ELTchat summary (14/05/14) – “Intercultural awareness: what our students need to know”

#ELTchat discussions take place once a week, on Wednesdays, at 12.00 or 21.00 each week, on a rotating basis. (To find out more about #ELTchat and these weekly discussions, please visit the #ELTchat site.) On the 14th May the chat took place at 21.00 BST (22.00 CET – yawwwn!) and the topic was ‘Intercultural Awareness: what do our students need to know?

What a can of worm! :-)

What a can of worm! 🙂

It quickly became apparent that the answer to this question was a) definition-dependent b) context-dependent and c) the usual can of worms job!

To summarise this discussion, I have decided to go with the following structure:

  • Definition(s) – defining the topic
  • Context – need to knows/teaching ideas and issues
  • Context – need to knows/teaching ideas and issues
  • Context – need to knows/teaching ideas and issues
  • Activities/approaches we could use across contexts
  • Resources/Links
  • Conclusion

Here we go then…


Well, looking back over the talk, we picked at the issue of definition a bit but didn’t really come to any firm conclusions. To me, this mirrors how complex culture is – something that is further complicated by the fact that English is used as an international language and as a lingua franca. There is tension between ‘English as associated with western culture’ and ‘English as not belonging to any particular culture’, the relationship between language and culture in general, and the role of the English language teacher within this. Of course context and needs are very important – like so many other ELT issues, there is no one size fits all answer to be found with regards to this topic.

Topic is  huge methinks – we could only tackle aspects of it – e,g, topics, culturally loaded materials, even approach to teaching (@marisa_constantinides)

So does it mean teaching the culture of the language or teaching culture in a wider sense? Or both? (@theteacherjames)

…or adapting teaching to cultural contexts or awareness of differences in class (@hartle)

A culture includes behaviours, traditions, food, socialising, etc – these are all topics included in materials – could extend topics. (@marisa_constantinides)

Shouldn’t the question be whether we serve as language teachers or as ambassadors of the broader English culture as well?  (@angelos_bollas)

Depends on context – if students will mostly be speaking to native speakers or using ELF in which case need broader cultural issues. (@GemL1)

Well… in a UK context, using polite language is important in some situations (saying please, thank you, etc) (@esolcourses)

Because English is global maybe more useful to raise awareness that difference between its many users exist despite same language used. (@LizziePinard)

Depends on the student’s origin. For some, English equals western. (@angelos_bollas)

Wary of just English culture, Ss learning English will use it in China or South America too, English as way to view different world cultures. (@eilymurphy)

Isn’t it a question of context? What do the students need the language for? (@SueAnnan)

Culture is much more than grouping countries and labelling them. Many other factors involved. (@MajorieRosenbe)

From my wife’s cultural awareness studies: culture absorbs and changes language and vice versa (@ELTexperiences)

Culture isn’t static so you can’t teach it as a body of content? (@LizziePinard)

Culture even changes through generations within the same country. (@HadaLitim)

We also need to remember that within “a culture” are many subcultures. Very complex. (@LizziePinard)

So, having opened the can of worms, we discussed ways of dealing with all the worms, when it comes to our learners in our different contexts.

Context – monolingual classes 

Monolingual classes are generally associated with L2+ instruction happening in non-English-speaking countries. However, monolingual does not mean monocultural (see last tweet in the definition(s) section!) and even within these classes, intercultural awareness is important. For example, learners in these classes

Need to know behaviours, mannerisms especially in business settings, but also for classroom. (ChristineMulla)

Once we recognise that monoculture is non-existent, we can see that

Monolingual doesn’t necessarily mean mono-cultural (@HadaLitim)

Each group has a cultural mix in every individual even in monolingual classes, so by comparison of what is “normal” for each of us.. (@hartle)

Agreed – personal, family, building, neighbourhood – many different kinds. (@ChristineMulla)

That’s true. There are sub-cultures as well as national cultures. (@ELTexperiences)

Learners learning in their L1 context, who have to deal internationally with other people, for example at work, may still struggle with culturally related issues:

My sts have great difficulties on conference calls etc (@theteacherjames)

Context – multilingual classes

Multilingual classes could take place in English-speaking countries but may also take place in non-English-speaking countries. If we associate language and culture, then it is immediately obvious that in such classes there is a lot of potential for raising intercultural awareness:

How about students teaching each other about culture? Less teacher, more student interaction. In my experience they love it. (@ChristineMulla)

Of course this approach is not precluded in any other contexts, as we have already seen. It is also not without issues:

Discussed culture yesterday and an Austrian student said she felt left out because foreign students form closed groups. Different perspective. (@MarjorieRosenbe)

Context – ESOL

By ESOL contexts, we mean learners who have entered an English-speaking country with the goal of settling there. This would in due course involve citizenship tests:

With ESOL learners in the UK they need to be aware of cultural aspects to pass the Citizenship test! (@languageeteach)

Yeah they also need to know loads of silly facts for no apparent reason 🙂 (@Shaunwilden)

The need to integrate distinguishes ESOL contexts from other multilingual contexts: multilingual classes are not only found in English-speaking environments (E.S.E) and, even if such a class does take place in an E.S.E., the learners in them do not necessarily have any integrative goals: they could be young learners attending a summer camp, for example. However, there is still some overlap between the two contexts in terms of cultural resources within the class.

In ESOL classes, we can assume that learners will need to speak to native speakers, though not exclusively. Therefore certain elements of language and culture may need to be taught.

