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Using First Language (L1) in the ELT Classroom

Using L1 in the ELT ClassroomPhilip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP.  In this post he discusses the use of L1 in the classroom and shares some guidelines for its use.

The majority of English language teaching takes place in classrooms where both the students and the teacher share the same L1 (first language). In these contexts, the L1 is often banned from the classroom, and for many good reasons. Many teachers and heads of department forbid the use of L1 because an all-English speaking environment is prized since it actively encourages communication in English. Another reason is that the L1 can easily take over if not restricted. While there are many reasons for banishing the L1 from the classroom, there are also good reasons for using it. What I believe is needed are clear guidelines for effective use of the L1. Below I set some guidelines in three levels; from basic to more in-depth.

Level One: Functional

Level one can be used by all ELT teachers to help the class function more effectively without essentially compromising the popular principle that English should be used at all times. The use of the L1 is quite restricted and the teacher is always in complete control so there is no chance of the L1 taking over the class.

  • How do you say ____?: Students are allowed to ask how to say something from their L1 in English.
  • Can I say something in my language?: If students have something important to say but do not have the level of English to do so, they can request permission from the teacher to speak in their L1.
  • Time out: Just as in Basketball, the teacher can indicate that they will create a short space within the regular class to use the L1, and then return to the English class. This is especially useful when something needs to be discussed which could not be done in English.

Level Two: Strategic

In this second level, the teacher has at their disposal all the uses outlined in level one, but now encourages students to draw on their knowledge of their L1 and English to develop language learning strategies. This is essentially done by asking students to make comparisons between the two languages. The teacher is able to do this without the need to use the L1 themselves if they do not want to. Again, if the teacher fears losing control they can use the time out idea to create a ‘window’ from the exclusively all English atmosphere in the classroom.

  • English you already know: When there is a new word that has some relation to a word from their L1, the teacher asks students, “Does it look like a word you know in your language?”
  • Finding patterns and similarities: When there are grammatical patters or phrases that are have similarities between English and the L1, the teacher can ask, “What is the equivalent in your language?” or “Is it similar or different in your language?”

Level Three: Discourse

Level three uses the L1 to develop language awareness, higher order thinking skills, and to explore and comprehend features of discourse in English. The teacher also incorporates the ideas from levels one and two.

  • Discussing register: When looking at a phrase in context that has a particular register or degree of formality, the teacher asks students for an equivalent in their L1. This opens up discussions about appropriacy and register.
  • Just for fun: All bilinguals are aware of words and phrases that are easily mistranslated and produce funny consequences. By highlighting some of these and encouraging students to play with the language, we not only bring some light relief into the classroom, but encourage creativity and heightened language awareness.
  • Translating: Students work together and translate extracts or short texts from one language to the other. The teacher encourages students to discuss and justify their choice of words and phrases. This develops insight into features of context, appropriacy and register, develops higher order thinking skills, and promotes greater awareness of both languages.

These ideas are designed to encourage teachers to make principled use of the L1 in their classroom without feeling guilty about doing do so, while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls that are often associated with its use. It is hoped that all teachers will feel comfortable using some of these ideas and will consider the possible benefits of others.


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Is it always preferable to employ only native English speaking teachers?

Is it always preferable to employ native English speaking teachers?

Image courtesy of Flazingo Photos

There are widely-held perceptions that numerous language schools refuse to hire non-Native English Speaker Teachers (nNESTs). In this guest article, teacher, teacher trainer, and founder of TEFL Equity Advocates, Marek Kiczkowiak, shares his thoughts on how this can have negative effects on students and teachers alike, and looks at an alternative, more egalitarian hiring model, that emphasises qualifications and experience, regardless of their mother tongue.

Dear Student,

I would like to tell you a few things about your English teachers which you might not have been aware of. As a teacher, I really care about your language progress and I would like you to understand what characteristics make certain teachers unforgettable, so that you can make an informed choice and pick the best language school.

It is very common for language schools to advertise only for and hire exclusively native speakers (NSs). I am sure that you have come across (or perhaps even studied in) institutions that boast having only native English speaker teachers (NESTs), who will teach you the ‘real’ English. In theory, this sounds fantastic. After all, who wouldn’t like to speak like a NS? In practice, however, there is a catch. Numerous non-native English speaker teachers (nNESTs), that is teachers for whom English is not their first language, have been rejected out of hand, not for lack of qualifications or poor language abilities, but simply for not being a NS.

