Why learning English is hard and what we can do about it


Learning a language can be tricky, challenging and sometimes frustrating. We speak to ESL teachers who explain why English is hard and what you can do to stay motivated.

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The first thing Virginia Mawer will tell you is that learning a language can be difficult. She is an ESL teacher at EF Sydney.

“Learning any language is hard but if that’s what you want to do because you want to be able to communicate using this international language, then hard is OK,” Virginia says.

Ibrahim Abdullah, a senior teacher at Milner International College of English, points out that there are other languages which are more difficult to learn than English, like Portuguese or Chinese. He says he finds it funny when students from Brazil and China say English is hard to learn.

“I look at them and say: you have got to be kidding. Portuguese grammar is much more difficult than English grammar.

“The time you young people from China spent learning how to write your own language is infinitely longer than we learnt how to do A, B, C.”

Another reason why people may find learning English difficult is because they want to improve their English in a very short period of time.

Alison Foley from the University of Wollongong says some students come to Australia with the aim of learning English and think “they’re going to improve in six weeks”. She cautions that language learning is a very “time-consuming process”.

Alison also says many students often hang out with people from their own country and end up speaking their first language outside class time. This hinders their language learning.

“They think they’re using the opportunity to learn English but they can often spend, even in some cases, all of their time outside the classroom with speakers of their own language.”

Garrath Bell from the Griffith English Language Institute explains that even if learners experience the initial difficulty, they will start to notice they are getting better over time.

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“Your vocabulary and your knowledge of English and your competency will grow exponentially.”

Deborah Ferris from UNSW Global says it helps to take small steps when it comes to language learning.

“Do what you can and just enjoy the process because learning a language is an adventure,” Deborah says.

This article first appeared at http://www.abc.net.au/education/learn-english/why-english-language-learning-is-hard/9672298 on April 23rd 2018

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10 Interactive storytelling activities


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I recently watched a webinar over at the Training Magazine Network by the celebrated learning game guru, Thiagi and his associate Tracy Tagliati on interactive storytelling in which they offered techniques for transforming the conventional approach of the facilitator narrating a story and participants listening passively to one where the facilitator sets up activities within which Ss “actively create, share, analyse, debrief, modify and roleplay stories.  Many of these ideas will be familiar to those of us in ELT but nevertheless it’s potentially useful to see them all consolidated in one place.

1. Co-constructed stories 

Ask Ss to pair up and stand facing each other. Each S contributes a few words that go towards building a c0-constructed story. Ss take turns to extend the story. Turn-taking could happen sequentially or randomly. The story could be written instead of spoken and Ss could pass a piece of paper back and forth. Ss could also be challenged to create the longest sentence through the shared story. Thiagi and Tracy derived some interesting learning from this activity. It could be used to draw Ss’ attention on how both people in each pair completely focused on each other and worked towards a common goal so they didn’t multitask or engage in one upmanship and how this may have helped achieved a better outcome. They also pointed out that the activity could be used to debrief more substantive content. For example, you teach your Ss the seven principles of customer satisfaction and then conduct the activity asking them to incorporate the seven principles into their co-constructed story.

2. Shared stories 

Apparently this activity is also called story exchange and based on an idea borrowed from Appreciative Inquiry. Ask Ss to take a couple of minutes to write the outline of a story they want to share. Now ask them to stand and pair off with someone from another part of the room. Ss should listen enthusiastically to their partner’s story and then narrate their own. Ss then find new partners and repeat the procedure. After exchanging stories with half a dozen other Ss, form groups and ask Ss in their groups to find common elements in storytelling from all the people they heard for example what made it a positive experience.

3. Unfinished story 

Ss listen to 80% of a story told by the facilitator (or another S) and then complete the story by themselves. Upon coming up with a version for completing the story, they could work in groups and come up with more alternate endings. This activity could be used to explore assumptions, stereotypes and perceptions and could also be used to challenge Ss to be creative. In fact, one of my favourite activities in the same vein also comes from Thiagi. It’s called The Sentry . You give Ss copies of this science fiction short story without the last line and ask them to try and complete it. After they share their responses, have them read the original line for a powerful ‘aha’ moment.

