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.

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ELF 5 Part 5 – Kurt Kohn on Pedagogy and SLA

I listened to Kurt Kohn on ‘A Pedagogic Space for ELF in the English Classroom’ this afternoon and was extremely inspired by his social constructivist stance on the issue of teachers’ attitudes and beliefs towards ELF.

Here is his talk.

EFL and ELF: Diverging perspectives

The orientation in EFL is towards standard NS English, Educational regulations for ELT institutions (in Europe) continue to be based on an exonormative SE role model.

Empirical evidence from ELF research shows that successful ELF communication despite deviations from standard, communication strategies are used for communicative success (accommodation, meaning negotiation, and ‘let it pass’), and deviant phrases and structures can be shown to emerge through endonormative processes of ELF development.

The ELF communication argument i.e. reference to the rich diversity of successful ELF communication seems to be the obvious line argumentation. But for many teachers, however, this argument doesn’t seem to work. There is low acceptance among teachers and teacher trainees, and there are frequent misunderstandings (‘Do you want me to teach incorrect English?’)

Kurt asks, Why do we have these misunderstandings?

Why is the ELF communication argument often only poorly accepted by teachers?

Convincing accounts of diversity, plurality and success of ELF communication.

But the perceived subtext by teachers is: Your SE orientation is not in sync with reality (=your SE orientation is bad!)

You end up in a deadlock: For teachers with an SE orientation, the SE part of the ELF communication argument sticks out and makes them reject the whole argument.

Teachers who better understand how languages are acquired (SLA) will better understand the implications of ELF. And teacher trainings does not cover SLA enough.

So, how do we acquire English?

  • I acquire English by developing/constructing/creating my own version of it my mind, my hear and my behaviour.
  • In communicative, social interaction with others.
  • Influenced by my target language model, my native language, my attitudes & motivation, my goals & requirements, my learning approach, the effort I invest and last but not least the people I talk to.
  • It is in this social constructivist sense that the English I develop is my own.
    And it is inevitably different from any target language model toward which it is oriented.
  • The ‘My English condition’ is not an option, but part of the human condition.

In a strong version of SE orientation (which is what is most often done in EFL classrooms), learners are required to comply with standard English (teaching) norms and the closer they get, the better. But this is a procedure only compatible with behaviourist copying process that still lurks in the background.

In a weak version of SE orientation, learners take standard English as a model for orientation and they create their own version of it.

It is thus important to understand language learning as a cognitive and emotional process.

Imagine that the Mid-Atlantic SE (MASE) is my learning target. What kind of MASE would that be?

Linguistic descriptions of MASE on the basis of solid empirical research.

My version of what MASE is may not be another’s.

The weak version of a SE orientation is fully compatible with an endonormative conceptualization of ELF development.
Challenges for ELF research and pedagogy:

Extension of the endonormative view to include a ‘weak’ SE orientation

A promising turn in ELF research: teaching ELF is about the process of developing the kind of English users/learners are able to make authentic for themselves – including SE

Challenges for ELT

Because of the strong exonormative version of a SE orientation, learners tend to stay alienated from their creativity, resulting in frustration, anxiety and even fear.

Urgent need for an endonormative conceptualization of language learning and teaching (MY English) and acceptance of constructivist ‘weak’ SE orientation.

ELF in the foreign language classroom

Focus on raising awareness for LF manifestation of English

– to increase tolerance for others and for oneself

Focus on developing ELF-specific comprehension skills

– to get accustomed to NNS accents and ‘messy’ performance.

Focus on developing ELF-specific production skills

– to improve pragmatic fluency and strategic skills for accommodation and collaborative negotiation of meaning in intercultural ELF situations

Focus on developing the learners’ sense of ownership (‘agency’)

– to ensure speaker satisfaction and self-confidence

Liberation through communicative participation

How can ‘liberating’ conditions be successfully implemented in the English classroom?

  • CLIL – Practice Enterprise – Creative Writing
  • ‘Pushed output processing’/ ‘languaging’ (Swain 2006) – with increased self-satisfaction as a target (instead of better compliance with an external norm)
  • Authentic and autonomous web-based communication and collaboration
  • All with the aim to explore and extend one’s own creativity ( Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development)

The overall principle is to acknowledge that NNS/learners of English are speakers of English and not merely people learning English.

