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Supporting Young English Language and Literacy Learners

pass the bombMany believe that the acquisition of oral language must precede learning to read and write in a second language. Yet, the integration of reading- writing- speaking-listening- thinking may not only enhance, but also, clarify L2 language learning in communicative settings.  In this post Marylou M. Matoush, introduces her forthcoming webinar on supporting young second language learners as they develop biliteracy.

In our volume, Focus on Literacy, my colleague, Danling Fu, and I discussed the idea that “languaging pushes thinking while thinking pushes and extends languaging.” We used the term “languaging-as-thinking” to describe the process of “doing language, literacy, and learning while being and becoming (Fu & Matoush, 2014, pp. 14-15).” Active languaging-as-thinking while learning to read-write-speak-listen leads to bilingual/biliterate communicative competence, particularly when it is done for purposes that students see as meaningful and authentic.

Active languaging-as-thinking takes place during discussions before, during, and after reading. Just as significantly, it also takes place during the drafting of pieces of written communication and during interactions about the revision of those pieces of writing.  And, when teachers view reading as an opportunity for students to see, hear, and respond to language and view writing as an opportunity for students to give voice to their own interests, inclinations, and ideas, they lead students on the journey to becoming thoughtful biliterates via:

  • Language acquisition that’s connected to home language and cultures
  • Voiced, personally meaningful language and literacy
  • Opportunities to develop cognitive flexibility as well as linguistic flexibility

Instructional emphasis on active languaging-as-thinking impacts student’s understandings of L2 language and literacy and their feelings of self-efficacy regarding L2 language and literacy learning. Further, such an emphasis impacts their identity development as empowered biliterate language users who can choose how, when, where, and with whom they are able to communicate because they learn to make social, cultural, and linguistic choices that can reflect those identities.

Bilingual/Biliterate Development

Second language learners construct “one language system” not “two separate language systems” (Genesee, 2002). This newly acquired system develops gradually as students develop linguistic, cultural, social, and personal understandings. The developmental process is unique to each and learners develop at their own rates and according to their own particular sequence. This requires new language and literacy acquisition to be understood in terms of each student’s home language, culture and social interactions, their experiences with L1 literacy learning, as well as the personal interests, abilities, and inclinations that determine each individual’s use of language and literacy.  Because these factors are unique to each student, supporting each student through the process of becoming biliterate is not a simple task.

Supporting Bilingual/Biliterate Growth

“Don’t expect perfection, expect growth.”

– Linda Hoyt

Many instructional approaches focus on correct, native-like language use for L2 learners.  Yet, primary school learners are grounded in home-based language practices that are “transformed” (Grosjean, 1989) as a new interlanguage system develops. The “multicompetence” (Cook, 1991) that results from this process of transformation suggests that learning should be viewed in terms of “interlanguage” growth rather than in terms of the “target language” (Firth and Wagner, 1997). There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that this applies to both oral and written language development among primary school learners as well as among older students. In fact, Fu (2009) observed adolescent L2 writers and noted that many students visibly progressed from home language writing, to mixed language writing, to the clear use of interlanguage and that this progression occurred prior to the use of conventional English.

Similarly, many instructional approaches focus on bilingual or oral language development prior to biliterate or written language development. Yet, reading-writing-listening-speaking-thinking develop into a single, integrated interlanguage system in which written language supports oral language acquisition, just as oral language supports written language acquisition. Also, both oral and written language lacquisition are supported by:

  • realia (physical objects)
  • gestures, movements, and other kinesthetic involvement
  • illustrations and other representations
  • personal experiences grounded in home language and culture
  • shared events and experiences
  • meaningful social uses of language

The forthcoming webinar will focus on how these and other active languaging supports that enhance L2 biliteracy learning among diverse primary school students. A few practical, low-cost ideas for generating text that can be used for instructional purposes will be included.

 

register-for-webinar

 

Cook, V. (1991). The poverty-of-the-stimulus argument and multicompetence.  Second Language Research 7, 103–17.

Firth, A. & Wagner, J. (1997) On discourse, communication, and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. Modern Language Journal, 81. 285-300.

Fu, D. (2009). Writing between languages: How English language learners make the transition to fluency. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fu, D. & Matoush, M. M. (2014). Focus on literacy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Genesee, F. (2002). Portrait of a bilingual child. In Vivian Cook (Ed.), Portraits of the L2 User. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 167-196.

Grosjean, F. (1989). Neurolinguists, beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person.  Brain and Language 36, 3-15.

