Tag Archives: english

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.


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.

The Direct Method

In reaction to the grammar-translation approach that had been used for several centuries, many educators placed an emphasis on oral communication skills. By the late 19th century, the natural method was primarily a method that focused on oral skills.

Many methods are derived from the natural method approach. One of the most influential methods in language teaching that came from the natural method approach was the direct method in the late 19th century.  In this post, we will examine the characteristics of the direct method as well as its impact in teaching language.

Traits of Direct Method

The direct method stressed the use of only the target language in the classroom. Instead of using the students’ native language the teacher would demonstrate and use body language to express meaning. Due to this reliance on the target language, only common, everyday vocabulary was taught. As such, this method may not be appropriate for academic language learning.

Speaking and listening was the primary purpose of the direct method. These skills were developed through a question and answer approach. This supported the development of communication skills as well as strengthening comprehension.

Correct grammar was also important as was pronunciation. Grammar was taught inductively with the teacher sharing examples that illustrated the principle of the grammar lesson.

Impact of the Direct Method

The direct method was highly successful in private language schools were motivated students came to learn a language. However, this method never replicated this success in public schools. There are several reasons for this lack of broad-based success.

The direct method was lacking in any form of linguistic theory to support its principles. This method was basically developed by amateurs who were unfamiliar with the details of language learning but instead were trying to overcome problems strictly through the use of common sense rather than common sense with research.

The direct method also requires the use of native speaking teachers. This is not always possible. The strict avoidance of the students’ language was often too cumbersome when teaching for many people.

With these and other concerns, the direct method was mostly abandoned by the 1920s in Europe. This method was never popular in the US.


The direct method was perhaps the first major fad method in language teaching. For over 100 years language teaching went from one method to another as it searched for the perfect method for teaching language. As we well see in a future post, each method always claimed to be an improvement in relation to its predecessors. The reality is that there is no single best method but a collection of choices to be made depending on the situation one is facing.

Reform Movement in Language Teaching

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

International Phonetic Association

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

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

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

Other Reform Principles

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

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

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


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

Reaction Toward Grammar-Translation

By the mid 19th century, many language educators began to react negatively towards the grammar-translation method. This post will examine several concerns of the grammar-translation model and the proposed early solutions to these concerns.

The Problems

Among some of the problems people had with grammar-translation includes was the inability to communicate verbally and lack of context. The lack of verbal communication was a major problem particularly when grammar-translation was used to teach living languages such as English. For many, learning a living language involves learning to speak it and the grammar-translation model does not provide this.

A closely related problem was a lack of context. A large part of communication is the setting in which it takes place. Another term for this is pragmatics. The setting along with body language (paralinguistic features) determines a large portion of understanding in communication. This is all ignored with the grammar-translation method as it is focused on text exclusively.

Proposed Solutions

Several 19th-century language teaching innovators offered answers to these problems. Prendergast was one of the first to notice how children learn language through context. He also found that children memorize commonly use phrases for future use. From these two observations, Pendergast proposed a structural approach to language learning in which the most basic units of a language are taught first followed by more complex ideas.

Gouin also studied how children learn language He proposed that language learning was easiest through using language to accomplish sequenced events that were related. For example, students might learn several phrases using the word door such as “I walk toward the door” and “I stop at the door”. Students would then learn the verb of such phrases like “I walk” and “I stop”. This experience happens in several different ways in order to help the student understand what “walk” and “stop” mean.

Gouin also supported the use of paralinguistic features such as gesturing in order to help explain ideas in a conversation with students. This support of body language influenced several methods of teaching English.


The reformers of the 19th century notice something about language that is obvious to us today, and that is the need to learn to communicate verbally.This led to many proposed reforms. However, few have heard of these reforms as they did not spread throughout the world of language teaching. This is due to inferior ways of communicating when compared today.

Though lacking recognition. The reforms suggested in the 19th century have become a part of standard practice for any teachers today.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Below are examples of each

Diglossia and Bilingualism 

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

Diglossia but not Bilingualism

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

Bilingualism but no Diglossia

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

Neither Diglossia or Bilingualism

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


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

Levels of Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is a key academic skill. To comprehend a reading text means to understand what the author was trying to communicate and to share the author’s intentions along with, if possible, your own perspective on the text. Doing this is not easy at all.

In general, there are three levels of reading comprehension and they are.

  1. Decoding
  2. Critical literacy
  3. Dynamic literacy

This post will discuss each of these three levels of reading comprehension.


Decoding is the most basic level of reading comprehension. At this level, a person breaking down words into there component syllables and “sounding them out.” He or she blends the words together and reads the text. This is the experience of many people who are learning to read. The focus is on learning to read and not reading to learn.

There is a minimal amount of reading comprehension at this level. The reader can recall what they read based on memory but there is often an inability to think and comprehend at a deeper level beyond memory.

For teaching, teaching decoding normal happens either with ESL students or with native speakers in early the early primary grades. This can be taught using a phonics-based approach, whole reading approach or some other method.

Critical Literacy

Critical literacy assumes that decoding has already happened. At this level, the reader is actively trying to develop a deeper understanding of the text. This happens through analyzing, comparing, contrasting, synthesizing, and or evaluating. The reader is engaged in a dialog with the text in trying to understand it.

Developing critical literacy in students requires employing teaching and learning strategies from the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Leading discussions that require higher level thinking and or writing assignments are some ways to accomplish this.

It is important to remember that readers should have already mastered decoding before attempting critical literacy. It is easy to cause cognitive overload by trying to have a reader decode text while trying to discuss the deeper meaning of the content. As such, critical literacy strategies should be avoided until upper primary school.

Dynamic Literacy

Dynamic literacy assumes mastery of decoding and some mastery of critical literacy. Dynamic literacy goes beyond analysis to relate the content of the text to other knowledge. If critical literacy is focused only on the text, dynamic literacy is focused on how the current text of the reading relates to other books.

For example, a reader who is reading a book about language acquisition may look for connections between the acquisition of a language and grammar. Or they may be more creative and look for connections between language acquisition and music. This interdisciplinary focus is unique to what is currently considered the highest level of reading comprehension.

A more practical approach to doing this would be to compare what several authors say about the same subject. Again, the focus is on going beyond just one book or one subject to going across different books and or viewpoints. In general, dynamic literacy is probably not possible before high school or even college.


Many people never move beyond decoding. They are content with reading a text and knowing what happens but never thinking deeper beyond that. However, for some, higher levels of reading comprehension is not a goal. For many, reading the newspaper in English is all they want to do and they have no desire for a more complex reading experience.  The challenge for a teacher is to move readers from one level to the next while keeping in mind the goals of the students

Ordering Main Points in Writing and Speaking

Writing and speaking both involved organization. A paper and a presentation need to have a clear sense of direction for the benefit of the audience. In this post, we will look at different strategic ways to organize the main points of a paper/presentation. Specifically, we will look at the following ways to organize the main points of a speech.

  • Topical order
  • Chronological order
  • Causal order
  • Problem-solution order
  • Spatial order

Topical Order

Topical order involves taking the topic of your speech and dividing it into several subtopics. The subtopics are related to the topic as they come from it. For example, if you are giving a speech on the topic of basketball you may have the following subtopics.

