IATEFL 2015 | Madeleine du Vivier & Jo-Ann Delaney : Lessons learned as a language learner | Talk summary

Posted: April 16, 2015 in Conferences
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Abstract: This talk reports on a project that two experienced teacher trainers undertook to inform what they tell their pre/in-service trainees about the language learning process. We studied elementary Spanish for a term and documented our findings on a weekly basis. You’ll leave the session with practical ideas of how you can use this experience in your teaching and training sessions.

m.duvivier@btinternet.com,  jo-ann delaney@canterbury.ac.uk

As a result of their experience as language learners, Madeleine and Jo-Ann’s attitudes and beliefs about what should happen in classroom changed.  They had skype discussions of their experience after each class and altogether there were about 30 things that they saw differently in the end. Also, sometimes they had quite different perspectives on what was happening in class. For this presentation they chose what they felt were the ten most important issues, so this session is a summary of key perceptions that changed for Madeleine and Jo-Ann.

But first, what are your beliefs on these issues?


1. Learners should engage with the meaning of a written or spoken text before they do any language work. 


2. Teacher should provide controlled practice of pronunciation through repetition or drilling.

Both Madeleine and Jo-Ann felt desperate to use controlled pronunciation practice through repetitions / drilling (they even noticed other students trying words out under their breath because they wanted to try them out so much, but didn’t get enough opportunities in the lessons).

3. Classroom tasks and resources should be authentic.

When they started out, they felt that authenticity was very important. However, when she was taking classes, Jo-Ann felt happy practicing language asking partners about things she’d never speak about in L1, like in this exercise:


4. Learners should work in different pairs / groups in a lesson.

Not Imp >>>>> V important.
Both Madeleine and Jo-Ann really recognized the value of re-grouping students. They got incredibly bored sitting next to the same person.

5. Whole group questions should be asked randomly. 

What they mean was checking answers to exercises: should the teacher nominate random people, or use a predictable pattern of nomination?
Madeleine: Not imp >>>> V imp – she wanted to prepare her answer and really didn’t want to be put on the spot.
Jo-Ann: V imp >>>> Not – she felt predictable patterns were bad for her learning missed questions 1-5 because she would be number six.

6. It’s good for stronger and weaker learners to work together to encourage peer teaching.
Madeleine V imp >>>> Not – she wanted to work with same level or lower to feel safer.
Jo-Ann: ‘explaining helps you’ is rubbish. I want to learn, I don’t want to explain.

7. Praise is important for motivation.
fenomenalJo-Ann Imp >>> V Imp. Before taking lessons, Jo-Ann thought it’s not that important and she had a worry that sometimes teachers overpraise.

But when she had ‘Fenomenal!’ on her writing, it had enormous impact on her motivation. When she came to work, she couldn’t stop talking about it and worked really hard to get that again.

  • 8. Be aware of physical features of the learning environment. E.g. heat, light, furniture layout.
    Madeleine: Not >>> V Imp. Before the experience, Madeleine hadn’t realized how much being uncomfortable would affect your learning. You should really think about how the classroom is laid out and the temperature.

9. It’s important to always use the target language even with a monolingual group. 

Jo-Ann: V Imp and stayed that way (the classes were 99% in Spanish and Jo-Ann really valued that).
Madeleine: V Imp >>> NOT. She wanted more English because she didn’t understand grammar explanations.

10. There should be a variety of tasks and input.

Madeleine Imp >>>> V Imp.
Jo-Ann – wasn’t an issue.

Other issues included listening – too fast and the teacher didn’t play them enough times; the amount of time spent on correcting homework in the lesson, etc.


The experience (and the fact that they had different attitudes to what was happening in classroom) made Madeleine and Jo-Ann more aware that they need to question their assumptions. They became more aware of their students (and, for Madeleine, especially their comfort).


  • all teachers should get involved in an L2 course (even 5 lessons would tell you a lot);
  • keep a diary and if you have someone to compare, draw a scale.  t’s the scale that makes you realize how different your reactions are;
  • they feel that in a teacher trainer course week 3 would be a good time for a foreign language lesson;
  • it’s a great idea to do a foreign language lesson in a Delta / in service courses

Here’s the handout that Madeleine and Jo-Ann shared (the last page comes from The Developing English Teacher by Duncan Foord).

_handout1 _handout2 _handout3


Tim Lo, IH Learning Chinese  – this is an article that I wasn’t able to locate
Scott Thornbury, The (De-)Fossilisation Diaries.

This session was one of the ‘unmissables’ for me, because I’m very interested in lessons that teachers draw from their language learning experience. It was also quite surprising: I had expected the presenters to talk about some aspects of language acquisition or learner strategies, because those were the kinds of takeaways I drew from my own recent language learner experience (I was teaching myself German and also took two dozen Dogme-type skype lessons). But Madeleine and Jo-Ann’s experience was in a class, so it was a lot more similar to that of their learners, and their top takeaways were about classroom management and the teacher’s decisions. Two most important things I took away from this talk was (1) it’s extremely important to survey students’ perceptions about 5 lessons into the course (2) things important for the students might be things that have never occurred to me – so it’s important to make sure that feedback I get isn’t too focused – e.g. simply a questionnaire might be a poor choice. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

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