This is my fourth case-study in the series. Like the others it illustrates a journey we both took to reach a particular language goal. Like the others the benefit gained was mutual but unlike the others, this one was a very scary journey.
See the other posts:
Case Study four – Takeshi
My fourth student was still in Japan when I was approached. He was an eminent doctor, well-known in his field both in Japan and internationally. He was coming to the UK to take up an appointment in a large London hospital. There was, however, a problem, he had to have a score of 7 in each of the IELTS papers and he had taken the test twice in Japan and not achieved this.
The hospital had decided that he should come to London, study, be immersed in the language, visit the hospital and get to know people there and then re-take the exam in London. This made sense but there were two further problems
- I was about to move house
- We had exactly one month to prepare, take and achieve the result or Takeshi would be unable to take up the post!
So, no pressure there then!
The first lesson
I accepted the challenge and so on a cold, blustery January 2nd I arrived at the hospital to meet Takeshi.
He asked me if he was my first student of the year. I replied that he was, he was happy about this and presented me with a bottle of very good champagne!
The first thing I noticed about Takeshi was how very organised he was in his learning. He had approached everything very systematically and his study folders were meticulous. We went through an example of each part of the exam noting down everything that was incorrect or not fully understood. At the end of this process we had a list of areas to develop.
And so we set to work.
We decided to concentrate on the following areas in particular:
- Listening – we would concentrate on tuning his ear into English sounds, look for nuance and deal with listening passages in small chunks.
- Writing – the task here was to get the writing to flow better and give it bit more of a natural feel
- Speaking – work on pronunciation and making the speech flow more naturally
His attention to detail was amazing. His surgical training helped here. He dissected the reading passages and rarely got a question wrong. His speaking was very precise and showed a very wide range of vocabulary and good use of structure. His writing was well organised and developed but needed some work. It was his listening skills that needed the most work.
In the case of Takeshi there weren’t really any specific breakthroughs just sheer dedication and hard work.
We both ‘rolled up our sleeves’ and got on with it!
The study plan
We met every day for 2 hours in the morning. We worked through all the tasks, building vocabulary, confidence and honing skills. At the end of each session I assigned work and Takeshi then spent the afternoon and evening studying. At the beginning of each day we went over everything and then continued learning and checking and checking and learning. He even spent most of the weekend studying too. For this one month nothing else mattered!
I have rarely seen such absolute dedication to a task. He lived, ate and slept English and IELTS. Every grammar error was followed by more practice until it was clear. I was in danger of running out of material!
Each mistake had to be understood, corrected and practised until Takeshi was sure he had eliminated it. The process was not boring or in any way onerous – on the contrary it was like nurturing a plant and seeing it grow day by day.
Speaking became more natural (not only due to me, but also to the time he spent with his colleagues) Listening skills blossomed until, like the reading, there was rarely an error. His writing flowed more and, especially in task one, he was almost writing better than me!
As the month drew to a close I felt satisfied that we had ‘all the balls in the air’ and Takeshi felt more confident about taking the exam again. He had chosen a centre that would be easy to get to and not pose any travel problems.
He took the exam and flew back to Japan the next day. I did not get the chance I usually have with my students of discussing the exam afterwards.
I heard nothing more until a few weeks later when I had a very excited telephone call from Japan! Success – we were both relieved! He had scored a mix of 7s and 8s but that wasn’t important, he had what he needed and was now making preparations to move his family and take up the post at the hospital.
Some months later I was contacted by the hospital again. This time to teach Takeshi’s wife.
What I learnt most from this student is that dedication, hard work and a systematic approach to language learning pay off especially when you have a clear goal. Of course there’s nothing like a bit of external pressure to get the adrenaline flowing!!