Beyond the symbolic violence dome of the native speaker teacher

An article titled How to end native speaker privilege was posted recently on the always readable site Language on the Move. It includes an intriguing historical account of teachers of Persian in India and England in the 18th and 19th centuries. It also includes a framing of the native and non-native (English) speaker (teacher) which is problematic.

The first problem is the othering of native speaker teachers – who are implicitly depicted as a homogenous, static, monolithic entity, an undifferentiated mass of native speaker teachers.

The second problem is seen in the symbolic violence of phrasing such as “Subordinating native speakers” and that the injustices suffered by non-native speaker teachers can be resolved by “replacing” native speaker teachers with non-native speaker teachers.

Research in France by Martine Derivry-Plard and Claire Griffin reveals a picture of native speaker teachers and non-native speaker teachers in a more differentiated light. And it explores the question of going beyond the widespread symbolic violence that is due to a monolingual-monocultural world view.

Symbolic violence is a way to impose social order by social agents. The social agents act to position themselves favorably in a field. In the present case the field is the foreign language teaching field which is part of the language teaching field which in turn is part of the linguistic field of teaching which itself forms part of the linguistic field.

It is certainly the case that in the foreign language teaching field of English non-native speaker teachers are subject to various forms of symbolic violence. The Language on the Move article notes in passing that certain aspects of this violence are being addressed such as legal prohibitions on discriminatory job adverts and growing discussions of complementary strengths of non-native and native speaker teachers. Derivry-Plard and Griffin (2017) report on symbolic violence present in the experiences of native (mainly English) speaker teachers working in France.

In the first study 19 native English speaking teachers (NESTs) and 19 non-native English speaking teachers (NNESTs) teaching a BTS course (a 2 year course after the baccalaureate) are interviewed. The interviews revealed that NNESTs criticized the teaching skills of their native colleagues, that is NESTs were seen more as speakers than as teachers of English:
“some had not the project of teaching English …I have seen native English-speaking teachers who did not do the job … but, it is just because they are not teachers, they turned up in a classroom … they delivered what they could, they thought that speaking English for two hours is enough! … but this is not having a conversation, speaking about this or that for an hour ? …And some do not know French enough, which is a problem .. Some do not teach!” (Derivry-Plard & Griffin, 2017:39)

Conversely the NNESTs are denied as speakers of English by their native colleagues and consequently NNEST’s cannot be good teachers of English:
“well, it’s second language, it’s second-hand! … in this schoolbook written by French, there are a few mistakes … they make mistakes, with English vowels, their accent is not as good … Sometimes, her accent was awful and there were English teachers I could barely understand …She made so many mistakes .. and some pupils were as good as she was in English! …She could not give a precise meaning of a word with all the connotations… even if the dictionary gives that meaning, it has no longer that meaning…at a certain point, a non native teacher will be embarrassed, this is for sure because, at one point, he/she will apply a grammar rule that we no longer use …they will never get all the shades of meaning ...” (Derivry-Plard & Griffin, 2017:39)

These attitudes reflect the two teaching legitimacies that have developed in the foreign language (FL) teaching field of English in France, since the 19th century, from the spaces of the public education system (institutional) and the private educational system (non-institutional).
1. The professional legitimacy of non-native teachers in institutional spaces was based on the assumption that they were the best teachers as they went through the same learning process as their pupils, so they would be better able to explain the target language to learners sharing the same mother tongue. This is the legitimacy of the FL teacher as a learning model.
2. The professional legitimacy of native teachers in non-institutional spaces was based on the opposite assumption that they were the best teachers because they taught their own “mother tongue” and that they knew more about it. This is the legitimacy of the FL teachers as a language-culture model. (Derivry-Plard & Griffin, 2017:34)

For some time these two legitimacies were not challenged, but with the globalization and marketization of education the boundaries between institutional and non-institutional are breaking down and with it the increase in symbolic violence on non-native and native speaker teachers.