All in all, this was a talk that was so inspiring that I thought it deserved a blogpost all on its own. Kurt Kohn not only spoke sense but also showed us in very practical ways how we can shift attitudes of ELF towards useful and empowering standpoints that can help both the teacher (NS and NNS) and learners to better understand the process of language acquisition and how to provide conditions for a more helpful mindset to developing language competence.

ELF 5 Part 3 – Learners, Materials, Idiomaticity & Pronunciation

Claudia Borghetti spoke on ‘Language versus Intercultural Learning through ELF Interactions: Higher Education Students’ Perspectives’.

Emphasising that NS might not know how language works, let alone how to explain the rules to others, Claudia states that if one feels less judged by their use of English, it would affect their confidence and ability to use English positively. She then goes on to outline the use of Byron’s criteria of measuring intercultural competence in terms of attitude, knowledge, skills and awareness, showing that a successful intercultural speaker is one that is able to negotiate meaning, take an external perspective of oneself and adapt.

 

Reiko Takahashi was up next with her presentation ‘English as a Lingua Franca in a Japanese context: An analysis of ELF-Oriented Features in Teaching Materials and the Attitudes of Japanese Teachers and Learners of English to ELF-Oriented Materials’.

 

Using the following criteria, Takahashi measures how ELF-Oriented the materials used in Secondary and High School English education in Japan:

  1. Number of characters featured that are from outer circle and non-Japanese expanding circle countries;
  2. Number of words uttered by these characters;
  3. Use of either outer or expanding circle country other than Japan as location for dialogues;
  4. Type of communication existing between NNSs with no NSs.

 

It was found that some of the materials in Japanese coursebook indeed featured outer circle English usage, illustrating with an example that showed the use of Singlish, with a focus on how Singlish is more simplified than English, e.g. ‘Cheaper, can or not?’

 

Although NNS characters are found in Japanese coursebooks, no NNS varieties were found in the audio materials.
In a survey, most students wanted to have more of a variety of nationalities in their coursebooks (e.g. 1 NNS, 1NS and 1 Japanese in conversation).

 

However, Japanese teachers expressed fears about including ‘non-standard’ varieties as it might be dangerous, or not needed by high school students.

 

Purposes of using ELF-oriented materials or introducing ELF features should thus be clearly communicated, and students should know that they are not to be imitated but are there for the purpose of awareness raising and exposure.

 

Takahashi’s conclusion seemed to favour the use of NS-normative standards in the language used in coursebooks, while featuring a variety of characters from different countries.

 

After a break, Valeria Franceschi gave a talk on ‘Culturally-loaded language and ELF: Idiomaticity in Cross-cultural student interaction in university settings’.

 

In examining a sample of 130 tokens, of which 103 types of idiomatic language had been identified (phrasal verbs and routine formulae were excluded from her definition of ‘idioms’), she demonstrated the following by categorizing idioms into social functions, communicative strategies and managing content (not ELF-related):

  • Frequent use of pragmatic markers noticed (kind of, like, something, something like that), and often used as a distancing device;
  • Idiom use was related to re-phrasing in communicative strategies: Repetition and rephrasing was used to increase explicitness;
  • Idioms were used to reinforce concepts, for topic introduction (cataphora), for gettings attention, and for buying the speaker time to think;
  • Idioms were used to mitigate criticism and potential face threats, and controversial topics;
  • Idioms used to build solidarity and social cohesion, often through use of humour;
  • These findings coincide with the VOICE corpus findings that pragmatic markers tend to cluster around the use of idioms.

Franceschi also found that speakers often signaled comprehension by backchannelling, and backchannel items were frequent in the data;

In the Q&A to Franceschi’s session, Mauranen  commented that if we relax our criteria as to what we consider idioms, we would see creative language use everywhere.  Marie-Luise Pitzl then questions how we draw the line between what is idiomatic and what isn’t and suggests that this line on its own could be seen as NS-normative.

