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Dec 5

End of semester brain dump

Posted on Wednesday, December 5, 2012 in Education

My to-do list should be scaring me right now but it’s not. Probably because I really do have it pretty much under control.

Due the 11th are two major projects. One is almost done. My end of semester linguistics project is all written. As a group project, it has been authored by three people and it just needs to be pieced together.

The other, my children’s folk literature project, I have only done preliminary brainstorming and background research on. I have an 8 page to write about how second language learning can be facilitated by nursery rhymes.

I was quite motivated to connect the two fields within the LLED program but after a kerfluffle of misunderstanding between my advisor and myself, and becoming aware of some interdepartmental discussions about how WLE folk do not need to take Children’s Literature classes, my motivation has waned. I see a great connection there but policies are changing apparently after this semester and they are not seen as very connected even though courses under the two areas both share the “Language and Literacy Education” tag. Oh well.

Anyway, tomorrow is my day to really get started on the outlining of the paper. I have standards to look up, videos to transcribe and describe, and writing out in detail the research on which I have already taken notes. Then I have to write pedagogical implications and research possibilities. 8 pages will be laughable, in all honesty.

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

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 Language

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

This makes my academic heart swell with joy:

It is often said that children, as they use language, are constantly

  • learning language
  • learning through language, and
  • learning about language.

We never stop learning language — from the babbling of babies to the voracious preschool years, from our early encounters with print and our first attempts at writing through to the secondary textbooks and essays, and then beyond to the new demands of adulthood, where we still continue to learn and refine the language needed in every new situation in which we find ourselves.

And it is now widely recognised that we learn through language — that language is absolutely central in the learning process. Our perception of the world is constructed through language, and it is through language that we are able to interact with others in our world. In schools, we could virtually say that “language is the curriculum”. (Derewianka, 1990, p.3)

Deeply entwined with Vygotskian principles about language being a cultural tool and Halliday’s work with SFL, this paragraph connects with me profoundly as a language educator. Teaching learners a foreign language gives them access to new interactions with others, changes their perceptions of the world. It empowers learners with new opportunities for new life learning, it teaches them new ways to learn about themselves and the world around them.

Derewianka, B., (1990). A functional approach to language. In Exploring how texts work (pp. 3-9). Primary English Teaching Association.

Sep 11

Linguistics, yay.

Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 in Linguistics

This semester I am finally taking a course in linguistics. I had no background knowledge for linguistics beyond it’s a study on language and the first few weeks of class I felt like I was floundering. I had no idea. Finally, I can feel my brain making sense of some of the key concepts. I am studying Systemic functional linguistics, whichi is a way of describing grammar descriptively. It was created by Michael Halliday and his work is closely correlated with my favorite thing in the entire world: Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of learning.

I love when I can actually feel my brain wrapping around ideas. I have felt exhausted the past week, my brain is never resting. I had a dream about linguistics a few nights ago. I have been associating things I see with linguistics. I have been explaining concepts to people who really could not care less. Yes, my brain is working overtime making space for all this new information and assimilating it with my previous knowledge. Indeed, the cognitive side of learning is fun.

Mar 29

Thoughts on code-switching

Posted on Thursday, March 29, 2012 in Second Language Acquisition

When does code-switching stop being helpful and start being a crutch that language learners lean on to get their point across without circumlocution and talking around lexical words they do not yet know?

I guess I refer more to pidgin languages than proper code switching. But how often do you speak Franglais or Spanglish in your language class?

Jan 22


Posted on Sunday, January 22, 2012 in Second Language Acquisition

Oh Interlanguage, I have reawoken my interlanguage with my current semester’s French course. Yes, I think I have some ways to go before I am fluent again.

Also found this article on Universal Grammar. I really really badly need to take a linguistics course next semester. I’m flying blind here, people.