Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Tag: Remote Learning

My Experience of Online Japanese Learning: Week 1

I have decided to start a remote language course to learn more about what my online students face

I decided, after teaching the summer remotely during a pre-sessional course, to undertake an online language course with my institute. The reason for this was that I had been teaching and delivering course content over the summer months but I had never undertaken an online language course and had no experience of being a student. Thus, I decided to start an online language course and registered for Beginner Japanese. At this point, I should state that I have never studied Japanese, have no knowledge of the alphabet, understand the grammar is similar to Korean, yet am very new to this language. I have taught many Japanese students in the past and I thought this would be a chance to enhance my linguistic awareness while also experiencing what my students experienced, within an online context.

I started by ordering the recommended coursebooks from Amazon: “Japanese for Busy People I: Kana Version”, “Japanese for Busy People I: Kana Workbook”, and “Japanese for Busy People I: The Workbook”. At this point, I had no awareness of what I was embarking upon but as soon as the books arrived I realised that there was a lot more to Japanese than just remembering grammar and vocabulary – I had to learn a completely new alphabet and practise writing individual words. Not one to give up, I decided to download the Duo Lingo app to help me learn the Japanese alphabet and memorise Hiragana. Naturally, comparison between the Korean alphabet (Hangeul) and the Japanese alphabet arose, as did much frustration. Yet, I had the online lesson to look forward to.

I also had to download and print off the vocabulary before the first lesson. I used this to refer to during the lesson but there was vocabulary sheet which included different countries and nationalities, jobs as well as honorifics. I started to notice similar patterns to Korean with the suffix with countries to create the nationality, honorifics, and job titles. This made understanding the culture of the language a lot easier but I stumbled with the Kana (Hiragana and Katakana). I am sure with continued study, I will improve my Japanese reading.

That is a lot to learn but I believe that I have the patience to learn Kana

I arrived to the online class five minutes before it was due to start. I remember myself starting lessons around twenty to thirty minutes before the start of the class to allow students to have a chat before starting the class as scheduled. Nevertheless, the teacher was present with her mic and webcam off, and there were a few more students that had already arrived. What was interesting was that there were different nationalities that had decided to learn Japanese – these included students from India, Chile as well as students from the UK. The teacher also used the breakout rooms quite a bit for students to get to know each other – I was placed in the room with the most animated and enthusiastic (I would say loudest) student. We introduced each other and why we decided to study Japanese before returning back to the main Zoom session to report back (in English).

After a short while of drilling and introducing new Japanese vocabulary and grammatical structures, we had a chance to practise this in breakout rooms again. I was so keen to try out this new linguistic knowledge with my students but my favourite and enthusiastic student took over AGAIN. I had to step up a little and allow the quieter student to speak up a little. I wonder whether I was starting to act more like a teacher again. The more enthusiastic student was so keen that he had difficulty remembering what we were doing and had to go through the phrases twice as long as the less vocal students. This got me thinking about allowing space for acquisition to occur rather than trying to produce the language immediately. As much as one wishes for language to be acquired as quickly as possible, you cannot hurry the process.

Even my main coursebook has no Romanisation to help me with the pronunciation so I must learn Kana

Anyhow, I had a short while to practice the phrases with the other students and before we realised, we all returned to the main room again before being introduced to questions and basic negative verb conjugations by the teacher. The teacher decided to ask me a question in Japanese and fortunately I was able to understand: “Are you Japanese?” (日本人ですか) and I replied “I am not Japanese” (私は日本人ではありません). I felt a sense of achievement. Not only had a learnt basic grammatical constructs in Japanese but I also was able to respond to basic questions in either the affirmative or negative. I heard the teacher use Japanese vocabulary with other students such as ‘student’, ‘teacher’, ‘lawyer’, ‘secretary’, etc – all from the word list that we were provided before the class.

The class finished after an hour and a half, with the time flying by. Everybody said thank you and goodbye, before the lesson finished. There are a few things that I have to undertake before the start of the lesson next week and these include learning Japanese numbers (0-10). If Japanese numbers are anything like Korean numbers, it will be quite easy to acquire. I also have to introduce myself to the class Padlet using the Roma-ji (Romanisation of Japanese phrases/grammar) which I completed immediately. There are also a few personal things that I would like to complete before the end of this week: learning Kana completely (I don’t want to be constrained by the Roma-ji and wish to read and pronounce Kana naturally), learning basic phrases, understanding simple verb forms and learning the grammar. Actually, that is quite a bit to complete but I think it is possible if I decide to study a few hours each day. I certainly have time at the moment to study as there are not many English lessons that I am teaching. And you never know, it would be really interesting to see how far I can push my Japanese language skills in three months.

I would like to share my progress of learning a language remotely to see if it is possible and also learn more about best practice for online language learning and teaching. And what better way to review this by undertaking an online language course. It would be interesting to hear whether other teachers have undertaken an online language course, and if they have the challenges that they have encountered. One thing that I have enjoyed with my first lesson is the opportunity to have a place to practice the pronunciation of Japanese within a supportive and encouraging environment.

See you in an update soon, where I share my online/remote learning journey.

Is There A Difference Between ‘Remote’ and ‘Online’ Teaching?

