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CELTA Focus On The Learner Assignment (case study).

This assignment requires you to produce a case study of two of your students. It gives you an opportunity to observe learners
carefully and consider their learning background, motivation and learning style. In addition to this it will help you think about
the needs and problems they have with English and asks you to select appropriate material to aid their language and
language skills development. The following questions are designed to help you focus on the areas above and direct you to
include specific examples.

1. How much do the students enjoy the activities? How do you know? Why might they be enjoying the activity or not? To what
extent might their background, previous learning experiences and learning styles be a factor here?

2. How successfully do the students do the activities? Do they understand instructions? Do they give suitable answers? Do
they do what they are supposed to be doing? If they have problems, why might his be?

3. What problems do they have with fluency speaking? Are they too hesitant? How coherent are they? Do they speak
enough? etc

4. What problems do they have with listening? Do they seem to want to understand every word? Do they give up if the
listening seems too difficult? Etc

5. What problems do they have with reading? Do they have difficulties in predicting what they are going to read? Do they
seem unable to get the gist of the text?

6. What problems do they have with grammar? Do they use the wrong tense? Do they put words in the wrong order? Do they
put in words when they shouldn’t be there or leave them out when they should be there? Do they forget the third person ‘s’?
etc. Give examples.

7. What kind of pronunciation errors do they make? Do they make the wrong sound in a word eg ‘soap’ instead of ‘soup’? Do
they stress the wrong part of the word eg AFTernoon? Does their intonation always go up in questions? Etc. Give examples.

8. What kind of vocabulary or lexical errors do they make? Do they use the wrong word completely eg ‘my fathers’ instead of
‘my parents’? Do they use the wrong form of the word eg ‘relation’ instead of ‘relationship’? Give examples

9. Do you notice any examples of more successful language use? For example attempts to use more difficult structures
(even if not 100% correct), particularly appropriate or authentic - sounding vocabulary, collocations or expressions, error-free
chunks of language, well- pronounced words, coherently-expressed ideas etc Give examples.

Interview at least one of the students to find out more about them. Ask them which activities they find most enjoyable/useful.
What aspects of learning do they find difficult/easy? Why?

Simplify your questions for lower levels. You could modify the above questions to carry out the interview. See annex sheet.

Now write a summary of your findings. When dealing with questions 6-9 above, give at least 2 examples for each category
(grammar, pronunciation & vocabulary/lexis and successful language) for each student and suggest what the student meant to say
in the case of questions 6-8.

Now choose one problematic area for one of the students from questions 6 – 8. Source at least one activity (from published
material) that you think would specifically help the learner in this area. Give clear rationale for your choice of activity and describe
briefly how you might use the activity with the selected learner. Attach copies of this activity when you submit the assignment.

You can write about each student separately as a case study, or use a format where you compare the students whilst detailing
different areas.

ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

Successful candidates will:

o Show awareness of how learners’ backgrounds, previous learning experience and learning style(s) affect their learning.
o Be able to identify the learners’ language / skills needs.
o Be able to source and rationalise activities to help learners with the above.
o Correctly use terminology relating to the description of language systems, language skills, learner styles and motivations.
o Use language which is clear, accurate and appropriate to the task. Include references throughout or include a bibliography of
any background reading or information sources.
o Write in full sentences rather than in note form.
1. Student A.

Student A is a 34 year old Spaniard. His first language is Catalan, and he speaks Spanish fluently and some French.
He is unemployed, and he has worked as an administrative assistant. His level of English is upper intermediate.

He can be described as an intrinsic learner. When he told me that he is unemployed, I immediately assumed that he is
learning English to boost his employment opportunities. However, he is not in the least concerned about learning
English for work; he learns English to have fun, to travel and to get to know people. The social aspect of language
learning is very important for student A.

Although he sees learning English as a hobby, he considers himself a very motivated learner. He takes pride in his
status as a high intermediate learner, and regards it as one of the most important achievements of his life. Student A
has been learning English since he was 10 years old. He has completed four courses for adults at a language school
in Catalonia, where he recently passed the intermediate level three exam.

