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English Language Teaching Global Blog


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Solving your difficulties as an EFL teacher – An #EFLproblems update

Young stressed woman holding her head and yelling.The Professional Development team here at OUP is helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks right here on our blog.

Recently, we’ve posted the following blogs in response to teachers’ questions:

Each of these blogs was followed by a live Facebook chat with a member of the Professional Development team to discuss the topic further. Dozens of teachers have taken part in these chats to help them better understand how to deal with the issues we’ve addressed. Be sure to like our Facebook page to be reminded of upcoming live chats.

If you are facing a teaching challenge that you would like us to write about, please leave a comment on the EFLproblems blog post. You can also let us know on Twitter using the hashtag #EFLproblems or on our Facebook page.

We would also like to take this opportunity to point you towards some of the great resources we have available for teachers.

Social Media

You can follow OUP ELT on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and, of course, here on our blog. If you are new to any of these platforms, these instructions will help get you started.

If you use an RSS reader, subscribe to our blog to stay up to date with the English language teaching articles we post several times a week.

Professional Development Webinars

Did you know that OUP runs free webinars every week? If you’ve never attended a webinar, it’s definitely worth a try. All webinar attendees receive a certificate of attendance, a PDF of the slides, and a link to the webinar recording. Even if you can’t attend the webinar at the time it’s happening, signing up will give you access to the recorded webinar. If you miss any webinars, you can catch up with the webinar resources archive.

Oxford Teachers’ Club

With the Oxford Teachers’ Club, you can get free access to over 18,000 trusted EFL and ESL resources, lesson plans, worksheets, and activities, which you can download to support your English language teaching.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who has submitted a question for us. Keep them coming, so we can continue learning and developing together.


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Solving your difficulties as an EFL teacher – #EFLproblems

Young stressed woman holding her head and yelling.What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language (EFL)? Is it getting your students to speak in English? Reducing the use of L1 in your classes? Motivating your students to learn? Maybe something concerning behaviour?

We in the Professional Development Department at Oxford University Press receive a lot of questions about teaching and learning. Through our work with teachers and trainers all over the world, we also receive a lot of ideas, simple suggestions and activities. So, we’ve decided to write a series of bi-monthly articles focussing on addressing these greatest challenges.

Tell us about your challenges in the comments area below this article. You can also let us know on Twitter using the hashtag #EFLproblems or on our Facebook page.

Every two weeks, we will focus on one of the challenges you send us by addressing it right here on the Oxford University Press ELT blog. We will follow up each blog post with a live Facebook chat to discuss the issue further. Join us to ask questions and contribute your ideas on the topic.

The first challenge will be posted on October 23, with a follow up Facebook chat on October 25. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.

We look forward to hearing from you, so we can continue learning and developing together.

Subscribe to the Professional Development RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss a post!


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Supporting students with specific learning needs

Student looking confusedTo celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, Michele Daloiso, author of pedagogical OUP material for Italy and teacher at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, explores ways we can support learners with specific educational needs in our ELT classrooms.

Kevin is a preschool kid. He is very smart and creative. He likes playing with building blocks and playing with his classmates. He’s also very sociable, although when it comes to sing along or act a poem out sometimes he just cut himself off from the rest of the class, or he doesn’t seem to remember the right words. Maybe he’s just a little shy. Maybe it’s just his learning style.

Kevin is six years old now and he starts struggling with literacy. The mismatch between his classmates and him gets bigger and bigger and by the end of the second year Kevin doesn’t seem to have reached the basic learning goals for reading and writing. Some teachers say he’s slow, others say he’s just lazy and disorganized. His parents take him to a specialist and find out that Kevin is neither mentally retarded nor lazy. He has dyslexia, a learning difficulty which causes trouble in some specific tasks like spelling words, reading out loud, writing by dictation. However, the speech therapist made her point very clear: Kevin is really smart, he just needs to be supported with some specific teaching strategies.

So, what happens when kids like Kevin start learning a foreign language (FL)? Well, it can be a torture or a pleasure… it depends on the quality of the support they will receive. Accommodation is necessary because the traditional FL class can cause some learning barriers, some of which are due to a conflict between common teaching practice and these students’ preferred way of learning. So, let’s see how an FL teacher could help a kid like Kevin. Particularly, I would like to discuss the four most important strategies to remember (for more information see Schneider and Crombie, 2003; Kormos and Kontra, 2008; Nijakowska, 2008; Daloiso, 2012).

First, these students are likely to benefit from structured instruction (in fact, Kevin was said to be disorganized). This can be easily achieved by setting clear language goals for each class and make them explicit, providing lesson plan outlines, summaries and revision sheets, breaking down long activities into small steps etc. Structured instruction also implies that highly structured activities will be more effective. For instance, an oral interaction exercise which requires to promptly improvise a dialogue is very unlikely to work out for these students. The activity is just too loosely structured. On the contrary, these students would benefit from a more structured oral exercise providing not only the roles, but also an explicit interaction pattern to be followed (“first ask this”, “then say that” etc.), along with some useful key-words and phrases.

Second, we need to keep in mind that an FL teacher is not a speech therapist. Students like Kevin will keep on having trouble with some specific tasks, such as taking notes, copying from board, reading out loud, spelling words, writing by dictation. I don’t think we should insist on these tasks in the FL, especially if we cannot give them the opportunity of some individual classes to help them cope with these specific difficulties. For the same reason, teachers should not penalize them for slow and inaccurate reading or spelling mistakes. It would be like penalizing myopic students because they can’t see things well.

