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CELTA Syllabus
Topic 1: Learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context


In what follows, you will find everything you need to know about this area successfully to complete a CELTA course.
It's not enough, of course, so there are links to other guides at the end of each section where you can go for a bit more information.

This is what this area includes.  Click on the area which interests you for more.
Click on top to come back to this diagram.

topic 1

tai chi

Cultural, linguistic and educational backgrounds

There are, as you see, three parts to this section of the syllabus.
You are not being asked to train as an ethnologist but you are required to be aware of how the three aspects (culture, language and education) may impact your classroom.
You will, as a matter of course, be dealing with people whose cultures you do not share and whose motivations and ways of seeing the world may be alien to you.
All that is required at this stage is an appreciation of that fact.


Cultural backgrounds

Culture can be defined as:

the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society

The first obvious problem is to define what is meant by 'people' and 'society', of course, but most will equate these in some way with nationality for the purposes of English language teaching.  The term is still, however, rather slippery because we talk of the culture of nations and also of parts of nations: German culture, American culture, the culture in the north of England, European culture and so on.

The second obvious problem is that we need to be careful to avoid national stereotyping.  Talk of someone being typically French, typically Chinese, typically Asian and so on is easy but all of these sorts of stereotypes are fraught with danger:

We need, therefore, to identify what parts of which cultures we need to consider in the English-language learning setting.

think write Task 1: For the purposes of looking at the way learners from non-English-speaking backgrounds behave in language-learning classrooms, can you think of two or three elements of culture that will be important?
Click here when you have made a note of something.

It bears repeating that:

More information

There are two short articles on this site looking at cultural types:
Power Distance and Uncertainty Avoidance Collectivism vs. Individualism


Linguistic backgrounds

As a rough estimate, some 35% to 50% of all errors made by adult learners are traceable to the influences of their first language(s).

think write Task 2: Can you think of the sorts of things that will be affected by people's first language patterns?
Click here when you have made a note of something.

More information

For more in this area, you will find Swan, M and Smith, B, (Eds.) 2001, Learner English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press a usually reliable guide.
On this site, you will find:
A guide to false friends A guide to first language influences
Most of the language guides in the initial plus and in-service sections include some consideration of problems caused by the influence of first languages.




Motivation for us refers to people's reasons for learning English.

think write Task 3: Can you think of three reasons why people might want to learn English?
Click here when you have made a note of something.

There are four basic forms of motivation:

I.e., that which comes from inside the learner.  People who enjoy learning and speaking English for its own sake fall into this category.
I.e., that which comes from outside the learner.  People who need English for work will fall into this category as will people who are in compulsory education and those who have been instructed to learn English.
This is often considered a form of extrinsic motivation and refers to people learning the language to do something else, e.g., a person learning English to read books or fit in with a culture.
This is also often classed as a form of extrinsic motivation (and sometimes not) and refers to the need to learn a language to integrate into a society.
It applies to immigrants (who are sometimes referred to as ESOL students (English as a Second or Other Language)) but also to people living, studying or working in a country for a short time.
It may also refer to people who want to integrate into businesses and large multi-national corporations who use English as the internal language, whatever countries they operate in.  There are lots of those.

People will rarely have only one motivation for learning English so might, for example, have been told to learn it (extrinsic pressure) but find it enjoyable (intrinsic feelings) and so on.

Rather obviously, the more you know about your learners' reasons for learning, the better able you are to plan accordingly.  The CELTA course will assess your ability to do this.

More information

On this site, you will find:
An essential guide to motivation A more advanced guide to motivation



Learning and Teaching styles preferences

We need to start with a precautionary note:
Once upon a time, people in English language teaching were convinced that their learners could be classified according to how they preferred (and, indeed, were able) to learn.
The argument went, usually, along the lines of having four recognisable learning styles (called VARK for short):

  1. Visual
    describing people who learn well from visual stimuli such as images, diagrams, video clips and so on.
  2. Auditory
    describing people who take in information through their ears and respond well to lectures, discussion, recorded material and so on.
  3. Reading-writing
    describing people who will respond well to written exercises and presentations and to procedures which reinforce the language through getting them to read and write.
  4. Kinaesthetic
    describing people who will respond well to activities and procedures which allow them to manipulate objects (such as plastic rods and cut-ups of texts or physical-object matching exercises such as matching a word to a visual image printed on cards).

