Category Archives: linguistics

Confusing Words for Small Children

In this post, we will look at some commonly used words that can bring a great deal of frustration to adults when communicating with small children. The terms are presented in the following categories

  • Deictic terms
  • Interrogatives
  • Locational terms
  • Temporal terms

Deictic Terms

Deictic terms fall under the umbrella of pragmatic development or understanding of the context in which words are used. Examples of deictic terms include such words as this, that, these, those, here, there, etc. What makes these words confusing for young children and even ESL speakers is that the meaning of these words depends on the context. Below is a clear way to communicate followed by a way that is unclear using a deixis term

Clear communication: Take the book
Unclear communication: Take that

The first sentence makes it clear what to take which in this example is the book. However, for a child or ESL speaker, the second sentences can be mysterious. What does “that” mean. It takes pragmatic or contextual knowledge to determine what “that” is referring to in the sentence. Children usually cannot figure this out while an ESL speaker will watch the body language (nonlinguistic cues) of the speaker to figure this out.

Interrogatives

A unique challenge for children is understanding interrogatives. These are such words as who, what, where, when, and why. The challenge with these questions is they involve explaining the cause, time, and or reasons. Many parents have asked the following question without receiving an adequate answer

Why did you take the book?

The typical 3-year old is going to wonder what the word “why” means. Off course, you can combine a deictic term with an interrogative and completely lose a child

Why did you do that?

Locational Terms

Locational terms are prepositions words such as in, under, above, behind etc. These words can be challenging for young children because they have to understand the perspective of the person speaking. Below is an example.

Put the book under the table.

Naturally, the child is trying to understand what “under” means. We can also completely confuse a child by using terms from all the categories we have discussed so far.

Why did you put that under the table?

This sentence would probably be unclear to many native speakers. The ambiguity is high especially with the term “that” included.

Temporal Terms

Temporal terms are about time. Commonly used words include before, after, while, etc. These terms are difficult for children because young children do not quite grasp the concept of time. Below is an example of a sentence with a temporal term.

Before, dinner, grab the book

The child is probably wondering when they are supposed to get the book. Naturally, we can combine all of our terms to make a truly nightmarish sentence.

Why did you put that under the table after dinner?

Conclusion

The different terms mentioned here are terms that can cause frustration when trying to communicate. To alleviate, these problems parents and teachers should avoid these terms when possible by using nouns. In addition, using body language to indicate position or pointing to whatever you are talking about can help young children to infer the meaning

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Conversational Analysis: Request and Response

Within conversational analysis (CA) it is common to analysis peoples request as well as people’s response to a request in the context of a conversation. In this post, we will look at the categories that these requests and responses commonly fall into.

Request

Requests are a specific type of question in conversational analysis. Request almost always involve some sort of action. Either the person asking the request wants to do something or the speaker wants the listener to do something. As such there are only two categories in which request can be classified and they are…

  • Action request
  • Permission request

Action Request

An action request is made when the speaker wants the listener to do something.

A: Can you turn off the light?

Permission Request

A permission request is made when the speaker wants to perform an action and is seeking approval from the listener.

A: You mind if I turn off the light?

Response to Request

The response to a request can be positive or negative. However, when a response is negative it is often indirect.  As such, there are three categories in which a response to a request can be placed.

  • Accept
  • Reject
  • Evade

Accept

Accepting is to grant permission either for the speaker to do something or that the listener will perform the request.

A: Could you turn the light off?
B: No problem

Reject

Rejecting means that a person states directly that they cannot do something

A: Can you turn the light off?
B: No, I can’t

Evading

Evading is the art of saying “no” indirectly to a request. This is done through giving a reason why something cannot be done rather than directly responding

A: Can you turn the light off?
B: I’m busy with the baby

In the example above, person B never says no. Rather, they provide an excuse for not completing the task.

Conclusion

We all have used these various ways of requesting and responding to request. The benefit of CA is being able to breakdown these conversational pairs and understand what is happening beyond the surface level.

Conversational Analysis: Questions & Responses

Conversational analysis (CA) is the study of social interactions in everyday life. In this post, we will look at how questions and responses are categorized in CA.

Questions

In CA, there are generally three types of questions and they are as follows…

  • Identification question
  • Polarity question
  • Confirmation question

Identification Question

Identification questions are questions that employees one of the five W’s (who, what, where, when, why). The response can be opened or closed-ended. An example is below

Where are the keys?

Polarity Question

A polarity question is a question the calls for a yes/no response.

Can you come to work tomorrow?

Confirmation Question

Similiar to the polarity question, a confirmation question is a question that is seeking to gather support for something the speaker already said.

Didn’t Sam go to the store already?

This question is seeking an affirmative yes.

Responses

There are also several ways in which people respond to a question. Below is a list of common ways.

  • Comply
  • Supply
  • Imply
  • Evade
  • Disclaim

Comply

Complying means give a clear direct answer to a question. Below is an example

A: What time is it?
B: 6:30pm

Supply

Supplying is the act of giving a partial response, that is often irrelevant and fails to answer the question.

