Friday, September 30, 2011

Language Learning Strategy: Guessing

Guessing has bad connotations for many language learners because, let's face it, if you're guessing, it means that you don't know. In a setting where knowing and understanding is so vital to a feeling of success, being unsure can be less than ideal.

guessing language learning strategy
GUESS WHO: One of my favorite board games!
Picture Credit*

However, this compensatory strategy (i.e., one that compensates for missing knowledge) can be a great tool for language learning. Studies have shown that that “guessing meaning from action or context” is positively-related with language learning achievement (1). Moreover, a study of language learners of French found that students who were made to guess words from context rather than being handed a word list not only learned more words in a shorter amount of time, but also retained the knowledge of the words longer (2).

A language learner's ability to guess accurately is affected by several factors, including knowledge of vocabulary, as language learners rely mainly on vocabulary, and rarely on syntax clues, in their guessing. The higher the proportion of comprehensible words in the dialog or text surrounding an unknown word, the more accurate the language learner's guesses will be (3). One study also showed that the guessing ability is improved in areas where the students are cognitively similar to people from the target language (by which the author seems to mean that they have culturally similar ways of thinking) (4)

Despite the seemingly positive applications of properly applied guessing strategies, it is not always beneficial to promote guessing in language learning. Some studies have shown that despite initial gains in vocabulary learning, guessing often impairs some students' abilities to learn the right definition quickly. Moreover, inaccurate guessing can quickly become frustrating, as has been discussed in this blog post by The Linguist.

Instead of promoting a global guessing strategy campaign, it may be better to teach learners to identify situations where it is good to guess and situations where it is better to ask or look up a word (3).

Promoting Guessing in Language Learning

As guessing is a strategy for understanding received data, it can be applied to both reading and listening activities. When teaching students to guess while developing these two macro-skills, it is important to focus on teaching them when and how to make better guesses, rather than just teaching them to make guesses. Increasing language learners' awareness of context and guessing strategies, as well as other, “mutually supportive” strategies (i.e. a strategy chain) will allow learners to develop this strategy in a useful way (5).

Other ways to promote good guessing skills include teaching learners to activate their past knowledge on a subject. Brainstorming words, topics, verbs, and ideas on the subject at hand could enhance their guessing. Also, since learners naturally look to known vocabulary words to support guessing, it may also be beneficial to teach them how to better consider syntax and any other non-linguistic clues.

This article offers an activity using a guessing chart, based on Clarke and Nation's 1980 inductive 5-step approach to guessing (the chart is on page 7). These five steps are, simply, one, to determine the part of speech of the word; two, to consider the surrounding context; three, to consider the wider (syntactic) context; four, to guess; and five, to check the guess by making sure the part of speech matches, by seeing if the parts of the unknown word relate to the guessed word, by filling in the guess for the unknown word, and by checking the dictionary (6).

What do you think? Any experience as a learner or as a teacher? Do you promote guessing in language learning? Why or why not? Any suggestions for activities that help?

  1. McGroarty, Mary E. (1989). The "Good Learner" of English in Two Settings. California Univ., Los Angeles. Center for Language Education and Research. Accessed:
  2. Redouane, R. (2010). Assessing Instructional Methods in L2 French Vocabulary Acquisition: Guessing-From-Context Method versus a Word List Method. Annals of Spiru Haret University, Journalism Studies, 11. p. 73-87.
  4. Qi, R. & Li, F. (2008) The influence of cognitive factors on guesses about the meaning of English word groups and phrases. U.S. - China Education Review, 5(9). Accessed:
*Picture Credit - Unknown. Google had only the picture, but the connected website was no longer maintained.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Closer Look at Language Learning Strategies

Recently, I posed a question about the best language learning strategies on Facebook. I also posted it on Twitter, but I guess I haven't figured the twitter system out yet, because no one responded!

As you can guess, the responses generally centered around interaction with native speakers or target language native speaker materials (like television or music). Naturally so—people who have learned a foreign language agree that native speaker interaction is practically irreplaceable. In fact, studies have shown that learning a native language in a context-rich environment (i.e., English as a Second Language) instead of a context-poor environment (i.e., English as a Foreign Language) can shorten the time it takes to become proficient by years.