The ‘unwritten rules’ of correct behaviour in one culture don’t necessarily transfer to another one…(@ESOLcourses)

Yes, and the importance of hedging language esp when asking for a favour. (@Languageeteach)

Some aspects of language, too – tag questions in particular can be confusing for learners! (@ESOLcourses)

I always cover them in small talk lessons (@SueAnnan)

Seeing students arrive in the UK and the progress they make to become more culturally aware is amazing. Good to monitor. (@ELTExperiences)

This doesn’t come without its issues:

With ESOL ls, especially mature learners, they can be reluctant or scared to assimilate into the target culture.(@Languageeteach)

A problem that I see with ESOL students is they incorporate their own culture in their home. …female ESOL students then have problems coming to class as their husband dictates when they can and can’t go.(@ELTexperiences) 

Of course, if we are thinking about immigrants spending a prolonged period of time in an English-speaking country, and potential issues they could face, we should also think of issues faced by students who study in such an environment:

An increasingly important issue is training L1 lecturers to teach an international class (@ShaunWilden)

Activities/approaches we could use across contexts

There were plenty of ideas for bringing culture into the classrooms and thoughts about how it could emerge naturally too, as well as potential issues…

I do games, activities, discussions and personal stories from me and from students (@MarjorieRosenbe)

Greetings across cultures – shake, nod, nose touch etc. (@ChristineMulla)

We use a great GTKY activity with our students to encourage cultural awareness. It prompts discussion on proxemics, etc. (@ELTexperiences)

I think these issues / topics tend to come up naturally in class either through the language forms (politeness etc) or discussions (Gem1)

Business E books often have units on intercultural awareness. (@MarjorieRosenbe)

“I tried to do it in an enjoyable way – quizzes, games, etc. So in the end yes. I teach at a public grammar school in CZE” (@HanaTicha)

I had to teach British culture to my Spanish students and it occurred to me that we could learn imperatives while making brownies (@anasainzc)

A fun activity which dealt with culture was to ask students to bring superstitions from their countries.  Fascinating. (@MarjorieRosenbe)

Authentic videos are great for those who’re not sure about cultural aspects of different countries (@HadaLitim)

In my experience, I thought I learnt things from films etc but then I was very surprised when I got into trouble (@HanaTicha)

 A story of a faux pas might be a good lead-in to the topic  can elicit suggestions on how to get out of trouble! (@Philip_Saxon)

In business classes, case studies involving faux pas (or worse) can be instructive. (@Philip_Saxon)

Culture is a natural part of life – society and language based. Automatic learning if open to it  (@ChristineMulla)

I also get students to discuss the importance of colour in their culture. (@ELTexperiences)

Gestures is always a great one (@HadaLitim)

Or personal stories. They work well as well. (@MarjorieRosenbe)

Creative Drama would be great for culture awareness, too. (@angelos_bollas)

You could look at idiomatic expressions from other cultures and get students to tell each other idioms or expressions. (@ELTexperiences)

Creating realistic situations in the classroom, would be a great option. (@perikleis)

If learners are in an E.S.E, you could get them to do research then go and interview people on the street to learn more – I made materials to maximise the learning in these activities… (@LizziePinard)

Challenging stereotypes can be really interesting: thrifty Scots, direct Germans etc. (@Languageeteach)

But dealing with them and trying to see beyond the stereotypes can make a good lesson too. (@dimodeca)

Role-play situations in a TBL sequence might work – ask students to act out in own lang THEN watch in L2 (@Marisa_C)

Not hard in multilingual classes. Had a Saudi student trying to convince a Mexican about the advantages of having several wives (@ditaphillips)

Did PARSNIPs this week too and Spanish students didn’t get what the big deal was till we discussed different cultures learning from same books! (@Noreen_Lam)

Can also try to get students from different backgrounds to work together in groups – they have a shared goal, after all. (@Philip_Saxon)

Should we try intercultural lessons? One class in one country connects w/ a class from another country and share experiences?

I did an exchange between teens in Brazil and S.Korea, they loved it and learnt so much, very effective (GemL1)

There are some great intercultural wiki collaborations going on as we speak (@Marisa_C)

Get sts to think about what they think is British Culture. I’ve heard a range of answers: men with top hats and walking sticks,etc. (@ELTexperiences)

Pitfall with teaching british culture, is: what is it? Danger of stereotypes.. (@hartle) [Applies perhaps as a potential pitfall for teaching about any culture.]

My school organise an international food day every 3 month. Ss and Ts make food from their country share! Yum! (@ditaphilips)

Topic of culture also allows students to be ‘experts’ on an area. Great for motivation.(@ChristineMulla)

Identifying cultural elements in films/video clips could be a class activity (@Marisa_C)

Can ask monocultural classes what advice they’d like to give to foreign students coming to their country to study. (@Philip_Saxon)

Can get students to turn local news into a BBC or CNN treatment and vice versa (@Marisa_C)

Organize an international day at school.Ss in charge of research, organization and reaching out. (@Laila_Khairat)

We can ask Ss to interview family members who have lived abroad (@Laila_Khairat)


Delta Publishing: Culture in our classrooms

ELTExperiences blog: British Culture quiz 

Why not try post-crossing: Post-crossing website

…or a virtual exchange project? – see Rose Bard’s project for inspiration!

Routledge: Language, culture and teaching: critical perspectives

Cambridge: Cambridge Intercultural Resource Pack

Kwintissential: International Business Etiquette website/app ; International Etiquette guides

Wiley: Multicultural Education: issues and perspectives

Adrian Holliday: Authenticity, communities and hidden potential – video presentation

and I would add:

Sandra MacKay: Teaching English as an International Language: rethinking goals and approaches  

Adrian Holliday: The Struggle to teach English as an International Language

Ed. Farzad Sharifian: English as an International Language: Perspectives and pedagogical issues 

Corbett (2003) An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching. 

Nault, D. (2006) Going Global: Rethinking Culture Teaching in ELT Contexts  in Language, Culture and Curriculum vol. 19/3  (If you have access – I no longer do but did when I was at Leeds Met!) 

 – all of which I have read and highly recommend! 


It’s all very well but..

Speaking of cross cultural communication, I wish someone would teach English L1 speakers how to talk to an international audience! (@theteacherjames)

Seriously (although in all seriousness you can’t disagree with the quote above!), it was a very interesting discussion to have with a cross-section of teachers from a multiplicity of contexts – and surely a conversation we need to keep having, issues we need to keep interrogating…

In fact, we had a different version of this discussion a few years ago, which I also summarised, called The effect of culture on teaching and learning. Might also be worth a look if you were interested by what we had to say this time around! 🙂

Looking forward to the next #ELTchat – now that I’ve cleared my summary backlog!  If you participated, let me know if I have missed anything you consider crucial or feel I have represented anything incorrectly.

