KOTESOL double presentation special: Mahboob and Evans

This will be the last of the presentation write-ups from KOTESOL 2014. I’m planning on doing a personal write-up about the main themes from it and then that’ll be it till next time! Because I’ve been so busy recently, I wanted to do two speeches in one go before I completely forget what was said.

Ahmar Mahoob

This presentation was maybe the most ‘applied linguisticsey’ one I saw all weekend. It was really illuminating because it changed some of the ways I had thought about language. At the start he gave a very eloquent description of what grammar is. Science works by looking at how things work in the world and then tries to make rules that describe that behaviour, grammar looks at how people use language and then tries to make rules to explain that usage.

He also talked about different ways of communication. Communication varies in three different ways, when you combine the three variations you get 8 types of communication:

1. language varies based on if we are speaking to people locally or globally
2 language varies based on if we are speaking or writing
3  language varies based on if we are engaged in everyday or specialised discourse.

The main argument was that we spend lots of time on global everyday speaking and global everyday writing styles of English but lots of pupils do badly when they get to university because they can’t use the specialised discourse necessary to write good essays. It’s possibly true that this could be a problem for them but most of my pupils are too young to do be doing this. I have two middle school classes who might be ready for something like this and interesting they don’t do that much writing. Most of their exams are multiple choice, so they don’t have much need for it exam wise. It might put them in good stead to do some longer pieces of writing so I might consider it in the future.

Dan Evans

Pronunciation isn’t something I teach explicitly in class asides from correcting individual words (apparently this is quite common). Dan Evans’ presentation was on a ‘right side up’ approach to presentation and has since got me started on teaching pronunciation more explicitly. A ‘wrong side up’ approach to teaching pronunciation is one that, like mine, focuses on the smallest units of speech and then works its way up. What he wanted teachers to move towards was an approach where they focused on the largest units of speech: T groups, pauses and stresses within a sentence. I didn’t get a lot of the theory about why this was a good thing (my fault not his) but I think the gist was that as long as the larger elements are in order we can still understand what is said (I have lots of American friends who mispronounce words pronounce words differently but I can still understand them so maybe this is true). Either way there were also lots of cool ways to teach pronunciation that focuses on these larger groups.

The first of these was getting pupils to read annotated writing. The teacher makes, or gets students to help make, annotated scripts. Each line is a T group and has it’s stress underlined. There should also be arrows to show end of sentence inflection. I thought this would be easy to do, however when I tried last week it worked well for most of the lines but some of them came out wrong when I got Koreans to say them. When they weren’t reading badly annotated English everything sounded good so I’d consider this approach.

The second and third approach involved getting students to overdub TV programs and movies they liked. There were variations on whether the students accurately copied or made up their own dialogue, whether they spoke over video from another source or created video of their own acting out a scene. These looked really fun to do and worthwhile. Some of the students had lots of fun with this activity. Someone had overdubbed a TED talk and changed it to a talk about ‘why sex is really really fun’. (Dan Evans’ presentation got far fewer laughs than it deserved, some of the jokes were really good and were met with silence, I guess people were tired).

Questions

I’d like to blog about teaching pronunciation when I’ve done a bit more. I might even upload some worksheets once I’ve made sure they’re not awful. If anyone has any feedback about how explicitly they teach pronunciation in the classroom or how they go about it, feel free to leave a comment below.