In the second, doctoral study, Claire Griffen interviewed 24 native speaker teachers. 21 were native English speakers from the UK and the Republic of Ireland and 3 were native speakers of Italian, Greek and German who worked in the secondary education sector. These teachers experiences were grouped and analysed into various themes. For example: experiences of resentment at native speakers being able to take the national competitive exams; encounters that NEST’s are not already qualified even if they have in fact more qualifications than their non-native colleagues –
“sometimes people assume that you’re only an English teacher because you’re English. “Well what else is she going to do, she’s married? What else is she going to do? She’s got children. What else can she do? She can speak English” (Derivry-Plard & Griffin, 2017:43);

NESTs are forever operating in the mode of a “learner” as they were not initially socialized in the education system as children; experiencing symbolic violence such as “but you never had to learn English like us, you just have to open your mouth” (Derivry-Plard & Griffin, 2017:46).

I remember when I started teaching in France a student was impressed by what he described as an Oxbridge accent. His subsequent question of where I had studied made me embarrassed to reveal to not having been educated at either Oxford or Cambridge. Although to be fair to the student he did not seem to show any disappointment at my un-elite education. Also, back then, when new English friends and acquaintances found out I teach English as a foreign language they would joke that there would be a generation of French people speaking English with a Welsh accent. Though that joke has not been heard for many a year.

Having described some of the issues faced by native English speaker teachers in France there is a danger that we move from talking about who is the best teacher to who is the most discriminated teacher (Derivry-Plard, 2018). How then do we go beyond the symbolic violence? The embedded fields given earlier i.e. linguistic field < linguistic field of teaching < language teaching field < foreign language teaching field can help us to see the multilingual multicultural paradigm of today. The linguistic field of teaching involves all subject matter as language is the medium used to deliver the subjects. i.e. all teachers are to some extent language teachers (this is very evident in say CLIL contexts). Next the field of language teaching can be divided into first language, second language and foreign languages. In this way the embedded model of fields takes into account language diversity, lingua cultures and cultural repertoires.

A French teacher of English in a recent twitter chat on native and non-native speaker issues commented jokingly on teaching French teenagers :
“To tell the truth, I feel like speaking their native language doesn’t help either…. someone speaking the “teenager” language would be better off!!” [https://twitter.com/Pascalune12/status/1001905158719229959]

Can we say here that the appearance of “teenager language” in the humor is a glossed acknowledgement of the pluricultural landscape of teaching? The native speaker paradox derives from a monolingual and monocultural assumption that is largely due to the centuries old drive to nation states which culminated in the 19th century. The multilingual, pluricultural paradigm encompases the monolingual-monocultural one. While in the old monolingual paradigm native speakers are included and non-native speakers are excluded in the multilingual world the native speaker is not excluded as a way to right wrongs but is part of the plurilingual continuum.

As Derivry-Plard puts it:
“There are no longer any dichotomies but continua for defining languages, cultures, speakers, and teachers as social actors. In other words, the monolingual paradigm is restrictive and exclusive, whereas the multilingual paradigm is comprehensive and inclusive and accounts for a broader perspective and better understanding of the linguistic field and the linguistic markets.” (Derivry-Plard, 2018:143)

She does not deny that embracing this is a difficult task however ignoring the necessity of this challenge is unethical and counterproductive.

Thanks for reading.

References

Derivry-Plard, M. & Griffin, C. (2017). Beyond Symbolic Violence in ELT in France. In Agudo, J. D. D. M. (Ed.) Native and Non-native Teachers in English Language Classrooms: Professional Challenges and Teacher Education (Vol. 26) (pp. 33-51). Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG.

Derivry-Plard, M. (2018). A Multilingual Paradigm in Language Education: What It Means for Language Teachers. In Houghton, S. A. & Hashimoto, K. (Eds.) Towards Post-Native-Speakerism (pp. 131-148). Springer, Singapore.

