#IATEFL2017: How to shoehorn a talk

The subtitle to the talk “Infusing teaching materials and practices with new insights on learning” 1 on the Cambridge site was:
“What does the latest evidence tell us about how language is acquired? How might we apply these insights when course books seem to impose a predetermined way of teaching and assessing learners?”

When I read this subtitle I was pretty darn interested. Alas it seems the subtitle editor did not consult with the presenter (Dr. Gad Lim). For in the talk, the “pre-determined” approach of coursebooks (CB) is not addressed. Talk of CB is confined to the second half of the presentation and then only to shoehorn example pages from an unknown CB to illustrate some learning principles outlined in the first part of the talk.

Also as an unashamed Chomsky fan the unnecessary and mistaken needling comments against generative grammar theory was irksome. But I will let that lie in this post : )

What was more of an issue was the muddying of the research waters on language learning. In one of his final comments the presenter states:

“What you think about learning will make a difference in how you teach so I hope today you have learned a little bit about how language learning actually happens,..”

That is a fine sentiment yet I thought he gave a very partial account. It would have been great if references to the theories he talked about were given (maybe audience members got such refs included in a handout?). In the talk itself the names of the theories he alludes to are not stated. He mainly covers usage based theories but other things such as meta-cognitive strategies when he talked about self-assessment near the end are also used.

“..it’s not that black box. Our brains are actually quite good at processing frequency information, contextual information, recency information, a lot of automaticity but there is that other part of our brain that just needs things pointed out; okay that’s a more recent part of our brain that just needs things pointing out; it’s harder work but if you just put this two things together learning happens best; and if you can think about each one of these things and how you might actually apply them in the classroom in the materials you create then learning should happen much more efficiently for your learners”

The main meat of the first part of the talk was trying to convince the audience that information from stimuli in the environment such as frequency information are used by people to learn languages. Certainly a good case for frequency effects in language learning has been put forward by people such as Nick Ellis 2. However claiming that CBs that include highly frequent items are following the findings of “new insights” need to be put aside the counterclaim that CBs could also be said to be using the old insights of frequency principles as laid out by the progenitor of the audio-lingual method Robert Lado.

“so if you actually had materials where you repeat the same idea in several different ways then you get some practice repeatedly.”

The above statement comes along with the following screenshot of a page from an unknown CB:

Shoehorn 1

The claim is that it is enough to make some feature in the input salient enough such as “repeat the same idea in several different ways” where the example in the screenshot of the CB is of repeating connecting words in matching, gap fills and sentence completion exercises.

However theories such as Bill VanPatten’s processing input shows “just because something is made more salient or more frequent in the input does not mean that learners will process it correctly or even process it at all” 3. So if we take connectors what is it about processing input containing connectors such as and, but, so, because that causes issues for learners? Once such processing issues can be identified appropriate structured input activities can be written.

The following screenshot of a table of contents divided into themes is meant to illustrate the principal of context:

Shoehorn 2

In fact I say it shows a handy organizer for material writers rather than context effects for language learners.

In reference to the following two screenshots of signposting language in spoken and written registers:

Shoehorn 3
Shoehorn 4

the presenter says:
“If you put them close to one another they will learn to know that some of these signposting words go with spoken language and some of them go with written language.”

Highlighting spoken and written forms of language items can be as helpful as saying oh you use that in more informal contexts and that in more formal contexts. Again the same criticism VanPatten makes earlier applies, that is, the CB example ignores the problem of processing input.

Next he equates recency with recycling and makes the following statement without any seeming sense of self-awareness (with regard to course books):

“in fact quite often our students will not necessarily learn the thing at the exact point you first taught it, okay..”

This assumption “that learners learn what teachers teach when they teach it” is what Michael Long highlights all CBs implicitly adopt 4; further all CBs do not take into account the learner’s internal syllabus. Learners will only acquire language when they are good and ready.

