Is it true that learners of English in EFL context don’t have enough exposure to English?

True or False?

The idea that EFL learners have limited amount of exposure to English may not be true anymore. If you teach in a context where internet access is limited or too expensive and you don’t have enough books, magazines, audios, films or other resources in English which cater to your students’ level and interests, then the answer may be: true. Otherwise, the answer is: False.

Ten years ago, I started to get interested in High school students whose high level of English could not be explained by the time they had been studying English either at school or with private tutors. I realized these students used English just for pleasure through activities they found interesting: listening to songs or reading whatever book in English they could get.

The world has changed a lot since then, now the accessibility to material and technological resources in English is much easier and cheaper. Two years ago I Types of textsdecided to research the topic for my master thesis (that will be available to be shared in a few months). You can see a poster with some data from my research at Research Gate.

One of the aims of my investigation was to analyse the uses of English outside of the school of 122 High School students (16-18 years old) in an EFL context (Uruguay) and these were the main results:

N/S: not specified
N/I: not identified
No private lessons: students who do not attend private English lessons outside of school.

The most common practice in English carried out by students beyond the classroom is watching films and series, followed by watching videos online.

Surprisingly, the students who get more involved in English-based activities autonomously do not attend English private lessons.

More girls than boys get involved in out-of-class activities in all modes except for online games.

Therefore, students are exposed to different types of English input outside of school, so teachers may take advantage of these affordances (Menezes, 2011) and integrate them into their classrooms. Below, you will see some ideas:

How to take advantage of students’ beyond the class modes of  learning English

  • Setting class time to discuss which activities they have performed using English, what they have learnt and what strategies they have used to cope with difficulties. students

  • Checking what activities in English they engage in and bring them to the classroom, for example watching an episode from one of their favourite TV series or watching a music video of their favourite singer/group. You may also ask for volunteer students to prepare a lesson based on it.

  • Another alternative is to provide activities to be performed as homework to foster loglanguage awareness. However, teachers should refrain from focusing too much on grammar or vocabulary activities out of context (i.e.: focusing on isolated items without considering the context of use). As each student may engage in a particular activity and it’s likely that you can’t design an individual piece of homework for each of them, a good idea is to ask them to keep a learning log where they record the activity they have done, what they have learnt by doing it and again the strategies they have used to cope with unknown language. 

Whatever option you choose, remember to take into account your students’ interests, as it is this personal interest and the student’ s capacity for autonomy which make these affordances so powerful for language learning.

Also, try to encourage these kinds of engagement by valuing them, offering suggestions and helping less motivated students to try out new ways of being in contact with the English language.

Reference

Menezes V. (2011) Affordances for Language Learning Beyond the Classroom. In: Benson P., Reinders H. (eds) Beyond the Language Classroom. Palgrave Macmillan, London

 

 

Pardon my bad English, but I have something to say.

If you are not a native English speaker, you’ll probably find your English being corrected more often than you’d want or need.

This is especially common in social networks where people feel free to give opinions without much consideration for others or the consequences that such opinions may have on other people’s lives. Online forums, Facebook groups and pages, even personal profiles can be the arenas for unsolicited corrections.

Don’t get me wrong. I know my English is not perfect and I still have a lot to learn, but believe me it won’t help that you correct me in public.

I don’t know if it is an occupational habit, but many ESL teachers are very prone to doing that. There are students who want to be constantly corrected, it is their way of learning, but for the rest of the mortals it is disrespectful.

Language is not a neutral medium of communication, it is a site for struggle where voices fight to be heard (Heller, 1987) and I fight with my bad English because I know you can understand me.

I write (or speak) to express my opinions, to share my knowledge and experience, to connect with other people, I don’t write to be exposed by the ‘deficiency’ of my language. I write because, in spite of not being a native speaker or a highly proficient English speaker, I have something to say.

 

Reference

Heller, M. (1987) The role of language in the formation of ethnic identity. In J. Phinney
and M. Rotheram (eds) Children’s Ethnic Socialization (pp. 180–200). Newbury Park,
CA: Sage

 

Image credits

stock.tookapic.com

 

demanding teacher

My former students say they didn’t learn in my class

Does it ring a bell? Sometimes you end up discovering that your efforts and hard work were not enough for your students. If you are a school teacher, you most probably get to know about the issue through your former students’ new teacher or, because your new students make the same complaint about their former teacher.

teachers

This may happen to school teachers or to teachers who work at language institutions, where students change teachers every year. For private tutors, the issue may arise when the students quit for no clear reason.

