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Senior citizens learning languages in Cuenca, Spain
ALLEGRO PROJECT
CASE STUDY:

GROUP DETAILS.
This was a of group 20 retired learners who had expressed a strong desire to learn English and who had had no previous opportunity of doing so. They belong to an Association for Senior Citizens called Josť Saramago. The Languages Department at UCLM worked in close contact with the Association in order to establish and develop the activity.

LANGUAGE.
These students had expressed a strong desire to learn English because they hadnít had the opportunity before and they felt excluded from some activities, for example helping their grandchildren with their homework.

AIMS
The main aim was to create an awareness of the sounds and rhythm of the language in everyday situations, to better enable students to understand their encounters with the language, which are ever more frequent in Spain through media exposure and the increase in foreign tourism in the local area. This last point was mentioned frequently by the group as one of their main embarrassments, that of being unable to help a lost tourist, when the majority are able to communicate in English as a lingua franca, whatever the nationality. Raising language awareness was one of the most important aims when establishing the activity

TEACHERS
The activity was developed by CH and JMG, two members of the Foreign Language Department. Even though they had long teaching experience at university level, they had to adapt a lot to meet the needs of these learners.

PLANNING
After the previous successful sub-project of early 2003, the word had spread among the senior citizensí community and there was a sufficient demand for us to repeat the experience with a new group with some modifications introduced to the programme. Learners responded to local newspaper and media coverage offering the course and the first twenty applicants were admitted.

The Internet was used this time as a resource for new materials, in addition to those we designed ourselves. The lessons were conducted mainly through the medium of English, using context, role-play and some visual aids to provide meaning. Occasionally, as needs arose, translation was also used and some discussion was occasionally carried out in the studentsí mother tongue, especially concerning the comparative differences between the habits and customs of two cultures .

As in our previous experience we continued with our communicative approach and kept grammatical explanations to a minimum, using a team teaching approach as a stimulus for the studentsí own interactions.

DURATION OF LANGUAGE LEARNING EXPERIENCE.
It took place at Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Cuenca, between the 28th October 2003 and 30th March 2004. It offered 15 hours of teaching. Although the main aim of the ALLEGRO Project was to take learning opportunities into local communiteis, in this particular case the learners appreciated the opportunity to attend classes in the university.

CONCLUSIONS
In the light of our previous experience of teaching older learners we found that our decision to provide more handouts as reference to material was successful, as the students generally still showed a need to have a visual back-up to hand of what they learned in each session.

On the whole this group advanced more quickly than the previous group and were able to retain new items from one week to the next more easily, thus enabling us to cover more and build on material in conjunction with that already learned.

The discussions that were held in relation to the British royal family and Christmas traditions and eating habits were received with great enthusiasm. They were all familiar with the Royal Family and keen to learn the correct terms for Prince and Princess etc. and the key dates and terms of Christmas and the New Year.

As teachers we feel we have also benefited once again from the experience of teaching older learners. Their tireless enthusiasm for learning about a different culture and tackling the new sounds which English demands is extremely rewarding. The importance of communicating with a degree of fluency overrides the importance of accuracy and justifies our decision not to focus heavily on grammar but to use language in situations and contexts which could be meaningful and useful to the students. However, in spite of the group's capacity for learning and retaining new information, the general consensus was that 15 hours was not enough time to learn all they wanted. They all expressed a desire to be able to continue, and were very keen to try to organise a trip to England to put their newly learned language into practice.[See footnote] This desire is also a reflection of the positive social aspect which this sub-project has generated. The group of 20 adults, 6 men and 14 women came together once a week and encountered in the classroom an opportunity for interaction and new friendships which they were keen to continue, sharing their new common interest in English. One more positive aspect of this experience has been as that the group became increasingly interested, it also became more open to accepting different cultures, having come from a relatively closed cultural environment in the heart of Castilla-La Mancha.

MC and the Vice-Chancellor of UCLM are having talks with different organisations to get funding for this group to continue doing English next year.


July2004

FOOTNOTE Socrates Lingua 1 funding cannot be used for student travel so other funding would need to be found for such a trip.









 
 
 

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