Monday, February 18, 2013

Good read: "Language: A window to other worlds"

Below is a very good article for language teachers and learners alike. The source is here:


Language: a window to other worlds

Warning: The following article may contain blanket generalisations about national characteristics. If you are offended by stereotypes based on your country of origin, turn back now.

The Spanish are always late. The Germans are very well organised. Americans are brash and uncultured. At some point in their lives, inhabitants of every country will inevitably find themselves judged based on characteristics perceived to be common among those who share their nationality. It’s often a great source of irritation to us when we travel abroad – “We’re not all like that!” we exclaim in our own defence. “That’s just a stereotype!” Yet we are often guilty of the same behaviour, whether we realise it or not.

So why do national stereotypes exist? The fact of the matter is: they’re useful. Different regions and cultures throughout the world all have, to a greater or lesser extent, a common set of values and behaviours that have evolved over time – ranging from national cuisine and dance to a shared belief in more abstract concepts, such friendliness to strangers or freedom of speech. This isn’t a bad thing – it’s what makes each place unique and gives us the wealth of diverse cultures we see around the world today.

However, it does provide something of a barrier when dealing with people with a different cultural background to our own. Familiarity with these different values is essential to ensure good mutual relations. For example, knowing that Germans generally set great store by punctuality may give us extra impetus to ensure that we are on-time and fully prepared for a meeting with an important Bavarian client, so that the business partnership gets off on the right foot. However, the issue with such stereotypes is that, while almost all of them have some basis in truth, they are often very general or reflective of out-dated attitudes. When applied without due care, national stereotypes can often have the opposite of the intended effect, bludgeoning a potentially fruitful relationship to death before it has chance to blossom.

How best to navigate this intercultural minefield, then? A complete disregard for received wisdom on different cultures could be just as disastrous as an over-reliance on it. One way of developing a deeper understanding of a country’s culture is to make yourself familiar with the language. As a shared form of communication within a culture, it stands to reason that the local language reflects the area’s shared values and identity. Learning the native tongue opens a window to these views, and allows us to see the world from the perspective of a different people.

Throughout my years of studying linguistics, I have always been fascinated by the aspects that make each language unique. English, for instance, seems to involve a disproportionate number of outlandish idioms: it rains cats and dogs; drug addicts go cold turkey; jealousy is a green-eyed monster. The world is our oyster, so we often do things off our own bat instead of just standing around like lemons. In fact, we’re completely bat-ty. I often feel that the way we describe the world is, quite frankly, bonkers. It must seem like some sort of cruel obstacle course to any poor soul learning English as a second language. Yet there is something in this approach that reflects part of our national psyche – we are nothing if not eccentric, and pride ourselves on our often surreal sense of humour; our ability to make light of any given situation.

Likewise, the Swedish language has a number of unique words that reflect a sense of homeliness and a desire for comfort and familiarity shared by many of the country’s population. The verb “trivas” translates roughly as “to feel at home,” but it also conveys so much more: a sense of belonging and complete satisfaction; a feeling that everything is right with the world. It isn’t restricted to home – a swimmer may “trivs” in water, or a rock star on a stage. Wherever the location, the existence of this word indicates a state of being that is obviously a central value for many Swedes.

There are many other examples of how language reflects common national characteristics and attitudes. It could be argued that the complex yet logical structure of German grammar is reflective of the people’s practical and systematic approach to everyday problem solving.  Saami tribes have an astoundingly diverse catalogue of words for categorizing the reindeer they herd, including goaisu (the male reindeer who keeps apart all the summer and is very fat when autumn comes) and spahči (one with tall, slender and quivering antlers). Meanwhile, on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, the Boro word gobra, “to fall into a well unknowingly,” tells us of an issue that is presumably widespread in north-east Indian society. The latter also has words to differentiate between different types of love – perhaps indicative of a greater level of emotional openness and intelligence that that prevalent in prim-and-proper British society.

