“Surfing” the Pages of Identity

Written by: Tsvetelina Ilieva [toc class=”toc-right”] Introduction
The presentation focuses on the role of the foreign language teacher as mediator between cultures, as a professional who is able to guide his/her students through the meanings of the cultural practices that take place within the foreign and the native framework. Therefore, it attempts to turn attention to the necessity of consistent intercultural training of student teachers of foreign languages.
The paper explores the relationship between foreign language learning and cultural observation based on the usage of advertisements from British and Bulgarian teenage girl’s magazines and suggests ways of broadening the cultural context of English lessons to include critical understanding of both the learners’ own culture and the target culture.
This article is an outcome of my diploma paper entitled “Teaching Cultural Representations through Ads “ written under the supervision of Leah Davcheva, Head Cultural Studies, the British Council, Sofia.

Finding a Third Place

The future teachers of English, who are themselves learners of the foreign language, encounter the culture of the language they are going to learn and teach as foreign. However, being influenced by their native culture, which has shaped their standards for perceiving and evaluating reality, the teachers’ perception of the foreign culture has only indirectly to do with the foreign culture reality because it is “partial and filtered through the way they see themselves”/Kramsch 1993:209/. Aiming to interpret “otherness” the student teachers have to find another, third place from where they will be able to “look at both [cultures]”/ Kramsch 1993:223/ – a third place that will serve as a bridge between cultures and that will enable them to see the world from the point of view of the representatives of the target culture. Yet, the finding of this third place will be possible only when the student teachers learn how to approach culture. They should be given the chance to exploit different materials, to devise lesson plans and imagine what these lessons will be like through the eyes of their students. Or said in other words – these future language teachers have to be guided to explore the foreign culture and to be stimulated to investigate “otherness” which will enable them to see themselves as “mediators between two frameworks and the cultural practices which take place in them”/Byram 1997a: 61/. Furthermore, they will realize that they have to “teach culture as it is mediated through language, not as it is studied by social scientists and anthropologists”/Kramsch 1998:31/.
Unfortunately the training of foreign language teachers as teachers of culture is underestimated in our Bulgarian universities and the future teachers don’t fully understand their role as teachers for intercultural communication. In the next section I attempt to outline some of the challenges for intercultural teacher training.

Growing Demands for Culture and Language Education

The introduction of a subject as Teaching Cultural Studies in the curriculum of the students of English Philology in three Bulgarian universities /among which is the University of Veliko Turnovo/ is only one of the ways for the development of the intercultural sensitivity of students. In fact this subject enables future teachers of English not only to develop an understanding of the culture in question through the work with a variety of materials but makes it possible for them to get to know their native culture better. Moreover, being aware of their own and the foreign culture, they will be able to develop such awareness in their students.
Among the arguments for the necessity of intercultural training of future teachers of English, is the fact that culture education is making its way into Bulgarian schools. The design and the usage in the English lessons in Bulgarian schools of the Branching Out: A Cultural Studies Syllabus /designed and written by 60 Bulgarian teachers of English at English Medium schools all over Bulgaria, a publication managed and supported by the British Council – in Reid – Thomas, Pulverness and Davcheva 1998/ is only one of the challenges for intercultural teacher training for future teachers of English who will be able to use it effectively in the classroom and who will be able themselves to search for materials and design lessons with which they will teach culture.
The introduction of British Cultural Studies and Cultural Studies courses in the curriculum of English philology higher education although “knowledge oriented and strictly theoretical in nature” /Netnews – the Newsletter of the Cultural Studies Network in Bulgaria, Feb.2000, issue 8,p.13/ offer the students an insight into the problems of cultural studies and introduce them to the foreign cultural practices, ways of thinking and evaluating the world. Therefore, Cultural Studies can serve as a stimulus for the future teachers to start developing their own attitude towards the teaching of culture and be a prerequisite for the development of the intercultural training of the future teachers. Moreover, the interest in culture teaching, which is represented by numerous events, both international and national, by many publications on the topic, is another factor influencing the necessity for such type of training.
All these arguments make me claim that the future teachers of English have to be able to answer the demands for culture teaching in the foreign language classroom.
Aiming to develop further the idea of integrating language and culture education, I have directed my attention to only one of the many aspects of culture nowadays – advertising – because it offers great opportunity for research in terms of multiplicity of cultural representations and of ways for their implication in the teaching of culture.

Advertising – an Approach to the Teaching of Culture

The potential of exploring advertising material and adapting it for use in the foreign language classroom is infinite and depends entirely on the choice and academic pursuits of the teacher. Moreover,  ads pervade all sorts of media and it is easy to provide plenty of them to illustrate the lesson and at the same time they present a cultural phenomenon students are familiar with since adverts are among the most important cultural factors “moulding and reflecting our life today”/Edginton and Montgomery 1996:81/.
But what makes ads a really thrilling and motivating material for usage in the foreign language classroom is the fact that advertising belongs to the collective forces that shape and construct one’s personal identity and that imposes on consumers styles for dressing, image and appearance. Having in mind that foreign language learners are young people and thus young consumers who are “more adept at and more willing than adults, to experiment with their identities, no matter what boundaries /whether they be class, gender or race/ of identity, may appear to constrain them” /Journal of Youth Studies, Vol.1, No1, 1998, p.83/, students will willingly explore not only the language of advertising but also the relationship between consumption and the framing of young peoples’ identity in both cultures.

Advertisements and Independent Learning

However, ads will serve not only the purposes of teaching and acquiring intercultural competence in the foreign language classroom but will provide the basis for independent learning, which according to Michael Byram is a consequence of previous training that allows the foreign language learners to “continue to reflect upon as well as develop their knowledge, skills and attitude”/Byram 1997b: 69/. This suggests that cultural learning will take place outside the classroom rather than inside once the learners have acquired “explicitly the underlying principles of the skills and knowledge they are taught, and the means of generalizing them to new experience” /Byram 1997b: 69/. And since we encounter ads in our everyday life, they are one of the perfect ways to provide independent learning. This point raises important questions about approaches to teaching and assessing intercultural competence because it is no longer relevant to ask the question of where the learning has taken place but what kind of learning has been taught and acquired. So, it comes clear that ads are not only challenging as material to work with in the foreign language classroom, but also as a way of planning the curriculum for teaching and assessing intercultural competence.

The Exploration of Cultural Representations in Ads – a Way of Getting to Know Otherness

Led by the ambition to reveal the multiplicity of cultural representations in ads, I directed my attention to the exploration of gender subjectivities and teenage girls’ sexuality presented on the pages of British and Bulgarian magazines for teenage girls and women. To analyse and interpret the body of advertisements and the various cultural meanings that they convey I made use of both cultural observation and the means of textual and non – textual analysis alongside with some theories of representation.
The exploration of the two frames for the construction of teenage girls’ identity provides and idea of the different perspectives of creating images in the two cultures and of the difference in their meaning and significance. Moreover, the study of the meanings and messages communicated through body gestures, eye contact and relationship among human actors in ads illustrates the difference in the socially learned and conventionalized cultural codes and the difference in the production of images in cultures.
Focusing attention on such phenomena as “multi – ethnicity” in advertising and the publication of foreign ads in Bulgarian magazines allowed me to provide the image of young people as tolerant to and receptive of culture and ethnic diversity, as people who are aware of the processes of globalization of culture and cross – cultural exchange. Besides, the actual teaching of the sample of lessons that I had designed outlined clearly that our Bulgarian students are open minded, eager and willing to learn more about the foreign culture. This again poses the question of the need to develop consistent classroom methodology for intercultural competence.

The Impact of the Studying of Ads on Students

The action research of the impact of this approach to the study of culture on students clearly proved that the introduction of cultural learning in the foreign language lessons “double[s] the usefulness of the lesson, not only in adding another dimension, but also in making the lesson more interesting and therefore more easier to learn”/Valdes 1990:21/.
The three lessons that I prepared have one and the same theme, i.e. Cultural representations in advertising. Although their topic is the same, the lessons approach cultural representations from a different perspective. The first lesson is structured around the exploration of the language of advertising and the layout of ads as conveyors of cultural representations. The second lesson focuses on the effects of colours in advertising and the third is based on the comparison of cultural representations in adverts for cosmetics and for drinks excerpted from British and Bulgarian teenage magazines.
Due to the fact that the lessons are designed to be taught in series they have a different degree of exploration of culture differences and similarities. Therefore, their aims, objectives and skills are nearly the same. They aim to raise students’ awareness of cultural differences and similarities, to familiarize them with the language of advertising and to develop students’ understanding of how ads are constructed and how cultural representations are incorporated in them. The lessons also encourage students to develop skills for cultural observation and analysis: comparing and contrasting, decoding images and meanings, recognizing and interpreting culture – specific representations and developing tolerance. Besides the above – mentioned skills I expected to practice learners’ skills to express opinions and to work cooperatively.
What is essential to add is that the lessons aim to show students the “multi – perspectivity” of culture, and respectively of advertising, and to give learners the opportunity to take the leading role in the learning process by expressing opinions, taking part in discussions and developing interest and curiosity in the foreign culture.

