by Liz Walter
When teaching an intermediate class recently, I was surprised to find that very few of the students (who were from various parts of the world) knew how to say prices, so this blog will explain this very basic function and also look at some other vocabulary connected with money.
First, the prices. There is more than one correct way to say a price, but the most common one is simply to say the number of pounds followed by the number of pence (or the number of dollars followed by the number of cents):
£3.50 ‘Three fifty’
$4.95 ‘Four ninety five’
Sometimes we also say the words pounds, pence, dollars, or cents in the price. There is no difference, and neither way is better or worse. In American English, if you use these words, you have to say and in the middle. In British English…
Grammar is necessary. Absolutely necessary. You cannot learn a language without learning the patterns and the mechanisms of the language.
If you went to live in a foreign country and just hear the spoken language non-stop every day, you could probably pick up the language. But learning and studying a language in another environment with three or four lessons a week is a different story. But if you don’t stay in English-speaking countries, you’ve got to have an understanding of the mechanics of the language by reading the rules, understanding the rules,doing grammar exercises, going from theory into practice. The more you practise the better results you have.
The learning of grammar is considered as a time-consuming procedure which would deprive students from acquiring the skills necessary to communicate – or so some people think.
How can you produce a grammatical sentence when you ignore the mechanisms of the language? A grammatical sentence is one in which the meaning is made clear. If a sentence is grammatically incorrect, the meaning will not be made clear and communication will not be complete.
To sum up, communication depends on grammar. There is probably no way to achieve the former without having acquired the latter.
The global dominance of English means more and more parents want their children to start learning the language earlier. But teaching young learners is very different from teaching adults. For one thing, children learn much faster, but have far shorter attention spans. This means that teachers need to approach lessons in a completely different way, if they are to tune into the children in front of them.
One of the most important things to remember is that most young learners (from five to nine) will be in class at their parents’ request, not because they want to. Even older children (from nine to twelve), and those in national curriculums, will be there for reasons other than personal choice.
It’s vital therefore to make classroom sessions dynamic and stimulating for both learners and teacher. Lessons should be fun and based on the children’s interests and individual personalities.
Let me begin by explaining (briefly!) how children’s minds work. Children are totally receptive to the environment around them and they learn incredibly quickly. As they get older, the speed with which they acquire knowledge slows, but they learn faster than adults well into their late teens.
The reason is because they use all their senses. They are not just working in the cognitive sphere, which is what poor adults often end up doing. Unlike grown-ups, they have not yet selected their preferred mode of receptivity. All their senses of perception are open, and take in vast quantities of information.
Moreover children under seven have no preferences as to which side of their brain they use. Like the body, the brain has two sides. The left part of the body is described as feminine, the right masculine. In the brain, the left side is analytical, the right is creative. After children reach seven, the rigours and discipline of academic learning slowly erode the use of the right brain for acquiring knowledge.
Consequently, most information is taken in by the analytical half of the brain. But this need not to be a restriction. When children are playing or relaxing, it’s often the right side of the brain that is at work. Teachers can take advantage of this play-mode to impart new vocabulary or spellings. Physical actions involve all the senses and as such should be a part of many activities within a learning programme.
It follows that, to maximise knowledge acquisition, the classroom environment should be tailored to the needs and wants of young learners. Encourage them to bring in representations of their daily lives and collect pictures/posters of well-known local and international characters and musicians, places, family, sports, leisure and hobbies so the children feel totally at home in the classroom.
Colour is very important; pastel shades, such as gentle pinks, are very calming – excellent for unruly classes – as are plants at least once the “What’s that doing in here?” and “What’s it for?” have all died down.
Once you are confident you have created an atmosphere conducive to learning, you can concentrate on your teaching approach. Here, it’s very important to engender an idea of togetherness and similarity of environment that learners can relate to. Avoid focusing on differences, particularly cultural ones. Remember, children have only their small world as a point of reference – often they do not notice distinction between colour, race or custom, but merely accept them. Moreover distinctions are the creation of adults, so we should be careful not to inflict our preconceptions and prejudices on children.
