The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 9 – Functions and Spoken Discourse

Among the four language systems – Lexis, Grammar, Pronunciation, and Discourse, Discourse is often the one that is most neglected on the CELTA.  Some tutors might do an input session on functional language a la the functional syllabuses on the 1970s, but that is inevitably presented as formulaic lexis and nothing more.

Yet, spoken discourse governs the things we say and how appropriate they are in different circumstances. It explores how we assign significance to utterances and make sense of conversations. Without the study of discourse, lexis, grammar and pronunciation would remain stagnant concepts for it is through discourse that the other language systems interact with each other in a dynamic and fluid manner to create meaning.

Perhaps because it is so fluid and dynamic, many teachers and teacher trainers fear it, and do not know where to start teaching it.

On my CELTA, I give my trainees a taster of what discourse is all about and since Güven has kindly referred to me in his blogpost about this input session, I felt inclined to give the details of the session.

The day’s session started with a roleplay.

Trainees were put into their TP groups, with 5 in each group.

5 different rolecards were given to each of them.

The scenario: You are 5 old friends who have known each other for more than 10 years. You meet once every year to catch up. Each of you have a different quirk/idiosyncrasy.

 

The 5 characters in brief :

a)         1 has relationship problems with their partner and loves to complain and moan about it.

b)        1 is extremely touchy feely and likes to give the impression of being kind and supportive and likes playing the comforter.

c)         1 is a doer. He/She is solution-oriented, and likes offering suggestions and advice.

d)        1 has a very short attention span, gets bored easily and likes changing the topic.

e)         1 likes to criticize but does so with tact. He/ She always sees the negative side of everything and hates wimps.

The roleplay takes a good 10-15 minutes or so, and while monitoring, the trainer transcribes sentences she hears containing semi-fixed and fixed expressions that relate to particular discourse functions.

Relating to role (a), you would find expressions like

‘You won’t believe what xxx did!’;

‘I’m don’t know what to do’;

‘That reminds me, xxx is always + -ing’

.

Relating to role (b), you would find expressions like

Don’t worry’;

‘That’s such a pity’;

‘I’m so sorry to hear that’;

‘It’s not the end of the world’;

‘Things are going to get better’

.

Relating to role (c), you would find expressions like

Why don’t you + -ing?’;

‘How about + -ing?’;

‘You could + bare infinitive’;

‘You really should + bare infinitive’

.

Relating to role (d), you would find expressions like

‘By the way,…’;

‘Anyway,…’;

‘Come to think of it,….’;

‘Now that you mention it,…’

.

Relating to role (e), you would find expressions like

‘With all due respect,…’;

‘I don’t mean to be mean/harsh, but…’;

‘If you don’t mind me saying, …’;

‘To be honest,…’;

‘I see where you are coming from but…’

.

You might also find:

Hedging and softening devices like

It’s sort of…’;

‘It’s  just….’;

‘It’s not that…’

 

Semi-fixed expressions to focus and emphasize, like

The thing is…’;

‘At the end of the day, …’;

‘What this means is…

.

And typical expressions for opening and closing a conversation, such as

‘Hi, how are you?’;

‘How have things been?’;

‘How is it going?’;

‘Long time no see!’

‘I’ve got to go’;

‘I really have to make a move’;

‘It’s been nice catching up with you’;

‘See you around’

.

After the roleplay, trainees are made to guess what each of their team members’ quirks might be, and the trainer then boards the phrases she has transcribed on to the board.

The trainees then have to discuss and decide if the phrases are fixed or semi-fixed, and if they are semi-fixed, which part is changeable. They also have to say which character they think uttered the phrase and what function it serves.

As trainees do this, the group often comes to a natural realization that although some phrases like ‘Why don’t you + -ing?’ can be assigned the function of ‘suggestion’ or ‘advice’ quite easily, some phrases or discourse markers could have more than one purpose.

Take the discourse marker ‘Well,….’ for example.

  • It could serve as  a signpost saying ‘I disagree and I’m now going to tell you why politely.’
  • It could serve as  conversation changer, not dissimilar to ‘Anyway,’ or ‘By the way,’.
  • It could also signal the start of a long answer to a question, e.g. ‘Well, since I was a child, I blah blah blah….’

The lesson to be learnt here (aside from the fact that perhaps John Searle had wasted his life trying to categorise all utterances into functions) is that some linguistic formulae serve certain functions and could/should be taught with the relevant functions. However, interaction is dynamic and meaning is often co-constructed and negotiated through the conversation process.

Context and co-text could thus be a much bigger clue to the meaning of the utterance than any prescribed function, and we as teachers should not get carried away with teaching the functions of an utterance out of context.

Following this debrief to the roleplay, the following questions were put up on the interactive white board for students to think about.

1.  What do you say when someone says, ‘How do you do?’

What about ‘How are you?

.

2.  Look at the following dialogue. Who do you think Rachel is? What does Michael mean?

Rachel:          The phone is ringing.

Michael:        I’m in the bath

(Adapted from Prof. Henry Widdowsen)

.

3.  What do the following utterances really mean?

             Are you busy?

            It’s stuffy in here, isn’t it?

            That curry smells really good.

            I totally forgot to bring my pen.

            Will you be passing the supermarket on your way home?

            I can’t reach the top shelf.

(Adapted from Vicky Hollett’s blog)

.

4.  What is Sue trying to achieve here?

Brian has just burnt his dinner.

Sue (laughs): You’re such a great cook.

.

What is Sarah trying to do here?

Justin accidentally mentions Richard’s ex-wife in a conversation with Richard and Sarah. Sarah quickly changes the topic.

Sarah: What do you think of the coffee here?

.

5.  Maria starts a presentation with ‘Now, I will start.’ And ends it with ‘Okay, I finish.’ What could you tell her?

.

6.  The Germans and the Americans were having a business meeting. The Americans made a proposal and the Germans said, ‘The problem with that is…’  The Americans misunderstood their intentions.

What do you think happened?

(Adapted from research by Dr. Sabrina Mallon-Gerland)

.

7.  Discourse researcher called the discourse styles of Latin America, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc ‘Rugby’, while those from Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan were called ‘Bowling’. Why do you think this is so?

.

8.  How do we know when it’s our turn to speak? What do you do to hold the floor? How do you signal to someone that you’ve finished talking?

.

9.  What happened here?

Kelly and Jun Sook are partners. Kelly has just returned home from work.

Kelly: You won’t believe what happened to me today!

Jun Sook stares at her and doesn’t say a word.

Kelly: Fine, if you’re not interested, then I’m not going to tell you!

Jun Sook: Huh?

10.  How do you normally interrupt a conversation? What do you say?

 

I will leave you with these ten questions as food for thought and look forward to your comments.

The discussion will follow on in the next blogpost.

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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.’