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Winging it - the key to successful language learning?
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 2730
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 7:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sasha wrote:
Plenty of reading skills relate to dealing with unknown lexical items - a skill which is more important to develop than use of quick-fix translations.

Remind me to dig out my copy of Keith Folse's Vocabulary Myths. IIRC there's quite a nice demonstration in it of the inadequacy of context in determining the meaning of assumedly unknown items in a text.

I haven't had time to more than browse a lot of this thread, but personally I'm not really that interested in slight grammar errors or even "fossilizations". What I'm more interested in are the sometimes yawning gaps in the students' language stock - gaps that are there simply because few or no coursebooks fill them adequately if at all. (I suppose the onus is now on me to mention a few of the missing items - might chime in on that other thread asking about stuff that is or isn't covered in textbooks. All I can suggest for now is, take an advanced learner dictionary like the Longman, open it at practically any page, and start making notes of the things that could be really interesting or useful but aren't covered in the textbooks you've used).

The honest reaction, if we weren't being paid as teachers, might be to tell the more conversationally incapable of students to simply go home and study some more (or to knuckle down to intensive teacher-led instruction (with L1 for instructions is fine, IMHO)). As it is however, we have to let them sprint before they can crawl.
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Teacher in Rome



Joined: 09 Jul 2003
Posts: 1216

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
All I can suggest for now is, take an advanced learner dictionary like the Longman, open it at practically any page, and start making notes of the things that could be really interesting or useful but aren't covered in the textbooks you've used).


Yes, completely agree here. I come across lots of gems in dictionaries when I'm researching for materials writing. Of course, can't think of a single one right now, but the point is there's so much of language that is never presented in textbooks (or, to be fair, tested in exams.)

There's so much inventiveness and creativity in language use (among L1 and L2) that never gets mentioned. There's so much chance that a learner in an English-speaking country will come across words and expressions used naturally in conversation, but which are never presented because "they are too old-fashioned" or "too idiomatic". A case in point. A student of mine went to London and bought a packet of cigarettes. The newsagent asked him which brand, and my student said "a packet of ten, please". To which the newsagent replied, "oh, thrifty". My student was delighted - thrifty is a word that had come up - but not in his coursebook.

Quote:
The honest reaction, if we weren't being paid as teachers, might be to tell the more conversationally incapable of students to simply go home and study some more (or to knuckle down to intensive teacher-led instruction (with L1 for instructions is fine, IMHO)). As it is however, we have to let them sprint before they can crawl.


Mmm. There are all sorts of strategies that "conversationally-incapable" students can use to narrow this gap. But what is a conversationally incapable student, anyway? One who is shy? One who sticks only to pre-taught phrases? One who can't take cues from non-linguistic factors? One who will prefer to mumble or one who just doesn't like much conversational interaction?

I think that just getting on with the task (buying cigarettes, explaining your national dance - whatever that conversational aim is) with a willing conversation partner puts a student in the position of needing to communicate, and the partner with the need to understand and respond. And if the learners aren't burdened with phrases they need to crowbar in, but have the freedom to improvise (and adaptability to respond to improvisation or the unexpected) their output can be surprisingly successful.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I looked in my Richards & Schmidt and found the following definition:

Conversationally-incapable students: those who before they are capable enough will try and/or be forced to have a too-ambitious conversation even if it kills them...along with you the teacher. Often an unfortunate but quite predictable product of rushed, over-ambitious, or plain wishful CLT.
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Kofola



Joined: 20 Feb 2009
Posts: 148
Location: Slovakia

PostPosted: Tue Nov 27, 2012 5:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I haven't had time to more than browse a lot of this thread, but personally I'm not really that interested in slight grammar errors or even "fossilizations". What I'm more interested in are the sometimes yawning gaps in the students' language stock - gaps that are there simply because few or no coursebooks fill them adequately if at all.


Perhaps we all understand error correction to mean different things? For me, error correction isn't about correcting slight grammar errors, but is a major tool for showing learners how language is actually used in context (whether that be written or spoken). For instance, I use it when learners produce perfectly grammatically correct sentences, but they haven't taken the opportunity to use a collocation just learnt or something that just sounds much more natural or perhaps the register is slightly off. I then invite them to produce something that would be more appropriate for the setting.

Many classroom contexts provide opportunities to deal with things that are not in the coursebooks (if you use them), esp. social English e.g. when learners say 'I'm here a minute', when they mean 'Won't be a sec'/'Back in a minute'/ 'I'll be with you in a moment". So, error correction might actually lead into a 20 minute discussion on the use of time phrases in different situations or provide a context-rich environment in which to look at the use of 'will' in English.
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HLJHLJ



Joined: 06 Oct 2009
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 27, 2012 5:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

fluffyhamster wrote:

Conversationally-incapable students: those who before they are capable enough will try and/or be forced to have a too-ambitious conversation even if it kills them...along with you the teacher.


