This is a guest post from Rebekah Palmer (http:palmerlanguage.blogspot.com). Cross fertilization of ideas amplifies the abilities of all of us. If any of my readers have experiences or suggestions, please feel free to share them.
As educators, we often talk about goal setting. We set long-term goals for courses and short-term lesson objectives. We think about whether these goals and objectives are being met. We reflect and set new goals. This is nothing new.
It is surprising, therefore, that there is so little focus INSIDE the classroom on learner goals; talking about objective-setting and student responsibility for working towards and achieving goals is typically absent.
When no specific goals are defined in the classroom, the default goal of language learning becomes native-speaker level language production. Becoming native-speaker-like in a language is a dedicated effort – it is not necessary for competent communication, and the high standard demanded may not even be beneficial for many students. It requires spending a great deal of time learning very specific, tiny details that may not be important for learners in their daily lives. At the same time, the ominous goal of native-speaker language ability looms over all of us like a rain cloud pouring down on any feeling of learner success we might have briefly had.
Goals and motivation go hand-in-hand. Students need to first identify their motivations for learning, and THEN they can define their long-term proficiency goals. At that point, they must also be given the responsibility to pursue those goals. Too often, we as educators create dependent learners who rely on us for everything. The classroom is merely one facet of language learning, and to treat it as the only one is to cripple language learners.
This is an activity adapted from Rebecca Oxford’s Language Learning Strategies that I do with my students on the first day (it would be helpful later in the course as well). Here is a GoogleDocs link to the PDF that I made to use with it.
Start by having students identify their language learning motivation (i.e., I need English for work, I want to learn English so that I can take a trip to the USA, etc.). From there, have them identify how important each of the language macro-skillls (listening, reading, writing, speaking) is for their overall language goal, with “1” being “not very important” and “5” being “very important.”
Then, have them identify the level they want to achieve in each macro skill. (It is helpful to remind them that this is a beginning goal, and that when they reach it, they can set a new one.)
Next, brainstorm a list of all the possible ways that they can work towards these goals for the four macro-skills. Write a list on the board. Past lists have included watching the English news (listening, some reading), watching a movie with English subtitles (reading), talking to English-speaking family members (speaking, listening), reading the newspaper or a comic book (reading), writing an email to English-speaking friends (writing), etc. Make sure you have ideas for all four macro skills.
Once you have written them all down, have the students star the ones that are possible for them in their lifestyle. As they are doing that, I mention to them this wonderful idea that I read at Creativity and Language: Language learning is not like learning history. You can’t just memorize dates and facts. Language learning is like learning to play the piano. No matter how much you “know,” you must practice constantly if you want to be skilled at it.
Once they have the list, help them to create specific goals for today, tomorrow, and this week. Share the goals with all the students and begin to create a positive, supportive atmosphere of goal setting, evaluation, and re-setting. If you have time in the rest of the course, it is also nice to evaluate weekly goals and set new ones.
* * * * *
Bekah Palmer is a language consultant and English trainer in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. She enjoys research in Linguistics and Language Education, and (with the help of her husband and sometime language co-blogger, Tim Palmer) writes about it at http://palmerlanguage.blogspot.com. Her special and current interests include Authentic Language, Conversation Analysis, Language Learning Strategies, DogmeELT / Teaching Uplugged, Autonomous Language Learning, and Third-Language Acquisition.
From another blog I got a class exercise which proved useful in an unexpected way. A third party gave it to me, so I don’t know whom to credit.
Exercise: The Unknown Blogger first chose a brilliant description by John Steinbeck, from Cannery Row:
“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and shorehouses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.”
The Unknown Blogger then created a template from this description, see below. I asked my students to create a description of the university campus, but it could be any place well known by all the students, using the template.
(Place) in (City) in (State/Country) is a (noun,) a (noun), a (adjective + noun), a (2-word noun), a (noun), a (noun), a (noun), a (noun). (Place) is the (past tense verb, used as an adjectiv) and (past tense verb), (noun) and (noun) and (noun) and (2-word noun), (adjective + noun)_ and (adjective + noun) and (2-word noun), (noun) of (noun expressing materials the previous noun is made of), (noun,) (noun) and (noun), and (2 adjectives + noun), and (noun) and (noun.)
