Teaching online or talking to a brick wall?

At Polish universities we have been working online for the last 14 months. During this time I have struggled with new technology, magnitude of trainings, docked salaries and hourly fees, uncooperative staff and blank screen on which I can only see my student’s initials and not their faces, eyes, smiles or no smiles.

How have I felt during this time? Variously. Very stressed and tired during the first semester. I even had this nervous cough which I thought was an allergy but which disappeared the moment the classes ended and holiday started. The first semester was like a battlefield for me but I grew during that time as the head and became much more relaxed and self-confident when the new academic year started. I promised myself not to exaggerate with work and the speed of work. I started to plan things much in advance, test them more diligently and rely on my common sense, experience and practice more. I also reduced the number of hours I taught and thought more about my well-being and health in general.

Now the third semester of online classes is coming to an end. Primary and secondary schools in Poland are planning to open for a while before holidays. At my university nobody really wants to return to on-site classes now. Neither the students not the teachers. Have they started to enjoy the new normal? They can sleep longer or even “in class”, they don’t have to dress or make up, they can save money on leases and commuting, they can also cheat in tests and only pretend they are present.

When I look back I can see me, myself and I always present in class, visible in the camera, prepared with various activities and new materials, encouraging students to talk to me, to engage, to react. What do I get in return. A black screen with circles and initials, sometimes a response, sometimes a question about how I am. I decided to not care in October last year. Because if I did, I would go crazy or become depressed.

However, I consider myself a very reasonable person and very observant. Do you want to know my observation? Every relationship is a two-way street. All parties shall contribute to building it up. I do blame my students for not trying to establish a relationship with me. I understand that they are the customers and we are the service providers but education is about relationships, too. All this hysteria about privacy and image protection, and zoom fatigue, and stress, and being depressed and struggling with the fears caused by the pandemic is about teachers too, not just students.

99% of students did nothing about strengthening the relationship with me. Some of them were so preoccupied with their things that they forgot to say thank you at the end of the course, not to mention turning on the camera and waving their hands goodbye. I understand privacy, depression and stress but such behaviour is simply rude.

So, what has the pandemic taught me? A simple truth – you will not establish a good relationship, any relationship in fact, by talking to a brick wall. This requires effort. I am not thinking about „best endeavours”, just feeble effort.

Thank you for your attention.

Pronunciation Practice on Quizlet

I remember how my students once used to call me a „pronunciation pervert”. Well, I always tell my students that it is very important to master your pronunciation if you want to be understood. And being understood is crucial for communication.

This is how I sometimes help my students improve their pronunciation. I create QUIZLET sets for them where they either have the same word on both sides of the flashcard as we concentrate here on saying the word and not really learning what they men. Or like in the set I am showing here I create pairs of noun : verb or adjective : verb.

To benefit from this form of pronunciation work best you should a quizlet account and Here I recommend using a „flashcards” mode to be able to hear the pronunciation.

New Normal at Universities

[Polish below]

At the beginning of 2020, we still could write about the controversy surrounding the use of technology in foreign language teaching, about teachers' fears related to it, their reluctance to technology and the lack of digital competence.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the transfer of all university classes online has changed a lot and accelerated many processes planned for the following years. Currently, we still don’t know what the final education at universities will look like in the academic year 2020/2021, but using the experience and skills acquired through the pandemic it is worth to change and modernise your approach to teaching a foreign language.

The new normal may require us to teach the so-called hybrid way, where several students are with us in the classroom and the rest participate in classes online. The number of students in our language groups is growing, and it is difficult to give all students the same attention and engage them in the work in the same way. It is important to ensure that during the classes it is the students who work doing practical tasks, cooperating and creating the final product, and to transfer the theoretical part of the classes to the online modules and ask the students to perform at home using the methodology of the flipped classroom.

This academic year I intend to focus on the development of practical tasks that my students will perform in the classroom after they have learned the necessary vocabulary to master the following topics. The texts from the textbook will be developed in the form of tutorials available on YouTube and materials for understanding and repetition of vocabulary will be developed in the form of presentations.

Jeszcze na początku 2020 roku mogliśmy pisać o kontrowersjach związanych z wykorzystywaniem technologii w nauczaniu języków obcych, o obawach nauczycieli z tym związanych, o ich niechęci do technologii i brakach w kompetencji cyfrowej.

Wybuch pandemii Covid-19 i przeniesienie wszystkich zajęć uniwersyteckich online wiele zmienił i przyspieszył wiele procesów zaplanowanych na kolejne lata. Obecnie wciąż nie wiemy jak ostatecznie będzie wyglądała edukacja na uczelniach w roku akademickim 2020/2021, ale wykorzystujące doświadczenie i umiejętności nabyte dzięki pandemii warto zmienić i unowocześnić swoje podejście do nauczania języka obcego.

Nowa rzeczywistość może wymagać od nas nauczania tzw. hybrydowego, gdzie kliku studentów znajduje się z nami w sali zajęciowej, a reszta uczestniczy w ćwiczeniach online. Nasze grupy zajęciowe są coraz liczniejsze i trudno poświęcić wszystkim studentom taką samą uwagę i w jednakowym stopniu zaangażować ich w pracę. Warto zadbać o to, aby w czasie zajęć to studenci pracowali wykonując praktyczne zadania, współpracując i tworząc produkt końcowy, a część teoretyczną zajęć przenieść do modułów online i zadawać studentom do wykonania w domu (ang. flipped classroom).

