Big Questions in ELT #KELTchat: Right time to introduce R & W

The last KELTchat of the year was as stimulating as usually PLN chats are. I’m not a regular, or haven’t been a regular of twitter chats but thanks to Mike Griffin I participated last Sunday. I’m glad I did. Different topics came up and were discussed. I’m not really going to try to capture everyone’s response in this follow-up post, only the questions mainly and use it as a way to reflect on my own knowledge of the subject as I understand it today, meaning that it might change as my studies in literacy and applied linguistics continue to share me as an educator and my practice. When comes to ELT this is a big questions for me too. So I thank Anne for asking it.

Here’s the Question: When is the right time to introduce reading and writing to young learners?

Other Qs that came up to explore the BQ!

What would make it the “right time?” And, doesn’t other factors like ability matter as well? Do you mean ideal age? ability, age, number of words learned. What else? needs? (meaning (potential) future needs of English) and stakeholders’ wants and perceptions? The relationship between what you’d be doing with reading and writing and holistic development? I also thought about this “introduce” cuz maybe it just means a brief intro without expectation of production?

Thinking about it

When comes to the acquisition of written language, so much comes into play. Much more than just considering words represented through written symbols and spelling or saying them out aloud. That might seem obvious to say, but in practice that’s what reading and writing become, especially in the EFL/ESL classroom as I have observed and practiced myself in the past (after reading Geoff’s Christmas Carol parody, it makes me feel like I’m seeing the first spirit hauting me). Futhermore, we tend also to consider reading and writing from the point of view of adults because they have already mastered the written code in their own language. But children learning to speak their L1, and then later make sense of the written code around them is just as complex and in stages as if they were learning a new language. It’s developmental¹. Something we don’t seem to take notice of. Or putting it in another way, even if older children, teenagers or adults can read in their own language, that does not mean that they can naturally transfer that to another language because each language has its own system, be it spoken or written. Apart from understanding that written symbols represent sounds and together they create words that express thoughts… no much more will make any sense until they learn or acquire the new system. Through listening and pronunciation instruction, the spoken language. But what about the written language with all the complex rules out there? How does that work for the ESL/EFL learner? Especially those learning it in a classroom?

So to begin with, are we talking about children learning their first language(s) spoken and written language? If so, the process would need to be considered from the stand point of the child development as a whole. As this is a subject close to my heart and my studies in university, so let me begin by reflecting on this first.

Lightbrown and Spada affirms that by the age of four, most children can ask questions, give commands, report real events, and create stories about imaginary ones, using correct word order and grammatical markers most of the time.[..] And they continue to learn vocabulary at the rate of several words A DAY.

I’m considering here a child whose development was nurtured by his/her caretaker and by the time the child is exposed to written language, the child already understands the social purpose of those written symbols. Now, they have to connect sound to writing. When does that happen? It depends on how the children are nurtured by those who care for them. If children interaction with adults is rich and meaningful and if reading/writing are part of the adults in the children’s life, the chances that children will understand the social function of the written language is great and as they do, they will also become curious about what do these symbols written down on various places around them really represent. Therefore, reading becomes natural part of the child’s life and easier to acquire. However, children who do not go through rich experiences with the oral and written language will have more difficult in acquiring the written system. Generally speaking this is what happens.

Children have massive exposure to input (if they live in a rich environment) when they are learning their first language and the development phases they go through trying to use it until by the age of four being able to use it well to communicate and by functioning in social interactions gives them a tremendous advantage and here is the major difference between  L1 users and L2 learners when comes to know the language or not knowing at all.

Writing Skills

For children learning their first language, reading is part of everyday life, writing depends on their fine motor skills development that does not start with letters but with drawings. A misconception is to look at the children drawing as just that. Drawing is making sense of the world around them. It is an instrument of communication. Next time you are with a child, invite them to draw and afterwards have a conversation about it. Take it beyond “oh! that’s cute”. Ask them what it is, etc. You will be amazed. When they get to pre-school stage those drawings become more well-defined. And then, letters start to take shape.