They must use the past tense of verbs as adjectives, two-word nouns, and so on, and in so doing, they are actively accessing their knowledge of what a noun is and how it behaves, instead of doing a passive identification or comprehension exercise. I could see the lightbulbs going on all over the two classes I did this exercise in. One student lamented, “I’m running out of nouns!”
It’s a brilliant exercise, and I thank the Unknown Blogger profusely. If I find out who he or she is, I will give credit on this blog.
Perhaps you have heard of “World English.” This is not a single language, but a concatenation of versions of English, as spoken in America, England, Australia, southern Africa, the Caribbean, India, Pakistan and neighbors, Hong Kong, Belize — all over the world. Each version is different in vocabulary, accent, and sometimes in syntax.
Standard British English used to be the Queen of English, and everybody else was a poor second, but that is changing. This year, for example, three Indian authors were listed for the Man Booker prize: Amitav Ghosh (for the 2nd time by my calculation), Rahul Bhattacharya, and Jahnavi Barua. Since V. S. Naipaul’s listing in 1971, 13 Indian authors have been listed, and several have won this prestigious award. Some of them won multiple times. I believe Salman Rushdie holds the record (4) for Indian-influenced authors writing in English. Authors from Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of the English diaspora have also been listed, though in lesser numbers.
I once heard Anundhati Roy (winner, 1997) interviewed on the radio, and found it difficult to understand her. How was it possible to understand her writing perfectly and her speech only with difficulty?
I don’t have an exercise to go with this posting. It is simply an observation to encourage humility. When I worked in a law firm, few lawyers spoke other languages. “Why should I? Everybody speaks English!” They would say. That is a stupid statement, and yes, I do mean “stupid” with no modifying niceties.
Perhaps we should be more humble as well when asking who owns the English language.
Diversity is often just a concept. Many people live in a diverse town, yet never visit the “foreign” parts of it. Students can be members of a diverse class, yet never come into contact with the parts of their peers’ lives that reflect their different backgrounds. Students with an Italian background, for example, often think that EVERYONE eats lasagna for Christmas. The exercise suggested below can highlight and enrich the meaning of the word “diverse.”
This blog has readers all over the world. In some places the student population may be homogeneous, but in an American classroom, there are usually students with ancestors from different parts of the world, different races, and different language groups. While students with Italian ancestry may still eat lasagna for Christmas, they rarely speak more than rudimentary Italian. The exceptions are students who are only one generation away from their immigrant forebears, but even they may have had their linguistic heritage diluted by intermarriage or contact with other languages where they live or work.
By consulting the website Ethnologue, students will learn how many people in the world speak their heritage language. They can also learn what influence their heritage language has had on American Standard English, or on some other language, by Googling, for example, “Polish words in English.” Students these days have spent a lot more time surfing the Net than I have, and will undoubtedly be more adept than I at finding the needed information.
Exercise: Ask your students to find out where in the world their heritage language is spoken, and how many people speak it. Some students have more than one heritage language, and they can choose to report on one or all of those languages. They should also find out what words from their language have emigrated to America (or some other country) and now are widely used in English (or some other language). In the Polish example, we have imported babka and gherkin. This exercise would also be useful in ESL classes, or classes where students are learning a second language.
In just the last month, this blog has been read by people speaking 33 different languages, in 58 different countries, from Vietnam to Djibouti to Trinidad to Sweden and everywhere in between. Most readers are from the United States, but there is a healthy representation from all continents (except Antarctica – that would be interesting).
It would be very interesting to share some of your experiences integrating linguistics exercises into your classes, and it would be helpful to all of us if some of your shared your experiences.
Posts from readers would be most welcome. Knowledge grows exponentially when it operates on a two-way street.
Collins has published a new dictionary which has several useful features. I believe it is still in beta form. It impressed the heck out of me.
1. Definitions, of course, and the phonetic representation of the word.
2. A comprehensive list of synonyms and of related terms and related words. For the word “beat,” for example, related terms include “beat it,” “beat up,” etc., and for nearby words there are “beat a retreat,” and “beat around the bush.”
3. Audio audio files which pronounce the word using standard American English and standard British English. Not all words have this feature.
