Joey and the Thesaurus

I can’t believe I’d never come across the episode with Friends where Joey gets a thesaurus! This episode would be so great as part of a lesson teaching dictionary and thesaurus skills. You could cover issues of register, the issue of translating multi-word phrases, common vs. proper nouns, and avoiding the “word salad” phenomenon of stringing words together that don’t make sense on the sentence level.

Friends hasn’t aged well on many levels, but this clip could still work well in the classroom.

Hat tip to Fiona for telling me about this.

EAP Online: Helpful Resources

Before COVID-19, I will admit I didn’t know a whole lot about teaching EAP or any language online. Using technology to complement face-to-face teaching had long been an interest of mine, but best practices for designing and delivering a 100% online EAP course was a new area for me. But, when the pandemic hit, there was no time to sit around twiddling our thumbs–as a department, we had to proceed with first emergency remote teaching to finish up the winter semester, and then transition of all our English language courses and programs to online mode, as soon as possible.

EAP in higher education institutions falls into this weird space (third space? :), as it draws from pedagogies in higher ed as well as those from more general English language teaching. So in terms of tips, tricks and advice for online teaching and learning, there are two pools of information to be drawn from, which is great. But you have to filter out what’s irrelevant for EAP teaching (i.e. online assessment for biology labs or first-year classes of 200 students; or tips for teaching English online via CLIL to young learners).

So where did I go? I have learned a lot about online education in the last few months from a variety of people and sources:

  • Dalhousie CCE instructional designers Tracy Franz, Saira Akhtar-Alwazeer and my other colleagues at Dal ESL have shared a lot of knowledge and expertise.
  • Twitter, as always has been a great source of professional development and knowledge. In particular, lots of useful stuff has come through via the hashtags #AcademicChatter for general HE, #CdnELTChat for general ELT and #tleap for EAP-specific discussions.
  • There was an amazing #CdnELTChat held on May 12 (summary here) with instructional designer Linda Manimtim where there was a great discussion about applying the principles of instructional design to language teaching.
  • The BALEAP email listserv has a lot of lively discussions, and the BALEAP TELSIG has held several webinars and events around online EAP.
  • For resources on academic integrity in online courses, Sarah Elaine Eaton’s blog and webinars are great.
  • Universities’ Centres for Learning and Teaching/Teaching Excellence, etc. (they seem to be called something different at every institution), such as Dal’s Centre for Learning and Teaching, have great blog posts, Twitter discussions and webinars about online teaching and learning in HE.
  • Nathan Hall’s blog is an amazing resource on individual digital tools and other aspects of online teaching and learning of languages.

I recently did a workshop for teachers at East Coast Language College about teaching English online, where I could share some of this knowledge I’ve gained and discuss the experiences we’ve had at Dalhousie as we’ve transitioned more than 1000 hours of EAP and ESP curriculum to 100% online. Here are the slides from that talk:

“Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy” @ Languages Canada 2020

February 25 is my talk at the Languages Canada conference, entitled “Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy”.

Here’s a description of the talk:

“English-only” policies—where use of students’ first language (L1) in the classroom is associated with a punitive response—are common in many English language programs. Received wisdom has long framed a monolingual “English-only” environment in many contexts as the most effective way to maximize English language use, and thereby promote the development of fluency, confidence, and communicative and strategic competence that may come with it. However, increasing research shows the advantage of moving away from a monolingual approach to a multi- or plurilingual approach, which gives space to all the languages in a student’s linguistic repertoire along with English, including their L1. Research shows well-implemented policies of this nature can contribute to more effective and deeper language learning via increased target language use, motivation, and agency.

In this presentation, participants will discover some of the latest research findings showing the increased learning outcomes, motivation and equity associated with plurilingual classroom and course policies in different ELT settings. We will also explore some of the challenges in developing and implementing such policies with teachers and students through a case study from a Canadian English language school.