You feel disappointed and may even ask yourself, what’s the point? What happened to all the efforts you devoted to:

  • preparing the lessons
  • delivering the lessons
  • preparing the following lesson based on how the last one worked
  • searching for new resources to motivate your students
  • searching for new approaches to teaching the topic to those learners who didn’t get it
  • preparing different types of evaluation and correcting them
  • setting up a good classroom atmosphere where every learner feels secure and appreciated
  • Etc., etc., etc., etc…..?demanding teachers

Well, maybe you are doing too much. Yes! You are doing too much.

How come? Well, last year I researched how high school students learn English as an L2 beyond the class (not published yet) and one of the findings was that:

What most students need in order to learn is to have a demanding teacher.

Does it sound odd? Well, in fact, it is not a new idea. Vygotsky claimed a long time ago that to learn a person must go beyond his/her current level of knowledge/competency/proficiency. If a person is always in his/her ‘comfort zone’ (sort to speak), no learning is possible. Learning occurs when the person is ‘forced’ to go beyond what he/she already knows (Zone of Proximal Development); in any other case, he/she would be just practising with his/her previous learning.

In the field of SLA, Krashen uses the idea of comprehensible input to explain how learning takes place. Learners should be exposed to input which is a bit further from their current level of knowledge to learn.

Your students won’t probably tell you that they want you to be demanding because they feel comfortable doing what they already know, but you may try talking to your former students in an informal setting asking them for their feedback on your teaching.

Besides, as important as learning is that students feel they have learned so they will feel confident about using the L2 and motivated to learn more.

However, how can a student feel that he/she has learned if nothing new is presented to him/her? What is new may be different to different students, so checking their prior knowledge is essential to offer the right challenge for each learner.

learning2

If you teach large classes, what you expect from all the learners may be the starting point, then you can suggest more challenging activities or contents for more advanced students. Let them choose their own learning path offering additional resources as needed.

If you need more ideas, you can watch Jim Scrivener’s talk Demand High

Have you ever been through this experience? Share your thoughts with us!

Younger is better to learn an L2?

How old were you when you started learning English?

Do you think you would be more fluent and accurate in English if you had started earlier?

Did you learn English ‘naturally’ or in a language institution? Is one way better than the other or does it depend on age?

Children, adolescents and adults have neurological, cognitive and psychological differences in the acquisition of L2. Children seem to be intrinsically better learners, while adolescents and adults have cognitive skills and self-discipline which enable them to utilize a larger volume of comprehensible input within the same exposure time period. On the other hand, older learners may be more greatly affected by the other factors in L2 such as motivation, anxiety and identity. The difference in the acquisition process demands different approaches to instructing learners of different age groups.

Age of acquisition: What does research say? Age of L2 acquisition

Age is easier to define and measure than personality, aptitude, or motivation. Nevertheless, the relationship between a learner’s age and his or her potential for success in second language acquisition is under debate.

Children from immigrant families eventually speak the language of their new community with native-like fluency, but the same does not happen to their parents. One explanation is that, as in first language acquisition, there is a critical period for second language acquisition.

Younger is better?

The Critical Period Hypothesis suggests that there is a time in human development (before puberty) when the brain is predisposed to success in language learning. Developmental changes in the brain, it is argued, affect the nature of language acquisition.

It is difficult to compare children and adults as second language learners. In addition to the possible biological differences suggested by the Critical Period Hypothesis, the conditions for language learning are often very different.

Younger learners:

  • Younger learners in informal language learning environments usually have more time to devote to learning language.
  • They often have more opportunities to hear and use the language in environments where they do not experience strong pressure to speak fluently and accurately from the very beginning.
  • Their early imperfect efforts are often praised or, at least, accepted.Younger is better?

Older learners:

  • They are often in situations which demand much more complex language and the expression of much more complicated ideas.
  • They often get embarrassed by their lack of mastery of the language and they may develop a sense of inadequacy after experiences of frustration in trying to say exactly what they mean.

