Tag Archives: english

Teaching a Child to Read

Learning to read is in no way an easy experience. In order to read at even the most basic level requires mastery of syntax, phonology, morphology, and semantics at a minimum. These are skills that we expect a child normally under the age of 8 to show some proficiency at.

This post will explain a process for teaching reading to small children that worked. Of course, there is no claim here that this is the way but it does provide an example. When I began this experience I had been an educator for years at higher grades but had never actually taught anybody how to read. My training and experience have mostly been in improving reading comprehension skills.

The Process

The process I stumble upon goes as follows

  1. Letter recognition
  2. Letter sound production
  3. Word family phonics
  4. Sight words
  5. Reading stories with support from steps 3 & 4

Each step builds on the steps before it

Letter Recognition

The first step in this process was to have the child recognize the letters of the alphabet. This was done through the use of flashcards. In many ways, this was the easiest step. I thought it would take a year for a 4-year-old to learn this but it only took 3-4 months

Letter recognition relates to morphology as letters are in many ways morphemes that cannot be further divided. At this point, the learning experience is simply memory only with no application

Letter Sound Production

Once the alphabet was memorized, I exposed the student to the sounds of the letters. The student then had to reproduce the sound in addition to recognizing what letter it was.

This was much tougher. The student would either forget what letter it was or forget the sound or both. There was a lot of frustration. However, after several more months, we were ready to move on.

Letter sound production is an example of phonology or the understanding of the sounds letters make. This is a crucial step in learning to read.

Word Family Phonics

At this stage, we combine several letters and “sound” them out to produce words. Often, the words used had the same ending or morpheme such as “-ap”, “-at”, “-ad”. etc. and only the first letter would change. This helps the student to recognize patterns quickly at least in theory.

There was also an introduction to vowels and other common morphemes. Looking back I consider this a mistake as it seemed to be confusing for the student. In addition, although phonics are valuable in learning to sound out words I found them to lack context and read “cap”, “tap”, and “map” outside the setting of some story was boring for the student.

Sight Words

Sight words are words that are so common in English that they need to be memorized. Often they cannot be sounded out because they violate the rules of phonology but this is not always the case.

There are two common systems of sight words and these are Dolch and Fry respectively. In terms of which is better, it doesn’t really matter. I used Fry’s and again I think the lack of context was a problem as I was asking the student to learn words that lack an immediate application.

Reading Stories

After about a year of preparatory training, we finally began reading stories. The stories were little short stories appropriate for kindergarteners. At first, it was difficult but the student began to improve rapdily. It was much easier (usually) to get them to cooperate as well.

Conclusion 

The most important point is perhaps not the most obvious one. despite my inexperience and mistakes in pedagogy, the student still learned to read. In many ways, the student learned to read in spite of me. This should be reassuring for many teachers. Even bad teaching can get good results if the aspects of planning, discipline, and commitment to success are there. Students seem to grow as long as they have some guidance.

I would say the most important thing in terms of teaching reading is to actually make them read. Reading provides context and motivation as the student can see what they cannot do. Studying all of the theoretical aspects of reading such as phonics and letters are only beneficial when the child knows they need to know this.

Therefore, if you are provided with an opportunity to teach a child to read start with stories and as the struggle teach only what they are struggling with. For example, if they are having a hard time with long “o” sound, reinforcing that with supplemental theoretical work will make sense for the child. As such, children learn best by doing rather than talking about what they will do.

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Types of Rubrics for Writing

Grading essays, papers and other forms of writing is subjective and frustrating for teachers at times. One tool that helps in improving the consistency of the marking, as well as the speed, is the use of rubrics. In this post, we will look at three commonly used rubrics which are…

  • Holistic
  • Analytical
  • Primary trait

Holistic Rubric

A holistic rubric looks at the overall quality of the writing. Normally, there are several levels on the rubric and each level has several descriptors on it. Below is an example template

Presentation1.gifThe descriptors must be systematic which means that they are addressed in each level and in the same order. Below is an actual Holistic Rubric for Writing.

Presentation1In the example above, there are four levels of marking. The descriptors are

  • idea explanation
  • coherency
  • grammar

Between levels, different adverbs and adjectives are used to distinguish the levels.  For example, in level one, “ideas are thoroughly explained” becomes “ideas are explained” in the second level. The use of adverbs is one of the easiest ways to distinguish between levels in a holistic rubric.

Holistic rubrics offer the convenience of fast marking that is easy to interpret and comes with high reliability. The downside is that there is a lack of strong feedback for improvement.

Analytical Rubrics

Analytical rubrics assign a score to each individual attribute the teacher is looking for in the writing. In other words, instead of lumping all the descriptors together as is done in a holistic rubric, each trait is given its own score. Below is a template of an analytical rubric.

Presentation1

You can see that the levels are across the top and the descriptors across the side. Best performance moves from left to right all the way to worst performance. Each level is assigned a range of potential point values.

Below is an actual holistic writing template

Presentation1

Analytical rubrics provide much more washback and learning than holistic. Of course, they also take a  lot more time for the teacher to complete as well.

Primary Trait

A lesser-known way of marking papers is the use of primary trait rubric. With primary trait, the student is only assessed on one specific function of writing. For example, persuasion if they are writing an essay or perhaps vocabulary use for an ESL student writing paragraphs.

