Tag Archives: tesol

Discrete-Point and Integrative Language Testing Methods

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

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

Discrete-Point Testing

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

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

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

Integrative Language Testing Methods

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Advertisements

Teaching Vocabulary to ESL Students

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

Learn Vocabulary in Context

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

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

Reduce Reliance on Bilingual Dictionaries

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

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

Set Aside Class Time to Deal with Vocabulary

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

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

Conclusion

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

Writing Techniques for the ESL Classroom

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

Imitation

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

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

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

Controlled and Guided

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

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

Self-Writing

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

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

Display  and Real Writing

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

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

Conclusion

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

Writing as a Process or Product

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

Writing as a Product

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

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

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

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

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

Writing as a Process

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Tips for Developing Techniques for ESL Students

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

Techniques should Encourage Intrinsic Motivation

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

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

Techniques should be Authentic

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

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

Techniques should Develop Skills through Integration and Isolation

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

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

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

Encourage Strategy Development

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

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

Conclusion

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

Listening Techniques for the ESL Classroom

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

Reactionary Listening

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

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

Responsive Listening

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

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

Discriminatory Listening

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

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

Intensive Listening

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

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

Extensive Listening

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

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

Interactive Listening

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Common Challenges with Listening for ESL Students

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

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

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

Slang

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

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

Contractions

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

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

Rate of Delivery 

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

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

Emphasis in Speech

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

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

Clustering

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

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

Repetition

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

Interaction

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

Student and Teacher Talk in the ESL Classroom

Student and Teacher talk refers to the variety of ways in which a language teacher communicates with their students in the classroom. Generally, teacher talk can be divided into indirect and direct influences that shape the interaction of the students with the teacher and each other. Student talk is more complex to explain but has some common traits. This post will explain the two types of influence that are under teacher talk as well as common characteristics of student talk.

Indirect Influences

Indirect influences is teacher talk that is focused on feelings, asking questions, and using student ideas. The focus on feelings is accepting and acknowledging how students feel. This can also involve praising the students for their work by explaining what they have done well.

Other forms of indirect influences includes using student ideas. The ideas can be summarized by the teacher or they can be repeated verbatim. Either way allows the students to contribute to the class discussion.

Lastly, another indirect influence is asking questions. This is a common way to stimulate discussion. The questions asked must be ones in which the teacher actually expects an answer.

Generally, indirect influences are often soft and passive in nature. This is in direct contrast to direct influences

Direct Influences 

Direct influences are more proactive and sometimes aggressive in nature.  Examples include give directions and or information. In each case, the teacher is clearly in control and trying to lead the class.

Other types of direct influences includes criticism. Criticism can be of student behavior or of the response of a student. This is clearly sending a message to the student and perhaps the class about what are acceptable actions in discussions.

Student Talk

When students talk it is usually to give a specific or open-ended response. A specific response is one in which there is only one answer. An open-ended response can have a multitude of answers.

Students can also respond with silence. This can happen as a result of the inability to express oneself or not understanding the question. Confusion happens when students are all speaking at the same time.

Student may also respond using their native language. This is normally avoided in TESOL but there are times where native language responses are needed for clarification.

Conclusion

Communication in the classroom can show itself in many different. The insights provided hear give examples of the various forms of communication that can happen in a language classroom.

Understanding Techniques in Language Teaching

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

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

Manipulation to Interaction

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

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

Automatic, Purposeful, Communicative Drills

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

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

Restricted to Free

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

Conclusion

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

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

Institutional Context of Language Teaching

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

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

Primary/Secondary

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

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

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

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

Tertiary

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Teaching Advanced ESL Students

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

Supporting Advanced ESL Students

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

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

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

The Challenges of Advanced ESL Students

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Teaching Beginning ESL Students

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

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

Take Your Time

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

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

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

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

Who’s the Center

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

First and Target Language Conflict and Compromise

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

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

Interference and Facilitating

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping with Interference and Facilitating

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Language Ego

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

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

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

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

Defining Language Ego

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

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

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

Helping Student with Language Ego

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

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

Conclusion

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

Strategies for Relevant Language Learning

Meaningful or relevant language learning has become an important component of modern language teaching. For many students, acquiring knowledge without a corresponding context in which it can be applied inhibits the ability to assimilate the information no matter how beneficial the knowledge may be.

Defining Relevance in Learning

From a constructionist viewpoint, relevance in learning is about connecting new information with old information which strengthens the learner’s ability to retain the knowledge. An example of this would be how a child various words and sounds with specific goals of communication they may have.

The complete opposite of relevant learning may be rote learning. Rote learning focuses on memorizing for the sake of memorizing with the key component of context often missing. With the  context the learning may lack relevance for they learner which impedes their language acquisition.

One of the strongest examples of rote learning in TESOL would be audiolingualism. This method was heavy on drill and  memorization. However, this emphasis on memorizing and drill made it difficult to produce language realistically for many language students.

Strategies for Relevance

A key idea in making learning relevant in the context of language acquisition is balance. Some memorizing is fine but not in excess. This same idea applies towards the teaching of grammar, theories, and other abstract impractical concepts.

How to find balance is too complex to explain here as every classroom is different. The analogy I use when teaching fuzzy concepts such as finding balance is the use of salt in cooking. A little salt is great but too much and nobody wants to it the food. However, the amount of salt to use depends on preference/context and this also applies when striving for pedagogical balance in teaching.

Another way to improve relevance is to identify the interest and needs of the students and address these in the classroom. This makes a clear connection with practical application for many students, which enhances retention of knowledge.

Lastly, making an effort as the teacher to show how a new idea or concept relates to what a student already knows also makes learning relevant. This extends the student’s knowledge just enough to provide new information that is not out of reach for understanding.

Conclusion

Learners need to be able to understand and see how they can use something that they are learning. This requires the teacher to develop ways in which to demonstrate to the student that the learning is relevant.

Automaticity in Learning

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

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

Children and Adult Automaticity 

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

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

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

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

Teaching for Automaticity

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

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

Conclusion

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

Interactive Learning in TESOL

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

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

Interaction Hypothesis

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

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

Traits of Interactive Learning

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

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

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

Approaches/Methods Influenced by Interactive Learning

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

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

Conclusion

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

Notional-Functional Syllabus of TESOL

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

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

Notional

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

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

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

Functional

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

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

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

Syllabus

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Series Method

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

Techniques

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

The Natural Approach to Language Acquisition

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

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

Assumptions

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

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

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

Curriculum

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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