He enjoys English grammar, and generally finds it much less complicated than Spanish or Catalan grammar. An
example of this is the verb formations. One the whole, Student A uses the correct tense when speaking English. He
sometimes uses the infinitive form instead of a progressive. Spanish and Catalan often use an infinitive where English
would use a progressive, and this example of native language interference probably accounts for this.

When asked about the aspect of English which he finds most difficult, he said ‘phrasal verbs’ without hesitation. His
problems include understanding the meaning of phrasal verbs, especially when the meaning can vary according to
context, and choosing the correct particle to accompany the verb.

Student A’s main problem in fluency speaking is hesitation, something which he is fully aware of. He takes time to
work things out in his mind before speaking, and this pause is evident in class, for example, when a teacher asks him
a question. The more complicated the question or response, the longer the pause. He was aware of this hesitation
when he sat the speaking part of his recent examination, and he is aware of it when speaking in class.

He has very few opportunities to speak English outside the classroom, and this lack of practice contributes to his
hesitation. Other than class activities, his main opportunity to communicate in English is by writing and reading e-mails
in an online community. He feels that he would be able to reduce the length of this pause if he had more opportunities
to speak English.

Student A is also a naturally shy individual, which also contributes to his hesitation. I’ve spoken to him outside the
classroom, and on a one to one basis, he is much more willing to open up. In class, he generally enjoys all activities,
but feels that speaking activities in pairs and groups are the most useful as they help him to overcome this hesitation
issue. After two weeks of upper intermediate classes, he seems to have increased his confidence as a speaker of
English, and the pause has become less noticeable. He has become much more aware of when to use the inflection,
and due to this his English sounds much more natural when he asks a question.

He seems to make pronunciation errors when pronouncing words with consonant clusters that are generally difficult
for native Spanish and Catalan speakers. When he told me that he had previously studied at a school near Barcelona,
he resolved the difficult consonant cluster /st/ by adding an ‘epenthetic’ vowel sound at the beginning of the word, thus
pronouncing ‘studied’ as /ɘˈstʌdɪd/. I have noticed the addition of the schwa when Student A pronounces other words
that begin with /sp/ or /st/ consonant cluster. Spanish words that have the same consonant cluster at the beginning of
a word are always preceded by an ‘e’, for example, ‘estudiante’, which causes this difficulty.

He also frequently mispronounces words with ‘ed’ suffixes, such as past participles. For example, he pronounces
‘allowed’ as /əˈlaʊed/ rather than /əˈlaʊd/. This error is surprising, as I would not expect it to be an issue at upper
intermediate level, but it is also an error frequently made by most of his classmates. I have also noticed that the same
mispronunciation is often made only moments after drilling the correct pronunciation!

Student A is aware that he has pronunciation problems with particular words, but he feels that English speakers, on
the whole, understand most of what he says. I have now taught him and observed him being taught for over ten hours,
and I agree with this.

Some examples of successful language used by Student A include:

 Describing his employment situation (I used to be a secretary, now I’m unemployed’).


 Describing a habitual activity using the present tense (‘I only go to the stadium once a year’).
 Asking my opinion on the result of a football match (‘Who do you think will win the trophy?’).
 Using the present continuous to describe an ongoing action (‘I’m studying English to meet new people’).
 Using an appropriate British English phrase to say goodbye (‘See you tomorrow’).

Student A is happy with the amount of vocabulary that he has learnt to date, and he felt that he understood most of
the vocabulary taught in his previous course. He feels that he has sufficient vocabulary to be able to enjoy travelling
and holidays in English speaking countries. At times though, he has a problem with the meaning of words, which is
evident when he encounters a ‘false friend’. In one lesson, a teacher asked him ‘have you ever been embarrassed?’,
which was met with a definite ‘no’ and a look on his face that suggested a mixture of surprise and confusion. I assume
that he took the word ‘embarrassed’ to be a translation of ‘embarazada’, a Spanish adjective that describes the state
of being pregnant.

2. Student B.

Student B is a 39 year old Spanish national, who works as a maintenance engineer. He started learning English 23
years ago, but he has had four periods of three years during this time in which he did not attend any formal language
classes. His first language is Catalan, and he speaks Spanish fluently, and some French and Italian.