Isn't that what happens in the real world? I've had outrageously over-ambitious conversations with people when we've barely shared any common language at all. Surely anyone who has traveled abroad without knowing the local language has done similar?
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9561
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

fluffyhamster wrote:

Remind me to dig out my copy of Keith Folse's Vocabulary Myths.


Fluffy dig out your copy of Keith Folse's Vocabulary Myths.
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iain



Joined: 09 May 2007
Posts: 15
Location: northern italy

PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2012 9:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's worth thinking about what we really mean when we say we are ‘correcting’. It’s one thing if we're trying to remedy a problem in the sense that our perception is that students simply ‘learnt wrong’ for whatever reason. Whatever was supposed to have been taught evidently hasn't been learnt: the ‘done that’ box has been ticked but the results are faulty. Correction here can risk becoming a bit of a tedious task – like following your teenage kids around the house tidying up the mess they make and turning off the lights they leave on.

It's another matter if we see correction as part of an on-going teaching process – and this is the way we approach things here. Things, on the whole, can’t get learnt on a single contact – even if they are well taught (although ‘facts’ can get learnt in this way). When learning takes place gradually over time (but irregularly according to the difficulty of what’s being learnt) ‘mistakes’ aren’t problems, they are evidence of the state of learning - and the teacher can choose how (and if) to best intervene. ‘Correction’ can only stand a chance of being effective if we see it in the medium / long-term and we make a point of being consistent (and not giving the impression we are disappointed in some way). Clearly, frequency has a big role: if the new language seldom emerges in lessons or there is no real focus on it, the conditions for effective learning are not really there.

We sometimes need to stand back and remind ourselves that we’re wishing there was a magic wand we could wave. Magic spells:
- Correction does the trick.
- Students are imaginative and daring.
- We can teach students all the wonderful and useful words and phrases that are ‘out there’ in the ‘real world’. Discovering them ‘out there’ can be a joy – it’s not (necessarily) the fault of the teacher or the coursebook for having decided to omit them in the classroom.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
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Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 4:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Kofola wrote:
For me, error correction isn't about correcting slight grammar errors, but is a major tool for showing learners how language is actually used in context (whether that be written or spoken). .....

Many classroom contexts provide opportunities to deal with things that are not in the coursebooks (if you use them), esp. social English e.g. when learners say 'I'm here a minute', when they mean 'Won't be a sec'/'Back in a minute'/ 'I'll be with you in a moment". So, error correction might actually lead into a 20 minute discussion on the use of time phrases in different situations or provide a context-rich environment in which to look at the use of 'will' in English.

Those are the sort of phrases I'd teach as a matter of course (given a long enough course LOL). I was imagining slight errors to be more like 'I see you later' (hmm, did he say 'll then? I can't be sure...I'll let it pass) than 'I'm here a minute'.

@Iain: It is a fault if the omission of phrases is such that real-world ratios of use aren't reflected throughout the textbook, for example. But provided that a balanced learner/to-be-learnt corpus is a given, then what you say in your second paragraph will also be a given.
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VietCanada



Joined: 30 Nov 2010
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 12:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I like when students 'wing it'. I think it demonstrates motivation. I'm hesitant to correct errors then because I don't want to shut them down. I usually teach low level students so I need them to cross that barrier where they are not afraid to speak. It's easy enough to take notes for future lessons or even adapt the current lesson.

I correct errors when they relate to topics covered in the course. I'll use peer correction or hints to cause self correction with young learners especially. They seem seem to be OK with that. Enjoy it perhaps.

I'll tackle fossilizations (like third person singular verb forms) with some learners by pointing out that everyone will understand what they said but this is the way we say it. I find this often works to increase the students attention to the error. I've told students that English is a language of 'sss' and if one speaks or hears a sentence without hearing 's', there is probably an error in the sentence. I think it's important that students learn that early. It's an error I always correct once I've done the lesson or explanation. There are a couple more things that students need to learn early in order to be more successful later on. IIRC -ing and using 's' to indicate possession are the other two.

Error correction does seem dependent on the teacher, the circumstances and the class.

As for learning from one's mistakes- I think the the meaning is self evident. Making mistakes is hardly useful if there is no learning. Being afraid to speak or perform any other task for fear of making a mistake is pretty useless for learning. If students are willing to wing it and the teacher can convert that into learning or an improved learning environment then I'd think that that would be a useful technique.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 4:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

VietCanada wrote:
I like when students 'wing it'. I think it demonstrates motivation. I'm hesitant to correct errors then because I don't want to shut them down. I usually teach low level students so I need them to cross that barrier where they are not afraid to speak. It's easy enough to take notes for future lessons or even adapt the current lesson.

