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English Language Teaching Global Blog


Scared to teach?

Jamie Keddie, author of Images, part of the Resource Books for Teachers series, discusses the role of images and texts in classroom activities and whether they are used as a substitute for actual contact teaching. Jamie will be hosting a Global Webinar on this topic on 14th and 30th November 2011. You can find out more information and register to attend here.

Recently, I heard a story about an English language teacher who went on to teach mathematics at secondary level in the United Kingdom. Having spent 6 years in Spain, looking for ways to get his learners to speak English, it seems that he was able to put the fruits of this period to good use in his new job.

One communicative activity for geometry that he devised was to give each student in the class a piece of paper with a different shape on it. Their task was to mingle and describe their shapes to each other without showing each other the images.

“Well, this shape has three sides and two of them are of equal lengths,” student A would say. “Is it an isosceles triangle?” was the expected response from student B.

My friend who told me the story was making the point that many of the techniques that make up a language teacher’s classroom repertoire may lend themselves to other teachers in completely different contexts.

This is, of course, hardly a revolutionary observation. But what about the other way around? In other words, how much do language teachers borrow from the techniques of non-language teachers?

Of course, I can only speak for myself. And to do so, I want to recall a moment from earlier this year.

It was a Sunday evening and I was desperately trying to find a short text on the Normans. I needed classroom material to use with a group of visiting students from China who were in the UK for an intensive English language and culture course.

Now, I happen to enjoy history. If you want to know about the Normans and how they changed the course of the British history, you could do a lot worse than ask me to tell you what I know.

At school, I was lucky enough to be taught by a number of inspirational teachers, none of whom were afraid to share their subject knowledge. In other words, they used to teach us.

So the question is this: Why did it not occur to me to stand up and enlighten these students using my own voice and teaching skills? Why was I so intent on finding a text – a piece of paper to do the job for me?

If teachers of other subjects can borrow from us, why did the idea of borrowing from them not cross my mind? Am I alone in realising that for years, I have been afraid to teach?

In my webinar next week, I shall be exploring this topic and more. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you will join us, tell us of your own experiences, and put forward your own views.

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Computer Mediated Communication: Bridging the gaps between writing and speaking

Teenage girl typing on her laptopFollowing on from her first post about Computer Assisted Language Learning, Zoe Handley considers the technologies used by language learners to communicate with educators and other learners.

Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) is the broad term for technologies which allow language learners to communicate with other learners or native speakers through text or audio.

Including e-mail, discussion forums, text messaging, chat and conferencing, CMC has attracted a lot of attention because of its potential to break down Krashen’s (1982) acquisition/learning barrier. According to Krashen, there is a qualitative difference between the subconscious process of acquiring, or ‘picking up’ a language, through interaction with native speakers and the conscious process of learning a language in a classroom through focused activities. While acquisition results in learners ‘knowing how’ to use the language, learning results in learners ‘knowing about’ the language – and apparently it is not possible for learned knowledge to become acquired knowledge.

Chat – text vs oral

The potential to provide students with opportunities to engage in acquisition particularly applies to synchronous voice chat – the type of chat which allows learners to engage in real-time conversations with native speakers.

Consequently, research has focused on comparing chat and face-to-face conversations to assess whether chat provides learners with the right conditions for acquiring language. Does it provide opportunities to negotiate meaning, for example?

Research by Lee (2001) confirms that chat does indeed allow learners to engage in these forms of interaction. In fact, it has been observed that in text-based chat, learners are more likely to focus on form than in face-to-face communication (Warschauer, 1997).

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