Continuing language learning: the role of L1 literacy in secondary L2 language and literacy development

Originally posted on Oxford University Press:

Frustrated student at work in classroomMany secondary second language learners face numerous challenges as they develop language and literacy in a second language at the same time they are learning subject area content in that second language. Fortunately, L1 academic literacy is not separate from L2 academic literacy. They are both manifestations of a common underlying proficiency. In this post Dr. Marylou M. Matoush, introduces her forthcoming webinar highlighting the ways that academic language and literacy proficiency can be developed through active reading, writing, speaking and listening in either or both languages.

Secondary schools are commonly structured as if all students need the same type of instruction, for the same amount of time, across the same curriculum. While this is far from ideal, it may not seem too problematic in some second language and literacy instructional settings, such as foreign language classrooms, where second language (L2) learners share somewhat similar first language (L1) language and literacy…

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In search of a holistic Perspective on Language and Language Teaching

In spite of the highly academic discourses available on the nature and characteristics of language and its manifestation as a cognitive phenomenon and a social dynamic, language seems to be an enigma to many stakeholders involved in designing and implementing a language curriculum. Language as a tool for making sense of the world is coterminous with our human experience and is used spontaneously in all the spheres of our personal, social and cultural engagement right from our childhood. Though language plays a very important role in our perception of reality and the sharpening of our cognitive ability, not only in the popular parlance, even in scholarly discourses, it is often viewed simply as a means of communication. “Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntary produced symbols” Sapir (1921:8). But considering language from a purely utilitarian point of view is a travesty of the fact that language is a constituent of our human entity and an embodiment of our human experience. A child’s tryst with language begins with her birth and the language ‘acts as a subtle, yet strong force, shaping the child’s perception of the world, interests, capabilities, and even values and attitudes.”(Krishna Kumar, 1986:1).

Though the professionals involved in language education have a general idea of ‘what is language’ and how it works, an in-depth understanding of language and its role in the cognitive development of a child and its pedagogic implication in concept formation and knowledge creation are often overlooked by them. The Position Paper on Teaching of Indian Languages published by the NCERT, NewDelhi in 2006 observed that “In order to appreciate fully the role of language in education, we must begin to develop a holistic perspective on language.”(NCE, 2006:1). But, in order to develop a holistic perspective we have to examine language in a multi-dimensional space.

As language can be considered from diverse points of view, theoretical linguists, applied linguists, social psychologists, cognitive psychologists and all other people interested in language have tried to look at it from their own perspectives. Consequently, the plethora of diverse perspectives originating from conflicting theoretical orientation often pose serious problems for the people who are entrusted with the task of teaching language. Therefore, the interface between language perspectives and language pedagogy needs a systematic exploration for our own understanding and the classroom practice.

As the intertwining of the language and its context is an essential condition for language acquisition and language leaning, any language pedagogy meant for young learners has to take into consideration the learners’ urge for relating language to their context. Any attempt to teach a language without relating it to the context appealing to the learners is an attempt to negate the natural process of a child’s way of picking up a new language. Moreover, as language is a complex system and encompasses the wide spectrum of the cognitive development of a child, a single perspective cannot be adequate for an understanding of the process of language acquisition. Skinner’s argument of ‘language as behaviour’ vs Chomsky’s ‘theory of innateness’ view two extreme ends of a debate and along with this debate we have to consider the sociolinguistic realities that condition language acquisition. A lot of research findings on the correlation between language behaviors and cognition, the role of the speech community in shaping the linguistic as well as the cognitive competence of the child and the child’s innate ability to internalize the verbalization pattern of the first language without overt consciousness are based on diverse points of view.

Language acquisition is a mysterious phenomenon, indeed, and new theories are emerging on the basis of neurobiological approaches or from diverse sociological perspectives. It has been reported that certain elements of language are acquired even during the prenatal and neonatal period and the innate disposition of the newborn baby accounts for the Chomskian statement that the first language is rapid, effortless and untutored like maturation. Language acquisition in early childhood does not mean that the child does something, it only means that something happens to the child. (Chomsky, 1993). Jean Piaget refined the theory put forward by Chomsky and asserted that children learn language for personal and aesthetic reasons and through a gradual, constructive approach to society. He believed that language was a process of active exploration and discovery, a constant building of meaning. Lev Vygotsky advocated a language approach which celebrated the inherent knowledge of the learner. “The child begins to perceive the world not only through his (or her) eyes but also through his (or her) speech” (Vygotsky, 1978:32). The language paradigm emanating from the scholarship of Chomsky, Piaget and Vygotsky celebrated the child’s inherent capability and desire to generate a sophisticated, socially driven language. Now, the question is how to arrive at a holistic perspective!!!!!

#BridgingTheGapChallenge: Bridging the Gap between Researchers and Teachers


“ELT is not a matter of bridging the gap between theory and practice, but closing it.’ -wisdom from #ELTons2015 lifetime achievement winner.”

Originally posted on Clare's ELT Compendium:

There is SO MUCH research going on into langauge teaching methods, approaches, etc. But the sad fact is, it has turned into a big jumble of research strands, hard to untangle and find the right connections!

An art installation on the Moselle river made by Trier Art Academy (Kunstakademie) 2015. An art installation on the Moselle river made by Trier Art Academy (Kunstakademie) 2015.

