Monday, March 19, 2012

Reflection - Critical Learning: Critical Discourse Analysis in EFL Teaching (Martínez, 2012)

“All in all, the classroom presents tangible and attractive ways of interpreting contemporary culture; it is an excellent forum for teaching discourse analysis and for making students aware that there is a rich and complex world outside to be analyzed and criticalized” (p. 288).
Last post, I reviewed an article from the Journal of Language Teaching and Research called Critical Learning: Critical Discourse Analysis in EFL Teaching, by Dolores Fernández Martínez. This post is a reflection on that review.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the students in one of my conversation classes bring in the lyrics to a song in English. In groups, I had them look at the lyrics, find out what the meaning of the whole song was, and bring out any new or strange “song” phrases. The activity was really enjoyable, and while I was reading the article, I thought of this activity. At the time, my intention was for the students just to practice talking about the songs and to learn a few new words. However, looking at it after reading about using critical discourse analysis (CDA), I think I could have improved the salience of the activity somehow.

Most of the content for my current courses is based on heavily regulated materials. However, I think a good teacher should be able to include good teaching activities and content in almost any situation. I've been brainstorming how I can include a little bit of CDA into some of my classes. Here are two ideas:

Idea One
I have a technical English course where we have been looking at the company's mission statement. Whenever we talk about it, though, the students keep telling me about the company's advertising slogans. So why not look at them, also? I plan to bring in a list of famous advertising slogans to discuss, using a format like the one mentioned in the first activity in the article. Then, I would like to have the students re-write their company's strange English-language one (it doesn't make much sense at all). I found this website for finding a list of famous slogans. It's conveniently organized by category.

Idea Two
I also have a Business English conversation course that I would like to use this activity with. The next unit is called “Ways of Working,” and I would like to find some slogans or phrases that have the vocabulary words in them. To start, I found a campaign slogan from Florida Governor Rick Scott (“Let's Get to Work”) that I will use to talk about slogans and the purpose of slogans. Luckily, last week we just talked about the difference between “Get to work!” and “I get to work by car.” Additionally, Section B in the unit talks about adjectives used to describe jobs. The first category is good job descriptions (satisfying stimulating, fascinating, exciting). I found two separate lists of fake “work” slogans that would be used to convince people to work for a company.

  • Come for the job… stay for the challenge
  • People “just like you” work here
  • Build your dream job here
  • We make work an adventure
  • Even the rookies get to start on our team
  • Tired of working “inside the box”? Come join us

  • If you do a good job and work hard, you may get a job with a better company someday.
  • Never quit...until you have another job.
  • Hang in there: Retirement is only 30 years away!
  • Go the extra mile--It makes your boss look like a slacker.
  • Pride, commitment, teamwork--words we use to get you to work for free.
  • There are two kinds of people in life: people who like their jobs, and people who don't work here anymore.

After using the initial phrase (“Let's Get to Work”) as an example, I think I will have the students analyze a good phrase and a bad phrase in pairs. Then, we can talk about why the phrases are powerful, which company you would least want to work for, and which company you would most want to work for. These are the discussion questions that I would take from the article:
  • Can you observe any hint of control or inequality in the phrases?
  • How do these slogans make you feel? What is your reaction?
  • What is the goal of the slogan?
  • (Also, to populate the question list, I found this chart that would be really helpful)

After I try it out, I'll write a reflection post. Until then...

Any other ideas? Guidance? Have you tried an activity like this in your classroom before?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review - Critical Learning: Critical Discourse Analysis in EFL Teaching (Martínez, 2012)

YAY!!! The newest issue of the Journal of Language Teaching and Research is out!!

This is me, reading the Journal of
Language Teaching and Research...
except that I read it online. But this is
what I feel like when I read it. 
After browsing the titles, I choose to first read Critical Learning: Critical Discourse Analysis in EFL Teaching by Dolores Fernández Martínez, and I spent the morning reading and reflecting on the article. Here is my review.