I was watching a recent YouTube video by Cambridge University Press ELT about the ‘great reset’ with regards to online teaching. What struck me was the fact that more credence is being given towards ‘online teaching’ now, rather than before the pandemic. I remember chatting to some other English teachers and teacher trainers about ‘online teaching’ and enquiring why there could not be an input session about online teaching and language learning during an initial teacher certificate, such as the CELTA or the equivalent. Some reasons that were made included online teaching not being a true form of teaching or it being more a fad, with the majority of organisations – prior to the pandemic – being located in South East Asia. You only have to scroll through the various online teaching companies to notice that the vast majority are located in China, Taiwan or Korea.

A few years later, a number of physical institutions and organisations are having to catch up and compete with online institutions. As well as companies and institutes having to incorporate a change to redress the current emergency, many teachers, who were teaching face-to-face, now find themselves in the position to teach within an online environment. It is my assumption that the vast majority of English teachers and practitioners have had limited experience of teaching within an online environment, let alone learning online. This raises the question: “How can English teachers be qualified to teach English online if they have not been trained?”. Teachers who have completed various qualifications (CELTA, DELTA, etc.) have all focused within a physical classroom environment. Teachers themselves have also not develop the softskills to deliver lesson content online for students and those teachers who have years of experience of teaching synchronously for numerous organisations based in South East Asia, usually unqualified without a CELTA or equivalent, have not been consulted. I should point out now that I am not disregarding how organisations, institutes and professional teachers have responded to the emergency form of teaching, but I am merely wondering whether more can be done.

A difference between ‘remote’ and ‘online’

Nevertheless, the video that I watch (please see above), raised an important point about the difference between ‘remote teaching’ and ‘online teaching’. Ben Goldstein highlighted that there was a clear division both forms which is a good step forwards. However, I disagree with the division of terms above. Personally, ‘remote teaching’ is associated with the location, while ‘online teaching’ is related to the tools to deliver the lesson. You are ‘remote’ from the classroom yet using ‘online’ tools to teach the students. When you teach ‘online’, you are using a variety of both ‘synchronous’ and ‘asynchronous’ tools to deliver content – not everything is delivered synchronously when teaching ‘online’. When you teach remotely, you can be located anywhere – at home, in an institute or at a cafe. You are not restricted to teaching, unless you have a stable internet connection and suitable equipment. What I find Ben is describing above is how the industry is dealing with the pandemic (“Remote”) and what online organisations were operating prior to the pandemic (“Online”).

Anyhow, the video is well worth watching as it does raise important questions as well as opportunities that are available for educational institutes.

Preparing for an Online Pre-Sessional Course: The Technology

Over the past week or so, I have been attending some Zoom meetings to prepare and induct for the newly arranged eight week Online Pre-Sessional course, which is to start next Monday. It is very much a new venture for all involved in the online course: students, teachers, convenors and admin staff. 

Last week, all those involved attended a meeting to introduce all technology involved with the course. We were expected to become aware of all functions related to Zoom: breakout rooms, polls, chat, etc. This became quite an interesting experience for all end users. The person who organised this is technology and remote learning professional at our University. 

The first part of this session looked at the hopes, fears and expectations of the Online Pre-Sessional course. Fears seemed to outweigh many other aspects: “Will I get used to the technology?”, “Will I embarrass myself to the students?”, “What will happen if I can’t use the technology?”. Some of the hopes focused more on being establishing rapport with students, noticing a development with student competency or being available for students during course hours. It was obvious that significant challenges faced by all tutors and students are related to technology and the ‘remoteness’ in relation to the course. We then looked at technological challenges and benefits and this was discussed in breakout rooms via Zoom. Much of what was discussed was demonstrated below.

On top of Zoom meetings, which focus on synchronous lessons, there is also an emphasis on asynchronous learning for students. With our institute, we have started to incorporate Canvas and were encouraged during the initial meeting to record self-introductions and post on the discussion board to students. Then, to encourage students to self-introduce themselves once the course starts. Furthermore, we were recommended to personalise the self-introduction – with the inclusion of hobbies, the place where we live or other aspects about our lives – so that rapport could be established. It appears to be quite invaluable suggestion, but obviously it is most dependent on how much a tutor wishes to share with their cohort of students. Other aspects on Canvas include the Announcements and Inbox, which I have not really used much in the past but I look forward to seeing how much this is integrated during the summer course.

Finally, there were a few considerations for tutors such as not organising a private WhatsApp/WeChat discussion group with the students (I guess there are some privacy-related issues). It was recommended that if students have any issues, that they use the formal channels of communication so that it is transparent and open. Obviously, it was possibly suggested that students could arrange their own private online social groups to help each other or share their own reflections and experiences. There is an assumption that providing learners with a private space would be of benefit and that they are able to liaise among themselves.

Some questions that I have going forward (and I hope to answer in future blog posts) include:

  1. What is the ratio of face-to-face synchronous teaching/learning to asynchronous teaching/learning?
  2. How much work ‘behind the scenes’ will go into synchronous teaching?
  3. How will students respond to this new environment of teaching and learning?
  4. What sort of EAP-related issues will emerge during the course?

This is my only second year as a Pre-Sessional Tutor and I am looking forward to this course as I feel much like a beginner teacher again. I also hope to share another update in the near future about my most recent inductions this week and my plans for next week’s course.

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