But what is writing? The ability to handwrite or to encode? Emanuel who is 4 is able to type words in the computer to make searches on Google. He is still in the pre-writing stage, but if he want to access NASA website, he just types it out or the word PLANETS, and Google gives him links that he can easily identify by finding the word NASA (decoding). He has even discovered that with Google, he doesn’t even have to type out the whole word to get where he wants.

Decoding written language is about making sense of what is written and enconding is the ability to put the symbols back together accurately.

Handwriting ability is more complex and takes the child in a journey that goes from non-sense lines to the representation of things or concepts, to then arrive at the representation of words. Let’s also take into consideration fine motor skills development.

Ms Natalie Chew explains well what involves learning to write for a child in her article Teach Your Child to Write the Right Way. #worth reading #pretty short article

My Emanuel has developed intellectually well and is able to use a computer like a boss, but his handwriting ability is still of a child who is 2-3 years old.

My own contribution to Anne’s Big Question

We are talking about ELT right? Then, the answer will be definitely different for native kids. This is first thing to keep in mind.

Does the child understand what the printed words are, and that they represent words spoken? For children words can be just drawing/pictures. It takes time for them to make this connection. Emanuel is 4 and already makes this connection and asks me to read for him everything he sees around.

Can we really answer the question when it is the right time and how to approach it without considering the child’s physical and intellectual development?

I don’t think so. I just had the opportunity to work with a group of learners who were 6 and learning to read and write in L1. Their knowledge of English was close to zero. And another group who were 7 in the 2nd grade. Both groups were ready to be introduced to reading and writing in L2 considering the physical and intelectual as they were learning to do it in their own language, but our problem was lack of language knowledge. The second group vocabulary consisted of very simple words related to animals, classroom objects, colors, etc. Both groups could not say the alphabet, nor could they spell any word. Some students in the second group could decode simple words like cat, dog, apple, but mostly by pronouncing them innacurately. And couldn’t understand spoken language apart from those simple words mentioned before.

For second language learners those written letters are meaningless until they can link them to spoken language and meaning. When children know in L1 that they can represent spoken language with written symbols (letters), they will know that they can do that in L2 as well. But they can’t link to it any meaning and sound leaving L2 learners with a lot to learn at once depending on their age, expectations of the parents and school board, curriculum they attend. Is it fair to put such a burden on learners especially at young age? Wouldn’t be better to create an environment that language could be acquired through songs, play, stories and interaction with caretakers in English? Why do young children have to produce language when they are not ready for it? And what is the role of L1 in the development of Young Learners? To answer all these questions or to offer us a better way to develop learners second language knowledge, I’ll send US all to Juan Uribe’s website. The four posts below explains the stages a child goes through while learning English affectively.

Pre-production – hints and ways to interact with very young learners and true beginners.
Early Production – helping students to produce their very first words in a success oriented way.
Speech Emergence – letting students make their very own sentences. My favorite phase!
Intermediate Fluency – refining students’ speech through humanistic strategies.
To ELT bloggers and teachers out there, putting this post together was really intense and I might have over stressed some of the points. If there is any point which you feel like arguing against, discussing further or questioning, I’d appreciate. I’m always interested to know If I was able to convey my thoughts well and improve my own written communication skills.
Anne, this is just an attempt to raise the issue. Most of the time, even if we know the right answers to big questions, it doesn’t mean we will be able to put them into practice. A shame though. One of the participants said that what stakeholders’ wants and their perceptions might count more than our own knowledge and perception. And I totally agree with that. But I also think that we need to consider child development and try to defend what is right for the children. I love how Juan Uribe sees the process of learning/acquiring language for YLs. Mike pointed out that introduce does not mean expect the child to produce language, and that is an interesting point. Unfortunally that is not what happens in reality. Learners are expected to produce and show that they can do it. After all isn’t that why skills and language are compartmentalized? So it can be tested later and results be shown?
Couple of books I like and the second one I bought this year before starting the classes I mentioned above.  Elizabeth Claire has the survival kit e-books with lots of ideas to develop learners language through repetition of chunks in meaningful interaction with the language as well as stories, play, movement, etc. Although she talks about ESL, I found it to be pertinent to my own context (EFL) as well.