  • The history
  • The rules
  • The greatest players

In this example, the order of the points does not matter. This is the defining characteristic of topical order. The order the topics come are not important

Chronological Order

Chronological order involves a time sequence. In this approach, the order matters a great deal. A paper/speech that is focused on history or events would often use a chronological order. You use chronological order if putting things in place by time will help to make your paper/speech clearer to your readers.

Causal Order

Causal order indicates a cause-effect relationship in a paper/speech. For example, if your speech/paper is on the price of tuition you might make the claim that rising tuition is making it difficult for students to go to school. This main idea has two main points that are in causal order.

  • Cause-Tuition is rising
  • Effect-Students cannot afford to study

It is also possible to state this in the order of effect-cause as seen below.

  • Effect-Students cannot afford to study
  • Because-Tuition is rising

Causal order is useful for indicating to an audience why something is happening.

Problem-Solution Order

Problem-solution order is similar to cause-effect. The difference is that in a problem-solution approach you indicate what is wrong and then explain how to fix it. With cause-effect you only explain what happened with providing answers. For example, if the problem is that tuition is rising, you may suggest that the solution is to increase access to government loans. The problem-solution is as follows.

  • Problem-Students cannot study because of rising tuition
  • Solution-Increase access to government loans

Spatial Order

Spatial order is about location and direction. This involves such terms as up/down, left/right, top/bottom, north, south, etc. This is a highly descriptive order that allows the audience to have a first-hand experience of what the writer/speaker is sharing. For example, if you are speaking/writing about a city, you might divide the main points by geographic regions such as North, South, East, and West.


Organization is a critical key to success in communication. Whether writing or speaking it is important to develop a strategy for ordering the points you intend to share.

Finding a Topic and Purpose in Writing/Speaking

Although not exactly the same writing and public speaking having many things in common. This is especially true during preparation for a paper or presentation. The goal here is not really to compare and contrast writing and public speaking but to point out tools that can be used in both disciplines. In this post, we will cover the following

  • Choosing a topic of a paper/presentation
  • Determining the purpose paper/presentation

Choosing a Topic

The topic is whatever you are going to write or speak about. In reality, there are two types of topics

  1. Topics you already know a lot about
  2. Topics you know very little about

Which of these two choices you pick depends on the audience of your paper/presentation.

Brainstorming is one way of picking a topic. This involves several different techniques such as make webs, clusters or even performing an internet search.The way you pick a topic is not as important as finding something to develop for your audience.

Determining the Purpose

There are two levels at which the purpose is determined, the general and the specific purpose. The general purpose of a paper/presentation is the overall goal of the paper/presentation. There are many different purposes but two common ones are…

  • to inform
  • to persuade

Informing involves teaching the audience about something. For example, you might write a paper on cellphone apps. In this approach, you are teaching the audience about apps.

To persuade means to try and convince people or change their opinion about something. For example, you might have the purpose of showing readers what the best apps for English are. this involves not only presenting information but trying to convince people about what the best English apps are.

Once a general purpose has been determined it is important to develop a specific purpose. The specific purpose is a sentence in which you state what you are going to do in the paper or presentation. In writing, this is also often called the thesis statement.

For example, I might write or develop a speech in which my general purpose is to inform. My specific purpose is to inform the audience about different types of English apps. As you can see, the specific purpose includes the general purpose of to inform or to persuade. Below is a break down of the example in this paragraph

Topic: English Apps

General purpose: To inform

Specific purpose: To inform the audience about different English Apps

There are some tips to developing purpose statements. One, they are never expressed as a question because a purpose statement answers questions. Two, avoid figurative or technical language because they need to be as clear as possible. Lastly, a purpose statement should only be one sentence and deal with one idea as this helps with clarity.


The topic and purpose of a paper/presentation are critical for you to know and develop in advance. This sets the stage for clear communication with whoever you are engaging with your content.

Direct and Indirect Test Items

In assessment, there are two categories that most test items fall into which are direct and indirect test items. Direct test items ask the student to complete some sort of authentic action. Indirect test items measure a students knowledge about a subject. This post will provide examples of test items that are either direct or indirect items.

Direct Test Items

Direct test items used authentic assessment approaches. Examples in TESOL would include the following…

  • For speaking: Interviews and presentations
  • For writing: Essay questions
  • For reading: Using real reading material and having the student respond to question verbally and or in writing
  • For listening: Following oral directions to complete a task

The primary goal of direct test items is to be as much like real-life as possible. Often, direct testing items are integrative, which means that the student has to apply several skills at once. For example, presentations involve more than just speaking but also the writing of the speech, the reading or memorizing of the speech as well as the critical thinking skills to develop the speech.

Indirect Test Items

Indirect test items assess knowledge without authentic application. Below are some common examples of indirect test items.

  • Multiple choice questions
  • Cloze items
  • Paraphrasing
  • Sentence re-ordering

Multiple Choice

Multiple choice questions involve the use of a question followed by several potential answers. It is the job of the student to determine what is the most appropriate answer. Some challenges with writing multiple choice are the difficulty of writing incorrect choices. For every correct answer, you need several wrong ones. Another problem is that with training, students can learn how to improve their success on multiple choice test without having a stronger knowledge of the subject matter.

Cloze Items

Cloze items involve giving the student a paragraph or sentence with one or more blanks in it that the student has to complete. One problem with Cloze items is that more than one answer may be acceptable for a blank. This can lead to a great deal of confusion when marking the test.


Paraphrasing is strictly for TESOL and involves having the student rewrite a sentence in a slightly different way as the example below.

“I’m sorry I did not go to the assembly”

I wish________________________________

In the example above the student needs to write the sentence in quotes starting with the phrase “I wish.” The challenging is determining if the paraphrase is reasonable as this is highly subjective.

Sentence Re-Ordering

In this item for TESOL assessment, a student is given a sentence that is out of order and they have to arrange the words so that an understandable sentence is developed. This one way to assess knowledge of syntax. The challenge is that for complex sentences more than one answer may be possible

It is important to remember that all indirect items can be integrative or discrete-point. Unlike integrative, discrete point only measures one narrow aspect of knowledge at a time.


A combination of direct and indirect test items would probably best ensure that a teacher is assessing students so that they have success. What mixture of the two to use always depends on the context and needs of the students.

Evan-Moor parent resources

Working with Quiet ESL Students

In many classes, there are always one or more students who are quiet and do not want to speak in class. This is often even more common in an ESL class, which adds the additional challenge for students speaking in a different language. Despite these challenges, there are several ways that a teacher can deal with this. Among them includes the following…

  • Preparation time
  • Repetition
  • Adjust group size
  • Understanding the role of the teacher

Preparation Time

Speaking spontaneously is difficult for many ESL students. Part of the challenge is not having time think about what they want to say and determining how to say it in English. Sometimes quiet students will share if they have time to think in advanced.  This can happen through the teacher prompting the students and giving them time to formulate an answer.

A teacher can ask the students any question, such as, “What is the best mall in town?”. Give the students a few minute to think and then call on students. Perhaps not all will share but the preparation time greatly reduces stress.


Repeating the same speaking experience often helps students to improve. This depends greatly on whether they receive feedback each time. Students also need to reflect upon how they did themselves. The combination of feedback and reflection often leads to improvement.

For example, if we ask the students about the “best mall in town” students share their answer and are given feedback from peers as well as a chance to think about their performance. The next day the teacher could ask this question again allowing the students to demonstrate how they have improved.

