Welcome to the latest edition of our new style Modern English Teacher. It will probably be the last editorial I write in New Zealand since by the time the next issue comes out in May, I should be back in the UK. The last four years have flown by and I have really had a great time teaching some amazing students, working with a whole new team of teachers, seeing our profession from a different perspective and sharing so many new ideas with our readers through a constant stream of new and established contributors.
At my farewell party last week I reflected on the fact that the learners we have in our classes here in New Zealand have come to this country for a new start. Many have left the most awful conditions in their home countries and have chosen, or often had chosen for them, Aotearoa for their new lives. They have a whole new culture to adjust to, the basic practicalities of living to sort out and families to care for as children start new schools and the adults look for work or a place to continue their studies. For all of the above, English is the key, so it is no surprise to hear that in four years here, I have never had unmotivated learners.
What I have had, however, are learners who don’t get things in the same way students I have taught in the past did. My approach has had to be modified, materials adapted and activities altered to be more appropriate. It has beeen a great learning curve for me coming, ironically, quite late in my career. I have probably taught more in these last four years than I have done at any point in my working life, given that at various stages in my career, I have been involved in publishing, school management, materials writing and teacher-training, none of which had the main focus of teaching classes. I must say, at this point, that of all the positions I have held, this last one has been the most fun and the least stressful.
My main role has been teaching listening and speaking skills so it is no surprise that I decided to dedicate this issue to listening. I heard it described very recently as the skill we teach in the most standardised way but with the least success. This is not to decry our methodology but we still have many learners who listen brilliantly but never get through our listening assessments and others who you need to repeat the most basic question to, or who need to listen to a dialogue four or five times, before there is any breakthrough but who still manage to pass. This has a lot to do with how much English they are exposed to outside the class and whether they really see English as their communicative survival tool or not.
As you read the nine different articles and one of our reviews about listening covering all ages, contexts and institutions, you will notice one or two recurring ideas. We all want to practise listening to authentic language in realistic situations. We all agree that it is hard to listen and understand when the grammar or vocabulary is unknown. And the third point is how stressful listening can be for our learners. I don’t know of any listening tests where you are permitted to listen three times, but I have to say that I am always amazed by how much learners get by the third listen. It is as if the first one flashes straight past, the second one allows them to start to get some ideas and thoughts on the shape and content of the lecture or dialogue and by the third time, it is starting to fall into place. If we were truly kind in our teaching approach, we would offer three listenings in all assessments.
Anyway, on that controversial point, I will leave you to the magazine. Our new Global Voices section is doing well and getting some nice feedback and I hope you like our new feature – Pathways to teaching. Another thing we have introduced this year is a series of interviews with contributors. It is interesting how the content of an article comes alive when the writer talks about it. You can find them on our website and Facebook page. It only remains for me to wish you all the best with your teaching and to say I will be talking to you next from my house in Oxfordshire. Until then – enjoy your teaching.