Language is the only key that could open the doors of a particular culture when it comes to accessing its treasure trove of literature, history, and philosophy. It is impossible to know more about a people group’s way of life, if an outsider is unable to grasp the basic rudiments of their language. It would be impossible to understand how a certain society has been formed and how it is being sustained without a basic ability to use the language. It is the code breaker, an interpreter and investigative tool rolled into one. When it comes to the English language its importance goes beyond that of a code breaker and interpreter because it is the lingua franca of the modern age. The one who can speak the language does not only have access to the culture of the English speaking world; the person proficient in the said language also have the capability to create a massive network that ps all over the globe. This is due to the fact that English is spoken by many hundreds of millions of people. The person desiring to learn English must seek out an institution or a teacher that knows the importance of using appropriate language based on pedagogic purposes.
Before going any further it is important to point out that the existence of superb curriculum and a set of effective teaching techniques have no value unless a passionate and knowledgeable teacher comes along to pick up and use these tools. These are just tools and nothing more. It is the teacher with dedication and clear understanding of his or her purpose that can infuse energy and intelligence into an EFL classroom making it an effective place for learning a second or even third language.
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It all begins with the realization that the teacher has the power to change the learning environment depending on the need. The teacher is not only the drill sergeant but also the coordinator, dictating the pace of the learning process while at the same time expertly using all the resources at his or her disposal to create a particular classroom dynamic that increases the capability of the students to learn and master a foreign language.
Although the teacher has mastered the English language to such an extent that he can teach it to others does not mean to say that the teacher is the centre of the EFL classroom universe. It is crucial to appreciate the importance of collaboration. It is always advantageous to work with other English teachers. But more importantly it is imperative to be kept abreast of new teaching practices. One of the most helpful is the idea that teachers learn to use appropriate language in EFL classrooms.
The key word here is context. The following are some of the definitions of context such as: “the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines meaning” (Walsh, 2011, p.24). The second definition focuses on the circumstances in which an event occurs; a setting (Walsh, year, p.24). And the third definition is states as the “parts of a piece of writing, speech, etc., that precede and follow a word or passage and contribute to its full meaning” (Walsh, 2011, p.24).
Appropriate Language Use in EFL classrooms
The most important skill to develop is the ability to use appropriate “teacher talk”, which is the speech that is comprehensible to the students but not oversimplified (Richards & Farrell, 2011, p.16). The assertion that it is imperative for EFL teachers to use appropriate language may be confusing at first glance. The objective of learning institution like EFL is to teach the English language to a non-native speaker. Naturally, the teachers would have to use the English language as a medium of instruction. Thus, it requires clarification when scholars pointed out the need to evaluate the language use in the classrooms.
Upon close examination the meaning of the phrase “appropriate language use” has to be interpreted in the context of EFL. It is the use of metalanguage to teach another language. In this case metalanguage can also be symbols and other expressions that the teachers can use with other teachers to help them evaluate the teaching style. The metalanguage can be seen as common language shared by teachers in EFL and this can be used to unify all the strategies and techniques. Problems are to be expected if teachers cannot find common ground and the “lack of an agreed metalanguage makes the processes of comparison and generalisation practically impossible, as the constructs used have different meanings” (Walsh, 2011, p.109).
A metalanguage can be developed using a research tool called the self-evaluation of teacher talk or SETT (Walsh, 2006, p.133). This is a framework that can be constructed by teachers or administrators to evaluate teacher talk or how they interact with their students (Housen & Pierrard, 2005, p.217). An example of SETT framework is the use of audio-recordings of what transpired within an EFL classroom. In other cases teachers uses video cameras to record the activities within the classroom. Aside from using the SETT framework, teachers must engage in reflective practices with other colleague or professionals in order to clearly evaluate teaching techniques and strategies in an EFL environment (Walsh, 2011, p.147).