Adjust Group Size

Often, students do not share because of shyness. Speaking in front of the whole class is scary even for some adults. To deal with this, the teacher needs to try different groups sizes. Some students will never speak in a group but will speak if they are paired with someone. The reason being it is really hard to hide when a quiet student is a partner.

Understanding the Role of the Teacher

The teacher, in addition to applying strategies such as the ones above, also can provide support to quiet students. For example, the teacher can encourage the students to speak by providing suggestions for what the students may want to say.

Another approach would be to have the teacher participate in the discussion. Through this, the teacher can guide the discussion. The downside to this is that it is easy for the teacher to take over and dominate the discussion.


Quiet students in ESL classrooms have many reasons for choosing not to share. Whatever the case, there are ways and strategies to deal with this. It is up to the teacher to find ways that are appropriate for their students.

Extensive and Intensive Reading

Most teachers are trying to get their students to read more. The question to ask is what kind of reading are teachers trying to get students to do. In general, there are two common ways in which students read and they are extensive reading and intensive reading.

Extensive Reading

Extensive reading is having students read broadly for the sake of reading in a pleasurable way. Doing so improves students word recognition and builds overall reading ability. For many students, including adult ESL, you cannot just turn them loose and say read. Rather, it is important to develop some sort of guidelines for extensive reading.

  • The books students choose to read extensively should be at their reading level so that comprehension is the primary goal.
  • The teacher needs to provide motivation. This can be done through the use of assignments, group work, or other activities related to the books the students are reading.
  • There must be some mechanism in which students are required to report their opinion about a book they have read.

Extensive reading is often done outside of class or as a small part of the school day. If it happens outside of class it requires the students to have some discipline to complete an assignment on their own. If it happens in class it is often used as a cool-down after an exciting activity.

Intensive Reading

Intensive reading is serious focused reading for the purpose of achieving a study goal. A common example is reading a chapter to answer questions. This requires a slightly different scaffolding in order to have success. Below are some principles to keep in mind when having students read intensively.

  • Students must know why they are reading and for how long. This helps with goal-setting and self-regulation.
  • There must be some sort of way for students to provide feedback about what they learned. It can something as simple as a discussion, or as complex as developing a presentation.
  • When a discussion takes place, students must refer to the text while discussing to demonstrate their familiarity with it.

Intensive reading is often done in class. One challenge with intensive reading is vocabulary. Students often see too many words that they do not know the answer too. The constant use of dictionaries uses up all the time set aside for reading. As such, teachers need to monitor dictionary use so that they do not impede the goal of reading the text.


Reading is a skill that most would agree that students need to develop. Extensive and intensive reading provide different ways in which students can develop reading skills. Reading for pleasure or purpose is some of the primary ways in which adults read. As such, extensive and intensive reading are excellent strategies for supporting students in the development of their reading abilities.

ESL Students and Challenges with Pronunciation

Pronunciation is often a forgotten skill in the ESL classroom. As English has become more and more internationalized many have stepped away from pronunciation with an attitude of taking whatever the student says and trying to decipher it. There are many aspects of pronunciation that an ESL teacher needs to consider. Among them includes

  • The benefits of improving pronunciation
  • The challenges of pronunciation
  • Ways to teach pronunciation

The Benefits

Helping students to improve their pronunciation helps students to overcome intelligibility issues. All ESL students have different speaking issues depending on where they are from. Despite, the difference in geographical origin, what all students have in common is that if their pronunciation improves the ability for people to understand them improves as well.

Another benefit is that practice with pronunciation helps the student to better understand spoken English. As the student learns the nuances of saying words clearly it also helps them to notices the nuances when they are listening.

The Challenges

One major problem that is faced when teaching pronunciation is the students’ inability to hear the sound that the teachers want them to reproduce. For example, Thai ESL learners always make a ‘w’ sound in place of ‘v’. Demonstration is one way to deal with this problem until mastery is achieved.

A second more obvious problem is the sound that students make. During early infancy, we lose the ability to reproduce any sound as we focus on our mother language. As such, non-native tongues are difficult to say correctly and require extensive practice.

Teaching Pronunciation

There are several ways to teach pronunciation. The examples below flow form most intensive to less intensive in terms of their focus in the classroom. The ways to teach include

  1. Whole lesson
  2. Discrete slots
  3. Integrated phases
  4. Opportunistic teaching

Whole Lesson

Whole lesson is just what it says. It is an entire lesson devoted to pronunciation. A teacher may have students use various sounds, focus on intonation, or practice key phrases. Intonation is a personal matter and it is hard to focus on all the students in such a format. In addition, it can sometimes be challenging to keep the lesson engaging since it is hard to provide feedback with everyone speaking at once.

Discrete Slots

This approach involves sneaking in little pronunciation lessons during the class. A teacher might focus on vowel sounds for ten minutes at a time or some other lesson. The point is to teach pronunciation in snippets and not all at once.

Integrated Phases

Integrated phases is blending pronunciation into a larger lesson. For example, if students are focusing on a listening assignment, the teacher may have them pay attention to the pronunciation of the speaker. Or during a reading aloud activity, students may be asked to assess their pronunciation while reading. The goal is to perform the main task with the additional feature of thinking about pronunciation.

Opportunistic Teaching

This form of pronunciation teaching happens in an extemporaneous. In other words, during the course of teaching, it becomes apparent that the students need help with pronunciation and the teacher provides assistance.


Teaching pronunciation should still be a part of a teacher’s approach. The benefits of learning pronunciation are often achieved through various styles of teaching. As such, teachers need to develop strategies to support students acquisition of the subjective nature of pronunciation

Webster & McGuffey: Molders of Culture in Curriculum

Noah Webster and William McGuffey played a critical role in shaping and defining America culture through their work in education. This post will take a look at the contribution of each of these important men in American education.

Noah Webster

After the Revolutionary War, America was free but lacking in a distinct identity. There was no literary tradition to think of and being a diverse group of immigrants further 1complicated the problem. As such, the question of language was one of many the new country had to deal with.

Noah Webster was one of the first to push for a distinct American language. He believed that the country should have both an independent government and an independent language. Having a separate American language would help to declare cultural independence in a way that the war provided political independence.

In order to develop American English, Webster wrote several books on reading and spelling. He also wrote dictionaries and almost everyone in the United States has heard of “Webster’s Dictionary.” The development of these books led to uniform speech throughout much of the young nation.

The impact of Webster’s work is immense. His books were the curriculum of many schools and colleges. He developed many of the orthographical rules of American English. Lastly, his support of American English contributed to the development of an American identity. Webster rightly earned his nickname the “schoolmaster of the Republic.”

William McGuffey

McGuffey’s contribution was similar to Webster’s in that he was seeking to differentiate America from Europe. However, McGuffey was more willing to acknowledge the European roots of America. He made it clear that the contribution of America to the 1world was not cultural but political. The United States had shown the world that equality and representation can be used to maintain a government.

In terms of curriculum, McGuffey’s contribution to education is his “McGuffey Readers.” These books taught children to read. The stories in the books included ideas of patriotism, hard work, virtuous living. The ideas of capitalism, nationalism, and religious themes were sewn into the text. The concepts in these books became what is the American mindset.

McGuffey understood the importance of influencing the young. He did this by putting what he thought was important into these textbooks that taught children to read. Without McGuffey, the American way would look much different.


