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The benefits of including outdoor trips for English language learners

Here at ESL Tutoring, we are the real-world English experts. We develop lessons tailored to each student’s individual needs to ensure they receive real-world English tutoring. Recently, Catherine was tutoring a Japanese student who we shall refer to as Kaiki.  He was in Sydney for a two-week tennis camp and it was his first visit to the city. Here is an update from Catherine about her time with Kaiki.

The student.

Kaiki’s parents wanted him to study English alongside tennis, they felt he did not fully appreciate the importance of acquiring English competency and that he was not overly interested in learning the language.  I was told he was a beginner with little knowledge of English, so my task was how to engage this student and make the most of these 14 hours assigned to the English course. He was reluctant to speak, not because he was ‘awkward’ but because he was shy and unsure of his ability to articulate his thoughts.  He understood instructions if they were given in a slow, clear manner, he was attentive and polite and after some coaxing admitted to being very nervous about being in Sydney and attempting to practise his English to ‘real’ Australians.

When we think of English language teaching and learning, we usually think of classroom tuition.  Depending on the types of students we teach, lessons are conducted in schools, colleges, universities, community halls, libraries, private homes and halls of residence, generally indoors. Many new methodologies are employed by innovative, resourceful tutors; but here at ESL Tutoring, we don’t believe in become entrenched in delivering lessons that consist only of working through a course-book.  We look at getting the students out of the classroom and into the local community as part of their learning programme.

The course.

After assessing Kaiki’s English language level, I set about putting together a scheme of work that would focus on developing his speaking and listening, fluency, pronunciation and confidence in his use of English.  I used a combination of resources including grammar and vocabulary building exercises, news items and discussion topics.  I also considered putting together a trip to Sydney that would allow him to practise his English with local Sydney-siders and to prepare for this I looked at clips on YouTube.

I spoke to Kaiki and discovered that he hadn’t visited the city and that he had no plans to, he was in Homestay accommodation and unless his host family took him out, he would return to Japan never having seen the Opera House, the Bridge or any other iconic landmarks.  This gave me the green light to put a trip into the course timetable and make it a four-hour excursion rather than a two-hour classroom activity.

The materials.

There’s a large amount of YouTube videos featuring Australia and Sydney which, when used with complementary materials, provide excellent resources for developing listening and pronunciation tasks for language learners.  They are also interesting, visual, short and informative, everything necessary for holding a student’s interest.  I used a number of ‘Lonely Planet’ clips and put together short question sheets for Kaiki to complete after watching.

As preparation for the trip, we worked through the first clip which featured Sydney landmarks.  The questions included dates (when was the bridge built), weights (how many tons of steel were used in its construction) and shapes (what inspired the architect of the opera house?  Orange segments) and so on.  The video gave lots of information about Sydney and Kaiki saw some of the landmarks for the first time.  Listening was challenging and after running the entire clip through we then went over the questions which were answered one by one, sometimes repeating the specific video section a number of times.

The trip.

The day of the trip we used different forms of transport which opened up the opportunity to learn new vocabulary.  The car drive to the ferry terminal included reading road signs, identifying parts of the car (steering wheel, gears, accelerator and so on). We then boarded the ferry, another great learning opportunity as we discussed boats, architecture, buoys, terminals, wharfs, pilots and deck hands.  Upon arriving at Circular Quay, we embarked on a walking tour of the harbour, taking in The Rocks, The Opera House, The Bridge, the shops and the cafes.

I had explained to Kaiki before the trip how important it was for him to focus on listening to people around him, on the ferry, in the café, buying souvenirs and shopping, we had discussed how different language on the street is to language in course books and how one’s ears can adjust to accents and vernacular after being in a new country for a short time.  One of the most challenging tasks Kaiki attempted was asking for two soft drinks, with ice and lemon and counting out the correct money.  I could see his confidence growing with each interaction with an Australian speaker.  He asked for and received leaflets from the Bridge Climb office staff and information from the Opera House box office staff.  He even spoke to a passenger who had disembarked from a cruise ship which was in the quay, asking them if they liked the ship.

After the trip.

The final two lessons after the trip allowed us to discuss what he had practised and learned that day.  We went on to complete two more listening exercises using Lonely Planet video clips, one about the Bridge Climb and one about Bondi Beach.  Because Kaiki had experienced visiting Sydney himself, he was excited to see the clips and answer the questions.  His pronunciation had improved markedly and he had gained fluency and confidence when speaking.

Lessons learned.

 His tennis coach remarked on how he had developed over the course and how even his tennis had improved.  I believe that as a person gains confidence when communicating linguistically, they gain confidence in other areas which includes interaction with their peers.  Including ‘realia’ into lessons offers another dimension to language learning, it opens up a different approach to study for both teachers and students and can be an excellent addition to accelerating learning and using a new language with confidence.