The template would be similar to a holistic rubric except that there would only be on descriptor instead of several. The advantage of this is that it allows the teacher and the student to focus on one aspect of writing. Naturally, this can be a disadvantage as writing involves more than one specific skill.

Conclusion

Rubrics are useful for a variety of purposes. For writing, it is critical that you understand what the levels and descriptors are one deciding on what kind of rubric you want to use. In addition, the context affects the use of what type of rubric to use as well.

Guiding the Writing Process

How a teacher guides the writing process can depend on a host of factors. Generally, how you support a student at the beginning of the writing process is different from how you support them at the end. In this post, we will look at the differences between these two stages of writing.

The Beginning

At the beginning of writing, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made as well as extensive planning. Generally, at this point, grammar is not the deciding factor in terms of the quality of the writing. Rather, the teacher is trying to help the students to determine the focus of the paper as well as the main ideas.

The teacher needs to help the student to focus on the big picture of the purpose of their writing. This means that only major issues are addressed at least initially. You only want to point at potential disaster decisions rather than mundane details.

It is tempting to try and fix everything when looking at rough drafts. This not only takes up a great deal of your time but it is also discouraging to students as they deal with intense criticism while still trying to determine what they truly want to do. As such, it is better to view your role at this point as a counselor or guide and not as detail oriented control freak.

At this stage, the focus is on the discourse and not so much on the grammar.

The End

At the end of the writing process, there is a move from general comments to specific concerns. As the student gets closer and closer to the final draft the “little things” become more and more important. Grammar comes to the forefront. In addition, referencing and the strength of the supporting details become more important.

Now is the time to get “picky” this is because major decisions have been made and the cognitive load of fixing small stuff is less stressful once the core of the paper is in place. The analogy I like to give is that first, you build the house. Which involves lots of big movements such as pouring a foundation, adding walls, and including a roof. This is the beginning of writing. The end of building a house includes more refined aspects such as painting the walls, adding the furniture, etc. This is the end of the writing process.

Conclusion

For writers and teachers, it is important to know where they are in the writing process. In my experience, it seems as if it is all about grammar from the beginning when this is not necessarily the case. At the beginning of a writing experience, the focus is on ideas. At the end of a writing experience, the focus is on grammar. The danger is always in trying to do too much at the same time.

Types of Reading in ESL

Reading for comprehension involves two forms of processing which are bottom-up and top-down. Bottom-up processing involves pulling letters together to make words, words to make sentences, etc. This is most commonly seen as students sounding out words when they read. The goal is primarily to just read the word.

Top-down processing is the use of prior knowledge, usually organized as schemas in the mind to understand what is being read. For example, after a student reads the word “cat” using bottom-up processing they then use top-down processing of what they know about cats such as their appearance, diet, habits, etc.

These two processes work together in order for us to read. Generally, they happen simultaneously as we are frequently reading and using our background knowledge to understand what we are reading.

In the context of reading, there are four types of reading from simplest to most complex and they are

  • Perceptive
  • Selective
  • Interactive
  • Extensive

We will now look at each in detail

Perceptive

Perceptive reading is focused primarily on bottom-processing. In other words, if a teacher is trying to assess this type of reading they simply want to know if the student can read or not. The ability to understand or comprehend the text is not the primary goal at this.

Selective

Selective reading involves looking a reader’s ability to recognize grammar, discourse features, etc. This is done with brief paragraphs and short reading passages. Assessment involves standard assessment items such as multiple-choice, short answer, true/false, etc.

In order to be successful at this level, the student needs to use both bottom-up and top-down processing.  Charts and graphs can also be employed

Interactive

Interactive reading involves deriving meaning from the text. This places even more emphasis on top-down processing. Readings are often chosen from genres that employ implied main ideas rather than stated. The readings are also more authentic in nature and can include announcements, directions, recipes, etc.

Students who lack background knowledge will struggle with this type of reading regardless of their language ability. In addition, inability to think critically will impair performance even if the student can read the text.

Extensive

Extensive is reading large amounts of information and being able to understand the “big picture”. The student needs to be able to separate the details from the main ideas. Many students struggle with this in their native language. As such, this is even more difficult when students are trying to digest large amounts of information in a second language.

Conclusion

Reading is a combination of making sense of the words and using prior knowledge to comprehend text. The levels of reading vary in their difficulty. In order to have success at reading, students need to be exposed to many different experiences in order to have the background knowledge they need that they can call on when reading something new.

Responsive Listening Assessment

Responsive listening involves listening to a small amount of language such as command, question, or greeting. After listening, the student is expected to develop an appropriate short response. In this post, we will examine two examples of the use of responsive listening. These two examples are…

  • Open-ended response to question
  • Suitable response to a question

Open-Ended Responsive Listening

When an open-ended item is used in responsive listening it involves the student listening to a question and provided an answer that suits the context of the question. For example,

Listener hears: What country are you from
Student writes: _______________________________

Assessing the answer is determined by whether the student was able to develop an answer that is appropriate. The opened nature of the question allows for creativity and expressiveness.

A drawback to the openness is determining the correctness of them. You have to decide if misspellings, synonyms, etc are wrong answers.  The are strong arguments for and against any small mistake among ESL teachers. Generally, communicate policies trump concerns of grammatical and orthography.

Suitable Response to a Question

Suitable response items often use multiple choice answers that the student select from in order to complete the question. Below is an example.

