Teaching Cambridge

Teaching Cambridge 
by Amber Jones 

When asked to write about how I felt having taught students who were to sit for their Cambridge exam in December, I was not only lost for words but my face was void of any expression whatsoever. How did I feel? 

Having never taught Cambridge students before, I was obviously rather nervous about the idea of having to walk into a class and teach students whose examination results depended on my performance as a teacher. At first I felt as though it were me being tested and not the students, but I decided that instead of crying over unspilt milk, I should try my utmost to teach all there was to learn in a way that the students’ motivation would not be drained. It does, after all, take more than a good teacher for students to absorb what is being taught to them. No motivation on the students’ part will hinder the learning process. Taking into consideration the fact that these students had decided to come to Malta to prepare for an exam and eventually sit for it, I felt that they would be more motivated than a class of eight students of different nationalities who might have come for various reasons ranging from work to leisure. On the other hand I began to remember how I felt when I sat for my exams and how my peers and I used to torture our teachers with sheer laziness. I hoped my students would not put me through such torment and to reduce the possibility of this happening I tried to be everything my teachers had not been. 

Although my students (who coincidentally, were all Swedish) were able to hold a conversation in good, understandable English without hesitation, they made foolish mistakes which students at a Pre-Intermediate level would have been more wary of. Spelling, for example, was one of their major problems and after having tried various techniques to help them improve, I decided that the only way it was going to get better was with the regular use of dictation. Every week I gave the students a running dictation (or ‘racing dictation’ as some called it) but when the students were lethargic I would simply give them a normal dictation. Although quite an old technique it proved to be successful and their spelling improved rapidly and noticeably. 

Another nightmare was their inability to use the right tense, and even more frustrating was the fact that the third person singular in the Present Simple was rarely given the honour of having an ‘S’ added! After several attempts to rectify this situation I resorted to elementary material which eventually opened their eyes to the complex English tense system. There were evidently other common mistakes which the students, in due time, overcame, but what I found very typical of the Swedish students was their pronunciation: ‘Y’, for example, was always pronounced like a ‘J’ whereas ‘J’ was always pronounced like a ‘Y’. Teaching them the difference between ‘yoke’ and ‘joke’ was somewhat hard but definitely necessary especially since the speaking part of the Cambridge exam consists of describing pictures. I would have hated to see the interlocutor’s facial expression when seeing an egg and being told it’s funny!! 

At the end of the course I felt I had taught everything the students needed to know and despite my concern I knew my students would do well in their examination although I will not know exactly how well they did until March. Teaching Cambridge students was an experience which has taught me a lot about teaching and the different techniques used. It was definitely a positive experience which has helped me and despite my initial anxiety I feel satisfied with myself and my students!