Dear Me – to my #youngerteacherself

30 Mar

Dear David,

It’s been almost fifteen years since you started teaching.  In fact I think at this point back in 2002 you were busy trying to complete the IH London CELTA pre-course task and trying to make sure you had enough cash for the course fee.  If I remember rightly, the original plan was about five years?

Well, here we are now and it’s been a bit longer than that.  I’m writing to you because, well, it’s mostly Joanna’s fault because she started it, but you can also blame Sandy as that’s where I saw the first of these posts; retrospective letters to our past selves – tips and advice across the years of experience.

I’m tempted to say “Don’t change a thing!”  I like where I am now and what I’m doing now and all of the people that I’m with.  I worry that my advice will act as a causality loop in the space-time continuum and that when I click “publish” on this post, that this iteration of me will disappear to be replaced by one where I am either ruler of the known Teflverse, or where I gave the whole thing up and went back to the office job I started teaching to escape.  Of course that would create a paradox in which I never sent you the advice in the first place – so we’ll probably be alright…

When I think back now to the things you struggled with on that CELTA course and in those first few years of teaching, there are probably a few things I’d suggest.

1) Take your head out of the books more.  You have a tendency to focus in on the material that’s in front of you, to look at the pages of the book and spend hours figuring out how to make it work.  Remember the 50% rule (which I think Nick K. will tell you in about six months) and try not to spend more than 50% of lesson time in the planning and preparation.  Also, just try to not teach the book so much?  You can use the book as a syllabus if you want, a guide to what language to teach and in what order, but you don’t necessarily need to teach the book.  After all, you are meant to be teaching the students.

2)  It’s OK to not know and it’s OK to tell the class “we’ll come back to that later”.  (As long as you do).  Especially if you’re being observed (and yes I am thinking of one or two very specific situations you’ll come up against soon).  Ignorance is not a crime, but refusing to acknowledge your ignorance is.  If a student asks you about the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for modality – confess you have no idea what they’re going on about!  It will at least stop the tutor at the back of the room from holding his head in his hands and weeping…

3) Get out and about more.  This will be difficult in some places because of your timetable, but you are going to spend a lot of time in some fantastic places and you will regret it later if you don’t take advantage of them.

4) Do more of the things you want to do.  You will run around a lot thinking things like “I don’t have time for this” and “I can’t do that because I need that hour for something else.”  This is foolishness.  You still think like that now, but you’re slowly getting better at not doing it.  If you mostly do the things you want to do, you will find that the things you have to do get done anyway – probably to the same standard as they would have done had you given them more time, but with less procrastination involved.

5) Start blogging.  Now.  I mean it.  OK, I’ve just checked and WordPress won’t be released for another year and you are about to disappear behind the Great Firewall of China for two years, so you’re off the hook for now, but as soon as you get to Poland, you need to start blogging.  You will discover a fantastic community of ELT teachers, thinkers and writers.  You will find that writing about it helps clarify your own thinking on a number of teaching aspects.  Basically, you’ll really enjoy it…

There’s probably more I could say, but these things are really the only things that feel important enough to write down.  So it’s off down to the inter-dimensional post office for me, and if the world hasn’t melted by the time I get back, then we’ll know that either (a) time travel doesn’t really work, (b) time travel does work, but in so doing all you really do is add another layer to the multi-verse, (c) you didn’t listen to a word of it…..

Take care  (and don’t eat the sea cucumbers!  They’re disgusting!)



Left Brain – Right Brain: This idea must die

23 Mar

The ever excellent Freakonomics podcast recently put out a podcast called “This Idea Must Die” in which they borrowed a concept from  every year asks a question and asks its contributors (high level thinkers, scientists, academics and nobel laureates) to write an essay in answer.  This year the question was “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?”