I will be one of the first ones to jump on the “practice-with-a-native-speaker suggestion” bandwagon; however, I think that we focus on native speaker interaction at the expense of developing other language learning strategies that can make those interactions more salient and that can help even when native speakers or materials are not available.

A prime example is time spent in the classroom. When people suggest interaction with a native speaker as a language learning strategy, they are primarily referring to some sort of effort at independent learning. Few EFL teachers have the ability to pair their students with native speakers during classroom instruction time. Even if they did, it would be difficult to incorporate that activity with the other language instruction needed to keep all students at a semi-uniform level of learning.

This is where the value of incorporating language learning strategy training in teaching comes in. By arranging lesson plans and learning environments that introduce strategies and help students practice them, a teacher can prepare students for more successful independent learning.

In order to help myself (and anyone else) understand these strategies better, I will be doing a series of blog entries covering the main language learning strategies, discussing the research, and providing tips for incorporating them in the classroom.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Linguistic Injustice Rant

Warning—this blog entry is a rant, and as such, it's presented in such a way that facts and objectivity are less important than observations or reason. It is my rant against what I perceive to be linguistic injustice in the world...or at least in the U.S: People don't care about Spanish-speaking countries. I suspect it is a linguistic prejudice.

I grew up in an area with a lot of Spanish speakers. I studied Spanish in high school, and I majored in it when I went to college. In all my time studying, however, I have felt a negativity in the attitude of many people towards the Spanish language, the people who speak it, and the countries that they are from.

In my experience, learning Spanish has a “low” coolness factor. People don't learn Spanish because it's cool—they learn it because they think they can get a better job. A study of student's perceptions of foreign languages showed that
“Spanish and Portuguese were believed by fewer of the students studying them to have cultural or literary value. In the case of Spanish, a large number of students believed it to be easier and somewhat more logical than other languages, but they found it low in socio- economic, socio-political, and practical value. Again, it appears that the view that Spanish is an easy language was a very significant factor in the students' choice.”
Yes, in the higher levels of education, you will find students that genuinely love the language. And these same students will tell you about the beautiful literary and cultural history of Spain and Latin America. And they will also have to keep in the disappointment when their neighbors and friends ignorantly refer to all Hispanic-looking, Spanish-speaking people as “Mexicans,” or “illegal aliens,” regardless of their nationality or immigration status. Non-citizen and illegal alien are two different things.

Spanish is the 2nd most widely spoken language in the world. There is nearly a continent of countries that have Spanish as their official language (and it's not like French in many African countries, where it is the “official language,” but most people speak their dialect as well). For the most part, people in Latin America speak Spanish.

Why, then, are Spanish-speaking countries mostly off our radar? Why does it seem that things that happen in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East are a big deal, while similar events in Latin America barely draw attention?

Example 1: Earthquakes
In March, there was a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan. It was in the news for weeks. There were relief efforts all over the place. In 2010, there was a huge 8.8 quake in Chile. I remember seeing an article in the paper the day after it happened, but really nothing else. Granted, the death toll in Japan was way higher than in Chile, and there was the threat of nuclear explosion from that overheating power plant. I definitely don't mean to downplay the severity of the Japanese tragedy.

Example 2: Internal Violence
In Libya, under Gaddafi, between 10,000 and 30,000 people died because of internal violence (Source). It is terrible, but the UN stepped in and supported the people in their uprising. As of June 2011, the death toll in Mexico was somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 from cartel violence. (Source) People are being terrorized, and the government hasn't been able to do anything about it. This has been going on for at least 5 years. Where is the UN? Where is the support? Do you think we would tell any escaping Libyan immigrants that they needed to go back to Libya while Gaddafi  was still in power?

Not completely related to the Language aspect, but a interesting commentary (

Example 3: Foreign Aid
Between 2003 and 2009, the US gave over $171,194 million in foreign aid to specific countries. Of that amount, $14,802 million went to Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. That is about 8.6%. The U.S. gave nearly that much the the Middle East/North Africa in 2008 alone! (Source)

There are actually really poor examples. They can all be explained away with other side issues, but I think they illustrate the emotional point I am trying to make. People would rather listen to movies that they don't understand in French, German, Japanese, Chinese, or Arabic than in Spanish. We would rather sympathize with the problems of malnutrition in African villages than the same problems in South American villages. Speakers of German and French share our heritage. Japanese and Chinese have interesting “eastern” cultures attached to them. Arabic has the rebellious appeal of it's connection to Islam. Africa has babies.

