Tips for teachers

New Year New Class? The Essentials of Establishing Rapport

The importance of rapport

Rapport is fundamental to successful lessons.  Learning is facilitated when the teacher is able to make the students feel comfortable, relaxed and eager to participate and hindered when students feel on-edge, uncomfortable and embarrassed.  Although the students themselves play a large role in determining the classroom atmosphere, there are things the teacher can do to establish a good working relationship with his or her students.  

Get to know your students

Learning and using students’ names is a good place to start.  However, if you really want to make a connection with your students, you should do as much as possible to find out about their lives outside of the classroom. What are their interests and hobbies? Do they have part-time jobs?  Do they have children?  What religious holidays do they observe?  Find out about their countries and cultures.

 You can then use this information in the class to determine topic areas. You can also refer to something you know about individual students in the class and use their knowledge about a particular area as a learning opportunity for other students.  Likewise, give the students the chance to learn a little about you, your friends and your family.  Students are often more interested in you and each other than they are in fictionalised characters from textbooks.



Another important piece of advice is to listen to your students – not just the grammar they are producing, but the meaning they are trying to convey – and respond in a genuine and interested way.  If a student tells you that he doesn’t feel like working because his ‘grandmother at hospital’, don’t jump in with a correction - ‘you mean your grandmother is in the hospital’.  Instead, react in a sympathetic manner - ‘I’m sorry to hear that’ - and tell him that he can do some independent work if he prefers.

Put yourself in your students’ shoes

Probably, the most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to put on an act.  While some good teachers are also entertainers, you do not have to be an entertainer to be a good teacher! 

Try to think about how you would like to be treated if you were in your students’ shoes and start from there. The more experience you gain, the more comfortable you will feel and the easier it will be to determine what will and won’t work in the classroom.

Noticing Charts: the best resource I've ever used

Why get students out of the classroom?

As mentioned in my last post, there is real cultural, linguistic and sociolinguistic value in getting international students out into their local communities researching a topic of interest to them.

In my experience, the best time to do this is as soon as they arrive. This is when they are first noticing various aspects of the local culture, hearing varieties of English and making comparisons with their own cultures. This is fertile development time for them and should be capitalised upon by teachers in the classroom.

So, how do we do this? Well, there is one resource that I’ve used for almost twenty years: the Noticing Chart.

Encouraging Noticing

We know from Schmidt that conscious noticing is an important concept in language learning. Noticing Charts - as seen below on the left (Pdf available here) - give students the opportunity to record their real-world observations of culture and language and share their most interesting observations in the classroom. It’s not the teacher choosing what aspects of culture and language students should attend to; it’s the students. And this is what makes the experience so rich and so enjoyable for them.

Whole language or culture lessons can spring forth from their offerings and/or if you adapt it slightly - as seen below on the right (Pdf available here) - then you can help students turn their noticing into research questions, which, with some development, can be the starting point for their ethnographic research projects.

So, if you’ve got a new group of students starting and you’re looking for a resource that is totally student-centred and has the potential to be exploited further into explicit language focus or project-work, then look no further. I’m grateful to the colleague who introduced me to Noticing Charts all those years ago, and I hope readers here and your students will also benefit from this resource. Do let me know.

Noticing Charts

How to get international students out of their rooms and into the community

The potential of projects

It is sad but true that it is possible for international students to study at UK (and probably other) universities and never leave campus, never speak to local people in local settings and never enrich their cultural awareness and sociolinguistic competence.  

Universities are generally great at providing courses in, or extra support for, English for Academic Purposes and Study Skills and are increasingly seeking ways to embed these into students’ programmes in order to help them meet the academic demands of their modules. But, they are generally less great at developing students’ everyday communication skills in everyday settings with everyday people.  Maybe because they don’t see this as their job.

If, like me, you think this is equally important, then look no further.  I guarantee that the module I describe below is one of the most rewarding you will ever teach and one of the most useful for international students. 