A: Is this your dog?
B: Well…I do feed it once in awhile

In the example above, person A asks a clear question. However, person B states what they do for the dog (feed it) rather than indicate if the dog belongs to them. Feeding the dog is irrelevant to ownership.

Imply

Implying is providing information indirectly to answer a question.

A: What time do you want to leave?
B: Not too late

The response from person B does not indicate any sort of specific time to leave. This leaves it up to person A to determine what is meant by “too late.”

Disclaim

Disclaiming is the person stating they do not n]know the answer.

A: Where are the keys?
B: I don’t know

Evade

Evading is the act of answering with really answering the question

A: Where is the car
B: David needed to go shopping

In the example above, person B never states where the car is. Rather, they share what someone is doing with the car. By doing this, the speaker never shares where the car is.

Conclusions

The interaction of a question and response can be interesting if it is examined more closely from a sociolinguistic perspective. The categories provided here can support the deeper analysis of conversation.

Conversational Analysis

Conversational analysis is a tool used by sociolinguist to examine dialog between two or more people. The analysis can include such aspects as social factors, social dimensions, and other characteristics.

One unique tool in conversational analysis identifying adjacency pairs. Adjacency pairs are two-part utterances in which the second speaker is replying to something the first speaker said. In this post, we will look at the following examples of adjacency pairs.

  • Request-agreement
  • Question-Answer
  • Assessment-Agreement
  • Greeting-Greeting
  • Compliment-Acceptance
  • Conversational Concluder
  • Complaint-Apology
  • Blame-Denial
  • Threat-Counterthreat
  • Warning-Acknowledgement
  • Offer-Acceptance

Request-Agreement

Request involves asking someone to do something and agreement indicates that the person will do it. Below is an example

A: Could you open the window?
B: No problem

Question-Answer

One person request information from another. THis is different from request agreement because there is no need to agree. Below is an example

A: Where are you from?
B: I am from Laos

Assessment-Agreement

Assessment seeks an opinion from someone and agreement is a positive position on the subject. The example is below

A: Do you like the food?
B: Yeah, it taste great!

Greeting-Greeting

Two people say hello to one another.

A: Hello
B: Hello

Compliment-Acceptance

One person commends something about the other who shows appreciation for the comment.

A: I really like your shoes
B: Thank you

Conversational Concluder

This is a comment that singles the end of a conversation.

A: Goodbye
B: See you later

Complaint-Apology

One person indicates they are not happy with something and the other person express regret over this.

A: The food is too spicy
B: We’re so sorry

Blame-Denial

One person accuses another who tries to defend himself.

A: You lost the phone?
B: No I didn’t!

Threat-Counterthreat

Two people mutually resist each other.

A: Sit down or I will call your parents!
B: Make me

Warning-Acknowledgement

One person issues a threat or danger and the other indicates they understand

A: Look both ways before crossing the street
B: No problem

Offer-Acceptance

One person gives something and the other person shows appreciation

A: Here’s the money
B: Thank you so much

Conclusion

These kinds of conversational pairs appear whenever people talk. For the average person, this is not important. However, when trying to look at the context of a conversation tot understanding what is affecting the way people are speaking understanding and identifying adjacency pairs can be useful.

Terms Related to Language

This post will examine different uses of the word language. There are several different ways that this word can be defined. We will look at the following terms for language.

  • Vernacular
  • Standard
  • National
  • Official
  • Lingua Franca

Vernacular Language

The term vernacular language can mean many different things. It can mean a language that is not standardized or a language that is not the standard language of a nation. Generally, a vernacular language is a language that lacks official status in a country.

Standard Language

A standard language is a language that has been codified. By this, it is meant that the language has dictionaries and other grammatical sources that describe and even prescribe the use of the language.

Most languages have experienced codification. However, codification is just one part of being a standard language. A language must also be perceived of as prestigious and serve a high function.

By prestigious it is meant that the language has influence in a community. For example, Japanese is a prestigious language in Japan. By high function, it is meant that the language is used in official settings such as government, business, etc., which Japanese is used for.

National Language

A national language is a language used for political and cultural reasons to unite a people. Many countries that have a huge number of languages and ethnic groups will select one language as a way to forge an identity. For example, in the Philippines, the national language is Tagalog even though hundreds of other languages are spoken.

In Myanmar, Burmese is the national language even though dozens of other languages are spoken. The selection of the language is political motivate with the dominant group imposing their language on others.

Official Language

An official language is the language of government business. Many former colonized nations will still use an official language that comes from the people who colonized them. This is especially true in African countries such as Ivory Coast and Chad which use French as their official language despite having other indigenous languages available.

Lingua Franca

A lingua franca is a language that serves as a vehicle of communication between two language groups whose mother tongues are different. For example, English is often the de facto lingua franca of people who do not speak the same language.

Multiple Categories

A language can fit into more than one of the definitions above. For example, English is a vernacular language in many countries such as Thailand and Malaysia. However, English is not considered a vernacular language in the United States.

To make things more confusing. English is the language of the United States but it is neither the National or Official Language as this has never been legislated. Yet English is a standard language as it has been codified and meets the other criteria for standardization.