Like everything else in the young learners’ class, the teacher’s approach to projects or “tasks” must be tailored accordingly. The task at hand, rather than the language, is always the focus for the child. Activities which are multi-sensory will help children use both hemispheres of their brain when completing tasks. Language is absorbed while involved in doing.
Tasks should not be long and laborious. Make sure there is a definite outcome, and that learners have the opportunity to be proud of their work and interested in its presentation and display.
Tasks should encourage laughter – after all, we readily remember things we associate with happiness – so use materials that are funny: pictures that cause laughter, poems and stories which are fun, and situations and themes which cause amusement.
There is no need with young learners to limit your space to a desk or table. Each element in the classroom can be used to enhance the learning experience of the children. So use the floor, share the board, and ensure that you keep your sitting-down time to a minimum. Remember that young children have an extremely short attention span, and a change of pace or environment, however small, is often all you need to re-focus the child’s attention. And attentiveness is vital if both parties are to gain the maximum benefit from the session in class.
Let the children take decisions as to what they want to do within your framework. This means being prepared for the session ahead, but also working as a team, not as a teacher. Remember that the child may choose not to respond to begin with. Don’t worry. Be patient and results, when they appear, will be good.
Finally, as a teacher of young learners, you will be faced with one last, and often major difficulty – the expectations of parents. Parents are often unaware of learning patterns of children, and will expect to see tangible progress in left brain work; grammar and writing. Your job will be to convince them that progress should be measured in terms of work done rather than results of tests. Be sure that the parents see their children’s work – present it visually and label it in English, as they are hungry to see that their child is making progress.
John Brown is a freelance trainer/teacher & EFL market consultant
Of the four language skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking – most learners probably rate the last two as the most important. Being able to communicate verbally is the first aim of most students. In many cases, reading and writing are never mastered properly.
Contrary to its historic labelling as a “passive skill”, listening is very much an active process. Even non-reciprocal listening, where one is not required to give a reply, still demands that the listener comprehend, interpret, react and respond to what is being said. If we are to teach listening skills successfully, I believe we need to begin by focusing on why we listen in our own native language, and then apply these lessons to the language classroom.
Interest and a purpose are the main reasons we listen. It follows therefore that we are motivated to listen for the same reasons in a foreign language. But is this always taken into account in the language classroom? And, if not, could this be why many students find listening difficult?
To answer these questions, we need to know how students listen. In their book Listening (OUP), Anne Anderson and Tony Lynch argue that the process of listening involves two different types of knowledge: background – in other words, life experience – and linguistic. They compare listening to a process of “model building”, which involves the “active interpretation and the integration of incoming information with their prior knowledge and experience“.
If we agree with Anderson and Lynch, we can start to see the difficulty: that students from different cultural backgrounds bring with them different background knowledge. This can create various problems: for instance, if you tell a multi-lingual class that they are going to hear a conversation in which a teenage daughter asks her mother if she can go on holiday with friends, the students’ expectations about what will be said will differ greatly. One way to deal with this is to create appropriate pre-listening activities, which give students the opportunity to predict what they are going to hear. In this way we can ensure the class has common expectations of the content and so lessen potential interpretation and comprehension difficulties.
By the same token we should set tasks which reflect the content of the listening, thereby helping students orientate to what they are going to hear. If, for example, we prepare a listening activity in which little or no information is being exchanged, such as an informal conversation between friends, the task should involve discovering the relationship between the speakers.
Post-listening activities are also very important. As well as interpretation and comprehension, listening involves reacting and responding. Teachers should, therefore, provide students with a post-activity which gives them the chance to express their own opinions and ideas.
Students, of course, have a range of explanations as to why they find listening difficult. They tend to blame the linguistic elements of the activity. However, as we have seen, the subject matter, the task itself, and cultural considerations, can all create blocks to successful listening. Linguistic matters are just one element of a wider picture, and again the key is to provide as much support as possible.
We should ensure the linguistic content of each activity is graded according to the language level of the students. We can also provide additional assistance with tasks that address particular areas of difficulty in listening, for example, those which deal with phonological work or referring expressions.
