Category Archives: Teaching

Perception, production, and perception–production: Research findings and implications for language pedagogy

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When we are born our perceptual systems are capable of discriminating sounds that occur in English, Spanish, Hindi, or any other language. During the first year, our perception begins to zero in on the particular set of sounds that are contrastive in our native language(s) (L1s) (Kuhl et al., 2006). For example, a child whose parents are L1 English speakers will pick up on the fact that /b/ and /p/ are contrastive in English (e.g., “bet” vs. “pet”) and that the major difference is in the burst of air that occurs when the stop is released (i.e., there is a stronger burst of air, or more aspiration, on /p/ than /b/). A child whose parents are L1 Hindi speakers will pick up on this contrast,  Continue Reading →

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Why teaching Second Language listening is difficult and how to use bottom-up listening strategies to teach listening more effectively

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Listening is the skill that most of our students feel the least confident about and the least control over in terms of what they can do to improve. It is also the skill that is the most widely used, both in academic and non-academic contexts. For these reasons, we owe it to our students to show them how to become successful English language listeners.

Second-language listening is difficult for several reasons, most of which stem from the differences between oral and written channels (Brown, 2011). These include perception problems, issues of memory and attention, and strategy choice.

Perception problems arise because speech is fast and transient; utterances are spoken quickly, and they disappear. We don’t pause to separate speech into distinct words;  Continue Reading →

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Influences on emergent L2 writers

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As a grade-one teacher in a Toronto inner city elementary school for over 30 years, I have had the privilege of teaching a wide range of second language learners with a variety of different L1s. Most of these young learners were in the emergent writing stage. Emergent writing is a developmental stage of writing that all young L1 and L2 writers pass through. Emergent writers are beginning to understand that print carries a message and they may be familiar with many concepts about print simply from living in a print rich environment (Clay, 1988). These writers may use pictures, single letters to represent words, and inventive spelling to communicate their messages. Literacy acquisition in an L2 is a highly complex process,  Continue Reading →

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Let’s go to Tim Horton’s: A sample of a task

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The goal of this paper is to discuss the concept of a task as a pedagogical activity used in the second language (L2) classroom for the purpose of developing the communicative competence of L2 learners. The term task has been widely used in the field of applied linguistics (see e.g., Bygate, Skehan & Swain, 2001; Lightbown & Spada, 2010; Long, 2014; Nunan, 2004; Willis & Willis, 2007). The Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLBs), a document that represents a Canadian language standard for teaching and assessment of English as a Second Language (ESL) in Canada, lists task-based instruction as one of its guiding principles (Center for Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB), 2012, p. IX). In addition, Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA), a new type of assessment recently introduced in federally and provincially funded ESL classes in Canada,  Continue Reading →

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Speaking, Teaching, Theory, Writing
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Why I am hype about Translingualism

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Within three years of immigrating to Canada, I was fortunate to be hired in a GTA community college teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP). I enjoyed the camaraderie of my colleagues and students as I progressed in my new job, but I also began to experience uncomfortable incidents which propelled me on the journey towards Translingualism.

Having been born and bred in Singapore, the formal English variety I learned in school was Singapore English, which was essentially based on British English, and the informal variety I spoke at home was Singlish, a melange of English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Malay and Tamil. Therefore, I tend to pronounce words differently from Canadian English and rely heavily on the British lexicon.  Continue Reading →

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To correct or not correct? That is not the question

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For decades, writing and writing instruction have often been viewed from a learning-to-write perspective; within this perspective, writing should be taught when students’ second language (L2) development is sufficiently settled. Recent research, however, shows that writing has a major role in promoting L2 development; from this writing-to-learn perspective, writing is seen as a tool for language learning (Manchón, 2011) that allows L2 learners to integrate new knowledge, test hypotheses, and automatize knowledge (Williams, 2012). Also, within this perspective corrective feedback (CF) provided by teachers facilitates language learning (Bitchener & Ferris, 2012).

Corrective feedback is defined as any indication to the learners that their use of the target language is incorrect (Lightbown & Spada, 2013). In writing, CF is concerned with incorrect grammatical or lexical use of the target language,  Continue Reading →

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What is fluency and how do we develop it?

