Archives for language in the press

Reading for Pleasure. . .

Shakespeare, Chaucer, Hemmingway, Orwell, Bushell. . . All literary magicians of the highest calibre and a joy to read. Hopefully, we all like to read for pleasure–but what measurable effects does reading produce? And what does it mean for our students?

Well, according to the studies mentioned below, it means a great deal.

With regards to the nature of any measurable effects  that reading creates for students, then, of course, it depends what students are reading. . . When we explore this a little more carefully, we uncover some interesting and important  surprises that challenge commonly held opinions about the content of some popular text-types.

The variations in the density of academic language across common text-types is quite surprising; for example, most comic books have a surprisingly high frequency of ‘high level’ language and actually force students/readers to engage with a sophisticated interface between reading images and reading several different text-types with the ‘comic’ genre (which is why I find it surprising when teachers react negatively to students who read comics! That said, reading only comics–and, of course, this goes for only reading any single genre–should be avoided, as it does little to promote vocabulary building, etc. etc.).

Anyhow, the diagram below, supplied to me by Rob Millar, illustrates the conclusions of some research about the effects of different reading habits on students. Of course, the usual health-warnings apply–and the research is a little dated (1987). That said, I suggest that it is likely to be the case that the conclusions drawn from this are as relevant today as they were then. It would be interesting to share this information with students. . .

20 Minutes reading per day

Also, here, you can find an interesting paper about how ‘children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers, according to new research from the Institute of Education (IOE).’

And one more for luck:

reading cartoon



Mother Tongue Interference

Radio 4 have just broadcast a series of talking heads from five polyglots describing their experiences as learners and  users of English as an additional language.

Mother Tongue Inter









From an MP in the UK parliament who started life in deepest rural Bavaria, to a Russian novelist who works now for the BBC World Service, the stories provide a fascinating insight into the world of bilingualism.

Definitely a recommended listen for those interested in peering through a window on to the world of our students.

All five episodes are available to listen to until May 2014 at the BBC website here.

Writing Like a Historian – EAL strategies make it into the mainstream

The guardian has published a short piece about the frustration felt by a Year 9 history teacher when confronted with otherwise academically proficient students’ lack of finesse in their written work:

My year 9 class are typical of many classes I’ve taught over the nine years of my teaching career; enthusiastic, bright, of limitless academic potential. But when it came to marking their written work I would be left tearing my hair out at their inability to express their understanding clearly.

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the principles of teaching of ELLs (especially colleagues who have done the TESMC or ESLEL courses) that students must be given opportunities to bridge the gap between talk-like language and written-like language on the register continuum.  It is great to see the value of these learning principles being acknowledged for E1L learners too, and reflects the field’s long held and demonstrable* assertion that good EAL teaching raises attainment for all learners.

The author describes the seeming dissonance in teaching English in a History lesson, and counters well:

“Why are we doing English in history, sir?” came the question as I asked my year 9 history class what kind of word disarmament was. Having anticipated this kind of reaction I had an answer prepared: “Do we only use language in English lessons?”

He also remarks on the oft voiced concern that teaching language comes at the cost of curriculum content.  One might argue that without the  language skills to effectively communicate content knowledge, then the possession of that knowledge is of questionable value.  But the author goes further and demonstrates that in fact the language is used in the service of learning the curriculum content, and as such each is strengthened by the other.

Read the full article on the Guardian website here.

* see for example Eschevaria, J 2012

Grammar Games – Michael Rosen

More from Michael Rosen on teaching grammar. In this post he describes a novel approach to having children explore, play with, and learn about how we construct meaning using words and what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Give it a go and let us know how you get on in the comments section.


Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen, on his blog, has started to post an interesting series of discussions on the teaching of grammar.  Grammar teaching is a perennial concern amongst our learners, their parents and their teachers. Rosen’s motivation to blog about grammar is in part due to the grammar tests shortly  to be introduced in British schools (and he has pretty string views on the appropriateness of such tests).  He hi-lights why grammar teaching is such a tricky area, for example:

One of the reasons why grammar is difficult and hard for all of us, but especially for children is that the moment you come up with a ‘rule’ or fixed shape or pattern of how language should be, and the moment we come up with descriptions for what’s going on, we run into problems: there are exceptions to the rule, or the description just seems to confuse.

And he offers interesting meditations on the whole business.  Something that struck me as noteworthy is that native speakers nail the rules of  grammar (i.e. use them unconsciously and with fluency) by the time they are 5 years old, before many even start school and formal grammar lessons!  Needless to say this won’t be the same for our children, but it does raise an interesting point about how children learn grammar.

The first in the series is here.

English Language Learning and Music

Over the break I came across an interesting blog from bi-lingual booksellers Language Lizard. It’s worth exploring for ideas of how to support bilingual children in the classroom.

One article that particularly caught my eye was on using music, and particularly singing, to support langauge development.

Primary school teachers know how much children love a good sing-a-long and have used nursery rhymes and childrens songs to help teach all sorts of things from phoncs to maths to science and back again.  Unsurprisingly they work just as well for ELLs as for first langauge speakers of English.

The article describes six tips for using music in the classroom.  Have a look here and see if you could apply any of them in your classroom.

The Benefits of Bi-lingualism

Ask the parents of our students why they have chosen to have their children educated in English and you’re likely to find as many nuances of response as people that you ask.