Feedback from Students

The evaluation techniques that were used were mind maps /at the beginning of the first lesson/ and questionnaires. What is important to note is that students were not conscious of the idea that advertising conveys culture specific representations, values and meanings at the beginning of the first lesson. But that was not surprising because learners have to be introduced to the foreign culture, they have to be sensitized to the nature of different cultures and to be provided with the means to interpret cultures and to communicate successfully across cultures. Actually the evaluation of the students’ answers shows that the lessons have made students realize that the exploration of cultural issues in the foreign language classroom can facilitate both understanding of otherness and of one’s own culture.
The results of the research suggest that that the training of teachers as teachers for language and culture should continue. Being themselves cognizant of the cultural nature of language teaching they will be able to develop students’ consciousness of their own cultural practices and to guide them through the meanings of the cultural practices that take place within the foreign framework. Seeing themselves as intercultural speakers, the foreign language teachers will be able to develop such consciousness in their students.

Conclusion

This paper is based on the belief that it proves the benefit of the integration of the teaching of language and culture. Presenting the exploration of advertising for pedagogical purposes it attempts to serve as a stimulus and generator of novel and innovative approaches to language and culture education and indicates the demands that contemporary education puts on teachers enabling them to become “classroom researchers and intercultural material designers” /Culture and Language Education Symposium, Feb. 2000, The British Council, Sofia/

Bibliography

Byram, M. /1997a/, “Cultural Studies and Foreign Language Teaching”, in Basnett, S.,  Studying British Cultures, An Introduction, Routledge, /1997/, Ch. 4
Byram, M. /1997b/, Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence, Clevendon: Multilingual Matters
Culture and Language Education Symposium, Feb. 2000, The British Council, Sofia
Edginton, B. and Montgomery, M. /1996/, The Media, The British Council
Kramsch, C. /1993/, Context and Culture in Language Teaching, Oxford University Press
Kramsch, C. /1998 /, “The Privilege of the Intercultural Speaker”, in Byram, M. and Fleming, M. /1998/, Language Learning in Intercultural Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Ch.1
Netnews – The Newsletter of the Cultural Studies Network in Bulgaria, Feb. 2000, issue 8
Reid – Thomas, H., Pulverness, A.  and Davcheva, L.  /1998/, “Working Towards a Syllabus for Cultural Studies”, in Teaching Towards Intercultural Competence – Conference Proceedings, ed. by Ruth Cherrington and Leah Davcheva, The British Council, Bulgaria, publ. by Tilia, 1998, pp. 123 – 136
Miles, S., Cliff, D. and Burr, V., “ ’Fitting in and Sticking Out’: Consumption, Consumer Meanings and the Construction of Young People’s Identities”, Journal of Youth Studies, Vol.1, No 1, 1998,  pp. 1 – 97
Valdes, J. /1990/, “The Inevitability of Teaching and Learning Culture in a Foreign Language Course”, in Harrison, B. /ed./, /1990/, Culture and the Language Classroom, ELT Documents: 132, Modern English Publications and The British Council, 1990, pp. 20 – 30

Stara Zagora Plenary

Van Lier’s definition, with its extensive social, cultural and political implications, seems to relate to a far broader educational constituency than is typically addressed by the literature concerned with English Language Teaching.
Within the ELT community, the term ‘language awareness’ has largely been adopted to denote the linguistic knowledge that it is believed should form the essential core of the foreign language teacher’s professional expertise.

Written by: Alan Pulverness

Language awareness can be defined as an understanding of the human faculty of language and its role in thinking, learning and social life. It includes an awareness of power and control through language, and of the intricate relationships between language and culture.
Leo van Lier, Introducing Language Awareness (1995)

Van Lier’s definition, with its extensive social, cultural and political implications, seems to relate to a far broader educational constituency than is typically addressed by the literature concerned with English Language Teaching. Within the ELT community, the term ‘language awareness’ has largely been adopted to denote the linguistic knowledge that it is believed should form the essential core of the foreign language teacher’s professional expertise. The timetables of Cambridge/RSA TEFL certificate and diploma courses (the ‘CELTA’ and the ‘DELTA’) routinely feature slots labelled ‘LA’, although the approach taken in these LA sessions tend to suggest that the ‘A’ should stand for ‘analysis’ rather than ‘awareness’. In EFL teacher training, language awareness has become a very loosely defined label used to refer to the explicit structural and functional knowledge that underpins effective language teaching. Indeed, ‘language knowledge’ might be a more appropriate term to describe the language study component of most EFL teacher training, devoted as it is to learning about the forms and the systems of the language. Interestingly, the idea of developing awareness seems to be restricted to what takes place within the teacher, and often does not extend to any growth of awareness within learners, who tend to be assessed strictly in terms of their ability to use language accurately and appropriately. It might, of course, be argued that such ability proceeds from awareness, but this would ignore the question of what kind of awareness we believe that learners – and their teachers – should have about language.
Closer perhaps to van Lier’s definition is the tradition of ‘language awareness’ that exists within British state school education. Prompted by government dissatisfaction in the early 1980s with the teaching of English and foreign languages, and chiefly associated with the work of Eric Hawkins, the concept of language awareness went beyond the conventional first and foreign language curriculum, promoting greater understanding by learners of the social nature of language in general. The move towards this broader sense of language awareness extended to consideration of language across the curriculum and involved collaborations between teachers of English (as both a first and a foreign language) and teachers of other languages.
In Awareness of Language, published in 1987, Hawkins outlines a curriculum in which students would learn about basic aspects of sociolinguistics, such as language variation and language change. They would practise general language awareness skills, for example, identifying patterns in language or listening for specific language features. It was felt that the general appreciation of what language is and how it works, would equip students with fundamental understandings that would enhance their ability to learn both their own and other languages. Underlying this approach there is also a benign political agenda: awareness of language – and indeed awareness of languages – should deflect any tendency towards linguistic prejudice, and should lead teachers and learners to view the presence of other languages in multi-ethnic schools as a valuable resource rather than a pedagogic obstacle. Students would be encouraged to exchange explicit aspects of their knowledge of their own language with fellow-students from different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, to their mutual benefit. It should also be noted that this process of sensitisation to the nature and function of language was intended to begin at primary level, and Hawkins and his colleagues produced a series of textbooks for this purpose.
‘Knowledge About Language’ – or KAL – was a controversial element of the recommendations made in reports by The National Curriculum English Working Party in the late 1980s. KAL was intended to introduce students at secondary level in England and Wales to topics such as: differences between spoken and written English; literary language; language change; accents, dialects and standard Englishes; registers and varieties of English. The reports were widely misunderstood and created one of the moral panics about falling standards in education that seize the British at regular intervals. From Prince Charles to the editor of The Sun, leading public figures expressed their antagonism to a version of language awareness that relativised traditional notions of absolute standards of correctness, and suggested a degree of legitimacy for non-standard varieties of English. The then Conservative government subsequently modified the Working Party’s recommendations, replacing the focus on learning about language as social practice with an emphasis on a more traditional kind of knowledge about language, concerned with parts of speech, sentence grammar, correct spelling and punctuation. As the present New Labour Secretary of State for Education has followed much of the philosophy and practice of his predecessors, KAL and language awareness in Hawkins’ sense have remained marginalised.
Critical Language Awareness – CLA – can be seen as a reaction against the tendency to treat language, particularly in foreign language teaching, as a neutral and value-free code. CLA aims precisely to do what van Lier talks about – to raise students’ “awareness of power and control through language, and of the intricate relationships between language and culture”. Critical linguistics proceeds from the belief that language is always value-laden and that texts are never neutral. Language in the world is commonly used to exercise ‘power and control’, to reinforce dominant ideologies, to evade responsibility, to manufacture consensus. The most blatant examples occur (as we have seen all too clearly in recent years) during times of national or international conflict: if as the widely quoted maxim goes, “truth is the first casualty of war”, then language is all too often the second casualty. As readers in the real world – i.e. the world outside the classroom – we should always be on our guard, ‘suspicious’ of texts and prepared to challenge or interrogate them. However, in the foreign language classroom, texts are routinely treated as unproblematic, as if their implicit authority need never be questioned. Their single function is to provide a contextual backdrop for the presentation of language, and consequently, they tend at best to be comfortably bland. Foreign language learners, who may be quite critical readers in their mother tongues, are textually infantilised by the vast majority of EFL coursebooks and the classroom approaches that proceed from these books.
A CLA approach implies what Catherine Wallace calls “a methodology for interpreting texts which addresses ideological assumptions as well as propositional meaning”, which would require students to develop sociolinguistic and ethnographic research skills, in order to become proficient at observing, analysing and evaluating language use in the world around them. It would lead them to ask and answer crucial questions about a text: Who produced it? Who was it produced for? In what context was it published? It would encourage them to notice features such as lexical choice, passivisation or foregrounding that reveal both the position of the writer and the way in which the reader is ‘positioned’ by the text. It would offer them opportunities to intervene creatively in texts, to modify them or to produce their own ‘counter-texts’ in ways proposed in the work of Clare Kramsch and Rob Pope. It would empower students to become active participants in the negotiation of meaning, rather than passive recipients of ‘authoritative’ texts. In short, it would transform language training into language education.
I looked at a few representative examples of different text-types (Robin Cook’s “chicken tikka” speech, a Daily Mail report of a postal workers’ strike action and a magazine advertisement for fitted kitchens) to see how they were loaded with ideological assumptions and how they were constructed so as to influence their intended readership for political or social or commercial purposes. I proposed that our notion of what constitutes ‘reading skills’ needs to be expanded to take account of the skills of critical thinking and interpretation that form an inevitable part of our daily response to texts, but are usually elided in the foreign language classroom.
What I tried to suggest in this talk is that, unless they are purely functional, as in the case, say, of an instruction leaflet, texts are inevitably ‘loaded’ in some way. They are rarely, if ever, as neutral as they are made to appear in ELT textbooks. There are always questions to be asked, about authorship, about readership, about lexical choices and about textual organisation. Students can be encouraged to ask – and answer – these questions; they can be invited to ‘disturb’ or ‘intervene’ in the texts, as they often do in literature classes when they are asked to provide alternative titles or alternative endings, or to re-tell a story from a different point of view. Texts should not be regarded as sacrosanct – the key to critical language awareness is a healthy disrespect for the text.