The presenter does acknowledge the role of the learner somewhat in the following statement:
“..which would argue for, sadly , it means you need to observe your students and you need to go back and you need to do your lesson planning in an iterative fashion. Figuring out what they haven’t gotten or just expose them to the same thing several times throughout so that they have different opportunities to pick it up”

But then he goes and spoils it by another CB shoehorning attempt:

Shoehorn 5
Shoehorn 6

Either that or some Cambridge bod signaled, sotto voce, it was time for another CB screenshot “Gad, show em the adverbs of frequency that appears in more than one place in the book”

He goes on to mention spaced repetition in relation to recency but how does a coursebook space out learning items? This is not mentioned but another blatant attempt to rationalize the CB by linking it to a learning effect without any further comment.

It seems to me that the presenter had got excited about some psycho-linguistic evidence for usage based theories and wanted to give a talk on that. Unfortunately his employers insisted he tie that to coursebooks and that is where this talk went awry.

Thanks for reading.

Notes:

  1. Infusing teaching materials and practices with new insights on learning

2. Ellis, N. C. (2002). Frequency effects in language processing. Studies in second language acquisition, 24(02), 143-188.

3. VanPatten, B. (2009). Processing matters in input enhancement. In Piske, T. & Young-Scholten, M. (eds.), Input matters in SLA (pp. 47-61). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

4. Long, M. H. (2009). Methodological principles for language teaching. In Long, M. H. & Doughty, C. J. (eds.), Handbook of language teaching (pp. 373-94). Oxford: Blackwell.

#IATEFL2017 – A very partial commentary

The following is my very partial take of the first presenter in Outside in: bringing new technology perspectives to ELT 1. I play the role of the Muppet critics Statler and Waldorf, as this urge seems to come across me often when reading about technology in language learning. So do take it with that spirit in mind.

Ooh an image on this blog not seen that for a while, if ever

Derek, Duncan, Donald Clark asserts:
“Actually many many more people learn language outside the context of a classroom and formal courses than ever do in classrooms.”

Fair enough this seems a truism, as people do spend more time outside of school or formal learning and so potentially learn more outside of formal context. Donald Clark continues with:

“In this country we have tens of thousands of kids learning German, Spanish, Italian and French and barely any of them can come out and even ask for a cup of coffee in the target country after 8 years of sitting in a classroom.”

Assuming language classes are indeed offered for 8 years at say 2 hours a week for 38 weeks that’s 608 hours  which would arguably be enough for a low aptitude student to reach a low intermediate level of proficiency and be able to order a cup of coffee 2.

So what’s going on!? The horror!

Clark adds:
“But generally, the reason why many more people are learning English outside the classroom is because of technology. Wherever I go, I travel all over the world, I meet young people who constantly say two or three things to me when I say how did you learn your English. They say Youtube, number 1, they say music number 2, they say movies and increasingly young people around the world have access to every single video and movie by torrenting and not paying for it at all.”

When I met my wife some 13 years ago,  who is from France, and I asked her how she learned English, she mentioned listening to Beatles songs on top of working hard in English classes in school. So arguably young people today do similarly but has the increased accessibility of interesting content via technology led to more English learning? A claim to be investigated and not taken at face value.

The next bit of presentational style is:
“AI is the new UI.”

Clark goes on to point out many commercial services such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon use AI.

“AI is the guiding hand in almost everything you do online except learning. So when you go on a VLE or Moodle it’s like stepping back into the 1990s a little bit because that is the 1990s actually. That’s where it comes from.”

Clark seems very tickled by this.

The laugh seems to be on him since if we take Google as an example when they started all their technology was from 1990’s AI work 3.

Moving on Clark says:
“Look at the things that’s happening in AI here. NLP, speech to text, text to speech all of this is entirely relevant to what you do for a living. AI is starting to tackle some serious issues around the teaching and learning of languages. So you cannot ignore this. It’s huge and it already is huge.”

One could say if we take NLP that it is has been “relevant” to teachers since the 1980s. Maybe Clark meant commercially driven relevancy? What serious issues is AI starting to tackle in the teaching and learning of languages? Is it serious issues such as lack of teachers which is being tackled by say video conferencing in projects like Plan Ceibal? Probably not what Clark is pushing. Side note the “huge” remark somehow reminded me of the “massive” remark by a well loved ELT bod 4.

Clark goes on to talk about bots in various enterprises:
“Bots are everywhere. Duolingo is an AI driven system out of Carnegie Mellon, it’s worth half a billion dollars, it’s got a 150 million people on it. If you don’t think AI is coming at your market, think again. It’s been there for a while. And of course they’ve added bots onto this as well.”