What about the social side of language learning? (In response to David Petrie’s “The Future of Language Teaching”)

In his post for the British Council Teaching English website, David gives us a futuristic language teaching case from 2034, study drawing on currently existent technologies and their potential uses. His closing question is,

“Do you think there’s a role for the language school? I’m not so sure.”

But what about the social side of language learning?

In the private language school where I currently work, adult learners jump at the opportunity to do things in addition to their classes e.g. Reading Group, where they read and discuss a given graded reader periodically, and PSP speaking (an hour of mixed-level English conversation) or English-speaking Thursday nights at the pub. Who do they attend with? For the latter two, it is open to any level, and learners often sign up to join with, or in the case of the pub, just turn up with, other members of their class. 

Their language classes are not only about language learning – though clearly this is key! – but also 2 hours and 40 mins to 4 hrs a week (depending on their course intensity) doing something with a group of friends, some of whom have been met in previous courses at the school, some of whom are classmates (for YL, teens, university students), with new friends made each course too, as new learners join, others leave and so the classes evolve. They enjoy being in each other’s company twice or three times a week, in the classroom, learning English together. Perhaps it should be no surprise: after all language evolved because humans are social creatures. The benefits of this in terms of language learning are, of course, the pair –  and group – work potential that is there to be mined, the collaboration, the opportunities to learn from one another, for a start.

Young learners, meanwhile, learn a lot more than language when in the classroom – they learn social skills, cognitive skills, motor skills and so on. And they have fun, too! Would they be there if their language learning at school were super effective? I’m not sure. But I do know that we don’t only have kids in need of remedial help in our YL classes. We have a mixture of brilliant kids/teens, average kids/teens and kids/teens who do need lots of extra help. To me this suggests that they don’t only attend because school language learning isn’t good enough. Some of them love English and learning, some of them doubtless are there because their parents think it is a Good Thing. The latter may start classes because of that and discover that they love learning too.

Perhaps for people who are learning English purely to get ahead in their job, David’s vision is a possible futuristic avenue. (Though I question if after working all day using a computer, as many might, they’d want their language learning to be purely computerised too?) Either way, for people who learn as a hobby, or as part of a holiday, or who combine it with socialising outside of work/school, for whom English is important but who want to use it to speak to people face to face (or on the phone!), technology is better off in a more ancillary role.

For me, the future of language learning still involves groups of people coming together to use and explore language. And the delicate in some ways, robust in others, ecosystem of the classroom, that “small culture” (Holliday, 1999), is part of this. The language school is another small culture, within which that classroom culture operates and by which it is influenced, as is the university language teaching centre, or the primary or secondary school and the languages department within it.

Does this make me a technophobe? Insecure about my future as a teacher? I hope not. I just think there is room for all. And perhaps technology, as used in David’s case study, will make language learning accessible to *additional* learners and become an additional option, rather than becoming a replacement. I think that as far as technology is concerned, as with language teaching and learning methodology, there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as Michael Swan would say. I think we should build on what we have rather than lopping off entire aspects of it.

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater! Image taken from google advanced image search licensed for commercial reuse with modification (source: www.wikipedia.org)

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Image taken from google advanced image search licensed for commercial reuse with modification (source: http://www.wikipedia.org)

What do you think?


Holliday, A. (1999) Small Cultures in Applied Linguistics vol. 20/2 pp. 237-264. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

IATEFL 2014: Bridging the gap between materials and the English-speaking environment

My very first IATEFL talk!

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.21.10

Date: Thursday 3rd April 2014

Time: 17.45-18.15

After introducing myself and my three invisible hats (teacher of English, learner of language/teaching, ex-student of the Leeds Met M.A. ELT/Delta – the origin of the ideas on which this talk was based), I provided the following talk outline:

  • Over to you! (A few questions…)
  • Student-led interviews (benefits and issues)
  • My materials
  • Using the framework

Attendees then discussed the following questions:

  • What context do you teach in?
  • What materials do you use?

Which led to these:

  • Do the materials exploit the rich resources of language outside the classroom?
  • Do the materials encourage students to exploit it?
  • Do materials scaffold students to exploit it?

Following this discussion, I revealed two quotes by Tomlinson (2008, 2013):

“None of the books seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere.” (Tomlinson, 2008)

“Little[No] attempt is made to encourage the learners to make use of English in their actual or virtual environments outside the classroom.” (Tomlinson, 2013)

One way in which language schools try to encourage learners to engage with the language in the out-of-classroom environment in English-speaking places is to send learners out to interview members of the public. I asked attendees to consider the benefits and potential issues with this activity, before providing some of my own:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.32.42

The question of how to guide learners across the murky waters of the potential issues to reap the possible benefits is where my materials come in. The next part of the talk discussed the influences that informed the development of my materials:

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.23.56

And then revealed the basic framework I’d created using Task-Based Learning (Ellis, 2003; Willis and Willis, 2007), Language Awareness Approach (Svalberg, 2007) and the Intercultural Approach (Corbett, 2003):

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.41.48


Of course this bare frame doesn’t demonstrate how those theories were woven in, and does give rise to possible questions/issues. So at this point I predicted some possible questions that might have been forming in the audience’s mind:


  • Won’t they get bored?
  • Is it a good use of so much time?
  • What about linguistic development?
  • Isn’t it a cop out? Mucking about instead of learning language?

And then explored how I used the approaches I’d chosen, to address these issues and to maximise learning and learner engagement, and how I’d addressed issues that critics have raised with regards to the theories. The result was this framework:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.42.00

(F.L. stands for functional language and S.E. stands for students’ experiences.)