"Spelling Wimbledon" or how to make spelling fun

Written by: Asst. Prof. George Geshev
University of Plovdiv and Ivan Vazov Language School, Plovdiv, Bulgaria Activity overview
I came to think of this “game” in search of a better, non-threatening way of improving my students’ spelling skills. Dictation was obviously not sufficient in itself, and asking individual students to come to the blackboard and write words was anything but non-threatening. Just then it occurred to me that my students – they were in their prepyear, aged 13-14 – enjoyed all sort of games immensely. The solution was obvious – make spelling practice a game. And fun!
How?
Make them compete with each other spelling out English words. One correctly spelt word and you get one point. You are given the Bulgarian for three words to translate and write down in English. You have more correct words than your opponent (friend) – and you win. You have less – sorry, be more careful next time. Equal score – you play on, until one drops out.
The last player to drop out is the winner.
Just like Wimbledon, isn’t it?
What’s more, you do not have to follow a complex scheme. Just divide your students into random pairs, explain the rules briefly, and let the game unfold.
There is, however, a small “catch”. You need one pair of participants for the final, two pairs for the semifinals, four for the quarterfinals, etc. What if you have got, say, 27 students?
I thought of what they would do at Wimbledon. That’s right – play qualifications. And why not? This way I had 11 pairs playing to qualify and 5 of my “best” students waiting to join in later. So this made 16 players for the first round – just as many as I needed.
And the fun began!
I gave the words, the pairs came to the blackboard, the sad losers (i.e. the students with more spelling mistakes) dropped out, but continued the game as spectators cheering their classmates. The winners in turn I divided into new random pairs, we devoted any “spare” moment to playing the game (it actually took several weeks to complete) and one sunny day we had two players remaining.
Then I played it like a real Wimbledon final – two sets out of three, six points to win in each set. And what a final it was! The class were delighted, our winner was so proud even without a silver cup!
And all my students had had a lot of useful spelling practice.
Why don’t you try it with your students?
Game requirements
Here is a brief description of the rules to help you.
The students: highly motivated language learners at lower intermediate level (1,000+ active vocabulary), any number – the more, the better.
The classroom: any normal classroom with a blackboard will do.
The time: any time your students seem tired and demotivated, especially at the end of the school day or week.
The teacher: explains the rules and divides the class into pairs.
Reflecting on the experience

I have been doing this for three years. Come to think of it, what I have achieved is:

  • improve my students’ spelling
  • bring variety and fun into the classroom
  • teach them that life is a competition: you cannot always win, it is up to you how far you go
  • show them that friends can sometimes be rivals (not enemies), too

It is worth the time and effort, isn’t it?

Caring, sharing & despairing: a critical appraisal of humanistic language teaching approaches & techniques

Desmond Thomas, British Council Bulgaria & Svetla Tashevska, NBU [toc class=”toc-right”]
Do you believe that an English language teacher’s job is to teach the subject – nothing more, nothing less? Or do you believe that language classes should focus on the development of the whole individual, or even that teachers are ‘facilitators of freedom’ (to quote Carl Rogers), with a duty to empower their learners and to prepare them psychologically for coping with life?
If you have some sympathy with the idea of the teacher doing more than imparting knowledge in a given subject area, you may well feel attracted to some of the ideas associated with a humanistic approach to language teaching. According to Moskovitz (1978), humanism promotes the following values in education:

  • The importance of providing a supportive environment that encourages learning
  • The idea that personal growth as well as cognitive growth is the school’s responsibility
  • The importance of affective factors such as motivation and self-esteem
  • The idea that the best kind of learning is through self-discovery
  • The idea that human beings really do want to actualize their potential (cf McGregor’s Theory Y)
  • The importance of healthy relationships within the class emphasizing respect and empathy

Within this approach the teacher is expected to play the following kind of role:

  • (S)he is interested in the students as people and not just in the subject
  • (S)he is flexible and tolerant
  • (S)he is positive and encouraging, constantly trying to build students’ self-confidence
  • (S)he is a guide and counsellor, not just for language-learning, but for life
  • (S)he is a partner “caring and sharing” in classwork

Most of these ideas seem attractive in principle but how do they work in practice? For me, this is where the problems start. Here are three activities devised by Moskovitz herself in which there is a clear affective aim as well as (supposedly) a linguistic aim. The first is one which I experienced myself on a teacher training course. The second is recommended by Moskovitz as a good way to raise self-esteem in a recent article (Moskovitz 1999). The third, also highlighted in the same article, aims to promote individuality and a realization of the importance of differences.

Activity 1: Ex.24 I like you because … p.79

Affective:        To have students give and receive positive feedback
aims                 To look for good in others
Ling. aims:      To practise adjectives describing positive qualities
Levels:             Intermediate to advanced
Procedure:       Make an inner and outer circle (the dyadic belt formation).
Tell the person you are facing what you like about him/her.
Move round one. Repeat.

Activity 2: Ex.30 How strong I am ….. p.87

Affective:        To have students assess their own strengths and share these
aims                 To have students give one another positive feedback
Linguistic:       To practise adjectives describing positive qualities
aims                 To practise first person/second person singular in the present tense
Levels:             All levels
Procedures:

  1. Divide into groups. 5/6 people is ideal for each group.
  2. “We all have many strengths. Some of them we are aware of. Other people may see strengths in us that we do not realize we have.”
  3. Take a piece of paper and write down the names of everyone in the group. Below the names, write two of the strengths you see in each one in your group. Then write your own name and list as many of your strengths as you can think of. (5 minutes)
  4. Each group should focus on one person at a time. The person will begin by telling all the strengths she has written about herself. Then others in the group will share what strengths they see in the focus person. The student on her right writes them down. When everyone is finished, give the list of strengths to the owner to keep.
  5. Did anyone say something that surprised you? Which strength that others saw meant the most to you? What reactions do you have to this activity? What did you learn from it?

Activity 3:        Ex. 34 I like you – you’re different

Affective:        To encourage students to feel proud of their differences rather than feeling the aims                      need to be conformists
To encourage an open attitude toward others and their differences
Linguistic:       To practise the present tense
aims                 To practise the present perfect
To practise the past tense(s)
Levels:             All levels
Procedures:

  1. Explain to students that sometimes people want to be like everyone else and are concerned about differences, yet these are the tings that make us unique. For homework they should write on a card three things they feel good about that make them different from everyone else in the class. They should sign their names on the cards, which should look identical. Example: (a) I was on a national quiz show once and won two prizes, (b) I took lessons on three musical instruments, (c) I wrote a poem which was published in a school newspaper.
  2. Read each card aloud, one at a time. Students should guess who the card refers to. After the class votes on the three choices, ask the mystery person to stand to reveal to the class who was being described. The class then asks this student a few questions related to the card.
  3. Repeat the process. Don’t forget to include a card for yourself. There are many possible ways to follow up this activity.

