Devil’s Advocate vs Shelly Terrell on Technology & Young Learners

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the ninth victim on the hot seat is Shelly Terrell.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, author, and international speaker. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and the Social Media Community Manager for The Consultants-E. She has co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects, Edchat, the ELTON nominated ELTChat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTON nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference. Her prolific presence in the educator community through social media has been recognized by several notable entities, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, UNESCO Bangkok, and Edweek. Her award winning education blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, is filled with training resources and free materials for teachers. Keep an eye out for her book, The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators published by Eye on Education. Find her on Twitter, @ShellTerrell. Shelly has taught English language learners at various levels since 1998 in the US, Greece, and in Germany. She currently presents and hosts workshops on integrating technology effectively with young learners and adults. Shelly holds an Honours BA in English and a minor in Communication with a specialization in Electronic Media from the University of Texas in San Antonio and an Honours MA in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix.

 

Chia:  Hi Shelly, thanks for sparing some time to be here today!

Shelly: Thanks for inviting me.

Chia:  I’m just really honoured to have you here because I know that you are huge in the field of technology for Young Learner (YL) education all around the world.

Shelly:  Yes, I do support teachers using technology to effectively help their kiddos learn.

Chia:  But don’t you think that kids today just spend way too much time on their computers already as it is? Why are we encouraging them to do that more often?

Shelly:  Unfortunately, that is more of an issue that falls on parenting and I think teachers need to be cautious when we make these assumptions. Plus, I believe effective technology integration involves engaging parents and asking their participation in the technology for learning journey.

Chia: Are you suggesting that teachers have no responsibility for keeping their students away from all the technology that surrounds them? That it is their parents’ duty to strike that balance?

Shelly: What I mean is that parents need to know how to help their children use technology effectively to learn…

If we assume that parents are allowing their children to use the technology too much at home then we address these issues. I host parent technology workshops at the beginning of my classes where I ask parents their fears of technology.

I show them what technologies I plan on using. I get their permission and we come to an agreement of sorts of what we are both comfortable with.

Chia:  But why go through all that effort just so that we could use some of that technology in teaching? Children were learning effectively before, without the use of all this technology. Aren’t we just using technology for technology’s sake? Aren’t we just using it because it’s there?

Shelly:  See, I don’t believe that children were learning effectively before. I think that for a long time many classes are filled with teachers lecturing and I think the ICTs today help our kids get out of their microcosm and begin to learn about the world. If we don’t teach them to communicate and problem solve effectively with technology, then when they become adults and must use it in their careers and future, they won’t use if effectively. We see signs of that already.

When we think of a teacher-centred classroom, we often think of boring technophobic teachers.
Is this the image that comes to mind?

Chia:  Interesting. Let me address the first point you made before going on to the second…

In the more traditional approaches, classrooms were quite teacher-centred and there was too much of ‘transmitting of information’ going on. That, I totally agree with. We’ve since moved on to an era of ‘learning by doing’ and focusing on the student-centred classroom.

However, by using technology, aren’t we simply replacing the ‘lecturer’ with ‘technology’, and turning the classroom into a ‘technology-centred’ one, instead of a ‘student-centred’ one?

Simply swapping ‘teacher-centred’
for ‘computer-centred’?
Are we letting the tail wag the dog?

Shelly:  There are many technologies that are now put in the hands of learners. One of the ones I am a huge supporter of is mobile technology. It’s hard for a teacher to lean over the student and take control. This dynamic of having it in the hands of the learner means it supports student centered learning.

Whereas there are some technologies I would agree that when teachers are trained improperly would support teacher-centered teaching. One example is an IWB.

Chia:  But I envision student-centred learning to be one where the student is at the centre of it all, with the teacher mediating and supporting the learning process. With mobile technology, since it’s hard for the teacher to monitor the situation and contol it, wouldn’t it simply serve to cut the teacher and other students off in an anti-social kind of way?

For example, wouldn’t it be harder for the teacher to know if the student is really doing the task that has been set and not just texting their mates?

Mobile Learning or students just fooling around?
Photo from IH Barcelona Tech ELT Blog

Shelly:  This is an issue of teacher training which is really important to the effective integration of technology with learners. In my training, I suggest teachers do things like have students go on scavenger hunts with the devices. This promotes bringing the real world in the classroom, illustrates learning is all around them, and also gets students out of their seats moving around. This is an example of an effective way to use technology support learning. W

I’d like to address the issue of managing off tasking as well…

Chia:  Yes, go on.

Shelly:  Students will go off task even without technology. They will daydream, write notes, etc. A teacher who properly knows how to facilitate and be a guide will walk around while students work in pairs or groups or complete short tasks. This again deals with training. It is easier to manage students who are doing hands-on tasks rather than an entire group at once we are lecturing to.

Chia:  But surely some of these hands-on tasks are tasks that make the teacher so redundant that learners can do them at home (as homework, for example). Why waste precious classroom time fiddling with gadgets instead of milking every moment the student has with the teacher as their guide?

Without guidance, young learners can get buried under all the issues technology can pose.
Photo from #eltpics by @dfogarty

Shelly:  At home students will use technology and they will rarely have any guide either than their friends. We have problems like cyberbullying and texting that resulted from this. It is important kids learn to use the technology in effective ways with a mentor and the classroom offers that opportunity.

Chia:  Could you expand on the effective ways YLs could use technology in the classroom?

Shelly:  One way is to collaborate with peers worldwide. I address that in this post.

One example is that my 4 to 6 year-olds in Germany skyped with Emma Herrod’s 5 year-old son, Thomas, in the UK. Thomas showed my students how to create an origami box. This was hands-on, my students got to interact with another child from another country, and they also got to communicate in English in a more natural way.

Chia: Was this an English language lesson?

Shelly: Yes

What kind of origami were they being taught on Skype?

Chia: But instead of wasting all that time setting up the Skype call and ensuring the technology was working right, you could have showed them how to create an origami box yourself, couldn’t you?

Shelly:  No. That is more teacher talk time. They got to interact with a child around their age and heard and tried to understand that child’s accent and culture. They were speaking a child’s language if that makes sense. It was a child’s conversation in English between two cultures and that is more effective and powerful for learning than my teacher talk any day.

Teacher Talking Time doesn’t always have to be like this…

Chia:  Wait a minute…let’s not demonise teacher talking time too much…

Any FLA (First Language Acquisition) research would tell you that the feedback and scaffolding given by adult talk is part of what promotes acquisition. Surely teacher talking time is useful for YLs in SLA (Second Language Acquisition) too?