4. Translations of the word into 24 different languages, from Finnish, to Korean, to Arabic. I noticed that Hungarian, Swahili, and Hindi were missing.
There are also English to Spanish/German/French versions, though these seemed very beta to me.
5. Usage examples: for “doggie” (or “doggy”) there is “A close friend describes their Kenmore Hills home, on Brisbane’s westside, as doggy heaven.” COURIER, SUNDAY MAIL (2004)”
6. In the case of doggies and many other nouns, there are photographs.
7. The origin of the word is also given, though not as comprehensively as in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Even more enticing — the dictionary is free online at :
Exercise: This will be a welcome addition to exercises on lexicography, such as comparative definitions, and comparative features.
It will also be of interest to students who are struggling with mastery of standard forms of English, since the audio files are very clear.
If you are even vaguely familiar with another language, and you are feeling bored and depressed, a visit to an automatic translation site such as Babel Fish might give you a giggle or two.
One article in GMA News, writes that in a Malaysian Defense Ministry publication, “‘pakaian yang menjolok mata,’ which means ‘revealing clothes’ in Bahasa Malaysia, was translated as ‘clothes that poke eye.’ Another case involved ‘collared shirts and tight Malay civet berbutang three,’ translated from ‘berkolar baju Melayu cekak musang berbutang tiga.’ Still another was the brief summary of the ministry’s history on the website: ‘After the withdrawal of British army, the Malaysian Government take drastic measures to increase the level of any national security threat.’” Needless to say, the Ministry went back to some manual intervention to clarify.
Just for fun, I went to the website of the French newspaper Le Monde and took a random bit of text, “Ce ‘plan de transformation’ prévoit 1 milliard d’euros d’économies sur 3 ans. Les salaires et les embauches sont gelés jusqu’en 2013,” which, to me, means (more or less – this is an amateur translation) “This plan for reform projects 1 billion euros in savings over three years. A wage and hiring freeze will be in effect until 2013.”
Babel translated it thusly, “This ‘ plan of transformation’ 1 billion d’ envisages; euros d’ economies over 3 years. The wages and the recruitings are cold jusqu’ in 2013.”
Sigh. I guess we’d better stick to our French classes, and our Malaysian classes.
Imagine if you were, say, a diplomat or a lawyer, depending on automatic translation to give you the sense of your proposed treaty or contract!
Exercise: For teachers of second languages, the students could replicate my exercise of grabbing some random bit of language from the second language and asking Babel Fish or another translation service to translate it. Students could help each other translate the grabbed language and compare it with Babel Fish’s version. The results will be self-explanatory. The class discussion to follow would be up to you – it could go in so many directions….
Quote from La Canada Valley Sun story about sexual and racial harassment of students by a teacher: ”Spurred by complaints that the La Cañada High math teacher regularly used racist and sexist language in her classroom, officials presented a modified draft of the district’s code of ethics during a public meeting Monday.”
Think about this a minute. What will the “code of ethics” say? Will they ban particular words, and if so, which ones? Which race, and which sex, was the teacher’s victim? What words would be used to harass a girl? a boy? Which words would be used to harrass a Jew, a Hispanic, an African-American, a Caucasian? Is it a matter of words, or a matter of contexts. If it is a matter of context, how can you ban a context? Perhaps the code of ethics might stipulate that teachers “should be respectful toward their students.” There are many respectful ways of using a word like “nigger,” or “spic,” or “beaner;” for example, one could quote someone else using these words, or quote the words as they appeared in a movie. Perhaps the teacher is harassing students by choosing certain materials to study in the class. Which materials should be banned? I am giving my students Huckleberry Finn to read, which has the word “nigger” in it, and a disparaging view of people with dark skin. Should I withdraw the assignment?
Exercise: Devise in class a “Code of Ethics” for teachers and students in a your school. What guidelines could you create which would guaranty respectful exchanges between student and teacher? Would you want to simply take the subjects of race and gender/sex off the table? Would you ban particular words? Wouldn’t these two actions sanitize the classroom of subjects which would be very important to our society?
Language seems benign – don’t swear in front of your grandmother, don’t shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, and you’re okay. There are, however, many inflammatory issues which intimately involve language and here are a few.