I could carry on ad infinitum – the examples are many and varied, and this is one of the main reasons I love learning different languages. Wrestling with new terms and concepts for which we have no direct equivalent in our own language forces us to embrace new perspectives and see the world through someone else’s eyes. While we can make estimations of people’s attitudes based on their national background, without knowledge of how they describe the world themselves, we will always be on the outside looking in, unable to truly see through their eyes or walk in their shoes. As such, our ability to understand how their culture works will remain limited, at best. The more familiar we are with someone’s way of thinking, the more able we are to empathise with them and thus develop a good mutual understanding.

In today’s global village, it is more important than ever that we are all on the same wavelength, and language is essential to this. No individual should be judged solely based on where they come from, but on first encounters, we often have little else to go off. National stereotypes are useful tool, yet one that is often clumsy and blunt. A knowledge of different languages allows us to hone this tool and wield it more skilfully, broadening our perspective and allowing us to open the window to worlds outside our own.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Grammar-Translation Method: Any place for it in today's classroom?

The Grammar-Translation Method is a traditional language teaching-learning method that was very popular all over the world before the emergence of the Audio-Lingual Method in the 1970s, but since then has been discredited and fallen into disfavour. But is it really that bad? I, for one, do not think so. I, for one (and I know many like me), have been a success story for the Grammar-Translation Method because it was the only method that I know of before I went overseas for my post-graduate studies. And my achievements were, I must say, rather impressive! The first time I took an international English test (it was the TOEFL) without any preparation was in 1989 when I had an opportunity to go to the US on a short visit (10 weeks), and my scores were 630 on the paper-based TOEFL. And the second time I took an international English test - again without prepparation - was in 1993 when the IELTS first came out, and I got 8.5!

So there must be something to this method, right? If you are curious to learn more about this method, then read the following article that I just found on the Internet. The link is here: I've copied it to my blog so that I can keep it and read again, or use it in my teaching when needed.

When it comes to teaching languages, the grammar-translation method has become the child nobody loves or wants to acknowledge. But is it really hell on toast? No, it ain’t . There, I said it. Leave it to Seeroi to be the one to defend something he doesn’t even like, but hey, somebody’s gotta stand up for the downtrodden.

Before getting into a whole deep analysis, let’s talk booze, if for no other reason than it’s a whole lot more interesting than grammar.

So I went to a gaijin bar last Saturday, which I rarely do anymore, since I’m always hanging out with old drunk Japanese dudes in izakayas. But for some reason I was walking by this place and I saw a Guinness sign and I remembered, Hey, I love that beverage. So in I went.

Just in case you’ve never been to Japan or live in a cave or something, a “gaijin bar” is what the Japanese call a tavern full of drunk English teachers. For some reason, the bars always resemble Irish pubs, despite the fact that there’s only about four Irish people in the whole nation. Yet another mystery of the Orient, I know.

The thing about English teachers is they’re loud. And you know who you are, so don’t try to deny it. Also, they like to drink horrible booze in horrible ways, like shots of tequila. Personally, I hate tequila, ever since that time in college when I drank a bottle of Jose Cuervo, walked halfway home in the pouring rain thinking I was Jesus, stopped off at a Laundromat, and tried to dry my body by climbing into the clothes dryer. That doesn’t work very well, let me tell you. I finally got a ride home in the back of a squad car, which actually is way more convenient than a taxi. True story. Painfully true.

Anyway, what was my point? Oh yeah. That I don’t really like tequila or gaijin bars. I’d just as soon avoid them, but I can also see they serve a purpose. If nothing else, I don’t have to worry about hordes of college guys slamming Irish Car Bombs in my izakayas. I feel the same way about the grammar-translation method. It may be a rough way to accomplish what you’re after, but it’ll do in a pinch.
What is the Grammar-Translation Method?
The grammar-translation method is widely hated by EFL/ESL instructors, even without clearly defining what the method is. It often serves as a catch-all for the repetitive, overly academic, and terminally boring language classes most of us sat through in school. Classes are also primarily conducted in the native language of the teacher and the students, a big no-no the EFL/ESL world.
At its core, the grammar-translation method seems to embody five concepts:
  1. Learning grammar rules
  2. Translating back and forth between the target language and the student’s native language
  3. Memorizing lists of words
  4. Utilizing exercises and tests in constrained ways
  5. Explicit error correction
I say “seems to,” because there isn’t actually a “How to teach the grammar-translation method” book. The “method,” as such, is not prescriptive, but rather descriptive. The description dates back to a 1903 book, in which the author describes the horrible, boring classes children of former centuries were forced to endure, presumably while on break from working at their looms.
Criticism of the Criticisms
If you do a quick search for “Grammar-translation Method,” you’ll probably notice something striking. Anyway, I did. A lot of descriptions of the method (whatever one conceives it to be) use roughly the same verbiage, which sounds like everyone’s just parroting everyone else. Also, there’s no shortage of hyperbole.

