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Editor’s Note

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This is my last issue as editor of TESL Ontario’s Contact magazine. My heartfelt thanks go out to all our readers. You are literally the raison d’être of the magazine. And of course, all the writers who have contributed their ideas and research are its life force. It has been my pleasure to connect these two groups, to put you, if I may, in contact.

In 2012, I took over the editorship from Tania Pattison, who served as editor for a year after the untimely death of Clayton Graves in 2010. Clayton was editor for seven years before that. I am grateful to them and to the other editors who went before for their vision and stewardship.  Continue Reading →

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Hacking the ESL student workbook

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In our Technical Trades Program (TCP), we were challenged with designing and creating student books and interactive Learning Objects (LOs) for our foundation students. The foundation program trains English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students in trade-specific terminology and provides hands-on workshops. It is essentially a bridging program designed to prepare trainees for their programs, which consist of Process Operations, Mechanical Technician Program, Electrical Technician Program, and Instrumentation, all including a common Safety component. The majority of our students are male Qatari nationals whose first language is Arabic.

The Challenge

The first challenge was to find materials that motivated our students and that were at our students’ language level, which was CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) A1 Breakthrough or beginner.  Continue Reading →

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Knowledge mobilization in TESL: Teachers as interpreters of research results

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There is a longstanding criticism that academic research is not sufficiently utilized in language teaching. This so-called gap between research and practice is well documented. For example, Borg’s (2009) study with English language teachers from 13 countries identified a low level of research utilization. Many teachers participating in Borg’s study reported that a lack of time, inaccessibility of published research, and a lack of practical relevance of research results were among the key reasons why they did not turn to academic research for professional learning and development. Borg concluded that research utilization by teachers was a rarity in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT). Since the time of Borg’s study, we have seen many initiatives to make research more accessible to teachers.  Continue Reading →

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Lexical borrowing among Francophones in the Greater Toronto Area

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The French language in Canada has historical roots extending back to the 1600’s. Today, many Canadians are French speakers. In fact, nearly 12% of Canadians speak only French, and nearly 18% of Canadians speak both English and French (Statistics Canada, 2017). In Ontario, where the current study was conducted, 622,415 Francophones comprise 4.7% of the population (Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, 2016). The current project examining the language practices of adult Francophones takes place in this minority language context.

This project examined lexical borrowing and code switching among ten adult Francophones in the Toronto, Ontario region. In-depth individual interviews were conducted during which the participants were asked to tell a story or describe an activity of personal interest.  Continue Reading →

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Migration, trauma and mental illness: Implications for language learning

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The number of international migrants (people living outside their country of birth) reached 258 million in 2017. That is more than 3% of the earth’s population (United Nations General Assembly International Migration and Development, 2018). Who are these 258 million? How and why have they left their homelands behind? Did they depart for faraway places voluntarily or under duress? North(ern) America has been host to 22% of those international migrants, meaning that as many as 56 million people have had to learn—or are still learning—English when settling into their new lives in Canada or the U.S.

At this point, it would be good to remind ourselves that many of the migrants who have arrived on North American shores,  Continue Reading →

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Insights into the Challenges Experienced by Chinese ESL Learners

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Imagine you were an international student, studying at an educational institution in China, with very limited spoken Chinese. How might you feel, trying frantically to understand a completely foreign language; if you were voiceless, unable to communicate something you were desperate to say; if you were also all alone, far away from home?

In the age of globalization, it is common practice for Canadian educational institutions to recruit international ESL students (Zhang & Beck, 2014). The biggest group of international students in Canada is from China (Canadian Bureau for International Education, 2017). But how do Chinese international students actually experience education in Canada? The term “acculturation” refers to the psychological adaptation process that immigrants go through when settling in a new country (Smith &  Continue Reading →

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The effect of first language on intelligibility

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This study consists of two parts. The first part is the report of two experiments carried out to see the effect of a shared first language (L1) on second language (L2) intelligibility. The concern of the investigation was specifically pronunciation and phonological factors. The second part deals with pronunciation errors of Mandarin and Vietnamese speakers that are motivated by their respective phonological systems, thus providing help with designing pronunciation teaching materials.

The study was started with the following research question: Do English learners understand each other better in English when they share the same first language? This L1 effect is sometimes referred to as Interlanguage Speech Intelligibility Benefit (Bent & Bradlow 2003) and it is not a new question,  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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A mixed-methods study exploring perceptions of speech fluency

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Enhancing English language learners’ speech fluency is often a key learning outcome in communicative language classrooms. Notably, how fluent a learner’s speech is has been shown to affect how comprehensible it is (Derwing, Rossiter, Munro, & Thomson, 2004). For this reason, it is not surprising that fluency has long been an integral component of both high-stakes and low-stakes oral proficiency assessment rubrics (Fulcher, 2003). Decisions that are made based on the results of these assessments may have real-world implications on test-takers’ lives. Thus, it is important to understand which features of speech influence how fluency is perceived in order to enhance the validity of fluency assessments. In this study, although the participants reported that a wide range of temporal,  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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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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Writing effective CLB-aligned comprehension items

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“Understand that there is always one clearly best answer. My goal is not to trick students or require them to make difficult judgments about two options that are nearly equally correct. My goal is to design questions that students who understand will answer correctly and students who do not understand will answer incorrectly.”

John A. Johnson (in Clay, 2001)

In a report completed for the Canadian government, Makosky (2008) indicated that, at the time of writing, exit test results from LINC programs across the country were “deemed to be subjective/situational and not comparable to any common standard,” with the result that “exit rating and feedback to newcomers may be inconsistent and the results not as portable as newcomers,  Continue Reading →

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