Useful Concepts for English Language Teaching

As with any industry English language teaching is full of specialist terms and acronyms that mean nothing to those outside the industry. This article will take you through some of the most common terms used to help you prepare if you are considering entering the English language teaching industry. I use the term industry, as private language schools exist worldwide generating considerable incomes – some of the larger organisations are franchised on every continent.

Firstly acronyms, here are some of common ones in use today:

TEFL – means teaching English as a foreign language. TESOL is teaching English as a second or other language. A distinction exists between those students who are learning English because they are now living in an English speaking country and those that are studying English as part of their education. These latter students often need English to progress in their careers. Other acronyms exist along the same lines, such as ESP – English for Specific Purposes; this labels courses with a particular focus, for example, it may be a course for nurses and therefore the course content will use medical contexts and vocabulary to teach the students. One particularly large area of ESP is Business English, having a business background is a great asset to have for an English language teacher.

As an industry set in education there are a lot of acronyms for the various qualifications for both students and teachers. CELTA and DELTA are teaching qualifications that have become industry standards, at least for UK based teachers. CELTA is the Certificate in English Language Teachings to Adults and DELTA is its higher diploma progression.

Students wishing to enter universities in an English speaking country will need to demonstrate they have enough English to properly access their chosen course. TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are examinations that provide universities with internationally recognised competence tests for academic English. The former is North American in origin and the latter British. An equivalent exam exists for workplace English which is TOEIC – Test of English for International Communication which has its origins in Japan. Other popular examinations include the suite of exams provided by the Cambridge Examination board – FCE (First Certificate in English), ACE (Advanced Certificate in English), CPE (Certificate in Proficiency English Test) are the most popular.

Levels in English language teaching can be described in various ways according to the organisation. Generally, the following levels are observed in most language schools – beginner, elementary, lower intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced. False beginner is a level that is recognised for students who may not have studied for a long time and have knowledge but need to retrieve it. Inside the classroom training courses continue with the acronyms – TTT and STT are useful concepts to grasp. TTT is teacher talk time and the concept is that if a teacher is doing all the talking in the classroom the students are not learning. STT is student talk time which should be higher than TTT.

Gap-fills or information gaps are exercises designed to focus on certain language points, be they grammar, vocabulary or another language focus. They often occur between pairs of students that have different pieces of information. In order for students to obtain all information they will need to use English to get it – this is the gap to be filled or the information to be found. An example may be to practice asking for prices with one students with a shopping list and another with a price list, thus armed students can communicate with a purpose.

L1 and L2 are abbreviations used to denote first and second languages and usually occurs in a teaching course in the context of considering how a student’s native language can impinge on their learning. An example is false friends, these are words from two different languages that appear similar but have different meanings, for example, the word ‘puxar’, pronounced ‘pushar’ feels like push but in actual fact means pull.

Elicitation and concept questions are techniques that from an important part of teaching. Elicitation is a technique whereby a teacher will attempt to tease out answers from students. It is the reverse of spoon-feeding. It is designed to achieve ‘cognitive engagement’, that is, getting students to think and analyse the language. A simple example of elicitation is a teaching showing pictures and asking students what is in the picture – this is more effective than the teacher showing the picture and simply saying ‘this is a..’. Concept questions are questions that aim to pin down ideas, meaning and concepts. For example if a teacher is teaching the word ‘sprint’, he or she might ask if sprinting was a fast or slow way of running, is it quicker than jogging? can a hundred year old man sprint? can you sprint for a mile? These questions will refine the definition for students.

Controlled practice is an activity in which the language a student can use to complete the task is restricted. A multiple choice activity restricts the language a student can use to the choices he or she is given. By contrast, authentic practice is an activity in which there is no restriction or control over what language a student can use. Authentic practice tries to give the students an opportunity to use English in a real way. Role plays are a popular method of doing this.

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