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Feb 11, 2020
Hugh Dellar

Chunk of the day: room for improvement

This afternoon I interviewed someone who’s applied to do one of our language courses this summer. We like to Skype people who are coming to study with us because it helps us get a feel for their level of English, it puts a face to the name and it allows us to get to know each other a bit better. It’s part of the personal touch that makes us a little bit different from many other centres.

Anyway, to get back to what I was saying, I started off doing this an interview and was immediately struck by how good the student was. “Have you taken any of the Cambridge exams?” I enquired. “Yeah. I got an A at Advanced level last year and I’m looking to do Proficiency next summer, if I can.”

It’s usually at times like this that I start panicking slightly and wondering what on earth there is left to teach a student who’s this good and who can already communicate very clearly and discuss any number of different topics. I also know that plenty of Advanced students find the whole process of studying frustrating. The huge leap they made getting from Elementary to Intermediate seems like ancient history and they now feel like they’ve plateaued – they no longer feel like they’re making any progress. “Your English is really good already,” I commented. “Yes,” they replied, “but there is still a space for improvement.” “Well, that’s true,” I noted. “No matter how good you are, there’s always ROOM for improvement!

At higher levels, once the vast majority of any grammar you’ll ever need has been covered, progress is basically measured in small steps: a new collocation here, an expression you’d never quite learned properly there; a prepositional phrase this morning and maybe a new use of a word you’ve already met plenty of times this afternoon. You get better chunk by chunk by chunk – and as you learn more chunks of language, your listening and reading improve, you become more accurate and your English conforms more to the accepted norms that fluent users adhere to.

This is why we believe it’s vitally important to revise and recycle language we’ve previously taught – and to test students in all sorts of little ways throughout their classes. When learners see they’ve remembered part of a new expression or have the chance to shout out the missing word in a sentence on the board, the learning becomes more visible and the sense of progress more real.

By the way, before I forget, I once wrote a whole blog post about how teachers can help to activate memory in the language classroom – and here’s a short video on how you can use Quizlet to help you remember new chunks that you meet.

Want to boost your English?

Take one of our online courses.

Discuss these questions with a partner.

  • Do you ever feel like you’re not making any progress with your English?
  • What was the last new expression / chunk you learned?
  • How often do you revise? How do you do it?
  • Say two things you’re good at, but know there’s still room for improvement.

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