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Writing for an academic Journal

JournalsDo you want to write an article for an academic journal? Don’t know how to get started? Graham Hall, editor of ELT Journal, offers some advice.

What’s your view of ‘theory’ and ‘research’ in English language teaching? Have you ever heard another teacher say ‘that’s fine in theory, but it’s just not relevant to me’, or even ‘I’m too busy actually teaching to look at research’ (maybe you think this yourself)? Well, in some ways, your colleagues might have a point – teachers are busy and research can seem very remote from what happens in our classrooms.

But, in the end, everything we do as teachers is informed by some kind of theory – whether the ideas of researchers in our field investigating how languages might be learned, or the methodological approaches embedded in our textbooks, or our own personal theories about what constitutes a ‘good’ classroom activity, or why learners respond to certain learning tasks but not others.

And many teachers, at some point in their career, want to move beyond reflecting upon their own professional practice and ‘just’ reading the insights of others, to share their own informed insights about teaching and learning with the wider profession. One way of doing this to write for an academic journal. But how might you get started?

First, make sure you have something interesting to say! There are two elements to this, of course – that what you write about is interesting to you, and that it is also interesting to potential readers (sorry for stating the obvious). So, as you prepare and write your article, have a specific journal in mind, and study articles in that journal closely. What kind of topics are covered in the journal, what is the typical style of articles in the journal, how are authors’ own ideas balanced with background literature, what is the balance of theory/research and practice and so on? Additionally, all journals have ‘Author guidelines’ or ‘Instructions to authors’ which summarise the answers to many of these questions (usually on their websites) – try to get hold of them.

Writing an article isn’t always very straightforward. Finding the words to express yourself clearly and concisely whilst covering everything that you need to say within the word limit is often a challenge. And, the first time a teacher tries to write for an academic journal, writing in what is often a new style of language, and writing about both theory/research and practice can be a challenge – certainly, this was the case when I was preparing the first article I was fortunate enough to have published. So, don’t give up – I suspect that everyone who has published an academic journal article has struggled at some point!

Having prepared an article which you think is suitable for a particular journal, give it a final check through. Does it meet the criteria the journal lists for publication, both in terms of focus and interest, but also in terms of, for example, the word limit and language accuracy? If so, submit it.

What usually happens next is as follows. Authors receive an acknowledgement that the journal has received their paper. Editors then take an immediate decision about articles – should they be rejected immediately or should they be sent for ‘peer review’? When papers are rejected immediately, it is often because writers have not thought clearly enough about the way in which their article meets the aims and objectives of a journal, or have ignored ‘the basics’ such writing an article of an appropriate length.

Peer review means just that – articles are sent to members of an editorial panel who work in the same field and have experience of both writing for publication, usually in that journal, and reading and reflecting on journal articles. Papers are read by two reviewers, and are anonymized throughout this process – reviewers do not know who the authors of a paper are.

As they read, peer reviewers look for the following: that articles are relevant and interesting to the journal readership, and are clearly and coherently written with no flaws in their internal logic. In the case of ELT Journal, reviewers specifically look for an appropriate balance between theory and practice, and that practice relates to theoretical principles whilst theoretical concepts are clarified by reference to their practical applications. Accounts of specific contexts should have clear implications for other contexts whilst there also needs to be an awareness of recent / other work in the field. Most journals have similar criteria, dependent on their aims and readership.

The reviews are returned to the editor who then considers the feedback and prepares a follow-up response to the original author. This usually takes the form of one of four possible decisions – a paper might be Rejected; substantial Revisions might be requested prior to resubmission and further peer review; the paper might be Conditional Accepted, dependent on a few minor changes being made by the author; or the decision may be a straightforward Acceptance. And clearly, this all takes a little time.

So, what’s in it for you – why try to publish in an academic journal, especially if there’s a possibility that your article may be rejected after so much hard work? Well, it is a great form of professional development. Authors focus on one key issue which is important to them and learn even more about it through the process of researching and writing an article; first time authors also learn a new set of skills – researching and writing for publication. If successful, your findings and perspectives become known to the wider ELT profession which develops as a consequence. You may be able to develop your paper into a talk which you can present at a conference. Readers may get in touch to find out more about your ideas.