The final part of the talk dealt with using this framework and exemplified this with a task from my own materials. The initial steps of using the framework have much in common with a genre-based approach:

  • Think about how you want your ss. to use language
  • Find texts produced in that genre/those genres. (Or make your own with your colleagues!)
  • Identify common generic features (language, structure, organisation, appearance etc)

To this I add:

  • Pinpoint interesting/engaging non-linguistic outcomes.
  • Consider scaffolding.
  • Pick out linguistic and cultural dynamism.
  • Build in reflection.

Obviously the first bullet point of part 2 of the list is in keeping with TBL tenets. The second refers to how the tasks are going to feed into each other, how the activities within each task are going to feed into each other and how the whole is going to enable learners to be able to do something by the end of it. The third is in keeping with the Intercultural Approach and the Language Awareness approach. The final bullet point, opportunities for reflection, is crucial to all three approaches as well as being the key to turning experiences into learning, and connecting learning to experiences.

To exemplify this, I used the third task of my materials:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 10.03.44


I discussed how content generated by students in the second task fed into the pre-task activity, in which students collaborate and exchange information, in preparation for the main task of this third task. The main task requires learners to synthesise the information they’ve collected between them, and use it as the basis for their question preparation. They are then helped to analyse  these questions by considering cultural and pragmatic issues, before moving on in the post-task activities to engaging with input in the form of a real interview, which leads to language focus and speaking skills development. Throughout the task, learners are encouraged to reflect and connect their own experiences and knowledge with what they are learning, and to identify similarities and differences between their own culture, other learners’ cultures and the target language culture.

Being a twenty minute talk (plus ten minutes for questions), I had to bring it to an end pretty swiftly by this point, by thanking International House, Palermo, for allowing me to attend IATEFL 2014, and the Leeds Met M.A. ELT department (and especially Heather Buchanan, who was my supervisor for the dissertation project in which I made these materials) for all the guidance and support that I was given in my learning and in realising my ideas, because without the course I most definitely wouldn’t have been giving this talk today. And the final thank you, of course, to everybody who attended!

Here is a list of references for my talk:

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language Awareness and Language Learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. Cambridge Journals

Moran, P. (2001) Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice Heinle and Heinle. Canada

Murray, N. (2012)  English as a lingua franca and the development of pragmatic competence in ELT Journal Volume 66/3 Oxford University Press

Corbett, J. (2003) An Intercultural Approach to Language Teaching Multilingual Matters. Clevedon

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press Oxford.

Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press, Oxford

Tomlinson, B. (2008) English Language Learning Materials: A Critical Review Continuum London

Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (2013) Survey Review: Adult course books in ELT Journal Volume 67/2. Oxford University Press Oxford

“Itchy Feet!” (Some *more* new materials…)

Recently, Sandy Millin published a blogpost, in which she shared an audio recording, made on request shortly after arriving in Sevastopol, Ukraine, and described a lesson that another teacher (not the one who had made the original request) had made based on this recording after finding it on Twitter.

I listened to the recording and felt inspired to create some materials to go with it. You can find a link to these materials (a student handout and accompanying teachers’ notes, as well as a brief powerpoint quiz about Sevastopol, including introduction to Sandy, and a transcript of the recording) here. (Scroll down to number 3, “Itchy Feet” )

Conveniently enough, the topic links in with a reading text that my learners will shortly be looking at in New Headway Upper Intermediate. I plan to use these materials to spice up the lesson a bit. At higher levels, we have more time to work through the book content, so there is room to do this. Though it isn’t written into the materials, because it would be overly specific for materials to share, I also plan to have them compare Sandy’s experience, and the language she uses to talk about them, with the experiences written about in the reading text and the language used therein. The title of the materials was actually inspired by NHUI, as the phrase “itchy feet” features in a vocabulary activity within their reading and speaking sequence!

For homework, I’m planning to get my learners to pretend that our Edmodo group (http://www.edmodo.com) is a travel forum that they use, and through which they have got to know each other, and have them post from the exotic destination of their choice, to say they’ve moved there to work/study, describing how it’s going so far – positives and negatives. As well as language and content related to this lesson, this will also recycle the informal language usage that they looked at earlier in the unit, in the context of informal letters and emails between friends.

No doubt I will blog to share how it goes after I’ve used these materials. I’d be interested to hear how you get on with them too! 🙂

Phonological Representation in Course Materials: Whose English?

This post contains information related to the presentation I gave during the 16th Warwick International Post Graduate Conference in Applied Linguistics on 26th June 2013:

Presentation Abstract:

The role of English in the world today, as a Global and International language, has been the subject of much debate in the last decade, with the role of Standard British English (SBE) being called into question. Content analysis of language materials can offer an insight into how far the applied linguistic research and trends are reflected in what is being taught and learned in the classroom. The current study focuses on phonological representation, investigating the sociocultural spread of accents found in New Cutting Edge Intermediate, a popular global coursebook which claims to bring “the real world into the classroom”, comparing it with Gray’s (2010) findings on the similarly successful New Headway Intermediate, using the phonological component of Gray’s (2010) content analysis framework and finding that RP/modified RP still predominates. The study finishes by exploring possible reasons for this and recommending potential directions for further research.

Recording of my presentation: Please click here and it will open in a new tab. 

Sources referred to in my presentation:

Grey, J. (2010) The Construction of English: Culture, Consumerism and Promotion in the ELT Global Coursebook. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

Jenkins, J. (2000) Accent across boundaries: the Lingua Franca Core. Paper read at the 33rd Annual Meeting of BAAL, 7-9 September 2000, Cambridge.

Jenkins, J. (2006) The times they are (very slowly) a-changing. In ELTJ vol. 60/1. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Timmis, I. (2002) Native Speaker Norms and International English: A Classroom View. In ELTJ vol. 56/3. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 

Sources referred to in my research write up (data and write up are available on request):

Carter, R. and M. McCarthy. 1997. Exploring Spoken English. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

 Cunningham S and Moore P. (2005:a) New Cutting Edge Intermediate. Student Book. Pearson.

 Cunningham, S. and Moore, P. (2005:b) New Cutting Edge Intermediate. Teachers’ book. Pearson

 Gray, J. (2010) The Construction of English: Culture, Consumerism and Promotion in the ELT Global Coursebook. Palgrave Macmillan.

