What is a General English course?
General English refers to the acquisition of English so as to understand and be understood in daily life, in situations ranging from very simple to very complex. This is achieved through both task-based learning such as role play, and written work, simulating real life situations.
In an elementary class role play would usually include such tasks as introducing oneself, shopping for everyday items and understanding public announcements in an airport.
Tasks at intermediate level might include preparing and presenting your CV, interviewing or being interviewed for a job and writing letters and emails within both a formal and informal context.
Advanced level speaking tasks could involve negotiating a pay rise or mediating in a dispute. Written tasks will range across a broad spectrum from, for example, the descriptive narrative used in advertising copy to the terminology in a technical manual to the collocations used in a discursive essay. This task-based learning is accompanied by the lexis and grammar underpinning all of the learned tasks. So for example, the elementary student role playing a conversation at a party where she introduces herself and talks about her job, will need to use the present simple and the present continuous. Beforehand, in the theoretical part of the lesson she will have learned these forms.
While authentic materials such as newspapers are used in the classroom, the lesson plan follows the course laid out in the course book, and today’s course books are brilliantly designed to achieve their intended learning outcomes.
The coursebooks used in General English classes are published by Cambridge University Press and are designed to be used in conjunction with the Cambridge One platform. Teachers have class sets of the coursebooks and distribute them to students for use in class. Homework and self-study are done on the platform, where students practice all skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and also exercises to practice all of the new vocabulary and grammatical structures in the book. Every student is provided with their own unique access code to the platform, and the teachers’ software gives them oversight of the progress each student is making.
The General English period includes exam preparation and covers the range of skills you will be tested on in the exam you are preparing for TIE, or IELTS. These are grouped under the heading Communicative Competence and refer to four basic competencies:
- Grammatical competence: the ability to create grammatically correct utterances
- Sociolinguistic competence: the ability to produce sociolinguistically appropriate utterances
- Discourse competence: the ability to produce coherent and cohesive utterances, and
- Strategic competence: the ability to solve communication problems as they arise.
The General English period is similar in style and substance to English language classes currently taught in the many excellent schools in Ireland and elsewhere in the English-speaking world because the teaching is informed by current thinking on Second Language Acquisition.