The three activities described above are typical of Moskovitz’s “caring and sharing” activities and have not been chosen because they are extreme examples or more problematic than others. And yet a whole series of problem areas suggest themselves. Here is my list:

  • Regimentation, manipulation, lack of respect for individuals and their wishes. As a participant, I feel that there is an element of coercion in such activities, with everyone being forced to express themselves and behave in the same way – almost as if the class were being conducted in lockstep. As in lockstep, participants can easily switch off in the feedback stage. Interestingly, in instructions for the first activity Moskovitz talks about using a PA system, thus increasing the impersonality of the performance.
  • Cultural sensitivity … is it really OK to announce in public your private feelings about someone in class? Is it acceptable to announce your strengths? In Bulgaria? Elsewhere? Activities considered acceptable in North America or the UK may prove highly problematic where cultural norms are different. It is worrying that in her work Moskovitz does not really mention differences in perception caused by cultural influences, even stating that “(these techniques) transcend cultures and work with all kinds of people”.
  • Respect for the feelings of others. By singling out and exposing in public those who are liked, those who are successful, those who have interesting lives, how do others feel? In the third activity Moskovitz’s examples from her own experience could conceivably intimidate students who haven’t appeared on TV or had their work published. Is there a danger that students will be exposed as failures when compared to their classmates?
  • Artificiality ….. forcing individuals to behave in a false manner (my own case when participating in activity 1 where I was forced to lie when faced with a person I genuinely disliked). Moskovitz’s activities assume a world where everything is positive all the time.
  • Triviality… things such as personal relationships are too important to be treated in such a superficial manner. Activity 3, for example, deals with the issue of tolerance of diversity in a very superficial way.
  • Linguistic aims seem to be added as an afterthought – no real linguistic syllabus. Are the aims of any of the activities really clear? Even Rinvolucri (1999), quoting Dufeu (1994) recognizes that this can be a problem. At best we are distracting students from their main aim in coming to our classes – at worst we are neglecting to do our job.
  • Insensitivity to student expectations. Are these activities really what they want?

What conclusions can be drawn from this list based on a preliminary analysis of a small selection of activities from one author? Firstly that, while the values of HLT may be worth striving for, the means of achieving them can sometimes result in students becoming demotivated and disoriented. Too much emphasis on developing the inner self can lead to a perceived lack of direction and leadership in the classroom. Gadd (1998) quoting Stevick, (who is himself a strong advocate of HLT), has this to say:
Stevick (1980) is careful to show the deficiencies of humanistic approaches taken too far. He points out that students come to language classes rightly expecting well-structured classes and expertise from the teacher ….. Likewise, Stevick is aware that too much focus on the students’ own experiences and inner selves is unhelpful ……. He also comments, in a point one feels could be developed much further, that humanistic approaches can simply become an excuse for the teacher to dazzle students and colleagues with their educational originality and virtuosity: the teacher becomes the star of the classroom, while the students’ needs are secondary to the maintenance of the performer’s ego and his or her need to be loved.
Gadd draws a distinction between pragmatic and romantic humanism, placing Stevick in the pragmatic category. Romantic humanism, on the other hand, believes that the primary task of the English teacher is to develop the students’ inner selves, and that therefore the greater part of the work done in the classroom should be devoted to the students’ feelings, experiences and ideas.
I have chosen two examples of ‘romantic humanist’ activities, which seem to me to illustrate some of the pitfalls already discussed. The first is deliberately highlighted as an example of good practice by Rinvolucri (1999) in an article on HLT. The second is an account of a personal experience as a participant in a conference activity.

Activity 4: Puchta’s rope-trick (Puchta & Schratz 1993:42-45)

Aim: to introduce a reading passage about fans crushed at a pop concert
“The teacher laid a circle of rope (7 metres long) down on the floor in the centre of the classroom. He asked all 27 students to step inside it. As the teacher pulled the rope in tighter, a couple of students, without being asked, helped the teacher raise the rope so that it encircled the whole group at waist level. These were the instructions he gave: Would you close your eyes now, please? Whatever you feel or notice, don’t open your eyes. Just concentrate on your feelings.
Gradually the teacher drew the rope in so that all were tightly pressed together.
During the next stage of the activity the students filled the board with words that described their feelings. This dialogue then ensued:

Teacher: What about lovely? Who wrote that?
Student 1: I had a lovely feeling when we were all so ….
Teacher: …. together, you mean?
Student 1: Yes
Teacher: Interesting. So you did not mind that. Did you all have positive feelings?
Students (some hesitating) Yes.”
(extract from Rinvolucri 1999)

Activity 5: Bell-ringing (Della Fish)

An activity organized by Della Fish, author of “Quality Mentoring for Student Teachers” (1995, London: David Fulton) at a recent teacher mentoring conference in Cluj, Romania.
On the first night of the conference, after a welcome buffet reception , at about 9.30 pm (slightly later than originally planned), Dr.Fish stood up and addressed the assembled group of about 150 people. The activity which she described was as follows. Everyone would be assigned a group through colour-coded, different shape stickers. Each group would consist of 4 members whose task it was to organize a kind of “bell-ringing exercise”. Within the groups each individual would choose his/her own sound (eg baa, moo, pip, doh). The sounds had to be uttered in a complex sequence with accompanying movements as the “bell-ringing line” changed in formation. The trick was to work out a strategy within the group so that the correct sequences could be memorized and then performed on request. The aim of the activity was deliberately made unclear, initially. A team of facilitators was on hand to make sure that each group understood the task and did not deviate from it.
In my group of four we had a number of problems to overcome. It was late and we were tired after travelling all day. We didn’t know each other and wanted to begin our relationship in a more conventional way. We didn’t really see the point of what we were doing. We felt compelled to participate in a scheduled conference activity but our hearts (and minds) were not really in it. We found the activity trivial and irritating. It struck us as insensitive that the organizer might not have anticipated some of our problems. We didn’t have much time even to think about what we were supposed to be doing. An argument developed between two group members who thought the activity pointless and two who reluctantly wanted to make an attempt. In the end we just ran out of time.
The large gathering reconvened and after one group had performed, Dr.Fish drew conclusions for teaching and for teacher mentoring. These concerned the importance of team effort and collaboration in learning a new skill. Meanwhile, I was drawing my own conclusions about teaching and facilitating the development of new skills. Not for the first time I wondered what it was really like to be a learner when the teacher adopts the facilitator role.

References:

Arnold,J.(ed.),1999, Affect in Language Learning, Cambridge: CUP
Dufeu, B., 1994, Teaching Myself, Oxford: OUP
Gadd, N. ,1998, Towards less humanistic language teaching, ELTJ 52/3 pp.223-234
Moskovitz,G., 1978, Caring & sharing in the foreign language classroom, Heinle & Heinle
Moskovitz, G. Enhancing personal development in Arnold,J. (ed.) 1999: 177-193
Puchta,H & Schratz, M., 1993, Teaching Teenagers, Longman
Rinvolucri, M. The humanistic exercise in Arnold,J. (ed.) 1999: 194-210
Rogers,C.& Freiberg, H.,1994, Freedom to Learn, New York:Merrill
Stevick, E., 1980, Teaching Languages: A Way & Ways, Newbury House
Underhill,A. Facilitation in language teaching in Arnold,J. (ed.), 1999: 125-141,

Humanistic activities for the language classroom ????? DThomas 09/00

Activity 1:        Ex.24 I like you because … p.79 (Moskovitz 1978)

Affective:        To have students give and receive positive feedback
aims                 To look for good in others
Linguistic:       To practise adjectives describing positive qualities
Aims
Levels:             Intermediate to advanced
Procedure:       Make an inner and outer circle (the dyadic belt formation).
Tell the person you are facing what you like about him/her.
Move round one. Repeat.

Activity 2: Ex.30 How strong I am ….. p.87 (Moskovitz 1978)

Affective:        To have students assess their own strengths and share these
aims                 To have students give one another positive feedback
Linguistic:       To practise adjectives describing positive qualities
aims                 To practise first person/second person singular in the present tense
Levels:             All levels
Procedures:

  1. Divide into groups. 5/6 people is ideal for each group.
  2. “We all have many strengths. Some of them we are aware of. Other people may see strengths in us that we do not realize we have.”
  3. Take a piece of paper and write down the names of everyone in the group. Below the names, write two of the strengths you see in each one in your group. Then write your own name and list as many of your strengths as you can think of. (5 minutes)
  4. Each group should focus on one person at a time. The person will begin by telling all the strengths she has written about herself. Then others in the group will share what strengths they see in the focus person. The student on her right writes them down. When everyone is finished, give the list of strengths to the owner to keep.
  5. Did anyone say something that surprised you? Which strength that others saw meant the most to you? What reactions do you have to this activity? What did you learn from it?

