My most visited blog posts

Today is the second anniversary of the TEFL in Colombia blog. I launched this website when I was stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and quite a lot has happened since that day. If you are thinking of becoming a blogger, I recommend that you give it a go. Blogging pushes me to keep developing as a teacher and helps me to stay focused on my goal of having a long-term career in ELT. I know that Colombia isn’t the most popular location for that, but I’m doing all I can to make it work here.

My most visited blog posts

Anyway, I think this is a nice opportunity to take a look at my blog posts that have received the highest number of views so far:

1) Review: Learn English with Ricky Gervais
I think Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington’s English lesson is one of the most hilarious videos on YouTube, so I thought that analysing the ‘methods’ they used would be a good idea for a blog post. This is by far the most visited article on this website because Ricky Gervais liked it on Twitter and my blog suddenly received a couple of thousand visitors thanks to that. I wonder what his fans thought of my references to books written by Larsen-Freeman, Harmer, and others. Some readers even thought that it was meant to be a serious analysis, which made everything funnier. I think that humour has its place in ELT; in fact, I would love to watch a TV series based on locking Karl Pilkington and Scott Thornbury in a room and asking them to talk about teaching!

2) The Delta series (FAQ, M1, M2, M3, LSA)
This blog isn’t just about my experience in Colombia, but it also focuses on my professional development journey. I fell in love with teaching when I did my CELTA, and at that moment I knew that I’d try to get a Delta as well. These five articles get a lot of visitors through search engines, which shows that teachers try to do their research about the diploma. I’m always happy when I receive messages from Delta candidates telling me that they have found the posts useful; I just think that it’s important to explore other resources as well because there are more ways to approach the Delta and teachers may benefit from choosing one that is different from what I described in my posts.

3) The importance of going beyond CELTA
I believe that CELTA is the best choice for those who would like to get into TEFL. Taking this course (or CertTESOL) is a much better option than those generic online certificates that don’t include any observed teaching practice. That said, it has to be emphasised that CELTA is just a foundation-level qualification and teachers need to keep developing even after obtaining the certificate, so I decided to write a blog post on some of its shortcomings. I think it’s important to provide balanced views, so it was nice to see that this critical post is one of the most popular ones.

In addition, there are a few posts that may not have performed that well in terms of views, but I really like them for various reasons. You are also welcome to check out some of the older posts on the blog to see if you find something interesting.

No Spanish in the classroom?
Many teachers around the world are expected to use only English in the classroom. I understand why schools promote that idea, but there are actually some pretty good reasons for using the learners’ L1 in a principled way. The blog post received positive reactions, including a lovely message from Vivian Cook, whose article inspired me to write the text, which made me very happy because I really appreciate authors who challenge common practices in ELT. Sadly, Professor Cook passed away last year. His work was very thought-provoking; he argued against native speakerism in 1990s and came up with the concept of multi-competence, and I highly recommend reading his academic papers and books.

My four-year experience with Centro Colombo Americano
This is probably the most personal post on this blog, which provides a summary of my time as a teacher at a language institute in Colombia. It describes what I have gained from that experience and why I had to leave for the sake of my career in TEFL. Nine months after making the decision to become an independent contractor, I can safely say that I did the right thing. The combination of working for International House and developing my own private projects suits me perfectly. I haven’t had much time to update the blog due to my workload, but focusing on achieving my goals in this profession is my priority at the moment.

The best of LinkedIn
I have met a lot of amazing people thanks to social media. However, there is a certain group of people who enjoy sending other users bizarre private messages on LinkedIn. I accept connection requests virtually from anyone involved in education, so I receive a lot of spam or some strange requests from people who don’t even bother to read my profile. I think the best way of dealing with nonsense is to laugh at it, and I decided to publish some of those messages on my blog. There may even be a sequel if I manage to collect enough weird stuff for another post!

John Field: Listening in the Language Classroom (2008)

When I get asked for book recommendations, there are a few names that always spring to my mind in relation to specific areas. Teachers interested in teaching listening skills usually receive a quick one-word answer: Field. That’s basically all you need to know from me because reading this author’s book Listening in the Language Classroom is likely to change the way you deal with listening in your classes. John Field is a respected figure in ELT, but he doesn’t seem to be active on social media, so his work doesn’t get that much attention on the internet. Well, let me give you a few reasons why every English teacher should read this book.

