When you’re working with a student, or a group of students for a long period of time, or possibly for a specific purpose, it’s always important to ensure that they have certain skills. Let me give you an example. You’re preparing a student for an all-too-important scholarship interview that will see him or her going to Harvard University, arguably one of the world’s most prestigious and exclusive academic institutions. Hard to believe? They exist. Trust me. These students who have a distinct goal in front of them, and need to be ready for whatever their interviewer could potentially throw at them. Not enough for you? Here’s another situation. Your student could be working for a company that deals with a lot of English-speaking tourists, and therefore will need to answer their questions, and interact with them. The point behind these scenarios is that if you come across any of these students, chances are they already had the lesson that saw them upgrading their language capabilities to handle these sorts of conversations, however focused or dynamic they may be in themselves. However, learning it once may not be enough. I’ll say it once, and I’ll say this a thousand times over, but the more people experience something, the better they’ll understand it. It’s my belief that teachers need to review language lessons as though the student was learning it for the first time, and all over again. What does this mean in practice? It means being aware of your student’s strengths and weaknesses, not being afraid to go down a level from a C1 lesson to a B2 (or even a B1, in some cases) in order to ensure that they didn’t miss anything, and don’t just practice, but involve them more and more in the language you’re using, and in many different contexts. Let them see the language not just in the situations that they need, but also how it works beyond that scope.
I work as a TOEFL Examiner at TE Madrid, and I see many-a-type of Spanish learner. Of course, in a perfect world, they would already have a certain aptitude, a proficiency, if you will, at their disposal (and it many cases, they do). They may lack a certain skill required as a listener, or possibly as a reader. Maybe they’re skilled writers, but they can’t produce that same language when they speak. They’ve already been certified at a C1 level. They passed their Cambridge or IELTS exams, and now, here they are, preparing for another test. You might notice one or two little things in what they say. If you, as a teacher hear something in your student’s responses that you know is a mistake, it wouldn’t be right to let it go uncorrected. Set aside a couple of minutes, and go over that language point. What does the second conditional mean? How do we use an infinitive after a modal verb? Remember, though. They already learned it, so always approach these mini-grammar lessons as a smaller part of the lesson that was initially planned. Start, of course, by going over the meaning, form, and pronunciation. Be absolutely positive that they understand it in its mechanics. Then, practice it in a controlled exercise. See what they are capable of when you are able to not only give them straightforward examples of the language, but also when you trick them with an irregular verb, for example. Then, what you can do after that is apply it to the exercise that will help them with the preparation that they need. Many students don’t learn or they probably forget lessons over a period of time because they don’t see how it is relevant to them. Once they see themselves using the language you teach them to reach their goals, they will suddenly make connections they were never able to before. The best part of that is that you’ll have been there to witness a crucial step in their development, and let’s be honest: It’s one reason we enjoy teaching as a profession.
Now, it’s one thing if you have to quickly review certain language points, but what if they never learned it in the first place? Do you think it may be possible that some students you meet and work with may not have learned how to effectively use more basic grammar points? It’s an imperfect world. I’d bet on it. Your job requires you to keep an eye and an ear on your students. They’re placing their trust in your ability, so the greater attention to detail you have as far as their mistakes go, the better you will be as an TEFL English teacher in Spain. If you see them struggling to say something that should be easy to produce, then you might need to give them another lesson. With something like this, what I like to do is try to get them up to speed as quickly as I can. It’s the same thing one might do if they are preparing for a test, except you’re using it to help their overall development, rather than doing it for a specific purpose. Start with the language at its most basic level, go through its mechanics, and then do controlled practice, and then a free-form exercise using its more complicated forms, throw in an adverb or two, and then get them speaking, using it in practical situations. It is critical that they not only see how well they can learn the language, but also how quickly. You’re teaching them a skill that someone else should have already taught them. You’re filling in a gap that should have been filled. You’re doing what someone else should have done, and they needed these skills before they came to see you in the first place. What will come from the teaching is trust. This is important for a student. They want to know that they’re capable of looking to you to answer important questions about the language they’re trying to learn.
One of the things that I also believe in is being unexpected with what I practice. Language is dynamic. If anyone tells you otherwise, respond by opening an English Language textbook, and see how often one uses language points that are consecutively presented and taught in them. Will you use a grammar point on page three, followed by a conditional on page four? Possibly but, and I repeat: How often? One thing that I might do is unexpectedly give them an exercise in word formation, or paraphrasing, and then give them a question that could be on a TOEFL Exam. I challenge them to come up with as many ways as possible to re-phrase the question. Sometimes, when I give my students a word formation exercise, I do it to help them build their vocabulary. This, in turn, gets put into their essay topics and their spoken responses. Once they see how these conjugated words are used in the simplest of sentence structures, they’re a lot more confident when they speak and when they write. Teaching English in Spain has definitely been an eye-opener to me, especially with how people learn language, and also how close many are to each other. In many cases, there are words that aren’t very different between English and Spanish, and this can definitely be used to help build confidence. When you know what the suffix is to create an adjective in English and Spanish, you can easily make that connection. Reviewing words and sentence structures that contain these commonalities is another big confidence builder. What I would do is take a simple sentence in Spanish, and have the students translate it into English. The best part about this kind of exercise is that the students themselves are making and subsequently seeing the connection between our languages. This is also a good reason why it’s important for the teacher to get the student to see these connections as they practice.
Reviewing is not something that I believe people should overlook. You don’t want students to grow fast. You want them to grow strong. Besides, it’s very dismissive to do things quickly with language. Racing through chapters in textbooks and exercises in workbooks does give off an air of ‘I don’t want to be here and I just want to be paid for speaking my language’. In any profession, whether you’re in business, or auto mechanics, or Teaching English in Spain, for example, if you show them that you’re prepared to spend time, and build a relationship of sorts with them, they’ll look at you as someone they can trust. They’ll come to you with honest-to-goodness questions about the language that they use every single day, with language they already learned. Sometimes, they’ll even voluntarily want to review language with you. They’ll want to go over pronouns and conditional sentences, and they’ll want to practice with them. This means a greater sense of confidence between teacher and student, and it also means that you’ll get more classes, and for the individual Teaching English in Spain, isn’t that the point?