Tag Archives: MA TESOL

English as a lingua franca #3: Should I? Could I?

This is the third piece in a series I’ve been working on about English as a lingua franca. I’m focusing on this area in my MA dissertation, so it’s good to think these things out. So far I’ve had a go at defining ELF, and describing it, and now I’d like first like to look at if it’s appropriate, and second if it’s even possible to teach ELF. I’ve a feeling that this one might go long, so I’ll get straight to it.

Should I teach ELF?

I’ve talked before of the “plot” view, in which ELF is perceived as a threat to the English currently being taught in classrooms, about to sweep in and replace Standard English with something ugly, reduced and devoid of culture.  Regardless of the fact that a revolution like this would be entirely impossible, it also doesn’t hold water in the light of ELF literature. Most of my reading (Jenkins 2012, McKay 2002) leaves this decision in the hands of local educators, and quite rightly so. A decision as to whether to teach ELF should be based on the language needs of the students.

In the case of my class things are not exactly clear cut. I’ll start with some stats though. According to Beneke (1991), 80% of exchanges in English involve no native speakers. I’ll admit I’m quoting this without having seen the research (no intellectual rigour on this blog I’m afraid), and I’m curious as to how this figure was arrived at, but it at least seems to be accepted that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers (see Crystal 1997, Graddol 1997) . Thus the balance of probabilities would suggest that my students are more likely to converse with a NNSE than a native one. Further to that, the US makes up 10% and 9% of Korea’s export and import trade, whereas China, Japan, Saudia Arabia and Singapore make up a combined 35% and 40% respectively (source). Chances are then that if my students are using English for business purposes it’s going to be with non-native English speakers from one of those countries. It’s my view that at least some of my teaching should be directed towards preparing them for this.

On the other hand, there are solid arguments for not teaching ELF. Perhaps the principal one of these is that probably the most important use of English that my students will make is in taking the TOEIC exam (a point echoed by Wang & Hill 2011), which remains resolutely native speaker centred despite the “international” in its name. However, my students already study TOEIC in a separate class, and my class is supposed to be the more communication centered, “conversation” class. Having spoken to my students, I don’t get the impression that they are exactly crying out for more TOEIC.

Another reason against ELF would be that the students would prefer to learn a native variety, for reasons of identification with the culture, or because they see it as a prestige form. They may also simply not be aware that English can take other forms, as the English taught (and more importantly examined) in schools is based almost entirely on imitating native speaker norms, what Sifakis (2004) would call N(orm)-bound usage.  To these students I would say that there would still be plenty of opportunity to pick up native-like features from me, and that while they may wish to speak native-like English, not everyone will, or can, so being receptive to other varieties is at least as important, and probably more so, than speaking them.

There is a further reason that strikes me as actually quite a convincing reason not to teach ELF, and that is that it seems to have done pretty well so far without being taught. Despite Mckay’s (2002:103) claim that the teaching of ELF is widespread, there seems to be very little literature on exactly how to go about teaching it, and very few commercially published materials to support teachers. All of this would suggest that there is no concerted effort currently being made to teach ELF, though I am prepared to be wrong here. Regardless of this lack of teaching, as we saw earlier, the global dominance of English and the number of lingua franca interactions only seems to be increasing, and on the evidence of what I have read, people are generally managing to cope without having been taught. So do we actually need to “teach” ELF, or can we just keep teaching “English” and leave it to our students to figure out how to use it? My answer to this is that the classroom often provides a safe practice space for real-life situations. If we can simulate some ELF-like positions in class, surely it will help students to approach them with more confidence and understanding if they have to do it for real.

In this section I have, I hope, established that ELF might at least be an option for my classes, and perhaps others in Korea. However, that is only half of the battle. It is not, to me at least, especially clear about how one would go about teaching ELF. However, the next section will explore some reasons that I think do make it possible.

Could I teach ELF?

In my previous two posts I looked at the problems with defining ELF and in describing and codifying its features. In general ELF tends to work in terms of language variation and localised communities of practice. The lack of a model seems to be the main criticism of ELF from a teaching point of view – back to our old friend Sowden (2012:5) who says “seeking to derive artificial norms from these ad hoc procedures is inappropriate”. I actually agree with him here, and in my view even a pedagogic ELF core is not likely to happen (with the exception of phonology). This makes life hard for curriculum designers and textbook writers, who need some kind of framework on which to hang everything, as well as teachers of course.

