Tom's Approach to Language Training &
Despite what some language schools and teach-yourself materials seem to
claim, there are no magical ‘methods’ to guarantee success. Learning a
second language takes time and motivation.
However, the busy, professional people who come to Tom for help
with their English skills often benefit from:
An Individual Approach
Doing things in lessons which have been specially chosen for the students,
rather than working through a coursebook. This results in interesting, engaging
activities which match the learning styles of the students.
Lots of activities in lessons in which students can express themselves by
Direct Relevance to Student's Work Situation
• doing roleplays or dialogues of situations which students will encounter
in their work
• analyising students’ own work emails
• using real videos and texts (i.e. not form coursebooks) which are relevant to students’ work needs
Reformulating Student Output
Output = what the student says or writes
Reformulating = giving students ‘better’ versions of what they have
said or written.
As well as learning new words/phrases or grammatical patterns, finding out
what the student has already got, and improving this can often be an
efficient way of making progress.
Help Determining Learning Goals
Everybody’s business English needs are different, and if these needs are not
clear, students risk wasting valuable time working on low-priority areas.
Students need to analyse exactly what they need, or will need their English
for at work.
Students often concentrate on learning to talk about their job or
industry better, rather than improving the skills that they need to do
their job better.
For instance, a manager in a bank learning lots vocabulary related to all
the other departments of the bank, when what they actually need to do
their job more effectively is better email writing skills to communicate
with foreign colleagues, better social skills for welcoming and visiting
foreign colleagues and more confidence in meetings with foreign colleagues.
Help Determining Realistic Goals
Learning a foreign language can be extremely frustrating, it is hard work!
And this process is made even more frustrating if students have unrealistic
Often students seem to be seeking some kind of unrealistic idea of
'perfection'. But becoming 'perfect' in a language is something that very
few students will ever achieve; not because they’re lazy or lacking in
talent, but because it takes thousands of hours of practice and study which
they do not have!
Tom helps his students to understand what they can realistically achieve in
the limited amount of time available. He also helps students to feel
comfortable with these realistic goals, because students often believe that:
- their level of English is below that of their colleagues and business
partners, when in fact, the difference is only confidence, and the fact that
their colleagues have had more practice in specific English speaking
situations (e.g. speaking in meetings or making a presentation)
- international business English is the same as the English that native
speakers use to speak to each other – it’s not! International business
English is mainly about communicating successfully. A native speaker level
is not typical of speakers of international business English speakers. And
in fact, it is the native speakers who often have the most difficulty
communicating in situations where the non-native speakers can understand
each other very well.
A Modern Approach to Grammar
Many traditional ways of teaching English concentrate almost exclusively
on learning the grammar rules of ‘correct’ English.
This is only one part of learning English and shouldn’t dominate:
Learning a language isn't about learning facts or even knowledge, this
can help the process, but it's more like a skill, like learning to play
tennis or the piano.
Modern research, which has analysed billions of words of real
language, tells us that:
- language is very difficult to describe in terms of these grammar rules,
and in fact these ‘rules’ are often simply wrong
- when students learn these rules it doesn’t mean they can speak and write
- it’s very difficult to separate words and phrases from grammar: the
grammar often depends on the words and phrases that are being used,
rather than on any fundamental grammatical rules of the language: often
there is no ‘logical’ grammar explanation for 'why it’s correct', the
answer is often simply that: in this situation, using these words, it
just is correct! Which means we have to learn grammar a bit like we
learn vocabulary, by understanding it and using it again and again
until it becomes 'natural'.
This all means that Tom:
- accepts that making mistakes is part of learning a language
- realises the best way to make progress is not always explaining and
correcting grammar mistakes
- believes an efficient way to make progress is often to concentrate on
words and how words combine together to make typical 'phrases', rather than just on learning and practising ‘rules’