Recalling my (almost) Perfect English Language Students

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Have I ever come across the perfect student of English? Will I ever find the “perfect” student?

Allegedly, there is no such thing as “perfect”, so let’s go with the “almost perfect student of English” for the purposes of this article.

I’d like to share some of my experiences teaching close to 1,000 English language students since 2006. I will also outline the qualities required to become an “almost perfect student”.

Let’s dive in to see which students have stood out the most for their approach to learning English.


MY TOP TWO STUDENTS AND THE QUALITIES THEY HAD/HAVE TO BE AN (ALMOST) PERFECT ENGLISH LANGUAGE STUDENT

Student 1: Maja
The first student that springs to mind is a seventeen year old girl called Maja from the town of Płock in Poland who I taught back in 2010-11.

I tended to give Maja challenging advanced-level texts at the start of each session, which we would analyse in terms of structure, vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. This analysis didn’t usually take very long because she always knew everything, so 80% of most classes 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 more than outstanding. There were lessons during which she would speak for 45 minutes and not 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 (native speaker dominated) input outside of class, which she mostly understood.

Maja also excelled in vocabulary/phrase recall tests. As if her natural talent and curiosity was not enough, Maja was obviously putting in a lot of hard work behind the scenes to be an (almost) perfect student.

Overall, inquisitiveness, hard work and a willingness to challenge oneself - qualities which the budding (almost) perfect student of English requires. Maja had these qualities in abundance.

Student 2: Marek
The second student I would like to mention is a Polish man called Marek who I’ve been teaching since 2012. 

Similar to Maja, Marek’s desire to immerse himself in English every day set him on the road to spoken fluency. I feel that this willingness has never been strenuous for him because his love of the English language has always been strong.

What is unique about my classes with Marek is that 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 - one which he has grown comfortable with. I absolutely believe that 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 preparation skills. We must have had close to 500 lessons together, and I can’t really recall him being under-prepared for a class. Therefore, he’s able to get the most out of the materials I send to him.

I’ve made it quite clear in this post regarding my beliefs as an ELT teacher, highlighting the point that students of English need to develop language learning strategies in order to record new words and phrases. 

As you can read about here, the best language learning strategy I’ve come up with is the PELC Word-Phrase Table, which can help English language learners to store vocabulary, phrases, personalised sentences and derivatives or target words. 

I encouraged Marek to compile his own Word-Phrase Table. He toyed with the idea, but instead chose to persist with the SuperMemo Method, which was developed in Poland in the 1980s.

Essentially, SuperMemo optimizes 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, thus facilitating the memorisation of thousands of words.

Whenever I check up on Marek’s progress, it appears that he’s always up-to-date with his SuperMemo, so he’s clearly persistent.

Overall, Marek possesses a lethal combination of traits when it comes to attaining spoken fluency: preparation skills, persistence, consistency, a language learning strategy he is comfortable with and, most importantly, passion and love for the English language. 


WHAT SHOULD AN AVERAGE ENGLISH LANGUAGE STUDENT DO TO BECOME AN (ALMOST) PERFECT ENGLISH LANGUAGE STUDENT?

It is all well and good for students to follow tips, such as these, 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 English proficiency.

The majority of students I have taught in private language schools believe that it is enough to have a few ninety minute English language classes every week, do a bit of homework and think that everything will fall into place because they attend a school.

Language learning does not work like that. The passion has to there, and monumental effort is sometimes required.

Now, check out this post by English and Professional Training Instructor, Barry Baguley. 

Just 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 language, such as Office.
  • Watches everything on TV in English.
  • Enjoys films in their original English language.
  • Reads English newspapers and business books in English.
  • He even has configured his Xbox and all the games he plays so that it is all 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 for this particular person)

Do you see what I mean by commitment and passion? 

As Barry points out, learners of English can indeed integrate the language into their everyday lives without sacrificing a great deal.


CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

When it comes to being an (almost) perfect student of English, it is simply not enough to have a few lessons or week or do a few pages of exercises at home every now and then. 

The best English language learners I’ve ever taught, such as Marek and Maja, have some incredible forces within themselves to take their level of English to proficiency level. 

Passion, persistence and a willingness to improve are of paramount importance if a student is to reach a level of spoken proficiency.

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