Today’s blog post was written by a special guest Alex Tamulis, a friend who loves Linguistics, but not so much about how languages change, because they do change, but how it all began in the first place, which conditions were optimal for language to emerge, so he’s mostly concerned with the origins and the interface between language and mind.
Alex is an Academic Consultant at Macmillan Education and Linguistics major at USP ( Universidade of São Paulo, Brazil). With regard to teaching, he’s interested in how L2 speakers store sequences in their mental lexicon and what to do in order to foster a cultural and fluency-laden environment in the classroom.
What is fluency in the first place? Since the definition of a fluent speaker may rub up against the definition of what a proficient language user really is, I’m going to try to briefly mention these two concepts so we can establish a dichotomy and tackle it accordingly.
Fluency is not easy to define. Some scholars define it as an ability to use language accurately, focusing on content rather than form per se (Hartmann, 1976), filling time with talk, without long pauses, using coherence and phrases that are semantically dense (Fillmore, 1979).
Fluency is related to how retrieval of data is done in the brain. If a string is retrieved whole from memory, they are usually produced with faster speed and more confidence than completely fresh sentences. It is real-time communication, filled with timely pauses, hesitations and false starts.
There are some avenues that we can take in order to help our students become fluent; delving into the components of effective communication and understanding how fluency impacts it can help the process tremendously.
Let’s have a look at pronunciation. We usually focus on phonemes and leave prosodic features and reduced forms aside, to the detriment of real spoken English. Prosody is crucial for both interlocutor identity and for a true sense of community and commonality to be reached amongst users, whilst not leaving out the own ‘self’ image of the speaker.
Exposure and Awareness to Spoken Discourse
Let’s consider the fact that an utterance like “Hey, you look great today!” can be said in many ways: you can sound as if you were bored, or convey the same message ironically, sarcastically, sexily and probably in many other ways, depending on how these prosodic features come into play at the time of the utterance.
I really don’t agree with people who say that slurred speech and the use of contractions and reduced forms show signs of careless or lazy English. There is ample evidence that reduced forms are used in all kinds of “world Englishes”, from Obama speeches to Snoop Dog rap lyrics. Listening exposure to them is what’s at stake here.
Why is it that coursebooks don’t scratch the spoken discourse surface, then? On top of that, some teachers seem to prefer to cover coursebook written language and assume that students will automatically be able to understand and produce the spoken language that’s appropriate for the context. But spoken English is a beast in its own right!
Utterances like whatduyawannado? (What do you want to do?) are tricky for non-native students during a binge-watching session on Netflix because they’re heard as one big pack of sounds and not as isolated, neatly uttered words like the ones you hear on a Class Audio CD.
Teachers are usually eager to teach minimal pairs and phonemes in general. However, important generalizations about real spoken English are forgotten in the midst of the process. A very important feature that cannot be stressed enough (no pun intended!) is the fact that unstressed vowels in English become the famous “schwa” (ə) in many environments, which makes it the most common vowel in American English. This would take hours to be taken care of, since it’s not only a matter of phonetics (articulation) but also of phonology (teaching your brain new rules of the language system).
Practicing Prosodic Awareness
The truth is that in most cases spoken discourse does not require complete sentences, as it can be seen in most real-world encounters. We do know that the persistent use of complete sentences will sound a bit robotic and unnatural. Let me give you a more concrete example of that:
Teacher: Hey, howzit goin?
Student: I am fine, thank you.
T: Your mom and dad?
S: They are doing very well, too, thank you.
T: Whereya going?
S: I am walking to the pub. Would you like to come with me?
The “S” part of the dialogue would be much more natural if the rules of spoken discourse and pronunciation were applied, as follows:
Teacher: Howzit goin’?
S: I’m good, thanks.
T: Your mom’n’dad?
S: They’re good, too.
T: Whereya goin?
S: The pub. U wanna tag along?
From now on, teaching grammar should include teaching conversational grammar, as has been pointed out by Thornbury on his blog (“F is for Fluency”). The rules of utterances in spoken discourse are crucial for smooth communication to take place within any speech community. Adding spoken features to speaking situations in ELT will make classes more interesting and useful for students.
