Category Archives: esl

Types of Speaking in ESL

In the context of ESL teaching, ~there are at least five types of speaking that take place in the classroom. This post will define and provide examples of each. The five types are as follows…

  • Imitative
  • Intensive
  • Responsive
  • Interactive
  • Extensive

The list above is ordered from simplest to most complex in terms of the requirements of oral production for the student.


At the imitative level, it is probably already clear what the student is trying to do. At this level, the student is simply trying to repeat what was said to them in a way that is understandable and with some adherence to pronunciation as defined by the teacher.

It doesn’t matter if the student comprehends what they are saying or carrying on a conversation. The goal is only to reproduce what was said to them. One common example of this is a “repeat after me” experience in the classroom.


Intensive speaking involves producing a limit amount of language in a highly control context. An example of this would be to read aloud a passage or give a direct response to a simple question.

Competency at this level is shown through achieving certain grammatical or lexical mastery. This depends on the teacher’s expectations.


Responsive is slightly more complex than intensive but the difference is blurry, to say the least. At this level, the dialog includes a simple question with a follow-up question or two. Conversations take place by this point but are simple in content.


The unique feature of intensive speaking is that it is usually more interpersonal than transactional. By interpersonal it is meant speaking for maintaining relationships. Transactional speaking is for sharing information as is common at the responsive level.

The challenge of interpersonal speaking is the context or pragmatics The speaker has to keep in mind the use of slang, humor, ellipsis, etc. when attempting to communicate. This is much more complex than saying yes or no or giving directions to the bathroom in a second language.


Extensive communication is normal some sort of monolog. Examples include speech, story-telling, etc. This involves a great deal of preparation and is not typically improvisational communication.

It is one thing to survive having a conversation with someone in a second language. You can rely on each other’s body language to make up for communication challenges. However, with extensive communication either the student can speak in a comprehensible way without relying on feedback or they cannot. In my personal experience, the typical ESL student cannot do this in a convincing manner.


Authentic Listening Tasks

There are many different ways in which a teacher can assess the listening skills of their students. Recognition, paraphrasing, cloze tasks, transfer, etc. are all ways to determine a student’s listening proficiency.

One criticism of the task above is that they are primarily inauthentic. This means that they do not strongly reflect something that happens in the real world.

In response to this, several authentic listening assessments have been developed over the years. These authentic listening assessments include the following.

  • Editing
  • Note-taking
  • Retelling
  • Interpretation

This post will each of the authentic listening assessments listed above.


An editing task that involves listening involves the student receiving reading material. The student reviews the reading material and then listens to a recording of someone reading aloud the same material. The student then marks the hard copy they have when there are differences between the reading and what the recording is saying.

Such an assessment requires the student to carefully for discrepancies between the reading material and the recording. This requires strong reading abilities and phonological knowledge.


For those who are developing language skills for academic reasons. Note-taking is a highly authentic form of assessment. In this approach, the students listen to some type of lecture and attempt to write down what they believe is important from the lecture.

The students are then assessed by on some sort of rubric/criteria developed by the teacher. As such, marking note-taking can be highly subjective. However, the authenticity of note-taking can make it a valuable learning experience even if providing a grade is difficult.


How retelling works should be somewhat obvious. The student listens to some form of talk. After listening, the student needs to retell or summarize what they heard.

Assessing the accuracy of the retelling has the same challenges as the note-taking assessment. However, it may be better to use retelling to encourage learning rather than provide evidence of the mastery of a skill.


Interpretation involves the students listening to some sort of input. After listening, the student then needs to infer the meaning of what they heard. The input can be a song, poem, news report, etc.

For example, if the student listens to a song they may be asked to explain why the singer was happy or sad depending on the context of the song. Naturally, they cannot hope to answer such a question unless they understood what they were listening too.


Listening does not need to be artificial. There are several ways to make learning task authentic. The examples in this post are just some of the potential ways

Intensive Listening and ESL

Intensive listening is listening for the elements (phonemes, intonation, etc.) in words and sentences. This form of listening is often assessed in an ESL setting as a way to measure an individual’s phonological,  morphological, and ability to paraphrase. In this post, we will look at these three forms of assessment with examples.

Phonological Elements

Phonological elements include phonemic consonant and phonemic vowel pairs. Phonemic consonant pair has to do with identifying consonants. Below is an example of what an ESL student would hear followed by potential choices they may have on a multiple-choice test.

Recording: He’s from Thailand

(a) He’s from Thailand
(b) She’s from Thailand

The answer is clearly (a). The confusion is with the adding of ‘s’ for choice (b). If someone is not listening carefully they could make a mistake. Below is an example of phonemic pairs involving vowels

Recording: The girl is leaving?

(a)The girl is leaving?
(b)The girl is living?

Again, if someone is not listening carefully they will miss the small change in the vowel.

Morphological Elements

Morphological elements follow the same approach as phonological elements. You can manipulate endings, stress patterns, or play with words.  Below is an example of ending manipulation.

Recording: I smiled a lot.

(a) I smiled a lot.
(b) I smile a lot.

I sharp listener needs to hear the ‘d’ sound at the end of the word ‘smile’ which can be challenging for ESL student. Below is an example of stress pattern

Recording: My friend doesn’t smoke.

(a) My friend doesn’t smoke.
(b) My friend does smoke.

The contraction in the example is the stress pattern the listener needs to hear. Below is an example of a play with words.

Recording: wine

(a) wine
(b) vine

This is especially tricky for languages that do not have both a ‘v’ and ‘w’ sound, such as the Thai language.

Paraphrase recognition

Paraphrase recognition involves listening to an example of being able to reword it in an appropriate manner. This involves not only listening but also vocabulary selection and summarizing skills. Below is one example of sentence paraphrasing

Recording: My name is James. I come from California

(a) James is Californian
(b) James loves Calfornia

This is trickier because both can be true. However, the goal is to try and rephrase what was heard.  Another form of paraphrasing is dialogue paraphrasing as shown below


Man: My name is Thomas. What is your name?
Woman: My name is Janet. Nice to meet you. Are you from Africa
Man: No, I am an American

(a) Thomas is from America
(b)Thomas is African

You can see the slight rephrase that is wrong with choice (b). This requires the student to listen to slightly longer audio while still have to rephrase it appropriately.


Intensive listening involves the use of listening for the little details of an audio. This is a skill that provides a foundation for much more complex levels of listening.


Washback is the effect that testing has on teaching and learning. This term is commonly used in used in language assessment but it is not limited to only that field. One of the primary concerns of many teachers is developing that provide washback or that enhances students learning and understanding of ideas in a class.

This post will discuss three ways in which washback can be improved in a class. The three ways are…

  • Written feedback on exams
  • Go over the results as a class
  • Meetings with students on exam performance

Written Feedback

Exams or assignments that are highly subjective (ie essays) require written feedback in order to provide washback. This means specific, personalized feedback for each student. This is a daunting task for most teachers especially as classes get larger. However, if your goal is to improve washback providing written comments is one way to achieve this.

The letter grade or numerical score a student receives on a test does not provide insights into how the student can improve. The reasoning behind what is right or wrong can be provided in the written feedback.

Go Over Answers in Class

Perhaps the most common way to enhance feedback is to go over the test in class. This allows the students to learn what the correct answer is, as well as why one answer is the answer. In addition, students are given time to ask questions and clarification of the reasoning behind the teacher’s marking.

If there were common points of confusion, going over the answers in this way allows for the teacher to reteach the confusing concepts. In many ways, the test revealed what was unclear and now the teacher is able to provide support to achieve mastery.

One-on-One Meetings

For highly complex and extremely subjective forms of assessments (ie research paper) one-on-one meetings may be the most appropriate. This may require a more personal touch and a greater deal of time.

During the meeting, students can have their questions addressed and learn what they need to do in order to improve. This is a useful method for assignments that require several rounds of feedback in order to be completed.


Washback, if done properly, can help with motivation, autonomy, and self-confidence of students. What this means is that assessment should not only be used for grades but also to develop learning skills.

Discrete-Point and Integrative Language Testing Methods

Within language testing there has arisen over time at least two major viewpoints on assessment. Originally,  the view was that assessing language should look specific elements of a language or you could say that language assessment should look at discrete aspects of the language.

A reaction to this discrete methods came about with the idea that language is wholistic so testing should be integrative or address many aspects of language simultaneously. In this post, we will take a closer look at discrete and integrative language testing methods through providing examples of each along with a comparison.

Discrete-Point Testing

Discrete-point testing works on the assumption that language can be reduce to several discrete component “points” and that these “points” can be assessed. Examples of discrete-point test items in language testing include multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, and spelling.

What all of these example items have in common is that they usually isolate an aspect of the language from the broader context. For example, a simple spelling test is highly focus on the orthographic characteristics of the language. True/false can be used to assess knowledge of various grammar rules etc.

The primary criticism of discrete-point testing was its discreteness. Many believe that language is wholistic and that in the real world students will never have to deal with language in such an isolated way. This led to the development of integrative language testing methods.

Integrative Language Testing Methods

Integrative language testing is based on the unitary trait hypothesis, which states that language is indivisible. This is in complete contrast to discrete-point methods which supports dividing language into specific components.  Two common integrative language assessments includes cloze test and dictation.

Cloze test involves taking an authentic reading passage and removing words from it. Which words remove depends on the test creator. Normally, it is every 6th or 7th word but it could be more or less or only the removal of key vocabulary. In addition, sometimes potential words are given to the student to select from or sometimes the list of words is not given to the student

The students job is to look at the context of the entire story to determine which words to write into the blank space.  This is an integrative experience as the students have to consider grammar, vocabulary, context, etc. to complete the assessment.

Dictation is simply writing down what was heard. This also requires the use of several language skills simultaneously in a realistic context.

Integrative language testing also has faced criticism. For example, discrete-point testing has always shown that people score differently in different language skills and this fact has  been replicated in many studies. As such, the exclusive use of integrative language approaches is not supported by most TESOL scholars.


As with many other concepts in education the best choice between discrete-point and integrative testing is a combination  of both. The exclusive use of either will not allow the students to demonstrate mastery of the language.

Writing Techniques for the ESL Classroom

In-class writing is common in many many ESL context. This post will provide several different ways that teachers can get their students writing in an ESL classroom.


Perhaps the simplest way to get ESL students writing is to have them imitate what is read to them. This allows the students to learn the conventions of writing in the target language.

This is usually done through some form of dictation. The teacher reads a few words or reads slowly. This provides students with time to write down what they heard.