He originally started attending the language school (which he still attends) to help him with his studies at secondary
school, and he has also leant it at the technical institute where he studied engineering and at his current workplace.
To date, he has not taken any official examinations, but sees this as a possibility for the future.

His reasons for learning English are a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic ones. The company that he works for
increasingly uses English to trade with multi-national companies, and he has used English when buying and selling
machinery on behalf of the company.

He regularly has to read and write e-mails in English, for example, when dealing with German companies that use
English as the lingua franca for international trade. He also has to read technical literature in English, e.g. user
manuals for machinery. Due to this, he feels that he needs to improve his skills reading. He can understand the
general gist of what he reads in class without having to consult a dictionary constantly.

Student B also learns English for his own enjoyment, for example, to watch English language films. He hasn’t yet
visited an English speaking country, but has spoken English on holiday in Holland and Italy, with other English
learners. He feels that his knowledge of English was useful on both occasions, and enhanced his enjoyment of his
holidays.

In the classroom, he enjoys speaking activities much more than grammar work. Grammar is the one thing that he
dislikes the most and finds most difficult, and this was also the case when he started learning French and Italian.
However, he is aware that disliking grammar is a disadvantage for language learners, and he knows that it is an
important aspect of improving his English. Like Student A, he dislikes phrasal verbs.

One frequent error that Student B makes is using the wrong preposition. An example of this was when he said ‘at the
afternoon’ (rather than ‘in the afternoon’), which is a direct translation of ‘a la tarde’ in Spanish and therefore an
example of first language interference. He also omits the subject in a sentence, for example, ‘it is important for me to
learn vocabulary’. This is another example of first language interference, as Spanish and Catalan do not always
require the subject, e.g. ‘es importante para mi’. However, ‘it’ is necessary in English to make the sentence
grammatically correct. Virtually every member of Student A’s class regularly makes this mistake.

Another (less frequent) error that he makes is ‘pluralising’ English adjectives. When he told me about the lack of time
that he has to learn vocabulary, he told me that he had ‘many others things to do’. Again, this is understandable, as
Spanish adjectives and adverbs unlike English ones, have plural forms. ‘Other things’ is therefore a direct translations
of ‘otras cosas’.

Sometime, Student B uses the wrong tense. For example, he sometimes uses the present simple to refer to a past
action. When this happens, he usually realises his mistake, pauses, and repeats what he said using the correct tense.

He is also caught out at times by ‘false friends’. When he told me about the technical college that he attended, he said
‘when I assisted the professional institution’. He was obviously thinking of the Spanish/Catalan verb, asistir, which
means to attend.

In fluency speaking, Student B mostly speaks and responds to questions with little or no hesitation. When listening, he
finds it more difficult to ‘tune in’ to some accents than others, for example, North American accents are generally more
difficult than British ones. When participating in a listening activity in class, he is usually able to understand the
general meaning even though he may not understand every word. He is aware that it isn’t necessary to understand
every word to understand the meaning when listening and reading.

He is generally able to pronounce words correctly and clearly, and he feels that his pronunciation is sufficiently correct
to be understood by English speakers. However, a few areas are problematic. The pronunciation of the letter ‘h’
(especially at the beginning of a word) is a problem area for Catalan and Spanish speakers as the h is silent in these
languages, and Student B is no exception. An example of this is when he pronounces ‘have’ with a guttural /x/ sound,
as in the Scottish Gaelic word ‘loch’.

The inconsistency of English orthography also creates problems for Student B, especially the pronunciation of some
vowel sounds. One example of this was when he pronounced ‘mice’ as /miːs/ rather than /maɪs/ during a reading
activity.

He is frustrated by what he regards as insufficient vocabulary. However, he has strategies to overcome this. When he
doesn’t know a particular noun, he uses a strategy called ‘circumlocution’, which means that he uses the vocabulary
that he has to describe the noun and to make himself understood. An example was trying to describe a type of jacket
usually worn by men at weddings (a ‘tail coat’ or ‘smoking jacket’). He said ‘it’s very typical of what a piano player
wears’. He is aware that many English words have Spanish equivalents that are similar in form due to a common Latin
heritage, and actively uses this awareness to help him understand the meaning of new words.

