Calling You (this section is in-progress)
The activities in Calling You are an attempt to bridge informal 'street' language with formal English. Telephone calls between family and friends were recorded, where 'authentic' language is unscripted and the speakers don't know they are being recorded. Please read the tutor notice below for a fuller rationale of this type of linguistic 'undercover' work. For the learning activities please click the menu.menu >
Language Levels: beginners = (E1) (E2) (E3); intermediate = (L1) (L2).
I am always struck by the story of the ESOL student who arrived at a college reception asking for English classes. His request was unusual: "I no want to speak posh, posh like you. I want to speak like in street." ESOL tutors may recognise this language need. We teach to a curriculum, to an examinable standard of English ability. Our learners want this too. Yet our learners are also quick to recognise 'real' English, the so-called authentic English of the 'street'. "I only understand English when I come to class," is a sentence I have heard many times.
Authenticity in second language teaching is challenging. The term itself is problematic. It is a relative idea and what is 'authentic' to my learners in this particular time, place and context might be inauthentic to you. When I refer to authenticity, in relation to this website, I am referring to the language only; the tasks are artificial. My working definition of authenticity is:
Authenticity is typically a concern in EFL contexts where authentic language is sometimes regarded as any spoken or written document produced in the country of the target language. Yet when we look closely at these media, such as news broadcasts, tabloid articles, televised interviews, etc, we find highly scripted, edited, monitored language. Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" shouldn't be forgotten. These 'found' texts might be authentic to the genres and the media in which they were produced but do they demonstrate authentic 'street' language? We also shouldn't forget global coursebooks and the myriad of problems therein where the priority is mass appeal to the detriment of more authentic and regional language demands.
Authenticity in ESOL is not given as much concern as it is in EFL more broadly. This is a mistake. Adult ESOL in England and Wales is subject to adherence to the Adult ESOL Core Curriculum (AECC) (2001). The AECC gives no guidance on accent, dialectic variation and offers no guidelines for tutors to consider ethnolinguistic difference. The hegemony of AECC English, to the exclusion of regional differences, often produces ‘purified’ English in textbook language materials and multimedia products. In the Skills for Life language packs, for example, we find some of the most contrived, mechanistic, simplified, standardised samples of the English language. Such language has its place but not to the exclusion of more problematic, naturally occurring language: '... to hold back potentially confusing language knowledge points both to a distortion of the teacher role and to a denial of the tight relationship between language taught in class and language knowledge required for daily life,' (Simpson, 2009: 3).
The map below shows the UK distribution of Asylum Seekers in centres and emergency accommodation. We need to think of the linguistic challenges (e.g. accent and dialect) which each of those individuals will face in each of these cities. This is an unanswered question which needs ethnographic consideration. For example, is an ESOL adult penalised at a linguistic level because he or she is housed in Glasgow or Newcastle compared to someone housed in London or Leicester where, in broadly general terms, the type of English taught in a class and spoken on the street aligns more closely with the 'English' of the AECC and commerical language learning materials? For more information on the accents and dialects of the UK please visit the British Library.
So how do we capture this 'authentic' English and how do we teach it, if it can be taught? The activities in Calling You are an attempt to integrate informal, colloquial language with standard, formal English. I chose to capture informal language use by recording telephone calls between family and friends, through linguistic 'undercover' work, where 'authentic' language is unscripted and the speakers don't know they are being recorded. Consent was asked for after the recording. The accent and dialect of these speakers are Yorkshire. The language might be regarded as authentic only to the speakers in this area but some of the colloquial language features are recognisable across other parts of the UK. For a humorous and stereotyped portrayal of the Yorkshire acccent, dialect, mannerisms, clothing, etc, please watch the video below from the TV comedy Hale & Pace.
For detailed information about the Yorkshire dialect please visit yorkshiredialect.com and yorkshire-dialect.org for audio verses, etc. There's the Yorkshire Dialect Society and a book by John Waddington-Feather.
How many language tutors are actively trying to capture the type(s) of English used in their localities? How many ESOL learners are encouraged to bring to class the 'authentic' samples of language they find in their 'street' lives? These telephone recordings are my attempt. For further information on authentic language, tasks and materials please see the following papers:
How should tutors present 'authentic' language for learning? Do we simplify language by editing it? In doing so we jeopardise any claims we might make to authentic language teaching. Do we easify language by providing unedited language but assist the learner with strategies? Simplification or Easification (Bhatia, 1983) are materials-development strategies for second language teachers. I choose easification for Calling You. To retain the authenticity of the colloquial conversations none of the language has been simplified or edited. Instead, the website activities have been developed to easify the telephone conversations through annotation, dictionary use, vocabulary building and bridging colloquial with standard English. In addition, these activities are an attempt to integrate the language skills of listening, reading and writing. Through scaffolding of text, sentence and word activities it is hoped that the users of this site will begin to 'notice' the language features and similarities/differences between standard written and authentic spoken English. For further information on easification please see the following papers:
In this website tutors might notice a complete absence of explicit grammar teaching. This is deliberate. The activities in Calling You are modelled on a lexical approach to language teaching popularised by Michael Lewis. Research on audio-text and subtitling to improve literacy is also a strong influence in the design of the audio based activities. The fields of CTML, multimedia and interactivity to foster autonomous, multimodal learning have also been important influences. This said, the activities on each webpage would be better integrated into the ESOL classroom with discussion and tutor exposition.
I do not intend to polarise two types of English language. The boundaries and overlapping between formal and informal are blurred and complex. But perhaps language learners can be helped if we draw attention to the similarities and differences between spoken and written, at even a simplistic level, by creating learning activities through which students might notice language patterns across English(es).
Thanks to James Simpson and John Callaghan for their expert advice.
Further discussion of authenticity and multimedia design was presented at the The 7th British Universities Postgraduate Research Conference: Principles & Practice for Language Learning & Materials Development 2009. Click here for the PowerPoint 'authenticity and multimedia' presented on the day.
Bhatia, V.K. (1983) Simplification v. easification - the case of legal texts. Applied Linguistics 4, 1: 42-54. [9.2]
Carter, R. (2004) Language and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk. England: Routledge.
Department for Education and Skills. (2001) Adult ESOL Core Curriculum. London: Basic Skills Agency/DfES. Available online at http://www.dfes.gov.uk/curriculum_esol/
Lewis, M. (1997) Implementing the Lexical Approach. England: Language Teaching Publications.
Pawley, A. and Syder, F.H. (1983) 'Two puzzles for linguistic theory: Native like selection and native like fluency.' In Richards, J. and Schmidt, R. (eds.) Language and Communication. London: Longman.
Simpson, J. (2009) In press. 'A critical stance in language education: a reply to Alan Waters'. Applied Linguistics 30/3 (autumn 2009).
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