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Challenging and arrogant advanced student, help, need ideas!

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Joined: 15 Feb 2008
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 24, 2013 1:30 pm    Post subject: Challenging and arrogant advanced student, help, need ideas! Reply with quote

I've got a tough student that I need some help to try to come up with some more activities and things to do to get him through the problematic things. This is one of the most, can I say arrogant/challenging/egotistical students I have ever had in quite some time. And no I am not trying to be mean, he has admitted he is this type of student, but he does wish to get over the obstacles and I am willing to help him. After teaching for more than a decade he has challenged basically everything that a tutor or teacher does, he does not believe any method from ESL or traditional teaching methods can work. He has tried them all. Heís had many tutors and none of them can really give him what he wants. I think I have come the closest as I have tried to be innovative and use some of my previous materials to help him, but it seems to be still not enough.

Student: mid 30's

Level: Upper intermediate to advance. His level is good enough to communicate with most people, but he wishes to feed his ego, he said it himself. He thinks that after studying English for some 20 years, why is it that he still cannot catch meanings.

Problem: Cannot understand American TV shows, movies and general chat between two westerners.

Material: Honestly not much, he wishes to simply listen and repeat or learn about American culture and history. I prepare some materials such as a paper that I read from and ask him to repeat what I say. I read each one fast. He can generally get about 80%. His biggest problem with this is missing words like a, an, you, your, it, this, that, these, those, there, their, etc. And I donít mean messing up which word to use, I mean completely not repeating those words at all. The materials we use for class so far are a sheet I have to ask him to repeat things again and again and again and I read it fast. We chit chat. We go over the transcripts of the TV program he is watching. We also have done some GRE stuff. I use the GRE writing questions to force him to think about an answer quickly to those, itís not easy. But I think there is more I need to do, but he rejects many things, no books for example.

Homework: Actually about one year ago he told me his English was horrible. But over the course of a year he has pushed himself to learn by studying hours a day. He is using a method from a Korean author called "Don't Study English". The basis of this theory is to first learn all the sounds, be illiterate, and don't try to understand, he did that already. Now he is watching, or trying to watch "The West Wing" It's a 40 minute US drama about the inner workings of the White House. Started in 1999 and finished around 2006. Apparently this is some of the most difficult material to learn. He thinks Friends is easy to understand, and is too slow and too common. However, the West Wing has many historical references as well as idioms and underlying meanings that even some of us have difficulties in understanding their true meanings. Right now he can understand about 60%. He thinks, based on our conversation about the show that I can only understand about 80%. I think it is closer to 90%, as I admit some of the things in the show I don't understand when I actually go back and look through the transcript. As some already know, we as native speakers typically skip things we don't understand, and piece together the rest of it to get a full picture, and we do it sub-consciously. Even if we try to watch a show and pay attention to the things in it we donít understand, we are apt to miss several. A lot of things I canít understand, he also cannot understand.

Challenge: And I have to say the reason I am keeping with this student is simple due to his motivation to learn, and the work he has done and the amount of time he spends, I have never, never, met a student like this guy. He wants to get over this hurdle so that he can understand the show and English in general, at at least 80% without having to look up everything in it he doesnít understand. He spends 6-8 hours a day studying. Repeating one episode more than 100 times, and spending hours and hours looking up phrases and idioms he doesnít get. For sentences in that show he doesnít understand he will listen to it maybe 500 times. Honestly some of terms or phrases used in this show I also donít get. But some how when I actually watch it, I can subconsciously understand fully, however, I donít think it is fully, it is probably still around 90%. Ok, soÖ he refuses to learn vocabulary, he thinks itís unnecessary. He rejects the idea of any traditional teaching methods and very stubborn on this. I agree with him to some extent that most teaching methods donít work. In addition, ESL methods are geared towards those in western countries rather than in Asia where the educational system to start with is different. Those methods to learn a Western language simply donít work. We all know as teachers that if one does not practice he/she will never get it, no matter what we do, we cannot learn for them, but we can guide them to better ways of studying and learning.

So, the question is, do you guys have any thoughts about what else I can do to push him over this hurdle?

I have a thought, but I donít know where to find this on the web or what to search for to get it, I spent some time today with no luck. I would like to find some ambiguous or vague sentences and read them out loud and then ask him to tell me the meaning in simple English. Or something similar to this. Any ideas?

Thanks in advance for taking the time to read this and think about some other things I can do. I don't feel he is that tough, he just has a request that I have not dealt with before and seems few tutors encounter.
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Joined: 14 Jan 2013
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Location: Canada/ Asia

PostPosted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 7:54 am    Post subject: Student ego trip Reply with quote

Sorry I didn't have time to read your entire post... Might want to try and edit a bit more - as in what's the point and what's the basic evidence - hard to read HUGE blocks of text. Don't do that for esl student for sure.

Anywho, as a teacher of over 4 years in China, I had this problem and, I don't mean to ignore all your writing, but it appeared from my scan that 'his ego' is the main problem. He won't listen to you.

Getting simple at this point, in my view, he must listen to you or hit the road. You can't pamper him to listen; you can't force listening. He has to know you are the expert, convince him of that, debate or spell it out, but show him you are an expert, know what you're doing, and if he doesn't like it.... tough. Find another teacher.

