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Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2 2014

Language Issues
The journal of NATECLA

Volume 24 Number 2 2014

R Esearch reVIEW


The paradoxes of language

learning and integration in
theEuropean context

Authentic spoken texts


p eer reviewed articles

Correction, feedback and

learning in online chat

Maintaining language
standardisation through

Social media, mobile technology

and continuing professional

What happens in lower level

ESOL classes?

oices from
Writing about the immigration
Writing the ESOL student
Improving adult literacy
instruction: options for practice
and research

Language Issues is published by NATECLA

Advisory Board

National Association for Teaching English and

other Community Languages to Adults

Elsa Auerbach
University of Massachusetts Boston
Mike Baynham
University of Leeds
Ron Carter
University of Nottingham
Guy Cook
Open University
David Crystal
University of Wales, Bangor
Pamela Frame
Institute of Education University of London
Jennifer Jenkins
University of Southampton
Braj Kachru
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Robert Leach
ESOL consultant
Barry OSullivan
Roehampton University
Mario Rinvolucri
Pilgrims Language Courses
Celia Roberts
Kings College, London
Sheila Rosenberg
Independent ESOL writer/researcher
Philida Schellekens
ESOL Consultant
James Simpson
University of Leeds
Tove Skutnabb-Kangas
bo Akademi University, Vasa, Finland
Helen Sunderland
ESOL Consultant
Arturo Tosi
Royal Holloway, University of London
Mahendra K Verma
University of York
Catherine Wallace
Institute of Education University of London
Bencie Woll
University College London

Jane Arstall
NATECLA National Centre
South and City College Birmingham
Hall Green Campus
Cole Bank Road
Birmingham b28 8es
ISSN 0263-5833
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Dr Balasubramanyam Chandramohan
Editorial Board
Rakesh Bhanot
Sally Bird
Jo-Ann Delaney
Naeema Hann
Alison Schwetlick

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Language Issues

Volume 24 Number 2 2014

Editorial Board
Research review
4 The paradoxes of language learning and integration in the
Cristina Ros i Sol
Peer reviewed articles
19 Maintaining language standardisation through ESOL practices
Claire Collins
33 Authentic spoken texts and tasks
Ellie Willcocks
48 Correction, feedback and learning in online chat
Susan McDowell
63 Social media, mobile technology and continuing professional
Cathy Clarkson
69 What happens in lower level ESOL classes?
Dot Powell
Voices from the classroom
73 Writing about the immigration experience
Michelle Bagwell
78 Writing the ESOL student guidebook
Megan Rowell
84 Improving adult literacy instruction: options for practice and research,
edited by A. M. Lesgold and M. Welch-Ross
Reviewed by Mary Osmaston

e d i to r i a l

In this edition of Language Issues we are very pleased to publish the research
review The paradoxes of language learning and integration in the European context
by Cristina Ros i Sol. This research project was a collaboration between
NATECLA, the British Council and the Centre for Language, Discourse and
Communication at Kings College London.
The research piece by Dr. Ros i Sol produces a literature review on the
relationship between language learning and integration of migrants in the
European context, with specific examples of the U.K., Germany and the
Netherlands. She reviews studies and reports on government policies on
integration, the execution of those policies and how scholarly literature
has reflected on it. She argues that governments have made assessment of
language learning and knowledge of society a key instrument to control entry
and manage integration into an idealised culturally homogenous society.
Claire Collins continues the discussion about power and control when she
asks what language standardisation means to people in the field of ESOL
in Maintaining language standardisation through ESOL practices. She suggests
that power relations underlie commonsense conventions about correct or
incorrect language activities and finds little evidence of critical awareness of
this among teachers and learners.
Ellie Willcocks in Authentic spoken texts and tasks explores the extent to which
it is possible and beneficial to incorporate authenticity into exam preparation
activities. She finds benefits, challenges and makes recommendations for
Susan McDowell in Correction, feedback and learning in online chat looks at
learning English in inter-country Facebook chat, focusing on vocabulary
development and corrective feedback in synchronous computer-mediated
communication. She discovers that it is possible for differentiated collaborative
learning and noticing to take place, for learners to explicitly chat about the
research process itself and at the same time display their linguistic ingenuity.
Cathy Clarkson in Social media, mobile technology and continuing professional
development describes how teachers are able to use social media to articulate
and share their developing understanding of professional development.
In Voices from the Classoom two practitioners continue the theme of student
creative writing from Language Issues Volume 24.1, with descriptions of
student-centred writing projects, the first from Maryland, USA, written by
Michelle Bagwell and the second from Bath, UK, written by Megan Rowell.
Some of the best discussions about language development take place on
the ESOL Research JISCMAIL. In 2013 Dot Powell posed a question to
ESOL Research JISCMAIL list members about lower level learners of
ESOL, prompting a wide ranging discussion about beliefs, methodology and
challenges which she summarises for us in this edition of Language Issues.

e d i to r i a l

2014 will see two changes for Language Issues: new editors and new format.
NATECLA thanks Dr. Balasubramanyam Chandramohan for his editorship
of the journal over the past three years and wishes him well in all his future
endeavours. We welcome two new editors, Jo-Ann Delaney and Sally Bird for
the three year period from 2014 to 2017.
In 2014 the journal will move to an electronic format which we believe will
offer many advantages to both contributors and subscribers. For readers
it offers the opportunity to access and store both the whole journal and its
separate articles, making it easy to use the content for research, teaching and
the referral of items to colleagues. Organisations, as part of their subscription
entitlement, will be invited to upload the journal to virtual learning
environments for use on courses and by researchers. We aim to extend the
reach and improve access, ensuring a strong, viable future for the journal.
The journal will, however, not change its values and its unique position in the
world of language publishing. Language Issues will continue to link research
and practice, acting as the bridge between academic and the practical
domains and will continue to welcome and support new writers, along with
the experienced.
Editorial Board

Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2


The paradoxes of language

learning and integration
inthe European context
Cristina Ros i Sol

In a recent communication from the European Commission it was stated
that It is broadly agreed that the acquisition of language skills is critical for
integration (European Commission 2011:4).
Here, language skills refers to the acquisition of the host language. But is
the learning of the national language key for integration in a host society?
When and how should this language learning take place? What role should
government policies take in the matter? These are some of the questions
that surround the issue of language learning and its role in the integration of
migrants. Although the integration of migrants in host countries has been an
issue of debate for a long time, it is only more recently that national languages
have become a key issue in these processes.
Indeed, increasingly, the learning of the national language has become a
cornerstone of integration policy in the EU, and the knowledge of the host
language is seen as a barometer of migrants integration in a particular
society. Policies in a variety of European countries are making language tests
and so called knowledge of society a compulsory requirement to enter, settle
or apply for citizenship, so that full rights and access to jobs, education and
social life is closely linked to language proficiency. A number of sociolinguistic
studies (Hogan-Brun, Mar-Molinero and Stevenson 2009, Avermaet 2009,
Extra and Spotti 2009), however, point out that European integration policies
may not fully reflect the complexity and needs of todays multilingual migrants
and their increasing cosmopolitan and transnational realities.
This article presents a review of the literature on the relationship between
language learning and integration of migrants in the European context and
highlights the paradoxes of promoting national models of integration in an
increasingly transnational and diverse Europe. It takes a critical approach to
discourses on the relationship between language learning and integration by
looking at the role of language learning in official processes of integration.
In order to do this, it reviews studies and reports on governmental policies on
integration across Europe, the execution of these policies, and how scholarly
literature has reflected on it. At the same time, it looks at the why and how
of the relationship between language learning and integration in political
discourses by relating it to how societal events are interpreted by politicians
and their impact on policies.

Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2


The documents reviewed include academic publications such as book

monographs and specialist journals, official and institutional reports,
governmental legislation and studies, and collaborations between community
organisations and academics. Moreover, this review tries to balance
information from quantitative sources (such as statistics from online tools
that analyse migrant integration indexes in Europe) and qualitative sources
(such as analyses of political speeches). Although the issues addressed in this
study concern and are contextualised in Europe, the study will concentrate
on the specific examples of three EU countries to illustrate the points: the UK,
Germany and the Netherlands.

Europe's ambivalent approaches

Historically, European countries have built a strong link between language
and nation. European states (as opposed to other countries with a long history
of migration such as the USA or Australia) were built on the one-language
one-nation axiom, so that language has always been the clearest feature
that distinguishes one nation from the next (Extra and Spotti, 2009). And yet
Europes identity is to a great extent determined by cultural and linguistic
diversity (Haarman 1995 in Extra and Spotti 2009).
This diversity has been intensified by new waves of migration. Since 1991, and
after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, immigration patterns have changed: there
is more of it and it is more diverse (e.g. new migration from Eastern Europe,
Africa, Asia) and it has become more difficult to grasp what a migrant is.
Moreover, scholars argue that this is a different type of migration altogether,
i.e. it has more layers, it is more mobile, and it is more complex; this is what
Vertovec (2007) has called superdiversity. In spite of this, the last decade or
so has seen a retreat into monolingual national policies that have sought to
control the tide of multilingualism and multiculturalism in Europe (HoganBrun, Mar-Molinero and Stevenson 2009). Many governments foreign
policies in Europe have reacted towards new immigration by tightening their
borders (Van Avermaet 2009) and using new instruments to control it.
But there are some contradictions in governments policies. In spite of this
tightening of the rules, political discourses and terminology are eager to
emphasize how migrants and their cultures are welcome in todays societies.
Two years ago, the UK Prime Minister, started his speech with this message:
Our country has benefited immeasurably from immigration. Go into any
hospital and youll find people from Uganda, India and Pakistan who are
caring for our sick and vulnerable. Go into schools and universities and
youll find teachers from all over the world, inspiring our young people.
Go to almost any high street in the country and youll find entrepreneurs
from overseas who are not just adding to the local economy but
playing a part in local life. Charities, financial services, fashion, food,
music all these sectors are what they are because of immigration. So
yes, immigrants make a huge contribution to Britain. We recognise that
andwe welcome it. ().
David Camerons speech (BBC 2011)

Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2


But in the same speech, the counter-argument is put forward: that migrants
are at fault for lacking linguistic skills and bringing about conflict (e.g. not
really wanting to integrate).
But Im also clear about something else: for too long, immigration has
been too high.() Thats why, when there have been significant numbers
of new people arriving in a neighbourhoodperhaps not able to speak
the same language as those living thereon occasions not really wanting
or even willing to integratethat has created a kind of discomfort and
disjointedness in some neighbourhoods. This has been the experience for
many people in our country and I believe it is untruthful and unfair not
to speak about it and address it .
David Camerons speech (BBC 2011)
This is how in political discourse, the old term assimilation, which denoted a
renunciation of ones values and culture, has given way to the more politically
correct: integration, even though the meaning of integration has remained
virtually the same as assimilation. In this way, the position of many integration
policies is that migrants are an asset to society as long as they conform to the
native communitys language, customs and way of life. The quote below from
a governments document also illustrates this point by emphasising not only
the need for a common language but also understanding of life in the UK,
implying a one-way model of integration:
Effective integration of those who wish to adopt the UK as their home
including embracing a common language and an understanding of life
in the UK is important to continued good race relations and community
cohesion and is a central part of the Governments managed migration
policy which benefits our society and economy
Home Office, Knowledge of Life in the UK Settlement,
cited in Blackledge (2009:92)
Within this context, this article will discuss two ways in which language is
pivotal in such integration policies. One is the way language is being used
in political discourses of integration, and the other is the way in which
assessment of migrants linguistic skills has become a requisite for obtaining
citizenship. The next section will deal with the first issue.

Political discourses on language and integration

Language learning is constantly referred to in political discourses on
integration. A closer look at the role of language learning and the political
discourses used in governmental policy and political speeches on the topic
of integration gives us a complex picture of what governmental policies may
aim at.

Integration or assimilation?
When reviewing the links between language learning and integration we first
need to clarify what is meant by integration in current political discourse. As
Stevenson and Schanze point out, the concept of integration is frequently
invoked but rarely defined (2009:90). Integration is more commonly defined
in the context of the problems it brings with it and the lack of integration


of migrants rather than the positive aspects of integration. It is based on an

asymmetrical view where only the migrants are seen as a problem (Horner
and Weber 2011). Integration, however, could be defined as some way in
between two other complex terms: assimilation and multiculturalism, which
would be located at each end of a conceptual spectrum (Extra and Spotti
2009a). Below, Extra and Spotti (2009) provide definitions for these two terms:
The concept of assimilation is based on the premise that cultural
differences between immigrant minority groups and established
majority groups should and will disappear over time in a society which is
proclaimed to be culturally homogenous from the majority point of view
(Extra and Spotti 2009a:64).
The concept of multiculturalism is based on the premise that such
differences are an asset to a pluralist society, which actually promotes
cultural diversity in terms of new resources and opportunities
(Extra and Spotti 2009a:64).
Over the last few years and in line with Europes position on the role of the host
language for social cohesion, the meaning of integration has moved away
from the concept of multiculturalism and shifted towards that of assimilation.
Issues of internal peace (German Interior Minister, in Stevenson and Schanze
2009:91) and social unrest are often invoked in discussions on integration.
Also, migrants cultural distance from the indigenous population and the lack
of integration in the job market are problems that accompany discourses of
integration. It is mainly agreed that the meaning of the word integration is
not only changing but even masking assimilationist policies.
Integration does therefore not only index migrants deficits but also what new
requirements they are expected to fulfil in order to fully participate in the
new society, i.e. it is presented as a requirement for citizenship. For example,
Michalowski (2009), reviewing citizenship tests in five countries (USA,
Austria, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands) points out the increasing
formalisation of processes of citizenship and the lack of correspondence of
these requirements with more liberal national citizenship regimes. So, when
analysing government regimes, the focus should not be on the governments
definition of or approach to civic integration (that may be quite liberal),
but rather on the degree of government intervention through specific
requirements (Michalowski 2009:23).

Some leitmotivs in European political discourses

In an increasingly superdiverse (Vertovec 2007) and mobile world (Urry 2007),
when discussing their visions for their country and issues of nationhood and
cultural identity, political discourses carry very specific values and roles for
migrants, their languages and cultures. Below are the main recurring topics in
European political discourses that frame migrants as a problem and highlight
the type of integration politicians imagine for them:
1. The maintenance of national boundaries and a specific version of the
culture contained within it (Hogan-Brun, Mar-Molinero, Stevenson 2009).
Such a view is also governed by a fear of the consequences of not doing so
(i.e. the ensuing chaos and social unrest) (Van Avermaet 2009a).
Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2


2. The favouring of national homogeneity over multiculturalism.

Integration is achieved through the learning of the host language rather
than the promotion of multilingualism1.
3. The avoidance of cosmopolitan and trans-national realities.
Whereas European societies are multilingual and increased opportunities
presuppose multilingualism, learning the national language is made the
only linguistic requirement for citizenship.
4. The link to issues of security. Governments policies are driven by
the belief that if new citizens conform to the official language, its identity
and its uniform set of values will instil in people a sense of security and
confidence even though it may be hampering migrants rights in a new
society (Van Avermaet 2009, Shohamy 2009).
5. The instrumental argument. Official reports and political discourses
imply that the learning of the national language will lead to better job
opportunities and womens participation in the labour market (CoE
2011,Villareal 2009).

The dogma of homogeneism in

As a result of governments promotion of national homogeneity, integration
policies seem to be suffering a restrictive turn which retreats from
multiculturalism (Goodman 2012) so that, when talking about the acquisition
of language skills in the context of integration, political discourses refer
exclusively to the knowledge of the national language (Hogan-Brun, MarMolinero & Stevenson 2009).
Although populations are becoming more linguistically and culturally
diverse and cosmopolitan, indigenous populations are still considered to
be monolingual. This has resulted in many countries implementing a policy
to require the acquisition of the national language and culture to obtain
citizenship and as a way to include the new arrivals in the democratic processes
and public life. The promotion of the learning of a national language for the
integration of migrants has the ulterior political motive to drive the promotion
of national identities, and the dogma of homogeneism (Blommaert and
Verschueren 1988 in Hogan-Brun, Mar-Molinero & Stevenson 2009:4). That
is, policies on immigration are not used as merely political management, but
as an ideological form of resistance to the erosion of national sovereignty
in todays transnational and cosmopolitan communities (Hogan-Brun, MarMolinero & Stevenson 2009:5).
In spite of the fact that many political discourses link lack of integration to
poor language skills in the host language, learning it does not increase security
or prevent social unrest (Van Avermaet 2009, Lo Bianco 2009). According
to social workers in areas where there has been social unrest (such as the
Banlieus in Paris) the young people involved had a very good grasp of French
(good independent level of proficiency). Instead it was clear that the cause of
these riots was a social one (Van Avermaet 2009).
1 Although

government policies broadly agree on the promotion of multilingualism (Van

Avermaet 2009) for a review of governments policies on the promotion of intercultural
dialogue and social inclusion through multilingual provision, see Extra and Yagmur 2012.


Despite official discourses promoting language learning for instrumental

reasons (i.e. access to jobs, education, etc.), critics argue that language
proficiency may be the result rather than the cause of integration (Van
Avermaet 2009). Indeed, learning the language does not necessarily increase
opportunities for work, education or social mobility. Rather, it is access to
better jobs, better education and social mobility that increases mastery of the
language (Van Avermaet 2009).

From discourse to practice:

The Language Requirement
It is necessary to differentiate between the goals of a particular integration
policy and its means, be it the provision of translation and interpreting
services, the provision of community languages in the school curriculum, or
language test policies. In this article, I am concentrating on the premise of
European Governments that learning the host language is key to integration
processes and the question of how this language requirement (LR) policy is
deployed. Indeed, there is still the issue of what language learning provision
is put in place by different governments in order to fulfil demand.

Europes answer on integration:

the Language Requirement
Nobody would dispute that learning the host language helps migrants
integrate into a host society; the question is rather, how this is carried out and
what purposes it serves. As mentioned above, however, as well as seeing it
a positive path to have increased access to the host society, some politicians
have used the LR in a negative manner. They have used it as a way to address
the populations fears of migrants isolating themselves, radicalising their
values and posing a threat to society. A speech by Christean Wagner, chair
of the Christian Democrats in Hessen, Germany is illustrative of this point:
Nobody is being forced to become a German citizen. However, German
citizenship should only be awarded to someone who clearly shows that
it matters to them. This desire includes at least the acquisition of the
German language. Germany must not abandon this minimal requirement
if it does not want to disintegrate further into ghettos
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28.1.2006 in Stevenson & Shanze
And again, the current UK Prime Minister recently said:
Mass immigration has led to discomfort and disjointedness in
neighbourhoods because some migrants have been unwilling to integrate
or learn English
(From Bryers, Winstanley and Cook 2013:18)
Indeed, language proficiency has been seen as an instrument of social control
to increase security in the face of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and
the USA even though, as we saw earlier, the link between the language
requirement and issues of national security is one that many authors have
questioned (e.g. Van Avermaet 2009; Stevenson and Schanze 2009).
Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2


Therefore, the different ways in which governments interpret the link between
integration and language learning, whether it emphasizes positive or negative
aspects will have an impact on the legislation and the programmes established
for integrating migrants in a given country, and in particular, the role that
knowing the host language plays. Whereas governments constantly discuss
the need for migrants to acquire the host language and put policies in place to
force migrants to do so, their practices vary greatly from country to country.
Even though its methodology has been criticized by some quarters (e.g. Extra,
Spotti and Van Avermaet 2009:12) the online survey carried out by the British
Council in collaboration with the Migration Policy Group, the MIPEX Index,
provides a good starting point for comparing how the LR is executed across
Europe. A surprising and paradoxical result from this survey is that that
the countries are considered more favourable to integration have the more
relaxed LR conditions.
In the map in Figure 1, different countries are given scores (0100) according
to whether their policies to the Language Requirement are favourable or
unfavourable to integration.
Figure 1: Language requirement in European language policies

Favourable policies to integration (score of 80100) means:

low language requirement (no assessment or A1)
individual abilities taken into account
assessment by language specialists or independent of government
no or nominal cost for language requirement
assessment based on publicly available list of questions.
See figure 2 for definitions.

