“Second Language Acquisition”: Book Review

Having started my MA in English Language Teaching course last month, there were some essential reading lists that I received prior to the course.  One of those books that I bought was Second Language Acquisition written by Rod Ellis with H. G. Widdowson as Series Editor.  The book is published by Oxford University Press (OUP), was first published in 1997 and is part of the Oxford Introductions to Language Study series.

The book splits the topic in to 10 chapters about SLA and intoduces past and present language acquisition theories.  The theories introduced are written in a style which is easy to understand, for example Behavourist learning theory, L1 transfer, etc.  The Preface of the book justifies the reason quite well;

There are many people that take an interest in language without being academically engaged in linguistics per se.  Such people may recognise the importance of understanding language for their own lines of enquiry, or for their own practical purposes, or quite simply for making them aware of something which figures so centrally in their everyday lifes.

The Preface is pivatol for the book; it would benefit not just academics seeking to understand theories, concepts, etc written in an easy to understand fashion but will also assist language teachers to identify why particular teaching practice is adopted in the classroom.  Questions that would be answered could include; Why do we teach in a student-centred basis?  What was the reason for parrot-fashion teaching?  Are errors something we should correct in class?  The chapters cover a range of areas in SLA including Social Aspects of Interlanguage, Individual Differences in L2 Acquisition and The Nature of Learner Language.  The chapters will go someway to answer the questions raised above but if readers would require more theory and are more academically inclined, then the book may not suit these particular readers.  However, the book is split into four sections with one focused on References.

The References do offer readers the opportunity to look at particular points in more detail and the author breaks down the technicality of reading in a easy, medium or hard context (with the use of blocks; the more blocks the harder it is).  The References is split between chapters, so if one had read a chapter about The Nature of Learner Language and read about learner errors, when refering to the References section one could read more about this when looking at ‘The Significance of Learners’ Errors’ in International Review of Applied Linguisitics (1967), pages 161-169.

I would recommend this book for those teachers that are interested in learning more about the supportive theories and understandings of language acquisition as it could answer some questions about teaching in a class environment.  It is highly invaluable also for those that are undertaking a post-graduate course at University or currently working towards DELTA-related qualification.

Stress In The Classroom (Part 2)

This is the second post on my blog about pronunciation.  My initial post about pronunciation, “Stress in the Classroom”, looked at intonation, rhythm and stress as I had to lead a seminar with a presentation.  This post is more about implementing and raising awareness of pronunciation as well as including suplementary areas such as intonation, rhythm and stress in the classroom.  I was lucky to attend Adrian Underhill’s workshop on injecting pronunciation in a fun and interesting way in the classroom.  The key principle that Underhill aimed when introducing the Phonemic Chart or particular sounds included the Silent Way.

The Silent Way is a discovery learning approach, invented by Caleb Gattegno in the 1950s. The teacher is usually silent, leaving room for the students to explore the language. They are responsible for their own learning and are encouraged to interact. The role of the teacher is to give clues, not to model the language. (Wikipedia)

Thornbury (2006) suggests that the Silent Way “has contributed to more mainstream teaching in a number of ways, including the widespread use of Cuisenaire rods and the phonemic chart” (A-Z of ELT).  During Underhill’s workshop at the BELTE, he suggested that teachers should try to refrain from deploying an Audiolinguistic method when introducing the Phonemic Chart (for example, the teacher says a sound, the students try to repeat the same sound and the teacher then shows that sound on the chart).  The following YouTube videos should illustrate this:

After illustrating the sounds via miming, relying upon the students for sound recreation and modelling he attempts students to come up to the front of the class and point to sounds that the teacher says or vice versa.

It is interesting that there is some form of TPR in the classroom when introducing and raising students’ awareness of phonetics.  TPR (Total Physical Response) is defined by Wikigogy as “a method for teaching language by involving students in physical activity.”  It is interesting to note that the TPR method is much like the natural which is “based upon the belief that learners need only understand input, and should not be required to speak until they are ready to” (Thornbury, 2006) which lends itself well to the Silent Way.