Zamierzam ten rok akademicki poświęcić na opracowanie praktycznych zadań, które moi studenci będą wykonywać na zajęciach po wcześniejszym zapoznaniu się ze słownictwem niezbędnym do opanowania kolejnych tematów. Teksty z podręcznika będą opracowane w formie tutoriali dostępnych na YouTube, a zestawy do zrozumienia i powtórek słownictwa będą opracowane w formie prezentacji.

Testing During the Pandemic

It has been over a month since we were on lockdown and teaching online. I have already conducted four tests using my Pustułka app just like we had done before the lockdown. My subjective impression is that my students have not outperformed themselves as compared to tests they had written before the pandemic. Their individual results are very similar.

However, in the case of „take-home” tests which students could do on their own just for revision purposes some results have been much better than those of the tests invigilated by me in class.

I have asked my students a question in an online survey conducted among my 63 students whether tests administered now test their knowledge the same as the tests we had had in computers labs. Over a half of students agreed (35%) or strongly agreed (23%), about a third (32%) remained neutral, and only one out of seven students disagreed (8%) or strongly disagreed (6%).

The conclusion is, therefore, that we can proceed with administering online written tests to evaluate students’ performance while teaching them online using distance learning methods. My recommendation is to set a very tight time limit and either use test questions such as multiple choice, cloze test, true/false or longer pieces of writing such as essays, reports, letters, longer paraphrases, etc. Short answer questions like definitions, synonyms, translations, etc. are unfortunately the easiest to copy from dictionaries and websites.

Teaching Presentation Skills

An Example of Good Practice

Thanks to teaching legal English I heard about plain language once and have become its great proponent. At first I only investigated plain English which was a great solution for teaching legal English to pre-experienced students by a non-lawyer legal English teacher (me). I started to present about plain English at conferences and publish articles. In the meantime I learnt that there existed Plain Polish Section at the University of Wrocław, Poland with its founder Tomasz Piekot.

Tomasz Piekot has participated in the educational campaign Just plain (end of story) (Pol. Prosto i kropka) which aims at the simplification of written communication of public administration. The campain shows the reasons and benefits (for offices and citizens) of using a plain language. It explains what a simple language is and dispels fears related to the introduction of a simple language in public offices. Episode 6 of the tutorials explains how to prepare good presentations. In this episode Tomasz Piekot provides guidelines on how to draw up good presentation slides. He speaks Polish and the viewers can read Polish subtitles on the screen.

I thought that the guidelines in Tomasz Piekot’s tutorial were so practical and up to date that I decided to use the episode in my business English class for BBA (Bachelor in Business Administration) students who come from various countries, including Poland.


  1. I have divided students into pairs in which one student was Polish and the other did not speak Polish.
  2. I played the tutorial and paused it when the new screen appeared and asked Polish students to translate Tomasz Piekot’s instructions into English for students who did not understand Polish.
  3. During the task non-Polish students were asked to take notes and then to prepare a summary in a form of one or two presentation slides drawn up in accordance with the guidelines.

The class was very dynamic with a lot of speaking, writing and slide designing. Polish students faced some translation challenges, e.g. how to translate mięsny jeż into English – a name which was used to describe an unattractive slide overloaded with information, colours and animations.

After the class I felt that the students really had enjoyed it and understood what a well designed presentation was.

If your students’ first language is Polish you can use the tutorial I recommend. If their L1 is different, find a good quality tutorial in their language and use in the classroom. They will not only learn how to design slides and present but practise translation skills at the same time.

The slide at the beginning of this post shows my summary of the tutorial in Polish and in English.

Czy studenci chcą się uczyć języka angielskiego na lektoratach? Wyniki ankiety.

Celem ankiety było poznanie opinii studentów studiów stacjonarnych na temat wymiaru godzin lektoratu języka angielskiego na uczelni wyższej.

Ankieta została przeprowadzona we wszystkich grupach lektoratowych I roku studiów (63%) i II roku studiów (36%) na kilku kierunkach studiów stacjonarnych (zarządzanie 43%, prawo 21%, finanse 20%, ekonomia 12%, administracja 4%) w dniach 25 i 26 lutego 2019. Ankietę wypełniło ponad 600 respondentów.

Dla większości studentów (57%) czas trwania i liczba godzin lektoratu języka angielskiego ma znaczenie przy wyborze uczelni.

Zdecydowana większość studentów (81%) nie uczestniczy w innym kursie języka angielskiego równolegle z lektoratem języka angielskiego.

Osoby, które decydują się na dodatkowe zajęcia wybierają lekcje prywatne lub kursy w szkołach językowych, a powoduje nimi za mała liczba godzin na uczelni i chęć rozwinięcia sprawności mówienia.

Zdecydowana większość studentów (88%) chce zdawać certyfikowane egzaminy z języka angielskiego. Tylko 10% studentów chciałoby zakończyć lektorat egzaminem wewnętrznym. W przypadku studentów prawa większość jest zainteresowana uzyskaniem certyfikatu na poziomie zaawansowanym, co przy aktualnym wymiarze godzin lektoratu jest możliwe w przypadku około 10 osób rocznie.

Tylko 5% studentów uważa, że godzin lektoratu języka angielskiego jest za dużo. Według 95% studentów liczba godzin lektoratu jest odpowiednia (61%) lub jest ich za mało (33%).

Prawie połowa studentów chciałaby, aby lektorat trwał dłużej, bo 3 lata. Dla 27% wymiar dwóch lat jest odpowiedni, ale prawie 20% studentów chciałoby się uczyć języka angielskiego przez 5 lat.

Zdecydowana większość (80%) planuje kontynuowanie nauki języka angielskiego po zakończeniu lektoratu.