Let’s be honest, how many classroom teachers have access to it? And time to read and digest it all? Probably very few! SO where do teachers get their inspiration and lesson ideas? Well, online a lot of the time. And so I came up with a blog idea, which will hopefully turn in to a challenge which lots of people participate in… #BridgingTheGapChallenge

THE CHALLENGE: Teachers or researchers reading this: grab (or click on!) one ELT-related journal you have access to. Read one article that interests you, and post a quick, readable summary for other teachers to read, who are too…

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The Material Writer’s Essential Toolkit – MaWSIG PCE at IATEFL 2015. Workshop summaries

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A very insightful summary of eight information-packed sessions and workshop focusing on practical hands-on ideas useful for any materials writer. A must read for a materials writer

Originally posted on ELT stories:

IATEFL 2015 has kicked off, and – yes, this year I’m attending it.  Feeling incredibly lucky and very grateful to my company, without whose support I wouldn’t have been able to go!

Today I spent a delightful day at MaWSIG pre-conference event. There were eight information-packed sessions and workshop focusing on practical hands-on ideas useful for any materials writer, no matter how experienced you are. Below is a brief overview of the day – if you want to find out more, scroll down to detailed summaries.

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After a brief introduction by Nick Robinson, Sue Kay gave a session on writing multiple-choice questions. She gave a checklist of potential pitfalls to avoid and shared several very useful slides with suggestions how to reformulate language from the text in the questions.  

A theme that came up in two talks was the changing role of ‘non-visuals’ in ELT. Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones showed that images…

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Vow, it’s just awesome

As soon as I posted my new photo as my profile picture on the Face book, strange comments started pouring in. (1) “Vow, it’s cool.” (2) “awesome !” (3) “ Vow, it’s just awesome!” (4) ‘great!” (5) “sexy”. While thanking my friends for all the compliments, I started wondering if I knew my English well. For old fashioned people like me, a photograph is ‘beautiful’, ‘nice’ or at best ‘wonderful’. But, the English language has changed, we have to learn it afresh. I use the word ‘cool’ to refer to the cool night air or when I get a ‘cool’ reception at my old friend’s place. But, now a days, ‘cool’ is a highly welcome expression. ‘That’s a cool car’, ( a very good, excellent car), ‘ My wife bought a cool purse’ ( a fashionable purse). Earlier, we were afraid of the ‘awesome’ power of the atom bomb, but now we are thrilled by an ‘awesome lecture’ or we gaze at an ‘awesome ‘ shopping mall (awesome=excellent). The word ‘sexy’ was a taboo word in the last century, but now it is a common word in the day to day parlance of the younger generation. “ Congrats, you have bought such a sexy new car!” “ I listened to her speech, but sorry to say it’s not very sexy” ( meaning, the speech was not very exciting or appealing). “ Great, it’s really a sexy project”. I knew that ‘ No way’ meant ‘under no circumstances or not at all’, for my young friends, it’s just an emphatic ‘no’, nothing more than that! Similarly, the word ‘great’ has also got a new meaning: “ We played awful, they played great.” ( great= very well, excellently).
‘Language without meaning is meaningless’ ( Roman Jakobson). But what do you do when you find that the meaning that you know is meaningless? While pondering over the meaning of meanings, I realized how English is fast changing. During the pre-internet period, we learnt English usage from F T Wood’s ‘Current English Usage’ published in 1963 and H W Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage published in 1926. But now we have to relearn English from the social media. When I was pointing out this transitional phase to a friend, he exclaimed,“ Come on man, everything’s gonna be aight!” (al right= aight).
English language has become more informal and more innovative during the post-Google period. The purists may dismiss the new coinages and the new connotations of words as aberrations or slangs, but they are the signs of the younger spirit of the language. “That’s really interesting”! Or should I say, “That’s cool!”

A plea for an Academic Reading-Writing Course in English


While courses on Academic Reading and Writing in English are quite common in the universities of the UK or the USA, there is hardly any provision for such courses in the Indian Universities or in the English Language Teacher Training institutes of the country. Poor language pedagogy in our regional medium schools and colleges does not equip our students with the required strategies to read or write academic texts in English and consequently, it affects their engagement with the academic texts written in English. Though the students who enter the MA programs often do not have adequate English language skills, they are expected to engage themselves with academic texts that carry complex ideas. The dual burden of transitioning not only to another language but also to academic discourse in a foreign language poses serious problems for academic excellence . An academic reading-writing course in English in our universities will familiarize our students with the relationship between the forms and practices of disciplinary genres. Such a course, I believe, will empower them to articulate their ideas and perspectives as per the established norms of academic writing in English.
A course on academic reading-writing in English should be based on the assumption that improvement in academic reading and writing comes in developmental stages and in order to help the learners to acquire the skills of reading and writing academic texts in English, we should provide them with adequate practice, through reading and through exposure to the models of academic writing. Nurturing the cognitive and linguistic resources of the L2 learners can alone help them read and write confidently in the target language.
What is involved in academic reading? Academic reading, according to experts, involves (a) Coding competence, (b) Semantic Competence, (c) Pragmatic competence, (d) Critical competence . It is often observed that many students do not know how to question an author of an academic text. Interacting with text information, juxtaposing it with the knowledge and experiences that the students bring to the text and constructing a representation of the author’s meaning are challenging tasks for non-native students of English reading an academic text written in English. These students need scaffolding and a regular course on academic reading and writing can alone provide that scaffolding.
What does Academic Writing involve? (a) Generating ideas, (b) sequencing of ideas (c) Linking ideas coherently, (d) Using academic vocabulary, (e) connecting paragraphs, (f) using transition phrases and (g) adding supporting evidence.
It is unfortunate that academic reading or academic writing as a topic of inquiry and pedagogy is not given due importance in our colleges and universities. How do you explore an academic discourse done in a foreign language and how do you articulate your ideas and perspectives in a language that is not your own?