Nevertheless, on a personal note, the Phonemic Chart should be used lightly in the classroom and not be the focus of the lesson.  Perhaps when introducing new vocabulary in the classroom, the students should be introduced to pronunciation including other complementary areas (stress, intonation, rhythm, etc).  However, there is an increase of resources to assist in the introduction of phonetics in the classroom such as Phonetics Focus, The IPA Chart, as well as Phonetics: The Sound of English.

“Teaching Online”: Book Review

Teaching Online“, written by Nicky Hockly with Lindsay Clandfield, is part of the DELTA Teacher Development Series, which is published by DELTA Publishing.  When looking at the blurb at the back, the book is referred to as ‘a clear, accessible and reassuringly practical book’.  The book is split into three parts, appropriately named; Part A, Part B and (you’ve guessed it) Part C.

Part A introduces the reader to online teaching (also referred to blended learning), the opportunities available for teachers (as well as learners), current opinion of using technology to supplement traditional classes as well as an accompanied list of tools for teaching.  The book also recommends Course Site Tools and Activity Tools that could be used to assist in creating a dedicated space for an online course.  Particular areas of interest for Course Site Tools include;

  • VLE (Virtual Learning Environments)
  • Social Networking Sites
  • Wikis
  • Discussion Groups

The Activity Tools that suggested is organised to complement the Course Site Tools and it is best to illustrate this with a reference from the book.

“Teaching Online” (2010) by Hockly & Clandfield (pg. 21)

The book suggests websites for each of the Activity Tools (concordance sites, comic creator sites, etc).  The resources available from this book is so invaluable for teachers trying to create a web-presence for online classes.  Part A concludes with suggested Netiquette as well as best practice for teachers delivering online classes (meeting and greeting, establishing objectives, etc).

Part B shares ideas and lessons based upon a range of receptive and productive skills over five chapters; speaking and listening, reading and writing, etc.  All lessons shared in Part B (within the first chapter) encourage teachers to focus on communicative and engaging activities to get to know the students (The Starting Line).  There are 12 lessons, within the first chapter, that are shared and within this each lesson contains the technological tools required, the technique (or lesson plan), a suitable follow-up for face-to-face lessons and a comment about the above lesson suggestion.  The second chapter looks at Reading and Writing Online, using a variety of resources as suggested in Part A.  Within this chapter, there are 21 lessons shared and, as with the above suggestions, each lesson contains the tools required, the technique (or lesson plan), follow-up and comments.  The third chapter (Listening and Speaking Online) share a wealth of great links for listening material to assist with the speaking element of the lesson.  Within this chapter, as with the previous two, they follow the same format of lesson plan (tools, technique, etc) and there are 18 lessons.  The fourth chapter, known as Language and Evaluation Online, introduces the reader to engaging and collaborative tasks to assist with lessons which can have an online grammar or vocabulary focus and are followed by a choice of activities to assess or evaluate progress.  Within this chapter, there are 19 lessons shared in the book which, as you would expect, follow a similar format as suggested previously.  The final chapter in Part B looks at the ending of online courses, appropriately named The Finishing Line.  There are four suggested ideas within this chapter to assist with drawing a course to an end for both students and teachers.

Part C investigates suitable areas for teachers to develop professionally and personally with references to online tools.  It also introduces the concept of a Personal Learning Network (PLN).  The reader is provided with different areas of online profesional development; discussion groups, development courses, conferences, ePortfolios, etc.

This book is highly invaluable for any teacher or school that is considering offering an online element to complement a face-to-face course.  It is well written and the resources available for readers are incredibly beneficial for planned online lessons.  The authors have not lost sight that the human element is intergral for success with online teaching; “Good online teaching needs effective human mediation – and this is provided by the teacher, not by automatic ‘drag and drop’ activities” (Hockly and Clandfield, 2010).

Tighten your BELTE in 2010

The location of the BELTE 2010.

I was fortunate to attend the BELTE (Brighton English Language Teaching Event) 2010 on Saturday 22 October 2010; the event was (I was led to believe) only in it’s second year.  The BELTE really was great preparation for the IATEFL 2011, which will also be hosted in Brighton next year at the Brighton Conference.  The event was located at Bellerby’s College and it was tucked away next to the train station.  I met various other teachers who had trouble finding the college and we strolled around for quite a time and then bumped into other teachers looking for the location.  Fortunately, I had my iPhone and Google Maps to hand so we were able to locate the school and arrive in time for the opening of the event.

