Monday, March 2, 2020

Modal verb poem

One of the tasks of this week's chapter was to find out the meanings of the modal verbs in this poem

I may, I might, I must 

If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.

Marianne Moore (1887-1972)

So, I guess, "I may, I might" in the title express possibility or even willingness to do something, whereas "I must" shows obligation.

"If you will" could show willingness to do something, "I then will tell you"could be promise or willingness to do something and "I can get across" is possiblity. nd might: possibility must: obligation 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Pronunciation and its role

This week's subject was pronunciation and how it can help in successful communication. And here are my notes:
First of all when we hear someone talk, we can understand where they are from, most of the times. Some people even change their accents in order to get ahead in their social status.
The way we talk can show:

  • how educated we are
  • how trustworthy we are
  • how attractive we are
  • and even how competent we are.
For example, the sound of some languages can attract us or the opposite. Some people even believe that we are judged by our pronunciation and choice of vocabulary. 
I have been reading about Germany and their dialects lately and it seems that people who move to other cities or try to have good jobs,  tend to avoid to speak in their dialect or with the pronunciation of their origin, because they are afraid that they might seem uneducated. 

Since the English language has become an international language (EIL), a Lingua Franca (ELF) and the English Non Native Speakers have outnumbered the Native speakers, it is a fact that nobody owns the language. The way I understand this, is that no accent should be judged when it is understandable. 

One of the tasks in the course were to express how we feel in various situations that had to do with pronunciation.
For example:
  • How would I feel if a foreigner has difficulty understanding me - since they don't speak my language well. 
In these situations we tend to slow our pace of speaking, but I don't believe this is the correct way. No matter how slowly we speak, the person might still not understand. Maybe they don't know the exact word or maybe they don't understand at all! So talking with our hands (showing items maybe) could be a solution. In no way would I feel bad, a bit anxious though if I can't help them.

  • How would you feel if a foreigner apologises for their poor accent?
I'd tell them not to apologise since speaking a foreign language is hard enough and they should be proud of themselves for trying to communicate.

  • How do you feel when a foreigner pronounces your name wrong?
This is always the case, especially with German speakers who cannot pronounce "Th" ( as in theatre) and "δ" ( as in that). But I don't really mind, because my name is really difficult to pronounce, so I am happy that they have even tried. 

  • How do you feel when you meet a foreigner who speaks your language with a near perfect accent?
This makes me very happy. This person has probably a talent in languages and maybe they have tried a lot to achieve this level. 

Native language or not, people often change they way they speak in particular situations, for example politicians, teachers, even when talking on the phone.
Have you noticed that when we talk to strangers we change the tone of our voice? Or in various situations we change our vocabulary?

As teachers, we don't only have to teach the structure of a language, but also the way we speak / write in different situations.

Closing with a a link from bbc with advice about successful speaking. Click here

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Process of Learning a Language

Next chapter of the course included: Learner autonomy, engagement and anxiety. Here are my notes:

When teaching a language, the teacher should try to make students get engaged in learning. 
Sometimes, when a student is totally engaged, he /she achieves flow, he/she is totally immersed in the activity. 
  • Engagement: Learner is alert, pays attention, notices, reflects and asks questions, he /she is willing to participate, becomes independent, interactive and chooses how to learn depending on the learning style (leader / follower)

Teachers should help learners notice. After noticing comes "languaging", understanding and remembering.

  • What is Language Awareness approach?
It is when learners constuct concious knowledge about language.  They investigate language coninuously, they talk analyticaly about language, they explore and discover, they become independent.

  • What is languaging?
Talking about language, so that we can analyse and understand how it works. 

  • Anxiety can affect learners negatively : They can get lower grades, have impaired performance  and decreased self perception, overstudy, get thoughts of failure, it is difficult for them to absorb information and their speed and accuracy decreases, as well as their communication quality and linguistic confidence.
It is very important for a teacher to create a low anxiety environment.

Monday, February 17, 2020


As I mentioned before, I have taken up a course on Future Learn on Applied Linguistics.
This week's topic was "Tests", how they were first created, the reason why we need tests with lots of wonderful examples. 
Tests have two main functions: 
  • to keep people from danger and
  • to maintain a fair decision in selection
What does language have to do with safety though? It has to do with communication and understanding. If we don't understand what we are being told, or we cannot get our message across, sometimes this causes danger, for example if you are a pilot or working as an air controller or as a doctor. 
Tests also give us access in education, mobility and employment.
Concerning mobility, through tests, people can start a new life in another country, one of the requirements is to pass a language test. 
IELTS exams give this opportunity in English speaking countries, but sometimes this exam is not relevant, especially with immigrants. It is said that academic English (which is being tested in this particular exam) is not always relevant to someone who needs the language in order to survive every day life. 

Concerning teaching, tests influence:
  • what teachers teach
  • what learners learn
  • how teachers teach
  • how learners learn
So how should correct assessment be?
  • Learning environments should challenge students.
  • Teachers should provide feedback that enhances students' performance.
  • Learners should be encouraged to self / peer evalualuation
  • Teachers should stimulate learning
Another point that has impressed me was test resuts that can be positive, false positive or false negative and I'd like to comment on that.

