Can a Second Language Help You Learn a Third?


As bilinguals, one of our greatest hopes is that the efforts we have invested in learning a second language (L2) will also pay off when we learn the third one (L3). The more languages we know, the easier it should be to learn them, right? A positive answer to this question can have tremendous implications for language education. And yet researchers limit themselves instead to the non-committal “it depends.” Why is that? And what does our success in L3 learning depend on?

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The first undeniable advantage involves strategy. If you learned your L2 as a teenager or an adult, you have managed to figure out what strategies work best for you. The more extraverted among us enjoy talking to target language speakers, while the introverts prefer to pour over textbooks and grammar books. I, for one, am an avid reader and foreign movie watcher, always hoping that new words will find their way into my memory effortlessly, in the process known as incidental learning. Research also shows that learners who are literate in both of their languages, and those who have metalinguistic knowledge, are in a particularly advantageous position because, among other things, metalinguistic awareness allows them to make comparisons and generate creative hypotheses.

Another area of potential advantage involves cross-linguistic similarities: learning a language typologically similar to the language or languages we already know allows us to utilize our prior knowledge through the process known as positive transfer or reliance on already familiar sounds, words, and grammatical categories. Unfortunately, not all of the similarities we perceive are real. Sometimes, our interlingual connections are erroneous, leading to what is known as negative transfer, which includes, for example, our reliance on false cognates, or faux amis. It was such superficial similarity between the Spanish word embarazada (pregnant) and the English embarrassed that led the marketing people at Parker Pen to enter the Mexican market with a bold slogan: “No te embarazará chorreándose en tu bolsillo” (It won’t impregnate you by leaking in your pocket).

And here is where it becomes interesting when a third language is concerned. We know that our first language (L1) affects the process of learning other languages, but we do not always expect that our L2 also wants to play an active role in the learning of L3. Yet this is precisely what happens and it is the influence from L2 Spanish that leads English-speakers learning L3 Italian to produce forms like aiudarono (helped, a blend of L2 Spanish ayudaron and L3 Italian aiutarono) or uccido (killed, a blend of L3 Italian uccisoand an L2 Spanish past participle –ido).

But then again it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that there is an interaction between typologically-related languages. My own Spanish mercilessly interferes with my Italian, while Polish and Russian emerge, uninvited, every time I try to speak Ukrainian. While inconvenient, this is hardly surprising. What is utterly counterintuitive is to see a typologically distant L2 (e.g., French) actively interfere with the L3 (e.g., German), as in the case of American linguist Larry Selinker who asked his German colleague in L3 German: Tu as mein Fax bekommen? (Did you [in french] get my fax [in German]?). The replacement of the L3 German Du hast with the similarly sounding French Tu as caught them both by surprise yet this is exactly what happens time and again—the previously learned foreign language suddenly pops out. Such interference, dubbed a foreign language effect, is so frequent that it may lead us to suspect that our brain has a separate section for all languages learned later in life.

Studies using neuroimaging techniques suggest that this is not the case. Rather, it appears that language processing is not restricted to single sites in the brain but spread across various parts. In addition, the same areas subserve different languages of multilingual speakers. The only difference is that the use of the native or the dominant language is optimized and thus more automatic, and the use of other languages requires more cognitive resources. The shared representation, in turn, means that all languages are connected in the multilingual mind. Like our second language, our native language does not remain an independent observer in the process of L3 learning. Instead, it influences it, through both positive and negative transfer, in ways that are sometimes subtle and at other times pretty visible, as we have just seen. Our L1 may even team up with the L2 in messing with our L3. And our first language is not immune from influences either, as experienced by the English speaker who upon returning from a short, two-week, trip to Germany joyfully informed his friends that He had drinken many beers (although, in this case, we may also be seeing a beer effect).