It is an ethnographic research module designed for international students studying at a British university but equally valuable, I would argue, for any international student on any university campus. My evaluation of this module was based on data collected from students’ feedback on end-of-module evaluation forms and also their written reflections on the research process. As you will see below, the findings indicate a number of perceived benefits. 

This post serves a brief overview; the next few posts will give more detail about the structure and content, in case you want to adopt a similar research/project-based module yourselves. Or, do feel free to get in touch directly, if you think you might like support, advice or materials.

The module

A  20-credit, Level 4 (year one) module taught three hours a week over twelve weeks to Study Abroad students with IELTS 6.0/B2 equivalence.  The aims of the module are to develop via a small-scale ethnographic project in the local community: initial competence in ethnographic enquiry; and English language skills, cultural awareness and intercultural competence.

What is ethnography? 

It is an approach to social research typically involving participant observation in natural settings, formal and informal interviews and the collection of documents and artefacts in order to develop a deeper understanding of people’s behavioural practices and beliefs. According to Fetterman (1998: 2), ‘the ethnographer is interested in understanding and describing a social and cultural scene from the emic, or insider’s, perspective.’


The students’ projects 

Students initiate their own topics and are supported in the classroom in a step-by-step fashion with weekly tasks and plenty of formative feedback from peers and tutors on research questions, research design, interview questions, an oral presentation of their findings, data interpretation and a draft of the final report. The final report (2000 words + appendices) is the only summative piece of assessment.  Examples of past topics include:

  •       The elderly: ageing actively

  •       Volunteering: altruism or cv-enhancing?

  •       Always lost: asking for directions in the UK

  •      Terms of endearment: alright luv?

  •      Arcades: only for the lonely?

  •       Camaraderie within a boys’ basketball team


Findings: students’ voices

The joy of discovery

  •      ‘At week 8, I found that I collected a lot of data (maybe even more than I needed) due to the excitement of discovery and happiness of interacting with people.’

  •      ‘…I realize talking about a country’s culture in the ethnographic way is much more vivid and interesting because you are actually the one experiencing and interpreting what you see in that particular aspect of life in that particular time.’


  •  ‘In a nutshell, this research is meaningful for developing my abilities, regardless of the study skills or the language skill and social skills’.  

Developing English language skills, sociolinguistic and intercultural communicative competence

  • ‘… my fluency of speaking the language improved because I need to speak fluently to avoid wasting my interviewee’s time.’

  •  ‘I successfully talked to British people indeed and learned how to start a conversation better’. 

  •     ‘At the beginning of the research, I had difficulty in understanding different English of the basketball team members, not only because of different accents, but also the slang and vocabulary. But when the time goes by, gradual recognition towards their delivery pace and the expansion of my vocabulary base, help me understand much more.’


Building confidence

  • ‘Ethnography is useful in boosting confidence as it opens up my eyes and my mind. To step out of the comfort zone is uneasy, but I am proud of what I did. It actually builds my confidence and I realize that I am more capable than I thought.’


Contributing to employability skills

  •  ‘I have learned to communicate with others through this module, which is helpful to my employability skills’. 

  •  ‘It is of great value to my life and career in the future’.


Challenging preconceptions and changing perspectives

  •  ‘I have to say this project means a lot to me because …. it changes my perspective a lot and it allowed me to have a great opportunity to know something about other people. Talking to stranger is actually fun to me because they are not in my circle, which means their thoughts are very different from mine. Their feedbacks are very likely to give you new insight or inspiration and may change your perception of something.’


Ideal preparation for degree programmes

The findings indicate that students perceive the module to be positive and meaningful to them academically, socially and linguistically. They also suggest that the module does more than meet its aims; it has the potential to develop students’ confidence and employability skills, as well as facilitate different ways of viewing the world and new ways of learning (by doing).  

If you are responsible for curriculum development, then please do give consideration to a version of this module on Study Abroad, pre-sessional or in-sessional programmes.  It gives students an ideal theoretical and practical grounding in carrying out and reporting on a piece of primary research, which is ideal preparation for their degree programmes.