The MIPEX tool provides a comprehensive source of information that

assesses, compares and (aims to) improve integration policies in 31 countries
(including EU and non-EU) across a broad range of differing environments as
well as looking at the Language Requirement (LR). Its definition of integration
spans seven policy areas, in which the LR of the host language just plays a
small part.
The scores for integration provided by the MIPEX tool show that Sweden is
the country with better scores for integration of migrants, in general, but also


in respect to the LR (favourable 80100), as it requires no assessment or a

low level of proficiency, it does not put a financial burden on the migrant, and
there is transparency in its practices.
As we see in the chart that follows, the lower the level of proficiency required,
and the more transparency and accessibility to the LR (which can be a test,
an interview or another form of assessment), the higher the country scores.
The UK, in this chart from 2010, scored as slightly favourable to integration
(this will probably change after the new 2013 legislation comes into place as
discussed later in the article).
Figure 2: Language requirement methodology


Language requirement test, interview,

completion of course, or other forms of

No assessment
or CEFR A1
or less set as

CEFR A2 set as

CEFR B1 or
higher set as
standard or
no standards,
based on

Language requirement exemptions

(blank if no assessment)
a. Takes into account individual abilities
ex. educational qualifications
b. Exemptions for vulnerable groups ex.
age, illiteracy, mental/physical disability

Both of these

One of these

Neither of

Conductor of language requirement

(if no measure, leave blank)
a. Language-learning specialists
b. Independent of government (ex. not
part of a government department)

a and b, ex.

a but not b, ex.

language unit

Neither a nor
b, ex. police,
service, general

Cost of language requirement

(Blank if no assessment)

No or nominal

Normal costs
ex. If provided

Higher costs


in government

by state, same
as regular

fees. If provided
by private
sector, same as
market price
Support to pass language requirement
(ifno measure, leave blank)
a. Assessment based on publicly available
list of questions or study guide
b. Assessment based on publicly

a and b

a or b

Neither a nor b

The CEFR is the Common European Frame of Reference. There are six levels of
proficiency in the CEFR: A1 (Breakthrough) A2, B1, B2 and C1, C2. C2 (Mastery) is the
most advanced level. A2 (also called Waystage) shows An ability to deal with simple,
straightforward information and begin to express oneself in familiarcontexts.

Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2



As we have seen, one of the key instruments for putting into place the LR has
been that of the language test. But, how is this test put into practice? Even a
language test can be a controversial instrument when it comes to assessing
migrants rights to have access to political and civic life. Critics (Extra, Spotti
and Van Avermaet 2009:17) point out the inadequacy of the benchmark
instruments used, i.e. the Common European Framework of Reference
(CEFR), for realising their policies, arguing that they are not suitable for
the type of language learners that take the citizenship tests, i.e. the CEFR
benchmark statements were designed for foreign language learning rather
than second language learning. Another criticism made is that the CEFR,
which was designed to promote multilingualism, is used in this context to
promote monolingualism and focuses on what immigrants lack rather than on
what they already possess. There is the assumption that immigrants do not
have the linguistic skills, but this is not necessarily true. Most immigrants are
plurilingual and not only master a variety of languages but also the standard
host language (Van Avermaet 2009:20). The multilingual person, who is used
to using a variety of languages during the day, according to the context, is a
less integrated person than the monolingual with only one language at his/
her disposal. Therefore, contrary to what one might think, language testing
is not being used to boost language learning, rather, it is being used as a
gate-keeping mechanism, and some even argue is biased, discriminating and
unattainable requirements (Shohamy 2009:45).
According to Hogan-Brun, Mar-Molinero and Stevenson (2009), due to stricter
conditions for people who want to apply for resident rights, proficiency in the
national language of the country has been formalised and more mechanisms
(or one may say barriers) for testing have been introduced. They argue that
to make language tests as a requirement for entry to the UK or for permanent
residence is coercive and socially exclusive. This is testified by the latest
government legislation where the LR has been made compulsory for both
obtaining citizenship and for settling in the country. Below is an extract from
this legislation:
From 28 October 2013, unless they are exempt, all applicants for
settlement or naturalisation as a British citizen will need to meet the
knowledge of language and life requirement by: passing the life in the UK
test; and having a speaking and listening qualification in English at B1
CEFR or higher, or its equivalent
(Home Office 2013a)
This is a change from previous legislation where the requirement was to
pass either the life in the UK test or the language test. This legislation was
introduced in 2005 for those migrants wanting to apply for citizenship and
was later extended in 2007 to those migrants wanted to apply for settlement
in the UK, known as Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) (Home Office 2013b).
Indeed, as Van Avermaet (2009) argues, according to government discourses it
is only the knowledge of the standard language that guarantees opportunities
for work, education and social mobility, even though todays European
societies are multilingual and increased opportunities should presuppose
multilingualism. It seems short-sighted that current policies do not recognise
migrants knowledge of other immigrant languages that are spoken in their
host communities.



It may be important, therefore, to question how these testing practices are

implemented in order to assess their impact.

Two illustrative examples of integration and

language policy
Examples of policies in two different countries, Germany and the Netherlands,
which have very different approaches to policies for integration and the role
of language learning in it, may throw some light as to why language learning
has become such a key feature of European immigration policy. The two
different countries selected seem to have a different emphasis on integration,
which is linked to these countries histories, and their particular approaches to
immigration and integration. Whereas both score similarly in the MIPEX index
(i.e. half-way favourable to integration), they both have very different policies
and roles for the host language in processes of integration. Germany is strong
on new opportunities for migrants (which includes language provision) from
the start. The Netherlands scores poorly on this respect but gives migrants
better access to civic life once they have been granted admission. The next
sections will discuss this contrast in detail.

The Netherlands
The Netherlands is a country with a long tradition of immigration and policies
towards integration, and, according to the online survey MIPEX Index, it is
half way favourable (4159) (see Fig. 1) to integration in relation to LR, and
scores, and scores slightly better than many countries in the EU.
Since 2007, newcomers have seen few changes to Dutch policies, still
slightly favourable for integration and more favourable than in most
corners of Europe
(MIPEX index, Netherlands. http://www.mipex.eu/netherlands)
However, the Netherlands is one of the only countries where passing a
computerised test on the national language (Dutch) and knowledge of the
national society is obligatory before arrival. In addition, there is no other
example of computerised language testing as a condition for admission to the
country elsewhere in the world (Extra and Spotti 2009). It is also one of the
most expensive tests in Europe (350830 Euros) (Van Avermaet 2009). Finally,
newcomers need to go through three different stages in order to qualify as full
citizens: admission to the Netherlands (Toelating) CEFR level A1 minus;
Integration in the Netherlands (Inburgering) CEFR level A2 for oral plus
written; and Citizenship (Naturalisatie).
Qualitative studies point out double standards in the integration policies of
some countries at the global, European and national levels. These highlight
on the one hand the promotion of multicultural approaches to integration
at the European and global level, whereas on the national level, diversity is
seen as an obstacle. The discriminatory nature of immigration and integration
policies in the Netherlands is a good example of this. According to Extra
and Spotti (2009), the discourses on newcomers in the Netherlands are
constructed around the concept of othering. The terms allochtonen and

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autochtonen distinguishes between those who were born (or whose parents
were born) abroad and those who were born in the Netherlands, respectively.
This distinction occurs even when the so called allochtonen hold Dutch
nationality. Such a view is based on the belief that nationality derives from
parental origins (jus sanguinis) rather than from country of birth (jus soli).
Another concept used in the Netherlands is that of inburgering which refers
to becoming an integrated citizen (Extra and Spotti 2009:65). Again, it
emphasizes the separation between the indigenous population and migrants,
as it marks out even those citizens who have been residing in the country
for some time but are considered poorly educated. A further criticism of the
integration policy in the Netherlands is its lack of recognition of transnational
identities by being reluctant to accept dual nationality (except in some
So, in spite of the fact that the overall policy for integrating migrants in the
Netherlands is slightly favourable (according to the LR), a closer look at
access to the language and the surrounding discourses on representations
of migrants and their cultural identities presents a different picture, where
language skills have become a barrier rather than an aid to access to Dutch
society, and ultimately, to integration.

Germany, like most European countries, gives language learning a key
role in processes of integration. Despite some reactionary voices in the
government as we saw earlier (i.e. the chair of the Christian Democrats in
Hessen, Germany), there is a movement in Germany towards more inclusive
and multicultural policies that begins to recognise and come to terms with its
condition of being a country of immigration (Stevenson and Schanze 2009).
The last few years, however, have seen a change of immigration policy
towards more liberal understanding of who is considered to be a German
citizen. In 2000 there was a breakthrough in Germanys immigration law
which reformed the law which introduced a modified version of the jus soli
(principle based on place of birth) condition in addition to the more restrictive
jus sanguinis (principle based on descent, i.e. parental origins). On top of this, a
significant change in the law, a new Immigration Act (Gesetz zur Steuerung und
Begrenzung der Zuwanderung und zur Regelung des Aufenthals und der Integration
von Unionsburgern und Auslandern), came into effect in 2005. This new Act
was a concurrent policy that was designed to address both the integration
of the migrants already living in the country, and serve as a barrier to new
immigration. At the centre of this policy is language proficiency and the
testing of it.
The issues that the law sought to address were: the prevention of young
members of a family joining their relatives in Germany without linguistic
knowledge, the development of the knowledge of German of existing
foreigners, and the support for access to language learning (Stevenson and
Schanze 2009). It also addressed contemporary fears for national security
sparked by terrorist attacks.



However, more recently, according to a report by the Commissioner for

Migration, Refugees and Integration, Germany has started to build the
integration of migrants not only on their linguistic deficits but also on their
knowledge of other languages and their intercultural competence (Stevenson
a Schanze 2009). As Stevenson and Schanze put it:
Germany is changing to the extent that the complexity of concepts
such as integration and of achieving an inclusive sense of citizenship
is being recognized and addressed. Evidence of this can be seen in the
significantly more differentiated and sophisticated approach to language
learning which is the cornerstone of the new integration strategy
(p. 102)
Finally, in contrast to the Netherlands, Germany carries the bulk of the
cost of its language course and charges a nominal fee of 1 Euro per hour
if the candidate completes the course within two years. The level to be
attained (B1 within the CEFR benchmarks) is higher than the tests carried
out in the Netherlands, but the courses and teaching provided are also more
comprehensive (from 400 to 900 hours).

Conclusions and future directions for research

We have seen that the last few years have placed the learning of the host
language at the top of the agenda of integration policies, i.e. a Language
Requirement has become a staple of European migration policy. As I have
discussed, the literature on the subject has pointed out that the emphasis
on the accreditation of language knowledge in order to become entitled to
participate in the new society is underpinned by certain discourses towards
migrants and one-sided representations of European cultures that often deny
On the one hand, there is a perception that migrants and their minority
languages pose a threat to national security and social cohesion; on the
other, migrant languages are perceived as a danger to the preservation of
an idealised culturally homogeneous society. Governments and their policies
have made the assessment of language learning and knowledge of society
the key instrument not only to control entry into the prospective countries,
but also to manage migrants processes of integration into these imagined
cultures. A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) Skills Outlook, highlights the need to look at a wider
definition of language skills, the different needs of migrants, and the better
provision for immigrants in order to promote integration. For example, it was
found that immigrants with a foreign-language background that have lower
levels of literacy are particularly at risk of not integrating into the labour
market, so that better incentives or programmes may be needed to improve
these levels (OECD 2013:30).
Within this climate we have seen that political discourses have interpreted
the LR in different ways according to their historical trajectories and nationbuilding processes, resulting in different practices. The examples from
Germany and the Netherlands have provided specific cases for reflection.

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But given the importance placed on assessment of language skills and

knowledge of the culture to integrate into a European society, I would like
to suggest further lines of research to ascertain the specific nature of this
relationship and its success. Despite the different ways in which the LR is being
implemented in different countries, and in particular, given the increased role
that the LR is going to play in the UK in the near future, it may be appropriate
to investigate the appropriateness of the main instrument used for such a
requirement, the language test, for predicting or even allowing the first step
to a putative integration.
In order to do this, firstly, given the literatures critique of the unsuitability of
the CEFR for assessing migrants linguistic experiences, it may be necessary
to investigate in detail what the benchmark statements for this framework
of reference are and how they map out against existing TESOL language
programmes aimed at migrants. Secondly, it may be useful to investigate
whether passing this test indeed helps migrants integrate instrumentally by
helping them find a job or improving their access to civic life. And thirdly, it
would be appropriate to carry out a close analysis of the language contained
in the language tests in order to investigate what model of integration is
promoted according to the conceptualisations of integration referred to in
this article: assimilationist or multiculturalist.

This research has been possible thanks to the financial support from the British
Council and the collaboration of Kings College London and NATECLA.
Iwould like to thank colleagues at these three institutions for their guidance
and support at different stages of the project: Melissa Cudmore and Dot
Powell (British Council), Jenny Roden (NATECLA), and Mel Cooke and Prof.
Ben Rampton (Kings College London).

BBC News (2011). In full: David Camerons immigration speech.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-13083781 <last accessed
Blackledge, A. (2005) Discourse and Power in a Multilingual World.
Amsterdam: Benjamins
Blackledge, A. (2009) Being English, speaking English: Extension to English
language testing legislation and the future of multicultural Britain. In
Language Testing, Migration and Citizenship. London: Continuum
Blommaert, J. and Verschueren, J. (1998) Debating Diversity: Analysing the
Discourse of Tolerance. London: Routledge
Bryers, Winstanley and Cook (2013) Whose integration? Working paper in
Urban Language and Literacies. Nexus project
Cooke, M. (2009) Barrier or Entitlement? The Language and Citizenship
Agenda in the United Kingdom. Language Assessment Quarterly. 6 (1) 7177



Home office (2013a) UK Border Agency. Changes to 'knowledge of language

and life' requirements and application details
(last accessed 22 October 2013)
Home office (2013b) Changes to the knowledge of language and life in
the UK requirement for settlement and naturalisation. http://www.ukba.
(lastaccessed 22 October 2013)
European Commission (EC) (2011) Communication from the Commission to
the European Parliament. The Council. The European Economic and Social
Committee and the Committee of the Regions. European Agenda for the
Integration of Third-Country Nationals
Extra, G. and Yagmur, K. (Eds.).(2012) Language Rich Europe. Trends in Policies
and Practices for Multilingualism in Europe. Cambridge: CUP
Extra, G., Spotti, M. and Van Avermaet, P. (2009) Language Testing,
Migration and Citizenship. London: Continuum.
Goodman, S.W. (2012) Fortifying Citizenship: Policy Strategies for Civic
Integration in Western Europe. World Politics. 64 (4) <http://journals.
Hogan-Brun, G.; Mar-Molinero, C. Stevenson, P. (Eds.) (2009) Discourses
on language and integration: critical perspective on language testing regimes in
Europe. Amsterdam: John Benjamins
Horner, K. and Weber, JJ (2011) Not playing the game: Shifting patterns
in the discourse of integration. Journal of Language and Politics 10:2. iii,
Han, C., Starkey, H. and Green, A. (2010) 'Politics of ESOL (English for
Speakers of Other Languages): implications for citizenship and social
justice', International Journal of Lifelong Education 29:1, 6376
Lo Bianco, J. (2009) Social cohesion and language learning. In D. Newby and
H. Penz. Languages for social cohesion: Language education in a multilingual
and multicultural Europe. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. pp 3547 http://
Michalowski, I. (2009) Citizenship tests in five countries: An Expression
of Political Liberalism? Discussion Paper. Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin fr
Sozialforschung (WZB). Social Science Research Center Berlin. ISSN no.
Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) A Reference guide that studies
indexes of integration across a large number of countries in the EU and abroad
Newby, D. and Penz, H. (Eds.) (2007) Languages for social cohesion: Language
education in a multilingual and multicultural Europe. Strasbourg: Council of
Europe. http://tinyurl.com/bgm5zob

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ORourke, B. (2009) Developing multilingual awareness amongst primary

school children in Ireland: a case study. In D. Newby and H. Penz. Languages
for social cohesion: Language education in a multilingual Europe. Graz: ECM
OECD (2013). http://skills.oecd.org/OECD_Skills_Outlook_2013.pdf
Shohamy, E. (2009). Language tests for migrants. Why language? Why tests?
Why citizenship? In G. Hogan-Brun, C. Mar-Molinero, P. Stevenson (Eds.)
Discourses on language and integration: critical perspective on language testing
regimes in Europe. Amsterdam: John Benjamins
Shohamy, E. and Kanza, T. (2009) Language and Citizenship in Israel.
Language Assessment Quarterly, 6 (1) pp. 8388
Urry, J. (2007) Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity Press
Van Avermaet, P. (2009) Fortress Europe? Language policy regimes
for immigration and citizenship. In Hogan-Brun, G.; Mar-Molinero, C.
Stevenson, P. (Eds.). Discourses on language and integration: critical perspective
on language testing regimes in Europe. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Villareal, F. (2009) Enseanza de la lengua a inmigrantes: estudio de las polticas
de integracin lingstica en tres pases europeos y retos para el caso espaol. =
Language teaching to immigrants: Study on linguistic integration policies in three
European countries and challenges for Spain. Madrid: Ministerio de Trabajo
e Inmigracin. Centro de Publicaciones http://www.oberaxe.es/files/
Cristina Ros i Sol is currently a visiting lecturer at Kings College London.
She has over 20 years experience in language education. She is the
co-editor (with Jane Fenoulhet) of Mobility and localization in Language
Learning (Peter Lang, 2011) and Romanticising Language Learning (Journal
of Language and Intercultural Communication, 2013).
Email: cristina.ros@kcl.ac.uk


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Maintaining language
standardisation through
ESOL practices
Claire Collins

This article focuses on language standardisation in the context of English
as a Second or Other Language (ESOL). My article is based on the premise that language standardisation is an on-going process towards an
unattainable ideal and a site of social struggle. I will outline a study I
undertook to better understand what language standardisation means
to people in the field of ESOL in the UK and what difference this makes
to their practice. Through my review of existing research and my own
investigations, I found that power relations underlie common sense
conventions about correct or incorrect language activities. I also identified the key role that ESOL practitioners and learners play in maintaining
standardised English discourses, which rely on problematic ideas such as
formality, appropriateness and style. I used Critical Language Awareness
(CLA) as a frame through which to investigate language standardisation
discourses in ESOL practice. My research suggests that ESOL practitioners and learners have an acute awareness of language standardisation
conventions but not, generally, a critical awareness of these. In particular,
I found little evidence that the power relations that underlie language
activities are discussed in practical ESOL contexts.

The one who is doing the decreeing defines himself and the class to
which he belongs as those who know and were born to knowThe
words of his own class come to be the true words, which he imposes or
attempts to impose on the others: the oppressed, whose words have been
stolen from them.
(Freire 1970, p.115).
Im gonna start by asking you the readers of this here journal a question
what are your thoughts on how Im writing right here, right now?? Im kinda
breaking convention as I type (in so much I see it). Im hoping youll know the
point Im making (I figure the standardisation bit in my title will give you a
clue!) but Im not gonna do this for long cause it feels kinda wrong and Im
gettin uncomfy now :-/

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My research in 2011 with English as a second or other language (ESOL)

practitioners and learners in the UK highlighted the broad views we all hold
on the multiple, complex ways that people language. Becker (1988 and 1991)
uses the term languaging to describe the on-going, multi-layered activities
that people take part in when they speak or write. I recognise that some people
will not recognise that the word language can be used as a verb. Indeed,
to language may not be viewed by some people as correct or standard
English (and my sentence is accompanied on screen with a green wriggly line
to reinforce this incorrectness). However, I have chosen to challenge this
convention because it reminds me that there is no such thing as a language
or a language variety that can be separated from languaging activities.
As Becker explains, use of the term languaging is;
a movement away from language as something accomplished, as
something apart from time and history, to language as something that is
being done and reshaped constantly.
(Becker 1988, p.25)
Our beliefs about languaging are frequently accompanied by value
judgements, such as; shes a good writer or I just hate the way she speaks!.
These conventions are naturalised to become common sense, as we can see
in the example of an ESOL learner investigating the right way to greet an
English-speaking colleague. It is very unlikely that he or she would be taught
the phrase; Howya doin honey? for use in a workplace context. Perhaps
because we believe that greeting colleagues so informally could make them
feel uncomfortable or disrespected, we may come to think of this as a wrong
way to speak. Such common beliefs or conventions about right and wrong
ways of speaking and writing are what underpin our ideas of standardised
English. These ideas differ, although blur, with notions of accent, regional
dialect or language variety because it is very difficult, although certainly
not unheard of, to talk about right and wrong accents or right and wrong
regional varieties. However, as we can see above, the notion of the right way
to greet someone is fairly easy to comprehend.