One of the contributors is Sarah Jayne Blakemore, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, and the idea that she suggested should die is that of the Left Brain / Right Brain divide.

divided brain


In simple terms, the divide does not exist.  In the podcast Blakemore states that the idea of left and right brain separation arose out of studies done in the sixties and seventies on people who had had surgery to divide their brains.  Snip.  In that scenario, the left and right hemispheres can no longer physically communicate with each other and some brain functions are inevitably degraded as a result.

For everybody else though?  No matter how analytical or creative we are being – we use both sides of our brains.  All the time.

My completely unscientific thought is that it’s probably a bit like arm-wrestling.  If you use you right hand to arm wrestle all the time then the muscles in your right arm develop more.  But this doesn’t mean you never use your left arm at all.  You use it all the time, you just don’t use it as much.  I doubt very much whether there’s much cold logical analysis that doesn’t take place without a little bit of creativity, just as pure creativity without some analysis going on in the background (even if it’s just a case of what looks better in an image – a splash of red here or there?) is unlikely.  If you do more analytical work, you probably get better at doing analytical work – if you spend all your time writing stories or painting pictures, you’ll probably get better at those too.

We shouldn’t however, be labeling people as left brain or right brain and we certainly shouldn’t be targeting our lessons at certain bits of brain.



I thoroughly recommend the Freakonomics podcast to absolutely everybody – brilliant ideas, entertainingly presented and just long enough for a commute into work.

Sarah Jayne Blakemore has also done a brilliant TED Talk on the teenage brain and all its mysteries – if you teach teenagers it helps to explain a lot!!!

There’s a reprint of a New Scientist article ‘Right Brain’ or ‘Left Brain’ – Myth or Reality? which looks at research that in 1996 strongly suggested a left brain / right brain divide based on the idea of either a local focus (detail) or a global focus.  And how further work they did and an attempt to reproduce the original results found completely the opposite effect.

And it’s worth pointing out that if the idea of brain separation is a physiological impossibility and a neurological doubt, then brain gym is still a load of rubbish.


Excellense in Englis – the decline or evolution of the language?

13 Mar

Is the language dying?  A recent column in The Economist (Johnson: A long decline) asks the question from the perspective of a steadfast native British English speaker, looking around themselves and finding that the language they think they speak is, in fact, no longer spoken by those around them.  Or rather, as this is The Economist we’re talking about, it probably is spoken by those immediately around them but not in wider society.

Johnson cites examples throughout history; Ranulph Higden in 1387, Richard Stanihurst in 1577, John Dryden in 1672, Arthur Hugh Clough in 1852 all the way through to Lynne Truss in 2003 – all of whom have decried the degradation and decline of their English.  They would all no doubt (apart from Lynne Truss) have some difficulty in following a modern conversation like those in this 2010 pre-election series of vox pops:

There is an obvious conclusion and it is one that Johnson reaches: “language is not constant. Change is—and anxiety about change is constant too.”  Pull an English teaching coursebook off the shelf and it will tell you that state verbs cannot be used in the continuous aspect.  Walk round the corner to the local McDonald’s and they will tell you they are loving it.  This doesn’t necessarily represent a decline in the language, perhaps it rather represents a change in society – where love was once thought to be constant, permanent and immutable, it is now seen as temporary and transitory.  You may love something briefly and for a short time and therefore you may need to say “I’m loving these new shoes.”  Or “I’m not liking this new phone”.  There is acknowledgement that states change.

Change also comes from the input into the language from many new users.  We all use the language as we think best, words, to paraphrase Humpty Dumpty, mean what we want them to mean and this meaning is co-curated by all of us who use these words.  New words arise to shape new ideas, or are co-opted for new purposes.  Grammar rules are bent, broken and discarded as the need arises.  We teach our students a snapshot of what the language was like at a fixed point in the past and they take it and run out into the world with their fossilised errors, misunderstandings and perceptions of irrelevance (e.g. dropped articles or missing prepositions) and they still create meaning and a greater or lesser degree of comprehension.

