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Jan 13

Second Language Anxiety

Posted on Sunday, January 13, 2013 in Education, French, Second Language Acquisition

The semester has started and the first week passed without much issue. My concerns are that 12 hours is a crazy course load for graduate school. I am taking two graduate French courses, French Syntax and Meaning, essentially a linguistics course presented in French instead of English, and Art and Literature in the 19th and 20th century. This course is one of those dreaded esoteric french courses that made me change my major as an undergrad and gives me huge impostor syndrome. I am not an expert in analyzing and interpreting literature in my first language and I suffer from huge anxiety trying to do it in my second language.

My anxiety about my skills in my second language go farther than just my ability to analyse literature. I know I can speak French but I always feel as if I have to be perfect. I have to prove it. I can’t make mistakes. And when I do make mistakes, I feel a complete sense of shame.

I realize these feelings, while normal in language learners, cannot control me. I cannot let fear of making mistakes keep me from my dreams. For years they did. I stopped speaking French after I got my diploma and when I would try I would make mistakes and I would just shut down.

When I started studying the research going on in second language acquisition, I learned things that made me feel more comfortable with my shortcomings as a second language learner.

1.) Language learning is a continuum. Regardless of one’s proficiency, if one is  learning the language he is  a speaker of the language. I took Spanish in college and felt a huge sense of failure when the language did not come naturally to me. I do not speak it well, but I can speak some Spanish. Spanish is my 3rd language. I cannot speak Urdu but I can understand a great deal. I am somewhere on the continuum for learning Hindi/Urdu. This is my 4th language. I no longer diminish my language abilities by dismissing the efforts I made to reach where I am on the continuum with any language I have tried to learn.

2.) One should not expect to speak like a native speaker. This one is hard. The nature of language learning is to want to become fluent. And fluency means to speak as much like a native speaker as possible. But to seek perfection is unrealistic and one will never speak exactly like a native speaker. Nearly perfect proficiency is possible but I have banished this kind of perfection from my mind.  I speak French well, as a second language. There are things I say that a native speaker would not. My accent is not perfect. There are ways I phrase sentences that are more like a native speaker of English speaking French. This is because my native language is English. And I am ok with that.

3.) One develops proficiency in the area of the language they practice. There are four aspects of language learning. Speaking, listening, writing and reading. To develop a complete proficiency, one must practice in all areas. Some courses are focused on one thing, for example academic language courses focus on reading. Conversation courses focus on developing communicative competency. For years the only input I had was to sporadically to read something in French. I did not have opportunity to speak it, I did not listen to native speakers of the language, nor did I have chance to write anything in French. I would freak out completely when I had difficulty trying to do one of these things.

As a future French educator, I enjoy learning the research and theories about SLA. They both comfort my own anxiety and short comings and help me to become a better educator.

Jan 11


Posted on Friday, January 11, 2013 in Education, Second Language Acquisition

Genie is the pseudonym of a feral child who was the victim of one of the most severe cases of abuse and neglect ever documented. She spent most of her first thirteen years of life locked inside a bedroom, strapped to a childs toilet or bound inside a crib with her arms and legs immobilized. Genies abuse came to the attention of Los Angeles child welfare authorities on November 4, 1970.[1][2][3]

via Genie feral child – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


So the Language Acquisition class I am taking the semester had us read this horrific case study. I wept all afternoon. How could someone be so awful to their own child?

Nov 27

20’s Slang

Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 in Linguistics

How to Sound Like the Bee’s Knees: A Dictionary of 1920s Slang – Entertainment – The Atlantic Wire

Nov 14

xkcd, and why it wins its way into my language educator’s heart: Up Goer Five

Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 in Education, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

Thank you to Eric for telling me I should look at this xkcd. It’s an illustration of the Saturn V Rocket, the rocket that carried men to orbit and to finally land on the moon. That in itself is awesome.

But why else would I bet all over this comic like it’s my favorite kind of candy? It’s perfect for a language educator because why? Are we keeping track of my crazy brain?

It’s the Saturn V rocket described in only the top 1000 most commonly used English Words: xkcd: Up Goer Five. There are a lot of word lists that list high frequency vocabulary words, and language learners are encouraged to master these vocabulary words before worrying about low-frequency words in order to develop a useful repertoire of vocabulary from which to pull from. If you know a thousand obscure words, your ability to have a conversation in your second language is seriously diminished.