Listener hears: What country is Steven from
Student picks:
a. Thailand
b. Cambodia
c. Philippines
d. Laos

Based on the recording the student would need to indicate the correct response. The multiple-choice limits the number of options the student has in replying. This can in many ways making determining the answer much easier than short answer. No matter what, the student has a 25% chance of being correct in our example.

Since multiple-choice is used it is important to remember that all the strengths and weaknesses of multiple-choice items.This can be good or bad depending on where your students are at in their listening ability.

Conclusion

Responsive listening assessment allows a student to supply an answer to a question that is derived from what they were listening too.This is in many ways a practical way to assess an individual’s basic understanding of a conversation.

Critical Language Testing

Critical language testing (CLT) is a philosophical approach that states that there is widespread bias in language testing. This view is derived from critical pedagogy, which views education as a process manipulated by those in power.

There are many criticisms that CLT has of language testing such as the following.

  • Test are deeply influenced by the culture of the test makers
  • There is  a political dimension to tests
  • Tests should provide various modes of performance because of the diversity in how students learn.

Testing and Culture

CLT claim that tests are influenced by the culture of the test-makers. This puts people from other cultures at a disadvantage when taking the test.

An example of bias would be a reading comprehension test that uses a reading passage that reflects a middle class, white family. For many people, such an experience is unknown for them. When they try to answer the questions they lack the contextual knowledge of someone who is familiar with this kind of situation and this puts outsiders at a disadvantage.

Although the complaint is valid there is little that can be done to rectify it. There is no single culture that everyone is familiar with. The best that can be done is to try to diverse examples for a diverse audience.

Politics and Testing

Politics and testing is closely related to the prior topic of culture. CLT claims that testing can be used to support the agenda of those who made the test. For example, those in power can make a test that those who are not in power cannot pass. This allows those in power to maintain their hegemony. An example of this would be the literacy test that African Americans were

An example of this would be the literacy test that African Americans were required to pass in order to vote. Since most African MAericans could not read the were legally denied the right to vote. This is language testing being used to suppress a minority group.

Various Modes of Assessment

CLT also claims that there should be various modes of assessing. This critique comes from the known fact that not all students do well in traditional testing modes. Furthermore, it is also well-documented that students have multiple intelligences.

It is hard to refute the claim for diverse testing methods. The primary problem is the practicality of such a request. Various assessment methods are normally impractical but they also affect the validity of the assessment. Again, most of the time testing works and it hard to make exceptions.

Conclusion

CLT provides an important perspective on the use of assessment in language teaching. These concerns should be in the minds of test makers as they try to continue to improve how they develop assessments. This holds true even if the concerns of CLT cannot be addressed.

 

Political Intrigue and the English Language

Political intrigue has played a role in shaping the English language. In this post, we will look at one example from history of politics shaping the direction of the language.

Henry VII (1491-1547), King of England, had a major problem. He desperately needed a male heir for his kingdom. In order to do achieve, Henry VIII annulled several marriages or had his wife executed. This, of course, did not go over well with the leaders of Europe as nobles tended to marry nobles.

In order to have his first marriage canceled (to Catherine of Aragon) Henry VIII needed the permission of the Pope as divorce is normally not tolerated in Roman Catholicism. However, the Pope did not grant permission because he was facing political pressure from Catherine’s family who ruled over Spain.

Henry VIII was not one to take no for an answer. Stressed over his lack of a male heir and the fact that Catherine was already 40, he banished Catherine and married his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Much to the chagrin of his in-laws in Spain.

This resulted in the Pope excommunicating Henry VIII from the church. In response to this, Henry VIII started his own church or at least laid the foundation for Protestantism in England, with the help of German Lutheran Princes. It was this event that played a role in the development of the English language

Protestantism in England

Until the collapse of his first marriage, Henry VIII was a strong supporter of the Catholic Church and was even given the title of “Defender of the Faith.” However, he now took steps to flood England with Bibles in response to what he saw as a betrayal of the Catholic Church in denying him the annulment that he sought for his first marriage.

During this same time period of the mid-1500’s William Tyndale had just completed a translation of the New Testament from Greek to English. His translation was the first from the original language into English. Tyndale also completed about half of the Old Testament.

Although Tyndale was tried and burned for translating the Bible, within a few years of his death, Henry VIII was permitting the publishing of the Bible. Tyndale’s translation was combined with the work of Miles Coverdale to create the first complete English version of the Bible called the “Great Bible” in 1539.

With the bible in the hands of so many people the English language began to flow into religion and worship services. Such words as “beautiful”, “two-edged”, “landlady”, and “broken-heart” were established as new words. These words are taking for granted today but it was in translating the phrases from the biblical languages that we have these new forms of expression. How many men have called their woman beautiful? or how many people have complained about their landlady? This is possible thanks to Tyndale’s translating and Henry VIII’s support.

All this happen not necessarily for the right motives yet the foundation of the use of common tongues in worship as well as the audacity of translating scripture into other languages was established by a King seeking an heir.

Conclusion

Henry VIII was probably not the most religious man. He did not have any problem with divorcing or killing wives or with committing adultery. However, he used religion to achieve his political goals. By doing so, he inadvertently influenced the language of his country.

Disease and the English Language

There are many different factors that have influenced and shaped the English language. In this post, we will look specifically at the role of disease in shaping the English language. We will do this by looking at one example from the 14th century, the Bubonic plague.