The actually marking of such an activity would involve the use of rubrics or some sort of count system for the number of words the student was able to write down. Often, spelling and pronunciation are not  considered major factors in the grade because of the rush nature of the writing.

Controlled and Guided

Controlled writing involves having students modify an existing writing sample. For example, changing all the verb in a paragraph from past to present. This will require them to often change more than just the verbs but other aspects of writing as well

Guided writing involves having the students respond to some sort of question or stimuli. For example, the students may watch a video and then are asked to write about and or answer questions. They may also be try to rewrite something that they heard at normal speed.


The most common form of self-writing is the writing of a journal. The writing is only intended for the student. Even note-taking is considered a form of self-writing even though it is not normally comprehensible to others.

Self-writing, particularly journals, can be useful in developing reflective thinking in students in general even with the language barriers of writing in another language.

Display  and Real Writing

Display writing is writing that is primarily intended for the teacher, who already knows the answer that the student is addressing. Examples of this type of writing include essays and other writing for the purpose of a summative assessment. The student is literally displaying what they already know.

Real writing is writing in which  the reader does not know the answer to that the student is addressing. As such, one of the main differences between display and real writing is the knowledge that the audience of the writing has.


When working with students it is important to provide them with learning experiences that stimulate the growth and development that they need. Understanding the various forms of writing that can happen in an ESL classroom can provide teachers with ideas on how to help their students.

Understanding ESL Writing Patterns Across Cultures

When people are learning the English they will almost always bring how they communicate with them when they are speaking or writing in English. However, for native speakers of English the written communication style of ESL students can be bewildering even if it is grammatically sound.

This phenomenon of the L1 influencing the writing style of the L2 is known as contrastive rhetoric. This post will provide examples from different cultures in terms of how they approach writing in English and compare it to how a native-speaking person from a Western country writes to show the differences.

The Native English Speaker Writing Example

Below is a simple paragraph written by a Native English speaking person.

Exercise is good for a person for several reasons. For example, exercises helps to strengthen the body. As a person moves he or she is utilizing their muscles which promotes maintenance and potentially growth of the muscle. Second, exercises helps to remove waste from the body. Strenuous exercise causes people to sweat and  breath deeply and this increases the removal of harmful elements from the body. Lastly, exercise makes people feel good. Exercise encourages the release of various hormones that makes a person feel better.  Therefore, people should exercise in order to enjoy these clear benefits

The writing style of an English speaker is usually highly linear in nature. In the example above, the first sentence is clearly the main idea or the point. Right from the beginning the English writer shares with you where they stand on the subject. There is little mystery or suspense as to what will be talked about.

The  rest of the paragraph are supporting details for the main idea. The supporting details start with the discourse markers of “for example”, “second”, and “lastly”. Everything in the paragraph is laid out in a step-by-step manner that is highly clear as this is important for English speakers.

Unfortunately, this style of writing is what many ESL students from other cultures is compared too. The next examples have perfect “English” however, the style of communication is not in this linear manner.

Eastern Writing Style

According to Robert Kaplan, people from  Eastern countries write in a circular indirect manner. This means that Eastern writing lacks the direct point or main idea of western writing and also lacks the clearly structured supporting details. Below is the same paragraph example as the one in the English example but written in a more Eastern style

As a person moves he or she is utilizing their muscles which promotes maintenance and potentially growth of the muscle. Strenuous exercise causes people to sweat and  breath deeply and this increases the removal of harmful elements from the body. Exercise encourages the release of various hormones that makes a person feel better.

The example is grammatical sound but for an native English speaker there are several problems with the writing

  1. There is no main idea. The entire paragraph is missing a point. The writer is laying down claims about their point but they never actually tell you what the point is. Native speakers want a succinct summary of the point when information is shared with them. Eastern writers prefer an indirect or implied main ideas because being too direct is considered rude. In addition, if you are too clear in an Eastern context it is hard to evade and prevaricate if someone is offended by what is said.
  2. The discourse markers are missing. There are no “for example” or “second” mention. Discourse markers give a paragraph a strong sense of linear direction. The native English speaker can tell where they are in a train of thought when these markers are there. When they are missing the English reader is wondering when is the experience is going to be over.
  3. There are no transition sentences. In the native English speaking example, every discourse marker served as the first word in a transition sentence which move the reader from the first supporting detail to the next supporting detail. The Eastern example has only details without in guidepost from one detail to the other. If a paragraph is really long this can become overwhelming for the Native English speaker.

The example is highly fluent and this kind of writing is common in many English speaking countries that are not found in the West. Even with excellent knowledge of the language the discourse skills affect the ability to communicate.


My student have shared with me that English writing is clear and easy to understand but too direct in nature. Whereas the complaints of teachers is the the ESL students written is unclear and indirect.

This is not a matter of right in wrong but differences in how to communicate when writing. A student who is aware of how the communicate can make adjustments so that whoever they are speaking with can understand them. The goal should not be to change students but to make them aware of their assumptions so they can adjust depending on the situation and to not change them to act a certain way all the time.

Writing as a Process or Product

In writing pedagogy, there are at least two major ways of seeing writing. These two approaches see writing as a process or as a product. This post will explain each along with some of the drawbacks of both.

Writing as a Product

Writing as a product entailed the teacher setting forth standards in terns of rhetoric, vocabulary use, organization, etc. The students were given several different examples that could be used as models form which to base their own paper.

The teacher may be available for one-on-one support but this was not necessarily embedded in the learning experience. In addition, the teacher was probably only going to see the finally draft.

For immature writers, this is an intimidating learning experience. To be  required to develop a paper with only out of context examples from former students is difficult to deal with. In addition, without prior feedback in terms of progress, students have no idea if they are meeting expectations. The teacher is also clueless as to student progress and this means that both students and teachers can be “surprised” by poorly written papers and failing students.

The lack of communication while writing can encourage students to try and overcome their weaknesses through plagiarism. This is especially true for ESL students who lack the mastery of the language while also often having different perspectives on what academic dishonesty is.

Another problem is the ‘A’ students will simply copy the examples the teacher provided and just put in their own topic and words in it. This leads to an excellent yet mechanical paper that does not allow the students to develop as writers. In other words the product approach provide too much support for strong students and not enough support for weak ones.

Writing as a Process

In writing as a process, the teacher supports the student through several revisions of a paper. The teacher provides support for the develop of ideas, organization, coherency, and other aspects of writing. All this is done through the teacher providing feedback to the student was well as dealing with any questions and or concerns the student may have with their paper.

This style of writing teaching helps students to understand what kind of writer they are. Students are often so focused on completing writing assignments that they never learn  what their tendencies and habits as a writer our. Understanding their own strengths and weaknesses can help them to develop compensatory strategies to complete assignments. This can of self-discovery can happen through one-on-one conferences with the teacher.

Off course, such personal attention takes a great deal of time. However, even brief 5 minutes conferences with students can reap huge rewards in their writing. It also saves time at the end when marking because you as the teacher are already familiar with what the students are writing about and the check of the final papers is just to see if the students have revised their paper according to the advice you gave.

The process perspective give each student individual attention to grow as individual. ‘A’ students get what they need as well as weaker students. Everyone is compared to their own progress as a writer.


Generally, the process approach is more appropriate for teaching writing. The exceptions being that the students are unusually competent or they are already familiar with your expectations from prior writing experiences.

Discourse Markers and ESL

Discourse markers are used in writing to help organize ideas. They are often those “little words” that native speakers use effortlessly as they communicate but are misunderstood by ESL speakers. This post will provide examples of various discourse markers.

Logical Sequence

Logical sequence discourse markers are used to place ideas in an order that is comprehensible to the listener/reader. They can be summative for concluding a longer section or resultative which is used to indicate the effect of something.

Examples of summative discourse markers includes

  • overall, to summarize, therefore, so far

An example of summarize discourse markers is below. The bold word is the marker.

Smoking causes cancer. Studies show that people who smoke have higher rates of lung, esophagus, and larynx. Therefore, it is dangerous to smoke.

The paragraph is clear. The marker “Therefore” is summarizing what was said in the prior two sentences.

Examples of resultative discourse markers includes the following

  • so, consequently, therefore, as a result

An example of resultative discourse markers is below. The bold word is the marker.

Bob smoked cigarettes for 20 years. As a result,he developed lung cancer

Again, the second sentence with the marker “As a result” explain the consequence of smoking for 20 years.


Constrastive markers are words that  indicate that the next idea is the opposite of the previous idea. There are three ways that this can be done. Replacive share an alternative idea, antithetic markers share ideas in opposition to the previous one. Lastly, concessive markers share unexpected information given the context.

Below are several words and or phrases that are replacive markers

  • alternatively, on  the other hand, rather

Below is an example of a replacive contrast marker used in a short paragraph. Bold word is the replacive

Smoking is a deadly lifestyle choice. This bad habit has killed millions of people. On the other hand, a vegetarian lifestyle has been found to be beneficial to the health of many people

Antithetic markers include the following

  • conversely, instead, by contrast

Below is an example of antithetic marker used in a paragraph

A long and healthy life is unusually for those who choose to smoke. Instead, people who smoke live lives that are shorter and more full of disease and sickness.

Concsessive markers includes some of the words below

  • In spite of, nevertheless, anyway, anyhow

Below is an example of a concessive marker used in a paragraph

Bob smoked for 20 years. In spite of this, he was an elite athlete and had perfect health.


Discourse markers play a critical role in communicating the  finer points of ideas hat are used in communication. Understanding how these words are used can help ESL students in comprehending what they hear and read.

Factors that Affect Pronunciation

Understanding and teaching pronunciation has been controversial in TESOL for many years. At one time, pronunciation was taught in a high bottom-up behavioristic manner. Students were drilled until they had the appropriate “accent” (American, British, Australian, etc.). To be understood meant capturing one of the established accents.

Now there is more of an emphasis on top-down features such as stress, tone, and rhythm. There is now an emphasis on being more non-directive and focus not on the sounds being generate by the student but the comprehensibility of what they say.

This post will explain several common factors that influence pronunciation. This common factors include

  • Motivation & Attitude
  • Age & Exposure
  • Native language
  • Natural ability

Motivation & Language Ego

For many people, it’s hard to get something done when they don’t care. Excellent pronunciation is often affected by motivation. If the student does not care they will probably not improve much. This is particularly true when the student reaches a level where people can understand them. Once they are comprehensible many students loss interests in further pronunciation development

Fortunately, a teacher can use various strategies to motivate students to focus on improving their pronunciation. Creating relevance is one way in which students intrinsic motivation can be developed.