No one cares what Spanish has. It is not a favored language, and as such, its speakers and countries are marginalized in the U.S. attention span.

Aside from notes about the exaggeration and the clear lack of objectivity in this rant, does anyone else have thoughts on this topic?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Twitter and Language Technology

I recently made a Twitter account (follow me - @palmerlanguage) in order to connect with other language professionals and to facilitate the exchange of ideas about language teaching and linguistic research.

I have been resisting Twitter in my personal life, but I keep reading about how great it is for building professional learning networks. So, in the name of academic enrichment, I gave in.

First Impression: 

Twitter is a foreign country where the people don't “speak” Facebook or Google+. 

I have absolutely no idea what is going on, and I am so overwhelmed by the amount of information that is available there! Isn't technology frightening? One thing I learned after the first 3 or 4 hours is that I need to keep track of whose links I open, because I found all of these great sites, but now I have no one to give credit to. (Sorry if I stole your link! I swear, I didn't mean it!)

Anyway, here is a round-up of great links I came across in the last couple of days through Twitter and through other blogs I regularly read that relate to (using) language technology for learning and/or teaching! I linked to the original blog/story when I could.

Good for online teaching:
  • Video Instructions for BrainShark -  BrainShark is a tool that lets you add audio to power point presentations
  • An article against Blackboard - Anyone who has used Blackboard for learning or for teaching (I've used it for both!) and suffered the frustration will like this article. It comes with suggestions for alternate sites. 
Good for incorporating technology in the traditional classroom:
  • An article about 20 ways to model technology - Good ideas for anyone, but especially good for people who have technology available in their classrooms
  • An app that creates e-books - a interesting application of relevant langauge practice (Via the Langwitches Blog)
  • YouTube launches a teacher-friendly site - Good to language exposure in the classroom is usually a good thing.YouTube is blocked at a lot of schools, but I wonder if YouTube Teacher will be allowed?
  • An article about Drop Box - Drop box is a group-work-file-sharing program. This article talks about the benefits of using it for classroom learning. This could be used for collaborative paper writing, peer editing, and in preparing for presentations.
Language/Educational Technology Tools/Articles:
Tools for students of language:
  • An idiom translator - A pretty cool way to compare the native language and the target language for more relevant learning! (via Linguistics in the Classroom)
  • Color Idiom List - A lot of color idiom from a lot of different languages
  • Pronunciation Tool – I remember that whoever I stole it from mentioned that it is helpful for students before they give oral presentations

That's it for now. Enjoy the reading, and follow us on Twitter!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grammatical Gender and Gender Equality

I was watching my husband make dinner tonight, like he does almost every night, and I thought to myself, isn't it lucky that we live in a time and place where people don't hold so strongly to traditional gender roles?

Merely thinking the words “gender roles” instantly brought my mind to grammatical gender (which I am finding to be a very troublesome aspect of German! At least it is easy to guess them in Spanish).

All these thoughts of gender and grammar rolled around in my head and mixed themselves into an interesting question: Is there a connection between gender in a language and that language's cultural view of gender roles? Or, to ask it better, is there a correlation between grammatical gender and gender equality?
Grammatical Gender and Gender Equality
Google had no answer for me on my first few search terms, so I am doing my own mini-investigation.


I, being a native speaker of a language without (or mostly without) grammatical gender, and being from a country that I perceive to be fairly gender equal compared to the rest of the world, predict that countries with languages that have no grammatical gender will be MORE gender equal than those countries with languages that do have grammatical gender. I hypothesize that if gender separation or inequality is not an inherent feature of a language, it may be easier for a cultural people to move towards gender equal practices.

Data Collection

The information was gathered from the internet, and then charted in a spreadsheet.