This does lead to some infelicity of expression, some of which is being charted on the Map of Urban Linguistic Landscape (MULL) facebook group as below:

Pizz Up Express

Image Credit: George Chilton & Map of Urban Linguistic Landscape.

But these infelicities and the language systems that our learners and all native speakers generate for themselves then feedback into the wider linguistic system.  Things that work, forms and expressions that are generated, no matter by whom or in what context, will be adopted and shared and copied and disseminated throughout the larger system.  Things that don’t work will lead only to mutual incomprehension and the (eventual) discovery of a way that does work.  Back in 1387, Ranulph Higden complained that “By commiyxtion and mellyng, furst wiþ Danes and afterward wiþ Normans, in menye þe contray longage ys apeyred and som useþ strange wlaffyng chyteryng, harryng, and garryng grisbyttyng.”

Things have evolved a lot since then.


Image credit:  George Chilton and Map of Urban Linguistic Landscape (facebook), reproduced here under a Creative Commons attribution 2.0 generic licence.




Five Fantastic Film sites for ELT

9 Mar

Using video in the classroom is a great way to engage learners in the material, either from a topic perspective or with a particular language point.  Young learners in particular seem to love the moving image and it can be a great way of providing a change of focus or as a visually supported alternative to a standard listening activity.

These sites all do a great job of making film the focus.  Here they are in no particular order:

Film English

Kieran Donaghy’s award winning site takes short, authentic films and develops lesson plans around them.  Full lesson plans and any additional materials are provided.  Searchable by theme or by level, you can usually find something to work into your lesson.  The videos tend to be quirky and thought provoking and are usually good for discussion in a wider context.  My favourite:  The Adventures of a Cardboard box – because the sheer imagination of the kid in the video is fantastic and it’s great for any age of class.




Not all of the lessons on Jamie Keddie’s site involve videos, but most do!  All the lessons on the site have plans and materials attached to them and are available for download.  Lessons are tagged by level and language point and there’s a great range of topics to work with.  These are also interesting and thought provoking videos that can stimulate some good classroom discussion.  Worth investigating.  My Favourite:  Business Cards – because of the kinetic typography video!  Which I love as a great way of using words as visuals!



EFL Classroom 2.0

This is a lot more than just a video site.  A community based site with lots of resources to share in pretty much every area, the video section is a great place to dip into for short videos (most are under the ten minute mark) related to specific language points (e.g. question tags) or topics (e.g. Kenyan marathon runners).   This site does require registration, but it is free to do so.  There’s also videos for your own development – short snippets of Chomsky and the like, or people trying to explain Chomsky and the like!

My favourite:  too many to choose from!  There is a free pdf download of “Using Video in the classroom” which has some nice recipes that you can use with any video.

13/03/15 – Update:  I’ve been told that EFL Classroom 2.0 is now behind a paywall and that attempts to access it for free via facebook logins etc were unsuccessful.  I must have joined a very long time ago, because I didn’t know that it now charged for access.  My review was based on the idea that it was a free to access but registration required site and I’m not comfortable with recommending people pay for a service without making a much more detailed examination of what you might get for the money.  It may be that my informant just had a couple of issues with login details or wait times etc – so try it and see if it works for free for you!  

using video


Simple English Videos

Vicki Hollett’s site does exactly what it says – it provides a range of short videos that focus in on simple aspects of English, like “lend or borrow” or “have something done”.  These are instructional in that as well as providing a context for the language and demonstrating use of the language, there is also explanation and clarification.  There are interactive transcripts, but you do need to find a way to incorporate them into your lesson, they aren’t a lesson in themselves.  That said, they are a really nice alternative to a traditional language presentation from a coursebook.  My favourite:  Cook, Cooker or Chef? – because it’s something my students always get wrong and now I just give them the URL for homework!