It is very likely, then, that among those rejected nNESTs there were numerous teachers with higher qualifications and more experience than the NEST who was hired. The recruiter might have based their choice on the assumption that all nNESTs speak ‘bad’ English. While I certainly agree that language proficiency is very important for a successful teacher (I certainly wouldn’t like to be taught by somebody who doesn’t speak the language well enough), I agree with David Crystal, one of the ultimate authorities on the English language, who in this interview said that “Fluency alone is not enough. All sorts of people are fluent, but only a tiny proportion of them are sufficiently aware of the structure of the language that they know how to teach it.”

In addition, there are language tests (e.g. IELTS, TOEFL, CPE) which can be taken to prove a teacher’s proficiency. And there is no doubt that you can reach native-like level in a language – people did that even in the dim and distant past when teaching (and certainly language schools) was almost non–existent, or simply backwards by our standards. Take Joseph Conrad, for example. Born, bred and baptised in Poland as Józef Korzeniowski, he only emigrated to England in his late teens. Yet, he still managed to outwrite most of his contemporaries, introducing the English to the beauty of English.

So yes, of course, a successful teacher should be highly proficient in the language. There is no question about that. You need a good language model. However, it is a mistake to assume that only a NS can provide it, and to dismiss any nNEST out of hand.

What is more, being proficient in a language is not the only characteristic of a good teacher. For if it were, there would be no need for teaching courses and university degrees in pedagogy. Successful language teaching is so much more than merely knowing the language and I think this should be reflected in the way language schools hire their staff.

So, if as a student you want to know whether a particular school is worth investing your money and time in, ask them how they recruit teachers. On the whole, more trustworthy and renown schools select successful candidates based on logical and measurable criteria which are independent of and irrelevant to being a NS or not. For example:

  1. Qualifications
  2. Years and variety of teaching experience
  3. Language proficiency
  4. Personal traits

As a teacher, the best staff rooms I have worked in, and the best language schools with the happiest students, all have a healthy mix of NESTs and nNESTs, an opinion confirmed by many Academic Directors such as Varinder Unlu, who works for International House London. This is because the two groups can bring different characteristics into the classroom, learning from each other and improving as teachers. So while NESTs might be experts in language use, nNESTs have many important strengths which should not be overlooked.

For example, having mastered the language themselves, a nNEST can serve as an excellent learning role model. They can give you numerous tips that will help you learn faster based on their practical insights. They might also be more aware of the difficulties you are having since they have been through them too. And empathy and understanding are vital for successful teaching to take place. Many nNESTs have also studied the language on university level and can therefore bring a deep understanding of its mechanics.

I suggest then that as a client you question how your school chooses its teachers. Do not be swayed by slogans such as: We employ only NESTs because we care about your progress.

If they did, they would be employing the best teachers out there: native and non–native alike. And you have the right to receive the highest quality of education. So get involved and support equal teaching opportunities for all teachers.

Best regards,

Marek Kiczkowiak, TEFL Equity Advocates

 


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Four Oxford titles shortlisted for ESU Awards

PSU_shortlistWe are delighted to announce that four of our titles have made it to the shortlist for the English-Speaking Union’s English Language Awards 2014!

The Oxford Online Skills Program has been shortlisted for the ESU President’s Award which celebrates and encourages the widespread use of technology in the teaching and learning of English. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English, Focus on Content-Based Language Teaching and International Express have been shortlisted for the HRH The Duke of Edinburgh English Language Book Awards, which recognise the best book published each year in the field of English language teaching and learning.

The Oxford Online Skills Program supports and develops Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing skills online using a sequence of media-rich activities, enhanced with video, animated presentations, interactive info-graphics and striking photography, to engage students. The judges commented, The Oxford Online Skills Program contains high quality content for students, across a range of different topics. This resource is easy to use, including the function of tracking student progress.  The program is an ideal companion to any Adult English course, and gives students plenty of support to study independently, including cultural glossaries, automatic marking and instant feedback.  Teachers can use the management tools to communicate with students outside class, and monitor progress.

The judges were also impressed by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English, which they described as providing clear and useful information for students both in the classroom environment and as a reference text for essay writing.  Focusing exclusively on Academic English, this dictionary is specifically designed for learners studying, or preparing to study academic subjects on English-medium university courses. Based on the 85-million-word Oxford Corpus of Academic English, it provides all the tools students need to develop their academic writing skills.