They fill learners with dread and intimidate teachers. At first glance, they seem harmless, but they hide behind a plethora of different identities, and the appearance of just one can be enough to stymie all attempts to understand a seemingly obviously passage. Most dangerous are those which disguise their presence by spreading themselves so thinly across a sentence that even judicious use of a dictionary fails to unearth them. These are phrasal verbs, the scourge of the language classroom.
Students battle with phrasal verbs for two reasons: because their meaning is often completely different to the meaning of the individual words that make them up; and because of the way they work structurally with other parts of the language system. Teachers struggle to teach them systematically because they are daunted by the range of terminology in grammar textbooks and other reference material.
We’ll begin with a useful verb for beginners: to put. Students quickly learn this means “to move something into a particular place or position” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary – OALD). They realise equally quickly that it’s followed by a direct object (for example, the book), and a prepositional phrase indicating the place where the object was put (for example, on the desk), thus: “I put the book on the desk.”
Later they will learn that by adding the word up after the verb, they create a new meaning – “to raise something or put it in a higher position” (OALD) – for example: “I put up some shelves yesterday.” If they’re on the ball, they may find out at the same time that the adverb particle is movable, and so we can also say: “I put some shelves up yesterday.” Anxious to practise their new knowledge, the students may attempt the following type of interaction:
Student 1: “I put some shelves up yesterday.” Student 2: “Where did you put up them?”
If their teacher overhears, he or she will point out an early rule about phrasal verbs: that the advert particle must come after the pronoun, thus: “Where did you put them up?” This rule will be reinforced in class by the teacher saying: “When you are ready, put your hands up”, or “put up your hands”. Consequently, the students should soon have no difficulty with the following:
Student 1: “I put my hair up yesterday”, or “I put up my hair yesterday”. Student 2: “Why did you put it up?” Student 1: “Because I was going to a party.
This is a very common pattern of phrasal verbs use which teachers would do well to point out and students would do well to note and practise. Sooner or later, our hypothetical learners will be reading a text and come across something like this:
“Sally rang her brother in London that evening. ‘Hi Jim,’ she said. ‘Listen, I’m coming to London tomorrow for work. Could you put me up for the night?'”
The students may fell perplexed and why Sally might want her brother to raise her into a higher position for a night in London! But it’s more likely that they will either infer the meaning from the context, or look it up in a dictionary, and find that it means “to provide food and accommodation for somebody in one’s own house” (OALD).
But that doesn’t mean they know all there is to know about that construction. Sooner or later they will realise that, in current British English, it’s more common to say: “I’m putting Sally up for the night“, than “I’m putting up Sally for the night“. Here, the students are dipping their toes into the deep waters of idiomatic English, quite far removed from the literal meaning of the words as used in “putting up a shelf”.
As time goes on, our putative students, now at intermediate level, may come across something like this: “The situation in the office gets worse every day – I really can’t put up with this any more.” The good learners may be able to work out the meaning from the context, but the others will probably be at a loss because the words themselves (put = head verb; up = advert particle; with = preposition) reveal nothing of the meaning. If they have a decent dictionary, they may find out that it means “to tolerate or bear something or somebody” (OALD). Here, the learners are coming across a third kind of phrasal verb which, like the previous example, is idiomatic in meaning.
By now we should be starting to realise the difficulties of comprehension facing our learners. After all, a student can plausible encounter all of the following within a very short space of time:
“Peter put up the shelves with his brother on Friday night.”
“Peter put his brother up on Friday night.”
“After Friday night, Peter can no longer put up with his brother.”
And still we are only scratching the surface, because “put+up” has yet other meanings!
It’s important that both teachers and students realise that if learners are to sound natural and colloquial in their speech, they must master phrasal verbs. What native speaker uses “tolerate” or “endure” when talking normally? “Put up with” is the term anyone who speaks ‘proper’ English uses. Moreover, once students have a good command of these tricky features, they will radically improve the quality of their English in general.
