CELTA Assignment: Focus on the Learner


For the purpose of this assignment, I interviewed Maryanne Yamamoto, a 28-year-old Japanese student in the Elementary English class. Maryanne works in a trading company in Japan. Her job requires her to read documents written in English and speak in English with clients. She wants to improve her spoken English and receptive skills so that she can communicate effectively.

Maryanne began studying English in school at the age of 13. She studied English literature for four years in college but says she didn’t learn much. “We study Shakespeare but not full book, only short (extracts),” she says.

Maryanne said she likes to learn English by speaking, writing, looking at pictures and working with friends. With the help of a Multiple Intelligence questionnaire (Multiple Intelligences and Language Learning, 2005 Alta Book Publishers), I determined that she has high linguistic intelligence, visual/spatial intelligence and interpersonal intelligence. This proves that she learns best by seeing, speaking, visualizing and hearing the language, and working in groups with other students.

Maryanne is confident while using the present tense and uses it extensively to talk about most things. In one of the few instances where her grammar was perfect, she said, “I want to improve my English.”

Maryanne often states the main subject of the sentence at the beginning of her sentence. According to Ian Thompson’s essay, ‘Japanese Speakers’ (Learner English: A teacher’s guide to interference and other problems. Edited by Swan and Smith, published by Cambridge University Press 2001), this is a typical problem with many Japanese speakers. “It is common in the Japanese language to announce the topic of the sentence separately at the beginning.” In describing what she likes about learning English at St. Giles, she said, “This school teacher very clearly speak.”

Maryanne is very confused about verb tenses and their usage. She often resorts to using the simple present tense for everything. When talking about what she did last weekend, she said, “I go Russian River with my friends.” She described her personality by saying, “My mother want me be quiet girl but I like to talk. I always talk and play with my friends. I always cheerful/talkative girl.” I think it would be particularly helpful for Maryanne to practice the use of present tense, past tense and present perfect tense so she can use those correctly.

Maryanne has a very limited active vocabulary. She often refers to her electronic Japanese-English dictionary to complete sentences during conversations. To describe her personality, she had to look up the Japanese equivalent of the word ‘bubbly’ in the dictionary, and came up with ‘cheerful’ and ‘talkative’, neither of which she was satisfied with.

Maryanne has difficulty producing the sounds /r/ and /l/, which is, according to Ian Thompson, another typical problem among Japanese speakers. Maryanne often does not pronounce the corresponding letters at all. She had great trouble pronouncing Lilla’s name and pronounced ‘cheerful’ as /               /.

Her receptive skills are also lacking in several ways. She has trouble understanding native speakers outside the classroom. In her own words, “When I went to Subway and I ordered something, anything they ask, nothing I understand. I say ok, ok all the time.”

Though she said she does not finds reading a bore, I think she does a good job at inferring meaning from a context while reading. She understood large portions of the questionnaire I gave her without any help. She said, “I try read magazine but it very difficult. If easy magazine, I read,” showing that she was eager to improve her reading skills.

I noticed that the quality of Maryanne’s written grammar far exceeds that of her spoken grammar. She constructed some grammatically sound sentences when she wrote, “I want to improve my speaking English…. Speaking is the hardest for me, Because, I don’t have a lot of vocabulary.”


Pronunciation activity 

I would use the attached activity from the book, Sounds Great by Beverly Biesbier (Heinle & Heinle Publishers 1994), to give pronunciation practice to Maryanne. The aim of the activity is to improve Maryanne’s pronunciation of the sounds /l/ and /r/. I chose this activity because it is a pair activity that Maryanne can do with a classmate or friend. By pronouncing words and letting her partner guess which word she is saying, she will be able to understand which letters she needs to say clearer and where she is going wrong

I would set up this activity by playing running dictation in pairs. The text of the dictation would be:

“Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a village near the forest. Whenever she went out, the little girl wore a red riding cloak, so everyone in the village called her Little Red Riding Hood.”

“Once upon a time, a little girl lived in a village near a forest. Everyone called her Little Red Riding Hood. She loved the color red and wore a red riding cloak everywhere.”

