By | January 15, 2018

A Personal Story

Maybe a personal story can make these five principles of CLT become clearer. This incident really opened my eyes and set me free (hence the picture).

This story is short and simple, and goes back to 1993, when I was doing my Cambridge TEFL Certificate Course, known as the CELTA. I had already taught for a year in Caracas, Venezuela, but there I had used a ‘grammar-translation’ method, and it somehow seemed wrong. I realised this in the first 10 minutes of the first class of my CELTA course.

This is what happened. The instructor spent 10 minutes teaching us Russian. Huh? Why would he do this? Well, he wanted to expose us new teachers immediately to some of the principles of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) – principles which seem opposite to common sense. And when I became a CELTA tutor (that is, a Cambridge teacher trainer) 10 years later, I began doing the same thing, teaching the class Spanish in the first lesson, and all for the same reason: to immediately get students to think about how you really can learn. Let me describe what happened.

The tutor walked into the room, and when I said hello to him, he replied in Russian. I didn’t understand a word, and was quite surprised. The tutor then held up a picture of a doctor, and say ‘vrash’. Then he indicated that we should say it. So we did.


He then made us chant the word a few times, then he held up pictures of other professions (lawyer, painter, teacher, and so on). We went through all the Russian words for this, chanting them one at a time. The tutor then held up the ‘doctor’ picture, and said, in Russian “I am a doctor”. We knew this was what he said because he pointed to himself as he said this.

So, we all practised saying this sentence in Russian, pointing to ourselves. Then we had to stand up and do a ‘mingle’ activity, where we met and introduced ourselves in Russian. It was fun. It was interactive. We were all laughing as we did this activity. It was using language as it is meant to be used – for real communication in a real situation. And now, over 25 years later, I still remember the Russian word for doctor: ‘vrash’. Wow! 25 years later, and I haven’t forgotten that word. That’s when I realised how people really learn.

Then I thought about the boring, mechanical, meaningless, and unenjoyable ‘grammar-translation’ method I had been using in Caracas. And I realised how bad it was. So, I decided I would study this art of teaching, and keep studying it, and keep getting better at it. This method had the power to truly help others, and I would become dedicated to it.

Now, check that you know the meaning of the underlined vocabulary (also repeated below).

  • to be opposite (adj)
  • to chant (v)
  • to mingle (v)
  • to be interactive (adj)
  • to be mechanical (adj)
  • to be dedicated (adj)

The next post will pose the interesting questions, ‘What if I wanted to learn Chinese?’ The answer might surprise you.

If you want to find out more about me, go to aisielts.com .

Author: Andrew

Andrew Guilfoyle Cambridge CELTA, Cambridge DELTA, Cambridge CELTA teacher-trainer, M.Ed