Currently, English is viewed by many as an international Lingua Franca with a strong influence on the world today.

Lastly, a language can be in more than one category. Thai is the official, national, and standard language of Thailand.

Conclusion

Language is a term that is used that can also have many meanings. In this post, we looked at how there are different ways to see this word.

Code -Switching & Lexical Borrowing

Code-switching involves a speaker changing languages as they talk. This post will explore some of the reasons behind why people code-switch. In addition, we will look at lexical borrowing and its use in communication

Code-Switching

Code-switching is most commonly caused by social factors and social dimensions of pragmatics. By social factors, it is meant the who, what, where, when and why of communication. Social dimensions involve distance, status, formality, emotions, referential traits.

For example, two people from the same ethnicity may briefly switch to their language to say hello to each other before returning to English. The “what” is two people meeting each other and the use of the mother-tongue indicates high intimacy with each other.

The topic of discussion can also lead to code-switching. For example, I have commonly seen students with the same mother-tongue switch to using English when discussion academic subjects. This may be because their academic studies use the English language as a medium of instruction.

Switching can also take place for emotional reasons. For example, a person may switch languages to communicate anger such as a mother switching to the mother-tongue to scold their child.

There is a special type of code-switching called metaphorical switching. This type of switching happens when the speaker switches languages for symbolic reasons. For example, when I person agrees about something they use their mother tongue. However, when they disagree about something they may switch to English. This switching back and forth is to indicate their opinion on a matter without having to express it too directly.

Lexical Borrowing

Lexical borrowing is used when a person takes a word from one language to replace an unknown word in a different language. Code-switching happens at the sentence level whereas lexical borrowing happens at the individual word level.

Borrowing does not always happen because of a poor memory. Another reason for lexical borrowing is that some words do not translate into another language. This forces the speaker to borrow. For example, many langauges do not have a word for computer or internet. Therefore, these words are borrowed when speaking.

Perceptions

Often, people have no idea that the are code-switching or even borrowing. However, those who are conscious of it usually have a negative attitude towards it. The criticism of code-switching often involves complaints of how it destroys both languages. However, it takes a unique mastery of both languages to effectively code-switch or borrowing lexically.

Conclusion

Code-switching and lexical borrowing are characteristics of communication. For those who want to prescribe language, it may be frustrating to watch two languages being mixed together. However, from a descriptive perspective, this is a natural result of language interaction.

Social Dimensions of Language

In sociolinguistics, social dimensions are the characteristics of the context that affect how language is used. Generally, there are four dimensions to the social context that are measured are analyzed through the use of five scales. The four dimension and five scales are as follows.

  • Social distance
  • Status
  • Formality
  • Functional (which includes a referential and affective function)

This post will explore each of these four social dimensions of language.

Social Distance

Social distance is an indicator of how well we know someone that we are talking to.  Many languages have different pronouns and even declensions in their verbs based on how well they know someone.

For example, in English, a person might say “what’s up?” to a friend. However, when speaking to a stranger, regardless of the strangers status, a person may say something such as “How are you?”. The only reason for the change in language use is the lack of intimacy with the stranger as compared to the friend.

Status

Status is related to social ranking. The way we speak to peers is different than how we speak to superiors. Friends are called by their first name while a boss, in some cultures, is always referred to by Mr/Mrs or sir/madam.

The rules for status can be confusing. Frequently we will refer to our parents as mom or dad but never Mr/Mrs. Even though Mr/Mrs is a sign of respect it violates the intimacy of the relationship between a parent and child. As such, often parents would be upset if their children called them Mr/Mrs.

Formality

Formality can be seen as the presence or absences of colloquial/slang in a person’s communication. In a highly formal setting, such as a speech, the language will often lack the more earthy style of speaking. Contractions may disappear, idioms may be reduced, etc. However, when spending time with friends at home a more laid-back manner of speaking will emerge

However, when spending time with friends at home a more laid-back manner of speaking will emerge. One’s accent becomes more promeneint, slang terms are permissiable, etc.

Function (Referential & Affective)

Referential is a measure of the amount of information being shared in a discourse. The use of facts, statistics, directions, etc. Affective relates to the emotional content of communication and indicates how someone feels about the topic.

Often referential and affective functions interrelated such as in the following example.

James is a 45 year-old professor of research who has written several books but is still a complete idiot!

This example above shares a lot of information as it shares the person’s name, job, and accomplishments. However, the emotions of the speaker are highly negative towards James as they call James a “complete idiot.”

Conclusion 

The social dimensions of language are useful to know in order to understand what is affecting how people communicate. The concepts behind the four dimensions impact how we talk without most us knowing why or how. This can be frustrating but also empowering as people will understand why they adjust to various contexts of language use.

Common Speech Functions

Functions of speech are different ways of communicating. The differences among the speech functions have to do with the intention of the communication. Different intention or goal leads to the use of a different function of speech. There are many different functions if speech but we will look at the six that are listed below.

