Reading Carol Goodey’s excellent post “Listening for learning” has inspired me into writing one of my bi-annual posts 🙂

My third year university students each has to create a wiki to keep a “courselog”. I say “has to” since the content of their courselog (and vocabulary note book) gives them their continual assessment mark 😛

At the beginning of this adventure, some 4 or 5 years ago, I was reading again and again “we did this, we did that” and although it allowed these French students to finally get their simple past tense in order, the result for me the teacher was pretty boring to correct.

So now, two students are responsible for summarizing each week “what went on in the class” on the class wiki and the instructions for the individual courselogs is that they have to write a paragraph saying WHY we did what we did, and what did they (the individual) learn. And I just love reading them!

Sometimes the students find a logic of which I the teacher was not even aware! But even the weaker ones have to “think a bit” about what they’re doing LOL.

Teaching English in a Physics dept, I do not usually have the most enthousiastic of language students, and this system has completely changed their approach to learning, so thanks Carol – I’ll put Jenny Kemp’s idea directly into application during this semester, which has just started for us.

Google translate and student wikis

Note to self:

Warn off the students at the beginning of the year by getting them to take a newspaper, magazine article of interest and getting them to read the translation produced by Google into their own language. The mixture of highly sophisticated language and incomprehensible bits must show them that the teacher will not be fooled!

Of course a good teacher will find endless points to be viewed in greater detail during this exercise but with 18hrs of class we do what we can!


It took me a long time to learn

The usefulness of a blog does not depend on the number of visitors

Most advice about blogging reads like a How-to-Make-Friends-and-Influence-People manual. In fact it’s not because a web page is public and anyone can visit it that they will. It’s like going into town! You might bump into someone you know, but if you really need something from the shops, you’re not going to not go because you haven’t put your makeup on/your roots are showing/your trousers need a wash (delete as appropriate). You just get on with it. Ok, there is nothing permanent about rushing into town looking a mess, as there is with the words online. If someone wants to find it online, they can. But as long as there is nothing you would not wish your mother to see – making a fool of yourself is very relative. (Only them that do nowt do nowt wrong).

Get organised: tags and passwords

tags (keywords) to be attached all over the place to everything to be able to find it again. Yeah man, they need thinking about – or not thinking about but just used in profusion. How many times do I know that I have bookmarked the site (diigo) but just can’t find it again. I think this is a personal thing – but it’s definitely worth thinking about.

Passwords are a pain! I know that the “openID” is supposed to be secure, as Evernote is supposed to be secure etc.etc. but I just can’t go there. At the same time, I can’t keep my passwords in a notebook, since it’s definitely on the computer that one needs them. So as a happy? compromise, I do keep them in an excel file, which is not called “passwords” and in which each .com, .fr or other URL is written DOTcom, DOT fr etc. I still believe that writing an address eannegenobleATgmailDOTcom which certainly avoids an automatic link, keeps my password file out of the hands of any bot which might infect my computer. Maybe I’m just optimistic, but in anycase, like locking the door, I keep my antivirus up to date, and in 6 years of fairly intensive online presence, I’ve just once had my twitter account misused – at which occasion, I immediately looked up what to do on the twitter help page, and did it… yes that needs time, but so does everything (but that’s another subject)

The Problem with language teachers is that they’re good at languages

After much enthousiasm about Krashen’s  skills-building versus comprehension hypothesis for learning an additional language, I had the following thought

Are we all the same faced with a second language?

 Krashen’s Mexican person who learnt Yiddish actually also learnt English at the same time, which somewhat implies he had a talent for learning languages.

In the same way that some people have a talent for maths and others a talent for music, well obviously some people have a talent for learning another language.

 And the problem is that the majority of EFL teachers, and especially NNESTs, have that talent (which does not mean that it is easy for them, we all know that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration)

AND while SK says that there’s just too much to learn when learning English as a foreign language

“Anyone who has studied linguistics knows that decades of intensive labor have been invested in coming up with an accurate description of English, the most described language”, KOTESOL 2011

 He does imply that it would be the same for any language whereas this seems to ignore the fact that the description of a language (its grammar) is very different depending on the language i.e. what about languages have conjugations, declinations, and other “rules” making their learning (to an educated level) very different to that of learning English. This takes me back to a previous post “Why native English speakers have more difficulty than most with learning a foreign language

Basically, I was so thrilled with SKs Istanbul talk, because he provided the academic fuel to my ongoing fight with admin, working in a Physics dept, that English, although on the curriculum like all the other subjects the students have to study,  is NOT the same, because you can see that the immigrant who does not have a formal education in their host country, usually ends up “learning” the language whereas they do not end up “learning” Physics.