Language standardisation
The ideal of a standardised language, which is an idea in the mind rather
than a reality (Milroy & Milroy 1985, p.19), is one that is normalised in many
societies today (Fairclough 1992). However, it is important to note that
perceptions about ways of languaging, including value judgements, are never
static but always in a state of flux, both historically and at any moment in time.
To illustrate historical flux, consider the expression; I shall go to the doctors
today. To me, this sounds antiquated and unnatural but it would not have done
a few decades ago in some elements of English society. As another example,
I was watching a comedian recently from America on television, recounting
how a woman in London had discovered his profession and asked him what
he knew about Tommy Cooper (a popular English comedian). He dead, was
the comedians reply. The woman then corrected the American comedians
grammar and asked if he meant, he died. Yes, said the comedian; first he
died, now he dead!. These examples illustrate how standardised English is not
a fixed ideal in time and, also, that standardisation judgements are subjective,

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depending on many factors such as language variety spoken and social

class. Despite this subjectivity, however, the second example illustrates how
some people feel justified in criticising other peoples styles of languaging,
not because they dont understand but because someone has used, what
they consider, a non-standard form. In the context of ESOL practice, this
subjectivity becomes problematic when we ask; who decides what is or is not
the right English to teach?
Language standardisation over time is not only a process of introducing
new appropriate or correct ways of languaging but it is also a process of
subordinating others. Lippi-Green (1997) refers therefore to stigmatised
and non-stigmatised ways of languaging and she argues that it is the
social allegiances made clear by (a) language which cause it to become
subordinated over time (p.63). To illustrate this point, I will turn to the use
of words like ta! for thank you and Gizza bite a ya buttie, for Can I have a
bite of your sandwich? in Merseyside where I currently reside. Such scouse
(Liverpool-based) ways of languaging are often stigmatised in other parts of
the UK. It is very likely that this happened after the dismantling of many of
Liverpools industries and its dockland trade in the 1970s and 1980s when the
city was represented by the British media as a focal-point of militant socialist
action. We can see here an example of a working class dialect becoming
stigmatised, and this is a common process, demonstrating that standardised
English is the sociolinguistic face of the social order. (Clark et al, p.11). LippiGreen further explains that tracing the evolution of a standardised English
myth is about unravelling the history of who has the right to talk and be
listened to (Lippi-Green, p.25) and, conversely, who does not.

ESOL practice and language standardisation

A key role played by ESOL teachers in the UK is to help learners understand
and be able to draw on standardised English conventions. I understand the
importance of this because the ability to use standardised English (even
though this is an impossible ideal) is a form of cultural capital (Bourdieu in
Fairclough, 2001). However, accepting this as a natural state of affairs, as I
will explain below, is to ignore inequalities in society and power relations that
maintain them. As an illustration of my point, I have recently been living and
working in The Netherlands. Dutch words starting with the letter g, as in the
town name Gouda are usually pronounced with the International Phonetic
Alphabet (IPA) sound x, so Gouda sounds similar to Howda. I think it would
be very reasonable for a Dutch language teacher to explain this pronunciation
rule to me. I would also want to explore, however, how this rule plays out
in social practice and the extent to which people who dont pronounce this
properly are stigmatized. I was once told, for example, about a politician who
couldnt say such gs properly and this was the subject of public comment in
the media. Another time, I was on a train passing through the town of Gouda.
The train conductor, pulling into Gouda station, announced over the tannoy
system our arrival into the town but she pronounced Gouda with a g, as in
the English pronunciation of goat. There was quite a reaction in the carriage
and she was clearly the subject of some ridicule. I then felt a little insecure
in my understanding; was it the case that the conductor came from a part of
The Netherlands that is stigmatised for their use of g instead of x? Is this
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non-standard pronunciation a sign of having a lesser level of education or

a lower social standing and was she being ridiculed on this basis? Should I
go back to my anglicised pronunciation or follow the crowd? Such questions
matter to me and I wanted to know the extent to which they matter to other
ESOL practitioners and learners.
My focus here is on attitudes and common sense ideas about meaningful
utterances not, for example; fish, van on ?table several politics or; drink there
is everything water fresh, although the latter could be understood to mean;
Get a sup of that there water, all fresh it is or, Have a drink, its fresh water.
It is only the last example, however, that most people would consider to be
good English. This is because language standardisation, as I noted above, is
concerned with perceptions of what it is to speak well and what it is to speak
badly. Such value judgements, often viewed as a sign of being educated,
are fundamental to our understanding of power relations expressed through
language standardisation because, as Van Lier explains; speaking well is
associated with certain groups of people and speaking badly is not. (Van
Lier 1995, p.81). Following from this, I wanted to better understand the extent
to which ESOL teachers work with learners to become more critically aware
of standardised English as a manifestation of hegemonic power. Fairclough,
following Gramsci, refers to language standardisation as hegemonic power
because it is a way in which a dominant group wins the consent or at least
acquiescence of other groups to the practices and ideologies which constitute
its domination. (Fairclough 1992, p.49)
ESOL learners, in my experience, are acutely aware of the impact that
different ways of languaging can have on others. For example, if I was
writing to my local Member of Parliament (MP) to share my concerns about
education spending cuts, in any language and any country, I would probably
want to write in such a way that my MP took me seriously. It is a fact of life
that the way I write a text will have an affect on the person who reads it and
may alter the response I get. Through research with ESOL practitioners and
learners I wanted to identify the extent to which they discuss, for example, the
power that my MP exercises when making judgements about me based on the
way I language. More specifically, I wanted to find out if they practiced Critical
Language Awareness (CLA) (Clark et al 1987, Fairclough 1992) with respect
to the way that power relations influence how we language in English, if these
relations are fair and how people can challenge the way that less formal,
often regional and minority, ways of languaging are devalued in society.

Grammar rules
As I will explain below, a key argument that was used by a number of my
research participants when making value judgements about languaging, was
grammatical correctness. A. L. Becker argues that it is not really meaningful
to talk about such things as grammar rules which exist outside of languaging
and on which we draw, even when we write sentences. In a lecture called
Language in particular (1988), Becker conducted an experiment with his
audience and asked each of them to write a single sentence, describing him
walking up some steps. Becker then asked members of the audience, one
by one, to read their sentences out loud. Each one was different in many

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ways to the next and Becker explained that it would not be possible to ask
of them: which was right or which was most correct, since these are not
valid questions. This is because the sentences did not draw simply on abstract
rules of grammar which could be used to assign correctness but, instead, on
dimensions or particularities such as interpersonal relationships, choosing
to leave things unsaid, evoking prior knowledge, etc. As Becker explains, each
of writers in his audience;
reached back in memory to prior texts and made this one, the one (they)
wrote, a variant of those prior texts. Each of those sentences has a
past, a history. I do not believe that they were generated by rules but
rather they were drawn from lingual memory and reshaped to present
(Becker 1988, p.24)
Integrationist linguists, like Becker, argue that there are patterns, such as
grammar, that can be observed in peoples languaging but they should not be
seen as rules that have to be obeyed. Indeed, the beauty of these patterns is
that they are there to be observed and that they change over time and place.

Appropriateness and formality

In addition to an emphasis on grammar rules, I agree with Fairclough and
saw through my own research that language education depend(s) heavily
on a view of sociolinguistic variation that centres around the concept of
appropriateness (Fairclough 1992, p.33). Despite the fact that concepts such
as appropriateness, formality and style are highly problematic and subjective,
many ESOL practitioners feel that they will disadvantage learners if they do
not teach what is and what is not appropriate in various given situations (Van
Lier 1995, p.83). There is little doubt that people are judged, and sometimes
very negatively so, by the ways that they speak. Nevertheless, as Levinson
notes (in Fairclough, 1992), speakers do not always comport themselves in
the manner recommended by the prevailing mores (IBID, p.47). Despite many
people thinking it is appropriate to wear a suit for an interview, or write
using correct grammar in a formal assignment, sometimes they choose not
to do so. Equipping learners with critical awareness of conventions so they
can make choices about the ways that they language, including the choice to
subvert convention, is the main aim of critical language awareness (CLA). For
this reason, I used CLA as a frame though which to analyse the information I
gathered for my research.

Critical Language Awareness

In order to define what CLA means, it is helpful to contrast it to language
awareness (LA), which became popular in the 1970s and 80s in England
(Ivanic 1989). Clark et al (1987, p.3) summarise what is different between LA
and CLA in Figure 1;

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Figure 1. Differences between language awareness and critical language

awareness, Clark et al (1987)







of social and
socio-ling order

fitting children
in social order

natural order

isolated from



critique and
change of
social and
socio-ling order

fitting children
to work in and
change social


integrated with

As illustrated above, the CLA framework helps us to see that language use is
not neutral but always part of a wider social struggle. Furthermore, and very
significantly, language awareness approaches do not challenge that illusion of
naturalness but reproduce it. (Clark et al 1987, p.11).
According to a CLA perspective, what is key when seeking to explain any
discoursal encounter is that there are power relations affecting the discourse
participants and the ways that they language together. CLA presupposes
that a critical awareness of the world, and of the possibilities for changing it,
ought to be the main objectives of all education. (Fairclough 1992, p.7). Not
addressing issues of language and power through language standardisation
or simply presenting standardised English as a variety of English alongside
other varieties by adopting a Language Awareness approach, is dressing up
inequality as diversity (IBID, p.15). I agree with Ivanic that through a critical
view of language, accuracy and appropriacy are not things to be learned, but
things to be questioned and understood. (Ivanic 1989, p.8).

The research process

I undertook my research in five main phases across a period of approximately
six months. I began my investigation by reading articles and reviewing
existing research on the topics I wanted to understand better such as;
language standardisation, what languaging might mean, common attitudes
towards languaging and issues of language and power. I found some sources
of information about language standardisation in the context of ESOL
practice (i.e. Ivanic 1987) but only very little and I felt that I needed to deepen
my understanding of this by conducting research with ESOL learners and
practitioners about their attitudes and common sense ideas.
I reached out to ESOL practitioners through my own professional networks
and the ESOL-Research Jisclist, an online ESOL research and practice
discussion forum. I circulated an e-questionnaire in order to ascertain whether
respondents would make standardising judgements about such language as:


hes off out now

What brand are those keks? (keks meaning trousers)
I never said nothing
You was there wasnt you?
We came up town

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I chose the phrases because, from a standardised English point of view, they
represent a range of common mistakes (i.e. a = incorrect use of preposition
as verb off out and d = incorrect subject-verb agreement). I also chose some
words/ phrases that are used regionally but not everywhere in the UK (i.e. b =
a local vocabulary item in Merseyside; keks). I also asked respondents what
they thought standard English means and how often they discuss this concept
with learners. I asked why different varieties of English, or different ways of
languaging, have different statuses in society. In addition, I asked respondents
to say if they thought they spoke standard English themselves and to share
their feelings about their own ways of speaking. I dont, as I have explained
above, believe that it is possible to speak standard English. However, I was
keen to know how many people thought that they did and I thought that
this question might encourage people to challenge the idea of being able to
speak in a standard way. Finally, I gave people some space to make their own
comments on the topics I had introduced. I had 84 questionnaire respondents,
an extremely good response rate, considering the fact that I had reached out
to approximately 675 people in total.
In the e-mail that accompanied my questionnaire, I asked for volunteers
to take part in the next phase of my research; some action research into
ESOL and language standardisation, taking a critical language awareness
approach. To remove as many language and literacy barriers as possible
and, thereby, to try and best understand ESOL learners critical awareness
of language standardisation, I designed a session using a visual Reflect for
ESOL2 approach. For example, I planned an activity where learners draw
circles to represent the power that different varieties of English have and,
in doing so, pose problems about how power and language are connected.
Through these activities, I wanted to draw on learners own L1 experience
of language standardisation and, therefore, their historicity (Freire 1970,
p.64). If I had simply presented standardisation as a fact of life, I would have
been reproducing a banking knowledge approach to education (Freire 1970,
p.61) and I did not want to present yet another teacher-imposed activity
and procedure of working and of ignoring the linguistic experience of the
learners. (Clark et al 1987, p.27). An example of a Reflect poster created by
ESOL learners taking part in my research can be seen in Appendix 1. Here,
Wigan English is represented as less powerful than BBC English. In another
example, learners depicted Hungarian English as a tiny speck on the page,
against more powerful Englishes that included Sport language and TV news.

I decided to review my findings through lenses presented by Ros Ivanic in her
article; Critical Language Awareness in Action (1989). Ivanic identifies three
key aspects of a critical language awareness approach in her Checklist of
critical objectives for language learning (1989, see Appendix 2);
a Critical awareness of the relationship between language and power.
b Critical awareness of language variety.
c Turning awareness into action.

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By considering Ivanics 14-part checklist (see Appendix 2), I was able to

explore the extent to which my research participants adopted a critical
approach to language learning, in so far as they reported this to me.

A. Critical awareness of the relationship between language

and power
Only seven people (8% of my online questionnaire respondents) referred
critically to relationships between language and power. This was mostly
when respondents were describing what standard English meant to them,
for example citing words like dominant, prestige and powerful in their
definitions. 15 respondents referred to language and power without taking
an obviously critical stance. For example, one respondent argued that; People
need access to the language used by the more powerful elements of society for
education, for work.. Almost the same number of people felt that that they had
a duty to help learners use standardised English to improve their life chances.

B. Critical awareness of language variety

There was a general consensus amongst my research participants that it is
important to discuss language varieties with ESOL learners although not
necessarily in a critical way. However, peoples responses to my question about
the correctness of different example phrases were very mixed. I think this
reflects the constant struggle and flux surrounding language standardisation
that I noted above (Clark et al 1987 and Fairclough 1992). There were some
patterns to peoples responses worthy of noting. For example, people were
most likely to judge phrases c (I never said nothing) and d (You was there,
wasnt you?) as incorrect, whereas, phrase a (Hes off out now) was more
acceptable. There were high levels of disagreement about phrases b (What
brand are those keks?) and e (We came up town) with people having very
mixed views, particularly regarding phrase e. This may be due to peoples
geographical location; keks and up town are used more in the North of
England than elsewhere in the UK. One respondent, who had selected some
phrases as correct and others as neither correct nor incorrect, explained
how this had been a fairly arbitrary decision:
My distinction between correct and neither is not consistent. The three
correct ones feel more acceptable; the two where I selected neither
seem to be more obviously different from standard English, or my version
of it.
Three other respondents agreed that judgments they had made about
the correctness or incorrectness of a phrase or word were extremely
subjective, stating, for example:
The second three did sound (to me) incorrect but I do not believe
they are. I think they are a non-standard form of English that, therefore,
triggers a reaction of incorrectness in me.
More than a third of the questionnaire respondents chose not to label any of
the phrases as incorrect, arguing, for example, that Rather than correct the
above I would discuss the standard English alternative. Ten of respondents said
that all the phrases were neither correct nor incorrect, mostly arguing that the
correct/ incorrect dichotomy is not valid. However, 57% of my respondents,

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discussed formality, context and appropriateness as reasons why learners

need to be able to use standardised English. This supports Faircloughs
arguments, outlined above, that appropriateness as a justification for language
standardisation has become naturalised.
42% of the respondents to my survey cited grammar rules as justification
for labelling some of the phrases as incorrect. One person, for example,
argued that some of the phrases contained; grammar mistakes that wouldnt
be acceptable in an exam and would show the speaker to be uneducated. The
idea that someone who uses non-standardised English language forms would
sound uneducated was surprisingly common, with eight respondents (just
under 10% of the total) stating this. Van Lier also points to the fact that, as well
as race, ethnicity and social class the general argument in favour of good speech
is that it is the mark of being well-educated. (Van Lier 1995, p.81, authors

C. Turning awareness into action

More than a third of people (30 out of 84 questionnaire respondents) felt that
it was important to discuss with learners the differences between varieties of
English, often using regional differences or street language to explain this
variation. I had been interested to see whether the Reflect for ESOL activities
that we delivered during the action research phase (see above) would lead
to group discussions about how the status of different, less powerful ways
of languaging and how this could be challenged. As I have noted above, the
groups did all identify the different statuses of different ways of languaging in
the UK. However, none of the action research participants and very few of the
questionnaire respondents talked about challenging the low prestige status of
some languaging practices and the people who take part in them.
In my questionnaire, I asked how often people discuss the topic of language
standardisation with their learners. Most respondents said occasionally
(55%) or fairly often (35%). To explore the extent to which people discussed
why different varieties of English have different statuses and how this could
be different, I asked them to say how often they discussed these topics with
ESOL learners. This time, the majority (75%) said only occasionally or not
at all.
Overall, my findings suggest that many ESOL practitioners who talk about
language standardisation do so in a non-critical way. There were, of course
exceptions to this and I think that, if I had been able to talk in person to
the people who responded, I might have found that they do take a critical
perspective on many things (albeit, perhaps, unconsciously). One person,
who did appear to take a critical stance, explained how she/he presents nonstandard English varieties as part of everyday learning activities:
In class I like to highlight differences between standard and non-standard
local forms. Students hear these forms outside the classroom all the time,
innit! The one that springs to mind is in this part of the East Mids we often
make no distinction between the plural/singular verb to be. So we might ask
is there any cakes left? there was loads left this morning.

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This, however, was an isolated example of someone from my research who

felt that it is important to directly teach non-standard ways of languaging and
who actively sought to include authentic texts in his/ her teaching practices.
In contrast to many ESOL text books based on standardised English, authentic
texts are recorded in situations when people are not monitoring their language
and are not thinking about how other people might be judging their language use.
(ESOL UK website3). If the differences between authentic and standardised
forms are highlighted, as in the ESOL UK texts, locally-produced authentic
texts could be seen to socially empower learners. This is because learners,
in theory, will have the information they need to make choices about which
language variety to use on different occasions. Through an integrationist
linguistic frame, by using authentic texts, learners are able to draw on
a wider range of prior texts when languaging, including authentic and
standardised patterns. However, ESOL learners agencies are as prescribed
by their contexts as teachers are, for example in relation to social forces and
testing requirements. This being the case, simply recognising the difference
between authentic and standardised texts may not automatically lead to
For authentic texts to have emancipatory effects, learners need opportunities
to discuss how they feel about subverting language and social norms.
Discussions with people about linguistic norms or conventions will help
them decide which conventions to accept and which to flout and, in assessing what
the risks of flouting might be as well as the possible benefits. (Clark et al 1987, p.30)

By undertaking my research, I wanted to explore what standardised English
means to people who practise and learn ESOL. I was struck firstly by the
lack of consensus from my peers about what standard English means and
which words and phrases could be deemed incorrect in an ESOL learning
context, despite the fact that, I think, they were all meaningful and clear. I
found that peoples perceptions of language correctness, however diverse
they were, did usually depend on ideas of appropriateness and formality. I
also discovered that people often use grammar rules as a benchmark for
judging if languaging practices are appropriate or formal enough and that
ESOL practitioners and learners have an awareness of these rules and
conventions but not generally a critical awareness. I also found that there is
little discussion in ESOL contexts about issues of language and power: In
particular, there was very little evidence that ESOL practitioners and learners
discuss language standardisation as a manifestation of hegemonic power. This
does not surprise me; I am aware how natural and common sense ideas
of standardised languages are in most modern societies and how all of us
maintain these discourses to a greater or lesser degree. However, I would like
to see if more could be done to develop critical, emancipatory approaches to
ESOL practice in the UK. This is because I believe that emancipation should
be what education is all about.


