Category Archives: Presenting

A(nother) beginner’s guide to English as a lingua franca!

A while ago while starting my MA dissertation I wrote a series of posts detailing my early incursions into the world of ELF (1, 2, 3, & 4). Now, I’m writing another one (sigh). But with good reason (yay)! I’m going to be presenting on ELF at the KOTESOL International Conference at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea sometime on the 12th or 13th October.* If you’re in Korea, or even further afield, you should certainly come and watch.

I feel as if ELF still leaves people with a lot of unanswered questions, and so I’m taking the brave/foolish step of having the question and answer session right in the middle of the session, so there’s a lot of time and space to explore. Not wanting to be caught out too much, this post is a preview & practice run in which I answer eight of the questions I anticipate getting. It’s also a chance to solicit a few questions from people reading this (see later). In order to keep things short, I’ll try to keep my answers to 80 words or less.

What’s the difference between ELF and English as a native language (ENL)?

ENL is dependent on external norms and standardness for understanding, ELF, however, draws standards and norms from users language systems during each interaction. This means that ENL users try to conform to the linguistic traditions they have experienced since being born. ELF is more pragmatic, seeking only what is needed to communicate between the interlocutor language systems present. This can mean that ELF shows more lexico-grammatical flexibility and variability than ENL.

What would an ELF syllabus look like? 

The variability mentioned above means that a traditional syllabus sequenced by forms would be unlikely, especially those forms with little communicative value (eg third person -s). Collocations would also have a smaller role to play, as would idiomatic language. In the place of these, we’d expect more focus on pragmatic skills such as rephrasing and signalling misunderstanding. We might even expect to see a place for extra-linguistic communication. Drawing up a syllabus would be a tricky job.

Why is ELF necessary?

Great question! It may not be so much a case of necessity as inevitability. It’s claimed that there are more interactions in English featuring no native speakers than there are featuring native speakers. ENL then is increasingly becoming a very specific and rare end point for English learners, as well as being extremely difficult to reach. In Korea, we are much more likely preparing learners for ELF environments.

Do students want to learn ELF? 

In my experience students in Korea don’t really know about ELF. However, there’s certainly a desire to not continue to spend their educations slavishly following exact native speaker forms. The growth in confidence that I see over the course of my classes where grammatical accuracy is de-emphasized shows what can be achieved. I think that sociolinguistic education is necessary in English classes in Korea, if only to stop students apologising to me when they think they make a grammar mistake.

Isn’t this just encouraging low quality English?

This depends on your definition of quality. From a native speaker point of view this could be seen as deficient in terms of conformity to NS norms, but given that native speakers are generally not involved much in ELF, their point of view actually doesn’t matter too much. An ELF view takes communicative success as a quality measure, and research actually shows that it’s native speakers who have greater trouble in ELF or multilingual environments. 

Where does culture exist in ELF?

Clearly the conception of culture as being intrinsically linked to a native language cannot apply to ELF, as the native cultures and languages in any interaction will be different. Thus ELF becomes less about learning culture, and more about negotiating culture. Preparing students for ELF environments requires more focus on open-mindedness, curiosity and comity. This has fascinating but perhaps underdeveloped implications for language teaching.

What are the downsides? When might it not be appropriate?

There are downsides to ELF. Two relate to the end point of learning. For learners looking to integrate into native speaker communities completely it’s not relevant. The other significant area is for those preparing for proficiency tests which use an ENL model. I would argue that it is time for the tests to better reflect linguistic realities though. Finally, it could be seen as increasing the risk of fossilization, but again this depends on the desired end point of learning.

Do I need to think about it? I have so many other things to consider? 

Unhelpfully, this is something that you need to consider for yourself. Your learners are a good starting point. Mine are future engineers and scientists, and are likely to need English for very practical and pragmatic uses, rather than academic or poetic ones. If you’re in a similar position, the good news is that the change is more one of re-orientation than complete overhaul.

Thanks very much for reading this far. I hope you found that informative. If you found yourself with any further questions about ELF, I’d really love to hear them and answer them in a further blog post. Please do leave them as a comment below, or tweet them to me at @breathyvowel. The more obscure or uncomfortable the better!

Cheers,

Alex

* I will edit in the date and time when they are confirmed.

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Integrating Technology into the Writing Process

Technology on a North Korean spy submarine (click photo for more details).

This blog has been rather quiet of late, due  to a perfect storm of a full work schedule (now happily coming to an end for the year), MA studies and some personal and professional upheaval. This is the first time I’ve really had to write for several weeks (and I even had to get up 15 minutes early to do this) but I thought it might be useful and interesting to share my first foray into teacher training and presenting.

A couple of months back I attended the annual team teaching seminar for our provinces native speaking teachers and our co-teachers. While I was there I met a teacher from the local city, who invited me to speak at the workshops that they have each semester. I was free to choose the topic, so I opted for something that was causing some heated debate at the training weekend. Korea is, not before time, changing the way that it examines English at school level. Finally there will be a writing and speaking component to English examinations here which should be fully rolled out by 2015. This is a matter of some concern to Korean teachers, who naturally enough are wondering how they are going to cope with the extra marking, and how to find time in class to practise. I believe that there is considerable scope for using technology to help them on both counts.

The theme of the workshop then, was a vision of the writing process with web 2.0 integrated at every stage to allow for ease of sharing, peer review, working in teams and working outside the classroom. I’ve posted a link to the Prezi, plus the handout that I made to go with it below. It’s probably worth tackling the two together, as the Prezi is fairly sparse, and the handout says more or less what I did in the workshop. (I’d have loved to embed the Prezi here, but I can’t seem to get it to word. I try the Gigya method but just get a message that the Prezi does not exist. I know the sharing settings are ‘public’ as I can access the Prezi when not signed in. If anyone has any ideas on what I’m doing wrong, please leave me a comment.)

Prezi here.

The above was my first attempt at a Prezi, and was probably the most interesting thing about the workshop for the attendees. There were audible gasps from some of the audience, who had never seen it used before, so much so that I had to give an impromptu ten minute Prezi workshop at the end to those interested. Not easy for someone whose skills are at best “in development” in that area.

The workshop was mostly a success, but did suffer one fairly major disaster when Twitter refused to work. Only one of the attendees was able to sign up, and the rest were denied either sign up or sign in, due to what seemed to be a problem at Twitter’s end. I’ve had this happen before too with students trying to sign up. I guess the message is be aware that things could go wrong, and have a  backup plan, especially for mass Twitter sign ups.

The backup plan was to use online noticeboards (Wallwisher in this case) which turned out to be a great success, and in fact far more efficient and effective than using Twitter (though there are still good reasons to use Twitter too). It really is a great way to get a lot of student ideas on to the board in a very short space of time, and then for everyone to be able to play around with them as they want. The best thing is the lack of chalky/inky hands, and tennis elbow for the teacher. You can have a look at the results here.

The other thing I want to point out in this post is the jigsaw writing activity. This was another real success, and given that I have never seen it done anywhere else I want to claim it for my own here. I really think that this is useful both for building cohesion skills, but also to get students to understand the structure of a successful paragraph, and what it takes to achieve it.

The only real disappointment of the workshop was not having enough time to tackle everything. In the end I only got half of what I wanted to do done. At first when I was asked to give a three hour workshop I wondered how I was going to fill all that time. It turns out I needn’t have worried, and much like teaching, presenting takes twice as long as you think it will.

I hope that you enjoy the Prezi and the handout, and find them useful. If there’s anything that you want more detail on, leave me a comment or get in touch and I’ll be happy to help you out.

Alex