Archive for Tag: speaking

Thursday, May 19, 2016

ESL SmackDown – Writing vs. Speaking

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Several months ago, I was at a local ELT conference when I heard something I haven’t been able to shake. Eli Hinkel was delivering the plenary and somehow the topic of speaking vs. writing arose. Someone in the row behind me said, “Well, everybody knows that writing is harder than speaking.” Directly after that, I heard screeching tires. Well, in my head, anyway. What?!? Writing is harder than speaking? Everybody knows this? I remember looking around me to see if anyone else was having the OMG moment that I was, and made eye contact with my equally perturbed colleague, but everyone else was happily nodding.

While this seems to have been a given for many of the teachers in the auditorium on that sunny fall day, it wasn’t for me. Writing necessarily harder than speaking? Really? As the plenary continued, I mulled this over.

What’s so hard about writing?

What do writers have to do? Well, they have to think about grammar and vocabulary. But, then again, so do

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 3

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In my recent posts, I’ve shared some thoughts about ways to make Teacher Talk Time (TTT) count in the classroom. Every time I am yakking during the lesson, the students aren’t, so I really need to make sure that the time I do spend talking is valuable. In the research I did for a professional development session I facilitated, I came across many examples of “bad” teacher talk, which I think provide an interesting jumping off point for a critical evaluation of my own TTT habits.

Scenario 3

Scenario 3

Oh jeez. Reading this conversation is like jumping back about 20 years when I was a brand spanking new teacher in Korea. In one of my first experiences with

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A, E, I, O, U, … Y Teach Vowel Sounds? – Part 2

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

The Trouble with Teaching Vowels

In last week’s post, I described why vowel sounds are so difficult to teach – they are hard to describe, there may be differing phonemic symbols for a single sound, and there are just so many of them in English. But, I also acknowledged that, even though they are daunting, we should cover them in all of our ESL and EFL classes because they are essential to communication. Specifically, the stressed vowel in a focus word needs to be pronounced comprehensibly or speakers risk obscuring the entire thought group. This is even more important for conversations between non-proficient English speakers who, research shows, rely more heavily on the sounds articulated than on the context for making sense of an utterance. I concluded the post with a promise for practical and painless suggestions for teaching vowel sounds.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Music has Meaning – Part II

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

The Functions of Focus

Recently, I shared the research of Reed (2015) in which she sheds light on the disconnect between what speakers mean and what students may actually hear. Specifically, when proficient English speakers shift the pitch change from the end of a thought group in order to communicate a specific meaning. For instance, when a speaker says, “My boss said he’d fix the problem” many English learners may assume that the problem had been or would be fixed. Conversely, proficient English speakers would understand that the pitch change on the word “said” implied that, in fact, the problem probably hadn’t been resolved at all.

Not hearing or failing to understand the meaning that is communicated by these pitch changes on focus or prominent words can put our students at a major disadvantage. They end up missing out on key information that their peers will have gotten and they are often incapable of making the predictions that help good listeners follow a conversation.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lights! Camera! Action!

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Okay, so maybe I have been accused of being a bit of a drama queen from time to time (ha ha!), but I also think using skits in my ESL classes can be a great way to encourage students to practice target language and have a little fun.

Backstage

Incorporating short skits into our lessons plans can check a number of pedagogical boxes. First, they give students more practice using target language. After all, our students aren’t studying grammar just so they can know English grammar rules; they actually want to be able to use the grammar they have learned. Keith Folse makes an excellent point In “The Art of Teaching Speaking” when he says, “When people – including our learners – refer to “second language ability,” their primary goal seems to be speaking. … Almost all of my ESL/EFL students dream of the day when they can finally say, ‘I speak English well.’” (Folse, 2006, page 3-4) The only way our students can become proficient English speakers is with a lot of practice.

The kind of practice our students benefit from is targeted in that is prompts a specific target structure or target vocabulary that the students have already learned. Also, a good practice speaking activity allows time for students to plan their speech.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part 4: It Just Doesn’t Sound Natural

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In his helpful book, Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning, Jack Richards (2008) points out that one of the big problems with Intermediate level learners’ speech is that, though it might be grammatically accurate and reasonably fluent, it often just doesn’t sound natural. How frustrating this must be for students who have studied English for years but still sound like learners, not users of English! That would make almost anyone throw up his or her hands in despair. After all, what does it mean to “sound natural”? Actually, it turns out this is surprisingly straightforward, as defined by Richards. To sound natural, apparently, is to integrate a lot of multi-word chunks and formulaic phrases into one’s language.

Multi-Word Chunks & Formulaic Phrases

Richards cites O’Keeffe et al. (2007) when he presents the following ranked list of the most common multi-word chunks, as identified by the CANCODE corpus of spoken English.