Attitude is closely related to motivation. If the students have negative views of the target language and are worried that learning the target language is a cultural threat this will make language acquisition difficult. Students need to understand that language learning does involve learning of the culture of the target language.

Age & Exposure

Younger students, especially 1-12 years of age, have the best chance at developing native-like pronunciation. If the student is older they will almost always retain an “accent.” However, fluency and accuracy can achieve the same levels regards of the initial age at which language study began.

Exposure is closely related to age. The more authentic experiences that a student has with the language the better their pronunciation normally is. The quality of the exposure is the the naturalness of the setting and the actual engagement of the student in hearing and interacting with the language.

For example, an ESL student who lives in America will probably have much more exposure to the actual use of English than someone in China. This in turn will impact their pronunciation.

Native Language

The similarities between the mother tongue and the  target language can influence pronunciation. For example, it is much easier to move from Spanish to English pronunciation than from Chinese to English.

For the teacher, understanding the sound system’s of your students’ languages can help a great deal in helping them with difficulties in pronunciation.

Innate Ability

Lastly, some just get it while others don’t. Different students have varying ability to pick up the sounds of another language. A way around this is helping students to know their own strengths and weaknesses. This will allow them to develop strategies to improve.


Whatever your position on pronunciation. There are ways to improve your students pronunciation if you are familiar with what influences it. The examples in this post provided some basic insight into what affects this.

Tips for Developing Techniques for ESL Students

Technique development is the actual practice of TESOL. All of the ideas expressed in approaches and methods are just ideas. The development of a technique is the application of knowledge in a way that benefits the students. This post would provide ideas and guidelines on developing speaking and listening techniques.

Techniques should Encourage Intrinsic Motivation

When developing techniques for your students. The techniques need consider the goals, abilities, and interest of the students whenever possible. If the students are older adults who want to develop conversational skills heavy stress on reading would be demotivating. This is  because reading was not on of the students goals.

When techniques do not align with student goals there is a lost of relevance, which is highly demotivating. Of course, as the teacher, you do not always give them what they want but general practice suggest some sort of dialog over the direction of the techniques.

Techniques should be Authentic

The point here is closely related to the first one on motivation. Techniques should generally be as authentic as possible. If you have a choice between real text and textbook it is usually better to go with real world text.

Realistic techniques provide a context in which students can apply their skills in a setting that is similar to the wold but within the safety of a classroom.

Techniques should Develop Skills through Integration and Isolation

When developing techniques there should be a blend of techniques that develop skill in an integrated manner, such as listening and speaking and or some other combination. There should also be ab equal focus on techniques that develop on one skill such as writing.

The reason for this is so that the students develop balanced skills. Skill-integrated techniques are highly realistic but students can use one skill to compensate for weaknesses in others. For example, a talker just keeps on talking without ever really listening.

When skills our work on in isolation it allows for deficiencies to be clearly identified and work on. Doing this will only help the students in integrated situations.

Encourage Strategy Development

Through techniques students need to develop their abilities to learn on their own autonomously. This can be done through having students practice learning strategies you have shown them in the past. Examples include context clues, finding main ideas, identifying  facts from opinions etc

The development of skills takes a well planned approach to how you will teach and provide students with the support to succeed.


Understanding some of the criteria that can be used in creating techniques for the ESL classroom is beneficial for teachers. The ideas presented here provide some basic guidance for enabling technique development.

Listening Techniques for the ESL Classroom

Listening is one of the four core skills of language acquisition along with reading, writing, and speaking. This post will explain several broad categories of listening that can happen within the ESL classroom.

Reactionary Listening

Reactionary listening involves having the students listen to an utterance and repeat back to you as the teacher. The student is not generating any meaning. This can be useful perhaps for developing pronunciation in terms of speaking.

Common techniques that utilize reactionary listening are drills and choral speaking. Both of these techniques are commonly associated with audiolingualism.

Responsive Listening

Responsive listening  requires the student to create a reply to something that they heard. Not only does the student have to understand what was said but they must also be able to generate a meaningful reply. The response can be verbal such as answering a question and or non-verbal such as obeying a command.

Common techniques that are responsive in nature includes anything that involves asking questions and or obeying commands. As such, almost all methods and approaches have some aspect of responsive listening in them.

Discriminatory Listening

Discriminatory listening techniques involves listening that is selective. The listener needs to identify what is important from a dialog or monologue. The listener might need to identify the name of a person, the location of something, or develop the main idea of the recording.

Discriminatory listening is probably a universal technique used by almost everyone. It is also popular with English proficiency test such as the IELTS.

Intensive Listening

Intensive listening is focused on breaking down what the student has heard into various aspect of grammar and speaking. Examples include intonation, stress, phonemes, contractions etc.

This is more of an analytical approach to listening. In particular, using intensive listening techniques may be useful to help learners understand the nuances of the language.

Extensive Listening

Extensive listening is about listening to a monologue or dialog and developing an overall summary and comprehension of it.  Examples of this could be having students listening to a clip from a documentary or a newscast.

Again, this is so common in language teaching that almost all styles incorporate this in one way or another.

Interactive Listening

Interactive listening is the mixing of all of the previously mentioned types of listening simultaneously. Examples include role plays, debates, and various other forms of group work.

All of the examples mentioned require repeating what others say (reactionary), replying to to others comments (responsive),  identifying main ideas (discriminatory & extensive), and perhaps some focus on intonation and stress (intensive).  As such, interactive listening is the goal of listening in a second language.

Interactive listening is used by most methods most notable communicative language  teaching, which has had a huge influence on the last 40 years of TESOL.


The listening technique categories provided here gives some insight into how one can organize various listening experiences in the classroom. What combination of techniques to employ depends on many different factors but knowing what’s available empowers the teacher to determine what course of action to take.

Common Challenges with Listening for ESL Students

Listening is always a challenge as students acquire any language. Both teachers and students know that it takes time to developing comprehension when listening to a second language.

This post will explain some of the common obstacles to listening for ESL students. Generally, some common roadblocks includes the following.

  • Slang
  • Contractions
  • Rate of Delivery
  • Emphasis in speech
  • Clustering
  • Repetition
  • Interaction


Slang or colloquial language is a major pain for language learners. There are so many ways that we communicate in English that does not meet the prescribed “textbook” way. This can leave ESL learners completely lost as to what is going on.

A simple example would be to say “what’s up”. Even the most austere English teacher knows what this means but this is in no way formal English. For someone new to English it would be confusing at least initially.


Contractions are unique form of slang or colloquialism that is more readily accept as standard English. A challenge with contractions is there omission of information. With this missing information there can be confusion.

An example would be “don’t” or “shouldn’t”. Other more complicated contractions can include “djeetyet” for “did you eat yet”. These common phrase leave out or do not pronounce important information.

Rate of Delivery 

When listening to someone in a second language it always seems too fast. The speed at which we speak our own language is always too swift for someone learning it.

Pausing at times during the delivery is one way to allow comprehension with actually slowing the speed at which one speaks. The main way to overcome this is to learn to listening faster if this makes any sense.

Emphasis in Speech

In many languages there are complex rules for understanding which vowels to stress, which do not make sense to a non-native speaker. In fact, native speakers do not always agree on the vowels to stress. English speakers have been arguing or how to pronounce potato and tomato for ages.

Another aspect is the intonation. The inflection in many languages can change when asking a question, a statement, or being bored, angry or some other emotion. These little nuances of language as difficult to replicate and understand.


Clustering is the ability to break language down into phrases. This helps in capturing the core of a language and is not easy to do. Language learners normally try to remember everything which leads to them understanding nothing.

For the teacher,  the students need help in determining what is essential information and what is not. This takes practice and demonstrations of what is considered critical and not in listening comprehension.


Repetition is closely related to clustering and involves the redundant use of words and phrases. Constantly re-sharing the same information can become confusing for students. An example would be someone saying “you know” and  “you see what I’m saying.” This information is not critical to understanding most conversations and can throw of the comprehension of a language learner.


Interaction has to do with a language learner understanding how to negotiate a conversation. This means being able to participate in a discussion, ask questions, and provide feedback.

The ultimate goal of listening is to speak. Developing  interactive skills is yet another challenge to listening as students must develop participatory skills.


The challenges mentioned here are intended to help teachers to be able to identify what may be impeding their students from growing in their ability to listen. Naturally, this is not exhaustive list but serves as a brief survey.


Types of Oral Language

Within communication and language teaching there are actually many different forms or types of oral language. Understanding this is beneficial if a teacher is trying to support students to develop their listening skills. This post will provide examples of several oral language forms.


A monologue is the use of language without any feedback verbally form others. There are two types of monologue which  are planned and unplanned. Planned monologues include such examples as speeches, sermons, and verbatim reading.

When a monologue is planned there is little repetition of the ideas and themes of the subject. This makes it very difficult for ESL students to follow and comprehend the information. ESL students need to hear the content several times to better understand what is being discussed.

Unplanned monologues are more improvisational in nature. Examples can include classroom lectures and one-sided conversations. There is usually more repetition in unplanned monologues which is beneficial. However, the stop and start of unplanned monologues can be confusing at times as well.


A dialogue is the use of oral language involving two or more people . Within dialogues there are two main sub-categories which are interpersonal and transactional. Interpersonal dialogues encourage the development of personal relationships. Such dialogues that involve asking people how are they or talking over dinner may fall in this category.

Transactional dialogue is dialogue for sharing factual information. An example might be  if someone you do not know asks you “where is the bathroom.” Such a question is not for developing relationships but rather for seeking information.

Both interpersonal and transactional dialogues can be either familiar or unfamiliar. Familiarity has to do with how well the people speaking know each other. The more familiar the people talking are the more assumptions  and hidden meanings they bring to the discussion. For example, people who work at the same company in the same department use all types of acronyms to communicate with each other that outsiders do not understand.

When two people are unfamiliar with each other, effort must be  made to provide information explicitly to avoid confusion. This carries over when a native speaker speaks in a familiar manner to ESL students. The style of communication  is inappropriate because of the lack of familiarity of the ESL students with the language.


The boundary between monologue and dialogue is much clear than the boundaries between the other categories mentioned such as planned/unplanned, interpersonal/transactional, and familiar/unfamiliar. In general, the ideas presented here represent a continuum and not either or propositions.


Overcoming Plagiarism in an ESL Context

Academic dishonesty in the form of plagiarism is a common occurrence in academia. Generally, most students know that cheating is inappropriate on exams and what they are really doing is hoping that they are not caught.