We can foster fluency in the classroom setting. We’re facilitators of learning, we provide opportunities for people who are motivated to engage in those opportunities and grow personally, professionally and academically.
In a sense, the student’s responsibility in fluency development is to bring the level of their spoken English production up to the level of their knowledge of lexis and grammar (a mixture of words and rules, such as storage in the mental lexicon and rules to generate new utterances, as Pinker puts it).
If we want our students to stand a chance at improving their fluency status, we have to go out of our way in terms of accuracy, and shed light on communicative language tools that they must be able to use, and strategies they must use to compensate for the fact that, in most cases, they’re not sages of the language, they are users of it.
To find more about fluency in the ELT setting, please check out my article “Fluency in ELT” available on issuu.com/alextamulis and academia.edu. If you want to contact me, feel free to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or https://br.linkedin.com/in/alex-tamulis-025583b1
Thanks for reading.
My special guest is my friend Fabiana Fausto McCracken. Fabiana and I met a long time ago at UFRJ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when we were both in the undergrad course. Fast forwarding some years : She holds a PhD in Linguistics from INTO Queen’s University Belfast.
Fabiana is a teacher of English for Academic Purposes ( EAP) and acting Programme Manager at INTO Queen’s University Belfast. She currently manages the International Year One in Management and Finance and the International Year One in Accounting programmes. She has a BA in Modern Languages (Portuguese and English) and an MA in Applied Linguistics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and a PhD in English Language (Linguistics) from Queen’s University Belfast.
As part of her PhD experience, she has also taught Linguistics modules to undergraduate students at Queen’s University, namely Introduction to English Language and Language and Power. More recently, as an EAP teacher, she has become interested in developing materials for ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes) in the areas of Management, Finance and Accounting.
We talked about being an NNEST in the UK, EAP, the route she took into her PhD and, on top of that, she gave useful tips for NNEST teachers who would like to teach in the UK.
I hope you find it useful.
You can watch the first part of the interview here.
You can watch the second part of the interview here.
Twenty Practical and Affordable Tips for Professional and Language Development for Freelance Teachers
I’ve been teaching English in Rio de Janeiro for 17 years (wow, I feel O-L-D!) and I decided to work “solo” 6 years ago. Some freelance teachers might have a feeling they don’t belong to a community; after all, there isn’t a staffroom to hang around in for a chinwag or coffee, or no teachers’ or parents’ meetings – which can lead to lack of motivation for professional and language development (PD), right?
“Why bother with Professional Development if I have my private students and charge whatever I want?”
Here are some reasons:
1.You are indeed part of a huge community, a huge staffroom – just see how many fellow teachers you can connect and collaborate with on Facebook and Twitter, for instance.
2.We teachers should evolve – English does, and so do our students. What makes you believe you don’t need to learn the language and find opportunities to be the best that you can be?
3.If you want to stop the auction culture among some private students (“I’m going to hire teacher X because they charge 3 times less than teacher Y”) you should stand out from the crowd and look for professional development opportunities.
4.We are lifelong learners – as cliché as it might sound, learning never ceases.
I have compiled 20 practical and free of charge tips on how to find professional development ideas as well as language development ideas for freelance teachers (they actually work for any EFL/ESL teacher!)
Disclaimer: Some tips do require a sort of investment, but they are generally pretty affordable.
Part 1: Professional Development tips
- Read teaching blogs
There are amazing teachers out there who write their own blogs or who collaborate with others. They usually share lesson plan ideas, tips on how to teach certain age groups, goals, and topics to debate. Some names to look out for are Luiz Otávio Barros, Lizzi Pinard, Ricardo Barros, Rachel Roberts, Sandy Millin, Marek Kiczkowiak and Robert McCaul.
2. Read specialized magazines
Reading might give you further motivation to reflect on your experiences inside and outside the classroom.