Webster and McGuffey were men with a vision to form a distinct American identity. They both want to break away from the limits of the European mindset. Webster focused on the mechanics of language while McGuffey focused on the transmission of distinct American ideas into the impressionable minds of children learning to read. Through their work, we have a language that is different from British and a mindset that is often unrecognizable.

Listening Part II: Why We Struggle to Listen

Listening serves the purpose of not only hearing what someone says but comprehending it as well. However, according to Lucas (2015) there are also several factors that contribute to a person listening poorly. The reasons for poor listening include the following…

  • Poor concentration
  • Concentrating too much
  • Making conclusion in advanced

Poor Concentration

Listening is not always an exciting experience. For this reason, people minds may wander while someone is talking. People normally do not totally stop listening. Instead, they listen, stop listening, and listen again. This indicates that they get bits and pieces of the content, which can actually make things even more confusing.

People can also be distracted for other reasons. For example, people can be distracted by the appearance of the speaker or by the way they talk. We all have stories of times we could not remember what a person said because of what they were wearing or how they said it.

One way to deal with poor concentration is to resist distractions. This can happen through keeping track of what the speaker says. Another tactic is to focus on the message and not the messenger. This means listening rather than looking at how they are dressed. Focusing also works. As a listener. A person can listen for main ideas and evidence for these ideas.

Over Concentrating

The opposite problem of lack of concentration is over concentrating. Sometimes, people try to remember everything that someone said. This is mostly impossible.

When listening, it is usually critical that a person focuses on the main ideas of the speaker and not the details. Focusing on the main ideas provides a convenient summary of what the person said.

Dealing with over concentrating can also be alleviated by learning to take notes. This allows a listener to have an on-hand summary of what was said without be boughed down by details.

Making Conclusion in Advanced

Sometimes, people form opinions and conclusions about a matter before hearing all the information. For example, a boss wants to talk to you. For many, they assume this is bad news. The problem with this is that they do not know what the boss will say. They are making a conclusion before receiving all of the information.

It is important to wait until as much information is received as possible before making conclusions. Failure to do so can lead mistakes in decision-making. Judgment must be suspended until it is appropriate to make a conclusion.


Listening is a major aspect of all fields and occupations. As such, people need to be aware of their need to listening actively, avoid distractions, wait to form conclusions, and develop ways to summarize information. Doing so will help all to appreciate and understand what any speaker is trying to communicate to them.

Listening: Part I

Listening is something that everyone spends a lot of time doing. Listening is actually the act of closely paying attention to and comprehending what one hears. The act of listening is different from hearing. Hearing is just the sounds that the ear picks up in everyday life while listening is paying attention to those sounds, such as speech, and making sense of them.

In this post, we will look different types of listening.

Types of Listening

According to Lucas (2015), there are at least four types of listening and they include

  • Empathic
  • Appreciative
  • Comprehensive
  • Critical

Empathic Listening

Empathic listening is listening to provide emotional support for the speaker. An example would be a mother listening to an upset child or a teacher listening to a student who is having a difficult time. The purpose of this type of listening is to provide attention for the purpose of soothing the individual.

Appreciative Listening

Appreciative listening is the type of listening we do for enjoyment. Examples of this are when a person listens to music or perhaps a talk show. The motivation is the pleasure.

Comprehensive Listening

Comprehensive listening has as its goal the desire to understand what the speaker is saying. For example, a student listening to a lecture or child listening to directions from a parent. This is not for entertainment as appreciative listening is nor is it for showing emotional support as empathic listening is.

Critical Listening

Critical listening serves the purpose of listening in order to decide whether to accept or reject the speaker’s message. For example, a child trying to explain how a plate was broken will face a parent who is listening critically. A student who is providing a reason for a late assignment will face a teacher who is listening critically.

Critical listening and critical thinking are closely related. Critical thinking is the process of assessing the soundness of evidence while analyzing the organization of the thought. As such, listening critically helps a person to think critically and vice versa.


Listening is a keep component of education. However, many people listening without knowing how or why they are listening. Understanding the different types of learning can help people to know and understand why they are listening. It is critical that people understand that different forms or listening are appropriate for different times. This will serve the purpose of not only helping the listener but also helping the speaker to be understood and appreciated.

Speech Communication Process

Communicating is at times an intimidating experience for people. This is especially true if they are asked to speak in public. Public Speaking or communicating, in general, is comprised of several elements. These elements include

  • Speaker
  • Message
  • Channel
  • Listener
  • Feedback
  • Interference
  • Situation

Speaker & Message

The speaker is the one who is attempting to share a message. A successful speaker needs to be convincing as well as possess authoritative knowledge of their topic. In addition, a speaker should have some enthusiasm for what they are sharing. We have been in the presence of a boring expert. A person who had knowledge but lack the energy to deliver the content in a way that was engaging.

The speaker also possesses the message or what they are sharing. The success of the message depends on the organizational skills of the speaker. The main points need to be clear and understandable. Ideas and supporting details need to be crafted in a way for maximum impact. Often, a message will make a lot of sense to the speaker but not to anyone else.

Channel & Listener

The channel is the medium through which the message comes. Examples of channels include radio, phone, internet, tv, and verbal. As such, public speaking is more than just in person but through other channels as well.

The listener is the person who is receiving the message through a channel. To communicate effectively, a speaker must be able to empathize, or see the world from the viewpoint of the audience. Everyone has a different perspective and the channel of being able to relate to the audience is a major burden for a speaker.

Feedback & Interference

Feedback is the messages the listener sends to the speaker. This most often happens in face-to-face settings and involves body language. Members in the audience might lean forward showing interesting or fold their arms to show they disagree. The speaker needs to monitor this and make necessary adjustments in their presentation in order to fully engage or convince the audience depending on their goal.

Interference is anything that slows down the effectiveness of communication when speaking. For example, there might be construction happening outside that makes it hard to hear. Or, someone is feeling sick while you are presenting. The first example is external interference which means comes from outside the audience while the second is an example of internal interference as it is coming from within the audience.


The situation is the context in which the communication takes place. How we speak at a party is different from a funeral and vice versa. A speaker must keep in mind the situation when preparing. The appropriateness of jokes and criticism depends on the situation that one is required to share.


Communication is much more complicated than many people thought. The seven components mentioned here are among the most common and agreed upon by scholars. When speaking people need to aware of the impact of the message as well as the way it is communicated in various context.

Paralinguistic Language Features

Paralinguistics has to do with the aspects of language that do not relate to the formal systems of language such as phonology, syntax, grammar etc. The features of paralinguistics fall into two categories. The categories are

  • Vocal paralinguistic features
  • Body paralinguistic features

Vocal Paralinguistic Features

Vocal paralinguistic features relate to how we say something. We can speak loudly are soft which are characteristics of volume. Our voices can be breathy, which is an approach some singers may use. The tone of our voice can be changed as well. A high tone can indicate nervousness or a question and even anger in some people. A low tone indicates doubt or authority in some people. All of these features convey intention and are influenced by circumstance

Body Paralinguistic Features

Paralinguistic Features of the body is how we communicate meaning through the use of our bodies. Facial expressions is one example. When we frown, smile, raise our eyebrows, etc. these all share different forms of information. Clenching the teeth and biting one’s lips also sends a message. The cultural context also colors what these behaviors mean as well.