Becker, A. L. (1988) Language in particular: A lecture. In Tannen, D. (ed)

Linguistics in Context: Connecting, observation and understanding (pp. 1735),
Norwood, NJ: Ablex

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Becker, A. L. (1991) Language and languaging, Language & Communication.

Vol. 2. No. 1/ 2, pp. 3335
Clark, R., Fairclough, N., Ivanic, R. and Martin-Jones, M. (1987) Critical
Language Awareness, Centre for Language in Social Life, Research Paper 1,
University of Lancaster
Fairclough, N. (1988) Language and Ideology, Centre for Language in Social
Life, Research Paper 11, University of Lancaster
Fairclough, N. (2001) Language and Power, Longman
Fairclough, N. (ed.), (1992) Critical Language Awareness, Longman
Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin Books
Ivanic, R. (1989) Critical Language Awareness in Action, Centre for Language
in Social Life, Research Paper 6, University of Lancaster
Lippi-Green, R. (1997) English with an Accent, Routledge
Milroy, J. and Milroy, L. (1993) Real English: The grammar of English dialects in
the British Isles, Longman
Van Lier, L. (1994) Forks and hope: Pursuing understanding in different ways,
Applied Linguistics, 15/3 (autumn 1994)
Van Lier, L. (1995) Introducing Language Awareness, Penguin English
Woulds, S. and Simpson, J. (2010) Dead on the page no more! The case for
authentic, locally appropriate ESOL materials, Language Issues, Vol. 21, No. 1

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Appendix 1
Learners views on language status and

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Appendix 2
Checklist of Critical Objectives for
(This checklist was devised by Ros Ivanic, and appeared in her University of
Lancaster Research Paper; Critical Language Awareness in Action in 1989)
A. Critical awareness of the relationship between language and power
Recognise how people with power choose the language which is used to
describe people, things, and events
Understand how many types of language, especially written language,
have been shaped by more prestigious social groups, and seem to
exclude others. That is what makes them hard to understand, hard to use
confidently, or hard to write.
Understand how the relative status of the people involved affects the way
we use language. (For example, a doctor speaks differently from a patient.)
Recognise that when power relations change, language changes too both
historically and between individuals.
Understand how language use can either reproduce or challenge existing
power relations.
B. Critical awareness of language variety
Recognise the nature of prejudice about minority languages, other
languages of the world, and varieties of English.
Understand why some languages or language varieties are valued more
highly than others.
Understand how devaluing languages or language varieties devalues their
Value your spoken language.
Recognise that speakers of languages and varieties other than
standardised English are experts
C. Turning awareness into action
Recognise how language can either be offensive or show respect and
choose your language accordingly.
Recognise what possibilities for change exist in current circumstances, and
what the constraints are.
Learn how to decide whether to challenge existing language practice in
particular circumstances.
Learn how to oppose conventional language practice if you want to.

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1 ESOL-Research is a forum for researchers and practitioners with an interest
in research into teaching and learning ESOL. ESOL-Research is managed
by James Simpson at the Centre for Language Education Research, School
of Education, University of Leeds. See http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/
2 Reflect for ESOL is an ActionAid project in the UK
3 http://esoluk.co.uk/calling/index.html
Claire Collins is a freelancer, working in the field of adult literacies and
second/other language development in the UK and The Netherlands.
Prior to working freelance, Claire was an ESOL practitioner, in adult and
community learning and in further education colleges. Claire maintains
close working relationships with ESOL (and literacy and numeracy)
practitioners through her research and development work and she is
currently the Secretary of RaPAL (Research and Practice in Adult Literacy).


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Authentic spoken texts

Ellie Willcocks

This paper investigates the use of authentic spoken texts and tasks in
preparing a class of 1618 year old ESOL students for the Entry 1 Trinity
Speaking and Listening Exam. I am new to teaching ESOL and this smallscale research project was an assessment task for the pre-service PGCE ESOL
Specialists: Post-Compulsory Education and Training course which I completed
at Sheffield Hallam University in 2012. I hope that it will open a window,
for the uninitiated, on some of the issues surrounding authenticity and exam
washback (see literature review, below, for an explanation of this term) and
that it might inspire critical consideration of authenticity in lesson planning
and evaluation.
I was interested in exploring the use of authentic spoken texts and tasks
with my class because it seemed to me that most of the research in this area
had been carried out with higher level learners and that these learners have
tended to be adults rather than teens. I was therefore keen to explore the
extent to which it is possible and helpful to incorporate authenticity into
exam preparation for Pre-Entry students in particular. I also wanted to look
more closely at what authenticity means and at whether exam washback
impacts on the use of authentic texts and tasks. Finally, I was also interested
in exploring the issue of motivation, with particular reference to my students

My placement was in an FE college and, for four months, I was teaching a
Pre-Entry class of fourteen full-time 1618 year olds: eleven boys and three
girls. Pre-Entry, in this context, meant students who, it was felt, were unready
to take the Entry 1 Speaking and Listening exams in March. It did not mean
students who struggled with basic literacy. It was hoped that some of the
students would have improved enough to be entered for the June exams. The
college had recently taken the decision to switch from the Cambridge exam
board to Trinity in order to align with a partner college within their federal
structure. I took the class for just one 2 hour lesson per week. The students
had all been in the UK for less than a year and some of them were very recent
arrivals indeed. In terms of nationality and language background they were
a very mixed group. They came from nine different countries across Africa,
Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East and spoke eight different first
languages (L1s). They had all had a primary and secondary school education,
albeit somewhat disrupted for many, and they were all familiar with the
Roman alphabet and had some reading ability.
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Literature review
The literature I selected and read for my review was chosen with a view to
addressing two questions: (1) what is authentic speaking and listening? and
(2) how might exam washback facilitate or limit authenticity?

(1) What is authentic speaking and listening?

My reading led me to the view that authenticity can be divided into three
categories: authenticity of text, authenticity of task and authentic selfexpression. I shall describe each of these in turn before proceeding to explore
the idea of exam washback.

Authenticity of text
The value of authentic written texts in communicative language teaching has
long been advocated. It has not been until quite recently, however, as the
technology for recording, storing and analysing spoken text has improved,
that there has been greater interest in and exploitation of authentic speech.
What this has led to has been a realisation that the grammar of spoken English
is quite different to that of written English in several respects. Research using
the Cambridge and Nottingham Corpus of Discourse in English (CANCODE)
corpus has afforded fascinating insights into the way English is actually spoken
today, and has revealed the prevalence of features considered non-standard in
written grammar such as:
ellipsis (omitting words to avoid redundancy), e.g. [do you] Fancy a drink?
tails (repetition of the subject at the end of a sentence for emphasis), e.g.
They all want throwing out, the government.
the use of like as an attention focusing discourse marker, e.g. I just went
for a nap and when I woke up it was like 3 oclock.
co-construction, e.g. A: Thats not nice., B: Its funny though. *
* Examples taken from Timmis (2012)

These findings are important because they suggest that there are many
features of spoken grammar which are not being taught in the classroom.
They also call into question the usefulness, in spoken English, of some of the
grammar which is being taught. These insights can help teachers explain and
raise awareness of features which are largely specific to spoken (as opposed
to written) English, something which is rarely addressed in coursebooks or
classrooms. This contrasts notably with written genres where larger patterns,
such as the introduction-main body-conclusion structure of discursive essays,
are often pointed out. (Gilmore 2007).
Research into authentic spoken texts can also afford insights into the functions
as well as the structure of verbal interactions that commonly take place. For
example, one of the exam tasks in the Trinity Level 2 Speaking and Listening
exam is making a complaint (e.g. about a faulty purchase). However, corpus
research shows that the vast majority of complaining that takes place in
the real world is in the form of indirect complaints (e.g. to elicit sympathy)
rather than direct complaints with a view to seeking redress (ref. to Boxer &
Pickering, 1995 in Gilmore, 2007). This example digresses slightly from my
Pre-Entry focus but there may well be other examples which impact upon
Pre-Entry level learners.

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Will my use of an authentic spoken text prove to be a qualitatively different

experience for the students and will it reveal any insights into real spoken

Authenticity of task
One limitation of recordings of authentic speech, however is that they are
plucked out of context. The importance of context to spoken communication
is an idea that was explored by Widdowson (1979), who drew a distinction
between authenticity (or genuineness) of a text and authenticity of the
relationship between the text and its audience. He pointed out that the act of
extracting an authentic text from its context served to disauthenticate it and
therefore authentic texts should have no special status in language teaching.
In addition to the lack of context, many authentic texts are inaccessible to
learners due to either the complexity of the language used or the presumed
cultural knowledge. This calls into question whether authenticity of text is
something to be aspired to at all. Taylor (1994) points out that Skill-getting
and pre-communicative activities and tasks, while not perhaps authentic
in themselves, are nevertheless aimed at equipping learners with skills and
knowledge which will enable them to put the language to authentic use..
This is a useful reminder not only of the need for scaffolding, particularly
with lower-level learners, but also of the need for authenticity in output and
interaction, not just in input.
The idea of focusing on authentic tasks rather than texts can be challenging
in a classroom environment, particularly when the requirements of the
exam are factored in. Does it make a difference to students whether their
tasks are authentic or whether they are constructed simulations? And what
implications does Widdowsons view have for my choice of text? Is it possible
to extract a spoken text for classroom use without severing it from its context?

Authentic self-expression
In the last decade, the focus for many researchers has been on the relationship
between language, power and identity. They have highlighted the need to
offer opportunities for immigrants to the UK to develop the voice (or
voices) needed for authentic self-expression and manage the extended
institutional interactions required to negotiate welfare, medical and workrelated communications. (Roberts & Cooke 2009). This idea of authentic
self-expression is based on Goffman (1981), who characterised authentic
speech (or fresh talk) to be that which occurs when (a) the speaker, (b)
the person who scripts the utterance and (c) the person whose ideas and
beliefs are embodied in the utterance are one and the same person. This has
resonance when considered in conjunction with constructivist learning theory
where new knowledge is generated from the interaction between existing
understandings and new experiences. This has been developed further by
Wallace (2008) whose idea of classrooms as critical communities sees
learners questioning and contributing to the construction of knowledge in
the classroom.
Research undertaken by Baynham et al in 2007 revealed that when learners
were given opportunities to speak from within about issues which were
of importance to them, they produced longer utterances and expressed
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more complex ideas than in the types of classrooms which relied mainly on
invented dialogues or teacher prescribed topics. (Roberts & Cooke 2009).
Thus the learners generated narratives in interaction to construct, or
perhaps further develop and extend, a sense of who they are. (Simpson,
2011). Sometimes authentic self-expression can be encouraged via teacherled activities but often it occurs spontaneously. Baynham (2006) describes
these occasions as opportunities for learning which must be grabbed
This idea of encouraging student agency and using students concerns as a
springboard for learning is an interesting one for me. The combination of my
students age and their low level of English means that they are amongst the
most vulnerable of ESOL learners. This means that, potentially, they have the
most to gain from this approach but does their low level of English prevent
them from accessing it?

(2) How might exam washback facilitate or limit authenticity?

The title of this research project assumes a relationship between testing and
teaching which, in general education, is known as backwash but in English
language education is also known as washback. Washback can have negative,
positive or neutral effects and it can be broadly defined as the influence that
testing has on teaching and learning. It encapsulates the idea that teachers
and learners do things they would not necessarily otherwise do because of the
test. (Alderson & Wall 1993:117).
In the past, language testing bodies tended to test learners knowledge of
language via multiple choice questionnaires. It was argued that the effects of
test washback meant that teachers did not involve learners in authentically
communicative classroom activities until performance-based tests were
introduced in the 1980s which required students to demonstrate their use
of language. Thus, tests demonstrating positive washback, in the context
of communicative language teaching, are seen as those which require
authentic and direct samples of the communicative behaviours of listening,
speaking, reading and writing of the language being learnt. (Messick
Some researchers have argued strongly the importance of test developers
designing tests which take washback validity (Morrow 1986) into account.
However, Alderson, a pioneer in the field of washback research, feels that
negative washback cannot be eliminated from tests because washback is not
solely an attribute of the test itself: it is also dependent on teacher (and to
some extent, learner) behaviour. In his foreword to Cheng and Watanabe with
Curtis (2004:xi), Alderson asserts, there are limits to what a test developer
can achieve, and much more attention needs to be paid to the reasons why
teachers teach the way they do.
So it seems that, while washback can influence teachers curriculum decisionmaking, there is also scope for teachers to think creatively about the different
ways in which they can prepare their students for exams. Just how much
leeway there is is one of the questions I shall be considering.


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I divided my method of investigation into four stages. The first involved
consideration of the requirements of the Trinity Speaking and Listening exam
and my selection of suitable texts and tasks. The next three stages (one for
each type of authenticity I had identified) each involved delivering an activity
within a lesson and observing what happened. I gathered my data partly by
taking notes of student utterances and behaviour during the activities and also
by recording some parts on a digital voice recorder.
I felt it was very important that my research should not in any way detract from
the students learning aims because the difficulty involved in translating into
eight different languages in the timescale I was working to combined with the
students low level of English meant that I was unable to explain my research
project to them. I did ask for (and gain) their permission to record them on
a digital voice recorder as part of my research but they were unable to give
informed consent to taking part in the project. It was essential, therefore, that
my research instruments constitute a useful part of their normal curriculum.
Happily, this coincided nicely with my aim to investigate preparation for the
Entry 1 exams.

Designing activities with a view to achieving both

authenticityand exam preparation
The Trinity Entry 1 Speaking and Listening exam lasts about seven minutes
and consists of two tasks. The first is to have a conversation with the
examiner, exchanging greetings, then exchanging some personal information
(e.g. names, where they live, where they come from) and finally, having a
brief exchange about likes and dislikes (e.g. food or hobbies). The second
task focuses on the language of locations and directions. It starts with a test
of prepositions of place using realia from the room (e.g. describing where a
pencil is in relation to other objects on the desk). Then the candidate is given
some directions and asked to follow them on a simple street plan, asking for
clarification where necessary. Finally, the candidate is asked to give some
authentic directions to the examiner (e.g. the way to the toilets).
I decided not to address the greetings and exchanging personal information
parts of the exam because most of my students are already perfectly capable
of undertaking this and do not really need any further preparation for it. So, I
decided to focus on likes and dislikes and locations and directions. We had
already done some classroom work on both these topics but so far I had not
attempted to incorporate any authenticity into them.
The language of likes and dislikes seemed quite teen-friendly to me and I
did not anticipate having much difficulty designing an authentic task for this.
The idea that the language of locations and directions should be a priority for
these learners is one which it is beyond the scope of this project to question.
It would be interesting to look at some corpus data and see how prevalent this
lexis is in the day-to-day speech of British 1618 year olds. However, for this
project I shall simply consider the extent to which it is possible to prepare for
these topics using authentic spoken texts and tasks and I shall discuss this in
my findings, below.

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Authenticity of text
For this part of the project, I selected a YouTube clip in which a woman
asks several passers-by for directions in a town centre. The clip is one of
a series produced by an organisation called Real English. Although the
womans questions are inauthentic, in that she is clearly not really lost, the
replies are given spontaneously and genuinely and for this reason I judged it
to be a sufficiently authentic text for my investigation. I typed up the dialogue
and created a listening comprehension exercise where the students had to
watch the video and identify the key information in the responses given. The
listening comprehension was administered under test conditions so that I
could evaluate the extent to which each student coped with the task. The fact
that it was video rather than just audio gave added authenticity, I felt, because
the students were able to follow the visual clues, such as gesticulations, as well
as the verbal information, just as they would in real life. The task required the
students to listen for a key phrase and circle it on the transcript. For example,
if the respondent had said You go straight up the High Street and turn left
at the top. The students were given a sentence which read You go straight
up the High Street and turn left/turn right at the top. and asked to circle the
correct answer. I made sure that they were completely clear about what the
task was and what they had to do by constructing a brief pilot version of the
test, with me providing a very simplified audio text, and I checked that they
were circling the correct answers before I moved on to the real thing.

Authenticity of task
This phase of the project involved the students asking for directions around
the college. I spent 20 minutes with them in the classroom first, preparing
them for the task and drilling the question Excuse me, could you tell me
the way to the? We then left the ESOL department and set off into the
corridors, stairwells and reception areas of the college, looking for people to
ask for directions. The students took it in turns to walk up to people they did
not know and ask the way to the sports hall, the refectory, the library and the
toilets and we recorded each exchange on a digital voice recorder. I felt this
was a reasonably authentic task for the students to be undertaking because
many of the students in the class were quite new to the college, and none had
been there more than six months, so they might well find themselves having
to ask for directions as they gradually became more involved in the life of the
wider college, outside the ESOL department. We completed the final stage
of this phase in the next lesson, when we listened back to the recordings and
focused on understanding the replies that people had given.

Authentic self-expression
This final phase of the project represented a break from the work on
directions and it was intended to prepare the students for the element of
the exam which focuses on talking about likes and dislikes. We spent about
half an hour practising Do you like ?, Yes, I do. What about you?, I like
it too. etc, first as choral repetition, then in pairs with cue cards. I then let
them loose on the computers, with two or three students sharing a computer,
and asked them to take turns finding a website that they like, then one that
they do not like, and talking to each other about them. My hope was that

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giving the students the freedom of the whole internet would serve to bring
the outside in (Baynham 2007) and open up a space in which they could
express themselves authentically. I placed digital voice recorders near to the
computers and the idea was that I would simply allow the students to get on
with the task with minimal interference from me.

Consideration of methods
My method of investigation was simply to set up the activities and then observe
them unfold, taking notes and recording the asking for directions activity and
the computer activity on a digital voice recorder. I paid particular attention
to how authentic the experience was for the students, how well it prepared
them for the exam, how accessible the students found it and the extent to
which they seemed motivated by each activity. As such, then, it constituted a
semi-structured observation in that I was looking at a very particular range
of issues but I did not have a hypothesis to prove or disprove. Instead, my
aim was to generate an explanation through my consideration of the data.
It is fair to say that I was limited in choosing my method of investigation
by the practical consideration of the language barrier and, had I been able
to explore options for translation/interpreting, I would have welcomed the
opportunity to elicit feedback from the students about the activities and about
their educational experience in general. This would have been in addition to
observation, however, not in lieu of it. I favoured observation as my method
because, as Cohen et al point out it offers an investigator the opportunity
to gather live data from naturally occurring situations It thus has the
potential to yield more valid or authentic data than would otherwise be the
case with mediated or inferential methods. (2011:456). On the other hand,
observation does carry with it a significant responsibility to ensure validity
and reliability (or trustworthiness) through a commitment to accuracy,
thoroughness and honesty. The researchers close relationship with the group
being studied can affect their judgement, so it is important to be mindful of
this throughout all stages of the research process. I did not want my desire
for a positive outcome to result in my seeing motivation (for example) where
there was none.

Presentation of key findings

Selection of research instruments
I found that selecting the authentic spoken text and designing the authentic
activities was just as important a part of the research process as actually
using them. It forced me to think about what authenticity means and to what
extent it is actually possible to link some of the exam tasks to authenticity.
For example, I tried really hard to think of an authentic text or task which
would practise prepositions of place but struggled to come up with anything
convincing. An extension of the directions work could activate some of the
prepositions of place (next to, between and opposite, for example) but
probably not on, in, under, above or behind. It seemed to me that if this
is lexis which is valuable to these students then I should be able to come up
with something. Perhaps my failure to do so indicates that this is language
which they would not use very much. My prior teaching of prepositions of
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place had been via the context of an untidy room, where I was looking for
items and the students had to tell me where the items were. However, 13 of
my 14 students live with their parents and speak their L1 at home, so this
would not transfer naturally to an authentic situation for them.
The marrying of authenticity with directions and likes and dislikes was
more straight-forward, however.