 

 


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Solutions Writing Challenge: Writing – the new Speaking

Solutions-Writing-Challenge-logo-WEBTeacher and teacher trainer, Gareth Davies, explores how we can motivate students to improve their writing skills ahead of his upcoming webinar on Solutions Writing Challenge #2: “My students don’t want to write”.

Is writing the new speaking, do we communicate now more through text messages, Facebook chats and tweets than we do through face-to-face communication? If the answer to this question is yes, then writing should be at the top of the list of 21st Century skills that we are teaching our students. Yet students view writing as a bore, a chore, something to be set as homework so they have time to find an excuse for not doing it.  Even if your answer to my question is no, I still think writing has an important part to play in developing students’ language skills. Writing gives students time to put into practice what they have learnt and, if they are confident, to experiment with the language. It also gives English teachers a unique insight into the lives of their students.

So how do we motivate our students to write? 

I think as teachers we often throw our students into the deep end with writing tasks. When we ask them to speak they often only have to say one or maybe two sentences that are quickly forgotten but when writing they have to build whole texts that are there in black and white for all to see. So maybe we need to get our students happy in the shallow end and lead them to deeper waters when they are ready. In other words writing can be developed in stages, allowing students to experiment with language and building up their confidence to put longer pieces of text together.

We can do short activities to help them tap into their creativity and help them structure sentences appropriately. We can do collaborative writing tasks to give students a chance to help each other. We can develop interactive writing tasks that allow students to see how writing is communication and has a relevance to their lives and we can study songs or prose to allow students to see how to use words and phrases imaginatively in the classroom. Finally we can make sure that the feedback that students get on their writing tasks focus as much on the content as on the accuracy of the language used.

In my webinar, I will show examples of these kinds of tasks and show how the process of learning writing skills can be fun and help students to enjoy writing.

writing-the-new-speaking

Register for Gareth’s webinar ‘Solutions Writing Challenge #2: Writing – the new Speaking’ on either Thursday 19th or Friday 20th of March to explore this challenge further.

register-for-webinar


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A Picture is Worth A LOT More than a 1000 words…to a 6 year old.

testDo we collate data too much? Do we infer from observation too much? Do we believe we know what’s best for our young learners to read simply because we are the teachers? Answering the third question first – without going directly to the source – our students – then the answer is probably an unfortunate yes, making the other two answers a negative yes as well.

The following is an interview to get a 6 year-old’s opinion on Extensive Reading. The insight on the value of pictures and the power of their appeal and reading encouragement to young learners is soon apparent and is something educators should not undervalue nor underestimate, especially when selecting the right readers for their classroom library.

What’s your name?

George

How old are you?

6

Do you like to read?

Yes, a lot.

Do you know about Extensive Reading?

(Thinks for a second) What does that mean?

Do you play video games?

Sometimes. I like Minions.

Is that a race?

Yes. If you finish the first lap then you can do the second lap.

You mean you get extra time?

Yes.

Your time is extended?

Hmm, extra yes. Oh! Extended means like extra?

Yes. Do you think extra means choice?

Hmm, yes. So Extensive Reading means… reading choice?

Basically. Do you like Extensive Reading?

Yes.

What is the last book you read?

George’s Marvelous Medicine.

Why did you like it?

It’s funny, and I really liked the pictures, especially when Grandma got taller and thinner – and uglier!

Who gave you the book?

Alex (his uncle). He said it was his favourite book when he was little, so I really wanted to read it.

Did you read it by yourself?

No, with my Dad. And the pictures really helped me understand the words I didn’t know.

What other books do you like?

Curious George.

Do you like books that have characters with your name?

(Laughs) Sometimes.

When do you read books?

With my Dad, at night. In bed before I go to sleep. George’s Marvelous Medicine took about a week. At night is my favourite time to read but I sometimes read after lunch. On the sofa. I don’t like reading in the morning so much.

How about reading on a computer?

I like reading stories both on computers and books.

What book are you reading now?

Fables from Africa.

Do you like it?

Yes, it’s about animals. I really like books about animals. And it has some good pictures.

Do you talk to your friends about books?

Not really. But I sometimes read to my sister. I point to the pictures when I read to her.

How old is she?

18 months. But I only try when she’s in a good mood.

How many books have you read in your life?

I have no idea about that.

You have 2 Curious George books that have 8 stories each, so 16 stories. How many times have you read those stories?

So many.

Why have you read the same stories so many times?

Because the pictures are so funny.

What other books do you read?

I speak Japanese too, so sometimes I read Japanese books, but not the ones with Kanji. I don’t know Kanji.

What do you like about Japanese books?

