EnglishUK Conference 2016

On 12 November I had the pleasure of attending the English UK Conference here in London.  It was an inspiring day, opening with Laura Patsko’s insightful plenary on English as a lingua franca (ELF) in the multilingual classroom and finishing with the entertaining Ken Wilson and 10 quotes to make you think.  Here are some highlights from the day.

English as a lingua franca and the multilingual classroom–Laura Patsko

I could spend many words trying to recap Laura’s brilliant talk, but you can watch it yourself and check out the slides on her ELF Pronunciation site.  Lucky you.


two LaurasWhen I was sitting in her plenary, I was reminded how the last time I attended an English UK conference, which must have been about 5 years ago or so, I went to see someone speak about ELF (unfortunately I have forgotten who).  At the time, I was quite interested in the talk because I was doing a lot of ELF research for my MA, but was so disappointed because it wasn’t a very well-attended talk and at the end the feedback towards ELF (not the speaker) was quite negative with a heavy native-speaker bias.   It is fantastic to see how things have changed and are moving forward with ELF being featured in the plenary and many talks featuring various aspects of inclusivity in ELT.


Physicality of pronunciation–Marie Pettigrew

Marie demonstrated how to show students physically how to make the sounds on Adrian Underhill’s pronunciation chart and some practical classroom activities.  One activity that was quite useful was silent dictation using lip reading YouTube clips because students really have to notice the placement of their mouths.  Turn down the volume and have students notice which word was said.  We did our own mini-dialogues only through lip reading where we were given celebrities’ real names and had to ask our partner’s name and how to spell it.  It was hard!

One of the best moments of this session was when we imagined the sound we’d make stepping on something disgusting /ɜː/and it turns out this is not the same in all languages.  For example, in German it’s /iː/. What a beautiful teaching moment this could be using the phonemic chart.

I was really interested in attending this talk because pronunciation is an area I’d like to teach better.  When I was learning Spanish, I realised how much I really wanted someone to show me how to move my mouth to produce sounds.  I already do this with my own students, but am always looking for new techniques.  I was also intrigued because I often struggle to use the chart effectively because it does not match my own vowel sounds.  Even though I can see a lot of benefit in the chart, it perpetuates the idea that there is only one way to pronounce vowels in English.  At the pub after though, I heard about a more dynamic chart that I’m interested to explore which includes the /r/ that features after many vowel sounds in my accent.



Moving from general to academic English–Fiona Aish

Fiona, of Target English, got us thinking in this session:  What do students need to be able to do differently in an academic context compared to in a general English class?  How can I as a teacher prepare them?  She pointed out the thing I always find about my own students, that they are completely unaware of the complexity of language they will need to use when they get to university.  They tend to think that once they have IELTS, that’s enough, when it’s really only the beginning and IELTS is only the bridge to where they need to get to.  They need more precision, accuracy and subject knowledge for Academic English.

target-englishIn terms of writing, it’s important for students to stop writing about the topic and actually answer the question, a problem I find often with my own learners.  I found this slide particularly useful in getting students to notice and really understand the question.  I’ve been getting my students to notice what the topic (e.g. technology) and what the task is (e.g. give advantages and disadvantages) in their essay questions, but this takes it even deeper (topic, restriction, focus and action) and the colour-coding makes it clear, so I will definitely be stealing it to use in class.

In terms of listening, students need to be ready to listen to lectures and deal with different accents, different speaking speeds, and be ready to process a mix of fact and opinion, hedging, noun phrases, idiomatic expressions etc.  For example, if students hear ‘according to…’ they should know their lecturer is going to quote someone else.  Students need to be ready to predict what they are going to hear in a lecture based on previous lectures and background reading.

Fiona’s talk wasn’t just about students, but also for teachers on the path transitioning from teaching general English through to IELTS to more academic contexts like EAP courses, university foundation programmes, pre-sessionals, and in-sessionals.  She recommended https://www.baleap.org/ for more info and job postings.  I also noticed the blog section of her website http://www.target-english.co.uk/ has some nice writing tips.