"I use Facebook and Twitter very seriously, they get information around" S. Krashen

I am totally bowled over – having just finished listening to Steven Krashen  speaking at Yildiz Technical University in Istambul 

Practically everything he said resonated with my own experience of language learning and teaching, so much so in fact that I’m even putting my notes here!

He spoke of the EFL war which is going on – a great fight since no matter who wins we learn things

In the right corner the Skill Building Hypothesis (actually an axiom of our trade)
Learn the words, the grammar, the structures and you will little by little understand more and more

In the left corner The Comprehension Hypothesis
The way we acquire language is by understanding it when we read/listen (reading most important though) the grammar we need “comes with” the language.

That reading helps most, i.e.that FREE VOLONTARY READING helps most, is actually backed up by research (lots of docs available here on Krashen’s site

There is simply too  much grammar/vocab to learn – grammarians don’t know all the rules (perso: in fact language doesn’t follow rules, grammarians just try to describe it, but are not always spot on)

Non native speakers who read a lot probably have a greater vocab than native speakers who don’t read. (thinking of some well known people)

Case study of guy in Brooklyn who learnt Yiddish “spontaneously” – whose level tested by Krashen (“you two talk about what you did last night” , then took recording of conversation to consulate for 4 native speakers to give their impression of his Yiddish) was rated from very high to native. The guy know nothing about the grammar/structure of the language

S.K. then compared learning a language  to eating You know you need a balanced diet – you don’t think “I need more vitamin B3”


Easy to give comprehensible input – usually not interesting  (that’s school)

Easy to give interesting input – which is not comprehensible (that’s the world)

And it not enough for the input to be just interesting … it has to be compelling – the reader gets in the flow and doesn’t consider the language (this corresponds exactly to my personal experience  – in 5 weeks’ total immersion though)

Another example of 8yr old in the US on Mandarin Chinese programme – not interested … “déclic” with a book (mother read it to him). His Mandarin improved greatly while the book was being read (and level dropped again afterwards)

Most people not interested in language acquisition (that’s the teachers) they’re interested in the story.

2 ways – reading MUST BE SELF SELECTED


NARROW READING  >> one genre, one author

3 stages: lots of stories, followed by free reading on your own, WHY did I note here “ESP doesn’t work” instead of 3rd stage :-0  …well, that’s because I was thinking “and what about when the “s” is absolutely compelling”

Gives his own case as case study . Read to as a child – reading for pleasure = comic books followed by science fiction followed by one author’s novels based on baseball.
At the same time, read things in school of course, but has forgotten what that was … quick jump to University, since it all started in Grad school >> Chomsky

SK read everything Chomsky had written, and read it in chronological order – (see problems arise and solved) then again same experience with one experimental scientist (name?) In this way he learnt the academic style.(narrow reading, for pleasure (the “s” in special purposes) one genre one author)

Is the computer compatible with comprehensible input?
People spend lots of time on FB – the jury’s still out  BUT
using FB means lots of reading AND writing … writing pushes cognitive development
Again – can ref the research showing more use of internet = more literacy (sorry I don’t have the ref here –his site will need a lot of time!)

Internet provides GREAT POTENTIAL to share stories produced by other children. Everytime you ask a class to write a story, there’s always 2 or 3 good stories … putting them online creates a library of comprehensible input
Also makes possible narrow listening – especially with video potential – listen to other students in the rest of the world
Potential of computers can be misused – details of the “Rosetta Stone” problem (boring – uses grammar tests to prove validity of method – no peer reviewed studies – independent study> students dropped out after 10 hrs)

Another “baddie” in US “Accelerated Reader” (in 2 out of 3 schools) prones choice of books and 1 hr day reading then do online test – scores above 60% give points > prizes at the end of the year.
1st & 2nd points good .. but what proof of Points and Prizes helping, especially since all the tests compare this AR programme with doing nothing … but in fact AR could be creating problem of  Punishment by rewards

Highly recommends EDLpod

I listened to a couple – and guess what … they’re great – the speaker speaks slowly, but doesn’t deform the words or intonation – Free to listen to with basic transcript – Starts at $10 a wider service.


Why native English speakers have more difficulties than most with learning a foreign language

Because I married a Frenchman, I live in France and my children were all schooled in the French system.
One specificity of this system is the amount homework children are expected to do from the age of 6 onwards (even though there are laws against it !)

Originally British (well actually English 😉 I was totally amazed when my 6 year-old came home with the task “learn off by heart: je suis, tu es, il est, nous sommes, vous êtes, ils sont

“What?”, I said to myself, “a French child in France learning French in the way I was taught French as a foreign language”  I just didn’t get it at first.
My friends and neighbours were all amused by my reaction. “But we all learnt it like that at first” they told me….Stranger and stranger.
The child knew how to use the language, and yet was now being asked to do something which, to me at that time, was French as a foreign language.