Activity 3:        Ex. 34 I like you – you’re different (Moskovitz 1978)

Affective:        To encourage students to feel proud of their differences rather than feeling the aims                      need to be conformists
To encourage an open attitude toward others and their differences
Linguistic:       To practise the present tense
aims                 To practise the present perfect
To practise the past tense(s)
Levels:             All levels
Procedures:

  1. Explain to students that sometimes people want to be like everyone else and are concerned about differences, yet these are the tings that make us unique. For homework they should write on a card three things they feel good about that make them different from everyone else in the class. They should sign their names on the cards, which should look identical. Example: (a) I was on a national quiz show once and won two prizes, (b) I took lessons on three musical instruments, (c) I wrote a poem which was published in a school newspaper.
  2. Read each card aloud, one at a time. Students should guess who the card refers to. After the class votes on the three choices, ask the mystery person to stand to reveal to the class who was being described. The class then asks this student a few questions related to the card.
  3. Repeat the process. Don’t forget to include a card for yourself. There are many possible ways to follow up this activity.

Activity 4: Puchta’s rope-trick (Puchta & Schratz 1993:42-45)

Aim: to introduce a reading passage about fans crushed at a pop concert
“The teacher laid a circle of rope (7 metres long) down on the floor in the centre of the classroom. He asked all 27 students to step inside it. As the teacher pulled the rope in tighter, a couple of students, without being asked, helped the teacher raise the rope so that it encircled the whole group at waist level. These were the instructions he gave: Would you close your eyes now, please? Whatever you feel or notice, don’t open your eyes. Just concentrate on your feelings.
Gradually the teacher drew the rope in so that all were tightly pressed together.
During the next stage of the activity the students filled the board with words that described their feelings. This dialogue then ensued:

Teacher: What about lovely? Who wrote that?
Student 1: I had a lovely feeling when we were all so ….
Teacher: …. together, you mean?

FEATURES OF HUMANISTIC EDUCATION

  • supportive environment for learning
  • personal growth as well as cognitive growth
  • affective factors such as motivation and self-esteem
  • learning is through self-discovery
  • realization of human potential
  • healthy relationships within the class
  • respect and empathy

ROLE OF THE TEACHER

  • interested in the students as people
  • flexible and tolerant
  • positive and encouraging
  • guide and counsellor for life
  • a partner “caring and sharing”

PROBLEM AREAS IN HLT

  • Regimentation, manipulation, coercion
  • Lack of cultural sensitivity
  • Lack of respect for feelings/wishes of others
  • Insensitivity to student expectations
  • Artificiality
  • Trivialization
  • Unclear linguistic aims
  • Intolerance of dissent

Comment sheet on humanistic language teaching techniques & activities

  1. Do you have any comments on the specific activities highlighted in this presentation?
  2. What has been your own experience of HLT, either positive or negative?

The cultural syllabus and its effect on the English language teaching profession in the town of Shoumen

Written by: Violeta Mondashka, ELMS, Shoumen
Stanislava Ivanova, Naval Academy, Varna [toc class=”toc-right”]
Quite recently, while still writing this paper, the Bulgarian government started the official negotiations for the country’s integration in the European Community. This lays the foundations of a long and difficult process of radical changes in all spheres of our political, economic and social life aimed at successful integration.
In the context of these changes and in view of the new opportunities they will provide, foreign language teaching acquires even greater significance with its aim of enabling successful communication in a foreign language setting. Linguistic performance alone, however, without cultural awareness does not warrant this success – an aspect that has long been neglected by our educational system. The Cultural Studies Syllabus has been created to fill in this gap and to propose a way of integrating the teaching of language and culture. It proceeds from our belief that language is part of a culture and to participate meaningfully in an inter-cultural context, one needs to possess knowledge as well as skills for inter-cultural communication.
The Syllabus promotes a new understanding about culture teaching in terms of what and HOW to teach. “What” is concerned not merely with provision of information but with developing inter-cultural awareness. Such awareness as stated in the Syllabus, grows out of a combination of knowledge and skills. The skill-based approach is crucial in helping the students to develop not only knowledge but also willingness to understand the complex aspects, which constitute culture. Thus the CS provides not only the aims of cultural education but it also proposes a new methodology for achieving these aims. (How)
Since its publication in September 1998, a series of seminars have been run throughout the country “to enable a wider circle of practising teachers of English and other foreign languages to use the Syllabus creatively and through changing their own views on the teaching of culture and improving their classroom behaviour to contribute to a large-scale process of change in language education”. (Leah Davcheva, Head of Cultural Studies, the British Council, Sofia)
The present paper is an attempt to assess the innovative effect of the Cultural Studies Syllabus on the English language teaching and learning practice in the town of Shoumen. It is mostly based on the reports of the teachers who participated in the double seminar on the Implementation of the CS and carried out their small action research projects in their classrooms between November 1998 and December 1999. It also includes our impressions from conducting the seminar, observing our colleagues teaching with the syllabus and discussing related issues in both formal and informal situations. And last but not least, it is an account of our personal experience of teaching cultural issues.

Profile of the teachers

The teachers who responded to the idea of integrating culture in language teaching came from different schools.

Schools Number of teachers Class Age of students
Foreign languages Medium school 6 Preps 13-14
Eight 14-15
Ninth 15-16
Tenth 16-17
Eleventh 17-18
The School of Humanities 2 Tenth 16-17
Maths and Science School 1 Preparatory 13-14
Secondary Comprehensive School 1 Sixth 11-12
Private Language School 1 Pre-intermediate Level 12-13
Muslem Religious School 1 Tenth 16-17


The variety of the schools, as well as the different age groups of the students included in the research, provided the opportunity for exploring the effect of the syllabus in a number of different teaching contexts.
Since the Syllabus aims at innovation and change, further on in this paper we shall deal with the different aspects of the teaching-learning process and how these were affected by the Syllabus. We will be looking at changes in the conventional teaching practice, what the students gained from it and how it affected the teachers themselves. We will also deal with the innovative principles of the Syllabus that have been verified through our experience.
An important feature of the CS Syllabus is that it is skills-oriented (critical reading, comparing and contrasting, ethnographic and research skills). This gives the teacher the freedom to use different topics to practice the skills while at the same time avoids repetition. The topics suggested by the Syllabus proved to be both interesting and provocative and found remarkable emotional response among the students. These include: Christmas, Teenage Problems, “Fur Game? Fur-Get It!”, “I thought my teacher fancied me”, “Cross-cultural comparison of tourist materials, Reading photographs, Third Age, “Are we racist and xenophobic?”, etc. Many of the topics were chosen by the students themselves. By comparing and contrasting different Christmas practices, the problems of Bulgarian and British teenagers, different British/Scottish advertsing strategies in in tourist materials they became aware of different patterns of behaviour under similar circumstances, arising from different cultural background (“I thought my teacher fancied me”). In “Teenage work” they compared their predictions about finding work and the reactions of others (what employers, teachers, parents, peers think) and the reality of their findings.
Part of the learning process was taken out of the classroom and the students were encouraged to take a greater responsibility for their learning. In many cases the comparison was based on research that the students carried out in their own culture (by developing ethnographic skills) on different occasions: Christmas, teenage working, third age problems, etc. The students were provoked to find more about their own culture and acquire understanding of their own culture, a prerequisite of dealing with culture per se, before they could successfully develop awareness and tolerance of foreign cultural practices. Ethnographic research helped students realize that learning can happen outside the classroom, that by objectively observing they can learn more about themselves and gain increased awareness of changes in their own culture. The students in the 11th class admitted they could not attach the same emotional response to Christmas that they used to experience on New Year’s day.
In the 11th class the syllabus prompted the idea of self-designing a lesson on Christmas food and eating habits. The students were asked to research specific social practices like fasting and celebration of the night before Christmas; the symbolic meaning of the vegetarian and the number of dishes laid on the table. They provided typical Christmas recipes from the Bulgarian national cuisine. In the process of research, however, the students came up with unexpected results. They explored how the Bulgarian cuisine has been influenced by the Greek, Turkish and Italian cuisine and how in turn it affected our neighbouring countries. A special presentation was devoted to the Shoumen region, which added the local colour to their intra-cultural awareness. As a whole, Bulgarian cuisine was identified as a source of national pride.
Information was also collected from the Internet and, along with the British tradition, the students learned a lot about Mexican and Chinese ones. The comparison was followed by a discussion on the changing nature of habits and traditions, English breakfast was discussed as well as different strategies for fasting and dieting. Thus, the students were exposed to a variety of cultural diversities.     The CS was found extremely helpful by our American Peace Corp teacher. As a foreigner she found it natural to share parts of her own culture with the classes she taught. The Syllabus, however, provided a more structured approach to cultural comparisons. She tried the Christmas lessons in the prep, 8th and 9th classes and found both the procedure and the materials equally relevant to these three age groups. She particularly liked the cross-cultural approach, which turned the lesson into a comparison between Bulgarian and American Christmas traditions and not just a provision of knowledge about the target culture. Another aspect that was highly appreciated was the emphasis on intra-cultural awareness. As a follow-up to the lesson, she assigned a homework asking the students to describe the Bulgarian Christmas traditions. This is what she shared:
“Reading these was probably the most rewarding part of the lesson. Our discussions had helped them to delve deeper, to think more precisely about their own traditions and what they mean to them, as well as to recognize those things which are unique about their own culture.” The emphasis on intra-cultural awareness was highly appreciated by the American Peace Corps teacher. “The first step toward understanding another language is to recognize that our opinions are in part shaped by a specific culture (our ‘box’), and that other people in other places might approach a similar problem in entirely different ways. The new cultural studies syllabus encourages students to take the first steps in this process by introducing interesting and relevant topics that elicit debate and response, and then by asking students to compare this response with how people in another culture would respond.”
While comparing facts and social practices from their own culture and the culture of the target language they seemed to acquire a broader perspective of the role of both native and foreign culture for the development of their personalities. By exposing the students to a variety of cultural contexts we equip them with the tools they need to process information and form an opinion of their own.

