Last Saturday I was a supervisor and an invigilator for the Cambridge ESOL KET and PET examinations which we organized for our pre-intermediate and intermediate level students. The exams were held at the Aizuwakamatsu Chamber of Commerce, which is not too far from the Windmill English Centre in Nakajima Machi.
I always feel very pleased and proud to offer our students and other candidates the chance to take examinations in English which are truly of an international standard even though there is a lot of administration work for us to do in order to hold the exams.
When I asked a couple of students after the exams about them, they commented that the listening paper was hard because the speakers they had to listen to on the test CD spoke so “quickly”. However, when I was invigilating during the listening paper, I thought the native English speakers on the CD were talking clearly and naturally. The students’ comments reminded me of the importance of exposing them to the rhythm and intonation of natural, authentic spoken English along with its hesitations, repetitions, weak forms, contractions (i.e. “I’m” not “I am”), ellipses (missing out words when considered unnecessary) etc..
At the school we use some of the best quality teaching materials available which, generally, use language as it is spoken naturally by fluent English speakers. It is clear that, in order to pass Cambridge exams, students must get this type of listening practice in the classroom and/or at home.
On Sunday 15th April I travelled down to Tokyo to a school of English in Akasaka to be an oral examiner for the Cambridge ESOL YLE speaking tests. “YLE” stands for Young Learners English i.e. children between the ages of 7 and 12. The three levels (Starters, Movers and Flyers) cover all four language skills: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking and are standard tests taken all over the world at reputable language schools.
Although it takes some time to get to Tokyo from Aizu, I enjoyed doing the speaking tests for two main reasons: One is that these tests are stimulating for the children. There are many colour pictures and the tasks are more like enjoyable quizzes than formal tests. Some of the tasks include spotting and describing differences and telling a story from a series of pictures, in English, of course. This makes taking Cambridge YLE tests a very positive experience for children.
The other reason is that most of the children I interviewed were cheerful and confident speakers of English of various nationalities including some Japanese children who had lived abroad.
At the Windmill English Centre we are also very pleased to organize Cambridge ESOL YLE tests for children studying at our school and also for other children who might like to enjoy taking stimulating and international standard English examinations.
Please contact us for more details about our schedule for Cambridge YLE tests.
For more details of Cambridge YLE tests: www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/yle/index.html (in English)
I was back in my hometown of Cambridge U.K. at the beginning of this month, just for 6 days. However, during those six days I spoke to people from nine different countries; most of them working in England.
I met people from Germany, Spain, Macedonia, Cyprus, India, the USA, Pakistan, Poland and Croatia. As a teacher of English, I tend to pay particular attention to the way people speak English, to the type of accents they have when speaking English. From a person’s accent, his/her appearance and other clues, it is like a quiz for me to guess where in the world that person grew up and learnt his/her first language (L1). For example, when I was in a café in Cambridge (http://www.patisserie-valerie.co.uk/cambridge.aspx) with my father and my sister and her family we were served by a friendly, confident and quick waitress with a foreign (non-native English speaker) accent. She had the name “Nela” on her name badge. She looked southern European and had jet black hair and thick black eyebrows. When she came over to serve us for the third time, I said to her, “Nela, are you Spanish or Brazilian?” To which she replied, “Actually I am Croatian.”
This illustrates how cosmopolitan Cambridge has become, not only are there students from all over the world studying at Cambridge but there are also workers from all over the world (and particularly from the Eastern European members of the European Union) in Cambridge. Many of Nela’s customers are not English but come from various other countries so you could say my hometown is now an example of a global village with communication in the global language, English.
Last week we had a large 32V flat-screen TV installed in Classroom One at the Windmill English Centre in Nakajima Machi. It replaced a smaller computer monitor. Now it is easier for our students to see photos, watch videos and read text from the internet on this much larger screen.
Using the internet allows teachers to supplement course books and add to the intrinsic interest of the topics and language presented and practised. Naturally, teachers at the Windmill English Centre are expected to preview any internet material before using it in a class to make sure it is suitable for use in an ELT (English language teaching) classroom and then to plan ways of how to use the material in an effective and interesting way to teach particular language functions or structures or whatever cultural issue is being presented and taught.
All three classrooms in our Nakajima school have internet access and we are continuously upgrading our school facilities and the materials we use as well as a developing the teaching skills of our full-time and part-time teachers of English.
One evening this week when I was teaching a group of eight stronger elementary level students, I gave them a short listening test. All they had to do was listen to 12 simple questions on a particular track from their English course CD and write 12 simple short answers. Although they were basic Wh or Yes/No questions containing the words “is / was” “are / were” “can / could” they were spoken at a natural speed by a native speaker.