Gestures are another form of bodily communications. Crossing out arms sends a message. Shrugging our shoulders in the US context indicates that the person does not know or does not care. Scratching our heads indicates confusion or lack of understanding.

Proximity is how close two people are when communicating. Normally, the closer two people are the more intimate. The further a part two people are indicates a formal setting and hierarchy. Many people keep a certain distance from their boss when communicating.

Posture is another feature. Slouching indicates laziness. When a person holds their head down it is often a sign of inferiority. If a person stands with hunch shoulder it sends a message as well.

An interesting thing about paralinguistic features is that people often echo each other. In other words, if someone speaks with a high pitch the person they are talking to may respond the same way. If someone folds their arms across their chest while speaking the person listening may do so as well. Normally, echoing is a sign that the other person is listening intently or it could be to mock the other person.


Paralinguistics is an aspect of communication that conveys information distinctly from other forms of language. The way the voice is used as well as the way people use their bodies while communicating sends powerful, yet subtle messages to people.

Methods of Teaching English: Part 4

The last few post have been looking at various methods of teaching English. In this post, we will look at the following

  • Communicative Language Teaching
  • Task-based learning
  • Lexical method

Communicative Language Teaching

The premise behind communicative language teaching (CLT) is that people need to learn the spoken functions of language as well as they learn the grammar. Therefore, students in this method focused on communicating as much as possible and learn the grammar of the language along the way. By doing this, students understand the language would happen naturally.

With CLT the focus is always on realistic communication. Role play and simulation are common techniques of the CLT method. For the most part, whatever replicates real communication falls under the CLT method. This has led to confusion in defining CLT as it is a vague method in terms of what it is.

There is some criticism of CLT. For example, it favors native-speakers who can teach in an improvised language environment. CLT is also difficult to use in a context that is traditionally teacher-centered. Another concern is that students develop fluency in the language at the expense of accuracy in their understanding of the grammar.

Task-based Learning

In Task-based learning (TBL) students learn the language by performing various task. TBL has three steps.

  1. Pre-task–Introduction of the topic and task
  2. Task cycle–Students complete the task
  3. Language focus–Students analysis what they did and learn the language lesson

For example, the teacher explains the activity of the day and goes over necessary new vocabulary (pre-task). Next, students are given a bus schedule and they are asked to tell what time such and such bus arrives (task cycle). Lastly, the students complete the task and then the teacher explains whatever language was being used (language focus). This is a highly inductive form of learning. The belief is that if they complete the task then they will develop competency in the language.

Criticism of TBL is that the term is vague and involves common learning task. Another problem is that there is more to language than just completing a task. Some even believe that focusing on a task while also learning the concepts of a language could overload a learner’s cognitive capacity.

Lexical Method

The lexical method is based on the belief that language is not about grammar but multi-word pre-made chunks. Examples include Come on…?, I’ll try, You must be kidding?, may as well. If students learn these “chunks” they can make a whole string of sentences. Students learn how to use these phrases and thus learn the language.

The Lexical method has detractors like all other methods discussed. For one, no one has been able to prove how learning these short phrases actually helps in learning the language. It is like learning the phrases in a phrase book. You know the phrases without knowing the language.

Another concern is the lack of procedures for the Lexical method. A method without procedures is not much of a method. For many, this is a method without support.


These methods here are among some of the most common teaching methods in language learning. Teachers and students need to see what is best among the myriad of choices when deciding on how learning will take place in their classroom.

Methods of Teaching English: Part 3

This post will continue our look at different methods to teaching English. This post is unique in that we will examine methods that are considered by many to be somewhat outside the main line of English teaching methods. The methods of this post are…

  • Community Language Learning
  • Suggestopedia
  • Total Physical Response
  • Silent Way

Community Language Learning

Community Language Learning method involves a circle of students who are attempting to speak. There is a person called the “knower”, also known as the teacher, who stands outside the circle and helps the students to articulate what they want to say. The knower helps the students by translating, suggesting, or modifying what the students are trying to say. Through this process, the students develop a basic idea of the grammar of the target language.

There is a significant lack of direction in the use of the Community Learning method. This concern has been one of the strongest complaints. In addition. students are constantly being corrected in groups, which is not appropriate in many different context.


Suggestopedia is perhaps one of the most unusual methods of teaching English. This method focuses on developing a relaxing environment in which the students emotions are made calm. The student-teacher relationship is one of a child-parent, which is disconcerting to many. During the lesson, the teacher reads a dialog with Baroque music in the background, which helps to provide a nice ambiance for the learning. The three phases of Suggestopedia are

  1. Pre-sessions-Students are informed of the topic and materials of the lesson
  2. Session-Students experience the lesson
  3. Post-session-Various elaborations of the topic are used to encourage assimilation of the text such as role playing or monologues.

It is not hard to prove that this is a unique teaching method. The teacher has an extraordinary amount of psychological influence over the students that few would consider healthy.

Total Physical Response

Total Physical Response (TPR) is a method in which the teacher tells the students in the target language to do various tasks. Examples include “run in place” or “jump up and down.” By doing the commands the students learn the language. As the students become comfortable they begin to give commands themselves.

TPR is an excellent approach for learning the basics of the conversational aspects of a language. However, deeper levels of communication and academic levels of speaking are not possible through this method alone. Initially, TPR can also be highly teacher-centered, which limits students learning at times.

The Silent Way

In the silent way, the teacher rarely speaks. Instead, they point to a phonemic chart and model the sounds. The students attempt to imitate the sound that they hear and the teacher uses gesture to indicate the accuracy of the students’ imitation. This places the burden on the students to figure out the language. When students are correct, the teacher moves to a different phoneme or word.

Lack of communication makes this approach frustrating for someone. Beyond pronunciation, this method is not widely used.


Different methods work for different people. Although these methods in this post are considered somewhat as being on the fringe of English teaching they are still useful in a variety of context. As such, it is the responsibility of the teacher to determine which methods are best for their students.

Methods of Teaching English: Part 2

In this post, we will continue our discussion on various methods of teaching English. In particular, we will look at the Presentation, Practice, and Production method (PPP) along with variations of this approach.

The PPP method is actually derived from the Audiolingualism method. The difference between PPP and audiolingualism is that PPP places language in obvious situational contexts. The teacher uses a scenario that provides contextualization of the language acquisition. Students practice the language within the context. For example, if the context is movies the students or the teacher would develop phrases related to the topic of movies.

The PPP method is divided into the following procedure

  • Presentation
  • Practice
  • Production


Presentation is the teacher sharing the context of the discussion. For example, the teacher may show a picture of people in the library. The teacher may then point to various people in the picture and ask the students what the people in the picture are doing.

As the students respond the teacher listens for the grammar that she wants to isolate for practicing. If the goal is to develop students understanding of contractions this is what the teacher will listen for as the students provide answers to her question. Another way to do this is by the teacher modeling the answer she wants. By allowing the students to generate the material it can help in improving relevancy for the students. This experience leads to the next step in the PPP procedures.


At this stage, the students employ what they learned several times in relation to the context. Returning to our library example, the teacher has the students develop several sentences that describe what is happening in the library while using contractions. This process is also called cue-response.


At this stage, the students are no longer answering the teacher but are developing their own sentences related to the picture. The context can even be extended beyond where the learned the new skill. For example, after learning about contractions in relation to the picture of the library, students might use contraction to describe school, family, friends, etc.


