A web site for the developing language teacher

October 2005 - issue 10/05


Welcome to the October Newsletter.

How long are we going to have the privileged position that the English language holds? Here's a recent article on the rise of Mandarin.

Chinese whispers as lingua franca

China's economic power is changing attitudes to Mandarin in southeast Asia, but while the number of learners is growing, English retains its dominance in the region, for now, reports John Aglionby

Friday September 23, 2005, Guardian Weekly

The banner outside the Beijing Mandarin school in south Jakarta could not have been much bigger without trespassing on the neighbouring properties. "Intensive Immersion Mandarin, sign up now for our special summer programme!" it read in unmissably large letters. The 10 cars parked outside suggested that a healthy number of people had already immersed themselves.

"It's the way forward for us here in Indonesia and around the region," said Dedy Subroto, an entrepreneur, as he came out of his fifth lesson. "China is taking over and if we want to be successful we've got to be able to speak Mandarin. It's that simple." The mushrooming of similar schools across the capital - data from the Indonesian education ministry indicates that there has been a 500% increase in the past two years, from an admittedly very low base - and the whole of southeast Asia, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, suggests that many people share Subroto's sentiments.

Despite this, few experts believe that Mandarin, or any other language - and realistically there is no other alternative - will topple English as the region's lingua franca. When considering any sector, political, economic, cultural or linguistic, English still appears to score very much higher than Mandarin, they say.

"[English] has got a critical mass as it's used in all sorts of functions around the world," said Christopher Stroud, a lecturer in postcolonial multilingualism at the National University of Singapore. "It does have a momentum and there's an institutional inertia that's built up around English. It's a major global industry."

The result is a virtuous circle of supply and demand, which is strengthened by English being perceived as a neutral language in southeast Asia - the reason it was adopted as the lingua franca of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the region's political grouping.

"English is co-owned by everyone who speaks it in the region because no country has it as their native tongue," explained Andy Kirkpatrick, a research professor at the School of Languages and Intercultural Education at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia. "That isn't the case with Chinese."

A consequence of this, which benefits English in its attempt to retain top spot, is that people are learning it for extrinsic rather than intrinsic reasons, according to Simon Colledge of the British Council's Indonesia office. "[People studying English] are not interested in the culture of the English-speaking nations so much: it's rather that they know that a good career and travel demand some English," he said. "The same is true for Mandarin but not to the same extent."

One manifestation of this is that for some years Malaysia has taught subjects such as maths and science in English and the Thais look set to go down the same route, initially in private schools. "This policy will cause big changes in the country's education system and it is an important step," local media quoted the deputy education minister, Rung Kaewdaeng, as saying in June. "If it is successful, it will be adopted in state schools and universities."

This drive to increase people's exposure to English does not mean everyone speaks the same version of the language, says Professor Koh Tai Ann of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University and chairman of the nation's Speak Good English Movement. "In addition to standard English there's Manglish, Taglish, Japlish and Singlish, to name but a few," she said, referring respectively to the varieties spoken in China, the Philippines, Japan and Singapore. "They're usually totally intelligible only to the locals."

Standard English is becoming more pervasive, however, through culture and the internet, which is helping people to learn it more easily, Colledge believes. "There has been a generational gap," he said. "The older generation, those aged 30-plus, have had to learn English. But now what you see around the cities is kids who are absorbing the language rather than just studying it formally."

Conversely, while Chinese-language characters are becoming slightly more ubiquitous across the region, the vast majority of people can't even pronounce them, let alone understand them. "The script militates against its rapid growth as a lingua franca," said Kirkpatrick. "The effort required to master its writing system is just so much greater than English."

Developments in China are also helping to consolidate English's supremacy. "The Chinese themselves are learning English in droves," Koh said. "The man in the street in China wants to learn and practise his English. While in Singapore we have 'Mandarin Cool', in China it's 'English- Hot' in the run-up to the [2008]
Olympics [in Beijing]."

Colledge believes something more subtle is also happening for a tiny elite: transnational education, which helps people learn both Chinese and English. "We're seeing people wanting to go to university in China, but to a British or American one that has set up a campus there," he said. "The medium of instruction is English but the students will need Chinese to survive."

This reflects another trend: that English by itself will not be sufficient, Kirkpatrick predicts. "People will have to have English plus one at the very least to be successful," he said. "If you can only speak English, you'll get left behind."