Here’s one example: The Grammar Translation Method is an old method which was originally used to teach dead languages.

Hmm. “Old method,” “originally used,” and “dead language” all add a little spin to help reinforce the writer’s point. Of course I love that, because it’s just the kind of thing that I’d do.

So let me try: The Grammar Translation Method is a well-established method which has long been used to teach some of the world’s great languages.
So that’s a fun game.

Now look, I’m not actually arguing that the method is all peas and carrots, only that some of the criticisms might be overblown. Man, when I gotta be the voice of reason, you know you’re in trouble. 

Here’s another one:
Error correction: If a student’s answer of a question is incorrect, the teacher selects a different student to give the correct answer or s/he replies himself/herself.

You know, I’ve seen Japanese students fairly bludgeoned to death with that style of teaching. It’s terrible, I agree. But I’ve also seen the same five points accomplished by skillful teachers in ways that are useful and engaging.
So humiliating students is part of the method? Again, Hmm, I say, only this time I mean it. Sounds more like the way a given teacher chose to implement the method rather than the method itself.
You know, I’ve seen Japanese students fairly bludgeoned to death with that style of teaching. It’s terrible, I agree. But I’ve also seen the same five points accomplished by skillful teachers in ways that are useful and engaging. There are lots of teaching styles that accomplish error correction without simultaneously humiliating people. Just as there are ways to teach grammar that involve games and student input. Maybe that’s a modification on the original method. Fair enough. The light-bulb has changed a lot of the years too, and it’s still a light-bulb. Whatever. What I’m suggesting is that rather than vilify the method entirely, try to understand where it succeeds and use what works.

The Act of Balancing
According to world-famous linguist/egoist K. Seeroi in Why are Japaneses so Bad at English?, one reason students can’t speak English is that they don’t have sufficient opportunities for practice. And certainly, to the extent that people are silently studying lists of words and grammar rules, their speaking time is necessarily limited. But there’s no reason that the grammar-translation method can’t be used as a supplement to a more communicative approach. Learn grammar rules and vocabulary for a third of the class, then practice using them in spoken conversation for the remainder. Or make one out of every five classes a grammar class. We live in a universe abounding with options. Actually, here’s a little more scholarly paper (not mine, sigh) that argues for a balanced approach.
The Last Word
Okay, there’s never going to be a last word, because everybody’s got a different teaching style and idea of what’s best. But before disposing of baby with bathwater, let’s consider how we might implement the five points in a way that leverages their strengths.

  1. Learning grammar rules
    Okay, you don’t want to go crazy on this, because you risk loading people up on theories that they fail to carry forth into practice. At the same time, it’s useful to know some rules. とおり follows verbs and どおり follows nouns. Learning a few basic rules can help to avoid internalizing a ton of simple mistakes.
  2. Translating back and forth between the target language and the speaker’s native language
    “How do you say _____ in English/Japanese?” is a pretty common question. If you speak more than one language, you’ll probably field this question a lot. It can be instructive to practice translating, even fun. You just gotta pick the right material and use the right approach. Maybe you want to take it easy on the Beowulf.
  3. Memorizing lists of words
    This doesn’t have to be super-boring, and the payoff is good. It’s often implemented as a writing activity, but there’s no reason it can’t be part of conversation practice or a blended approach.
  4. Utilizing exercises and tests in constrained ways
    “It ain’t no fun ___ the homies can’t have none.” Now fill in the blank. These are great group activities. That there are plenty of creative exercises that can reinforce grammar in practical and student-centered ways.
  5. Explicit error correction
    I’m not a fan of direct correction, because corrections are difficult for students to remember and apply, and having your errors handed to you on a stick is de-motivating as hell. On the other hand, if you see a lot of students making the same mistake, you might need to point it out to the class as a whole. Or create another activity that enables learners to see their own mistakes in a non-confrontational way. A friend of mine teaches the use of the plural for animals with an exercise illustrating that “I like dog” means food, not pets. Me personally, I like flying squirrel. So cute and delicious.