¹ How languages are learned. Lightbrown and Spada 4th edition.

Phonics for English Language Learners? What the ESL teacher Needs to know. Elizabeth Claire. 2010

Fostering Listening: simple changes

In my last post, a recap of BELTA Webinar that occured last Sunday, I shared my journey with teaching listening or more especifically the reason why I’ve come to believe that listening is a language skill to be developed from as early as possible in concert with the other ones, not apart. Real life interactions, be it with other people or with a media (TV, internet, radio, books, etc.) happens with more than one skill (listening, speaking, reading, writing) being at work. I also agree with John F. Fanselow that very often we do not just have one stimulus during these interactions. There is a lot going on around us. Right now, for instance, I’m writing this post from my classroom. Regular classes are over, but there are still few things to do before vacation starts. The room is empty, but sounds come from everywhere. I can hear and feel the cold air of the air conditioning. The birds are not singing as much as in sunny days. Doors are being closed and desks are being dragged around. I guess the cleaning ladies are making sure that every inch of our school is clean to be closed soon for the summer. Even in an atypical day as this day, there are sounds coming from everywhere. Including from my computer as I type this post. We select what we want to focus on, but we can’t stop the stimulus to come on our way. Concentration is another topic I shall write down some day, and closely related to our ability to listen attentively.

Sketch Notes from Barbara Butjas of my talk

Sketch Notes from Barbara Butjas of my talk Listening with both EARS- 12/06/2014

The changes I made to classroom routines were made based on my understanding that listening in the classroom should be fostered, not taught or tested. In order to be fostered we need to create the need to listen and listen attentively. Listening attentively to one another becomes part of the environment dynamics. We should also learn to listen to silence. I don’t have many students who do not like speaking in a group or do not feel connected to the group in a way that prevents them to communicate when they have something to say, but now and then we do get learners who prefer to listen than to speak. But they like writing, so I listen to them through their writings. Listening for understanding does not imply that it has to happen only through spoken language, it can be also through writing.

1. Listen to learners through their writings. Notebooks are very important in my class. But I also use slips of paper and post-its to communicate with my learners. Or any other digital media when they choose to connect with me through social media.

In order to create the need for students to listen to spoken English IN class to train them to listen for English OUTSIDE the class:

2. Bring authentic language to class. Some learners already like listening to English songs, watching TV series or movies, and video clips on youtube or vine. We discuss what they are listening to, watching or have seen recently. I hardly ever turn it into a formal pronunciation class. What I do though is discussing them what they found most difficult in the audio or audiovisual material and we take from there. If there is a need for be to explore it more, than in the following class I’ll take the clip and create tasks to raise their awareness or practice listening and using it. The board, the dictionary, the audio input and us are usually enough, so I also don’t create handouts.

They need to understand how things work (how words sound alone and when streamed, their meaning and use) to be able to make sense of language used outside the class.

3. Listen and transcribe is great for that. Few sentences taken out of an episode of a TV series, short videos, a movie or a song which must be clear (no interference from the instruments) are useful authentic sources that should be used with and without the visual input.

Before listening and transcribing, I use those sources of input as we have in real life. If it is a song, let’s listen to it (I always choose songs with their videoclips – it is more engaging and fun for my learners). What are their reactions? Did they like it? Had they heard this song before? Or seen the videoclip? Do they like this kind of music? This kind of questions personalize the experience and contact with the input material. The lesson becomes about them and listening for understanding a purpose.