Gender equality data was collected from the World Economic Forum (WEF) Gender Gap Report 2010, which rates countries on gender ratios in their “four pillars” of...
  • Economic Participation and Opportunity;
  • Educational Attainment;
  • Health and Survival; and
  • Political Empowerment.
For purposes of comparison, I compared the Top 20 most gender equal countries and the Bottom 20 least gender equal countries.

Language data was collected from's country profiles, which each contain an entry on major languages. In cases where there was more than one major language spoken in a country, the first-listed was assumed to be the most widely spoken and was used in the calculations.

Grammatical gender data was taken from this Wikipedia site. In cases where Wikipedia did not provide the necessary information, a Google search with the search terms “grammatical gender in [language]” was performed, and answers came from the first result that provided valuable information.


Country Equality Rating Gender in Language? Major Language
Iceland 1 3 Icelandic
Norway 2 3 Norwegian
Finland 3 0 Finnish
Sweden 4 3 Swedish
New Zealand 5 0 English
Ireland 6 0 English
Denmark 7 2 Danish
Lesotho 8 0 Sesotho
Philippines 9 0 Filipino/Tagalog
Switzerland 10 3 German
Spain 11 2 Spanish
South Africa 12 0 English
Germany 13 3 German
Belgium 14 3 Dutch
UK 15 0 English
Sri Lanka 16 2 Sinhala
Netherlands 17 3 Dutch
Latvia 18 2 Latvian
US 19 0 English
Canada 20 0 English
-- -- -- --
Cameroon 114 2 French
Nepal 115 2 Nepali
Lebanon 116 2 Arabic
Qatar 117 2 Arabic
Nigeria 118 0 English
Algeria 119 2 Arabic
Jordan 120 2 Arabic
Ethiopia 121 2 Amharic
oman 122 2 Arabic
Iran 123 0 Persian
Syria 124 2 Arabic
Egypt 125 2 Arabic
Turkey 126 0 Turkish
Morocco 127 2 Arabic
Benin 128 2 French
Saudi Arabia 129 2 Arabic
Côte d’Ivoire 130 2 French
Mali 131 2 French
Pakistan 132 0 English
Chad 133 2 French
Yemen 134 2 Arabic

From the data, I generated these charts. Figure 1 shows a comparison of the frequency of languages with 0, 2, or 3 grammatical genders among the Top 20 and the Bottom 20 countries. You can see the difference between the two is especially strong in languages with 2 grammatical genders.

Languages with Grammatical Gender Frequency
Figure 1
In the languages of the Top 20 gender equal countries, no grammatical gender or grammatical gender with 3 genders are most common, accounting for 16 of the 20 languages. The other 4 are languages with 2 grammatical genders. In the languages of the Bottom 20 gender equal countries, an overwhelming majority (16 of the 20) are 2-gender languages, while 4 are no gender languages, and none have 3 genders. 

Figure 2 shows a comparison of the number of grammatical genders in a language in order of the countries' gender equality rating (the chart was split in two for space considerations). This graph helps you to see where the grammatical gender categories line up. For example, the in the Top 4 most gender equal countries, 3 of the languages have 3 genders.
Rank of languages with grammatical gender
Figure 2


While there is a higher frequency of languages with no grammatical gender in the Top 20 gender equal countries than in the Bottom 20, the Most-Equal status of many language with 3 genders proves my hypothesis to be incorrect. Although these results don't support my hypothesis, they do seem to suggest that countries with languages that have 2 genders are more likely to have gender equality problems, as there is a high correlation of 2-gender languages and Bottom 20 countries. However, correlation, as we know, is not causation.

The majority of countries in the Bottom 20 are either Arabic or French speaking, and both of these languages feature 2 genders. These languages also both have a history of being used in some type of colonial or conquest setting, where they replaced the tribal and native languages. Therefore, rather than the grammatical gender status of the languages, I suggest that it is the lingering effects of the colonialism and post-colonialism, including religion, political unrest, and poverty, that influence the gender (in)equality more than the structure of the major language. Another interesting study would be to investigate the native/tribal languages of these regions and to see whether the number of grammatical genders present showed any sort of pattern.