After signing in for the event, I received a goody-bag full of marketing material and a stick of Sussex DoSA (Brighton) Rock.  The Sussex DoSA is a great association organised by various Director of Studies on the South East coast which arrange CPD courses for EFL Teachers, Managers and stakeholders.  Although they work at competing private language schools, they share experiences, provide opportunities for teachers to develop and meet on a regular basis.  Nonetheless, I met various students on the MA ELT course from the University of Sussex, some members from the Sussex DoSA Group that I knew and was also pleased to see so many familiar faces from LTC Eastbourne.  From entering the premises of Study Group, I went into the main hall and saw many many publishers, book sellers and various businesses.  For a few minutes, I was quite shocked how popular this event was.  The Mayor and Mayoress of Brighton even arrived to provide a speech and declare the event officially open.

Mayor of Brighton beside the manager of Study Group.

After the various speeches, the event was officially open and I decided to choose the workshops to attend and have a quick coffee.  I quickly chose Theresa Clementson (who is also on the MA ELT course) who has co-authored the English Unlimited series, published from Cambridge University Press, as well as Adrian Underhill, author of Sound Foundations from Macmillan Publishers.  The third workshop that I wished to attend was related to Culture in our Classroom organised Gill Johnson.  The first two workshops that I attended were really very good and contributed to my current teaching methodology.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the third workshop but, from what I hear, it was very very good.  Further information about the speakers and guests of the BELTE 2010 are available to view here.

Theresa Clementson
This talk provides practical ideas for ensuring we teach ‘real’ English by basing lessons around transferable communicative goals and language drawn from authentic sources. You will be given a solid framework of lessons that enable learners to achieve real-life communicative outcomes in class. Theresa has been involved in ELT for over 20 years, teaching and developing materials in Spain and the UK. She is a team-member of authors on English Unlimited, a new general course book [CUP, 2010]

Adrian Underhill
There need be no mystery or fear in teaching pronunciation, but rather success and fun! Experience an approach that enables learners to discover the muscles that actually make the pronunciation difference. This approach eliminates time taken on habit formation and repetition and liberates the body to work with the ear. Integrates sounds, words and connected speech into all aspects of language work, and offers multiple benefits to speaking, listening and reading. See if you agree!   Adrian is a freelance ELT consultant and trainer, working mainly on staff and organisational development. He is Series editor of Macmillan Books for Teachers, author of Sound Foundations, advisor to Macmillan English Dictionaries and past President of IATEFL. Current interests include applications of complexity theory and systematic thinking to learning, and improvisation in teaching.

Adrian Underhill and his happiest moment with a phonemic chart.

As detailed above, the two speakers were very good and the aim for each workshop was maintained.  It was quite interesting to be in a room of an author who had written various books.  Adrian Underhill demonstrated various pronunciation activities to assist in raising students’ awareness of phonetics in the classroom.

The fellow ELT Professionals that use Twitter.

The event would not have been anything had it not been for the fact that I was able to meet some fellow twitterers (or are they called twitters or twitts?).  I was able to meet some fellow like-minded people that I follow at the BELTE this year.  These included; @harrisonmike, @pysproblem81, @CallieWallie1, @Amandalanguage & @BCseminars.  I believe @CallieWallie1 and @Amandalanguage both travelled four hours to get to the event in Brighton and really commend them on their effort to get there.

I was able to get my hands on a new book and met up with BEBC (as they had a book stall there).  The book that I bought (and shall be reviewing on my blog in due course) is “Online Teaching” by Nicky Hockly with Lindsay Clandfield.  I met up with John Walsh (the MD) and the lovely assistant.  Fortunately, BEBC were offering a 20% discount on all the book titles and was keen to get a decent book; hence the prompt buy.  BEBC are also on Twitter, known as @Books4English.

Overall, it was great meeting other people and it really opened my eyes to the ELT Community in the South East.  It would be great to meet everyone at the upcoming IATEFL in 2011.  I shall finish this blog post off with a photo of those aforementioned twitterers/twitters/twitts on the steps of the infamous BELTE Building.