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Horses for courses #researchbites

Scott Thornbury weighed into a recent debate on the use of the construct native speaker in second language acquisition (SLA) with this:

“Hi Marek. A bit late in the day but… I suspect that Geoff insists on the NS-NNS distinction because it is absolutely central to the Chomskyan project (to which he is fervently – dare I say uncritically – committed) which presupposes an innately determined (hence genetic) language learning device which, like milk teeth, can only be available for a very limited period, whereafter general (i.e. non-language specific) learning abilities kick-in, accounting for the less than ‘native-like’ proficiency levels attained by late-starters. If, on the other hand, you take the perfectly plausible view (e.g. argued by Michael Tomasello, Nick Ellis, and many others) that general (i.e. non-language specific) learning capacities are implicated in language acquisition from the get-go, and hence that there is no need to hypothesise either a genetically-programmed language acquisition device nor a qualitative difference between native and non-native speakers, then the whole Chomskyan enterprise collapses, taking with it the distinction between man and beasts, and leading to the end of civilization as we know it.” [https://teflequityadvocates.com/2017/05/13/of-native-speakers-and-other-fantastic-beasts/comment-page-1/#comment-5049]

Here we see an assumption that theories in SLA necessarily have to conflict. This ELT Research Bites blog carnival entry describes a different position by Jason Rothman and Bill VanPatten – On multiplicity and mutual exclusivity: The case for different SLA theories published in 2013.

Why are there various theories about adult SLA?

Why so many and why not convergence onto one theory? An analogy to physics is made – at the macro level there is general relativity, whilst at the micro level quantum theory. Those theories further subdivide depending on the area of interest. More importantly we cannot assume SLA is a unitary or singular thing. It is multifaceted and so there are multiple theories which look at those many different aspects of SLA. This evokes the story of the many wise blind scholars describing the many parts of an elephant.

So SLA can look at the internal issues of acquisition (e.g. input processing, output processing, internal representation, storage, retrieval) or it can look at external issues of acquisition such as interaction and its factors (e.g. context, social roles, identity, communicative intent).

How do various theories treat the S, the L and the A of SLA?

All theories can be said to assume that “second” means any language learned after acquisition of the first in childhood. Rothman and VanPatten go on to put various theories and frameworks into 4 groups:

  1. Language is a mental construct – generative approach, connectionism, input processing, processability theory
    2. Language is a socially mediated construct or originates from communication – systemic-functional approaches, socio-cultural theory
    3. Language is a hybrid mental/social-communcative construct – spoken language grammar, socio-cultural theory
    4. Language is not specified – interactionist framework, skill acquisition theory, dynamic systems theory

If we look into the particular groups we can further subdivide, e.g. for group 1 there is a division between those that see language as domain specific and modular (generative approach, input processing) or not (connectionism). In group 4 there may be no clear view on the precise nature of language but they are clear on what it is not. Dynamic systems theory for example rejects the generative view that language is modular and has innate components.

Each theory’s view of language affects how they think language is acquired and what causes the change in acquisition – e.g. a generative view would see most acquisition from universal constraints by learner internal language specific mechanisms whereas connectionism would see acquisition as exclusively sourced from external stimuli in coordination with general non-language specific mechanisms.

How does environmental context influence theories?

For theories that see language as primarily a mental construct they are interested in how language becomes represented. So generative, connectionism, input processing and processibility theory see external contexts as independent of their concerns. By contrast theories such as skill acquisition and sociocultural are focused on factors unrelated to grammatical representation and processing. Rather they look at the roles of practice, negotiation, interaction, attitude, participant relationships, aptitude, motivation etc.
Consequently some theories that have direct implications or are based on classroom contexts will be popular with teachers. Whereas others with no classroom basis will be seen as more abstract and less useful for teachers.

To what extent are theories in competition?

Coming back to Scott’s implication that either Chomsky is right and connectionism is wrong or vice versa, Rothman and Vanpatten argue that theories can be seen as more complementary than generally thought. For example acquiring vocabulary and surface forms can arguably be best described using connectionism whilst a generative approach can best describe syntactic acquisition.

In skill acquisition theory, it is assumed that domain general mechanisms are at play but this is only so if we don’t see a distinction between learning and acquisition. If we do make the distinction then what skill acquisitionists are describing is learning – a process where meta-linguistic knowledge, independent of competence, forms a separate system of performance. Whilst generative approaches are concerned with acquisition – where syntactical knowledge is processed and represented.

Rothman and VanPatten admit that skill acquistionist bods may well disagree with the description presented but the simple point is that such a description is possible.

So?

Returning to the debate on how SLA conceptualises native speakers, we can say that theories concerned with mental representation of language use the construct of the native speaker at a larger abstract level for their purposes. Meanwhile socio-cultural theorists are concerned with contextual and environmental questions and the native speaker construct at more granular levels is problematic and may need to be discarded.