The article begins with a brief introduction to discourse analysis (DA), then transfers into an introduction to critical discourse analysis (CDA)--the main difference being that CDA looks more specifically at power relations, control, and implicit strategy. A critical approach in the classroom, the author claims, benefits students in the rest of their lives, as well: “Students should learn language through exposure to different types of texts and be aware of the fact that the study of discourse can be applied to any text, problem, or situation” (p. 285). Fernández Martínez then presents a proposal for a CDA syllabus, of sorts, that includes a section on CDA Theory, a section on DA Tools, and a section on Texts (and using them in the classroom). She quickly discusses the first two sections, and then continues to describe six CDA activities featuring different authentic texts (because “authentic materials are more likely to connect with their interests and prompt their motivation and satisfaction.” 285), as well as questions to encourage critical discussion.

Very Critical Discourse Analysis. Notice, the critic glasses. 
Article Criticisms
My main criticism of this article is that the introduction and the explanation of the first two sections of the CDA syllabus were very brief and not very informative as to the exact intention or practices of the author. It would have been nice to have a stronger explanation of what exactly is meant by CDA and how is it is different than normal DA. Fernández Martínez mentioned in the beginning of the article that CDA was a method for social change, but I think a little more development in this section would be very helpful for the novice discourse analyst classroom teacher. I also really would have liked to see more explanation or example content of the “Theory” and “Tools” part, or at least an idea of the minimum requirements to be able to successfully teach this material....beyond telling students that the meaning of discourse is “contextually activated text” (p. 284).

My only other criticism is really petty. The political slogan she chose as the example for the first activity (“Yes, we can”) was attributed solely to Barak Obama, and while he DID use the slogan, I'm pretty sure that the president borrowed the phrase. I believe it was taken from the translation of the famous “Si, se puede” phrase coined by Hispanic rights activist and migrant farmer advocate Caesar Chavez, in the 1970s. Just sayin'.

If you overlook the criticisms about the first two sections of the paper, however, I think you will find a very interesting model for for creating interesting, authentic, student-centered language activities. What's more, they could easily be used in a Dogme ELT / Teaching Unplugged situation, where students bring the content, and together analyze the effect, the social relationships, and the purpose. I see many of these activities as being particularly useful in the second language context, where students are daily exposed to a large amount of target language material. However, I've also noticed from teaching English abroad, that in foreign countries, you see and hear a lot of English. In my experience, students don't always understand the meaning of what they are hearing and reading, even if they understand the words.

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with the final words of the article, which I feel are especially salient.
“All in all, the classroom presents tangible and attractive ways of interpreting contemporary culture; it is an excellent forum for teaching discourse analysis and for making students aware that there is a rich and complex world outside to be analyzed and criticalized” (288). 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Article Review: Ansary, H. & Babaii, E. (2009) - A cross-cultural analysis of English newspaper editorials

A Review of...

An Analysis and Evaluation of Ansary, H. & Babaii, E. (2009). A cross-cultural analysis of English newspaper editorials: A systemic-functional view of text for contrastive rhetoric research. RELC Journal, 40(2), 211 – 249.

Based on the assumption that different cultural backgrounds influence writing structure, Contrastive Rhetoric seeks to illuminate in which ways and to what extent these differences occur. Recently, however, the method also has been growing in popularity as a means to find the “universals” in language. Such is the case in the present study. Published in 2009 by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) in their Regional Language Centre (RELC) journal, the article addresses macro-rhetorical structures from three different contexts by comparing 30 English newspaper editorials written by native speakers with 60 English editorials written by non-native speakers to analyze the rhetorical structure and to determine if there is a Generic Structure Potential (a.k.a. Rhetorical Formula) that transcends cultural boundaries.


The stated purpose of the study was to “characterize the global and/or macro-rhetorical structure of English newspaper editorials and formulate…‘the Generic Structure Potential’ (GSP) of a genre,” as well as to determine and to explore the differences in the rhetorical structure of an editorial between cultures (Ansary & Babaii, p. 212).

The data was collected using a corpus of editorial sections of English-language newspapers available online. The authors narrowed the scope of their data by applying B. B. Krachu’s 1985 “Circles Model” to the collection process, and from there, they further narrowed the data pool by choosing one newspaper from a country from each of the three circles. From each newspaper, 30 editorials from 2003 and 2004 were selected for the final data.

