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Teaching an advanced student

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  • Conan
    3 January, 2013 at 23:12
    • Total posts: 6

    I have just started teaching a Spanish student whose English is advanced, but very sloppy. He wants to tidy his English up because he has got into some very bad habits.

    The trouble is that he understands the rules of grammar in English, but doesn’t apply them in practice. I have tried to teach him some grammar, but when his language is in focus, he seems to get most of the answers correct. When we get into more flowing conversation, the bad habits creep back in again.

    His passion in his English learning is acquiring new words and phrases. I think grammar bores him, and yet this is where he wants me to focus. So the question is how do you teach correct grammar to a student who is not passionate about grammar, but wants to learn it, who understands it, but doesn’t apply it.

    I am perplexed. Please help

    4 January, 2013 at 9:26
    • Total posts: 272

    Reply To: Teaching an advanced student. Tips please.

    A very common issue – when fluency is sacrificed (i.e. when you’re keeing the English controlled and focused) accuracy improves. But when you allow and encourage more fluency, accuracy decreases.

    The key with an advanced level learner is to achieve a balance of the two so that neither inhibits communication. Allow for some errors which don’t affect comprehensibiity (the ability of the listener to understand), and at the same time allow for a little loss of fluency so that the errors don’t cross this comprehensibility threshold.

    The problem with these bad accuracy habits creeping in during fluent conversation is that the student is not aware that they’re creeping in. Since he understands the grammar rules, if he was aware that he was making these errors, then he would self-correct.

    So, one way you can make him aware of them is to record him speaking. Set a task which allows for free-flowing conversation and video it. Then play the recording back to the student (keep each recording to just a few minutes otherwise it can drag on…)

    When he watches the video he’ll see and hear very clearly what’s happening to his accuracy during a fluency activity, and so will be aware of the errors as never before. You can then focus on the individual errors, do a little controlled practice work on them if necessary, and then redo the fleuncy task, recording it again. Ask him this time to sacrifice a little fluency to focus on these errors – ask him to take a little more time to think before he speaks, and to speak more slowly too if that helps.

    Now compare the two recordings and he’ll hopefully notice an improvement in accuracy and take encouragement from this. Of course this is where the balance that I mentioned above comes in, because in order to get this accuracy improvement, he’ll have sacrificed a little fluency. So, keep going – keep practising, keep recording (not every time though as it could become tedious), each time building the fluency back up a little.

    You’ll get a bit of an up and down effect – as you build back fluency, accuracy might decrease again, and so on. But the important thing is that he’s aware of what’s going on, and once he has this awareness, it’s just a question of practice, practice, practice.

    Hope that helps.


    4 January, 2013 at 16:41
    • Total posts: 6

    Reply To: Teaching an advanced student. Tips please.

    Thanks. I’ll give that a go.

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