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All in all, we should probably expect that the effects of the previous languages on L3 learning will be diverse. On the one hand, we come to the learning process as more experienced and better equipped learners but, on the other, our languages are not immune to playing tricks on us. The best we can do is to relax and enjoy the learning process, as well as appreciate the insights we invariably gain about our languages and ourselves.

References

De Angelis, G. (2007). Third or additional language acquisition. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

De Bot, K., & C. Jaensch (2015). What is special about L3 processing? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 18, 2, 130-144.

Selinker, L. & B. Baumgartner-Cohen. (1995). Multiple language acquisition: ‘Damn it, why can’t I keep these two languages apart?’. Language, Culture and Curriculum (special issue on multiple language acquisition), M. Ben-Soussan & I. Berman (eds.). 8.2, 1-7

This article was written by Aneta Pavlenko and first appeared at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-bilingual/201506/can-second-language-help-you-learn-third , on June 2, 2015. 

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How will English language exams change in the next five years?


“As specific IELTS and Trinity exams are linked to visa applications it is unlikely a fully online provision will be deemed secure enough in the next five years. However, this doesn’t mean that for other purposes, English Language provision and exams will change significantly.”

With online English language courses gaining in popularity, Pat Moores, director and co-founder of UK Education Guide, looks at whether English tests will increasingly be offered online. Specific exams are linked to visa applications, but does that mean provisions cannot change significantly for other purposes?

The appetite for learning English shows no signs of slowing up. According to latest figures from the British Council there are over 1 billion people currently learning English worldwide.

Pupils take a GCSE mathematics exam at the Harris Academy South Norwood in south east London

There is also deepening interest in online delivery of English language courses. For example in May 2015, FutureLearn launched its free course ‘Understanding IELTS: Techniques for English Language tests’.

Over 2 million learners have now signed up for the IELTS course across multiple runs.

But what is the broader picture?

“This modularised approach allows learners to better understand what to expect before they decide to embark on an undergraduate qualification”

Currently, while online learning via IELTS and Trinity College is well established, the exam itself has to be sat at an approved test centre. If the IELTS exam forms part of a Tier 4 visa application, the test must be taken at a centre specifically authorised by UK Visas and Immigration for this purpose.

As specific IELTS and Trinity exams are linked to visa applications it is unlikely a fully online provision will be deemed secure enough in the next five years.

But more generally English Language provision and exams will change significantly.

Providers like Babbel already offer certificates for online language courses and have more than one million active subscribers worldwide.

While Babbel is a paid model of learning after a free first lesson, other providers like Duolingo offer a free learning model.

It also offers to ‘certify your English proficiency on demand, anywhere, for only $49’. The test can be taken from a computer in under an hour, and results shared with an unlimited number of institutions.

Additionally it offers colleges, schools and employers the opportunity to ‘get a picture of an applicant’s English ability through a certified proficiency score, video interview, and writing sample, available within 48 hours’.

These developments are particularly relevant as employers start to truly embrace ‘micro-credentials’ and starts to log these in secure sites using blockchain technology. These secure sites allow learners to keep their credentials ‘locked in’ and secure whilst allowing potential employers and institutions to access the qualifications.

Leading academic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic are already pioneering the work in secure logging of micro-credentials and also are offering micro-credentials themselves.

With institutions and providers working on micro-credentials very seriously, it is hard to see how this will not move forward in the coming months and years, especially with major employers supporting the work.

“Over 2 million learners have now signed up for the IELTS course across multiple runs”

“Last year, we introduced collections of credit-bearing courses with The Open University and the University of Leeds, with the option for learners to progress onto an undergraduate degree from these institutions,” said Simon Nelson, CEO at FutureLearn.

“This modularised approach allows learners to better understand what to expect before they decide to embark on an undergraduate qualification. In the case of the model we have created with the University of Leeds, learners that have completed specific courses via FutureLearn will be able to secure credits before they’ve even embarked on the degree with the institution.”

Will the day come when these micro-credentials, including the English language proficiency certificates being offered by Duolingo, Babbel and a version of the FutureLearn IELTS course, will become accepted qualifications for purposes that are not directly linked to visa applications?

