#ELTChat Summary for 18-09-2013: How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday, casual conversation?

For anyone who is not yet aware of it: #Eltchat is a Twitter hashtag which offers Twitter-based discussions that take place every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 BST/GMT (when the clocks change). The topics, all related to the ELT industry, are listed on the  #Eltchat website, together with some background reading, a few days in advance of the discussions. The tag #eltchat can also be seen throughout the week as an identifier of all things that might interest those who work in the EFL industry.

On 18.09.2013, the 21.00 BST discussion was on the topic “How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday casual conversation”. (I was busy finishing my dissertation at the time, so couldn’t take part, but volunteered to do the summary when it was offered on the #ELTChat Facebook page!)

The suggestions were many and varied. (I’ve divided them into categories and expanded abbreviations to make it easier to process!):

Authenticity and Input

  • Authentic materials help a lot!  I use “Real Lives, Real Listening” series a lot. (North Star ELT -now Collins) (@elawassell)
  • I encourage watching soap operas – in English – lots of natural exposure, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (@elawassell)
  • The thing that needs to be most authentic is the reason for their communication – it has to mean something to them. (@theteacherjames
  • By using listening that contains natural talk rather than ‘model dialogues’ (@Marisa_C)
  • Get involved in social media communication…find real friends to speak English with. (@HanaTicha)
  • Role of input via listening also quite important #eltchat and types of activities which focus on chunks of language (@Marisa_C)
  • Ask sts to repeat what you’ve just said now and then.  See if they’re noticing these natural language chunks. (@ljp2010)
  • Use typescripts etc for them to identify useful chunks. (@Shaunwilden)
  • Teach them discourse analysis i.e. do  conversational analysis – moves, politeness rules, coherence etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Record an authentic conversation on video and use @dotsub to transcribe and share with Ss. Using authentic models are helpful (@ESLhiphop)

Drama

  • Acting out whether playacting (rehearsing) or roleplaying (producing more freely) can help  (@Marisa_C)
  • We’ve been using scenarios for our students..Today is Thurs..your essay should be in by Fri..you are not ready..you have to chat with your tutor.. (@shaznosel)
  • One activity I have used with monolingual classes – act out scenario in L1 then listen in L2 and compare – language/attitudes, style.  Have them prep their improvisations in groups or pairs – act out THEN listen or watch video – it’s fascinating to watch. Often they don’t [end up with similar things] – which is interesting – the cultural element is interesting as this raises awareness of that. (@Marisa_C)  I do something similar by asking students to look at video with no sound and working out conversation from gestures (@Shaunwilden)
  • For freer activities I keep a set of situations which Ss improvise as a skit and class spots roles, setting, relationship etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Drama can include relaxation, trust building and fun, can lead to role-plays and that… with less anxiety (@Marisa_C)

Identity

  • I’ve seen the suggestion that the use of masks can help learners become more uninhibited – they adopt the character of the mask (@pjgallantary)
  • What about props? small things to lend credibility to the new identity?  (@Marisa_C)

Small Talk

  • I think small talk starts with the teacher. It can settle a class and it produces natural language (@SueAnnan)
  • It’s really important to engage students in normal conversations outside of class time, while waiting, break time etc. Helps them relax (@theteacherjames)
  • Finding out about students usually produces natural speech too (@SueAnnan)
  • @sandymillin shared her lesson on #smalltalk here:http://t.co/Yg205gQlGv my Ss found it useful (@Ela_Wassell)

Methodology, Approaches and Techniques 

  • Rehearse and then revisit, all too quickly teachers move on (@Shaunwilden)
  •  How about some good old-fashioned drilling then? (@ljp2010) yes why not? Not necessarily old fashioned but well conducted, snappy oral practice can help a LOT! (@Marisa_C)
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. ALM is not “stylish” today, but it has its merits (@ESLhiphop)
  • Speaking’s like tennis practice: you need to intensively practice a single stroke, but you also learn by playing games. You need both. (@ESLhiphop)
  • As a variation sometimes you could ask Ss to define the topic and stage manage a CLL lesson where they learn and eventually record new chunks (@Marisa_C)
  • How about getting them to create their own personalised phrasebooks – with functional headings (@Marisa_C) Or a voice memo one should they wish to hear it instead? (ljp2010). Nice idea, phones help with that too as they can record the pronunciation (@Shaunwilden) or make their own recordings on something like Vocaroo and email it to themselves
  • Learning a language again: what sparks our classes are topics we care about, then we make effort even with minimum vocabulary (@annabooklover)

Some potential pitfalls were also identified:

  • When I lived in Brazil, everyone told me watching soap operas was a good way. I’d prefer not to learn the language!! (@theteacherjames)
  • If someone asked me to wear a mask I’d feel about 10x more self conscious! (@theteacherjames)
  • The problem students have with natural talk is ‘performance anxiety’ – in sports parlance, some sudents end up ‘choking’ (@pjgallantary)
  • I think it [new identity] can go too far, e.g. giving Chinese students Western names (@pjgallantary)

Meanwhile emerged some other questions that need to be pondered:

  • It does raise issue of what is ‘identity’ – many students feel like different person when speaking in English. (pjgallantary)
  • Personally I have observed that lack of fluency in any given area is often caused through the teacher’s reluctance to ask students to rehearse (@marisa_c)
  • Do you think teaching language chunks more could help? I think it’s important for fluency (@elawassell)
  • I’m not keen on the new identity, but being forced to temporarily be someone else can be useful (@theteacherjames)
  • But here’s a question: do you feel like a different version of ‘you’ when speaking in different languages? I do! (@pjgallantary)
  • The question is how to scaffold a speaking activity…  (@marisa_c)
  • Does improvisation work that well esp. at lower levels? (@Shaunwilden)
  • Control vs freedom always a worry but teachers need to intervene when needed – either facilitating or providing language needed (@Marisa_C)
  • How do you raise awareness of what is natural and what isn’t? (@Marisa_C)  Aye this is quite tricky, was thinking that listening to people in London today, nothing like we expose students to (@Shaunwilden)
  • Can drama activities help? (@Marisa_C)
  • What do confident,fluent, but not necessarily accurate speakers do that grammatically accurate but reticent speakers don’t? I suspect that confident,but inaccurate,speakers actually don’t give a stuff for the lang. ‘target’ and get lost in the performance (@pjgallantary)
  • How else can one practise a variety of language functions unless some kind or role activity – new ID or self in other contexts? (@Marisa_C)

So plenty of ideas and plenty of food for thought – what more could you ask from an #Eltchat?! :-)

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One thought on “#ELTChat Summary for 18-09-2013: How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday, casual conversation?

  1. Pingback: TEFL Matters » Blog Archive » In response to Doug Peterson

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