The countries in the Top 20 are mostly modern, European countries with languages based on Germanic or indo-European roots. Their location (and subsequent connection with the rest of Europe), rather than their language, is probably the influencing factor; moreover, the prevalence of 3 and non gendered languages is most likely DUE to their location and the historical progression of European languages. English is the main language of 6 of these Top 20 countries, and even though it at one time was a colonial language, most of the Top 20 countries that speak English have long since moved past their colonial context. I also suspect that holding the status of "Language of International Communication" has given these English speaking countries a higher likelihood of positive economic activity, leading to their stability.


It seems pretty clear that an increased number of grammatical genders is not related to an increase in gender inequality. The correlation between 2-gendered languages and countries with low gender equality rankings is interesting; however, the correlation is likely coincidental or based on factors outside the language itself. Further studies could investigate a greater number of factors connected with both the language (like word-order vs. case status, article vs. no article, etc.) and the countries (GDP, government type, stability, other languages, colonial history, etc.).  Moreover, it would be interesting to investigate people's perceptions of gender (in)equality in language based on the gender equal status of the country in which they reside.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Language Learning Strategies: An Introduction

Have you ever noticed that some people just “get” language learning, while others—even though they dedicate more time and effort—struggle to remember concepts and vocabulary? This language learning efficiency is multi-faceted, but one factor that influences a language learner's ability to efficiently learn is his or her use of Language Learning Strategies.

What are Language Learning Strategies?

Language Learning Strategies are “tools” that language learners can (and do) use to enhance their learning. There have been many different classifications of these strategies, but there is a fairly general consensus among researchers that the most comprehensive system has been proposed by Rebecca Oxford, in her book “Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know.”

Language Learning Strategies

Oxford breaks down Language Learning Strategies into two macro-categories of direct strategies (that deal directly with the target language) and indirect strategies (that deal with the learning process and language interaction). Each of these has three micro-categories, which each have several sub-categories. The six micro categories are:
  1. Direct Strategies
    1. Memory Strategies
    2. Cognitive Strategies
    3. Compensation Strategies
  2. Indirect Strategies
    1. Meta-cognitive Strategies
    2. Affective Strategies
    3. Social Strategies
(Oxford, 1990)

Language Learning Strategies are beneficial not only for enhanced language learning, but also for increased learner independence. As educational theory moves away from a teacher-centered model, it becomes more and more important to empower language learners with the skills to operate in the new, student-centered model. Teaching these Language Learning Strategies gives students more control over their learning.

Factors Influencing Language Learning Strategy Choice

The large number of Language Learning Strategies available means that not every single strategy will be used by every single learner in every single situation. Instead, learners typically choose strategies based on a variety of factors. There have been many attempts to describe all of the influential factors, and certainly there are some that have yet to be included in any list. Here is an annotated list of a few of the influential factors:
  • Learning style and Personality: A study of Iranian EFL students showed a low, but positive correlation between Multiple Intelligences and the use of Language Learning Strategies. Compensation and Meta-cognitive strategies were the most widely used between learners with different primary Multiple Intelligences, and verbal-linguistic, visual-spatial, and logical-mathematical intelligences showed the greatest use of Language Learning Strategies. The authors also noted that “interpersonal intelligence had no significant correlation with any strategy” (p. 218; Hajhashemi, et al, 2011). From a training perspective, this shows that certain learning personalities that don't naturally take full advantage of the Language Learning Strategies will benefit more from strategy training.
  • Motivation: The more motivated students are, the more strategies they use. This may be related to the amount of effort the put in to developing their Language Learning Strategies. (Xu, 2011)
  • Culture and national origin: A study of Chinese EFL learners showed that they generally preferred direct strategies, and that their most-used strategy was compensation, while their least used strategy was social (Zhou, 2010). The previously mentioned study of Iranian students, on the other hand, showed that social strategies were preferred second only to meta-cognitive strategies, which are both indirect strategies (Hajhashemi, et al, 2011).
  • Age: Children are different than adult learners in strategy use because of their differing levels of cognitive abilities and emotional development. There are some strategies used by children that are not even present in Oxford's list (the new strategies are mostly related to pronunciation). (Gursoy, 2010)

Language Learning Strategies in the Classroom

It's clear that using Language Learning Strategies in the classroom will benefit your students, but how can it be incorporated? This article offers an interesting discussion on four different strategy training models.