Versatility

An important feature of the syllabus is that it is extremely versatile which allows the same topic to be used at various levels in a number of different ways. The the topic of Christmas proved be the most enjoyable one round Christmas and it was explored in the widest possible range of age groups (from 12-18). In each of the classes however the lessons on Christmas were focussed on different aspects of the holiday depending on the language level and background experience of the students.
The CS crept into a quite unexpected teaching setting like the Muslim Religious secondary school. The topic of Christmas provoked the idea of comparing and contrasting different religious holidays and the social practices that accompany them. Residing in Bulgaria the students knew about Christmas but they have always felt it to be an exotic holiday, alien to their strong Muslem religious self-awareness. However, they were well familiar with the story of Ramazan Bayram from the Quran. The lesson encouraged the students to look deeper into the significance of their holiday as a symbol of purity and sincerity in human relations and respect for the elderly people in the family. A comparison between the two holidays and the messages they carry for the members of the two different religious communities raised their awareness of the existing common values along with the cultural and religious diversities. They realised what an important significance Christmas had for the Christian community. The lesson, while respecting their ethnic and religious identity, made it possible for them to identify with a different perspective, thus engendering tolerance.

Flexibilty & Appropriateness to young learners

When writing the syllabus the target audience we aimed at were the English teachers at the Language, Maths and Humanities Medium schools. However, a belief was expressed that it could be of help to any language teacher. Being among its authors, we were curious to see how it works with very young learners. Violeta tried the second Christmas lesson from the Syllabus with her young students at a private language school. Those are 12-year old children whose level of English can be defined as pre-intermediate or lower intermediate. The aim was to practice comparing and contrasting and research skills. Before the Christmas holiday break, The students were asked to carry out a small research in their own family and relatives’ circle, answering very simple questions like:

  • Why do we celebrate Christmas?
  • Who do you celebrate with?
  • Where do you usually celebrate?
  • What do you / your parents / your relatives do before Christmas/ on Christmas day / on the next day?

The students responded sincerely and brought an account of traditional practices many of which we were not quite familiar with. They talked about “Budni vecher”, the vegetarian dishes, and the traditional Christmas symbols. It was difficult for them to express themselves fluently while describing specific practices but the emphasis being the cultural context, they were not corrected, just provided with the words they needed. When they had agreed on the list of typical Bulgarian Christmas activities, they were handed the photo from the Syllabus and made a similar list of the British common activities. Additional information was also provided from “Discovering Britain” with a glossary of the anticipated unfamiliar words. Then they were asked to find the difference between the two lists. The comparison between the two lists of activities brought awareness mostly at affective level. Some responded emotionally and quickly jumped to conclusions like “Our holiday is better!”. In the discussion that followed there was a lot of comparing and contrasting. It turned out that Bulgarian children enjoyed the way they celebrated Christmas. They liked the presents, disliked the turkey and the Christmas pudding and wanted the Bulgarian “banitsa” with the lucky charms in it. However, they were attracted by particular items in the other culture as well – mostly by the firecrackers and the Christmas stocking, though doubts were expressed as to its practicality in terms of the size of the presents that can fit in it. They learned about Boxing Day and compared it with our tradition of “Koleduvane”. They were also made aware of the mobility of cultural traditions. One of the families had celebrated the holiday abroad and another boy reported about a family that chose to have turkey for their Christmas meal.
Another enjoyable Christmas lesson with young learners (in the fifth grade) was based on comparing and contrasting Christmas cards. Since those children study Russian along with English, the teacher chose to compare Bulgarian, Russian and British Christmas postcards. Again the children showed great enthusiasm, learned a lot about Christmas symbols and made interesting observations. They responded not only to the images but also to the quality of the design. They recognized the uniqueness of the Bulgarian images: the traditional “buklitsa” and “surovaknitsa”, the apples and nuts on the folkstyle tablecloth – things they could not find in the other cards. They admired the images of the animals and the fairy-tale characters with “Snegurachka” (Snow White) in the Russian cards. They wondered why a view of Kremlin or of the Houses of Parliament should be sent as a Christmas greeting. They liked the Christmas stocking and disliked the religious texts of the Christmas carols.
Both lessons proved to be successful in providing young learners with insight into a foreign culture and traditions on a par with their own. Given the students age (12) it was unrealistic to expect them to speculate about or account for the reasons of the cultural diversities and similarities they noticed. Yet, a lot of comparing and contrasting was practiced, which enhanced their observation skills and provoked them to think about diversity, to say nothing of the new words they learned in the most enjoyable way. Thus with a slight adaptation in the procedure and the materials the Syllabus proved to be helpful for practicing the three cultural skills with younger learners.

Emotional Response

The opportunity to participate in the selection of topics not only enhanced the students’ motivation but also stimulated a surprising ingenuity in providing additional topic-related materials from most varied sources: questionnaires and interviews carried out in their own culture, Christmas cards from different cultures, newspaper articles and photographs, tourist materials, Internet, etc. The students were eager to discuss, competed to be presenters, to shift the focus to topics they thought were relevant. While discussing animal rights and xenophobia, such diverse topics as stray dogs, animals in Bulgarian zoos, dancing bears, the war in Kosovo, etc., were touched upon. Various teaching techniques were employed. All the students got involved in taking interviews and making posters in Jana’s project on teenage working. As some of them shared, they felt like journalists and ejoyed it very much.

What the students gained

The direct results that could be observed were the practical skills that the students acquired:

  • developed inter-cultural competence and ability to successfully communicate within a foreign cultural environment
  • enjoyed reading the authentic materials in the syllabus and the freedom to practise the language in discussing interesting topics
  • developed their linguistic competence, improved their linguistic skills (reading authentic materials, writing on interesting topics, speaking, etc.), gained fluency
  • practiced research and presentation skills (collecting and processing information, interviews, speaking in front of an audience, etc.)

However, there were some indirect influences on the students participating in the lessons, more subtle changes in their personal life philosophies. The confrontation with another perspective of reality, another alternative view of the world, helped them shake off their ethno- and egocentrism and grow as persons and citizens of the world. These are some of the qualities that were aimed at:

  • adaptability to changes in their own and foreign cultures
  • tolerance: while working in teams they learned to listen more attentively to each other, to respect each other’s opinion, team-work and team-spirit
  • ice-breaking experience: changed the atmosphere in class, improved relations with other students, fostered new respect for teachers who teach interesting lessons in an enjoyable way
  • built-in tolerance in the process of learning: appreciation of the opinions and values of others, sensitivity to cultural diversity, became more positive of their culture
  • broader perspective: the Syllabus encouraged them to reconsider the cultural framework they have been brought up in and to acquire skills that will enable them to observe and analyse encounters with diversity and to extend these beyond the framework of their culture
  • emotional connection to material, satisfaction of challenge
  • students’ attitude to work changed as a result of comparing predictions and findings
  • ethnocentrism – the students putting Bulgarians in the first place in terms of racism and xenophobia realized it is not true
  • perception of “right” and “wrong”: students realized their view is not universal (changed attitude towards the teacher in “I Thought My Teacher Fancied Me”)

How the teachers changed

Students were not the only ones affected by the changed approach to culture. Some changes can be observed in the teachers as well. The experience affected them on two levels: as professionals and as persons. The professional growth can be better understood if we list some of the possible problems identified at the first seminar. In spite of their willingness, the participants expressed a lot of concerns, i.e.:

  • lack of authentic materials, reference books and native speakers to consult
  • lack of cultural experience on the part of the students and the teacher
  • lack of interest and motivation
  • lack of confidence in dealing with sensitive topics
  • suitability of lessons and topics to students’ age group and language abilities
  • curriculum constraints

The teachers felt challenged though not quite confident at the beginning. They started by sticking closely to the Syllabus, and (in many cases) by trialling the sample lesson that was taught during the first seminar: ‘Cross-cultural comparison of tourist materials’.
One and the same lesson was taught with different success in different classes (“The Fur-game”). In one of the classes the students were shocked by the cruelty with which animals are killed for their fur. They claimed they would never wear fur.’ The discussion shifted to cleanliness in our town and they wanted to organise group to keep nature clean. In a different class, same age level, taught by the same teacher, students refused to see the problem or identify with it. They thought that even if they stopped buying fur clothes that would not change things. This made the teacher aware of how difficult it is for to attitudes change.