There are several variations of the PPP method. Most are in response to criticism of PPP. Some claim that this approach is teacher-centered or that the processes are too linear.

One alternative is the Deep-End Strategy which allows a teacher to begin the lesson at any point in the PPP method. Teachers are not bound to start at presentation but can begin anywhere in the procedure. This allows flexibility and removes the linear criticism of the PPP method.

Another variation is the Engage, Study, Activate method. Engage means that the students are emotionally ready to learn. Study is the focus of the student on a form or component of a language such as past tense, passive voice, etc. Activate is the students use of the language in a meaning making activity.


The PPP method is one of many tools that teachers can employ in the teaching of language. It involves the use of context in order to enhance the relevancy for the student. Though this process has its critics, the PPP method is a practical and simple way to teach language.

Methods of Teaching English: Part I

In this post, we will begin a discussion on various methods of teaching language, primarily English. In this post, in particular, we will look at the Grammar-Translation Method, the Direct Method, and Audiolingualism.

Grammar-Translation Method

One of the oldest methods for teaching people a new language is the Grammar-Translation method. It is derived from the belief that students can acquire a language through rigorous training in translating the language and learning the grammatical rules of it.

This belief or approach to language acquisition led to a practical set of techniques. Among some of the common techniques of the Grammar-Translation method include.

  1. Reading text in the new language.
  2. Translating the text into the students’ language
  3. Learning grammatical rules of the new language
  4. Memorizing vocabulary

This is an excellent method for learning to read in another language. You simply learn the vocabulary, grammatical rules, and you are ready to go. For those who study ancient languages such as Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in biblical studies, this is the approach used for acquiring knowledge of the language.

One of the biggest concerns with this method was the indifference to speaking. Students who learn with the Grammar-Translation method often do not acquire verbal communication skills. This leaves them with a theoretical knowledge of the language with an understanding of practical use.

Direct Method

The Direct method is a reaction to the Grammar-Translation method. The Direct method de-emphasized translation and focused instead on the teachers and students speaking together. Grammatical rules were related to real-life objects and the target language was the only language used in the classroom. Below is a list of common techniques associated with the Direct method.

  • Reading aloud
  • Self-correction
  • Dictation
  • Question and answers

This method allowed for the development of verbal skills while still allowing for understanding grammatical rules. The Direct method is also practical as it relates well to language use in the real world. However, there are problems with this method. The Direct method emphasizes pronunciation, which requires a native speaker. Another concern was that mostly strong teachers can use this method in the classroom. Lastly, the avoidance of the native language makes it difficult to communicate at times.

The Direct method, over time, has morphed into what is now called Audiolingualism. This method is derived from the approaches related to behaviorism. This method relied heavily on operant conditioning and stimulus-response-reinforcement. The same techniques mentioned above were employed with the added caveat of positive reinforcement. Drills were used to help students to practice the language.


There are many more methods used in language teaching beyond the ones mentioned in this post. All methods are used primarily to help students to acquire mastery of a new language. The method employed depends on the needs of the students as well as the abilities and talents of the teacher.

Approach, Method, Procedure, and Techniques In Language Learning

In language teaching,  in the general area of teaching methodology, people talk about approaches, methods, procedures, and techniques. This post will help to clarify the meaning of these interrelated terms and provide examples of each.


An approach is a theory about language learning or even a philosophy of how people learn in general. They can be psychologically focused such as behaviorism or cognitivism. They can also be based on older philosophies such as idealism or realism.

Approaches are fuzzy and hard to define because they are broad in nature. An example of an approach that leads to a method would be the philosophies of scholasticism, faculty of psychology, or even perennialism. Each of these philosophies encouraged the development of the mind in the way of a muscle. Train the brain and a person would be able to do many different things. These philosophies have impacted some methods of language teaching as we will see below.


A method is an application of an approach in the context of language teaching. An example of a method is the grammar-translation method. This method employs the memorization of various grammar rules and the translation of second language material to the student’s native language. Students were able to develop the intellectual capacity to understand the new language through a deductive process of acquiring the rules of the language.The purpose is not to critique this method but to show how it was derived from the approach that the mind needs to be trained through intellectual exercises to be able to accomplish something.


Procedures are the step-by-step measures to execute a method. These step-by-step measures are called techniques and will be discussed next. Common procedures for the grammar-translation method includes the following…

The ESL / ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide

  1. The class reads a text written in the second language.
  2. Student translates the passage from the second language to their mother tongue.
  3. Student translates new words from the second language to their mother tongue.
  4. Student is given a grammar rule and derived from the example they apply the rule by using the new words.
  5. Student memorizes the vocabulary of the second language.
  6. Student memorizes grammar rules.
  7. Errors made by the student are corrected by providing the right answers.

This is the process (with variation) that is used when employing the grammar-translation method.


A technique is a single activity that comes from a procedure. Anyone of the steps of the procedure list above qualifies as a technique. Naturally, various methods employ various techniques.


Language teaching involves approaches that lead to methods, methods that are broken down into procedures, and procedures that are a collection of techniques. Understanding how these concepts interrelate can help a teacher know the reasons behind their choices in how they choose to teach.

Prepare Her! Equip Her! Because She Is The Future! Get Free Shipping On Stock Orders Over $99

Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL)

One of the more recent changes in English language teaching has been the use of cellphones and tablets in language learning. Through the use of the phones, students are learning fundamental components of conversational English. The use of mobile devices in the context of learning has been given the acronym of MALL which stands for Mobile Assisted Language Learning.

There are many distinct advantages and disadvantages to MALL and this post will explore them


One of the most obvious advantages of MALL approaches is the mobility. Students can study anytime and anywhere since they normally keep their cellphones with them. This leads to a second advantage of informal learning. Informal learning is unstructured learning while formal learning materials developed and by the teacher. Not always but often MALL approaches involve the use of materials that are not prepared by the teacher and thus are informal.

Another advantage is that cellphones and the apps that they use are often cheaper than computers. This means that the use of MALL approaches can be useful for saving on the investment of a regular size computer. The use of apps specifically can allow for student choice in that the students could decide for themselves which apps to use to develop their language skills. This is critically important since choice is a critical part of self-directed learning. This opportunity in directing their own learning helps students with decision-making as well as critical thinking skills.

Despite the autonomous nature of many MALL approaches, MALL can also encourage collaborative learning. This is often done by using Web 2.0 technologies such as twitter, facebook, and Youtube. Through social media, students can develop language skills together. This form of learning also leads to authentic assessments, which provides clear evidence of what the students are capable of doing. One example would be the use of infield mobile learning in which learning activities are conducted outside of the classroom during a trip such as to the museum. Students complete the assessment en vivo, in the field rather than in the classroom.

Disadvantages of MALL

There are also some problems with MALL. For example, if texting is employed in the learning it can become expensive for students and teachers. Tracking performance is another issue. In a world of evidence-based learning, it is difficult to monitor how several dozen students are doing on their phones to learn English. In addition, any new approach to learning requires the training of the students to utilize new tools.

Another major concern is that the current crop of MALL approaches and the apps that go with them are focused primarily on lower-level thinking. Apps consist of dictionaries, translators, and flashcards. Such approaches are useful for memorizing but not as beneficial for higher level thinking such as summarizing, compare/contrast, and or evaluating. As such, MALL is most beneficial for beginners but not as valuable for advanced language learners who are trying to communicate for academic purposes. This poses a problem for such settings as universities where the English requirements are beyond the conversational level.