Parents of young children are already appreciating this. Monika Rudijono, an advertising executive in Jakarta, speaks to her three-year-old daughter, JC, in Indonesian, sends her to an English-language pre-school and is weighing which Mandarin course to enrol her on. "The only problem is the practice," she says."I'm worried that JC won't have anyone to talk Chinese with."

But if the growth of Mandarin continues at its current meteoric rate, that might not remain a snag for too much longer.,,1576083,00.html


This month we have more articles from past authors - Steve Schackne tells us what he thinks of grading students, Richard Kiely continues his series of articles on the role of television in the ELT classroom & & Kendall Peet looks at the teaching of vocabulary. Check out the Teaching Links section for an interesting dialogue to use in class.

At we occasionally carry out consultancy work. The different projects have included tutoring DELTA candidates by email, offering advice on curriculum design & materials choice & short training courses in person & by email. If you would like us to help in any way, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

A lot more free Google GMail accounts to give away - if interested, get in touch.

Happy teaching.



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The Common Sense Approach: Grades and ESL by Steve Schackne at the University of Macau Introduction

I have always felt that the quality of an ESL program was directly proportional to the amount of time spent on curriculum development and inversely proportional to the amount of time spent calculating, arguing about, curving, submitting, (and doing whatever you will) with grades; that is, teachers who spend more time on developing useful curriculum tend to serve students better than teachers who spend more time on the grading. An oversimplification, perhaps, but after 25 years working with countless schools where "numerical" grades are pored over, analyzed, adjusted, recorded, and, where the results tend to unfairly stigmatize or anoint students, I have come to the conclusion that a new, common sense approach to grading ESL students is needed.

Most educators will tell you that a primary purpose of grading is to provide feedback to students, not to rank them. But often, the reality is just the opposite. An isolated numerical grade can tell a student where he or she stands in relation to classmates, but not how good or bad the student's English is, and certainly not what areas need improvement. There are several reasons why numerical and letter grades (A-F) are both unsuitable for language students.

The Problems

First, language classes deal with a skill, unlike content classes which focus on a finite body of knowledge which has to be mastered in a set period of time. Skills take longer to master and the speed with which they are mastered tends to vary and fluctuate. Language students, like high school athletes, learn at differing speeds, and evaluating them at any point in the process is a bit like catching a falling knife. Dudley Bradley, ex- University of North Carolina basketball player, was a hindrance to the team his first two years, but blossomed into a star in his last two years. What grade do we give Mr. Bradley?...a "c"? The truth is he took a bit longer to learn the skills than some others on the team, but he arrived at the same point in his senior year. So it is with language students who move at different speeds based on their elapsed time and attendant time in language study, are exposed to different inputs affecting their skill acquisition, and pass through stages, such as"interlanguage" and "fossilization" which further complicate any short term evaluation.

Second, grading systems themselves tend to obscure and obfuscate. Pre grade inflation, a "gentlemanly c" was supposed to represent average, if undistinguished, performance. Now, with grade inflation, a "c" is considered abysmally substandard. The result is a cluster of high grades which do nothing to distinguish performance or highlight strength and weakness. Several schools are making good-faith attempts to reverse grade inflation, but even this healthy reform can have negative side effects--I have several B- students who could handle graduate work at non-elite American universities, but the admissions panels at these schools would likely penalize these students for such a grade.

Another confounding variable is the difference between U.S. and Western European grading standards; a 75 is the traditional average in the U.S. and 85 or higher is the current average at many schools. In Europe, the numbers are skewed downward with 65 often reflecting average performance. Granted, the "translation" of the grade into a letter can minimize confusion, but grade inflation renders even this adjustment misleading.

Finally, personality appears to play a greater role in the ESL class than in a content class. In content classes the relationship is often between the student and the material. This is especially true in large lecture halls with many students where the teacher is physically distant from his audience. The teacher-student relationship in the language class, however, takes on greater importance because language involves an interpersonal dynamic that is not always present in the large lecture hall. The student's personality, how outgoing or shy she is, body language, and other sociolinguistic features of language, can often unfairly influence a grade. Shy students grading lower because they don't attempt to produce as much as outgoing students is an example of this.