Simple English Videos


All at C

This blog has fantastic range of videos aimed at intermediate levels and above.  Teachers of Cambridge English: First and Cambridge English: Advanced classes will find a lot to work with, including some videos that are aimed directly at these exams.  The procedures are clear and straightforward to work with and any materials you need to give out are available as pdf downloads.  My favourite:  Look up – because I love using poetry with students (and do so far too infrequently) and because it neatly encapsulates my relationship with social media!  The video link on the blog has gone awry, but a quick search of You Tube for “Look Up – Gary Turk” finds alternatives you can use.

Look up




Complexity Theory and ELT – Manchester Roundtable

21 Feb

The idea of complexity theory and it’s relationship to language and language learning is something that I’ve been starting to read into a bit more deeply recently.  There’s something about it that seems intuitively right, which usually means that I don’t understand it enough.

I was, therefore, very excited to catch Achilleas Kostoulas’ post of an event happening in Manchester around the time of the upcoming IATEFL conference.  And then equally depressed to realised that I had booked my flight home for the day before the event.

For more information on dates and times etc, take a look at his original blog post.

Hopefully a lot of the ideas and talks will be shared online somewhere!




Words with Multiple Meanings

19 Feb

Here’s a nice infographic from the Kaplan blog about words with multiple meanings.  I can think of three immediate ways to exploit this with a class:

(1) Prediction – give students the keywords.  Students then think of as many phrases or uses of the keywords as possible and then compare their ideas to the infographic.

(2) Identifying parts of speech – black over the labels on the colour coding key, and ask students to look at the phrases in provided and get them to come up with the categories.

(3) Make your own posters – either you or the students choose your own set of keywords and they then create their own phrase based multiple meaning poster / infographic.  This would be a perfect opportunity to introduce learners to working with corpuses – like

I can see this working particularly well with exam classes – and in fact if you combined all three activities, you would probably have the basis for quite a nice lesson!

words with multiple meanings

The TEFL Blame Game – redux

16 Feb

So we take a look around us and we see that everything in the world of TEFL is not good.  We ask ourselves, how did we ever get into such a sorry state? Who is to blame?  Who can we rant and rail against?  Who can we throw cream cakes / pies / rocks at?

So here are three scenarios:

(1) Francis pays 150 euros and gets online access to a TEFL training course.  He completes the assignments and is awarded a TEFL certificate.  He uses the the website jobs boards gets a job teaching in Asia and off he goes.  The school he works at pays him €800 a month with an immediate start and a ten month contract, but deducts part of that salary for accommodation costs and makes him pay a materials fee deposit, which he probably won’t get back.

(2) Hadley pays €1500 euros for a 4 week CELTA course.  She completes the assignments and passes the teaching practice.  She has a few issues during the course and has to resubmit once or twice but comes out of the course with a C grade.  She talks to the tutors at the centre and gets a job at a language school in bailout Europe at €1000 a month (on probation) on a nine month contract.

(3) Andriy did an undergraduate degree in English with his university and went on to do a Masters in linguistics.  He applied for a language teaching job but was then told he needed to do a CELTA (or equivalent) which he did.  Total cost is somewhere around €10,000 – but it’s difficult to be precise.  Andriy is now on the equivalent of a zero-hours contract at a rate of €10 per hour.  He probably works around six hours a week on average – at least in that particular school.

Which of these people would you hire?  Now take a look around your teachers’ room – what proportion of these people can you see in your staff room?

(Caveat – all of these scenarios are set within the private language sector and don’t consider the millions of people who teach English within their state sectors.  Sorry.  It’s not to exclude you exactly, and if you’re reading this and want to let me / us know what it’s really like for you – please do!  I would welcome the input and insight.)

Alex Case identified a quite considerable set of people who are to blame for the state of ELT in his original post “The TEFL Blame Game“.  And in so doing prompted this post….   (so you know who is to blame…!)  But he in return was reacting to the discussion that followed on from an ELTJam post about the state of ELT.

