Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

April 3, 2012

What has Design got to do with EFL?

I’ve just got back from this year’s IATEFL conference in Glasgow and as with everyone else I’m sure, my head is spinning with new ideas and new things to think about.

One of the sessions that struck a real chord with me was the Plenary on Wednesday morning given by Diana Laurillard. In this plenary she explored ideas of teacher communities and also course design, but a course design that was adaptable to many situations and which could be shared across these communities to create a bank of both flexible lesson plans and examples of good practice that had been tried and tested and found to be very effective.

I am sure that my explanation of this is highly simplistic and that in reality it is much more complex than I am sharing here but it was the idea of programme models that struck me most about her talk. It seems that we all to an extent go around inventing the wheel over and over and that by creating, testing, measuring and sharing we could perhaps cut down on our work-load and have a more predictable outcome to our programmes and courses. It’s worth considering I feel.

I am currently working with a young product design student and as we explore elements of design and ideas of design it has become apparent to me that everything is really about design and that by looking at anything we do from a design perspective makes it look very different and also allows us to be far more creative in our ideas and approaches. I am very excited by this idea as I have been exploring course designs and models for my own programmes both online and face to face for the past two years and through a great deal of trial and error I do belive that I have finally created a model for my programmes which is highly adaptable and also flexible enough to fit any student and any area of study that they need be it ESP, general English, exam work or professional development.

“Design is that area of human experience, skill and knowledge which is concerned with man’s ability to mould his environment to suit his material and spiritual needs.”  Archer

Design is essentially about solving problems and improving things. I think this idea is a very good fit for EFL. We, as teachers, need our skills to evolve and grow and this, in turn, will help us to give our learners a better outcome and solve the problems that we face day-to-day with students in the classroom. Rather than re-inventing the wheel each time we can work with frameworks and models that allow us to create courses and programmes which will suit our learners. Then by sharing these frameworks and the way in which we have adapted them we can build a repository of working models that will both help and be further enhanced by other teachers.

One of the programme models I have been working on is for the short  immersion courses I run here in the UK. These programmes consist of several elements which I feel must be present for the programme to be truly beneficial to participants but also to meet and hopefully exceed their expectations.

I want to share the model here – it is simple but can be adapted to any learner or group of learners who take the course (including EFL teachers).



The model shows all the elements that I need to include in an immersion programme. As you can see this goes beyond the actual lessons. Key to the success of  these programmes, I feel, is making sure that all elements interconnect in some way to add value to the language development and also to the experience for the client.

This model translates into a timetable for the programme where everything is tied in. It goes, however, beyond a mere timetable into all areas of the stay which creates the immersion and feeds back into the technical language taught in the formal sessions.

Everything is crafted to produce a programme which provides pure language practice, specialised language practice, experience of local culture, exposure to native speakers and venues that are relevant to the client’s work (or interests) and an enjoyable and comfortable stay in what is a very lovely part of the UK. I have tried to show in the diagram where these elements are two-way (as in the formal lessons) and where they are provided for the client and expected as part of the programme (e.g. with accommodation). Another level on the model shows where things are deliberately structured (ie: lessons or set work, prepared visits, meals etc..) and where they are more random (such as what happens on actual visits or when meeting people locally).

The programme begins at the airport or station and from then on every aspect of the day is to a greater or lesser extent a learning experience. Most of  the learners require a mix of general English and some technical ESP language. They are also learning within British culture which translates into the food I prepare, some of the activities we engage in (for example a visit to our village pub) and the general way in which we live day-to-day. Visits are arranged to suit their ESP needs where possible. This not only allows them to use specialist language but also to use this language with English-speaking members of their own profession which, I find, is one of the most valuable aspects of the programme.

The final piece of the jigsaw is the setting or ambience in which the learning takes place and this must also be considered as it needs to fit with all the other elements to ensure a successful outcome.

I am happy to share this model as it has been tested and works well. Please use and adapt it. In the final analysis it is not a model for an English language course particularly but for an immersion programme and can be used for any subject delivered in that format.

In my next post I will show how this works ‘on the ground’ by describing one of the programmes I have run based on this model.


To find out more about immersion programmes at Fleetham Lodge in Yorkshire follow the link.

See our learner evaluations of their programmes and their stay.


Other posts on this topic you might enjoy:

Total immersion English courses – fast, furious and fun!

Sharing your teacher’s life – courses in a teacher’s home

Creating a teacher workshop

Learning together – the value of sharing

October 25, 2010

Total immersion English courses – fast, furious and fun!

So what happens on an immersion course?

Hours of study, lots of homework, tests, grammar exercises, listening and reading and writing exercises to do in the evenings. Plenty of speaking practice of course and the teacher pays quite a lot of attention to pronunciation and other errors.

