Tom's Approach to Language Training & Coaching

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.

Speaking Fluency

Lots of activities in lessons in which students can express themselves by speaking.

Direct Relevance to Student's Work Situation

E.g.

• 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 goals.

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 ‘correctly’
- 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’

 

 

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