Another way to discover the appropriate language for EFL is to carefully analyse feedback coming from students, fellow teachers, and collaborative teams. The students are the primary source of feedback. The teacher does something in the classroom and he or she immediately sees the reaction of the student. This comes in the form of a questions, a confused expression on their faces, or the excitement of learning as evidenced by their happy chatter. Feedback also comes from the results of exams and various tests to determine student progress.
Another way to benefit from feedback is to learn from the experience of other teachers. In the faculty room or in other formal meeting fellow teachers that are also part of an EFL program shares the challenges and the triumphs that they had faced in the classroom. There are also occasions when a more experienced EFL instructor gets to observe another while teaching and offers a feedback regarding on areas that requires improvement.
One expert pointed out the reason for doing collaborative work and he wrote that collaborators “may wish to create an environment in which learners, teacher and researchers are teaching and learning from each other in an equitable way (a trend which is enhanced by the growing interest in action research); or they may wish to experiment with ways of incorporating principles of learner-centredness into their programs” (Nunan, 1992, p.162).
One way to apply the principles inherent in collaboration is to create teaching teams. If ESL teachers opt to create one the best way to start is to choose what kind of team the collaborators needed. The following are some of the common types of teams: a) Team Leader Type; b) Associate Type; c) Master Teacher/Beginner Teacher; and d) Coordinated Team Type (Nunan, 1992, p.163).
In the Team Leader Type one of the team members has a higher status as compared to the others. Thus, the team leader may have a title given to her to formalise the formation of the team and he or she acts as the overseer as well as provide the general direction the team is headed. The Associate Type there is no in the team that has special status and any useful information generated by the team is the result of interaction among equals.
The Master Teacher / Beginner Teacher is like assigning a mentor to a new teacher. This is also an effective tool because it speeds up the learning process especially when it comes to finding out the appropriate language to be used within an EFL classroom. The only drawback to this type of collaboration is that it does not add value to the veteran teacher. The Coordinated Team Type does not focus on the creation of joint responsibility, instead it is the sharing of resources by two different teachers assigned to teach two different groups of students.
Aside from student feedbacks and the teaching tips that one can receive from fellow teachers, another way to analyse feedback is to develop a collaborative geared towards learning more about appropriate language use. Team work in this case provides a better chance of discovering flaws in teaching since it is a concerted effort. Efficiency in the learning process can be achieved making it easier to change teaching style to produce more satisfactory results.
Appropriate language used must be top priority because teachers may have a false understanding of the real marks of success. The teacher may come to believe that if he or she has completed all the lessons that must be taught in a given time frame then that is the mark of progress. The real measurement for success is the ability of students to communicate effectively and oral fluency in the English language. This must be the standard.
The failure of appropriate language use is based on the inability of teachers to evaluate their skills and the needs of their students. It is therefore crucial to have tools that would inform the teachers on the areas that they need to improve on. At the same time they need to know the weakness of their students. And finally they need to develop appropriate teaching methodologies to increase their efficiency.
The use of the SETT framework is made more effective if the teachers are aware that there are four major modes of learning strategies that can be employed in the classroom and these are: a) managerial mode; b) materials mode; c) skills and systems mode; and d) classroom context mode (Walsh, 2003, p.3). The pedagogic goals of the managerial mode is to transmit information. This is achieved by having an extended teaching turn and the negative result is the absence of contribution from the students.
The materials mode’s pedagogic goal on the other hand is to elicit response to a particular material. This is achieved by the extensive use of display questions and the use of scaffolding. The skills and systems mode on the other hand focuses on the need to enable students to produce correct form. This is also achieved by allowing teacher to dominate the discourse. The classroom context mode has a different pedagogic goals than the other three because its emphasis is to enable the students to express themselves clearly and to establish a context. This is why the strategy used is extensive learner turns.