The ELTJam post was provocative.  Basically it said – don’t bother doing proper training to be an ELT teacher, you probably don’t need it anyway and it’s not worth it unless you’re sure it’s what you want.  It generated quite a lot of comment from quite a lot of people who think a lot about ELT.  Guys, you got suckered.  You were the wasp’s nest and you got poked with a stick.  But also – fair play to ELTJam for actually calling us all out; we are the emperor and we are not wearing very much!

What neither ELTJam nor Alex Case mention is “the market”.  And it is the market that is ultimately to blame for all of this.  We can argue from here to eternity about whether a native speaker has the same value as a non-native speaker.  We can argue about the value of standards and the extent to which qualifications are important, but because we are talking about the private language school sector, we are talking about market forces.  And as such, none of our much vaunted professionalism matters.  What matters is supply, demand, price and quantity.  This is economics, not education.


If my school does not have enough students walking through the door and signing up for lessons, then I have no job.  My school wouldn’t be able to afford me.  Schools brand and market themselves based on the product they seemingly deliver.  I have been in a teachers’ room, planning lessons and have been interrupted by the school director showing potential clients around.  The message on the surface was “And this is where our teachers work” but the subtext was “look, they’re all English!”.  We were being branded as high quality, professional language teaching provision (we were wearing ties).

There are any number of reasons why the TEFL game is unfair.  Probably, chief amongst them is the erroneous belief that we are a profession.  We aren’t.  When a school markets what it provides – what do you see on the advertisement?  We are the product – not the classes we teach, but us.  The teachers.  And if we are the product, then this helps to explain the shocking lack of parity between the highly qualified Andriys of the world and the Francises.

Like many of you reading this, I find this realization somewhat depressing.  I quite like the idea of myself as a highly qualified professional.  I believe I have a value beyond that of my salary.  I believe that I give extra value to my students as a result of my years of experience and training.  But the sad truth is that I could quite easily be replaced tomorrow.  Actually, my DoS might need a week or so to find a suitably qualified (CELTA +min. 2 years experience) candidate, but they would be cheaper than I am and they would probably have more to prove.

To go back to our original scenarios:

The school that hires Francis isn’t interested in the quality of his teaching.  What they want is a native speaker who knows just about enough not to damage the students and who doesn’t know enough to be able to complain about the working conditions or materials.  One former colleague who was freelancing told me that the only question he ever got asked by some of the schools he worked at was “Do you have your own materials?”  His reply was “Yes, do you have a working photocopier?”.  This is the “pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap” model of language teaching.  Offer lower prices, don’t market the quality but market the foreign teacher, get enough students through the door and milk all concerned for as much as you can for as long as you can.

Hadley is probably luckier in as much as the school that has hired her clearly has an interest in the quality of language teaching that they provide.  As such, they have an interest in helping her to improve the quality of her teaching and no doubt she is subjected to observations, development courses and regular seminars.  Hadley is an example of the attempt that TEFL makes to be professional.  The industry found it had a problem with too many people teaching English without any idea of what that entailed.  Schools that believed in delivering high quality language provision came to realize that this meant they had to train their teachers to teach effectively.  Thus in 1962, John and Brita Haycraft launched the International House Certificate, which eventually became the CELTA.  But make no mistake, what is now a “professional standard” has its roots in quality control.  What the CELTA offers is not necessarily any better or worse than any other language teaching qualification, the content of the courses is probably mostly the same, though delivery modes might vary.  What the CELTA offers has nothing to do with the teacher holding the certificate, because the certificate isn’t for the teacher.  It’s for the Director of Studies who wants to employ them.  The CELTA is a guarantee of standards – it says that the bearer knows these things and can do those things.  It meets tests of validity and reliability that other qualifications might not.