It is hard to imagine that they won’t…

This article first appeared at https://blog.thepienews.com/2018/01/how-will-english-language-exams-change-in-the-next-five-years/ on January 26th 2018

Variety is the key to motivating speaking activities


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James Freeman has taught English in the UK, China, Malaysia and Ecuador, and is a speaking examiner for both Cambridge YLE and Main Suite exams. In this article he shares some activity suggestions to create a safe, encouraging environment and get your students speaking confidently.

Wouldn’t it be great if you had to tell a class that the lesson is over but your students practically ignored you (in a good way!) and continued speaking enthusiastically in English? The topic of communicating in English is probably one that I encounter the most when meeting and working with teachers across all education sectors. This question of how do I get my students to readily speak in English and feel confident about it is something that most teachers would like the secret formula to. There are things, as educators, we can do to create a more conducive environment where students get so immersed in an English speaking activity that the learning part becomes almost incidental.

Having taught students of all ages across three different continents, here are some simple yet effective approaches I’ve used to encourage students to feel safe in the environment they’re communicating English in.

Make it personal

Course books nowadays are good at starting a unit off with a type of activity or series of questions in order for students to personalise the topic to their situation. But what about the teacher bringing in their personal stories as a way of opening up students’ curiosity? I remember with a group of learners we were focusing on writing music reviews. As I had worked extensively in the music industry before, I gave a mini presentation of my life as a DJ and artist manager. The lesson soon took a life of its own where the questions kept on coming (in English) like ‘what was like it performing at music festivals?’ or ‘how did it feel knowing that thousands were listening to you present on radio?’ (I used to do a Sunday morning show on UK digital station BBC 1xtra). Instead of purposefully setting up questions for students to ask, my personal story I shared was authentic and appealing enough for students to voluntarily ask questions and want to know more.

Put the student in the driving seat

Let your students take the lead in what is spoken about during a lesson. This, of course, takes into account the level and maturity of a group but it’s good to make students become responsible learners whatever their language proficiency may be. For example, once a week the class would nominate two or three different students to bring in something interesting they had seen online and prepare a short explanation of it along with some questions to ask their fellow peers which in turn creates a great lesson warmer fully designed by the students themselves. For more assessment-focused tasks, create student-friendly rubrics and have them give each other feedback after a speaking activity.

Bringing in that added twist

I’m continually seeking ways to expand speaking activities in the class so that they don’t fall into an overly predictable format. Here are some quick ideas:

For class debates, why not create a rap battle setting? Set the topic, groups prepare their sentences, play a mid-tempo hip hop beat and have teams challenge each other lyrically.

Use learning apps in class. For example, with the Cambridge English Quiz Your English app split the class into four groups and have them play against each other by connecting one device to the screen so the whole class can see and predict (using future tenses) who will win the next round.

Working with social media savvy students. Technology’s deepening connectivity to peoples’ lives means teachers have extra tools to play with. You could select a strong visual, have students create memes to then post on the class’ social media group page. In the next lesson, the class looks over each one, discusses and votes for their favourite.

ELT author and international teacher trainer Kathryn O’Dell said it simply during the recent Let’s Talk Speaking panel event, “If students feel like talking, they’re going to speak.” The more we can provide a fully immersive environment for our students to operate in, communicating in English will seem less intimidating and become more of a need to connect with their peers through common interests and goals which will ultimately serve them beyond the four walls of the classroom.

This article was first published at http://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2017/11/23/variety-is-the-key-to-motivating-speaking-activities/ on November 23rd 2017.