After the first contact with the input material, they are invited to listen to it again but this time our aim is to really understand what they are saying. Not just the words but the message and again react to it. So, they listen, pause, and write. They listen, check, edit. They write, think of what they know about the language in order to fill the gaps (what they couldn’t really hear, often these are the function words which are reduced and unstressed). They write and see the areas they need improvement. Reflecting with learners is really important if we want them to make changes in their attitude towards learning. Do learners have difficult in making sense of the content words? Then, they need more work on vocabulary. Would they recognize those words if they were looking at the written version of it? If so, they do not need to be taught meaning but practice with spoken language. More often than not this seems to be my learners problem. If they read, they can understand much better than when they listen to it, especially those who are not keen to be in contact with the language outside the class. It might be that they can’t really process meaning altogether, therefore language need to be taught (meaning, written and spoken forms). Did they have trouble cluing the content words? Or predicting which function words should they be hearing? Then, practicing all the aspects of streamed speech is paramount. Let’s sing more songs. Let’s add drama to our classes and let them act out their own scripts.

Listen and transcribe is an opportunity for language to unveil itself and needs to emerge. There is so much we can learn through it that even learners will become curious to find out what they know and what they don’t know.

4. I dictate a lot in class. Never one word at the time, but ocassionally a word they ask for because they need to check spelling. “How do we spell/write (and the word they are trying to make sense of or need to check spelling)?” is a common question during class interaction. Correction time is also done through dictation, and sentences are said as natural as possible, respecting thought groups (sense group) instead of single words unless they ask me for spelling, then we focus on it and if necessary we work on word stress and syllables. Once the sentences are checked, listening to the whole sentence again with the right intonation and word stress is really important. We often give so much importance on vocabulary and grammar and totally forget of the importance of pronunciation and all its aspects to develop better listening skills. And here is one of the reasons why I focus on thought groups instead of dictation one word at the time. I repeat two or three time the thought group and use the board only if there is really a real necessity. As I check notebooks constantly, I notice if learners are able to connect spoken to written language. They will have to negotiate it if they want to make sure they did it right anyway.

This takes us to Read and Look up. I learned about this technique from John F. Fanselow back in 2012. And as we work with reading materials in class and reading aloud might happen at some point of the lesson, it can become a wonderful chance to work on reading fluency aspects that naturally involves reading. If learners read always silently, they have no opportunity to learn how those words are streamed together, and if they haven’t learned, how will they be able to understand the message of what they are reading if processing information fast to become enjoyable and accurate depend on previous knowledge of the language as much as background knowledge of the topic itself?

Here is a wonderful article I have just found. Like John, I had been playing with it too and one of the changes I could make to encounters learners have with questions that serves as prompts for speaking is what I use in class: Read, Look up and Say it.

Extract from John F. Fanselow article - shared here: http://www.davidenglishhouse.com/pdf/JohnFanselow/AlessoninO.pdf

Extract from John F. Fanselow article – shared here: http://www.davidenglishhouse.com/pdf/JohnFanselow/AlessoninO.pdf

5. In this way, they don’t just glue their eyes on the page and totally forget that their partner is there right in front of them. How can communication happen if one or the two of them are looking down and just reading the words out loud? And have you noticed that they usually read them slowly and pausing in between (often in the wrong places?)? And how can this be qualified as an speaking activity if they do it in that way? So, it became part of our classroom routine to read the questions or statements (this can be from Coursebooks or from questions/statements learners create themselves which had been previously given corrective feedback from the teacher. I use learners modified input as input a lot in class), then look at their partner and say it. If the question or statement had already been learned (when I said learned I mean all aspects of it), they will easily be able to do it. At first though, they are not used to rely on their memory or knowledge they have from within so they will pause at the middle of it because they had forgotten the second thought group (longer sentences). I ask them when that happens to look down again at the whole sentence, then look up and say it again from the beginning of the sentence, not where they had stopped. With time, this will go away and they will get used to do it pretty naturally and their partner will respond automatically. Especially those speaking activities where they have to practice simple questions and short answers, they will do it without much thinking. I pay especial attention to them when they are doing it and note down if they show any sign that an aspect of the language hadn’t been mastered yet. As they are not producing a new sentence, they read it out in order to connect written language to spoken language and create in their memory samples of the structures through spoken language that must be spoken using proper intonation, rhythm and stress. It becomes a safe speaking activity because they emulate speaking in a natural way and their partner can respond/react to it more naturally too.

