My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 2

Monday, the 19th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

The IATEFL BESIG PCE

This was apparently the first year that saw all the different SIGs each having their own PCE, thus accounting for the very long queue seen at the registration desk on Monday morning. The conference organizing committee members were operating super efficiently though, and managed to move the masses relatively quickly.

The theme of the BESIG PCE this year was ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) and I was the first speaker up. After giving an overview of what ELF was from the point of view of my personal journey, I spoke about my conversion into ELF and how my exploration into the factors that affect the perceptions created by NNSs on fellow NNSs. See my IATEFL Online interview here for a summary of my talk. Also see these blogposts by Phil Wade and Eduardo Santos regarding the interview I gave.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Below are some tweets that were shooting around while I was speaking.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan asks audience: “Is ELF Globish?” hm…. Audience doesn’t seem to think so.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan has a great ear for accents.

‪@IHLondon:    We’re so proud of Chia! RT @bethcagnol: @chiasuan is such a lovely speaker! 🙂 Lots of presence and poise.

‪@kit2kat:    Great hearing @chiasuan talk at last SO energetic and engaging about #ELF 🙂

@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan says perhaps we should shift our teaching to helping our sts communication with other non-native speakers.

‪@bethcagnol:     @chiasuan says it’s about the impressions you are creating of yourself.

‪@cleve360:    @chiasuan discussing politeness as “mutual maintenance of face” in context of ELF.

‪@kit2kat:    Politeness – a mutual maintaining of face 🙂 @chiasuan

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan suggests exploring levels of directness.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan conducted an insane amount of ELF research.

‪@jenverschoor:    Attending the BESIG PCE. Listening to @chiasuan talking about “The Research Design”

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan compared the perceptions NS have towards NNS. And NNS perceptions of NNS.

@brad5patterson:    Go chia!!!! ENJOY Jen RT @jenverschoor: Attending the BESIG PCE. Listening to @chiasuan talking about “The Research Design”

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan “principle of charity” — the understanding, compassion, for a NNS’s simplified English usage.

‪@phil3wade:    @bethcagnol @chiasuan I wish I got that when I speak French!!

‪@kit2kat:    Is politeness set in stone or dependent on the dynamism of a fluid interaction? @chiasuan

‪@bethcagnol:    @phil3wade @chiasuan Well…that’s debatable. The French correct foreigners because the French think they are helping them.

‪@bethcagnol:    @phil3wade @chiasuan The French don’t know that it’s impolite in dozens of nationalities to correct foreigners.

‪@phil3wade:    @bethcagnol @chiasuan Nobody ever corrects me.The foreigner teachers used to even criticise the local’s speech.1 said ‘truc’,scarred 4 life!

‪@cleve360:    Extraordinarily useful session on ELF by @chiasuan, great mix of theory and practice, audio examples. Audience is enthralled

‪@kit2kat:    Requests – as always ‘context’ overrides linguistics! @chiasuan

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan “Help students know that there are different strategies of politeness”.

‪@NatalieGorohova:    @chiasuan “Native speakers may not have the skills that the non-native speakers need”

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan ELF and Intercultural Communication go together!

‪@kit2kat:    😀 @chiasuan just used a triangle – @Lydbury will be pleased!!! 😀

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan says we should encourage discussions in the classroom about the levels of politeness.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan cites Theater of the Oppressed.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan suggests filming conversation bits and playing them for sts to discuss appropriateness, politeness, etc.

‪@phil3wade:    @bethcagnol @chiasuan My wife tried being polite.Someone called her ‘luv’ so she went round saying it to everyone.

‪@andivwhite:    Live interview scheduled with @chiasuan at 12:15. She’s amazing. Check it out: http://bit.ly/yfJ3t2

‪@phil3wade:     @andivwhite @chiasuan She’s the DA. Watch out!

Photo by Mike Hogan

Following my talk on the pragmatics of ELF politeness and a lovely coffee break, Evan Frendo followed with a talk on the miscommunications in ELF scenarios, and Almut Koester on metaphors in ELF. I must apologise for not being there for these two talks as I had to run off for the IATEFL Online interview. But you can read about their talks using the #besig #iatefl hashtags on Twitter, or join BESIG as a member for access to videos of all the PCE talks.

Evan Frendo - Photo by Mike Hogan

Vicki Hollett, the organizer of the BESIG PCE came on next, and started talking about developing competence in ELF scenarios. Quoting Alessia Cogo’s definition of accommodation strategies, Vicki states that accommodation is about the adjustments you make to your speech according to the context and who you are talking to. Showing how Alan Firth’s ‘Let it Pass’ principle might work in an example about ‘cheese blowing’, Vicki then goes on to say that when the information is crucial, it is found that interlocutors do not simply let it pass. Instead, they go to great lengths to clarify.