According to this conclusions, an English-language editorial (no matter what the native language of the author) “consists of four obligatory elements (Headline, Addressing an Issue, Argumentation, and Articulating a Position)” (p. 233). However, there were different GSPs (Generic Structure Potentials, a.k.a. Rhetorical Formulas) for each different native language of the author and the context of the editorial, which involved the optional elements and their possible arrangements. These findings suggest a universal rhetoric for editorials. The implication of this conclusion is that, since they do not inherently contain a new, unique, or separate rhetoric, newspaper editorials are an easy pedagogic tool for language education contexts.


This research had several strong points, one of which was the effort made to ensure content validity and reliability. The researchers were careful and self-critical, involving other scholars in the development of their coding system and thoroughly testing of the validity and reliability of their system. In order to make sure that the study was as reliable and construct-valid as possible, they had their analyses reviewed by an outside post-graduate researcher, who was able to critique the elements of the study and offer suggestions for revision. Inter-coder and intra-coder reliability coefficients were both in the .80 to .89 range, where degrees of agreement as low as .61 have been considered valid and dependable in the past. Another strength of this paper was the background information given to put the study in context. The study contained synopses of past research that applied to the current issue and applied what had already been learned to the problem at hand.

There were also, however, quite a few elements of the study that may have affected the outcome of the study. Ansary and Babaii note three of these in the paper, however, they failed to mention several other issues that presented themselves in this research:
  1. the relatedness of the Iranian and Pakistani languages (as both are members of the Indo-European language family) could skew the results of the study, not to mention the possibility that their geographical proximity has had an effect on the development of a similar rhetoric;
  2. the data selection did not contain a representative sample, as the editorials were chosen by what the researchers teemed a “purposeful sampling technique,” and as such, needs to be considered in light of this caveat;
  3. the size of the data set (90 total editorials) was relatively small in comparison to both the number of native speakers of English, Iranian speakers of English, and Pakistani speakers of English, as well as to the number of available editorials, and therefore is not sufficient to contain the entirety of 3 countries’ rhetorical norms;
  4. no information was given on the subject of the editorials, which could also have a significant impact on the structure/format chosen to present the editorial-writer’s opinion; and
  5. the study presented no background information on the editorial-writers, leaving open the possibility that even though the writer may reside in the United States, Pakistan, or Iran, he or she might have been born or raised in another cultural context, and thereby not be a true representation of that circle’s or county’s rhetoric.

Aside from the issues mentioned above, this study is well-done. The suggestion that there is a universal formula for newspaper editorials has implications for using the genre in foreign language (and culture) teaching, especially as it relates to the affective issues of feeling successful in language learning. The study has some flaws that make the conclusions less reliable, but overall, the idea and applications seem to be unique and interesting.

While the study might not be the model for research in this methodology, it certainly is a model that can help to inform further similar studies. It provides an example for background information and insight into processes that are not available from a simple methodology description, and even the weaknesses present an “anti-model” from which students of research can learn.

  • Ansary, H. & Babaii, E. (2009). A cross-cultural analysis of English newspaper editorials: A systemic-functional view of text for contrastive rhetoric research. RELC Journal, 40(2), 211 – 249.
  • McKay, S. L. (2006). Researching second language classrooms. New York: Routledge.
  • Weng, C. Y. (Ed.) (2010). RELC Journal: A journal of teaching and research. Retrieved from

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Anglish as a bridge language?

My wife is a savvy blog reader and she is always sending me links to great articles. So when I read this article, I got a little inspiration to write a blog entry. The article presents an argument that textbooks for learners of Germanic languages should not be written in English, but rather a modified form of English known as Anglish and suggests that if we can utilize a form of English that more closely resembles its fellow Germanic languages, we could more readily comprehend said languages.

So what is Anglish? If you clicked on the previous link, you may now know that Anglish is basically English without influences from other languages. Consider what English would sound like today without the Latin (and Greek) word-stock inherited through the introduction of Christianity and all that time spent with the Normans after the Norman Invasion in 1066. Now you have an idea of what Anglish is all about.