More to follow in my next post …


Fetterman, D.M. 1998. Ethnography: Step by Step. 2nd Ed. London: Sage Publications.

“Do Adults Get Nervous Too?”: why our students need honest answers

Years and years ago, too many to feel comfortable admitting, I wrote an essay for my Master’s degree entitled: ‘Sensitising Teacher Education: Incorporating a Focus on Affect’.   The role of affect in language learning was a topic on our syllabus, connected with the psychology of language learning and individual differences, and I was determined to develop this topic but from a different angle, one which got and probably still gets too little attention – the treatment of affect in teacher education.  

The argument I was making in this paper, based on my own experience of training as an English language teacher, and surveying a host of teacher training books and journal articles, was that teacher education was not keeping pace with wider societal trends, particularly in the workplace, where counselling, stress management, team work and negotiation had become commonplace.  Today, you can add the buzz words of mindfulness, mental wellbeing, emotional health, and resilience to the list above.  My thesis was that there was very little evidence of the ‘explicit treatment’ of affect on teacher education programmes and that this needed to change.


What is affect?

Affect’ is generally defined in terms of emotions, feelings, moods, dispositions and attitudes which shape behaviour.  And ‘explicit treatment’ for me meant that affect was dealt with on training programmes in such a way as to help trainees identify and address it in the classroom.  Despite affect being a very complicated area of research, with many interconnected variables (think about the complex relationship between anxiety, competitiveness and self-esteem, for example), and, thus, extremely difficult to measure objectively, my position was, and still is, that even initial teacher education programmes, as short as these may be, need to focus on it explicitly. 

Why? Well, I argued that trainees may be able to survive a lesson that has gone horribly wrong, but unless they realise, as the influential Earl Stevick did, that “success depends less on materials, techniques and linguistic analyses, and more on what goes on inside and between people in the classroom”, they may not know how to put it right


Understanding affect can help us improve our practice

It’s the putting it right bit that I’m concerned with.  For me this can only happen when we give learners opportunities to share their attitudes towards learning (including the materials, activities and classroom management strategies we use) in a safe and supportive environment, one in which negative affect is not stigmatised but treated as a normal human condition experienced by learners and - here’s the crux - teachers alike.

And this brings me to the title of this post.   This was the question I got asked recently by a Year 9 student during a confident communication workshop I was delivering for his class. Outwardly, this boy gave off an air of confidence. Throughout the workshop he regularly volunteered his opinions, spoke up loudly, made good eye contact and engaged his classmates. But, when it came time to give his solo final speech, he was a full of nerves and reluctance.  And, in the middle of my cajoling and encouraging, he asked: ‘do adults get nervous too?’  

This struck me as such an important question, not because it was overly profound, but because it was so genuine. He wasn’t stalling for time; he was searching my eyes for a sign of empathy, that basic human connection that tells us we are not alone in our fears.  


Giving honest answers

And, so I gave him my most honest answer; all the time.  For me, it manifests itself in a poor sleep the night before I go into a school, a death-like grip on the steering wheel as a I drive to my destination, a dry throat right before the students enter the classroom, and a racing pulse in the first few minutes, until I feel I’ve established some sense of rapport with at least a handful of the group.  

And, I’m fairly certain that most teachers - both inexperienced and experienced - have suffered from self-doubt and anxiety at some point in their careers, most commonly when they have to stand and deliver a talk in front of their peers. In fact, I was reading accounts on Twitter of teachers locking themselves in bathrooms and throwing up before presenting at staff meetings and conferences.


Building resilience

It’s these kinds of experiences that we need to share with each other on training programmes and in classrooms with our students if we want to build our own and our students’ resilience.  Students and trainees, all of us, need to understand that insecurity and failure are part of growth and development. We all need empathy and reassurance at times and we should all learn how to empathise and reassure others. If teachers and trainers pretend that we are infallible, if we don’t discuss our setbacks and our rebounds, if we don’t model the provision of empathy and reassurance, we are serving to perpetuate a classroom culture in which our learners are afraid to fail or, worse, even try. 