How to encourage students to pursue a career in the international education sector


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For those already working in the international education sector, you know what a rewarding career lies in store for those just starting out, writes Laura Slingo of CV-Library. But for the vast majority of students currently studying, they are unaware of the opportunities that could be waiting for them. You can find more advice 

“Let students know that the opportunities for professional development are vast in the international education sector”

To share your knowledge and encourage more students to pursue a career in the international education sector, here are our five tips:

1. Offer to give a presentation

Reach out to teacher training establishments at home, and offer to give a short presentation to their students on your career to date. It may be that the establishment is not up to speed on overseas work opportunities, so your insight may be gratefully received.

2. Start a blog

If you have experience in the international education sector and the ability to communicate effectively (as all good teachers do), then why not start a blog and share what you have learned so far with those students who are just starting out?

Getting a foot on the career ladder is hard enough for students, but not knowing what avenues are open to them makes the process even harder. It typically results in people entering a profession they aren’t particularly interested in, just because they didn’t know what else to do.

“Personal fulfilment is another positive. People enter the education sector because it’s a vocation, not just a job”

3. Dispel the rumours

Most people assume that the education sector solely involves teaching. And teaching isn’t for everyone.

Talk to your students about the world of opportunities available to them within the education sector. Let them know that they could pursue a career in HR, finance, even the military, and if they are looking for an adventure, all of these jobs can be found overseas.

4. Talk about the benefits that will aid their careers

There’s a range of benefits available by working in this industry, and you should educate students about these perks.

For a start, international education offers the opportunity to broaden horizons and build skills and experiences. It gives young people more to talk about during a job interview later on in life and makes them more employable, as they will have garnered experience that a lot of other candidates won’t have.

The sector also exposes professionals to different teaching methods. Students will be able to widen their repertoire and communicate more effectively with more of their students, making them a better teacher.

Personal fulfilment is another positive. People enter the education sector because it’s a vocation, not just a job. By letting students know that if they love to teach and love to interact with people, then doing it overseas can be even more rewarding, as there’s adventure to be had too.

5. Professional development opportunities

Let students know that the opportunities for professional development are vast in the international education sector. By building their professional skills, they will move up the jobs ladder and are likely to increase their income quickly as a result. And if they discover they don’t want to stay in the education sector, the skills they will have gained will be highly desirable in many other industries too.

Here are some in-demand skills the international education sector offers:

Adaptability: Education techniques are constantly evolving and to keep up with the latest developments, professionals have to be flexible. This skill is even more pertinent if they are putting these skills to use overseas.

Communication: By working in the international education sector, workers clearly demonstrate that they are capable of communicating articulately, and doing so in a foreign environment, shows they can operate outside of their comfort zone.

Organisation: Education professionals have to be organised to meet the rigours and demands international education places on them. Effective time management is essential to make the most of the adventure that they are undertaking and this skill is highly desirable in any workplace.

Share these five tips with students looking to enter the education sector to prove how rewarding a career in international education can be.

This post first appeared in the PIE News Blog https://blog.thepienews.com/2018/01/how-to-encourage-students-to-pursue-a-career-in-the-international-education-sector/ on January 12th 2018.

The language you speak changes your perception of time


Time is relative

This post was written by Kendra Pierre-Louis and first appeared on https://www.popsci.com/language-time-perception on May 9, 2017.

The shortest unit of time is that period between hitting the snooze button and hearing your alarm go off again. Wait, is that the shortest unit of time or the smallest unit of time?

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Shortest versus smallest isn’t actually a question of grammatical punctiliousness. Different languages frame time differently. Swedish and English speakers, for example, tend to think of time in terms of distance—what a long day, we say. Time becomes an expanse one has to traverse. Spanish and Greek speakers, on the other hand, tend to think of time in terms of volume—what a full day, they exclaim. Time becomes a container to be filled. These linguistic differences, according to a published study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, actually affect our perception of time’s passage.

Since the 1980s, when researchers really began to notice that much of language is metaphorical—we say we’re feeling down when we’re sad, that we’re feeling up when we’re happy—research has examined whether how we talk about abstract things affects how we think of them.

“People tend to speak about time in terms of spatial terms,” said lead study author Emanuel Bylund, a professor of linguistics at Stellenbosch University. “But do we also think about it in spatial terms?”