Shelly:  Yes. The teacher will talk but I’ll play devil’s advocate. Teachers already use tons of teacher talk time and so I rather take the stance to make teachers aware of that because the least likely thing most teachers worldwide do is have children communicate with other children around the world and I think that is what needs to be highlighted, shared and promoted. My goal isn’t to make a teacher feel better about their use of TTT but to make them aware that more time can be spent in getting children to use ICTs to communicate in English with others.

Chia:  YOU are playing devil’s advocate? Now I’ll be out of a job…

So, technology can provide YLs with opportunities to communicate with other young ‘uns around the world and help them realise about the world out there.

Anything else that technology can do that the teacher can’t?

Using technology to motivate and engage YLs to collaborate and work on tasks together.

Shelly:  Teachers can use technology for so many learning issues like diversifying instruction, getting students to problem-solve and learn about others worldwide, teaching to various learning styles, and more but at the end of the day one of the most important things to remember is what Bill Gate’s said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” I don’t believe in technology replacing teachers. I believe it can help teachers.

Chia: Fair enough.

But let me take this debate in a different direction.

The constant use of computers, game consoles, and mobile devices are giving rise to some not-to-be-ignored physical ailments ranging from bad eyesight to RSI, not to mention the mental issues such as ADHD. YLs are already exposed to these electronic devices for the majority of their time awake. Should we really be encouraging them to spend more time dong so?

Shelly:  Part of my job is to inform parents and I think this is happening already but working with parents we can help teach them about balance. I limit the time we spend in the classroom with technology. It’s not an everyday thing. The most important is for kids to play, get out of their desks and move while learning. We sing songs, play games, do fingerplays, color, and many other activities that don’t involve technology. I also give parents options for out of the class exploration in my wiki. You will see tech based activities as well as options to play with the children and learn English. http://englishstorytime.pbworks.com W

Chia:  Thanks for the link!

You see, the problem I have with the internet and modern technological devices is that it seems to encourage a short attention span and spawns a generation of restless kids.

Shelly:  I understand but I like to take a proactive approach. If I don’t teach and train the students and parents how to effectively balance or use the technology then this problem will continue. Perhaps, it is because parents weren’t taught when they were children how to balance and I believe through guidance and addressing these issues we can help solve these problems.

Chia:  Well, most of these parents we are talking about didn’t have the internet and mobile devices to contend with as children, so I doubt if we know about striking the right balance, or what that balance might be.

Speaking of which, what would you say is the right balance, anyway?

Shelly:  I believe we start how we use any tool. For example, a pencil is a tool and if kids spend a majority of the class time sitting down writing that isn’t healthy. It’s the same with technology.

We give kids tasks where they move or don’t stay dormant in front of a computer for more than 15 minutes. I think more research is needed but I tend to try to get kids to use the technology for 5 minute increments like record a short video, record their voices, or take a picture.

This is for very young learners but as kids get older they can have a little more access. This depends on the age level as well. I refresh myself with the stages of development. John Piaget is an excellent source. Then we do other things like sing songs, have story time, etc. The technology is only used if I believe it will be more effective for that particular section of learning.

Don’t demonise technology!
Sitting down and writing for too long could cause health problems too.

Chia:  Well, I’m more a Vygotsky kind of girl myself.

Let me clarify.

While Piaget believed that the development of a child takes place before learning occurs, Vygotsky saw learning as arising from interpersonal interactions.

By speaking aloud to oneself, the thought process acts as a mediator, enabling the child to plan actions and thereby bringing about the learning process.

It is through interpersonal interactions and its accompanying sociocultural influences that prompts the intrapersonal.

I know you mentioned the use of Skype to encourage interactions with other children around the world earlier, but other uses of technology, on the other hand, seems to be rather anti-social to me.

How can this aid development?

Does technology make us more sociable?
How different is online interaction from face-to-face interaction?

Shelly:  I’m a big fan of Vygotsky as well. I think his learning theory is very effective. But the point is we need to reflect on how kids develop and how we use technology and how much time they spend in our classrooms with the technology.

Chia:  But do you find that technology encourages anti-social behaviour?

Shelly:  Again, that is on how we choose to use the technology. The teacher makes the choices. For example, we can decide if the children we teach will play a game for 30 minutes to learn particular the alphabet or we can choose if they will use something like VoiceThread to crowdsource the alphabet. Barbara Sakamoto has a perfect example of this.

Chia:  Wow. Seems like quite a lot of effort just to get students learning the alphabet. Won’t the alphabet song do the trick? It did for me as a kid…

Shelly:  Every kid learns differently. The children in Barbara’s voicethread learned new words, were exposed to different accents worldwide, and have a digital Alphabet book made with others that lasts a long time. Moreover, they were having fun and motivated to continue learning with others and continue their exploration of English words.

What’s the best way to learn the alphabet?
Photo from #eltpics by @hartle

Chia: Now, I know this is going to sound like it’s contradicting what I said earlier, but bear with me for a moment and hear me out.

We’ve been talking about limiting the time that a child should spend using technological devices, and I’ve been saying how the nature of the internet tends to give rise to short attention spans, right?

Shelly:  Yes…

The global phenomenon of the short games

Chia:  In fact, with the advent of apps of mobile devices, even games are starting to get shorter. A student of mine who develops game apps for mobile devices revealed to me that gone are the days of Role Playing Games and strategy games. People now want shorter puzzles and games that they can whip out and play with on their short train rides or while waiting for friends.

Games like Angry Birds, Bejewelled, Cut the Rope, Guitar Hero, etc are good examples of that.

So while shorter games, shorter clips on Youtube, and shorter blogposts (this sure ain’t one) can capture the attention of the young digital natives better, and can allow teachers to limit the time spent on using these electronic devices, does it not lack pedagogical continuity?

What I mean is when we used to watch Sesame Street on TV, there was a beginning, a middle and an end. It was pedagogically sound as it didn’t just present language to us. It allowed for time to absorb, practise and recap.

A short 3-minute clip of Oscar the Grouch on Youtube just isn’t going to have the same pedagogical credibility.

Does Oscar the Grouch have a short attention span too?
Wonder how many friends he has on Facebook…

Shelly:  I think when using technology in a classroom you can only use short bits to make sure that the teacher has time to scaffold and guide the student with the technology. Technology used at home for self-learning is entirely different. I think young learners need constant guiding and scaffolding with the technology. I’m not too comfortable with leaving a young learner to watch or play a video game or mess with an app with no one around. I think that’s a bit lazy.

Chia:  So you think that parents should constantly monitor their children’s use of technology then?

Shelly:  Yes I do believe that. I don’t mean recording all the information but I do believe it is important to be in the same room a child is playing a game or exploring the Internet or even watching a television program.

Don’t forget to monitor your children when they are using the computer.

Chia:  No computers or TVs in your future children’s bedrooms then? ; )

Shelly:  Nope! I plan on playing with my children constantly 🙂

Even if I’m worn out! 🙂

Chia:  And will you be playing with them with the use of an iPad? ; )

Shelly:  Yes! I will! 🙂

Chia:  I so envy them! Will you play with me and my iPad too?

