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Teaching the “secret” language of social interaction | Anna Krulatz

Language pragmatics

Successful communication in English entails, among other skills, the ability to use language in socially appropriate ways, also known as pragmatic competence. For example, when making a complaint about the quality of food, language learners need to consider their relationship with the other person (are they friends, or are they co-workers?), the social distance (how well you know them), and the setting of the interaction (is it at home or at a restaurant?). The answers to these questions are crucial for contextualising communication, and they help people determine the linguistic resources they select to communicate.

In a less formal context and when interacting with someone we know well, we may say, “Does the soup seem too cold to you? How about if we stick it back in the microwave for a minute?” whereas in a restaurant, when making a complaint to a server, we may instead opt for, “Excuse me, my soup is cold. Would you be able to warm it up for me?” In recent years, pragmatic competence has received increasing recognition as an important component of language instruction.

The why and the how of pragmatics instruction

Research suggests that because pragmatics is closely related to cultural norms and to individuals’ beliefs and identities, it is one of the most difficult areas for language learners to grasp (Kasper & Rose, 2002). Pragmatic nuances are also difficult to notice in the input because many of them are so salient. For instance, there is a subtle difference between “Can I sneak by?” and “Can you move?” yet the situations in which these utterances are appropriately used are quite different. Other speech events, such as interactions between doctors and patients which usually take place behind closed doors, may simply not be available in the input at all. At the same time, we now know that unlike grammatical errors, pragmatic errors tend to be interpreted on a social or personal level, and therefore “may hinder good communication between speakers, may make the speaker appear abrupt or brusque in social interactions, or may make the speaker appear rude or uncaring” (Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003, p. 38).  For these reasons, it is particularly important for language teachers to help learners develop their pragmatic skills.

However, while there is now a consensus among second language researchers and practitioners that “most aspects of pragmatics are amenable to instruction, [and that] instruction is better than non-instruction for pragmatic development” (Taguchi, 2011, p. 291), the debate on how teachers can best promote pragmatic development in the classroom is still ongoing. To date, the strongest rationale for the existing approaches to teaching pragmatics comes from Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis (1993, 2001), which states that in order to acquire certain linguistic features, language learners need to first notice them in the input. Consequently, the teaching of pragmatics often focuses on raising learners’ awareness of the linguistic forms that perform various pragmatic functions (for instance that a request can be performed using imperatives such as “Open the window!” or hints “It’s hot in here.”). However, pragmatics instruction should not be prescriptive in nature. Rather, its goal is to make learners familiar with various target language pragmatic choices and practices and to enable them to make informed decisions when interacting with different people and in different settings (Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003).

Teaching pragmatics with Wide Angle

Wide Angle, a new series for adults from Oxford University Press spanning CEFR levels A1 to C1, helps English language learners discover the “secret” rules of English and learn to say the right thing at the right time. The activities in each lesson follow the activation-presentation-production approach, with activities moving from controlled to freer. The design of the activities fulfills two important criteria for sound pragmatics teaching practices as specified by Bardovi-Harlig and Mahan-Taylor (2003):

  1. They provide models of authentic language use;
  2. Learners are exposed to input before they are expected to reflect on language use and participate in interactions.

Activity types (Activate, Notice, Analyse, and Interact) are loosely based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, with the level of linguistic and cognitive challenge increasing.


Anna Krulatz is Associate Professor of English at the Department of Teacher Education at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. She holds a PhD in linguistics from the University of Utah. Her research focuses on pragmatic development in adult language learners, multilingualism with English, content based instruction, and language teacher education. She has published (and has forthcoming) articles, teaching tips, and book chapters on topics related to teaching and learning pragmatics.


References

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Mahan-Taylor, R. (2003, July). Introduction to teaching pragmatics. English Teaching Forum, 37-39.

Kasper, G., & Rose, K. (2002). Pragmatic Development in a Second language. Oxford, Malden: Blackwell Publishing.

Taguchi, N. (2011). Teaching pragmatics: Trends and issues. Annual Review of Applied    Linguistics, 31, 289-310.


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Developing listening skills with storytelling | Gareth Davies

Storytelling in ELT is often seen as the preserve of the young learner teacher. Telling a story with lots of repetition, noises, and action is considered far too childish for teen and adult learners. But stories are in our soul, we grew up with them, remember them fondly and can learn a lot from them, so maybe stories can be part of language lessons for older students.