Bylund and his colleagues exposed groups of Spanish and Swedish speakers to a series of psychosocial tasks. In the first, a group of 40 Spanish speakers and a group of 40 Swedish speakers were presented with a computer animation showing one of two conditions.

In one, participants looked at growing lines. “You have one line growing four inches, and it takes three seconds to grow. And then you would have another line that grows, say, six inches, and that one also takes three seconds to grow,” explained Bylund.

Participants were instructed in their respective native languages to estimate roughly how much time it took for the lines to grow. Because the visual overlapped with the way Swedish speakers speak about time, the researchers expected that they’d find it tougher to estimate how much time had passed. And they did. While Spanish speakers knew that three seconds had passed regardless of how quickly the line grew, Swedish speakers tended to think that more time had passed when the line was longer at the end of it. There are limits to this: it’s not as if a Swede would think ages had passed if a line grew super long in just three seconds. But in the mid-time conditions Bylund outlined, they struggled.

“The Swedish speakers tend to think that the line that grows longer in distance, takes longer,” said Bylund. “Spanish speakers aren’t tricked by that. They seem to think that it doesn’t matter how much the line grows in distance; it still takes the same time for it to grow.”

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On the other hand, Spanish speakers tend to get tricked by a second condition: rather than using a growing line, the second task showed a container that appeared to be filled from the bottom. This is designed to mimic the volumetric ways that Spanish speakers talk about time. While Swedish speakers had no problem estimating the passage of time whether the container was full or half full, Spanish speakers tended to think that more time had passed when the container was fuller. In other words, the language they spoke affected how they estimated the relative passage of time.

How do we know that language was the primer, and not some other cultural factor?

For starters, Bylund and Athanasopoulos also ran the experiment using 74 adult, bilingual Spanish-Swedish speakers—and the outcomes held. Those given verbal instructions in Spanish had no problem correctly identifying the time it took for a line to grow, but struggled under the volumetric conditions. Similarly, when instructed in Swedish, the participants struggled with the line exercise, but not with the volumetric one. And it’s important to note that overall, the two groups were roughly equal in the accuracy of their time estimates. Groups suffered in accuracy when the conditions didn’t suit their language, but were equally matched when playing to their linguistic strengths.

The researchers also ran the experiment with no verbal prompt at all: participants simply watched the various animations, and were only asked to estimate length of time after the fact. Without language as a factor, Spanish and Swedish speakers were roughly equal, and mostly accurate in their perceptions of how long it took for the virtual containers to fill. But the two groups were also matched in their inaccuracy of time perception in the line test—even Spanish speakers were worse at the line exercise when they didn’t receive any prompts.

“We’re guessing that it’s an experiential bias related to the fact that when we move through space, the longer the distance we move, the longer it takes,” said Bylund. “Even babies who don’t yet master language seem to have an association between physical length and temporal length. It might be something innate and it might be something that we acquire as experience as we move through space.”

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In other words, we may be inherently predisposed to think that longer lengths mean longer periods of time. And Spanish speakers may only overcome that misconception when their language prompts them to think of time in a different fashion. Those results suggest that under the right conditions, language can carry more weight than our physical experiences.

“You know, the question of whether the language we speak influences the way we think, people have tended to approach that question in a very binary way, and our results really show that you cannot say language either influences thought or it doesn’t. Under certain circumstances it does,” said Bylund.

There’s an expression, allegedly Polish in origin, that says if you learn a new language you gain a new soul. Bylund, who speaks three languages, does not go so far. He does note, however, “If you speak two languages, then you can sort of inhabit two world views at the same time, and you can flexibly switch between them. As a bilingual speaker, you can have two different time perceptions. That’s fascinating.”

 

Bilingual children do find it easier to pick up other languages


It is often claimed that bilinguals are better than monolinguals at learning languages. Now, this hypothesis has found support in a new study of brain activity, conducted at Georgetown University Medical Center and published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.

