In 1985, Braj Kachru published a book called 'Standards, Codification and Sociolinguistic Realism: The English Language in the Outer Circle'. In it, he placed the world's Englishes into one of three concentric circles: the inner circle, which is composed of those countries where English is the first, or dominant, language; the outer circle, represented by those nations where English, although not the mother tongue, has played an important role for a significant period of time; and the expanding circle where English is used as a lingua franca, and is therefore widely studied as...

I feel for test designers. They have an impossible task. To design a test of language proficiency that is considered valid and reliable by the various stakeholders involved in the testing process. This is particularly true of the test takers themselves. And it was in relation to these people that two stories recently caught my eye. The first related to a native English speaking Irish woman with two university degrees who had her visa application for Australia rejected after she failed a computerized English speaking test. Inexplicably, she managed...

'Trousers' or 'pants'? 'Lift' or 'elevator'? 'Colour' or 'color'? 'Theatre' or 'theater'? Which lexical item do you use? Which form of spelling do you opt for? Do you teach 'American' or 'British' English? Or both? How do you decide what to teach? Does it matter? Well, according to some recent research, it does matter, and if current trends continue, it might matter even more in the future. The study, called The Fall of the Empire: The Americanization of English, analyzed over 15 million digitized books published between 1800 and 2010,...

I want to talk about Spaced Repetition. What it is, how it applies to language learning and what we can do to cater for it in our teaching. First of all, let me tell you how I normally acquire new vocabulary in Portuguese. I come across an unfamiliar word in a conversation or in a text I am reading or listening to. If I am feeling suitably inclined, I might bother to clarify the meaning of the new word, using whatever resources are at my disposal. And then, more often...

When you think of Finland, what comes to mind? Naked saunas? Ice fishing? Smoked fish? Nokia? What might also spring to mind is a highly successful education system. Successful in terms of academic attainment, the number of students leaving school and entering higher education, and levels of satisfaction amongst pupils, parents and teachers. What makes Finland so special? A number of factors have been identified. Amongst which are: • Teaching is a highly respected, well-paid profession • There are no school inspections or teacher evaluations • The school system is highly...

First we had industrialization. Then this was followed by electrification, which in turn preceded the age of digitalization. And now, apparently, we are accelerating at what seems like breakneck speed towards what the International Bar Association calls the 'Industrial Revolution 4.0'. This fourth industrial revolution is being, and will be, marked by dramatic changes in the way people live, socialize and work. The driving forces behind this massive shift are the rapid developments in robotics and 'deep thinking' software. As a result of these developments, a January 2017 report from the...

I went for a meeting last week with a woman who was interested in having English lessons. She said she needed to improve her English as the company she worked for had just signed a lucrative contract with an American firm. In all respects, she was an uninhibited and confident person who held a high flying position within the company. She was used to dealing with people on a daily basis and speaking in public forums was part and parcel of her job. However, she said that when it...

During the final grading meeting of a CELTA course I was assessing recently, one of the tutors asked me about the extent to which a trainee's language should be taken into account when deciding on a final grade. It is an issue which has come up again and again in recent years, especially since the internationalization of teacher training courses like the CELTA. It is an issue which goes to the very heart of how the language has been transformed by globalization, with some commentators now referring to 'globish'. It also raises the question...

Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks in London, visiting family and friends. I also took the opportunity to assess a CELTA course over there. In one of the pre-intermediate lessons I was observing there were a good many Japanese and Brazilian learners. These students seemed to be playing their stereotypical roles to a tee. Whereas the Brazilians tended to be outspoken, extrovert, and more fluent at the expense of accuracy,  the Japanese learners were cautious, introverted, and less fluent but more accurate. Watching the classroom scene...

One phenomenon I have noticed over the past two years is the noticeable rise in the number of 'elderly' people wanting to have English lessons (by 'elderly' I am using the US Census bureau's definition of anyone over the age of 65). A combination of factors have probably led to this increase in interest. These factors are related to health, digital technology and the rapidly changing job market. Firstly, and most obviously, people are living longer. People also now have higher expectations of a longer life. Secondly, as life expectancy rises...