Critique of the Critical Period Hypothesis

The Critical Period Hypothesis has been challenged in recent years from several different points of view:

  • At least in the early stages of second language development, older learners are more efficient than younger learners.
  • Learners who began learning a second language at the primary school level did not fare better in the long run than those who began in early adolescence.
  • There are countless anecdotes about older learners (adolescents and adults) who have reached high levels of proficiency in a second language.

Does this mean that there is no critical period for second language acquisition?Is there a critical period in L2 learning?

Patkowski (1980) found that age of acquisition is a very important factor in setting limits on the development of native-like mastery of a second language and that this limitation does not apply only to accent. These results gave added support to the Critical Period Hypothesis for second language acquisition.

Experience and research have shown that native-like mastery of the spoken language is difficult to attain by older learners. Nevertheless, there is some research which suggests that older learners may have an advantage, at least in the early stages of second language learning.

In the Snow and Hoefnagel-Hohle study (1982), it was found that adolescents and adults learned faster than children in the first few months of exposure to L2. By the end of the year, the children were catching up or had surpassed the adults on several measures. Nevertheless, it was the adolescents who retained the highest levels of performance overall.

Snow and Hoefnagel-Hohle concluded that their results provide evidence that there is no critical period for language acquisition. However, we should also consider that some of the tasks in the study (for example, sentence judgement or translation) were too hard for young learners.

Adults and adolescents may learn faster in the early stages of second language development (especially if they are learning a language which is similar to their first language) but young children eventually catch up and even surpass them if they are surrounded by the language on a daily basis.

young and old 1

Adults and adolescents can also make considerable and rapid progress towards mastery of a second language in contexts where they can make use of the language on a daily basis in social, personal, professional, or academic interaction.

The role of the critical period in second language acquisition is still much debated. Some researchers conclude that there are maturational constraints on language acquisition, but there are also others who consider that the age factor cannot be separated from factors such as motivation, social identity, and the conditions for learning. They argue that older learners may well speak with an accent because they want to continue being identified with their first language cultural group, and adults rarely get access to the same quantity and quality of language input that children receive in play settings.

Many people conclude on the basis of studies that it is better to begin second language instruction as early as possible if we seek the highest possible level of second language skills, the level at which a second language speaker is indistinguishable from a native speaker. But achieving a native-like mastery of the second language is not a goal for all second language learning, in all contexts.

What are the implications for educational settings? Implications of age and L2 learning in educational settings

In the chart below you will find a summary of the most important issues to consider when deciding on the most appropriate age to start learning an L2 in educational settings. These ideas apply to both formal and informal educational contexts (i.e.: school education and private L2 classes).

Younger is better to learn an L2?

Conclusions

There is strong evidence of the existence of a Critical Period for L2 demonstrating the value of early exposure to the second language.

However, the initial point of learning cannot play the same role in a naturalistic and in a classroom context; the earlier may be the better but provided that it is associated with enough significant exposure, other important conditions include that exposure to young learners should be intensively distributed giving learners opportunities to participate in a variety of L2 social contexts.

In the end, more important than the starting age of acquisition is the amount and frequency of exposure to the L2.

 

References

http://carla.umn.edu/learnerlanguage/ind_diff.html

Lightbown, P; Spada, N. (2001) Factors affecting Second Language Learning in English Language Teaching in its Social Context (pp. 28-43)

Muñoz, C. (2010). On how age affects foreign language learning. Advances in Research on Language Acquisition and Teaching: Selected Papers. Gala

Qin Zhao, A; Morgan C. (n.d.). Consideration of Age in L2 Attainment – Children, Adolescents and Adults. Asian EFL Journal

Dissapointment on coursebooks

Which coursebook to use (if any)?

Some weeks ago I shared a post about the decision of using a coursebook (or not). If you haven’t read it yet, here is the link To use or not to use coursebooks? Suppose you have decided (or are compelled) to use a coursebook and you are free to decide which coursebook to use, or you have been using a coursebook for some time and you want to change it because it is out-of-date or you are just bored, what issues should you consider to make the best choice? There are thousands of coursebooks in the ELT market, which one will be the best fit for your students and your own teaching approach? Well, this post intends to help you in that choice.coursebook evaluation

If you have been teaching for some time, you probably know some of the coursebooks, especially those published by the most famous ELT editorials. Maybe some of your colleagues have recommended the ones they are most comfortable with (or the ones you should never consider!). Maybe, there are some limitations in the availability of some of the coursebooks and there are only certain books you and your students can access. Taking these considerations into account, choose two or three coursebooks to evaluate (of course you can evaluate as many coursebooks as you want, but the decision will be harder if you have to evaluate many options).