Adding without any seemingly obvious sign of irony, referring to bots:

“Don’t get too carried away though they are incredibly difficult things to make and not particularly effective if you get it wrong.”

Clark continues:

“Alexa..I have an immersive language system which is absolutely free sitting in my house”

He forgets to mention – sitting in your house hovering up your personal information, mind you he does add later it costs 150 “bucks” which is cheap apparently (Does he mean cheap compared to teachers?)

He talks about a “cool” maths app which is all very nice but not relevant to learning languages, a very different learning challenge.

He modestly mentions his company and a company he consults for. He mentions assessment via an hilarious meme.

““If only I had a few more papers to grade” said no teacher ever”

That is very funny that is.

One of his final comments would have made a much more interesting start to this talk:
“We have a chance as educators to change the world for the good…”

If Clark had started by describing how he thinks educators can change the world for the good via technology the talk would have certainly resonated. A direction that Professor Yvonne Rogers took well by beginning her talk with the vision of promoting collaborative learning, curiosity and playfulness. Methinks Prof Rogers has had more experience presenting to teachers than to investors.

A final comment when asked a question from the audience “Will teachers be replaced by robots?” Clark suggested that the “first wave” of replacements was seen with “Google and librarians”.

“The number of librarians in the world has dropped and it’s not a neo-liberal plot. People don’t go to libraries any longer and that’s the truth of the matter”.

If we can take US trends as similar to world trends then:
“If libraries receive more public funds, more people use them. And if governments invest less in its libraries (as they have since 2009), fewer people visit—though the drop in visits from disinvestment isn’t as strong as the rise from investment would be.” 5

So maybe it is a neo-liberal plot after all, and that’s the truth of the matter.

Thanks for reading.

Notes:

  1. IATEFL2017 Outside in: bringing new technology perspectives to ELT

2. [http://www.languagetesting.com/how-long-does-it-take]

3. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_artificial_intelligence]

4.Massive video

5. [https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/americans-like-their-libraries-but-they-use-them-less-and-less-pew/477336/]

#IATEFL2017 – Stopping the buck

The interviews with Andy Hockley 1 and Marek Kiczkowiak 2 discuss the issue of native speakerism –

a pervasive ideology within ELT, characterized by the belief that ‘native-speaker’ teachers represent a ‘Western culture’ from which spring the ideals both of the English language and of English language teaching methodology3.

Marek Kiczkowiak who campaigns on this via TeflEquity Advocates 4 responded to the interviewer’s question of the reception of his pre-conference talk to academic managers and directors of studies (DOS’s):

Most of those DOS’s that came here today are very supportive of non-native speakers, they are interested in equal opportunities but they do find that very often that their hands are tied. Because sometimes the way agents sell the courses to the students who then come to the UK to their school is very different to what their school offers. The school offers a very diverse staffroom but the way the agents have sold the course is that they will have the class with your typical white western looking native speaker.” (my emphasis)

I was surprised that Marek accepted what he has called in the past the TEFL blame game 5 – native speakerism is due to market demand, what students and parents want. If we look at the issue of agents we could point out that a lot of the major schools have an agent procedure. So these big schools could apply positive pressure to what their agents sell. Similarly the British Council who accredit language schools can also play a big part, since agents often only work with BC accredited schools.

The systemic bias that is evident in the current setup of ELT has to be examined alongside the individual bias. Some glimpses of this systemic or structural bias are seen in the interview with Andy Hockley. Initially individual biases are mentioned, for example:

hire ethically, don’t have biases
people who come to this conference are not among the most biased
the majority of those who come to the conference are converted let’s call it
in smaller schools, in smaller places there is this unconscious bias that native speakers are better than non-native speakers

Andy Hockley then mentions his research on academic managers where “increasingly educational organizations are merging, are becoming bigger and more corporate”. Managers complain “they have to do so much corporate number stuff, kpi’s and all these things, they don’t have time to focus on education”.

KPIs are organizational metrics called key performance indicators, which have been critiqued as performativity i.e. “indicators of quality that are taken as definitions of quality”. 6 Andy makes this point when he says “people read data with their own biases in the first place so the data is not really relevant” and “I don’t think, at least so far, that the data is telling us much about what is going on in the classroom”.