However, rejecting ELF on the basis of the lack of a model perhaps assumes that there is a clear model to replace it. The alternative would be, I guess, “Standard English”, or “Native Speaker” English. Trying to define these terms is just as fraught with difficulty as defining ELF is, and working out what constitutes a model is also an interesting one because they are, to a degree, abstractions. As a very obvious example, most of the materials that I have to teach are American English, and I am a Brit. What implications does this have for the model in my classroom, and what my students should be aspiring to? The truth is probably very few implications at all. What my students bring to the classroom, and how they use it to make meaning are far more important than either the materials or models that I can provide. The truth is that, as intermediate students, they are nowhere near close enough to any model of English for it to make much difference.

This may fit with a different view of standards and models in the classroom. I mentioned above Sifakis’s (2004) categorization of classes where imitating native speaker norms is the only goal as N-bound. This is, fairly sensibly, one end of a continuum. Fairly sensible because if you took this to its literal extreme, you’d have to correct students every time that they said something even slightly removed from what a native speaker would say. This is providing, of course, you could figure out what a native speaker was in the first place. Anyway, at the other end of this continuum is the C-bound classroom, the C standing for communication, comprehensibility and culture, and the goals of this classroom are sharing of backgrounds and mutual intelligibility. Perhaps this end of the continuum would represent the “semiotic bricolage” that Scott Thornbury talked about in a recent post.

As hinted at above, every classroom has a degree of C-boundedness. For example, my “teacher-speak” is not really a native-speaker model. It’s much slower, less idiomatic and much less playful. In the same way, I’d much prefer my students to be comprehensible than “accurate”, so if I, and more importantly their classmates, understand what they’re saying, then it’s all good. Finally, culture-wise, it’s more about what each person brings to the class than trying to teach culture too much, though there is an element of cultural comparison going on, for instance when I introduced Labov’s Western Narrative Structure I tried to get students to think of how they told stories in Korean. All of this, in the end, means that in our classroom we have our own little culture, with jokes, chunks, experiences, personalities and cultures all contributing to a discourse, which could be called learning English. Given that’s what the students are there to do, we could probably call ourselves a community of practice.

And all of a sudden we’re back at the kind of terms that are, rightly or wrongly,  used to define ELF communication: community of practice, intelligibility and variation. The kind of communication that probably happens in your classroom every day when your students talk to you and to each other, especially if you have a multilingual class. Does this mean that there is no need to teach it? Doesn’t it just happen anyway? I’d actually answer “yes” to the first question, but “no” to the second. Here’s why.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would define ELF, and in my view the system/model/variety view just doesn’t hold up, especially on an individual basis. I believe that there is at least some kind of language system contained within the individual, and ELF is a different way of deploying it according to the situation.  While I’m not sure that this deployment can be “taught” as such, the conditions in which it can be practised can be created quite easily. In this way, I want to suggest that while teaching ELF as we currently understand it may not be possible, it is very possible to simply orient your classroom towards it. I have gone on long enough in this post, but in the next one I will be making some suggestions for how teachers might go about this.



PS I’m indebted to Kurt Kohn’s comment on my previous post for developing some of my thinking, especially in the latter parts of this post. If you haven’t read it yet, it comes highly recommended.


Beneke, J. (1991) Englisch als lingua franca oder als Medium interkultureller
Kommunication. In: Grebing, R. (ed.) Grenzenloses Sprachenlernen. Berlin:
Cornelsen. 54-66.

Crystal, D. (1997) English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press

Graddol, D. (1997) The Future of English? London: British Council.

Jenkins, J. (2012) English as a Lingua Franca from the classroom to the classroom. ELT journal66(4), 486-494.

McKay, S. 2002, Teaching English as an International Language. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

Sifakis, N. C. (2004) Teaching EIL – Teaching International or Intercultural  English? What Teachers Should Know. System32(2), 237-250.

Sowden, C. (2012) ELF on a mushroom: the overnight growth in English as a Lingua Franca. ELT journal66(1), 89-96.