So, do adults get nervous? Hell, yeah, we do. We do because we care. Our learners care too. It’s our job to explore these emotions, to discuss how we can manage them, to share stories of failures and successes, to model empathy and to encourage our learners to embrace and learn from the setbacks they will invariably face.  

How can we help learners overcome a fear of public speaking?

As an oracy trainer, I see inside many UK secondary schools and classrooms.  I have the wonderful opportunity of helping young people find their voices, express their opinions, tell their life stories and speak passionately on a wide range of topics, from the perils of social media to the importance of family. 

I come across pupils who enjoy speaking in front of their peers and others who loathe it. Some are so shy and so fearful that their anguish manifests itself in physical form; I’ve witnessed shaking, hair twisting, nail and lip biting and crying.  Some, who you never think will actually stand up and speak, do. Others, who you think are brimming in confidence, fake headaches, go to the nurse’s office and never return. Some reluctant students respond well to positive encouragement and cajoling, others respond better to tough love and motivational mantras.


Public speaking is viewed as something out of the norm

What they all have in common, though, is a shared understanding that public speaking is something special, something different, something out of the norm. In fact, my very presence at their school facilitating a whole day confident communication workshop reaffirms this.  It is different.  And this shouldn’t be the case. I often ask myself how we ended up in this situation.  And, then, of course, I remember, the neo-liberal, data collecting, accountability agenda pervading our education system and which may actually be doing harm, emotionally and academically, to a large number of children.

If speaking skills were valued, taught and assessed formatively and summatively from a young age, if they were embedded into every lesson, and if children knew speaking = school and school = speaking (see School 21 for a good example), then this would be the norm, just like evaluating sources in History or using a protractor in Maths or learning vocabulary in French. And this would mean that fear of speaking (or fear of failing or fear of embarrassment, as is often the case), should dissipate with exposure, modelling, structured support, sustained practice and a clear understanding that ‘this is just what we do’.


Encouraging a growth mindset

As this isn’t the case in most schools, then we need to find other ways to help children deal with their fear.  Many educators turn to the psychology literature and help to build resilient learners by endorsing a growth mindset.  I myself, when faced with reluctant pupils, use similar strategies: I ensure they have many opportunities to practise and time to prepare; I talk about my own failures and eventual successes, demonstrating that learning comes from struggle and mistakes; I remind them that the anticipation is worse than the actual act; I get other pupils to inspire them with their own talks and positive encouragement; and I make sure to add a ‘yet’ every time they say ‘I can’t do it’.

But sometimes even all this fails.  Sometimes there are still two or three children who refuse to stand and speak, and each time this happens I can’t help to feel that I’ve let them down.


Mindfulness techniques

And, so, my quest for knowledge and strategies continues.  It was in this vein that I approached my friend and colleague, a Buddhist nun and mindfulness practitioner and asked her how mindfulness techniques might help young people overcome their fear of public speaking. Here’s her advice:

1.     Create some ‘magical wishes’ for your audience before your talk, e.g. ‘I wish my talk will help them solve a problem in their own life’ or ‘I wish my talk will inspire them’ or ‘I wish my talk will help them understand this issue better’.  Repeating your wishes in your mind will help to strengthen your inner power and your confidence.

2.     Pin your anxiety onto something small and simple in order to calm your mind before your talk. It can be something you notice immediately before you go ‘on stage’, e.g. the knowing of your footstep, the taste of a mint in your mouth, or the feeling of your tight shoulder.  The knowing stays with you and is something neutral and safe to cling on to in a time of uncertainty or stress.

3.     Enjoy your talk while delivering it. Of course, it helps if you’ve prepared content that is interesting and important to you and/or to your audience.  Find the value in your own talk (again for you or your audience) and affirm this value to yourself. Remind yourself that you have something important to say that people want to hear.

4.     Shift your focus onto the audience.  Think about how they’re feeling, how they’re experiencing your talk and what they’re learning from you. This should help you forget about yourself and let go of your nerves a little.

