Saturday, 13 February 2016

taking turns in conversation

The language programme on BBC Radio 4 is both very entertaining and very informative:
BBC Radio 4 - Word of Mouth

The latest programme is on how to take turns in conversation:

Taking Turns in Conversation

Listen in pop-out player
Michael Rosen and linguist Dr Laura Wright discuss how well we judge taking it in turns when we're in conversation. Professor Stephen Levinson has new research on the science behind this, and joins them in the studio for a carefully-calibrated discussion.. He believes that the back-and-forth pattern we instinctively fall into may have evolved before language itself. Levinson's research has found that it takes about 200 milliseconds for us to reply to each other, but it takes about 600 milliseconds to prepare what we're going to say - so we're preparing as we listen. Levinson notes that this is a pattern found across all human languages, and some animal species, and that infants begin taking turns in interactions at about six months of age, before they can even speak. But what's going on when someone seems to get it wrong, to interrupt or talk over the other person?
Producer Beth O'Dea.

BBC Radio 4 - Word of Mouth, Taking Turns in Conversation

It's a very important language skill:
Turn-taking - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Turn Taking / The Language of Conversation / Exploring language / Planning for my students’ needs / English Online / English - ESOL - Literacy Online website - English - ESOL - Literacy Online
How to teach turn taking - Articles -
How Turn-Taking and Short Gaps in Conversation Are Universal - The Atlantic
Turn Taking: A Study of Turn Taking within Discourse Analysis

Social Skills Training: Taking Turns Speaking - YouTube

Friday, 12 February 2016

the importance of reading

The most effective way to improve your language is reading:

  • Dr. Krashen is professor emeritus at USC, a linguist, educational researcher, and activist, and self-professed "grammar wonk". He speaks often on L2 acquisition, neurolinguistics, reading and the controversial topic of bilingual education. He promotes the use of free voluntary reading during second-language acquisition, which he says "is the most powerful tool we have in language education."
The Power of Reading - Stephen Krashen | TED-Ed

And the most effective type of reading is 'narrow reading':
The Case for Narrow Reading - Page 1
Jay Doubleyou: extensive reading vs narrow reading
Jay Doubleyou: from narrow reading and listening to fluency: part two

Here is Dr Krashen on TED Talks:

The Power of Reading - Stephen Krashen - YouTube

And here he is in Turkey:

British Council Interviews Stephen Krashen part 1 of 3 - YouTube
See also:
Stephen Krashen - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Input hypothesis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thursday, 11 February 2016


This is a very important idea when teaching and learning English:

ChunksWhen we speak and write, we repeat a lot of phrases and clauses, such as on the other hand, a lot of, at the moment, you know, you see, I mean. Some of these phrases, or chunks of language, are very common and they have specific meanings. …

Chunks in speakingWe use chunks like you know, you know what I mean, I know what you’re saying to check and show understanding between speaker and listener:
Chunks in writingWe use many chunks in writing. They help us to structure what we write: …

chunk Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary

It's the 'Lexical Approach':
Humanising Language Teaching Magazine for teachers and teacher trainers

Here's a good overview of the idea:
Language as Chunks, not Words

And here's another:


(language acquisition)

Updated February 01, 2015.
In studies of language acquisition, several words that are customarily used together in a fixed expression, such as "in my opinion," "to make a long story short," "How are you?" or "Know what I mean?"

Chunk and chunking were introduced as cognitive terms by psychologist George A. Miller in his paper "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information" (1956).
See Examples and Observations, below. Also see:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Here is one that got away, and lived to tell the tale."
    (Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983, 2009)
  • "Oh, by the way, how's the Florence Henderson look working for you?"
    (Matthew Morrison as Will Schuester, "The Power of Madonna." Glee, 2010)

Uses of Prefabricated Chunks
- "It seems that in the initial stages of first language acquisition and natural second language acquisition we acquire unanalysed chunks, but that these gradually get broken down into smaller components . . ..

"The prefabricated chunks are utilised in fluent output, which, as many researchers from different traditions have noted, largely depends on automatic processing of stored units. According to Erman and Warren's (2000) count, about half of running text is covered by such recurrent units."
(J. M. Sinclair and A. Mauranen, Linear Unit Grammar: Integrating Speech and Writing. John Benjamins, 2006)

Formulaic Phrases vs. Literal Expressions

"[T]he formulaic phrase has unique properties: it is cohesive and unitary in structure (sometimes with aberrant grammatical form), often nonliteral or deviant in meaning properties, and usually contains a nuanced meaning that transcends the sum of its (lexical) parts. The canonical form of the expression ('formuleme') is known to native speakers. This is to say that a formulaic expression functions differently in form, meaning, and use from a matched, literal, novel, or propositional expression (Lounsbury, 1963). 'It broke the ice,' for example, as a formula, differs regarding meaning representation, exploitation of lexical items, status in language memory, and range of possible usages, when compared to the exact same sequence of words as a novel expression."
(Diana Van Lancker Sidtis, "Formulaic and Novel Language in a 'Dual Process' Model of Language Competence." Formulaic Language, Vol. 2., ed. by Roberta Corrigan et al. John Benjamins, 2009)

Criticism of the Lexical-Chunk Approach
"Michael Swan, a British writer on language pedagogy, has emerged as a prominent critic of the lexical-chunk approach. Though he acknowledges, as he told me in an e-mail, that 'high-priority chunks need to be taught,' he worries that 'the "new toy" effect can mean that formulaic expressions get more attention than they deserve, and other aspects of language--ordinary vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and skills--get sidelined.'