However, plagiarism is much more sticky and subjective offense for many students. This holds especially true for ESL students. Writing in a second language is difficult for everybody regardless of one’s background. As such, students often succumb to the temptation of plagiarism to complete writing assignments.

Many ideas are being used to reduce plagarism. Software like turnitin do work but they lead to an environment of mistrust and an arms race between students and teachers. Other measures should be considered for dealing with plagarism

This post will will explain how seeing writing from the perspective of a process rather than a product can reduce the chances of plagiarism in the ESL context.

 Writing as a Product

In writing pedagogy the two most common views on writing are writing as a product and writing as a process. Product writing views writing as the submission of a writing assignment that meets a certain standard, is grammatically near perfection, and highly structured. Students are given examples of excellence and are expected to emulate them.

Holding to this view is fine but it can contribute to plagiarism in many ways.

  • Students cannot meet the expectation for grammatical perfection. This encourages  them to copy excellently written English from Google into their papers.
  • Focus on grammar leads to over-correction of the final paper. The overwhelming red pen marks from the teacher on the paper can stifle a desire for students to write in fear of additional correction.
  • The teacher often provides little guidance beyond providing examples. Without daily, constant feedback, students have no idea what to do and rely on Google.
  • People who write in a second language often struggle to structure their thoughts because we all think much more shallower in a second language with reduced vocabulary. Therefore, an ESL paper is always messier because of the difficulty of executing complex cognitive processes in a second language.

These pressures mentioned above can contribute to a negative classroom environment in which students do not really want to write but survive a course however it takes. For native-speakers this works but is really hard for ESL students to have success.

Writing as a Process

The other view of writing is writing as a process. This approach sees writing as the teacher providing constant one-on-one guidance through the writing process. Students begin to learn how they write and develop an understanding of the advantages of rewriting and revisions. Teacher and peer feedback are utilized throughout the various drafts of the paper.

The view of writing as a product has the following advantages for avoiding plagarism

  • Grammar is slowly fixed over time through feedback from the teacher. This allows the students to make corrections before the final submission.
  • Any instances of plagiarism can be caught before final submission. Many teachers do not give credit for rough drafts. Therefore, plagiarism in a rough draft normally does not affect the final grade.
  • The teacher can coach the students on how to reword plagiarize statements and also how to give appropriate credit through using APA.
  • The de-emphasis on  perfection allows the student to grow and mature as a writer on the constant support of the teacher and peers.
  • Guiding the students thought process is especially critically across cultures as communication style vary widely across the world. Learning to write for a Western academic audience requires training in how Western academics think and communicate. This cannot be picked up alone and is another reason why plagarism is useful because the stole idea is communicated appropriately.

In a writing as a process environment the students and teacher work together to develop papers that meet standards in the students own words. It takes much more time and effort but it can reduce the temptation  of just copying from whatever Google offers.


Grammar plays a role in  writing but the shaping of ideas and their communication is of up most concern for many in TESOL. The analogy I use is that grammar is like the paint on the walls of a house or the tile on the floor. It makes the house look nice but is not absolutely necessary. The ideas and thoughts of a paper are like the foundation, walls, and roof. Nobody wants to live in a house that lacks tile, or is not painted but you cannot live in a house that does not have walls and a roof.

The stress on native-like communication stresses out ESL students to the point of not even trying to write at times. With a change in view on the writing experience from product to process this can be  alleviated. We should only ask our students to do what we are able to do. If we cannot write in a second language in a fluent manner how can we ask them?

Planning Groupwork in the ESL Classroom

In teaching, as a teacher gives autonomy over to the students it often requires an increase in the preparation of the teacher. This is due to the unpredictable nature of entrusting students with the freedom to complete a task on their own.

For teachers who use groupwork, they need to make sure that they have carefully planned what they want the groups to attempt to achieve. Failure to do so could  lead to listless groups that never achieve the learning objectives of the lesson.

In this post, we will look at steps to take when planning groupwork for the language learning classroom.

Establish the Technique

Before groupwork begins some direct instruction is almost always necessary, which means explain to the class what they will do. There are many different techniques consistent with groupwork. These include role plays, brainstorming, interviews, jigsaw, problem-solving etc.

The role of the teacher at this point is simply to provide a sense of purpose for the class. This allows the students to focus on understand why they are doing something. This also helps the students to see why they are working in groups. This is particularly useful for those who do not enjoy groupwork.

Demonstrate the Technique

Actions always speak louder than words, what this means for groupwork is that the students need to see how the technique is done. This is particularly try if it is a complex task and or the students have never done it before.

Naturally, it may be impossible to model a group technique alone. This necessitates the need to use student volunteers as you demonstrate the technique. Most students will claim shyness but they usually enjoy participating in such activities.

While going through the technique the teacher needs to narrate what is happening so the students can follow along. After completing the technique, the teacher than examples verbally what to do. This allows the students to receive additional direction through a different medium, which helps in retention of the information.

Create Groups

There are a variety of ways to divide and place students in groups. Groups can be base don proficiency, experience, age, gender, native language, randomly, etc. The decision for the creation of groups is left to the teacher but should be consistent with the goals of the assignment.

After groups are formed it is almost always necessary to go to each group and check for understanding of the instructions. A strange phenomenon in a classroom is how understanding decrease as you move from whole-class instruction, to group, to individual. When students are in groups they are often much more comfortable in sharing misgivings than when in a whole-class setting. As such, a teacher has to re-teach every group as there is always some form of misunderstanding. Once this is done, the students are thoroughly prepared to start the task.


Groupwork can be frustrating and this can normally be due to a lack of planning. It is not enough to just throw students together and have “fun”. A teacher must plan carefully for groupwork in order to prepare for the un-expected

Critiques of Groupwork in ESL Classrooms

Many ESL teachers adhere to the principles of Communicative Language Teaching which includes such characteristics as cooperative language learning and groupwork. However, not everyone has embraced the emphasis on groupwork in modern language classrooms.

This post will explain some of the common objectives to groupwork in order to inform language teachers as to what concerns some have with the popularity of groupwork.

Use of the L1 Groupwork

If a class has a large number of students who share the same L1 there is a risk that the students will use their L1 when working in groups. This is a particular risk in EFL classrooms. However, there are several ways to address this problem

  • Make sure the task is of moderate difficulty. Too hard or too easy will encourage L1 use
  • Provide clear directions. If the students don’t understand what to do they will communicate frustration  in their own language
  • Emphasis the use of the L2. This provides relevance and accountability

Lost of Control

Groupwork usually looks chaotic and messy. Some teachers and administrators do not like the appearance of groupwork even if learning is taking place. Dealing with this problem requires the use of a reduce emphasis on groupwork but not the total removal of it.

There are times when group work should be avoided because of control issues. Below are some examples

  • Difficult students
  • Extremely large class sizes (how large depends on the teacher)
  • Inexperience teacher

Any of these situations calls for caution for the teacher. Furthermore, it is necessary for the teacher to circulate throughout the room and try to support the various groups. This is difficult but normally easier than trying to support all students individually.

L2 Use in Groups will Reinforce Errors

Some argue that students using the L2 with proper feedback will develop bad habits. This true but bad habits in the L2 may be better than not using the L2. For some, broken English is better than no English.

The concern here is looking at fluency vs accuracy. Each teacher can have their preference but constant correction often discourages language use. As such, free flowing conversation with the teacher looking the other can help in developing fluency.

Working Alone

Some students prefer to work alone. However, communication is a group experience. This means that the quiet ones must experience at least some groupwork in order to develop their language skills. Therefore, the teacher needs to encourage some groupwork regardless of student preference.


Groupwork should be a part of most language classrooms. The question is trying to find the appropriate balance of groupwork with other forms of learning. This is left for each teacher to decide for themselves.


Group Work in the ESL Classroom

Working in groups is a popular activity in many classes. Students and even teachers enjoy working together to complete task in the classroom. This post will look at the use of groups in the ESL classroom. In particular, we will look at 4 benefits of groups for ESL students.

Interactive Opportunities

Group work is especially useful for large classes where chances to speak are fewer. Students placed in groups can talk with each other and not wait for a turn in a whole-class setting.

In small groups, there is an increase in the quantity or amount of speaking opportunities as well as an increase in the quality or type of communication that takes place. Many teachers are always looking to improve these to factors in their language classrooms.


Large, whole-class activities allows students to hide and not really learn or do anything. This problem is alleviated when students are placed in groups. Small groups compel students to participate and develop autonomy.

For many teachers, developing autonomous, responsible students is a goal of their teaching. As such,  a wise use of small groups in a large class can help to at least partially achieve this goal.

Supports Mixed Abilities

The  use of groups can help to support students of varying abilities. Through combining strong students with those of moderate and low ability, the students are able to support one another in order to group. This can actual be a form of differentiated instruction support not by the teacher but by the students.

Instead of the teacher adjusting their teaching for each student. The strong students adjust how they explain and do things to accommodate the struggling students. This takes careful group selection on the part of the teacher but can be a powerful tool.


For the outgoing members of the class, group work is just an enjoyable experience. It is common for students to gain energy just from being around each other. Group work can create a synergy that is difficult to capture in a larger whole-class experience

In addition, for those who are shy, group work allows for chances to share and speak in a smaller setting. This allows for students to communicate with a lower risk of criticism. This allows for students to focus on meaning and the exchange of ideas rather than on looking good.


Group work is by no means a cure-all for the problems in a classroom.  Rather, group work provides one way in which to stimulate language acquisition. Like any strategy, group work should be used in combination with other teaching strategies in the classroom.


Understanding Techniques in Language Teaching

Technique is a core term in the jargon of language teaching. This leads to people using a term without really knowing what in means. In simple  terms, a technique is any task/activity that is planned in a language course. Such a broad term makes it difficult to make sense of what exactly a technique is.

This post will try to provide various ways to categorize the endless see of techniques available in language teaching.

Manipulation to Interaction

One way to assess techniques is along a continuum from manipulation to interaction. A manipulative technique is one in which the teacher has complete control and expects a specific response from the students. Examples of this includes reading aloud, choral repetition, dictation

Interactive techniques are ones in which the students response is totally open. Examples of interactive techniques includes role play, free writing, presentations, etc.

Automatic, Purposeful, Communicative Drills

Another continuum that can be used is seeing techniques as automatic, purposeful, or communicative drill. An automatic drill technique has only one correct response. An example would be a repetition drill in which the students repeat what the teacher said.

