Conti for Adults? – Language educators Sarah Shaw and Barbara Allen on their journey to “contification”

Conti for Adults?

You’ll never look back.

 “I love all your different activities – gap fill, listening bingo and the pyramid translation – this is particularly challenging but a great way to consolidate my knowledge through repetition. I can remember more this way too!”

Learner, Aspire Languages

When you receive feedback like this from an adult learner, it is such a tremendous boost, it confirms that you are on the right track and that the risks you have taken are worth it! Saying ‘risk’ may sound a little overdramatic but we both knew that when we joined the GILT community over 4 years ago that our teaching practice was going to potentially change forever. It has and we have never looked back.

It was certainly nerve racking to start with. We were fully aware that by introducing Conti activities into our lessons, we were introducing a very different way of working that almost all our learners were unfamiliar with and that was very different to the style and types of tasks that they had experienced before – whether that was from their school days or other adult learning groups. We also knew that it would be a huge amount of work as ensuring our resources were full of comprehensible input that responded to our learner’s’ needs meant writing most of the materials ourselves. However, with the vast majority of our learners wanting to develop their listening and speaking activities, once we read about approaches such as LAM and the MARS EARS pedagogical cycle, we knew we had to take the leap.

Our learners are highly motivated and invested in their learning so we know that when we try something new, we have to know why we are doing it. This is one of the huge advantages of using Conti activities. Each activity shared is backed up by research and this has enabled us to try tasks such as Mind Reader, Faulty Echo, Delayed Copying / Dictation and many more because we can explain to our learners why we are doing the activity and get them fully on board.

“Super class today. I think the way you are teaching is helping me embed everything better than I have ever done before.”

Learner, Lingua Forme

This learner’s comment highlights another huge reason why Conti’s tasks work for our adult learners. Thanks to the MARS EARS approach, we are able to flood the learners with the structures and vocabulary we are working on using a wide range of different activities that promote recycling and repetition. This is absolutely vital for adult learners, who often only meet once a week for 1 to 2 hours and who will very often have little or no contact with French between classes.

In addition, instead of bolting on 5-10 minutes ‘free-style’ conversation at the end of class (we were both guilty of this), we now develop highly structured speaking tasks to encourage the learners to repeat and practise as much as possible. The learners’ confidence has grown unbelievably since we have used speaking activities such as Pyramids and Oral Ping Pongs. We also believe the learners’ confidence has grown because these activities also increase the opportunities for learners to focus not only on ‘what’ they are saying but on ‘how’ they are saying it through more focused work on pronunciation and rhythm.

We recently attended Conti’s online workshops (and both experienced the obligatory sleepless night because our heads were so full of ideas!) and are now weaving in more fluency building activities into our lessons. Many learners now submit voice recordings instead of written scripts for homework, enabling them to focus even more intently on the skill they wish to develop.

We are so excited also to start applying principles we are learning about from the Smith and Conti’s new book, ‘Memory; what every language teacher should know’, as we feel this is particularly pertinent for our work with adult learners.

And let’s not forget about the importance of the interaction and the social aspect of learning for adults. These activities are fun and enjoyed by all – but not just fun for fun’s sake. They are enjoyable because they are relevant, challenging and effective. They help us to nurture the environment that we want for our learners; an environment where people come together to connect, to have fun, to learn and to progress.

It would be remiss of us not to finish by saying a huge thank you to Dr Gianfranco Conti and Steve Smith for continuingly inspiring us as you do, for helping us help our learners and for ensuring we receive feedback like this:

“Most certainly I have made far more progress in the time I have attended your classes than in the whole of the five or six previous years at other French groups.  I am so pleased I found you.”

Learner, Aspire Languages

Biography

Each with over 20 years’ experience in education, teaching and learning, Sarah and Barbara have been running their own small businesses teaching French to adults for over 5 years. Sarah owns Aspire Languages (https://www.facebook.com/aspirelanguages) and Barbara owns Lingua Forme (www.linguaforme.co.uk) In 2020, they came together to share their experiences of using Conti-inspired activities, to pool their resources and to set up Grab & Go Languages, a membership website where teachers can download ‘ready-to-go’ resources from beginners to advanced level to use with their learners. They have recently developed audios for some of their materials and they are also currently working on a mentoring programme designed to support language teachers who are considering making the move from mainstream teaching to running their own businesses teaching adults( https://www.grabandgolanguageresources.co.uk/)

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