If numbers and letters don't succeed in giving students meaningful feedback, what is the solution? Well, conferencing with students to explain what areas need improvement is a good first step-this offers the advantage of giving students something they can "take to the bank," instead of a simple number or letter they might not agree with. Since language levels are most often defined using broad descriptive categories-beginning, intermediate, advanced-this could also be employed in language classes. I recommend three simple grades, P (pass), F (fail), HP (high pass); this would include all students, recognize excellence, and avoid often questionable distinctions within the large middle group. This approach is even more practical given the fact that many ESL courses are "service" courses for other departments-the engineering, sociology, and business department deans are less interested in "the grade" than whether the student can handle the basic English necessary to perform in their departments. Moreover, many government organizations and private employers have their own qualifying exams and criteria; the reliance on classroom grades is currently on the wane in the global marketplace. All of these factors make traditional grading less relevant in today's changing world.


I once asked two EFL students what the difference was between a 76 and a 78. Their reply was silence. I then asked a faculty member. His reply was, "no difference, but there is a difference between a 70 and an 80." How much difference? And does it justify the time we spend recording, calculating, and disseminating these numbers? Granted my [P,F,HP] model may need some tweaking if "P" is really to be a base standard; perhaps P could be 70-84, F under 70, HP 85 and over. This, of course, may not be an ideal solution, and a fourth general distinction, maybe LP for low pass, might need to be added. Whatever the solution, most EFL-ESL grading systems need reform of some kind. The cost in teacher hours and student angst just isn't worth it any more.

To view the article


Cultural mirrors - Television drama in the EFL classroom Richard Kiely


In the first article in this series, I explored some ways in which television can be a valuable resource for the EFL or TESOL teacher. In this article I describe my experience with a short segment of a British TV comedy in 6 classroom settings over two years. The lessons start with my language teaching aims - a focus on Language Use, followed by an examination of Language Forms. These are soon appropriated by the students (mainly upper intermediate/advanced) who develop a focus on Language as Social Practice. This involves two aspects of learning Culture: i) learning about British culture, and ii) learning about the relationship between culture and language through relating the social interaction in the television segment to their own social and cultural context.

In this article I set out some background details of the TV programme and my own reasons for using it. Then in a table I set out the 6 instances of classroom use, and how it gradually moved from being a teacher-led activity to a student-led project. In the final section I relate this to some wider issues in teaching culture in (and beyond) the EFL classroom.

The social context of television viewing

Television is an important mass medium for both information and entertainment, a cultural phenomenon which prevails in most societies. It is thus a culturally shared phenomenon, occupying a central place in family life in a range of socio-economic contexts in different parts of the world, and differing only in such respects as:

- time for TV viewing, say morning and/or evening;
- place for TV viewing, say a bedroom or a communal space; and
- silence or ongoing conversation while TV viewing.

Television viewing was thus, for my students a major cultural practice in their home communities which continued in their daily routine with host families in Britain. It was also the dominant context of interaction and communication with members of the host family - students reported discussing a range of TV programmes in these contexts, and having 'British' aspects of the programmes explained to them. It may be that communal TV viewing of this type presents opportunities for, in socio-cultural learning terms (Lantolf 2000), scaffolded interactions which facilitate communication and learning. The visual and contextual clues in the broadcast material, together with glosses, comments and queries from host family members provides an enhanced opportunity for comprehension and engagement, as well as a context for response and discussion. Thus, for learners residing in the target language communities, especially where they live with host families, television is an opportunity for learning which activities in the classroom might be expected to initiate, prepare for, and support.

Television is not only characterised by the local or context- specific. There have always been shared generic formats for television programmes in different contexts - films, news, etc. This sharing might be seen as increasing, with game show and quiz programme formats such as Blind Date, Big Brother and Who Wants to be a Millionnaire? representing a form of globalisation and universal branding of programme formats. The representation of drama on television presents a slightly different case: there are common formats with predictable narratives, such as soap opera and police drama, but the differences are significant. Drama represents relationships and interactions which are configured by community and linguistic norms. TV drama thus provides a useful resource for exploring cultural differences and similarities and engaging with the language features which encode these in the EFL classroom. The TV drama which this article is based on is The Royle Family, a situation comedy made for and broadcast by the BBC in 1997-1999.