Stress in the Classroom


For all teachers, stress can play an important role in the classroom.  It can raises students’ awareness, improves confidence for learners as well as develops appropriate receptive skills.  By now, you probably have assumed that I am not really suggesting about the stress levels of a particular teacher or student but I am focusing on the stress, intonation and rhythm of language.  I was lucky enough to lead a seminar discussion on this particular topic and have uploaded my presentation to scribd.  The aim of my particular seminar discussion was; How important is it to teach intonation, rhythm and stress? (What problems do learners typically encounter?)  The presentation is available to view below:

Language Description & Analysis – Week 3 Seminar Discussion

Initially, I focused on intonation in the classroom and during my reading and research I found that intonation ‘is about how we say things, rather than what we say’ (TeachingEnglish).  Thornbury suggested that intonation is ‘the music of speech’ (2006) and, with a teaching perspective, an ‘attempt to explain intonation is likely to fall on deaf ears’ (Thornbury, 2006).  Perhaps a ‘rule of thumb’ approach is more appropriate for raising awareness with intonation in the classroom.  Nonetheless, a thought a about a fun and awareness-raising intonation activity could include the following:

Say it with Feeling

  1. Write up the following sentences on the board;
    • It’s raining!
    • I can’t believe it!
    • What are you doing?
  2. Then on the other side, write some adjectives related to feelings (happy, angry, bored, shocked, etc).
  3. Call a student to the front of the class and ask them to secretly choose one sentence and one feeling, the other students have to guess which feeling the student chose.
  4. Repeat this process once students have understood the process of intonation to express happiness, anger, shock, etc.

 We are all aware that as educators, we could highlight the intonation in sentences/questions but my only objection to this could be that is students’ could acquire intonation through exposure rather than being too prescriptive in teaching and aiming to conform students to more acceptable communication.  This would encourage students to become more autonomous learners and aware of not only what is mentioned, but how it is also mentioned.

The next part of my seminar discussion led on to rhythm and the suitability within the classroom to teach it.  There was not much reading material related to rhythm and so I had to resort to Twitter and TeachingEnglish.  I found it correlated with sentence stress, connective speech and intonation.  So much so I tried to relate the rhythmic language of Tongue Twisters to this part of the discussion.  I introduced the class to a famous tongue twister with the use of wordle:

The tongue twister is; “If two witches were watching two watches, which witch would watch which watch?”  Quite a mouthful really.  Anyhow, my belief is that the natural rhythm of tongue twisters could be implemented to assist with rhythm-based language awareness.  Furthermore, students would become more confident speakers if they are able to sound quite fluent when communicating and maintaining their communicative rhythm.  Other activities that could facilitate the use of rhythm could be the use of getting students to sing in sentences, but having not had much experience of teaching stress I would be appreciated of further comment from other educators on how to teach rhythm.

Finally, we looked at the element of stress in the classroom.  There was some debate about Scrivener’s comment that ‘vowel sounds are typically weak and unstressed’ (Learning Teaching, 2005) as all students had arrived from a lecture where we were introduced to allophones.  For those of you that are interested, allophones is a particular phoneme pronounced in a different way; a Scottish may say the word “bath” differently to someone from London.  It is these different ways of saying the same phoneme when they are referred to allophones.  Nonetheless, it is widely recognised that incorrect usage of word stress is a common cause of misunderstanding in English (please refer to page 7 in my presentation for an example).  We also looked at some popular methods of raising awareness of stress; these included marking and highlighting stress (page 7), showing the differences in meaining for particular words that are stressed (page 8) as well as arranging stress patterns (page 9).  Now if you can spot the error on page 8, well done; I created the presentation over the course of the weekend and my only excuse is that my eyes were tired and I didn’t pick up the error until it was displayed from the OHP for all fellow students to see.  Anyhow, the main emphasis was there to generate discussion among fellow students.