5.     Don’t be too critical of yourself.  When you’ve finished, praise yourself for having the courage to do the talk. Only when your mind is calmer and your tension has eased, should you reflect on strengths and weaknesses.  Even then, remember it’s not black and white. Every audience member may have experienced your talk differently.


Don't be too critical

Maybe this last point is the most important one of all.  After all, what trainers and teachers might consider a small step forward might, in fact, be a huge step for a shy or unconfident student. Just like a good speaker needs to cater his/her talk to his/her audience, we need to cater our feedback to individual learners' needs. 

Ten tips for sustaining verb tenses in writing

Not too long ago I had an opportunity to respond to a request on the NALDIC EAL-Bilingual email list with regard to the above, i.e. how to help EAL learners sustain tenses in their writing.  Here, I've written up my response in full. I hope EAL teachers find it useful. Please let me know! 

Obviously I don’t have a clear picture of the lesson aims/teaching contexts and age groups, but here are my thoughts.

What is your aim?

First, I think I’d ask the teachers what the aim of their lesson was. If it’s to write an interesting/creative story, then tenses wouldn’t really matter, provided meaning was communicated.  If the aim, however, was to raise awareness of or produce accurate forms of a variety of tenses/aspect, then, yes, accuracy across the writing would be important.  And, linking to this aim is the marking of such work. Again, marking and feedback (in the latter case) would need to focus only on accurate use of tenses/aspect rather than other grammatical structures or content.  So, what I’m saying is that if sustaining verb tenses in writing is the issue, this needs to be addressed in the aim of the lesson and the marking of the writing.  But, I’m sure teachers already know this ... ideas … off the top of my head, I’d say the following:

The work really needs to be done at the planning (pre-writing) and editing (post-content creation) stages of the lesson. During the actual writing, learners need space to get ideas down on paper - content over form - as it’s too cognitively challenging trying to focus on both.  

At the planning stage, here are some ideas for raising awareness:

  1. Cut up and re-order similar texts, asking learners how they figured out how to put it back together with a specific focus on tenses and their connection with other linguistic devices, e.g. adverbs of time.
  2. Talk about tenses with regard to the particular genre (e.g. story telling/narration) - pick out common tenses/aspect - past simple for completed actions in past, present perfect for bringing past together with present (e.g. when past has an impact on present), past perfect (when one action happens before another - both in the past), past continuous for temporary states in the past etc.
  3. Dictogloss - read a short text that is abundant in the tenses you want to focus on. Get students to listen first, only for content (gist).  For the second listening, get them to number a piece of paper with the number of sentences in your short text. Read each one aloud at normal speed and get students to write down what they can (e.g. key words). Read only once. When finished, get students to work together (pairs or threes) to reconstruct the entire text.  Tell them they should discuss which versions might be better and why.   When feeding back, take ideas from all groups, discuss why some might be better options than others (again, in terms of tenses). Compare with the original. Continue sentence by sentence, highlighting tenses/aspect and doing some language work here in preparation for their own writing.
  4. Use graphic organisers for planning purposes - sequencing charts, for example, or timelines.  Give students time to plan.
  5. Talk about how learners indicate past, present, future in their own languages (e.g. through context or through adverbs of time etc). Compare other languages with English.

All of the above can be supported with timelines (i.e. visual representations of tenses) and with carefully planned questioning for scaffolding purposes.

At the editing stage, here are some ideas for noticing and correcting:

  1. Get learners to read their work aloud. Often we don’t notice mistakes in writing but we do when listening.  They can do this individually or in pairs.
  2. Peer editing - get learners to ask each other concept-checking questions, e.g. (Did this event happen in the past? Is it finished? Was it temporary? Did this action happen before this one? etc. Again, supported by timelines and grammar rules/books - referring back to/connecting with the raising awareness activities you did at the planning stage.)
  3. Whole class feedback - take a learner’s text (anonymous - one from a previous year even) and analyse tenses throughout asking the types of questions above.
  4. Tense Detectives’ - this is a slightly different take on School 21’s ‘Talk Detectives’ (used for checking that learners are using agreed discussion guidelines).  Nominate 2 or 3 students whose job it is to sample some of the work looking specifically at accurate use/continuity of tenses in their peers’ work and feed back to the class good examples, possible problems, questions etc.  
  5. Reformulation - rewrite a learner’s text and get learners to compare your version to the original, noticing and discussing different forms (e.g. tenses) throughout.