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“The difference is readily seen in language learners’ brain patterns. When learning a new language, bilinguals rely more than monolinguals on the brain processes that people naturally use for their native language,” says the study’s senior researcher, Michael T. Ullman, PhD, professor of neuroscience at Georgetown.
“We also find that bilinguals appear to learn the new language more quickly than monolinguals,” says lead author Sarah Grey, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of modern languages and literatures at Fordham University. Grey worked with Ullman and co-author Cristina Sanz, PhD, on this study for her PhD research at Georgetown. Sanz is a professor of applied linguistics at Georgetown.
The 13 bilingual college students enrolled in this study grew up in the U.S. with Mandarin-speaking parents, and learned both English and Mandarin at an early age. The matched comparison group consisted of 16 monolingual college students, who spoke only English fluently.
The researchers studied Mandarin-English bilinguals because both of these languages differ structurally from the new language being learned. The new language was a well-studied artificial version of a Romance language, Brocanto2, that participants learned to both speak and understand. Using an artificial language allowed the researchers to completely control the learners’ exposure to the language.
The two groups were trained on Brocanto2 over the course of about a week. At both earlier and later points of training, learners’ brain patterns were examined with electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes on their scalps, while they listened to Brocanto2 sentences. This captures the natural brain-wave activity as the brain processes language.
They found clear bilingual/monolingual differences. By the end of the first day of training, the bilingual brains, but not the monolingual brains, showed a specific brain-wave pattern, termed the P600. P600s are commonly found when native speakers process their language. In contrast, the monolinguals only began to exhibit P600 effects much later during learning — by the last day of training. Moreover, on the last day, the monolinguals showed an additional brain-wave pattern not usually found in native speakers of languages.

“There has been a lot of debate about the value of early bilingual language education,” says Grey. “Now, with this small study, we have novel brain-based data that points towards a distinct language-learning benefit for people who grow up bilingual.”

This post first appeared online at  https://www.languagemagazine.com/2017/11/bilingual-children-find-easier-pick-languages/ on November 6, 2017.

The other study co-author is psycholinguist Kara Morgan-Short, PhD, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, who also conducted her graduate work with Sanz and Ullman.
This research was supported by a National Science Foundation grant (NSF-BCS 1124144).

 

COURSEBOOK ACTIVITIES AND SLA THEORY – DO THEY MATCH?


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According to Tomlinson (2013:12-15), ‘it is generally accepted that [Second Language Acquisition] is facilitated by:

  • a rich and meaningful exposure to language in use
  • affective and cognitive engagement
  • making use of mental resources typically used in L1 communication
  • noticing how the L2 is used
  • giving opportunities for contextualised and purposeful communication in the L2
  • being encouraged to interact
  • being allowed to focus on meaning’

Plus, Tomlinson cites research that suggests language learning is facilitated by motivation, having individual needs catered for, making use of non-linguistic communication and being relaxed (among other things).

Taking the above points as a basis, Tomlinson analysed various popular ELT coursebooks to see whether their contents included principled activities based on accepted SLA research findings. He gave each book a score out of 5 for categories related to the list above. From reading a chunk of Tomlinson’s work I’d say he’s a harsh marker, but there are some really interesting patterns. Including…

  • low scores for affective engagement – Tomlinson suggests materials may be bland, neutral or perhaps learners rarely need to share an emotional response in activities
  • mixed scores for ‘Noticing’ activities – none of the coursebooks score more than 3 out of 5 in this area.
  • all six books scored ZERO for both making use of non-linguistic forms of communication and utilizing mental resources
  • low scores for focus on meaning – none of the coursebooks scored more than 2 out of 5 in this category.