4. Zoom stories 

In this technique, borrowed from improv, pair off Ss. One S narrates a story while her partner, from time to time, says ‘zoom in’ or ‘zoom out’. Zoom in means the storyteller should add more details and zoom out means that she should reduce the level of detail. I really liked this activity – I see a lot of potential for application in the business classroom where professionals are often required to gauge audience and context, and adjust their level of detail in order to ensure that they convey their message effectively in meetings and presentations.

5. Roleplayed stories 

T starts recounting a narrative and stops when she gets to a critical juncture. At this point, she asks Ss to assume the roles of different characters. Ss roleplay the scenario until T stops them and introduces a new twist and then repeats the roleplay bit. Their example was that there’s been some sort of nuclear holocaust and the earth is completely irradiated. The Ss seem to be the only survivors, having found refuge in a bomb shelter. Ask them to create a plan for restarting civilization in three month’s time when the radiation clears and they’ll be able to go out into the world. Now have them role play characters in this narrative. Then introduce a twist; one of your friends is just outside the door. She’s used the intercom to tell you that she’s in a bad state and needs medical help. If you open the door to let her in, there’s a possibility that the shelter may get contaminated by radiation. Debate the issue and obtain a two-thirds majority to open the door and save her life. Ss roleplay the scenario again.

6. Analysed stories 

This is essentially the case study approach. T reads out a fairly short scenario or provides copies to Ss to read. Ss individually analyse the story before analysing it collectively in a small group and then analysing it in a larger group or as a class. Tracy had an interesting cross-cultural example for this technique. She talked about an American trainer who is sent on a secondment to an organization in South India where she trains the local trainers on interactive learning techniques which they lap up enthusiastically. Later, in a meeting, the director of the company tells the training team that trainers should be respected and that humility is most important on the part of those who attend training programs. The American trainer interrupts, openly challenging the director’s views suggesting that recent research in cognitive science demonstrates that questioning the trainer is a sign of deeper engagement with the knowledge being taught. The director however ignores her and the training team vocally support his position. When the American trainer confronts her team about what happened, they agree with her views. Some time later, her company abruptly recalls her to the US. This incident could fuel an interesting discussion about differences in cultural orientations.

7. Shrunken stories

These are really concise stories which are either read out by the T or read by the Ss individually. They can be of several types such as short-short stories, 99 word stories (Brian Remer who I’ve been subscribing to for yonks is particularly famous for these), six word stories (like Hemingway’s famous “For sale, baby shoes, never worn”), hint stories and espresso stories. Provide examples and ask Ss to write their own using the same structure and have them share it in groups.

8. Debriefed stories 

The shrunken story is immediately followed by a discussion where Ss reflect on the story and discuss their perspectives with peers.

9. Summarized stories 

Recall a famous novel or plot and condense it into a one minute summary. Alternatively, read a case study, research report or business proposal and narrate it in one minute or less. This could be really useful for business students.

10. Prompted stories 

Specify a theme or topic and provide a prompt such as pictures, comics, titles, first lines and opening paragraphs and ask Ss to incorporate it into a story that addresses the theme.

This post was written by Adi Rajan and first appeared at https://adirajan.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/10-interactive-storytelling-activities/?wref=tp on October 24th, 2014.

In-Demand Degrees & Landing Top UK Jobs


“Non-EEA international students often find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for British graduate jobs”

As Brexit negotiations continue, many international students are feeling concerned about their place in the UK post-graduation, particularly those looking to work in graduate roles. Luna Williams, content writer and correspondent at Immigration Advice Service offers advice to relieve some of this concern.

As it stands, any non-EEA international graduate can take on permanent, skilled work in the UK provided they have received a job offer and a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from their prospective employer. Once they have this, they will be eligible for a Tier 2 Work Visa, which will allow them to take on their desired role and remain in the UK for a further five years to fill it. For those looking to settle in the UK permanently, this route is ideal.

