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Overworked and underlearning

November 14, 2008

Hello again,

A commenter raised the issue below recently. I know it is a familiar one. All over the world, busy people try to cram in their English lessons and feel frustrated at their slow progress. I'm afraid there are no...

...easy answers.

“Some of my Istanbul business students are overworked managers with families who come in late evenings. They say they haven't any time at all to study outside of class. Could you offer any recommendations on how they can remember lexis in this situation? They don't feel that they are progressing fast enough, naturally.”

Basically this has more to do with the hectic lifestyle of your learners than anything a teacher can easily fix. They need perhaps to deepen their understanding of how language learning takes place. It can only happen if they can put in sufficient time and effort. So perhaps the first thing they need is to have realistic expectations. They also need to see that small efforts made regularly can still yield good results. I suggest that you get them to set themselves weekly targets. This could be one grammar point and 10 new words or lexical items. At the beginning of each lesson recap that material as a learning check and try to recycle the items regularly so they don’t forget.

You could also help them to make priorities for their learning. If they have situations in which they usually need to use English, then the ten new lexical items each week will go a long way. I am currently co-authoring a business English course and I was amazed at how little new vocabulary was actually needed at the lower levels to allow students to carry out their basic tasks. In other words, when the situations are known and not too diverse, a little goes a long way.

Keep a positive approach in the classroom. Give the lots of opportunities to demonstrate what they can do and recognise their achievements. You could also try to find out what opportunities they have for using English during the course of the week. Maybe there are tourists they could exchange a few words with. Can they receive BBC or CNN world news? What about going to see some films with Turkish subtitles?

It boils down to this: you can’t do anything about their lifestyle but if they can see that a determined and methodical approach will pay off in the long term they should not be despondent.

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