"Swan also finds it unrealistic to expect that teaching chunks will produce nativelike proficiency in language learners. 'Native English speakers have tens or hundreds of thousands--estimates vary--of these formulae at their command,' he says. 'A student could learn 10 a day for years and still not approach native-speaker competence.'"
(Ben Zimmer, "On Language: Chunking." The New York Times Magazine, Sep. 19, 2010)

Also Known As: language chunk, lexical chunk, praxon, formulated speech, formulaic phrase, formulaic speech, lexical bundle, lexical phrase, collocation

Chunk - Definition and Examples in Language Acquisition

Michael Swan is a sceptic:
Michael Swan | Chunks in the classroom: let’s not go overboard

You can do it in other languages:
Chunking Italian: Linguistic and Task-oriented Evaluation | Stefano Federici -

Saturday, 6 February 2016

do the brits really need to learn a foreign language when everyone speaks english?

Brits do actually feel they don't need to learn a foreign language - which leads to some interesting contradictions:
Jay Doubleyou: immigrants with no second language? it’s true britishness

Here's one view from London:

Why do the English need to speak a foreign language when foreigners all speak English?

My roots read like a World Cup draw. My half-Welsh father was born and spent his boyhood in Argentina and thus speaks Spanish almost as naturally as English. My mother’s family are Norwegian. 
Because Dad was a diplomat, I spent the first five years of my life in Moscow and Lisbon, so my baby-talk was Russian (in which I later got an O-Level) and I then spoke kindergarten Portuguese.
I was sent to boarding school in the days when they still provided a classical education, so I learned Latin and Ancient Greek to what was then O-Level standard, but would now be A-Level, at least. I also got an A in A-Level French, which is the one foreign language I can claim to speak with reasonable fluency.
Global reach: English is the second language of 85 per cent of Europeans, and the default tongue of the European Union
Global reach: English is the second language of 85 per cent of Europeans, and the default tongue of the European Union
While I was growing up, my family also lived in Peru and Cuba, but I only went out there on holidays, so my Spanish is rudimentary at best. Having spent the past couple of years writing novels set in Germany, however, I now have a tiny smattering of German, too.
Given this absurdly multi-lingual background, you might think I’d be distraught at hearing that 380,000 teenagers in England did not take a single language at GCSE last year. Department for Education figures show that fewer and fewer of us are learning a foreign language, while more and more foreigners are becoming multi-lingual. This, say distraught commentators, will condemn us pathetic Little Englanders to a live of dismal isolation while our educated, sophisticated, Euro-competitors chat away to foreign customers and steal all our business as a result.
In fact, I think those pupils who don’t learn other languages are making an entirely sensible decision. Learning foreign languages is a pleasant form of intellectual self-improvement: a genteel indulgence like learning to embroider or play the violin. A bit of French or Spanish comes in handy on holiday if you’re the sort of person who likes to reassure the natives that you’re more sophisticated than the rest of the tourist herd. But there’s absolutely no need to learn any one particular language unless you’ve got a specific professional use for it.

Consider the maths. There are roughly 6,900 living languages in the world. Europe alone has 234 languages spoken on a daily basis. So even if I was fluent in all the languages I’ve ever even begun to tackle, I’d only be able to speak to a minority of my fellow-Europeans in their mother tongues. And that’s before I’d so much as set foot in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
The planet’s most common first language is Mandarin Chinese, which has around 850 million speakers. Clearly, anyone seeking to do business in the massive Chinese market would do well to brush up on their Mandarin, although they might need a bit of help with those hundreds of millions of Chinese whose preferred dialect is Cantonese. 
The only problem is that Mandarin is not spoken by anyone who is not Chinese, so it’s not much use in that equally significant 21st century powerhouse, India. Nor does learning one of the many languages used on the sub-Continent help one communicate with Arab or Turkish or Swahili-speakers.
There is, however, one language that does perform the magic trick of uniting the entire globe. If you ever go, as I have done, to one of the horrendous international junkets which film studios hold to promote their latest blockbusters, you’ll encounter a single extraordinary language that, say, the Brazilian, Swedish, Japanese and Italian reporters use both to chat with one another and question the American stars. 
This is the language of science, commerce, global politics, aviation, popular music and, above all, the internet. It’s the language that 85 per cent of all Europeans learn as their second language; the language that has become the default tongue of the EU; the language that President Sarkozy of France uses with Chancellor Merkel of Germany when plotting how to stitch up the British.
This magical language is English. It unites the whole world in the way no other language can. It’s arguably the major reason why our little island has such a disproportionately massive influence on global culture: from Shakespeare to Harry Potter, from James Bond to the Beatles.
All those foreigners who are so admirably learning another language are learning the one we already know. So our school pupils don’t need to learn any foreign tongues. They might, of course, do well to become much, much better at speaking, writing, spelling and generally using English correctly. But that’s another argument altogether.

Why do the English need to speak a foreign language when foreigners all speak English? | Daily Mail Online

Here's a rather different perspective from Berlin:

RANT! “Sorry, no German!”

RANT! “Sorry, no German!” -