Problems encountered during the lessons

Teaching the lessons had both a liberating and threatening effect on teachers. It enriched them, provided them with many opportunities for growth and improvement in their professional capacity, helped the overcome the problems envisioned in the beginning, but also brought to the surface other unforeseen problems.

  • Timing – difficult to plan
  • Sensitive topics – not all students felt comfortable with discussing them; some refused to voice their attitude on xenophobia; or the clash in Kosovo (probably they didn’t share the same value system)
  • Danger of imposing your own ideas; evaluate phenomena instead of objectively comparing them.
  • Tight spots and losing control of the lesson (a young teacher was asked, ‘What would you do if you received a love letter from your student?’)
  • Lack of up-to-date information (British newspapers) – there were questions about the British school system that she was unable to answer.

In these days of the learner centered approach, the responsibility for learning is the learner’s. “The teachers may help overcome difficult stages, may organize learning activities and try to stimulate the process, but can never predict the outcome” (de Jong, 1996). Still, it was an ice-breaking experience for the teacher/students relations: teachers came to know their students better; provided for openness and mutual trust in their relations. All the teachers recognized this as a positive experience:

Gergana:’I found the lesson about fur…an enjoyable and valuable experience. Even though it didn’t show change of attitudes in one of the classes it provoked them to think about these matters…’
Janeta:’Working on the project was difficult and time-consuming but the students enjoyed it and the results were rewarding.
Gabriela: ’…an enjoyable lesson. Everybody was eager to present.

The Syllabus gave them an insight into their new role of culture teachers – as mediators, consultants and monitors of the process of teaching culture and not providers of knowledge.

  • Provoked an interesting way of revising grammar through the CS materials; Ex. Conditional sentences-‘I thought my teacher…’
  • Provided a new perspective of the nature of cultural teaching and learning and a more structured approach to it.
  • Supplied ideas on selecting and adapting materials that provoke students’ interest.
  • Gained in confidence – ‘Each time it is better.’
  • Acquired a better understanding of what students think/feel; of how they perceive themselves as individuals – leads to better relationship with the students.
  • Improved classroom dynamics and classroom management.
  • Learned how to design their own lesson around skills.
  • Higher respect on behalf of the students.
  • Fascinating connection between teaching ‘pure’language+culture+‘life’-skills.

The Syllabus changed them on a personal level as well. Teachers:

  • gained in confidence
  • improved relations with colleagues (they observed each other, discussed possible problems)
  • became more tolerant of others and “otherness”
  • increased their own cultural awareness

The aim of the cultural studies teaching and learning, as exemplified by the Syllabus, and as evidenced in this paper is not only to develop language and communicative competence, but also “to expand one’s own cultural awareness by learning about the cultural heritage of the English speaking peoples and by so doing to arrive at a livelier appreciation of both cultures” (Byram, 1997). The Cultural Studies Syllabus has already made a tremendous impact on the ELT practice in the town of Shoumen and has changed the way teachers and learners view the world and themselves. The process of introducing the syllabus to the ELT community in Bulgaria is on-going and will undoubtedly contribute to the future integration of Bulgaria in the European community.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Billington, R. Strawbridge, S. Greensides, L. Fitzsimmons, A. Culture and Society: A sociology of Culture, 1991, Macmillan Education Ltd.
Byram, M. Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence, 1997, Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Davcheva, L. Berova, N. Discovering Britain, 1991, Prosveta
de Jong, W. Open Frontiers: Teaching English in an intercultural context, 1996, Heinemann ELT
Montgomery, M. Reid Thomas, H. Language and Social Life, 1994, The British Council
THE CULTURAL SYLLABUS AND ITS EFFECT ON TEACHING IN SHOUMEN
The Cultural Studies Syllabus has been created to provide means for integrating the teaching of language and culture. It promotes a new understanding about culture teaching, a combination of knowledge and skills, and proposes a new methodology for achieving these aims.
Since its publication, a series of seminars have been run throughout the country. The present paper assesses the innovative effect of the Cultural Studies Syllabus on the English language teaching and learning practice in the town of Shoumen.

Strategies in foreign language pronunciation: A qualitative investigation

Written by: Marina Samalieva, The University of Plovdiv [toc class=”toc-right”] 1. Introduction
The communicative approach to teaching foreign languages is based on the idea of building up and developing communicative skills and one of the crucial factors for its realisation are the learner strategies. Despite the fact that learner strategies are taken as a key factor in teaching and learning various aspects of the foreign language such as listening, reading comprehension, lexis etc. (Huahuang & Naerssen, 1987; Abraham & Vann, 1990 etc.) in teaching pronunciation these factors have not been studied so far.
The present study has the following objectives – a) to point out the area of difficulty learners meet while learning the English pronunciation and b) what type of strategies they apply in learning pronunciation and the frequency of their use.

2. Background of the study

2.1. The Sample
Twenty one students from the Agricultural University of Plovdiv learning English as a foreign language participated in the study their level of proficiency in English being upper intermediate.
2.2. The Method of Research
To collect the data for the study we used the method of the interview.
2.3 The Setting
The interview included questions. The aim was to establish the most frequent difficulties the students have in learning English pronunciation. Moreover the students had to point out the strategies applied by them in learning English pronunciation for instance: repetition, practice, imitation etc. An example question: You have heard a word and want to remember its pronunciation. What do you do? Point to the greatest number of strategies you apply. The interview with each student was recorded.

3. Data Analysis


3.1. Pronunciation problems
The pronunciation problems learners have are mostly in: a) pronunciation of long, unfamiliar words and specialised terms (57.1%); b) pronunciation of separate sounds (42.8%) and c) 38.1% – stress and rhythm (Table 1).
Other problem areas pointed out by the learners are -speed and familiarity with interactants (33.3%); pronunciation of sounds in which there is inconsistency with the spelling or the so-called pronunciation inconsistency (33.3% and so on, table 1).
Table 1.
Pronunciation problems and percentage of students reporting them

Problems Frequency % of students
1. Length and familiarity with words i.e. place names, names of people, terms 57.1
2. Sound production 42.8
3. Stress/rhythm 38.1
4. Speed and familiarity with interactants 33.3
5. Pronunciation inconsistency (i.e. pronunciation of multi-valued letters) 33.3
6. Perception of native pronunciation 14.3
7. L1 interference 9.5

3.2. Pronunciation strategies
The learners reported 29 strategies in learning pronunciation (Table 2). These strategies may be classified as cognitive, metacognitive and social. Some of the strategies were applied very frequently. The increasing the input i.e. listening to records, and watching television language programmes and repetition were most widely used – 95.2% and 90.4%, respectively. There follow dictionary use and practising target items in speaking, writing (66.6%), and memorisation, seeking assistance of teacher/peer students and associations (61.9%). The number of strategies ranges from 7 to 18; i.e. students report a great variety of strategies.
Concerning the type of strategies the data show that all the students preferred the strategies of practice and communicative interaction that Wenden (1991:21) calls  “strategies of cognitive learning”. As regards the metacognitive strategies, there is great variation. For 23.8% of all students the most frequent strategies are monitoring and self-correction etc. (Table 2). 52.3% of the students apply the self-assessment. The strategies seeking assistance of teacher/peer students and repetition after 61.9% and 28.6% pointed out correction by teacher/peer students, respectively.
To learn which category of students uses the metacognitive strategies we tested the learners for pronunciation (Rogerson & Gilbert, 1995). For all students with a very good level of pronunciation and one with a good level the most frequent strategies are monitoring and self-correction. (Table 2). All very good students and 63.6% of the good students apply the self-assessment. The students with a fair proficiency most frequently use the strategy seeking assistance of the teacher/peer students, repetition after correction by teacher/peer students.

4. Discussion


Twenty-nine strategies for learning pronunciation belonging to the three major categories- cognitive, metacognitive and social (for details see Samalieva, 1999) have been found in this study. These results are in relation with other studies carried out in different conditions and with other subjects (Ellis and Sinclair, 1989; O’Maley and Chamot, 1991) and show the great variability of strategies the learners apply in learning pronunciation. The learners preferred the strategies connected with practice and communicative interaction that are called “strategies for cognitive learning” (Wenden, 1991:21). The greater part of learners referred to the strategy increasing the input, oral repetition, etc. The learners in this study apply also metacognitive strategies. These data consolidate the opinion of many authors that for effective learning to take place the usage of cognitive strategies is not sufficient (Brown, 1987; Ellis & Sinclair, 1989). Great variability was found in the qualitative application of the metacognitive strategies. Thus, the very good and good learners point to the strategy monitoring and self-assessment  while the poor learners report teacher/peer student correction. In the literature it has been suggested that properly applied metacognitive strategies have been effective for improvement of learners’ performance. Without the ability to manage and control by means of monitoring their progress and to assess the result of their efforts to learn the foreign language the students will not be able to apply their repertory of strategies when necessary because they will not know the need where and how to apply these strategies. So in order to get beyond the limits of the problem solving situation the learners should possess a rich set of metacognitive strategies. Brown point out “learners should apply metacognitive strategies besides the cognitive strategies” (Brown, 1987).
Studies about the role of strategy application in relation to the learner awareness of his processes of learning English pronunciation is of particular importance for their integration in the teaching of foreign languages.