 

Valeria Franceschi on Idiomaticity

The day ended for me with Milan Stanojevic’s research findings in her talk ‘Profiles of Successful and Less Successful Learners of English Pronunciation in Croatian Primary Schools’.

 

She found that…

Best pronouncers (using the Lingua France Core as a basis for measurement) were:

  • Not always the most highly motivated;
  • Knows what L1 Englishes there are;
  • Are aware of Global English;
  • Have extensive exposure to external sources such as uses of Web 2.0 tools e.g. Facebook, where they can interact and produce English.

 

Meanwhile, the less successful pronouncers were:

  • Not particularly motivated;
  • Completely unaware of inner circle Englishes (They think that English = England and that’s it);
  • Unaware of Global English;
  • Have only passive exposure to English, e.g. through songs and film.

 

Milan Stanojevic on Pronunciation

Suggesting future research possibilities that look into the question of whether a successful learner = a successful speaker, Stanojevic then goes on to ponder a question from the audience as to whether students from her monolingual Croatian class would use different pronunciation features when talking to other people who do not have the same L1, leaving the audience to think about the accommodation skills of our students when put in an intercultural scenario.

.

A full day of useful research findings and lots to think about…

But meanwhile, I must go worry about the findings of my own research that I will be presenting tomorrow morning…

.

No one has cracked a joke or shared a personal anecdote in the presentations I have seen today…this is a far cry from the TEFL talks that I am used to…

.

Do I tweak my presentation so that I do it straight-laced?

Or should I stay as the mad hyperactive Chia that the TEFL world is more used to seeing?

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Funny how I am often told that I am too academic in the TEFL world, and now I feel like I am not academic enough…

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Neither here nor there…

A familiar feelings of diaspora sets in…

Or is it just nerves?

ELF 5 Part 2 – Teacher Education

The gorgeous view from the conference centre at Bogaziçi University

The elective sessions  at ELF5 are grouped into blocks of 2/3 speakers, each with about 30 minutes to present their research.

For the first elective session of the day, I chose 3 sessions on Teacher Education and ELF.

First up was Marie-Luise Pitzl’s talk – Preparing teachers for an ELF future: What we CAN tell them. Having read quite a few articles by Marie-Luise Pitzl, I found myself quite star-struck to sitting in front of her.

Quoting Dewey (2007), Pitzl reminds us that we can no longer regard language norms as fixed, pre-determined, and tied to a particular geographical or cultural centre, and that teachers should adopt a different approach to ELT, reassessing the way we select materials, methods, and approaches to testing, and promoting a pluralistic approach to competence and a flexible view of language.

On one hand, you have a global phenomenon,

And on the other, local contexts and local conditions.

And it is thus important to raise awareness amongst teachers and teacher trainees of this sociolinguistic reality and its teaching implications.

Marie-Luise Pitzl

Here, Pitzl outlines the ELF component of here teacher training course.

Aims

  1. Familiarising sts with core concepts (ENL, ESL, EFL, World Englishes, ELF, lang variation, variety, speech community)
  2. Intro some descriptive ELF findings and linking them to ELF local contexts.
  3. Raising awareness of what an ELF perspective might mean for ELT – shifting perspectives
  4. Giving sts the opportunity to try out diff cooperative teaching methods.
  5. Triggering reflective processes (on predominant NS models, own experience, own ideals, goals and standards discrepancies, challenges)

Course schedule

  1. Into and organizational matters
  2. The roles of English today – past and present developments, models for international English
  3. World English : Basic notions
  4. The ownership of English : From ENL, ESL, EFL, to ELF
  5. ELF description 1: Phonological characteristics – Intelligibility, the Lingua Franca Core and suggestions for teaching
  6. ELF Description 2: Lexico-grammatical characteristics: Processes of language variation and change (Jigsaw method)
  7. Implications for the conceptualization of ELF – variety
  8. Implications for ELT – Teaching ELF?
  9. ELF Pragmatics and Basic notions
  10. ELF Pragmatics : Negotiation of meaning and strategies for achieving understanding
  11. ELF Pragmatics: Correctness, effectiveness and multilingual repertoires
  12. ELF Pragmatics: Idioms, metaphors and metaphorical awareness
  13. ELF, teacher identity and communities of practice.