  1. do you know what I mean
  2. at the end of the day
  3. and all the rest of it
  4. and all that sort of thing
  5. I don’t know what it is
  6. but at the end of the
  7. and this that and the other
  8. from the point of view of
  9. a hell of a lot of
  10. in the middle of the night
  11. do you want me to do

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part 2: The Difference between Fluency and Complexity

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In his great book, Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning, Jack Richards (2008) notices that another problem that contributes to the plateau that often plagues Intermediate level students lies in the difference between fluency and complexity. Again, I can really relate to this, as a French learner. For many years, I have been in such a panic to make myself understood and just communicate my thoughts and needs. I am usually okay with the simple past tense; however, if I need to do anything harder than that, I freeze up. My French linguistic system has not yet restructured to accommodate newer tenses, such as the imperfect.

Similarly with our students, they may have the passive voice down in a variety of simple tenses, but when they want to say something more complex, like “the bridge is going to be being built over the summer,” they stumble. In order to put an end to their plateau, learners need to add complexity to their output. Richards (2008) suggests that this can be accomplished in three ways: by addressing the language prior to the activity, addressing the language during the activity and addressing the language after the activity.

The Language Before the Activity

First, by address the language prior to an activity, he means pre-teaching the target language and providing students with a chance for rehearsal. Now, I am sure I am not alone when I say that I rarely begin a lesson without some sort of pre-teaching. If students are going to have a conversation about, for instance, pets,

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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part I: The Gap Between Production and Reception

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I was recently reading the magazine, “Runner’s World,” and I came across an article called “Reboot, Refresh” about plateauing. The article basically points out that “every runner eventually reaches a period in their training where their progress levels off.” Apparently this plateauing is inevitable, and it is easy (at least for a slowpoke like me) to understand how a straight, climbing trajectory of improvement would be physically impossible.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the plateaus that frustrate runners’ dreams of personal bests and the plateaus that we notice in our students’ English development. Just as “[o]ver the course of a running life, there are natural peaks and valleys – and flat lines in between,” I have noticed my students’ English skills grow, recede and stagnate. In my experience, this leveling off seems to happen when students are trying to move from Intermediate level to Advanced. Many of them simply give up, deciding that their language skills are sufficient for their purposes. But, some struggle on, and eventually they become advanced and then proficient users of English. So, what made the difference for those students? How do some students make it through plateaus and what can I do to help?

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Teachingem to Linkn Blend

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Recently, I wrote a post about teaching listening. In it, I commented on the connection between certain pronunciation skills and listening and how we need to both teach these skills and make this connection explicit in the classroom. One of these skills, linking and blending, is a way proficient English speakers connect their speech to sound fluid and, according to Hieke (1984), to make speech less articulatory complex. In other words, it sounds better and is easier to say when words are linked and blended. Long ago, I wrote about teaching sentence stress in class, another pronunciation skill essential for listeners, but I have never broached the subject of teaching strategies to help students master linking and blending. So, here is my “two cents.”

Whating and Whating?

When proficient English speakers talk, we don’t say each work distinctly and clearly. Rather, we tend to link some of our words together. For example, “come and eat” gets pushed into one word that sounds like “comneat.” We usually link words when

  • the final sound of the first word is a consonant and the initial sound of the second word is a vowel, as in “come and eat,”
  •  the final sound of the first words is a consonant and the initial sound of the second word is an unstressed pronoun starting with /h/ or /ð/ (we cut the /h/ and /ð/ to link), as in “tell him,”
  • the final and initial sounds of the two words are vowels (we insert a /w/ or /y/ sounds to make this easier), as in “my eye,”

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Don’t Speak, Just Panic!

By Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Une Table Pour Deux

We were literally dodging raindrops as we darted into a bistro on a street corner in Paris. (One of the big advantages to living in Belgium is the ability to nip off to places like Paris for the weekend.) We were starving and all I could think about was one of those huge Parisian salads. We waited by the door for a few minutes as the waiter raced around with steaming plates. When he had a moment, he looked at us inquiringly. “Pour deux.” I said, holding up 2 fingers, just in case.

The Path from French Learner to Unconfident Speaker

One of the other advantages to living in Belgium is being immersed, at least to a limited extent, in a foreign language. For our first 3 years here, I diligently took French classroom-based lessons and shelled out for private lessons. I am the first to admit that I was never the kind of student we all love to have in our classes. My homework was done, but not with any particular care, and I rarely went above and beyond. And we all know that a few hours of lessons a week does not a fluent speaker make. Sadly, for the past year, my job has eaten up a great deal of what used to be free time, and I haven’t cracked a French text in many months. As a result, I have forgotten a lot of the vocabulary I once knew, and my confidence in my speaking has plummeted.

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