Wang, H., & Hill, C. (2011) A paradigm shift for English language teaching in Asia: From imposition to accommodation. The Journal of Asia TEFL8, 231-258.


What does (an) ELF look like?

This post is essentially part two of my beginner’s guide to ELF. The beginner referred to here may be someone with a newly minted interest in the field, but also refers to me as someone just dipping their toes into the cool pond of ELF. If you’re in a position of expertise, please feel free to correct me on any of my half-baked ideas.

In the previous post I talked of the difficulty of defining ELF as a concept. Any degree of conceptualization requires a commensurate degree of reduction, and it is this reduction that robs ELF of the plurality, variation and contextuality that characterizes it in practice. Cogo & Dewey (2006) make a claim for the E of ELF to be interpreted as Englishes, rather than just English (and you thought the title was an elf joke, shame on you). Nevertheless, in this post  I’m going to try to define what an ELF, or some elves (OK that was an elf joke, with a hat tip to @languagebubble), might look like in the areas of phonology, pragmatics and lexico-grammar.


The earliest serious attempt at identifying and codifying features of ELF communication was Jenkins’s (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language. A self-confessedly prescriptive document, it attempted to outline the most important phonological features of English for intelligibility in international contexts, and recommended that these be taught first. It’s my feeling that it is misreadings of this book contribute to the “plot” view of ELF that I talked about last time. In fact, Jenkins only recommended that these features should be taught first, rather than exclusively, in order to make a more efficient use of limited time. However, given the boldness of her claims, including that the /θ/ & /ð/ (th) sounds made no difference to intelligibility, it’s not surprising that they drew some criticism. Jenkins’ other recommendations included not teaching allophones of /l/, fully aspirating fortis (unvoiced) consonants all the time, and where necessary even adding consonant sounds where confusion may arise. All of these are quite radical alterations to a NS model.

While she considered “teachability” of features in the core, most of Jenkins’ empirical data came from intelligibility studies, and her suggestions are based on  making speakers maximally intelligible to other L2 speakers of English. Perhaps the key theory in her work is that of accommodation, and she found that students would vary their pronunciation towards NS norms in order to aid intelligibility of their speech to a speaker of a different L1. In a dyad with a speaker of the same or similar L1, less variation of this kind was observed. This then is the defining feature of ELF – instead of orienting to norms, it orients to people. Therefore rather than examining the phonemes that speakers produce in terms of whether it meets an externally imposed standard, ELF research examines them in terms of the contribution they make to situational meaning making.


Accommodation, in terms of aligning oneself with one’s interlocutor, also features heavily in the study of ELF pragmatics.  In general speakers will orient towards each other’s language, in a type of accommodation often known as convergence.  Studies such as Cogo & Dewey (2006) show one way in which this happens is through repetition. Chunks of language will be repeated, along with their variations. One Chinese speaker who generally uses a third person ‘s’ repeats a chunk including a third person ‘0’, seemingly in order to positively align her speech with her interlocutor’s.

ELF conversations seem to contain a high degree of mutual co-operation, using other pragmatic strategies such as utterance completions and latching (one utterance following directly on from another). While these are demonstrably features of ELF communication, what this study fails to do is demonstrate that this is significantly different to what NSs do. It reminds me of studies of gender differences in styles of talk, in which women were shown to be far more co-operative communicators, as evidenced by the same kinds of features mentioned above (see Coates 1993: 135-139 for a review of these).

Where ELF does certainly does differ is in it’s greater acceptance of pluralingualism and pluraculturalism. Again, this is shown in Cogo and Dewey’s study, where speakers of different L1s shared idioms from their own first languages when they found the English adjective “cheesy” didn’t communicate the exact meaning that they required. Idiom works differently in ELF seemingly, as it is unbound from culture. This allows for a much greater use of invention and adaptation in use of idiom, as well as the use of L1 culturally bound idioms in English.  I suspect, however, that this kind of communication happens more between European ELF speakers whose L1s are more similar than ELF speakers in Asia, as the L1 terms in the example above were “fleur bleue” from French and “kitchig” from German. Both of these are intelligible to me as an English speaker with little knowledge of French or German.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exchange described above, is the way that “fleur bleue” is introduced into the conversation. The speaker alerts his audience to the fact that there is a potential for misunderstanding approaching by saying “We say….”. This again shows the interlocutor orientation of ELF and may also lead to the fact that most studies find very little evidence of misunderstanding in ELF (eg Mauranen 2006).