Shelly:  Yes 🙂

Chia:  Okay, I’ll quit fooling around now. ; )

Shelly:  LOL! 🙂

Chia:  Thanks so much for spending time with me today and letting me challenge you…

You’re a hard nut to crack though, Shelly, coz you are just so balanced in your views.

Shelly:  LOL! : )

Chia:  At the end of the day, as you said, technology is a tool for us teachers to exploit, but should never become the tail that wags the dog, wouldn’t you say?

Shelly:  Yes! Well said!

Chia:  But could I at least get you to admit that in the wrong hands, technology in the classroom can become a way to simply wow the students before its novelty factor wears off?

Shelly:  I will admit that without proper teacher training that is always the case with any learning tool whether it be a pencil, the slate, desks, books and so many other tools we’ve seen that have been used to drill children into believing learning is boring, tedious, and difficult when really it is being curious and learning to explore those curiosities and having the chance to do just that to see where it leads.

Chia: A fantastic summary to a well-balanced argument!

Shelly:  Thanks for expanding my thinking. Always great to run ideas off with a very resilient and beautiful Devil’s Advocate 😉

These were once considered high tech toys by some too…
Photo from #eltpic by @fionamau


Epilogue: Shelly’s opinions are her own and do not represent any organisations she is associated with. Chia was trying to play DA but Shelly’s views were so balanced and logical that it was hard not to agree with her.

The BESIG Paris Summer Symposium 2012

The BESIG Paris Summer Symposium (in association with TESOL France) might have only been a day long, but it was certainly one of the best conferences I had ever attended.

It was well-organised. – From the moment the speakers’ proposals were accepted to the day of the conference, key information was disseminated in good time, queries were answered before they were even asked, and the speakers were even sent photos of the rooms that they would be presenting in.

It was well-programmed. – Like many conference goers, I had become used to attending conferences where inevitably there would be talks that might make one feel like the opportunity cost was little high, to put it diplomatically. This conference had no such talks. Every single session I went to either gave me useful ideas to implement in my teaching or brought up certain issues that made me think. And from what I heard, the sessions that I was unable to attend due as they clashed with the sessions I went to were just as good (Eric Halvorsen, Vicky Loras, Michelle Hunter, Adrian Pilbeam, Nick Robinson, Ian McMaster & Deborah Capras: Sorry I couldn’t come to your sessions, but I have been hearing so many positive things about your sessions!) So kudos to the selection committee and to the presenters for that.

It was well-attended.– There were about 160 delegates at the conference venue attending the talks, but there were also some 70 delegates that had congregated in Argentina, Serbia, and Croatia, watching some of the talks simulcasted live into their conference rooms. On top of that, there were those who were watching the talks live from the comfort of their own homes through the Adobe Connect rooms. This meant that talks like mine which had the privilege of being simulcasted were able to engage not just the live audience in the room but also the audience in Argentina, Serbia, Croatis, and those online, involving them in the workshops and the discussions.

However, by well-attended, I’m not simply talking about the large numbers in the audience. I’m also talking about the ‘quality’ of the conference delegates. The BESIG Summer Symposium was attended by some of the most influential people in the TEFL industry, from the iconic Business English book writers and speakers like Evan Frendo, Pete Sharma, Marjorie Rosenberg, to the intercultural experts like Barry Tomalin and Adrian Pilbeam, to the online celebrities like Brad Patterson and Vicky Loras and the new generation of TEFL movers and shakers like Nick Robinson, Mike Hogan, and Bethany Cagnol (conference organizer and speaker).

Kudos to the BESIG committee…
– photo by Mike Hogan
…and the folks of TESOL France!
– photo by Mike Hogan

For me, this conference was also about finally getting to meet up with some of the Twitter PLNers and Twitteratti in person (Christina @RebuffetBroadus, Eric @ESHalvorsen, Sue @SueAnnan, Vicky Loras @vickyloras, Brad Patterson @Brad5Patterson, Mieke @mkofab, and Carolyn @kerrcarolyn) and they are as marvellous if not more than their online presence!

The BESIG and Twitter PLN combined!

On the 16th June, the day of the conference, I walked from the hotel to Télécom ParisTech, where the conference was held. After an efficient registration process by the friendly TESOL France volunteers and committee members, and some early morning coffee with members of the PLN, I then headed to my first session, Barry Tomalin’s Teaching International Culture in Business – The Framework Approach ©.

Adding his own take to a mix of the dimensions and frameworks of Hofstede, Trompenaars and Richard Lewis, Barry creates the RADAR profile that helps us to learn about ourselves, before comparing our styles to others. Following some effective explanations and relevant examples, Barry had the audience first measure their expectations of business relationships by reflecting upon the following dimensions:

1. Are you more quality driven or cost/finance driven?

2. Are you more risk embracing or risk averse?

3. Do you prefer close contact or distance?

4. Are you more relationship driven or task driven?

.

We then measured our communication styles through the following:

1. Do you tend to be direct or indirect?

2. Do you often state your objectives before the reason or the background to a task before the objectives?

3. Do you tend to be formal or informal?

4. Are you more likely to be emotional or neutral?

.

Our organisational styles were measured according to the following:

1. Do you prioritise efficiency or effectiveness more?

2. Are you more time tight or time loose?

3. Do you tend to prefer top down or delegation?

4. Do you prefer individual decisions or team decisions?

Photo by Chia Suan Chong

Using framework provided by Barry, we marked out our answers to the above questions and then mapped it against the perceived styles of someone we work with, and considered the areas in which most gap was seen. Giving us the useful tip ‘Change 20% of your behaviour to get 80% of a change in the attitude towards you!’, Barry ended the session by encouraging us to think of a problem that we might have with another culture by going through the procedure he had taught us:

  • Identify your style;
  • Compare your style;
  • Empathise;
  • Manage your skills;
  • Reflect.

Judging from impressive attendance and the high levels of engagement, this session was certainly a resounding success. After a 15-minute coffee break, I managed to get a seat next to Christina Rebuffet-Broadus in one of the simulcasted talks, Pete SharmaApp-tivities for Business English’. Pete began by alerting us to several basic questions that we should ask ourselves about apps. Are they for the right platform? (Apple iPhone? Android? etc) Are they ELT apps or authentic apps? Do we need to pay for them? Is the app free-standing or does it need an internet connection to work?