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“I want to speak English fluently.”

“I have to write reports in English.”

“I want to read English magazines, books and websites.”

“I’d like to understand movies in English.”

Whether expressed directly or indirectly, the need for fluency inherently exists within all of these commonly expressed goals and motivations for learning English. And, as teachers, we know that learners often have a number of obstacles to overcome to achieve them, whether they are learning in ESL contexts, such as Canada, or EFL contexts like Japan. Firstly, goals that students initially make may be unrealistic and are typically too vague, too big or long-term; and many students lack confidence in their English abilities,  Continue Reading →

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Teaching, Uncategorised
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Raising and assessing second language vocabulary fluency

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The centrality of vocabulary knowledge cannot be overstated; it underlies the acquisition success of not only reading and listening skills, but also writing, speaking, and grammar learning (Alderson, 2005; Segalowitz, 2005). Linguists have proposed various definitions of vocabulary knowledge. Qian’s (2002) definition has generally been a cited gold standard. According to Qian, vocabulary knowledge consists of four facets:

  1. vocabulary size or breadth knowledge that refers to recognition of words,
  2. depth knowledge of all features of a word including its semantic, syntactic, phonemic, graphemic, morphemic, collocational and phraseological traits,
  3. lexical network of words that are stored, connected and represented in the lexicon, and
  4. fluency or speed of retrieval of word forms and their meanings.
  5.  Continue Reading →

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Implementing Task-Based Language Teaching in Belgium: Lessons for Canada?

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Implementing Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) has been central to numerous policy initiatives around the world in the last few decades. The Belgian experience of TBLT implementation has been the focus of intensive empirical research, which makes it of particular interest to policy-makers and practitioners in other countries. Implementation of Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA) in adult language learning programs in Canada assumes TBLT to be the dominant teaching approach, even though empirical research on TBLT manifestation in the context is limited. Considering the paucity of accounts on TBLT presence in adult language classrooms in Canada, and the increased demand for TBLT spearheaded by PBLA, this summary of Belgian studies can aid in identifying both promising and challenging aspects of TBLT implementation at various levels: individual teachers and learners,  Continue Reading →

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Assessment, Teaching
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Using reciprocal teaching to support strategy instruction and language use among second language learners

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Recently, a group of researchers (Ardasheva, Wang, Adesope & Valentine, 2017) conducted an analysis to determine whether, and under what conditions, strategy instruction was effective in supporting the learning of second language learners. The purpose of strategy instruction is to equip learners with the means to engage in the self-regulation of their own learning. When learners are self-regulated, they have control over their learning and are directing their cognitive activity and motivation toward their own learning goals. Self-regulated learners: (a) actively engage in learning tasks, (b) set goals for learning, (c) monitor their activity, thoughts, and feelings, and (d) make the adjustments necessary to achieve their goals (Loyens, Magda, & Rikers, 2008).

Ardasheva and colleagues determined that, in fact,  Continue Reading →

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Teaching
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Cognitive load theory and teaching English as a second language to adult learners

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Most second language teaching recommendations place a considerable emphasis on “naturalistic” procedures such as immersion within a second language environment. Immersion means exposing learners to the second language in many of their daily activities, including other educational activities ostensibly unrelated to learning the second language. While immersion may assist in learning a second language, anyone who has lived in an immigrant society cannot fail to have noticed the many adults who learn almost nothing of the second language despite years or even decades of immersion. Furthermore, within an academic environment, even if immersion assists in learning the second language, it is likely to be associated with a considerable decline in learning the associated academic subjects. Simple immersion is unlikely to be effective.  Continue Reading →

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Other, Teaching
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The art of conversation: Why it’s harder than you might think

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Most people like to chat. It’s pleasant to talk to your family over breakfast, and at work, you might go to the coffee room or water cooler mainly because you hope to bump into someone and have a little chat. These observations are consistent with scientific findings: As far as we know, conversation exists in all cultures (Levinson & Torreira, 2015). It is the most common form of using language and it is, of course, where children acquire their language.

What are conversations? A defining feature is that they consist of turns. As Levinson et al. put it, speakers adhere to a “one-at-a-time” principle: Speaker A says something and then B, then A again, or perhaps C,  Continue Reading →

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