Highlights from IATEFL 2017 Day 3-4

CaptureThe IATEFL annual conference is always a whirlwind of learning, discovery, meet ups and new connections.

Here are some highlights of what I saw on Days 3 and 4 of this year’s conference in Glasgow.

Jane Setter’s plenary, Where angels fear to tread: intonation in English language teaching, was the first plenary session to deal with pronunciation in IATEFL’s history. She dealt specifically with tonicity, which is an aspect of pronunciation that is important for inteligibility, teachable (with training), and learnable. It’s also part of the English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) set of core features. This was also the first IATEFL presentation I’ve been to, plenary or otherwise, that had us doing intonation-themed karaoke before noon, which gave it a grade of A+ in my books.

I usually try to catch up with as many of the Canadians at the IATEFL conference as possible. While I didn’t see everyone’s presentations, I managed to catch a few. Angelica Galante spoke on Integrating plurilingual practices in ELT in a superdiverse world, the theme of her doctoral research in multicultural and multilingual Toronto. She shared several examples of classroom activities to encourage translanguaging, code-switching, cross-cultural awareness and plurilingual identities in our students.

Another Canadian was Douglas Sewell spoke on Developing self-regulated learning skills through a restructured international foundations program,  and shared some of the practices they employ in the IFP at the University of Calgary.  An interesting aspect of their program is students not only learn about English, but they learn to use English; they not only learn about the norms of academic behaviour and expectations in the Canadian university environment, but they learn how to navigate those norms.

One of my favourite presentations of the whole conference was Alistair Roy’s talk, Small talk: supporting introversion in language learning. To be honest, this was a topic outside my usual wheelhouse, but this talk was brilliant. He gave lots of lots of practical suggestions on how to accommodate introverted learners in our classrooms, and recommended some further reading, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop, by Susan Cain.

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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.

 

Canadian Spelling up in Smoke?

Capture2By now, my friends and family have become used to my regular raging as we drive past The Center on Windsor Street. I have nothing against the mission of this “hub of openness fostering community and collective growth”, but regarding their name…COULDN’T THEY HAVE SPELLED IT THE CANADIAN WAY?

The other industry in Canada that seems to have a love affair with American spelling is the vaping industry. There are a lot of vape shops that have popped up in the last few years, and the majority of them seem to prefer the American spelling “vapor” over the Canadian “vapour”, at least in Nova Scotia and PEI.

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(Props to the Vapour Spot and the Vapour Trail for providing us a place to preserve our national linguistic identity while stocking up on e-cig juice!)

I don’t think there’s a secret American-led conspiracy to get rid of Canadian spelling conventions, nor do I blame “kids these days” or the “horrible ‘grammar’ teaching they receive in schools”. I tend to agree with Shuttleworth (2012), that computer language settings  play a very influential role in people’s, especially students’, exposure to and familiarity with spelling conventions. The default language on many Canadians’ computers is American English, and unless they have an interest in language or Canadian English, many never change these settings. So when Microsoft Word underlines colour (or vapour!) with those dreaded red dots, you’re probably just going to change it to color ( or vapor!) and move on.

But I do think there is a cumulative effect, and for many who don’t take a particular interest in the continuing use of Canadian spelling, the more you get used to seeing a word spelled a certain way, the weirder it is to see it spelled differently. Will the Vapour Trail eventually change their name?

Also, the fact that an update to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary is years overdue does not help.

(I suppose I should also stop assuming that before making a big decision such as choosing your company’s name, or having a large expensive sign printed, business owners stop and think and perhaps get someone to proofread things. Though of course, some companies do misspell their name on purpose. )

 

Code-switching made easy

gboard-1-1200x630One pet peeve of mine related to digital communication via chat or SMS has always been how annoying it is to code-switch. As a result of living in a few different places over the years, I have some friends whom I communicate with in French, others Spanish and some in blends and mixtures of either or both. I have English, French and Spanish keyboards installed on my  Android phone, but I always found it so annoying to have to switch keyboards each time I switched between the various Messenger/What’sApp/GChat/SMS conversations I could have going on at any given time. If I wanted to change languages a few times within one message, I’d either have to switch keyboards, or stay in one language and write in the other without the correct accents or characters (God forbid!).

captureThen suddenly, in mid-December, the GBoard suddenly appeared on my phone. It has all kinds of other features, but what stood out to me is that the predictive text feature searches from the dictionaries of all the language you have installed on your phone at the same time. So no toggling between languages; you can simply start typing a word in the language you desire and it will suggest what you’re looking for. It makes code-switching much easier! (If only they’d introduce a Canadian English dictionary, so I don’t have to set the language on my phone to either UK or US English, and manually add the Canadian spellings that don’t fit with either one-by-one into the phone’s dictionary…)

 

Glass Houses and Stones

captureI’m a total CBC fangirl, but nonetheless, on a regular basis you can find me raging out at my radio,  verbalizing my disagreement with some host or guest, much to the entertainment/chagrin of my partner. Saturday’s episode of Day Six was one such occasion. Host Brent Bambury interviewed Ross and Kathy Petras on their new book You’re Saying it Wrong: A Pronunciation Guide to the 150 Most Commonly Mispronounced Words and Their Tangled Histories of Misuse.