Photo by Mike Hogan

He then went on to give us plenty of useful and exciting suggestions for teachers who own smart phones and iPads and would like to exploit their use more in the classroom. Here are some of them:

  • For listening practice, TED or BBC iPlayer.
  • For reading practice, newspaper apps can come in handy.
  • For pronunciation and familiarizing one with the IPE chart is Macmillan Sounds. The paid version comes with multiple activities for students.
  • Presentation tools like Brainshark or Prezi can be useful for the Business English Classroom
  • Prezi Viewer can help students to organise complex subjects like ‘culture’, ‘online learning’ or ‘the environment’.
  • Camera apps like Acrossair for geo-tagging, or Android apps like Google Goggles can provide information of one’s surroundings.
  • Screenchomp can turn our iPads into IWBs (Interactive White Boards)
  • Mindmapping software like Simple Mind can help our business clients with their tasks.
  • Fun and games like the British Council apps can motivate our learners.
  • Flashcode Reader reads QR codes. Using a QR code writer, a teacher can make treasure hunt clues, web quests, or simply send a students to an IELTS practice website.
  • Flashcard apps are widely available and can be used for vocab review

Pete’s book App-tivities is now in the labs of The Round, so we can go to www.theround/labs for a free sneak preview! Next up was Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol’s ‘Managing Your Brand as a Trainer’, where the freelancers and school owners in the audience were made to seriously think about their business plans and how much they invested in themselves and their brand. Asking the key question, ‘When people hear your name, what do they say? What does your brand say about you?’, Mike and Beth takes the audience through the different aspects of managing one’s brand, from professionalizing oneself by thinking about our niche markets and how we appear to our clients, to considering our online presence when a client or employer ‘Googles’ our name, to taking part in our clients’ conferences and courses/workshops, and even specialized training, so as to understand the environment our clients operate in.

Photo by Chia Suan Chong

Reflection clearly has a huge part to play when examining our brand. Amongst many other useful tips, the audience left the talk with the following questions resonating in their heads:

  • Are we able to present and negotiate our services with our clients?
  • Are we adapting to the changes in the market?
  • Are we investing in ways to boost the quality of what we offer?
  • Are we getting referred by our clients? If not, why not?

My talk was scheduled for the slot straight after lunch, so a few of us went to the nearby sandwich shop and I bought myself a ‘Skipper Sandwich’ with a chopped-up beef patty and fries between two chunks of bread, just to ensure that I would be as sleepy as my audience during my presentation.

Photo by Mike Hogan

As I often feel uncomfortable summarizing my own talks and presentations, let’s just simply say that my ‘Myths and Controversies in BE Teaching’ was largely based on the discussions that were had on the Devil’s Advocate interview here on chiasuanchong.com (see I’m trying to manage my brand! Mike and Beth would be so proud!). Polls were conducted both with the ‘studio audience’ and those watching from Argentina, Serbia and Croatia, and those at home, and we were able to get some very interesting discussions going. Thanks for participating, everyone!

The video of the talk will be up on besig.org soon! Another talk that was also simulcasted was Evan Frendo’s ‘Using Corpora in Materials Development’. Introducing the Hong Kong Corpus of Spoken English and the Enronsent Corpus for written corporate communication, Evan encourages us to get Wordsmith Tools, a concordancing tool that will enable us to analyse the corpora data using word lists and frequency lists. Keyword lists can also be another useful tool for ESP teachers as it helps us to find words that are significantly more frequent in a corpus when compared to another corpus. Demonstrating some possible uses of the corpora, Evan shows us the common collocates used when discussing a CNC machine, something guaranteed to be quite foreign to the lay person, highlighting the usefulness of a corpora to help us teachers become more familiar with the language our students’ need.

Photo by Chia Suan Chong

But using the corpora is not just for ESP teachers. The answer to the question “What is the difference between ‘going forward’ and ‘looking forward’?” can be found by simply looking up examples of use in the corpus data, therefore avoiding precarious situations that might arise from teachers guessing the use of certain lexis by using their instinct. Evan then ends his talk with an optimistic ‘Isn’t this what we do as Business English teachers? We analyse the language, and then we teach it.’ If only all BE teachers were this conscientious, Evan… Just before the closing plenary, Divya Brochier and Brad Patterson provided the audience with an interesting and useful way of encouraging speaking in the classroom with their presentation ‘Using Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to Boost Conversation Classes’.

Photo by Chia Suan Chong

Illustrating the fact that some students are simply not very motivated to talk through a hilarious roleplay with Brad and Rakesh Bhanot playing bored business students (Bravo for that French accent! It was so real I almost forgot that you both weren’t French!), Divya and Brad that goes on to show us how the use of the Six Thinking Hats could solve this problem.

The White Hat: Unbiased fact

The Green Hat: Creativity and Growth

The Red Hat: Emotions

The Black Hat: Problems. The Devil’s Advocate.

The Yellow Hat: Optimism and solutions.

The Blue Hat: Organisation

So the next time your student says something to the tune of ‘I don’t know’ when you ask them to comment on Global Warming or some topic in a reading text, try move around the six hats instead: What are the facts? (White) How do you feel about it? (Red) What are some of the problems with this? (Black) What are some of the advantages/benefits? (Yellow) How can we move forward from here? (Green) How would you summarise what’s been said? (Blue)

The fantastic conference then came to an end with David Crystal’s closing plenary ‘Language and the Internet’. David sets the tongue-in-cheek tone of the plenary by asking if we were addicted to the Internet and whether we check our emails when we wake up at night to go to the toilet? Surveying the audience with the questions, ‘How many of you here blog?’, ‘How many of you here tweet?’, and ‘How many of you here are tweeting right now?’ (I had my hand up to all three questions), David jokes about the fact that there now exists Twitter Scores that indicate how many people are tweeting in your talk. Clearly, the more people who tweet, the more important you must be!

How many of you tweet?
– photo by Mike Hogan

What was known as Computer Mediated Communication in the 1990s no longer seems to be an appropriate term as the distinction between phones and computers blur. We now talk about Electronic Digital Communication. In fact, the mobilization of the internet means that by 2020, 80% of access to the internet will be through mobile phones.

While adults criticize text messaging and text speak as the way young people are harming our language through abbreviations, David Crystal debunks this myth, stating that text messages are NOT full of abbreviations as only 10% of texts are abbreviated, and we are now seeing abbreviations die away in text-messaging perhaps due to the fact that the novelty has worn out. (One Twitterer tweeted as a response to this, saying that this could be due to the dominance of predictive texts…but I’m not sure if this applies to smartphone users).

Interestingly, using ‘U’ for ‘you’ and ‘c’ for ‘see’ have been around for at least two centuries, and the very parents that criticize today’s teenagers for abbreviating were probably just as guilty doing the same with acronyms like ‘SWALK’ (Sealed with a loving kiss) at the back of envelopes. More interestingly, the earlier one gets their mobile phone, the better a speller one turns out to be. Text messaging is upping our literacy and not harming it.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Defining the difference between electronic communication and the spoken language, David Crystal highlights that electronic communication features successive feedback as opposed to simultaneous feedback. But we can be rest assured that there has not been many changes to the lexicogrammar of our language even with the advance of the internet. Perhaps the most noticeable change is in orthography, i.e. spelling and punctuation, but even so, this is a marginal feature.

