I conducted my first tutoring session with Eliana R. on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 in Coral Gables, Florida. Eliana, originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a delightful student who is interested in improving her English proficiency mainly for professional purposes. Eliana is herself an experienced and accomplished Portuguese teacher; in addition, she is fluent in French and speaks what she describes as Portuñol (a combination of Portuguese and Spanish; see http://www.lingref.com/cpp/hls/8/paper1251.pdf). Eliana's current and prior classroom-based English learning experiences have been mainly limited to private, one-one-one instruction (she has avoided the traditional group format).
During our first session, I conducted a needs assessment and oral proficiency interview (OPI) using the ACTFL speaking proficiency guidelines (http://www.actfl.org/files/public/Guidelines.pdf) to determine Eliana's level of English proficiency. I determined that her current level of proficiency is Advanced Low (roughly equivalent to a low 3 on the ILR proficiency scale) primarily on the grounds that (1) although she can handle a wide variety of communicative tasks, she does so haltingly at times; (2) she has the ability to narrate and describe in all major time frames but does not demonstrate full and consistent control of aspect (for example, during the interview, Eliana persistently failed to use the "past" form of modal auxiliary verbs when contextually required, using "will" where "would" is expected, and avoided using perfect tenses in all time frames); (3) her connected discourse is typically limited to paragraph length; (4) the structure of her dominant language (Portuguese) is still often evident in the use of false cognates and literal translations (for example, she often fails to use the semantically-empty subject pronoun it in impersonal constructions, as evidenced by her statement *"Is a very warm day today" instead of the grammatical "It's very warm day today"); and (5) when attempting to perform functions or handle topics associated with the Superior level of proficiency, the linguistic quality and quantity of her speech deteriorates significantly (Ibid).
Through the needs assessment, I learned that Eliana believes that her strengths include an extensive vocabulary, which is to be expected given her high level of education and advanced proficiency in French (which has contributed so many thousands of words to English), and general fluency and ability to discuss almost any topic, even if haltingly. She recognized difficulties in grammatical and lexical accuracy, especially when complex (periphrastic) verb structures (such as "modal auxiliary + have + past participle" and conditional constructions) are required. She also expressed dissatisfaction with her pronunciation (while fluent, she speaks with a noticeably non-native accent) and contextually-determined register usage (or as she put it, "knowing when to use formal and informal language"). I generally agree with Eliana's self-assessment, and although I find her pronunciation to be well within what I consider to be an acceptable range (her pronunciation errors only rarely impede comprehension, although some native English speakers may sometimes find them bothersome), I respect her desire to focus on "improving" her pronunciation.
Based on Eliana's expressed desires and our mutual assessment of her needs, our tutorial sessions will focus largely on a combination of structural practice using form-based exercises targeting her areas of greatest difficulty (especially the use of modal auxiliary verbs), error recognition and correction through production activities focusing on language functions and themes relevant to her professional needs and target proficiency level (Advanced Mid of the ACTFL proficiency scale), and pronunciation improvement. I plan to use a combination of authentic materials/texts and (probably to a lesser extent) traditional ESL teaching and learning materials to facilitate the lessons and will encourage Eliana to bring in materials relevant to her personal or professional life, which should help maintain what appears to be an already high level of intrinsic motivation.
Instructor Comment: I think Eliana is in very good hands!