One of the factors that enable people to master a particular language or a local dialect is described as the “exposure to rich and contextually appropriate input” that resulted in the development of pragmatic competence in the said target language (Soler, 2008, p.45). This is what happens when a child learns the predominant language used in the home. The child observes the facial expressions and listens to the conversation made by adults. For instance, in a dinner table the father gestures to a plate of food and utters the request to pass the plate to him and the child takes note of the language used in that particular event. At the same time the child mimics the adults, speaking the same words and he or she receives feedback. In both instances one can see a contextually appropriate input that facilitates the learning process.
In the case of the person learning a foreign language within the four walls of a classroom, the same environment that produces contextually appropriate input is usually absent. As a result there is a need to recreate the same experience in a practical manner. Thus, there are many practitioners in the field of EFL that are happy about the use of audiovisual materials. In this way the EFL teacher can provide learners with “samples of appropriate language use in a variety of contexts” (Soler, 2008, p.245).
The problem is made more evident when a foreign language teacher attempts to teach English using conventional methods. One conventional approach is the use of a dictionary to learn new words. The weakness of this approach was summarised by a foreign language (FL) expert who wrote that a child learning his native tongue is “exposed to words in a variety of different contexts, and can so from a well-rounded concept of both the word’s meaning and its use … there are also many excellent human dictionaries in the form of parents and teachers, who are frequently asked to give explanations for new words” (Lochtman & Kappel, 2008, p.78). The same cannot be said in an EFL environment where the students usually know one person able to speak the language in a proficient manner. Thus, they can only interact with this person on a limited basis hampering the speed and efficiency of the learning process.
The teachers must be trained in the principles of interactional awareness (Cummins & Davidson, 2007, p.954). There is also the need to promote activities that would help teachers detect errors in language use (ibid). At the same time there is the need to encourage teachers to study the theories that supports their pedagogical practice (ibid). It is also important to look at the cultural context of the classroom because culture creates the frame for viewing interaction (Wolfram, Adger, & Christian, 1999, p.84).
Appropriate Language Use in Conjunction with EFL classroom techniques
Before going any further it is important to point out that English is both the focus of learning as well as the medium of instruction. This stems from the fact that “English is both the target of learning as well as the medium of teaching” (Richards & Farrell, 2011 p.16). It is therefore crucial that proficiency in this language is the top priority of the teachers. According to experts, “It will influence many crucial aspects of teaching such as the ability to provide good language models (Richards & Farrell, 2011, p.16). After teachers are aware of their need to improve proficiency the next step is to determine appropriate language usage in the EFL classroom.
The use of the SETT framework enables the teachers to detect errors and to improve the language use in the classroom. But it was also discovered by experts that the ability to develop appropriate language is not only based on what the teachers have learned from the feedback coming from colleagues or even experts in the field of second language acquisition. Interestingly the enhancement of teaching techniques when it comes to appropriate use of language can only be achieved if the teacher allows student participation. In this regard it is time to seriously consider the managerial mode of teaching and allow students to participate more in discussion.
It is therefore important to allow them to speak and to encourage the learning of the spoken language first before mastering written communication. Experts are saying that it was only recently that there was a renewed interest and awareness of the “importance of the study of spoken language and a realization that this study is essential for any real understanding of actual language use” (Cummins & Davidson, 2007, p.860).
Aside from these benefits the preference of student-teacher discourse as to written communication in learning a second language is based on the insight that each language has its own “preferred strategies for aural decoding” (Carter & Nunan, 2001, p.8). This is crucial in an EFL classroom when there is the realisation that the ability to speak fluently in English is one of the signs that a program has been a success. Just to clarify the following are the four fundamental properties of spoken language and underscores the importance of encouraging verbal interaction in the classroom and these are:
Phonological system: the phonemes used in a particular language;
Phonotactic rules: the sound sequences that a language allows to make up syllables;
Tone melodies: the characteristic variation in high, low, rising and falling tones to indicate lexical or discourse meanings;
The stress system; the way in which lexical stress is fixed within an utterance (Carter & Nunan, 2001, p.8).
One of the ways to apply insights about spoken language in the EFL classroom is to utilise the turn-taking technique. According to practitioners teachers and students can learn from observing people conversing and using turn-taking as a process of communication. This enhances the teachers’ ability to evaluate teacher-talk.