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International students are wondering which route to take

However, before international graduates can receive either a Tier 2 job offer or a CoS, they are usually required to wait for a minimum of 28 days, while their desired job role is advertised to British and European nationals. This process is called the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) and is very strict, with employers who do not wait for this allotted period being severely penalised.

As a result, non-EEA international students often find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for British graduate jobs.

“An ‘in-demand’ degree refers to a degree which qualifies the student to take on a role which is officially ‘in-shortage’ in the UK”

Being placed on a lower priority to other students, their desired graduate jobs are either completely taken before they get a chance to apply, or are highly-competitive once they do.

Skills shortage

Fortunately for these students, there are certain circumstances which allow this rule to be bent – and this applies when an international student is graduating with an ‘in-demand’ degree.

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In demand degrees – those short after within the UK.

An ‘in-demand’ degree refers to a degree which qualifies the student to take on a role which is officially ‘in-shortage’ in the UK. If a role is in shortage, this means that the UK government has ruled that there is not enough residential talent to fill it.

“Making up around 50 per cent of the roles on the list, engineering professionals are by far the most sought after when it comes to international talent”

A full list of these roles is published annually on a government resource called the UK Shortage Occupation List. Roles currently included in the list range from chemical engineers to paediatrics to ballet dancers.

Crucially, anyone eligible to take on a role on this list is able to automatically bypass the RLMT’s 28-day waiting period and is therefore given a level playing field when applying for their Tier 2 role.

In-demand graduate roles

Making up around 50 per cent of the roles on the list, engineering professionals are by far the most sought after when it comes to international talent. Under categories such as Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Electronic, Process, Design and Production Engineering, there are many roles included which a degree under any of these faculties may qualify you to take on.

Also popular on the list are roles involved in the Healthcare and Medicine industries. These include roles in Psychiatry and Radiography, as well as General Practice.

As well as these main areas, there are a number of roles included in the list in areas such as Physical Science, IT, Education, Social Care, Art and Music.

With this in mind, any international students who are studying degrees in schools such as Medicine, Engineering and the Arts, may have a highly increased chance of securing a job in the UK once they have graduated and are advised to bear this in mind when considering their future plans and prospects.

This article first appeared at: https://blog.thepienews.com/2018/03/options-for-in-demand-international-graduates/ on March 29th 2018

10 Ways Teaching Has Changed In The Last 10 Years


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Teachers are the arbitrators of knowledge and culture.

Knowledge and culture are each dynamic, endlessly crashing and churning. This makes teaching significantly important and difficult work, and can leave teaching—as a craft—wide-eyed and nonplussed in response.

Worse, those outside the bubble of education can understandably struggle to understand the problem. What are they teaching in those schools anyway? How is it any different from when I was in school? Well, as it turns out, much of it is different from even five years ago.

Starting with literacy.

10 Ways Teaching Has Changed Since You Started Teaching

1. Data (about student achievement, for example) is more visible than content.

2. Teachers are leading everywhere.

3. Media is designed to be duplicated & shared

Here’s why this matters: Digital devices have changed everything. They promote personalization, offer direct access to everything, support the mashing of media, are interactive, and mobile. While education isn’t close to figuring out that last part, the first four are giving it plenty to work on in the meantime.

If literacy is understanding how to read and write, then anything read or written/created digitally is first and foremost about reading and writing, but with unique nuance. Socializing ideas, multimodalities, complex methods of tagging and curating, endless acronyms and initialisms, fluid transfer from one form (a tweet) to another (a YouTube video) to another (a YouTube video tweeted) to another (a shorter gif version of that video then pinned on pinterest) to another (ultimately arriving as a meme that is then shared on facebook).

This is a pretty big deal, and requires the deft hand of teachers to make the adjustments.

4. Apps have fallen in favor

Many teachers have either given up on apps, or shifted their use to something more intermittent and isolated than clean-sheet-redesign/apps-are-the-new-textbooks.