Why storytelling?

The benefits of grading reading are well documented. Students reading for pleasure at their own level not only improve their reading skill but also their grammar and vocabulary level. But why is so little said about Graded Listening. When we do a listening activity in an English lesson there is always a task to go with it. This listen and answer approach often stresses students, no wonder then that listening is often considered by students to be the ‘hardest’ skill to master. We rarely ask students to just listen for pleasure. We rarely say don’t worry about it; there won’t be a ‘test’ at the end. But could that be beneficial for students? Could it help them to improve their listening skills and their grammar and vocabulary like grading reading does?

Case Study

I’ve been telling stories with students for about three years but at the end of 2018, I spent three months teaching young adults in Japan and decided to do a little experiment.  At least once a week I told them a story. Sometimes I did nothing with it, just told it at the beginning or the end of the lesson and moved on. Sometimes we briefly discussed the story and then moved on. Sometimes I built a lesson around the story. I told the story using actions, pictures and sounds if needed to help with the meaning but still in an adult way. The students enjoyed the stories, and they produced some really excellent work based on them. When I asked them at the end of the course if they could remember the stories, they listed them and took pleasure in retelling them to each other.

Here is some of the feedback that I’ve been receiving from students:

  • ‘Thanks to the storytelling lessons, I got skills for listening, imagination and retelling.’
  • ‘This definitely helped our listening skills…. we could communicate with each other and try to express our thoughts, ideas, and so on.’
  • ‘Those stories let me imagine the view, place, person and a lot of other stuff.’
  • ‘I learnt many expressions, including what I’ve never used to express myself.’
  • ‘It’s motivating to listen eagerly.’
  • Some activities gave me a power of understanding.’

One student even asked me if I could help her to become a storyteller like me!

Activities

The first activity I did after each story was simply to ask students to retell the story to each other. This helped them fill the gaps in each other’s knowledge, developed their understanding of the story, and gave them a chance to ask me questions. Because I had a few artistic students in my class, I encouraged them to draw the story at this stage. Here are three other activities that I will look at in my Webinar.

Newspapers

Ask the students to make a newspaper article for their story. Show them a narrative newspaper story, ask about the features, how the story is told in the newspaper, who is being interviewed etc. Then ask the students to work in small groups to create a newspaper front page based on the story.

Newspaper storytelling activity.

Prequel or Sequel?

Ask them to write a prequel or sequel to the story. Talk about films like Star Wars or Harry Potter. How did the story move on? Then, ask the students to think about the story and how the characters would develop in 5, 10, or 15 years’ time. Put them in small groups and ask them to write their new versions of the story.  

Prequel or Sequel storytelling activity.

Twitter

Get them to write a twitter feed for each of the characters. This is a bit more complicated to set up, but it worked like a charm. First you need to break the story down into factual components. Then, ask them to think how each character would respond to the event and how they would update their twitter feed. Ask them to write the Tweets and then put them in order to create a Twitter version of the story.

Twitter storytelling activity.

The last lesson

In my last lesson with the students, I asked them to tell me a story from Japan. I put the students into groups and gave them time to plan and then asked them to tell me the story. Their renditions were fun, enthusiastic and brought a tear to my eye.

I genuinely believe that listening for pleasure has a place in language learning and storytelling can give students a chance to listen to something that is enjoyable and understandable, and this takes the pressure off listening.


Gareth Davies is a writer, storyteller, teacher, and teacher trainer based in Cardiff. He has been in the ELT industry for 23 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Recently he has been teaching and storytelling in Japan. Since 2005, Gareth has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth is also an examiner for the new Oxford Test of English and Trinity College, London. Outside of teaching, Gareth is an author of fiction, a poet and a storyteller. His first novel “Humans, Being”, will be published by Cinnamon Press in April 2019. He is interested in developing creative writing and story-telling ideas for the classroom.

Visit Gareth’s website: www.gareththestoryteller.com


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Say it app: Using digital resources in the classroom

Say it! app

Digital resources are abundant these days, and their use in the classroom, and by students in their own time, is an increasing trend. But it can be difficult to know what to use, and how to use it. These apps and websites don’t tend to come with a well-researched Teachers’ Book to help you plan your lesson!