Here the organizational reasons, the managers who talked to Andy gave, show the nature of the challenge for TEFL Equity Advocates and other groups such as TaWSIG 7 to organize for fairer and more equitable working conditions.

So let’s stop passing the buck and start hitting it.

References:

  1. IATEFL 2017 Andy Hockley interview:

2. IATEFL 2017 Marek Kiczkowiak interview:

3. Holliday, A. (2006). Native-speakerism. ELT journal, 60(4), 385-387. [https://academic.oup.com/eltj/article/60/4/385/499514/Native-speakerism]

4. TEFL Equity Advocates [https://teflreflections.wordpress.com/]

5. The TEFL blame game continued [https://teflreflections.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/the-tefl-blame-game-continued/]

6. Biesta, G. (2015). Education, Measurement and the Professions: Reclaiming a space for democratic professionality in education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1-16. [http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/11141]

7. TaWSIG [http://teachersasworkers.org]

#TESOL2017 – Corpus related talks and posters

While IATEFL2017 may well have the razzledazzle, TESOL2017 is the big kahuna. Find below corpus related talks and posters (program pdf). There are some well known names here – Kiyomi Chujo, Randi Reppen, Diane Schmitt, Dilin Liu, Keith Folse.

Do TESOL record talks like IATEFL? Otherwise am putting faith in some tweeters to get inkling of what goes down. You know what to do folks.

Tuesday 21 March
Developing Academic Discourse Competence Through Formulaic Sequences
Content Area: Vocabulary/Lexicon
The Academic Formulas List and Phrasal Expressions List include formulaic sequences that build on traditional lists, such as the Academic Word List, to better meet student proficiency needs at the discourse level. Participants investigate the lists; experience collaborative activities designed to assist students in acquisition, including online and corpus-based; and discuss considerations for adaptation and implementation. Step-by-step guides provided.
Alissa Nostas, Arizona State University, USA
Mariah Fairley, American University in Cairo, Egypt
Susanne Rizzo, American University in Cairo, USA

Wednesday 22 March
Engaging Students in Making Grammar Choices: An In‑Depth Approach
Content Area: Grammar
Appropriate use of grammar structures in academic writing can be a challenge even for advanced ESL writers. Drawing on corpus research on the characteristics of written discourse, the presenters demonstrate how to engage students in making effective grammar choices to improve their academic writing. Sample instructional materials are provided.
Wendy Wang, Eastern Michigan University, USA
Susan Ruellan, Eastern Michigan University, USA

Lexical Bundles in L1 and L2 University Student Argumentative Essays
Content Area: Second Language Writing/Composition
This presentation reports findings of a corpus-based analysis of the use, overuse, and misuse of lexical bundles in L2 university student argumentative essays. The presentation also provides ways ESL composition instructors can assist learners in using lexical bundles more appropriately.
Tetyana Bychkovska, Ohio University, USA

Teachers’ U.S. Corpus
Content Area: Research/Research Methodology
The presenters amassed a linguistic corpus-TUSC-representing approximately 4 million words based on over 50 K–12 content area textbooks. Findings of the corpus, including word lists representative of academic language, are offered. Participants are invited to discuss ways this corpus may assist K–12 teachers, especially teachers of ELLs.
Seyedjafar Ehsanzadehsorati, Florida International University, USA

And Furthermore
Content Area: Discourse and Pragmatics
Advanced learner materials offer few guidelines for the use of the expressions “moreover,” “furthermore,” “in fact,” “likewise,” “in turn,” and other additive connectors. Grounded in pragmatic theory and drawing on written corpus examples and experimental speaker judgement data, this talk defines optimal uses and paves a path to enlightened class instruction.
Howard Williams, Teachers College, Columbia University, USA

Teacher Electronic Feedback in ESL Writing Course Chats
Content Area: Second Language Writing/Composition
This corpus-based study analyzes the rhetorical moves, uptake, and student perceptions of the teacher-student chats from five freshman ESL writing courses taught by three expert teachers. Findings show that chats are useful for establishing rapport and clarifying feedback, but we suggest that longer chat sessions may be more effective.
Estela Ene, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, USA
Thomas Upton, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, USA