5. Mobile is first.

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Information, communication, search, purchasing, identity—they’re mobile-first.

Mobile learning is also a thing. Students can get up from their desks and walk around now. In fact, in a progressive learning environment they have a need to do so, and the self-monitoring strategies to make it work on their own. They can Skype with other classrooms, engage in school-to-school collaboration for project-based learning, and participate in experiential learning in authentic local communities.

It is easy to miss what a dramatic change this represents for education.

6. Equity & identity matter to students more than ever

Equity is more and more an issue a decade and a half into the 21st century. In the 1990s, profits, corporate greed, and systematic policies were less visible—niche. The occupy wall street movement changed that, and the Millenials have taken up that mantle as a significant theme for their generation.

Access to technology, socioeconomic issues, language barriers, culturally indifferent standardized assessment, WiFi speeds, and dozens of other issues are no longer niche side-conversations, but rather central issues teachers have to confront in both curriculum, instruction, and community engagement. Content holding and distribution—if it was ever—is no longer enough.

Teachers are both diplomats of often very bad school policies, and ombudsman for students and families.

7. Students & teachers are always connected

Teachers are expected to both learn, plan, publish, share, and collaborate endlessly with other teachers, and then support their students to do the same with their own peers.

The first step here is to help students to identify potential collaborators—often in other countries that speak other languages. I didn’t teach in 1953, but I’m guessing this wasn’t common.

8. Digital games are actually useful for learning.

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They’re one of the best ways to review content, for example. (Think Kahoot.)

Imagine how odd this would’ve seemed 25 years ago.

9. Technology has game-changing potential

A sleeping giant in education (well, besides parents) is adaptive software. This is the killer app for education as it struggles to make sense of a new world and new expectations.

Apps are now available that adapt to student performance in a way that teachers can’t. Yes, they can and will replace teachers for many of skill-based tasks that can be automated without losing their efficacy.

And in education that depends on curriculum as we know it, there are many of these.

10. Information is everywhere but wisdom is scarce

Try convincing a student to listen to you explain how Europeans came to America for religious freedom when they can Google that tidbit in 45 seconds, then access an entire YouTube channel dedicated to that very idea while downloading an iTunesU course from an Oxford professor on the very same thing.

In the 21st century, teachers have to respond to this while serving educational institutions that continue to operate blissfully unaware of it all. And since it’s hard to serve two masters, what do you do? Do what you’re told in the classroom, then read this kind of stuff for fun?

This article was written by first appeared at https://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/7-ways-teaching-has-changed/ on December 18, 2017.

15 ways to stay motivated to teach


Teaching English can be a very rewarding and enjoyable job, students continuously surprise you with their progress and every class seems to challenge you more and more.  But sometimes it can seem like your students don’t like you, your school demands more and more and each class feels like a marathon.

Alex Case, the author of TEFLtastic  gives you 15 ways to stay motivated to teach.

1. Set yourself goals
One of the things that can make teachers lose motivation is the whole thing becoming a grind of lesson after lesson with no clear final aim.

2. Bring in something you enjoy
Perhaps because it reminds them of more self-indulgent teachers, serious teachers often need to be told to do something in class that they enjoy like designing a worksheet to be used with their an extract from their favourite book or video. A well designed task and the enthusiasm of the teacher for the material usually make up for any lack of previous knowledge by the students.

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3. Teach your students something important
Another great demotivator is the succession of minor language points and readings on amusing but trivial topics that don’t seem to add up to much compared with the subject matter of a biology, ethics or law teacher or lecturer. It can take some effort to tie it in with language presentations and skills development, but the fact that our subject is language means that it is actually easier for us to pick and choose the big, interesting topics than it is for teachers working their way through the philosophy syllabus.

4. Learn something about/ from your students
Another thing that can turn into a blurred sequence is the procession of new students coming in and out of your classroom. One way to stop this feeling is to find out as much about them as individuals as you can, but the thing that is more likely to stick with you over the years is if you manage to learn something new about the world from them, e.g. by asking them to do projects and/ or presentations on their hometowns or hobbies.