Remember that after choosing a coursebook and telling your students (and sometimes their parents) which one/ones they will need to buy, it will be troublesome to convince them later that they will have to buy another book (coursebooks are not cheap for some educational contexts) because the first one was a bad choice (your bad choice!). So, take time to evaluate your options so that you end up with the best coursebook.

Evaluation of ELT coursebooks

Tomlinson and Masuhara’s (2004:1) definition of materials evaluation is: “Materials evaluation involves measuring the value (or potential value) of a set of learning materials by making judgements about the effect of materials on people using it”.

Coursebook evaluation

Teachers interested in the evaluation of ELT materials can find many frameworks and criteria developed by researchers and coursebook authors (Byrd, 2004; Cunningsworth, 1995; Harmer, 2007; McGrath, 2002; Sheldon, 1988; Tomlinson & Masuhara, 2004; Williams, 1983). However, as McDonough, Shaw & Masuhara (2013: 52) state “(…) there does not seem as yet an agreed set of criteria or procedures for evaluation”.

In this post I will discuss two frameworks: McDonough, Shaw & Masuhara’s (2013) which attempts to provide a comprehensive framework which might be applied in the majority of ELT situations worldwide; and, Littlejohn’s (2011) framework which aims to evaluate the materials ‘as they are’, not the ‘materials-in-action’ (i.e. as the teacher thinks the material should be used).

1 Coursebook evaluation in two stages

McDonough, Shaw & Masuhara (2013) examine materials in two stages: an external evaluation (cover, introduction, table of contents) and a more detailed internal evaluation.

The external evaluation(…) aims at examining the organization of the material as stated explicitly by the author/publisher by looking at: the ‘blurb’, or the claims made on the cover of the d/students’ book, and the introduction and table of contents” (op. cit.: 54). To achieve this the  following information should be gathered (op. cit.: 55-58): How to evaluate coursebooks

  • target audience
  • the proficiency level
  • the context in which the material will be used
  • how the language is organized into units, modules, etc.
  • the authors’ views on language, methodology and the relationship between the language, the language process and the learner
  • whether the material will be used as the ‘core’ course
  • whether  it is locally available
  • visuals, layout and presentation
  • presence of vocabulary lists or appendixes
  • cultural bias, representation of minority groups
  • the inclusion of digital materials (CDs, DVDs, downloadable materials), and the inclusion of a teacher’s book and tests

According to these authors, after this stage and having in mind the profile of the learners, we will have enough information to identify if the material is potentially appropriate and is worth a deeper inspection. 

The internal evaluation seeks to find information about:

  • the presentation of the skills (coverage, proportion, integration)
  • grading and sequencing (the type of progression, principle underlying progression, levels)
  • whether discourse skills are included
  • the ‘authenticity’ of the listening materials
  • the nature of interaction in oral dialogues (natural or artificial dialogues?)
  • the relationship of tests and activities to learners’ needs and the content of the book
  • suitability for different learning styles and access to self-study
  • the possibility of engagement for learners and teachers in terms of needs, goals, skills and beliefs.

Then, an overall evaluation can be made considering:How to evaluate coursebooks

  • the usability factor (possibility of integration to the syllabus)
  • the generalizability factor (whether the whole coursebook can be used or only a part of it)
  • based on the previous factor, the adaptability factor
  • the flexibility factor (how rigid is the sequencing and grading?).

However, these authors as well as Tomlinson (2004), state that the success or failure of a material can only be fully determined after a while and post-use evaluation.

2 Coursebook evaluation based on methodology and linguistic aspects

Littlejohn (2011) does not take into account the ‘superficial aspect’ of materials or their content, his framework focuses on the methodology and the linguistic nature of the coursebook.

The author identifies three levels of analysis: objective description, subjective description and subjective inference.