As a starting point, it can be helpful to ask your students which English learning apps and websites they use themselves. Asking them to write a review, a report, or even give a short presentation about their favourite digital resources can be a great classroom activity (particularly if they are preparing for an exam such as Cambridge Advanced). It will give you valuable insight into what they’re using so that you can select digital elements to incorporate into lessons and homework.

Once you’ve got a shortlist of digital resources you like, you can focus more on understanding how they work and how they can support your students’ learning. I’ve been really impressed with some of the feeds on Instagram, for example (although there is a lot that I find less helpful too!) English Test Channel (@english_tests on Instagram, or  youtube.com/englishtestchannel) posts pictures and videos covering different aspects of English grammar and spelling – it’s great as ‘bite-sized’ learning for students, or to give them something extra to practice at home. I also regularly point my students in the direction of flo-joe.co.uk for extra Cambridge exam tips and practice.

When we were designing the Say It: English Pronunciation app (IOS, Android), we wanted to marry a great digital learning experience with fantastic content. I use the app with my students to help them with pronunciation, but it also improves their listening comprehension and their spelling.

The broad range of vocabulary in the app – the full word list has over 35,000 entries – is incredibly helpful. Whilst teaching a Spanish nurse the other day, we looked up medical terms, such as ‘alimentary canal’, and also everyday words she uses with patients, like ‘comfortable’. She has a C1 level of English but told me she sometimes avoids using certain vocabulary when speaking because she lacks confidence in pronunciation.

We’ve also recently introduced English File content into Say It, and are delighted to be partnered with a coursebook which has such a strong focus on pronunciation. Say It contains around 250 English File words and the iconic English File Sound Bank – both use the classroom audio which English File students are familiar with.

So what are your favourite digital resources for learning and teaching English? Have you found any fantastic, engaging, learning-focused tools which work well for you and your students? Let us know in the comments below!


Classroom activities

Review of a digital learning resource.

Either in small groups or individually, students write a review/report/presentation of their favourite digital English learning resource.

1. Describe what it is

2. Talk about what you can do with it, and why it’s useful

3. What are the app/site’s USPs?

4. Are there any improvements you would make, or new features you’d like to see?

5. Why would you recommend it to friends?

*Classroom activity two – English learning app mini hack!*

In groups, ask the students to develop a concept for a new English learning app. They can:

1. Come up with a name for their product

2. Design an icon

3. Explain in words/drawings what the app does (eg does it help students with writing, spelling, grammar…?)

4. Draw out at least one ‘wireframe’ screen for the app, showing how users will interact with it and learn from it

5. Write a promotional text (around 30 words)

6. Think about pricing – how much would it cost, what model would they use (paid app, subscription, in-app purchase, advertising)


Jenny Dance runs a language school in Bristol, and published the award-winning Say It: English Pronunciation app with OUP. In this post, she talks about an approach to exploring digital resources which students and teachers can use to support learning, both in the classroom and at home.


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A new vision for language assessment

When did you last have your eyes examined?

It’s recommended that adults with normal vision should have their eyes checked every couple of years. Understanding the health of the eyes and how to improve vision is a highly skilled task so is best done by a qualified optometrist. It is also easiest when the patient cooperates and is happy to sit patiently while, for example, trying to read the wall chart through different lenses.

With some patients (fidgety young children) this is a challenge, but the skilled optometrist finds different ways to relax them and to turn the exam into a child-friendly experience. Arriving at an effective prescription involves both the optometrist and the patient. The optometrist offers different choices, the patient honestly reports whether the picture becomes clearer or fuzzier. Between them they find the right tools (such as glasses or contact lenses) to improve the patient’s ability to see. The optometrist may also offer clinical advice on ways to protect or improve vision, or find problems that require specialist treatment.

Seeing language assessment differently

Effective language assessment should be more like an eye examination. Learners want to be able to communicate better. The well-trained teacher, like the optometrist, gives them carefully chosen tasks to perform, helps them find the right tools to communicate more effectively and gives advice on helpful study strategies. Finding the best next steps for learning is cooperative: it involves cooperation and trust between the teacher and learners. Certainly, learners are sometimes unwilling to cooperate, but the good teacher looks for ways to make learning the language and the assessment process more engaging and motivating.