Moving on to Twitter, David shows how the move from asking ‘What are you doing now?’ to ‘What’s happening?’ has made tweets less introverted and less about ‘I’ and more about ‘they’. Twitter is now used for business and for reporting on the things that are happening around us.

Ending his talk with a bit on blogging, David entertains the audience with a little skit on ‘blue bottles’, demonstrating how the internet and blogging has led to the start of many romantic relationships between the online users who share a common interest. The one and a half hours flew by with David Crystal telling anecdote after anecdote that the audience could engage with and relate to, and making his points loud and clear, all without the help of any slides or notes. It was certainly an impressive and thoroughly enjoyable presentation, and a great way to end the BESIG Summer Symposium.

Here’s a fascinating interview David Crystal himself by the BESIG Online Team.

The Presentation Award winners
– photo by Mike Hogan

All that is left is to congratulate the winners of the BESIG first-time presenters’ Award Vicky Loras, Eric Halvorsen, and Luke Thompson and Andy Johnson, and it’s off to the nearest restaurant for some escargots and frog legs!

(For more photos of the BESIG Paris Summer Symposium by Mike Hogan, go here)

Death by Idioms

This is a blogpost I wrote for ELT Knowledge – home to the journals English Teaching Professional and Modern English Teacher.

As English confirms its position as the global lingua franca and the language of international trade, business and tourism, there has been more and more talk in the English teaching world regarding the necessity of teaching idioms.

Seidlhofer (2004) warned of the dangers of unilateral idiomaticity, whereby the use of idioms by a speaker could result in incomprehension on the part the interlocutor who is less acculturated to native-speaker norms.

In other words, the use of idioms could be to the detriment of mutual intelligibility and serves no purpose except to perpetuate the native-speaker’s target culture, which is usually taken to mean the American or the British culture.

Now, before you get up in arms about this and start bellowing, ‘But my students want to be taught English idioms!’ from the rooftop of the nearest language school, let me reassure you that I am not entirely comfortable with lumping all English idiomatic expressions together and damning them all at one go.

So first of all, let us consider this. What is an idiom?

The online dictionary www.dictionary.com defines ‘idiom’ as ‘an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements’, while the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary defines it as ‘a group of words whose meaning is different from the meanings of the individual words’.

Both dictionaries then proceed to give examples of idioms such as ‘to kick the bucket’ and ‘to let the cat out of the bag’.

The meanings of these fixed expressions are clearly far from the meanings of the words themselves (‘to die’ and ‘to tell a secret by mistake’, respectively), but are idioms always so easily defined?

Look the following dialogue for example. Can you spot the idioms?

Rachel:           Hey, why are you feeling so down?

Michael:         My pet hamster passed away last night.

Rachel:           Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I know, how about some retail therapy to cheer yourself up?

Michael:         I can’t. I’m broke. I blew all my money on this tiny hamster coffin. It cost a bomb.

Rachel:           I’ll treat you to something nice. Come on, let’s go.

Michael:         I can’t. I’m knackered. I stayed up all night last night mourning little Lord Nelson.

Rachel:           Look, at the end of the day, you can’t beat yourself up like that. You’ve got to get over it.

Michael:         I can’t. I’m dying inside…

Rachel:           Alright then…whatever.

You could comfortably categorise ‘it cost a bomb’ as the same kind of idiom that ‘to let the cat out of the bag’ is.

But how about ‘passed away’, ‘cheer yourself up’, ‘blew all my money on ~’, ‘stayed up’, beat yourself up’, and ‘get over it’?

 

Are you arguing that these are phrasal verbs?

But don’t most phrasal verbs have meanings that are not derivable from the individual meanings of its constituent parts?

Are phrasal verbs naturally idioms then?

How about ‘feeling down’, ‘retail therapy’, ‘I’m broke’, ‘I’m knackered’, and ‘at the end of the day’?

Arguably, these are expressions that might have started out as idioms, but through common and frequent use, have earned a place in our cognitive processes as directly representing a different meaning to its linguistic origins? Most teachers might not even consider ‘broke’ an idiom, and would take its meaning of ‘without money’ to be simply another homonym of the word ‘broke’.

Another example of this is the above adjectival past participle ‘knackered’ (meaning ‘tired’). Originally meaning ‘to kill’, sending your horse to ‘the Knacker’s Yard’ meant that your horse was due to be slaughtered due to old age. However, even in late 1800s, ‘to knacker’ had already taken on its idiomatic meaning of ‘to tire out’.

But would English speakers from the USA, Jamaica, India or Singapore understand/use the word ‘knackered’ when they want to say that they are ‘tired’?

The online etymology dictionary www.etymonline.com states that the word ‘idiom’ was first seen in French in the late 1500s to mean ‘form of speech peculiar to a people or a place’, and in Latin and Greek to refer to ‘peculiarity in language’ and ‘peculiar phraseology’.

This suggests that the original concept of idiom referred to a type of colloquialism or code used amongst a particular group of people. This code-specific characteristic is clearly seen in the word ‘knackered’, where the target culture is closely tied to the idiomatic expression. The same can be said of the following idioms:

  • to be full of beans’ (‘to be full of energy’ – UK),
  • drinking the Kool-Aid’ (‘people who conform without questioning the belief or argument, displaying a lack of critical examination’ – US),
  • came out of the left field’ (‘unexpected, unusual, irrational’ – US baseball idiom)
  • catch no ball’ (‘didn’t understand a thing, wasn’t able to grasp the concept’ – Singaporean English idiom resulting from a direct translation from the Hokkien dialect)
  • the equation has changed’ (‘the relationship has changed’ – Indian English idiom resulting from a direct translation from Hindi)
  • She’ll be apples’ (‘everything will be alright’ – Australian English)
  • box of fluffy ducks’ (‘everything is going my way’ – New Zealand English)

If the above idioms are used by a particular speech community and is code-specific to those peculiar to a place or country, then should we teach these idioms to our EFL students?

If your answer is yes, which ones? And why?

Would you teach these idioms only for receptive purposes or would you encourage your students to produce them? What are the dangers of this?

How do you decide which idioms to teach?

How about the use of the word ‘Whatever’ in the dialogue above?

It doesn’t really mean ‘anything that…’; nor does it mean ‘no matter what’.

It carries the illocutionary force of ‘I don’t care’ or ‘That’s your problem, man!’ to show indifference or dismissal.

Although it started out as a code-specific slang word, it is now used globally, perhaps due to the dominance of Hollywood.