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Further general observations on these coursebooks included:

  • they were mostly form-focused
  • they lacked tasks involving creativity and encouraging students to think for themselves
  • reading texts were too short and simple
  • few tasks encouraged extended speaking or writing
  • a focus on practice rather than use, and few tasks recycling language

Tomlinson’s research is a pretty damning critique of these global coursebooks. He suggests that teachers make use of materials based on pedagogical approaches which are underpinned by SLA theory, notably task-based materials or text-driven materials. I’ve written about Tomlinson’s text-driven approach here.

I do really like Tomlinson’s research and his reasons for it, but I think it’s flawed in some ways. Here are some examples…

  1. Some of Tomlinson’s assumptions about SLA are debatable

Take noticing for example. Tomlinson writes…

‘most applied linguists would accept that noticing linguistic features in the input is an important facilitator in language acquisition. The more a learner pays willing attention (either deliberately and consciously or incidentally and subconsciously) to a feature of the language the more the brain is likely to notice that feature as salient in subsequent input and the readier the learner will be for acquisition’

Then later, in a section titled ‘what we would like to know about SLA theory’, he writes about…

‘…the often heated debate as to whether we acquire L2 best through implicit mental processes or from paying explicit and conscious attention to the language we are learning’

This is not contradictory, it just hints that the most effective way of noticing is still debated – should it be incidental or ‘is conscious effort necessary?’ (Schmidt 1990) With this in mind, did Tomlinson distinguish between types of noticing tasks in his coursebook analysis? He assumes that having any noticing tasks in a coursebook is better than having none. This is principled in some ways given that noticing is considered an important part of intake, but what if a coursebook includes a load of noticing tasks that are less effective compared to others? Wait, researchers disagree on which noticing techniques are most effective! Aarrgh!

  1. Was Tomlinson’s approach comprehensive?

I feel it’s really important to know whether Tomlinson analysed things like the teacher notes as well as the coursebooks. He doesn’t state this, he just writes that he analysed ‘six intermediate level coursebooks’. Did he only analyse activities in the coursebooks themselves? If so, how many noticing tasks (for example) may have been mentioned in teachers procedural notes?

It’s too easy to make assumptions about coursebooks if you don’t consider the materials as a whole. I criticised a coursebook I was using last year (Beyond A2+) for many reasons Tomlinson mentioned – the focus on form, poor comprehension tasks, lack of extended writing activities, etc. Some of that criticism was unjust once I realised what was available via online resources and teacher notes accompanying the book.

  1. Other approaches and SLA theory

When Tomlinson mentions ‘other pedagogic approaches which do apply SLA theory to their practice’, he includes task-based materials. I love task-based methodology, but even its proponents concede that it’s not entirely based SLA research:

‘… it would be a mistake to look to SLA for a definitive account of the role that tasks should play in language pedagogy if only because there is, as yet, no agreed theory of how an L2 is acquired’ (Ellis, in Harwood 2010:52)

The value of Tomlinson’s research

I think Tomlinson just has a preference for different approaches – doesn’t every teacher?! His preference seems to skew his research a bit here, but his attempt at a principled analysis of various ELT materials serves a useful model. It may also be a useful tool for informing practice.

It could be valuable to do Tomlinson’s analysis for a particular coursebook unit (including all supporting materials). I can’t see this being really time consuming. Rather than treating the results as a critique of the unit, just use them to tell you what holes need plugging. If there aren’t enough noticing tasks, include some. Not enough cognitive challenge, make some.

This is the type of thing we do in our planning all the time. Tomlinson’s categories just make sure that there are principles underpinning the planning – one’s which relate directly to SLA research. Hang on, didn’t I just suggest some of the criteria were debatable?! Hmmm…

References:

Harwood, N [ed]. (2010). English Language Teaching Materials. Cambridge: CUP

Schmidt, R. W. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied linguistics, 11(2), 129-158.

Tomlinson, B [ed]. (2013). Applied Linguistics and Materials Development. London: Bloomsbury

This post first appeared at https://eltplanning.com/2017/06/07/coursebook-activities-and-sla-theory-do-they-match/ on June 7th, 2017.