Teaching grammar for all the right reasons–Danny Norrington-Davies

Danny started by quoting his colleague Andrea Borsato who said:

‘We try to contain the language with rules but the language keeps running away.’

I love that quote.  We should get students to really discover the reasons why somebody would use a certain grammar item in a written or spoken text, rather than give them rules which are often too abstract, hard to apply, qualified with the word ‘usually,’ confusing and at worst wrong and untrue.  Language is too dynamic to capture with rules.

grammar reasons For example, why do we say, ‘I’m loving my job’ when it doesn’t fit into our ‘rules’ about state verbs and the continuous aspect?  Well, take away rules and explore reasons, and we can easily understand why we say that.

Danny’s approach to teaching grammar is to look at a text and ask, ‘Why does the writer or speaker use this form?’  He showed us an example with restaurant reviews taken from London-eating.  First ask students if they would eat there.  Then get them to notice specific examples that include present simple, past simple and present continuous.  Ask students why the writer used those words.  His low-intermediate students were able to come up with reasons.  These reasons might be different or imprecise, but he guided them as their teacher to refine and co-construct reasons together as a class.  Students can see how tenses interact together in a text, which is much more beneficial than the isolated view of tenses usually presented in coursebooks.   Students then replicate the task by writing their own review.

grammar reasonsHe also showed us an example looking at newspaper articles, which raised awareness of relative clauses, and was followed by a transposition task of a role play.  Just a side note, he used http://www.classtools.net/ to create this fabulous slide.

By looking for reasons after understanding a text, students are really using guided discovery, not the usually coursebook version of guided discovery which is really a test or led-discovery to ‘discover’ a pre-decided rule.   This way avoids artificial simplification because students can simplify it themselves.  Students are taking ownership of the language.  Also, it can be more satisfying to come up with reasons and explore similarities, rather than be given lots of exceptions to rules.

I’m really looking forward to checking out his new book when it’s out as well as exploring a Diane Larsen-Freeman (2003) book on grammar he highly recommended.

Ten quotes to make you think–Ken Wilson

I think Ken probably had over 20 quotes from celebrities ranging from the very famous like Socrates, Einstein, Mark Twain, etc. to the not so well-known Tallulah Bankhead who said, ‘If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes…only sooner.’  It was very entertaining, but one quote that stuck with me was actually something he had said.  He asked us how long it took us to identify our best student, and then pointed out that maybe they were the best only because they responded to our way of teaching.  There are some students who don’t get the way we teach but we need to find a way to reach all of our students.  People have a very basic desire to express who they are, what they want, etc. and if we allow students to do this, it’s a good lesson.

He also presented a simple, but extremely fun warm-up activity that could be useful with students.

A:  You’re so (an adjective that begins with the letter a)!

B:  Really?

A:  Yes.

B:  Well, you’re so (an adjective that begins with the letter b)!

…and so on through the alphabet.

And at the drinks reception and pub

The problem with all these events is that there are always interesting speakers that you don’t end up seeing because their talks conflict with the ones you did see.  I was lucky enough to chat to some really interesting people, doing some interesting work.  Just to name a few and share some of their websites if you’re interested:

Adam Scott who is doing some really interesting work with synthetic phonics.  I’m looking forward to finding out more.

Marek Kiczkowiak who runs TEFL Equity Advocates to promote equality in TEFL.

The always inspiring  Jason Anderson .

Simon Dunton who talks about LGBT inclusivity.  If you ever get a chance to see him speak, I highly recommend it after attending his presentation at the last IATEFL conference.

A final thought…

Thanks everyone for all the great conversations and inspirations at English UK 2016.  Ken ended his talk by saying that there are three kinds of teachers, ones that inspire, ones that frighten and ones we don’t remember at all.  So I’ll leave you with the though, which kind of teacher do you want to be?