Stockwell and Hubbard (2013) found both physical and pedagogical issues with MALL. In terms of physical issues, they specifically mention the screen size, battery life, and the processor speed of phones as problems. For pedagogical issues, they list that the task must be appropriate for the mobile phone. This may be the reason that flashcards and quizzes are so popular for mobile phones as they are highly useful in allowing students to work whenever it is convenient for them.

Another pedagogical concern was transferring classroom task to an m-learning environment. This transition is not always smooth as classroom behaviors are not easy to mimic in the real world. However, transfer knowledge from one context to another is a problem for traditional teaching and learning. Lastly, student motivation is a challenge for the MALL environment. Choice was mentioned as a positive in learning but choice is not significant if the student is not motivated. Since performance tracking is difficult, it makes it easy for students to avoid doing MALL related task if there is no follow-up by the teacher.

In light of these limitations to MALL, Stockwell and Hubbard (2013) developed several concepts to keep in mind when conducting M or mobile learning. One, teachers need to be observant of the limitations of MALL. This includes the disadvantages already discussed. Two, teachers should limit texting. One obvious reason for this is the cost involved. Three, MALL tasks should be kept short in order to assure student completion. Lastly, students who need support should be trained in using their smartphone and or the app that is required to complete the assignment. This point was shared earlier but even though we live in a digital age, there are still many who lack the tech savvy to complete MALL task.

Common Theories of Linguistics

One aspect of linguistic theories focuses on how children acquire language. In general, the theories of language acquisition are divided into nature vs nurture perspectives. Some propose that language acquisition is natural while others believe that the context that a child is in influences heavily their acquisition of a language.

In this post, we will look at one theory that supports the argument for nature and one theory that supports the argument for nurture in relation to language acquisitions. The nature argument is supported by the generative approach while the nurture argument is supported by the constructionist approach.

Generative Approach

The generative approach states that children are able to acquire language because they are born with the principles related to the structures of human language. In other words, children are born with the ability to obtain and use language. According to people who support this view, there is a place in the brain called the language acquisition device (LAD) and children use the rules within the LAD to develop language.

One major criticism of the generative approach is that the original theories related to this concept were based on results from adults and not children. Another problem was that there is little evidence of one set of language rules that can be applied to all languages.

Constructionist Approach

The constructionist approach states that children learn the linguistic rules of a language through the environmental input they experience. To put it simply, children are not born with innate rules of language as the generative approach states, rather, they learn these rules through interacting with their world.

As children are exposed to language, they find the patterns in the communication they experience. For example, parents speak to their children. From this experience, the children learn how to communicate.  The children use what they hear until it becomes natural for them. There are now innate abstracts, instead, the child acquires the rules through trial and error.

The focus of the constructionist approach is on the use of language. There is no desire to develop universal grammatical rules but to examine how the context impacts how language is acquired.


The purpose is not to claim that one theory is superior to the other. In reality, both theories are trying to explain the phenomena of language acquisition from different perspectives. Generative are seeing language acquisition from a deductive perspective in that the child starts with the rules and applies them to a specific context. Constructionist are seeing language acquisition from an inductive viewpoint as they believe the child starts with specific examples to acquire rules that are appropriate in the local language context. As such, there is room in the discussion of language acquisition for both arguments and many more.

Components of Language Part II

In the last post, we began a discussion on the components of language. In this post, we will conclude this discussion by looking at two more components of language, which are…

  • Semantics
  • Pragmatics


Semantics is the rules that determine the meaning of words. Synonyms and antonyms are also a part of semantics. Synonyms are different words that have the same meaning. Examples include “small” and “tiny” or “big” and “large.” Antonyms are two words that have opposite meanings. Examples include “big” and “little” and “small” and “large.”

Understanding semantics can allow a language user to employ a rich vocabulary that is full of alternative words and meanings. However, it is the sentence and not the individual word that most significantly shapes the meaning of communication. This is due to the fact that the entire sentence or paragraph provides context, which is something we will look at later.

There are two ways to define the meaning of a word. One is denotative and the second is connotative. The denotative meaning is the dictionary definition. The connotative is the context-specific definition. For example, a dog is a four-legged animal that barks. This is the denotative definition. The connotative definition would depend on the setting. One person may think that a dog is a giant barking monster. Another might see a dog as a cute little friend. They both know a dog is a four-legged barking animal but the further define a dog by the addition of further explanation.


Pragmatics is the study of language in the context of its use. This component of language describes the rules of communication, types of communication, and the intentions of communication. Culture is a powerful influence on the pragmatics of a language.

There are several common characteristics that influence the pragmatics and how people speak to each other. These characteristics are gender, age, race, dialect, style, social status, and role. In English, it is common to change how we communicate based on these characteristics. How we speak to our boss is different than to our children. How to speak to colleagues is different than to strangers. These differences in communication are due to pragmatics.


The components of language attempt to succinctly explain how communication takes place. Understanding these concepts will help those who are learning a language or teaching people to learn a different language where problems may be. For example. if a student uses an inappropriate phrase this may be due to a misunderstanding of pragmatics. If a student mispronounces a word this is due to issues with phonology. Language components can be valuable in identifying language learning challenges.

Components of Language

There are three major components of language. These components are form, content, and use. Form involves three sub-components of syntax, morphology, and phonology. Content is also known as semantics and use is also known as pragmatics. In this post, we will look at the sub-components of form which are…

  • Syntax
  • Morphology
  • Phonology


Syntax is the rules for the structure of a sentence. Syntax deals with such details such as sentence organization, the order of clauses, relationships between words, elements of a sentence, etc. Syntax also determines which word combinations are acceptable. For example, if I say “He went to town.” it is acceptable, however, if I say, “town to went he” it does not work because of the syntax of English.

There are certain common rules of syntax. A sentence must contain a noun phrase and a verb phrase. Using our previous example “He went to town” contains a noun phrase “He” and a verb phrase “went to town.” Another example would be the “The big dog ran to the house.” The noun phrase for this example is “The big dog” and the verb phrase is “ran to the house.”


Morphology is focused on the organization of words. Morphemes are the smallest grammatical units possible. Examples of morphemes would be any letter or vowel of the English alphabet.

There are two types of morphemes free and bound. Free morphemes can stand only. Examples include many words such as boy, small, and sad. These morphemes do not need any help to make sense. Bound morphemes must be connected to a larger word to make sense. Examples include prefixes and suffixes such as un-, non-, -ly, -s.


Phonology looks at the sound of speech and the shaping of syllables. The sound for /p/ is different depending on its placement in a word and the vowels near it. For example, /p/ can vary in sound in such words as pea, poor, and soup. Each word contains /p/ but the sound is slightly different.

Sequencing also changes the of words the -ed sound is different in “jogged” than it is in “walked” the first has a /d/ sound while the second has a /t/ sound.


There is much more to be said about language form. The understanding of syntax, morphology, and phonology helps in better understanding language acquisition. Therefore, ESL teachers need an exposure to the basics of this in order to be able to provide better support for their students.

Properties of Language

Language naturally plays a critical role in communication. Conveying ideas, sharing opinions, and even arguing are not often possible unless people are able to communicate using language. There are many properties and characteristics of language among them include the following.