Using Corpus Linguistics in Teaching ESL Writing
Content Area: Applied Linguistics
This session explores the use of corpus linguistics in teaching L2 writing as an effective way to bring authentic language into the classroom. The presenters discuss ways of incorporating corpora in teaching L2 writing and demonstrate a sample activity of how to use a corpus to address discourse competence.
Gusztav Demeter, Case Western Reserve University, USA
Ana Codita, Case Western Reserve Universtiy, USA
Hee-Seung Kang, Case Western Reserve University, USA

How Technology Shapes Our Language and Feedback: Mode Matters
Content Area: Applied Linguistics
This presentation explores how the use of evaluative language differs between parallel corpora of text and screencast feedback and what this means for the role of feedback and position of instructor. In understanding the implications of technology choices, instructors can better match tools to their pedagogical purposes
Kelly Cunningham, Iowa State University, USA

Posters
An Effective Bilingual Sentence Corpus for Low-Proficiency EFL Learners
Content Area: CALL/Computer-Assisted Language Learning/
Technology in Education
Kiyomi Chujo, Nihon University, Japan

Propositional Precision in Learner Corpora: Turkish and Greek EFL Learners
Content Area: English as a Foreign Language
Jülide Inözü, Cukurova University, Turkey
Cem Can, Cukurova University, Turkey

Thursday 23 March
Corpus‑Based Learning of Reporting Verbs in L2 Academic Writing
Content Area: Higher Education
We present findings from our study on the effectiveness of corpus based learning of reporting verbs during a multidraft literature review assignment. The results suggest corpus-based instruction can improve L2 students’ genre awareness and lexical variety without time consuming training. Participants receive sample corpus-based teaching
materials used in the revision workshop.
Ji-young Shin, Purdue University, USA
R. Scott Partridge, Purdue University, USA
Ashley J. Velázquez, Purdue University, USA
Aleksandra Swatek, Purdue University, USA
Shelley Staples, University of Arizona, USA

Providing EAP Listening Input: An Evaluation of Recorded Listening Passages
Content Area: Listening, Speaking/Speech
Are the recorded passages that accompany listening textbooks providing students with exposure to all the necessary elements of academic lecture language? The presenter shares results of a corpusbased study, illustrating what recorded passages do well, where they fall short, and providing activities designed to supplement EAP listening instruction.
Erin Schnur, Northern Arizona University, USA

Developing Learner Resources Using Corpus Linguistics
Randi Reppen, Northern Arizona University, USA

Applying Research Findings to L2 Writing Instruction
Content Area: Second Language Writing/Composition
Effective pedagogical practices have a strong research base and respond directly to students’ learning needs. Presenters share materials developed for such needs in EAP writing classrooms, drawing on grammar/vocabulary corpus research, integration of CBI principles with current L2 writing approaches, and research findings regarding assignment sequencing for larger end-products.
Margi Wald, UC Berkeley, USA
Jan Frodesen, UC Santa Barbara, USA
Diane Schmitt, Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom (Great Britain)
Gena Bennett, Independent, USA

Teaching Students Self‑Editing in Writing With Interactive Online Corpus Tool
Content Area: CALL/Computer-Assisted Language Learning/
Technology in Education
L2 academic writers often struggle with word choice and collocates when composing in academic English. In this teaching tip, the presenter uses http://www.wordandphrase.info, a free corpus-based online interactive tool, to show how to teach self-editing strategies to L2 writers and demonstrates activities that can be incorporated into EAP writing courses.
Aleksandra Swatek, Purdue University, USA

Corpus 101: Navigating the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA)
Content Area: Vocabulary/Lexicon
The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) may look overwhelming at first, but it is in fact an easy-to-use resource. Presenters guide participants through step-by-step navigation of this valuable tool, sharing tips and ideas for teachers and tasks for students that relate to several of COCA’s search and analysis functions.
Heather Gregg Zitlau, Georgetown University, USA
Heather Weger, Georgetown University, USA
Kelly Hill Zirker, Diplomatic Language Services, USA