A purposeful drill technique has several acceptable answers. For example, if the teacher ask the students “where is the dog”? The students can say “it’s outside” or “the dog is outside” etc.

Restricted to Free

The last continuum that can be used is restricted to free. This continuum looks at techniques from the position of who has the power. Generally, restricted techniques are ones that are teacher-centered, closed-ended, with high manipulation. Free techniques are often student-centered, open-ended, with unplanned responses.


All levels of language teaching should have a mixture of techniques from all over any of the continuums mentioned in this post. It is common for teachers to have manipulative and automatic techniques for beginners and interactive and free techniques for advanced students. This is often detrimental particularly to the beginning students.

The continuums here are simply for attempting to provide structure when a teacher is trying to choose techniques. It is not a black and white matter in classifying techniques. Different teachers while classify the same techniques in different places in a the continuum. As such, the continuums should guide one’s thinking and not control it.

Institutional Context of Language Teaching

The context in which language teaching happens influences how the language is taught to the students and how the teacher approaches language instruction. Generally, the two most two most common context in which formal language instruction takes places is at the primary/secondary and tertiary levels.

How language is viewed at these two levels depends on whether they see the mother-tongue of the students as subtractive (negative) or additive (positive) to acquiring the target language. The purpose of this post is to explain how language teaching is approached based on these two context.


There are several language models used at the primary/secondary level. Some of these models include submersion, immersion, and bilingualism.

Submersion is a model in which the student is thrown into the new language without any or little support. This is derived from a subtractive view of the mother tongue. Naturally, many students struggle for years with this approach.

Immersion allows for students to have content-area classes with other students who have the same mother tongue with support from a trained ESL teacher. The mother tongue is seen as additive in this context

Bilingualism involves receiving instruction in both the first and second language. This can be done for the purpose of transitioning completely to the second language or to try and maintain or enrich the first language.


At the tertiary level, many of the same models of language are employed but given slightly different names. Common models at the tertiary level include pre-academic, EAP, ESP, and social.

Pre-Academic language teaching is the tertiary equivalent of submersion. Generally, the students are taught English with a goal of submerging them in the target language when they begin formal studies. This is the same as mainstreaming which is one form of submersion

EAP or English for Academic Purposes is essentially advanced language teaching that focuses on scholarly type subject matter in pre-academic language programs.  This is often difficult to teach as it requires a refinement of how the student approaches the language.

ESP or English for Specific Purposes is a general form of EAP. Instead of the focus being academic as in EAP, ESP can be focused on business, tourism, transportation, etc. Students learn English focused on a specific  industry or occupation.

Social programs for English provide a brief exposure to English for the sake of enjoyment. Students learn the basics of listening and speaking in a non-academic context.


There are various programs available to support students in acquiring a language. The programs vary in essentially no support to support in maintaining both languages. Which program to adopt at an institution depends on the context of learning and the philosophy of the school.

Teaching Advanced ESL Students

Advanced ESL students have their own unique set of traits and challenges that an ESL teacher must deal. This post will explain some of these unique traits as well as how to support advanced ESL students.

Supporting Advanced ESL Students

By this point, the majority of the language processing is automatic. This means that the teacher no longer needs to change the speed at which they talk in most situations.

In addition, the students have become highly independent. This necessitates that the teacher focus on supporting the learning experience  of the students rather than trying to play a more directive role.

The learning activities used in the classroom can now cover a full range of possibilities. Almost all causal reading material is appropriate. Study skills can be addressed at a much deeper level. Such skills as skimming, scanning, determining purpose, etc. can be taught and addressed in the learning. Students can also enjoy debates and author opinion generating experiences.

The Challenges of Advanced ESL Students

One of the challenges of advanced students is they often have a habit of asking the most detailed questions about the most obscure aspects of the target language. To deal this requires a PhD in linguistics or the ability to know what the students really need to know and steer away from mundane grammatical details. It is very tempting to try and answer these types of questions but the average native-speaker does not know all the details of imperfect past tense but rather are much more adept at using it.

Another frustrating problem with advanced students is the ability to continue to make progress in their language development. With any skill, as one gets closer to mastery, the room for improvement becomes smaller and smaller. To move from an advanced student to a superior student takes make several small rather than sweeping adjustments.

This is one reason advanced students often like to ask those minute grammar questions. These small question is where they know they are weak when it comes to communicating. This can be especially stressful if the student is a few points away from reaching some sort of passing score on an English proficiency exam (IELTS, TOEFL, etc.). Minor adjustments need to reach the minimum score are difficult to determine and train.


After beginners, teaching advanced esl students is perhaps the next most challenging teaching experience. Advanced ESL students have a strong sense of what they know and do not know. What makes this challenging is the information they need to understand can be considered some what specializes and not easy to articulate for many teachers.

Teaching Intermediate ESL Students

Intermediate ESL students are often the easiest group of students to teach. Usually, they have basic skills in the language while still having plenty of untapped upside potential to develop.

Unlike beginners who have no language skills and thus require a patient and thorough teacher and advanced students who need advanced knowledge minute knowledge of the language, intermediates have some skill without expertise. Therefore, for beginning teachers, it is usual best to start their teaching career working with beginners.

This post will provide some suggestions on how to approach  and teach intermediate level ESL students.

Automaticity and the Role of the Teacher

By this level, students are somewhat automatic in their speaking process. This allows the teacher to back off from being the center of the classroom in order to allow more student-student interaction as the student are able to be much more creative in their learning experience. Therefore, the learning can now be much more learner-centered with a significant reduction in the amount of talking the teacher does.

Again, for beginner teachers, the students know enough to not require intensive hand-holding but not enough to challenge the expertise of the teacher. This combines to create an excellent initial teaching experience for many.

Focus on Perfection

Intermediate students begin to become obsess with grammar. They want everything they say to be “perfect.” This focus on over analyzing everything they say can impair fluency and accuracy as they criticized themselves for every slip up.

The goal of the teacher at this point  is to help the students take their focus off of the accuracy of what they are saying and focus on the flow of the conversation. They should be accurate enough to be understood with more complex correction coming later. Grammar has it place in a limited manner but should not dominant the learning experience.

Learning Activities and Techniques

Intermediate students can learn in a more cooperative environment. Some examples of activities suitable for intermediate  students includes role-plays, discussion, problem-solving and interviews.

The teacher takes on more of a supervisory role in the learning of the students. The provides guidance as necessary as the students determine what to do themselves.


Teaching at the intermediate level is good for many people new to teaching a language. A new teacher can focus on working with students with some competency without the pressure of exit-examines are people have have no clue about the language.

Teaching Beginning ESL Students

Beginning ESL students have unique pedagogical needs that make them the most difficult to teach. It’s similar to the challenge of teaching kindergarten. The difficulty is not the content  but rather stripping what is already a basic content into something that is understandable for the most undeveloped of students. Some of the best teachers cannot do this.

This post will provide some suggestions on how to deal with beginning ESL students.

Take Your Time

Beginning students need a great deal of repetition. If you have ever tried to learn a language you probably needed to hear phrases many times to understand them. Repetition helps students to remember and imitate what they heard.

This means that the teacher needs to limit the amount of words, phrases, and sentences they teach. This is not easy, especially for new teachers who are often put in charge of teaching beginners and race through the curriculum to the frustration of the beginning students.

Repetition and a slow pace helps students to develop the automatic processing they need in order to achieve fluency. This can also be enhanced by focusing on purpose in communication rather than the grammatical structure of language.

The techniques use din class should short and simple with a high degree variety to offset the boredom of repetition. In other words, find many ways to teach one idea or concept.

Who’s the Center

Beginning students are highly teacher-dependent because of their lack of skills. Therefore, at least initially, the classroom should probably be teacher-centered until the students develop some basic skills.  In general, whenever you are dealing with a new subject the students are totally unfamiliar with it is better to have a higher degree of control of the learning experience.

Being the center of the learning experiences requires the teacher to provide most of the examples of well-spoken, written English. Your feedback is critical for the students to develop their own language skills. The focus should be more towards fluency rather than accuracy.

However, with time cooperative and student-centered activities can become more prominent. In the beginning, too much freedom can be frustrating for language learners who lack any sort of experience to draw upon to complete activities. Within a controlled environment, student creativity can blossom.


Being a beginning level ESL teacher is a tough job. It requires a skill set of patience, perseverance, and a gift at simplicity.  Taking your time and determining who the center of learning is are ways in which to enhances success for those teaching beginners


First and Target Language Conflict and Compromise

In an interesting contradiction of language acquisition it is a given fact that the greatest challenge and blessing in learning a second language is the first language. For many people they wonder how the first language can be an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time.

In order to understand this mystery of second language acquisition we will look at interference, facilitating, as well as suggestion for teachers tot help students to deal with the challenges of the first language in second language acquisition.

Interference and Facilitating

A person’s first language can be a problem through what is called interfering. Interference is the assumptions a person brings from their first language to the second language.

Each language has distinct rules that governs in use in the form of syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, etc. When a person learns a new language they bring these rules with them to the new language. Therefore, they are breaking the rules of the target language do to their obedience to the rules of their native language.

Below is an example of a native English speaker trying to speak Spanish

English Sentence: I want the red car
Spanish with English rules: Yo quiero el rojo coche
Correct Spanish Version: Yo quiero el coche rojo

In the simple example above, the native English speaker said “rojo coche” (red car) instead of “coche rojo” (car red) in Spanish. In other words, the English speaker  put the adjective before the noun instead of the noun before the adjective. This is a minor problem but it does sound strange to a native Spanish speaker.

It needs to be noted that the first language can also help in communicating in the second and this is called facilitating. In the example above, the majority of what the English speaker said is correct. The subject verb object order was correct as an example. This is because when the rules of the language are the same the facilitate the person’s learning of the target language and when the rules are different they interfere.

Helping with Interference and Facilitating

The goal of a teacher is to help a student to discard interference and hold on to facilitating. To do this a teacher needs to listen to the errors a student makes to understand what the problems are. Often it is good to explain the error the student is making and what native language rule they are clinging to that is causing the problem.

Another goal is to encourage direct thinking in the target language. This prevents translation and all of the errors that come with that.

Lastly, recognizing the benefits of facilitating by showing how the two languages are similar can help students. Generally, teachers focus on interference rather than facilitating but an occasional acknowledge of facilitation is beneficial.


A teacher needs to understand that the first language  of their students is not always an enemy. The first language provides a foundation for the development of the target language. Through working with what the students already know the teacher can help to develop strong language skills in the target.

