Celta – Focus on the Learner

This case study is based on Patricia, a Spanish national in her twenties who is in her last year studying an Economics degree course. She is also a student on the Elementary course at the British Language Centre. Patricia’s started learning English at the bi-lingual school she attended. She learnt English for 3 years but did not take any official examinations, but sees this as a possibility for the future. At school she learnt English because it was obligatory.
The only other language she speaks is Spanish. She started attending the British Language Centre (which she still attends) to help her find a job in an international company and to prepare her for her visit to Eastbourne, East Sussex (UK) in July. She will be staying with a house family for one month and hopes to improve her English and use all of the language she has been learning to date. Her reasons for learning English are a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic ones.
The main reason she is motivated to learn English is because she believes it will help her find a good job and earn loads of money, she also reads a lot about English culture and customs and watches films in English with subtitles for her own enjoyment. This can also be related to her learning styles. The results of her “multiple intelligences” questionnaire indicates that her learning style preferences are linguistic, spatial and interpersonal. Her conversations in English refer to things that she has read or heard, she enjoys solving mazes and other visual puzzles and considers herself to be a leader. Problems and Possible solutions with Grammar The student enjoys English grammar, and generally finds it much easier than Spanish grammar. An example of this is the verb formations. She normally uses the correct tense when speaking in English but sometimes uses the infinitive form instead of the progressive.

“I read” instead of “I’m reading”. Spanish often use an infinitive where English would use a progressive; this can be attributed to language interference. To resolve this problem more tasks relating to real situations could be set along with reading and listening exercises that incorporate and contrast the infinitive nd progressive forms. When asked about the aspect of English she finds most difficult, she said ‘phrasal verbs’. Her 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. For example “to break up” I broke up with my girlfriend last night, the main cause is likely to be comprehension issues as a result of conflict with meanings she already knows. Solutions to such problems would be dictionary analysis and sentencing restructuring exercises.
Another problem she has is with the structuring of sentences. A classic example of this would be using the adjective after the noun “shoes big” instead of “big shoes”. This can also be attributed to language interference. Solutions to this problem would include drills (oral and written); practice would include guided dialogues, language games, parallel writing, dictations etc. 3 Problems and Possible Solutions with Vocabulary A common problem can be irregular plurals. (Refer to Appendix – example 1). In Spanish irregular plurals are not formed the same as in English.
The common rule is that a “s” is added to the singular i. e. hombre = hombres. A solution to this problem is getting the student to record a list of all irregular verbs as they come up (recycling the vocabulary in future classes) and correct their mistakes in reading and writing exercises. Another problem is that many words are used in different contexts but with a connection to their original meaning. (Refer to Appendix – example 2). This forms a problem for Spanish speakers as the word flood “inundar” is only used in 1 context.
Solutions and practice can be given through activities where the student has to use the word in different contexts and apply the alternatives. There are several different expressions where “bother” can be used. (Refer to Appendix – example 3). The meaning changes slightly from expression to expression. In Spanish this word is not used in the same way. A solution and practice to this would be to present all of the words to the student within a real context, through a reading or writing exercise.
2 Problems and Possible Solutions with Pronunciation. Morphemes that have more than one pronunciation present a problem relating to the sound of words. (Refer to Appendix – example 4). Both problems relate to rhythm when speaking, Spanish rhythm is syllable timed, whereas, English rhythm is stressed timed. (Spanish also has a narrower pitch range than English). Both problems can be directly related to language interference. Solutions include instant and planned remedial. The best procedure in addressing these problems is to draw attention to the problematic sound or pattern.
Get them to pronounce it in isolation and explain how the pattern or sound is formed, and drill the student ensuring they have a record. The learner skills strengths and weaknesses: Speaking: The student is very comfortable speaking on a one to one basis and has no qualms about making mistakes. She articulates and forms her sentences well. Her main problem in fluency speaking is hesitation, something that she is fully aware of. She takes time to work things out in her mind before speaking, and this pause is evident in class, for example, when a teacher asks her a question.
The more complicated the question or response, the longer the pause. She has very few opportunities to speak English outside the classroom, and this lack of practice contributes to her hesitation. Reading: The student seems to get the general gist of reading as long as she has some guidance and visuals. She is not afraid to ask questions if necessary and hardly ever uses her dictionary in class. Areas she could improve on are her vocabulary range to help her understand texts better and additional reading outside of the class. Listening: The student understands most of the instructions given out in lass and regularly helps her peers when they do not understand something. Her main weaknesses include not being able to follow a native person’s conversation; she has already established learning habits in the classroom that will not be effective when speaking to a native person. She also has poor vocabulary, which will limit her understanding relating to words she does not know. Writing: Reader – When I left university I wanted to do exactly the same things as you: find a job working for an international company which would allow me to travel around the world and buy a house.
Writing teacher – Overall you did a very good job, things you need to consider next time are using shorter sentences to give more impact and tenses. Language expert: A good attempt at the set task, you need to think more about the structure of sentences and using the right vocabulary. Also review definite/indefinite articles and propositions. In order to improve your language skills and learn a new language many different sub skills are required.
It is a good idea to learn techniques such as skimming and scanning to abstract relevant information more quickly. Distinguishing sounds of the different vowels in English is also very important along with determining the stress and intonations in sentences. Listening and reading stimuli or input is very important in producing more effective language, and it is a good idea to put yourself in situations where you are only able to converse in English, as this will force you to use the language more and help increase your confidence levels.

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