The stories are good. And I really like the pictures. They help me understand more. Oh, and I really like word search puzzles. It doesn’t feel like reading but I feel smarter after I do them.

Last question, do you have a favourite book?

I have four! Curious George (all), George’s Marvelous Medicine, Baby Animals, and Where the Wild Things Are – that one has great pictures!

Sorry, one more question. If a book doesn’t have pictures will you read it?

Yes…maybe…, but I will always choose the one that has pictures.

So George, I think you like Extensive Reading.

Yup!


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Integrating video content in the EFL classroom with International Express – Part 2

Selexyz bookstoreFancy livening up your classroom with some ready-made video activities? This is the second of a series of four blog posts in which Keith Harding and Rachel Appleby share ideas for using the stunning new International Express video material.

Each unit of the course features a video directly related to the unit topic. Here, Rachel explores the clip from Pre-Intermediate Unit 10 – Selexyz bookstore, which focuses on using ‘will’ to talk about the future, Zero Conditional and 1st Conditional.

Before you watch

  1. Discussion in pairs

Before I play video in class, I find it useful to do plenty of lead-in activities to the topic. For example, you could start by giving students the following to discuss in pairs.

  1. Do you ever shop online? What do you buy?
  2. What are the benefits of shopping in real shops?
  3. Do you buy books or music online, or in shops?
  4. Do you think book and music shops will continue to exist in the future? Why? Why not?
  5. Describe your favourite bookshop. Explain why you like it.
  6. Check key vocabulary

Tell the students they are going to watch a video about a special bookshop in an historic building. Before watching the video, check they understand, and can pronounce, the following words. You’ll find the answers at the end of this blog post.

retailer, branch, archive, fiction, structure, design

  1. Number work

Focus on the following numbers from the video. You could dictate them, or put them on the board.

10%; 8%; 15; 13; 500; 1794*

First, check students know how to say them, and then ask them to guess what each number could refer to. You’ll find the answers at the end of this blog post.

* NB: This is a date, so it is pronounced “17-94”

While you watch

  1. More number work

Ask students to choose three of the numbers from above, and to listen, as they watch, for what they refer to. Tell them also to listen to compare their discussions from the beginning with what they hear.

  1. More vocabulary work

Do this exercise before watching the video again. Students work in groups of 3 or 4. Put the following words on the board, on cards (one set per group), or on a handout. Ask the students to try to remember what they referred to in the video. If they are not sure of the meaning of any words, they should check first in their group.

 

ancient

architecture

archive

atmosphere

branch

browse

ceiling

consumer

customer

design

experience

fiction

interior

non-fiction

relaxing

retailer

stained-glass window

structure

Give the students 5 minutes. You could give them dictionaries to check the meaning and pronunciation – in particular, word stress.

Next, play the video again. While they are watching, the students should:

  1. a) put the words in the order in which they hear them
  2. b) check what each refers to

At the end, ask them to compare their ideas in their groups, and discuss any they found difficult. Which words are usually associated with a bookshop or with a church?

After you watch

  1. A special shop, building or place

Ask students to think about a favourite or special shop, building, or place they would recommend to the others. Give them time to take notes and plan what they will say. Encourage them to use words from exercise 5 above. They should include:

  1. a) why they like it
  2. b) why it’s special
  3. c) where it is
  4. d) the best time to go

When they are ready, ask them to stand up and mingle with the other students. They should take it in turns to tell each other about their special place for approximately one minute. They should speak to at least three different people.

Ask them to sit down with a different partner, and compare what they heard. Which place would they most like to visit? Why? Are any of the places more interesting than their own? Why?

  1. Guess the word

At the start of the next lesson, give each student one word, on a card, from exercise 5 above. They should stand up and mingle, and explain or define their word to someone else, to elicit the word. In turn, they should listen to their partner’s explanation, and try to guess their word. They should then swap words, and mingle to find another partner.

I hope you enjoy trying out some of these activities in class! You can also find more on the video worksheet that comes with the International Express Teacher’s Resource Book DVD. All the worksheets are available for free here.

In the next part of this series, Keith Harding explores the Mercedes-Benz Museum, from the Intermediate level. Look out for it next week.