Focus on Content-Based Language Teaching, written by well-known language educator and applied linguist, Patsy Lightbown, is described by the judges as “an innovative resource” which “gives a clear representation of ideas in an increasingly important sector of the ELT market”. Following on from the success of How Languages are Learned (now in its fourth edition), it is the flagship title in a new series which bridges the gap between research and classroom practice.

The all new, five-level International Express is specifically designed for adult professionals who need English for life and work.  The judges commented that the course “displays sound practice in the field of English Language Teaching”, and praised it for its “interesting texts” and “good amount of digital content”.  This new third edition retains the popular student-centred approach and strong communicative focus of earlier editions, while adding a range of new features.

We are obviously thrilled with this news and looking forward to the announcement of the winners in December.


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Feedback on academic writing – Part Three

proofreading for English language students in EAPThis is the final article of a three-part series on giving EAP students effective feedback. Julie Moore, an ELT writer and researcher, shares some proofreading tips to help students to reduce careless errors and spelling mistakes.

How often do you remind your students to check their work carefully before they hand it in, then despair of all the careless errors and spelling mistakes that still pepper their writing, especially in a world with spellcheckers? But is proofreading your own writing really that easy?

The importance of accuracy

Accuracy in academic writing is particularly valued. In an academic context, an argument or a piece of research that contains errors and inaccuracies will not be seen as credible. Similarly, it can be difficult for subject tutors reading a piece of student writing to judge whether inaccuracies from a non-native speaker student are a product of flawed thinking or simply a result of language weaknesses. A long text full of minor language errors puts pressure on the reader, as they have to keep reprocessing sentences to extract the correct meaning. In this case, it’s easy to lose the thread of the argument or for the writer’s message to get lost, thus detracting from the academic content.

Teaching proofreading techniques

There’s no simple solution to eliminating those frustrating surface errors, but you can help students by explicitly teaching a few techniques they can use to proofread their writing.

A first step is to raise students’ awareness of their own specific weak points. It’s easy to assume that students know where they make the most mistakes, but often their attention is elsewhere. With every class I teach, I have a session where I ask them to bring in as many pieces of writing they’ve had feedback on (from me or other teachers) as possible. I then get them to go through and systematically count up and classify their error types (with articles, prepositions, noun-verb agreement, etc.) They pick out their top 3 or 4 error types and we work on ways that they can systematically search for and identify those errors in their writing.

This short activity from Oxford EAP Advanced is really useful for highlighting and discussing practical proofreading techniques:

feedback_academic_part3

 

It amazes me every time how many of them don’t have their computer spell-check set to English!

Dictionary skills

With a background in lexicography, I’m a big fan of teaching dictionary skills and encouraging students to use a dictionary and thesaurus both when they’re writing and when they’re checking their work. In class, I jump at any opportunity to turn to the dictionary to demonstrate to students how they can use it to check not just meaning, but collocations, dependent prepositions, following clause structures, etc. I’m particularly looking forward to using the new Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English with my classes which focuses specifically on the academic uses of words.

I also try to find time to introduce students to using a thesaurus. Often when they try reading something they’ve written aloud (a useful technique for checking that a text flows), they notice they’ve repeated a particular word or phrase too often. I point students in the direction of the Oxford Learner’s Thesauruswhich explains the similarities and subtle differences between sets of synonyms, helping them to choose an appropriate alternative to avoid those awkward repetitions.

Armed with a few simple tools and techniques, I hope that by the end of their EAP course, my students are better equipped to improve their academic writing style and to tidy up their own final drafts. Many of them are incredibly bright cookies in their own disciplines and I’d hate for them to let themselves down with a few awkward collocations or misplaced prepositions!

This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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How to give an effective presentation: Part 1 – Plan

In this series of video tips Ben Shearon, the Stretch Presenting Skills Consultant, shares his advice to help students enter The Stretch Presenting Skills Competition 2014-15 and become more comfortable and confident public speakers.

Here, he reveals how to plan and prepare a presentation effectively:

 

Get your young adult/adult students presenting in class by entering The Stretch Presenting Skills Competition 2014-15.

One of your students could win a two week all-expenses paid scholarship to Regent Oxford, a renowned English school in Oxford, as well as a class set of Stretch for you. Expand students’ public speaking skills, improve their English, and get them presenting in class!

Closing date: January 2, 2015. Enter today!

Related articles:

  • Check back in November, when we will post Ben Shearon’s second video tip. Or visit the competition webpage to see it today.
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