  • Referential
  • Directive
  • Expressive
  • Phatic
  • Poetic
  • Metalinguistic

Referential

Referential speech provides information. For example, a person might share the time with someone (“It’s five o’clock” ). Referential speech can often provide information to a question (“what time is it?”).

Directive

Directives or commands that try to get someone to do something. Examples include “turn left” or “sit down”. The context of a directive is one in which something needs or should be done. As such, one person tries to make one or more other persons do something. Even children say directives towards their parents (“give me the ball”).

Expressive

Expressive speech shares a person’s feelings. An example would be “I feel happy today!”. Expressive communication can at times provide clear evidence of how someone is doing.

Phatic

Phatic speech is closely related to expressive speech. However, the main difference is that phatic speech is focused on the well-being of others while expressive speech focuses on the feelings of the person speaking.

An example of phatic speech is saying “how are you?”. This is clearly a question but it is focusing on how the person is doing. Another phrase might be “I hope you get well soon.” Again the focus on is on the welfare of someone else.

Poetic

Poetic speech is speech that is highly aesthetic. Songs and poetry are examples of language that is poetic in nature. An example would be the famous nursery rhyme “Roses are red, violets are blue…..). Poetic speech often has a powerful emotional effect as well.

Metalinguistic 

Metalinguistic speech is communication about language. For example, this entire blog post would be considered by many to be metalinguistic because I a talking about language and not really using language as described in the other functions of speech.

Exceptions

There are many more categories than the ones presented. In addition, the categories presented are not mutually exclusive. Many phrases can be correctly classified into many different categories. For example, if someone says “I love you” you could argue that it’s expressive, poetic, and or even phatic. What is missing is the context in which such a statement is made.

Conclusion

The ways in which we communicated have been briefly explained here. Understanding how people communicate will help others to better understand those around us and improve our style of communicating.

Accommodation Theory in Language Communication

Often when people communicate, they will make a subconscious or even a conscious decision to adjust their speech so that it is more alike or less alike. This is known as accommodation.

In this post, we will look at the following concepts related to accommodation

  • Speech convergence
  • Speech divergence

Speech Convergence

Speech convergence is when people speech starts to sound similar to each other. Often, this is a sign that the speakers are being polite to each other, like each other, and or when one speaker has the interest to please another.

Speech convergence is not only for social reasons. Another reason that a person will modify their speech is for the sake of removing technical jargon when dealing with people who are not familiar with it. For example, when a mechanic speaks to a doctor about what is wrong with their car or when a medical doctor speaks to a patient about the patient’s health. The modification happens so that the other person can understand.

Speech convergence can be overdone in terms of the perceptions of the hearers. For example, if a foreigner sounds too much like a native it can raise suspicion. Furthermore, over convergence can be perceived as insulting and or making fun of others.  As such, some difference is probably wise.

Speech Divergence

Speech divergence happens when people deliberately choose not to mirror each other speaking styles. The message that is sent when doing this is that the people communicating do not want to accommodate, seem polite, or perhaps that they do not like the people they are communicating with.

Examples of this often involve minority groups who desire to maintain their own cultural identity. Such a group will use their language judiciously, especially around the local dominant culture, as a sign of independence.

Accent divergence is also possible. For example, two people from the same country but different socioeconomic standings may deliberately choose to maintain their specific style of communication to indicate the differences between them.

Conclusion

Convergence and divergence in communication can send many different messages to people. It is difficult to determine how people will respond to how a people convergence or divergences from their speaking style. However, the main motivations for accommodation appear to be how such behavior benefits the communicator.

Theories on Language Change in Groups

As people interact with each other, it naturally leads to changes in how communication  takes place. Fortunately, there are several views that attempt to explain in a systematic way how language changes. In general, there are at least 3 viewpoints on how language changes. These viewpoints are

  • Group to group
  • Style to style
  • Word to word

In this post, we will look at each of these viewpoints on language change.

Group to Group

The group to group hypothesis sees language change like a wave in a lake. The changes originates from one or more groups and slowly spreads to other groups.  This happens because different groups interact with each other. Furthermore, many people are members of more than one group and bring the language they use in one group to another.

Style to Style

The style to style hypothesis suggest that language changes as there are shifts between language styles. For example, from a formal way of speaking to a colloquial way of speaking and vice versa.

A change in the language  that is seen as prestigious is usually from a higher more affluent section of society. Of course, the opposite is also true and un-prestigious language change comes from the least fortunate.

The style of a speaker also changes over time. The younger the person is the more they use vernacular and slang in general.

Word to Word 

There are times in which individual words will change within a language and this change will spread to other languages. This is known as lexical diffusion.

Such a change can take decades and even century to take place. It is also common when two languages interact through mutually changing each other pronunciation. Such as the role of French in England for several centuries.

Conclusion

It is not so much that any of the examples discussed here are exclusively responsible for change. Rather, all of these examples play varying roles in influencing changes in a language.

Social Networks and Language Habits

In this post, we will look at how relationships that people have can play a role in how they communicate with those around them. Understanding this can help people to comprehend differences in communication style.

In sociolinguistics, social networks  can refer to the pattern of informal relationships that people have and experience on a consistent basis. There are two dimensions that can be used to describe a persons social network. These two terms are density and plexity.

