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A classicist’s take on the Trinity Cert

Language learner and teacher Zoë Parrish took a four-week online Trinity CertTESOL course with EBC. Here’s what it was like

I may not be your typical British EL teacher – as someone who took Spanish and Latin at school, and an intensive ancient Greek immersion course at university, I have attended my fair share of language lessons. I’ve also taught many language lessons myself since I tutored Greek and Latin to fund myself when I was a student.

So, when I began my online Trinity CertTESOL training with EBC, I already had my own ideas of how languages should be taught and learnt – or the ‘dead’ ones, at least. Only a day or two into the course, which is fast-paced and not for the weak-hearted (you start teaching on day four!), I came to two realisations about teaching languages. First, that the most memorable parts of my own experience learning Greek and Latin are the result of teaching techniques. As it turns out, my languages professor at university had not lost the plot when he spoke to us exclusively in Latin and expected us to do the same, but he was employing a well-established teaching method, making his students active participants in their own learning process.

At EBC they are all about student engagement and generally favour Harmer’s immersive ‘Engage, Study, Activate’ lesson structure, because it allows students to practise the target language within a functional context that is relevant to them and therefore motivating. The trainers also drilled phrases such as Teacher Talking Time (TTT) and Student Talking Time (STT), and endeavoured for us to recognise the appropriate proportions of each within a lesson. In theory, limiting TTT maximises STT and therefore the students’ learning time, and minimises time used ineffectively by teachers speaking unnecessarily.

The second conclusion I reached is that, to be a really decent teacher, you need to understand what your students are experiencing when they attend your English lesson. This is why I think that the ‘Unknown Foreign Language’ unit of the Trinity course is genius. Before the course begins, a background check of the incoming cohort is completed to make sure that the language they plan to teach is truly unknown by all of the trainees. In my case, this language was Polish. During the first two weeks of the course, we attended four hours of language lessons which were conducted entirely in Polish. It was nothing like GCSE French, where instructions are given in English and the most you’ll say in a lesson is “As tu un animal? Quel âge as-tu?” At EBC this was proper, true immersion.

As Polish ‘students’, we were encouraged to speak almost exclusively in Polish throughout the lesson. I remember the stress I felt as my face screwed up and instinctively drew closer to my computer screen, as if that would help me to understand the instructions I was receiving. I remember how, attempting to complete a speaking exercise, my voice shook, my cheeks turned Polish-flag red, and a sense of giddiness and self-doubt took over as I stumbled to the end of each sentence.

This was one of the most valuable lessons the course taught me, because it made me appreciate the immense mental effort it takes to engage in a lesson wholly conducted in a foreign language. It made me realise how difficult it is to learn a modern language, and how necessary it is for teachers to create a fun and nurturing environment where students feel comfortable enough to make mistakes and learn from them. Because of this, I always thank students for their contributions, encourage equal participation and generally cultivate a friendly learning environment as much as possible.

Having empathy and an appreciation for the brain strain your students may be experiencing is all the more important in an online environment, in which the course was set. Until relatively recently, online teaching was still in a fairly primitive state. However, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, speedy evolution was necessary and the Zoom whiteboard was born, bringing joy and anguish in equal measure to teachers and students alike.

Our CertTESOL training was delivered using Zoom, the same platform we used for teaching practice sessions. Our EBC trainer, Iza, showcased a multitude of Zoom classroom functions during our input sessions, including breakout rooms, collaborative whiteboard editing and screensharing, which we were encouraged to incorporate into our own teaching. I was surprised to see the many different modes available to me so I could engage my students and offer them an interactive, inclusive learning experience despite the fact that the attendants of most lessons were in at least four different time zones. I am soon to test how transferable these means of delivery will be into the physical classroom, but I feel well prepared with the skills I fostered during this course to thrive in a face-to-face context too.

In fact, in some ways, the technology used to complete the course was hands down superior to a face-to-face environment. When it came to the ‘Learner Profile’ unit of the course, I had to test the speaking, writing, reading and listening skills of my designated learner. One task required me to analyse pronunciation mistakes the student made in the speaking task. To do this, I recorded the interview which took place on Zoom, which allowed me to refer to the spoken mistakes time after time, replaying each little mispronounced sound. No matter how smart you are, I highly doubt you can retain the intricacies of the errors in pronunciation of a language learner like a computer can.

While I am here, I may as well mention that phonology, unanticipated by me and my course mates, features prominently on the Trinity course. Not only were we encouraged to drill correct pronunciation when our students made spoken errors during teaching practice, but there was also substantial focus on the types of mistakes students make and the reasons behind them. Perhaps the student is applying the rules of their L1 to English, or maybe they have learnt something incorrectly and it has become a fossilised error.

I found this deep dive into phonological analysis tremendously beneficial to my teaching skills. As a teacher, understanding the roots of student mistakes and where in the learning process they have made the error allows you to correct it from its core. While knowledge of phonology makes me a better language teacher, it also has a much more practical purpose: according to Iza, the main reason English language learners are misunderstood is due to mispronunciation. So correct pronunciation is integral to our communication when learning a language and should be prioritised in our language teaching. There’s something I never would have known had I stuck to teaching Greek and Latin.

Zoë Parrish studied a CertTesol, a four-week initial qualification course in English language teaching accredited by Trinity College London. She took an online course with EBC a Trinity course provider based in Madrid, Spain.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock and Library
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