..... I'll use peer correction or hints to cause self correction with young learners especially. They seem seem to be OK with that. Enjoy it perhaps.

Good points. And with most students, we aren't their first or only teachers.

Quote:
I'll tackle fossilizations (like third person singular verb forms) with some learners by pointing out that everyone will understand what they said but this is the way we say it. I find this often works to increase the students attention to the error.

One technique for hammering home 3rd person -s, from Lewis & Hill's Practical Techniques, is simply a picture of a man, a woman, and a dog walking along with a balloon on a string rising above them. The balloon has a big s on it. I'd print that picture as a poster and smack it with my horsewhip at every available opportunity. Razz
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 6:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I guess the main point regarding this thread is that students, not being native speakers, will have to wing it sometimes. They shouldn't be encouraged to do so simply because the teacher has little prepared, however! They come to learn, not endlessly practice what they already know or are reasonably familiar with, or worse, struggle with areas they haven't really been taught.

Sasha, I'll definitely dig the book out later this evening. Wink EDIT: I dug the Folse out, but the stuff in it isn't that great shakes actually. Maybe I was thinking of a different book...ah well! Cool


Last edited by fluffyhamster on Sat Dec 01, 2012 10:03 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Teacher in Rome



Joined: 09 Jul 2003
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 8:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I guess the main point regarding this thread is that students, not being native speakers, will have to wing it sometimes. They shouldn't be encouraged to do so simply because the teacher has little prepared, however! They come to learn, not endlessly practice what they already know or are reasonably familiar with, or worse, struggle with areas they haven't really been taught.


Yes. I'd also add that students can find it incredibly motivating to have a unrehearsed, "real-life" conversation and realise that they can both understand and be understood.

I think that we sometimes get caught up in the "student must know these forms" type teaching, rather than giving students the opportunity to succeed (or wing it) and therefore increase their self-confidence - which is another fundamental in becoming a successful language learner (in my opinion).

A case in point. Just today I was PET testing, and one of the students was a great communicator - but without saying a huge amount. He did lots of rephrasing, clarifying, eye-contact type conversation, and kept it all going, but without much "production". OK - he's got a long way to go, but he overcame a lot of weaknesses (and perhaps not all of them linguistic) by being a willing and engaged participant.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 9:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Points taken, TIR, but for totally unrehearsed they should ultimately look beyond the classroom, not to it too much (unless of course they are already reasonable conversationalists and just want a native speaker to help keep them ticking over). Self-confidence is quite ephemeral, and can start to evaporate as easily as it is built if a genuine basis is neglected.


HLJHLJ wrote:
I wrote:
Conversationally-incapable students: those who before they are capable enough will try and/or be forced to have a too-ambitious conversation even if it kills them...along with you the teacher.

Isn't that what happens in the real world? I've had outrageously over-ambitious conversations with people when we've barely shared any common language at all. Surely anyone who has traveled abroad without knowing the local language has done similar?

I've also had outrageously ambitious conversations. For example, I once thought I'd eloquently described the theories in A Brief History of Time, but I later discovered the person I was talking to thought I'd been describing a bumper-value pack of hamster bedding that needed replacing.
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Teacher in Rome



Joined: 09 Jul 2003
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 11:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
For example, I once thought I'd eloquently described the theories in A Brief History of Time, but I later discovered the person I was talking to thought I'd been describing a bumper-value pack of hamster bedding that needed replacing.


A chi lo dici! (= Story of my life fuffi.)
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VietCanada



Joined: 30 Nov 2010
Posts: 305

PostPosted: Sun Dec 02, 2012 12:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
One technique for hammering home 3rd person -s, from Lewis & Hill's Practical Techniques, is simply a picture of a man, a woman, and a dog walking along with a balloon on a string rising above them. The balloon has a big s on it. I'd print that picture as a poster and smack it with my horsewhip at every available opportunity. Razz


I've dl'd 5 books in PDF form while reading this thread. Thanks to everyone referencing books they've read. I don't teach grammar to advanced students but co-teachers and ATs often have questions for me.

I've found Michael Swan's Practical English Usage to be be very useful at those times. I mean who but grammar junkies (kidding) can give a short, elegant answer to when to use who or whom. Local teachers and especially TAs studying grammar to keep their position or advance really need precise technical definitions for that test they're studying for.

I often use short videos in my lessons. When young learners are failing at 's' I'll often play 'The Letter S Song' courtesy of 'Have Fun Teaching'. I once had the andirons to play that for a mixed intermediate group of teenagers. I sold it well before playing it but the reaction was still mixed. It was more of a distraction I think.
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