Ugh. I had a couple of issues with this piece. (I haven’t read the book! I’m only reacting to the interview.)

I am not a huge fan of prescriptivism, language pedantry and masquerading style preferences as rules of right vs. wrong. (I’ve written about them before; in other places they’ve written about it much more extensively than I have.) I generally don’t get on a high horse about language use. But when you write a book on pronunciation called You’re Saying it Wrong, well, all bets are off. You’ve opened yourself up for some language snarking.

The verb is “pronounce” and the noun is “pronunciation”. Both Brent Bambury and Ross Petras used the non-words “pronounciation” and “mispronounciaion” on several occasion during the interview.

I know  “pronounciation” is far from uncommon; I’ve heard it quite a bit, from speakers of a variety of backgrounds (proficient/less proficient in English, highly educated/ lower education, English teacher/non-teacher). I’ve actually had someone on Twitter argue that it was becoming acceptable use. I, however, don’t think it’s quite at that point yet.  I maintain that this word was being pronounced incorrectly on a show about correct pronunciation and is therefore extremely ironic. (It’s also an awesome example of Muphry’s Law!)

I find these types of books and the interviews about them quite frustrating. It’s an example of the way of thinking that promotes the idea that language is the domain of all; if you can speak it, then you’re an expert in it, and we have to listen to your opinions on it. t’s mentioned in the interview that the authors aren’t linguists (as if you couldn’t tell!).

So what happens is that they talk about a bunch of random examples of things that peeve them, and talk about them as if they’re these special, mysterious things that are totally weird and inexplicable, as opposed to presenting them as the known linguistic phenomena they are.

They bring up the example of “spitting images” vs. “spit and images”, for example. This isn’t some random bizarre thing; this evolution of the words of an idiomatic phrase into something that sounds very similar is known as an eggcorn. There are tons of them, and they’re really interesting (and often entertaining) to examine. Like, guys, it’s a thing already.  You guys just don’t really know much about language, so you don’t know that (or at the very least don’t mention it in the interview).

In an (interview on a) book on pronunciation of words, you could get into so much interesting content. They do mention metathesis, which is great, but there’s so much more.  I’m by no means any type of expert in this area of linguistics but I find the the different classifications of loanwords and their nativization, calquing, phono-semantic matching, eggcorns, and a lot of the other phenomena that influence our pronunciation of words to be completely fascinating. Even just the issue of prescription vs. use is very interesting. But in the interview when this issue comes up–with the word “gif”, which they say that 99% of the population pronounce /gIf/ but apparently the person who invented them says /dZIf/–they just gloss over it and talk about how much of an idiot you sound like if you say /gIf/, avoiding what could be a really interesting discussion about language in use.

I’m kind of disappointed in the CBC for spending so much time talking to these non-experts on air. Like, invite in guests with some knowledge and insight! For example, maybe I own cats, and I observe all the crazy things they do around the house. And maybe I have some opinions on that behaviour and maybe even write a book on those opinions. But you’re not going to invite me in to talk on the radio as an expert on animal behaviour, are you?

Here’s one example from the CBC of how to talk about language. Find an actual expert, and have them talk about the phenomena, bringing in social, historical and phonological points of note. The only thing missing from that piece is any type of sound recording/samples.

 

 

 

 

 

Does Morality Change in a Foreign Language?

captureI just came across this interesting article in Scientific American: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language.

I admit when I saw the title, I was expecting it to be another re-hash of linguistic relativity, aka. the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.  However, the focus of this article is not on comparisons of how speakers of different language may or may not experience the world differently, but rather on the contrast between any one speaker’s first language and any “foreign” language acquired later in life and how they may make decisions differently in the different language in their repertoire.

I haven’t delved into any of the source studies in their article yet,  but for me it would be crucial to see if the issue of proficiency is discussed. Of course someone is going to make decisions differently in a different language if their level of proficiency is very low. The issue then shifts from the discussion of first vs. foreign language to languages in which one is fluent vs. less proficient, and how that affects decision-making.

They author does make the link between decision-making and cognitive activity, and this would be an area where proficiency would come into play. The lower the language proficiency, the higher the cognitive load:

“Why does it matter whether we judge morality in our native language or a foreign one? According to one explanation, such judgments involve two separate and competing modes of thinking—one of these, a quick, gut-level “feeling,” and the other, careful deliberation about the greatest good for the greatest number. When we use a foreign language, we unconsciously sink into the more deliberate mode simply because the effort of operating in our non-native language cues our cognitive system to prepare for strenuous activity.”

It would be interesting to compare groups of people who were fluently bilingual from childhood vs. those who learned their foreign language later in life, and see if the above explanation held out.