To view the article


Teaching vocabulary to L2 learners by Kendall Peet

I have written this article for EFL/ESL teachers interested in improving their approach to teaching vocabulary. Because I am primarily interested in teaching, this article will focus on the practical aspects of teaching vocabulary, with attention paid to theory only where it relates directly to teaching practice. It is my hope that this article will provide teachers with an overview of some of the most important issues to be considered when teaching vocabulary and possibly answer some, if not many, of the questions teachers may have in regard to teaching vocabulary. Within the context of this article, any reference to vocabulary includes the base form of a word, its inflections and derivatives, and lexical phrases or chunks, which constitute a major portion of the English language (Lewis: 1993, 97). I have chosen to include lexical phrases in the definition because, like words, they can often be taught as a single unit of meaning.

What vocabulary to teach?

Needs Analysis

How do you currently decide what vocabulary to teach? When I first started to teach I remember what a panic I was in trying to decide what to teach. My only guide for teaching vocabulary at that time was my high school teachers who used to hand out a vocabulary list of twenty words at the start of each week, to be memorised and tested the following week. I remember sitting at my desk flicking through a dictionary wondering how on earth I was going to select twenty words for that week, growing increasingly despondent. It was a puzzle to me how anyone could possibly select any finite list of words with authority from the seemingly infinite. I never did finally decide upon a list. What I did do instead, which I am sure is the approach taken by many teachers, basically entailed reading through a given text, that was to be used in class, and selecting words to focus on that I thought the learners might not know. It wasn't particularly systematic, but it was the best I could do. Since my early days of teaching, I have come to learn much more about the art of teaching vocabulary, believing strongly in the effectiveness of a student- centred approach, which places much of the onus of decision making in the hands of the learners. Of course it is true that the teacher often knows what is better for a learner than the learner, however, I also believe that it is important for teachers to be sensitive to the learner' needs. Therefore, in answering what to teach, I try to determine the real needs of the learners on an ongoing basis, using both formal and informal means of assessment: take-home questionnaires, 1-2-1 interviews, classroom observation, marking written work, and class tests. To determine the real needs of the learners, it is useful to first draw a distinction between productive language and passive language.

Productive language or Passive language

In general, we can define productive language is that which a person uses to speak or write and passive language as that which is used in the process of listening or reading. In the case of L1 acquisition, the natural progression is from passive language, listening, to productive language, speaking, with reading and writing coming later. In regard to leaning a second language, there is strong argument for the learning process to follow a similar path. However, due primarily to commercial and time constraints, and taking into account the fact that learners have already learnt the concept of many words in their L1 that can be easily transferred to their L2, it is common practice for there to be a considerable focus on productive language from the very start of L2 acquisition, with a natural shift toward passive language occurring as the learner progresses toward L2 proficiency. Therefore, when deciding what vocabulary to teach, teachers first need to be able to distinguish between passive and productive vocabulary to ensure that priority is given to productive language.

Do you focus on productive or passive language in the classroom? How can you determine whether a particular word is productive or passive vocabulary?

To view the article


Thanks to Steve, Richard & Kendall.


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ayusa advertises:
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Lots of different Forums to choose from. Check them out. Post your jobs, your CV, your questions, finds on the net, ideas, activities, questions, grumbles, suggestions, your language courses, your training courses...they are there for you to use.



If you have visited a site that you think would be beneficial for all or would like your site to appear here, please get in touch. Thanks.
English language in British from the BBC.
'Extraordinary stories from everyday people.' MP3n downloads - excellent short authentic listening materials.
A conversation between George Bush & Condoleezza Rice that might make a fun, interesting dialogue analysis & practice. Change the names to suit.

George: Condi! Nice to see you. What's happening?

Condi: Sir, I have the report here about the new leader of China.

George: Great. Lay it on me.

Condi: Hu is the new leader of China.

George: That's what I want to know.

Condi: That's what I'm telling you.

George: That's what I'm asking you. Who is the new leader of China?

Condi: Yes.

George: I mean the fellow's name.

Condi: Hu.

George: The guy in China.

Condi: Hu.

George: The new leader of China.

Condi: Hu.

George: The Chinaman!

Condi: Hu is leading China.

George: Now whaddya' asking me for?

Condi: I'm telling you Hu is leading China.

George: Well, I'm asking you. Who is leading China?

Condi: That's the man's name.

George: That's who's name?

Condi: Yes.

George: Will you or will you not tell me the name of the new leader of China?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir? Yassir Arafat is in China? I thought he was in the Middle East.

Condi: That's correct.

George: Then who is in China?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir is in China?

Condi: No, sir.

George: Then who is?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir?

Condi: No, sir.

George: Look, Condi. I need to know the name of the new leader of China. Get me the Secretary General of the U.N. on the phone.