Could any of the above code- or community- specific idioms gain international recognition too?

Please go here to do my little poll on idioms and share your ideas and beliefs on teaching them.

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Allow me to end this blogpost with this little piece of irony for us all to chew on as we go to bed tonight…

 

When asked, many of my learners say that they want to learn idioms because it makes them sound more native.

But more often than not, idioms are either used inappropriately, inaccurately, or simply overused.

 

Case in point: When John McClane in Die Hard 3 hears the building supervisor saying that it was raining ‘dogs and cats’, he immediately susses out that the building supervisor was not Amercian, thus leading him to conclude that he was German and belonged to the villain’s gang.

 

In trying to sound more native, learners end up sounding less native.

What a dilemma!

 

References

Seidlhofer, B. (2004) ‘Research Perspectives on Teaching English as a Lingua Franca’. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, pp:209-239.

My Hairstory

I had a haircut recently.

BEFORE

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AFTER

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I hadn’t planned for something quite so radical.

I had made an appointment at the hairdresser’s and was going for a trim.

That afternoon, I asked some of my colleagues what they thought I should do with my hair and how short I should go.

Unanimously, they told me that I was to cut no more than 2 inches off my very long hair. Long hair suits me, they said.

It was not until the moment I was seated in the hairdressing salon that I was going to take it all off.

It was pretty dramatic, especially considering the fact that I have had long hair for years.

That night, I posted a photo of my new haircut (see above pic) on Facebook and a flood of positive comments appeared on my page, some remarking upon how drastic the change was. And that got me thinking…about how much a haircut could mean to us.

Let me take you back to the 1970s.

I am the first born and only child to my Singaporean Chinese parents, and when I was born, I had already disappointed my parents and my grandparents in two major ways.

First of all, I was covered in hair from head to toe. My grandparents thought that my mother had given birth to a monster. Thankfully, I shed most of that hair within days, leaving a thick head of hair. Still, this was rather odd for a baby of Chinese heritage.

The second was not something that could be reversible like the first. The second was a gut-wrenching disappointment for I was not born a boy, and this was made quite clear to me throughout my childhood.

To start off, my grandmother insisted on taking me to the barber and ensured that I had a boy’s haircut, maintaining the illusion for as long as she could.

Why is anyone surprised that I grew up to become a bit of a tom boy?

(insert)

The barber totally freaked me out…
When I became used to being treated like a boy…

For the most of my childhood, my mother decided that I should have my hair kept short, and when I voiced my envy of my classmates who had beautiful plaited hair, she would lecture me on the conveniences of short hair, adding that it was the girls with long hair who got lice. The scare tactic worked because I never complained after that.

Celebrating my 4th birthday with a bob
Looking unhappy – ‘Why can all my classmates have long hair?’
Can you spot me in this picture?

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When I went to college, long hair became my preferred style. I wanted everything I couldn’t have when I was growing up.

Even the pigeons found my long hair more attractive…

And I realized the power of the long hair.

I could put it in a bun and look elegant;

I could tie it into two plaits and look naïve;

I could curl it, let it all down and look seductive.

I could flick it, toss it, and shake it.

I could headbang with it.

I could attract attention with it.

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But I was miserable.

I wasn’t happy with myself and constantly felt insecure.

I was depressed.

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I embarked on a journey of self-exploration.

I took up meditation, I reflected, I faced up to my demons.

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One of the many things I realized was this:

I had based all of my self-confidence on what others thought of me.

I had based my self-worth upon the attention I received.

Yet, I wasn’t willing to love myself or my own company.

And until I could enjoy my own company could I expect others to enjoy mine.

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So, I got a pair of scissors and cut my very long hair off.

I then shaved my hair off.

All of it.

Till I was bald.

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Now, I really looked awful.

I looked like a freak.

I felt less feminine than I had ever felt.

I had sought to be as ugly as I could be.

And if I could find confidence within myself, if I could love myself despite how others looked at me, I knew this time it would be true confidence.

Without any hair, I felt exposed…

The friends I met and got to know would treat me completely differently from the ones I met when I had hair.

The boys who came to chat me up in clubs were certainly of a different type, and expected different things of me, seeing that a bald head on a girl must mean she is daring and wild in some way.

The people I encountered in the shops and in the street regarded me with suspicion, some unsure whether I was a boy or a girl, and some openly expressing disapproval of my unconventional appearance.

After all, if people can’t place you in a box, they try to do so anyway.

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My self-esteem shrank to nothing.

I felt lonely, like no one understood me.

I was really depressed.

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I realized how much I had depended on something as seemingly insignificant as hair to boost my confidence, to create the illusion of being understood, to feel belonged in society.

I realized that I hadn’t been confident all my life after all.

For if it were true confidence, it wouldn’t have been deflated so easily.

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I kept my head shaved for 6 months.

I learnt to explore everything that I was and to find things about myself I loved.

I learnt to feel attractive and feminine in other ways.

I learnt to find true confidence.

Like the story of my hair, the story of my journey in teaching hasn’t been too different.

Placing your confidence upon tools, materials, and even your personality, can only take you this far.

Find your confidence from within, and it will stay with you forever.

Could you see why?

Devil’s Advocate vs Hugh Dellar on Intercultural Communication

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the eighth victim on the hot seat is Hugh Dellar.

Hugh Dellar is a teacher and teacher trainer at University of Westminster, London. He has been teaching for almost twenty years, mostly in the UK, but also in Indonesia. He is the co-author of two five-level General English series, INNOVATIONS and OUTCOMES, both of which are published by National Geographic Learning. He has given talks and teacher development sessions all over the world and blogs at http://www.hughdellar.wordpress.com. He also runs a busy language-focussed site here. In addition, he is a life-long Arsenal supporter, obsessive hoarder of obscure 1960s vinyl and general bon viveur, as the photo bears witness to!

 

Chia:  Hi Hugh, thank you for taking time out to be here today!

Hugh:  Thank you for inviting me, Chia

Chia:  I have heard that you are not the biggest advocate for dealing with intercultural communication in the English language classroom. Would that be right?

Hugh:  Kind of, yes. Part of the issue for me is that I’m never really sure what is actually meant by things like ‘dealing with intercultural communication in the classroom’ . . . and I fear many people who bandy such terms around aren’t either!

I believe that the MAIN role of a language teacher is to teach language and that most other things are a distraction.

Chia:  Surely the role of a English language teacher these days is to help our learners become better communicators. And well, Hugh, as soon as you communicate with someone who is not from where you are from, you are communicating interculturally.

Communicating Effectively
ELTpics: Picture by @ij64

Hugh:  The way we help our students become better communicators is by teaching them better English.

Your definition of communicating interculturally just seems to me to mean talking to people!!

