Video: How to Talk about Indigenous People in Canada

CaptureI recently came across a video by CBC News called How to Talk about Indigenous People in Canada, featuring Inuk journalist Ossie Michelin, that I think would be a great classroom resource for those teaching in Canada. It’s language-focused, explaining the levels of specificity of different terms related to indigenous peoples in Canada and some aspects of use. It’s also extremely clear, concise and explanatory, which ideal for those who might not have extensive background knowledge on indigenous peoples in Canada–such as newcomers to Canada or many Canadians of a white settler background whose schooling in this area may be lacking.

I’ve had several students over the years who have come to the classroom without the nuanced and complete linguistic repertoire needed to talk about complex and historically-rooted social issues such as identity, privilege, racism or colonialism. In some cases it seems apparent that they’ve only been exposed to or learned words and terms that reflect the systemic racism present in pop culture and mainstream society, but lack knowledge of the heavy social and historical baggage and power some of those words carry.

I consider it part of my duty as a language teacher to first get myself informed as to the more appropriate and socially just linguistic choices to make when talking about complex issues (and keep myself informed as society and language, evolve and change), and then to pass that knowledge on to my students.

BC TEAL is putting on a webinar entitled An Indigenous Strategy for the ESL Classroomwhich seems like it could be one example of initiatives being taken towards the reconciliation of the ESL/EAL world and the indigenous communities in Canada; a relationship which has been troubled in the past by things such as denials of racism in ELT coursebooks.

I would love it if you could share in the comments any other people, groups or institutions working on Indigenous-ELT reconciliation in Canada.


Slides from IATEFL 2017

CaptureELT conference season has begun! I’m currently in Glasgow, taking in the 51st IATEFL Conference. I’ll have write ups on some of the sessions I’m seeing in a blog post to come.

My presentation, Diverse Approaches to Academic Writing at a Canadian University, is Wednesday, April 5, at 17:25, in the Lomond Hall. Here’s the description:

This talk details an original research project exploring L1 and L2 approaches to academic writing instruction at a Canadian university through accounts from students and instructors. Results reveal how both experience the differing epistemologies, pedagogies and language norms of these two approaches. Implications for curriculum, methodology and professional development are discussed.


Why All (Serious) English Teachers Should Know the IPA

20120707043356!IPA_consonants_2005IPA as in the International Phonetic Alphabet, and not India Pale Ale, to be clear. 🙂

I recently posed this question on Twitter, and got a variety of responses. Some agreed that it was helpful but not necessary, and others pointed out that knowing IPA is one thing, but knowing the phonology and phonetics that underlie it, and also knowing if/how to use it in class, is another.

I still think that any teacher worth their salt should know it, though. At least the IPA for the sounds of English. Here are my reasons, in no particular order.

  • Credibility. Many of our students know it. (Especially those from certain countries in Asia). Many (though not all, of course) learner’s dictionaries use it. Isn’t there a lack of credibility if the teacher doesn’t know what seems to be a pretty common tool in ELT?
  • Phonological awareness for teachers. In learning the IPA for the phonemes of English, one could assume the teacher has come to the realization of just how many phonemes there are in English, how some of the closer vowel phonemes, for example, resemble each other but are different, and how there is a discrepancy between the sound system and the writing system of English. It is not a given that someone will have gained this awareness simply by learning IPA, but I think you could assume this happens in many cases. This awareness is invaluable for teaching pronunciation and speaking. Our subject matter as English teachers is language, and it is our duty to deepen our knowledge not just of grammar and use, but of the sound system as well.
  • Phonetic awareness for teachers. This one could be even less of a given that the point above, but if a teacher learns the descriptive name for each of the symbols (e.g.: /p/ voiceless bi-labial stop) they will hopefully gain awareness of the place and manner of articulation of the sounds of English, which is also important for the teaching of pronunciation.
  • Precision in the classroom. Though the nuances on how and if to use IPA in the general English classroom are debated, it’s just a concise tool for raising students’ phonological and phonetic awareness. If English had a one-to-one grapheme to phoneme relationship, it wouldn’t be so necessary. But alas, IPA is just a concise way to break students’ habit of speaking English as it is spelled. I don’t know how you can take the teaching of pronunciation beyond “No, just say it more like ME!” if you don’t have the tools to precisely think about and describe the sounds of English. If you didn’t know the types of and names of verb tenses and how they were composed, it would be hard to teach grammar. Isn’t this the same thing?
  • Cross-linguistic potential. This is a minor one, but since IPA is cross-linguistic, it can be a neat way to compare the sounds of English to your students’ L1 and talk about they ways they are similar and different. It’s also useful for writing down and correctly pronouncing your students’ names.

Any reasons I’ve missed? Do you think that IPA is a must for English teachers?

PS: I’m going to cheekily add that in my experience the people who I’ve had most insistently argue that knowing IPA isn’t necessary have not known it themselves. 🙂

Upcoming webinar: Why is English So Weird?


I’m doing a webinar on March 7 with English Online called “Why is English so weird?” Looking to History to Answer Tough Learner Questions.

Here’s the description:

The particularities of English orthography, vocabulary and pronunciation are stumbling blocks for many learners. However, what may appear to be random makes sense if one looks at the history of the English language, and knowledge of this history can therefore shed light on how we handle common student questions. This presentation is aimed at new teachers or experienced educators wanting to refresh their approach to questions perennially present in our day-to-day teaching. Classroom activities aimed at developing learners’ language awareness, with a focus on the influence of the history of English on its present-day form, will be discussed.

Here are the handouts and slide for the presentation.

It’s only 30 minutes, so I don’t intend it to be a comprehensive survey of the history of English, but rather a look at some of the things that have influenced the English language over the years that have resulted in features  present in modern day English that are perplexing to learners. I”m really into bringing linguistic awareness into the classroom, so I’ll share some activities to get learners thinking about language as a system, as opposed to a series of random, disconnected phenomena.

I’m really excited about this. We offer a free ESL/EAP workshop series here for students enrolled at the university, and I developed one looking at this very topic. I then went ahead and named it something super boring and dry sounding (The History of English!), so the turnout was small, but the attendees were very keen to finally have explanations for aspects of English that had always just been explained to them as random exceptions or inexplicable. I’m looking forward to sharing  a lot of the material I developed for that workshop to teachers via this webinar. (We’re also planning to re-name the student workshop and offer it again in an upcoming semester!)

“See” you on March 7!

Digital Tools for EAP Reading: A Presentation

This blog wasn’t quite up and running in October when I did the following presentation at the TESL Canada Conference in Kamloops, BC, so here it comes, a month later!

For those of us that teach EAP, our students’ academic readings are delivered in a variety of digital formats over and above the paper-based textbook and coursepack. Yet for many EAP instructors, there’s a gap between the annotation and note-making strategies we teach in class, which are oriented toward hand-written annotation of a physical page, and the reality of the formats in which our students are reading and researching outside the classroom. This presentation, Digital Tools for EAP Reading, gives an overview of this particular gap between the classroom and the “real world”, with some specific software downloads and lesson ideas in order to address it.

Download Digital Tools for EAP Reading