Feed Forward

Then, after editing, give learners an opportunity to make changes/re-write and implement feedback. Make sure learners refer to feedback on previous work before embarking on a new piece (e.g. feed forward).

I'd love to hear how you may have adopted or adapted some of these ideas and the extent to which they worked in your context, so do leave a comment.


Activating Prior Knowledge

Here is the short presentation I gave at the ELT Well Open day on 30 September for those who missed it.  It gives a variety of different ways teachers can activate prior knowledge at the pre-reading / pre-listening stage of a lesson.  If you have questions or if you would like further advice or to book a workshop, please get in touch.

ELT Well Open Day and taster sessions

In celebration of the opening of the new ELT well premises in Morecambe, Anne Margaret and colleagues (including myself) are offering a range of mini sessions aimed at supporting teachers support their learners. Please come along and discover what we can offer you, your school and your learners. I look forward to seeing you there!



Why are there not more ESL/EFL teachers working in schools? A case for collaborative professional development

Good Practice in Teaching

Years ago I was sitting in an informal training session with fellow English as a Second/Foreign Language (ESL/EFL) teachers listening to a talk on ways to support dyslexic students.  I remember thinking to myself at that time the talk should be retitled ‘Good Practice in Teaching’, for the strategies the trainer was suggesting were ones from which all students would benefit. For example, I remember her telling us that we need to make sure that we state clearly the aims of our lesson at the start, put key terminology on the board and check students’ understanding of it; and recap main points at regular intervals. 

Fifteen years on, and several dyslexia training courses later, I not only remain convinced that all students would benefit from teachers being trained in techniques to support students with specific learning differences (SpLDs), but also that language teachers, and ESL teachers in particular, have much to offer teachers across the curriculum in terms of classroom support strategies.


ESL teachers supporting classroom teaching

The reasons for this are multiple. First, ESL teachers are trained to use techniques that support meaning when understanding may be limited by linguistic and/or cultural knowledge. This means that we support what we say in the classroom with visual aids, gestures and also written instructions. We’ve also been trained to avoid asking ‘do you understand?’ in favour of concept checking questions like ‘when is the essay due? And how many words do you have to write?’ We tend to use demonstrations (e.g. two students showing the class what is required to carry out a task) and models of finished products (e.g. an essay) so that students can see clearly what is expected. 

Second, we are very conscious of the need to facilitate students’ processing. We monitor our own language very carefully, editing out, when required, slang, idioms, colloquialism, jokes and obscure cultural references. We aim to speak more slowly and clearly at times, we paraphrase, and we reformulate others’ contributions.  We understand the importance of silence; it gives students time to process information and a chance to formulate a response in a second language. We use techniques like think-pair-share or check your understanding with a partner (even in their first language) and give opportunities for students to clarify requests.

Third, we know not to introduce too many new words or grammatical items in one lesson, thus overloading students’ working memories. We also value repetition and recycling, particularly for vocabulary learning. Likewise, we break down our instructions into manageable chunks, giving information only when it is needed, one step at a time. And, again, these oral instructions are normally reinforced in multiple ways via demonstrations and written support.

Fourth, we teach skills – reading, writing, listening, speaking, organization, study, exam, proofreading, editing etc.  Skills teaching and learning is normally embedded into each and every language lesson, but it’s normal for entire courses (e.g. English for Academic Purposes (EAP)) to focus on just one skill, e.g. reading for university, in which we teach strategies like SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Respond, Review), again, useful for all students, not just ESL and dyslexic ones. In a similar vein, we teach note-taking and note-making skills, using abbreviations, symbols and mind-maps, equally purposeful for supporting dyslexic students’ auditory skills.

