Materials adaptation as the key to successful foreign language learning and teaching

4 thought-provoking questions for new EFL teachers to ponder on

I am writing this post in order to stress the importance of evaluating and adapting the materials teachers are planning to use in the language classroom according to their learners’ specific needs. It is essential, especially for teachers with little experience who are new to the profession, to carefully examine and select the activities and tasks they will be using in their specific language classrooms.

  1. To what extent should I use the coursebook?

    Coming from a Greek EFL background, I know that the majority of the EFL teachers in my home country, especially the ones that are new to the profession, religiously stick to the coursebook and to the guidance provided in the teacher’s book. I am not trying to criticize this but I do firmly believe that this should be done to some extent only.

    New teachers should learn to evaluate the instructions and classroom tips they find in the coursebooks they use and not ‘absorb’ all of this input without examining it from a critical point of view.

2. Coursebook support materials: Are they relevant to my students’ needs?

    When preparing their lesson plan (something which I consider essential, especially in a language learning classroom), teachers should carefully examine the coursebook materials and exercises available to them and decide which ones they will be using during the lesson, which ones can be skipped and which ones can be used for homework. This will be extremely beneficial to the learning process, as teachers will make time in order to focus on tasks that their specific group of learners will mostly benefit from.

3. Language transfer errors: how can I detect and focus on the most frequent errors my students make according to their level?

    This is a difficult process, as teachers need to detect and carefully examine the most common L1 language transfer errors that hinder the learning process. What is quite helpful, however, is that in language classrooms where students share the same mother tongue, learner errors seem to have a number of shared characteristics. Teachers need to carefully categorize these errors (whether they are a language switch, grammar errors, syntax errors, lexical errors, collocational ones, or simple mispronunciations), to focus on the most common ones and try to address them through carefully selected activities (grammar tasks, pronunciation drills etc) according to the students’ level.

As part of this error detecting process, new teachers could really benefit from some background reading on language transfer errors. I highly recommend Errors in Language Learning and Use: Exploring Error Analysis by Carl James, which contains a thorough analysis of the different error types made by language learners.

4. Learner styles: Do the materials I use cater for my students’ needs? Can any of the activities be adapted in order to cover all of my students’ learning styles?

    For a language lesson to be successful, teachers need to reflect on the activities they will be using in their classroom and make them as relevant to their students as possible. They need to examine the materials they will prepare for each lesson in order to cater for the needs of the different learner types in their classroom. For example, focus on listening and speaking tasks for the auditory learners, give extra handouts for the visual types, hands on materials for the kinaesthetic learners, group activities for the social ones etc.  

    Focusing on L1 to design effective and innovative EFL coursebooks

One last thought: over the past 15 years I have attended numerous EFL language fairs packed with seminars, workshops and coursebook presentations. Without a doubt, the majority of the coursebook series presented contain a variety of innovative activities and added materials that do foster the learning process in many ways. I have not, however, yet seen a coursebook that would focus on the specific problems language learners encounter based on their L1 background and that would give explicit guidance to the teachers on how to address these issues by offering adapted materials that focus on the students’ specific needs. I do realize that the audience the materials writers are trying to cover is vast, but I would, however, love to see some language learning series specifically designed having the Greek students, for instance, in mind. This of course would require a lot of background research and the collection of data in order to detect the issues this specific group of learners could encounter in each and every level of the learning process. Teachers with a lot of experience and expertise may not need such a detailed guidance, but the ones that are new to this profession will find it extremely useful and will benefit from it.

Published by Joanna Nifli

Greek-Canadian ELT teacher and freelance translator with work experience at the United Nations and the European Parliament. Holder of an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (MA TEFL), the Cambridge CELTA and an MA in Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. Interested in innovative pedagogies in language education, TESOL, teacher training, applied linguistics and related topics

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