I ended the discussion on further ideas; such as including the paralinguistic nature of language during an task-based activity (such as booking an appointment on the phone), so students could be introduced to word and sentence stress when looking at new vocabulary, reviewing the intonation and rhythm which could be prompted by student generated sentences.  The first presentation was useful on a personal level as I had to research a topic often overlooked by many EFL Teachers.  I hoped that the class led the presentation (rather than the other way round) and most fellow students participated in the discussions.  Some of the debatable statements that were included did help get students involved.  I am really keen to develop my own teaching including the topic that I presented.  I am quick to mention that I have often had a relaxed opinion of fluency and pronunciation, hoping that students would be able to acquire receptively.  However, the debate for next time is whether we should focus on Received Pronunciation or World English.

FCE Examination – Writing Tips (Part 2)

After writing the initial blog post on Part 1 of the FCE Exam, I was requested to write another blog post offering advice for students and offer some insight for teachers to answer Part 2 of the FCE Examination.  As detailed in my previous blog post, the written element of the FCE Examination is split into two parts.  Part 1 is aimed at getting students to write a letter or email using a variety of prompts, whilst the second part is aimed for more individual and autonomous written work in the exam.  There are normally four questions in the examination, with the final question split between two sub-questions (only one sub-question need answering).  Nevertheless, students are expected to write between 120-180 words for this part.  Below, there is sample of the questions expected in the FCE Examination.

FCE June 2010 – Part 2

When looking at the questions from the sample examination questions above, it requires the student to write on particular topics (either with the style of an essay or report).  Question 2 & 3 are recommended for students to answer as, although no prompts are necessarily provided, it provides the student some foundation of topic to follow.  For example, when students answer Question 2, they could brainstorm areas of importance and prepare their written answers.  Areas that could be included in the essay could be:

  • Languages that the student speaks
  • Why people learn languages
  • Reason/motivation for learning languages
  • Importance with languages

Students could think about areas that they might talk about if they were discussing this topic in class.  However, the student should organise their ideas effectively.  When writing an essay, effective organisation should include a beginning, middle and an end (or in more English friendly terms; an introduction, a conclusion and some important points to add in the middle of the essay).  For example, a good essay could start with the following:

  • Introduction – I have been studying languages since I was young, and started learning French when I was at school at the age of 12.
  • Middle – Nonetheless, many people learn languages for many different reasons; to get a new job, to communicate with friends, to get a promotion.  However, if people are not that motivated in learning a language, they will not succeed in that chosen new language that they are going to study.  I was not that keen on learning French at secondary school and consequently did not become very good at French.  These days I am still not keen on learning French.  Yet when I moved to South Korea, I had a very good reason to learn Korean and mastered this new language to some proficient degree.  It is important for learners of languages to see some reason to learn a language, otherwise the learning of the language will become stale and boring.
  • Conclusion – These days, learning languages could be considered important if it is related to your job and has some reason to a student on a personal level.  I guess people should try to learn any number of languages, as this will open up new ideas, ways of thinking, improve understanding of cultures, etc.  Nevertheless, it is up to personal preference whether a student decides on learning one foriegn language or several.  What is important is that the learner enjoys their experience and journey along the way.

As noted above, the essay is split up into several parts and the ideas suggested above are included.  Within the conclusion of the essay, the question is then answered but is linked to the other sections of the essay.  With this type of question, it is important for the student to plan their answer and use the following to improve the readability of the answer:

  • Linking one sentence to another – Unmotivation of language learning related to a real life experience (French language learning).
  • Usage of discourse markers – It is important for students to learn how to use discourse markers (however, nevertheless, nonetheless, also, in addition, etc) effectively in written English.  Discourse markers are important as they are to illustrate logical relationships and sequence within writing.
  • Number of words – Don’t write too much.  It is simple and expected, but students do make this mistake by writing too much.  Remember, the KISS statement from my previous blog post – Keep It Simple Silly.

The third question offers students to write about their home country.  It is simple enough and most students (given the chance), would be more than happy to talk/write about their own country – I know I would.  Students should follow a similar style to Question 2 when writing this question and they should also try to keep the report on topic.  What topics would you write about if you were given the opportunity to write about your country?  The topics that you may have thought up of could have included places to visit as well as where to eat.  For students, it makes sense for them to make a quick note of famous places to visit as well as places to eat.  Once there are some ideas noted down, students should try to put things into order (as illustrated with the above example), and then write in a suitable and effective manner.