I cite a few articles in the talk; links are below. Here is a link to the CEFR 2017 Companion volume. Both the selection of very recent research on plurilingual approaches in Canadian HE and EAP are great reads, as is Hall and Cook’s (2012) state of the art articles on own-language use in ELT.

Thesis Submitted!

I haven’t been posting on this blog as frequently over the last year as I would have liked. That’s because all my free time was being spent on my doctoral research. The good news is, I just submitted my thesis yesterday! I realized I haven’t really posted much about my research, but now’s as good a time as any to start. This will be the first in a series of posts linking my research to practice for those of us who are language workers in a higher education context.

But first, the asbtract:

Monolingualism, Neoliberalism and Language-as-Problem:   
Discourse Itineraries in Canadian University Language Policy

Internationalization policies to promote international student enrolment at many Canadian universities have led to increased levels of linguistic diversity in the student body. However, institutional language policy responses to this diversity may be lacking, may centre a monolingual mindset or may discursively position the issue of the English language proficiency and development of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds in a framing of deficit. This study maps changing and conflicting “discourse itineraries” (Scollon, 2008:234), the taken-for-granted ideas, constraints and allowances at play discursively in institutional language policy. This was done via a multiple case study of three Canadian universities, where critical discourse analysis (CDA) was carried out on a variety of policy documents related to language, academic literacy and internationalization at the provincial (macro) and institutional and faculty (meso) levels and stakeholders at these institutions were interviewed.

This analysis revealed, first, that much language policy at these three institutions is covert, implicit and de facto. Two prominent discourses were also found: Language-as-Problem (Ruiz, 1984) and Neoliberalism and Language, each with pervasive sub-discourses—notably the Monolingual Mindset—that shape the creation of language policy at these universities. Discursive change is underway, however, as conflicting discourses were found at all institutions. In certain cases, there is a shift away from Language-as-Problem, influenced by a neoliberal focus on the English language as economic instrument. Building on Ruiz’s (1984) orientations toward language planning, this thesis proposes a new policy analytic heuristic to further describe the extent to which institutions ignore, blame, support or embrace language at different policy levels. As well, suggestions are made for Canadian higher education (HE) language stakeholders about how to realign discourses and bring about social change via critical language awareness-raising and policy-making. The ultimate goal is to provide a more equitable academic experience within Canadian HE for students from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

References:

Scollon, R. (2008). Discourse itineraries: Nine processes of resemiotization. In V.K. Bhatia, J. Flowerdew, & R.H. Jones (Eds.), Advances in discourse studies (pp. 233–244). London: Routledge.

Ruiz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE Journal, 8, 15–34

TESL NS Keynote, Nov 2019

Next weekend my colleague Kate Morrison and I are presenting a keynote talk on EAP at the TESL Nova Scotia Fall Conference. We are really looking forward to a lively discussion with the very engaged group of EAP practitioners we have in our ELT community here in Nova Scotia. It’s a topic I’m thinking about a lot lately, given my involvement in Bloomsbury’s New Perspectives in English for Academic Purposes books series. Can’t wait!

Exploring Teaching and Learning in English for Academic Purposes

The practice of teaching and learning EAP may look quite different across different settings in Nova Scotia and around the world. Are there unique aspects of EAP pedagogy which unite these diverse contexts? Does preparing students for their future degree program in English necessitate a different approach to teaching and learning, or is EAP simply an extension of general English teaching? In this talk, we discuss whether there is a ‘signature pedagogy’ (Shulman 2005) for English for Academic Purposes. Through an exploration of a variety of current approaches to good teaching practices, participants will be invited to reflect on these questions and their own EAP practice in light of the diversity of pedagogies in the field.

Teacher Qualification Frameworks and Equity in Hiring

Lots of university language centres in Canada get a big influx of EAP students in the Fall semester, and that often means hiring on more instructors. Although that’s not the case with our centre this year, it’s got me thinking about hiring.

In Canada, language schools or institutes might operate within a couple of different accreditation or certification frameworks in terms of the qualifications of academic staff hired: TESL Canada Professional Certification, a provincial certification process, or if it’s a Languages Canada-accredited language training institution, their Classification of TESOL Qualifications.