I was asked recently what I did for a living. I replied that I was a freelance teacher and teacher trainer, working for an assortment of organizations, companies and individuals.  However, what I am part of is the 'gig economy'. A 'gigger', if you like. But what is it, and how will it affect English language teaching in the future? Gig work originally referred to jazz club musicians in the 1920s, who would ply their trade working in different clubs, more often than not without any form of social...

I asked an investment fund manager recently what were the big investment opportunities in Brazil at the moment. He replied that without doubt he would invest in the health and educational sectors. He specifically mentioned online courses, whether or not they are blended, as showing great potential for growth in the future, although he added that this would be a longer term investment, rather than short term. When I told him that the experience I have had with online courses has been mixed in terms of success, he didn't...

My son is learning to read. I sit with him as he tackles a short text. He approaches each word warily, vocalizes each individual letter, and then connects all the sounds together to pronounce the word. It’s a slow process. He stumbles over the words; his intonation is out of sync; and he sometimes gets it wrong. He has particular problems with consonant clusters (tr, fl, sp, etc). It has again made me realize how difficult it is to pronounce a word from its written form, whilst trying...

I was recently asked to give a workshop on interaction patterns  It seemed that the teachers at the school were not using a sufficient variety of them, and that this was affecting the effectiveness of the lessons. This is not an uncommon criticism. I have lost count of the number of times in feedback that I have had to ask why the teacher did not take the opportunity to change the interaction patterns. A common reply to my query more often than not is, 'I forgot'. It appears that in a large...

I think that we can all agree that learning a language is a complex process, involving complex systems. By complex systems, I mean a process of complex behavior which emerges from a few simple rules. All complex systems are networks of many interdependent parts which interact according to those rules. It is a process which is neither linear, nor incremental. This contrasts with the input hypothesis theory, which has been the prevalent paradigm over the last twenty years or so. The basic premise was that input would be processed,...

You have probably heard of the PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) tests. They are standardised tests of reading, science and mathematics, which are designed to allow comparisons of  educational attainment around the world. Well, it appears that the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the organisation which runs the tests, is likely to introduce another set of tests in 2018, which will measure what the OECD calls 'global competence'. The OECD defines 'global competence' as: "the capacity to analyse global and intercultural issues critically and from multiple...

There was some interesting news last week. Scientists at Berkeley University in the United States have mapped out how the brain organises language. Their 'semantic atlas' shows how the meaning of  vocabulary is organised into different regions of the brain. In the past, it was believed that information about  words' meanings was represented in a region of the brain called the 'semantic system'. However, this recent study shows that this intricate network is spread right across the outer layer of the brain called the cerebral cortex, which plays a key...

Something a student of mine said recently got me thinking. She told me that her English teacher at school had told her, and the class, that you should never translate the names of monuments and landmarks into the target language. Therefore, according to the teacher, the Pao de Acucar must never be translated as Sugar Loaf and Cristo Redentor must never, under any cirmcumstances, be translated as Christ the Redeemer. Upon hearing this, a number of questions popped into my head. Why did the teacher limit his dictate...

What is complexity theory and how does it accommodate up to date beliefs about how languages are acquired, and new approaches to teaching like task based learning and dogme approaches? Until recently, theories about language acquisition have been dominated by the cognitivists, such as Krashen, Long and Chomsky. The basic premise was that input would be processed, and hypotheses made, which would then result in output where the hypotheses could be tested. This process was said to be innate, and relatively fixed. Coupled with this was the idea that...

Recently, I was asked to lead an in-service session on Pronunciation. I was given about an hour and a half to cover sentence stress, intonation, features of connected speech, word stress and phonemes. Not an easy task considering how much is involved in articulating speech. Maybe we under-estimate it? For 'teaching' pronunciation encompasses much more than just modelling and getting the students to repeat. I  started off by telling the participants that I have lost count of the number of times, when observing teachers in action, that I have...