John Field: Listening in the Language Classroom

First of all, listening seems to be kind of a neglected area. Coursebooks usually promote using the traditional lesson format with three stages that all teachers are probably familiar with. We typically ask our students a few comprehension questions to check if they have understood the text, but the problem with this approach is that there isn’t much actual teaching taking place in that type of lesson. Of course, there is time and place for testing comprehension, for example in proficiency exams. The main theme of Field’s book is that we should do much more than that in our lessons.

The listening comprehension approach is based on activities used in testing reading even though the nature of listening isn’t the same. Written texts allow you to read some passages again to double check your answers; listening is more challenging in this respect. Listening to English speakers is also quite difficult due to the language’s peculiar relationship between spelling and pronunciation, which may cause beginners to feel completely lost. You may have seen this short film showing how English sounds to those who don’t speak the language:

Field suggests that we focus on processes that are employed when listeners try to understand a text. He describes why students struggle with decoding what they hear, and since I’m a curious person, I like conducting my own experiments. The procedure is quite simple: Find an authentic text, let’s say a 10-second segment from a TV series, ideally with a few contractions and modal verbs, and ask your students to transcribe exactly what they hear. Even when the utterances are quite simple and the learners are familiar with the lexis and grammar structures, you may encounter some completely unexpected words in their transcripts. Connected speech is a common source of confusion, even for high-level English learners.

Listeners often use the context and co-text to fill those gaps in understanding, which is perfectly normal. In fact, I had a lot fun with my Delta LSA based on top-down processing. You obviously can’t rely on the context and background knowledge all the time, so what can be done to improve the students’ ability to decode rapid speech? Listening in the Language Classroom contains plenty of useful tips to help you with that. Listening is inextricably linked with pronunciation, so it may be necessary to address some key differences between English and the learners’ mother tongue. My favourite example is the word chocolate, which has four syllables in Spanish but only two in English; this simple distinction can be used to make the students aware of the importance of stress and the role of the schwa (/ə/).

Connected speech isn’t composed of completely random features, but it actually makes logical sense when you consider the rhythm of English and analyse how phonemes are produced. There is a complete list of weak forms, so why couldn’t they be taught? Field suggests targeted practice in recognising function words in connected speech, which I find extremely helpful in my own teaching practice. I believe that the students should know that Tell him is often pronounced /telɪm/ and Where does he live? may sound like /weədəzɪlɪv/ because it will help them understand spoken English a little bit better.

I understand that the idea of teaching listening and pronunciation may seem daunting, especially to new teachers, because we usually don’t think about what happens in our mouth when we speak. I think it’s worth studying all the places and manners of articulation that are described in Adrian Underhill’s Sound Foundations. Having that knowledge probably won’t help you impress people at a party, but you can use it to help your students improve their listening skills. Why is the World Cup pronounced /wɜ:lkʌp/? Why do some people say /fʊpbɔ:l/ instead of /fʊtbɔ:l/? What on earth is going on when English speakers say /wʊʤʊlaɪk/? These questions don’t keep many people up at night, yet there are pretty good reasons for addressing them in the classroom. Such lessons can be a lot of fun as well, which is a pleasant bonus.

Teaching listening is more complex than just focusing on connected speech, so I recommend that you read the whole book. Field encourages teachers to go beyond asking the students to eavesdrop on coursebook conversations that don’t even sound like real-life speech. If you feel that your listening lessons could lead to better results, you should consider using the procedures mentioned in Listening in the Language Classroom in your own classes.

In fact, this book recommendation is based on my own experience. Working as a freelancer has given me an opportunity to experiment with new kinds of classes, and for the past few months I’ve been running courses for students who wish to improve their listening skills. Field’s book keeps providing me with ideas for designing materials and activities that help the students develop their listening skills. I find literature that challenges traditional approaches to teaching extremely important, and this title will definitely motivate the reader to explore a less-travelled path when it comes to teaching listening.

Finally, I’d like to hear from those who have read Listening in the Language Classroom. Do you agree with Field’s criticism of the comprehension approach? Have you used any of his recommendations in your classes? Feel free to leave a comment here or on my social media profiles.