If you pass an exam you are suposed to have positive results. Sometimes those results can be false negative, this means that although you have the knowledge, you do not pass the particular exam/test or false positive which means that you do not have the knowledge to pass, but you do (maybe out of luck)
The latter has made me think of the numerous English exams that exist in Greece. People strive to get this "valuable" piece of paper aka certification and sometimes the results are not accurate.
In my time as a teacher, I have come across various students, who already have the certificate, but cannot communicate in the foreign language.
Is the testing format the problem? Maybe that time has passed and they have not used the language?
Or should we teachers consider a change in our teaching method? 
This is something I (as a teacher) should think about.

Until next time

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The language we learn today: ELF

Have you heard of the term of ELF? Short for English as a Lingua Franca, a latin term.
Lingua means a bridge language, a common language, a language that makes commucination possible between groups of people (usually people with no common language, according to Wikipedia.
In the ancient years, this language was Ancient Greek and later Latin, and the term Lingua Franca is actually Latin, so I guess Romans had understood the power of their language.

So nowadays, we all agree that this language is English. English is used everywhere, if you want to study, to travel, to work (not necessarily abroad), that's the language you have to speak. And if you look around, most people do speak English, at least in a level to communicate somehow.

English is important in the business world and we,  teachers, can see that more and more adults come to us for classes.
There are two categories of adults who need to learn or further their knowledge in English:
College Students (or potential students) who need mostly academic English (use the language to write papers, or give lectures) and
Business people who need the language to communicate. This varies depending on their field.

With academic language, things for us teacher are simpler. We have books, we know the exams, we can work on essay structure (or any kind of academic paper structure).
But in the second case things are4 different. Terminology in particular fields is not always an issu, since people do know the English terms in their field, even if hey can't speak good English.

I have come to the conclusion that when I teach ELF, grammar is not always so important, if the speaker makes his/her point clear. I focus on other things, especially on communicative approaches, culture differences, potential dialogues / conversations and presentation skills.

Research plays an important role if you teach ELF, but that's why I love it.

PS. I have to say that what I write, is my personal view, so if somebody disagrees, I'll be happy to hear their opinion.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Intercultural communication - important?

I have been interested in this subject for a long time, since my job has to do with communication in foreign languages and my goal always is to motivate students to use the language in order to study, to work, to travel.
I realised how much more important it was when I started working for a company, where we had seminars and courses about it, since we had to deal with people around the world.
Sometimes it is not always the language that makes us understood. |We have to know things about a person's culture, in order to understand their behavior and avoid misunderstandings.

English is indeed a Lingua Franca, a language that is used for international communications, in business, in studies, even if you leave in your native country, in some point you have to deal with people from somewhere else.

This time I took up a course concerning "Communicating with Diverse Audiences" by the University of Surrey and its subject is exactly what I mentioned before.
It analyses how different culture is, the different way of interaction in particular environments, trying to explain what is normal, why certain behaviors are formed and what is a cultural iceberg with lots of examples.

According to the course, language is not the only barrier in miscommunication, a lot of other factors play a role in understanding, for example our previous experience, our expectation and our knowledge and it isn't always the culture the reason for someone's behavior, but also their personality.

I can't wait to see what's next!

Learning a new language (or maybe just analysing?)

One of my very favourite hobbies, when I have the time is to look into languages and maybe also learn?
As a teacher of languages, I love to get to know more about a language, the structure, how it works and also find out more about similarities and differences between languages.

My first foreign language was English, followed by German, continuing with studying German Literature and Language at the University, following by TESOL, so I have to say, that I know prtty much about morphology, phonetics, syntax etc of these two languages, which are related believe it or not. They are both West Germanic languages - maybe a lot of years ago they were more similar with each other than they are today.
English has changed a lot, influenced by other languages, while the other West Germanic languages keep a lot more in common.

So, to get back to my language learning, after experimentin with Spanish ( I reached level B1 in CEF with great difficulty, since this was not a Germanic language) and a little bit of French (this lasted a couple of months), I decided that Latin origined languages were not for me, so I took up Dutch.
Well, yes, you guessed correctly, this is also a West Germanic language, with a great similarity to German and English. In fact, is you speak both, you can actually understand a lot of written language. Pronounciation is something you have to study and practise, but I found it really easy to understand. I can't say I am fluent, I have not dedicated a lot of time to it, but I definitely can communicate as a traveller or read simple texts and that is enough for the time being. I also found out that Flemmish and Afrikaans have  a lot of similarities, so again, I could communicate if needed.

Exploring these language, I discovered Frisian, which is a language spoken in the Netherlands. I thought it was a Dutch dialect, but it is not. It is a language with similarities from English and the other West Germanic languages. I took up a course in Future learn, of course I haven't been able to actually learn the language, but I was happy to explore the similarities and differences it has with Dutch and how it all connects.

Next on my list is Norwegian ( a North Germanic language) - I have enrolled on a Future Learn course again. Of coursee I don't expect to speak a language in 4 weeks, again it is fascinating to explore.

More to come!