Here comes the third suggestion. Myopic students are allowed to wear glasses.  Similarly these students should get access to specific tools.  Technology could be of great help in many ways. For instance, using their laptops for writing compositions,  students can get access to digital dictionaries and spell checkers. If students have severe dyslexia they can use text-to-speech devices and the textbook recordings as a support for reading comprehension.

Kevin is a dyslexic student, he has a language disability. What about his abilities? What do we know about his learning style? Many dyslexic students are said to have developed a global style, so they tend to “get the whole picture” of a text rather than analyzing every single detail. Therefore, they benefit from contextualization activities preceding reading or listening (analyzing a picture, learning the key-words in advance). They are often visual learners, so they benefit from visual prompts based on pictures and videos. So, the fourth aspect to remember is: labelling students according to what they are not able to do may be a good choice for speech therapists, who need to work on language remediation, but it is unlikely to be the best choice for education.  Getting to know the student’s preferred way of learning is the best starting point.

Now let’s go back to little Kevin. Now we know that he learns best in a structured way, he is a global and visual learner, he benefits from technology to overcome some weaknesses. We probably need some more information about him, but I feel this is a good starting point to successfully include him in the FL classroom and grant him some opportunity for successful learning.

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The Role, Importance, and Power of Words

One of the aims of this blog is to help teachers use new technology in the classroom by staying ahead of the digital learning curve and using technology to improve writing activities. But not everyone is in favour of abandoning the traditional grammar guide for the emerging language conventions favoured on user-generated sites like Twitter. This post by Alexa Russell, a writer at OnlineEnglishDegree, discusses the struggle faced by contemporary academics who want to preserve established writing conventions whilst remaining relevant in the 21st century.

The written word is inflating the size of the Internet at an incredible pace. WordPress, one of the more popular blog hosting websites, estimates that its users create 500,000 new posts each day. Even at only 100 words per post, that’s more than 50 million original words of content every 24 hours. And that doesn’t include other popular blog hosting services such as LiveJournal.

This increase in publication among writers who don’t have a professional editing process has led to some interesting developments in the use of the English language. The rules of grammar, like proper punctuation use and spelling, are being used fast and loose in the Internet realm. Texting and other forms of short content publication, like Twitter, are further pushing the envelope. Users continually have to learn how to condense their language to maximize the amount of information they can post.

Some developments in Internet speak have become almost mainstream in their use. Popular acronyms for “laughing out loud” or “be right back” are instantly recognizable by most participants in digital communication. Although the deconstruction of the English language for interpersonal communication is widely embraced, even in verbal conversation, academia has had a difficult time incorporating these changes.

English for academic purposes, or EAP, defines the proper use of English for academic purposes like scholarly writing. Many of the rules mandated by EAP are in direct conflict with the tendency of heavy Internet users to abbreviate language, which leads to misspelling and improper grammar. This is especially true of young college students, who are among the heaviest users of Twitter, blogs and other digital forms of publishing.

Some college professors have advocated the use of blogs to improve writing style, although the idea has its critics. The New York Times reported a story in January 2012 of Duke English professor Cathy Davidson, who has abolished the quarterly term paper traditionally assigned by the class in favor of regular contribution to a class blog on course topics. She finds the looser writing standards to be a boon for her more talented students. “This mechanistic writing is a real disincentive to creative but untrained writers,” she told the New York Times. “As a writer, it offends me deeply.”

Other academic professionals believe that there’s no substitute for carefully planned, thoroughly researched writing. “Writing term papers is a dying art,” said Douglas Reeves, founder of the Learning and Leadership Center, “but those who do write them have a dramatic leg up in terms of critical thinking.” Reeves argues that this type of serious expression is crucial in both academia and the job market.

Although many bemoan the ‘mangling’ of the English language, few believe that Internet speak is a phenomenon that will die out any day soon. Sis Bowman, a writer for Ohio’s Zanesville Times Recorder, is discouraged by the casual nature of written conversation online but believes that we need to accept it rather than enforce stringent language rules. “I am trying to face that times have changed and will continue to progress long after I am gone,” Bowman writes.

College professors should start to see the wisdom of statements like this. Reeves is correct that there is no way to replace rational, clear writing as a means of presenting your ideas seriously. But much of the real world communication taking place today follows rules that are ignored by academia. Learning how to communicate effectively by somebody else’s rules is just as important as enforcing the strict grammatical rules used for EAP.

[Photo by urlesque via Flickr/Creative Commons]

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Brave New World English

Robin Walker is a freelance language teacher, teacher educator and materials writer. In this post, he considers the vital role that English now plays in World business and communication, and discusses the increasing importance of English as a Lingua Franca. Robin hosted a Webinar “Pronunciation for International Intelligibility”. Watch the recording of this webinar here.

Last month I took on two clients, both seeking coaching in pronunciation. Pablo works in the finance department of a US multinational that has a key European plant here in northern Spain. His boss is Irish, but most of the people he uses English with are non-native speakers. Pablo handles accounts for the whole of Europe, and even within the confines of his office, he’s in daily contact with speakers from over 17 different countries.

Ana works at the Spanish branch of a German company that makes air bridges, the metal and glass tubes that feed us on and off planes in airports around the world. She uses her English for telephone calls, Skyping and video-conferencing, and with Chinese, Brazilian, Arabian and European clients. English dominates her daily life despite working in Spain, and her office is a Tower of Babel in the making.

Image courtesy of fimoculous on flickr

Wow! It’s happened. (They said it would.)

Wow! It’s happening right now. (It’s everywhere I go.)

And wow! It’s going to go on happening far into the future.

English has gone global, and is being used much more today as a lingua franca (between non-native speakers), than as a native language (between native speakers), or as a foreign language (between native speakers and non-native speakers).

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