So, is writing for an academic journal worth the hard work required? Definitely, but you will have a huge sense of satisfaction when you see your article in print.


Do you salad or sandwich? The verbing of English

Examples of verbing in English

Image courtesy of moreintelligentlife.com

In this article, Jon Hird, author of the brand new Oxford Learner’s Pocket Verbs and Tenses, takes a look at the verbing of English and shares with us some interesting examples he has recently come across.

A recent OUP ELT blog about the language legacy of the Olympics included some examples of nouns being used as verbs. Competitors no longer stood on the podium and won a medal, but podiumed and medalled. Athletes also finalled (reached a final) and PB-ed (achieved a PB, or Personal Best). Even Lord Coe, Chairman of the Organising Committee, got in on the act when, prior to the games, he told the nation that ‘The London Olympics need[ed] to legacy’.

This conversion of nouns to verbs is known as ‘verbing’ and it has been around for as long as the English language itself. Ancient verbs such as rain and thunder and more recent conversions such as access, chair, debut, highlight and impact were all originally used only as nouns before they became verbs. In his book, The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker tells us that ‘Easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that makes English English.’

Verbing exists essentially to make what we say shorter and snappier. It can also give a more dynamic sense to ideas. Conversion is easy and therefore common in English because, unlike in many other languages, the base form of the verb does not take a separate ending. Verbs converted from nouns are all regular and the past forms have an -ed ending.Here's to people hubbing

Today, noun to verb conversion is particularly common in the field of technology, especially when it comes to the internet and digital communication. Many words which were originally nouns have very quickly become established as verbs. We bookmark websites. We email, text, message and DM (Direct Message) people. We friend and unfriend (or defriend) people on Facebook. We tweet about topics that are trending. We blog. And now, at least according to one mobile phone provider, we also hub (see right).

Proper nouns are also used as verbs. If we don’t know something, we google it. We skype to keep in touch. We youtube to watch video clips. And we facebook and whatsapp people about what’s going on. A Turkish colleague of mine recently found himself saying that he’d ebayed something and was wondering if it’s OK to say that.

Outside the world of technology, it seems that nouns are being verbed wherever you turn. At the airport on a recent work trip, we were informed that ‘Passengers who are transiting need to follow the transit signs.’ After my return to the UK, a colleague emailed ‘I hope you had a great time conferencing around Italy.’ Around the same time a friend facebooked ‘let’s coffee soon!’ I’ve since discovered that ‘Let’s Coffee’ is the name of numerous coffee shops around the world. There’s also ‘Let’s Burger’, ‘Let’s Seafood’ and no doubt many more.

Food and drink, in fact, seems to be ripe when it comes to verbing the noun. Ted, a character in the TV show ‘How I Met Your Mother’, when offering to buy someone a drink, asks ‘Can I beer you?’ After a talk I recently gave, one of the participants facebooked me this photo he had taken of a London café window (see below). Whether he saladed or sandwiched that day, I’m not sure. And while a considerable number of English words connected with food come from French, I was surprised to come across the concept of fooding in, of all places, Montmartre in Paris.

Do you salad or sandwich?  Fooding

Do more. Cord less.Advertisers have latched on to verbing as well. For some time now, a high street chain here in the UK has been imploring us not to shop for it, but to Argos it. And while cycling through the centre of Oxford the other day, I noticed on the back door of a van this rather clever play on words promoting cordless power tools (see right). And only last night, during a BBC news item about the possible impending demise of the high street music store, a guest explained that part of the problem was that customers were overchoiced.

So, the choice is yours – do you noun or do you verb? Keep your eyes and ears open and see how many examples of verbing you come across. A lot, I suspect. And please share some of your favourites below.

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More voice-based activities to raise learners’ awareness of the power of their voice

Young woman covering her laughFollowing his first post on giving the learners a ‘pragmatic shock’, Arizio Sweeting returns with more voice-based activities to get your students speaking in English.