Learner identity is also brought up in the first paragraph:

“And yet, like many other people who speak more than one language, I often have the sense that I’m a slightly different person in each of my languages—more assertive in English, more relaxed in French, more sentimental in Czech. Is it possible that, along with these differences, my moral compass also points in somewhat different directions depending on the language I’m using at the time?”

What’s I think it’s interesting to remember here is not that the linguistic attributes of Czech or French make you behave in or feel a certain way, nor is it simply a matter of different brain activity in L1 v. foreign language centres in the brain. The host of social factors present when you learned and use each of those languages shapes you identity as a user of that language. This is cognitive science research that focuses on the brain, but in cases of linguistic or language learner identity, I think it is very simplistic to strip away the myriad of social factors that influence how you act and feel in a foreign tongue.

An Illustrated Style Guide?

elements of style illustratedI heard about The Elements of Style Illustrated
on the radio this past weekend. Illustrator Maira Kalman  had worked her magic on the ol’ Strunk and White chestnut and I was intrigued. An illustrated style guide? I pictured jazzy artistic renderings of the syntactic sentence trees I had to do in my undergrad. However, a bit of googling brought up several excerpts and examples of her warm painting style and the illustrations in the book. Many of them bring to life the example sentences Strunk and White use in the book. Beautiful work.

I did lament, though, that Kalman chose the most maligned of style guides (read takedowns of Strunk and White here, and here). Couldn’t she have chosen a corpus-based English grammar or style guide that’s based on English the way its actually used? Alas.

Corpus-based Grammars and Style Guides

I gave the keynote address at the AWELL Conference a few months ago, and one of the practical suggestions I included in my talk for writing teachers working with English language learners was to try to draw on corpus-based grammars and style guides based on real language use vs. those that try to pass off personal style preferences as hard and fast “rules”.

Here is an excerpt from that talk, with the references I included. The friendly folks of #tleap on Twitter pointed me toward some of them. I haven’t personally used all of these in the classroom, so welcome any comments and feedback on how well any of them hold up to real-life use.

 I suggest working from a grammar of English that draws on data from language corpora to determine what the constitutive rules of English are. For those of you that don’t know, a language corpus is a “body” of hundreds of millions of lines of text of the language in use. Some corpora compile thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, others academic texts, others fiction writing. So you have a huge repository of the language as its actually used by real people in real contexts. And you can analyze the language in a corpus using technological tools to determine the rules of a language based on how the language is actually used. So for example, if you’re wondering “Can I really never end a sentence in a preposition in an academic text?” corpus data will tell you that in fact, you can; lots of great writers do it all the time. They can’t all be wrong. Use determines the rules in the descriptive approach, remember? So that tells you that not ending a sentence in a preposition must simply be a style choice. (Though it’s debatable if it’s something everyone does literally all the time, if you’d really want to give much time to it. )

corpus grammarsSo here are some English Grammars that are corpus-based: 

Some of them have “learner’s editions” which are aimed at learners of English at lower levels of proficiency. They all endeavor to present the rules of English as it is actually used. Several will contrast frequency of use of a particular item in different contexts, for example in fiction writing versus academic writing.

garnerThe Garner texts (2016 editions), for example, highlight particular language points where there is disputed use. For example, maybe the traditional style guides say one thing, but lots of people do another. It gives corpus data showing the real patterns of use of that particular item, how common each variant is, and if there has been change over time.

 So for me, these are a more accurate choice. Why would we want to enforce grammar rules with multilingual writers that people don’t actually adhere to in real-life written academic English? And If you really want to nerd out, you can delve into corpora yourself to check out certain grammar points. The Google N-Gram viewer or the MICUSP corpus are good places to start. You may also be interested in reading linguist Steven Pinker’s “The Sense of Style”, which is written by a well-known author who grounds his advice for good writing in linguistic theory.

EAP Reading: Defining the Relationship

Here’s an interesting article that could make for a great reading for a class of EAP students about to enter their degree programs. As summarized by academica.ca:

Students need to better understand the role of a professor, writes CHE contributor

“I wonder if college students today truly understand the nature of their relationship to professors,” writes Rob Jenkins for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Jenkins argues that over his 31-year teaching career, he has seen the lines defining the professor-student relationship become increasingly blurry. In response to this shift, Jenkins lays out several points that he thinks all postsecondary students should know: a professor does not “work for” a student; a student is not a customer; and a professor is not a high school teacher, boss, parent, BFF, or adversary. Jenkins concludes by laying out point-by-point what he is willing to do for students before adding, “All in all, that’s not a bad deal.”

It’s written from he American perspective, so those using this in another context might have to explain/adapt some of the terminology (university for college, etc.). But I think it could make for a good reading and some great ensuing discussion. (Particularly brave teachers might even want to wade into the comments section on the article for added debate).

Defining the Relationship – The Chronicle of Higher Education