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Setting ESL Class Objectives

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Setting ESL Objectives

People learn English for many and extremely varied reasons. Taking these reasons, as well as language acquisition needs, into consideration when planning a class or individual instruction is crucial for a successful learning experience. This is probably as important for the student as for the teacher. When a student understands his/her reasons for learning English well, he can then better plan his learning strategy. In the classroom, he/she can help the teacher identify needs and desires. If the student is learning alone, he/she can find learning materials based on a better knowledge of what his/her objectives are.

Let's take a look at two of the more common reasons for learning English and what might work well for achieving learning goals.

Goal One: I'd like to improve my English in order to find a better job.

In this case, it is important to ask yourself the questions:

  1. Will a certificate help the chances of getting a job?
  2. Is job specific English required?
  3. Who will I (the students) be speaking English with, native speakers or other English as a foreign language speakers?

Details and Considerations for Each Question:

Point 1: This is very important as the need for a certificate will dictate what is required learning: Grammar, Functional English, Writing Listening, etc. If a certificate is required the student should focus on improving specifics points required by the examination. For example, Cambridge's First Certificate exam will require the skill of sentence transformation, the TOEFL requires the skill of understanding US test taking skills (I'm not joking!).

Point 2: If job specific English is required, tasks should be more real-world orientated. If possible, tasks should also be based on the exact type of English required in the specific profession. For example: computer terminology for programming, presentation skills for management, etc.

Point 3: This is extremely important, as students who will be expected to speak English only with other non-native speakers should not have to worry as much about listening skills as those who will be expected to communicate principally with native speakers. An understanding of the culture (British, American, etc) might be important if the learner will be traveling and communicating in these countries.

Goal Two: I'd like to improve my English as a hobby.

In this case, it is important to ask yourself the questions:

  1. How will you (the students) be using the English? Communication, Reading, Using the Internet, etc.?
  2. Do you (the students) enjoy typical task type activities? Or do you (they) prefer real-world activities?
  3. How much do I (the students) want to improve my English? Do I (the students) want to just be able to travel and be understood? Do I (the students) want to be able to read James Joyce?

Details and Considerations for Each Question:

Point 1: This is of the utmost importance when deciding what type of activities should be pursued. If communication is most important, functional English will be preferable to grammar exercises. If reading Rolling Stone magazine is important, idiomatic language study will be required.

Point 2: This is basically a question of learning style and is very important. Involved students will always learn more in the long run than those who are bored. Is also important to remember that, if you are the teacher, imposing your learning preference on the class can, at times, deter effective learning.

Point 3: Understanding the desired language proficiency goal is probably one of the most important aspects of learning well. If the student desires to communicate basic needs while traveling, focusing on the correct use of the third conditional is beside the point. On the other hand, if students strive to higher levels of grammatical understanding, teachers need to accept that role-play games might not always be the best activity.

Conclusions

These are just a few of the most important questions that need to be asked when planning a learning strategy. This pragmatic approach to English learning is probably most effective when teaching adult learners, as there are generally no state imposed goals. Of course, when curriculum requirements are imposed by an outside source, it is important to construct a syllabus with an eye towards such requirements.

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