References:

Rothman, J. & VanPatten, B. (2013). On multiplicity and mutual exclusivity: The case for different SLA theories. In M. P. García-Mayo, M.J. Gutiérrez-Mangado, & M. Martínez Adrián (Eds.), Contemporary approaches to second language acquisition (pp. 243–256). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Available at (pdf)[https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263804781_On_Multiplicity_and_Mutual_Exclusivity_The_Case_for_Different_SLA_Theories]

 

HVPT or minimal pairs on steroids

It was by chance as these things tend to happen on the net that I read about High Variability Pronunciation Training (HVPT). What are the odds language teachers know about HVPT?

My extremely representative and valid polling on Twitter and G+ gave me a big fat 2 out of 24 teachers who knew the acronym. Of the two who said yes one had looked up the acronym and the other is an expert in pronunciation.

I would put good odds that most language teachers have heard of and use minimal pairs, i.e. pairs of words which differ by one sound, the famous ship/sheep for example.

HVPT can be seen as a souped up minimal pairs where different speakers are used and sounds presented in different contexts. Learners are then required to categorize the sound by picking a label for the sound. Feedback is then given on whether they are correct.

Pronunciation research has shown that providing a variety of input in terms of speakers and phonetic contexts helps learners categorize sounds. That is the V of variability in the acronym. Furthermore such training focuses learners on the phonetic form and thus reduces any effect of semantic meaning since it has been shown that attending to both meaning and form reduces performance.

Currently there is one free (with registration) program that helps with Canadian pronunciation it is called EnglishAccentCoach.1 This web and IOS program is developed by Ron Thompson a notable researcher in this field. It is claimed that it can significantly help learners in only 8 short training sessions and effects last for up to a month. There is a paid program called UCL Vowel Trainer2 which claims learners improved from 65% accuracy to 85% accuracy over 5 sessions.

Another (open source) program is in development called Minimal Bears which is based on PyPhon.3 MinimalBears aims to build up crowdsourcing feature so that many languages can be accommodated. Interested readers may like to see a talk about HVPT from the developers.4

So it is quite amazing as Mark Liberman from Language Log pointed out how little is known by language educators about HPVT. One of the commenters to the Language Log post suggested association with drill and kill stereotypes of language learning may have tainted it. No doubt more research is required to test the limits of HPVT. Hopefully this post will pique interest in readers to investigate these minimal pairs on steroids.

Many thanks to Guy Emerson for additional information and to the poll respondents.

Notes:

1. EnglishAccentCoach
2. UCL Vowel Trainer
3. PyPhon  I have yet to be able to get this working
4. (video) High Variability and Phonetic Training – Guy Emerson and Stanisław Pstrokoński

Further reading:

Thomson, R. I. (2011). Computer assisted pronunciation training: Targeting second language vowel perception improves pronunciation. Calico Journal, 28(3), 744-765. Retrieved from http://www.equinoxpub.com/journals/index.php/CALICO/article/viewPDFInterstitial/22985/18991
Liberman, M. (2008, July 6) HVPT [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=328

What to teach from corpora output – frequency and transparency

Frequency of occurrence is the main way for teachers to choose what to teach when using corpora however as Andrew Walkley discusses in “Word choice, frequency and definitions” using just frequency is not without limitations. In addition to frequency we can use semantic transparency/opacity,  that is, how the meaning of the whole differs from its individual parts. This is also sometimes referred to as how idiomatic a phrase is. Martinez (2012) offers a Frequency Transparency Framework that teachers can use to help them choose what phrases to teach. Using four collocates of take he presents the following graphic:

The Frequency-Transparency Framework (FTF) using four collocates of the verb take (Martinez, 2013)

The numbered quadrants are the suggested priority of the verb+noun pairs i.e. the most frequent and most opaque phrase would be taught first (1), then the most frequent and transparent phrase (2), followed by the less frequent but opaque phrase (3) and last the least frequent and most transparent phrase (4). As said this is only a suggested priority which can be changed according to the teaching context. For example a further two factors (in addition to word for word decoding) can be considered when evaluating transparency:

  • Is the expression potentially deceptively transparent? – “every so often” can be misread as often; “for some time” can be misunderstood as short amount of time (Martinez & Schmitt, 2012, p.309)
  • Could the learner’s L1 negatively influence accurate perception?