In level 1 ‘objective description’, we will find the information about: How to evaluate coursebooks

  • publication date
  • intended audience
  • type of material (general, specific, main course, etc.)
  • the amount of classroom time required and type of use (self-study, order, etc.)
  • published form, number of pages, use of colour
  • components (teacher’s book, student’s book, CDs, etc.)
  • the division into sections, access (indexes, detailed content, hyperlinks, etc.)
  • how the sections are distributed between teachers and students, length of sections and any pattern in them.

In the ‘subjective analysis’ in level 2, we analyse what teachers and learners will have to do in each task to test the claims made by the material (a task is defined by this author as any proposal made to students whose aim is bringing about the learning of the L2). For each task we need to identify:

  • the process, including turn-take (the learners’ role in classroom discourse),
  • focus: on meaning? form? or both?
  • mental operations: the mental processes required, like repetition, deducing, hypothesizing
  • type of classroom participation: alone? pair work? in groups?
  • and the content of the input and of the learners’ output (written or oral? individual sentences or discourse?), source (from the material? the teacher? or the students?) and nature (grammar explanation? fiction? or personal information?).

Based on the previous levels of analysis we can determine the aims of the material and the basis for the selection and sequencing, the following step is to identify the teacher’s and the learners’ roles implied in it. Finally, a conclusion about the material as a whole can be done (subjective inference).

Littlejohn proposes a further step which is to analyse the teachers/students/institutions situation and their expectations from the material to decide its rejection, adoption, adaptation or supplementation.

Material analysis

What aspect should you consider to evaluate the coursebook itself? Littlejohn summarizes them with the following image

Analysis of ELT materials Littlejohn 2011Aspects of an analysis of language teaching materials. (Taken from Littlejohn – 2011 p. 18).

With the analysis of the material and the analysis of your teaching context in mind, you might have enough information to reject, adopt, adapt, supplement or use the material with its pros and cons and discuss them with your students (it would be a great source of discussion at least).

Are you ready to evaluate a book? You can download the free PDF workbook How to evaluate coursebooks with both frameworks to apply right away and choose the one you feel most comfortable with.

 

 

References

LITTLEJOHN, A. 2011. The analysis of language teaching materials: Inside the Trojan Horse. In Materials Development in Language Teaching (2nd Edition). Cambridge University Press.
MCDONOUGH, J., SHAW, C., AND MASUHARA, H. 2013. Materials and Methods in ELT. A Teacher’s Guide (3rd edition). Wiley-Blackwell, UK.
Porject work

Project-based Learning

What is a project in an educational context? Can we work with projects in the same way we usually work? Is a project a longer version of a lesson? What are the advantages and the disadvantages of Project-based learning? Is it incompatible with traditional ways of evaluation? In this post, I intend to give answers to these questions acknowledging that more questions may come up from my writing.

Characteristics of project work

Project work is defined by Ribé and Vidal (1993: 5) as “(…) a full implementation of a second or a third generation task”, but it is longer and more complex than a task, it is a macro-task. It consists of micro-tasks that can be expanded or reduced according to the negotiation carried out between the teacher and the students. The steps, length, process and product are pre-planned by the teacher, “but not totally predetermined” (Idem).

Grant (n.d: 1) states that Project-based learning is an instructional method centred on the learner that allows in-depth investigation of a topic. Having more autonomy, students take more responsibility for their learning process (Tassinari, 1996; Wolk, 1994; Worthy, 2000 in op. cit.: 1); “(…) project-based learning and the construction of artifacts enable the expression of diversity in learners, such as interests, abilities and learning styles” (Grant, n.d.: 2).PBL

Project-based learning takes ideas from constructivism in which learning is seen as the construction of knowledge through interaction (Perkins, 1991; Piaget, 1969; Vygotsky, 1978 in op. cit.: 2), and constructionism (Harel & Papert, 1991; Kafai & Resnick, 1996 in op. cit.: 2) which takes the notion that people learn best when they construct an artifact that can be shared and reflected upon (ibid).

From a language learning point of view, project work requires comprehensible language input (Krashen), comprehensible language output (Swain), the process of content and language learning, negotiation of objectives, and self-access materials (Ribé & Vidal, 1993: 6-7).

Project work is also aligned with Widdowson’s notion of ‘authenticity’:  how the reader responds to a text (in Ball & Hockly, n.d.) See my post Reading in an L2: the idea of ‘Authentic Reading’  for more details on authenticity. From this perspective, a text may elicit an authentic response from the reader independently of its nature (i.e.: whether it is an original text in English or an adaptation of one).