While I see the value of focusing on high-frequency words for language learners, the xkcd comic reveals an interesting drawback to these commonly used words. One will quickly remark upon how silly the xkcd descriptions become using only these high-frequency terms. This indicates that specialized vocabulary has its place, and why there are a number of different word lists from which to pull from, depending on the sort of language one will need to use. English for Academic Purposes, for example, focuses on the Academic Word List, which is entirely different than a list of commonly used words in conversation.

So yes, as always xkcd is my favorite comic. The end.

Oct 21

Expository essay snippet

Posted on Sunday, October 21, 2012 in Linguistics

Chapter 4 of Schleppegrell discusses expository essays and describes them as a genre “through which writers present a point of view and support it with examples and evidence.” (Schleppegrell, p. 88).

Expository essays are characterized by an introduction that orients the reader with the position the writers sets out to explain, the essay’s purpose. This is done with a thesis statement. The body of the text is used to develop the thesis and elaborate it through examples that are generalizable and specific. The essay is finalized with a conclusion that summarizes the main points the essay argued. (p. 90) Schleppegrell further defines this structure, or macrostructure, as one of “foreshadowing, arguing, and summing up.” (p. 90)

Oct 2

Native-Like Proficiency and Pragmatics

Posted on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 in Education, Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

If one can assert that the ultimate goal of advanced level foreign language learning is to achieve a “near-native proficiency” of the target language, what makes someone speak with “native-like proficiency”? What does that mean, exactly? While an advanced language learner might have mastered the grammar (syntax) and vocabulary (morphology) of their target language, they often produce language that can still be identified as non-native. Why is this?

Pragmatics might be the answer. Pragmatics is the awareness of what language choices are appropriate for the context in which they are used. Crystal (1997) defines pragmatics as “the study of language from the point of view of the users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction, and the effects their use of language has on the other participants in an act of communication.”

In discourse, we are studying discourse pragmatics, rather why the same meaning can be expressed by more than one sentence, annd which is the more appropriate and native-like. Native speakers know what is used lexicogrammatically by native speakers but how can language learners learn this beyond long-term immersion in the target language. Is direct instruction of this native-like pragmatics possible?

Interlanguage Pragmatics studies pragmatics in second language acquisition. It focuses on research based on cross-cultural pragmatics and transference/inference of cross-cultural politeness. Kasper and Rose define Interlanguage Pragmatics as, “the study of nonnative speakers’ use and acquisition of L2 pragmatic knowledge.”

When talking about proficiency, language educators are usually referring to the communicative competence of a language learner, as well as their mastery of the structure and grammatical elements of a language.

It would appear that research needs to be done to show how educators can facilitate language learners communicative competency development alongside their awareness of interlanguage pragmatics so they can achieve true native-like language proficiency.

Sep 16

The Genre of Narrating

Posted on Sunday, September 16, 2012 in Education, French, Linguistics, Teaching

I had a fairly hard time getting through the first few chapters of one of the textbooks for my Educational Linguistics course but chapter 8 has blown me away and now I can say that it’s awesome. The book is Genre, Text, Grammar: Technologies for Teaching and Assessing Writing by Peter Knapp and Megan Watkins. Chapter 8 is The Genre of Narrating.

Narratives are one of the most popular genres of texts used in the classroom. But direct instruction helps students develop their narrative writing skills better than just assuming they will “pick up” how to write a narrative.

Narratives do not have one purpose, like some genres. They can be used for entertainment, but to also provoke changes in social opinions through telling stories.

This chapter discusses how to teach basic techniques to students can write effective narratives. What I love most about this chapter and other chapters in this book is that it provides actual activities to do in a classroom, graphic organizers for scaffolding and even assessment rubrics.

Narratives have distinct grammatical features:

  • Narratives use past tense, action verbs and temporal connectives when people and events are sequenced in time and space (whenever I hear “time and space” I think of the Doctor, I am such a Whovian)
    • Action verbs in the past tense: went, did, ran, drive
    • Temporal Connectives: then, after
  • Action sequences use action verbs, mental verbs are used in evaluations or reflections.
  • Action verbs are used metaphorically to create imagery.
  • Sentence structure can be played with in narratives.
  • Rhythm and repetition are also litarary devices used for effect in narratives.

Now all that seems easy to understand but students are often understood to just naturally know the parts of a narrative. In my language classroom, telling students the structure to follow can help them focus on their L2 development instead of being unsure about how to go about writing a narrative. How many times have you seen a student staring at a blank piece of paper because they didn’t know how to start?

Narratives have a structure. They need to orient the reader, present some kind of complication, and there needs to be a resolution. There can be a coda or evaluation at the end. This basic structure can be played with and extended. Novels are complex narratives. But this basic structure is present in all narratives, from simple recounts to full length novels.