Immersion courses are a great way of getting a lot of language in a short space of time. They are tough, tiring and possibly tedious (?) but the results are worth the effort.

Most of this is true in one way or another, but tough, tiring and tedious – well not necessarily!!

Total Immersion English - Berni-style!

My group arrived at Leeds airport from Holland late on a Sunday evening. They were a little apprehensive but we launched into the conversation and headed towards the car. I had hired a car as I wasn’t sure we’d all fit comfortably in mine. The first problem was finding it in the car park! The next, trying to move the seats forward so everybody could get in and the third – how to open the boot!!

Not a great start perhaps but they all joined in working out the problems and their apprehensions were forgotten!

The journey must have seemed very long. I asked questions and pointed out landmarks where I could in the dark. We arrived they were allocated their rooms and then we all met in the kitchen for a cup of tea and a brief introduction. The chat was polite, if a little strained and we were to re-visit this episode at the end of the week. Soon we all turned in anticipating the start of the course the next morning.

Working hard - of course!

Day One

Breakfast was great with soft-boiled eggs from our hens and home-made jams and marmalade. Everyone was raring to go and trying their best to use English. Claudia, another student also staying (with her own teacher) was introduced to everyone and the day got off to a very positive start.

We moved into the ‘classroom’ and began. A round-robin of introductions followed by telephone practice, formal/informal language and some useful vocabulary and phrases. A coffee break in the aga-warm kitchen and then back to work. Everybody was working hard and contributing well in English. At the end of the lesson I gave them each a lateral thinking puzzle. This was the real ice-breaker! Not only were the solutions annoying and funny, they also brought out a very competitive streak in the group which formed the basis of a lot of what we did for the remainder of the course!

After lunch we set off on a walk with the dogs. This was a good opportunity to get each student alone for a while and find out what made them tick and where any problems lay. A kind of individual testing – enjoyable, healthy and very productive!

An hour of email practice followed with everybody more relaxed and eager to contribute. We all decamped to the kitchen for a well-earned glass of wine.

Dinner, an amazing paella, had been prepared by my amazing business-woman-student from Colombia (and her teacher) who despite her post beginner level of English was certainly life and soul of the party!! Then the first of our two movie nights – ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ .

The first day ended on a high with everyone speaking English and great camaraderie!

Day two:

It was cold so we had to light the wood burning stove which is always a challenge! It behaved and we got down to work. Idioms, more telephone practice, lots of office-related vocabulary and above all speaking practice!  The morning ended with a game – Word Battleships – now the battle-lines were drawn and a re-match would be inevitable. (I should point out that my group were all women in their middle years, working and teaching in a university and normally very mild-mannered!)

The magnificent Silver Swan at Bowes Museum.

Our activity this afternoon was a visit to Bowes Museum an we had to be there at 2.00 to see the Silver Swan  strut its stuff. This 18th century, mechanical, swan is wound only once a day at 2.00 p.m. the performance lasts just 40 seconds but it is well worth seeing! We made it by the skin of our teeth but all were satisfied! The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the ceramics, paintings, rooms sets and other treasures of this amazing museum.

Tea in the museum cafe revealed that the group had amassed a large vocabulary of domestic objects and solicited information from other visitors and the curators! They were proud and I was suitably impressed! We also created our own word for an object they hadn’t managed to identify in English – a butter-float (butter dish) – this was to become the table joke at every meal!

A further lesson on emails and we joined the others for dinner. Our final activity was a trip to the village pub to taste some local beer! A great end to a busy day.

Day Three:

 Our morning sessions are very relaxed now – everybody knows what to expect and we are all very comfortable with each other. We work through the language exercises, all punctuated by laughter and joking – it’s a great atmosphere. The dogs feature large at our coffee breaks and try to join in the lessons too – I think they might be allowed but I am resolute – they are a distraction!

Durham Cathedral - a place worth a visit!

After lunch we all head off to Durham and its wonderful Cathedral. After a visit there, which includes a rehearsal by both the organist and choir – an added bonus, the ladies head off to the shops.

The return journey is quiet – it has been a long day but we have dinner (Shepherds pie) to look forward to and our second movie night. The choice of movie was left up to the group – ‘An Accidental Tourist’ which was less than we had hoped but we endured!

Day Four:

Today we are concentrating on instructions and have decided to use recipes as a launch. Food and the differences between English, Dutch and Colombian cuisine have been very much to the fore over the past few days and so it seemed an appropriate choice. I learn about several Dutch delicacies and they explain scones and christmas pudding! More email etiquette, formal/informal language and we are ready for the daily challenge of Word Battleships – this will be the final encounter!

