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Teaching Tips 87


European Day of Languages






The 26th September is European Day of Languages. There is a previous Tip with class activities at:

An important aspect of becoming an effective learner is the ability to assess one's own strengths & weaknesses. Without this ability, the learner relies on the teacher to direct the learning & this can slow down the process considerably. Being aware of progress allows for more autonomy & independence, speeding up learning by enabling the learner to self-direct the process.

The remainder of the Tip continues with an aspect of the Council of Europe site but don't feel excluded if you don't teach in the EU as all can be very applicable to every learning situation as the site visited offers you & your students a level guide & self assessment tools.

On the Council of Europe, European Day of Languages site this year there is an article that begins:

Moving into the polyglot age

Acquiring a range of different languages is easier than you might think, writes Neil Madden

If someone said to you 'flisni me mua', would you know what it meant, or even which language was being spoken? With some 225 indigenous languages, Europe's linguistic heritage is rich and diverse; a fact to be celebrated. But how good are Europeans at learning the languages of their near (and not so near) neighbours?

To read the rest of the article:

The article might make a useful reading text in an advanced lesson, the organisation of the text being a useful focus.

At the bottom of the article there are some links. Clicking on the second link takes you to the European Language Portfolio site - The Welcome page says:

The European Language Portfolio was developed and piloted by the Language Policy Division of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, from 1998 until 2000. It was launched on a pan-European level during the European Year of Languages as a tool to support the development of plurilingualism and pluriculturalism.

And the Introduction page goes on:

It is a document in which those who are learning or have learned a language - whether at school or outside school - can record and reflect on their language learning and cultural experiences.

The portfolio contains a language passport which its owner regularly updates. A grid is provided where his/her language competences can be described according to common criteria accepted throughout Europe and which can serve as a complement to customary certificates. The document also contains a detailed language biography describing the owner's experiences in each language and which is designed to guide the learner in planning and assessing progress. Finally, there is a dossier where examples of personal work can be kept to illustrate one's language competences.

Then on the Levels page there are the six global levels:

Global Scale

Proficient C2 Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.
User C1 Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
Independent B2 Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
User B1 Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
Basic A2 Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
User A1 Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

And on the Levels page there are some links at the bottom to documents in most European languages; the levels as above, a detailed self assessment grid that contains a detailed description of the different skills at the six levels, & finally there is a pdf Checklist.

Give your students a copy of the self assessment grid & get them to work out where they are, compare with each other & discuss how they could improve on the weaker areas.

The self assement grid can be downloaded at:$t/208-1-0-

This last link, the Checklist, in English or French, provides you with a detailed questionnaire for students to reflect on their strengths, weaknesses & needs. This can be used at the beginning of a course, & reviewed in the middle & at the end of the course. An excellent tool for both the learner & the teacher. If you already have your own self assessment checklist, download this as well to see if you can improve your own. It is quite a long document but well worth using. If you feel it is too long, adapt it to suit.

The self-assessment Checklist document can be downloaded at:

To help standardisation of the levels, there is a page of Illustrations with downloads of examples of the levels at:$t/208-1-0-

And lastly, check out the rest of the information about the Portfolio idea!

Very much connected is the Europass website - They say:

Whether you are planning to enrol in an education or training programme, looking for a job, or getting experience abroad, it is important to be able to make your skills and competences clearly understood.

Here your students can make an online CV that they can complete & then download in various formats, or download the tools to complete on their computer. All excellent material.

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To ease back into the Weekly Tip after the holidays, we're starting with a link to StoryCorps. At the site there are eighty short authentic recordings by US citizens on a whole host of subjects. This is what they say about themselves at the site:

StoryCorps is a national project to instruct and inspire people to record each others' stories in sound.

We're here to help you interview your grandmother, your uncle, the lady who's worked at the luncheonette down the block for as long as you can remember—anyone whose story you want to hear and preserve......

Our vision

We've modeled StoryCorps—in spirit and in scope—after the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s, through which oral-history interviews with everyday Americans across the country were recorded. These recordings remain the single most important collection of American voices gathered to date. We hope that StoryCorps will build and expand on that work, becoming a WPA for the 21st Century.