Authenticity of spoken text

I felt that the YouTube video clip was very successful as an authentic text.
The problem with most listening comprehension texts is that, even when
they are based on naturally occurring speech (rather than scripted dialogue),
they are snatched out of context, adding an unrealistic layer of difficulty
to decoding them. This text, however, was accompanied by the full visual
context of the exchanges and the students were able to use visual and nonverbal clues to aid their understanding. Using an authentic text also meant
that I was able to point out to the students that people tend to say Scuse
me rather than Excuse me. The interesting thing, in administering the test,
was that when I first played the video there were gasps of horror among the
students and cries of too fast. However, I reassured them that I would play
it through twice, so they would get a second chance to listen for the answer
and their results showed that, despite their initial panic, they coped with the
exercise extremely well. The average score was 8.4 out of 10, with none of the
eleven students scoring any less than 7 out of 10.
I felt this was a valuable activity to undertake for exam preparation. It did
not exactly replicate the exam experience, because in the exam the students
have to listen, understand and respond appropriately all in one go. The exam
task, therefore, is actually more authentic than the preparation activity I had
devised. However, in preparing students for authentic speaking and listening
there is a strong case for isolating the two skills and focusing on developing
each skill separately. In terms of assessment, too, it is important as a teacher
to know whether the student is struggling to understand the question or
struggling to produce the correct answer.
Was this task motivating for the students? It was hard to tell, actually, how
motivating it was. Because it was a passive activity which, by its very nature,
had to be undertaken in silence, there was little feedback to observe during
the test. There was also little reaction from the students the next week when
I gave them their scores and reviewed the text with them, highlighting the
correct answers. Hopefully, though, their high scores will have demonstrated
to them that they are more capable than they thought of picking out key
information from untidy and rapidly spoken authentic English.

Authenticity of task
Asking strangers for directions around the college scored highly in terms
of authenticity, in so far as the situation was realistic and response of the
interlocutors was somewhat unpredictable. There were inauthentic elements
to it though. Firstly, each interaction was captured on a digital voice recorder,
although this did not seem to bother either the students or the people they
spoke to. Secondly, I helped the students by initially asking the people we

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encountered if they would mind if my student asked them a question and I

stayed with them during the exchange. Finally, the authenticity of the task was
limited by the fact that the students did not really need to know the directions,
so they did not have to understand the reply. In this sense, the activity
constituted a natural partner activity to the one described above. In the text
activity, the students only had to listen. In this activity they only had to speak.
What was quite telling, though, was that every single student thanked their
respondent, even though we had not drilled this nor even talked about it in
class. This revealed to me that the students approached the situation as 100%
authentic, in terms of their output and how it was received. It also revealed to
me that I have very pleasingly polite students!
The main value of the task in terms of exam preparation was that it challenged
the students to interact with a stranger, just as they would have to do in the
exam. This in itself made the activity worthwhile, I would contend, although
in the exam task the roles are reversed, and it is the student who is asked
for directions and has to give them. Most of the students were clearly quite
nervous and needed a lot of encouragement and support to undertake the
task. Despite their nerves, though, it was obvious that they were excited and
really enjoyed escaping the classroom to do something a bit different. There
was plenty of opportunity for them to abscond altogether if they had wanted
to, as we walked around the college. Nobody did, though. The group stayed
together and they all had fun watching each other have their turn. I had a
strong impression that the students found the activity very motivating and
that they experienced a sense of achievement through it. One of the students,
who sometimes gives the impression of being quite unmotivated in class,
asked a passer-by the way to the refectory. The man gave him the directions
and then asked Why? Are you hungry? and the student laughed and said
Yes, hungry! and clutched his stomach. It was great to see him enjoying a
shared joke, even at this beginner level of English.
The second stage of this activity came in the next lesson, when we listened
back to the digital voice recording. This recording constituted another
authentic spoken text and, this time, it did not matter that it was audio only,
because the visual element could be reconstructed in our memory. The
students had a great laugh, listening back to themselves and we focused on
listening to and understanding what the respondents had said.

Authentic self-expression
The experience of using the computers to access internet sites was authentic
in so far as all the students are technophiles and enjoy using the internet
in their spare time. It would, therefore, be authentic for them to talk about
this in the context of likes and dislikes. However, the fact that they were
required to share a computer with one or two other students for this activity
was inauthentic and proved to be quite problematic for some students. Also,
although using the internet and talking about internet sites were both quite
authentic activities for this group of students, trying to put the two things
together in this way did not really work for all students. What I had not
anticipated was that some of the students would simply access their favourite
shoot-em-up games and start playing them rather than talking to their fellow
students about them. I had deliberately made the activity quite free and
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unstructured in order to encourage authenticity of expression but, teenagers

being teenagers, some of them interpreted this to mean that they could do
whatever they liked and forget about learning English.
So, for many of the students, this was an unsuccessful activity because they
were either engrossed in a computer activity and not talking to anyone or
they were sitting waiting their turn and not talking to anyone. However, for
one group of four students, each of whom had different L1s, it was really
very successful. This group started off by looking at the family photos on one
students Facebook account. My digital voice recorder captured them asking
him questions about his family:
Who that?
You? [ha ha]
No you, my dad. My brother. My sister.
Then another student took his turn. He decided to go to Google Translate
because (he explained to me later) he wanted to say to a girl who was new
to the class that she should not be so shy. He looked up shy in his language
and Google Translate furnished him with bashful, which he then tried to
look up in her language. Unfortunately he was unable to take it any further
because her language was not on Google Translate but his discussion with
her about what language she spoke and his efforts to encourage her to speak
were valuable in themselves.
In terms of exam preparation, the activity did not really activate any of the
language they would need for talking about likes and dislikes. What it did
do, though, was encourage some of the students to use their English for an
authentic communicative purpose, i.e. developing the social relationships
within their group. This was particularly valuable for the new student, who
had just arrived in the UK having come from a very difficult and distressing
situation in her home country. An understanding of learning as something
that takes place within communities of practice (Lave & Wenger 1991)
values attention given to social relationships within the group. I would argue,
therefore, that this activity did contribute indirectly to exam preparation,
albeit only for four of the eleven students present.

Evaluation of methods
Undertaking this project has convinced me that semi-structured observation
is a valuable method of investigation. No research method is perfect. Even if
I had been able to conduct interviews, Interviewers and interviewees alike
bring their own, often unconscious, experiential and biographical baggage
with them into the interview situation. (Cohen et al 2011:204). Interviewer
effects, in this case, might have led to the students giving me answers that
they thought I wanted to hear. A focus group, on the other hand, might have
encouraged the students to give answers that they think their peers want
to hear. Also, relying on interviewing or focus groups alone might have
closed down opportunities for making discoveries that I had not predicted.
The advantage of using semi-structured observation has been that, rather

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than narrowing my investigation to predetermined variables, I have looked

at everything under a range of broad themes and then decided what is
important. However, observation is prone to researcher bias and I have had to
consciously guard against selective data recording and biased interpretation
of data (e.g. giving a rosier picture of how well my activities worked than was
actually the case). Also, one weakness of my project has been my inability
to ask my students what they think. My impression of the students is that
they tend to be motivated by fun and engaging activities rather than being
extrinsically motivated by a focus on the skills they need to pass exams.
It would be really interesting to explore this with them and find out if my
impression is correct. Asking the students opinions would also have helped
me to triangulate my findings and perhaps justify my interpretations of my
observations. Using observation and interviewing together would have made
for a more robust research project. As Denzin (1989) quoted in Cohen et al
(2011:210) suggests, triangulation can help to overcome problems of validity
and reliability in observational research.
When it came to actually using the research instruments the spoken text
constituted useful exam preparation in that it enabled the students to see
that they could cope with authentic speech. It was difficult to gauge how
motivating this activity was, though, because it inhibited both verbal and nonverbal communication once it was properly underway. Also, it did not strictly
test comprehension, only the ability to pick out the correct words. Perhaps
requiring the students to draw a route onto a map rather than circling the
correct answer would have been better.
The asking for directions task was probably the most successful research
instrument because as well as being very authentic and good preparation for
the exam, it was also easy to see how motivated the students were by it. The
only thing that could have improved it, I think, would have been to reverse
the roles so as to better mirror the exam task. Perhaps the next phase of our
exam preparation should involve the students standing near reception with a
placard saying Please ask us for directions to the toilets/the refectory/the
library/the sports hall.
The computer task was less successful in some respects because seven out of
the eleven students present gained little benefit from it. If I had taken a more
prescriptive and controlling approach to the task, though, I would almost
certainly have prevented the lovely conversations which did take place from
ever emerging. For the students who did engage with the task, it was clearly
very motivating indeed and the task demonstrated that it is possible to create
opportunities for authentic self-expression even in Pre-Entry students.

Conclusions and recommendations

My first question was how possible is it to use authentic spoken texts and tasks
in preparing students for the exam. My answer to this, after having failed to
think of a convincingly authentic activity to teach prepositions of place, would
have to be that it depends on which element of the exam you are preparing
for. Certainly, marrying authenticity with directions and likes and dislikes
was not problematic.

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My second question was how beneficial is authenticity to the students. My

authentic asking for directions task showed itself to be very beneficial,
I felt, in terms of student motivation, the level of challenge, the sense of
achievement and the extent to which it prepared the students for the exams.
It was great fun too, which meant that it was beneficial in terms of groupbonding. I would definitely recommend this activity to other teachers. I would
also explore an extension activity involving giving directions, however.
My authentic text was also beneficial in that it enabled the students to
demonstrate (to themselves and to me) that they could cope with authentic
speech. However, I was not entirely happy, on reflection, with the way in which
I had exploited it. I think the students would have found it more engaging and
motivating if they had been required to actually follow the directions (e.g. on
a map) rather than simply picking out the words. This would also have better
mirrored the exam task.
And, finally, my authentic likes and dislikes task was beneficial, as I said
above, for some of the students. As a student teacher it has been drilled into
me that everything that takes place in my lessons must be linked to predetermined learning outcomes. However, Wallace (2006) gives an eloquent
account of how over-planning can lead to teachers closing down opportunities
for authentic self-expression. I think, on balance, it is right to protect some
space within class time for learners own voices to develop, even if not all
learners are benefiting from this at the same time and even if the link to exam
preparation is indirect.

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testing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Denzin, N. K. (1989) The research act: a theoretical introduction to sociological
methods (3rd edition). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
Gilmore, A. (2007) Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language
learning. Language Teaching, 40: 97118
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Messick, S. (1996) Validity and washback in language testing. Language

Testing, 13 (3): 241256
Morrow, K. (1986) The evaluation of tests of communicative performance in
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Real English 19 Giving directions [online]. Last accessed on 2 May 2012 at:
Roberts, C., & Cooke, M. (2009). Authenticity in the adult ESOL classroom
and beyond. TESOL Quarterly, 43(4): 620642.
Simpson, J. (2006) Differing expectations in the assessment of the speaking
skills of ESOL learners. In Linguistics and Education, 17(1): 4055.
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Wallace, C. (2008) Negotiating communication rights in multilingual
classrooms: towards the creation of critical communities of learners.
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Widdowson, H. G. (1998) Context, Community and Authentic Language. Paper
presented at TESOL Annual Convention, Seattle, 1721 March 1998

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Appendix: Listening comprehension worksheet

Following directions
1 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to Southgate Street,

B: Just go up there and turn left/turn right.

A: OK, thanks very much. Up sorry where?

B: Straight up to the traffic lights, then turn left/turn right

atthe traffic lights.

A: OK. Thanks, thanks.

2 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to Parchment Street?

B: Mm. Go down to Smiths and turn left/turn right. Thats

Parchment Street.

A: Thanks.

3 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to Westover Street/

Road, please?

B: Ah, sorry, I cant speak English.

4 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to The Cut, please?

B: Yes, its just along here and your first on the

left/on the right.

A: Lovely, thanks.

5 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to Southgate Street,



B: Southgate? Up to the lights and its the road onthe left/on

the right.

A: Lovely. Thanks a lot.

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6 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the cathedral,


B: Cathedral? Right/Straight down here.

A: Right/Straight down here?

B: Yes.

A: Thanks.

7 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the train station,

B: Train station? Straight/Left up the road.

A: Straight/Left up the road.

8 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to St.Clements

Street, please?

B: Im sorry, I dont know/I dont live here.

A: OK. Thanks.

9 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to Southgate Street


B: Im afraid I dont know/I dont go that way to Southgate

Street. Im a comparative stranger here myself.

A: OK. Thanks very much. OK, bye.

10 A: Excuse me, could you tell me the way to Parchment Street,


B: I dont know! /That way!

Ellie Willcocks completed her PGCE ESOL Specialists: Post-Compulsory
Education and Training at Sheffield Hallam University in June 2012 and
iscurrently working as a freelance ESOL teacher in Sheffield.
Email: FrogCottage@talktalk.net

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Correction, feedback and

learning in online chat
Susan McDowell

This research project investigates the affordances for learning English in
an inter-country Facebook chat group, the approach of the teacher (me),
and the opinions of the other participants. The particular focus here is on
vocabulary development and corrective feedback in synchronous computermediated-communication (CMC). It was a longitudinal project over a 6 month
period from June to December 2012.

The group
E-learning technology provides opportunities for improved access
through the removal of temporal, geographical and situational barriers.
(Kanuka and Rourke 2008:1314, cited in Pachler and Daly 2011)
The research project was incorporated within an existing group, meeting for
one hour weekly via the Facebook message facility. Participants included five
members of a former (face-to-face) conversation class I had taught in Algeria,
and myself, based in the UK.
The group is mixed level, ranging from elementary/pre-intermediate to
advanced levels. They are from a variety of backgrounds, although most are
attending or have already completed higher education. None of the group
have specialised in languages at school or university, and English, for them, is
pursued for personal development and interest.
The participants had joined the initial group with the specific intention of
practising speaking, so the online chat was an opportunity to continue along
a similar conversational basis. After 3 months, when the online meetings
became the focus for this research project, I began to incorporate questions
about whether the chat was helping the participants English and how they
would like it to progress.

The approach noticing and

In the data presented here, I attempt to demonstrate how the notion of
noticing might be harnessed to learning in interactive online written
communication from a sociocultural perspective.
The noticing hypothesis was developed by Schmidt who had diarised his
own progress in learning Portuguese, describing how he became aware that

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he was better able to notice items of language (words, phrases, structures) in

communicative settings beyond the classroom if he had learned about them
in class beforehand (Schmidt and Frota 1984). Schmidt (1990) concluded that
noticing might be usefully deployed in language learning situations.
Awareness, attention and consciousness are key factors in sociocultural
theory (SCT), developed from the research of Vygotsky, who describes how
learning is socially mediated via cultural tools (such as language), and that
it is this which precedes actual development, with the intermental functions
coming before the intramental.
Any higher mental function was external (and) social before it was
internal. Any function in the childs cultural development appears
twice or on two planes It appears first between people as an
intramental category, and then within the child as an intramental
category. This is equally true of voluntary attention, logical memory, the
formation of concepts, and the development of will.
(Vygotsky 1960:1978, cited in Minick 1996)
Vygotsky proposes that learning should take place within the zone of
proximal development (ZPD), that is, the potential for learning in relation to
the childs actual developmental level:
an essential feature of learning is that it creates the zone of proximal
development; that is, learning awakens a variety of internal development
processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with
people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers. Once these
processes are internalised, they become part of the childs independent
development achievement.
(Vygotsky 1978:90)
Inherent in the notion of the ZPD is the aim to shift learning from otherregulated, whereby the other role might be performed by teachers, peers, or
others in the act of assisting, to self-regulated, in which the child is able to act
autonomously. Learning is not perceived as stable but emergent in the social
situation it cannot be understood apart from its relationship to the social
(and the historical context). Vygotsky was also clear that these theories could
be applied to adult learning development.
In language teaching and learning, the application of this approach means
that assisted learning should not inhibit social interaction. Language
development, also, should not be seen as linear and nor should teaching be
understood to act in a causal manner, leading directly to acquisition.

Online conversation
The same technologies that enhance learning also enable us to gain
insights into the nature of learning. This is because the devices that
students use can also serve as microscopes, revealing in close-up the
details of their learning.
(Cox and Ainsworth 2012:17)
Online group chat often follows different threads at the same time, converging
and diverging between the participants so that, at times, there is a juggling
act of synchronous conversations. However, this also affords possibilities
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for differentiation (in line with the ZPD), with opportunities for individual
attention in correction and feedback, as well as providing multiple foci for
learning, and to maintain participant interest.
The group is accustomed to working together, which helps facilitate
authentic communicative discussion and focus on fluency. Online chat allows
participants to prepare their turn in their own time, thereby also facilitating
focus on accuracy albeit with a very informal register, with abbreviations
common to the online context. For example, Asma states:
we dont make so mistakes here cus we write correctly.
(Appendix 2).
The participants were experienced in the use of chat conventions: use of
emoticons, text-like abbreviations, and informal playful use of language.
Facebook chat is very popular amongst young people in Algeria, and the
participants in this group frequently participate in chat, usually in one or
more of the languages used in that area of the country (Derdja, Arabic,
French, and sometimes English), with people they meet online. It seems that
the participants in this group are unafraid of making mistakes in their use
of English given the communicative focus. They are also familiar with using
this chat as a learning strategy for language development, for example Asma
says that she learned English via chat and rarely reading (Appendix
3), suggesting that peer collaboration in interactive online chat can be a
motivating tool, offering affordances for language development.
CMC may facilitate peer collaborative learning since participants are pushed
(Swain 1985:2489) to produce chat and, Learners may notice that they
cannot say what they want to say in the target language (Swain 1995:125
126). This is then adapted to SCT:
Sociocultural theory puts language production in a star role, so
to speak (Swain 2005). Speaking and writing are conceived of as
cognitive tools tools that mediate internalization; that externalize
internal psychological activity, resocializing and re-cognizing it for the
individual; that construct and deconstruct knowledge; and that regulate
and are regulated by human agency.
(Swain and Lapkin 2005:179)
Lantolf adds a qualification this, commenting that dialogic language can only
serve internalization if the individuals attend to it as such (2006:96). The
teacher, as expert other (regulator), may assist in supporting this.
The participant discussions in our weekly meetings are collaborative, with
questions being posed from members to other members and to me. I am able
to respond to different threads of conversation and try to maintain some
continuity. I ask questions to draw out responses and longer turns.

The teaching perspective

The teaching perspective here was based on that of the face-to-face
conversation group, in which the scheme of work was negotiated and
emergent that is, ideas for areas for discussion and aspects of language
learning came from the participants, and the weekly plan was understood

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to be flexible, subject to change or addition. That the students were by

now familiar with this approach is apparent in the chat in Appendix 1, in
which they assume collective responsibility for deciding on the topic to talk
about. However, the practice of choosing topics for discussion was actually
neglected in favour of more free-flowing discussion. With regard to learning
English, they ask me to teach idiomatic language and correct their language
within the conversational format:
time to time teach us some Expressions
(Appendix 2)
i would really be thankful if u correct my mistakes
(Appendix 2)
These requests are a repeat of those made during the initial face-to-face group
and so I had already been attempting to continue to incorporate expressions
and correction into the chat, but it was evident that the fact that I was
carrying this out in written form was not indication enough.