Interactive Learning in TESOL

Interactive learning is a foundational theory of language acquisition that has had a profound influence on many approaches/methods in TESOL. By foundational it is meant that teaching in an interactive is an assumption for ensuring language acquisition.

This post will explain what interactive learning is as well as ways in which it is used in the TESOL classroom.

Interaction Hypothesis

The technical term for interactive learning is the interaction hypothesis developed by Michael Long. This hypothesis proposes that input and output in language. As students engage with each other both in written and oral ways there communication skills will improve. This off course is obvious for most of us but credit must still be given when someone takes what is obvious and becomes the first to note it in the literature.

Communication is viewed as a negotiation between two or more people. This experience of back and forth is where language skills are developed.

Traits of Interactive Learning

If a teacher is a proponent of interactive learning. It is possible you will see one or more of the following experiences in their classroom.

  • Majority of the learning happening in groups or pairs
  • Generating authentic language using real-world activities
  • Back and forth negotiated speaking
  • Tasks that prepared students to communicate outside the classroom

This is just a partial list of learning experiences that take place  in an interactive learning classroom. The primary take away may be that it would be rare for students to work alone and or spend a great deal of time listening to lectures or on non-authentic assignments.

Approaches/Methods Influenced by Interactive Learning

The majority of approaches/methods developed in the latter half of the 20th have been partial are fully influenced by interactive learning. Communicative Language Teaching is completely about interaction. Cooperative language teaching is also highly interactive. Community language learning is also heavily influenced by interaction.

Other approaches/methods may or may not be interactive. Examples include Whole Language, Competency-Based Language Teaching, Text-Based Instruction, and Task-Based instruction. If any of these were to incorporate interactive activities it would be at the discretion of the teacher.


Interactive learning is perhaps the dominant foundational theory of language teaching in TESOL today. The  majority of approaches/models are at least sympathetic to learning a language in this manner. As such, a language teacher should at least be familiar with this theory or perhaps consider incorporating these characteristics into their teaching philosophy

Notional-Functional Syllabus of TESOL

The notional-functional syllabus was an innovation developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s in Europe. The pragmatic focus of this innovation has to this day had an influence on language teaching.

This post will define what a notional-functional syllabus is by looking at each word that makes up the phrase “notional-functional syllabus.”


In TESOL, “notions” is a synonym for the word “context” or “setting.” Notion has to do with what is called pragmatics in language acquisition  but the setting can be intellectual rather than a physical setting. As such, a notional-functional syllabus is focused on the various situations in which language is used.

There are two levels at which notions take place. General notions are highly abstract philosophically concepts such as existence, space, and time. Normally, TESOL does not deal with such concepts except when teaching about temporal relational terms such as before, after, during, etc.

The second level of notions is specific notions. Specific notions deal with clearly defined fixed situations. Examples of specific notions includes animals, politics, education, and sports.  Although these can still be considered abstract that are not nearly as abstract as general notions. As such it is better to look at general and specific notions as ideas along a continuum rather as either/or concepts.


The functional aspect of the notional-functional syllabus relates to how language is used. Prior to this focus on function language was taught with a foucs on grammar and learning was organized around grammar use. In a functional focus, language is used to do any and all of the  following

  • explain
  • describe
  • discuss
  • argue
  • agree
  • apologize
  • compare
  • contrast

As you can see, there is almost an infinity amount of variety when combining the  notion with the function. This leads to our need to understand what a syllabus is.


Syllabus is the European term for what is called curriculum in America. A syllabus/curriculum has been defined on this site before. In short, a syllabus/curriculum is a systematic plan toward achieving educational goals. Often, the syllabus/curriculum has goals/objectives that are in reality a combination of a notion and a or function. Below are some examples. The brackets indicated what the preceding phrase is, whether it’s a function or a notion.

  • Introduce self [function] to other people [notion]
  • Ask for information [function] at a bank [notion]
  • Give directions [function]
  • Read the text [function] and answer [function] the questions [notion]

From the examples, it is clear that you can have function with a notion, a function alone, or several functions with a notion. Without getting too technical there is endless potential in designing a syllabus/curriculum with this framework in mind.

Final Thoughts

There is little difference of notional-functional syllabus from the development  of regular objectives in curriculum. If you are familiar with how objectives are made you know objectives have an action, proficiency, and  condition.

The “action” of a regular objective is in many ways the same as the “function” of a functional-notional syllabus. In addition, the “condition” of a regular objective is similar to the “notion” of a notional-functional syllabus. Notional-Functional objectives do not address proficiency in their objectives. As such, it is common for different fields to discover similar concepts while still giving these new concepts different names.

Series Method

The Series Method of language acquisition was perhaps the first step away from grammar translation in language teaching. This method of teaching language was developed by Francois Gouin (1831-1896).

This post will provide a brief background that led to the Series Method as well as some examples of the actually techniques used in the method.


Gouin was a French lecturer of Latin. He decided to attempt to study in the University of Berlin but realized he needed to learn  German in order to continue his studies. Being a natural lover a languages, Gouin figured a brief stop in Hamburg would be enough to learn the basics of the German language.

Gouin attempted to learn German using the grammar translation approach. He memorized thousands of words in an incredibly short period of time. Though he could decipher written text, Gouin was not able to speak or listen to German at all. His goal was not only understanding text but to understand and participate in lectures in German. After a year of studying the grammar and even translating advance text into his own language, Gouin went home discourage.

Upon returning to France, Gouin found that his 2 year old nephew, who could not talk when Gouin left, was now a 3 year old talkative child. Gouin became convince that children hold the secret to language acquisition and he began to observe children to see how they learned language.

The conclusions that Gouiin reached from his observations was that children use language to represent their thoughts. At the time, this insight was revolutionary. This insight was later used to develop the Series method.


The Series Method is a “series” of connected sentences that are easy to understand and requires little knowledge of grammar. Below is a partial example.

I walk toward the door. I draw near to the door. I draw nearer to the door. I get to the door. I stop at the door

This is focused on different ways to speak about using the door. The entire series on door is fifteen sentences in all. Through these various uses of the word door students are exposed to a wide range of grammatical uses. The success of this method was the simplicity and ease of memorization


Gouin ideas about language were ahead of their time. Despite the awkwardness of his approach Gouin’s method had a brief moment of success only to be overshadow by Berlitz’s Direct Method.

Community Language Learning

Community Language Learning (CLL) is a humanistic approach to language learning based on psychological insights of Carl Rogers. The role of the teacher shifts to that of a counselor and the role of the student shifts to that of a client. The difference is that in CLL the counselor is a knower and the client is a learner.

This post will discuss the beliefs of CLL as well as its curriculum.

The Philosophy

CLL is based on interaction between learners and between learners and knowers. The goal is to strengthen social ties in order to establish a community. This is defined as intimacy in CLL lingo.

The interaction between learners and knowers goes through five stages.

  1. The learner explains what they want to say
  2. The tries to become self-assertive without success
  3. The learner becomes resentful of their dependency
  4. The learner becomes tolerant of their dependency
  5. The learner becomes independent

This five stage process is based on the development of babies as the move from helplessness to independence.

The roles of teachers and students has already been alluded too. Learning is viewed as collaborative in CLL. This explains why learners are consistently working together. The learners need to move from one affective crises to another. These crises are what encourage development in the language skills of the learners. A crisis is any challenge that pushes the learners.

The teachers role, in addition to being a knower, is to provide a stable learning environment in which learners collaborate. In addition, the teacher provides the various affective crises in order to encourage learning.


The primary goal of CLL is oral proficiency. As such, interaction is a primary characteristic of a CLL curriculum. Common activities in a CLL classroom include conversation, listening, translating, and transcribing.

Materials are developed by the teacher and are suited for the local context. The actual procedures vary and are not agreed upon among proponents of CLL.


CLL is an approach that is focused on providing students with an opportunity to learn from each other and the teacher. The environment is one in which learners are supported by a knower who provides guidance and language knowledge to the students.

Total Physical Response to Language Learning

Total Physical Response (TPR) is another lesser known method of teaching language. It relies on speech and action to help students to acquire the language. In this post, we will look at the background, assumptions, and curriculum approach of this method.


TPR is based on a theory in psychology called trace theory. Trace theory proposes that the more frequently a memory connection is made the easier it is to recall it. For example, if a student is given the verbal command “stand up” enough times, they will quickly learn what “stand up” means.

This of course, assumes that the student eventual understands what “stand up” means. This assumption of comprehension is based on the Comprehension Approach. This approach states that people understand something before they can reproduce it verbally.

Anyone who has ever seen a toddler can attest to this theory.  A toddler can obey commands much earlier than they can speak.


TPR is heavily based on imperatives as they are easy to understand as they are non-abstract. For example, it is easier to tell someone to sit down (non-abstract) then to ask them why they think rice is the best food (abstract).

TPR also takes a lot of assumptions from behaviorism and the concepts of stimulus-response. The continuous repetition of command and execution allows for the acquisition of language. Just as we see in children.

The teacher’s role is to be the center of the classroom. This is because they are the one’s providing the imperatives for the students. The teacher does not really teach but provides learning opportunities and feedback for the students. The learner’s role is primarily as a listener who becomes a performer.


The primary goal in TPR is to teach oral and listening skills. The teacher provides a large number of imperatives that the students execute, often over the first 120 hours. Eventually, the students should be using the imperatives with each other.

It is usually up to the teacher to develop the activities as there are few if any books for classroom use involving TPR. As such, TPR is a useful part of a larger learning experience and probably should not be used exclusively.


TPR is fun for getting students out of their chairs and experiencing language. However, it is limited in developing deeper language and communication skills. As such, TPR can be used for adding variety and stimulation but other approaches and methods are useful if the goal of the students is more than just lower-level communication.

The Natural Approach to Language Acquisition

The Natural Approach is a somewhat radical approach in language teaching. By radical I mean that it was often anti-everything that was happening in language teaching at the time of its development. Now, the Natural Approach is considered a fringe but not too shocking in terms of the philosophy behind it.

In this post, we will look at the assumptions, curriculum and of the Natural Approach


The Natural Approach is based on cognitivism and starts with the assumption that language learning emerges naturally if students are given appropriate exposure and conditions.

The focus is always upon the meaning of words and grammar is not focused upon. There is no need to explicitly analyze the grammatical structure of a language. Instead, the Natural Approach, students need time to develop gradually a knowledge of the rules. The language experience must always be slightly beyond the students ability as this stretches the student to continue to grow.