I think that the real issue is that students communicate better with each other when they share more language in common, and the more English students speak, the more they are able to communicate with each other and find both common ground and differences . . . and in a sense that’s the same whether you’re talking to someone from the other side of the world or from a neighbouring country. I just don’t see what the ‘cross-cultural’ part is supposed to be apart from providing language and opportunities for students to talk to each other . . .

Chia: First of all, Hugh, as a coursebook writer, you must agree with me that communicating is not limited to just speaking. What about writing, listening and body language?

Hugh: Well, of course, communicating includes writing, listening and reading yes. But those essentially involve linguistic knowledge and competence.

As for body language, well, that’s very personal and something that for me – unless it crops up in class, as admittedly it sometimes does – is certainly not something I’d go out of my way to ‘teach’.

Chia:  What you are saying is that when people can find common ground and differences and be aware of these, then they will become more successful communicators, right?

So therefore, if we can help them to become more aware of cultural characteristics of those with whom they will be communicating, can we not make the learning process more efficient by allowing them to become more aware of these common grounds and differences (and I include body language in that).

We’re training our learners to become better communicators, not just better English language users. Or do you see that differently, Hugh?

Intercultural Communication
ELTpics: Picture by @senicko

Hugh: I’m not even necessarily saying that you need to find common ground or difference, really. I’m saying people who have more language and can use that language more skillfully will be better communicators. It may be that you use that talent and that language to find common ground, if that’s what you’re interested in, or differences. It may also be, of course, that you use it to manipulate, abuse, sell to, etc. It depends on what you want from situations, doesn’t it? And what people want depends on them and the situations they’re in and who they’re interacting with. In life in general, I mean, not just in classrooms.

I’m very very wary of talk of ‘cultural characteristics of those with whom they will be communicating’, though, partly because it inevitably leads to over-generalisations and stereotyping of the ‘Germans are direct and blunt, Japanese value politeness and ritual’ variety; partly because who actually knows who our students will be dealing with outside of class in the rest of their lives and partly because people vary so widely. I’ve met super informal, sweary, drinking Japanese folk and far more formal ones, just as I have Germans, English and so on, and any smart person treats each person on a person to person basis – and the core of the way you negotiate that is through language.

Does intercultural training mean teaching dos and don’ts?

Chia: In no way do I mean we should teach dos and don’ts. And I agree that over-generalisations lead to stereotyping and essentialism. What I mean is – Should we not make our learners aware of how their communication styles can be interpreted by others, and how other people’s communication styles can be misinterpreted by them?

It’s about raising awareness of potential areas of difficulty and not about trying to overgeneralise certain cultures or nationalities. e.g. Many coursebooks have topics like ‘Work’ or ‘Jobs’ and have writing tasks involving the writing of a CV. In the USA, putting your date of birth on your CV could result in it being thrown in the bin as they don’t want to risk being accused of discrimination, but in Germany, not putting your DOB or photo on your CV could mean your application might not be considered. Shouldn’t learners be made aware of such things?

Hugh: I just don’t see how you think this works in class Chia. Some people might think you’re direct, others might think you’re not; some people might feel you’re talkative, others may be more talkative than you. How does knowing this benefit students? And is it really our job to tell them this? People learn what others think about them through interaction throughout their lives, and most people – if they’re adults – already have a fairly strong sense of their own self anyway . . .

If all you mean is learning conventions of how things like CVs are done in UK or US cultures, then that’s fine. I see that as genre awareness rather than cross-cultural differences. Though of course even this knowledge only really helps students if they’re applying for a job in the UK or US.

If a German is applying to an international company in Germany but sending a German-style CV in English, is it such an issue? I suspect not and I suspect it certainly won’t be what gets them the job or doesn’t get them the job.

All I do as a writer or teacher is present things like CVs in the standard way I’d expect them to be, but don’t make an issue of this being ‘cultural in any way . . .

And besides, at University of Westminster, we get 5-10 CVs a week coming though the door, almost all from native speakers, and are they somehow culturally consistent? Are they heck! They’re wildly diverse . . . so where then are cultural norms?

The way to write your CV

Chia: Let me first respond to your point on the adult learners’ sense of self.

Coming from someone who believes that we shouldn’t overgeneralise, you obviously know that our sense of self and the identity we portray changes from context to context, depending on the communities of practice we are in, the interlocutors involved, our past experience of that particular discourse community, etc. e.g. A career woman who has to adjust to the discourse styles and rules of the playground when associating with other mothers might choose to portray herself quite differently. If she doesn’t, she could risk being misunderstood. That is why it is always difficult when first adapting to the culture of a new company or social group we find ourselves in.

You also can’t deny that the culture in which we grew up in has a strong effect on the opinions we form. e.g. Would you agree that ‘the best form of decision-making is group consensus’ or ‘a person’s value is measured by their achievements’. Surely you must acknowledge that these are culturally loaded opinions. Would it not benefit our learners to reflect on how the way they see the world is socially constructed? And would it not be possible to do such reflection and awareness-raising in an English language class? Should we not be teaching our learners to become better communicators or not just better users of the linguistic features of a language?

The different roles we play and the different identities we take on

Hugh: in terms of the career woman, I’m not sure what your point is IN TERMS OF LANGUAGE TEACHING.

Yes, it might be a nice study to do for someone on a Sociolinguistics module on an MA TESOL or something to see how one person varies their own language use across contexts, but all that’d tell you is . . . how one person varies their language across particular contexts. It won’t tell you anything of value in an EFL class.

As for awareness raising of how culturally constructed our own sense of what’s right and wrong, what’s normal is, etc . . .I just don’t see that as our job as language teachers . . . and I’m not sure that it’s actually achieved through discussing things like whether or not you agree the best way to make decisions is through group discussion or through one leader telling everyone what to do etc .

I’m also not sure folk from one country will agree anyway . . . I don’t buy into the idea that these supposed ‘norms’ actually really exist that much. Maybe . . . MAYBE . . . if I was preparing a Business English student to go and do business in China, say, I might want to do ONE small exercise on things people say about China and the business culture there, with the proviso that these may or may not be true, and that really they’d be best going and finding out for themselves, but that’s about it.

I honestly don’t believe that if you put 100 Brits or Japanese or Russians or whatever in a room and did a test on them to ask, for example, if the best form of decision-making is group consensus or if a person’s value is measured by their achievements, you’d get agreement. People differ. Some Japanese people will agree with some Brits and Russians more than with some other Japanese.