Words, phrases and expressions

Writing my own contributions, I was aware that there was opportunity to
incorporate language items which would present some challenge. However,
during my research questioning, it was apparent (see Appendix 2) that some
members of the group were not picking up on this, so I decided to highlight
what I thought to be the salient items. I tried to utilise what I thought would be
new vocabulary, collocation, and idiomatic lexis, and I started to incorporate
some use of capitalisation to highlight and enable noticing.
OK Ill make one up unles you come up with something .
there you are 2 expressions
ooops spelling mistake UNLESS
In the last line here, I am also able to highlight corrections to my own typing
At a later date I introduce an expression which I feel Hakim will notice
because the person I refer to is known to him, so I do not introduce the
term with capitalisation. He is motivated to find out what it means, and he is
confident to ask me to explain an expression I have used.
shes what we call a people person !
that is, she likes peoples company shes good with people

plz coul u spel it out for me (people person )
she is good with people, likes working with people, likes communicating
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its a positive thing!
In the example below, where I explain how my son broke his foot, I deliberately
capitalise the word sneaking because, although it may have some level of
familiarity to some participants, it still may not have been fully noticed for it
to be appropriated their own speech.
ohhh am sorry about him
how did he hard his self ?
Well, he was SNEAKING downstairs to see if he could watch a video at
midnight, when he was supposed to be in bed and he fell on the step
oh im really sorry for him, im sure the entire family is taking care of him
thats how he HURT himself!
I also use capitalisation here to highlight the reformulation from Hakims hard
his self to HURT himself , focusing on the error in the use of the word hurt,
as most crucial to communicative meaning.

Error correction
Research into corrective feedback (CF) is inconclusive about what is the most
effective approach (if any). Ellis states:
There is currently no agreement about whether CF is desirable and even
less agreement about how it should be undertaken. (2012:135)
However, he points out that, as with the research participants here, students
express a desire for correction, and research amongst teachers has found that
they have a preference for using recasts because, as Ellis explains:
Recasts cause minimum interruption to the flow of an interaction and are
also non-face-threatening to students. (2012:143)
Within the sociocultural framework, research has investigated how corrective
feedback might be aligned to the ZPD, and how teachers might scaffold
support according to varying levels of implicit or explicit correction for the
learners involved:
linguistic forms alone do not provide us with the full picture of a
learners developmental level. It is essential to know the degree to which
other regulation, or mediation, impacts on the learners production of the
particular forms. (Aljaafreh and Lantolf 1994:480)
In negotiating the online chat, I am conscious that different learners and
different contexts require consideration of levels of correction. Online chat
offers affordances for online (on the spot) error correction and reformulation

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without undue disruption to communication with different conversation

threads running simultaneously at times, there is opportunity to provide
differentiated responses to participant contributions.
It is to be borne in mind that use of capitalisation is, in digital communication,
sometimes interpreted as shouting, which is clearly to be avoided. But also, in
some instances, capitalisation would be unnecessary for purposes of noticing
correction. Here, where I offer Hichem a spelling alternative, he does not need
more emphasis to recognise the error:
I baught the book
yeah! Bought Thank you
The following extract also demonstrates how a simple grammar reformulation
can be presented as a clarifying question, which then receives a confirmatory
response, which also demonstrates that the correction has been noted:
Hows Judy?
she will go to spain
she told me that
shes going to Spain?
However, my attempts at error correction had not always been noticed
(see Appendix 2), so I introduce highlighting here too. The section of a
conversation below shows how an online focus on form is incorporated.
I was in Algeria for a week until last Wednesday, then I had to come back
here so I missed Eid really. My kids really wanted me to stay but
why u didnt took them with u
My kids are at school in . I left them behing
they moved to Algeria in the summer. Im moving there in December
What did you do for Eid?
i met ur daughter in my shope with ur sister in law
dhe came to bay acarff
[why didnt you TAKE use infinitive of verb after didnt]
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they came to buy a scarf ?

that must have been my daughter
In square brackets to signal that I do not wish to interrupt the flow of the
chat- I offer a reformulation of why didnt took them, as why didnt you
TAKE, and a (rare) brief explanation of the grammatical form: use infinitive
of verb after didnt. I also suggest a reformulation of dhe came to bay acarff ,
in question form, to suggest that I am not sure if this is the intended meaning,
they came to buy a scarf ?

Developing learning strategies

The introduction of noticing as a tool alongside research into learner
responses provides participants with strategies which they can appropriate
in future learning situations, to focus attention on new language and error
correction. In the online chat, when the introduction of capitalisation was not
consistently sufficient for noticing purposes, the research questioning itself
seemed offered an opportunity for participants to notice this as a strategy:
Have you NOTICED that when I think that Im using a word that might be
new for you I type it in CAPITALS sometimes?!
i write it and try keep it
Oh thats interesting!
i Always put pen next me and be ready to write wt u say
have you noticed when I use capitals?
!!! (Appendix 4)
Engaging with the participants about these issues affords opportunities
for the group to share their own strategies. Appendix 4 is an exchange
between myself and Hakim in which he also shares information about his
own individual strategies for learning English, such as his regular use of a
vocabulary notebook and memorisation:
first time was sound Difficult but now i like it
yh some time when u use Sentence i dont use it i try keep it in my mind
do u bleave me if i tald u i care it with me in my poket when i have fre
time i take look at it
I believe you!
Do you take notes in your other classes too?

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each day i mimorise one or two words
Where communication or correction is focused on one participant, others
may also benefit. Hakims description of the strategies he applies may be a
useful model for other participants.

Reflecting on the role of the teacher

Online chat offers affordances for reflecting on teaching, since it is already
transcribed. It is another opportunity for noticing, for example, where I might
have been over-zealous in my corrections, such as in the conversation below,
where I change the word undernutrition to malnutrition on the assumption
that the latter is correct:
Hakim you in??
So, is obesity on the rise in Algeria?!?!
Hmm ocesity? Dont think so
Undernutrition maybe
youre right
So malnutrition is on the rise there?? Oh dear
not really
but there r lots of poor people
All my friends are like spaghetti
According to a dictionary definition:deficient bodily nutrition due to
inadequate food intake or faulty assimilation (merriam-webster.com),
undernutrition is the more appropriate term since it implies the opposite to
obesity although, here it is unfamiliar to me.

Creative language use

Another important aspect of the online chat, is that it affords the opportunity
to notice and record creative instances of learner communicative writing.
In the previous extract, for example, Hichem uses the original phrase,
All my friends are like spaghetti. In the conversation below, Basem also
demonstrates a creative facility with language when he offers an explanation
for Hichems frustrating attempts to get a new passport, referring to Algeria
as a paper state:
Noo I didnt have the opportunity to go to the beach yet
I was renewin my lost passport today
And theyve driven me crazy
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OH YES, Algerian bureaucracy!!!
Yeah :s they made me go back home 3 times
u need realy to run long miles to get a new passport in algeria paper
Although there is little evidence that the recasts or the new language introduced
are appropriated successfully, there are instances where participants create
their own imaginative metaphors and lexical combinations.

according to Fauconnier and Turner, meanings arise as higher-order
products of imaginative work . In Vygotskys theory, this work is a
direct consequence of the organic and dialectical unity forged between
communities and individuals. SCT L2 research has begun to explore the
implications of Vygotskys insight, but much remains to be accomplished.
One of the most intriguing topics for future research is whether the
appropriate pedagogical interventions can be designed to promote the
development of conceptual and associated linguistic knowledge to enable
learners to use the L2 as a mediational artefact. (Lantolf 2006:103)
The research here shows that small group online chat provides the
opportunity for differentiated collaborative learning through, for example,
introduction of new vocabulary and corrective feedback. Variable levels
of highlighting for attention can be applied to attune with the participants
individual ZPD. Learning strategies, such as noticing, may be developed so
that lexical items and corrections can be consciously recognised more easily
in the future.
The research angle to the meetings developed according to the participants
expressed requirements for learning, and, as such, helped provide the
information required to attempt to create affordances within the ZPD and to
stretch learning.
The social-interaction of chat meetings, combined with the shared
endeavour to practise English, enabled the participants to contribute their
written thoughts and read each others contributions within conversation that
was often light-hearted and entertaining. The participants demonstrated their
engagement with chat and the research process, sharing thoughts about
language development and displaying their own linguistic ingenuity.


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Appendix 1
try to contact asma I will send her FB mssg
As for topics we can discuss them durin the week on the group
We can propose topics
I think we should try to find a subject to speak about
those who not work can prepare topics to the group by posting things on
Conversation .

Appendix 2
some questions for you:How does the chat differ from the face-to-face class?
Do you think the chat helps improve your English?
What do you think you have learned from the chat?
. I mean the Facebook chat!!
the difference between the face-to-face class and the chat is that i miss ur
wonderful pronounciation that i like and that helps me prouncing correctly
so do you think chatting on FB helps your English at all??!
but at the same time the chat helps me improving my english
we dont make so mistakes here cus we write correctly but why we dont use
skype ?
chating in fb helps u for writing
yes, it help us so much
how does it help you, do you think? do you agree with Asma and Hakim that
it helps with writing/accuracy?
of course i agree coz if we dont chat, i would forget many words and i
wouldnt learn new words especially that u correct to us when we mistake in
or anything else? vocab? fluency? ..
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when u chat with native speaker u will learn some Expressions
yeah we learn some new words
learn expressions . thanks Hakim I try to use them so you can notice
thanQ susan
thats souns better for us
Khalida, do you think I correct your writing??
sounds better
yes, i think so
Asma, I would like to develop the Facebook chat for another 5 or 6 weeks,
then after that Ill try and see if we can switch to Skype
susan time to time teach us some of them
Hey, Khalida, can you give an example?
i would really be thankful if u correct my mistakes
Oh, so youre requesting that I start doing that?
skype will be better for us
Sorry Hakim, can you explain your last comment?
i think that already did with one of us, i dont remember who
Oh, you mean a correction?
sometimes I think we ask for clarification when were not sure what
someone is saying


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i told u time to time teach us some Expressions
yes and i forget to write (u)
yes, sorry
no need to say sorry!
ok, so I perhaps need to think about skype . and try to highlight
expressions when I use them

Appendix 3
How did you learn English?
Hello Khalida!
chat . .and rarely reading
hi, im sorry for being late i was at my Gmoms house
but i know that my english ist perfect ..
chat online?

Appendix 4
Do you think that writing chat on FB helps your English?
yh it is
is it improving your reading and writing, do you think?
Especially when u talk to native speaker
What do you mean?
i mean when u talk to native speaker u learn
expressing idioms . a lot of things

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But here on Facebook, in our group, we just read and write . so do you
mean that you learn idiomatic expressions in this group??
from u i mean
oh, ok, thanks.
which english so u think is easy for us american or ur english ?
I cant say which is easier for you! What do you think?
I guess you must be more familiar now with US English?
thats wt am ganna tell ya
that reads a bit American!
Do you think that writing in our FB chats helps you with your grammar and
speaking as well?
first time was sound Difficult but now i like it
yh some time when u use Sentence i dont use it i try keep it in my mind
Have you NOTICED that when I think that Im using a word that might be
new for you I type it in CAPITALS sometimes?!
i write it and try keep it
Oh thats interesting!
i Always put pen next me and be ready to write wt u say
have you noticed when I use capitals?
but when i see new word for me i write it
so it sounds like writing is useful for you
do you look at it again another time?


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Have you noticed when I question what you mean ?
or offer a corrected version of what you have written?
do u bleave me if i tald u i care it with me in my poket when i have fre time i
take look at it
I believe you!
Do you take notes in your other classes too?
each day i mimorise one or two words
Have you noticed when I question what you mean ?
or offer a corrected version of what you have written?

Aljaafreh, A. & J. P. Lantolf. (1994) Negative feedback as regulation and second
language learning in the Zone of Proximal Development. The Modern Language
Journal, 78(4), 465-483
Cox and Ainsworth (2012) In Noss, R. et al. (2012) System upgrade: realising
the vision for Uk education. Project report. London Knowledge Lab, London.
Daniels, H. (ed.) (1996) An Introduction to Vygotsky. Routledge
Ellis, R. (2012) Language teaching research and language pedagogy. Hoboken:
Freire, P. (1970, 1993) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin
Lantolf, J.P. (2006) Sociocultural theory and L2 State of the Art. Studies in
Second Language Acquisition (SSLA), 28, 67109
Minick, N. (1996) The development of Vygotskys thought an introduction
to thinking and speech. In: Daniels, H. (ed.) (1996) An Introduction to
Vygotsky. Routledge
Noss, R., Cox, R., Laurillard, D., Luckin, R., Plowman, L., Scanlon, E. and
Sharples, M. (2012) System upgrade: realising the vision for UK education.
Project report. London Knowledge Lab, London.
Pachler, N. and Daly, C. (2011) Key Issues in e-Learning: Research and
Practice. Continuum
Schmidt, R. (1990). The role of consciousness in Second Language Learning.
Applied Linguistics, 11, 129158
Schmidt, R., & Frota, S.N. (1986) Developing basic conversational ability in
a second language: A case study of an adult learner of Portuguese. In: R. R.
Day (Ed.), Talking to learn: Conversation in second language acquisition
(pp.237326). Rowley, MA: Newbury House
Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2


Swain, M. (1985) Communicative competence: some roles of comprehensible

input and comprehensible output in its development. In Gass, S. and Madden, C.
(Eds.)Input in second language acquisition.Rowley, MA: Newbury House
Swain, M. (1995) Three functions of output in second language learning. In
G. Cook and B. Seidhofer (eds.) Principles and practice in applied linguistics.
Oxford, Oxford University Press
Swain, M. and Lapkin, S. (2005) The evolving sociopolitical context of immersion
education in Canada: some implications for program development. International
Journal of Applied Linguistics. 15:2. Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in Society The development of higher psychological
processes (Eds. Cole, M., John-Steiner, V., Scribner, S., Souberman, E.)
Harvard University Press
Susan McDowell is an ESOL teacher who has worked in further education
and adult community education in the UK for 11 years. She is now teaching
in Algeria.
Email: susan.mcdowell@live.co.uk


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Social media, mobile

technology and continuing
professional development
Cathy Clarkson
Six ESOL teacher trainees/teachers and two teachers/teacher trainers
had an iPad or an iPhone for six months, engaged with social media technologies and reflected on the impact of this on their classroom practice.
Data has been taken from the ongoing group blog1 and from a group
forum at the end of the six month project. Engaging with social media
using mobile technologies has allowed tutors to become more aware of
what counts as continuing professional development (CPD) activity and
they have developed their own personal learning activities to support
themselves in developing professional excellence.

Twitter is an amazing tool for teachers, with many professionals engaging
with this social network for CPD activity. One ESOL teacher trainer at Kirklees
College noticed an instant impact on her classroom practice when she started
to use Twitter. While actively encouraging the ESOL teacher trainers on the
DTE(E)LLS course to engage in Twitter she had the idea to undertake some
practitioner research on the impact of social media and mobile technology on
trainees CPD activity.
Using a grant from the National Research and Development Centre (NRDC)
a set of iPads and iPhones were bought. A project outline was circulated to
current and past trainees:

Use twitter and other social media as a CPD tool.

Contribute to a blog post at least once a month.
Respond to a blog post at least once a month.
Take part in a group interview.

Along with the two ESOL2 trainers who delivered the CELTA3 and DTE(E)
LLS4 six DTE(E)LLS trainees, one person from year one, three from year two
and two trainees who had completed the year before volunteered to take part
in the project and self selected a device.

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CPD activity in the previous six months January 2011

MA research



CPD? What CPD? Whats CPD?

Formal training



January reflections


Own blog

For the initial post the group were asked to rank order their CPD activity from
the previous six months in terms of benefits to their classroom practice. What
is interesting about these posts is the difficulty everyone had in writing about
their CPD activity and the main theme to come out of these initial posts was
the question What CPD? or Whats CPD? Most posts started with one of
these questions before then writing what they thought counted as CPD and
whether it had been useful or not.
When I read the welcome my initial thought was, oh no I havent done
any CPD. After giving it some more thought I realised that I had sat
through quite a few training sessions but frankly couldnt think of very
many positive things to say about any of them.5
A second theme relates to formal training, almost everyone commented on
this but not always in a positive way. The most positive activity to emerge
related to discussions with fellow ESOL tutors, whether this was face to face
in work or via Twitter for those who were already engaged with it.
Like Debbie, Twitter has had a massive impact on my CPD over the last
6 months.I like it because of the take it or leave it nature of it.6
CPD activity in the previous six months June 2011
Notes and


For professional




June reflections


Gadgetry group

Professional dialogue
Use of
gadgets blog

Own blog
text, video
and photo

Written reflections

For the classroom

Develop class blogs

Face to face

Investigate use
of technology in
the classroom

Trial and error

Peer observations

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At the end of the project the same question was asked in which some similar
and some very different themes emerged.
Three clear CPD activities emerged: reading, professional dialogue and written
reflections and there was a lot of crossover between these activities. Reading
was done either with print (journals, books) or on a screen (blogs, twitter,
web articles) but the screen reading merged with the professional dialogue
and written reflections. For example, a blog post was found by following a
link from Twitter, then once having read the post a comment could either
be written on the blog itself, the link re-shared via twitter, a reply sent to the
person who originally shared the link or a conversation had in the office about
the article.
I have really enjoyed using the iPad as a tool to reflect. As many others
I use both the iPhone and iPad a lot while travelling. I have used them to
read to some degree both bitesize info (e.g. from Twitter) but also longer
articles and blogs etc.7
As well as this example of professional dialogue, taking part in this project
itself was seen as valuable CPD activity. As a group we communicated via
Twitter, chatted in the office, had face to face meetings as well as a virtual
meeting using the #kcchat hashtag.
Networking and sharing ideas: Talking to (and reading posts by) other
teachers whether at my own college, at Kirklees or on Twitter, blogs or
whatever is something I find really valuable.8
Writing reflections have taken place in a variety of places, some people
started their own blog while others have used specific apps such as Notes
or Evernote. There were also discussions within the group about whether
engaging in Twitter itself and replying to Tweets was classed as evidence of
reflection activity.
One of the biggest barriers for me when reflecting is time..However
having an iPhone means that I can type out my thought wherever I am
quickly, usually on the train home or even during the lesson. This instant
access makes reflecting much easier and less time consuming.9
The use of the mobile technologies was seen as valuable for each of these
themes. For those who used public transport the iPhone allowed them to
engage in CPD activity in what was otherwise dead time.
Technology, particularly the iphone has made accessing the stuff I want
much easier. Its meant that I can look for information immediately and
the biggest advantage for me as someone who usually spends about 2
hours a day on public transport has been that Ive been able to participate
in CPD during time that would otherwise be useless to me.
Having access to the iPhone also made writing reflections easier, as this could
also be done on the train straight after a class, and sometimes even done
within the class itself. The next page shows an example of a photo diary of a
class, showing pictures of the whiteboard as the class went on.
In addition to the three themes of reading, writing and professional dialogue
as CPD activity for the tutors, the use of technology in the classroom was
another theme. Part way through the project the group met to share and

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discuss apps they were using, and these were generally apps for ESOL
students that could be used in the classroom. However, the two tutors who
used the iPads for classroom activity concluded that having a single device for
a whole class, with no wifi access, was limited.

Themes from the group forum

Five of the six trainees attended a final meeting where the themes from the
blog were discussed along with any other issues that had arisen from the
taking part in the project.

While everyone agreed that they felt more aware of what counts as CPD
activity it was still felt that this is something that is difficult to quantify. There
were discussions around how to record CPD activity and the Institute for
Learning (IfL) expectations, current at the time, of what counts as evidence
of the difference the CPD activity has made. Some suggestions included
a higher pass rate from students, but it was then agreed that this could be
related to any number of factors, including the variety of CPD activities
engaged in. When we started to look at individual lessons that have been
different because of a CPD activity undertaken, it became clear that it is
actually very difficult to separate out different CPD activities and reflect on
these individually (as was encouraged/required by the IfL Reflect portal).


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During the forum everyone was given 10 seconds to write down the one CPD
activity that they felt had made the biggest impact on their practice during the
project and four of the six said Twitter. Further discussions centred around:
how to use Twitter as evidence of difference to practice
how Twitter shows you how much you dont know
getting new ideas, sharing ideas and experiences from Twitter.
Another tutor cited discussions with colleagues and the sixth talked about
specific DTELLS sessions.

