August 20

Word Formation

I did a fun activity with the B2 group today – a game taken from Straightforward Upper-Intermediate which practises word formation.

Each group of two or three students has a question board and there is a questionmaster who has the answer sheet.  The object of the game is to get for boxes in a row (horizontally, vertically or diagonally).  Learners choose a square and must produce the correct form of the word given; if they’re correct, they win the square and can colour it in.

Use of English activities can sometimes be a little dry and although this has the disadvantage of not showing the word in context (which goes a long way to helping identify the form of the word needed in the exam), it does make for an enjoyable, competitive way to practise this skill.

August 5

Spending Time with Language

This post is related to a post from a while back on the urgency of some learners to gain an official qualification in English.  In the other post, I mentioned university students who are desperate to get their B1, but in this post I’m thinking more about mainstream teachers who are frantically scrabbling to get a B2.

Our school works in a number of state schools which have recently implemented bilingual projects, which require their teachers to have a B2 qualification in the second language being taught and as such over recent years we have had a number of courses working with those teachers.  In some cases, the teachers started the year with a B2 or even C1 level and were perfectly able to achieve their objective of passing B2 in June.

What has unfortunately happened though is that those teachers who started in lower-level courses are increasingly being pushed through the levels at an alarming rate, with the expectation being that they’ll be able to jump from A2 to B1 or B1 to B2 in a year.  Whilst some learners are able to make that leap, with a great deal of effort on their part, others are struggling – often taking an exam against our recommendation and ultimately feeling despondent about their English level.

One of the factors which I think affects a learner’s ability to jump through levels is the amount of time they spend with the language which I believe affects their confidence in both production and comprehension.  Some learners are so concerned with jumping through the examining body’s hoops that they spend little time looking outside the exam syllabus and hence lack the fluency and confidence of others.

How would you suggest learners spend more time with language?  Here are some of my ideas:

  • Watch your favourite TV series and films in original version
  • Find a conversation exchange
  • Read for pleasure in English and focus on understanding gist
  • Use to practise listening for detail
  • Try to use English in your everyday life: write your shopping list in English or write a quick diary entry of what you’ve done that day

March 9

Desperate Conversations

This post has been brewing for a while now as over the past couple of years in Spain there have unfortunately been more and more of these desperate conversations.

I need my B1, pero ya. (right now)

I’m graduating in two months, if I get my B1 by then.

If I don’t get my B2, schools won’t even look at my CV.

She failed her teaching exam, but got a job because she had a B2 in English.  How can that be fair?

Changes to the European education system and the implementation of the Plan Bolonia mean that most university graduates are required to have proof of a B1 level in a second language.  Reform to the Spanish education system mean that many schools are now implementing bilingual streams, requiring their teachers to have a minimum of a B2 level.

Whilst in the long-term I believe that this has a number of benefits, it means that during this period of adjusting to the new demands, many people are suddenly finding themselves in desperate need of an official qualification in English, leading to an increase in learners who are learning the language taking classes for all the wrong reasons and as such struggling to improve.