A few days ago I received a piece of written work, an essay I had set as homework in the previous week, from a student who attends upper-intermediate general English classes here at Peartree. The student was already known to me to be meticulous in their production of such compositions, but on this particular occasion I found that a peculiar strain of error, that of article usage, which had emerged through her recent submissions and which had informed the focus of a recent lesson on this very topic, was curiously missing from the particular piece.
My first impression was that the student’s difficulty had been overcome, but when I spoke to her about it to commend her for her near flawless work, she revealed that her 150 word essay had taken her half a Sunday to compose. My assumption that, because of it’s quality, her essay was testament to some epiphanic improvement and surmounting of a noted grammatical problem was made in error. The student had written the essay, as I have no doubt others do, with a very well-known and well-referenced grammar book splayed open at the relevant unit on ‘articles’.
My second mistaken notion was revealed when I then took a copy of the grammar book in question down from our own shelves and gave the student an impromptu quiz on the same unit she had used to reference her work. The result demonstrated that the student had not actually understood (or at least not retained the knowledge of) the grammatical rules which she had so faithfully followed, like a recipe that produces a delicious cake without a single air bubble only to be forgotten when those it’s served up to ask you how you made it.
On the topic of mistakes, I’ve also recently been conducting surveys in class about language difficulties that students perceive a) prior to studying with us (and in the UK) and b) after they have been studying here for a period. On Friday (5th) Peartree languages welcomed a group of non-student (but non-native English speaker) guests from variety of countries (including Italy, Russia, Ukraine, New Zealand, Brazil and Taiwan) to our school and the members of the group were good enough to share their opinions on the first question. The responses were strikingly similar both to each other and to those I have received from my own students- that simply communicating what they know and understand is a difficulty in itself as in their own countries and in the systems of education, both state and private, through which English is learnt, communication with native speakers is limited.
After having studied with us for a period of time students respond with much more varied answers, from particular tenses or other aspects of grammar to colloquial expressions (and just occasionally, Welsh accents!).
Director of Studies
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