And Back to the Pub
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s not to drink an entire bottle of tequila. Because doing a whole lot of anything is usually a bad idea. Same for the bar, same for the classroom, I always say. Mixing things up will teach you a lesson you’re guaranteed to remember the next day. So just provide your students a little grammar, plenty of conversation, and then at the end, a couple shots of tequila. Guaranteed they’ll be speaking in tongues in no time.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Teaching ESL/EFL to adult learners

Teaching English (ESL/EFL) to adult learners are completely different from teaching young learners, as all experienced teachers will know. The reason is simple: adult learners have very clear goals about what they want to learn and how they are going to achieve that; also, they have very limited time and do not accept "wasting" their most precious and scare resources playing around with the language for no particular purpose at all.

Therefore, to teach English to adults successfully one needs to follow methods and techniques that are fit for adults. Fortunately there are a lot of resources available on the web for you to make use of. Below are some tips that I found useful and want to share with you all. Please read below.


Tips for Teaching ESL to Adults

Education, employment, recreation, and leisure have all gone global. People of different nationalities, in an attempt to seek greener pastures, now seek employment overseas. Even students do the same as well. Students who can afford to be enrolled in a prestigious school often leave their home countries to study, as many believe that this would present greater opportunities for them in the future. Also, many people nowadays resort to overseas travels to be able to relax and have a good time. As a whole, these situations indicate that, in the past few decades, globalization has grown significantly. As a result, many people seek the help of English instructors to be able speak and understand English �?? the Universal Language. In addition, the majority of these non-native English speakers are adults, which is why more and more English instructors adapt to teaching methods that are suitable for adults who come from various countries and cultures.

ESL instructors for adults must be aware of the fact that the learning patterns of an adult slightly differ from that of a child. An average adult, according to research, is expected to be self-directed and must have a set of goals ready for learning a particular subject. These two factors alone imply that the adult ESL teaching methods are slightly different from those methods that are intended for young learners. In addition, the learning environment and the lessons should be formal and systematized. Since the demand for ESL lessons should be more focused on adult learning, here are some of the things to keep in mind while teaching:

Try to know each student�??s needs and preferences first, and do your best to motivate the student by giving him/her challenging activities that he/she is capable of doing. An instructor should be able to determine the appropriate level of difficulty that a particular student can handle.
Be creative when presenting lessons. Although adult ESL lessons should be formal and systematized, an instructor could still use videos, music and other forms of media related to the lessons.
Keep in mind that instructors should be able to encourage good performance in class, as well as positive behavior so that the students could easily recall what they have learned in the previous lessons. This also means that, somehow, it is the instructor�??s responsibility to help students by providing activities and exercises that would encourage them to think and recall what they have learned from class before.

The lessons that the students learned should eventually be incorporated in a new setting other than the classroom. It is crucial for the instructor to keep this in mind as well.

There are various barriers involved in learning ESL. Probably the most difficult barrier to handle is the language barrier, which is why many instructors still struggle to correct the pronunciation of some of the English words, the grammatical errors, etc. However, it is still the responsibility of the instructor to make an effort to break these barriers and create a good learning environment. By and large, still, being an ESL teacher is not easy because there are so many things to consider and there are just so many things that he/she needs to learn.