It is Andriy that you have to feel sorry for.  Andriy started learning English when he was ten and went on to dedicate six years of his life to learning all about English – he can parse a sentence in a heartbeat and can describe the sociolinguistic appropriacy of a rogue collocation at the drop of a hat.  All this knowledge doesn’t let him teach English though, for that he needs a CELTA.  So having sat through four weeks of native speakers not knowing the difference between “must” and “have to” and having passed the course, Andriy then finds that because he’s not English, he can’t get a full-time job anywhere within the private sector.  For the record, I would like to categorically state that if you have the qualifications and experience then I see no reason why the nation of your birth should make any difference.  However, I have yet to see that in practice.  Mostly, I see non-native speakers either co-teaching classes with native speakers or only teaching lower level classes.  Non-native speakers get a very raw deal in the private language sector – to find out more about how you can help change that, visit

Andriy and Francis are opposite ends of the scale, but both point to the reason why TEFL has no right to call itself a profession.  No matter how professional people within TEFL try to be, it is a business, it is an industry, and it operates according to economic principles, not pedagogical ones.  And as long as students pay money to come to classes, that is unlikely to change.  So if you really want someone to blame for the state of ELT?  Blame the market.




More Educational Mythbusting

11 Feb

“We have had all kinds of rubbish thrown at us over the last 10 to 20 years,” he says. “We’ve been told that kids only learn properly in groups. We’ve had people claiming that children learn using brain gym, people saying that kids only learn if you appeal to their learning style. There’s not a scrap of research that substantiates this, and, unfortunately, it is indicative of the really, really dysfunctional state of social science research that exists today.”

This quote from a recent Telegraph article is from Tom Bennett and is thankfully yet another voice calling for a more rigorous critical evaluation of educational trends and theories.  In this case, Tom Bennett is unfortunately mostly being a bit self-promotional, but his central argument  – that teachers need to question the research behind the “theories” that they are being asked to engage with and that teachers need to be ready to actually drive the research and help build the evidence one way or the other – is a good one.  A better read is his denunciation of educational neuroscience for the New Scientist.

It is not to say that these theories are completely wrong, just that the claims that are made for them are unproven.  I have said elsewhere that I find learning styles unconvincing and that most of what I have read suggests teaching to a particular learning style makes no difference.  I doubt very much whether categorizing learners as kinaesthetic or logical-mathematical helps them learn vocabulary much faster.  The only contribution that I think the concept of learning styles has made to education is that it has forced teachers to consider delivering their lessons in modes and with activities that they otherwise might not have considered.  My traditional view of language education (mostly recalled from my GCSE french lessons) is that of rote repetition and grammar based activities in the book.  Moving around the classroom, encouraging the association of visual to linguistic, communication between classroom partners – these were all absent.  I believe including them makes my classroom a more interesting place to be and gives the learners a change of pace from the mundane.  But that is principled selection of a activity for other reasons – not because one of my students might be a “visual learner”.



The WHY Game – for practicing clauses of reason and purpose

4 Feb


This is an activity I did with with an intermediate group of young learners – who absolutely loved it.  It led to what was easily the longest conversations they’d had in English all year.  It probably wouldn’t take much to adapt it to higher levels or older classes.

This came as a freer practice activity after we’d already dealt with the input – in this case we’d been working with:

  • to + infinitive
  • in order to + infinitive
  • so (that) + subject & clause

I asked the class to write down five things they’d done today and five places they’d been to recently (but not today).

I then asked them to build these out into sentences with time references.  e.g. “This morning I brushed my teeth.”  /  “Last weekend I went to the park.”

Once they had their sentences I picked one of the stronger students and asked him to tell me one of his sentences.  Our conversation went like this:

  • John, tell me one of your sentences.
  • Uh.  OK.  Last week I went to the theatre.
  • Why did you go to the theatre?
  • It was a school trip.  I had to.
  • Why did you have to?
  • Because the school made me,
  • Why did they make you?

…..  and so on.