The final area that ELF research tends to look at is that of lexico-grammar. Cogo and Dewey (yep, them again) make the point that this is still strongly linked to pragmatics and accommodation, as in the example above where a variation such as using a zero article is repeated by a speaker who would ordinarily use an article. Nevertheless, there would seem to be some fairly systematic features common to most ELFs. The classic hypothesis of ELF variants was proposed by Seidlhofer (2004):

  • Use of 3rd person zero form (not adding an s)
  • Use of which as a relative pronoun to describe people.
  • Article deletion or insertion
  • Fixed or “ungrammatical” (by NS standards) question tags
  • Innovative verb-pronoun collocation
  • Higher frequency of semantically general verbs (take, have)
  • Preference for the infinitive over the gerund form
  • Explicitness (“black colour” as opposed to just “black”)

These tend to be the areas in which research is concentrated. However, it’s important to note that the above is in no way a grammatical core for ELF. Firstly, while the above all feature, they usually feature alongside the NS standard variant (see Breiteneder 2009). Secondly, the focus of ELF study tends to be more about how ELF communicators make use of the linguistic resources available to them in the process of building a discourse. For instance, Jenkins (2011:21) points to the greater use of progressive forms in ELF as a way of drawing attention to a past point in time, possibly to make the structure of the discourse clearer. In other words, it’s not so much the feature themselves that are of interest, but the reasons for using them. In this way lexico-grammatical studies in ELF are often really pragmatic studies anyway.

The great question then is whether the features and variants mentioned above are really part of a linguistic system or whether they are “errors”. Given ELF’s critical stance towards NS models of English, but the lack of an ELF model in its stead, it’s hard to label anything as an error with reference to any standard. Nevertheless, there is little doubt in my mind that sometimes variations stem from a lack of language control; performance problems if you will, and these should not be counted in ELF data. Dewey (2007) suggest four criteria for ELF variants:

  • They must be systematic (according to corpus studies)
  • Occur frequently and with speakers of different linguacultural backgrounds.
  • They are communicatively effective (perhaps more so than an equivalent NS from)
  • Considered a variant, not an error, when contrasted with an ENL form (but no mention of who is doing the considering).

If non-standard forms meet these standards, rather than being seen as errors, or deficient, they become what Cogo & Dewey would see as “innovative forms”.


While the variations above are in some ways systematic, they are often bound by geographical context and different speakers. The call for plurality in ELF is no doubt driven by the fact that research in ELF is very much concentrated in two different fields: Europe and Asia, and evidence suggests that  the kinds of English used in these areas are quite distinct. I believe this makes it unlikely that an ELF core could ever be produced; I also think that such a core would go somewhat against the kind of principles that ELF research tends to espouse.

This comes back to the point I made in my previous piece, that in dealing with a phenomenon as unprecedented as ELF, traditional frameworks and nomenclature may not be sufficient for the needs of ELF researchers or English teachers. What the above should show though, is that there is a collection of somethings that we can refer to as ELF communication, and that it may be a good idea to prepare our students for this kind of communication. In next week’s post, I will try to examine some of the ways that we as teachers can do this.




Breiteneder, A. (2009). English as a lingua franca in Europe: An empirical perspective. World Englishes, 28.2, 256–269.

Coates, J. (1993). Women, men, and language: A sociolinguistic account of gender differences in language.

Cogo, A., & Dewey, M. (2006). Efficiency in ELF communication: from pragmatic motives to lexico-grammatical innovation. Nordic Journal of English Studies5.2, 59-93.

Dewey, M. (2007). English as a lingua franca: An empirical study of innovation in lexis and grammar. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, King’s College London.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, J., Cogo, A., & Dewey, M. (2011). Review of Developments in Research into English as a Lingua Franca. Language Teaching44.3, 281-315.

Mauranen, A. (2006). Signalling and preventingmisunderstanding in ELF communication. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 177, 123–150.

Seidlhofer, B. (2004). Research perspectives on teaching English as a Lingua Franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 209–239.

