The ABC of ELT

Watch what you say…but not too much

I’d love this post to end with a nice clear cut rule but unfortunately, as with most things in life, instead we get a fine balancing act.

One of the hardest things for me when I started teaching was grading my language. that is using language that is clear and understandable for students. 

At first, I found this impossibly hard and made many mistakes with the constant feedback of needing to work on my instructions. Teachers noticed that I was improving [via such methods as pre-writing instructions and Instruction Check Questions but also using actions, modelling activities and whole host of other techniques.] So much so that by the end of my final year when I had an observation at a summer school their feedback was that my language was “Clear yet natural.”

It’s the second part of this post is looking at the end of that comment “Clear yet NATURAL.” It would be very easy to not use certain words, phrases or expressions which might cause confusion. However, will this reduce students exposure to natural language?

An example would be indirect questions. When asking a student to do something it is completely within British characteristics and nature to use an indirect question rather than the imperative command “Can you please turn to page X” or “Turn to page X” the first is much more natural and is what a speaker would be exposed to if they lived in an English speaking environment.

However, to explain when direct or indirect questions are used correctly requires a fairly competent level of English knowledge [most books seam to address this at Intermediate level or Pre-intermediate at lowest]. So what is correct to do here? Grade your language and not use the natural phrase or use the more natural phrase?

In this case I used the language, quickly dashed through “Can you” part [told students it was polite or formal if they asked] and then stressed the rest of the sentence. Thus using natural language but still gradding the sentence to focus on the important part.

However here is an opposite example. For a discussion stage of an text I wanted to ask students “If they had ever had a dream that had come true later.” for new pre-intermediate students reading this sort of question before focusing on present perfect might have caused some to stumble over the grammar and not answer the question but instead try to figure out what the grammar was and how to use it. So instead I changed it to “Can you think of a time a dream has come true later?”

I still don’t always get this balancing act right, I sometimes say something and students don’t understand what I said at all, but I have also noticed that some of my students have picked up some of my language traits and natural speech elements.

What advice do you have for grading your language? Did you struggle with this too?

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

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