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5. Read
As the aim is to read for inspiration rather than directly for a promotion or qualification, if you don’t have the time, energy or patience for an Applied Linguistics book, try dipping into a book with more practical ideas; a TEFL magazine, website or blog; a popular science linguistics book; a popular paperback on language like “Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson; or even a self-help book.

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6. Write
Even writing a diary on how your teaching is going can make it more interesting and show you ways out of whatever hole you in, and if you can get yourself published that can give you a real buzz and a way of stretching yourself that has a clear progression from game ideas on the web to getting your name on the front page of the most popular TEFL magazines and publishing a book that can keep you going for years, if not forever…

7. Go to workshops
As useful, convenient and (sometimes) cheap as reading and writing are, if you want a sense of perspective and a little push, there is no substitute for hearing other people talk about having the same problems as you. If your temporary drop in motivation means you are likely to lack the energy for a full blown course, a workshop or two might just give you the pep you need.

8. Give workshops
As teachers, most of us learn more from teaching than studying and live off the attention of standing up there at the front and getting approval, so giving workshops can be an even better way of coming up with new ideas than going to someone else’s. An easy start is to give a 30 to 50 minute workshop on practical teaching ideas in your own school.

9. Take a break
Like sports training or anything else, sometimes a bit of a break is what you need to get the best out of yourself. If you can’t afford to take extra time off or think a break on your CV will set your career back, a little time in a management job, teacher training job, ELT publishing job or in a summer school can be almost as refreshing as a complete break from TEFL.

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10. Use teaching to learn about the world
TEFL can get to seem like a small, incestuous world where the things you learn after the first couple of years take you further away from people who haven’t got a head full of specialist jargon. You can reverse this effect by using your reading and your classes to widen your horizons, e.g. by reading business and management books if you have Business English courses, expanding Applied Linguistics reading to include more general books on psychology, childhood development or neurology etc.

11. Take a qualification
Not only would I recommend taking a qualification like a Diploma or MA when you are feeling unmotivated, I would suggest leaving those qualifications until you are feeling stuck in a rut and so can really appreciate being told to do things differently. The only difficulty is getting your energy levels up, which the other tips here can help with.

12. Show yourself how far you have come
If you feel like you are treading water, it could be because you can’t see the river banks and so can’t notice how far you have come. You can show yourself this by re-reading a book you read during your teacher training or early in your career, watching a video of or observing beginner teachers, re-reading some of your old coursework or trying a lesson plan or worksheet you haven’t for ages and see how much better it goes now.

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13. Peer observations
Although a good DoS or teacher trainer can sometimes give you the little pointer you need to shake your classes out of boredom for you and/ or your students, the whole build up to it, the paperwork and the fact that you might be judged on a lesson on a bad day, week, month or term for you can make you less than receptive to the whole process and the feedback. One way of getting the positives without sapping too much of your remaining energy is to swap observations with another teacher. Watching someone else’s lesson can be particularly motivating- it’s an effort-free way of picking up new ideas, and anything you see which is not so good is a great ego-booster for you.

14. Do the opposite
Humans being what they are, it can sometimes be when everything is going exactly to plan, e.g. you have finally got that all Business English schedule you’ve been asking for, is when you start to get bored. If so, what you need is a bit of cross pollination, in the form of seeing what complete beginners can teach you about teaching Advanced, what monolingual classes can teach you about pairwork in multilingual classes etc.

15. Do something you hate
If touchy-feely Humanistic language teaching (for example) is something that makes your skin creep just to think about it, make yourself try it. You’ve got nothing to lose- if it is as pants as you expect, you can feel better about what you usually do in class, and if it is okay you have another whole area of teaching to explore.

This article first appeared https://www.tefl.net/elt/ideas/teaching/stay-motivated-to-teach/ in March 2008.

The slippery grammar of spoken vs written English


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My grammar checker and I are on a break. Due to irreconcilable differences, we are no longer on speaking terms.