Condi: Kofi?

George: No, thanks.

Condi: You want Kofi?

George: No.

Condi: You don't want Kofi.

George: No. But now that you mention it, I could use a glass of milk. And then get me the U.N.

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Not Yassir! The guy at the U.N.

Condi: Kofi?

George: Milk! Will you please make the call?

Condi: And call who?

George: Who is the guy at the U.N?

Condi: Hu is the guy in China.

George: Will you stay out of China?!

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: And stay out of the Middle East! Just get me the guy at the U.N.

Condi: Kofi.

George: All right! With cream and two sugars. Now get on the phone.



A few days to plan your lessons around in October:

3rd - Reunification Day in Germany
5th - World Teacher's Day
9th - John Lennon's birthday
10th - World Mental Health Day
12th - Columbus Day
24th - United Nations Day
29th - Internet First Created - 1969
31st - Halloween
Nobel Prizes

To see the list of Days

Wikipedia's excellent focus on days of the year:
Some holiday origins.



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Recent Tips have included:

- Self assessment - materials for the learner & the teacher to help with self assessing.
- Storycorps - links to StoryCorps, short authentic listenings & how to use them.

To see the Past Tips

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Train in Spain - Courses running in the near future at the British Language Centre in Madrid:

Part-time course twelve-week course starts October & January
Full-time four-week courses; November, December, January

Part-time course twenty-week course starts mid-October '05

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7. PS - Internet/computer-related links from

A few computer use rules of thumb:
- make copies of all-important files
- run scan disk & then defragment the hard drive
- use firewall software
- use a virus scan & update the files every week
- install security patches that software providers offer
- update your DirectX files regularly
- don't open attachments without scanning for viruses first
- don't respond to spam - just delete & forget
- don't send personal or bank information by email
- turn off your computer at night

The following links are taken from the Linkletters. Sent out free every fortnight, fifteen links every issue to follow up & help you enjoy the internet. To subscribe:
Now this is what the web is all about - sharing useful ideas.
The Free dictionary - 'English, Medical, Legal, Financial, and Computer Dictionaries, Thesaurus, Acronyms, Encyclopedia, a Literature Reference Library, and a Search Engine all in one!'
The Museum of Fred is a time capsule, a place where the past is preserved for the future. Museums are among the few institutions that we have that can provide us with continuity in this ever- changing world. I hope to someday house my collection in an actual building, but museums are expensive to build and maintain. Fortunately, the Internet allows me to share these important works of art with you. Before the Internet only the wealthy could afford museums but now anyone can have a museum. I hope the Internet will allow for more diversity in the images and stories we'll be able to preserve for future generations. Museums typically reflect the tastes of the wealthy patrons that fund them. The paintings represented here were not created by well-known blue-chip artists. They were created by ordinary people. For unknown reasons they were donated to thrift stores where I purchased them. The previous owners felt they were not worth keeping. History typically ignores what happens in the average household. This is unfortunate because this is where our values are best represented. Our true values are reflected in what we buy how we spend our time and what we choose to create. As you can see from my collection there is a lot of art being created that never gets to be shown in public. The goal of this museum is to increase the boundaries of the art world because making art is too important to be left only to art professionals.
'A Swedish library, realizing that books are not the only things being judged by their covers, will give visitors a different opportunity this weekend-to borrow a Muslim, a lesbian, or a Dane. The city library in Malmo, Sweden's third-largest city, will let curious visitors check out living people for a 45-minute chat in a project meant to tear down prejudices about different religions, nationalities, or professions. The project, called Living Library, was introduced at Denmark's Roskilde Festival in 2000, librarian Catharina Noren said. It has since been tried at a Copenhagen library as well as in Norway, Portugal, and Hungary.'
'Are you plagued by Stuck Tune Syndrome? Do you have a tune stuck in your head you just can't get out? Take heart friend, for your suffering is over. The Maimograph Machine, through complex analysis and calculation, will find an even catchier tune to counter-act the one you already have.'

GMail Drive is a Shell Namespace Extension that creates a virtual filesystem around your Google GMail account, allowing you to use GMail as a storage medium. GMail Drive creates a virtual filesystem on top of your Google GMail account and enables you to save and retrieve files stored on your GMail account directly from inside Windows Explorer.
'Real E Fun - tales from a non-religious funeral celebrant.'
Lots of general interesting facts.



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