Mobile technologies
Everyone spoke about how the mobile technologies had made access to social
media and CPD activities easier, that the amount of time on using a PC was
reduced, although useful links were sometimes emailed to read on a bigger
In term of classroom practice, when there was no other technology available
the mobile technologies were used:

to play music
show videos to small groups
for dictionary work
for checking understanding (e.g. looking on Google images)
as a voice recorder: this was sometimes planned and sometimes on the
spot activity
for some apps, although on reflection it was felt that these were not

It was felt that there was nothing radically new to doing reading as a CPD
activity but the group reported that they would rarely sit down and open a
laptop to do research. However, the mobile technology made access to the
material immediate, it was something that could be done for 5 minutes or
when you were bored and provides variety of reading via Twitter, so you can
always find something of interest to read and share.

A distinct difference between the January and June blog posts was the length.
In January people struggled to start, were questioning what CPD was and
what benefit this had on their practice. However, six months later at the end
of the project posts were significantly longer, with each participant better
able to articulate what CPD activity they had undertaken and how valuable
this had been to their practice. Formal training, that was reported as being not
so useful in January was not commented on in July, suggesting that the most
effective CPD activity is that which is self-directed by the teacher-as-learner.
Comparing the list of possible CPD activities with the Institute for Learning
suggested list shows that the group didnt do anything radically new or
different, i.e. they were reading, writing, discussing and trying new things.
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However, the mobile technology and social media give it a new twist, making
it more immediate and relevant, adding value to face to face discussions and
providing teachers with tools to direct their own learning.
Everyone engaged in varied CPD activity, and all this activity merged and
supported each other so that it seems unnatural to unpick it and talk about
individual activities and the impact each of these has on classroom practice.
This suggests that despite the IfLs best intentions to promote and support
professional excellence through continuing professional development
(CPD).10 the fact that they promoted the separation of CPD activity, through
the use of the Reflect portal to gain QTLS (qualified teacher) status, made
understanding and recognizing CPD activity difficult.
The use of Twitter has been a key CPD tool, along with having access to
mobile technologies. Twitter has provided a springboard for further reading,
writing and discussion activities, whether these have been face to face or
online. Social media has introduced an element of interactivity into a solitary
activity, creating further opportunities for collaborative teacher learning.

I want to thank all the trainees who took part in this project and for inspiring
me to try new things in my classroom, and to thank Sam Shepherd for
challenging me and always reminding me why I love what I do.
Cathy Clarkson is an ESOL teacher and teacher trainer in a large FE college
in West Yorkshire. She has a keen interest in using technology for learning
and can be found Tweeting on issues to do with #ESOL, #HEinFE and
#fridayreads @cathywint
Email: cclarkson@kirkleescollege.ac.uk

1. http://gadgetry.posterous.com/
2. ESOL: English for Speakers of Other Languages
3. CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teacher to Adults
4. DTE(E)LLS: Diploma to Teach English (ESOL) in the Lifelong Learning
5. http://gadgetry.posterous.com/its-not-all-bad-15th-dec
6. http://gadgetry.posterous.com/cpd-mel-on-14th-jan
7. http://gadgetry.posterous.com/final-post-and-i-still-havent-learnthow-to-b
8. http://gadgetry.posterous.com/final-thoughts
9. http://gadgetry.posterous.com/debbies-final-post
10. http://www.ifl.ac.uk/about-ifl/what-we-do


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What happens in
lower level ESOL classes?
Dot Powell

In April 2013 I posted a query on the ESOL-Research1 discussion forum
and message board, prompted in part by the experience of reviewing and
ultimately rejecting some first drafts of materials for lower level ESOL learners
that had been written for the ESOL Nexus project:
Im hoping the subject line will invite some responses! I am trying to
locate any action research/research into effective practice that has been
carried out into activities and approaches that are used in the classroom
specifically with low level ESOL (or indeed EFL learners). I would also be
interested to know of any CPD materials that address this issue. My own
(anecdotal) experience would suggest that these first encounters with
English are very important, and that teachers need to be quite skilled to
really manage them well, but I am having difficulty finding much on the
subject apart from the excellent work that has been done by Learning
Unlimited on teaching basic literacy to ESOL learners. I am interested in
wider aspects of language, including vocabulary, listening, speaking and
so on.
The post prompted a deluge of responses, which highlighted a whole range of
themes, concerns, examples of good practice, and requests for support from
those who teach lower level ESOL learners. As will become obvious, I had
very few responses to the actual question! This article summarizes some of
the key themes that emerged from what people said2. A full summary of the
discussion was posted on the ESOL Research discussion list in May 2013.3

What do we call the level?

I have used the term lower level ESOL learners deliberately in the title of
this article, as one of the key elements of the online debate related to what
exactly we call this level. The most common term used in England is preentry, however, many contributors were anxious to avoid this term, as the
pre-entry curriculum framework (PECF) is intended to support the basic skills
needs of people with difficulties in learning who were not yet ready to access
the ESOL Core Curriculum.Several contributors to the forum pointed out
that associating lower level ESOL learners with native speakers who have
specific learning difficulties is inappropriate (while acknowledging the fact
that many of the people-centred approaches proposed by the PECF can be
helpful when teaching lower level ESOL). In Scotland the term used is ESOL
literacies. This highlights the fact that the main need many of these learners

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have is to develop their literacy skills to the point where they are able to
confidently access the first point in the relevant curriculum framework (one
contributor suggested the term pre-literate.) This approach was supported
by those who felt that if a learner is already literate (able to read and write
Roman script), they can access the lowest level of the ESOL curriculum and
work towards the E1/Access 2 ESOL curriculum level.
Alternatively, there was quite a lot of support for the term beginners. One
respondent proposed:
Beginners 1 (non-literate in own language or literate with a different
script) and Beginners 2 (literate in first language and using same or
Finally, one respondent rounded off this aspect of the discussion nicely, by
pointing out the need to be careful about labelling learners:
I dont think we can categorise learners into pigeon holes all our
classes are so mixed in terms of educational background, literacy skills in
first language etc. thats the challenge of ESOL!

Challenges for lower level learners

and their teachers
Contributors to the discussion were keen to highlight the challenges that can
be faced by lower level ESOL learners, although all were anxious to avoid
stereotyping, or the sort of pigeon-holing mentioned in the quote above.
Several writers referred to life circumstances affecting their learners, which
can impede progress in the classroom. Factors mentioned included:
Health difficulties heart conditions, diabetes, dental work etc. and
undiagnosed eyesight and hearing problems.
Lack of contact with English speakers, except doctors and Job Centre Plus
Age many are older learners.
In addition to this, as might be expected, contributors pointed out the range of
educational factors that can be encountered in a group at this level:
Memory getting people to retain any learning from one week to the next
can be incredibly hard.
Educational history many learners have very little or an interrupted
education. For many learners it is not second chance education, but first
Learning difficulties some learners do appear to have dyslexia, which is
difficult to diagnose at this level.
Literacy quite a few are illiterate in any language and may have little
connection with the written word.
Study skills if learners are not literate in any language, they cant make
notes of the lesson to revise later, and they cant use handouts or textbooks
for homework and revision, at least in the initial stages.
This list of challenges, however, was balanced by comments from those who
were keen to emphasise their learners enthusiasm in the classroom, and their

a rt i c l e s

clear ideas about classroom priorities. In particular, there was an interesting

discussion around whether speaking and listening should be taught first.
Although some contributors supported this idea, the message from others
was that this is not what learners at this level really want:
The learners themselves want to learn to read and write and are
frustrated by my attempts to develop speaking and listening skills.

Underlying beliefs and methodology

While much of the online discussion centred around contributors first-hand
experience of working with lower level ESOL learners, thoughts also turned
to appropriate underlying beliefs and methodology for working in this context.
One particularly challenging comment came from a contributor who cited
Elsa Auerbachs work on literacy, pointing out that:
Expecting adults to acquire literacy in a new language without acquiring
it in their L1 first [is] tantamount to abuse. We need to look at ways we
can develop bilingual methodologies for teaching literacy, drawing on the
resources of our students, their communities and ourselves and start to
tackle this ongoing issue rigorously as they have done in some Spanish
speaking communities in the USA and in some programmes in Australia
and so on
Also on the topic of acquiring literacy skills, some practitioners asserted that,
in their experience, those who are already literate in one language are able
to attain reading and writing skills in a second language more easily than
those who are not yet literate in any language. Other contributors, however,
cited research which challenges this assumption. Indeed, the very concept of
skills and sub-skills has been challenged; making the transfer of skills even
more problematic.
In terms of classroom practice, several people cited the Language
Experience4 and Reflect5 approaches as being particularly helpful with
early literacy/beginner learners in that they are very much an integrated,
social practice approach to language.

Classroom methods and approaches

The discussion generated an exhaustive list of classroom ideas, ranging from
very simple to more complex descriptions of activities and procedures. A
small selection of these is listed below:
Setting early targets relating to study skills: bring a pen, turn off phones,
dont shout in class, and arrive on time.
Learning to spell personal key words before anything else, using jumbled
words or letters on pieces of card.
Matching vowel sounds and blends to the sounds.
Learners keep their own key words and letters to use every session or even
at home and use these words for writing practice to start with.
First oral exchanges: Please can I have
Making nameplates for students: Take a piece of A4 paper, fold it in three
lengthwise and writethe students name on it in large capitals then get the
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students to comeup and collect their name plates, andhelp them discreetly if
they cant read their own names.
An ESOL Volunteerprogramme where Level 1 and Level 2 ESOL learners
do a short volunteer training course and then have a volunteer placement
in a Pre Entry class.
One overarching comment provided an encouragement for teachers new to
working with lower level learners:
I think one needs to be eclectic.Experiment, try out stuff, and if itis
meaningfuland it grabs learners and works, students usually progress.

Teachers and teaching

There was general agreement that teachers working at this level need to
develop specific skills, particularly in the area of teaching basic literacy, and
in differentiation. Several respondents felt that the skills of the teacher are
critical at this level; far more so than the resources used. As one writer put it:
[its] the skill and confidence to respond to the needs of the learners in
front of you that really makes the difference
There was broad agreement that more specific training would be welcomed,
along with the opportunity for teachers to get together to discuss and share
teaching ideas. There were calls for further research and development
projects, for ongoing discussion and for new resources.

1. https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=ESOL-Research
2. All contributions are quoted anonymously. Thanks to all who took part
3. https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=ind1305&L=ESOLResearch&F=&S=&P=50371
4. http://esol.britishcouncil.org/resources-trainers/resources-trainers-2language-experience
5. http://www.reflect-action.org/reflectesol
Dot Powell is the British Council ESOL Nexus Project Director.
Email: dot.powell@britishcouncil.org


vo i c e s f r o m t h e c l a s s r o o m

Writing about the

immigration experience
Michelle Bagwell

Although I have taught English for over fifteen years throughout the United
States, I am fairly new to teaching ESL to adults. After graduating with an
MA in TESOL in May 2012, I moved from Texas to the Washington DC
metropolitan area. I worked as a volunteer for refugees, taught literacy at night
and weekends for recent immigrants, and eventually began teaching at a local
community college, Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland.
I taught a wide range of classes: listening and speaking, grammar, and
advanced writing. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching all of them, but I found
that the writing class was really difficult, both for the students and me. The
class was held for three hours, two nights a week, with a book that almost
exclusively taught through canned topics that I didnt feel were relevant to my
students lives. The students were asked to write pieces such as Directions
from the airport to your hometown for a tourist new to your country or A movie
review for one of your favorite movies. I had students that had never been to
a movie; how could they write a movie review? Furthermore, many of the
students had taken the class before and had learned some of the grammar, but
were still weak on specific writing points. They needed to write proficiently
enough to pass a college placement test in order to be able to take ESL classes
for academic credit.
After reading an article in the January 2013 IATEFL ESOL SIG Newsletter,
The challenges of learning English in a new country by Marta Pino, I was
inspired to try a more student-centred approach. Martas ESOL teacher had
provided an opportunity for her to describe her story about immigrating to
the United Kingdom. The piece about Martas move from Cuba to Spain and
finally to England was beautifully written. She wrote: Sometimes the challenge
of achieving our dreams can be an amazing, exciting and successful adventure,
but at the same time it can also be an awful, horrendous and despicable encounter.
My belief is that experiencing both of these situations can be valuable and they are
crucial to get enough confidence in order to face every step on this long and difficult
way .
After some reflection, I decided that I, too, would try a similar project with
my students. I believe that each student has a unique story to tell and this
would give them a forum to voice their struggles and successes in leaving the
countries that they knew, describe their reasons for leaving and say how they
felt in a foreign land.
I used the journal article as a model, made copies and put it on an overhead
projector. I had the students read it and then I read it to them. I asked whether
the writers experiences resonated with them and how theirs were different. I
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wanted to scaffold the project, so divided the writing tasks into several phases
so that the students would not be overwhelmed. First I asked them to write
the introduction who they are and what their home country was like. Next
I asked them to write about what it was like to move to the United States and
begin school. Finally I asked them to write what their plans were after their
This project had amazing results: I felt I got to know students on a much more
personal level. But more than this, it allowed them to put down on paper
exactly what they wanted to say. Their stories were told and validated as
amazing journeys that they had undertaken towards getting into the class that
they were sitting in.
I also felt that this was a fabulous opportunity to confer with each student
about their writing. I worked with them individually and asked about what
they had written, both out of my own curiosity and to learn more about them.
I also explained some grammatical and vocabulary choices that might allow
them to express their stories more clearly. I got to know them and their stories
better. They were given an opportunity to explain some of the perils that they
had overcome and they learned how to write.
As you can see from the following extracts, students chose to concentrate
on different parts of the task. They needed to say what was important to
them and I felt it was fine for them to do so. It was important to me and more
authentic not to force them into the confines of writing about something that
they may not feel comfortable expressing.

Antonios story
Antonio had taken this class three times before he came to me. He was bitter
because he had been unable to pass the placement test that would allow him
to take ESL classes for transferable college credit and financial aid. He was
also determined and resilient. He worked hard and his speaking and listening
skills were excellent, but he still had work to do on his writing. During the
project, we conferred on transition sentences and staying on topic. I would
ask him questions and try to show him how to stay with one story.
My name is Antonio B. Quintanilla. I was born in El Salvador and I have
three brothers and one sister. I decided to leave my country because in
the United States of America there are more opportunities for everyone.
[] In the United States it is much easier to work and study at the
When I came to the United States I first arrived in in North Carolina
with my brother and I lived in his house for three years. I used to work at
Tyson Chicken on the packaging line. Everything seemed to be perfect.
However I started to be in a rut only working and working. This wasnt
what I wanted because although I did come to the United States to work,
I also envisioned going to college and be a nurse one day.
One day my older brother, who lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland called
me to ask how my studies are going and if I was close to graduating with
my nursing degree. I explained to him that it is because I was working so
much and public transportation could never get me to class on time that

vo i c e s f r o m t h e c l a s s r o o m

it just wasnt possible. He offered for me to move to his house and told me
that there were more opportunities to work and pursue school and that
the public transportation was incredibly efficient with the buses running
every 30 minutes. I then decided to take the chance and move, but it took
me several years to raise enough money to go out there and get set up
with all of the various costs of transportation and move in expenses.
Last year was my first year at Montgomery College I took a test called
the Accuplacer which measures reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Everyone that wants to take ESL for college credit has to pass it. I have
taken it three times and failed all three of them so far. However that has
not stopped me to continue with my dreams. Im here at least. I have
more opportunities than I did in North Carolina and one day Im going to
pass that test and get into credit classes until I graduate as a nurse. Then
I will find a job which will help to pay me pay to go to a university and
eventually become a physician assistant. My dream is alive and I going to
make it a reality.
I am pleased to report that he passed the test and went on to take more
advanced ESL classes.

Johns story
John was a very proud young man from Congo. He grew up very poor and
was forced to leave school at a young age. His livelihood was playing soccer.
He came to me with writing that had many fragments and run-on sentences.
During our conferences I was able to have him read his story to me and
discover when a complete thought had been read and needed a period (full
stop). I have great hopes that John will be able to go back to the Republic of
Congo and make improvements in the government. He is a remarkable man.
My name is John Musanzi. I am from the Republic of Congo. I am from
a family of 4 brothers and 5 sisters, who are living in the capital of that
country. It is one of the richest country in the world, where you can
find diamonds, uranium, cotton and other riches that I did not quote.
Today Congo is the poorest country for political reasons. In 1997, when
Laurent Kabila took out the President Mobutu, the country should have
re-established that poor situation, because he was the one who had a
good option for that country. So in 2001, the international community is
in complicity with Rwanda, killed our President Laurent-Desire Kabila.
Then they imposed as president a man from Rwanda. Now the situation
became worse.
In 2011 I left my country because of the political situation was very bad.
They killed people that they believe have bad ideas[] In 2010 I won the
lottery to immigrate to the United States quickly and legally. I took my
opportunity to for me to move out.
I am working towards a degree in Political Science. I speak French and
my English is not very well. I want to graduate and move back to Congo
where I can help with the politics of my country.

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Doris story
Doris was an older woman from Chile. She was different from the others
because she had worked for the Chilean Embassy and lived in England for
several years. During our conferencing she explained to me that she was the
oldest child in her family and that it had always been a dream of hers to live
abroad. She had never felt free to do so until both of her parents passed away.
I speak Spanish and noticed that Doris wrote English with many of the
grammatical rules that are correct in Spanish. She would switch verb tenses
between sentences and sometimes within a sentence. While reviewing her
writing, I asked her to point out times that she noticed this and in many
instances she was able to do so. By looking for one specific error, she became
much more aware of them.
My name is Doris. I am from Chile. I came to the United States in 1998.
Ihave a big family: Brothers, sister, nephews and nieces. I am very glad to
have the opportunity to come to the United States because in this country
I can do many things.
My first challenge was to drive because here you need to drive for jobs.
Another thing I accomplished was that I returned to school [] I am
happy that I met good people in this country. The culture is a bit different
and I am trying to adapt to everything such as the food and customs
while never forgetting my own country as well.
I have good and bad times here. For example, I have enjoyed learning
about new places and meeting different people at the park, a party, or
wedding. There have also been difficult experiences. One was when I
worked as a nanny living in the familys house. The mother was jealous
because she said The little girl loves you, not me. I said Sorry, but I
stay with her all day and you are gone all day. Then she said I want you
to move out of my house. [] This was terrible because I lived there for
three years and I did love the little girl that I was taking care of while I
was there. But I did leave her house immediately. These were my most
difficult experiences since I have lived in the United States.
I want to return to my country because all of my family live in Chile. I
dont see them often and they dont have enough money to come visit me
in the United States. For that I want to return to my country. I dont know
when, but someday.

Follow up
As a follow up to this assignment I had each student interview another US
immigrant who was not a student in our class about their experience of coming
to the United States. This follow-up gave the students the opportunity to
compose questions that would elicit specific information from the interviewee
and to ask follow-up or clarification questions. Once again, while my students
were drafting the essay I conferred with them individually. They read their
writing aloud and then asked my own clarification questions when parts were
unclear. This lesson format was extremely effective because they were able to
self-correct when reading aloud and received individualized attention for their
specific grammatical and writing errors.

vo i c e s f r o m t h e c l a s s r o o m

I know that my students learned more this way than if I had blindly followed
the textbook. I also believe however, that they taught me much as well.
Everybody has a story that they want to share. To have just been there to
listen and give them a platform to talk and write meant a lot to them and

Pino, M. (2013) The challenges of learning English in a new country ESOL
SIG Newsletter
IATEFL www.iatefl.org
Michelle Bagwell has over 15 years experience teaching English to
students in primary and secondary schools throughout the United States.
She is currently teaching ESL in an Intensive English Program at the
Virginia Tech University Language and Culture Institute in Falls Church,
Email: michellebagwell@hotmail.com

ESOL Nexus and

lower level ESOL
During Year 3 of the ESOL Nexus project (July
2013July 2014) the British Council Project team
focused on lower language levels, particularly in the
area of resource development andtraining.

