"General English" courses

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English language lessons for everybody

Adult students mosaic
Young adult learners

Communication and confidence in English. These are the main aims of English as a Foreign Language ("EFL", also called TEFL, ESL and TESOL).

EFL is also about grammar, vocabulary and syntax; spelling, literature and writing styles; pronunciation, presentation and body language.
An EFL teacher will teach all the skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The big question in EFL is, "How do you get a class of 6 or 8 strangers to relax and talk in English?"

It's not easy to have a good conversation with a total stranger. You need to find themes that really interest everybody in the class.

Most courses of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) are "General English".


Lesson themes for "General English"

Each EFL lesson has a goal, for example to teach direct and indirect English, or the vocabulary of buildings, or a verb tense.
Most lessons also have a theme to make them more interesting.

Multi-lingual groups are better than monolingual. In other words, you don't really want everybody in the class to have the same first language (because they are always tempted to speak that language and not English). However, if you have a class with learners of many different ages, cultures and lifestyles, it can be difficult to find a lesson theme that everybody wants to talk about.

Kalashnikov and apple pieSome lesson themes are unacceptable in some cultures. For example, it may not be a good idea to try teaching a class of older male refugees from Afghanistan how to cook an apple pie. I tried that once...

Imagine that you're an EFL teacher, and this is your class for the week: An electronics engineer from Tokyo, two Mexican teenagers, a politician from Sicily and four military cadets from Saudi Arabia. Some of them are shy, some are only interested in football or politics, and the military cadets say that their one interest is the terrifying motor sport of "sidewalk skiing". Your job is to get these learners to relax and talk. Not easy? That's what an EFL teacher has to do every day.


Themes from the coursebooks

Apart from grammar books, books for IELTS, etc, there are some very good General English coursebooks like Face2Face from Cambridge English, Cutting Edge from Pearson Longman and Total English from Pearson Longman.

EFL textbooks

Coursebooks are mostly for students aged 11 to 18 so the lessons have themes like music, fashion, sport and making friends.
More advanced students are usually aged 17 or 18, so their coursebooks have more interesting and difficult themes that are often good for adult classes too.

Do these themes sound interesting to you? They are from the major EFL coursebooks:

Elementary level
  • Say hello; introductions, what's your name?
  • Where do you live? Houses, apartments, cities.
  • How do you travel? Planes, trains and cars.
  • Get there on time. Timetables, appointments, hours of the day.
  • Pre-Intermediate level
  • Leisure time; what do you do in your spare time?
  • Describe your family. Physical appearance.
  • Good relationships. Friends, love and marriage.
  • What do you like to play? Sports and games.
  • Intermediate level
  • What makes me happy; the psychology of happiness.
  • Your holiday, my job. Working in the tourism industry.
  • Astronauts, fliers, adventurers. Courage, challenge, endurance.
  • "Can I take a message?" Using the telephone for work.
  • Upper Intermediate level.
  • Global garden. The Eden project, environmental conservation.
  • That smells nice! Perfume and its history.
  • Hidden messages. The story of codes and ciphers.
  • Is it art? Expressing preferences and opinions.
  • Advanced level.
  • How do you come across? What other people think of you.
  • Truth and lies. The vocabulary and ethics of honesty.
  • Rules and regulations in Singapore. Safety vs. civil liberties
  • Bhutan and the Gross National Happiness Index. Progress or tradition?
  • These coursebooks are useful, but they're expensive. For each series, you need the teacher's book, the student's book, and CD-ROMs of "class audio" for each level of English. There are usually 6 levels. That's about 1000 to 1500 euros just to have one copy of one series - and you should have a new student book (about 30 euros) for each new student.


    Other teaching resources

    A teacher may use coursebooks like Face2Face or Cutting Edge for 20% or even 50% of lessons, but will also use good activities from other textbooks. For example, a lexicon and exercises on "weather vocabulary - Intermediate"; debates like "cats vs. dogs" or "men and women, equal but different?"; reading scripts; story-telling; listening exercises; mini-plays; scenarios for role plays; games, crossword puzzles, etc.

    A working teacher also writes and creates materials such as games and vocabulary lists, and acquires them from other teachers and from the Internet. Possibilities include movie transcripts and literature samples; grammar lessons; critical analysis of art and literature for the baccalaureate, and so on. For student presentations, a teacher needs to be able to suggest sources of materials (Wikipedia articles are too long and difficult for most students) and useful technology like electronic whiteboards and Prezi.

    These are typical classroom lessons: Talk to your neighbour about the most dangerous thing you've ever done; In groups of four, write a class newspaper of fake news and humour; Write a formal email to a hotel using specific vocabulary; Role play a work interview; Do a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation of an imaginary project; Edit the report in Chapter 7; Write a 3-minute theatre play and perform it; Debate whether to build a new airport in an imaginary small town.

    I use lessons like these when I teach General English. They're good lessons. In fact, they're great lessons - as long as everybody in the class is confident, relaxed, motivated and has lots of imagination. However, adult learners don't need to be kept in a classroom all day, and not everybody wants to go back to a school desk.


    General English, or English for Specific Purposes?

    So, General English is good, but it's not for everybody.

    For adults who want to improve their English but don't want to go back to the classroom, an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) course is often the answer, because it can be more relevant to your life, your work and your interests.

    ESP courses include:

  • custom courses that are tailor-made and personalised for you or your organisation,
  • business English,
  • academic English
  • English + Nature, which is our own special subject.
  • When everybody has the same interests, everybody will want to talk, and everybody will want to listen and work.

    There are clear advantages to English courses with a lot of real, practical activities.

    Relevant practical activites are very motivating because they give learners something they really want to discuss in English. Adult learners often put up barriers to learning languages; if the lesson activity is really interesting, learners relax and learn English without putting up these barriers. If the activity is not only fun but useful, as with "citizen science" projects, so much the better.


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    " People often forget that the purpose of language is communication. "