There were other theories concerning multiple intelligences and activators, pragmatists, reflectors and theorists and a zoo of other ways to analyse people's personalities and learning styles.
The argument was that people have unique mixes of learning styles and that teachers should match their approaches and the tasks they set to take advantage of (or at least accommodate) the various styles and preferences of their students.  There are those who doubted the validity of all this from the outset, too, and, more recently, the whole area has been vigorously attacked as meaningless, damaging and invalid pseudo-science.  Tread carefully.

If your tutors are in the learning styles camp (as Cambridge English seemed to be until quite recently), you may be well advised to go along with them, whatever your personal view and make it clear in lesson plans and elsewhere (particularly the written assignment focusing on the learner) that you are aware of the learning styles of the people you are teaching and, incidentally, of your own style.
From 2018, the CELTA syllabus has been revised in the light of criticisms of learning-style theories and the word styles has been expunged from the CELTA syllabus to be replaced by learning preferences.  That is, you may feel, simply a fudge.

There is little doubt that learners do have preferences for how they are taught and much of that may stem from their educational backgrounds and experiences (see above).  You'd be foolish not to take preferences into account, of course.

More information

On this site, you will find:
Guide to learning styles A guide to how learning happens
from where there is a link to an article debunking the theories  which considers what influences determine how people learn 



Context for learning and teaching English

This is not rocket science.
You need to take into account when you are planning and teaching (and show that you have done so):

What resources are available to you to make your teaching lively, interesting and engaging
This may include the use of aids to learning such as projectors, whiteboards, video players and so on and there is a guide to using aids linked below on this site which you should follow for more help.
If you are teaching online, of course, other aids may come to your rescue.
At CELTA level, you need only to be able to use the aids professionally and appropriately.  For example:
  1. projectors in classrooms and screen-sharing options online for:
    • showing images and diagrams
    • showing whole texts that it would be too time-consuming to write out or too isolating for each learner to have a copy
    • building time lines
  2. whiteboards
    • to highlight important models
    • to act as a record of what's been presented (vocabulary etc.)
    • for the learners to use
  3. video and audio recorders and players (including smart phones)
    • to set language in a realistic context
    • to supply a repeatable, unchanging model
    • to introduce a scene
    • to provide data for analysis
    • to allow learners to hear and see themselves using English
  4. libraries
    • to encourage reading outside the classroom
    • for learners to do their own research
  5. the web
    • for learners to do their own research
    • to find examples of real language use
    • for planning and research for you
The learning aims and motivations of your students including their preferences and their styles (see above)
All learners have aims for learning even if they are, often, unable to articulate them clearly.
Some learners will have quite explicit aims of course and need English:
  1. for Academic purposes, because they want to study something else in an English-speaking institution or culture.  We call this EAP (English for Academic Purposes)
  2. for Business, because they are operate or have ambitions to operate in an English speaking business culture where the ability to interact with customers and suppliers is valued along with the ability to write clearly in English and, perhaps, to give presentations and participate in or chair meetings.  This is EfB (English for Business).
  3. Professionally, because their occupation requires the use of English (tourism, the military, hospitality workers etc.).  This is EfOP (English for Occupational Purposes).
You are not, at CELTA level, about to be asked to design a course from scratch for your learners and will mostly be focused on what is called GE (General English) so there is little need to go further (although there are sections on the site for teachers of Business English and English for Academic purposes should you ever feel the need).
You are teaching lessons, short ones at that, and not being asked to design a course.
The surroundings and layout of the classroom
Is it a pleasant environment?
What can you do to make it more so?
How are the tables and chairs arranged so that they are appropriate to the learning and the tasks you plan?
If you are teaching online, have you arranged for a variety of interactions including the use of break-out rooms and so on?
The environment
If you are teaching in an English-speaking country, are you taking full advantage of the opportunities it affords?
If you are teaching in a non-English-speaking setting, are you using on-line and other technical aids to make the language more vivid and authentic?
The special needs of any students in the group:
Physically: are there any with disabilities such as poor sight, mobility or hearing?
Mentally and emotionally: extreme shyness, boisterousness, dyslexia etc.
How have you taken these factors into account?
think write Task 4: There's obviously no right answer to this one.  If you are doing a CELTA course currently or any teaching at all, pause now and list the factors you have identified and what you have done or intend to do about them.

The list may look something like the following:

Factor Action
Jorge is hard of hearing Make sure
a) he
sits near the front and
b) I'm very clearly enunciating instructions and explanations while
c) looking at him more than the other students
Felicity tends to be too enthusiastic and shout out answers all the time Make sure I nominate (by name) other students fairly and be firm with her
Marcia tells me she is dyslexic and has trouble reading and writing Pair her with Mary who is a good reader and will be sympathetic and helpful
and so on.
Such a table would be a good addition to a lesson plan.

