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?

ELT in Difficult Circumstances: From whose point of view? Reflections on a plenary at IATEFL, Manchester


The plenary by Harry Kuchah Kuchah at the recently concluded IATEFL conference held at Manchester was on teaching English in difficult circumstances: Challenges, possibilities and future direction. Yes, Harry dwelt at length on the challenges, but what impressed me most is the challenge that he put forward to the blurred ELT perspective that has distracted us over the years. Listening to Harry online during the plenary I wondered what is meant by ELT in difficult circumstances propounded by Michael West in 1960. DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES? From whose point of view?
The definition of ‘difficulty’ as given by Michael West 55 years back betrays a note of insensitivity to the hopes and aspirations of millions of ‘non-native’ learners of English globally. “… a class consisting of over 30 pupils ( more usually 40 or even 50), congested on benches ( not sitting at individual or dual desks), accommodated in an unsuitably shaped room, ill-graded, with a teacher who perhaps does not speak English very well or fluently, working in a hot climate.” Hot climate, unsuitably shaped room, people not sitting at individual or dual desk’…….Well, these may be ‘difficult circumstances’ for an English teacher coming to India or Uganda from a country blessed by a cold climate but not for the English teachers who are born and brought up in ‘hot climate.’
It is intriguing to note that ELT experts of the west do not consider our ELT world ‘ideal’. For them “ a huge amount of ELT in the world today takes place in situations that are far from the ideal world of pedagogical excitement and innovative teaching that western ELT researchers and practitioners would like to think they inhabit” (Maley 2001).
The so called ‘difficult situations’ and the absence of the Eurocentric ‘ideal world of pedagogical excitement’ are misnomer in the context of teaching English as a global language. Drawing from his experience of teaching very large classes (over 200 teenagers and 100 children) in under-resourced contexts in Cameroon, Kuchah Kuchah demolished the myth of ‘difficult situations’ and put forward a context specific ELT pedagogy that does not care for the illusory ideal world of the west.
To quote from Harry, “Teachers are indeed confronted with various types of difficulties in their daily work lives and this makes a definition of ‘difficulty’ very elusive. What is more, the circumstances which one teacher considers favourable, might actually constitute a difficulty for another teacher.” Though Harry referred to Michael West’s definition of ‘difficult circumstances’ he did not go by that definition. He defined difficult circumstances as: ‘Those circumstances that are outside the control of teachers and learners, but which affect their daily experiences of teaching and learning significantly’. These circumstances are global and are not peculiar to the non-native contexts of English language teaching.

In his plenary speech, Harry examined the pragmatic responses of teachers in otherwise ‘difficult circumstances’ and advocated a bottom up approach by creating the right enabling environment for teachers incorporating students’ and teachers’ perspectives.
During his deliberations, Harry was very emphatic in projecting the contextual realities of ELT classrooms beyond the so called ‘ideal world’. Large classes, multigrade classes, multiple L1 influences are the norms of ELT classroom in many countries of the world. A class consisting of 30 pupils, sitting at individual desks, accommodated in an air conditioned room, taught by a native speaker working in a cold climate is no more the norm of English language teaching, it is an exception. English, the global language is being learnt by millions of children across the globe in contexts which do not follow the contexts eulogized by Michael West. The democratization of English has turned the table in favor of the pupils who sit in ‘an unsuitably shaped room’ in a ‘hot climate’.
When Harry spoke about learners as partners, he signaled the emergence of a new ELT pedagogy. Learners are resources and resource providers who can define the ELT pedagogy suitable for their specific contexts.
It is nice to know that Harry was instrumental in shaping an unusual bottom-up, context driven approach supported by the teacher association. He asserted that “teachers are more likely to accept pedagogic innovation when it is seen to emanate from, or be endorsed by their peers [and/or students].”
The plenary was highly informative, insightful and interesting from a pedagogic point of view.I was happy to note that Harry made a strong case for looking at ELT from the perspectives of the teachers and the learners who long for English in circumstances which are ‘difficult’ for people like Michael West. Thank you Harry for advocating and popularizing a ‘contextually appropriate ELT pedagogy’. I do hope that this plenary will inspire English teacher teaching English in non-native contexts to be more innovative in using a contextually appropriate ELT pedagogy.