Reflection from a learner’s perspective: the inspiration

One of the most interesting talks I went to at IATEFL 2015 was one that I went to to just hang out with my friends.  I was tired, there was nothing particularly inspiring, and so I thought I’d just wander into ‘Lessons Learned as a Language Learner’ by Jo-Ann Delaney and Madeleine du Vivier because basically my friends were going there, it was right next to the entrance and I couldn’t really be bothered to sort out another talk to go to.  I’m so glad I went.  I didn’t think it would be that relevant for me because it was about exploring trainer beliefs, but really I felt it could be applied to any teacher and getting them to reflect on their teaching style.  This workshop allowed me to reflect on my teacher training, but also on my own teaching, though not in the way I think was intended and probably not in the same way others who went to the workshop would have reflected at all.

Reflection as a Teacher

In this workshop we were given a set of teacher beliefs, asked to rank them as not important, important or essential, and then to discuss with people around us.  I loved this stage because it got me reflecting on why I do things in the classroom.  Then Jo-Ann and Madeleine told us about their experience as elementary Spanish learners and showed how this changed their beliefs.  So interesting.

Here’s the list they gave us to rank:

  1. Learners should engage with the meaning of a written or spoken text before they do any language work.
  2. Teacher should provide controlled practice of pronunciation through repetition and drilling.
  3. Classroom tasks and resources should be authentic.
  4. Learners should work in different pairs/groups in a lesson.
  5. Whole group questions should be asked randomly.
  6. It is good for stronger and weaker learners to work together and encourage peer teaching.
  7. Praise is important for motivation.
  8. Be aware of physical features of the learning environment.  e.g. heat, light, furniture layout
  9. It is important to always use the target language even with a monolingual group.
  10. There should be a variety of tasks and input.

And here’s what they found:

  1. Before doing their Spanish course, they both believed this to be important but not essential.  After, though, they deemed it essential.  As learners, they really wanted to engage with texts and talk about meaning, not just move on quickly to exploit the language point.
  2. This also changed from being important to essential.  They really wanted more pronunciation drilling.
  3. This shifted from essential to not important.  They didn’t care if the resources or tasks were authentic.
  4. It’s essential to change pairs because they got bored always talking to the same person.
  5. They disagreed about whether students should be randomly nominated because one of them wanted time to prepare while the other liked being put on the spot.
  6. They started thinking this was essential, but changed their mind to not important, and even suggested the idea that peer teaching benefited the stronger student was rubbish.  They wanted to work with someone of the same level.  If they were stronger, they hated having to explain to someone weaker, but they found it frustrating to be the weaker student as well.
  7. Praise is extremely motivating.  This changed from important to essential.
  8. The physical environment is so important, more than you might think.  Their beliefs went from not important to essential.
  9. They disagreed on this one as well.  One wanted only Spanish, but the other wanted more English explanations.
  10. They wanted a variety of tasks and input, changing their views from important to essential.

To sum up, they thought all teachers and trainers should do a short course in another language.  We need to be more aware of our assumptions because they can end up being prescriptive without us really understanding why we do the things we do.

Reflection as a Trainer

I really enjoyed how this session was presented and so thought back to it several times when planning workshops for other teachers at my centre.  What makes a good workshop?  Why was this one so enjoyable for me?  Two main things I think:

1.  A good workshop allows teachers to talk about their own teaching.  I mean, what teacher doesn’t like talking about their classes, students, methods, lessons, etc?

2.  A good workshop has a ‘take-away,’  something you can use in future lessons or something that makes you think about what/why/how you teach.


Reflection as a Learner

I found this talk so inspiring that I wanted to try reflecting from the learner’s perceptive.  And so I enrolled in a beginner’s Spanish course.  Actually, in all honesty, I was thinking of studying a bit of Spanish anyways, but this talk gave me a bit of the push I needed as well as more of a structure for evaluating my experience as a learner (rather than from just my own over-critical teacher’s perspective).  More to come in a future blog post 🙂