The Natural Approach also encourages maintaining an enjoyable and warm classroom environment. This is believed to help with motivation, self-confidence, and anxiety.


The Natural Approach is intended for beginners in a language. Therefore, the most basic skills are acquired from the use of this approach. The learner plays a role in the development of the curriculum. They are expected to do the following.

  • Share their goals for learning the language
  • Deciding when they want to beginning to talk in the target language
  • Make sure the communication in the class is comprehensible

The teacher’s role is to provide clear examples of the target language. The teacher is also expected to provide a friendly warm atmosphere of learning. Lastly, teacher needs to provide a variety of learning experiences.

The teacher achieves these goals through the use of games and group activities. Singing is another aspect of the Natural Approach as well. Basically, the students experience the language in a fun, low stress environment. Through this easy-going experience, language acquisition takes place.


The Natural Approach to language learning is distinct in its cognitive focused yet relax environment emphasis. This approach is highly useful in training children in particular in acquiring a new language as the focus is more on fun the the academic discipline of learning.

Cooperative Language Learning

Cooperative language learning (CLL) is the application of the instructional method cooperative learning in the language classroom. This approach to language teaching was a reaction against the teacher-centered methods of its time in favor of learner-centered methods.

This post will discuss the assumptions of CLL as well as the instructional practices associated with it.


Proponents of CLL see language as a primary tool for social interactions. Students learn the language through these social interactions. This idea is based primarily upon the work of Vygotsky. In addition, language also serves the function of communication and accomplishing task. This implies a need for authentic assessment.

The students role is to work as a member of group. CLL questions if learning a language alone is an appropriate way to learn. The teacher must provide a highly structured environment in which they serve as a facilitator of learning.


CLL has several specific goals including the following.

  • Learn the target language naturally through group interaction
  • Develop learning strategies
  • Create a positive learning environment
  • Develop critical thinking skills

These goals are partially achieved through developing interdependence among the students, individual accountability, and the formation of groups. Interdependence is useful in showing students that what benefits one benefits all of them.

Individual accountability happens through not only assigning group grades but individual grades as well for projects. Lastly, group formation is the foundation of the CLL experience.

Some common activities based on CLL includes

  • Jigsaw-Divide the work and then have the students put the pieces together
  • Projects-Any assignment that requires more than one person
  • Think-Pair-Share-Pose a question, let them think, put them in pairs, and have each pair share.

All of these activities involves collaboration with communication in the target language.


CLL involves learning in groups rather than alone. There is research that indicates that CLL is beneficial in acquiring the target language. As such, CLL is yet another way in which language teachers can support their students.

Lexical Approach

The Lexical Approach is a unique approach in TESOL methods. This approach starts from the position that language learning is not about the individual word but rather multi-word chunks. As such, a student should focus learning various combinations of word chunks.

This post will share the assumptions and curriculum of the Lexical Approach


The Lexical Approach states clearly that language acquisition happens through acquiring the chunks or collocations of a language. Learning a language is not about rules but rather about acquiring enough examples from which the learner can make generalizations. For example, I child will eventually learn that “good morning” is a greeting for  a  specific time of day.

Chunks are learned through one or more of the following strategies

  • Exposure-You see it over and over again and make a generalization
  • Comparison-You compare the target language chunk with a chunk for another language
  • Noticing-You notice a combination for the first time

Lexical approach is primarily an approach for autonomous learning. Therefore, the teacher’s role is to provide an environment in which the student can manage their own learning.

The student’s responsibility is in using what is called a concordancer. A concordancer is an online resource that provides examples of how a word is used in real literature. Each concordancer has one or more corpus from which examples of the word being used come from.


The Lexical Approach is not a comprehensive method and as such does not include any objectives. There are several common activities used in this approach.

  • Awareness activities help students to notice chunks and include. The teacher might provide several examples of sentences using the word “prediction” to allow students to try and determine the meaning of this word
  • Identifying  chunks involves having the students search for chunks in a text. The results are then compared during a discussion.
  • Retelling involves having a student make their own sentences while reusing a chunk that they have just learned. For example, if the students learn the chunk (don’t put all your eggs in one basket) they would have to use this chunk in their own unique sentence.


The Lexical approach is a useful approach for those with a more analytical way of learning a language. Digesting a language through memorizing and applying various collocations can be beneficial to many language learners.

Text-Based Instruction

Text-Based Instruction (TBI) employs the use of different genres of text in a social context to encourage language development. This post will discuss the assumptions and curriculum development of this method.


TBI starts with the belief that different forms of text are used for various situations. This leads to another conclusion that mastering a language involves exposure to these different genres.  Furthermore, each text has a distinct organizational pattern

However, exposure to different types of text is not enough. Students must also use language in a social setting. Communicating about the text is critical for language acquisition.

TBI also stresses the importance of learning explicitly about the language. This  means conscious awareness about what one is learning. This again can happen through discussion or through the illustrations of the teacher. In fact scaffolding is a key component of TBI.

Students learn through the guidance and support of the teacher. The teacher’s role, in addition to scaffolding, is to select materials and sequence the curriculum.


The objectives in a TBI curriculum depend on text that are used in the learning experiences. For example, the objectives for reading newspapers are different from reading textbooks.

Instructional materials play a crucial role in TBI. This is because of the emphasis on authentic materials. As such, actual reading samples from books, articles, and magazines are commonly employed.

A common instructional approach using TBI would include the following steps

  1. Build the context
    • This means providing a background about the reading through sharing necessary information for understanding of the topic of the text. This can be done verbally, visually, a combination of both, etc.
  2. Deonstructing the text
    • This involves comparing the writing of the text the students are using with another similarly written text. For example, comparing the structure of to newspaper articles.
  3. Joint Construction of text
    • Students, with the support of the teacher, develop their own example of the text they were reading. For example, if the text was a newspaper article. The class develops a sample newspaper article with teacher support.
  4. Independent construction of text
    • Same as #3 but now the students work alone.
  5. Reflection
    • Students discuss how what they learned can be used in other contexts


TBI is a unique approach to language teaching that focuses on reading to develop the other three skills of language. This approach is particularly useful for people who prefer to learn a language through reading rather than in other forms.


Task-Based Language Teaching

Task-base language teaching (TBLT) is an approach to language teaching that involves giving students functional task to complete that develops their ability to use the language in authentic situations. In this post, we explore the philosophy and some principles of using this approach in a curriculum


TBLT is focused not on the end result or product but rather the process that is used to complete the task. In other words, it is not the final draft that matters most in TBLT but developing the skills of writing and editing. The task need to be sequence according to difficult and reflect the real-world whenever possible.

The goal in TBLT is to exchange meaning. This means that understanding each other is more important to adhering to all the rules of the language. Language is for making meaning. When people communicate they are able to scaffold each other’s language acquisition while talking.

The tasks in TBLT serve the purpose of helping learners to see the gaps in their knowledge. This discovery provides motivation to learn what is necessary to overcome the deficiency. Since the activities simulate the real world students can see that they really need to learn something as they can see the connection of the task with reality.

The learners job is to participate and take risk in their learning. Teachers role is to motivate students, select task, and monitor students progress.


TBLT starts with a needs analysis. Task are then developed to help the students. Normally. task mirror the real-world and are called real-world task. However, there are also  pedagogical task which are not real-world but traditional learning activities. These are useful when students lack specific needs.

Some activities of TBLT includes the following.

  • jigsaw-Break an activity into several parts and have each student do a different part and then combine
  • Problem-solving-Solve a problem together
  • Opinion exchange-Share thoughts on a topic

Materials used in TBLT can include many forms of realia such as TVs, newspapers, and other forms of communication. The goal is always to be as authentic as possible.

When using TBLT there are three common steps to teaching

  1. Introduce the task-This provides an overview of what is happening in order to motivate the students. You also explain what they will do.
  2. Provide support for task performance-Scaffold the students so they can complete the task.
  3. Post-task-Provide students with an opportunity to reflect


TBLT is most useful for teachers with extensive experience who have a large amount of resources available for use. Developing the teaching materials in TBLT is a major challenge because they often have to be original and need specific.

Regardless of this, for those who are looking for a different experience in language teaching TBLT is one option.

Competency-Based Language Teaching

Competency-based language teaching (CBLT)is a language teaching focused aspect of competency-based education. In brief, competency-based education is focus on having students master specific skills that are related to real world task. CBLT takes this approach and applies it to the learning of language.

This post will focus on the assumptions, curriculum of CBLT, and the criticism of this approach.


CBLT takes an interactional approach to language learning. Language is viewed as a way to achieve social and personal goals. Language is also viewed as a concept that can be broken down into component parts. For example, breaking words down into phonemes. Lastly, there is also an emphasis on the development of skills such as decoding.

The students role is to monitor their mastery of the target competencies and to be able to transfer the skills they develop to different context. The teacher serves in the role of a needs analyst, materials developer and coach of the student.


Objectives in CBLT are usually highly specific. Examples include the following

  • Follow verbal instructions to complete a task
  • Request supplies orally
  • Read directions to complete a task

The highly detailed nature often makes it clear to both the student and the teacher how things are progressing. Instructional activities focuses on the exchange of information among all parties as well as authentic assessments.

The procedures used in CBLT often consists of the following format.

  1. Warm up
  2. Introduction
  3. Presentation of new information
  4. Check for understanding
  5. Guided practice
  6. Unguided practice
  7. Evaluation

Most of these steps should be self-explanatory. The overall point is to start with what they know, move to what is unknown, and practice the unknown until it becomes familiar.

Criticism of CBLT

CBLT has been accused of being overly behavioral. The minute objectives can almost be seen as a form of “dog training.” People are able to execute a behavior but they do not know why they are doing it. In other words, CBLT is lacking in the development of higher cognitive activity.

On a deeper level, CBLT has been accused of making passive students in a way consistent with Friere’s concept of “banking” education. This reasoning flows from the idea that the competencies prescribe for the student are based on the values of the dominant group.

This makes some sense as competencies in many fields of education are based on the demands of business.  Students are being trained not necessarily to push boundaries but to fit into a status quo.


CBLT serves the purpose of itemizing the behavior a person should have in order to use a language. The benefits of this approach are the clarity in the expectations. However, for some the minute nature of the expectations limits the development of a person. Regardless of the pros and cons, CBLT is one model of approaching language teaching.

Whole Language Approach

Traditionally, the teaching of language in America has focused on decoding skills. This means splitting a part a word it to it phonemes. This is where the famous phonics programs came from.