You need to consider these factors both when you are planning and when you are delivering the lesson and also show that you take them into account in the written assignment focusing on the learner.

More information

On this site, you will find:
A guide to classroom organisation A guide to grouping learners A guide to 10 teaching resources



Varieties of English

Somewhere between 375 and 400 million people around the world speak English as a first language and an additional 750 million or so speak it as a second language.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that there are quite marked and identifiable varieties of the language.

There's no suggestion here that one variety is somehow 'better' than another and, in fact, the amendments to the CELTA for April 2018 make it clear that the focus is on varieties rather than the old-fashioned standard vs. non-standard variation.
It is a matter of appropriacy and an understanding of where and with whom your learners will use English.  If, for example, your learners are only going to use English to communicate with people from India then teaching Indian Standard forms and pronunciation is entirely appropriate but in other circumstances, for example, if your learners need English as an international language, teaching regionally-specific forms, words and pronunciation will be harmful to them.

Here is a list of the what you should consider in this respect.  It is not complete but is all you need to think about for a CELTA course:

  1. You need to make sure that you consider which variety of English you should be using in your teaching.  We should avoid (or at least be careful about) teaching regionally specific language.
  2. We should know what our learners need English for.  Occupational and topic registers (i.e., the professional or personal areas in which they will be using the language) are important here.
  3. We should use language in the classroom which is not heavily influenced by our own dialect and accent.  If that means learning to speak without such influences, so be it.
  4. We should avoid teaching language which is confined to specific class- or topic-influenced settings.  If that means cautioning students not to use non-standard grammar such as gonna or ain't, so be it.
  5. We should expose our students to the main Englishes they are likely to encounter outside our classrooms.
  6. We should be careful about the kinds of materials we use in class.  If a song or other authentic text contains instances of non-standard or regionally-influenced grammar or lexis we should consider whether we should be using it and, if need be, warn the learners not to use it as a model.

Finally, you need to think about your dialect (yes, everyone has a dialect) and decide whether using dialect forms in the classroom is acceptable in your setting.

More information

On this site, you will find:
A guide to varieties of English

Additionally, there is a guide to English spelling which covers some of the main differences between British English (BrE, conventionally) and American English (AmE, conventionally).
There is also an answer to a question concerning differences in grammar between British and American English.
If you follow those guides, you will know all you need to know for the purposes of CELTA.



Multilingualism and the role of first languages

You may be surprised to learn that monolingualism (the ability only to speak one language) is actually rather unusual.  The majority of people and the majority of countries speak more than one language.  For a full list of languages spoken in most of the world's countries, try the Wikipedia article.
Britain and the USA are slightly unusual, in fact, in not having an official language at all and both nations are home to speakers of hundreds of other languages as well as the indigenous ones.  Over 40 million Americans speak Spanish at home, for example.
Most of Africa is multilingual and the same can be said of Asia (with certain exceptions, such as Japan).

When it comes to the role first languages play in learning English, something has been said above but there are two concepts that are helpful in talking about this area:

First language interference
refers to the way in which a learner's first language(s) can negatively affect the learning and use of English, e.g., by leading to grammatical, lexical or phonological errors.
First language facilitation
refers to the way in which a learner's first language can actually help in learning English because of parallels in structure or vocabulary.
For example, there are many more words in German and English which both look similar and mean the same things than there are false friends and the same applies to many Romance languages such as French and Spanish.  Clearly, the less closely related languages are, the less facilitation there can be.
Equally, e.g., if a learner from Japan already speaks another European language then she will find it easier to acquire English and vice versa.

Many of the language analysis guides on this site make reference to the learners' first language(s).  In particular, a good example is in the consideration of word order.
Word order is an area in which the influence of people's first language(s) can be most striking and leads to errors such as:

and so on.

More information

For more in this area, you will find Swan, M and Smith, B, (Eds.) 2001, Learner English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press a usually reliable guide.
On this site, you will find:
A guide to types of languages A guide to first language influences
Most of the language guides in the initial plus and in-service sections include some consideration of problems caused by the influence of first languages.


The links below will lead you to guides to the other areas of the syllabus and to an overview unpacking what the syllabus means and how it is assessed.

Topic 1 Topic 2 Topic 3 Topic 4 Topic 5 Unpacking The CELTA Index
Learners and teachers, and the teaching and learning context Language analysis and awareness Language skills Planning and resources for different teaching contexts Developing teaching skills and professionalism Unpacking the syllabus and assessment The index of all the CELTA guides