Activities used include Jigsaw activity (lexicogrammar, Interviews (teacher identity), Roleplays, etc.

Next up was Lili Cavalheiro on Bringing New ELT Policies and ELF to Teaching Training Courses.

 

Lili Cavalheiro

Aims for teaching ELF

  • To challenge the appropriateness of the NS model
  • Reconsider the inner circle as no longer providing the only adequate cultural content and the need to include materials from one’s own source culture
  • Critically analyse the cultural content and reflect on one’s own culture in relation to that of others as a crucial exercise.

While emphasizing the NNS teachers’ advantage of sharing common cultures and common goals with their learners, Cavalheiro reiterates Tim McNamara’s point made at the opening plenary about the inappropriacy of CEF descriptors, giving the following example:

C2 – Appreciates fully the sociolinguistics and sociocultural implications of language used by NSs and can react accordingly.

She then goes on to remind us of Seidlhofer (2011) paper on CEF’s lack of differentiation between the study of modern languages and EFL and ELF.

Still referencing Seidlhofer (2011), Cavalheiro then suggests that on a macro-level, teacher training courses should not only look at the nature of language and communication through language awareness, but also through communication strategies, intercultural communication, and sociolinguistics.

On a micro-level, we should take our teacher trainees’ context into consideration and develop a curriculum that fits into a more general framework of communication.

Last but not least, we should help trainees develop critical thinking of materials, and help them with not just what materials are being used, but how they are used.

The third presenter was Lucilla Lopriore speaking about ELF and Early Language Learning: Multi-lingualism, Language Policies and teacher Education

Lucilla Lopriore

 

Early introduction of English to YLs mean plurilingualism. This means that classrooms will no longer be monolingual.

Parents want a NS teacher because they think it means their kids would pick up the ‘right’ pronunciation.

Multilingualism in Europe

The primary classroom population in Europe is mainly multilingual and multicultural.

The realities of early language learning implementation vary widely due to variety of factors:

  • National language policies
  • The assumption that earlier is better
  • Parental pressure
  • New media (access to foreign lang through the internet)
  • NNS teachers
  • Emerging new literacies

(Hoffman 2000, Edelenbos et al 2006 etc)

She appropriately draws the 3 sessions to a close with a quote from Henry Widdowson (2012):

The first step is to raise awareness of teachers that there is an alternative way of thinking about the subject they teach, based on an understanding of English as a lingua franca. We need to overhaul our descriptive systems and deconstruct our established concepts…and this involves quite a radical re-thinking about the relationship between what we know about the language and what we do with it…between the teaching and learning of the language as a subject.’

ELF 5 Part 1 – Opening Plenary by Tim McNamara

Opening the conference : Music as a Lingua Franca


The ELF conference starts today in Istanbul, Turkey, at the gorgeous Bogazici University.

After a smooth registration and a few welcoming opening speeches, Professor Tim McNamara delivers his opening plenary on Assessment and ELF.

Here is a summary.

Previously, much has been written about ELF and testing.

Jenkins (2006) challenged Cambridge in resisting implications of ELF.

Taylor (2006) wrote about the difficulties and challenges with applying ELF to testing.

Leung & Jenkins have recently stressed again the importance of recognizing ELF in language testing (in press).

Critique on how criteria of language testing has acted as a roadblock has also been articulated by Seidlhofer.

e.g.

Here are some surprising descriptions in the CEF descriptions

B2       Conversation – Can sustain relationship with NS without unintentionally amusing or irritating them or requiting them to behave other than they would with a NS.

B2       Informal Discussion with Friends – Can keep up with an animated discussion between NS.

Whole section on ‘Understanding conversation between NS’ in CEFR, with no description for those of A1 level (as if to say forget about it).