After all pairs have finished, one student reads out what he has written. The rest of the class can agree or disagree about the words said. I will give the students the correct answer. I would tell them how important it is to pronounce words correctly so that others can understand them.

With my mouth open as wide as possible, I would show students how my tongue moves while pronouncing /l/ and /r/. The tongue touched the upper teeth or the space just behind them in pronouncing /l/. It moves upward and inward while pronouncing /r/.

Now, I would make students say a few words from the dictation aloud in marker sentences in a chorus, and then individually, until I can hear the sounds /l/ and /r/ distinctly.

Then, I would pass around the attached handouts (each student in a pair has a different handout). The students now have to say the words on their sheets aloud to each other and their partner has to circle the word s/he hears.

I would monitor the students by listening to what they are saying and correcting them where necessary. At the end of the activity, I will ask students to say their answers aloud in each case and make them repeat words with which they had trouble.

Grammar activity

I would use the attached activity from the book, Laubach Way to English Workbook 4 by Jeanette D. Macero (New Readers Press, 1987), to give Maryanne practice in using present, past and present perfect tenses. This activity is suitable for Maryanne because she she needs is regular drilling of the tenses so that she can use them confidently in regular conversations.

To set up the activity, I would ask Maryanne to talk with her partner and ask questions about where they live. They could ask, where do you live? Is it a nice house? Do you like it? Do you want to move somewhere else? How long have you been living here? Where did you live earlier? When and why did you move?

After the two minute activity, I would ask each student to answer one of the questions about the partner. This would elicit my marker sentences. For e.g. Maryanne, where does your partner live? Where did he live earlier? How long has he been living here?

I would correct the students’ verb tenses errors and use a time line and marker sentences to illustrate the differences between past tense, present tense and present perfect tense.

The past tense is used for something which has already happened.

The present tense is used for something which is a fact, a habit, a preference, feeling or thought.

The present perfect tense is used for something which was happening in the past and may still be happening in the present. There is usually a time element (even if it is not stated) in the case of present perfect tenses.

I would then ask concept checking questions to make sure the students have understood the concept of time in relation to the tenses.

  1. Where did Maryanne live last year? Osaka
  2. Does she still live there? No
  3. Does she live in SF now? Yes
  4. When did she start living in SF? March

Now, I would ask Maryanne and her partner to work together to choose the correct tense form for the gap fill activity (attached). I would monitor the students diligently to see what their common errors and points of confusion are. At the end of the activity, I would ask students to say their answers aloud. Then, I would correct common errors on the board.

As a follow up activity, I would ask students to talk about their favorite restaurant in SF. What is the name of the restaurant? Where is it? When did they first go there? Have they gone back to the restaurant again? What do they like eating there? I would monitor the students closely during this activity to make sure they used the right verb tenses.

Grammar activity

Use the right form of the verb in the sentence.

  1. Kay (have) ____________ lunch with her friend every day.
    Kay (have) ____________ lunch with her friend yesterday.
    Kay (have) ____________ lunch with her friend every day this week.
  1. Lana (buy) ____________ some new things for her class every month.
    Lana (buy) ____________ some new pencils yesterday.
    Lana (buy) ____________ many things for class since class started.
  1. Lana (think) ____________ about Viet Nam every day.
    Lana (think) ____________ about Viet Nam yesterday.
    Lana (think) ____________ about Viet Nam every day since she left.
  1. Molly (bring) ____________ her lunch to work ever day.
    Molly (bring) ____________ her lunch to work yesterday.
    Molly (bring) ____________ her lunch to work ever day since she started to work.
  1. Tom (catch) ____________ cold easily.
    Tom (catch) ____________ a cold last week.
    Tom (catch) ____________ so many colds since he moved to New York.
  1. Jerry and Bob always (fight) ____________ about Bob’s dog.
    Jerry and Bob (fight) ____________ about the dog last week.
    Jerry and Bob (fight) ____________ about the dog ever since the dog started to dig holes in Jerry’s lawn.

So what do you think?

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