Density

The density of a social network refers to how well people in your network know each other. In other words, density is ow well your friends know each other. We all have friends, we have friends who know each other, and we have friends who do not know each other.

If many of your friends know each other then the density is high. If your friends do not know each other the density is low. An example of a high density network would be the typical family. Everybody knows each other. An example of a low density network would be employees at a large company. In such a situation it would not be hard to find a friend of a friend that you do not know.

Plexity

Plexity is a  measure of the various types of interactions that you are involved in with other people. Plexity can be uniplex, which involves one type of interaction with a person or multiplex, which involves many types of interactions with a person.

An example of a uniplex interaction may be a worker with their boss. They only interact at work. A multiplex interaction would again be with members of one’s family. When dealing with family interactions could include school, work, recreation, shopping, etc. In all these examples it is the same people interacting in a multitude of settings.

Language Use in Social Networks

A person’s speech almost always reflects the network that they belong too. If the group is homogeneous we will almost always speak the way everyone else does assuming we want to be a part of the group. For example, a group of local construction workers will more than likely use similar language patterns due to the homogeneous nature of the group while a group of ESL bankers would not as they come from many different countries.

When a person belongs to more than one social network they will almost always unconsciously change the way they communicate based on the context. For example, anybody who has moved away from home communicates differently where they live then when they communicate with family and friends back home. This is true even when moving from one place to another in the same province or state in your country.

Conclusion

The language that people employ is affected by the dynamics of the social network. We naturally will adjust our communication to accommodate who we are talking too.

Sociolinguistic Insights into Female Communication

In general, women tend to prefer to use the most standard or prestige form of a language regardless of cultural background or geography. Linguists have proposed several potential reasons for this. This post will share some of the most common ideas on why women often used the standard form of their language.

Social Status

There is a belief among many linguists that women use the most prestigious forms of their language because they are more status-conscious than men. By using the standard version of their language a woman is able to claim a higher status.

The implication of this is that women have a lower status in society and try to elevate themselves through their use of language. However, this conclusion has been refuted as women who work outside the home use more of the standard form of their language than women who work in their home.

If the social status hypothesis was correct women who work at home, and thus have the lowest status, should use more of the standard form then women who work. Currently, this is not the case.

Women as Protector of Society’s Values

The women as protector of values view see social pressure as a constraint on how women communicate. Simply, women use more standard forms of their language than men because women are expected to behave better. It is thrust upon women to serve as an example for their community and especially for their children.

This answer is considered correct but depends highly on context. For example, this idea falls a part most frequently when women communicate with their children. The informal and intimate setting often leads to most women using the vernacular aspects of their language.

Women as Subordinate Group

A third suggestion is that women, who are often a subordinate group, use the more standard version of their language to show deference to those over them. In other words, women use the most polite forms of their language to avoid offending men.

However, this suggestion also fails because it equates politeness with the standard form of a language. People can be polite using vernacular and they can be rude using the most prestigious form of their language possible.

Vernacular as Masculine

A final common hypothesis on women’s use of standard forms is the perception that the use of the vernacular is masculine and tough. Women choose the standard form as a way of demonstrating behaviors traditionally associated with gender in their culture. Men, on the other hand, use vernacular forms to show traits that are traditionally associated with male behaviors.

The problem with this belief is the informal settings. As mentioned previously, women and men use more vernacular forms of their language in informal settings. As such, it seems that context is one of the strongest factors in how language is used and not necessarily gender.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Language Ego

Imagine that you are working as an ESL teacher at a university. Specifically, you are working with international students who are trying to complete their English language proficiency in order to study for their Ph.D.

These students are without a doubt intelligent. They all have a master degree. However, despite their talent and abilities, they are still babies when it comes to fluency in English. The students become exceedingly frustrated as they have to be reduced to such an elementary experience of drills and skits in order to be prepared for graduate studies. In order to achieve their dream, they must develop an identity in the English language.

To make an even stronger example, imagine you are an English teacher in your country where English is a Foreign Language and have been teaching English for years. You decide to go for a Ph.D. in an English speaking country. You take the TOEFL or IELTS and the results indicate that you need to take ESL courses before you can study. Here you are, an experienced English teacher back home, sitting through intermediate/advanced ESL courses. This is a serious but common wake up call for many non-native ESL teachers with advanced degree aspirations.

This experience frustration and fragility as one learns a new language is called language ego. This post will define language ego as well as strategies for making this experience more tolerable for students.

Defining Language Ego

Language ego is a sense of inferiority as one tries to learn a new language. People are excellent at communicating in their own language and communicate boldly in it. This confidence in one’s native language makes one highly resilient in one’s mother tongue. This why native speaker’s often ignore comments on how to communicate in the target language when these comments come from non-native speakers and even from native-speakers. We all know our own language and care little for feedback from others

However, this confidence, stubbornness, and resilience disappear when learning another language. Now, it is common for people to become defensive and sensitive as they try to communicate with limited tools.

