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Study skills

November 25, 2007

Hello again,
I want to follow up a point I made in an earlier article about the differing needs of our students. The dictum of direct method was ‘teach the language, not about the language’. This principle ...


...has largely been unchallenged, as successive waves of teacher trainers have emphasised English as a means of communication rather than a subject for study. However, certain students need to have a conceptual framework for language and others need to develop their study skills for future courses.

I would like to give a couple of instances of how I have used English as a subject for study with certain students. Firstly, take the example of a German woman needing English for business. She consistently changed the models she had before her to fit German word order. When I discussed this with her, she said it was because she did not understand English sentence structure and so felt more comfortable with the rules of her native tongue. We spent some time analysing English syntax and making comparisons with German. Once she understood the different patterns she started to use English structures correctly.

Secondly, working with mixed Asian students aiming to study at university, I realised that studying English grammar would have several benefits for the group. First it would help them have a deeper understanding of how the language worked in its various forms and styles: formal writing, formal spoken, casual writing, colloquial speech etc. This in itself would help prepare them for the ways in which they would use English at university. Also it was in itself an exercise in study skills: they had to read and analyse information and then show they understood the material. I devised a series of lessons dealing with verbs structures and tenses, complementation of the verb, discourse markers, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. I delivered these in lecture mode, through reading texts and through concept-checking exercises.

While the communicative elements were also dealt with, I sensed that the students were happy to move into study mode, not simply because of the useful preparation it gave them for their university courses, but because it matched their experience of educational approaches at home.

To conclude I wish to repeat that I believe we must not train teachers in a ‘one-size fits all’ manner. We have to understand our students’ needs and be able to respond appropriately.

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