Controversy One: The New York City Council once debated whether to ban the words, “bitch, “whore,” and “nigger,” because there was too much abuse occurring on involving these words. The ban was voted down. It turned out that these words could be abusive, but were also often affectionate. Sometimes “my bitch” turned out to mean “my best friend,” “whore,” especially when shortened to “ho’,” was used as a greeting among buddies, and “nigger,” was also commonly used, especially among African-Americans, as a term of affection. The rub was the impracticality of banning words which were used thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of times a day in New York City, and also the fact that the council was proposing to ban a series of contexts, not a few words. Who would be the judge of the motives of the people using these words? What would be the punishment? Besides, as any linguist can tell you, a new slang would pop up in the blink of an eye. Should these words have been banned?
Controversy Two: Writing about the recent British riots in The London Daily Standard, Lindsay Johns referred to “mass BBM broadcasts, written in street slang, inviting [the rioters] to join in the thuggery. … [English] is being squandered by so many young people of all races and backgrounds.” He describes an “inarticulate slang full of vacuous words such as ‘innit’ and willful distortions like ‘arks’ for ‘ask’ or tedious double negatives.” Mr. Johns is too upset to see that the rioters were consciously or unconsciously using language as a tool for protest. They didn’t like the standard British ways; the way people dressed, or their banks, or their method of governing, or their condescending attitudes, or their education system, to name a few, and they used their own non-standard language to protest against these oppressive arms of society. The language was a straw man, and Mr. Johns fell for the deception, railing against “arks” and “innit” instead of confronting the true objective of the protest, which was an overthrow of the status quo in all its forms. Did the American “Occupy” protests use language as an anti-establishment tool – besides creating the new meaning of the word “occupy?”
Controversy Three: I have been watching women wheeling babies along the street in my town, Hoboken, New Jersey, and have noticed that mothers constantly talk to their babies, often laughing, gesticulating, and giggling. “Look at those pretty Christmas lights!” “You’re such a pretty girl!” Nonsense, babbling, strings of language. Nannies often (usually?) wheel their charges in silence, or talking to others on their cell phones. It would take more research than I would undertake to determine the effect on the babies of this language drought, if indeed such a drought exists. Maybe I am seeing an artifact. The larger sociological question would be, should we provide longer m[p]aternity leaves so that parents can provide the kind of nurture which only a parent will bother to provide? Besides other areas, the linguistic richness which the children cared for by parents who are bonded closely to them must be a good thing for the children as a means of developing not only their vocabulary and syntax, but their emotional and intellectual intelligence as well. What do you think? How much would your students sacrifice to stay home and raise their children themselves, or isn’t that worth it at all?
Controversy Four: Languages are disappearing along with species. The number of languages in the world has shrunk drastically, and the rate of shrinkage is accelerating. Is it worth preserving dying languages? Should the American government, for example, fund the efforts of the Wampanoag Indian tribe to resuscitate the language they spoke when they greeted the Pilgrims? Wampanoag leaders have been painstakingly reconstructing their native tongue through studies of documents written in the Wampanoag language in the 17th century, along with other methods. The argument for letting Wampanoag die is evident – who needs it? All of our commercial, religious, governmental, cultural, academic, and other life gets along very well without it. The argument for supporting Wampanoag’s revival is more subtle; they had a system of government, education, family life, religion, and commerce which ran on unique principles. Since our systems are in some ways crumbling today, wouldn’t it be good to learn about other systems which we haven’t thought of yet to find ways of correcting our weaknesses? The Wampanoag, for example, knew that the world was round long before the Europeans did. Hmmm. Maybe their way of thinking was productive. Every language reflects a nuanced way of living and thinking; imagine living without your lullabies and fairytales, without Shakespeare, Dickens, and Tennessee Williams, without southern accents and “ain’t”, without our ways of addressing each other (Ms., Mrs., Miss, Mr., Sir, Madam, Master, Hey You). The world could get along fine without all of those things, right?
Exercise; Any one of the above controversies could form the basis for an essay, or a class discussion.
Exercise: A more challenging exercise would be to ask students to ferret out other controversies involving language. It wouldn’t be hard, for example, to find such controversies in our political life in America in this election year.