The fourth question is based upon a story for students to write.  The only prompt in the example examination, only provides students with a sentence to continue.  This sentence provides students the opportunity to write creatively.  Students should only attempt to answer this question, should they feel confident about answering it.  Normally, from a marking perspective, most students attempt question two and three.  Question four is only attempted in rare occassions.  When attempted, it is either very good or the candidate has made a pig’s ear of it.  As with Question 4, Question 5 should only be attempted if the student is feeling confident about answering it.  This question is aimed at the book and movie of two popular titles, in this case Jurassic Park and The Woman in White.  Students should feel comfortable when answering these questions and confident when using comparitive/superlative language.  Again, as a marker, not many students attempt this question.

I hope the advice offered in this post is useful to some and that some teachers are able to learn more about Part 2 of the written element of the FCE Examination.

FCE Examination – Writing Tips (Part 1)

I have been an examiner for Cambridge ESOL for around four years.  Initially, I started examining the BULATS in South Korea as an oral examiner.  This opened up the world of examining for me and I have enjoyed every bit of examining each time.  The busiest period for examining, particularly the FCE, is during the summer and winter months.

The First Certificate Examination Writing component is split into two parts.  The first part of the writing test is based around an email or letter that you receive.  Please see the below example of the type of writing set:

FCE Writing – Part 1
As you can see, the first question provides areas for the student to write about.  On the question paper, there are four points; “Thank Mrs Smith”, “Tell her”, “Say which and why”, and “Ask Mrs Smith about”.  The student must cover each point that is suggested and write in an appropriate and accurate format.  For example, the following answer could be used as a template to assist students:

FCE Writing – Part 1 Answer

As you can see with this sample answer, all points are covered.  The examiner will be checking that all the points are answered in a logical and accurate manner.  Marks are awarded between 0-5.  Zero being the lowest mark and five being the highest mark in the FCE.  Examiners will be checking for the range of vocabulary used, accuracy of grammar/lexis, as well as the suitability of language used.  Students should be aware how to write in a semi-formal way for the first part of the FCE Examination.  For example, lexical and grammatical areas that should be understood by the student could include the following:

  1. Writing a letter or email: provide students with sample letters or emails (with mistakes) and have a grammar auction or self-correction lesson.  It is important for students to learn how to start a letter/email as well as how to finish it.  I came across many scripts from students who were unable to correctly start and finish the email.
  2. Topical areas: students should be aware of the lexical connections for explaining their hobbies, interests and leisure activities at a confident level.  Teachers should try to provide lessons based around these areas.  Further topics are suggested below.
  3. Usage of polite questions: students should be able to transpose direct questions to polite indirect questions when writing for the first part of the test.  For example; “How long is the factory visit” to “I would like to know how long the factory visit will take?” and “Is parking available for the school coach?” to “Could you (also) please let me know if there is parking available for our school coach?”
  4. Typical errors: the most typical error (particularly from one geographical area) was the use of idiomatic language, such as; “One the one hand ….”/”On the other hand ….”, “It’s high time that ….” (one unsuitable method of starting a sentence in an email/letter).  I would urge students to start sentences in a simple and natural manner.  If students try too hard to use language/sentence forms that have been memorised, it looks out of place and completely unnatural.

Areas of topics that teachers could cover, for both Part 1 and Part 2 of the FCE Examination, could include the following:

  • Personal information
  • The family
  • Daily activities
  • Home
  • Town and country
  • Travel and tourism
  • Food and drink
  • Describing people
  • Describing things
  • Friends and relationships
  • Health and fitness
  • Leisure time
  • Education
  • The world of work
  • Money
  • Past experience and stories
  • Science and technology
  • Social and environmental issues

I hope the above helps teachers advising students, as well as those studying for the FCE.  Remember the acronym; KISS (Keep It Simple Silly).  If students keep their answers simple, they should find the test easier.  Finally, best of luck for the examination.  I shall be blogging on Part 2 of the FCE Writing element soon so please keep an eye out.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to comment or contact me.