The blog author writes that textbooks with Anglish as the facilitation text (that is, the language of instruction and translation) would be better, because the large share of Germanic vocabulary would give English speakers a learning advantage, an advantage the author claims English speaking learners once had. The learner would be introduced to Anglish and then be introduced to the target Germanic language through Anglish explanations.

I went through a few stages of reaction considering that proposal. At first, I thought, “Gee, you want to learn a language like German, but now you have to learn this other type of English first? What’s the point of that? Wouldn't that be overwhelming for the average language learner?” In my teaching experience, I think it is best to avoid translation, at least for intermediate and advanced students. So why build a learning foundation almost entirely on a system of translation? However, after rereading the article and getting past my initial reaction I thought, “Well, I really like historical linguistics, I can see Anglish as a great way to study language history and possibly facilitate learning a second language.”

After a day of thinking about Anglish and doing some research, I am not convinced that it is an entirely useful strategy in bridging the gap for English speakers learning Germanic languages. I do think, however, that it could be a fun unit or lesson that demonstrates the relationship of the languages and could also inspire students to learn more about historical linguistics and how languages change over time.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Free Continuing Education: How to Use Google Reader

Continuing Education is one of those things that sounds like mandatory staff training. However, a wise man once said, “Find something you love to do and you'll never have to work a day in your life.” (Harvey MacKay? Confucius? I don't think they talked about “jobs” back in Confucius' time, but the internet mostly gives him the credit). Well, there is a way to love continuing education and to make it not seem like work.

Every morning when I wake up (and make coffee, of course), I start my computer and open Google Reader to begin my daily continuing education.... 

...and it is fabulous. I actually go to sleep looking forward to waking up and reading. What's the secret? My self-created course is a collection of my favorite blogs on language education, language technology, and linguistics. Yours could be different.

If you're interested, here is how you can get started.

  1. If you don't already have a Google account, you need to make one. I'm pretty sure you can use a non-Gmail email address for it, though.
  2. Once you are signed in to, go to Google Reader. This is your Google Reader home page. You can also find it in the top black bar of the Google page (once you are signed in), under “More.”
  3. Once you are in Google Reader, you need to add subscriptions. You have three choices:
  • Search with Google Reader
    • On the left-hand side of the reader, you can see the “All Items” heading. Once that section is expanded, you will see “Browse for Items.” When you click it, it will open a page that helps you find relevant feeds. 
    • You can browse pre-packaged “bundles” (groups of blogs), search for topics, people, or blogs, or look at recommendations based on the blogs you already subscribe to. If you find ones that you like, click the “Subscribe” button (with the blue +).

  • Subscribe through Google Reader
    • On the left-hand side of the reader, you can also see a nice, big, red button that says “Subscribe.” 

    • Click the button, and a query window will come down. In the field, either type the name of a specific blog, a topic, or any key word that you are looking for. The search term will bring up a page of results, and if you find ones that you like, you can click the “Subscribe” button (with the blue +).
  • Internet search
    • If you aren't getting the results you want through the search options inside Google Reader, it is also possible to go to any search engine and type in a query like “Blogs about ….” You can peruse the results, and if you find ones you like, you can return to Google Reader and use option 1 or 2 to add the blog. Also, many blogs have a “Feed Subscription” button (orange with curvy lines), and you can click that in order to start the adding process.

Now that you're all set up, you can click on “All Items” to start reading the blog posts in the order they were published OR you can click on the name of the blog in the side column (under subscriptions heading) to read them blog-by-blog.

  • Don't subscribe to too many blog feeds. It gets overwhelming to have 1,000 unread items in your feed every morning, and chances are, you will miss the good blog posts because they are burried under the not-so-important ones.
  • If you ever see the orange RSS feed icon on a blog you really like, you can also click it, and sign up that way. Also, many browsers have an RSS add-on that puts an icon to subscribe (that you can click) in the address bar.
  • Make your homepage. It makes it easier to get in the habit of reading the feeds when it is the first thing you see whe you start the internet browser.
  • Organize your subscriptions. That way, if you don't have time to read everything, you can focus on one topic. For example, I have mine organized into “Favorites,” “Linguistics,” “Language Learning,” and “Language Teaching.”

Anyway, I hope this is helpful for those of you not already using a reader. If you have any questions, I'm more than happy to try to help!