Using a Medical Research Corpus to Teach ESP Students
Content Area: English for Specific Purposes
The study discussed investigated how expert writers use lexical bundles in medical research articles. More than 200 bundles were identified using a corpus of more than 1 million words. A structural and functional analysis revealed patterns that can be used in developing materials for medical students in international ESP classes.
Ndeye Bineta Mbodj, Health Department Thies University, Senegal

Using Corpora for Engaging Language Teaching: Effective Techniques and Activities
Using concrete examples from their new book published by TESOL, the presenters introduce some common useful procedures and activities for using corpora to teach various aspects of English, including vocabulary, grammar, and writing. They also explain how to develop and use corpora to assess learner language and develop teaching materials.
Dilin Liu, University of Alabama, USA
Lei Lei, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China

Flexible, Free, and Open Data‑Driven Learning for the Masses
Content Area: Media (Print, Broadcast, Video, and Digital)
This presentation shares findings from multisite research with the open-source FLAX (Flexible Language Acquisition) project. Open digital collections used in formal classroom-based language education and in non-formal online education (MOOCs) are presented to demonstrate how openly licensed linguistic content using data-driven methods can support learning, teaching, and materials development.
Alannah Fitzgerald, Concordia University, USA

Posters
Visualizing Vocabulary Across Cultures: Web Images as a Corpus
Content Area: Vocabulary/Lexicon
Cameron Romney, Doshisha University, Japan
John Campbell-Larsen, Kyoto Women’s University, Japan

Developing Autonomous Academic Writing Competence Through Corpus Linguistics
Content Area: CALL/Computer-Assisted Language Learning/
Technology in Education
Chinger Zapata, Universidad Católica del Norte, Chile
Hugo Keith

Data-Driven Learning (DDL) for Teaching Vocabulary and Grammar
Content Area: Teaching Methodology and Strategy
Pramod Sah, University of British Columbia, Canada
Anu Upadhaya, Tribhuvan University, Nepal

Friday 24 March
16 Keys to Teaching ESL Grammar and Vocabulary
Content Area: Grammar
This session uses corpus linguistics data to examine not only which grammar points should be taught but which vocabulary should be taught with each key grammar point. Sample lessons for teaching vocabulary with grammar and tips for designing and teaching these activities are presented.
Keith Folse, University of Central Florida, USA

Beyond Word Lists: Approaching Verbal Complements Lexicogrammatically and Cognitively
Content Area: Grammar
Gerund and infinitive verbal complements are often taught back-to-back via the use of memorization and word lists. This presentation suggests varying lesson placement, approaching the subject from a position of conceptualization of components drawn from Conti’s rule, and incorporating corpus data in classroom materials to improve salience thereof.
Miranda Hartley, University of Alabama, USA

Corpus‑Based Comparison Between Two Lists of Academic English Words
Content Area: Vocabulary/Lexicon
The study discussed compares Coxhead’s Academic Word List and Gardner and Davies’ Academic Vocabulary List in an independently developed 72-million-token university academic corpus to reveal which list is more suitable for academic vocabulary education across different academic disciplines to improve the effectiveness of English‑medium instruction.
Huamin Qi, Western University, Canada

Fostering Effective Participation in L1 Discourse Communities Through Formulaic Sequences
Content Area: Vocabulary/Lexicon
While vocabulary lists contribute substantially to lexical knowledge, discourse-level proficiency remains a challenge. The Academic Formulas List and Phrasal Expressions List, sets of formulaic sequences, address this challenge, helping learners participate more effectively in L1 discourse communities. Facilitators share online and corpus-based activities for formulaic sequence acquisition.
Susanne Rizzo, American University in Cairo, Egypt
Alissa Nostas, Arizona State University, USA
Mariah Fairley, American University in Cairo, Egypt

Developing an Open Educational Resources EAP Corpus
Content Area: English for Specific Purposes
This presentation focuses on the development of an open educational resources EAP corpus. Presenters demonstrate how the corpus can be accessed and downloaded, reused in a variety of ways, revised, remixed, and redistributed to other interested teachers, researchers, and/or students.
Brent Green, Salt Lake Community College, USA
Dean Huber, Salt Lake Community College, USA
George Ellington, Salt Lake Community College, USA

The Emergence of Academic Language Among Advanced Learners
Content Area: Second Language Writing/Composition
This session addresses the gradual changes of academic language based on a pilot study of 35 students over a 16-week graduate course. Suggestions and practical activities, informed by these findings, are demonstrated, including academic discourse techniques and the use of corpora and other online tools for text analysis.
Cheryl Zimmerman, California State University, Fullerton, USA
Jun Li, California State University, Fullerton, USA

#IATEFL 2017 – Corpus related talks and posters

The razzledazzle that is IATEFL is approaching soon. So here is a list of talks and posters related to corpora that is listed on the conference programme (pdf). I hope we get some good tweeters for these and some recordings.