Applying the framework to the binomials list from my webmonkey corpus – I would place up and running in quadrant 1, latest and greatest in quadrant 2, tried and true in quadrant 3 and layout and design in quadrant 4. Note that I did not place drag and drop, the most frequent and somewhat opaque phrase since it is so well-known with my multimedia students (similar to cut and paste) that it would not need teaching. Thanks for reading.

References:

Martinez, R. (2013). A framework for the inclusion of multi-word expressions in ELT. ELT Journal 67(2): 184-198.

Martinez, R. & Schmitt, N. (2012). A Phrasal Expressions List. Applied Linguistics 33(3): 299-320.

This corpora-bashing parrot has ceased to be

Hugh Dellar’s recent What have corpora ever done for us post dismisses the hype behind corpora that was prevalent a few years back with typical gusto. I would like to look at some of the issues raised.

It is curious that his support of teacher intuition over the use of corpora seems to contrast with his support of coursebooks over teacher intuition in his dogme posts. Gabrielatos (2005) describes the example of when a teacher’s intuition that tag questions belonged to the “bowler-hat” past of English use clashed with a finding that one in four questions in dialogues was a question tag.

Another of Dellar’s objections echoes Widdowson’s dichotomy between genuine texts and authentic texts, as cited in Tribble (1997). Concordance lines from corpora represent instances of genuine language use, the products of language communication. This language contrasts with discourse texts which are authentic and represent the process of language communication. Learners need to construct a relationship with language materials so concordance lines need to be filtered so as to be useful in the classroom, what Widdowson calls pedagogic mediation.

A related concern is between indirect uses of corpora by commercial publishers and direct uses by learners and teachers.

Both of these concerns are being addressed by specific corpora such as the Backbone pedagogic corpora for content and language integrated learning; MICASE corpus of academic spoken English, and by the wider availability of general corpora such as COCA (corpus of contemporary American English); BNC (British national corpus).

For instance Dellar’s question regarding [get on with it] and [let’s get down to business] can be answered by using the Phrases in English tool which uses the BNC. Here we find that [get on with it] appears 401 times (4.11 instances per 1 million words) vs 2 times (0.02 instances per million words) for [let’s get down to business].

The Backbone collection is very interesting as it provides a thematically focused database of spoken text for 5 languages plus English as lingua franca, backed up with an assortment of learning resources. The English corpus includes 50 interviews which are annotated for topic, grammar and lexis. This annotation goes some way to address the problem of the way text is coded.

Braun (2005) describes using a small corpus as a way to mediate pedagogically between corpora and learners using “coherent and relevant content, a restricted size, a multimedia format and a pedagogic annotation of the corpus”(Braun, 2005, p61).

The use of home-made corpora is another way to attack the issue of authenticity. I will detail my use of the TextSTAT tool and similar software to build up a corpus of material for multimedia students in a later post (Update: see this series of posts). Although it takes some work teachers can build up formal databases to complement their experience-based intuitive database.

Two other criticisms not mentioned by Dellar are that corpora promote both a bottom up processing of text (vs a top down processing) and an inductive (vs deductive) approach to learning. Flowerdew (2009) discusses these and concludes that top down processing can be used with corpus data and that a mixed approach be used combining elements of a deductive approach into the inductive approach.

Finally turning to learning effects, Oghigian and Chujo (2010) found beginner students improved significantly on all six question types in pre/post test scores in a class using a contrastive (Japanese/English) corpus compared to a class using a listening CD who improved only on three types of questions.

Hopefully this short response shows that the corpora-bashing parrot has shuffled off this metaphorical coil. 🙂

References:

Braun, S. (2005). From pedagogically relevant corpora to authentic language learning contents. ReCALL 17(1): 47-64.

Gabrielatos, C. (2005). Corpora and language teaching: Just a fling, or wedding bells? TESL-EJ 8(4), A1, 1-37.

