Teaching English: What doing a Delta is like (part 1)


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I’ve turned into a language geek. Or perhaps I’ve just come out of my language geek closet to face the world. Language, travel and learning about culture are where it’s all at for me, and I can’t seem to get enough of any of them. But I’m trying mighty hard.

After training and working as a lawyer, then going a bit grey owning a busy manufacturing and retail business with 45 employees, then rediscovering life and travel and language with my family after moving abroad to France 7 years ago, I find myself here. ‘Here’ is still France, with 3 bilingual (yes, I’m a wee bit jealous) children, a flexible and long-suffering husband, sheep, hens, a dog, and from this weekend, a new kitten. The four donkeys in the garden are just on loan.

So after focusing on Intercultural Communication in business (which in my book is mighty important, moreso even than language proficiency), I decided to go a bit deeper into how and when and why we best learn a language. Hence the decision to get back to the books for 8 months to study for the Delta exam.

The Diploma in English Language teaching is a 3 module advanced teaching qualification. The first module is the written exam covering second (and first) language acquisition and how that impacts upon methodology, phonemics, genre, a heap of parsing, understanding resources (good/bad and why they are the way they are) and learner problems.

I did mine over 8 months, online, with skype tutorials, a group moodle, and tutor support. It can be done more intensively, and also in combination with Module 2, but how you manage to get all the reading done I’ve no idea. It’s a blended course; Module 2 is hands-on in the classroom again – 27 days of beady eyed assessment spread over 5 months. Module 3 is back to online.

Maslow needs an add on if you want to do a Delta online

Maslow needs an add on if you want to do a Delta online

You get the results a couple of months after sitting the exam. I did my exam preparation with ESOL Strasbourg (they were great) and sat the exam in Strasbourg. I was away travelling in a campervan for a year in Europe and Morocco with my family whilst I studied for it. I had planned to be the study role model for my kids’ homeschooling, but it turned out the other way round. I got in trouble for not working…. a lot. Thanks guys.

Apart from having to know an awful lot of stuff, the exam is quite difficult because

1. It’s closed book – you need to know the phonemic chart inside out, all the technical terminology, the history of how we’ve taught SLA (second language acquisition – for the past hundred or so years) and the assumptions about language learning which go along with that. These days I struggle to remember why I went into a room, so it was tricky.

2. There’s very little time in the test to write what you know even if you know it, unless the answers come to you instantly ie there’s not much thinking time. That’s a bit frustrating. In that respect it’s a bit artificial, unnecessarily so I would say.

There is an element of simply learning to pass the test because the assessors are fussy about what they will and won’t accept. That said, preparing for the test forced me to learn – really learn – a lot. That’s the reason I found it to be so good for me as a teacher. Moreso than a Masters, which seems to be more theoretical.

Greece I think.  Another mock exam.

Greece I think. Another mock exam.

Tips for doing Delta Module 1

1. I’d recommend doing each module separately and take my hat off to those who give up their lives for a few months to do a combined course. Separately gives you time to read and take in the background materials.

2. I looked at the exam initially, saw that technical terminology was worth only a few points in questions one and two, so put off learning it. But actually a knowledge of terminology runs through the whole exam. Don’t put it off, just get down to learning it right at the beginning. And you never know, intervocalic flapping or cataphoric referencing may just crop up in day to day conversation at the supermarket or on Who Wants to be a Millionnaire. Not.

3. I found the best way to learn terminology was to use the app, Quizlet. Download one of the preprepared Delta lists. It’s more fun and it’s addictive because you want to beat your time.

4. There’s an online publication called How to Pass Delta by Damian Williams which I found useful. It’s only a few quid even if you don’t, but I found it helped to prepare for the format of the exam and the expected layout and content of answers.

5. If you didn’t think Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage was useful before, you will now. It helpful for parsing and explaining potential learner difficulties.

6. The genre questions can almost be learnt rote.

7. Do past papers over and over to give you advance practice, especially with timing. That’s where I messed up. I started off way too slowly and couldn’t write fast enough by the end to finish. It’s tempting to be neat and perfect for questions 1 to 3 and then realise there’s no time to properly think through the last couple of questions. Past papers are available online.

8. Easier said than done, but don’t leave studying till the last minute. I did. Always have done, always wish I hadn’t. Don’t.

9. Practise parsing over and over ie breaking down sentences into parts of speech until you feel comfortable doing it at speed. And without a reference book.

10. Don’t hold off too long to get started on module 2, or you’ll need to revise the whole lot again……

If you’re about to do your exam, good luck, if you’re thinking about doing it, go for it, and if you’re wondering what intervocalic flapping is, it’s when someone glides over their t’s as in “bu(tt)er” with an American accent. Gee I love pronunciation. So now you know. If you’d like any more information about doing a Delta, please get in touch.

By Jen

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