Vicki Hollett on ELF

Accommodation is not simply letting it pass, it includes turn-taking and calibrating for competence in a way that we English teachers already naturally do in our daily interactions with our students. In a very clear example of the different turn-taking, meaning negotiation and discourse strategies, Vicki shows the audience videos of two groups of students doing the same task. The group consisting of Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese and Swiss participants took some time at the beginning to decide who was to begin speaking, and displayed features such as the use of long silences and pauses, and allowing one person to hold the floor without interruptions. The other group consisting of Venezuelans, Brazilians and Spanish speakers, on the other hand, used more interruptions, cooperative overlapping and fewer pauses when discussing. The former, named ‘Bowling’ had a Highly Considerate Conversational Style, while the later, named ‘Rugby’ had a Highly Engaging Conversational Style. Those with mixed conversational styles were named ‘Basketball’. Through this video, Vicki not only shows us the different discourse styles, but also the importance of raising our students’ awareness of such differences.

In the next part of her talk, Vicki goes on to talk about vague language versus direct language. Stating that although clarity is often of utmost importance in ELF communication, we must not neglect the relationship benefit in ambiguity and vague language. Words like ‘whatchamacallit’, ‘approximately’ and ‘kind of’ can maintain an informal atmosphere without being committed. The use of euphemisms like ‘wellness centre’ for ‘hospital’, ‘dental appliance’ for ‘false teeth’, ‘facilitation payments’ for ‘bribes’, all have their social purposes.

However, some utterances can hold different illocutionary forces for different people. The utterance ‘Are you suggesting that we should make our staff redundant?’ could come across aggressive and defiant and perhaps a precursor to a challenge, but could this only be a perception of the NSs? It is often found that in NNS speech, performative verbs such as ‘suggest’, ‘advise’, ‘promise’ etc are used not to create a highly marked sentence but simply to clarify the speech act.

In a key point that echoed my talk, Vicki emphasized the importance of not oversimplifying the issue by giving learners lists of stock phrases but instead allow for more discussion of the contexts in which they are used and how they are used. For example, simply telling students that in the UK culture, it is rude to disagree directly, and to make a disagreement more polite, students have to simply use formulae like ‘I’m afraid I don’t quite agree with you’ or ‘I agree with you up to a point but…’ Interlocutors who are slow to agree may often use tactics like claiming they partly agree and apologise, but this is not taking into account of other strategies like the asking challenging questions and hesitation, or of the fact that once the disagreement is clear, speakers are usually more forceful and disagree more openly.

Often, it is not the linguistic choice per se, but the context and the status of the interlocutors that differentiates, say, an order from a request. It is also perhaps a misnomer to say that we employ more distance and formality the more we are unfamiliar with a person. Using the ‘bulge’ in Nessa’s theory of speech behaviour and social distance to explain why we are sometimes more polite to acquaintances than to strangers, Vicki hammers home the point that the exploration of context is the way to go in the classroom. Publishers seem to want black and white answers, discrete item lexico-grammar tests seem to want right or wrong answers, but what we really need to be doing in class is to use texts to illustrate ambiguity and provoke discussions.

For more discussion, go here for my Devil’s Advocate (DA) interview with Vicki Hollett about the pedagogic implications of ELF.

ELF Panel Discussion with Chia Suan Chong, Evan Frendo, Vicki Hollett and Almut Koester - Photo by Mike Hogan

Right after a fascinating and invigorating panel discussion and a couple more interviews for the BESIG website (I can’t wait to see a video of the panel discussion on the BESIG website!), we attended the opening ceremony of IATEFL Glasgow, followed a session of drinks where we finally were able to network across the SIGs, catching up, meeting up and tweeting up with old friends, new friends and online friends.

IATEFL President Eric Baber at the Welcome Event - Photo by Mike Hogan

Those involved in the BESIG PCE were invited to an amazing curry dinner with the BESIG organizing committee, but some of us were still able to make it in time for the Karaoke night organized by Petra Pointer. As we danced the night away to the wonderful voices of our TEFL colleagues and met up with more members of the Twitteratti, we just knew that this year’s IATEFL was going to be one of the best yet…

To be continued…

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Devil’s Advocate vs Vicki Hollett on ELF

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 fifth victim on the hot seat is the lovely Vicki Hollett. 

Vicki Hollett is a business and technical English teacher, teacher trainer and author. British by birth, she now lives in the US where she is learning to speak ’merican and blogging about it here. Her friends at work say she’s now reached intermediate. Yay! She hopes ELF will be easier to learn.

Chia:  Hi Vicki! It’s a real pleasure to have you as our guest on DA today!

Vicki:  Pleasure’s all mine

Chia:  I’ve been told that you are the organiser of the BESIG pre-conference event at the IATEFL Glasgow conference this year, and the theme of the event is ELF (English as a Lingua Franca)?