Background

During this time period, English was an oppressed second tier language. The French were in control even though they were no longer French due to Philip II of France seizing the Norman lands in Northern France. Normandy was where the French-English came from and their original home was taken from them in 1295. Nevertheless,  with the French in control English was little more than a low-level language in a diglossia context.

Latin was another major language of the country but primarily in the religious sphere. Virtually all priest were fluent in Latin. Mass was and other religious ceremonies were also in Latin.

The Plague

The “Black Death” as it was called, sweep through what is now known as England in the mid 14th century. The disease killed 1/3 of the population of the country. This is the equivalent of almost 2.5 billion people dying today.

The clergy of England were especially hard hit by the dreaded disease. This has to do with the role of the priest in society. The duties of a priest includes visiting the sick (gasp!), anointing the dieing (gasp!), and performing funerals (gasp!). As such, the priests were called on to come into direct contact with those who were suffering under the plague and they began to die in large numbers themselves. Those who did not die often would run away.

The loss of the professionally trained clergy led to replacements that were not of the same caliber. In other words, new priest came along who only knew English and did not have a knowledge of Latin. This meant religious ceremonies and services were now being performed in English and not Latin, not for Protestant reasons but just out of necessity.

So many people died that it also lead to economic chaos. Land prices collapsed as homes of the wealthy were empty from entire families being wiped out. Fewer workers meant wages skyrocketed and this caused people to abandon their feudal lords and work in the towns and cities.

The rich who survived did not care for paying higher wages and tried to force the peasants back to their feudal slavery. This led to the Peasant Revolt of 1381. The rebellion was only crushed when the shrew Richard II spoke to the peasants in English to calm them and then quickly betrayed them.

Richard II was not the first to use English to rally the people. This began in 1295 when Normandy was taken. However, in the context of disease and death, there was a recommitment to the use of English.

Conclusion 

Disease led to economic and political catastrophes in 14th century England. Yet there was also an influence on the language itself. Latin decreased in use due to the loss of clergy. In addition, the French-English were being forced more and more to use English to deal with the unruly locals who wanted more freedom.

Washback

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.

Conclusion

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.

English Language and the Church

The English language during the middle ages had a serious struggle with the church of its time. Church officials supported that the bible should only be published in Latin. This led to a large number of people having no idea what was happening during a worship service. Even though church attendance was mandatory.

One response to this problem was the development of “mystery plays.” These were theatrical performances based on the bible. The topics ranged from Genesis to Revelation and were performed in local languages. However, watching pseudo-movies and reading the text for yourself are widely different experiences.

This post will look at the role of several prominent people’s response to the suppression of English in religious text.

John Wycliffe

The lack of scripture in the English language led to John Wycliffe translating the Latin Vulgate into English. Naturally, this was illegal and Wycliffe faced significant trouble over doing this. Despite this, his translation was one of the first translations of the bible into what was called at the time a “vulgar” language.

Wycliffe’s translation was not from the original text but rather from the Latin. This means it was a translation of a translation which nearly destroys the comprehensibility of the text.

William Tyndale

William Tyndale attempted to deal with the challenges of the Wycliff translation by translating the bible from the original greek and Hebrew. Tyndale’s translation heavily influences the English language as he literally had to create words to capture the meaning of the text. Such phrases as “scapegoat”, “sea-shore”, and “my brother’s  keeper” were developed by Tyndale to communicate ideas within the bible.  For his work, Tyndale was put to death.  It took him about

Naturally, many were not happen with what Tyndale had accomplished. For his work, Tyndale was put to death.  It took him about four years to complete his work

King James Bible

However, the move away from Latin to English was made complete with the development of the 1611 King James bible. The KJV is named as King James the I of England who sponsored the translation of the bible for political reasons.  By the 17th century, there were so many versions of the bible that scholars wanted a definitive translation and King James I sponsored this.

Over fifty scholars worked on this translation for five years. Despite all this work, the 1611 KJV is 60-80% based on Tyndale’s work a century prior. This makes Tyndale’s work all the more amazing that he did the work of 50 scholars in the same amount of time. From this moment English became know as the language of the preacher

Conclusion

The role of English in religious matters today is due in part to the work of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the scholars of the KJV. Their efforts led to supplanting Latin as the language of worship while also contributing many idioms to the English language

Post Norman Conquest Decline of the French Language

After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, French dominated England for three hundred years. The decline French can be traced to at least two main reasons, which are…

  • War/politics
  • Disease

This post will examine briefly the role of these two phenomena in shaping the decline of the French language in England as well as the reemergence of English.

War/Politics

The King of Normandy was also the King of England. In 1204, John, King of Normandy and England, lost his Norman territory to the King of France. This left a large number of Norman nobles living in England with any property back in France unless the swore allegiance to the King of France, Philipp II. The consequence of forced loyalty was the development of an English identity among the elite.

In 1295, Philip IV, King of France, threaten to invade England. Edward I, King of England, communicated with the people in English in order to unite the people. While speaking to the people in English, Edward I stated that Philip IV intended to destroy the English language. When the French invasion never came, Edward set aside his use of English

Disease

In the mid-1300’s, the Bubonic plague spread through England and wipe out 1/3 of the population. The plague was particular hard on the clergy killing almost 1/2 of them and removing the influence of Latin on English. The replacement clergy used English.