Going over these aspects in my classroom routine and why I do them helped me verbalize the changes I’ve made in my own practice in order to understand learning and teaching. I hope you have enjoyed taking this trip with me with my last two posts and also the article that was published at TESL-EJ. Here is the link to it if you haven’t had the opportunity to read it: http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume18/ej71/ej71int/

2014 was quite a year for me and the more I delve into it, more teaching becomes exhilataring to me and I hope to my learners as well.

I so look forward to continue making changes and learning more about my own teaching in 2015!

If you haven’t read or taken a course with John F. Fanselow, you should. Here is John in a video I have just found.

And a global webinar we had the opportunity to attend a year ago.

Listening with Both Ears BELTA Webinar

I was thrilled to receive the invitation to share my journey with BELTA Members and my PLN again through video conference. In the presentation I aimed to discuss the role of listening attentively in order to really understand others. In my context of teaching, and I guess that many teachers like me want to use English as the main language in the classroom and create an L2 environment that fosters the need for communication in English, but both teacher and students miss important things during the class interaction, therefore, fail to really understand what each other is really saying. The reasons why that happens might be 1) Learners’ low proficiency level, 2) fail to really listen to one another due to lack of attention or interest in understanding one another. Hear what the other person is saying does not automatically turn in really listening, and therefore, content of that message gets lost. Once I understood that myself, I started making few changes that resulted in better comprehension of what was going on in the class as well as promoting more learning of the language and understanding of what we were saying to one another. I use practical ideas to promote better listenng results, thus more engagement with the learning of English inside and outside the class. (Belta blog)

I thank BELTA board for the wonderful opportunity to share my reflections.

I’ll summarize the points I tried to raise during the webinar as well as adding some thoughts I feel I have left out of my talk. Let me start by defining what listening is. According to Brown, Listening is making sense of aural input and it takes effort to do so. We use our knowledge of individuals pieces of language like sounds, words, grammatical patterns in concert with our knowledge of the topic, situation, and context to arrive at an understanding of what is being transmitted to us. (2011)

3 pointsIf we take into consideration that listening for a language learner, specially for lower level ones, is a tall order and that it involves processing input (decoding) while it is being streamed at the same time that tries to figure out the message in each utterance, we will realise that it is also difficult for learners to participate in conversations even a simple one if they are not able to understand what the other person is saying. What kind of interaction or conversation will they be able to carry out? The usual listening activities, which are not the same as carrying out a conversation tend to focus on top-down process but research shows that fail to recognise words in a stream affects comprehension as well as low vocabulary knowledge.

KNOWING: L1 EXPERIENCE AND LITERACY

Drawing from my own experience as a mother of a bilingual child (Emanuel who is 4 and half now), whose first language is English and secondary one is Portuguese, and also from my studies in Pedagogy with a focus on Childhood Development and Literacy Development (including adult education), I discovered that,

(1) Oral language skills develop to a fairly high level prior to the development of written language, (2) oral and written language share essentially the same lexicon (vocabulary) and syntax (grammar), and (3) beginning readers draw their knowledge of oral language in learning to read. (Sticht and James, cited in Brown 2011)

Because of that I started questioning my own classroom practice and wondering why we rely much more on reading as input than listening even though developing oral skills is mostly desired; and also, what might be the piece of the puzzle missing in order to enhance learning. Here is the list of things that Brown (2011) points out as he reviews the differences between READING and LISTENING as skills.

  • Cognates are easily recognized in printing, but their sounds might be quite different;
  • Listening also involves understanding all sorts of reductions of sounds and blending of words;
  • There are false starts and hesitations to be dealt with;
  • We use a lot of pronouns, string together clauses with conjuctions rather than subordinate clauses;
  • And in real communication, we rely on gestures and body language to get our point across;
  • students can skim a text quickly to get a good idea what it’s about, but listeners can’t skim;
  • Listening must be done in real time as words comes rushing at them, there is no second chance unless the listener especifically asks for repetition.