Vicki: Yes, in fact I’m relying on you to come and be one of our speakers.

Chia:  Shh…I’m pretending to be DA now, so let’s keep my other identity under wraps for now…(hear the Batman theme tune in the background?) hee hee *wink*

So many people have been talking about ELF ad nauseum over the past few years, but just in case our readers don’t know what it is, would you care to explain briefly?

Vicki:  ELF stands for English as a Lingua Franca, and it’s generally used to talk about the English that’s used in communications between NNSs, because it happens to be their shared language. (It’s often used to describe conversations where NSs are present too though.)

Chia:  But whether it’s English used to chat to NSs or NNSs, it is still English, isn’t it? Why are we making such a big deal about it?

Vicki:  It raises many important questions. For example, are NS standards always the best ones to use to assess our students’ output?

And are we working smart and using precious classroom time in the most helpful ways?

Chia:  Wait…are you suggesting that there are other standards by which to assess our students’ output?

Vicki:  Well yes, I think “success” should be the standard. As in ‘Can they get the job done?’

Chia:  Surely, getting the job done means being able to speak English? And we have to teach some kind of English as an end-point, don’t we? Since English belongs to the English, isn’t it only sensible to use proper English as a standard? Plus, in order for successful communication to take place, doesn’t the learner have to speak accurately? If I say, ‘I went to the cinema tomorrow’, you would have no clue what I am saying…

Vicki: English is a means to an end for most students. The bigger goal is being able to communicate successfully with international contacts. Languages are shaped by people using them and there are more NNs in the world than NSs. But the key point here is that no, English doesn’t have to be accurate for successful communication to take place. That’s why the ELF research is so interesting.

 

Chia:  I am finding it hard to separate the use of the English language from ‘successful communication’.

People learn English so that they can communicate successfully.

We teachers are here to teach them English to enable them to do so.

How does ELF change anything?

What are you suggesting we teach to aid successful communication?

Vicki:  I think we should be trying to develop capabilities that will help them cope in very diverse settings. For example, language for building relationships and rapport, the flexibility of mind to employ empathy and see things from different points of view, and importantly the ability to accommodate and negotiate meanings…

I can’t go into much detail, but for example, raising awareness of different turn taking styles and ways in which linguistic politeness vary, checking and clarifying activities, more work at discourse rather than at sentence level, getting students to adapt messages for different audiences.

Chia:  That all sounds good. But to be honest, it’s what a good Business English trainer/Communications Coach already does. How does ELF change anything?

Vicki:  Well actually, I think we have been doing a lot that’s helpful in business English. (And there are a heck of a lot of successful ELF speakers out there, so there’s proof in a way.)

But I think some areas are lacking. Take relationship building – speech acts and functional phrases are important for that but I think they’re still often taught without context. And then there’s the issue of assessment by NS standards.

Chia:  But I think a lot of what you say really boils down to the English teacher having good idea of what enables successful communication and being able to help students with that, rather than having any knowledge of ELF and its research findings, isn’t it? What was that about letting learners drop the third person ‘s’ and dependent prepositions, and not teaching them to use weakening with the schwa? Surely that’s just bad English???

Vicki:  Not many teachers get the chance to follow their students around and see them in action using English at work, hence research is invaluable…

Re: letting the third person ‘s’ and dependent prepositions go by, it goes back to working smarter. We need to prioritise things that are going to give the biggest bang for our student’s buck. Not weakening with the schwa is interesting because it may sometimes make someone more intelligible to a NNS.

Chia:  Are you therefore saying that if dumbing down enables one to be more intelligible to other NNSs, we should be teaching a dumbed down version of English? Would it not result in ELF becoming a pidgin version of English though?

Vicki:  Actually I’m saying our students need to attain a *higher* level of skill in English. Depending on who they are communicating with, they may need to weaken that schwa or not. It’s a skill we need to be pay more attention to: callibrating for the competence of your interlocutor – so the ability to adapt your message in real time as you gather more information about your interlocutor’s knowledge of the subject and linguistic competence.

Chia:  So this ‘callibrating’ includes dumbing down one’s English then?

Vicki:  Ha! Why yes! It’s an unusual way to state it, because it’s a high level skill. For example, new English teachers often struggle with it. But the ability to grade your language so you can be understood by the person you’re talking to is a key ‘ELF’ skill.

Chia:  How can language teachers teach this though? Surely it’s a skill that one picks up through experience. I mean, some people are just naturally more sensitive to others and adapt more to them. Others just don’t listen and can’t be taught to. Is it really part of our job to teach such skills?

Vicki:  I think it poses particular challenges for teachers working with monolingual classes, but there’s still lots that can be done. Eg. performing a task once, then changing it slightly and doing it again. How did you need to adjust what you said to the new circumstance/interlocutor/context. …

Some people are better at adjusting and accommodating than others. By drawing attention to what they’re doing and offering opportunities to practise it, we can help others get better too.