Tuesday 4 April
A beginner’s guide to creating vocabulary lists with corpus software
Michael Jones (Saudi Aramco)
Using a practical example, this teacher-focused talk aims to demystify the use of corpus linguistics to make effective vocabulary choices. Attendees will be shown how easy it is, even for neophytes, to use the free AntConc corpus analysis software to compile context-specific custom corpora and keyword lists. Those teaching ESP or business English will find the talk particularly useful.

Student-built corpora: do students see the benefit?
Catherine Prewett-Schrempf & Matthew Urmston (Vienna University of
Applied Sciences for Management & Communication)
How are corpora language activities perceived by students? I will present an action research project aimed at examining student response to using corpora for a writing assignment. The context is a first-semester Business English course at the Vienna University of Applied Sciences, where students draw on both a learner corpus and an expert corpus to self-correct their work.

FUSE – The Finnish Upper Secondary School Corpus of Spoken English
Lasse Ehrnrooth (Alppila Upper Secondary School)
This poster looks at the linguistic features present in the current version of FUSE, the Finnish Upper Secondary School Corpus of Spoken English. The speech corpus consists of transcribed dialogues recorded during various, official, spoken English examinations in Finnish upper secondary schools. The research focus will be on hesitation markers and overlapping speech.

Wednesday 5 April
Lexis and exam preparation: fitting the pieces into the puzzle
Sharon Hartle (University of Verona, Language Centre)
One aspect of use of English that upper intermediate and advanced learners find particularly challenging is lexical grammar: collocation, verb patterns, etc., and how to use them effectively. This presentation shows how to train learners to use two corpora – the American Corpus (COCA) and SkeLL (Sketch Engine for English Language Learning) – to improve awareness of lexis for exam preparation purposes.

Corpora and business English: developing learners’ collocational competence
Radwa Younis (Future University in Egypt)
This workshop is going to highlight the potential of using corpora to teach collocation in business English. We will define collocation and shed light on its peculiar aspects that present challenges to learners. The workshop will suggest some corpus-based activities to assist learners in developing a repertoire of business English collocations.

Strategies for speaking tests: corpus-based tips for preparing students
Gemma Bellhouse & Alex Thorp (Trinity College, London)
Learners of English must often take an interactive speaking test to prove they can communicate effectively. But how can students prepare for unpredictable communication? Are there strategies used by test candidates, and could learning them make speaking performance more successful? Using new corpus data, this
talk outlines ‘active listening’ strategies to support test preparation and awareness of communicative competence.

Thursday 6 April
A corpus study of teacher talk in the EFL classroom
Eric Nicaise (Universite Catholique Louvain / Haute Ecole Louvain-en- Hainaut)
The talk will present CONNEcT, an acronym for A Corpus of Native and Non-native EFL Classroom Teacher Talk. CONNEcT constituted the main source of data for my doctoral thesis. It consists of transcripts of native and non-native English lesson audio-recordings carried out in secondary education. The talk will mainly focus on some of the corpus findings and suggestions for applications.

Linking adverbials and transition markers in trainee teachers’ language usage
Odette Vassallo (University of Malta)
Linking adverbials and transition markers is an essential part of discourse cohesion. These features help to ensure clarity of communication in classroom teacher talk. This talk discusses the findings of a corpus-based study focussing on the patterns of language usage of trainee teachers. It offers some initial thoughts on the implications of the study’s findings for teacher education and development.

How many words do scholars have for “How many words do Eskimos have for snow”?

