Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Katy Davies’s talk, taken from my tweets.
KatySDavies found a lot of elementar/pre-int students in Dubai, but very few at int or beyond. Even those who do reach intermediate reach a plateau. They get frustrated that progress is not linear any more. Another question is how to improve after you’ve got the basics. Is it a question of piling on more grammar/vocab? Students complain that they’ve already studied things, so you try to give them sth more challenging, but also more obscure.
Katy interviewed her colleagues about how they felt reaching intermediate level in other languages.
These are the three themes that came out of her interviews :
We focus on input, but maybe we should be focussing on understanding too. Students need quality listening practice. We focus on input, but maybe we should be focussing on understanding too. Students need quality listening practice. For example, play a recording, stop it randomly, and they predict what’s next. Students are shocked they know! We can show them listening is active, or highlight features of connected speech. Highlight what makes understanding difficult. Connected speech is often in ‘pronunciation’ boxes, but they’re as much/more about listening. If students don’t know these features exist, they can’t focus on them. Raise awareness in short examples, then longer. If students don’t know these features exist, they can’t focus on them. Raise awareness in short examples, then longer.
Raise student’s awareness of how much English relies on pre-fabricated chunks. Whole conversations can be made of them! When highlighting the idea of chunks to int + students, teach them how restricted/free they are e.g. the grammar. Once students know they exist, they can try highlighting them in transcripts/written texts. Students surprisingly good at it! Don’t forget to work with reformulation and drilling, perhaps through jazz chants. Not just for beginners. Once int+ students notice these chunks exist, they can build patterns to try and replace lower-level vocabulary lists. They feel like there’s more structure and less chaos. At higher levels, we’re trying to encourage students to work at discourse level and not word level. Chunks help.
Speaking in conversations is difficult for int+ too – overlapping speakers, responding to other person, backchanneling. @sandymillin: We need to teach them circumlocution – working around words they don’t know. And teach them natives need it too! @sandymillin: Students can see pauses and fillers as mistakes, rather than natural. #iatefl @KatySDavies Ask students to use transcripts and identifying what the speaker is trying to do. “They want to take a turn”. How about asking to record real conversations? It’s great for learners, and they don’t hear it often enough. (Suggestion from Sian Morgan: use recordings of non-native speakers as models for where intermediate could aim to be.)Talk to students about how conversation management differs in their culture. By breaking down the language like this, intermediate students can progress because it’s more manageable.
In conclusion, if you want to help students past the intermediate plateau, try these:
Time spent in the classroom should be about using the language, but also about helping students to understand why it’s difficult. We might need to negotiate with the learners, as they may want to only focus on productive skills. There are two people in a conversation!
Here’s Jonathan Sayers’ much easier to read take on Katy’s talk!