My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 12 – Digital Devices, Digital Storytelling & the NNS Teacher

Thursday, 22nd March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


Not deviating from what seems to be a trend at this year’s IATEFL conference, Claire Hart and Kristen Acquaviva starts off the BESIG Open Day with their talk ‘Applying M-theory to M-practice: Adult learners with mobile devices’. First, defining M-Learning as learning through the use of mobile technologies such as smart phones or tablet computers, and also learning when the learner is not in a fixed location, Claire and Kristen then proceed to do a SWOT analysis of M-learning, giving each section of the audience the task of listing either strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats related to the use of mobile devices.  Among strengths are motivation, engagement, the convenience of having their own learning environment with them at all times, and a more intimate experience between teacher and students.

Use mobile devices to collect, to check, to share, and to recycle!

Use smart phones to communicate, to create, and to collaborate!

Here are some of the practical ideas given by Claire and Kristina:

  • Get students to take out their mobiles and summarise the last three emails they received – a good exercise in paraphrasing;
  • Practise listening skills through podcasts, videos and even recording the learners themselves speaking and doing tasks;
  • Practise speaking skills through show & tells, giving a presentation, real-world tasks with phones, and feedback on speaking activities that were recorded on mobile devices.
  • Get your learners thinking through tasks: design your ideal phone, draw what your phone looks like on the inside, create and take part in quizzes on their mobile devices, etc.

Suggesting some useful apps for MLearning especially in Business English:

  • Roambi;
  • Analytics Visualizer;
  • Howcast;
  • TED talks;
  • Dale Carnegie’s Secrets of Success;

And some useful apps for ESL/EFL:

  • Pronunroid;
  • GFlash (a flash card app);
  • Practice English Grammar.

And also, do not forget to use the functions that already come with the phone e.g. Clock, Voice Recorder, Calendar, etc.

Finally, Claire and Kristen end their very practical presentation by reminding us to check out the British Council website for different apps and podcasts for different mobile devices (and not just Apple ones).

Moving away from the BESIG Open Day, I went to a talk that Graham Stanley had recommended to me that morning – Joe Pereira’s ‘Learn Language – Using Interactive Fiction for Digital Game-based Language Learning’. A man who is clearly passionate about and extremely familiar with his topic area, Joe introduces the audience to interactive fiction – a genre of computer gaming that blends literature and puzzle-solving, and combines gaming and storytelling. First defining a game as something that is voluntary, and where there are rules, goal and feedback on actions, Joe reiterates the advantages of digital game-based learning that was not unlike the strengths of mobile learning brought up by Claire and Kristina, and the power of digital gaming in SLA by Steven Thorne just a couple of hours ago.

Using 9.05 as an example of text-based interactive fiction, Joe then goes on to show us step-by-step how students could advance the story by delivering simple ‘verb+noun’ instructions e.g. ‘get out of bed’, ‘turn left’, ‘examine dead body’, in an attempt to solve puzzles, co-create the story, and find out the different endings the story has in store. Reminiscent of those ‘choose your own adventure’ stories that I was addicted to as a kid, Joe shows how being able to go back and start again from where one last saved the game had the added advantage of helping learners to reread texts, revise lexis, and rethink their strategies all at once. And the best part of this session? Joe was so thoughtful as to give us all a CD-ROM with the games in question. (at least that’s what I think is on it…with the writing of all these blogposts, I haven’t had the time to check!

On a slightly different note, I attended Renata Wilmot and Melanie Johnson’s session where they ask the question ‘Who is the legitimate speaker of English?’ Renata and Melanie were both my colleagues on the MA in Applied Linguistics and ELT at King’s College London, and there was a sense of togetherness and pride as we saw our sociolinguistics lecturer Dr. Martin Dewey walk through the door to support their presentation of their MA dissertations.

Sharing some important statistics with the audience, Renata reveals that there are 337 million Native Speakers (NSs) and 1,350 million Non-Native Speakers (NNSs) in the world, and that 80% of English teachers are NNSs, as she establishes the key themes of her research and student survey – the importance of nationality, cultural knowledge, professional qualifications and accents.

Her very interesting and relevant findings showed that the students surveyed were more concerned with the teachers’ professional qualifications than their nationality, and that although nationality was not important, student preferred their teacher to sound like a NS and expected some knowledge of the target culture. This was a point later brought up by a member of the audience, who suggested that an expat NS teacher who has lived in a NNS country for a long time might not have the knowledge of the target culture that a teacher like Renata, who has been living in London for many years, has.

Arguing that job advertisements for NS teachers or those that specifically ask for certain nationalities are not only ignorant but also discriminatory, Renata and Melanie urge us to fight against such practices. At this point, Melanie takes over by introducing her research on a couple’s language learning experience. Quoting Bourdieu (a second for today – the first being Steven Thorne’s plenary), Melanie explains the importance of one to be accepted as a legitimate speaker in a linguistic community, whichever our learners choose to be a part of.

Such a community might or might not feature the use of American or British Englishes, and an awareness amongst teachers of the importance of raising the acceptance levels of multiple Englishes is now increasing. However, we teachers are still unsure about how to apply this knowledge to the language classroom. Renata and Melanie suggests:

  • We reconsider the role of L1 in the classroom, using it as a way of creating empathy;
  • We prioritise individual context, aspirations and reasons for learning English;
  • We create a Community of Practice (Eckert, 2005) in the classroom;
  • We help students be included in the communities they wish to be a part of.

As I headed back to the BESIG Open Day for the Open Forum, I was filled with thoughts about how we need to take on the responsibility of re-training our learners into understanding that the NNS teacher, in an era of ELF, might be just the role model they need. But interestingly, although I am an NS, I do not look like the typical NS that students expect to see. Here, I am faced with a different problem. Although Renata is Brazilian, looks-wise, she could pass off as a NS. And she certainly sounds like one. I look Oriental and more often than not, people would assume I am an NNS.

As Mufwene suggests, the expectations of someone’s language use can sometimes interfere with perceptions of intelligibility. After all, how many times have people looked at me and said, ‘Huh? Sorry?’ to what I initially say to them? It is possibly the belief that they are going to have a problem understanding my accent that self-fulfills and causes communication problems.

Or maybe I’m just unintelligible.

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

4 thoughts on “My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 12 – Digital Devices, Digital Storytelling & the NNS Teacher”

  1. Great entry, Chia! Your last sentence gave me the first laugh of the day! This is a possibility that none of us should ever rule out…depending on context of course. 😉

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