One of the most important developments with regards to the need for appropriate language use in EFL is the creation of a teaching methodology known as task-based language teaching or TBLT. This was derived from Communicative Language Teaching and the main purpose was to “bring ‘real-world’ contexts into the classroom, and it emphasises the use of language for completing tasks rather than as a focus for study” (Walsh, 2011, p.26).
By using TBLT, the students are able to interact with others and enhance the learning process when it comes to the acquisition of a foreign language. It simulates what happens in the real world where people use language not to study it but to accomplish a task. In the course of using TBLT techniques such as oral communicative tasks students are able to identify gaps in their knowledge as well as “notice connections between different linguistic features, find ways of saying something even when they do not have the most appropriate language, and so on” (Walsh, 2011, p.27).
A good example of a BLTB inspired communicative task is to assign students into groups and give them a situational problem that they need to solve. One of the best examples is the situational problem involving the crash of a light-aircraft in a remote island in the Pacific. The two passengers survived but they have to choose wisely what to bring with them as they leave the plane and walk towards the clearing or the shore. The items are: parachute; knife; flashlight; matches; mobile phone; mobile phone charger; notebook; pencil; shaving kit; make-up kit; one apple; cigarettes; a bottle of lotion; airplane radio; and a bottle of water. The instructions further states that they can only bring five items with them.
The items are words that they encounter in their readings or words commonly used in the real-world conversation and by engaging themselves in this problem solving exercise they go beyond mere memorisation of the words and learning the definition. Their minds are engaged in a deeper level and therefore learning is enhanced in a manner that can never be duplicated in a simple classroom type discourse.
It is also important to provide opportunities for students “for interactive and collaborative uses of language among learners” (Richards & Farrell, 2011, p.16). According to one practitioner in the field of intercultural language use a communicative methodology is to “acquire the necessary skills to communicate in socially and culturally appropriate ways, and, in the learning process, focus should be placed on functions, role playing and the real situations, among other aspects” (Soler, 2008, p.59). “Play has been noted as valuable in helping pupils’ development of oracy and literacy skills … the normal practice during structured play sessions was to encourage pupils to respond to their experiences using the language at their disposal at the time” (Beaumont & O’Brien, 2000, p.16).
An example of structured play is when students are told to participate in a make-believe game where they are supposed to buy fruits and vegetables from a shopkeeper. Thus, instead of just teaching them about fruits and vegetables and showing these items in visual presentation format, the students are now able to exercise the ability to use the language in a practical matter. It can also be argued that the structured play enables them to participate in manner that is more intense as compared to sitting back and merely listening to the teachers speak. In this type of scenario the students learn more than just the words but also the feel of the language when spoken in a natural setting.
One of the foundational principles is the realisation that “language is based on and is an extension of spoken language” thus it must be the starting point in the study of language (Cummins & Davidson, 2007, p.859). However, in the latter part of the 20th century teachers did not pay careful attention on developing training strategies to teach language from a verbal standpoint. The reason for neglect was that “spoken language was seen as disorganised, ungrammatical, and formless and written language as highly structured and organised” (Cummins & Davidson, 2007, p.860). This is the preferable course of action as one keeps in mind that in an EFL environment “there are only a few proficient speakers of English and there is no constant verbal interaction as in a native-speaking environment” (Lochtman & Kappel, 2008, p.78).
The acquisition of a second language hinges on different factors. The effectiveness of the teaching strategy used and the speed of acquisition depend on the proficiency of the teacher when it comes to using the English language as the medium of communication. It is also affected by the classroom environment and the cultural setting. But the most crucial factor is the appropriate use of language in order to facilitate learning.
It has been discovered that the inappropriate use of language is based on the fact that teachers in an EFL classroom sometimes treat their students as if they are native speakers. A native speaker has a different mode of learning English because they have access to parents, teachers, and other people that are proficient in the English language. In the case of students studying English in a foreign land there is only one person that is proficient in the English language and he or she happens to be the teacher. The teacher therefore has to be sensitive to this fact.
