In all areas of the curriculum we need to consider the significance of what we are teaching our students and how relevant it is for them or for their futures. I think this has never been more important than in the teaching of ESL or modern foreign languages. We need to take into account the content of our classes in terms of vocabulary and subject areas because let’s face it, there isn’t enough time to cover all the bases like when we are teaching a child in their native language. What I like to do is reflect on the content of my classes while planning and think to myself, ‘when are my students actually going to use this vocabulary and how often?´. When we study literacy and language in our mother tongue we usually begin with high frequency words to ensure that we have a good base vocabulary to be able to tackle the majority of everyday issues. Also, it is important to consider they type of language that our students will be exposed to. It is important to explain that languages develop and change over time and that some forms, despite being correct, they are just not said as often as others. I like to use the gerund as a way of explaining this, showing that modern English generally leans towards its use over that of the infinitive. For example, it is far more common to hear “I continued studying” than “I continued to study”.
When we are planning classes or reviewing the content of units of study, it is all too easy to be lead or influenced by the resources that we have at hand, and we generally allow them to dictate what we will teach. For example, in the text it puts it so and so a way so, therefore, so must I. But try not to slip into this trap as it can make teaching boring not just for you but also for the student. Our students have an incredible capacity for new vocabulary if they are focussed and see it as useful. Make sure that students are progressing and learning phrases and expressions that they will actually use. Relevance is essential for this to happen and we must provide interesting and practical activities in which students can see this for themselves.
As well as relevance it is of the utmost importance that students enjoy what they are studying, as we all know it is very important to reuse and recycle vocabulary to make sure that it is properly reinforced and taken in to later be able to use it, but we need to do it in a way that is dynamic and entertaining. I personally love coming up with new activities that will create a sense of competition or challenge. What is important (a point that I touched on in post VOCABULARY) is context; students need this to properly understand something without the need for direct translation, by creating contexts in which students can picture themselves using the language being used in class we will definitely make sure that students see the relevance of what they are learning.
As the teacher we need to be diverse in our teaching methods and use role-play, competition, games, stories (etc) to be sure that our students have the opportunity to simulate real life situations in which to use language and then have the necessary skills to use them when needed outside the classroom.
As students, when embarking on what is the long journey towards fluency in a language should always start with what is relevant to them as this is what they are most likely to use on a daily basis. They should learn topics that they will talk about such as their free time activities, profession or area of study. This information is called high frequency vocabulary and can be found here on intercambioidiomasonline (HERE).