 Hadfield, J. (2012) Becoming Kiwi: A diary of accent change in ELT Journal Volume 66/3. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

 Holliday, A. (2005) The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. Oxford University Press.  Oxford.

 Jenkins, J.  (2002) The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

McKay, S (2002) Teaching English as an International Language. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Wei, L. (Ed) The Routledge Applied Linguistics Reader Routledge. Oxon.

Sharifian ed. Perspectives on English as an International Language.

Sobkowiak, W. (2008) Why not LFC? in Dziubalska-Kolaczyk, K. and Przedlacka, J. (Ed.) English Pronunciation Models: A Changing Scene. Peter Lang International Academic Publishers. Bern.

Soars and Soars (2003). New Headway Intermediate: Second Edition. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Timmis, I (2002) Native Speaker Norms and International English: a classroom view. In ELT Journal. Vol. 56/3. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Timmis, I. (2003) Corpora, classroom and context: the place of spoken grammar in English language teaching. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

Yuen, K.M. (2011) The representation of foreign cultures in English textbooks in ELT Journal vol. 65/4. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 

Dissertation Diary 2

I’ve decided to use my blog as a reflective tool while doing my dissertation project – the final component of my M.A. in ELT –  hypothesising that this will make it an even more effective learning experience for me, by mapping it, enabling me to look back on my thought processes and decisions and see what effect these have on the project development. (Other posts in this series can be found here) Once I get to the end (13th September is D-Day!), as well as looking back over the experience of doing the project, I plan to try and evaluate the effect of these reflective blog posts on it.

Delta module 1 exam is over, all semester 2 assignments are in: time to focus on this dissertation now. My next meeting with H is on Wednesday (assuming I’m ready), so I’m in the process of responding to everything that was raised for consideration in the first meeting. As well as getting my head around all those questions that emerged, I need to prepare a possible framework for my materials. So, here goes…

So far, since my last dissertation meeting, I’ve read (in order):

Nault, D. (2006) Going Global: Rethinking Culture Teaching in ELT Contexts  in Language, Culture and Curriculum vol. 19/3.

Ellis, R. (2009) Task-based language teaching: sorting out the misunderstandings in International Journal of Applied Linguistics vol 19/3. Blackwell Publishing.

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Bolitho et al. (2003) Ten questions about language awareness in ELTJ vol. 57/3. Oxford University Press.

Next on my list to read: 

Van den Branden, Bygate and Norris ed. (2009) Task-Based Language Teaching: A reader John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press.

My context:

Private language school in Leeds

Upper intermediate learners

Multilingual classes

Continuous enrolment (students arriving and leaving regularly, some stay for a number of months, others as little as a week or two)

Big mixture of learning goals (some want to study in the U.K., some want to improve their English because it will help in their job back home, some are on holiday and want to improve their English at the same time, for some it’s a hobby).

They study General English in the morning and in the afternoon the sessions are more skills-focused and for those that want it there is the possibility of joining an IELTS preparation class or having one to one tuition.

Students can also use the self-access room, which has a suite of computers, some graded readers and other resources. This is supervised on a daily basis by different members of staff, for 2hrs on a Monday and an hr Tuesday to Thursday, who are on hand to help the students find something suited to their needs/wants.

The majority of the students particularly want to improve their speaking and listening, but there are some whose speaking/listening are already pretty good and whose writing lets them down. These tend to be the students who want to study in the U.K. and choose the IELTS afternoon classes. Students also tend to have learnt English at school in their home countries, usually with a heavy grammar focus.

I want to make materials for the morning classes, so systems and skills needs to be integrated and content suited to General English learners.

The teachers at this school are all pretty experienced and used to preparing weekly schemes of work based on the course books in use. There are also regular CPD sessions. They do, however, make good use of teachers books in their planning – whether or not they then elect to adhere to what the teachers book says. So, a good set of teachers notes to accompany my materials will be a must. Ideally, these notes will have a lot of flexibility built in, rather than being didactic.


Having (re)read the articles listed above, I think a well-designed set of TBLL materials, using elements of the Language Awareness approach would work well for this context:

  • Although usually associated with speaking tasks, Ellis (2009) points out that tasks can be input-based too. Apparently in a book of his, he has a chapter on the use of listening tasks in TBL – I will be reading that! I believe it should therefore be possible to design materials, using this approach, that ensure focus on all 4 skills, as well as grammar/vocabulary/pronunciation – Ellis (2009) explains that focus on form is not limited to grammatical form and cites studies that show focus on vocabulary and pronunciation. So it’s possible, the challenge will be designing materials that promote and enable this.
  • Tasks can be focused or unfocused. A task-based syllabus can be purely focused, purely unfocused, or a mixture. I would go for a mixture, as I can see benefits for both task types.
  • Language Awareness can be deductive or inductive, but inductive is most common. According to Borg, cited in Svalberg (2007), there are five main features of an LA methodology:
  1. It involves an ONGOING INVESTIGATION of language as a dynamic phenomenon rather than awareness of a fixed body of established facts.

  2. It involves learners in TALKING ANALYTICALLY about language, often to each other.

  3. It considers essential the INVOLVEMENT of learners in exploration and discovery.

  4. It aims to develop not only the learners’ knowledge about and understanding of language but also their LEARNING SKILLS, thus promoting learner independence.