Low level interactive resources with support packs


Interactive training modules

Workshops on teaching low language

The interactive training module on teaching basic
literacyto ESOL learners is on: esol.britishcouncil.
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Writing the ESOL Student

Megan Rowell

This paper describes an ESOL writing project carried out with a small
group of Entry Level 3 (E3) students working on their writing skills to prepare for further education. The project included a research stage using
an online webquest to gather information, and a writing stage in which
students wrote, edited and produced an online booklet aimed at new
ESOL students starting at the college.
The project was created in response to problems that the students were
having with research and planning. These students had little or no prior
experience of planning their writing or undertaking research to gather
ideas. Similarly they found it difficult to draft and edit their work,
especially above the word level. Organising ideas, dealing with tone
and register, and thinking about the audience were new and difficult
concepts for them. The project also responded to the students need for
an authentic reader. Their motivation for writing was low, they saw it as
a way to pass exams, and had no sense of their power as writers. The
paper describes how the project was researched and devised and how the
students responded to it, as well as giving future recommendations for
undertaking writing work with ESOL learners.
Ooh, our writing? In the college? Challenge accepted!
E3 ESOL Student after being told the details of the project
In late 2012, as part of my placement for the PGCE in ESOL at Newport
University (now the University of South Wales), I was asked to work with a
small group of young ESOL students at the City of Bath College who needed
to improve their writing skills in order to prepare for further education.
The class had been created to support the students (an 18 year-old from
Libya, a 17 year-old from Poland and a 23 year-old from The Gambia, all
male) with the writing skills they would need to progress onto further or higher
education in the UK. All three had excellent speaking and listening skills and
were flourishing in their general ESOL class, but they had never had to write,
either in their own language or in English, in the way they would be expected
to at college or university. At first, the group were introduced to the kind of
writing skills you might find in an EAP (English for Academic Purposes) class,
but it was soon realised that their lack of experience in writing meant that they
needed to start in a very different place in the intricate processes involved
in writing; in planning, drafting and editing; and, most importantly of all, with
the joy and power of writing itself.


vo i c e s f r o m t h e c l a s s r o o m

After working with the group for a few months, the range of challenges they
faced began to be identified. One of the most problematic was that they had
little or no prior experience of planning their writing or undertaking research
in order to gather ideas. Similarly they found it difficult to draft and edit their
work, especially above the word level. Organising ideas, dealing with tone
and register, and thinking about the audience were new and difficult concepts
for them. However, the biggest difficulty these students faced when it came
to writing was their need for an authentic reader. Too often, they would come
into class and give their writing homework to their teacher with little or no
interest in feedback. Their motivation for writing was low, they saw it as a way
to pass exams, and had no sense of their power as writers.
It was therefore decided to create a writing project which would encourage
them to conduct effective research, support them in planning their writing in
advance, encourage them to adopt good editing and reviewing practices, and
which would, hopefully, increase their motivation and confidence.
The project consisted of two parts; the first being a research stage using an
online web quest (see http://meganrowell1.wix.com/esol-project) to gather
information; and the second a writing stage in which students wrote, edited
and produced an online booklet (see http://midd.me/ZjYm) aimed at new
ESOL students starting at the college.

Starting out
In the first stages of the project, it was felt that it was important to understand
more about the cognitive processes of writing, in order to support the learners
fully as they went through the various stages involved with composing a
text. In Process writing (1991), White & Arndt describe the act of writing
as a form of problem-solving which involves such processes as generating
ideas, discovering a voice with which to write, goal-setting, monitoring and
evaluating what is going to be written as well as what has been written, and
searching for language with which to express exact meaning. (White and
Arndt 1991:3) Note that White and Arndt are not writing specifically about
second-language learners here, therefore, if this is the process that writers in
their first languages go through, then the challenges to writers working in an
additional language must be even greater.

Supporting students needs

The project was designed to support both the students specific needs and
the Adult ESOL Core Curriculum, by using a web quest to develop scanning
and detailed reading skills when researching and looking for information;
promoting the use of brainstorms and planning scaffolds before writing;
encouraging peer reviews and peer-editing during the drafting process;
making notes during brainstorming sessions and internet research; planning
topics for individual paragraphs; and peer-discussion of tone, register and
appropriate content in collaborative editing sessions.
However, the project endeavoured to go further than simply promoting good
practice in writing skills; it attempted to empower the students as writers by
showing them that their words could inform, influence and help others. It was
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felt, through previous work with the group, that the learners did not place
any value on their writing and that they had no sense of why they produced
the writing they did, other than to become better writers, the measure of
which was entirely arbitrary. This need was met by giving the students a
tangible audience to write for, so that they were able to see both the value of
their words in the real world, and to give them a measurable goal at which to
aim. Furthermore, through the publication of their writing, it tried to boost
their confidence as writers, because, as noted by Mallows and Chester,
seeing their words in print can have an extremely positive effect on learners.
The project strived to follow the NRDCs (National Research and Development
Centre) recommendations for good practice, which are set out in their report
on Effective teaching and learning: writing (Grief, Meyer & Burgess 2007:8):

learners spend time on the composition of texts of different kinds

meaningful contexts are provided for writing activities
time is given for discussion about writing and the writing task
individual feedback and support is provided as learners engage in

These areas were addressed by giving the students a project that provided
a meaningful context, that gave them a different type of text to engage with
(the students usually worked on academic and exam writing), providing time
both before, during and after the writing process to talk about their work as a
group, and by supporting the students with both teacher and peer feedback at
every stage of composition.
In particular, the project attempted to address the NRDCs findings that ...
few teachers ask learners to engage in authentic writing tasks that have a
purpose and audience beyond the classroom (Grief et al. 2007:9) by providing
the students with an authentic audience that they could both empathise and
identify with, whilst giving them a real reason to write.

The research stage: a web quest

The web quest was designed in order to address the students issues with
research. All three students were trying to access further education and
often had to write academic essays on topics that were unfamiliar to them.
A common complaint that accompanied tasks brought by them from other
classes, was that they had no ideas and did not know what to write about.
Furthermore, when they did attempt to research, usually by using the internet,
they would print off reams of paper, attempt to read every word and soon
give up feeling overwhelmed and under-inspired.
The web quest incorporated eight tasks which the students completed within
a time limit. It was designed this way, partly because the group enjoyed
competitive activities, but also to try and promote the skill of quickly scanning
websites for specific information. In previous sessions in which ICT was used,
it was found that one of the students in particular would get very lost in
websites, taking much longer than the others to find information. To counter
this, a web quest provides learners with a structured way of using the internet


vo i c e s f r o m t h e c l a s s r o o m

within lessons, enabling them to focus on assimilating information instead of

spending time looking for sites. (Nance, Mellar and Kambouri 2007:31)
Each task asked the students to visit an authentic website and find some
information. Some tasks asked students to add ideas or thoughts of their
own. Authentic websites were used so that the students could transfer the
skills they learnt into real-world research, and to provide an opportunity
to work through the issues of total comprehension that plenty of learners
have to deal with at some point of their studies. They can be guided towards
being comfortable with understanding the content of a site and identifying
what they need to know or find out without getting bogged down in having to
understand every word on the screen. (Dudeney & Hockly 2007:29)

The writing stage: an online booklet

The next stage of the project was planning and writing the booklet. This stage
took place over several sessions and the activities were largely informed by
White and Arndts Process writing (1991) and Tricia Hedges Writing (2005).
Brainstorming sessions were held to decide on the content and a name for the
booklet. The work was then divided up by the students. All decisions were
made collaboratively by the group, with the teacher acting as a facilitator,
asking appropriate questions when it was felt that the content might be
irrelevant or cause offence. The students were also asked to consider their
audience and their specific needs as readers (in this case, ESOL students with
varying levels of English, some non-Roman alphabet users), something the
students had not done before. This was important because, as White & Arndt
note: Misjudging what knowledge and attitudes the reader shares with the
writer can result in a piece of writing which fails to communicate. At worst,
it can alienate the reader. (1991:30) It also helped to focus the students on
the idea of there being a real and diverse audience, not simply a teacher or
examiner, at the receiving end of their work.
Once the planning stage was complete, the students began writing. For the
first pages, they divided the work up equally and used their online research
and brainstorms to guide themselves. During the writing process they asked
for help from both their teacher and their peers. When they felt that they
had finished, print outs were made and the students evaluated and edited
each others work, before returning to the computers to make final edits. This
was seen as important in order to shift focus and encourage good editing
skills. Again, during this process, all decisions were handed over to the group
who were allowed to make joint decisions about content, register, grammar,
punctuation and spelling. It was felt that this was a valuable way to approach
the work because, as reported in the NRDCs Development project report
on collaborative writing, encouraging learners to write collaboratively can
have positive outcomes, not only in terms of learners confidence to write,
but also in their level of engagement with the whole process of writing from
decisions on topic or style to the checking of grammar or vocabulary. (Grief
For the last two pages, the students worked collaboratively to write the
content, with one student typing while they offered suggestions, edits and
rewordings as a group. Despite the positive findings in the NRDCs report
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(2007), it was clear from observation that this type of writing was the most
difficult for the group. They found the process frustrating, slow and tiring,
and they produced much simpler writing than previously. It seemed that
when working alone, perhaps with more time to think, the students could
communicate more complex ideas than when they were under the pressure
of writing in front of others. Furthermore, they seemed to have quite limited
patience with one another, disliked displaying weakness to the group, and
valued finishing the task quickly more than finishing it well. While it could be
argued that this is where differentiation according to learning styles should
have been considered, it could also be argued that these are perhaps cultural
and even gender or age specific styles of learning which, in order to progress
in their chosen fields, and certainly within British further and higher education,
these students may need to overcome.
The students then used an online editor (www.simplebooklet.com) to design
and produce the booklet, adding photographs they had taken for homework.
This part of the process was the most exciting for the group as they could see
their work coming to life. The booklet was then made available online using a
link (http://midd.me/ZjYm) that teachers throughout the ESOL department
were asked to share with new students on their first day. With lower level
classes it was suggested that they could use the booklet as part of a first-day
activity. Using the websites very simple interface, the students involved were
also able to email, tweet or post it on their Facebook pages.

Through researching, devising and delivering this writing project, the
following ideas can be recommended when embarking on any kind of writing
with ESOL learners:
Find out what your students need to write and why.
Try to discover what challenges your students face both with writing itself
and the types of texts they need to compose.
Work with your students strengths and weaknesses to both encourage and
challenge them.
Find an authentic audience for your students, and help them to understand
the needs of their readers.
Support your students in getting ready to write through research, web
quests, writing scaffolds and brainstorms/boardblasts.
Talk about writing, both before, during and afterwards. Encourage peer and
group editing to support students then going on to edit their own work.
Although at times the students in this group found some of the processes
frustrating, they found the idea of their work being published extremely
motivating and, when they had completed the booklet, found a great sense
of pride in their work. The findings of this project echoed those of the NRDC
(Grief et al. 2007:8), in that the most meaningful and successful writing came
from students exploring different types of texts, from writing with a purpose
and an audience in mind, and when talk and discussion formed a large part
of class time. One important finding was that the students thrived on the
feedback that came from both their peers and themselves, meaning that their
final drafts contained much more of their work than the traditional method

vo i c e s f r o m t h e c l a s s r o o m

of teacher-correction. The most important element however, was that the

students knew who they were writing for. The idea that their work would
be seen by their peers motivated them to not only work harder but to also
consider the needs of their readers and, finally, to gain confidence as writers
seeing their words in print.
My thanks go to the three students involved for working so hard with me on
this project.

Dudeney, G. & Hockly, N. (2007) How toTeach English with Technology
Harlow: Pearson Longman
Grief, S. (2007) Effective Teaching and Learning: Development Project Report:
Collaborative Writing London: NRDC
Grief, S., Meyer B. & Burgess A. (2007) Effective Teaching and Learning:
Writing London: NRDC
Hedge, T. (2005) (2nd Edition) Writing Oxford: Oxford University Press
Mallows, D. & Chester, A. (2008) Seeing Yourself In Print Reflect: The
Magazine of the NRDC, Issue 10: 25
Nance, B., Mellar, H. & Kambouri, M. (2007) Using ICT: Developing Adult
Teaching and Learning: Practitioner Guides London: NRDC
White, R. & Arndt, V. (1991) Process Writing Essex: Longman
Megan Rowell is an ESOL and EFL teacher currently living in Bristol, UK. She
has been teaching since 2009 and has taught in Bristol, Spain and Bath.
She has recently completed the PGCE Post Compulsory Education in ESOL
at the University of South Wales and is currently taking a break to raise
her young daughter.
Email: meganrowell1@gmail.com

Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2


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Book review
Improving adult literacy
instruction: options for
practice and research
Lesgold, A. M. and Welch-Ross, M. (eds.) (2012)
Washington DC: The National Academies Press
Mary Osmaston
As an ESOL teacher with little spare time to read, the title of this book might
lead you to think it was not worth your attention. Certainly Improving adult
literacy instruction does focus on literacy teaching and learning with native
English speakers, but there is also a good deal of relevance to ESOL, especially
if you work with learners whose reading and writing skills are fairly basic.
The book is the report of a committee which was commissioned by the United
States Department of Education to review the available research into learning
and literacy, in order to draw up recommendations for strengthening adult
literacy education in the USA. It is focused entirely on the American context,
where it is estimated that more than 90 million adults lack adequate literacy
skills, but has clear relevance to teaching adults with low levels of literacy in
the UK.
The survey was impressively comprehensive in its scope, investigating
research in cognitive science and neuroscience as well as education
and second language acquisition to try to identify the main factors that
affect literacy development. The findings were then analysed to make
recommendations for improving adult literacy teaching and to identify
areas needing further research. The impression I gained from reading the
book was that the committee had focused mainly on more experimental and
quantitative studies: apparently they did look at qualitative studies but found
that many of these studies seemed mainly descriptive or were unreliable for a
variety of reasons. They were also surprised to find how little research there
actually was into the effects of literacy education, given its long history of
public funding, and in particular very little on the relative effectiveness of
different teaching strategies. As there was so little useful research on literacy
with adults, the committee also looked at research carried out with children
and young people, or on learning in general, and extrapolated the conclusions
from this where they felt this was justified. This approach was used particularly
in the section on the factors that lead to effective learning, where the chapter
concludes with a useful, if rather predictable, list of effective teaching and
learning strategies.
The chapter on the foundations of reading and writing will be of interest
to ESOL teachers as it discusses strategies found to be effective in teaching


revi ew

reading and writing, and the principles behind them. Both the biological
aspects of reading and writing and the social and cultural significance of
literacy are discussed, always related to the implications for teaching. There is
a useful focus on helpful techniques for struggling learners and on the effects
of increasing age on learning to read.
Motivation and persistence with learning are not always an issue with
ESOL students, but are often more significant in learners with low levels of
literacy. Although there are some useful pointers to important issues, the
committee found that there was very little research that could support specific
recommendations about how to improve motivation, beyond the well-known
strategies of building on the learners interests and relating reading and writing
activities to their situation and needs. Similarly, they found that although there
is a good deal of research about reading difficulties (for example dyslexia) in
adolescents and adults with higher level reading abilities, there is much less to
guide us in working with students whose literacy skills are at a low level and
who also have learning or reading difficulties. However, there is some useful
discussion of the assistive technology that may be used with learners with
disabilities or reading or writing difficulties.
As learners of English form the largest sub-group amongst literacy learners
in the United States, there are references to learners of English throughout
the book, but there is also a chapter devoted specifically to this group. This
provides a good survey of some of the important issues in both language and
literacy learning, focusing on the importance of vocabulary development for
reading comprehension and on the links between first and second language
skills, and discussing the research evidence for a variety of teaching and
learning strategies. Once again, there is very limited research that focuses on
English learners with low levels of literacy, especially in their first language,
and the writers have used some of the research on young children learning
both oral and literacy skills in a second language to identify some potential
teaching approaches. This chapter also includes some discussion of ESOL
students need to improve their academic language and literacy proficiency
in order to achieve their potential in life, and describes some of the research
in this area.
No book on teaching and learning today would be complete without a section
on the use of technology. A wide range of types of technology is surveyed,
with information about research studies that relate to their effectiveness, but
there are no clear conclusions as to which technologies are likely to be most
useful for literacy teaching, on the basis that there are so many variables to
consider. However, there are some useful ideas on the use of technologies
such as gaming to promote literacy practice, recognising that the amount
of practice that learners have is one of the most significant factors in their
literacy development.
There is plenty in the book that is worth reading for an ESOL teacher,
especially if you work with students with low literacy skills. One of the aims
of the project was to identify areas needing further research, and plenty of
these are identified. The reference list runs to over a hundred pages and would
be a valuable resource for anyone conducting their own research in this area.
The lack of directly relevant research in some areas may seem discouraging,

Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2


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but the book does provide very many useful analyses of the existing research
and its application to teaching and learning. It would be particularly useful if
you are looking for a more in-depth understanding of the reading and writing
process and the development of literacy. In addition, the book contains many
evidence-based recommendations for practice, which are accessible quickly
via the summary sections and in more detail in the main body of the text.
And finally, although the book itself is expensive, you can download a free
pdf from The National Academies Press at http://www.nap.edu/openbook.
Mary Osmaston is a senior lecturer and teacher educator at the University
of Central Lancashire and co-chair of the NATECLA Teacher Training
Working Party.
Email: mosmaston@uclan.ac.uk


Acknowledging the autonomy,

creativity and criticality our
studentsbring with them

A free one-day conference on Tuesday 1July 2014

Department of English & Language Studies,
Canterbury Christ Church University
Invites papers on:
students' autonomy, critical thinking and creativity
recognising students' existing linguistic ability and
cultural competence
how professional practice can sometimes get in the way
ofseeing the potential students bring with them
other related themes.
Papers will be 20 minutes plus ten minutes for discussion.
Deadline for abstracts Wednesday April 2nd 2014
Please email your abstract of 150 words, plus name,
affiliation, title to: cuttingedges@canterbury.ac.uk
Abstract forms, registration forms and other information at

Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2



Language Issues is published by NATECLA

Advisory Board

National Association for Teaching English and

other Community Languages to Adults

Elsa Auerbach
University of Massachusetts Boston
Mike Baynham
University of Leeds
Ron Carter
University of Nottingham
Guy Cook
Open University
David Crystal
University of Wales, Bangor
Pamela Frame
Institute of Education University of London
Jennifer Jenkins
University of Southampton
Braj Kachru
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Robert Leach
ESOL consultant
Barry OSullivan
Roehampton University
Mario Rinvolucri
Pilgrims Language Courses
Celia Roberts
Kings College, London
Sheila Rosenberg
Independent ESOL writer/researcher
Philida Schellekens
ESOL Consultant
James Simpson
University of Leeds
Tove Skutnabb-Kangas
bo Akademi University, Vasa, Finland
Helen Sunderland
ESOL Consultant
Arturo Tosi
Royal Holloway, University of London
Mahendra K Verma
University of York
Catherine Wallace
Institute of Education University of London
Bencie Woll
University College London

Jane Arstall
NATECLA National Centre
South and City College Birmingham
Hall Green Campus
Cole Bank Road
Birmingham b28 8es
ISSN 0263-5833
Copyright remains with the author. No fees paid.
Guidelines for authors can be found at http://
Design and production: Waysgoose, Southampton
Printed by MWL, Pontypool
Cover full page 250
Inside full page 200
Inside half page 150
Contact Jane Arstall at
Dr Balasubramanyam Chandramohan
Editorial Board
Rakesh Bhanot
Sally Bird
Jo-Ann Delaney
Naeema Hann
Alison Schwetlick

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Language Issues Volume 24 Number 2 2014

Language Issues
The journal of NATECLA

Volume 24 Number 2 2014

R Esearch reVIEW


The paradoxes of language

learning and integration in
theEuropean context

Authentic spoken texts


p eer reviewed articles

Correction, feedback and

learning in online chat

Maintaining language
standardisation through

Social media, mobile technology

and continuing professional

What happens in lower level

ESOL classes?

oices from
Writing about the immigration
Writing the ESOL student
Improving adult literacy
instruction: options for practice
and research