Unfortunately, there are no easy options here. The only way to get to grips with phrasal verbs is through hard graft – and this is particularly true of students learning English in their own countries, where they have zero exposure to these constructions outside the classroom.
Shooting from the lip
How can teachers help students and students help themselves to improve their understanding and use of phrasal verbs? I have constructed the following “advice table” for both teachers and students.
Don’t blind students with lots of complicated terminology, especially at lower levels.
Give students classroom tasks which will allow them to activate the phrasal verbs they know in an interactive way, rather than just through traditional gap-fill multiple-choice exercises.
Set tasks which allow students to read extensively and so come across phrasal verbs in context. Encourage inference.
Encourage students to create systematic notebooks or file sections*.
Don’t worry about the complicated terminology you will find in grammars and other reference books. It can wait.
Record the phrasal verbs you come across in a systematic way in a special notebook of section of your file*.
Try to find opportunities to use the phrasal verbs you know; periodically test yourself to see if you know the phrasal verbs in a particular section of your notebook or file.
Read widely and note down phrasal verbs whenever you come across them; always try to work out the meaning from the context before using a dictionary.
*Students are usually encouraged to record phrasal verbs by putting the head verb (e.g. “put”) at the top of the page, followed by phrasal verbs encountered, with examples. It may be much more helpful to list them under particles (e.g. “off”, “up”) so that the semantic similarity is evident.
David A Hill is an English Teaching Adviser.
This article first appeared in the Guardian Weekly.
Origin: The expression means in no time at all because this is how quickly a lamb shakes their tale. It first appeared in Richard Harris Barham’s book Ingoldsby Legends published in 1840, but since then it has been reduced to two shakes (e.g. see you in two shakes). Probably the expression is gradually disappearing because fewer people grow up actually seeing lambs wag their tails. However, shake is a recognized time of unit, equal to 10 nanoseconds, so the phrase will probably be preserved among nuclear scientists.
For the first time in human history there is a genuine world language and it happens to be English. English is spoken as a first language in the UK and Ireland, in the USA, in Australia and New Zealand, in South Africa, in the Caribbean, as well as by a certain number of people in Canada. But English is also spoken as a second language in many countries where it carries a special status; countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Singapore, India, etc. The people who speak English in Nigeria and India are three times more than the people in the UK and the USA. And of course nobody knows how many people speak English as a foreign language. So here is the answer to the question. Is English a global language? Yes or no? Yes, in the sense that over 2 billion people speak it across the globe, which means that one quarter of the world population is conversing in English now. That’s the reality. Nevertheless nobody knows what happens to a language when it is spoken by so many people in so many places.
A global language
Why has English become a global language? Because obviously it is a logical language, a useful language – or because it has no…. grammar. A language becomes global for one reason only and that is the power of the people who speak it.
Five hundred years ago people predicted no future for the English language. People who travelled in those years wondered what language they should learn to speak. They thought of French, Dutch, but not English. English was of no use beyond our shores. English was the language of England and there were four million people who spoke English in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.English spread across Europe with Shakespeare and across America and other parts of the world with the colonies. It went beyond our shores and began to have some power. Without that power it wouldn’t have any future at all. But what are the types of power that spread a language? In fact there were four kinds of power.
A language of political and military power
The first, obviously, was the political and the military power. People in the 18th century would have no difficulty answering the question why English has spread around the world. They simply appointed it to the British Empire and that would have been enough. So if the question is whether there was a political element that generated the first world move of English, the answer should be that a language travels around the world on the backs of its soldiers and sailors.
A language of industrial power
The industrial revolution was a second kind of power. Almost half the scientists and technologists who made that revolution worked through the medium of English. And in the 18th century people from all over Europe crossed the English channel in order to learn the then latest technology, how to make a machine, etc.
A language of economic power
In the 19th century there was a third kind of power, the economic power. At the beginning of the 19th century the three most economically powerful nations of the world were Britain, America and Germany. At the end of the 19th century it was America, while Germany and Britain were lagging behind.
