In this paper, I analyze my language in the classroom in terms of its accuracy and appropriacy for teaching. I quote six utterances from an Elementary level (A1) with twelve adult students who work at an investigation institute. This lesson starts with a conversation about a woman’s vacation to Aspen in order to introduce the Idiomatic Future.
1. When checking a dialog from students’ book assignments, I asked a comprehension question to the whole class.
Accurate and appropriate: “What is the reason to buy two machines that do the same thing?”
This sample focuses the learners’ attention to the question being answered at that moment. It also provides modified input to enhance students’ understanding because this could have easily been worded like: “Why buying two machines to do the same job?” Thus, by paraphrasing why and replacing job for thing, I make sure I use semantic elements that students can easily identify in spoken language uttered by a known speaker, the teacher.
2. When checking homework, I was nominating students to listen to their answers from the book.
Accurate but inappropriate: “Repeat! Maybe if someone didn’t do the homework,
this person can write the answer.”
This message clearly referred to a specific student who was distracted when the rest were checking and correcting homework. Its function was to involve as many students as possible in this whole-class activity. However, it was not my intention to make them self-conscious about not having completed their assignments. In an effort to lower these students’ affective filters, I could have said, “Listen to your classmate’s answer again so you can write any corrections or comparisons.” This alternative could sound artificial and a little complicated because it is the product of careful thinking in a written paper. However, I think it could provide comprehensible input, thus exposing students to cognates such as corrections and comparisons.
3. When I was setting the situation about a future trip, I read for my students a conversation from the book introducing the Idiomatic Future. In the conversation, a woman answers she is going to stay at the Aspen Hotel for her vacation. This is the reply from the other woman.
Inaccurate but appropriate: “Wow, I *her that’s really nice!” (Vs. “Wow, I hear that’s really nice!” <sic>)
I had read that conversation for different groups several times, but I had never had this mispronunciation before. The first times, I would probably just read it verbatim because I would pay a lot of attention to the text. Later, I was already familiar with the story, so I might have changed hear for heard without noticing. It was not until now that I realize hear is not completely accurate to model the typical meaning of this tense. Indeed, hear implies the speaker has been hearing about the quality of the hotel; while heard suggests she once had knowledge about its quality. So, a quick unconscious decision made me change my pronunciation at the last moment, thus producing something between both verb forms. If I had paid more attention to that text beforehand, I could have changed hear for heard in the written text and I could have told students to correct this in their books, too.
4. Right after I finished reading the conversation between those two women, just before asking comprehension questions about this story.
Inaccurate and inappropriate: “And that’s it. Now, let me ask you a few questions about this. It’s just, you know, understanding… [inaudible]
I think I sounded redundant and pointless because I was anxious about my timing at this moment in the lesson. I probably should have avoided talking at all, even though it is difficult for me to keep quiet in class. Otherwise, I could have prepared different written versions of explicit instructions, such as: “Listen to these questions and respond with complete answers.” The function of this alternative wording would be to set a parameter for the answer expected from the students by the school.
5. During the grammar and semantic explanation of the target structure on the board, a student asked about the difference between Idiomatic Future and Simple Future. I talked about the certainty or resolution that auxiliaries such as will and won’t convey.
Accurate but inappropriate: “You will die.”
Eventually, I conjugated this verb in the first person singular, both in Simple and Idiomatic Future. For each sentence, I provided a context illustrating their possible function. I wanted everybody to relate to this explanation and to remember it by providing enhanced input, not by presenting the language in a special form, but rather by providing a remarkable meaning. However relatable or remarkable these examples might be, now I think my discourse might have seemed a little disturbing for some people. Therefore, I could have used a different subject for such contrasting sentences, such as: “That tree will die, but it is not going to die soon.”
6. I sneezed, so some students said “Salud”. I modeled and wrote on the board “bless you!”, then I explained the difference with “God bless you!”
Inaccurate and inappropriate: “Using the name of the Lord in vain is a sin.”
Obviously, it was not my intention to preach to the students. Actually, I meant to portray the puritan heritage of English in their formulaic manners. However, I do not think this was conveyed to students, even if they did understand my words. Also, my style resembled L1 a. Now, I would only comment on the difference between using the word god or not by saying “For them, taking the name of the Lord in vain is blasphemous.” Thus, I would be increasing the semantic field of the verb take by using it differently from its physical meaning and I would be introducing the cognate blasphemous.
As a conclusion, it is difficult to avoid becoming over controlling of the classroom language, thus maintaining a sensible proportion between TTT and STT. This ratio might depend on the variety of roles a teacher can assume during a lesson or stages with different interaction patterns. Therefore, what we do say in class must be carefully planned or resourceful and precise. Another compromise teachers can reach involves comprehensible input and modified or adapted input: When teachers act as models, it is necessary to produce a language that is fairly intelligible for students (just a step beyond their level); however, when the teacher gives directions or takes the role of a tutor, he/she needs to lower his/her language in order to ensure most students understand.
Word count: 1,084
Lightbown, P. Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned
New York: Oxford University Press
In-Service Certificate in English Language Teaching
I, Eduardo García Acevedo, declare that the following Language for Teachers Task 4: Focus on the teacher’s language is entirely my own work and that it is written in my own words and not those copied directly from any other source, except for those properly acknowledged.
Date: August, 30th 2013