But  I didn’t know what was coming next – by the age of 11 she was expected to recognise a “proposition subordonnée circonstancielle de lieu / de temps” which, I learn from a French University’s English grammar handout  is in English, an “adverbial clause”
Now a question for NESTs reading this, Do you know what are the subordinators of abverbial clauses of place / or time ?
Well actually, of course you do, but you just didn’t know that that’s what they’re called!  Adverbial clauses and the like are, for a native English speaker, in-depth meta-language.
SOOOOO my point here is NOT that, by learning this “meta language”, by learning to describe this system of grammar, a 12 year old French child can ask themselves (or have explained to them) the difference between “où” and “ou” (“where” and “or” in English).
No, my point here is that having had grammar lessons from the age of 6 to the age of 15 years old (the grammar lessons stop when the student enters the “lycée”, i.e. K10-K12 in US speak, and (almost) Sixth Form College in Brit-speak.) gives the speakers of this language a tremendous advantage when learning a foreign language, since they already have a meta-language with which to speak about it’s structure.
From this, I hazarded a guess that, the more grammatically complicated a person’s L1, the easier it should be to learn a foreign language. And this kind of seems to hold, when one looks at native speakers of German, Georgian (reputedly the most difficult langauge to learn), and other “complicated” languages which add declinations to congugations etc. These people are so soaked in a means of talking about how the language is structured, that they have a head start over native English speakers when learning a second language.

ELTchat summary – The grammar teachers ought to know …and often don???t

For anyone passing who does not know #ELTchat – check out the website here

Wednesday 25th July 2012 – 21h00GMT


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Although our dear moderators did try to nudge us towards the specific grammar points implied in the title of this week’s ELTchat  – no one would go there and this evening’s chat brought above all a plethora of books to read, with just a few online references (videos mainly)  towards the end  – Would that be the call of beaches and parasols before the summer break? LOL – though actually, lots were very definitely reference books rather than a straight read.


Points brought up in the discussion about grammar and teacher’s attitudes to grammar were that:
– a “feel” for grammar is important to counteract the over-generalisations of text books, and the problems encountered when a student has been given the wrong end of the stick. (“
the feel is important, esp when trying to convince that sth really doesn’t follow the rules they learned” )
-NESTs do not always have the knowledge to analyse their students’ mistakes , and PD is essential “we owe it to our students
-some chatters found grammar book boring whereas  there was general agreement  on the fact that ” it is true that consulting ONE grammar only is not enough

– it is sometimes difficult to pick up on what grammar needs to be dealt with in class, due to ss “avoidance” techniques – dictagloss was suggested as one way round this
– on the other hand, filling in grammar pages is what some ss call learning (and some teachers, and some exams…)
There is a difference (between) knowing the grammar to isolate and help students (and)  teaching it to the students”, “you need to know way more (than just one step ahead) cause u need to carefully ‘curate’ what to bring to class 


Basically, when push comes to shove, “You need to know more than ‘enough’ to be able to isolate problems and focus your help for the Ss”  “in order to help them clearly and not go into info overload about piece of language” 

 And, although “There are several grammars published for teachers these days – no need to use student grammars as a source” the two are somewhat mixed in the list following list – which is followed by the video references:



photo by @theteacherjames


Parrott’s Grammar for English Language TeachersI regretted not having started with this BEFORE doing a CELTA


George Yule “Explaining English Grammar”  “I recommend Yule for conditionals too, gr8 approach thinking of the meaning of each clause not 1st..”

Someone mentioned Swann,
would that be Practical English Usage or The Good Grammar Book ?


In any case, there’s an interesting article (online) by Swan – “Does Grammar Teaching Work” 

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Murphy was not high on the list of grammar-for-teachers. But such a lovely person (online)  

The Teacher’s Grammar of English” by Ron Cowen was recommended for US English


English Grammar Today (Carter, McCarthy et al) 

Teaching tenses by Rosemary Aitken was highly recommended, “especially for NNESTs” and esp for LA assignment on a CELTA 


Grammar for Smart People by Barry Tarshis  with its subtitle “your user friendly guide to writing and speaking better English”  sounds like a cast off from the “Eats Shoots and Leaves” syndrome (to me, and I’m holding the pen keyboard)

When someone pointed out that the student’s L1 would influence the specific the grammar needed by teachers Marisa quickly pointed them to “Learner English” by Michael Swan, available in pdf,  which highlights the specific problem zones for speakers of 22 different languages (or language families)

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Meaning and the English Verb by Geoffrey Leech from U Lancaster  is in it’s third edition and is still going strong after 30 years and was highly recommended though with “caution about what Leech says about degrees of certainty with the futures! #eltchat cf The English Verb – Lewis


In a more general vein there was:

 My Grammar and I (or should that be “me”?) said to be very “readable”   #guydeutscher 

But for truely pleasureable reading , I have to slip in Jean Aitchkinson’s Reith Lectures « The Language Web » Either the book or the downloadable audio (5×45 mins)

For people wanting to take up Willy Card’s call to delve into Philiosopy, a great overview (first few chapters)  in this “Fuzzy Grammar – a reader” edited by Bas Aarts (head of the Survey of English Usage group at UCL which was founded by Quirk). 