My Podcast Debut!

A couple of weeks ago I sat down in front of my computer to be interviewed by Brad West (@bradonomics) for the englishinasia.com podcast. We talked about the path that led me from Guatemala to Korea, what it’s like working in a tiny mountain town, and how to make the jump to teaching university. We also touched on what it’s like to study a distance MA in TESOL, and how to be a social media entrepreneur that doesn’t make any money!

If this sounds like your kind of thing, I strongly advise you to head to the link below and have a listen:




A preview of my upcoming presentation

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t written for a while, thanks. It’s nice to know I’m missed 🙂 There have been a few reasons; I hit the wall (metaphorically) two weeks ago and found myself mentally and physically struggling to do or think about anything. Thus last week was declared a mental week off – I woke up when I wanted, did nothing on my MA, no blogging and set my classes a bunch of project work to absolve myself of any lesson planning. And it worked, I’ve come back feeling much more refreshed and ready to face the teaching world again.

However, this week I’ve still found little time to blog this week as I’ve been working towards the biggest presentation of my career so far (it’s still not that big though) at the KOTESOL National Conference in Busan this Saturday. My presentation is called “Make Your Students the Experts” and will be on in room H at 1:30pm. Here’s a sneak preview of the Prezi (which won’t seem to embed):


On the way through that we’ll touch on classroom discourse, question tagging, professional development, the theory of contingency and a whole load of other stuff. If you’re going to the conference I’d be honoured if you’d come and watch. If you can’t make it though, I’ll upload the whole thing as a screencast next week.

I hope to see you on Saturday.



Citavi Tutorial #1: Setting up and importing references

A while ago I wrote a post on writing assignments for my MA. The referencing program that I use sparked a bit of interest from various people, and I had a couple of requests to make a screencast tutorial. Here is the first one of those, dealing with the basic layout of the program, and the various processes of importing references.

This was my first attempt at a screencast, and I’m not too unhappy with the result. I hope you enjoyed it and it was helpful.

The screencast was recorded using Screen-cast-o-matic and edited using Videopad.


MA Assignment Writing Tips


Avoid this, and worse, with this post! (Photo by pommesschranke on Flickr)

I was actually going to wait until I got back in the Classroom at the beginning of March to start blogging again for 2012, but then I caught this particularly timely post on Dave Dodgson’s blog. Reading his post, I realised I had a couple of useful tips to share, including a couple of nifty technological solutions for common problems, hence the below.


Dave rightly suggested that checking your references carefully, several times is essential in the process of writing an assignment, especially as they can get removed or added during editing, and not changed in the final bibliography. To keep track of my references (and save a lot of time) I use a rather wonderful piece of software called Citavi.

What it does is allow you to add anything that you read (books, journal articles, web documents etc.) to a central database. You can import the data from the Bibtex information on Google Scholar, or search by ISBN, or simply add the reference data yourself (Note: even if you’re importing, check the data carefully as it’s often abbreviated). Then, as you read the work, you can add direct and indirect quotations, plus your own comments on them, and your own independent ideas. Now, when it comes to actually writing the assignment, open the ‘Publication Assistant’, a small window which floats alongside your Word document, from which you can add the quotations (complete with author and page reference) or just a reference to the author. Citavi places a code in the document which it later uses to compile in-text references and a bibliography.

Once you have finished writing, you can run your document through the formatting program, and choose your desired format. The program will run through your document, convert all of the references, and make your bibliography for you, with nothing extraneous or omitted. For Harvard referencing, I’ve found the bibliography style to be not quite perfect for my university’s specifications, but with a little bit of tinkering it can be fixed easily. At the very least, it’s quicker than doing it from scratch, and worth it for the peace of mind.

It’s worth mentioning that Citavi also makes an excellent planning tool. You can organize all of your quotes and ideas into categories (usually your essay section headings), and then compile these into a planning document. It also has a task manager function, great for making reading lists when you find things you want to read in another source. It’s also free for projects with less than 100 references.

If there’s any interest in my doing a Citavi Screencast tutorial by the way, do let me know in the comments and I’ll put one together.