This experience only becomes worst as one gets older. Children already have limited cognitive ability compared to adults so when they communicate in a new language they have much lower expectations in terms of talking and communicating. For adults, who often have complex, abstract ideas to share, it is frustrating to have to be reduced to speaking about mundane topics in a second language.

Helping Student with Language Ego

In order to support students during this experience, it is important to remember the following points.

  • The task should be challenging but not overwhelming.  This is a general concept in education but much more important in language teaching. Excessive failure will destroy the fragile ego of many ESL students.
  • Different students will struggle in different ways. This means a teacher should be strategic in terms of who they call on, correct publicly, the level of toughness, etc. as all of these decisions will affect students in different ways.
  • Acknowledging the frustration as the students learn the language can also help with coping.

Conclusion

Learning a language involves changes to one’s self. This means that the ego is often threatened when acquiring a language. The intensity of this is only increased when one learns a language as an adult when compared to a child. As such, teachers need to support adults and children during this experience.

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

Assumptions

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 developing 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.

Curriculum

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.

Conclusion

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.

Audiolingualism

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

Theories

Audiolingualism is heavily influenced by a structural view of language. This view sees language 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 on 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 attacked by cognitivist learning linguists such as Noam Chomsky.There was a shift from imitation to competence in language circles that undid audiolingualism.

Conclusion

The audiolingual method was a highly influential method for its time. Its focus on repetition and behavioral aspects of language were 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.

The 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.

Background

During the Great Depression, an 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 led 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 linguists 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.

Reform Movement in Language Teaching

By the late 19th century, there was a general push for making strong changes to how language was taught. There was a resurgence in linguistics and phonetics that serve as major influences on language teaching. This post will share some of the major reform factors of this time period.

International Phonetic Association

In the 1880’s, the International Phonetic Association was founded. Not only did this organization developed the International Phonetic Alphabet. They also laid down several influential principles of language teaching. For example, the IPA believed that the focus of learning a language should be on the spoken language. This is another indication of the shift away from reading and writing.

The focus on spoken language also led to recommending the use of proper pronunciation and the use of conversation in the classroom. There was still a prescriptive emphasis in developing “proper” speaking skills as though there is one standard for how to talk. This emphasis on verbal accuracy may have come from the stress of accuracy in the Grammar-Translation Method.

The IPA also encouraged the teaching of grammar inductively. This means to teach grammatical concepts through the use of examples or applications of the rules. From these examples, students would extract the rule for themselves. This is a much more engaging way to teach details such as rules in comparison to the standard deductive approach in which the rule is given followed by applications of it.

Other Reform Principles

There are several other significant reforms. One key idea was the need to teach language in a matter that was simple to complex in design. One has to wonder how language could have been taught with teaching from simple to more complex content. However, this principle may have been simply stating something that had been taken for granted.

Another reform idea was a focus on reading the language before seeing it in writing. This is in contrast to the focus on text by the Grammar-Translation method. Lastly, learning should happen in context. A focus on context became a major topic of controversy in education in general in the 20th century.

One last major reform that brought an end to the Grammar-Translation Method was the belief that translation should be avoided. Translation was at the heart of language teaching up until this point. Such a stance as this may have been highly shocking for its time as it was a pushing against a tradition that dated back to the 16th century.

Conclusion

Change is a part of life. The reforms brought about in language teaching at the end of the 19th century were for the purpose of improving language teaching. The primary desire was not to throw away what had been done before. Rather, the goal was to further help in the improvement of language teaching.

Grammar Translation Method

The grammar-translation was developed through the teaching of Latin. This post will explain some of the traits of the grammar-translation model as well as reactions towards it.

Characteristics

The goal in grammar-translation is to learn read and write another language for the sake of developing mental discipline. This is consistent with the perennialist worldview of education at the time. Learning a language is focused on grammar rules used in manipulating the meaning of the text.

As such, listening and speaking are not a focus. This leads to the students’ native language being used as the mode of instruction and the foreign language is strictly for other purposes. A typical lesson involves copious amounts of translating with a goal of high accuracy.

Grammar was taught deductively which means that the teacher always explained the rules for the students who would then apply them. This is in contrast to discovery learning which relies on students learning principles of a lesson themselves.

Impact

Grammar-translation was essential the first formalized way of teaching a language. Even today, this approached is used for the teaching of English as well as many “dead” languages such as Latin, Koine Greek, and Classical Hebrew.

The result of this approach to learning a language was an endless amount of vocabulary without context combined with an emphasis on memorizing.  Many a pastor and theologian bemoan their days of taking biblical languages. This was partially due to how the language was taught. Many programs require memorizing an extensive list of word and declensions even though there are dictionaries, lexicons, and concordances readily available.

There are some advantages to this approach. For learning to communicate on an academic level via writing this method is supreme. This makes sense as the student does not have to develop speaking and listening skills. In addition, understanding the rules of a language provides insights into how and why of using it.

The grammar-translation method was easy to administer for teachers while boring for students. For teachers who lack verbal ability, it allows them to provide some sort of understanding of the language to their students. This method is also beneficial to large classes where it is difficult to monitor behavior.

