Skills

Changing language part 2: From language research to life-ready learners

Olivia Goodman and Will Rixon

Cambridge Secondary Product Marketing Manager, Will and ELT Research Manager, Olivia ask: when creating course book and course materials, just how much of the vocab, functional language and grammar is informed by current language use? And how is it done? In part 2 of this series, we explore what you, as teachers, can do to arm your students with the strategies required to communicate successfully in this ever-evolving global landscape.  Catch up with part 1 to see how the Corpus shapes our course books.

What can teachers do to help?

In addition to the work we have done, there are all sorts of ways to expose the learner to natural language, but at some point, the learner will need to go out into the big wide world and begin interacting with other speakers, and there is only so much we, as teachers, can do to equip them for that. However, does the teacher’s job simply stop at offering them the language insights? Or are there other things we can do to help them deal with these changes as they occur? What strategies can we give our students that will help them deal with ever-evolving language trends?

Among many other skills we can teach them, I will go into three that I find particularly useful for my students. First, the task-based listening strategy, then repair strategies and finally, avoidance.

Task-based strategy

An alternative to direct teaching is the Task-based Strategy Approach. This is where learners:

  • Listen to a recording or watch a short clip
  • Share ideas on how they managed to make sense of parts they did not fully follow (e.g. looking at body language, listening to intonation, using the language they DO understand to get the overall meaning). (2b. Perhaps, repeat this activity with the same clip, trying to better understand it again.)
  • Report to the class
  • Listen again. (Depending on your institution’s guidelines, you may wish to do this final stage with subtitles in their first language in order for them to analyse exactly what they missed, if anything, and why they missed it)

 

Strategy practice of this kind entails using recordings that are at or slightly beyond the language level of the learners (useful for demonstrating how to deal with unknown words). Even at quite low levels, these recordings should include simple clips of authentic speech.

Repair strategy

With Repair Strategies, the listener learns formulaic expressions used in interactive situations to get clarification or repetition. A simple set of phrases could prove to be invaluable when students find themselves in English speaking environments, where they are surrounded by opportunities to learn new language. Here are some examples:

  • Could you say that again, please?
  • Would you mind repeating that, please?
  • I’m not sure I understand
  • Sorry, what was that?
  • I didn’t quite catch that?

 

Avoidance strategy

Avoidance strategies are used to help the listener learn to ignore a piece of text that seems unimportant, allowing them to simply focus on the information they require, not the text in its entirety. To help students prepare for a listening activity, here’s a few ideas…

  • First, you could use the questions on the page to predict the word or words you are listening for: is it multiple choice? What type of word is it? Anything on that page that will arm the listener with information about what they can expect to hear.
  • Second, they could try to find other clues or key words in the question that might help, in this example ‘technology nouns’. This could tell the student that the audio will be about technology, of course, but because it says ‘technology NOUNS’, they might find out that the entire audio is discussing how people use English to discuss technology. If they did figure this out, it will help them to answer the questions.
  • Thirdly, they can use what they see on the page to give them information about the format of the audio. Is it a monologue? Is it going to be formal or informal? Etc.

 

By combining the research we continue to do (in part 1 of this series) with the tips above, we can arm our learners with the skills and knowledge they need to be confident and effective members of our ever-evolving global community!


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