However, teaching the strategies is only part of the answer. Teachers need to design classroom activities and exercises in a way that allows students to practice strategy use. Assessing the students on their Language Learning Strategies use could provide a profile used to identify which strategies are already in use by the class, and which will need to be specifically taught. For example, if your students already show high use of compensation strategies, activities that incorporate this strategy could be instantly helpful to a large percentage of your class. However, they may need to be taught to use other specific Language Learning Strategies before they will be able to take advantage of the learning opportunities.

Another area to investigate when trying to help your learners with Language Learning Strategies is the text used in classroom instruction. In an analysis of Language Learning Strategies use in textbooks, researchers found that only 7 of 33 English textbooks showed extensive use of Language Learning Strategies in text instructions or in picture instructions. They note that a good text should incorporate a wide variety of strategies, because there is no “one-size-fits-all” strategy that will work for all students in a given class. Teachers need to carefully consider the texts that they use to make sure that they represent a diverse choice of strategies (the author provides an analysis instrument in the paper; LaBelle 2010). In my opinion, this analysis is important even cases where teachers have little say in curriculum or text choice, as the incorporation of outside activities becomes more necessary when the text is less efficient.

In summary, effective training in Language Learning Strategies can help language learners become more efficient and more independent. Strategy choice is not a one-for-all choice, and a more diverse set of strategy incorporation in teaching will allow students greater learning opportunities.

Gursoy, E. (2010). Investigating Language Learning Strategies of EFL Children for the Development of a Taxonomy. Accessed:
Hajhashemi, K., Ghombavani, F. & Amirkhiz, S. (2011). The Relationship between Iranian EFL High School Students’ Multiple Intelligence Scores and their Use of Learning Strategies. Accessed:
LaBelle, J. T. (2010). Selecting ELL Textbooks: A Content Analysis of L2 Learning Strategies. Accessed:
Liu, J. (2010). Language Learning Strategies and Its Training Models. Accessed:
Oxford, R. (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. (Heinle & Heinle Publishers)
Xu, X. (2011). The Relationship between Language Learning Motivation and the Choice of Language Learning Strategies among Chinese Graduates. Accessed:
Zhou, Y. (2010). English Language Learning Strategy Use by Chinese Senior High School Students. Accessed:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Authenticity in Language Teaching

Recently, I was preparing for a 10-minute presentation on the "Top 10 Things I Learned in Grad School," as far as it related to language teaching. I learned way more than 10 things, so I thought it would be pretty easy to choose 10 that were relatively important.

However, as I was trying to put information together, I realized that if I chose the top 10 things and talked about them ALL in 10 minutes, I would have only enough time to mention the name of each concept before moving on.

 So, I decided to talk about the top 5 things. Same problem. Top 3. Same problem.

When it came down to what I presenting what I actually learned, I felt that I had so much information that I couldn't possibly talk about it all in just 10 minutes. I ended up choosing what (in my mind) is the singularly most important thing about language teaching: authenticity. Below is the speech I prepared, as well as a few links for further reading, if you are interested.


I spent a lot of time trying to think of the best way to present all of the great information I learned in grad school. However, when push came to shove, and the time limit jumped in, I had to chose just one topic. That one, most important thing I learned in my degree program was Authenticity in Language Teaching. I think that this topic applies to several areas of teaching, namely Content, Materials, and Methodology.

Authenticity in Content

There is a set idea about what English is, and then there is the reality of what it really is. As proficient or native speakers of English, we have developed concepts of what it is to be a “fluent” speaker, but our concepts are usually shaped by our own setting and by what we've learned in an academic context. Authentic Content needs to take into account the fact that there are multiple Englishes and multiple grammars.

