Alba Inglés was established in 1995 by myself, Mark Barritt and my wife, Virginia Haines. When we started, our main objective was simply to get students speaking English as we had forever been coming across Spanish students of English who were incapable of forming even the simplest of sentences if they didn't have the text book in front of them.
For this reason, in the early days, we put more of an emphasis on communicative teaching methods. For example setting up activities that were designed to get the students to speak without worrying too much about whether what they were saying was completely correct or not.
However, as time went on, we came to realise that, given the relatively limited time available and the fact that we really wanted a system in place that gave our long-term students the opportunity to reach First Certificate level, communicative teaching methods on their own were not enough and students did need some kind of structured system which enabled them to have a more rounded experience of English as well as offering them a 'route' through our school that gave them a chance, if only for CV purposes, of obtaining the FCE.
So this was essentially the problem - how to give the students this structured, rounded approach to learning English which includes the possibilty of reaching FCE level without neglecting the communicative aspect which they so obviously need.
For the past few years, the system we have had in place uses the traditional text book as the core element to our teaching. This gives a certain structure to the students' learning experience but we encourage our teachers to use the text books as imaginatively as possible so that the material therein provides a context for more communicative activities. In other words, the course book becomes a means to an end (the provision of contexts for communicative activities), instead of the idea of 'getting through the course book' being the end in itself.
The material in text books has come a long way even in the relatively short time that Alba Inglés has been in existence and this goes a long way to ensuring that our 'method' works.
Another essential element in our effort to give students a 'rounded' learning experience is that of the native English speaking teacher. If a student is ever going to understand natural spoken English to any degree, it is crucial that they listen to native speakers of English from as early an age and over as long a period of time as possible. Even if it takes the students many years of sitting in class before they can actually produce the language they are hearing, it is essential that they are given that contact with native English speakers to enable them to get used to and to 'tune into' natural, fluid spoken English.
In a very simplistic form, these are the three pillars to our teaching philosophy:
- a long term staged, structured approach provided by course books
- imaginative use of course book or extra material to facilitate communicative activities
- prolonged exposure to the 'natural' English of native speaker teachers