Advantages and disadvantages of project work

Project work or Project-Based Learning (PBL) has many advantages such as,Porject work

  • enhancing learners’ autonomy
  • fostering motivation and engagement
  • developing language learning and skills
  • catering for individual differences
  • authentic use of the L2
  • developing problem-solving skills
  • enhancing cooperative learning
  • integrating content and language learning

However, some teachers may be overwhelmed by the changes necessary for its implementation. There are three main aspects of PBL that teachers and learners might find challenging:

  • classroom management changes radically
  • students and teachers need to undertake different roles and they might probably feel uncomfortable with that change.
  • students without experience in group work may have difficulties negotiating compromise (Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Socha & Socha, 1994 in Grant, n.d.: 9)

To overcome these problems, it is important to begin slowly, a short-term project about a topic students are familiar with might be a good choice (Grant, n.d.:9). Working with group dynamics before starting the project is advisable. Assessment should provide constructive and authentic feedback; to achieve that, the most appropriate assessment tools are rubrics, learning diaries or portfolios.

Evaluation of project work

In a project work, different types of assessment are needed to evaluate content, language, presentation, effort, attitude and cognitive development. Therefore, we will need both formative and summative assessment tools. Each aspect of the project can be evaluated from different points of view (Ribé & Vidal, 1993: 82). Common tools used in project work are, Project work

  • self-assessment
  • peer assessment checklists
  • questionnaires
  • learning diaries
  • rubrics
  • portfolios.

However, as teachers usually must fulfil institutional requirements too, traditional testing can be included in the project and integrated as another way of evaluating students’ progress.

Main elements of a project

  • Understanding the dynamic of a project.
  • Provide a context for the project (situation, audience)
  • Which problem/ questions should the project respond to?
  • Which is the final outcome?
  • How will the final outcome be evaluated?

Instrumental elements of a projectProject-based learning

  • How to divide the project into stages?
  • Division of roles
  • Content learning needs
  • Language learning needs
  • Resources needed
  • Estimated time of the project
  • Evaluation throughout the project  (assessment tools? schedule?)

Project-based learning into practice

In this section, you will see how I planned a project about a tourism blog for teenagers or young adult learners. The name of the project is Show the world why your city is worth visiting. A collaborative blog. 

Project-based learning

Cover of the project

 

Below, you will see the first two pages of the Teacher’s notes to show you how I included the main and some of the instrumental elements of a project into a teaching plan.

Tourism blog teacher's notes

Teacher’s notes p. 1

Tourism blog teacher's notes

Teacher’s notes p. 2

*If you want to get the rest of the Teacher’s notes and the students’ handout for this project, you can buy it at Teachers Pay Teachers

Have worked with projects? Which projects are you proud of? Would you add more advantages to Project-based learning? And more disadvantages? What have you learned from Project-based learning?

If you haven’t worked with projects yet, what prevents you from doing so? Do you think it is too time-consuming? Do you think it requires too much effort and skills from teachers? Can all learners benefit from project work?

Share your thoughts with us!

 

 

References

BALL, P. AND HOCKLY, N. (n.d.). Developing Language Skills in the Classroom. Funiber.

GRANT, M. (2002) “Getting a grip on project-based learning: theory, cases and recommendations” [online], Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC, Vol. 5(1). Available at https://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/win2002/514/project-based.pdf [Retrieved: 19th February 2016]

RIBÈ R. AND VIDAL, N. 1993. Project Work; Step by step. Heinemann. England.

Types of texts

Reading in an L2: the idea of ‘Authentic Reading’

Reading is far from being a passive process, it is a constant process of guessing, hypothesising, anticipating and confirming, in which the knowledge “one brings to the text is often more important than what one finds in it” (Grellet, 1982 in Ball & Hockly n.d.). Consequently, the practices in which we involve while reading in a second language (L2) should resemble the practices of reading in the mother tongue (L1) if we intend to make the L2 reading experience an authentic one. read 1

Types of reading strategies

With regards to the approach to reading, there is a distinction between two main types of strategies that readers use when they are faced with a written text: top-down strategies and bottom-up strategies. Top-down strategies use macro-level cues to decode a text in order to acquire a more global understanding of its contents. These cues may include considering the layout of the text, making hypotheses and anticipating contents. Bottom-up strategies involve the decoding of the passage step-by-step from small textual elements like words or phrases. This process was for several years the traditional way of analysing a text and many courses are still based on this approach to reading.