In this second voice based post, I would like to share with you two activities to help learners become more aware of the power of their voice.

I have called these activities: Intonation Gap and Voiceover, respectively.

The first activity, Intonation Gap, aims to encourage learners to notice what their voice sounds like when expressing emotions such as fear, shock, excitement, and so on in their speech.

The activity works like this:

  • Divide the class into two groups: A and B.
  • First, give the learners some nonsense sounds on the board e.g. piupiu, etc.
  • Tell the learners that they are going to ask a question using the nonsense sounds.
  • The questions must be short, preferably one-word questions e.g. piupiu? Demo what to do.
  • On the board, write up some adjectives such as afraid, surprised, angry, pleased, excited, questioning, etc.
  • Using the nonsense sounds, learners practise asking questions expressing the emotions on the adjectives on the board. If you have small mirror, give these to the learners so they can see the facial expressions or mouth articulations. The same procedure is repeated for answers.
  • Give each learner the name of a suburb. Alternatively, you could use shop names, street names etc.
  • Tell the learners to mingle and ask each other questions to find someone with the same information, trying to communicate the emotions that would go with the adjectives on the board. This time, they should use real words e.g. Marble Arch? And short answers such as Yes and No.
  • Learners should respond in the same way, paying close attention to the emotion being expressed before giving an answer.

The second activity is called Voiceover, and it is ideal for a class project. Personally, I have found this activity a great confidence builder as well as a challenger of misguided learner perceptions that a ‘beautiful voice’ is only that of a BBC announcer, for instance.

In fact, it has been a great help to show the learners that their voice can be as good as anyone else’s, given the proper work, of course.

This activity works like this:

  • Select a YouTube video with no voice over. Wildlife videos can be a good source of material.
  • Learners using iPhones, iPads and Android devices can access the videos on their gadgets.
  • Learners watch the video and identify the various themes on it e.g. love, bravery etc.
  • Select a song or poem which you think would go well with the video. If you decide to use this activity as a class project, give learners time to find their own poems or songs.
  • Learners watch the video and match the song or poem with the video. Encourage the learners to use their creativity as well and write new lines to go with the video.
  • Using speech symbols, learners study the poem or song, marking it with speech symbols and practise saying it on their own or mirroring each other’s mouths without making a sound.
  • Engage the learners into breathing exercises for relaxation and confidence.
  • Organise the learners into groups for them to narrate the videos in real time.

In summary, I hope you will find these activities of useful for helping your learners discover the power of their voice so that they can use it to do the work for their pronunciation development.

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Giving the learners a ‘pragmatic shock’ in the pronunciation classroom: a voice-based activity

Arizio Sweeting has taught and trained in Brazil, Macau, New Zealand and now Australia, where he works for the Institute of Continuing & TESOL Education at the University of Queensland (ICTE-UQ). Here he describes an activity that focuses on the use of students’ voices for delivering messages to others.

“Listen to me. Listen to me! I have a voice!” says Colin Firth as King George VI in the King’s Speech (2010). Like Firth’s character, language learners also have a voice and their voice is much more than sounds; it is also the representation of their personality. As Berry (2003) emphasises the ‘voice is …the outward expression of [the] inner self, a sort of channel from inside to outside, and is therefore a very particular expression of [one’s’] personality” (p. 6). Thus, it is time for the pronunciation classroom to start providing learners with more than traditional focus on phonemic symbols, charts, lists of minimal pairs and articulation diagrams, but with voice and pragmatic awareness practice such as in the activity I wish to suggest below.

It is called Say It Like You Mean It and it follows Copeman’s (2012) premise of ‘fake it till you make it’ (p. 22). In this activity, learners rehearse and focus on the use of their voice for delivering ‘difficult’ messages to others, such as telling someone that they have bad breath or that the colour of their shirt is ugly. An important consideration, however, is that the aim of this activity is not to encourage learner insensitivity, but to familiarise the learners with their ‘voice image’ i.e. the way their voice is perceived by others (Berry: 2003: 22). In general, the main objective of the activity is for learners to receive a ‘pragmatic shock’ which can trigger off self-awareness of ‘voice image’ and pragmatics.