  5. The aim is to involve learners on both a COGNITIVE and AFFECTIVE level.

(Svalberg, 2007:291, emphasis here as per the article)

  • (Continuing from the above bullet point) As is mentioned in this article, there is a crossover here between LA and Ellis’s Consciousness-Raising approach to grammar, which he believes is compatible with his TBLT framework. I’m inclined to agree with Ellis on this one, I think his TBLT framework and elements of the LA approach could complement each other nicely. I would add a further metacognitive element, so that learners are helped to understand this non-traditional approach and not feel threatened by it.
  • Combining the two approaches would enable a greater variety of learning styles to be catered for: LA is very analytical BUT, as cited above, aims to involve learners affectively too. Affective engagement could come, for example,  through use of engaging texts, to which learners respond, in input-based tasks as well as through use of input or output-based tasks which draw on learners’ experiences and backgrounds.
  • Using tasks which generate written output would enable learners who are keen to improve their writing the chance to do this, while those learners who are most interested in speaking would still benefit from the task process, which would involve collaboration and therefore the opportunity to speak. Speaking skill development, meanwhile, could come through form focus in speaking tasks, by focusing on features of spoken discourse. In keeping with the LA approach, awareness of how and why these features are used, and to what effect, would need to be incorporated.

Other features that my materials will include:

Development of intercultural awareness

This, I believe, would be helpful for learners, whether they stay long term in the (multicultural) UK, e.g. to study, or whether they return to their own countries and use English as a language of wider communication. Nault (2006:323) recommends that more attention be focused on “issues such as cultural misunderstandings, cross-cultural pragmatics, stereotypes, non-verbal communication and culture shock”. Of course, the question is quite how to go about this. I think one immediate resource would be the diversity of learner backgrounds within classes in my context. Another interesting resource would be recordings of learners’ own interactions with each other during tasks. These could be compiled into a corpus and learners could look for patterns. (This needs further thought with regards to how it would work on a practical level!)

Use of the English-Speaking Environment

This is a valuable resource for these learners, so it would be beneficial for materials to exploit it. I think this would work well as a project thread. So it could be that tasks prepare learners to undertake the project, then scaffold them through the process of undertaking it, after which it could be used as a basis for further tasks. Then the cycle would begin anew. For this element, I am also considering use of a wiki. The non-linguistic goal of the wiki would be to create a resource for incoming learners to access, which would help them better understand and negotiate the ESE of Leeds. In terms of dealing with the constant flow of new learners, new learners would join existing groups (as these lost members) and existing group members would then explain what they have been doing and what they intend to do. New learners would also access the resource, once established, and begin to participate, helped by their group.

The school/context has a social programme, which learners can take part in. This would be a resource that could be tapped in the course of these projects. Additionally, learners stay in residences with other non-native speakers or in host families. This, too, could be exploited by the materials. For example, activities could include surveys and interviews about what people do for fun in Leeds or the types of films they like and why. Learners are keen to interact with people in their environment, so giving them a purpose and scaffolding the process through use of pre-, during- and post-project tasks would be helpful for them and may also motivate and help those who are keen but uncertain about how to go about it or perhaps shy. The collaborative element would provide additional support.

Information gathered, e.g. what people do for fun in Leeds, could be compared with learners’ own countries/cultures, but also in terms of different-subcultures, such as different ages, different social backgrounds etc. A task could be used to scaffold this process, the outcome of which could also go on the wiki. Thus, as well as information about Leeds and the people who live in it, either temporarily or permanently, there would also be information about how this compares with other countries in the world. Newcomers to the class could add their perspective to such tasks at any time, if their country wasn’t represented in a particular task, or they wanted to add to the representation of their country, as well as participating in whatever the current project was.

This will be where the “originality” of my materials comes in: Because they are designed specifically for the E.S.E. rather than as a global course book, they will scaffold the use of this environment as a learning tool. (In fact, Tomlinson, 2008, complains that “none of the books [that he reviewed for this volume] seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere”.)

Use of multimedia

As well as the wiki/project element, it would be useful to scaffold learners’ use of the self-access centre computer suite, to enable them to benefit more fully from this resource. In order to do that, tasks could be used which require grouped learners to use the suite initially during class time and then outside of class time, with subsequent in-class discussion/reporting/presenting/reflecting/evaluating based on this.

And now it’s time for me to go away, get more books out of the library and work on a unit framework and an organisational framework within which units will sit. For it to be task-based, the task needs to be the unit of organisation, but also to consider is the task-as-plan vs task-as-process, sequencing of tasks to maximise their yield for learners, and how this will fit together with the ESE project and intercultural awareness threads…


Ellis, R. (2009) Task-based language teaching: sorting out the misunderstandings in International Journal of Applied Linguistics vol 19/3. Blackwell Publishing.

Nault, D. (2006) Going Global: Rethinking Culture Teaching in ELT Contexts  in Language, Culture and Curriculum vol. 19/3.

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Tomlinson B. and Masuhara H (2008)  Materials used in the U.K. in Tomlinson, B. (ed.) English Language Learning Materials: a critical review. Continuum. London.

Hopefully progress is being made…  However, I would be interested to hear anybody’s thoughts on what I have explored in this post – be as critical as you like! 🙂

Summary of #ELTchat discussion: “The effect of culture on teaching and learning”

It is that time of the week again, the day after the #ELTchat discussion. Thanks to my runaway enthusiasm, it finds me with a lengthy transcript and the task of turning it into something coherent. It was, as usual, a mind-bender of a discussion, so this task is a far from unpleasant one for me!

The transcript divides itself quite neatly, amongst the chaos, into three distinctive areas of interest: defining culture, how culture affects teachers and how culture affects learning as well as learners. I have structured this summary along these lines. I have also included a few of my own thoughts, which are demarcated by the use of [square brackets] and hope no one will be offended by this authorial intervention!!

Without any further ado, then:

Defining Culture

To start us off, then, @Sjhannam noted, a lot of people use the term “culture” without definition. This issue was duly dealt with in a flurry of tweets (a chorus of tweets? a cacophany of tweets? what *is* the collective for a group of tweets?) as we all put forward potential meanings as well as raising issues, and set about defining this multi-faceted term.

One definition that was given many supportive retweets came from @rilberni who postulated that culture is the set of ‘norms’ that are adhered to by a particular society e.g. punctuality. @JoHart’s attempt to define culture also attracted its share of retweets and went thus: “Culture is the mores and conventions by which a societal group lives and interacts, usually to avoid conflict.