It is therefore important that the teacher be sensitive to the way he or she teaches especially when it comes to the appropriate use of language. The detection of errors and the measure of effectiveness can be achieved by using the SETT framework. This tool enables the teacher to evaluate “teacher-talk” by using strategies and methods that capture feedback and then evaluate the same. The use of audio recording devices and even videotape is an important took for this particular purpose.
The use of the SETT framework can be made more effective if the teacher is aware of the four modes of learning strategies used in the EFL. By doing so the teacher would discover that the managerial mode is a problematic approach because it limits the capability of the teacher to evaluate “teacher-talk” and at the same time limits the ability of the teacher to determine the feedback coming from the students. This is based on the fact that the managerial mode encourages teacher to dominate the classroom discourse.
The study of the four modes of teaching would reveal that the classroom context mode is the best way to promote learning. In this mode the students are allowed to participate. In this method of teaching the teacher enables the student to express themselves more effectively. At the same time it promotes oral fluency. If one thinks about it this is the main goal of teaching English to foreigners and it is to make them more fluent in the English language.
Another interesting discovery in the discussion regarding the appropriate use of language is that the teacher cannot develop the correct materials or use the appropriate teaching method if the teacher does not enable collaboration between students and teachers and among themselves. It is easy to understand why students must be given time to express themselves in the classroom setting but it is another to consciously develop a strategy to allow them to speak by taking turns.
The strategy of allowing them to speak in turns provides the ability to learn the language in a deeper way. If the students are merely allowed to speak on their own then there are nuances of the language that they are unable to detect and appreciate. But when they are allowed to talk with fellow students they uncover something that the teachers may not be able to discuss in class.
Experts pointed out the fact that when students began to collaborate and discuss in the English language they begin pinpoint gaps in their knowledge. In the managerial mode of teaching and even in the materials mode of teaching the students are focused on the teacher and the materials. The goal is to mimic the teachers and at the same they are conscious of being able to copy the forms of the language displayed. As a result students become experts in mimicry such as copying the sounds made by the teacher or the ability to copy the letters of the English alphabet and yet when it comes to the things that really matter they fail.
Students must not only be able to recite properly but they also have to fully understand the words that they are saying. They must not only be aware of the vague definition of the words that they are saying but also the different meanings of a word in different contexts. Experts agree that this can be done in a conversation. It is therefore crucial that teachers promote the spoken language as well as the written forms of communication.
One of the most effective means to promote learning is to use situational problems that enable students among themselves. This is not just an ordinary discussion but structured interaction that allows them to focus on common words and then provide them the opportunity to use these words in a “real-world” context. There is a different feel when students discuss a scenario using the target words as opposed to simply reciting these words as the teacher flashed them in a projector or when these items are displayed in a visual presentation.
By observing the students in collaborative exercises and by listening to feedback coming from different sources, the teacher identifies weaknesses in the teaching methodology. The teacher can then proceed to make adjustments and then repeats the process of evaluation. The goal is to improve the ability of the students to express themselves and to promote oral fluency. The students must be able to identify the meanings of the words in different contexts and use the words in a “real-world” setting. The conventional methodologies used in the past must be revised. The focus on materials and the way teachers dominate classroom discussion has been proven ineffective.
It is imperative that teachers are well aware of appropriate language use. They must realise that simply sticking to a plan does not produce students that are proficient in the English language. They must use all the available tools in order to evaluate “teacher-talk” and by doing so update their teaching techniques and strategies. Interestingly, the ability of the teacher to improve his or her skills in the use of appropriate language in an EFL environment is also dependent on the collaboration of teacher and students. Thus, it is also crucial that teacher allow students to speak in class and to interact with fellow students. It is only through these strategies that teachers are able to determine which areas they are deficient and then proceed to correct their errors.
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