Certainly, in a shrinking world where English (at least for now) is the lingua franca it makes sense to prepare your children to operate in that world as efficiently as possible.

In the more imediate term, we hold aspirations for our students that see them thriving at school and later at universities across the world; contributing most fully in lessons and tutorials, debating the content of their lectures, and showing mastery, precision and control over the medium by which they display their knowledge and understanding.

Interesting research has been reported this week in The New York Times which suggests that bi-lingualism has benefits beyond the mere functional.

Evidently attitudes to bi-lingualism have changed over time.  The article reports that through much of the 20th century it was thought that two languages interfere with each other and therefore cause confusion in bi-linguals.  However, this research suggests that in fact the interference helps the development of a bi-lingual’s brain as it flexes its cognitive muscles in sorting out the interference. 

Just as training your biceps through repeated curls makes for a heightened ability to lift stuff, so training your brain by repeated sorting and sifting between languages results in a heightened ability monitor one’s environment.  This heightend ability to monitor the environment results, they say, in better success in problem solving, planning, and perfomance of mentally challenging tasks.

In short, being bi-lingual makes you smarter.

So what does that mean for us?  Well, firstly it means that we are helping our students to do more than just function in a global economy, we are helping them to do better in it as well.  That’s potentially quite powerful.  But, of course, with great power comes great responsibility.  Clearly we need to remember what we know about mother-tongue maintenace and its influence on second language proficiency to ensure that we produce genuine bi-linguals who will benefit from the extra brain power that results.

The article is an interesting read.  You can see it in full at the New York Times here.

Myth Busting

We know  that there are a number of myths about second language acquisition that can obfuscate our approach to working with ELLs; such as the notion that different languages ‘interfere’ with each other, or that parents should speak only English language with their children at home, and so on.

One commonly held belief about additional language acquisition is that younger children do a better job of it than older children or adults.  While it is true that younger children tend to develop accents that match more closely those of first langauge speakers of English, the research tells us that older children and adults use their existing linguistic schema, experience of acquiring their first language, and world knowledge to help them learn their second or additional language and thus have the potential to do every bit as well as their younger peers.

In this article The New Scientist reports on some research that would suggest that in fact older language learners not only do as well as their younger peers but can do even better as they acquire (and note this is ‘acquire’ rather than ‘learn’) a new language.

In brief, the experiment reported in the article gave adults and young children the task of recognising and applying a new grammar rule, without explicit teaching of the rule.  In it the older learners fared much better than the younger ones.

While language experiments of this sort do not necessarily replicate the process of language acquisition in the real world exactly, they do serve to remind us that we should consider and capitalise on what our older students bring with them from their first langauge(s) when they embark on the process of learning English with us.  For us as teachers we should ensure that we help older students activiate their existing knowledge, build on existing schema and make connections to their first language and cultural experiences. 

For more on how to do that check out everythingesl.net for lots of great guidance.

Speak English on Monday

It’s English speaking day every day at Shrewsbury International School.  That said, our students may be inspired to learn about English speaking day at non-international schools in Thailand who are responding to the government’s call for 2012 to be the Thai Year of Speaking English (which I blogged about earlier here).

In this video students and staff at Sriwittayapaknam school in Samut Prakarn encourage each other and their peers at other Thai schools to remember to speak English on Mondays. 

How could our students get involved in promoting this drive to raise the profile of English nationally?  We certainly have some very good role models who could serve as inspiration.

2012 is English Speaking Year for Thailand

The Thai Minsitry of Education has announced that 2012 will be ‘English Speaking Year’.

In preparation for 2015 when the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is due to create The ASEAN Community (with the aim of building economic, security and socio-cultural ties between the member states) the Ministry of Education has begun work on a programme “to make Thailand ready to be a part of the ASEAN Community in 2015, because the English language is a major medium of communication among ASEAN member countries.”

In a Bangkok Post article The Minister for Education is is quoted as saying that when Thailand becomes a part of the ASEAN Community the English language will be very important for communication.  He then describes some of the activities they will be recommending to schools, such as one day a week to be designated as an English speaking day and the setting up of English corners in classrooms.

The minister goes on to say that the he wants students to ‘dare to speak English’ without worrying too much about grammar.  A great message to send to learners of English (or indeed of any language): that this is about communication first and foremost, and that worrying about the fine detail too early will only reinforce any reluctance to have a go.

This sentiment is echoed in another Bangkok Post article by Professor Saowalak Rattanavich, a languages lecturer at Srinakharinwirot University, who urges the programme to “…start with real usage of speaking, reading and writing the language in daily life first. Grammar can come later.”  She makes the excellent point that “Language classes must focus on content relevant to learners’ daily lives. The content must be practical.”

A part of our guiding statement at Shrewsbury International School is that ‘we are a community of language learners that recognises that the speaking of English brings our international community together‘.  As Professor Saowalak rightly states, creating authentic situations that are relevant to learners’  lives is really important in developing language acquisition.  What a fabulous opportunity we have therefore to hi-light the aspirations voiced by the Ministry of Education for the proficiency of Thai speakers of English and frame them in terms of the aspirations Thailand has for participation in the exciting venture of the ASEAN Community.  A more authentic reason to encourage, inspire and guide our ELLs at Shrewsbury one could not hope for.


UPDATE: In a related Bangkok Post op ed, a rather bleak picture is drawn as the author considers the current levels of English proficiency in Thailand and how they compare to our ASEAN neighbours.

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