This particular group consists of 4 students who have studied practical English with me once a week since October 2010 (i.e. 5 hours a month x 18 months or approximately 90 hours of practice) and 4 other students who joined this group in October 2011 after taking a TOEIC Bridge placement test. These 4 students have had just under 30 hours of practical English lessons with me.
The results of this listening test were very interesting. There was a very noticeable gap between the scores of the two sub-groups. Those students who have studied 90 hours of English achieved much higher scores than those students who have only studied 30 hours. I like to think that this shows the value and effectiveness of the practical English lessons which they are taking. I also think it shows the lack of exposure to basic English spoken fluently of the students who have only studied for about 30 hours. I hope those 4 students who did not achieve high marks in this test will realize that they should also have equally good listening skills after another 60 hours or so of practical and active English classes.
I am really pleased to be able to offer people in the Aizu area and in the larger Tohoku district of Japan the chance to take Cambridge ESOL exams. In my career as an English teacher stretching back all the way to 1984, I have not come across any better examinations of all four English skills so obviously I have great respect for the Cambridge ESOL exams.
On Saturday May 19th we will be holding the KET & PET examinations, for which the deadline for applications is April 14th
Did you know that exactly the same examinations will also be held on May 19th in reputable language schools and institutions all over the world? This is because Cambridge ESOL exams are international standard exams taken at over 2700 exam centres in over 130 different countries.
Both KET (Key English Test for pre-intermediate level students) and PET (Preliminary English Test for intermediate level students) have three papers testing four skills equally. They are:
Paper 1: Reading & Writing
Paper 2: Listening
Paper 3: Speaking
I think it is very interesting to note that the speaking tests are carried out by two Cambridge ESOL certified oral examiners, who must be native (or native speaker level) English speakers, educated to a minimum of degree level and with a minimum number of years of relevant teaching experience. In the speaking test, two candidates are interviewed at the same time and have to be able to interact and communicate not only with one of the oral examiners but also with each other to complete certain tasks.
All exam papers are sent to Cambridge ESOL in the UK to be marked and processed which then issues official certificates.
After seeing some rather strange, unnatural, unbalanced, mediocre and even patronizing English exams produced by some Japanese institutions, it is such a relief and a pleasure for professional English teachers to witness the accurate assessment of English skills made possible by taking Cambridge ESOL exams.
Since coming back to Aizu on January 7th after a winter break on the beach in Thailand, I have been pleasantly surprised by the lack of snow so far this winter in Aizu.
Normally I have to clear away snow from the six parking spaces in front of our school in Nakajima Machi most mornings in January and February which can take an hour or so of hard, sweaty work but this year I have had very little snow-clearing to do. As you might be able to sense, it is not a job that I particularly enjoy.
January is also a time to consider plans for the coming year, such as school trips abroad to English-speaking countries for our students, their relatives and friends. At the start of the month we were thinking of taking a group of students to the UK during the summer holiday to attend a wonderful residential summer school for two weeks but, after making a few enquiries with some of the travel agents we regularly use, we have had to postpone this trip. The reason for this is that the London Olympic Games will be taking place this summer at exactly the same time as we were planning to go there. As a result, flights to the UK and accommodation there in late July and early August are very difficult to obtain.
We still want to be able to give our younger learners the opportunity to practise their English skills naturally outside the classroom and we still want to organise a school trip which is affordable for most people so we are considering a school trip this summer to Hawaii for one week. We plan to take a group of young learners (from 10-17) to the summer camp at the YMCA of Hawaii where they will be able to enjoy a wide range of sports, games and other activities in English with other children of the same age who live in Hawaii and who come from the mainland USA as well as lucky children from other countries such as Spain, India etc.
We went on a similar school trip two years ago which was a wonderful experience for our young learners.
Meanwhile older students can join our group and spend a week studying English at a Waikiki language school or just enjoy the fantastic beaches and Polynesian atmosphere of Oahu island along with us.
This month we have also been planning our schedule of English examinations for 2012. I am always very keen to promote the Cambridge ESOL exams not only for the students at the Windmill English Centre but also for any other people in the Aizu area and beyond who would like the challenge of passing truly international standard English examinations. Professional English teachers understand that Cambridge ESOL English examinations test all four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) equally and accurately in English that is natural and practical. This is why they are the standard English exams in reputable language schools in English-speaking countries.
Finally, this month we have been considering organizing a sightseeing trip to the UK for our students and friends in October after the London Olympics and when airfares should be easier and cheaper to obtain. We plan to take a group sightseeing around London and to London’s theatre heartland, the West End to see a musical, to the beautiful university city of Cambridge (my hometown) and to see the lovely green English countryside, picturesque villages and historical stately homes.
All in all, we hope that 2012 will be a very good year for everyone connected with the school!