  • Multiple Englishes: Not only are there multiple Englishes from English speaking countries (standard BrE and AmE, for example), but since English is used for international communication, we are seeing the emergence of World Englishes (many variations of Standard English used among speakers of a common native language, such as Japanese English; a.k.a. WE) and English as an International Language (a variation of Standard English used between multiple non-native speakers of different linguistic backgrounds; a.k.a. EIL). These Englishes have different features than standard English, such as language coping mechanisms, vocabulary, and sometimes, even grammatical structure variations. In some cases, it is a disservice to teach a standard version of English when the learner is preparing to enter an English environment that primarily uses one of these other Englishes.
  • Multiple Grammars: There are a variety of different grammar systems for just Standard English. Traditional language education has focused on written grammar, treating spoken grammar as the ugly step-child. However, spoken grammar is as (if not more) important as written grammar for many language learners. These grammars have distinct features, and they must both be taught in order for language learners to achieve communicative competence. Teaching only one or the other will lead to language speakers who sound like a text book, or language writers who are unable to follow literary conventions. Teaching them as separate registers has been suggested in the literature. 
    • The Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English is the most popular resource that I've seen on this topic. It is based on an analysis of a 40 million word corpus, and it describes the way English is actually used.

Authenticity in Materials

The majority of language education materials available today do not reflect authentic language. These materials show that, even though native English speakers think they know what they are saying and what they sound like, in reality, they don't.

When I was doing my thesis research, I came across a study that looked at telephone conversations in real life and compared them to text-book dialogs, and it found that the dialogs over-simplified the actual processes that native English speakers use and left out key elements that a native speaker would expect to encounter in the conversation. Inauthentic materials, like these, give the learners a misleading idea of how words or phrases are used in the target language, and do not accurately prepare them to understand to interpret the words/phrases when they are used by a native speaker.

There are two good areas of linguistic/educational research that can help with this problem, and they are also great tools for teaching.
  • Corpus Linguistics: A corpus is a searchable database of written or transcribed oral language. This can be used in research (to find how words are actually used, to explore native speaker use vs. non-native speaker use of words), and in teaching (by incorporating it into learning and allowing students to make their own conclusions by analyzing the data. 
  • Conversation Analysis: Conversation analysis is a branch of discourse analysis that seeks to analyze the “moves” made in a conversation between two language users. It usually takes a a large number of pieces from genre of language (telephone conversation, apology, greetings, etc.) and codes them for specific moves. While it is good for materials research, Conversation Analysis can also be used in teaching. Allowing students to analyze conversations (especially in comparison to the patterns of their native language) would be helpful in letting them see the distinct qualities of each language. 
    • Free download of course materials developed by a leading scholar in Conversation Analysis, Anne Marie Barraja-Rohan, on her blog.  Also available on this page are other resources on C.A. 

Authenticity in Methodology

If you compare the way people naturally learn languages to the classroom setting, it becomes obvious that it is artificial to put a language learner into a teacher-centered mold. However, teaching should not only be student centered, but students should be taught to exploit their own resources, rather than relying on the teacher.

Self-Access Language Learning is a strategy being employed currently by many universities to promote this idea of learner independence. The idea is that the teaching in students' language courses is complemented by a self-access center that has language resources that the students can access (video, news, books, etc.). The student is expected to make personal learning goals and to use the center to accomplish them. The classroom is for guidance, experience sharing, and interaction with a language expert. You can find out more through the “Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal.” Their articles are open access, and you can browse or search for specific articles.

Language Learning Strategy Training should also be incorporated into language teaching methodology. Students pursing language learning outside the classroom setting can benefit greatly from training in Language Learning strategies. Some students have already figured out what works for them, and others have no idea why they don't learn words well by trying to memorize them from a list. Everyone can benefit from strategy training, whether it is learning what works or adding strategies to what you already know. The leading book on the subject is Rebecca L. Oxford (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. It talks about the strategies, applying them to language skills, and includes resources for training.

**Update 9-17
I tried to find a way to attach the handout with additional resources, but Blogger doesn't have PDF preview capabilities yet. Instead, I just attached the resources to the end of each section. Enjoy!

Language, Education, and Lingustics Research Blog

Welcome to our blog. We hope that, aside from being a place to host our portfolios, this site will be a forum for research questions and ideas to grow. Among the topics we will cover are languages, language learning experiences, ESL/EFL, general linguistics, linguistics research, personal teaching experiences, current research, past research, research methods, and language education theory. We look forward to sharing ideas and to seeing your input. Join us for the discussion!