One size doesn’t fit all

Unfortunately, the techniques we use for assessment are often too basic to do the job. We tend to think of assessment as something that happens at the end of a learning process. A check on whether the learners have learnt as much as we think they should. This is rather like an eye examination that puts patients in front of a wall chart, gives them a pair of glasses designed for someone with average visual acuity for their age group and simply tells them that they can see better, as well as, or worse than expected before sending them on their way. In fact, our techniques discourage cooperation and instead push learners to disguise any difficulties they may have with language learning. Rather than telling the teacher that they are struggling to understand, they’ll do what they can to pretend they have ‘20/20 vision’ to get the top grades. Some, looking at their poor results, may conclude that they can’t learn and give up all motivation to study languages.

A new vision


I think it’s time for us in the language teaching profession to look at assessment through a new set of lenses. It should be the starting point for finding out about our students, not the last step in the teaching cycle: filling in the grades before we close the book. Briefly, we need to assess learning earlier and more often, but using less intrusive methods: more observation and portfolios; fewer tests and quizzes. We need to think of assessment as an interactive process. If an answer is wrong, why is it wrong? What can be done to improve it? If it is right, why is it right? What does the learner understand that helped them to find the right answer? Can they help other learners to understand? We need to include learners more in the assessment process, experimenting with language to find out what works best: not trying to hide their difficulties.


Anthony Green is Director of the Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment and Professor in Language Assessment at the University of Bedfordshire, UK. He is the author of Exploring Language Assessment and Testing (Routledge), Language Functions Revisited and IELTS Washback in Context (both Cambridge University Press). He has served as President of the International Language Testing Association (ILTA) and is an Expert Member of the European Association for Language Testing and Assessment (EALTA).

Professor Green has consulted and published widely on language assessment. He is Executive Editor of Assessment in Education as well as serving on the editorial boards of the journals Language Testing, Assessing Writing and Language Assessment Quarterly. His main research interests lie in the relationship between assessment, learning and teaching.


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Preparing students for life on a different planet | OUP

Every generation brings something new to the education table. That goes without saying. So far, however, we’ve been able to identify our students’ needs and adjust to their expectations and general potential, mainly thanks to the length of time separating one generation from another. Or have we? Nevertheless, we’ve been a group of self-proclaimed experts who have successfully (?) developed ground-breaking teaching methods based on our years of teaching experience.

But the times, they are changing…

Are we able to confidently say that we’re equipping our students with the skills that they’ll need to tackle the challenges of the future?

The gig economy

We already live in a gig economy, within which many professionals are engaged in short-term projects. Consequently, the people that work in the gig economy must be excellent at adapting to successfully compete in ever-changing global contexts, with uncertainty, and under time pressure. According to a study by Intuit, in 2020 about 40 percent of workers in the US will be employed temporarily by various organizations to carry out single projects. And it stands to reason that, since these tasks might be quite unique in nature, they will require creativity, self-management, and digital skills.

So, how can you prepare yourself and your students for this very alien future? Developing the following key competences will come in handy:

  • Communicating in a mother tongue
  • Communicating in a foreign language
  • Mathematical, scientific and technological competence
  • Digital competence
  • Learning to learn skills
  • Social skills
  • Entrepreneurial skills
  • Cultural awareness

Use it or lose it

An old rule in neuroscience says ‘use it or lose it’. All of these crucial competences should be applied every day in class. To do this, we need to take a more individualistic approach with our students. Since most of us don’t have the privilege of teaching our students individually or even in small groups, we must instead harness technology to reach our students with personalised teaching approaches.

According to the World Economic Forum (2016), “Technology can personalise learning, engage the disengaged, complement what happens in the classroom, extend education outside the classroom, and provide access to learning to students who otherwise might not have sufficient educational opportunities.”

 The locker problem

The locker problem…

Last but not least, let me tell you about my personal New Year’s resolution. I decided to join the gym. It’s like travelling to a different planet for me. I entered the changing room and realized most people didn’t put their shoes in the lockers, but on them. Why? I’ll have to use all my key competences to figure it out. Any ideas?


Radek Krzyżanowski is a speaker, teacher trainer, and a sworn translator. He’s currently running his own language school, which keeps him up-to-date with the latest trends in glottodidactics. Teaching Business English and exam preparation are among his favourites. His general interests include American literature and second language acquisition.