Thursday, 3 June 2010

Guest Post - Talk, Talk, Telephone English by Clare

There's been much talk over the past couple of weeks about our future as ELT teachers. Where are we going and what can we do to keep up. After a month of 'real' blogging I'm going to hand the 'reins' over to a good friend of mine and a great teacher Clare. She's going to tell us a bit about telephone teaching. Something I would seriously consider doing, if I had  a fast enough internet connection.  I have an admission before she begins. About seven years ago when Clare first told me about teaching some students online I thought that she'd gone quite mad! Telephone and Internet classes strange woman! What the heck did I know! Enough from me over to Clare.

"Hello out there,

Leahn asked me to come up with a guest blog so here I am.
A brief introduction to start I guess. My name’s Clare and I’m a telephone teacher. Maybe that sounds like a confession in some kind of support group but it’s what I do. I teach English over the telephone as well as picking up translations, contributing to materials for an e-learning course and teaching a group of children in the village school where I live. I met Leahn when we were working in an academy together where the majority of pupils were YLs - the transition from there to here was a gradual one.

My particular little rant is about the joy of leaving the hassle of driving for hours a day, feeling like half my time was spent in my car or going to random gym classes (I’ve done Pilates with OAPs and spinning with sickeningly fit twenty-somethings), filling in time between company classes which went from 8:00am to 8 pm. When a call came out of the blue to ask if I would give phone classes a try, I have to admit I jumped at the idea. It was a dream come true – working from home and so seeing more of my young son. Even being able to pick him up from school for the first time! It was one of those chances that I felt I could make work and was totally right.

So that’s how I got started. I had done classes with a web cam whilst I was pregnant and had had wondered then at the technological breakthroughs which meant I could be in Fuerteventura having a 2:00pm class with a Japanese psychologist who was in his dressing gown. This was far lower tech – I only needed a phone and a computer with access to the internet - but was just as strange for me.

The practicalities? 

Obviously there has to be material – the bulk of the texts I use are from the internet – newspaper links, blogs, press releases etc but the joys of role playing in these classes are boundless and the best practice ever! No more shuffling chairs to go back to back (although this is a useful tactic in group classes) to simulate phone calls. I have fond memories of a very serious director of a bank in Pamplona insisting I left his office and that we did the role plays via phone because he said it felt daft to be sitting in the same room. This is what he had been looking for 12 years ago. 

Students in this type of situation also have the benefit of one to one teaching. Need to revise an important email to the Czech Republic team? Send it on. I have it in seconds, we go over it together, pull out and correct any errors (this is wonderful for dealing with fossilized glitches), extend any points that need attention and there goes the thirty minute class. It keeps you on your toes and is very rewarding for the learner.

Is it really ‘teaching’?

I get the impression that this type of class is seen as slightly less valid than traditional ones. When I’ve talked about it to other teachers they are either completely dismissive – as if this was a kind of ‘chat’ system or fad and that nobody could really learn but rather practice what a ‘real’ teacher had taught them. Or they were dumbfounded.

I promise you it is ‘real’ teaching. With the right handouts or material sent on in advance you can present new structures, practice listening and see results. I have had two of my students for nearly three years now and we have gone from initial, very limited communication to being able to share a joke. Their vocabulary and accuracy have increased and their pronunciation is constantly being monitored in the feedback sheet that I send them after every class.

I have to confess here that students have commented on other teachers who were audibly doing the dishes in the background and only paying limited attention. This is the type of teacher who may be very different in a traditional class environment but who has chosen to take this a little less seriously. Needless to say – they don’t keep their students for long! 

I realize now that I haven’t said half of what I’d like to about potential for exploiting the medium in terms of activities and learner satisfaction – but have gone on for long enough –but thanks for allowing me to babble for a while Leahn."

Links and FYI You tube is our friend. Short clips, amazing variety and easy to use. From training clips for HR managers to scenes from The Office, a wonderful resource for this type of learning.
Newspapers and current affairs are always common, especially as now you can find short videos for listening practice too:
Get the students to tell you what blogs they read in English – or find out what they’re interested in and pass some on.
I guess you’ll have seen this link already – but interesting and totally unrelated!

Thanks for the post Clare. We will be waiting for the next installment!


  1. Very interesting! Would you always rely on the internet to send things on in advance? S

  2. Hi there
    believe me, I've done some mad dashes to the nearest town clutching a pen drive when my dodgy village line was still on dial up - now I've got broad band and no problem whatsoever!