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Two plenaries

Originally posted on Sandy Millin:

Before IATEFL 2015 I said I’d try to publish at the end of each day of the conference. I should have learnt by now that there’s no way that will ever happen because I don’t have time to think, much less blog during the conference! Instead I decided to group my posts by themes I found in the talks I chose to see. The first two plenaries didn’t really fit any of these, hence this post. The other posts will hopefully appear over the next few days…

Frozen in thought? How we think and what we do in ELT – Donald Freeman

In the opening plenary of the conference, Freeman examined three myths of teaching and ELT:

  • ‘direct’ causality: teaching causes learning
  • ‘sole’ responsibility: as teachers, we’re the ones responsible for what happens in our classroom
  • ‘proficiency’ as the goal of our teaching

I liked the metaphor of a suitcase…

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David Crystal on English Pronunciation: An interview at IATEFL, Manchester 2015


“English language is like a garden of flowers with each accent being a distinct flower.” What a profound statement made by David Crystal in an interview during the IATEFL Manchester conference! While English teachers around the world are obsessed with the ‘correct’ and ‘accepted’ pronunciation of English, David’s dispassionate observation comes as a welcome relief and prompts us to look at the pronunciation of English from a global perspective. With the help of a number of examples, David pointed out how the English language and its pronunciation have been changing over the years. David’s interview should be an eye opener for the teachers of English who make a fuss about the purity of the ‘native’ pronunciation of English.
Accents are varied throughout the English speaking world and people should be proud of their accents, David remarked during the interview. So long as you are clear and intelligible, retain your identity. Mixed accent is the norm and we should aim at an ‘Educated Understandable accent’, not the so called Received Pronunciation. The hallowed RP of the past has changed. Citing the way the word ‘cool’ is pronounced, David pointed out that the manner of articulation of this word has changed over the years. We don’t pronounce it with a rounded lip any more, we pronounce it with lips spread. It’s not a question of right or wrong, it is the question of how it is pronounced today. Again, referring to the wide variation of accents of English words, David pointed out how a simple three syllable word ‘POTATO’ is pronounced in various ways across the globe. Some stress it on the first, some on the second and some on the third. Though David put forward his arguments in a very informal manner, the logic of his argument is beyond any dispute. He is a keen observer of the language and is a realist, not an Utopian. His arguments are based on facts and figures.
How should English teacher respond to the changing pronunciation of English? The young interviewer asked him. Quick came the reply. Follow the young people and try to be net savvy. The young people are the transmitters of the language and we should honour the language used by them. Not only the young people, even the kids have a role in language transmission. If you distance yourself from the kids, you distance yourself from the living language and your language becomes obsolete.
David eulogized the role played by the internet in sustaining the language. Don’t dismiss the new technology, respect it, David remarked. He stated that for the people of his generation, books were central and the screen was marginal, for the young people today, the screen is central and books are marginal. Therefore, English teachers should be aware of what is going on in social media, they should make use of the resources of the net and the creativity of the young people.
Are you ready, my dear English teachers? Hope, David’s talk will change your mind set and you will look at English pronunciation from a realistic global perspective.
PS. During the interview David also talked about ‘Shakespeare including practical tips for teachers on how to engage learners with Shakespeare and how they can improve their understanding of the great works’. But in this blog post, I have confined myself to the second part of the interview when he talked ‘about how language and pronunciation is changing and how teachers can keep up to date and evaluate what they focus on in class when teaching pronunciation’
Watch the recording on IATEFL Manchester Online…/…/interview-david-crystal ‪#‎IATEFL