The photos above were taken from a book on mountains (the title of which I had forgotten to note) whilst on a winter break. I remember feeling vaguely superior to the author of the mountain book as I vaguely recalled the “debunking” of the Eskimo-languages-have-so-many-words-for-snow myth. Then I promptly forgot about the issue till @EngliciousUCL tweeted a study by Regier et. al. (2016) called “Languages Support Efficient Communication about the Environment: Words for Snow Revisited”.

This study makes the point that in all the fuss about the status of the Eskimo words for snow an underlying principle has not been tested, that is “language is shaped by the need for efficient communication”. The authors go on to demonstrate the support for this principle.

This post is a limited attempt to list interesting articles written by scholars on the Eskimo snow words topic either for the public or more specialist audiences.

So back to the question – How many words do scholars have for “How many words do Eskimos have for snow”? There are at least 40000 words using the following references:

As mentioned the above is a limited list as this does not include texts with a passing mention of “Eskimo words for snow” and/or that use it as a prompt for other related examples (many of which you can find by doing a search in Language Log). For texts before Martin (1986), Cichocki and Marcin (2010) provide a comprehensive history.

The Language Log blog is also the stomping ground of the author of one of the most popular descriptions of the refutation of the “How many words do Eskimos have for snow” – Geoffrey Pullum.

To recap Pullum (1991) following Martin (1986) points out that the number of distinct words, defined as root forms, that Eskimo/Inuit languages have for snow is four. This number is taken from the text published by the anthropologist Franz Boas in 1911. The problems of identifying what are words is compounded in Inuit languages as they often add bases together to form whatever description they need. Hence the number of words for snow or for seals or for ice is unbounded. The number of sentences in English to describe say a wintry scene is similarly infinite.

Bearing the above in mind, specialists in Eskimo/Inuit languages such as Kaplan (2003) say the number of root forms amount to 3. Whilst other specialists like Woodbury (1991) gives 15 lexeme meanings, where a lexeme is similar to a root.

One study of several Eskimo dictionaries by Krupnik & Müller-Will (2010) argues that independent words that are derived from roots represent “a meaningful and clearly distinguishable phenomenon to indigenous speakers”. Hence the number of ways Eskimo languages describe snow is quite rich, even more so for words to describe ice. They add if you really want a language with a 100 words for snow look to the Norwegian Sámi.

This shallow trek into the Eskimo words for snow trope brings up a couple of points – 1) how various factoids one learns about language often hides more interesting principles as Regier et. el. (2016) show; 2) how using English as a comparison language as well as the metalanguage of comparison may result in erroneous native speaker intuitions projected onto a language with a very different classification system (Silverstein 1991).

I’ll leave you with a question asked to Michael Silverstein one of the players in the early drama:

I asked Silverstein if he had ever thought about popularizing the field of linguistics in the way academics in other disciplines have.

 

He recoiled. “That’s an ethical question,” he said. “There are people who are scientific evangelists, who are no different in kind than any other evangelist. I’m enough of a Menckenite to be a skeptic–that is to say, to realize that my claim to systematic knowledge of a social phenomenon is just one more thing that might go into the hopper of whatever the phenomenon happened to be. One might say that that’s just not the kind of phenomenon that responds to that sort of treatment. ‘You just think you’re studying it, you’re not really studying it; what the phenomenon is is exactly what John Simon says it is, and pooh-pooh on all of your stuff.’ Because, remember, the phenomena are us.”

(Watch Your Language! Anthropological Linguist Michael Silverstein on Australian Aborigines, Wine Nuts, Dear Abby, and the Language Police by Bill Wyman, February 14 1991)

Thanks for reading.

TaWSIG and teacher experience design

Teachers as workers, TaWSIG, is here for one simple reason, there is very little public discussion of working conditions in English Language Teaching, ELT. To a large extent this is understandable given the dominance of private business concerns running the industry. We try not to be anti this-that-whatever, rather we want to promote discussion of the reality of our working lives. If you agree please do consider sharing your opinions and experiences.

On the website blog we have so far posted on why you should join, everyday hassles, re-claiming our teaching identity, re-thinking professional development and raising mental health issues.

We do not want you to go back to your scheduled programming, we want you to help push ELT into thinking about designing teacher experiences we can be proud of. We want our learners to be proud of their achievements knowing their teachers are working in the best possible circumstances. We want to change things. We can change things.

Thanks for reading.