Headings and cross-referencing

I’ve just finished my first (well, 1 and a halfst) draft of a grammar assignment (8 days before deadline too). The topic was forms and functions of be in English and Korean, and so it reads more like a grammar reference book than an essay, with around 25 sections and sub-sections. There’s also a fair bit of need to refer readers to other sections, which again can cause problems when moving bits around during editing.

This is one I’ve learnt the hard way, and ended up having to do a lot of fiddling after the event. However, getting this set up beforehand might save you a lot of stress. When working with sections, it’s best to use the styles that Word gives you for the headings. This means that you can easily create a contents page which you can simply click to update if you change anything.

Where you need to refer to other sections, make sure you get your headings set up with automatic numbering (there’s a great tutorial here) before you start writing. Once you’ve done this, just use the cross-referencing function in Word and you will be able to keep track of references no matter where you move them.

Just sh*tting it out

Excuse the profanity, but we’ve all had those times at the keyboard where we just can’t say what we want. Cue an hour of teeth gnashing, hair pulling, pacing and occasional keyboard breaking. We’re always telling our students that writing is a craft, and a process of refining our ideas, so sometimes I think we need to train ourselves to write something we’re not happy with in the first place, and then come back to it the next day. I know I’m much happier coming back to edit something, than to a blank page and a broken keyboard.

Work rhythms

As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that I work best at certain times. Mid-late afternoon when I get home from work, is not one of these. Even with a cup of coffee or a hooky energy drink from the convenience store, my eyelids start to droop and my brain starts to fog. I’ve even woken up to a document that’s a seemingly endless string of a single character, after having fallen asleep pressing one of the keys. These days, I don’t even try to work straight after school. I go to the gym, cook dinner and by that time am usually suitably invigorated and depressurised (post-school) to get some work done. I guess the message here is figure out when works for you, and work at those times.


Two sets of eyes are of course better than one, so when you follow Dave’s advice and print a final copy, print an extra one for a friend. It doesn’t matter if they’re not an ELT person, in fact if they aren’t it may even be better, as they’ll be a better guage of how well you’ve explained yourself.

I hope you find these tips useful, and if you’re writing an assignment right now all the best. If you have any questions, give me a shout on Twitter or in the comments below.


MA Assignment: Grammar-wise, where do your learners struggle?

jigsawStruggling to piece it all together – from (the awesome, go check it out) ELTpics on Flickr

This piece is part way inspired by a recent post over on Dave Dodgson’s blog, where he combined blogging and pre-thesis reflection in one interesting, and most importantly time-saving blog post. Being in a similar situation, with nowhere near as much time as I would like to write on here, I am shamelessly stealing his idea, and doing my assignment thinking out loud, right here.

The assignment is for the grammar section of the course, and asks us to consider an area of English grammar in relation to a group of learners. I’m going to consider my high school students, but as I teach at middle school and elementary school as well, I’m going to try to draw some insights from there too.

I should start by saying that my learners (bless ’em) are not particularly high level, particularly when it comes to grammar in production. When tackling grammar problems or understanding it in receptive contexts they are a little better, but this is not a subject which I’m short on material for. I had a bit of a brainstorm and came up with the following four areas in which my learners struggle.

Sentence structure

Really this is where it all starts from – a surprising number of my learners simply aren’t able to put together a spoken sentence in English. They do a little better with written grammar, but still I see quite a few mistakes with subject-verb-object order (they common mistake is to revert back to Korean sentence order instead, which runs more or less subject-object-verb). One thing that is done well is adjective position, as this is largely the same as the L1. Perhaps the problems lie in the translation between Korean and English, which obviously doesn’t hold up as well as English to Spanish for example due to the different structures of the language.

One of the more frustrating things I find as a teacher is getting one word answers to questions. I realize that this is perfectly natural for native speakers at times, but it’s frustrating to hear students cop out of putting their answers in a clause at least. Of course, a lot of this could well be down to student laziness, but it’s also probably do with the fact that Korean drops both subjects and objects when it’s obvious. It’d also be interesting to see if one word answers were a feature of Korean discourse – from the limited amount that I know I suspect they may be.

I’m not quite sure where I would go with an assignment on this. It seems an awfully big topic to cover, but I’d probably start with the seven types of clause in English and work out from there. Still, I don’t favour it as it covers a huge area and I don’t have much solid evidence to draw on.