In class, give the learners a message card each and get them to practise saying the message in their own minds without showing them to others. The learners then mingle and fire these messages to each other in conversations on a given topic e.g. their plans for the weekend.

Once this is done, conduct a class discussion on the learners’ reactions and try to covers the following points:

  • their thoughts and feelings about the experience
  • how their voice sounded when they delivered the messages
  • the words they used
  • the various reactions to the messages

After that, do some work on vocabulary and register by writing an example of a message up on the board e.g. You are a liar and get the learners to suggest improvements for it e.g. I hope you don’t mind me saying that, but I don’t think you’re telling me the truth. Focus the learners on pronunciation here too.

Now, get the learners with the same messages to work in groups and improve register. Give the learners time for rehearsal by getting them to practise in different corners of the classroom. Play some background music for relaxation.

Finally, the learners find new partners to make conversations and re-deliver the messages. Then, do a wrap-up discussion with the class on the second delivery and check if the learners have noticed any changes in communication.

As Thornbury (1993:127) points out by quoting Wilkins, ‘too many teachers have been trained to believe that pronunciation involves little more than a list of sounds… The practice of sounds in isolation is of limited value’ (Wilkins, 1972,1978: 59). Therefore, I hope this article can contribute with an example of a possible change of practice for the pronunciation classroom.


Copeman, P. 2012. ‘Performing English: Adapting actor voice training techniques for TESOL to improve pronunciation intelligibility’. English Australia Journal 27.2.
Berry, C. (2003) Your Voice and How to Use it. The Classic Guide to Speaking with Confidence. Virgin Books Ltd.
Thornbury, S. 1993. ‘Having a good jaw: voice-setting phonology’. ELT Journal 47.2 Oxford University Press.
Wilkins, D. 1972, 1978. Linguistics in Language Teaching. London: Edward Arnold.

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3-Step Guide: Teaching Conversation to Beginners from Day One

School childrenBefore ever working as an English instructor, I taught dance for many years. Getting dancers to remember the steps is a task typically met with varying degrees of success and frustration! My perception changed after taking a master class with a choreographer whom I admired greatly. Not only were the movements taught in a fun and fluid way, students of all ages caught on immediately and had the routine memorized and performed fully by the end of the hour-long class. The secret to this method of teaching was consistent repetition, without breaks. It was interesting to see a technique completely new to me working so perfectly. It changed the way I thought about teaching dance, and it also influenced my method of teaching in various disciplines throughout my life, from then on. I used this method to teach conversation during my time as an ESL instructor, and it worked wonders!

How does it work?

Basically, the method goes like this: The instructor puts on music and simply begins to dance the first few steps. The students then copy the movements. The instructor does the first steps over and over, without stopping, and the students follow along. Then, after almost everyone is in synch, the instructor adds on the next few steps, without pausing. The students then follow along, incorporating the steps they just learned with the new, additional steps. This method is repeated over and over, without breaking, until the entire routine has been covered. By that time, students have memorized the movements with their bodies, without even realizing it.

The point of teaching this way, the instructor said, is to get students to stop thinking and start doing. Constant repetition is also the best way to ingrain new information quickly and with few errors.

How can you get the conversation started?

In an English language setting, I found that this works best for practice with speaking out loud.

Instead of practicing speaking aloud with a particular unit and then moving on to the next, students can learn basic communication much better by continuous, repetitive practice of simple exchanges, which are built upon bit by bit. This simple dialogue does not need to move as quickly as the lessons themselves. Instead, start small and keep building as soon as the majority of the students can comprehend and respond fluidly. You can ask simple, conversational questions in the beginning of class as students are getting situated, then ask them anytime throughout the lesson. Start out by writing a simple exchange on the board. Practice it all together, first. Then, starting the next class, you can begin to practice it in repetition.

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