Time is definitely an issue for Student B. He us currently busy with work and family life, which reduces the amount of
time available to learn vocabulary or study grammar. He feels that he would benefit from an intensive or residential
English course, and has requested a work placement in the UK from his employers. He enjoys most classroom
activities, but prefers the more active or dynamic ones rather than the ones that require concentration and focus. This
could be defined as a preference for speaking activities over grammar work, which he stated clearly when I
interviewed him.

3. A Suitable Activity to help a Learner

I will now focus on an area that is problematic for Student A, namely phrasal verbs. I have chosen this particular area
as he did not hesitate to tell me that it was the one aspect of learning English that he dislikes the most and finds the
most difficult.

According to Martin Parrott, many learners fail to understand the meaning of phrasal (or ‘multiword’) verbs, and often
avoid using phrasal verbs and phrases. This is a coping strategy for some learners, and Parrott states that we should
respect this, whilst helping and encouraging others to use these verbs. Some learners prefer to analyse phrasal verbs
and learn the according to type, whilst others prefer to learn them as individual vocabulary items.

There is an activity called ‘Close Up’ in the Macmillan Inside Out upper intermediate course book that I would use with
Student A (unit 4). He has problems with the meaning and the grammar of phrasal verbs, and this activity would be
suitable as it focuses on both aspects.

This exercise looks at a text already used in a previous activity, therefore the student would already be familiar with
the context. Another reason for choosing this exercise is that it is divided into eight sections which increase in
complexity as the student progresses. I believe that this gradual process would allow Student A to start overcoming
what can be described as a phrasal verb ‘phobia’, and would not throw him into the deep end with the first question.

To set the context of this exercise, I would ask Student A’s class for examples of phrasal verbs , and I would focus on
the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. I would then elicit sentences from the students using each
phrasal verb. This would be important, as the meaning of many phrasal verbs change according to context, and this is
an aspect of learning phrasal verbs that Student A finds particularly confusing.

As well as individual and whole class work, this exercise also involves a substantial amount of pair work. Pair work
certainly helps Student A to improve his fluency speaking, and similarly, I believe that working in pairs would increase
his confidence in understanding and using phrasal verbs.

This exercise includes one activity that asks the students to replace underlined words in a series of jokes with phrasal
verbs. I think that this activity would appeal to Student A’s sense of humour, and would help to pull down the barrier
that he has raised between himself and phrasal verbs.
Bibliography and Background Reading

Annex

You could adapt the questions from the assignment to conduct your interview. Remember that you will need to simplify
considerably for lower levels.

Student 1 Student 2

1. How much do the students enjoy the activities? How do you know? Why might
they be enjoying the activity or not? To what extent might their background,
previous learning experiences and learning styles be a factor here?

2. How successfully do the students do the activities? Do they understand


instructions? Do they give suitable answers? Do they do what they are supposed
to be doing? If they have problems, why might his be?

3. What problems do they have with fluency speaking? Are they too hesitant?
How coherent are they? Do they speak enough? etc

4. What problems do they have with listening? Do they seem to want to


understand every word? Do they give up if the listening seems too difficult? Etc

5. What problems do they have with reading? Do they have difficulties in


predicting what they are going to read? Do they seem unable to get the gist of the
text?

6. What problems do they have with grammar? Do they use the wrong tense? Do
they put words in the wrong order? Do they put in words when they shouldn’t be
there or leave them out when they should be there? Do they forget the third
person ‘s’? etc. Give examples.

7. What kind of pronunciation errors do they make? Do they make the wrong
sound in a word eg ‘soap’ instead of ‘soup’? Do they stress the wrong part of the
word eg AFTernoon? Does their intonation always go up in questions? Etc. Give
examples.

8. What kind of vocabulary or lexical errors do they make? Do they use the wrong
word completely eg ‘my fathers’ instead of ‘my parents’? Do they use the wrong
form of the word eg ‘relation’ instead of ‘relationship’? Give examples

9. Do you notice any examples of more successful language use? For example
attempts to use more difficult structures (even if not 100% correct), particularly
appropriate or authentic - sounding vocabulary, collocations or expressions, error-
free chunks of language, well- pronounced words, coherently-expressed ideas
etc Give examples.