Intercultural Training should not be about promoting stereotypes

Chia: In terms of the career woman, it is an example of how we need to adapt to new environments and to accommodate the new discourse communities and the new people we encounter, or else we risk being misunderstood and not portraying the image we want to portray. Some people are just better at accommodation than others…

I’m afraid you’re missing the point, Hugh. No one is expecting every Japanese or German to have the exact same values. As I’ve said above, it’s definitely not about giving learners dos and don’ts lists (which may only reinforce cultural stereotypes). It’s about making learners more aware of the values, beliefs and opinions THEY hold, which are culturally bound, and how to adapt and cope when dealing with situations of uncertainty where their interlocutor is clearly communicating upon a different set of beliefs, rules, opinions, etc.

Even if the 100 Brits or Japanese all have different answers, that is fine. Learners need to be aware of the fact that people are different from themselves and might not perceive them as they want to be perceived. If they want to become more successful communicators, they can’t just be dealing with lexico-grammar. We are not teaching a language like Latin that was used only in academic writing. We are teaching a language used for communication. How can you say that you don’t want to teach learners to become better communicators?

Is the gladiator a super-communicator?
ELTpics – Picture by @ij64

Hugh: Indeed, some PEOPLE are just better at accommodation that others – not some CULTURES! It’s all down to the individual. Our job is not to ‘improve’ students and turn them into what we imagine a better person might be. Our job is to teach them language. It’s up to them what they then do with it. Apart from telling students “we need to adapt to different discourse communities and the new people we encounter” – which they will have been doing all their lives in L1 anyway, where they all learn and grow and adapt through their encounters with others, as they grow up and become adults, I’m STILL not sure what you think we should be doing IN THE CLASSROOM to enable students to become these super-communicators?

As for missing the point . . . perhaps you’re making it very clearly! Are we having a cross-cultural breakdown here, Chia?

I’m not saying that anyone expects anyone to have the same values; just that you can’t predict or generalise about what values people may or may not have because of where they’re from.

I DO want my learners to be better communicators, by the way. I just think the way that this is achieved is by teaching more language. Not by telling them blindingly obvious truisms like “By the way, you do know, don’t you, that your own opinions are shaped by your own experiences and that others might not have had these experiences and therefore may have different opinions and thus it’s a good idea to tread carefully when dealing with people that are not you!’

Also, thinking about it, many of the most successful intercultural communicators actually do so by being totally themselves and of their own backgrounds and by making no concession to others on any level. I’m remembering a very hard-nosed Chinese Seamen’s union negotiator I taught last year.

Is Hugh building up a wall to keep inter-cultural awareness out of his classroom?
Is Hugh ignoring the cultural differences beyond the walls of his classroom?
ELTpics – Picture by @sandymillin

Chia: I think we might be having a cross-cultural miscommunication here, indeed. Let us define ‘culture’ for starts. You seem to be hung up on ‘culture’ as in ‘national culture’, when ‘culture’ does also refer to ‘corporate culture’, ‘family culture’, ‘social group culture’ etc, (notwithstanding the cultural filter through which individuals perceived the world)

I think you are still missing the point.

Hugh: Make it better then!

Chia: I’m not advocating we predict or generalise what values people may or may not have because of where they’re from.

I’m advocating that we help learners realise the issues that arise when they are communicating in situations with interlocutors out of their usual discourse community, and adapt accordingly.

e.g. I had some Latin American and Mediterranean students who were in the same class with several Koreans and Japanese students for the few months they were at International House. One day, we started talking about the way we take turns and how we hold the floor, and the Latin Americans and Mediterranean students at first were adamant that Oriental are just shy. Through discussion, they were surprised to realise that the Koreans found it rude to interrupt others, and in turn thought that the Mediterraneans were rude. The discussion seemed like a revelation to both groups, and is a clear example of how cultural differences could be glaring at you in the face, and you might still attribute it to interlocutor’s personality if you were not made aware.

So, what about discussing such issues in English instead of just talking about hobbies, holidays and the usual banal stuff you often find in course books.

 

Not banal – Fridge magnets showing us cultural differences!
ELTpics – Picture by @amfromz

Hugh: Obviously, only an idiot would say they don’t want their students to deal better with situations where communication breaks down, but in classroom terms, I still don’t see what you think we should be doing. It just sounds like you want us to give trite little mini-lectures to students and tell them to ensure they adapt when communicating with folk from different backgrounds! Isn’t this what people all do anyway? In L2 as in L1? I don’t buy the basic premise that these breakdowns even occur that often, to be honest. What I see happening in communications between folk of different cultures, whether they be national, local, company cultures or whatever, is people talking to each other, negotiating meanings (which the better they use English, the easier they find) and getting stuff done or having conversations . . . in terms of the Koreans and Latin Americans, where does that then get them? Did the Koreans all start butting in and interrupting and the Latin Americans waiting and hesitating? Almost certainly not! All that happened is they realised the mirror has two-way glass in it, but their view is still their view . . .

Anyway, . . . I’ve never advocated just discussing banal stuff, as anyone who knows my books will hopefully testify to, but I honestly think too much is made of these ‘breakdowns’ and that if students are given interesting things to talk about, anyone will talk to anyone, provided they have common language to allow that. My advanced class this term has 8 Chinese, eight non-Chinese, including two other Asians . . . German . . . Spanish . . . Colombian . . . today they chatted about religion in their countries, divorce and divorce laws, and much else besides. It was super interesting, brought about by materials that realised these issues . . . I pre-taught language to help these discussions and then taught more in response to things they wanted to say, but couldn’t. THIS is what I think we should be doing in class.

If you want ONE of these kinds of classes to be about how you start / end / enter conversations, fine  . . . but divorce and religion is at least as interesting!

Which would you choose as a topic for your classroom? Intercultural communication or divorce?

Chia: Fine, I’ll give you that. In a multi-lingual class, that might be very interesting. But how would you propose dealing with the same issues in a monolingual group?

Hugh: In a mono-lingual class students will still disagree about things like the divorce laws . . . maybe religion in their country won’t be such an issue, but monolingual NEVER means mono-cultural. Students will all orient themselves to topics in different ways, have different takes and different opinions. As a writer – and a teacher – those are the spaces I’m interested in exploring – and that I try to teach the language to facilitate discussion about.

Chia: Hugh, it looks like you’ve just agreed that teaching issues like this in class is important. Cogito ergo sum, we should integrate cultural issues into language training! Thank you very much Hugh. I’ve really enjoyed doing this DA with you!

😉

Hugh: Ha ha. I thought it was me who just heard what they want to hear! 🙂

Anyway, thank YOU, Chia, for your time, your questions and your (misplaced) enthusiasms!

What I did to Lindsay Clandfield during the Teach-Off I wanted to do to Hugh Dellar

Epilogue: Hugh’s views are his own and do not represent any organization he is associated with. Chia, this time, was not only playing DA, but was genuinely taking a stand about the topic in question. Hugh and Chia may have been engaging in many online fights lately, but rest assured they are still friends who are not adverse to the occasional rowdy debate in the pub.