@Sjhannam suggested that as we define culture, we need to be clear if we are talking about culture in the wider sense or in terms of cultural difference (as it is often used) while @barbsaka quite rightly pointed out that “Big Culture with a “C” (art etc) doesn’t usually affect a class: it is culture with a little “c” that trips up classes.

@LizziePinard opined that language is part of culture, which gained a few retweets and was built upon by @pjgallantry who gave us the examples of naval terms in British English, as well as idioms, and reminded us that the English language is also informed by the number of different cultures it has interacted with, which is apparent in “borrowed words” amongst other things. Meanwhile, @FarnhamCastle flipped it around and said culture is part of language.

This perspective was balanced by @rilberni who agreed that language is part of culture but believes that English language is not, in some ways and @JoeMcVeigh who put forward his view that we cannot say culture IS language and vice-versa, only that they are important parts of each other and closely related. @Lizziepinard hazarded an expansion of @rilberni’s comment, as follows: “so English as part of English culture but also as part of the cultures that have absorbed it and made all different englishes out of it?”, while @sjhannam volunteered the view that “English can be seen as pan-cultural”, in that it is “used by many for their own purposes and they bring to it what they will in terms of their own cultural reference.” She likes Pennycook’s idea of “transcultural flow” in this context, which assumes people use English to create meaning of their own – as well as in their various mother tongues.

The Effect of Culture on Teaching

@JoeMcVeigh starts us off nicely in this section by asking, “how do you see intercultural differences helping/hindering your teaching?”. @Barbsaka put forward a couple of practical examples of this, such as knowing that her students do not show readiness to start class by making eye contact helps her teach and that awareness of cultural norms such as students not willing to sit on the floor or next to someone of the opposite gender is necessary for the class not to be derailed.

@theteacherjames championed a culture-neutral approach by saying that while bringing culture into the classroom is not inherently an imposition, if it is not led by students’ needs or curiosity, then it might have some unfortunate overtones. This seems to link with @timjulian60’s view that it is essential to understand students’ reasons for learning English, as ESP students may not want to learn about Guy Fawkes or Christmas in the UK while others might. When @OUPELT questioned whether one can learn English successfully and not care for the English-speaking countries, @theteacherjames responded to this by sharing his belief that, English no longer being the domain of the native-speaking countries, this should be entirely possible.

@barbsaka threw us all a curve ball when she suggested that we were talking about three different facets of culture in the classroom at this point: artefacts, norms and language-influence. @sjhannam posited that this confusion was the essence of the problem: we were using “cultural” in a multitude of ways simultaneously. [Author comment: this issue is not something that makes summarising any easier, let me tell you!] @Barbsaka explained that by cultural artefacts she means, for example, when we have a holiday party, bring in L2 artefacts, or ask students to teach us about their culture (in English). Norms, as we discussed earlier, lie at the root of “cultural differences” and come out in both teacher and student behaviour and may also impact what and how we teach. Language-influence would seem to refer to how culture affects English, how this affects our teaching of English and the impact of English on other cultures as well as the emergence of International English and related issues.

Heretofore, then, we have barely scratched the surface. Time to add some more detail to our sub-categories of Artefacts, Norms and Language-Influence.


Bringing culture into the classroom. @Yitzha_sarwono put forward that, “when learning some phrases, we are engaging in the culture itself, because they have history in them. This was expanded upon by @Lizziepinard who mentioned idioms, metaphors, proverbs and fairytales as examples of where we engage with culture as we engage with language. This angle of things was found worrying by @theteacherjames who said that as a Briton, he is always concerned about committing cultural imperialism by stealth. On a lighter note, @JoeMcVeigh suggested that literature and film can be valuable tools for exploring culture in the classroom, which was built upon by @Vimpela recommending using The Simpsons as a great way to explore US culture, with humour. Meanwhile, we must consider the other slant on this, which was nicely put by @marekandrews: “If the culture of the learners is accessed and activated in a lesson, it will usually be an advantage for the ‘success’ of the lesson.” As well as bringing our own culture into the classroom, we must not be afraid to activate the wealth of culture we find already there waiting for us! This all ties in with @Lizziepinard’s comment that culture is one of many vehicles that we can use to transport language to our students.


@Marekandrew postulates that what is key is how to help students negotiate cultural misunderstandings, as you can never eliminate them. This, then, is the territory of cultural differences and their role in the classroom. JoeMcVeigh reminds us of the importance of teaching students about non-verbal communication e.g. eye contact, standing distance, firmness of handshake, gestures, with @JoHart highlighting the overlap between language and culture here. @Mkfoab described how their students often sound ‘rude’ in English, illustrating this with the classic “I want” instead of “I’d like to” and nominated this as an appropriate time to teach students about the culture of the language.

As well as what we teach, equally important, as ever, is what we learn. @Yitzha_sarwono recommends that we use awareness of host country culture norms to our advantage, giving the example of politeness being part of Indonesian culture and therefore awareness helping to nurture better terms between students and teachers. @Rilberni raises the importance of remembering cultural issues when dealing with things like how students approach writing (with @JoeMcVeigh offering contrastive rhetoric research by Kaplan and Connor as an illustratrion of this) or their use of register and forms of address. @harrisonmike reminds us that we must be careful in dealing with plagiarism too, in some cultures it is not considered a bad thing, backed up by @timjulian60 who observed that Italians often have a very relaxed attitude to what a Briton would call “cheating”. From the heights of theory, we must also be aware of the simple things, such as the effect of culture students’ attitudes towards making and correcting mistakes or more simply still, how they indicate “yes” and “no” – as pointed out by @harrisonmike, for example, Sri Lankans nod for “no” and shake their heads for “yes”! These differences, as @Lizziepinard said, might be very important in business classes, if the students intend to embark on cross-cultural business negotiations.


@Barbsaka, once again, offers us a concrete example of this and the effect in the classroom: In Japan, a different way of viewing position and location makes it a challenge to teach prepositions. As sjhannam says, “a teacher’s ‘culture’ is central to the way they teach and understand their students” and @teacherjames believes that despite the global nature of English, it still strongly reflects US and UK values. At the same time, language relates to one’s every-day realities, pointed out @cherrymp, so students can come up asking for English equivalents of the things that they see around them, which in the EFL sector are often rooted in their own language and culture. Often, as @Barbsaka, responded, there is no equivalent in English.