Flowerdew, L. (2009). Applying corpus linguistics to pedagogy A critical evaluation. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 14:3 (2009), 393–417

Oghigian, K. & Chujo, K. (2010). An Effective Way to Use Corpus Exercises to Learn Grammar Basics in English. Language Education in Asia, 2010, 1(1), 200-214.

Tribble, C. (1997). Improvising corpora for ELT: Quick-and-dirty ways of developing corpora for language teaching. In J. Melia. & B. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (Eds.), PALC ’97 Proceedings, Practical Applications in Language Corpora (pp. 106-117). Lodz: Lodz University Press.

Update:

Be sure to read Leo Selivan’s response What corpora have done for us to Hugh Dellar’s post.

What the research says – Feedback

The first and very likely last of my attempts to see how easy/difficult it is for a classroom teacher to research evidence using only online resources on various ELT questions.

Many teachers are interested in the question posed by Chris Wilson/@MrChrisJWilson – What makes feedback good? (Wilson, 2013).

The commenters to the post all more or less agreed that generally feedback should aim to improve the learner – what is known as formative feedback.

What does the research tell us?

A 2008* review article titled Focus on formative feedback by Valerie Shute used between 170-180 sources resulting in some interesting tables of recommendations based on the unequivocal results that were reviewed. e.g. one recommendation discourages the use of praise:

from Table 3, p 31, Shute (2007)
from Table 3, p 31, Shute (2007)

Another advises against interrupting a student whilst they are engaged in a task which contrasts somewhat with Adrian Underhill on giving feedback during tasks (Underhill, 2012):

from Table 3, p 31, Shute (2007)
from Table 3, p 31, Shute (2007)

One table lists some guidelines related to learner characteristics. It is difficult to tell Chris’s learner’s characteristics but let’s assume that this learner’s goal is to show her competence rather than increase her competence, one of the guidelines state:

from Table 5, p 33, Shute (2007)
from Table 5, p 33, Shute (2007)

There is a lot to dig in Shute’s article which I may come back to as updates to this post.

A more immediate classroom conceptualization is provided by Tony Lynch** who talks about making the distinction between slips and errors and getting students to notice the difference (Lynch, ?).

Students are able to correct slips on their own whereas errors need the help of a teacher.

His work recommends the use of student self-transcription of speaking tasks and student recorded audio logs. Teachers can then use the transcriptions and logs to give feedback.

*I initially found the Shute 2008 article on JSTOR repo, but during my search came across the Shute 2007 report for ETS, which the screenshots of the tables are taken from.

**I found initial references to work by Lynch from a search on the British Council directory of UK ELT research 2005-10. It’s a shame that I can get access to a US researcher’s paper but not to a UK one. My google-fu is weak, found article eventually.

References:

Lynch, T. (?) Tips from the Classroom: Student-responsible correction of spoken English. Retrieved 10 January 2013, from http://www.sfu.ca/heis/archive/20-2_lynch.pdf

Shute, V. J. (2007). Focus on formative feedback. ETS Research Report, RR-07-11 (pp. 1-47), Princeton, NJ.

Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1),153-189.

Underhill, A. (2012 Dec 19) Demanding higher in a conversation class [Web Log Post]. Retrieved from http://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/demanding-higher-in-a-conversation-class/

Wilson, C. (2013 Jan 7) Your accent is terrible – Destructive feedback [Web log Post]. Retrieved from http://www.eltsquared.co.uk/your-accent-is-terrible-destructive-feedback/

Update 1:

In the comments to this post by Chiew Pang/@@aClilToClimb, Dale Coulter/@dalecoulter gives some solid reasons why immediate feedback is necessary.

This reminded me that I did not include any information on timing in my initial post.

The review found that immediate feedback is preferred choice, particularly for relatively difficult tasks but research has also shown that delayed feedback helps with transfer of learning, so one should match feedback with learning goals:

Shute 2008 feedback-timing
from Table 4, p 32, Shute (2007)

Update 2:

Thanks to a tweet by @cdelondon that linked to article on Where are university websites hiding all their research I learnt of this great tool – Institutional Repository Search which claims to look through 130 UK repos. Fab!

Update 3:

Yazikopen, an online directory linking to more than 4000 modern languages articles, brought to my attention by Alannah Fitzgerald ‏/@AlannahFitz.