I’ve just completed a productive 2 week stint with WBS in Neubrandenburg, with a truly wonderful group of students.
I know that many of you would have taught at one of the many WBS Institutes across Germany, and this is my second time at a WBS. I find that they operate with a sense of casual efficiency, giving the trainer a perfectly detailed curriculum and general unit plan, but also allowing a helpful degree of autonomy when it comes to the delivery of content.
There was a small group of students; just a scant 3 participants, becoming 4 in the second week, and like many of these types of courses, the students were improving their English in order to further their employment prospects. They were all wonderfully dedicated to learning, which let’s face it- makes the job of the trainer infinitely easier.
One of the major issues in teaching in these types of scenarios, and it’s largely unavoidable, is the large discrepancies in skills of the respective students, meaning that the first day is vitally important to gauge the students individual abilities. One student had lived for many months in Canada, and while her English was far from perfect, it was superior to another student who was learning English in addition to her German, Russian and native Ukrainian language abilities. I always find it handy to have additional reading comprehension materials to give to students who complete the set tasks much quicker than others, as it’s of course much preferable than having them sit in the classroom with a glazed expression on their face as they wait for the others to finish.
The course book was the beginners New Headway, and I’m sure most of you would have used New Headway at some point in your teaching careers. It’s an extremely helpful resource, but I did find a couple of the exercises quite perplexing. There was a future tenses exercise, where the students had to listen to a recording of “Rod and Marilyn,” a newly married couple from New Zealand who were visiting London on their honeymoon, as they talked about what they planned to see in the city. Certainly, the intent of the exercise was valid, but the execution was rather flawed. As a former New Zealand resident, I was close to laughter as I listened to a pair of (presumably) British actors attempt a New Zealand accent (think of cockney British meets Crocodile Dundee Australian with a bit of South African thrown in). It’s an extremely good idea for students to listen to English spoken in a variety of native accents, but the attempted accents in this exercise rendered some of the words incomprehensible. It was a good idea, but if the New Headway CD’s are recorded in the UK, perhaps “Rod and Marilyn” could have come from somewhere a little closer?
Speaking of somewhere closer, I made the choice not to stay in Neubrandenburg, as I had a number of things to do at home in Berlin in the evenings, and so I made the 90 minute commute twice daily. It’s not as bad as it sounds, as the train ride was rather relaxing, and gave me time to review my lesson plans on the way there, and to review the day on the way home.
The students were already in a well established learning routine, courtesy of the efficiency of the WBS curriculum and the efforts of Jan, the teacher who preceded me.
In the first few days we did a lot of work on adverbs, adjectives and pronouns, moving into possessive adjectives and personal pronouns. There’s always a brief look of confusion and mild alarm when introducing a new unit of study, but this instantly subsides when they realise that you’re teaching them about something they already have familiarity with, but merely didn’t know the formal classification for, so they very quickly got the hang of the subject personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, they) versus the object personal pronouns (me, you, him, her, it, us, them). There was some minor confusion over the correct usage of them instead of “them”, but I’ve found this to be a slight problem, even with my German friends who have been learning English for decades, and can be overcome by simple repetition.
We also took an in-depth look at the present perfect, and its overlaps with the past simple, and after learning the necessary theory, the students aptly demonstrated that they were able to differentiate the two, and yet still see how they worked together.
As with my previous assignment at WBS, I was required to set a small exam on the units I had been teaching the students, and I did this on the penultimate day of lessons, as there would be an absentee on the last day. I have a number of prewritten assessments from my previous teaching, but I was able to use my train time to write something specifically for the Neubrandenburg group. As they were completing the exam, I began to worry that perhaps I had made it too difficult for their skill level, but this worry immediately disappeared when I marked their work, as everyone did extremely well.
As a trainer, it’s always gratifying when you see that students are definitely absorbing what you’re teaching, but can also recollect it as needed.
WBS Neubrandenurg was a fulfilling teaching experience (and a special thanks to the extremely helpful Frau Lachs), and any trainer who finds themselves there will certainly be in for a rewarding time.