The loss of so many people allowed English-speaking peasants to take over empty homes and demand higher wages. The price of land fell as there was no one to work the fields nor was there as much demand for products with so many dead. The bonds of serfdom were severely broken.

When the nobility tried to push the peasants back onto the lands as serfs, it led several revolts. When communicating both the nobility and peasants used English. The nobility used English to make promises that were not kept and destroy resistance their rule.

Aftermath

Through war and disease, English rose to prominence again. By the 1400’s English was the language of education and official business. In 1399, Henry IV was sworn in as king with the use of the English language. After three centuries of oppression, the English language emerged as the language of the elite as well as the commoner again.

Norman Conquest and the English Language

The year 1066 is highly significant in the English language. This is the year that William, the Duke of Normandy, conquer most of what today is known as Great Britain. The effects of this upon the English language was significant.

Background

As a background, when the King of England, Edward the Confessor died, he named William, the duke of Normandy, as King of England. Edward was childless but his mother was from Normandy, which is located in France.  As such, the English court was already full of French speaking Normans as Edward’s supporters.

Naming a Norman to the throne of England did not sit well with one Edward’s biggest rivals, Earl Harold Godwineson. Harold quickly led a rebellion against Willam but was defeated and William of Normandy became known as William the Conqueror and was crowned King of England Christmas day of 1066

Aftermath

Over the next three centuries under French rule, the English language was invaded by as many as 10,000 French words. Such words as “city”, “bacon”, “biscuit”, and “felony” to name a few. The English court quickly became a French court.

The English court quickly became a French court. All positions of power were taken by Normans. This was not only because of conquest but also because most of the English nobility and leadership were killed in the Battle of Hastings.

The only way to get ahead in this context was to learn French and leave English in the home. In many ways, French became a high language and English was relegated to a low language almost as a diglossia situation. English was the language of the poor and French of the elite. Most documents during this time were produced in French and even written English was pushed aside.

The division by class has led some to allege that this kept English alive. This is to say that the rich and the poor had their own separate languages and both work to preserve their own manner of communication.

Conclusion

War is yet another factor to consider when looking at the development of a language. Even without intending to do so William the Conqueror made a major impact on the English language simply by sticking to his mother tongue of French when he took the English throne. To this day, loan words from French play a major role in communication in the English language.

The Beginnings of English

What we now know as English today has a long and complex history. With any subject that is complex, it is necessary to pick a starting point and work from there. For this post, we will date the origins of English from the early 5th century.

Early History

English was not born in England.  Rather, it came to England through the invasion of Germanic warriors. These “barbarian” hoards push the indigenous Celts and Britons almost into the ocean.

However, it was not only war and conquest that brought English. The roots of English arrived also in the immigration of farmers. Either way, English slowly grew to be one of the prominent languages of England.

In the late sixth century, the Roman Catholic Church came to England. This left a mark on English in the various words taken from Latin and Greek. Such words as “angels”, “pope”, and “minister” all arrived through the Catholic Church.

Vikings and Alfred the Great

By the 8th and 9th century the Vikings were invading lands all over Europe. It was the Danes in particular that almost wiped out the inhabitants of England. However, thanks to the craftiness of Alfred the Great the Danes were defeated and their leader Guthrum was so shocked at Alfred’s comeback victory that he was baptized and became a Christian.

Alfred set to work using the English language to unite the people. He supported education in the English language and the use of language in general. Furthermore, to try and prevent future conflicts with the Danes, Alfred gave them some territory called “Dane Law” where they could live. Naturally, staying in the area meant that the Danish language had an effect on English as well.

Alfred also supported religion. Thanks to the Viking invasions, there was almost no priest left in the entire country. Alfred could barely find a priest who could read Latin. Without religious scholarship, there could be no passing on of religious teachings. This lead Alfred to encourage the translation books in other languages (like Latin) into English.

Conclusion

The story of English is not one continuous rise to prominence. There were several experiences of up and down as the language was in England. For example, there was a time when the French language almost overran the country. Yet this is a story for another day.

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 functons 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.

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.

Teaching Vocabulary to ESL Students

Language acquisition  requires the acquisition of thousands of words for fluent communication. This is a daunting task for the most talented and eager student. Fortunately, there are some basic concepts to keep in mind when teaching students vocabulary. This post will share some suggestion and helping students to develop there vocabulary in the target language.

Learn Vocabulary in Context

A common technique for teaching vocabulary in language classrooms is out of context memorization. Students are given a long and often boring list of words to memorize. There is little immediate use of these words and they are quickly forgotten after the quiz.

Instead, it is better to teach new words within a framework in which they will be used. For example, students learn business terms through role play at a bank or store rather than through a stack of index cards. The context of the bank connects the words to a real-world setting, which is critical for retention in the long-term memory.

Reduce Reliance on Bilingual Dictionaries

This may seem as a surprise, however, the proliferation of bilingual dictionaries provides the definition to a word but does not normally help with memorization and  the future use of the word. If the goal is communication then bilingual dictionaries will slow a student’s ability to achieve mastery.

Children learn language much faster do in part to the immense effort it takes to learn what new words mean without the easy answer of a dictionary. The effort leads to memorization which allows for the use of the language. This serves as a valuable lesson for adults who prefer the easy route of bilingual dictionaries.