Finally, we emphasize the importance of metacognition (i.e. thinking about learning), asking students to think about how they’ve successfully approached skills-based tasks or grammar/vocabulary learning in the past and getting them to apply their knowledge and strategies to similar tasks and, ideally, sharing strategies with peers.

This list is by no means exhaustive and I have no doubt that SpLD specialists and ESL teachers have a lot to learn from each other. In fact, ESL teachers could also be of great benefit to schools supporting EAL learners (for all of the same arguments presented above and many more, not least of which is our second language acquisition knowledge), but this is probably just stating the obvious.  And don’t even get me started on oracy … I’m saving that for another post!

For so long now, though, school teachers and ESL teachers have inhabited their own worlds, drawing on the same educational theories but applying these in different contexts. But I’d argue that our worlds are becoming less distinct as our learners’ profiles change. We are both teaching more and more learners with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds and who may also have more complex needs, including SpLDs. And as we are each constrained by limited funding, wouldn’t it make sense to pool our resources and engage in some collaborative professional development?


Collaboration is key

A good starting point for collaboration is asking in-school language teachers to offer input at training days on the type of language teaching strategies and techniques mentioned above. Sharing good practice at TeachMeets and Pedagoos would also be valuable, so too would inviting ESL specialists into schools to run workshops, ideally working alongside SpLD specialists.

And, then, of course, there is the insight that can be gained from consulting one of the rare specialists who span both spheres (SpLDs and ESL).  Colleagues like Dr Anne Margaret Smith at ELT Well offer a wealth of knowledge and also materials to support teachers in schools in identifying and teaching EAL learners with SpLDs. 

As our learners change, so must we. Recognising that we have a lot to learn from each other and engaging in collaborative professional development can only be viewed as steps in the right direction.

Keeping in English: why it's sometimes difficult and what tutors can do to help

A little while ago I carried out a small-scale piece of research in a monolingual class of study abroad students at a UK university, asking for reasons why they consistently switched to their L1 and their advice for facilitating English. The results are interestingly honest and might just provide some food for thought for language teachers and university tutors. 

Reasons for speaking L1

·       Easier to express myself/ideas, understand and be understood x 14

·       It’s a bit weird to speak English with friends / unnatural x 3

·       Others are doing the same x 3

·       It’s natural x 3; my brain has not switched to English yet (unintentional)

·       Feel more confident and comfortable x 2

·       I don’t know the vocabulary for some terms x 2

·       Lazy

·       Feel happy and have more fun

·       We can chat ‘off topic’

·       Sometimes I need a translation because I haven’t understood

·       Reduces misunderstanding

·       Makes sure confident English speakers don't dominate 

·       Boosts communication and discussion

·       There are no rules to prevent us from speaking English

·       Some words are more explicit when expressed in L1

·       If you’re asked a question in L1, it’s awkward to answer in English

·       People would think you’re showing off your English

·       It’s embarrassing to say something wrong

·       I will not make so many grammatical mistakes

·       I do not feel confident enough to speak in English


Would you like to speak only English in class?

Y = 11                           N = 4


If no, when do you feel you’d like to/need to use English?

·       When talking to tutors/English native speakers/anyone who can’t speak L1

·       When there are no classmates around


What can tutors/classmates do to encourage more use of English in the classroom?

·       Remind us/ask us/encourage us to use English x 8

·       I would say it’s our problem. We can use English all the time; it’s just weird.

·       Ask us more questions / give us more tasks

·       Maybe friends shouldn’t sit together. Then we might be more serious.

·       Actually, we’re willing to speak in English but we’re just lazy and ‘tempted’

·       Provide notes so we can follow your pace and won’t need to ask friends

·       Speak slower

·       Explain difficult words

·       Devise some rules/games to prevent speaking L1 (e.g. 10p penalty). 

·       Give more pressure

·       Just say you don’t like hearing L1

·       Give us a break so that we can use L1 in break times

What has your own research told you about this topic? What are your and your students' tips?