Videos – two 15 minutes of Krashen on language acquisition

Thornby, one hour video: 7 ways of looking at Grammar 


Google was actually said not to be the best resource (though I find that googling the point in question preceeded by EFL ESL quizz – is extremely useful for coming up with a few questions to illustrate the discussion)


 CUP are giving away a free 5 hour Grammar awareness course on their teacher network

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 With thanks to all here are:

The teachers who appeared on my transcript
























What is the difference between EFL and EAP outside the UK – 1


Like any language event, it’s a question of context.

Universities are resistant to change. Although they are the place where existing knowledge is questioned, that’s just an intellectual construct.  As Sir Ken Robinson famously joked a large number of university professors behave as if their bodies exist to carry their heads to meetings, i.e. the disparity between the theoretical cutting–edge stuff going on in the institution and the reality/structure of the institution itself is most striking.

The same seems to be true of EAP, since while the rest of the EFL world has moved on to view English as a global language, with it’s new acronyms EIL or ELF, the world of EAP provides definitions such as “It is probably true that most EAP lecturers are working in institutes of higher education where English is the medium of instruction”

Hopefully this is not the case – as any reader of MAK Halliday would agree.

Our French students need English, which I call EAP because they are University students who have to read academic papers and, for some, will later have to write them and communicate the results of their research in English at international conferences. However, their medium of instruction is French. As undergraduates, English is often “just another subject” of their course.

When the newly arrived “good at English” students use a register which is totally inappropriate to an academic setting it becomes obvious that they do need EAP (add examples here). Their surprise at their discovery that they actually do have something to learn from us is quite amusing.

The heterogeneity of our classes is the biggest challenge to our teaching, with the same-exam-for-all on this University course.  And there lies the first big difference between the EFL as it is portrayed in the blogosphere and English at the University, namely, exams. As both carrot and stick, it most certainly is a means of getting people working.

In this context, many moons ago, we were told by a colleague “look these kids are scientists, they’re used to learning formulae, just tell them what they have to learn and they’ll get on with it” (ah the good old days!) which led to our students having lists of words to learn long before that was acceptable practice!  Now just bear with me a moment, while I dare to say that the rest of “just tell them what they have to learn” was translated into a course syllabus covering the most frequent structures for scientific writing (measurement, frequency, comparison, means&process, cause and effect, modification, etc.) 10 chapters in all, which has since been published as a course book!  But there are three advantages to this system (for their first year of “academic” English).

a).  it provides the “nul en anglais” with an attainable goal which enables them to break the cycle of I’m-no-good-at-English and take wings – but that’s another story.

b). it’s a great place to start for teachers, who have no knowledge of what aspects of the language are important for academic purposes – after a year with “the book” they are totally aware of the “typical content” of an EAP course.

c). Putting the teachers in such a straitjacket curriculum, leads to very inventive teaching (see “Creativity from Constraints”)

Oh dear – that’s just the first year. So I’ve hopefully put a “1” at the end of the title in the hope of a part 2 to address some of the questions brought up by Olwyn Alexander and Sue Argent

And a book to read

TESOLFr 2012

After a fabulous W/E in Paris – here comes the Twitter stream and oh dear – I’ve got so much work to do.

But hang on a minute… all this learning is work … So using the 30 minute rule learnt from now-who-was-it-? at the reform symposium RSCON3 I’ll get down my personal overview of TESOLFR for future reference! And then I will correct my copies for this afternoon’s lesson!

Ahhhh time management – the bane of working online.

It’s great  to see some of the sessions I was able to attend online

Arjana Blatzic‘s quiz making, Shelly’s mobile learning, Mike’s using sounds and images


And not having the gift of ubiquity, the ones I was so sad not to have attended 😦

Willy can be sure of an audience if his students do give permission to put their film online

Vale’s presentation – though I think I was among the first to join the site … that time managememnt thing again

Steve’s ideas for using video

Fiona on writing


Open mic night:

The inimitable Panda and too sexyMatt  (s.a.more juggling)  Did anyone catch Bethany’s fab performance I wonder?


Oh dear – my 30 mins is up