However, with ever reaction there is often a reaction. The reaction to the emphasis on decoding and phonics lead to the development of the Whole Language Approach. Whole Language has to distinct camps one for first language reading acquisition and the other for ESL. In this post, we will examine the assumptions, curriculum, and procedures of the Whole Language Approach within ESL.


Whole Language Approach stresses that language learning happens in interactional and functional ways. This means that students learn a language through engaging one another and through the actual use of the language in real-world experiences. This means that authentic assessment is a core component of the learning.

With the emphasis on interaction, the Whole Language Approach is also heavily influenced by constructivism. As the students experience the language in authentic situations, they are building on prior knowledge they have.

The teacher is viewed as a facilitator and not an expert passing on knowledge. Students serve the role of evaluating their own and others work. The classroom environment is one of self-directed learning with the students experiences used as learning material. This heightens relevancy which is an important aspect of a humanistic classroom.

Curriculum & Procedures

A Whole Language Approach classroom have some of the following in its curriculum

  • Authentic assessment
  • Integration of the language skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening)
  • Collaboration when reading and writing
  • Real-world reading and writing rather than for pedagogical purposes

It is always important to have a degree of flexibility in the curriculum when using this approach. This is due to learning new things about the students and their needs as the class progresses.

The procedures and activities used in the Whole Language Approach includes several of the following.

A primary goal of this approach is to provide an experience. The experience helps the students to acquire the language through the various activities of the class.


Whole Language is not a commonly used approach these days. A major problem with overly student-centered/self-directed learning is measurement of results. With other approaches such as content or task-based it is much easier to measure cause and effect in terms of language acquisition.

Another closely related criticism of Whole Language is the negative view of the approach of teaching and acquiring specific measurable skills. Students would learn but it was not always clear what they learned.

Many skills require systematic instruction such as reading. Exposure to text does not teach a person to read. Rather, learning the sounds of the individual words often leads to reading. As such, a top-down approach to reading acquisition is the favor theory currently

Regardless of the weak points, Whole Language can still be useful for English teachers. The requirement is to find ways to use it situationally rather than exclusively.

Content-Based Language Instruction

Content-Based language instruction (CBIL) is the use of subject matter to teach English. For example, using a history course to teach students English rather than using specifically design English curriculum. In this post, we will examine more closely this approach to language teaching.


CBIL has the following assumptions about language learning

  • People learn a language much more efficiently when they use it for understanding content
  • People learn a language better through interaction with others and content.
  • Language requires the use of integrated skills
  • Feedback is needed when using a language
  • Prior knowledge influences language acquisition
  • Subject specific vocabulary is critical
  • Students need to take control of their learning by doing

To summarize, CBIL focuses on using specific subject matter to deliver not only knowledge of the subject but also the acquisition of the target language. As a student develops vocabulary of the content they are developing a more general vocabulary that can be used in interacting with others via the four language skills (speaking, listening, writing, and reading).

Course Development

How a course is developed when using the CBIL approach depends on whether the course is content driven or language driven. If the course is content driven the priority is the content with the language acquisition being secondary. In addition, the teacher determines the objectives and the students are assessed on their mastery of the content  and not the language

If the course is language driven everything is the opposite of a content driven course. In a language driven course language is the priority and content is secondary. The objectives are derived from L2 goals. Lastly, the students are evaluated primarily on the developed of language skills rather than knowledge of the content.

In addition to the two forms of language and course driven courses, there are also several models that a CBIL class can take and these are theme-based, sheltered, adjunct, and skill-based models.

A theme-based model is one in which the content is organized around themes. For example themes in a content-driven history course may include Rome, Greece, Medieval Europe, etc.

A sheltered model is a group of ESL learners who are grouped together to learn content from a content specialist. For example, a group of ESL students taking a history course together. The class only includes ESL students. This forces the teacher to adjust the teaching to accommodate the language needs of the students.

The adjunct model involves the use of two courses simultaneously. One course is a content course and the other is a language course. The two courses support each other by having complementary content.

A skill-based course on specific skills such as academic writing or reading comprehension. Students hone the skill in preparation of more complex content courses.


CBIL is another approach to language teaching that is commonly used. Many schools that have a large ESL population may be using this approach without being aware of it.

Communicative Language Learning

Communicative language learning was an approach of language teaching that was developed in reaction to the Oral Approach. One of the major differences between communicative language learning and the oral approach is former focuses on the function of language while the latter focuses on the structure.

Communicative language learning (CLL) is also has a learn by doing focus. In addition, this approach is learner-centered. The students master the language through using it in communication rather than focusing on the structure of the target language.


There are four primary competencies a student needs to develop according to CLL.

  • Grammatical competence-Grammar
  • Sociolinguistic competence-Understanding social context
  • Discourse competence-Meaning of what is said
  • Strategic competence-Ways to maintain a conversation

In CLL, language is seen as a tool for expressing meaning. Language allows people to interact with one another. These two points lead to the following principles of CLL

  • Real communication is critical to language acquisition
  • The language task must be meaningful for the students

The emphasis on interaction indicates that CLL derives heavily from constructivism in that students learn from each and build on their prior knowledge.


Often, those who employ CLL approach will develop a notional-functional syllabus. Notional means ideas. For example, a teacher may develop units on leisure, shopping, business, etc. Functional means using language for real-world activities. For example, in the shopping unit, students would use language related to shopping.

This way of developing lessons is different from other methods such as grammar-translation with its focus on grammar. In CLL, the student uses the language in various real-world settings.

Two major focuses of CLL are on fluency and accuracy. The development of these two abilities takes place through such activities as role plays, sharing/gathering information, and expressing one’s opinion. During these activities, the teacher encourages and supports students through their success and failures with the language.

Instructional materials are based on text, task, realia, or technology. The goal is always to have students model real-world behavior. Text might be an actual newspaper or article. Task might be interviews. Realia might be graphs and charts. Lastly, technology could be blogs and or developing videos.

Teacher and Student Roles

The teacher in CLL is a facilitator. They conduct a needs analyst and provide a learning environment that encourages growth. The teacher provides encouragement and support while the students are engaged in various tasks.

The students are the center of the learning. They are actively involved in various activities and experiences developed by the teacher.

Criticism of CLL

CLL has been criticized as inapplicable in non-western context. Many cultures expect a teacher-centered learning environment. As such, a student-centered environment would be confusing for many language learners.

CLL also has been accused of encouraging fossilization. With so much interaction happening in the classroom it is difficult to correct mistakes. As students build confidence and learn to survive in English they may find it difficult to fix more nuance mistakes with so little feedback.


CLL is a useful method for those who want to motivate students from a more humanistic perspective. With this approach, students are actively learning and engaged in various real-world task. Despite the problems, this approach is yet one other way of teaching a target language.


The background to audiolingualism was discussed in a previous post. This post will look at the characteristics of audiolingualism in greater detail. In particular, we will look at the theories and design of audiolingualism


Audiolingualism is heavily influenced by a structural view of language. This view sees langauage rule-governed and systems within systems. Furthermore, language should be broken down into its smallest units. For a structuralist, things like phonemes and morphemes are highly important because these are the smallest units of a certain language structures.

Language is oral in nature for a structuralist. This is one reason for audiolingualism’s focus on speech.

Behaviorism is another influential theory in audiolingualism. People learn a language through stimulus and response. Drills and more drills with feedback is how they improve. It doesn’t matter if the student understands as long as they can execute. Analysis is not important. Instead, context is how students learn vocabulary.

Curriculum Development

An audiolingual curriculum will focus on the structure of the language. It will also include lots of repetition and memorization. This focus on repetition leads to the use of technology such as CDs which allow students to practice. The medium of instruction will primarily be oral and verbal with reading and writing be secondary.

The primary goal would be mastery in a behavioral manner. This means execution of the language in various context.  Objectives will further support this by providing measurable behaviors that show competence.

Student-Teacher Interaction

The teacher plays a critical role in this method. the learning is centered around the teacher and the students willingness to imitate. Such activities as choral responses are a part of the learning.

The student is dependent on the teacher for language acquisition. They are expected to imitate even when they do not understand what they are saying. This emphasis of action over understanding is a key characteristic.

The End of Adudiolingualism

After having time to use the method, many teachers became disappointed in the results in their students when employing audiolingualism. In other words, audiolingualism never live up to the hype in a practical sense.

Furthermore, the behavioral focus of audiolingualism was being attack by cognitivist leaning linguists such as Noam Chomsky.There was a shift from imitation to competence in language circles that undid audiolingualism.


The audiolingual method was a highly influential method for its time. Its focus on repetition and behavioral aspects of language was a major strength that became a weakness.

Even though this method is mostly gone. Its impact is still felt every time a student tries to imitate the speaking style of a native.

Th Birth of the Audiolingual Method

In this post, we will examine the background to the Audiolingual method. Audiolingualism is considered by many to be the first American approach to ESL.


During the Great Depression, and influential study called the “Coleman Report” recommended that foreign language should be taught through the use of a reading approach. This led to many teachers teaching language using a combination of Direct Method and Oral Approach.

A major change came with the start of WWII, the US now needed people who were fluent in the languages of the enemy and those conquered by them. For many of these exotic languages, there was no textbook available. This lead the army to a creative solution called the informant method.

The informant method was simple. A native speaker of the target language teamed with a student and a linguist and they would spend time together. The native speaker would  say phrases and vocabulary for the student to learn through imitation. The linguist would provide structure for what the student was learning.

The informant method required students to study 10 hours a day six days a week for 12-18 weeks. By the end of such an intense experience, excellent languages skills were developed.

After WWII, there was a shift among many linguist towards a structural function of language combined with behavioral approaches to learning. There was also a focus on aural training  with support in developing pronunciation skills. Later did the student learn about speaking, reading, and writing. This way of teaching language became know as the Aural-Oral Approach.

Enter Audiolingualism

Audiolingualism came out of the background of the intense language experience of the informant method and the structural/behavioral emphasis of the Aural-Oral Approach. This method, with its focus on “drill, drill, drill”, was used in ESL teaching at universities throughout America at one point and is stilled used in many parts of the world today.

Audiolingualism was touted as taking language teaching from art to science. It was considered systematic and efficient in providing results. For teachers, it meant often being the center of instruction and speaking to allow the students to imitate and to correct them when they were wrong. For students, it meant parroting what was said without always knowing what it means.

For its time, there is no question as to the influence of audiolingualism. It was based on prior study and was one of the first major contribution of American linguists to ESL teaching. In a future post, we will examine in detail the audiolingual method.