The ABC of ELT

Lessons from a second week of Polish classes

This week saw a change from my previous week in that I was joined by a fellow student! This obviously changed the dynamics of the classes a lot and helped me pick up on a whole host of things that I didn’t in the previous week.

My fellow student

My fellow student was a dual language student at Oxford who had studied at Oxford. He had obviously done a bit of private study before he came to Poland but like me, his speaking was at a low level, even if he was aware of the different cases. Within a couple of days he had clearly read about the different cases and knew the different endings as well as better than I did. This was a bit discomforting seeing as I felt pretty good with cases with my background knowledge of Russian.

Honestly, I had very mixed feelings about him. I’m quite a competitive person and like being the best student in a language class (I hate being the weakest). This certainly pushed me to show off my knowledge (in both good ways such as using wider vocabulary and experimenting, and bad ways such as going too far and then realising I want to use far too complicated grammar or vocabulary which I just don’t know).

The best thing about him was that he was probably the perfect compliment to me. I had good background knowledge of Polish culture, some more unusual vocab and slavic grammar and he was a gifted and studious student. We could progress very quickly and both stretch ourselves. A more traditional student who was learning Polish as their first foreign language may have felt out of place or struggled. Even still I hated the moments where I just lost track of where we were or couldn’t work out what they said.

The problem of choice

This time I had extra 1–2–1 classes so my teacher asked me what topics I’d like to talk about. Suddenly all that choice was just too much for me. I didn’t know what to say or choose! I’ve seen this so many times as a teacher but it was good to experience from the other perspective. I think I’d rather give someone a handout to fill in with suggestions so they can spend time thinking about it without the pressure of a teacher suddenly asking them.

Pre-teaching functional vocabulary FTW

I was reminded of how useful pre-teaching functional vocabulary can be. Just simple phrases like “I think it is” “perhaps…” etc can really help students to produce much more interesting language. There was a noticeable difference between exercises where we were gifted some functional phrases and when we weren’t.

I will break your extremely repetitive exercise

However, there were certain exercises which included basically repeating the exact same sentence with one or two differences [basically drilling grammatical cases or conjugations of verbs]. In these exercises I varied from sticking to them for the first 4 to 8 out of 10 but basically…I got bored! So I’d throw in phrases at the start or end just to make it more interesting, or describe the answer I had put in and give the reasons why [because it’s more interesting than repeating the sentence].

I know that these are useful for drilling grammar points…but there is a limit! Variety is a good thing and I can only imagine how annoying I’d have been in a group class. My takeaway is to insure that even controlled practice activities have a bit more variation so that it’s not a really boring repetition

Going out in the middle of the class is just bad

There were a couple of moments where the teacher left in the middle of the class. I don’t know why this happened but there were moments where we had both finished our exercises and were just waiting for our teacher to return. I know I have done this on a few occasions where I forgot some material but even if the students have a task, it doesn’t feel too great. I expected my teacher to be present during the whole class, I had paid them for that.

Make sure you set up properly

This is a mistake I know I make too often but I noticed a couple of moments where the teacher had to fold a piece of paper or rummage for the right papers. To be fair this was extremely rare and very brief. I am also sure I do it more than them, but I realised the impression it can give off. I’m doubling my commitment to make sure all my materials are prepared and in order, ready to give to students.

Remember to monitor students when they start a task!

There were a couple of occasions where I started my exercise only to reason that I had done either completely the wrong thing or slightly wrong. A quick check to make sure that I was doing the right task would have prevented that awkwardness.

Don’t let a student get to the end of a practice exercise to find out if they made a mistake

Unlike when I was in a class on my own, this week I couldn’t say the answer I was writing as I went along now. This meant that on occasions where I really wasn’t sure of the grammar I had to wait till the end of the exercise to find out if I was right or wrong. This could have been avoided by a quick check over my should, or even simply encouraging us to ask each other what we thought the answer was.

Sometimes you’ve just got to accept that it’s “Ice Creams”

One of the great moments in our classes came during our session on countable and uncountable nouns (and the genitive singular/plural case). We came across Ice cream (lody) which is always plural. So a single scoop of ice creams or a litter of Ice creams even if it is one flavour. My fellow student wanted to know why, and I just told him to accept it. It just is that way. He asked a few more questions to clarify the difference and exactly how to use it but we both just accepted that it was that way.

Rounding up

I’m sure I could state a lot more which I learnt from my lessons but these are the highlights and easily identifiable points that I can mention. I really enjoyed my classes, learnt a lot, got a certificate and was challenged in my teaching.

What lessons have you learnt from your language learning experiences?

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

2 Replies

  1. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for putting this together. I’ve really enjoyed reading about your reflections from the other side of the desk. I recently had a similar experience with my Thai classes, and little things like the teacher’s (mental/physical) presence in the classroom made a bigger difference than I realised when it was me who was absent. It’s so important for us to realise how we come across to our students, and posts like this help.
    Good luck with your further Polish study, and hopefully I’ll be able to practise on you when I move there in August. I’ve started with memrise so far, but am focussing on Thai while I’m here. Anything you’d recommend?

    1. Hey Sandy,
      I wonder how much those factors are things I noticed (or noticed more) because I was a teacher? My compatriot said nothing and I didn’t really want to draw attention to it if he hadn’t noticed. So maybe it wasn’t as great an issue but I did notice.
      I’m not sure what I’d recommend for studying polish. I’ve got a few (see more than I need) of polish study books, there is a good communicative methodolgy book that’s good for lessons called “hurry” which we used in my classes. A book called “Polish in 4 weeks” seems the best that I’ve found for covering grammar, vocab and so on. I haven’t found too many resource online but I’ve been making the use of my Polish partner and her family for practice! So maybe fall in love with a Polish person?
      Oh, one final thing, Russian will both help and hinder your progress, there are some words which are the other gender (which is really annoying), false friends are common and the past has about 12 different conjugations! It should help with the pronunciation though.
      Hope that helps in someway.

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