Meanwhile, @rliberni mentions she and colleagues having been told that they should adapt their language to international standards, which she found insulting, and that she had read in a few articles that native speakers should be taught “International English” (as distinct from other varieties). Sjhannam questioned the possibility of one international variety or one variety of British English, as language is too dynamic for this and @JoHart was of the opinion that International English is “a bit sterile, lacking in idioms etc”.

[Thus, we seem to have tensions between what students carry with them into the classroom, through their own L1, what culture English as L2 does or does not, should or should not, carry with it into the classroom and what culture the teacher of English as L2 carries with them into the classroom. Or perhaps this can be seen in a positive light: All this interplay between language and language, culture and culture, must surely make for a “never a dull moment” scenario, provided it is accompanied by awareness and sensitivity.

Is your head spinning yet? If not, dear readers, do read on! Time, now, to return to the final main section of the body of this summary!]

The Effect of Culture on Learning and Learners

Moving on, then, to the perspective of the learner and their learning. @OUPELTGlobal enquired whether appreciating the culture is necessary to successfully learn the language, to which mkofab responded with their belief that it is necessary and can be a very powerful motivator while @barbsaka put forth that knowing the culture is more important than appreciating it. @Cherrymp thinks appreciating the culture helps because “in a way, language is very much part of the culture”.

[Perhaps one of the underlying difficulties of all of this is that multiple countries and cultures claim English as their L1 and it has grown up and absorbed a number of cultures, so the “culture of English” is perhaps a more slippery thing to get our fingers (and minds) around than, for example, the “culture of Japanese”. I wonder if the “culture of Spanish” or “the culture of Portuguese” might be similarly slippery, but that is for another discussion!]

As has already been noted above, learners bring their L1 culture into the classroom and this can be activated to enhance language learning. This is exemplified by @CoffeeAdictMe, who said, “we try to use as much Turkish as we can. For instance, if we teach directions, we use a map of the city we live in.” @OUPELTGlobal liked this approach of “using local culture in the lessons, such as place names, students’ names, local traditions and holidays.” @Cherrymp describes it as “bid goodbye to Tom and Mary – usher in local names”. Meanwhile, Marekandrews postulated that the major task for language learners, when it comes to culture, is to define for themselves a ‘third place’ between cultures and to feel comfortable operating there.

One aspect of the effect of culture on learners and learning, that sparked off great debate quite late on in the session, was introduced by an innocuous question offered to us by @pjgallantry: “What do you think about some students adopting English names?” The general response involved words and phrases such as “imposition”, “terrible!”, “offensive”, “losing their identity”, and “rude”. @theteacherjames found odd and inpalatable the idea that students should have to adopt a new persona to speak the language. Apparently, however, according to @breathyvowel, “adopting English names is big in Korea”, backed up @Shaunwilden who said “a lot of Asian students do this, but they choose odd names”. @JoHart pointed out that in some cultures, adopting English names has religious significance, especially for students of Catholic faith and @rilberni added to this by saying that in others, there are “official names, family names, friend names etc”.

The general consensus on the issue of English names seemed to be that under no circumstances should teachers inflict this on their students but if their students choose or have chosen to adopt English names, we must accept that. @Sjhannam identified the importance of trying to learn students’ names as they are, not a changed version. @Cherrymp wondered about mispronunciation causing embarrassment, which @OUPELTglobal downplayed, saying that learning to pronounce students’ names correctly is a first step to another’s culture. This was widely re-tweeted! As @CoffeeAddictMe put it, “our attempts may not be perfect but it is important to make the effort” otherwise we are saying, “their real names are not ‘good enough’.” @OUPELTglobal added further to this by suggesting that learning the students’ names is a great way to interact with them and reverse roles, so that they become the teacher, making a great cultural connection in the process. Being teachers, of course, we should “celebrate students’ identities, not to try to squash them”, as was pointed out by @pysproblem81.

In conclusion then… [“at long last!!” I hear you say!], what do we take away from Wednesday’s 12.00 British time (18.00 Indonesian time!) discussion on the effect of culture? I think if I had to sum it up in a single sentence, I would use @cherrymp’s: “Culture is a tool, not a trap”. When we relate culture to language learning, we should be aware, as sjhannam points out, that we all use the term “culture” differently so we need to ‘check’ how others are using it. Once beyond the issue of slippery definitions, it is easy to see that this multifaceted monster, or angel, depending on your point of view, is very much present in the arena of language learning. If we are aware of this and handle it sensitively, culture is an important part of learning – when it helps our students to communicate better. The key is, it would seem, as @ELTBakery said, “bringing culture [into the classroom] is not an imposition if you listen, accept and respect students’ opinions.” As long as we bear this in mind, then culture is there, in all its richness, to be embraced as appropriate, in a plethora of ways, by both teacher and learner.

That is all for today, folks! See you next week, same time and same place: #ELTchat!!!


Appendix 1: Links proffered in the course of this discussion:
New York Times on the advantages of bilingualism.
@Cybraryman’s “Culture Page” of links.
“How culture matters” from Barbara’s blog Teaching Village.
“When being a Native Speaker isn’t good enough” from English Attack blog.
TESOL 2010 presentation on 10 Techniques for Teaching Culture on slideshare by @JoeMcVeigh.
Hofstede’s dimensions of culture.
More detail on Hofstede.
Series of blog posts on culture by @Barrytomalin.
Online quiz on (some funny) idioms.
Fun Youtube clip on Ethiopian /US courting.
Summary for #eltchat on International Englishes.
Katan, David ‘Translating Cultures’.
Culture: the 5th language skill.
Cultural aspects in ELT.
Tips for Teaching Culture: Practical Approaches to Intercultural Communication.

…Phew, more than I remembered appearing as the chat progressed!! A wealth of top quality stuff in terms of both information and humour… Enjoy!