Backgrounds and learning styles
For this assignment I will be focusing on Alessio who is an Italian student trying to improve his English to gain a better job in this country. He has been learning English for roughly three years and was studying back in Italy. The class he was in consisted of about twenty students, half of witch where Italian and the other half Spanish. He feels like this was helpful and allowed him to learn, but only a small amount. He feels that living in a country that speaks English allows him a better opportunity to learn. His main aim to get a better job but he also wants to improve his overall life quality in this country, this makes him very self-motivated. In Italy he used to work as painter for nine years and enjoyed very much, now he works as barista in Star Bucks. He plans to continue studying English for at least another year. Alessio feels that his pronunciation is the worst of compared to vocabulary and grammar, although he states that he would still like to work on theses and improve “everything”. He enjoys working in pairs and groups as he feels that each student can provide him with an opportunity to learn something new. Overall he is very motivated and quite fluent when speaking, making him very confident and eager to learn. The group I will be focusing on for this assignment is an upper intermediate group consisting of an average of ten people who regularly come. The group has a wide spectrum of ages and a mixture of nationalities, the two predominate languages spoken being Spanish and Italian. This was a minor issue in most classes as students would revert back into their L1 when they had an issue with the language, in particular Luca and Marta. The ages in the group is roughly between twenty to thirty five years of age. There were no problems in interaction between the different age groups although I did notice that the older students had thicker accents, spoke slower and had problems with comprehending the languages when compared to the younger students. On average the bulk of the group have been learning English for approximately five years in their respective countries; with many planning to keep up the their education for a number of years after they finish this course. Most have also spent their learning experience working in large groups and big classes with the lessons lasting up to three hours. They are high motivated and friendly as the case tends to be with adult learners as they are there
to learn and are eager to do so. The majority of the group would like to improve their English for work and career development related reasons. Vilmantas, for example, aims to go Taiwan and enrol in a CELTA course similar to us. Other members, such as Luca, would like to learn English as they think it is an “important tool” to have in contemporary times for things such as travelling and general communication. From the observation they like listening to the teacher and comprehend most of the vocabulary used, they also prefer to learn from pictures, visuals and gestures. Some also prefer the kinaesthetic type of teaching by filling in gaps and matching sentences. Most, if not all, greatly enjoy interpersonal skills such as working in pairs and groups. Some students lean in favour of one type of learning more than others, for example Alessio seems to be heavily more receptive to visual stimuli and less so towards auditory. On the other hand Luca is heavily auditory while being less visual; he often comprehends meaning purely from verbal description alone. Overall all most of the class falls between visual and auditory with a few falling into kinaesthetic.
Generally speaking, one of the main issues that most of the students seem to have involves the misuse of determiners and quantifiers. Even more advanced learners such as Luca and Vilmantas will sometimes slip and make an error in this regard. For example: Alessio said when referring to the number in his previous class “…not so much…” instead of meaning to say not as many. Another example would be Mellissa saying “…is much difficult for me…”, when she meant to say very difficult for me. Since this problem has occurred with all of the students at some point it would make sense to focus on it.
Most of the times students are not aware they are making this mistake and might in fact know the correct grammatical structure but simply revert back into habits from their mother tongue. Therefore some practice in recognising these mistakes and reaffirming the correct way of using quantifiers is needed. The exercise in the Oxford Practice Grammar by John Eastwood is a gap-fill (exercise 2 p223-224), controlled practice regarding countable and
This exercise is suitable for many reasons, first off it is a controlled exercise thus it provides the correct answers and checks for accuracy. The exercise also explains the usage of words such as lot of, lots of, many, much, a few and a little; this gives the students clear examples of the correct answers and thus avoids making them feel frustrated. The gap-fill exercise could also be done with a partner and allow the students to practice saying the sentences aloud would give them practice and increase the effectiveness of their retention.
The Italian students seem to encounter pronunciation problems that may relate to the stress of the word and sentence. The Italian language can be a much more syllable timed language than English which is can be seen as stress timed language; this can make it difficult for Italian learners to be understood fluently and coherently.
As Swain and Smith put in learner English, “…the main difficulties for Italian learners lie in the areas of stress and rhythm, and in making themselves understood.” This issue if can also occur for other languages and understanding the stress of words can help all of the class better their pronunciation and verbal communication.
One exercise (exercise 4, p 44/45) in the New Headway Pronunciation Course by Bowler and Cunningham would help with this. The table is a controlled practice that allows students to get practice and accustomed to word stress by providing many examples. It can also be done in pairs and thus ease the burden and fear and approaching such a topic.