Set Aside Class Time to Deal with Vocabulary

The teacher should have a systematic plan for helping students to develop relevant vocabulary. This can be done through activities as well as the teaching of context clues. Vocabulary development needs to be intentional, which means there must be a systematic plan for supporting students in this.

However, there are also times were unplanned vocabulary teaching can take place. For example, while the students are reading together they become puzzled over a word you thought they knew (this is common). When this happens a break with explanation can be helpful. This is especially true if you let the students work together without dictionaries to try and determining the meaning of the word.

Conclusion

Vocabulary is a necessary element to language learning. It would be nice to ignores this but normally this is impossible.  As such, teachers need to support students in their vocabulary development.

Assessing Writing from a Discourse Perspective

Often, when teachers provide feedback on a student’s writing, they tend to focus on the grammatical/punctuation aspects of the paper. However, this often does not make a lasting impression and it also can frequently cause students to freeze up when the need to write as they become obsess with the details of grammar rather than with the shaping of ideas.

Another approach to providing feedback to students is to analyze and assess their writing from the perspective of discourse. Discourse rules have to do with the overall structure of a paper. It is the big picture aspects of writing. Clear discourse can often help to overcome poor grammar/punctuation but excellent grammar/punctuation can overcome a poorly structured paper. This post will provide some of the components of discourse as they relate to writing a paper.

The Organizational Level

At the highest broadest level is the organizational level. At this level, you are looking to be sure that the students have  included an introduction, body, and conclusion to their paper. This seems elementary but it is common for students to forget to include an introduction and or a conclusion to their writing.

You also want to check that the introduction, body, and conclusion are in proportion to each  other based on how long the paper was intended to be. Often, students write short intros, have a long body section, and have little conclusion as they are exhausted from the writing.

At this point thorough reading is not taking place but rather you are glancing to see if all the parts are there.  You also are searching to see if the ideas in the introduction, are present in the body, and reiterated in the conclusion. Students frequently wander when writing as they do not plan what to say but rather what and see what google provides them.

The Section Level

At the section level, you are looking to make sure that the various parts that belong within the introduction, body, and conclusion are present.  For the introduction, if it is a standard research, paper some of the things to look for includes the following

  • background to the problem
  • problem statement
  • objectives
  • significance statement

For the body section, things to look for includes

  • Discussion of first objective
  • Discussion of second objective
  • etc

For the conclusion, it is more fluid in how this can be done but you can look for the following

  • Summary of the introduction
  • Main point of each objective
  • Concluding remark(s)

First, you are checking that these components are there. Second you are checking for the clarity. Normally, if the problem and objectives are unclear the entire paper is doomed to incomprehensibility.

However, bad grammar is not a reason that problems and objectives are unclear. Instead it may be the problem is too broad, cannot be dealt with in the space provide, etc. Objectives normally have the same problem but can also be unrelated to the problem as well.

Sometimes the problem and objectives are to narrowly defined in terms of the expertise of the student. As such, it is highly subjective in terms of what works but the comments given to the student need to be substantive and not just something vague as “look at this a second time.”

If you cannot give substantive feedback it is normally better to ignore whatever weakness you found until you can articulate it clearly. If this is not possible it’s better to remain silent.

The body section must address all objectives mentioned in the introduction. Otherwise, the reader will become confuse as promises made in the introduction were never fulfilled in the body.

The conclusion is more art than science. However, there should be a emphasis on what has been covered as well as what does this mean for the reader.

The Paragraph Level

At the paragraph level, you are looking for two things in every paragraph

  • main idea
  • supporting details

Every paragraph should have one main idea, which summarizes the point of the paragraph. The main idea is always singular. If there are more than one main idea then the student should develop a second paragraph for the second main idea.

In addition, the supporting details in the paragraph should be on topic with the main idea. Often, students will have inconsistencies between the main idea and the supporting details. This can be solved by doing one of the following

  • Change the main idea to be consistent with the supporting details
  • Change the supporting details to be consistent with the main idea

At the paragraph level, you are also assessing that the individual paragraphs are supporting the objective of the section. This again has to do with focusing on a singular thought in a particular section and within each paragraph. Students love to wander when writing as stated previously. Writing is about breaking down a problem into smaller and smaller pieces through explanation.

Conclusion

The assessment of the discourse of a paper should come before the grammatical marking of it. When ideas flow, the grammatical issues are harder to notice often. It is the shaping of discourse that engages the thinking and improves the writing of a student in ways that grammatical comments can never achieve.

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.

Imitation

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.

Self-Writing

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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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 terms of rhetoric, vocabulary use, organization, etc. The students were given several different examples that could be used as models from 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 final 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 provides 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 development of ideas, organization, coherency, and other aspects of writing. All this is done through the teacher providing feedback to the student as 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 gives each student individual attention to growing as an individual. ‘A’ students get what they need as well as weaker students. Everyone is compared to their own progress as a writer.

Conclusion

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

Developing Purpose to Improve Reading Comprehension

Many of us are familiar with the experience of being able to read almost anything but perhaps not being able to understand what it is that we read. As the ability to sound out words becomes automatic there is not always a corresponding increase in being able to comprehend text.

It is common, especially in school, for students to be required to read something without much explanation. For more mature readers, what is often needed is a sense of purpose for reading. In this post, we will look at ways to develop a sense of purpose in reading.