The problem with an exclusive focus on bottom-up strategies is that the individual parts of the text are given more importance than the text as a whole. According to Grellet (in op. cit.), this might encourage reading all texts at the same speed, which might not be appropriate in all cases, and that there would be a reluctance to infer the meaning of sentences and paragraphs from what comes before the text. This author concludes that it is always preferable to start with the overall meaning of a text (top-down strategy), its function and aim, then move towards a more detailed analysis.

What is an authentic text? A different view of ‘authenticity’

There is an important issue to consider when selecting texts for our learners and it is the idea of authenticity. Widdowson (in Ball & Hockly, n.d.) distinguishes between ‘genuineness’ and ‘authenticity’. Genuineness is a ‘characteristic of the text itself and is an absolute quality’ (op. cit.: 32), it is what teachers usually refer to as authenticity. On the other hand, his definition of authenticity is how the reader responds to the text. Not adapting a text would make it ‘genuine’ in Widdowson’s sense. However, a genuine text is not necessarily better than an adapted text. If the reader is allowed to respond as they would do it in real life we have what Widdowson calls an ‘authentic text’.

In which types of reading activities do we involve in real life? Types of texts

People read for many different purposes and depending on these purposes we may gist to check if the matter is relevant to us, for example when we read our friends’ post on Facebook; we may read to extract the main idea of a product ad to check it is what we are looking for; we may also read to infer the purpose of a literary text for a class assignment; it is also possible to read just for pleasure and while doing so we may find ourselves reacting to the text or creating mental images derived from it. Whatever purpose we may have for reading, the strategy we use will differ and the same should happen when we are learning to read in other languages.

Reading activities in the language class

According to Greenall and Swan (1986 in Ball & Hockly n.d.: 17-18), reading activities can be described as follows:

  • Extracting the main idea (read in a general sense to distinguish between important and unimportant information).
  • Reading for specific information (looking for the important information needed to perform a specific task).
  • Understanding text organization (recognising how sentences are joined together to make paragraphs).
  • How paragraphs form a passage and how this organization is signalled.
  • Predicting (see what information is new and which one is known so that there is not an overload of new information).
  • Checking comprehension (finding specific information in the passage).
  • Inferring (when the writer decides to suggest something indirectly, the reader has to infer information).
  • Dealing with unfamiliar words (guessing a word or expression by looking for clues in the context).
  • Linking ideas (seeing how different words are related to the same idea).
  • Understanding complex sentences (seeing how long and complicated sentences can be simplified).
  • Understanding a writer’s style (a number of stylistic devices and features are discussed to appreciate why a writer chooses a certain word or expression).
  • Evaluating the text (evaluating why the passage was written and the purposes that certain sentences serve).
  • Reacting to the text (separating what the writer says from what the reader thinks).
  • Writing summaries (the ability to write accurate summaries requires accurate comprehension of the passage).
  • Speed reading (to prevent the tendency ‘to stumble on unfamiliar words’ thereby failing to ‘grasp the general meaning of the passage’).

Authentic readingreading 2

You can choose one or several activities from the ones mentioned above based on your students’ need regarding reading strategies and use it/them with any type of text, but how about assigning an authentic activity to deal with an authentic text and engage students in authentic reading? By authentic activity, I mean a reading activity which relates to the type of text used and how that type of activity is used in real life. Just think about this, what are the odds that you need to summarize an e-mail? Instead, you should probably need to focus on the subject, the author and the main information (who, what, when, how).

The concept of ‘action knowledge‘ (Barnes, 1976) can help us to support the idea of authentic reading. Students come to school with an amount of knowledge they have incorporated during their lives, they have unintentionally learnt many aspects of the world and how to behave in different types of situations. The same is true for their reading experience in their L1. Even younger learners, whose literacy skills in L1 are in the first steps, have grown up watching their family members reading different types of texts and what they do with them. They have watched their older siblings writing a summary of a History book and they have also observed that their siblings do not do the same while reading a comic.