You may have noticed this modelling didn’t lead to much production of the target language.  But at this point the rest of the class knew what was expected of them.  I drew their attention to the target language and told them to try and use it.  I also told them they would get one point as soon as their partner gave up, said “I don’t know” or told them to shut up (or similar).  I then put them into groups of three and off they went!


whyAs I said, the class loved it.  They really went for it and some die hards were still on their first sentence after about five minutes.  I noticed some students were using the target language, some weren’t, but they were all speaking English and were really on task and engaged.  I think in future I’d set a time limit per sentence of two or three minutes, after which the victim wins a point, to try and avoid one student over-dominating the group.

Clauses of reason and purpose and result come into a lot of exam books, so this could be a nice change of pace for some of those classes.

Enjoy, try it out and let me know what you think!


What is “good speaking”?

26 Jan

We are approaching the end of the first semester in our school and this is typically a time when we review our assessments, give out our grammar and vocabulary tests and write all the reports.  Like many schools, our reports contain the categories: Grammar & Vocabulary, Listening, Reading, Speaking, Writing.  The students do three assessments in reading, listening and writing that are spread out over the semester and then a larger grammar and vocabulary test at the end of the semester.  The marks for each component get converted to a score out of twenty and the scores for all five components are added together to give a percentage, which is the student’s final grade.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted the problem here.

Assessing speaking is always difficult.  One of the biggest problems I always find is whether I am actually assessing their speaking or whether I am assessing their spoken production of grammar and vocabulary.  To what extent does personality play a part in this?  Susan Cain’s TED talk on “The Power of Introverts” reminds us that just because people aren’t saying something, doesn’t mean they can’t.

Rob Szabo and Pete Rutherford recently wrote an article arguing for a more nuanced approach.  In “Radar charts and communicative competence“, they argue that as communicative competence is a composite of many different aspects, no student can simply be described as being good or bad at speaking, but that they have strengths and weaknesses within speaking.

Szabo and Rutherford identify six aspects of communicative competence (from Celce-Murcia) and diagram them as follows:

competence 01


This is an enticing idea.  It builds up a much broader picture of speaking ability than what is often taken – a general, global impression of the student.  It also allows both the teacher and the student to focus on particular areas for improvement:  in the diagram above, student 1 needs to develop their language system, it isn’t actually “speaking” that they have the problem with.  Equally student 2 needs to build better coping strategies for when they don’t understand or when someone doesn’t understand them.  These things aren’t necessarily quick fixes, but do allow for a much clearer focus in class input and feedback than just giving students more discussion practice.

From a business perspective, which is mostly where Szabo & Rutherford’s interests lie, there is also added value here for the employer or other stakeholders.  One of the points that David Graddol was making at the 2014 IATEFL conference (click here for video of the session) was language ability rests on so many different dimensions that in certain areas (Graddol mentioned India as an example) employers may well need someone with C1 level speaking ability, but it doesn’t matter whether they can read or write beyond A2.  Graddol kept his differentiation within the bounds of the CEFR and across abilities; Szabo and Rutherford take a more micro-level approach and suggest that the level of analysis they suggest may well be useful to employers in assigning tasks and responsibilities.  Quite what the students may feel about that is another matter.

Whilst this idea has been developed in a business English context, it is a useful idea that should also make the leap from the specialist to the general, as it has clear applications in a number of areas.  In reviewing the different competences, there are cross overs to the assessment categories used in Cambridge Exams for example – where discourse management, interactive communication, pronunciation and Grammar & Vocabulary have clear corollaries.  Diagramming pre-exam performance in this way again, can help teachers and students have a clearer picture of what needs doing and can make instruction more effective.

A helpful next step for the authors might be to think about how this idea can translate into practice in the wider world.  Currently, it seems as though a mark out of ten is awarded for each competence and while this inevitably gets the teacher thinking in more detail about what exactly their student can or can’t do, no definitions are currently provided as to what a “10” or a “3” might mean.




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