Taze, Online English teacher at Acadsoc, specialised in Business English.
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Some of online English teachers dropped me a message after my last blog, regarding some problems they encountered when handling mid-level/advanced English learners. I found some cases really common and educational to our online English teachers.
Hence, I determined to finish my suggestions, to bring you more cases when teaching mid-level/advanced students English online.
As I have mentioned, the Chinese students who hit such levels must have paid a lot of efforts before. Our position, as online English teachers, is to correct their direction and lead them into a right way, by all means, to get rid of Chinglish, ‘mute English’…not to betray their trust, not to let down their hope and not to waste their sweat.
To achieve such goals, it is very very important to open up their horizons, seeing and feeling how native speakers use English in official or inofficial occasions every day. Things my students learn from textbooks can be out of date, inaccurate, or impractical. With all due respect, I am not to attack the material creators and editors, but we have to understand the limitation of Engish textbooks, understand their distance between the real English world, seriously.
Since the editorial of newspapers/online media is often different from the one we meet in textbooks. Nowadays, many well-known media, especially the top tier ones such as BBC and Forbes, will hire experienced practitioners in certain industries to generate/review articles, instead of experienced English teachers/linguists in a school. I have to admit that though we are all English speakers and users, I cannot write any professional articles as they do, accurate, real, objective, brief but with distinctive viewpoints and not to make their readers sleepy when reading.
I talked to several of my friends who work as editors/contributors in media press industry at the moment. The same thing they told me was, to attract and keep readers currently, is not through the art of English, not to use poet-like language or funny metaphors, but go straight and give out unique analysis, something fresh and second to none. The quality of a review/analysis to something, from their point of view, only depends on how well the author knows about the background of the case, how much research this contributor has done and how deep he/she can dig in behind the surface. ‘We receive many submissions every day, do you think we really have time to check their grammar and English usage word for word? We will carefully check them only after the points inside successfully arise our interest!’, my best friend John told me that.
Not a surprise, even the best BEC learners or students aiming at Ivy League in my classes would feel difficult to comprehend a news article. And I know many of our online English teachers will find such reading material for their students as expansion. Well, it is a good habit to keep, but please be careful, don’t forget to ask for a review from your students.
To view Case NO.1 and NO.2, click here.
It reminds me of a case brought up by my co Online English teacher here, teacher Robert, that her student named Lily, scored 100 in almost every English tests she had in her high school, still had difficulty in reading English news feeds. He evaluated Lily’s vocabulary base and reading skills, there are no significant problems found, or I shall say, Lily’s English level is quite good among her fellas.
Here are our conversation: (M stands for me, R stands for Robert)
M: Robby, do you give Lily a news article to read every day?
R: Yeah, sure. But it has been 2 months, and no significant improvement in her comprehension.
M: Will you ask for a review from her after finishing every article?
R: Yes, I told her to write down what she failed to comprehend and handed it to me.
M: Uh huh. So what did she bring to you as inquiries?
R: Nothing…from day 1 till now.
Rob tried his best to ensure the student ‘comprehend’ the article, by checking her comprehension in words, sentences and phrases. What a shame, if only he can move one step further.
My solution for such kind of student is simple, simpler than you suppose. I merely ask them to keep a habit, print out the news, find yourself a pencil and write down your sidenotes when reading it. Their sidenotes can be: Is his/her opinion here reasonable and convinceable to me? If I am the writer, how I would write this paragraph/point? If I am going to show my disapproval to the author on specific points, how I will do that?…
And of course, I encourage my students to search on the internet, in their libraries to better know the background of the article and better back their points of view. Most importantly, I will do my own research as well! The next time my student and I met in the classroom, it would be a debate to exchange our viewpoints, to argue with each other and subsequently, to understand the news article deeper. Surprisingly, my students always impress me with their unique or pointed opinions, even I know the education system in China has suppressed their creativity for long.
That’s the mainstream in western education, in the US and many other native English speaking countries, to apply PBL (Project Based Learning) in a class. Referred to such theory, I just turn every English reading class into different projects. By motivating my students to do research, express their thoughts, bravely question the authority, they will gradually capture the skills in getting keywords and key points from a news article in just a few glance. Not to focus on grammar and beautiful words anymore, the students will soon touch the core of English: A language should always be the container of your thoughts, not a vase on the table.
Thanks to the quick expansion of social media and SMS, now even native speakers will not strictly follow the form of letters when using Emails. However, as I insisted in my online English classes, though Email is transferred via the internet, typed by keyboard, it should still be taken as written English. Unless you send an Email to one of your good friends (only a few people will do so nowadays), please strictly follow the form given.
Particularly for my BEC students, it seems like a great challenge for them to write a proper Email to their business partners and their boss. Some of them would write them in a form of SMS or social media messages while the other might write a really long story in it. Though the class material at Acadsoc provides them numerous samples of Emails, it is impossible to list out all possible situations in business.
Different problems, the same solution here: PBL, as I mentioned in Case NO.1, 2 and 3. The intention of applying PBL here is to assure the students can learn Email writing in the same way as academic writing. No matter what is the case you are discussing, it must be done within a certain framework, with header (opener), body, footer (conclusion). The golden rule of business Email is, open with greetings, give out your concern/inquiry/story briefly, end with greetings and gratuity again. Usually, the length of a business Email will not be over 500 words. If it is a really complicated case, you may either include details in attachment (PDF) or break down your concerns into several Emails later.
In or out of my class, there are 3 kinds of practices regarding Email writing:
- I will let my students send me an Email after every class we had, briefing me what they have learned from my class and questions to ask me. I will bring their Email to the next class to answer their questions and review how the Email was done. If time permits, I will reply to every single Email sent by my students, showing them the proper manner and how to reply to others’ Email inquiry.
- Coding with the method I mentioned in Case No.3 to improve reading comprehension, I will encourage my students to Email their comment/thoughts on a certain news article to the editorial department of the news media for review and publishment. Real-world practice is always the best way to learn something new.
- Once a week, I will share with my students the latest Email I received in the last few days, most are questions from other teachers, advertisements, newsletters and spam ones. By showing the real-world Emails one receive every day, the students will be able to see what is a good Email that clearly expresses what is your concern and makes the reader likely to reply to you. On the contrary, some Emails are urging me to close them at the first glance, gaudy, long or use ‘Hello’ as an opener.
And I always remind my students, the best way to make your business Emails ready for your business, please keep practising in your free time. You can try to email bloggers or any friends you have on LinkedIn, just chatting or asking questions. As I always tell my students, a good Email is always the first step to success in your career. Don’t wait and do nothing till you are assigned by your boss to Email an important customer overseas, feeling nervous, anxious and don’t know how to write the Email.
That’s all my sharing for now as an online English teacher and as an experienced Businessperson. I am looking forward to more of your feedback and ideas. Feel free to leave a comment here and tell me what you think, cheers mate!