3. Read an essential ELT/ Applied Linguistics book
A bit of theory does wonders for our practice. It goes without saying but some of the big names in ELT are Scott Thornbury, Jeremy Harmer, Penny Ur, Jim Scrivener.
4. Join a #Twitter #Chat
You can join weekly Twitter chats by using different hashtags. The best ones, in my opinion, are #ELTchat and #eltchinwag. The conversations are based on various ELT topics chosen by us (that includes you if you join Twitter!)
5. Write a blog
That’s a good way to engage with a wider ELT community as well as finding your voice in the industry.
6. Learn another language
One of the most effective ways of reflecting on our own practice is putting ourselves in our students’ shoes. What I most like about learning Czech is that I step out of my comfort zone – and this is where learning happens.
7. Give a talk or a webinar
Become a member of your local or national Teachers’ Association and show interest in giving a talk at their next conference. If you are looking for online opportunities, you must check out EFLtalks. Discuss a topic on which you are passionate and have worked on and share your insight with the world.
8. Engage in Facebook groups
9. Observe a colleague’s lesson
Ask a friend you trust and admire to watch their lessons, take notes and discuss this with them.
10. Reflect on a given lesson
Reflect and change if necessary. If possible, record your lesson ( always ask for your students’ authorization) and watch it later.
11. Attend conferences,Online Courses and webinars
There are a great number of webinars and online courses free of charge ( Coursera and FutureLearn, to name a few). Besides that, become a member of local and national Teachers’ Associations and check their calendars for conferences and talks. They can be transformational.
12. Subscribe to ELT YouTube channels
Lots of teachers forget about or just overlook this amazing facility when watching YouTube channels. Most ELT publishers are on YouTube. Most ELT publishers are on Youtube : Macmillan, Oxford, Cambridge, The New School, TESOL Academic, TEFL Equity Advocates and IATEFLtalks.
13. Subscribe to ESL Teachers’ YouTube channels
14. Connect to educators you look up to on Twitter
Most of the ELT specialists are on Twitter and they are quite approachable and friendly. Who knows you’re lucky enough to be followed by Scott Thornbury ( yes, you can tell I’m one of his biggest fans!).
Part 2 : Language Development for teachers
15. Hire a private teacher or attend group classes
If psychologists need to do therapy, why can’t we hire tutors or attend English classes? Search for a qualified and experienced teacher who truly understands and meets your linguistic needs. Why not giving it a go?
16. Study independently using a grammar book
If we expect our students to take ownership of their learning, we should be the first to set an example. I’ve recently bought The Teacher’s Grammar of English written by Ron Cowan (Cambridge). Other useful books are Idioms and Phrasal Verbs by Cambridge and Sound Foundations written by Adrian Underhill (Macmillan).
17. Keep a lexical notebook
We hear and read new words, expressions and chunks all the time. Keep a record of them in a notebook and revisit your notes each week. You can read more about it here and check out Natália Guerreiro’s Fanpage Vocab Notebook.
18. Listen to non-ELT podcasts
This is a great listening practice – you just need to choose a topic of interest ( say you like indie music, fashion, technology and google it. I highly recommend A History of Ideas by BBC radio and hilarious My Dad Wrote a Porno ( it’s not what you think, I promise!)
19. Subscribe to non-ELT YouTube channels
YouTube subscriptions are usually overlooked by teachers but they are so valuable. Just pick up your favourite topics and look for them on YouTube. As a subscriber, you’ll receive an email each time there is a new video.
20. Make new English speaking friends through Facebook and Twitter
Here you’ll kill two birds with one stone 🙂
How about you? What are your tips for professional and language development? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂
Today’s special guest is my friend and English teacher Carina Fragozo. Carina has a popular You Tube channel and blog in Brazil called English In Brazil where she teaches English to Brazilian learners. Her You Tube channel has amassed over 250,000 subscribers.
Carina is a PhD student in Linguistics at the University of Sao Paulo (USP). Her academic interests include phonetics, phonology and second language acquisition.
Curious? Watch her interview here.
Other videos mentioned by Carina:
Thanks for reading and watching!