As we can see there are naturally differences in Reading and Listening that goes beyond the spoken and written aspect. So, aren’t we supposed to also work with them differently in class in order for learners to use them effectively outside the class? And how important is to expose learners to spoken language at all times, and teach them whatever it is necessary for them to be able to recognize words when streamed? Is it enough to tell learners to listen to English outside the class even though they can’t really make sense of what they are hearing? Is it enough to just teach them phonetic symbols or to identify the stress in isolated words so they can learn to read them? Even when we know that isolated words behave quite differently when they are in speech?

KNOWING WORDS

If we take into consideration research that affirms that it is necessary to know at least 95% of the running words, 98% would be even better, to be able to comprehend a written text and might guess words we encounter accurately, how much would we need to comprehend something we are listening to considerating all the challenges that a learner faces when listening to someone? How can we understand the content of something that is transmitted to us if we can’t decode speech signals while they are being streamed? (Nation, 2006)

After the webinar, I watched Mark Hancock presentation of his book, soon to be published, and I highly recommend it as he reinforces based on research that there is a need to train learners to listen. In his book Authentic Listening Resource Pack, there are lots of practical activities with authentic listening that aims to train learners at the level of B1-B2 to decode. And I also recommend watching Judy Gilbert wonderful presentation at The New School who brings Pronunciation as being an important aspect for developing better listeners. This takes us to reflect about the message.

So if we can’t understand the content, how can we really prevent misunderstanding?

Carol Goodey (2013) discussing the purpose of teaching in her blogpost Listening for Learning as being to use the time we have in class as the time to train learners to become autonomous so that they can use what they learn with us outside the classroom, reminds us the important of teaching for life and not for exams. And I absolutely agree with Carol. By having this as my core principle in my practice, I aim to give learners what they need in order to operate outside the class not according to my own goals for the lessons I put forward to them, but according to their own interests and goals for life. This became also an essential element of my teaching as Carol states below.

An essential element, however, must be that learners develop an understanding of how the language is used in different contexts and for different purposes by reading and listening to what and how things are written or said in that language. (Carol Goodey, 2013)

DECODING AND ENCODING: AN ANECDOTE

what did you sayEmanuel is bilingual. English is his first language. He understands and interact with any kind of media in English, and although he can understand Portuguese for common conversations around the house, he can’t or do not really bother to speak in Portuguese unless he really has to.

But he loves playing with language and the other day he was repeating an utterance he heard from his father which he found funny. But the funny thing was that I couldn’t really make sense what he was saying. When my husband explained to me that he had heard him recording a funny message to the family to post in whatsapp and that he picked it up but couldn’t really pronounce it properly, I realised that he was not only having trouble picking up the sounds accurately, but also starting to get behind in Portuguese.

LEARNING TO SPEAK, LISTENING TO UNDERSTAND

There was no use repeating the whole set of words to him over and over again and ask him to repeat it. Some of the phonemes were really off and on his own he was not going to pick it up. So, I divided the set in two, then worked on each set, first by segmenting it into syllables and then blending them together again. Simple as it is. It gave Emanuel practice with the phonemes like the /r/ and /b/ that were terrible off. Once he could pronounce the syllables, we could then work on saying the whole set again with the appropriate stress and intonation. I tested Emanuel by asking him to repeat after me in the following day, then in two days and then days later. At all times he could speak much better. The quick exercise paid off. This experience also made me reflect more seriously about the way Emanuel is developing both languages.

working on pronunciationMost students do not bother to watch movies or their favorite TV series in English alone because they can’t process the aural input easily and have said that with the subtitles in English it is helpful. Even so, they still don’t process the written and aural input as fast as they should to enjoy the stories. So they opt to put the subtitles in Portuguese which is a waste of time as reading and listening are two different processes and you cannot focus on both if they are in different languages, that is not to say that we don’t hear a thing or two in English. If we are fluent we do or if the scene is slow and speech is short they might. I have talked to all my students and they all agree that they hardly pay any attention to what they say. Even higher level learners do not bother watching it in English only with at least subtitles in English which could be great a tool to connect spoken to written language. And if they don’t, they don’t because they don’t really feel confident that they can deal with natural spoken language even if they have achieved higher levels of proficiency. Something that made me rethink how listening and pronunciation are worked in class.

