After-Words.co.uk: Language Teaching, Translation, Consultancy

How I teach

Learning is not a one-size-fits all solution, and learners' needs vary depending on their level and the reasons for their study. Classes will be based on your needs.

Phrases

It's all too easy to spend an hour memorising and repeating a small set of phrases. Many teachers do this because it gives you, the student, a sensation of progress by giving you language that appears immediately useful. But in the end it isn't, because although you may be able to follow the script you've been given in class, most native speakers won't be following the same script; you may learn how to ask and give directions, but the person you ask on the street may give the instructions in a manner you don't understand.

So phrases end up taking a lot of time for very little return.

Wherever possible, I do not introduce phrases until the student has learned the components it's built of. So by the time I teach "My name is...", you should already have enough knowledge of the language to produce the question "What is your name...?" independently. In this way, phrases are almost like a free bonus.

If you have specific phrases that you will need, I can incorporate them into the lesson so that you learn the phrase and the language behind it.

Grammar

Contrary to what your school teachers would have you believe, grammar isn't a book of boring verb tables. Grammar is the glue that holds your words together. It's grammar that takes words and makes a sentence, and a sentence means more than merely the sum of the words that make it up.

Before they learn grammar, children can only say single words, like "food" or "hungry". Children are frustrated by how hard it is to make themselves understood, and adult language learners often come to experience the same frustration. But as an adult, we can learn grammar very quickly by comparison to our own language, so that within a few hours we can turn "food" and "hungry" into expressive sentences like "Could you give me some food? I'm very hungry."

Vocabulary

For the beginner, vocabulary is less important than you might think. You may remember memorising lists of fruits and vegetables or types of animal at school. Do you remember them? Probably not, because you didn't get much of a chance to really use them. Why? Because without grammar, they are limited. Besides, the most common words in English are things like "this", "that" and "it" -- we don't actually use specific words all that often.

As a beginner, you won't learn a lot of words from me, as these only serve to slow you down. We'll use the most useful, most common vocabulary, and if there's specific vocabulary you want to learn, we can work that into the lessons.

But once you're comfortable with some of the grammar, then we can start working on words. We'll work on a mixture of the most common words and the words that you're going to need in your work.

Most classes and books segment the vocabulary into themed units, and once you complete a unit, you don't see the word again until the "revision" unit or end-of-unit test. But without continuous use, we forget words, so we'll always keep revising our vocabulary in class. I'll also show you how to set your PC or smartphone up for continual revision, and I'll supply files containing all the new vocabulary we cover so that you can revise easily in your spare time.

Choice of dialect

Every language has a variety of dialects, and it's hard to know which one to teach or learn. But in every language there is a common core across all dialects. Focusing on grammar to begin with helps to address this problem, as dialectal variation is mostly a matter of specific vocabulary or phraseology.

I won't make the choice of dialect for you, but I will instead do my best to keep you open to chose when the time comes. So for example, when I teach Spanish, Z and S are pronounced differently, because it's easy to start saying them the same later, but it's much harder to start with one sound and later turn it into two.

Writing

Writing is a skill that builds on your knowledge of all the above - phrases, grammar and vocabulary. Writing is something that should be very personal, yet most courses teach it in a very formulaic way, having the students copy fixed "model texts" to produce their own texts. It leaves you with the feeling that you're simply going through the motions rather than expressing yourself.

Better than following someone else's formula is to write your own formula, and that's what I'll help you do. You've already got a personal style, so we'll work together to identify that style and I'll show you how to convert that style to your target language.

Exam preparation

Knowing a language doesn't guarantee you'll pass an exam in it. In fact, most native speakers of English would fail the Cambridge exams for English learners. The same is true in most languages: native speakers can't do the exams. Passing exams is as much about understading the task and having good exam technique as knowing the language.

I'll walk you through various comprehension and grammar tasks, prompting you as required to help you learn to think like the examiner. I'll also help you develop a personal framework for carrying out written and spoken tasks.

As a supplement to your normal classes

Even the best classroom teachers can't make sure every student in a class of 10 or 20 understands everything that's been covered during a lesson, and very few books explain things clearly enough that everyone can understand. I'll make time to address your questions at the start of every session so that when you go back into class you know everything you're expected to know and can get on with learning.

Intensity

The intensity of your lessons will vary based on the content. Learning to construct sentences can be done intensively as you're working through a logical system. Exam techniques can also be studied intensively, although they benefit from longer-term practice. Memorising phrases and vocabulary can become tiring very quickly, as the brain has limited space. By teaching you vocabulary in a structured and meaningful way, we can lift some of the effort out of the task to help you study longer and remember better, but we would recommend taking vocabulary study at a less intensive pace. Writing would be the least intensive of all, as I would ask you to do most of your writing between lessons to discuss the next time.

Individual tasks can be mixed to take advantage of the different intensity of each, and to maximise your use of time.

Language of the classroom

Many people today believe that a class is most effective if it is held entirely in the target language, but in many cases, that's not correct. It is much simpler, clearer and most importantly quicker to tell an English speaker that je vais is French for I go and I'm going to than to try to explain it by mime and long explanations in French. Once you know what it means, then we can start using it, and according to many academics, we don't really start learning a word until we can use it or understand it with confidence.

The higher your level, the more use we'll make of your target language.


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