And yes, absolutely it’s part of our job.

Chia:  All this skills work is probably great. But my students come to me to learn English. And by learning English, they mean they want to be taught the grammar, the lexis and the pronunciation of the English language. They say they want to learn to speak like a NS. And they often don’t feel like they are learning anything unless they are put through grammar exercises and lots of corrections. Are you then saying we should ignore what our students expect of our classes and what they want?

Vicki:  No. I think the customer is king and we should deliver what they want. …

Not only do our students have to invest money, but they also have to invest effort to learn English. It’s foolish to imagine that what we teach will necessarily be learnt. They will weigh the effort required against what they think will be most useful and be selective….

Hey, maybe that’s why so many ELF speakers leave off the third person ‘s’.

Chia:  I get that leaving out the third person ‘s’ may not be detrimental to meaning creation, but what kind of impression is that creating in the fellow interlocutor though?

If an NNS goes for a job interview, or goes on CNBC to be interviewed about their expertise, and they make a seemingly tiny error that does not affect their intelligibility, e.g ‘The government want that the economy recover more’. Although we understand what they mean, but we might not have a very good impression of them…

As much as the liberal ELF proponents would like to seek justice for the NNSs who have been discriminated against for decades, the fact of the matter is the real world is cruel, and it judges you by the kind of English you speak. Even if you are perfectly intelligible, but saying something like ‘He want that I go’ could very well cost you a job.

Vicki:  Sure, impressions can be damaged by poor English. (Particularly so with writing). But there are very proficient NNSs who can sail through a job interview or ace an advanced examination in English and never drop a third person ‘s’. But when they are mixing with other ELF speakers at an international conference, they drop it. They know the rule perfectly well. But in many contexts, the content of the discussion is what matters and adding an ‘s’ or not becomes irrelevant.

Mostly our students want to be known as decent, trustworthy and likable people – the sort you’d like to do business with. Speaking English correctly contributes to that, but some of the other things we’ve mentioned contribute more.

Chia:  So you are saying that there are times when the NNS would need to use NS-normative accurate English, and at other times, they would need to adapt and accommodate other ELF speakers. There was some research done in the field of ELF that found NNSs using the article ‘the’ in a slightly different way from NSs. It was found that ‘the’ was used in expressions like ‘the life is good’ to emphasize the noun ‘life’. But which rule of ‘the’ should the English teacher be teaching? Both? Neither? We need to teach something. And at the moment ELF research looks very much like descriptive linguistics that do not have much pedagogic implications in prescribing what we teach.

Vicki:  Oh I haven’t heard of that research, but it sounds interesting. Researchers have found NSs and NNSs using quite a few bits of language differently. “You know” is another one and ‘disagree’ and a lot of other performative verbs like ‘suggest’, ‘recommend’, ‘propose’ etc.

I think we should be teaching the usages we follow and learning about the new usages that are emerging as fast as we can.

We need to be able to provide our learners with more information so they can make informed decisions.

Chia:  I think you have offered a very fair view of the issue so far, Vicki. Teaching English is not just about discrete items of lexis or grammar, but about helping our learners to become better communicators. And to do this, we have to teach them the skills needed in interacting with our NNSs of different levels of proficiency who might come from different cultures in different contexts. Sounds like teaching ELF is in fact quite the contrary to dumbing down language. What is the opposing of ‘dumbing down’?  Hmm… Are we over-complicating the matter here?

Vicki:  I reckon that in some ways teaching ELF is about a very simple switch in thinking. When we measure students against a NS standard, we tend to wind up focusing on errors, deficiencies and pragmatic failures.

But when we flip the switch and think in terms of what works in ELF contexts, the picture get much rosier. There are new priorities and we stand a better chance of going after (and meeting) the best goals.

Chia:  Thanks for painting such a bright picture of the future, Vicki! And I thought that ELF might just mean the end of our teaching careers! Hahaha

Vicki:  Gosh I hope not!

Chia:  I hope I haven’t given you too hard a time.

Vicki:  Not at all.

Chia:  Shall we just remind everyone that the BESIG PCE is on the 19th March at the IATEFL Glasgow conference, and speaking on the topic of ELF are Vicki Hollett, Mark Powell and myself (not as DA).

Vicki:  Look forward to seeing you at the BESIG PCE in Glasgow

Chia:  Thanks so much for your time, Vicki! See you in Glasgow!

Epilogue: Vicki’s opinions are her own and do not represent any organization she is associated with. Chia was just playing DA. Contrary to Chia’s position on this blogpost, she is actually an ELF convert and will be speaking about her 5-year journey with ELF, alongside Vicki Hollett at the BESIG PCE this March at IATEFL Glasgow 2012.