Purpose Provides Motivation

Students who know why they are reading know what the are looking for while reading. The natural result of this is that students are less likely to get distract by information that is not useful for them.

For example, if the teacher tells their students to read “the passage and identifying all of the animals in it and be ready to share tomorrow.” Students know what they are suppose to do (identifying all animals in the passage) and why they need to do it (share tomorrow). the clear directions prevent students from getting distracted by other information in the reading.

Providing purpose doesn’t necessarily require the students love and enjoy the rational but it is helpful if a teacher can provide a purpose that is motivating.

Different Ways to Instill Purpose

In addition to the example above there are several quick ways to provide purpose.

  • Provide vocabulary list-Having the students search for the meaning of specific words provides a clear sense of purpose and provides a context in which the words appear naturally. However, students often get bogged down with the minutia of the definitions and completely miss the overall meaning of the reading passage. This approach is great for beginning and low intermediate readers.
  • Identifying the main ideas in the reading-This is a great way to gets students to see the “big picture” of a reading. It is especially useful for short to moderately long readings such as articles and perhaps chapters and useful for intermediate to advanced readers in particular.
  •  Let students develop their own questions about the text-By fair my most favorite strategy. Students will initial skim the passage to get an idea of what it is about. After this, they develop several questions about the passage that they want to find the answer too. While reading the passage, the students answer their own questions. This approach provides opportunities for metacognition as well developing autonomous learning skills. This strategy is for advanced readers who are comfortable with vocabulary and summarizing text.

Conclusion

Students, like most people,  need a raison de faire (reason to do) something. The teacher can provide this, which has benefits. Another approach would be to allow the students to develop their own purpose. How this is done depends on the philosophy of the teacher as well as the abilities and tendencies of the students

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 generated by the student but the comprehensibility of what they say.

This post will explain several common factors that influence pronunciation. These 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 lose 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 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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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 involve 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 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.

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

Monologues 

A monologue is the use of language without any feedback verbally from 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.

Dialogues

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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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?

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.

Conclusion

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.

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.

Automaticity in Learning

A key prerequisite to the mastery of any skill or ability is automaticity. Automaticity is the ability to do something automatically without much thought. The avoidance of thinking is often viewed critically but in the context of developing mastery, there is a point where something needs to be done with a great deal of conscious intellectual effort.

This post will explain automaticity and provide principles to use when trying to develop automaticity in language learning students

Children and Adult Automaticity 

In comparison to adults, children are excellent at automaticity. For example, children often learn languages fairly easy because they process the language without in-depth metalinguistic thought about it.

A child’s success with automaticity in relation to language is due to the fact that children do not become obsessed with understanding all the various aspects of the grammar of a language. Instead of examining tiny bits of the language a child will focus on using the language in various context. In other words, adults focus on grammar and rules which are hard to understand and remember while children focus on using the language without caring about the details.

To provide another example, whereas an adult might see languages like an accountant with a focus on minute details and careful attention. A child sees language like a CEO who often focuses on the big picture. The child wants to communicate and doesn’t care too much for how it’s done or the rules involved.

This is not to say that focus on details is bad it simply impedes quick communication. A child learns to speak but has a superficial understanding of the language. The adult is slow to speak but has a much richer understanding of the language.  In other words, the child knows how to communicate but doesn’t know why they can say this or that while the adults often don’t know how to communicate but know the why behind what they wish they could say.

Teaching for Automaticity

If the goal of a language teacher is for students to be able to develop automaticity they should consider the following ideas.

  • There is a place for sharing language rules. However, the teaching of rules should be related to practical use so that the student is not weighed down by rules they cannot use immediately. Often, the teaching of rules is inductive in nature in most modern methods/approaches.
  • Classroom and learning time should be devoted to the function or use of language. What this means is spend less time talking about the language and more time actually using the language.
  • Developing automaticity takes a great deal of time. In other words, classroom activities that contribute to automaticity must be consistently in the lesson plan throughout the semester so that students can become comfortable using the language.

Conclusion

Becoming a natural at anything necessitates some form of automaticity. For the adult language learning, acquiring automaticity means to reduce the desire to think critically and just accept how a language is used. With the help of a teacher, it is possible to develop this ability.

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 actual techniques used in the method.

Background

Gouin was a French lecturer of Latin. He decided to attempt to study at the University of Berlin but realized he needed to learn  German in order to continue his studies. Being a natural lover of 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 discouraged.

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.

Techniques

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

Conclusion

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.

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

Assumptions

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.

Curriculum

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

Conclusion

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.

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 every 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.

Assumptions

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 include 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.

Conclusion

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.

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.

Approach

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.

Design

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.

Conclusion

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.

Understanding Procedures in Language Teaching

Procedures are the most practical aspect of language teaching. At this point, a teacher is actually apply a method that was derived from an approach. This means that procedures are the actual use of various skills in teaching a language. This post will provide insight into the role of procedures in language teaching.

Three Components

There are three components to procedures that a teacher needs to keep in mind. One, procedures involve teaching activities such as drills, discussion, etc. Second, procedures also involve how a teaching activity is used such as cooperatively or individually. Lastly, procedures also includes how feedback is given.

To say things simply, procedures involves the presentation of information, the practicing of new skills, and the giving of feedback. In other forms of teaching, procedures would be the equivalent of instructional design in that it focuses on the delivery and use of content.

