Check out the PELC Word-Phrase Table
An amazing language learning strategy which can help you achieve
spoken fluency in English
Check out PELC texts
Texts based on Steve’s life experiences and observations of the world which will broaden your knowledge of natural English
My experience learning foreign languages
I look back upon my French and German classes at school with frustration. My French teacher was, in fact, extremely charismatic and knowledgeable, yet, after five years of learning the language, I left school only being able to count to a hundred and say the most basic of sentences.
So-called education specialists design curricula based on organisation, neatness and the linear learning of grammar structures. However, we don’t live in a “perfect” linear world, and the learning of English does not have to begin with the verb “be”. If language teachers were just left to their own devices to plan lessons around lexis – the common words, collocations and phrasal verbs that native speakers use on a daily basis – then pupils would be able to say something about themselves when they leave school.
Learning a language should be a spontaneous experience. It is not realistic for a teacher to plan a curriculum in September and know exactly what he or she will be doing in January. Teachers should adapt to students’ levels of knowledge and needs, and plan lessons accordingly.
Language learning should also be an immersive experience. Instead of playing a CD for students to listen to sentences and dialogues in order to complete gap-fill exercises which revolve around discrete grammar items, why can’t teachers let pupils listen to a real conversation so that they can note down useful phrases?
Back in 2013, I felt satisfied with the speed at which I learned to communicate in Serbian. From the word go, I was immersed in the language and listened carefully to all the conversations that were going on around me. Slowly but surely, I began to grasp the meaning of common phrases and words from context and intonation systems of native speakers.
After two months of contact with Serbian, I wrote to a teacher from Belgrade to take me through what I had been learning, and to help me personalise the many new words and phrases I had come across. Then I had the ideal formula – a dedicated teacher who plans lessons based on students’ needs, plenty of listening and speaking practice and a realisation that grammar items and tenses need to be personalised in order for them to be learned and applied correctly in a range of contexts. Learning Serbian also prompted me to improvise and develop some very helpful language learning strategies, which I am always willing to demonstrate to my students of English from the get-go
Overall, my experience as a language learner and teacher puts me in an excellent position to ensure students finish their courses as confident and accomplished speakers of English. They will also gain knowledge about a plethora of language learning strategies which they can utilise when they study English alone.
My teaching and language learning philosophy (small ‘l’ with ‘learning’)
I am committed to improving my learners’ spoken English skills, offering an immersive language learning experience and encouraging students to hone and consistently use language learning strategies.
I hold the view that far too many language schools take the easy option of almost exclusively using coursebooks to teach students, which is a flawed tactic for two reasons. First of all, coursebooks often arrange separate units based around discrete grammar items, beginning with what are perceived to be the easiest grammar items at the start of a book, to the most difficult at the end. There is no evidence to suggest that learners acquire “easy” grammar points before the supposedly more “difficult” items. Indeed, research has shown that learners acquire the third-person singular ‘s’ in the present simple tense much later than some grammar items which are perceived to be more complex. Therefore, language learning does not occur in a perfect, linear fashion, and it is misguided to base progress on the “mastery” of tenses.
Secondly, incessant grammar instruction leaves students incapable of creating coherent speech because they are afraid of making mistakes, especially in the presence of a native speaker. I am not necessarily anti-grammar, but I hold the view that grammar is best learned incidentally. If it becomes known to a teacher that a student has a problem with a certain structure during a conversation or speaking exercise, the teacher should continue to let the student speak, and then raise the troublesome issue at the end of the lesson or after the conversation.
It should now be clear to you that I favour a lexical approach to language learning. This means that words, collocations and sentences are the building blocks of a language. I believe that it is much better to speak fluently and be understood, than it is to speak accurately with constant hesitation and pausing (to search for the correct grammar).
As the words “Personalised English Language Courses” (PELC) suggest, all courses are designed with every student’s interests and goals in mind.
Teaching methods and goals
Based on the institutional “failures” and teaching methods outlined above, I teach according to the following principles:
- Preparing an intriguing range of discussion topics, articles and authentic materials based on the needs of each student
- Demonstrating the most effective language learning strategies to students which they can use to supplement their learning between classes
- Implementing a long-term system of vocabulary and collocation learning based on the most important words and phrases encountered during a course
- Developing students’ awareness of connected speech features, as well as intonation and sentence stress
- Instilling confidence in language learners, thus helping them to overcome language barriers
- Revisiting texts and articles at a later date to go over previously taught language
- Analysing real conversations between native English speakers and drawing awareness to some of the typical phonological features they use, such as schwa and glides between vowels
Keeping students informed after each lesson – An effective learning cycle
1. Materials sent to students
A new text is sent to students a day or two before the following session for them to read and note down new phrases and collocations, as well as questions related to grammar. Learners can gather their thoughts in preparation to have a conversation about the topic of the text. High-quality sound recordings of texts are also provided.
2. Notes sent to students
Notes are sent to students which detail new words and phrases, pronunciation problems and grammar issues which arose during the lesson.
3. Students revise the notes
Students revise the notes, jot down any questions and update the PELC Word-Phrase Table, which should be sent to me the evening before the following session.
4. Start of the next session
Collocations and sentences learned in the previous lesson are revised.
Students also benefit from a quick lecture pertaining to troublesome grammar issues which arose during the previous session.