A language of cultural power
After World War II English acquired a fourth kind of power, the power of culture. Every culture in the 20th century either originated in an English-speaking country or was facilitated by and English-speaking country. Innovations such as the cinema, television, music, advertising, computers, the Internet, etc. began in English-speaking countries. Take the cinema for example. 85% of all films produced globally are in English. So the power of culture has an important dimension. It has been said that English has repeatedly found itself in the right place at the right time.
The future of English
Let’s look at the future and see what happens to a language like English when it is spoken by so many people in so many places; and what happens to other languages when they find themselves in the way of a language like English. The more one language is spoken the more diverse it becomes. New Englishes are emerging. And it is perfectly obvious why this happens. English, being an Anglo-Saxon language, had always had a variety of accents and dialects; and this accent variation, this dialect variation should be seen on an international as opposed to a national stage. The millions of people around the world who speak English create their own variation of English: British English, American English, Australian English, Nigerian English, Indian English, South African English, etc. Thousands of new words enter the English language. Where do these words come from? From other languages. English has borrowed words from over 350 other languages. That’s why the English vocabulary is so diverse and one reason why virtually anybody learning English for the first time would recognise words from their own language.
Research makes it clear that this continuous borrowing of words will bring changes in the English language. Take the example of Nigeria, which has a plethora of 450 dialect. Taking into consideration the fact that everybody speaks English as a second language in Nigeria and the fact that 450 other dialects are in use in this country, one should not fail to predict that in a few years’ time Nigerian English will be far more different than any other English.
Although there have been many changes in the vocabulary, not many changes have been so far in grammar. But pronunciation varies across the English-speaking world. English has never been a syllable-kind language. But now virtually all the new Englishes around the world develop and use a syllable-kind English.
Sooner or later we would encounter people who have English either as a mother tongue, or are fluent in English as a second language, that we will not be able to understand. English teachers have the most difficult job they ever had to do. They are very concerned. What kind of English should they teach? they are very concerned because, now, progressively fewer and fewer people can actually be heard speaking standard British or American English. Three out of four of the world English-speaking population are beginning to speak new Englishes. It’s so difficult to know what is going to happen.
But what about other languages? For not clearly related reasons we have never had the prospect of half the world’s languages dying out in the next fifty years. The pressures are on the English teacher. If I’m teaching English in some part of the world where the local language is dying, I’m going to get the blame. Yet it might not be the fault of English that this language is dying in the first place.
Language is people – and I am not sure that people have developed a sense of what the problems facing them are going to be. I do not think that people realise that we are at an absolutely crucial turning point in the history of language. For the first time in human history there is a genuine global language. It happens to be English, so that means the responsibility is for the English language teachers to handle.
We’ve got to tell people about the way English is going around the world and what’s happening to it; we’ve got to tell people about the endangered languages; we’ve got to tell people that the greater strength in protecting their own culture is to develop the fullest possible competence in their own mother tongue.
David Crystal is a British linguist, academic and author.
e.g. Bill and I had to break up because I was looking to get married, and he just wanted to sow his wild oats.
Meaning: to do wild and foolish things in one’s youth, to be promiscuous before settling down.
Origin: The phrase is used to describe young men going through a period of wild behaviour, and is said indulgently of the young. The wild oat (Avena fatua) is a common tall plant that looks like its relative, the cereal plant oat, but is really a weed. Sowing wild oats instead of good grain is fruitless and in that uselessness lies the origin of the phrase which can be traced back to the Roman comic Plautus in 194 BC.
e.g. You’ve been putting off making that phone call for days – I think it’s about time you grasped the nettle!
Meaning: to deal with a difficult problem, or an unpleasant situation, with determination and courage.
Origin: It is believed that if you grasp a nettle firmly, it is less likely to sting you, than if you just touch it lightly. This belief was first recorded in a rhyme quoted in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock (1925):
Why does a person read? There are many answers to that, but one of the reasons why a person reads is for pleasure. There is nothing more relaxing than settling down with a good book. A book is able to give you hours of pleasure and transfer you to another world.