Assumptions are that

–       The interlocutors are assumed to be NS

–       The responsibility for successful communication is held to lie with the NNS

–       English treated only as a foreign language, like other foreign languages (Seidlhofer, 2011)

Instead

What would ELF test look like (Harding, 2011)

–       Ability to tolerate and comprehend diff varieties of English

–       Abiltiy ot negotiate meaning

–       Ability to use Phonological features crucial for intelligibility

–       Awareness of appropriate pragmatics

–       Ability to accommodate

These are reflected in ICAO language proficiency requirements

Because international aviation is an ELF setting,

And air traffic controller communication with pilot, either of whom may be NNS.

Simultaneous communication going on between single air traffic controller and several pilots.

Recognition of ELF character of communication : compulsory requirements

1. Standard radiotelephony phraseology: Standardized set of words and phrases for use in all routine communication (restricted language)

2. Plain language:

  • The spontaneous creative and non-coded use of a given natural language used only when standardized phraseology cannot serve an intended transmission.
  • User with high prof must accommodate their uses of English
  • Use of a lot of repetition verbatim e.g. readback and hearback

ICAO’s analysis of language as a factor in fatal avaiation accidents

–       incorrect use of standardized phraseology

–       lack of plain language prof

–       the use of more than one language in the same airspace
Thus ICAO prof test policy

Criteria : Pronunciation, structure, vocab, fluency, comprehension and interactions.

If NS, then immediately highest level and not need to test

Lack of faith in validity of tests and policy

Doing the ICAO tests in

Korea:

–       Test content in multiple versions published online

–       Repeated attempts allowed until version prepared for appeared

–       All personnel now compliant

Japan

–       Professionally made test for Level 4 rejected

–       80% of personnel would lose jobs

–       Easier test used

–       All personnel now complaint

Study into miscommunication (fatal!) in Korea

–       Miscommunication due to failure of NS to adhere to ICAO policies

–       Use of fixed phrases vs spontaneous speech

–       Accent, word choice, speed of NS pilots.

–       Preference of Korean pilots for communicating with  Japanese ATCs, *(because the Japanese adhere to ICAO convention with  meticulous precision) cf problems in US,  e.g.LAX

–       Miscommunication often due to NS waffling, or lack of professional competence (he didn’t know about the adjacent airways).

–       An experienced controller is able to know what is happening with just one word.

Tim McNamara on Professional Competence affecting Communicative Effectiveness

Lack of validity with ICAO prof tests (and designers are NSs)

Strong performance criteria

–       Judging performance against real-world criteria

–       Incorporating ability for use (Hymes 1972)

–       Testing all participants (NS and NNS)

Weak performance criteria:

–       Focus on lang prof alone, narrowly conceived

–       Judging against lang criteria only

–       e.g. using ELF stimulus material in listening

–       cf Korean pilots pre for new destinations by listening to Vietnamese voices.

Tests need to:

–       Define difficulty/ability measurement continuum

–       The more challenging the task that a person can manage, the higher their ability.

–       Ability and difficulty are measured on a single scale

–       Cf high jump – ability expressed in terms of the height of the bar.

Test takers need to :

–       Negotiate

–       Deal with variation

–       Accommodate

–       Repair

–       But traditional criteria still used

–       Issue of pairing –cf diving – build in ‘degree of difficulty’?

–       Issue of distinguishing contributions of individuals for score reporting purposes.

Assessing NS Perf

–       Research on NS performance on communicative tests (Most NS can’t get 9 on IELTS)

–       Problem of requiring NS to be tested

–       Problem of motivation – hospital example – assessment of moral qualities.

Conclusion:

Thinking about testing and ELF raises broader issue in language testing: performance tests.

Cost and complexity of performance tests have seen return of indirect measures. E.g. in Pearson Test of automated assessment of speech – NS norms central

There are constructive directions in language testing research which can inform ELF testing

But change won’t happen without a struggle – we may be in for a long wait

.

At the end of his talk, Ana Mauranen says the issue of testing NSs is a valid one, so as to ensure equal starting point.

Tim McNamara answers: NS have a strong political & social advantage so do not expect them to give it up without a fight.

Another audience member asks how he seems to be talking about specific purpose testing. But what about general English testing?

His answer: We can apply specific purpose context to general context. e.g. emphasis on communicative competence, ability to accommodate with our language use and accents, etc.

And with this opening plenary, ELF5 is now in full swing…

 

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.