Taking On Challenges
Teaching English at Tertiary/University level in Argentina is always challenging, especially when English is included as a subject from the first year of many courses of study. In these, English is usually not part of the core of main subjects but students are expected to achieve a fairly good level of command of the language to meet work requirements after graduation. However, this level cannot be achieved unless teachers play a more active role regarding decisions about syllabus contents, about the use of appropriate material and about strategies that will help students to meet their expectations.
I had been appointed to teach English One in the first year of a course leading to a degree in Journalism. My students, mostly young adults, came from different educational backgrounds and most had a very low or sometimes zero level of English. The existing syllabus did not include anything that could be relevant to would-be journalists, and students had always been critical of this in their answers to course surveys. No material at an elementary level was readily available in bookshops, either. That was when I decided to introduce a totally new syllabus, which was accepted by the authorities, and to create a whole textbook which would provide the basic vocabulary and structures to be learnt during the year, but in contexts and situations totally oriented to journalism. Whenever we could, we would ‘trace’ the new language in newspaper articles and broadcast news, interviews, reports and the like. It worked wonders.
This textbook has been a success since then, seen in my students’ improved performance and their favourable answers at the end-of-year surveys. Had I conformed to the existing syllabus, there would still be a number of frustrated students and fresh graduates still ‘suffering’ from a poor level of English. For a teacher, choosing to take the road ‘less travelled by’* may mean working much harder, but the sense of achievement,...