One of the beautiful things about language is that it is always changing, and therefore, as teachers of English, we need to ensure that we change with the times.  What would you say therefore to a student of yours who says that they do not want to be referred to by the pronouns 'she' or 'he'? Which has increasingly been the case in educational institutions in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and probably other countries as well. As 'transgender' people (a person whose gender is different from...

One of the pleasures of teaching private students is helping them negotiate the mindfield of school exams. I was doing so with one fourteen year old last week. Part of the language she had to revise were the first and second conditionals. Learners in my experience find these structures grammatically challenging, which they are, due to the amount of gramatical processing involved. However, in my opinion they shouldn't find the meaning as difficult to grasp as it is similar to Portuguese. But some do, and I put this down...

Yesterday, the results of an interesting study (the National Study of Online Charter Schools) were released. The findings are particularly relevant to all those involved in education (teachers, lawmakers, education providers, etc). The report, from researchers at the University of Washington, Stanford University and the Mathematica policy research group, found that those students doing online courses in 'virtual classrooms' are doing less well academically than those who attend conventional schools, with face to face contact with teachers. Researchers found that only 2% of online schools outperformed their conventional equivalents in...

I have heard it being called 'emerging language' and 'incidental language'. However, I prefer 'emerging unplanned language ' (EUL) as 'emerging language' is often used in a wider language acquisition sense and 'incidental' can imply something of minor consequence, which it is not. If anyone has an existant word, or a better one, then please let me know. So what are we talking about? I am referring to the language which arises during the actual delivery of the lesson. The language which is 'unplanned', so to speak. The language...

I want to talk about drilling. To be more specific, repetition drills. A repetition drill is a technique, which involves the students listening to a model of a word or phrase, usually provided by the teacher, and then repeating it. The original rationale for repetition drills was based on a behaviourist view of language learning. The idea that learning a language was a question of habit formation and that repeating words and phrases ad nauseam would result in mastery of the language. This view of language learning has since been...

If you look up the word ´mantra´ in a dictionary, you will probably come across one of two defintions. Firstly, it can be a sacred verbal formula used in Hinduism, which is repeated in prayer or meditation. Or secondly, it is a commonly repeated word or phrase, which often becomes a truism, regardless of its validity. Both definitions can be applied to language teaching. I recently helped run a CELTA course here in Brazil. In the final fourth week of the course, I decided to ask the trainees what...

I was giving a lesson the other day to a group of students on the topic of pet hates. The students had to make a list of their pet hates and then compare with their partner in order to find out if they had anything in common. I then asked the learners what some of their pet hates were. Traffic, queuing, rain, and warm beer all came up. And then one student said, "people who don´t listen". People who don´t, or who are incapable of listening is also one...

I've been using quite a lot of translation recently. Maybe it's because I've forgotten what was drummed into me when I did my CELTA course all those years ago, or maybe because when used discernibly, it can be a very useful learning technique. Translation from the mother tongue into the target language has been much maligned. And I'm not surprised, to be honest. I well remember hours spent in my French lessons at school, agonizingly trying to translate stories about Marie Claire and Jean Pierre into English. However, I think...

Do you know, or do you remember, what a typical lesson plan template looks like? Let me just remind you just in case. Although plans vary slightly, they are invariably divided up into four or five columns, headed by ´Stage Name´, ´Interaction´, ´Stage Aims´, ´Procedures´ and maybe ´Materials´. What I really want to touch upon in this post is not lesson plans but stage aims, and the importance of having clear stage aims in mind both at the planning stage and at the moment of teaching, and some of...

Did you happen to see the story about the leader of the Green Party in the UK? Well, she went to give a live interview on the radio last week to kick off her party's election campaign. About two minutes into the interview, she was asked a question about her party's housing policy. Upon which she was suddenly struck down by what has been commonly called 'mind blank'. George Dvorsky (2015), a neurologist, says "catecholamine hormones, like adrenaline or noradrenaline, prime the body for violent physical action. This includes...