Examples of Procedures

Different methods have different procedures. For now, the point is just to provide examples of various types of procedures without focusing on a particular method.

Presentation-Sharing information directly, indirectly, or some other way  with students

PracticeThis can take the form of any assignment that requires the students to use something they have just learned.

Checking-Providing students with correct answers or guidance

Homework-Additional practice of class material.

All methods have some or all of the points above in one form or another. What influences how these procedures are used is the approach that it is based on. For example, in grammar-translation method the presentation procedure would always be direct and deductive. In other styles the presentation procedure would be indirect and inductive. Despite these differences, it is likely that all language teachers would agree that some sort of presentation happens in all methods of language teaching.

Conclusion

Procedures is the most practical aspect of language teaching. At this point, the goal is to have various ways of actually teaching. It is at the procedure level that many teachers spend the majority of their time.

However, to truly understand what is happening in the classroom is ti know the method and approach of a particular set of procedures Knowledge of this will help a teacher to know why they are doing something as well as knowing how to explain this.

 

Theories of Learning and TESOL

Learning theories are the models that try to explain how people learn. These theories are at the foundation of educational psychology and have a profound influence on how people teach as well.

Since TESOL is focused on teaching language specifically it should not be surprising that learning theories influence TESOL as well. In this post, we will look at several common learning theories and how they influence TESOL.

Behaviorism & Skill Learning

Behaviorism states that learning is a process of developing specific actions in response to specific stimuli. Through repetition, habits were developed. In many methods of TESOL, such as the audiolingual method, you can see a focus on a great deal of repetition. This style of teaching is due in part to behaviorism.

Skill learning is really another variety of Behaviorism. Skill learning focuses on the development of integrated abilities through practice. The skill is considered mastered when it becomes automatic. Most methods have some element of skills learning.

Cognitive Learning

Cognitive learning is focused on how individuals store, encode and use knowledge. Through clear carefully planned instruction, students will be able to achieve lesson objectives. Teaching happens inductively and deductively with students using their knowledge to practice what they have learned. Situational language teaching has been influenced by this theory as it focuses on the students acquiring an understanding of the knowledge to use in various settings.

Interactional Theory & Constructivism

Interactional theory believes that people learn through working together. However, the experience of working together involves an advanced student with a weaker student. The advance student teaches and guides the weaker student.

Through this experience, both students build or construct knowledge. This development of knowledge through interaction is know constructivism. Constructivism is the internal development of meaning for an individual based on their interaction with those around them. When this interaction happens with a teacher it is called scaffolding.

Methods that focus on collaboration and lots of interaction are derived from interactional and constructivism, Examples include cooperative language learning, community language learning, and task-based language.

Language Theory and Learning Theory

In a previous post, we looked at language theory. If you have been reading all these posts together you might be confused over what language theory is and what learning theory is. Language theory focuses specifically on how people learn a language. On the other a hand, learning theory focuses on how people learn in general.

Both language theories (how people learn languages) and learning theories (how people learn) influences approaches in TESOL. An approach is a set of beliefs in how to teach a language and how students learn a language. In other words, an approach is just a combination of language theories and learning theories.  Below is a visual.

Language Theory + Learning Theory = Approach

Approaches/Theories of Language in TESOL

In the field of TESOL, different teachers hold different views of how students learn a language. These various theories of language learning are called approaches. Approaches are significant as they influence everything that happens in a classroom from the objectives, the learning activities, and even the role of the learners and teacher.

In this post, we will look at several common approaches or theories of language.

Cognitive Approach

Supporters of the cognitive view believe language reflects the characteristics of the mind. The mind is a computer. Therefore, learning language is about the acquisition of abstract knowledge. By abstract we mean general principles about a language such as the formation of nouns, developing questions, etc.

The cognitive approach suggests that there is a universal grammar that all languages have in common. Understanding and teaching this universal grammar will help individuals to learn a language. One method commonly associated with the cognitive approach is the grammar-translation method.

Structural Approach

The structural approach views language as a system related elements that provide meaning. For example, a language has phonological elements, grammatical elements, lexical elements, etc. Learning the structure of these elements helps a person to learn the language. The audiolingual method is based on this approach.

Functional & Genre Approach

The functional approach sees language as a tool for expression one’ self in real-world experiences. The ultimate goal of language is the ability to communicate with it. Therefore, an understanding of semantics and communication is most important. This focus on communication downplays the need for a deep study of grammar. One method that is based on the functional approach is English for specific purposes.

The genre approach is derived from the functional view. In this approach, people learn a language in specific genres such as business, science, health care, etc. From learning language in specific genres people develop meaning. Academic English is one method based on the genre approach

Interactional & Sociocultural Approach

This approach sees language as being for the purpose of interacting with people. This means that people learn language through attempting authentic conversation with the people around them. Rules and grammar of a language are not of major significance. Task-based language teaching follows this approach.

The sociocultural approach is so similar to interactional that it is difficult to separate them. Sociocultural approach sees language learning as a communication activity in a social context. People learn language in the context of social relationships. Task-based language learning also is based on this approach.

Conclusion

There is little reason to try and decide which approach is the best. The best approach is the one that works well with a given group of students. The benefit of approaches is that they help to explain why a teacher does what they do. If a teacher stress interaction in class it may be because they hold an interactional view of language learning.Being able to explain what one believes is a critical component of better teaching.