Answers

Ex. 2

retailer (n) /ˈriːteɪlə(r) / – a person or business that sells goods to the public

branch (n) / brɑːntʃ / – a local office or shop/store belonging to a large company or organization

archive (n) / ˈɑːkaɪv / – a place where historical documents are stored

fiction (n) / ˈfɪkʃn / – a type of literature that describes imaginary people and events, not real ones

structure (n) / ˈstrʌktʃə(r) / – a thing that is made of several parts, especially a building

design (n) / dɪˈzaɪn/- the general arrangement of the different parts of something that is made, e.g. of a building

Ex. 3

10% – the percentage of online shopping out of all consumer spending

8% – the increase in one year of internet sales

15 – the number of Selexyz shops in Holland

13 – the century when the church was built

500 – the number of years it was a church

1794 – the date when Napoleon took the church

Ex. 5

Numbers refer to the order each word appears in the video

ancient 10

archive 6

architecture 17

atmosphere 8

branch 4

browse 14

ceiling 11

consumer 1

customer 2

design 13

experience 18

fiction 15

interior 12

non-fiction 16

relaxing 7

retailer 3

stained-glass window 9


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Mother Language Day: Why learning a foreign language is important

answering questions in classPrior to becoming an ELT Editor for Oxford University Press, Mexico, Lysette Taplin worked as an English language teacher and ELT author for a number of primary and secondary series. In this post she discusses the importance of learning a foreign language to foster linguistic and cultural diversity and the positive effects it has on the cognitive process.

International Mother Language Day has been celebrated every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The importance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism in an increasingly globalized world is vital to achieve meaningful communication between nations and strengthen the unity and cohesion of societies. Today, there are around 7,000 languages in the world, and an increasing number of situations in which two or more languages co-exist and are indispensable in everyday communication. UNESCO’s decision to celebrate International Mother Language Day derives from the importance of linguistic diversity and the need to maintain and revive minority languages.

Through learning languages, even just by mastering a second language, we develop a fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions (UNESCO, n.d.). And besides the obvious practical benefits learning a foreign language provides, it has been demonstrated to improve memory and brain power and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, can have a positive effect on the brain. Students who speak more than one language tend to outperform peers in math and reading (French Immersion School of Washington, n.d.; Anne Merritt, 2013), and are more adept at focusing on relevant information by ignoring irrelevant and misleading stimuli. This can be due to the fact that by learning another language, we have to switch back and forth between two distinct systems of rules, challenging the brain to recognize and work out meaning. For this reason, bilingual students learn to become critical thinkers and perform better at problem-solving tasks. The brain has also been likened to a muscle since it is said to function better with exercise. Language learners need to memorize rules and vocabulary and thus strengthen their cognitive muscles, making them better at memorizing lists and sequences (Anne Merritt, 2013).

Learning a second language can also develop mother tongue skills. Generally, not much attention is paid to the grammatical structures of our native tongue, but once we start to focus on the mechanics of a second language: grammar, conjugations and sentence structure, our awareness of our L1 improves. These transferable skills give bilingual students a greater insight into their mother tongue, thus making them more effective communicators as well as better writers.

Bilingualism’s effects also extend into later life. Recent studies have shown that bilingual patients were more resistant to the onset of dementia. On average, individuals with a proficiency in two or more languages developed dementia 4.5 years later than monolingual ones (Suvarna Alladi et al., 2013; Anne Merritt, 2013).

But aside from the positive effects on our cognitive process, learning a second language opens the door into a particular culture, broadening our understanding of a race and culture, and making us more appreciative of other perspectives. Once I started to learn a second language, I began to experience how learning about another culture, in my case Mexico, has enabled me to achieve a significantly more profound understanding and appreciation of my own. As a Brit living in Mexico, I feel a stronger connection to my heritage which I took for granted when living in England. Not only that, I now have access to an assortment of literature, movies and music in their original form, giving me the opportunity to view the world from different vantage points.

Learning a second language has been a truly rewarding experience, and has enabled me to build deep and meaningful relationships with people in foreign communities as well as becoming more flexible and creative in my ways of thinking. It has also opened up a whole world of opportunities when it comes to travel and I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to visit local indigenous communities where Spanish is not their first language. Without a doubt, bilingualism and multilingualism provide the possibility to bridge both the linguistic and cultural gap between countries as well as being a great asset to the cognitive process.

References

UNESCO, International Mother Language Day, 21 February 2012, (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/strengthening-education-systems/languages-in-education/international-mother-language-day/

French Immersion School of Washington, (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.fisw.org/admission/BilingualBenefits.cfm; Anne Merritt, Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html

Anne Merritt, Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html

Suvarna Alladi, DM, Thomas H. Bak, MD, Vasanta Duggirala, PhD, Bapiraju Surampudi, PhD, Mekala Shailaja, MA, Anuj Kumar Shukla, MPhil, Jaydip Ray Chaudhuri, DM and Subhash Kaul, DM, Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2013/11/06/01.wnl.0000436620.33155.a4.abstract; Anne Merritt, Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html

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