ACTIVE LISTENING AS LANGUAGE TOOL

I have used active listening in class, not only to solve conflicts with students regarding task choices or during feedback session, but also as a language tool. By restating or paraphrasing, I have a chance to check my own understanding of what learners are trying to say and give learners a more accurate version of their ideas or opinions in various tasks in class. It makes corrective feedback less threaten and more natural as it becomes part of communication and also as a communication repair tool. So, for me restating and paraphrasing is really important especially when the people in the room are not proficient enough to express themselves with easy, or when we lack the words or find difficult to put them together, it is easy to misunderstand and lose face in front of others. I don’t shy away to use the board whenever it is necessary to make spoken language visual when I write the sentences on the board. This also gives us a chance to work on accuracy in order to understand the message and learn how to communicate better, not to learn grammar rules. It is grammar in action.

CHANGES I’VE MADE: PRACTICAL IDEAS

The practical ideas I have mentioned are the ones that my learners thought of as useful to train their ears to connect spoken to written language by practicing it actively. They are:

Listen and Transcribe

Dictation

Read and Look up

Read, Look up and Say it

In my next post (follow-up post published), I will share them in more details and refer back to other blogposts.

Here is a compilation of links with articles, blogposts, books and videos that gives us plenty of theoretical basis and practical ideas.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1J5zRvs3BTDnWcPVqIHxNuq66DB8bPkPho2b5rKE5xYE/edit?usp=sharing

MY OWN CONCLUSIONS

Although L1 acquisition differs to L2 in many instances, one thing is true, when someone learn to read and write, he or she had already developed their spoken knowledge of the language whereas second language learners will have to learn spoken and written language all at once to be able to perform well in all skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening). And the fact that we over rely on printed materials where students focus on reading most of the time complementing it with vocabulary and grammar exercises, and listening doesn’t really become a source of input but practice compensation estrategies (top-down) and testing comprehension makes me think that might be a reason why learners fail to sediment knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. I’m quite aware that I might be making a broad statement here, but I can’t ignore the fact that without activating my aural memory, I seem not able to respond to aural input as fast as I should. And if that is true, then what happens when I can’t is that I will have to make an effort to search in my mind for other sources where language knowledge might be stored which will slow down my response and can become really frustrating, to say the least.

As though my webinar was supposed to focus on listening, comparing reading and listening was paramount to establish the thin line between the two as it is seem in practice, and the fact that more often than not the reason why written texts are used more than spoken ones seems to be that they are more teachable than listening and that perhaps we expect that one skill will develop and transfer to another without any need to really intervene. However, the time spent on too much reading (most time silently) will not in practice help learners develop their ability to listen to spoken English. Unfortunally most learners don’t even succeed in recognising enough of the input to feel capable to extract meaning from it (Field, 2012). And I have noticed that the same can be said for reading because of lack of vocabulary and too much trust on top-down estrategies and excessive use of comprehension questions and multiple answer or true/false activities that narrow the options. It helps higher scores, but does not really tell much regarding understanding. Thus, understanding how students are getting to their answers becomes really important not only for the teacher but for the students themselves as they can visualise the process of understanding. Again Carol Goodey blogpost offers an insightful view of how reflection can be an useful tool for learners and teachers.

So taking John Field (2012) argument that listening in real context is different from listening we use in class, basically because there is no enough input or all the cues involved in real life communication to compensate for the low-proficient language speakers. I realised then that like the child that uses language as the mean to communicate and understand the world around them, so do learners insist to use L1 instead of L2 because they also have this need. However in class we do not stress understanding and communicating as the purpose of our classes, on the other hand we focus on teaching the language as our main purpose. And chances to use L2 with others who do not share the same language is rare for my learners, understanding becomes a much more powerful purpose in and out of class and I try to create this need for understanding when they are talking to me as well as making it as meaningful and real as possible whenever we have the chance. Be it a grade they got, a competition they won, a trip they took, or a movie they saw… anything is an opportunity to create real interaction through English and anytime is the time for learning.