That's just me. I don't coddle much. And my students appreciated that. I was described as 'harsh, but fair' ... and funny and considerate, etc.
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Sally Olsen

Joined: 08 Apr 2004
Posts: 1295
Location: Canada,France, Brazil, Japan, Mongolia, Greenland, Canada, Mongolia, Ethiopia next

PostPosted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sounds like you are both doing your best. My only solution is to watch "The Big Bang Theory" as well and he might recognize himself in the character of Sheldon.
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2013 2:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I posted a long description of the problem because I thought it was warranted and necessary to understand the problem thoroughly. Without a background, sometimes it is difficult to understand the problem. Note, I have nearly 14 years of experience and I would not give my students such a long block of text to figure out at one time unless they asked for it and I felt they could handle it. This is an English discussion board, any size posts are welcomed.

I am not sure if his "ego" is the whole problem or not, he has watched countless others fail with traditional methods, as have I. However, the traditional method works for some, but not all. Where I live there is simply no English environment to practice, so keeping up becomes difficult, although I know there are ways around it, but nevertheless are less effective than an environment. However, I do agree with the fact that he does not listen to me. He has had several teachers and he doesn't listen to them either, but it is bordering on disrespect at this point, and it is possible I may end up dropping him if he keeps it up. He listens to some parts, the parts that he agrees with, but rejects everything else if doesn't fit into his "plan". He rejects all traditional methods of learning. He has admitted that probably I have never met a student like him, and he's right.

I am not pampering him, but so far I am tolerating him. I do not want to debate with him because I know we have different thinking as to the correct and better learning style. However, some of what he is doing, that is non-traditional, is working, but it will not get him there I think.
I have already advised him of another type of teacher he should consider in addition to me in order to fill in some holes.

Sally, thank you for your reply, I quickly watched a 7 minute clip on YouTube for The Bing Theory. Can I ask you what makes you think this is good learning material? The West Wing is much faster, and much more difficult to understand. TBBT is very slow, though witty and funny, I am not quite sure this program is difficult enough for him. In addition at least this part I watched Sheldon does not at all resemble this student's behavior. But I have to admit I would need to watch more to make sure of that.

The questions I have are:

Is there a place online that gives ambiguous or vague sentences? I need a list and am not quite sure how to create the list. In addition he needs to learn slang and idioms, however studying these from a book I agree is useless. It's all about memorization but one will forget very shortly after learning them. Are their stories out there that use a bunch of them together that may help remember them or other ways?
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Sally Olsen

Joined: 08 Apr 2004
Posts: 1295
Location: Canada,France, Brazil, Japan, Mongolia, Greenland, Canada, Mongolia, Ethiopia next

PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2013 2:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That is why I suggested "The Big Bang Theory". It is about 30 somethings and has current and up-to-date slang and idioms. Humour it the hardest thing to master and it is full of that. It is also about social situations and how to handle them and it sounds like your students needs a great deal of that as well. He is not going to do well with his English if he behaves as he does to you and others and that is as important a lesson as his listening skills.

Students learn many ways and many different ways. I wouldn't tell him that his way is wrong for him. Of course, you can suggest other ways and even ask him if he would do some experiments to see if his learning is stronger and longer with one way or the other. He sounds like someone who would take up a challenge like that if it is presented in a way that dares him to take it on.

Don't worry about the struggle for dominance in the relationship. If you are confident in yourself, you have no need to prove it. If he doesn't like your way of teaching, he will quit. But for your peace of mind, it might be better to focus on finding out what works for both of you, rather than battle to be "right". With young students, I just ignore bad behaviour and reward good behaviour. It might be more subtle and take much longer with him but even adults can respond to encouragement.

As for the long post, you could think about refining your ideas before you send them. You did repeat information. There is a way of writing effectively for information boards like this that will encourage more people to answer you. They expect brevity so you could divide the information into bits.

Or you could ignore people who are annoyed by long posts and just communicate with those who will read them. You won't get as many answers though and will get a few who are annoyed which seems to bother you and them. I just say, "Viva la difference."

Any political speech will give you many vague and ambiguous sentences and ideas.
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 13, 2013 6:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Your whole story somehow shows picture as if your student is not in a mood to study and learn and wasting your and his time.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 23, 2013 8:13 pm    Post subject: arrogant students Reply with quote


This student is wasting both your and his time. I'd give him the boot personally.

Katrina (
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 11, 2013 3:50 am    Post subject: Missing Words Reply with quote

"His biggest problem with this is missing words like a, an, you, your, it, this, that, these, those, there, their, etc. And I donÔŅĹt mean messing up which word to use, I mean completely not repeating those words at all"

These little words often get reduced or combined with other words, verbs for example, so he may not be distinguishing them which is why he doesn't "hear" them. I don't know how the concepts these words represent are handled in Korean, but to whatever extent they don't exist or are added as endings, or whatever, that may also be why he doesn't recognize them. And/or, he may have a real auditory discrim. problem and if that's so, is his arrogance compensatory? Or not.........

Here's just an odd thing, but I had a Korean student last year here in the US and he told me there's actually a prejudice in Korea about speaking English really well. He said they say it's like speaking "like butter" !
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