To us, StoryCorps celebrates our shared humanity and collective identity. It captures and defines the stories that bond us. We've found that the process of interviewing a friend, neighbor, or family member can have a profound impact on both the interviewer and interviewee. We've seen people change, friendships grow, families walk away feeling closer, understanding each other better. Listening, after all, is an act of love.

The recordings are all in MP3 format so all you need to do is download a recording & play it back in class with an MP3 player.

This really is excellent material for our lessons for intermediate & upwards, the higher the level the better. You could play one each lesson, at the beginning to focus everyone, in the middle to provide a break, or at the end to wind the lesson down. Or you could find a recording to fit in to the theme of the moment.

Listening is an essential skill & the most difficult so this is a way of giving varied & interesting authentic listenings. As with all listening activities in class, especially authentic ones, it is a good idea to make it student-friendly. You could start off just playing the recordings extensively, letting the students pick up what they can. Beforehand give them the subject, the speakers & the more obscure essential vocabulary to enable them to click in straightaway. You might have the scripts handy - not available on the site - for the more challenging recordings & for recordings that contain a useful language development focus.

I like the first idea, the constant element in each lesson, as the more you play them, the more the students will be looking forward to the next recording.

There is also a lot of potential for student self-study. You could assign homework based on a recording. For example, all have to listen to a particular recording & come with ideas on the content to the next class. This could be briefly discussed & left, or you could listen in class to the recording & then work on some of the language that crops up.

As a follow up to the recordings, discussions could be had about the subjects listened to, opinions & personal recollections, & you could also start a similar project to StoryCorps in class. Students could make their own short recordings, with each other or others that speak English, & swap them around the class or between classes in the school.

Last but not least, don't forget to plug StoryCorps when you use their recordings!

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You don't say!

A few weeks ago we had a Tip about the attractive discoursal approach to intonation, 'Toning it down':
This looked at the proclaiming (new idea) & referring (known information) tones, fall & fall-rise respectively. One of the nicest activities for this can be found in 'Pronunciation Games' by Mark Hancock (CUP).

The activity is called 'Don't tell me' & the basic idea is that students A has a list of statements that centre around an anecdote. S/he is reading each statement as if it is known information, with the fall-rise tone on the tonic syllable. Student B responds with 'Yes', also with a fall-rise tone, until s/he works out the punchline to the story & says 'Don't tell me, + the idea', with a fall tone on the tonic. Here's an example:

Std A reads: You know Jane's living in Madrid? (fall-rise on 'Madrid)

Std B: Yes. (fall-rise)

Std A reads: And you know she's teaching English?

Std B: Yes.

Std A reads: And you know she has some of her classes are in companies?

Std B: Yes.

Std A reads: Well, you know the politicians need to be able to speak English?

Std B: Yes.

Std A reads: And you know they sometimes take classes?

Std B: Yes.

Std A: And you know some of the top politicians don't speak very good English?

Std B: Don't tell me, she's teaching the President! (fall on 'President' for new information)

Std A: Yes!

There is a pile of anecdotes face down & the students take it in turns to pick one up & be the reader. If you want to make it a competition, then the student to have guessed the most punchlines is the winner. Go through an example with a stronger student first to show all the procedure & then they get on with it. Here are a couple more anecdotes:

You know Bob's a journalist?
And you know he's been working for Channel 4?
And you know they've got a really good investigative team?
And you know Bob's been working on that programme Citizen Watch?
And you know the journalists have been nominated for a prize?
....Yes, Bob's won the prize!

You know Sarah is a good singer?
And you know she sings in the pub at weekends?
And you know she wants to be a rock singer?
And you know Jick Magger goes to the pub?
And you know he helps new bands to start up?
And you know that Sarah has just started a new band?
.... Yes, he's helping Sarah!

In the book there are lots of these mini-anecdotes to use & they are easy to make up yourself, pitched at any level. It's a simple & fun activity that really reinforces the proclaiming & referring tones. Try it out & then grab a copy of Mark's excellent book, 'Pronunciation Games':

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