When students get older, about high school age, their written language skills expand and they can produce narratives that are more literary and less like spoken language. Since I want to teach at a high school level I will have students who are able to create imagery and write in a literary way in their first language, while they are developing their second language, their written proficiency will likely mirror younger students L1 production. Providing them scaffolding like that is shown in the chapter to help them develop narratives in their second language will help them focus on form instead of text type structure. But teaching them to write a narrative in a second language from the very start will be amazing. There is quite a jump from the written output expected in the high school language class to university level language courses, especially if a student is majoring or minoring in a language. Having these tools at their disposal will be valuable to students.

I am most impressed with the assessment rubrics provided by this book. I love rubrics!

Knapp, P. & Watkins, A. (2005) Genre, text, grammar: Technologies for teaching and assessing writing. Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
Butt et al. (2005) Towards a functional grammar in Using Functional Grammar, An Explorer’s Guide, p 22- 44.

Sep 13

Rank Scale

Posted on Thursday, September 13, 2012 in Linguistics

Langauge cannot be explained by giving words classes. How a word functions can tell us more than just it’s classification. So because we need to look at functionsa s well as classes, then we also need to look beyond just words. Language is more than stringing together of words, there are patterns of langauge at many different levels.

That’s where rank scale comes in.

Rank Scale:
Clause Complex
Group or phrase

Sep 13

More functional grammar rambles

Posted on Thursday, September 13, 2012 in Linguistics

Systemic functional linguistics is a proposal for language description that is consistent with the aim of linguistic philosophy dating back to ancient times. Times have changed, the modes through which people communicate were once unimaginable, but the challenge is the same: explain how people make use of language across various contexts (field), tenors (relationships) and modes (mediums).

Grammar is implicitly learned quite early in life according to functional grammar linguists because it is not prescriptive rules. Grammar is the way in which a language is organized. It is patterns of language. If you are a native English speaker, you know how to follow patterns of language construction that “seem right”.

People who look at language are interested in how they can get things done with the language, how they can make meanings, get attention to their points of view, how they can influence their peers, how they can make friends and maintain their friendships, The grammatical structure is only a way to get their desires fulfilled, this is functional grammar.

Sep 13

Functional Grammar and Language Education

Posted on Thursday, September 13, 2012 in Education, Linguistics, Teaching

Learning language is more than learning words and grammar. It is about learning how to use the language in a way that makes sense to people who speak that language. Language is a process of making meanings, weaving them together into a purposeful whole text. The task of language education is one of supporting language learners so they can participate in the process of making meaning.

Teachers who think about language like this will be likely to design activities using authentic texts, letting students work with authentic language use.

Functional grammar education seeks to articulate knowledge about language language users have formed over their lifetimes about how language choices make different meanings in different contexts so that they can make use of this explicit knowledge in the classroom. Functional grammar gives us techniques and the vocabulary we need to analyze texts and describe them.

Text: Some piece of language that is functional. Can be spoken or written. A text is just a collection of meanings.

Texts occur within contexts of culture and situation:

Context of Culture: differences in the way culture shapes the way we use language to make meanings. Like in one culture there is one way to greet someone, in another culture another way is appropriate.
Context of Situation: the way language is used to make meaning in a particular situation.

I see it that culture shapes texts broadly and situations shape text in a more specific manner.

Field, Tenor and Mode

Field: What is being talked about.
Tenor: The relationship between the speaker/writer and the listener/reader.
Mode: The way the text is delivered. Ex. letter, resume, essay, speech, telephone call, conversation.

Functions of language

  • to talk about what has happened and what will happen: ideational function
  • to talk about how feel about things: interpersonal function
  • to make the two other functions a coherent whole: textual function
  • Levels of language

    • Extralinguistic Levels: Context of Culture — > Context of Situation
      • Is realized in

      • Linguistic Levels:
        • Content levels: Semantics (systems of meaning)
          • Is realized in:

          • Lexicogrammar (systems of words and how they are arranged)
            • Is realized in:

            • Expression Level:
              • Phonology (systems of sounds)
              • Gestures
              • Graphology (systems of writing)

      Systemic functional grammar is a way to describe language choices so we can be aware of how language is being used to realize meanings. It’s gives us the words we need to describe it. SFL/SFG calls this metalanguage.

      Register: Texts that share the same context and patterns of grammar, the same purpose or relationship are said to share the same register.

      Genre: Texts that share the same structure and text types are said to share the same genre.

      Some types of genre: Recount, Narrative, Procedure, Information Report, Explanation, Exposition, Discussion. There are more obviously but these are commonly used in the classroom.