A good story gives food for thought, it makes you think and react to certain events that happen. You actually become a part of the hero or heroine as you follow their progress in the story. You feel as if you have experienced something similar or that under certain circumstances you may act in a similar way. When this point is reached then you have become one with the story and you are actually living through the details of the experiences outlined in the story. When the climax is reached there is a feeling of completion.
This of course happens because of the language that is used in the stories. The beauty of the language can only be seen through literature. Only through such an experience will the students acquire a feeling for the language and understand how it can be usedto express feelings and thoughts. Through such an experience, the students’ own imaginative powers will be awakened. They will be able to use this new awareness in their own writing; they will not be afraid of experimenting with words and ideas.
Therefore, teachers should incorporate reading into their programme. Just as much learning can take place through the reading of a good story as in a set piece of learning. Comprehension exercise, grammar, vocabulary, writing, speaking,listening, etc. can be integrated into such a lesson.
Through my experience as a teacher, I have found that by introducing readers to all my students from the very beginning of their English language learning, it not only gives them pleasure but it has helped them to take an interest in the language.
Starting (or ending) a lesson with ten minutes of reading becomes a habit after a while and something that the students look forward to. They will actually ask for another book once the first one is finished.
There are two types of reading that can be done – silent or oral. Both types can be used depending on the type of lesson the teacher wants to develop. I prefer oral reading (especially in the junior classes) because many things can be taught through oral reading.
First of all, pronunciation. A must if the students are to understand what they are reading and what is being read to them. If words are not pronounced properly then there is no understanding of what is being read. At the beginning it will probably be necessary for students to be corrected for their pronunciation more often, but as the reading of the story progresses then the need for correction will not be as great. In conjunction with this, there is the rhythm and stress and the intonation that is necessary if there is to be an understanding of what is being read. The students must learn to put feeling and expression into their voices otherwise the reading is monotonous and unemotional.
Then of course there is vocabulary work when certain words in the story have to be explained. This can be done either when the story is being read or for homework and checked in the next lesson before the reading continues. However, it is often best to give a quick oral explanation of a word when the reading is in progressso that there is an understanding of the story and the students maintain their interest in the story. Sentence construction can be set for homework where the students make up sentences of their own using the words found in the story. Spelling can also be included in this where the unknown words can be learnt and given in a spelling test.
Depending on the part of the story that is being read, a discussion may take place on either the character/s or the setting or an incident that has occurred and the outcome of that. Going on from here, extra work can be done in the writing lesson – again in describing a character or a place or an incident. Certain parts of the story can be studied to see how certain descriptive words or phrases were used. These can be practised by the students in similar exercises in their writing.
Although many readers are available as audiobooks, another way of practising their listening skills is for the students to have their books closed while the teacher reads. This can be done after a first reading of the book. Questions can then be asked to see how much the students have understood. The problem areas such as in recognising similar vowel and diphthong sounds or consonant clusters can then be practised using drill exercises so that the students become aware of the different sounds they have to listen for when doing a listening exercise.
As the FCE exam consists of different types of reading texts, i.e. narrative, factual, etc., by introducing reading as a permanent part of the course, the students will become acquainted with different types of texts and different styles of writing. They will learn to read quickly and to understand what they are reading.
A class library can be set up whereby students can borrow books outside what is read in class. Small projects can be set on the books chosen which can then be presented to the rest of the class. This will increase the interest of the students because they will want to read a book that somebody else in the class enjoyed reading.
Because of the time factor, it might be a good idea to choose short stories for the junior classes. This will ensure a quicker turnover of stories as well as keeping the interest of the students. Once they reach FCE level, there will be no problem in keeping their interest and doing a more complete analysis of the story. Choose stories in which the plot is simple to follow and where a lot of explanation is not necessary.
Although reading should be looked at from the viewpoint of pleasure, the exercises and projects that are set will ensure an amount of supplementary learning that would otherwise not have been possible. However, it should be done in such a way that it is not regarded as another piece of homework. The students will then truly look upon reading as a form of relaxation and something that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Despena Dalmaris is a teacher and an author of EFL textbooks.