TESL Canada and Languages Canada are great organizations, and their existence and advocacy has contributed immensely to the professionalization and raising standards of English language teaching in Canada, especially with regards to teachers on government-sponsored immigrant language programs (Burnaby 2003; Sivell 2005; Chafe and Wang, 2008), and with regards to private language schools.

At the same time, the teaching of English for Academic Purposes in the higher education context seems to be a bit of a different beast in terms of the qualifications, background and experience of value in a potential instructor. For example, advanced degrees, research experience, familiarity with academic discourse(s) in different disciplines and published academic work is all of great value in an EAP instructor. BALEAP’s TEAP Competency Framework reflects this in a way that general ELT certification frameworks don’t (and can’t).

I also think that some aspects of the general ELT certification and accreditation frameworks work against diversity and equity in hiring, especially in a context like Canada. For example, for TESL Canada certification a teacher’s training has to have been carried out at an institution on their list of accredited training programs. This list is, in my opinion, very short, and every institution on it is located in Canada. If your training is from another institution, you have to apply for an onerous and expensive prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) process. In an industry as globally-mobile as TESOL, and in a country with as much immigration as Canada, this is quite out of touch with the reality on the ground, where a great number of us (myself included) have training, qualifications and experience from outside the country.

Similarly, TESL Canada has a very narrow definition of acceptable English(es). They require any applicants for certification who have not completed an undergraduate degree at an English-speaking university in one of the countries on this list to show proof of language proficiency. Lists of this type are common in university admissions, etc., but this particular list has a couple of notable omissions, such as Pakistan and India. In these two countries, English-medium higher education is very common, and there are also a significant number of Canadians who have received their education there. Why are they not on that list?

Finally, both TESL Canada and Languages Canada TESOL Qualification criteria prescribe training programs with a very specific minimum of observation and practicum hours. While recent certificate, diploma and degree-programs in the Anglo world might be likely to include these elements that is not the case in many contexts around the world. Folks who have received their TESOL training in the context of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in many different countries would not have had observations or practicum placements, as it’s simply not the norm.

Why flexibility and ability to exercise judgement in hiring are extremely important, as they allow me to hire who I consider to be qualified and a good fit for a given position, be they born, raised and trained in Canada, a recent newcomer to Canada, a Canadian with diverse worldwide experience, or a speaker of one of a variety of World Englishes. If someone has a degree in TESL from another country with no practicum, but a ton of teaching experience, then I can hire them. If they speak Indian English, I don’t have to subject them to an IELTS test. If they have a master’s in biology on top of their other qualifications, I can value that and put them on a science writing course. Languages Canada provides some flexibility by stipulating, for example, that “there will be a valid rationale provided for the employment of any teachers or academic leader without the ELT/TESOL qualifications specified.” This is extremely important not just to allow hiring to reflect the difference between EAP and general ELT, but to ensure I can hire a complement of qualified, experienced and engaged teachers that reflects the diversity of the Canadian population. Our educational program is the richer for it.

New EAP Book Series

I’m very excited to have just joined the advisory board for a new EAP book series: NEW PERSPECTIVES FOR ENGLISH FOR ACADEMIC PURPOSES. This series sets the agenda for studies in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) by opening up research and scholarship to new domains, ideas and perspectives as well as giving a platform to emerging and established practitioners and researchers in the field.

Check out this flyer for more details and/or contact info on how to submit:

Pain Questionnaire for Vocab Learning

CaptureI recently came across the McGill Pain Questionnaire or the McGill Pain Index, a tool developed in the 70’s by a Montreal doctor to be used in medical settings for patients to self-rate the pain they’re feeling. It contains 78 words divided into 20 sections or categories.

Now, I am not in a position to comment on the effectiveness of its clinical usage, but I think it could be used for vocabulary learning, especially for advanced students or students studying English for use in healthcare study or professional settings.

