Knowledge Test seminar held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Mexico City last Saturday. The event was organised by Cambridge ESOL Mexico in order to familiarise teachers with the first module of TKT and to give us some insight into how it works. It was sponsored by the three centres who offer the exam (the Anglo, International House and the British Council) and two publishers (Cambridge University Press and McGraw-Hill). About 300 people came to the event.

As this was the first time I'd attended a Cambridge ESOL seminar, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. However, the presentation was excellent. Liliana Sánchez, who gave the talk, showed us very clearly how the exam works. It's essentially a written test, which can be taken either on paper or by computer, and there is no coursework involved. My first impression was that this would make it easier for busy teachers to find room in their schedules for certification, as they wouldn't have to give up valuable time to take courses. This is assuming that we can be disciplined enough for self-access study!

The module we looked at on Saturday was Module 1, which has the rather cumbersome title of "Language and Background to Language Learning and Teaching". This basically means that it's all about methodology and use of language, and the workshop activities we carried out over the course of the seminar focussed chiefly on these areas. However, we received plenty of materials to chew over both during and after the event, so I'll give a more detailed overview at a later date.

Overall, I found the seminar very useful, both as a teacher and as a coordinator. If you're interested in learning more about this test, the Cambridge ESOL TKT site has a lot more information.

Monday 10 March 2008

Translation Service

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Wednesday 5 March 2008

Best Teaching Practice in Evolution

A quick bit of news for you. There'll be an event for teachers in Mexico City on Saturday which is hosted by Cambridge University and University of Cambridge ESOL Exams.

The speakers will be:
  • Dr. Herbert Puchta – Inspiring tweens and motivating teens
  • Helen Sandiford – Fluency: what is it, and how do we teach it?
  • Rafael Sánchez Majdich/Rosalía Valero – Computer-based exams
If you're interested in going, details are on our calendar, and at http://www.cambridge.com.mx/best/.

Thursday 21 February 2008

An Introduction

Before I get started on this entry, allow me to introduce myself. My name is David Bevis, I came to Mexico from the UK about ten years ago, and I've been working at Gardner English for nine of them. As you can imagine, I've experienced quite a lot as a teacher in those years. In addition to teaching, I'm also responsible for our website, blogs and internal communications media. By writing in this blog, I hope to share some of my experiences of teaching in Mexico City and explain what we do in a little more detail.

What do we do? Basically, we teach students at all levels in companies throughout Mexico City, and our teachers go to the student's place of work to give their classes. This makes it easier for students to study English without having to spend time in traffic to get to classes. We assess all our students before we begin teaching them, so materials and courses are targeted at the right level when we start. Classes are a mixture of one-to-ones and groups, although groups are small enough that everyone gets the level of tuition they need.

As regards my own projects, I've recently become involved in setting up our new company calendar. This happened because of new regulations which meant that many public holidays have been moved to Mondays to avoid people bridging their days off. For those who are interested in such things, I've found the Mexican Banking Association's website to be extremely useful.

Having sorted out exactly when our teachers wouldn't be able to give classes, I started looking for other events which might be of interest to them. Cambridge ESOL in Mexico provides Saturday seminars for teachers, and the Mexico City Chapter of MEXTESOL gives bimonthly Saturday workshops as well. There will also be a Foreign Language Teachers' Conference hosted by CELE in June, which will deal with Educational Practice in the Teaching of Foreign Languages in Mexico. All of these events are now on our calendar, along with the relevant details.

So, that's what I've been up to so far. I hope that what you've read here has been useful. As we say in Mexico, ¡Hasta pronto!