I was talking to a teacher the other day. He had just completed his CELTA course with a grade B although he had already been teaching for a couple of years beforehand. A nice chap all in all, and very enthusiastic. I am not sure how, but after the initial chit-chat which broke the ice, we got on to talking about 'communicativeness'. He had a pretty sure idea what it was all about. Controlled practice was 'uncommunicative'. Not only this, but controlled practice was also mechanical and largely meaningless....

I am pretty sure that anyone who has either learnt English as a student or been a teacher even for a short period of time must have come across the English Grammar in Use series by Raymond Murphy. Apparently, they are one of the best selling grammar books of all time. Go into a staff room and you will more than likey see three or four copies on the shelves. When a student tells you that he has a grammar book, it is very likey that it will be...

I asked a student of mine recently whether he still believed in Father Christmas. He looked at me nonplussed before asking me who Father Christmas was. I replied that he was the big, fat man who delivered children presents at Christmas time. “Presents?”, he asked. “Gifts’, I said. To which he smiled and said, “Ah, you mean Santa Clause”. Does it matter? Well, maybe not for this 25 year old adult, who I presume no longer believes in Santa Clause (or Father Christmas), but it might matter to my...

A couple of weeks ago, the British defence secretary Michael Fallon claimed British towns are being "swamped" by immigrants. He made the claim in response to a question posed by an interviewer on Sky News. The Conservative Party, to which Michael Fallon belongs, was none too happy and quickly forced Mr Fallon to withdraw his comments. I am not sure if Mr Fallon himself regretted his comments and wishes he had chosen his words more carefully but what it does show is the power that words have and...

To start off with, let me just say that I have never ever liked ‘Hangman’. You know, the game where you have guess the word(s) by calling out letters of the alphabet before the man is hung up on a scaffold. It is not because the act of hanging runs contrary to my political sensibilities but because I have never found it particularly exciting or interesting as a game. Just as some people, I am sure, do not particularly enjoy a game of noughts and crosses (or tic-tac-toe...

Did anyone read a recent article in Time magazine entitled 'Want to Learn a Language? Don't Try So Hard'? (Abrams; 2014) It outlined a study undertaken at MIT University which basically found that whereas young people up until the age of puberty use procedural memory to learn a language, adults will use a different type of memory which, although it is not stated in the article, appears to be declarative memory. Whereas procedural memory involves the unconscious memory of skills and how to do things, like riding a bike,...

Am I right in assuming that more and more people are now looking beyond traditional learning experiences in a school setting to a more individualized and needs focused learning normally provided through one-to-one and small , closed lesson formats? In my experience, and judging by what colleagues say, this certainly seems to be the case and the success of online learning courses such as EnglishTown also attest to this. And it is not only professionals looking for ESP lessons but also people who want general English as well,...

You may or may not be aware that the football championship is just around the corner with national teams beginning to arrive, stadiums being finished and with thousands of people brushing up on their English. Football (or ‘scoccer ’) is the most popular sport in the world, played and talked about by millions of people. It is therefore no surprise that numerous expressions that began life being used to describe the beautiful game have now entered common usage as idiomatic expressions. Although the contexts in which these expressions are used...

I was doing a CELTA course assessment last month and observing the post-lesson feedback with the tutor and the trainees when an interesting issue arose. The tutor asked one of the trainees to comment on the amount of teacher talking time (TTT) which had occurred during her lesson. The trainee agreed that there had been quite a lot of TTT. Indeed, a whole 10 minute chunk of the initial part of the lesson had been devoted to the teacher telling a story to the group of elementary students...

Three private students of mine recently proclaimed that they believed they had become less fluent since the beginning of our lessons a little over two months ago. They were naturally preoccupied given that they were paying good money to improve their English. Needless to say, I had to put their minds at ease, and it got me thinking. Both of these learners are Brazilian, and I think that their nationality does play a role in what I am about to describe. They were both also very fluent when I...

They say that we get more conservative as we get older, that we lose our youthful idealism and replace it with mature resignation, that we become cynical, and that we are less willing to break the rules and become more prone to following a set of rigid routines. However, I don't think this is necessarily the case for those of us in the teaching profession. Nor should it be, in my opinion. In fact, in my experience, a large part of our teaching lives will be spent unlearning what...