  1. Social property
  2. Rules property
  3. Creative property

Social Property

Language serves the purpose of serving as a transmission code between people. This code is influenced by the context and culture that it is found in. In many cultures, how you speak to someone depends on their social rank. Teachers are addressed differently than students in many contexts. A teacher is called “sir” while a student might be called “girl” or “boy.”

Language is also influenced by the what happens before and after it. Saying “that’s a good boy” is appropriate when speaking to a dog by probably is not acceptable when speaking to your boss. It is the immediate context that impacts the appropriateness of a phrase or word.

Rules Property

There are rules for the process of using language.  A person’s knowledge of these rules is his linguistic competence. For example, if someone is excited the often sound “strange.” He or she may leave out words or stammer while speaking. Your ability to identify these mistakes is your linguistic competence.

Linguistic performance is the ability to use a language accurately. It is from the performance that we are able to derive a person’s linguistic competence. When the rules of language are broken a competent language user can edit the mistakes to derive the meaning of the world.

Creativity Property

There is an infinite number of ways in which a language can be used. The word order, phrase, and other aspect have endless possibilities. This has led to the conclusion that language use can be extremely creative.

Consider poetry, music, novels, and even movies, all of these examples demonstrate highly creative ways of using language. By knowing the rules of a language, a person can use it in a countless number of ways.


Language is at the heart of education. Understanding the properties of language can help people in understand language itself. The properties listed here are just the surface of the myriad of characteristics of language.

Speech, Language, and Communication

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

Writing Patterns I

An author’s writing pattern is how they organize the information they are sharing with the reader. There are many different patterns but we will only talk about three today. The writing patterns are list, sequence, and definition.

List Pattern

In the list pattern, the author shares a group of items in a way in which the order does not matter. Some clues that the paragraph is a list pattern includes the following, such as the use of such words and phrases as also, too, another, moreover, besides and the use of such signals as a, b,c …,  bullets (•), and asterisks (*). Below is an example paragraph using the list pattern.

There are three things you need to know about dogs

–They are cute

–They are friendly

–They are loyal

These are some of the reasons you should own a dog

Instead of using dashes we could have used bullets or a, b, c, or any other host of ways to indicate a list.

Sequence Pattern

The sequence pattern is the same as the list. The only difference is that the order of items matters. Some of the signal phrases/words are first, second, third…, now, then, next, finally and some other forms include 1, 2, 3, or a, b, c. Below is an example of a paragraph using the sequence pattern.

There are three steps to buying a dog.

–First decide which kind of dog is best for your environment.

–Second, consider how much it will cost to buy the dog.

–Third, find a nearby dealer who can provide the dog.

Here, the order matters in order to buy the dog.

Definition Pattern

In this pattern, the author describes or explains a term. Common signal phrases.words include is defined as,  by this we mean, means  or (preceding a synonym), in other words, is, is known as. In the example below, the author attempts to describe dogs by defining their characteristics.

Dogs are one of the many types of pets people can own.  They are unique in that they are much friendlier than other types of animals.  In addition, they are always loyal and will not often leave a good master.  People need to know that dogs make good pets.


Different writing patterns are useful for sharing information in an appropriate way. The examples here provide some idea for determining how an other is trying to share information with a reader. Knowing the pattern can help in seeing the “big picture” of a reading passage. It helps in understanding what the writer is trying to say to his audience. As such, this is a valuable skill to develop.

Part II of Without a Dictionary: Finding the Meaning of Unknown Words

In the last post, we discuss the first three clues that a person can use to finding the meaning of unknown words. In this post, we conclude our discussion by looking at the last two rules, which are

  • General sense of the sentence
  • Clues from another sentence

General Sense of the Sentence

This clue is really not a clue. In other words, there is nothing in the sentence that provides a hint as to what the unknown word is. Instead, the student uses their prior knowledge and personal life experience to determine the meaning of an unknown word. An example sentence is below. Keep in mind that there is no signal word or phrase for this type of clue. The unknown word is the word clumsy.

The drunken man was staggering, falling all over the place, and looked really clumsy.

Assuming a student does not know what the word clumsy means he can call on his experience to figure the word out at least partially. For example, many students know how intoxicated people act. It is not a secret that drunken people at not very careful and the sentence indicates that the person was falling down. Therefore, the word clumsy means someone who has poor control of their body.

Clues from Another Sentence

At times, the meaning of a word is not in the sentence that you find it. For many students, they stop reading until they figure out what the word means. This is often a mistake because many times the meaning of the unknown word is in the next sentence or beyond. In other words, sometimes a student needs to keep read.

Below is an example. Remember that there are no signal words or phrases for this clue.  The unknown word is the word convoluted.

  • This book is convoluted. I cannot understand it because it is so complicated

Notice how the first sentence had the unknown word but no meaning. It is in the second sentence that the definition of the word can be extracted.


The clues shared here are only to help a student. They are not intended to replace a dictionary. There are times, however, when students cannot use dictionaries such as during a test or when one is not available. It is in the context such as these that these clues for finding the meaning of unknown words can be helpful.

Without a Dictionary: Finding the Meaning of Unknown Words

A common problem for students, from elementary to grad school, is figuring out the meaning of a word they do not know. Understanding the words in a reading passage is important for comprehension. Fortunately, there are several ways of determining the meaning of these unknown words. These approaches are called context clues because the context or environment in which the words are used help to explain their meaning. In this post, we will look at three context clues and they are Definition or synonym clues, Contrast clues, and Example Clues.

Definition or Synonym Clues

The definition clue is the easiest way to determine what the meaning of an unknown word is. In this approach, the author tells the reader the meaning of

the word. Below are some signals that the author uses to define the unknown word. A sentence using the signal is provided for each one and the signal is in bold. The unknown word for each sentence is the word convoluted.

–phrases such as the term, is defined as, means, is known as

  • The word convoluted is defined as something that is complex
  • The word convoluted means something that is complex

–a definition following a comma, colon, or dash, or enclosed in parentheses, brackets or dashes

  • The text is convoluted (complicated) so the students complained about reading it
  • The text is convoluted-really complicated-so the students complained about reading it

–synonyms introduced by or, in other words, that is, is also known as, by this we mean, etc.

  • The book is convoluted or complicated
  • The book is convoluted and by this we mean it is complicated.

Of course there are other ways that author defines words but this serves the purpose of providing a foundation for knowing when this happens.

Contrast Clues

Contrast clues define unknown words by providing a word that has the opposite meaning of the unknown word. Below is a list of signals with examples and the signal is in bold when possible. The unknown word again is convoluted.

–Words such as but, however, on the other hand, nevertheless, yet, in contrast, and some . . .others

  • Women are convoluted but men are simple.
  • Women are convoluted, however, men are simple.

–Opposite words (e.g., men and women; Democrats and Republicans; ancient and modern)

  • Women are convoluted and men are simple

Example Clues

An example clue illustrates a word through providing examples. Below is a list of signals with examples and the signal is in bold when possible. The unknown word again is convoluted.

–Examples are typically introduced by  for example, to illustrate, for instance, and such as

  • There are many examples of convoluted machines in nature such as the human body
  • For example, a convoluted machine would be the human body.

There are several other ways to define unknown words that have not been discussed yet. In the next post, we will look at the last two clues for determining the meaning of unknown words.