With time, language teaching was becoming more and more important. Combine this with the dissatisfaction that was arising from the grammar-translation and there arises a shift and push back against the grammar-translation.

The Influences of Latin in TESOL

There are probably many TESOL teachers who are perhaps unaware of the role Latin has played in shaping the world of TESOL today. Latin has had a tremendous influence in how language teaching has been shaped as Latin was one of the first languages that was systematically taught on a large scale. As such, Latin provided the foundation for how language was taught for several hundred years.

Latin at its Role in Language Teaching

Speaking several languages was the norm for most of known history in most parts of the world such as Europe. However, with the dawn of empires such as the Greek and Romans, there came a need to have a dominating language over local languages.

The language of Rome was primarily Latin. As such, this led Latin to the spreading of Latin throughout the Western world. What was unique was how long the Roman Empire lasted. After over 1000 years, Latin was the language of education, business, and government. It was embedded in tradition and not just an outside language imposed on locals.

With the decline of the Roman empire came a growth in the use of other languages in Europe such as English, French, Italian, etc. This contributed to Latin being taught as a subject because of the prominence it use to have. Change is difficult and abandoning a language that was so ingrained in Western civilization was not easy for scholars.

Another reason that Latin was still taught after its decline was for purposes of strengthening the mind. Educators believed that study of Latin would improve intellectual prowess of students because of the challenge of learning it.

The Teaching of Latin

Latin was taught to young people through  a focus on grammar rules, declension, and conjugation of verbs. Students also translated passages to and from Latin to developing writing skills.

A deductive approach was used in developing a knowledge of the grammar. Students were taught the rules of the grammar first and then provide with opportunities to apply them. There was no discovery or inductive approaches to learning.

Furthermore, students only learned to read and write Latin. This is partly due to the fact that Latin had died as a verbal language. Therefore, there was no development of conversational skills or practical application.

Latin and Modern Language Teaching

The approach of Latin with its focus on grammar and translation was how other languages were first taught by the 19th century. Since there was no other example for how to approach language teaching it only made sense to copy how Latin was taught. Everybody was focused on text but never on context.

People learned to communicate in through text even though they were studying living languages.  Every language was taught as a mental exercise rather than as a skill for practical use.

Conclusion

The teaching of Latin led directly to the development of the grammar-translation method. This method laid the foundation for reactionary methods that are a part of the field of TESOL.

National and Official Language

Many countries in the world have a national and an official language. The origins of these two distinctions are wrap in politics, history, and culture.

A national language is a language with a political, cultural, and social unit connected with it. An official language is a language used by the government of a country. However, both of these terms are used for politic means in many countries.

A national language is often used to unite the people. Examples of this include Japanese in Japan, French in France, and even English in Great Britain. Each country has a complex history behind its selection of a national language.

The process of developing a national language involves four steps which are…

  • Selection
  • Codification
  • Elaboration
  • Acceptance

Selection

Selecting a language to serve as the national language is a political process. Picking the wrong language could rip a nation a part. Different countries have approached this in different ways. Indonesia selected a Malay pidgin as its national language to unite its country. The Philippines choose Tagalog or Filipino as their national language, which was met with great resistance.

Codification

Codification involves standardizing the language. This involves the development of grammar rules and dictionaries. American English was heavily influenced by Noah Webster and his work in developing dictionaries. Webster specifically wanted to develop an American dialect of English in order to unify the new country.

Elaboration 

Elaboration is the process of extending the language into new domains such as academics,  medicine, or some other field. Many languages, pidgins, and or creoles, do not have ways of communicating highly abstract terms. In order to serve as an official language, terms need to be developed to handle any form of communication.

Acceptance

After developing a language in order for it to become the national language, steps must be taken to convince the people to use it. This is often done through a combination of propaganda and follows the leader. When government officials use the language locals often begin to follow.

Conclusion

The use of a language by a nation has a complex process that involves several steps. Every country has some story behind the development of its language. This rarely does not happen by chance.

Pidgins and Creoles

Pidgin and Creole are two common terms used in linguistics to describe a language. This post will define and explain some of the characteristics of these two linguistic terms

Pidgin

A pidgin is a language that does not have any native speakers. In other words, it is a younger language that is developed as a means of communicating between two groups who do not speak the same language.

Pidgins are frequently developed for business and trading. Buying and selling and other transactions are reasons for the development of a pidgin. Pidgins are not used as a form of group identification but rather for practical communication.

A pidgin is also the combination of two different languages. The language that provides the majority of the vocabulary is called the superstrate and the minority language is called the substrate.

Pidgins are highly simplified in their grammar and syntax. For example, pidgins are often missing affixes, inflections, and a smaller vocabulary compared to other languages.

A pidgin usually sounds ridiculous to a speaker of either of the two languages it is derived from. As such, they are often difficult to learn for a speaker of either the superstrate or substrate language to learn as they do not follow the normal rules of grammar as found in the superstrate or substrate language.

There are many pidgins in the world today. Many came as a result of slavery in the western hemisphere. Slaves came from different parts of Africa and often could not communicate without developing a pidgin.