After lunch we have a tour of the Georgian Theatre in Richmond (N.Yorks), a fish and chip supper and then off to a performance at said theatre.

The tour was excellent – the student who felt on Sunday evening that she wouldn’t say a word all week, asked several questions of the tour guide – we learnt about the theatre in the 18th century explored the auditorium, the dressing rooms and the mechanics under the stage. We moved scenery, created thunder and gasped at the tiny, yet compact little auditorium – the oldest in the country.

We had enjoyed the day immensely and thought it complete, but there were still surprises in store!

 The Georgian theatre is very small and some of the seats are situated over the stage, this makes for inevitable audience participation and the students were all brought into the performance (a play about a British comedian Frankie Howerd). In fact two of them were targeted so much by the main actor that they were in hysterics!

On stage at the Georgian Theatre!

At one point, when volunteers were asked for, my husband was frog-marched backstage to reappear centre stage sporting a centurion helmet and wielding a spear! He delivered an ode with great aplomb and this set all of us into further hysterics. We all had tears rolling down our cheeks.

At the end of the play we were invited to the bar for a glass of wine and we met the actors there. The principal actor told the students that he hoped he hadn’t embarrassed them and was thrilled to know that they had travelled from Holland and Colombia and been taken to see his play. They were bold enough to ask if he would have a photo taken with us all! He was delighted and insisted that we go on to the stage to do this!

The whole experience was thrilling for all of us and we laughed about the experience and re-lived it around the kitchen table well into the night!

Day five:

The final day – we were all a little subdued after the previous evening and a little sad to be finishing what had been an amazing learning adventure together.

We rounded off the week with more language work, an evaluation of the week’s course and some discussion about how to continue the learning process.

After a leisurely lunch I drove them to the airport and we said our goodbyes.

Returning to the house things felt a little flat and quiet. It had been a wonderful 5 days!

I read the comments they had written in a card to me and will share some of them here:

  • “Thanks for this wonderful week. I didn’t expect that English speaking would be so funny!”
  • ” Hope to be back!”
  • “I really felt at home – thanks for making me self-confident!”
  • “We learned a lot and laughed as much!”

The greatest downside for the teacher is that you eat a lot! (preparing typical English dishes and sampling traditions such as afternoon tea!)

The best thing for everybody – it doesn’t matter what you are doing; washing up, looking for lost dogs, learning new phrasal verbs or hobnobbing with actors  – you will be learning :)!!

November 26, 2009

Language Immersion

A short immersion experience can send your language to the next level very quickly.

I thought I’d turn my attention in this post to ways of really giving your language skills a big boost. As with all things life often takes over and our good intentions for daily practice go out of the window. It pays then, from time to time, to try and give your language development some undivided attention.

The very best way of doing this is to go to a country where the language is spoken. You have several options and each of these has their merits:

Go on holiday

  • Will you go alone? If not, then realistically how much language are you likely to use while you are there? If you do go alone then will you use every opportunity to speak? I know I might be more inclined to be anonymous and mooch around in silence! It depends on your personality. If you are likely to take advantage of the chance to develop and improve then  go for it, it is a lovely way to relax, see the country and hone your skills.

Take a language course

  • You could do this in your own country which is still valuable, perhaps find a native speaker teacher to help you. Or, you could choose a course overseas there are many to choose from. Obviously you need to consider the cost of the course and the accommodation.
  • Here are a couple of directories to help you see what is available Study Global  and  English in Britain  which features accredited courses. I have included these as examples. There are many more around. Do your homework and compare and contrast.
  • Don’t just consider capital cities they can be expensive and there are often courses in other parts of a country which are just as good and will allow you to explore a different area. (see my RLI blog  on why not to choose London for your course).
  • The best accommodation is probably with a family so that you can use your language all day. Make sure you tell the school exactly what your needs are on this front. Some schools offer hostels where you can still practise albeit with other non-native students or self catering accommodation. Again do your homework.

Home Tuition courses

  • These courses offer you the opportunity to live in your teacher’s home which gives you a real immersion experience with your own personal guide and mentor. To my mind they offer the best immersion experience. You will receive formal language lessons (usually one to one but some teachers have 2 or 3 students staying at once) These teachers are also wonderful hosts and you will feel very welcome in their homes. (If you scroll down on the blog cited above you will find a posting on these courses).
  • Here are some  sites to have a look at (in no particular order): Home Lingua, Regent, SGI, InTuition  Live and Learn Homestays  RLI  again do your homework and do some research to find what you want. There are others this is just a sample.

If you want to come to Yorkshire for your Home Tuition course then here is a flavour! I’d love to see you there!

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