We may also go back to Grellet’s words in the introduction of this post to support the idea of authentic reading, “(the knowledge) one brings to the text is often more important than what one finds in it” (1982 in Ball & Hockly n.d.). Surely, as a reader yourself you can think about types of reading activity that are ‘natural’ to a specific text type or genre, bring that knowledge and the learners’ knowledge into the class and enhance their reading experience both in the L2 and in the L1.

What types of reading activities would you suggest for a short story? For a piece of news? And for a blog post? Write a comment with your suggestions.

 

* If you want to read about the differences between reading in the L1 and reading in an L2 click this link to my previous post

References

Ball, P. & Hockly, N. (n.d.). Developing Language Skills in the Classroom. Funiber

Barnes, D. (1976/1992). From Communication to Curriculum. London: Penguin. (Second
edition, 1992, Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook-Heinemann.)

Is it still possible to make a distinction between ESL and EFL contexts?

Confusing termsimage

Chances are that being a teacher of English whose students are non-native English speakers you have come across one of these acronyms and abbreviations: EFL, ESL, ELL, and so on. The most wide-spread distinction  made between EFL and ESL is based on whether your students live/work in a country whose first, second or even third language is English, in this case, your students would be English as Second Language learners (ESL students), or your students live/work in a country where English is not the first, the second or the third language so, your students would be English as a Foreign Language learners (EFL students).

If you read Tesol.org  website you will find the following definitions:

“EFL: English as a foreign language. English language programs in non-English-speaking countries where English is not used as the lingua franca. It is also used in some U.S. university programs where international students study English and are likely to return to their home countries after graduation or finishing course work

“ESL: English as a second language. English language programs in English-speaking countries where students learn English as a second language”

ELT: English language teaching”

ELL: English language learner. Often used to refer to a student in an ESL or EFL program”

The reasons why a country may or may not have English as a first, second or third language can be found in the history of that country (origins, invasions, wars, cultural bonds) or geographical (proximity), and it is not the intention of this post to deepen in those issues. However, there is a social phenomenon which is now changing our prior ideas about the difference between ESL and EFL and that is, as you have probably guessed, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) including TV.

There may be very few places in the world where technology has not become part of everyday life. Through technology, cultural, social, economic and political ideas spread and change our beliefs and behaviours at a speed never seen before and these changes have an impact on the processes of language learning around the world.

Second language or foreign language?

According to Gabbiani (2012:37), the differences between a second language (L2) and a foreign language (FL) are not related to the language proficiency one may have but to the degree of knowledge and participation in the culture of that language. From this point of view, what defines an L2 or an FL context is the type of relationship the language user establishes with the values of the other culture.

Longcope (2009:304) states that the context is not just the location where language learning happens (for example, class learning vs street learning (Gabbiani: 2012:39)); the context is the relation established by the language learner with the location and the behaviour in which he or she engages in that location. This means that two learners in the same class may respond to the context in very different ways: one learner may interact actively with the other language (ESL learner) while the other may respond only under certain circumstances (EFL learners). So, we could say that context = location + behaviour. 

 What is the answer, then?

If we agree that the context of English language learning is a combination of the location and the learner’s behaviour in that location and that each learner responds in a personal way to a certain language learning situation, it is highly possible that we have both ESL learners and EFL learners in the same class. So, for practical purposes, how should we refer to both types of learners? One possible term would be English Language Learners (ELL), using this term the focus is just on the subject students are learning; English language, without specifying what type of response they have to that language.

Another possibility would be English to Speakers of Other Languages learners (ESOL learners), in this case, the focus is also on the English language as a subject of learning but we are adding a reference to the learner’s native language (ie: a learner whose native languages is other than English).

In both cases, using the terms ELL context or ESOL context we are able to describe and/or investigate in a more precise way the characteristics of this context (location + behaviours) without conditioning its description by using an innapropiate term.

Would you suggest an alternative terminology?

References

Gabbiani, B. (2012). “Formación Continua – (Co)construcción Permanente. Creación de un Espacio para la Reflexión sobre la Educación Lingüística”. En Brasil Irala y Silva (Orgs.) ENSINO NA ÀREA DA LINGUAGEM. Perspectivas a partir da formação continuada pp.35-58 Mercado Letras.

Longcope, P. (2009). Differences between the EFL and the ESL Language Learning Contexts. Language and Culture Studies Vol. 30 Nº 2, 303-320.

Tesol.org