In Asia, most countries have or had some form of pidgin English such as Thailand “Tinglish”, Japan has “Japanese Bamboo English.” Over time, many pidgins mature into what we call creoles.

Creole 

A creole is a pidgin that now has native speakers. Children grow speaking a creole as their first language. There are also other differences between a pidgin and creole.

Since it is the first language of a group, creoles are used in many more areas of life and have a much richer structure. Furthermore, a creole has a much more standardized grammar rules.

People’s attitudes towards a creole are often different as well. Since it is the first language of many people, there is a sense of pride over using the language. A creole can also be used to identify members of a group. This was not possible with a pidgin as pidgins serve as a way of communicating between two groups while creoles are for communicating both between groups and within a group.

Examples of creoles include “Manglish” (Malaysian English), “Singlish” (Singaporean English) and “Taglish” (Tagalog English).

Conclusion

Pidgins and creoles serve the purpose of communicating among people groups who have different languages. With time a pidgin may become a creole if native speakers of a pidgin develop.

Diglossia

Diglossia literally means “two tongues.” This definition gives the impression that diglossia and bilingualism are the same thing. However, diglossia is a distinct form of bilingualism in that the use of the two languages are determined by the function.

A diglossia consists of a high and low language. The high language is used for specific purposes such as business transactions, ceremonies, and religious rites. The low language is used for everyday conversation. You would never hear a person use the low language for normal conversation.

The context in which the high and low languages are used are called domains. There are many different domains such as family, work, school, church, etc. Each of these domains calls for either the high or low language. For example, the high language may be used when speaking of politics while the low language may be used for speaking about sports.

There are several examples of diglossia in the world. In America, African Americans often have their own distinct form of English which functions as a low language. Regular or standard English would be the high language in this situation. At home, African American English is spoken and in public, a switch to standard English is often made.

There is often an interaction between diglossia and bilingualism in language. In general, there are four ways in which diglossia and bilingualism can interact in a community.

  1. The community has diglossia and bilingualism
  2. The community has diglossia but not bilingualism
  3. The community has bilingualism but diglossia
  4. The community does not have diglossia or bilingualism

Below are examples of each

Diglossia and Bilingualism 

An example of this is an African American community where the people can speak standard English (high language), African American English (low language) while also being fluent in another language like Spanish (second language).

Diglossia but not Bilingualism

Same as above, the African American community knows standard English as well as African American English but the community does not speak Spanish or any other language.

Bilingualism but no Diglossia

The African American community speaks standard English and also speaks another language, such as Spanish, but does not use African American English.

Neither Diglossia or Bilingualism

The African American community only speaks standard English and does not speak African American English or any other language such as Spanish.

Conclusion

Communities vary in their perception of their high and low languages. Some look down on the low language while using it while others are proud of the low language while feeling forced to learn the high. The points are that with diglossia, the use of a second language is connected to a particular social setting.

Speech, Language, and Communication

There are three terms that people commonly use interchangeably when describing how people interact verbally with each other. The terms are speech, language, and communication. Although these terms are similar they are not synonyms for each other. This post will explain the difference between these three terms.

Speech

Speech is specifically a verbal means of communicating. This distinguishes it from non-verbal forms of communicating such as written communication or body language. Speech involves the vocalizing of specific sounds called phonemes. Every language has specific phonemes that make of sounds for that language. For example, Spanish involves the rolling of the “r” often.

Speech is not limited to phonemes. Other aspects of speech include the voice quality, intonation, and rate. Voice quality is the phonetic characteristics of a person’s voice. Our example of the r sound in Spanish relates to voice quality. Intonation is related to the pitch of the voice. Sometimes a language uses different pitches depending on the context. For example, if a question is asked in English the pitch rises at the end. Lastly, the rate is how fast the people talk in the language.

Language

Language code for conveying concepts through the use of symbols. For example, almost all languages have some sort of word for “dog.” In English, the word for this animal is “dog.” In Spanish, the word is “perro.” In French, the word for dog is “chien.” Regardless of the language, when people hear one of these words for dog in their language they connect this word with the concept of a four-legged creature that often barks. The term “dog” is a symbol for an animal. This is thinking in a highly abstract way.

Languages can be expressed verbally through speech and also through writing. In order for each side to understand the other, they must know each other’s language in order to convey and share ideas. An obvious reason that people from different countries do not understand each other is because they speak different languages.

Communication

Communication is a process of exchanging ideas and needs. This process involves encoding, transmitting, and decoding. Encoding is the process of taking a concept identifying a word that is associated with it. If a person has in their mind a barking animal they may think of the word “dog.” Transmitting is sharing the concept through the use language. This is when the person says “dog” verbally.

Decoding is this process in reverse and is done by the receiver. The receiver hears the word “dog” and he translates this into a barking animal in his mind. All of this happens in a split second every day in many peoples lives.

Communication can happen in many was beyond verbal. As mention earlier, people can communicate ideas in writing or through the use of body language. Even art can communicate information through the use of music, painting, or more.

Conclusion

Speech, language, and communication are distinct aspects of understanding how people convey information. Understanding these differences can help people to know how they are trying to share information.