It all started when it became dead set on putting commas before every single “which”. Despite all the angry underlining, “this is a habit which seems prevalent” does not need a comma before “which”. Take it from me, I am a linguist.

This is just one of many challenging cases where grammar is slippery and hard to pin down. To make matters worse, it appears that the grammar we use while speaking is slightly different to the grammar we use while writing. Speech and writing seem similar enough – so much so that for centuries, people (linguists included) were blind to the differences.

There’s issues to consider

Let me give you an example. Take sentences like “there is X” and “there are X”. You may have been taught that “there is” occurs with singular entities because “is” is the present singular form of “to be” – as in “there is milk in the fridge” or “there is a storm coming”.

Conversely, “there are” is used with plural entities: “there are twelve months in a year” or “there are lots of idiots on the road”.

What about “there’s X”? Well, “there’s” is the abbreviated version of “there is”. That makes it the verb form of choice when followed by singular entities.

Nice theory. It works for standard, written language, formal academic writing, and legal documents. But in speech, things are very different.

It turns out that spoken English favours “there is” and “there’s” over “there are”, regardless of what follows the verb: “there is five bucks on the counter” or “there’s five cars all fighting for that Number 10 spot”.

A question of planning

This is not because English is going to hell in a hand basket, nor because young people can’t speak “proper” English anymore.

Linguists Jen Hay and Daniel Schreier scrutinised examples of old recordings of New Zealand English to see what happens in cases where you might expect “there” followed by plural, (or “there are” or “there were” for past events) but where you find “there” followed by singular (“there is”, “there’s”, “there was”).

They found that the contracted form “there’s” is a go-to form which seems prevalent with both singular and plural entities. But there’s more. The greater the distance between “be” and the entity following it, the more likely speakers are to ignore the plural rule.

“There is great vast fields of corn” is likely to be produced because the plural entity “fields” comes so far down the expression, that speakers do not plan for it in advance with a plural form “are”.

Even more surprisingly, the use of the singular may not always necessarily have much to do with what follows “there is/are”. It can simply be about the timing of the event described. With past events, the singular form is even more acceptable. “There was dogs in the yard” seems to raise fewer eyebrows than “there is dogs in the yard”.

Nothing new here

The disregard for the plural form is not a new thing (darn, we can’t even blame it on texting). According to an article published last year by Norwegian linguist Dania Bonneess, the change towards the singular form “there is” has been with us in New Zealand English ever since the 19th century. Its history can be traced at least as far back as the second generation of the Ulster family of Irish emigrants.

Editors, language commissions and prescriptivists aside, everyday New Zealand speech has a life of its own, governed not so much by style guides and grammar rules, but by living and breathing individuals.

It should be no surprise that spoken language is different to written language. The most spoken-like form of speech (conversation) is very unlike the most written-like version of language (academic or other formal or technical writing) for good reason.

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Speech and writing

In conversation, there is no time for planning. Expressions come out more or less off the cuff (depending on the individual), with no ability to edit, and with immediate need for processing. We hear a chunk of language and at the same time as parsing it, we are already putting together a response to it – in real time.

This speed has consequences for the kind of language we use and hear. When speaking, we rely on recycled expressions, formulae we use over and over again, and less complex structures.

For example, we are happy enough writing and reading a sentence like:

That the human brain can use language is amazing.

But in speech, we prefer:

It is amazing that the human brain can use language.

Both are grammatical, yet one is simpler and quicker for the brain to decode.

And sometimes, in speech we use grammatical crutches to help the brain get the message quicker. A phrase like “the boxes I put the files into” is readily encountered in writing, but in speech we often say and hear “the boxes I put the files into them”.

We call these seemingly unnecessary pronouns (“them” in the previous example) “shadow pronouns”. Even linguistics professors use these latter expressions no matter how much they might deny it.

Speech: a faster ride

There is another interesting difference between speech and writing: speech is not held up on the same rigid prescriptive pedestal as writing, nor is it as heavily regulated in the same way that writing is scrutinised by editors, critics, examiners and teachers.