For more ESL teaching methods, tips and tricks, kindly refer to the links shown below:
Internet TESL Journal: Tips for Teaching ESL Beginners and Pre-Literate Adults �?? Provides helpful and straightforward ideas on how to teach adult students who are also beginners in the English language.
Center for Adult English Language Acquisition: Teaching Low-Level Adult ESL Learners �?? Defines the several types of low level English learners and discusses the various learning necessities of each type. It also provides suggestions and some helpful techniques on how to deal with such students.
Cambridge University Press: Grammar Matters �?? Teaching Grammar in Adult ESL Programs [PDF] �?? Teaching Grammar in Adult ESL Programs [PDF] �?? Discusses various teaching methods, and their respective advantages and limitations. It also covers how to choose which kind of English grammar an instructor should teach in class.
Hopelink Adult Education Tutor Support: Teaching ESL FAQs �?? Provides answers to most of the questions asked by ESL instructors. It also provides some helpful tips on how to deal with beginners.
Lost in Translation: Reaching Out to English-Language Learners �?? Discusses why there is an influx of non-native English learners in English-speaking countries, and provides some information on how to teach them as an English instructor.
ESL/EFL Teaching/Learning Resources: Reading �?? A quick guide for any English teacher.
Sounds of English: Pronunciation Tips for Teachers �?? English pronunciation is crucial in learning English, which is why this would be a good guide for English teachers whose students are studying ESL.
Teach English, Teach About the Environment �?? This provides teaching instructions not only about learning English, but also about how to conserve the environment.
Honolulu Community College: Principles of Adult Learning �?? Defines what are adult learners in general. In addition, it provides tips on how to motivate adults to learn, and how to break the learning barriers.
International Center New York: Conversation Tips �?? Various ESL conversation topics are presented. In the latter part of the article, there are some tips and tricks on how to make conversation exercises easier for everybody in the class.
English Language Development: English as a Second Language �?? General tips on how to teach ESL. Although the tips are intended for young learners, majority of these tips are very detailed and can be utilized in teaching an adult ESL.
Tips for Teaching English as a Foreign Language �?? Provides an overview on teaching English as a foreign language.
Brigham Young University Humanities: Adult Education ESL Teachers Guide [PDF] �?? Provides very detailed explanations on how to be an ESL teacher for adult learners. It also discusses the English language and some of its principles.
Teaching Guides and Strategies �?? Details of various teaching strategies are presented.
Division of Economic and Financial Studies Learning and Teaching Centre: How to Lead Discussions �?? Learning Through Engagement [PDF] �?? Learning Through Engagement [PDF] - Tips on how to manage class discussions and student interaction.
How to Become a Good English Teacher to Non-Native Speakers of English �?? Tackles on various learning styles, common instructor teaching strategies, and various considerations when teaching ESL to adults.
International Teacher Training Organization: What makes a good TEFL TESL TESOL Teacher? �?? A short article on the general characteristics that a good English teacher should have.
Expanding ESL, Civics, and Citizenship Education in Your Community �?? This government guide has many tips reguarding classroom setting, ettiquette, and ideas about setting up a program without use of a regular school area or classroom.
TESOL Tips - Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) fun tips and teaching ideas.
Teaching Large Multilevel Classes �?? This is a guide for teaching ESL classes to a group of people who may be at different stages in their English speaking levels.
5 Tips For Your First Day As a Successful TESOL Teacher �?? How to Conduct Your First Class �?? How to Conduct Your First Class �?? A good read for first time TESOL teachers because the suggestions are very easy to understand.
500 Tips for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages [PDF] �?? Covers everything that a TESOL teacher should know before conducting English lessons. Teaching fundamentals such as lesson planning, addressing the learning necessities of the students, language teaching methods and a whole lot more are discussed in detail.
Techniques for Teaching Adults, and Structuring Your Classroom Presentation [PDF] �?? Presents effective teaching methods that an instructor could opt for his/her classes.
Teaching Pronunciation: A Handbook for Teachers and Trainers �?? This is a full guide about tips and tricks to teaching proper pronunciation of English words.
WVABE Instructor Handbook: Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in West Virginia [PDF] �?? Discussion on the various factors that affect language learning, on the most appropriate ESL materials to use for a particular student�??s level, on cultural considerations and more.

Related Articles

Read more: Tips for Teaching ESL to Adults