I can think of tons of ways to use this tool in the classroom. Because of the pain descriptors are broken down and organized into categories (temporal, spatial, affective, etc.), I think it provides a less overwhelming introduction to this vocabulary then an unsorted list. With so many words that are essentially synonyms for the word ‘painful’, the chief challenge will be learners differentiating the subtleties in meaning and usage of all these words. I think the categorization will help.

This vocab could then form the basis of disciplinary writing activities such as patient case reports, primary practice reports, or patient charts or records. It could play a role in speaking activities such as presentations for the context of public health education or outreach. The questionnaire form itself could form the basis of patient-clinician role-play activities.

A non-ESP/EAP extension activity would be noticing how and which of these words are used in fiction or journalistic texts, or in advertising (for pharmaceuticals, especially). I think it could also spark very interesting discussions on cross-linguistic descriptions and conceptualizations of pain as students will inevitably look for translations and equivalencies in their L1 or other languages.

In settlement English contexts, this could be adapted into an activity focusing on the linguistic aspects of visiting the doctor or the hospital in English. On a side note, for those teachers who haven’t ever or have rarely visited the doctor in an additional language, looking at the questionnaire is a great reminder of how linguistically demanding a doctor’s visit can be, and how a lack of vocabulary to describe pain (or body parts or functions, or many other things) could very easily result in inaccurate diagnoses or sub-standard care.

Resources

Why is English so Weird?

2012-02-20_042110_language_iconI really love working with advanced learners because we can delve into the history of English. In fact,  for many of the questions that arise, especially surrounding English vocab, I find I usually have no choice but to explain  things in light of history; otherwise, lots of aspects of modern standard English would seem quite random.

A while back I developed a two-hour workshops for advanced learners of EAP on the history of English (and I asked for your help doing it!). I wanted to create a workshop that explained aspects of modern-day English that could seem really strange to learners in light of the history of the language, to show that they didn’t just appear out of nowhere. The “OMG English makes no sense!” discourse is quite rampant (here and here are some examples..there are lots more!), even among English language teachers. I wanted us, as teachers, to go beyond the “That’s just the way it is!” response to students’ questions to be able to give them a more informed answer.

The first time I did it it was titled simply “The History of English”. Sounds dry, I know. 🙂 As it was part of a drop-in series of language workshops, the title really has an influence on the attendance, and well, let’s say that there were only a few people who came to the workshop the first time. I changed the title to “Why is English so Weird?”, which is essentially the question that guided the creation of the workshop. More people showed up each time it was offered with that title.

Here are my slides from that presentation. (As with many presentations, the slides may seem a bit sparse without the commentary and accompanying activities, but anyway… 🙂 We talk about and do some activities on language change and old, middle and modern English, Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate vocabulary after the Norman conquest, spelling and spelling reformers such as Noah Webster, loanwords from other languages into English, the Great Vowel Shift and sound to spelling correlations in modern English. I end the session talking about singular ‘they’ as an example of the evolution of language that is taking place right now.

What inspired me to write this blog post is that I recently came across this Wikipedia page on English word with dual Anglo-Saxon and French/Norman variants. This particular aspect of English vocabulary is so important for EAP, as that Latinate/French-origin vocabulary makes up so much of English’s general academic vocabulary as well as much disciplinary vocab. Learners of English whose first language non-European often don’t have a sense of  which words have a Latinate origin and which don’t, so awareness raising around this issue can help them develop a better sense of register and informal/formal vocabulary.

Language Practice into Teaching Practice

A colleague and I were recently discussing the issue of which aspects of our professional practice as language instructors are informed by our formal training, which by our classroom teaching experience and which by our own personal experience as learners and users of additional languages. The topic came up in regards to the issue of the acquisition of metaphorical competence. For both of us, our own experiences of the process of becoming aware of the metaphorical schemata we hold in our L1, and then overcoming those to fully acquire metaphorical competence in other languages greatly informs how we approach teaching from the most basic structures to collocations, phrasal verbs, and idioms.

Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of travel and work in one of my additional languages lately, doing a lot of meetings and presentations in Spanish across Latin America. This has also made me reflect on how much of my teaching is informed by my own experiences in learning and using additional languages. Very practical strategies for learning and communication are another area that I draw on, sharing my own strategies with my students. There are the things we always advise our students to do—we all have our old chestnuts—but it’s good to have a reminder every so often of some of the real-life challenges that may come up and some practical advice on how to cope.

Here is what has stood out for me lately:

Predict and Prepare

One mantra I always emphasize when working with advanced users of academic English preparing for academic presentations, conferences or their thesis defence is predict and prepare. In advance of any particular event or context where they will have to talk about their research or discuss ideas in their field, they should think hard to predict what they have to talk about, and questions they may be asked or the responses they may have to give. Then, I advise them to actually sit down and prepare a list of the key words, concepts, terminology, expressions they will need to draw on in doing all of the above. They should not just make a simple list, but include common synonyms or collocations and related word forms, as well as pronunciation. Most people are used to the concept of rehearsing presentations, but I encourage students to also practice smaller-scale or more informal sections of these communicative events, such as Q and A responses, answers to certain predicted interview questions, and rebuttals to criticisms of one’s research.

I’ve certainly had to practice what I preach in this respect with regards to my recent work in Spanish. When presenting in English, I don’t tend to script things too closely; I’ll prepare notes or points on a Powerpoint and then speak off of them rather extemporaneously. But in Spanish I’ve been speaking about an area with a lot of specialized terminology, which I’ve really had to research and prepare for. Thankfully, a lot of the questions I receive are easily predictable, so that has helped me focus my preparation.

Regional variation and register

I’ve done work in 5 different Latin America countries in the last two months, each with its own patterns of second person pronoun use (tu, usted, vos, etc.) and variation in register. I’ll try to read up on the use of pronouns in each country before I get there, but there’s only so much an article can tell you. I try to be very sensitive and observant around patterns of use and how they vary in service encounters, meetings and when speaking to and advising  youth and prospective students, where the age factor comes into play. But it’s tricky! I try to err on the side of formality if in doubt.

This has inspired me to put more emphasis on register in my classes. Sometimes there can be a tendency to view English as simple in this respect, as there is only one second person singular pronoun. But I am feeling inspired about spending more time on examining the other ways register, hierarchy, respect, distance, etc. are expressed in English in interpersonal encounters, and encouraging learners to be observant and sensitive to these phenomena. I used to spend a lot of time approaching register in this way when I taught a lot of business English, but in an EAP context I find the focus tends to be on informal vs. academic writing and speech. I think the regional variation in register in Anglophone countries is also important, but as is usual in many ELT materials, the discussion tends to stop at British vs. American differences. Those trying to figure out register in Canada are left to figure it out for themselves! Observation of patterns and sensitivity become all the more important.

Informal Recasts

Awareness of the fact that even recasts in formal classroom settings go ignored most of the time has left me determined to try to listen for them and incorporate them to improve my accuracy, especially of vocabulary. For example, in a conversation with a student, I had used the term biología marítima to refer to marine biology, but he replied using the term biología marina. “Whoops!”, I said to myself, and took note to correct that term in my internal dictionary.

Does awareness of the research around recasts and the fact that they often lead to very little uptake make learners more likely to listen for them, take them in, and therefore make them more likely to be effective? I think it does, and always bring this up in class, especially in speaking and pronunciation classes.

Paraphrasing

Finally, not that there as any doubt, but these experiences have driven home the importance of fluency and confidence (over accuracy) in asserting yourself and being accepted as a user of a particular language. Many people, whether subconsciously or consciously, hold the idea that fluency (interplaying with pronunciation here) in a language reflects your cognitive state. So in real-life professional communicative situations it’s best to just employ any strategies necessary to get on with things, rather than getting hung up on grammatical mistakes or blanking on a particular piece of vocab. Finding time in class not just to discuss these strategies, but to practice them via role plays or other activities is very important.