Recalling my (almost) Perfect English Language Students
Since 2006, I must have taught around 3,000 English language students. Apparently, “perfection” doesn’t exist. So, is it really possible to categorise any of my students as a “perfect student of English”?
All things considered, it seems to be more appropriate to describe the characteristics of the “almost perfect student of English”.
In this post, I describe two students who stand out the most for their approach to learning English.
Let’s dive in to see what qualities are required to become an “almost perfect student” of English.
MY TOP TWO STUDENTS AND THE QUALITIES THEY HAD/HAVE TO BE AN (ALMOST) PERFECT STUDENT OF ENGLISH
Student 1: Maja
The first student that springs to mind is a girl called Maja who's from the town of Płock in Poland. I taught Maja back in 2010-11. She was seventeen at the time.
I tended to give Maja challenging advanced-level texts at the start of each session. We’d then analyse the texts in terms of structure, vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. This analysis usually didn’t take very long because she always knew everything. Therefore, the majority of the time was dedicated to discussion.
In the time I taught Maja, we must have covered over 60 topics for discussion. Politics, diet, education, environment, you name it - Maja’s ability to express opinions and transfer unbelievable knowledge in English about some very complex and controversial themes was outstanding. Unbelievably, there were lessons when she would speak for 55 minutes and barely make a mistake.
It seemed to me that Maja was a voracious reader of anything and everything in English. Perhaps her abilities can be explained by Stephen Krashen’s theory of Comprehensible Input. She acquired language naturally by gaining so much written and audible input outside of class.
Maja also excelled in vocabulary/phrase recall tests. As if her natural talent and curiosity were not enough, Maja put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes to be an (almost) perfect student.
Overall, inquisitiveness, a strong work ethic and a willingness to challenge oneself - qualities which the budding (almost) perfect student of English requires. Maja had all of these qualities in abundance.
Student 2: Marek
The second student I’d like to mention is a Polish man called Marek. I’ve been teaching him since 2012.
Like Maja, Marek’s desire to immerse himself in English every day set him on the road to spoken fluency.
My classes with Marek are quite unique as we meet every second day for between ten and twenty minutes. He is only one of two students I've had in my career who's been able to commit to meeting every second day. Quite simply, English has become a habit for Marek. Speaking English needs to become a habit. The regularity with which a student has lessons means so much more than the length of classes. Hence, the regularity of meetings means so much more than the length of lessons and the amount of material covered.
Another of Marek’s qualities is his organisational skills. We must have had close to 750 lessons together. Frankly, I can’t ever recall him being under-prepared for a class. Therefore, he really does get the most out of the materials I send to him.
Marek’s awareness of the need to adopt a language learning strategy
One of my core beliefs as an ELT teacher is that students of English need to foster at least one language learning strategy in order to record new words and phrases.
The best language learning strategy I’ve come up with is the Word-Phrase Table. This can help English language learners to store vocabulary, phrases and personalised sentences which contain these newly-learned words, collocations and even grammatical structures.
I encouraged Marek to compile his own Word-Phrase Table. Instead, he chose to persist with the SuperMemo Method, which was developed by Pole Piotr Woźniak back in the 1980s.
Essentially, SuperMemo optimises the process of learning by approximating optimal intervals that should separate repetitions of knowledge. Therefore, its sophisticated algorithm helps users to minimise the time they spend on learning and repetition cycles. This facilitates the memorisation of thousands of words.
Whenever I check up on Marek’s progress, he always seems to be up-to-date with his Supermemo.
Overall, Marek possesses a lethal combination of traits when it comes to attaining spoken fluency. These include excellent preparation skills, consistency, persistence, a language learning strategy he is comfortable with and, most importantly, passion and love for the English language.
WHAT does the AVERAGE ENGLISH LANGUAGE STUDENT need to DO TO BECOME AN (ALMOST) PERFECT ENGLISH LANGUAGE STUDENT?
It is all well and good for students to follow tips to develop their level of spoken English.
However, students such as Maja and Marek are driven, passionate, inquisitive and persistent individuals who don’t allow any obstacles to stand in their way when it comes to attaining proficiency in English.
The majority of students I've taught in private language schools believe that it is enough to have two ninety minute English language classes every week and do their homework. They just think that everything will magically fall into place because they attend a language school.
Language learning does not work like that. The learner needs to be passionate, and monumental effort is required to overcome the intermediate plateau.
The main inspiration for this post was a piece I read by former English language instructor, Barry Baguley. Unfortunately, the link has expired for this post.
Nevertheless, marvel at the measures put into place by one English language learner, who Barry had the fortune of meeting:
- Changed his mobile phone language to English.
- Switched all of his software on his computer to English, such as Office.
- Watches everything on TV in English.
- Enjoys films in English
- Reads English newspapers and business books in English.
- Configured his Xbox and all the games that he plays so that everything is in English.
- Listens to English audio CD’s in his car as he travels to work and returns home (that alone is 90 minutes a day of listening practice)
Do you see what I mean by commitment and passion?
As Barry pointed out, learners of English can integrate the language into their everyday lives without sacrificing a great deal.
When it comes to being an (almost) perfect student of English, it is simply not enough to have a few lessons a week, or complete a few grammar exercises at home every now and then.
The best English language learners I’ve ever taught, such as Marek and Maja, have an incredible inner drive to become proficient speakers.