This allows room in speech for more creativity and more language play, and with it, faster change. Speech is known to evolve faster than writing, even though writing will eventually catch up (at least for some changes).

I would guess that by now, most editors are happy enough to let the old “whom” form rest and “who” take over (“who did you give that book to?”).

This article was written by  and first appeared at https://theconversation.com/the-slippery-grammar-of-spoken-vs-written-english-92912 on March 14, 2018

Intelligibility


Concept

Being intelligible means that you are understood by the person you are talking to. World Englishes scholars Larry Smith and Cecil Nelson (1985) have suggested that intelligibility is made up of the following three components:

  • intelligibility, the ability of the listener to recognise individual words or utterances
  • comprehensibility, the listener’s ability to understand the meaning of the word or utterance in its given context
  • interpretability, the ability of the listener to understand the speaker’s intentions behind the word or utterance.

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Most English language teachers probably assume that intelligibility is the responsibility of their learners. In contrast, the Smith and Nelson (1985) model focuses on the relative nature of intelligibility, suggesting that it is interactional between speaker and hearer, and that being intelligible means being understood by a particular listener at a particular time in a particular situation. What this means is that English users’ familiarity with any speaker’s way of talking is as important as how they are talking. In other words, the intelligibility of the English of Cormack and Bernadette you read and listened to earlier depends on how used you are to hearing their voices. Listen to them for any length of time, and they will become more intelligible (to you). The interactive nature of intelligibility is, regrettably, something so-called ‘international’ English tests ignore. How can speaking tests be valid and reliable when the examiner is (or is not) used to the test-taker’s variety of English?

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Most English language teachers probably assume that ‘interference’ from their students’ first language is a major source of any communication problems. But, as Jenkins’ (2002) research on pronunciation suggests, effective international communicators use many features that differ from those of native speakers without causing communication problems. In addition to pronunciation features, there are also many grammatical and lexical features which have been shown not to hinder communication. For example:

  • non-use of the third person present tense –s: she look very sad
  • omission and addition of definite and indefinite articles
  • use of an all-purpose question tag: isn’t it? no?
  • increase in redundancy: we have to study about, black colour, how long time?
  • pluralization of nouns: informations, staffs, advices

(Seidlhofer 2004, p. 220)

(You can confirm the findings of this research yourself by looking again at the Ban Ki Moon interview used in the first unit, Thinking about English.)

Research into intelligibility by World Englishes and ELF scholars has demonstrated that, contrary to the assumptions of many English language teachers, there is no causal relationship between being a native speaker of English and being intelligible in an international context. Instead, they have suggested, it is vitally important for all speakers of English to practise listening to a wide range of varieties of English and to adjust their speech in order to be intelligible to listeners from a wide range of language backgrounds. In the words of Suresh Canagarajah (2007, pp. 923 – 924), successful English language users ‘are able to monitor each other’s language proficiency to determine mutually the appropriate grammar, lexical range and pragmatic conventions that would ensure intelligibility’.

Activity

ELF in your part of the world

How do (or might, in the future) your students use English to communicate with speakers of other languages? How important will their ability to use the forms of ‘Standard English’ be in these contexts?

Feedback

Your answer will depend on your students’ age, location, access to the internet, hobbies, job, where they take their holidays, what other language(s) they speak, etc.

For example, if they have unblocked access to the internet, they may use some English on social networking sites and special interest discussion boards (like the bloggers we saw in the first unit of this course). They may use English at work for international commercial negotiations and transactions. Perhaps they sometimes holiday in a resort popular with international tourists. Or maybe they communicate in English with people from part of their own county where a different language from their own is spoken.

Only in some of these contexts will adherence to the norms of ‘Standard English’ facilitate communication, or be expected for reasons of social convention. And even where ‘Standard English’ might give users some interactional advantage or be expected from them (e.g. in formal writing), most users (NS as well as NNS) will be unable to perform with 100% accuracy.

This article first appeared at https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/changing-englishes/unit-2-using-english/intelligibility/