Word class

This is something I’ve been working on improving in the last couple of weeks, but something that my learners do struggle with. Most of the confusion comes between the four main classes, mostly I believe with nouns substituting for verbs. I have a couple of theories on why this is so. Firstly, where students are trying to figure out a word to put in a sentence, they simply reach in their mind for anything that sounds remotely right. This would then suggest that they are not aware of word class when they memorize words, most likely because they tend to learn words in lists as isolated units rather than in context. The not memorizing word class would point to y second theory, which is that students are simply not that aware of word class. I see this happen frequently when students are looking up words in the dictionary, they will simply insert the first translation that they come across, rather than figuring out how to manipulate the word to the correct class.

This is perhaps because Korean appears to be a remarkably easy language to manipulate word class in. It’s full of borrowed Chinese words, most of which can be easily transformed from nouns into verbs or adjectives simply by adding the Korean verb for “to do”, so literally in Korean you “do cleaning” rather than clean, and after you’ve finished your house “does cleanliness” rather than being clean. There are plenty of other manipulations possible too, which seem to be far more regular than English, and thus may go some way to explaining my learners’ struggles.

It’s occurring to me while writing this that it would actually make a really interesting project, looking at the way word classes are manipulated in both languages, and the differences in what constitutes each one in the two languages. It’s especially relevant given that I am working on this with my learners at the moment.

Verb tense, aspect and auxiliary verbs

Having learnt both my other languages (if you can claim lower intermediate proficiency as another language) via a fairly grammatical approach, I find that I am aware of verbs approaching in a sentence from a very long way off. As soon as they come over the horizon of an utterance I find myself mentally preparing for the twists and turns of tense, aspect, politeness level and several other things that I don’t know the linguistic terms for in Korean. Therefore, it’s something of a mystery to me why my learners don’t have the same precipitous sense of impending grammatical manipulation, and verbs pop out of their mouths uninflected.

This is one area of grammatical weakness where the L1 doesn’t provide such a convenient explanation of the weakness. If anything, there is far more to consider when fiddling with verbs in Korean than English. Korean has many similar tenses with similar uses to English, yet this doesn’t seem to have registered with my learners. Many of them still have no idea how to (per)form the present continuous tense, despite the form being analogous to the English. The problem seems to come with the auxiliary verb system – students can often get halfway to forming the present progressive by using the –ing form of the main verb, but forget the auxiliary. Strangely, at times the auxiliary appears in the present simple aspect with no explanation. I suspect that this is largely down to confusion on the part of the students.

This doesn’t seem to have legs as a project though; tackling the entire English tense system is a bit much for a 3,000 word paper.

The dreaded “-ing”

This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve with my learners – an almost universal inability to understand what -ing forms do in English, or how to use them, or even that they have different functions. What’s worse, they’re scattered liberally through my learners’ speech, almost always in the wrong place, and conspicuously absent where they are actually needed.

I explained above the problems with verb tense and aspect above, and where I’m trying to correct the tense of a learner (either past, present or future) the default next option is always the -ing form. This shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what it actually does in a verb phrase. I do have some sympathy though,  due to the ubiquitous nature of the -ing form; they pop up as adjectives, in adverbial phrases, as well as annoying gerunds. Who wouldn’t be a little confused by the grammar of the phrase “I’m going camping”?

A project on this then, would probably take the form of an exploration of the different functions of the -ing form in English, and it’s variants in Korean. While this would be really interesting from a grammar point of view, it only really relates to the learners in terms of verb tense.


Blog based reflection certainly seems to be the way forward. From my writings here I’m pretty sure I’m going to write on word classes in English – and especially the transformations which can take place to create related words in other classes. This is something that isn’t a grammatical strongpoint of mine, or my learners, so it will be useful for us both . Finally it’s something that I know a bit about in Korean, and I’m looking forward to exploring further.

If you made it through all that, I applaud your tolerance for putting up with my brain farts. If you’d like to leave a comment documenting the fact that you read this all, I’m sure someone will be along with a sainthood directly. Along with your application for canonisation, you could also tell me about your learners’ grammatical structures, or whether you think examining L1 grammar is a useful tool in understanding L2 grammar errors.