5. Conclusion

5.1. Twenty-nine strategies for learning English pronunciation referring to the categories mentioned in the literature as cognitive, metacognitive and social have been reported in the study.
5.2. All learners reported a great variety of strategies in learning pronunciation. They preferred the strategies of practice and communicative interaction or the so-called “strategies of cognitive learning”.
5.3. The better students use the metacognitive strategies – monitoring and self-correction that shows their awareness of the problems they encounter in English pronunciation. The less proficient students report the strategy correction by teacher/peer students.
5.4. Studies about the role of strategy application in relation to the learner awareness of his processes of learning English pronunciation is of particular importance for their integration in the teaching of foreign languages.

References

Abraham, R.G. and Vann, R.J. 1990. Strategies of unsuccessful language learners. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 24/2.
Brown, H. D. 1987. Principles in Language Teaching and Learning. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall.
Huang, Xiao-Hua and M.V. Naerssen. 1987. Learning for oral communication. Applied Linguistics, vol.8/3.
Ellis, G. and B. Sinclair, 1989. Learning to learn English: A course in learner training. Cambridge: CUP.
O’Maley, J. and A. U. Chamot. 1991. Learning strategies in second acquisition. Cambridge: CUP.
Rogerson,P & J.B. Gilbert 1995. Speaking clearly.  Pronunciation and listening comprehension for learners of English. Cambridge University Press .
Samalieva, M. 1999. Learner strategies in learning a foreign language. Plovdiv University “Paisii Hilendarski” Scientific Works, 1999 – Philology (in press).
Wenden, A. 1991. Learner strategies for learner autonomy. U.K: Prentice Hall International.

Making it strange: literature and culture shock

The experience of learning a foreign language inevitably involves an encounter with different cultural contexts and with different ways of conceptualising the world. This can be disturbing or invigorating, depending on our attitude to the foreign culture. Literature often employs deliberate strategies of defamiliarisation that replicate this sense of strangeness, taking us on voyages of discovery or making us look afresh at our everyday surroundings. Genres which typically displace the reader in this way include historical fiction, science fiction and utopian (or dystopian) fantasies. There is also a growing body of literature in English reflecting the immigrant experience and the rich diversity of increasingly multi-cultural societies. This paper explored ways in which such intra-cultural texts can be used in the language classroom to promote greater inter-cultural awareness.

Written by: Alan Pulverness
A previous version of this paper was first presented at Rome TESOL, in December 1999
The experience of learning a foreign language inevitably involves an encounter with different cultural contexts and with different ways of conceptualising the world. This can be disturbing or invigorating, depending on our attitude to the foreign culture. Literature often employs deliberate strategies of defamiliarisation that replicate this sense of strangeness, taking us on voyages of discovery or making us look afresh at our everyday surroundings. Genres which typically displace the reader in this way include historical fiction, science fiction and utopian (or dystopian) fantasies. There is also a growing body of literature in English reflecting the immigrant experience and the rich diversity of increasingly multi-cultural societies. This paper explored ways in which such intra-cultural texts can be used in the language classroom to promote greater inter-cultural awareness.
The Martian narrator of Craig Raine’s poem “A Martian sends a postcard home” thinks that books are mechanical birds with many wings that sometimes perch on the hand and cause the eyes to melt/or the body to shriek without pain. Henry Ford’s Model T car is seen by the alien as a room with the lock inside-/a key is turned to free the world/for movement. When the driver looks in the rearview mirror, there is a film to watch for anything missed. The telephone, seen through Martian eyes, becomes a haunted apparatus […] that snores when you pick it up and toilets seem to this bemused interplanetary visitor to be punishment rooms.
Raine’s poem gave its name to a group of British poets in the late 1970s, who became known as “The Martian School”. Andrew Motion and Blake Morrison, in their introduction to The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, said that the ‘Martian’ poets shared a delight in outrageous simile and like[d] to twist and mix language in order to revive the ordinary. The figure of the curious alien, bewildered by the most natural objects and events is a convenient representative for the writer who wants to take a fresh look at everything.
As a literary agenda, this is nothing new: at the end of the nineteenth century, the French poet, Mallarmé, wrote of wanting to give a purer sense to the language of the tribe; by the 1940s, the Russian literary theorist, Bakhtin, was concerned with the challenge that faces every writer in trying to use language whose impact has been blunted by passing through the hands of so many other users. Or as T S Eliot succinctly put it in Sweeney Agonistes, “I’ve gotta use words when I talk to you!” In response to this feeling that language – and hence writing – was in danger of losing its force because it was over-familiar, the Russian formalist critics, writing around 1917, had suggested that one of the main aims of literature was defamiliarisation. (The Russian word is ostranenie – or “making strange”.) Shklovsky, the central figure in the Formalsit group, examined the technique of Tolstoy in an influential essay called Art as technique:

After we see an object several times, we begin to recognise it. The object is in front of us and we know about it, but we do not see it – hence we cannot say anything significant about it…. Tolstoy makes the familiar seem strange…. He describes an object as if he were seeing it for the first time, an event as if it were happening for the first time. In describing something he avoids the accepted names of its parts and instead names corresponding parts of other objects.

Perhaps the most famous example is Tolstoy’s description of battle through Pierre’s eyes in War and Peace, seeing war – and making the reader see it – as if for the first time.
The experience of the learner encountering another culture either through the direct experience of travelling abroad, or simply through the language and the literature is, by definition, one of estrangement. The first thing to be registered is strangeness and difference.

What does TOEFL test sometimes?

Traditionally, Bulgarian takers of the TOEFL have very good results. It is mainly teenagers in their last year at high schools (most notably English Language schools) that take the test, the most common purpose being to continue their education at American universities. Many of them go in for courses offered for preparation for the TOEFL examination.

Written by: Vyara Istratkova & Ellie Boyadzhieva South-western University of Blagoevgrad – Neofit Rilski
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General Introduction
The choice of this topic has been provoked by some observations upon the preparation work and the successful accomplishment of some tasks by would-be Bulgarian takers of the TOEFL.
Traditionally, Bulgarian takers of the TOEFL have very good results. It is mainly teenagers in their last year at high schools (most notably English Language schools) that take the test, the most common purpose being to continue their education at American universities. Many of them go in for courses offered for preparation for the TOEFL examination.
The Bulgarian candidates’ approach to the test is based mainly on the presumption that their high level of language proficiency is the necessary prerequisite for success. It does hold true to some extent as it is necessary indeed. Yet, language proficiency is not a sufficient condition for success, and that is what we will try to prove below.

Aims of the TOEFL

The TOEFL in used as a standard measure of the ‘English proficiency’ of the candidates taking it. The TOEFL score is a compulsory requirement of the admission offices of different educational institutions and organizations so that foreign candidates are considered for admission. (In the 1996 edition on p.6 we read: “Many Universities use TOEFL scores to fulfill the foreign language requirement for doctoral candidates whose first language is not English” (TOEFL 1996:6). Actually, this applies to nearly all (American) universities and it refers to undergraduates as well. An interesting point is that the TOELF is to be taken even by British students.

The material in focus and the authors goal

As it is well known the TOEFL consists of three sections: Listening Comprehension, Structure and Written expression and Reading Comprehension & Vocabulary section and it tests the candidates’ five skills – listening, structure, written expression, vocabulary and reading (TOEFL 1989:8).
The material in focus presents samples from the 1st, 2nd and the 3rd part of the Listening Section of two different editions of TOEFL which (also) differ in their format – the Listening Section of the Sixth edition of Barron’s TOEFL (1989) consists of a statement-restatement part, conversations and mini-talks, whereas in the Eight edition of Barron’s TOEFL (1996) the Listening Section is comprised of short conversations, longer conversations and talks. The examples included (in the corpus) are illustrative, the authors’ goal being to show that sometimes something more than language proficiency and proficiency in how to approach the examination is needed for the successful accomplishment of the listening tasks of the test.

Theoretical background

Tests are measurement instruments and (according to Carrol, 68) a “procedure designed to elicit certain behavior from which one can make inferences about certain characteristics of an individual” (Carrol 1968:46). In fact, tests are (or, ideally, should be) simulated real-life situations. On the basis of the performance of the candidate one should be able to make predictions about his/her language behavior in real life. The test itself should be based on the real needs and serve as basis for predictions about the ability of the students to cope with people and matters in reality.
In the theory of testing and evaluation, it is a well-known fact that it is “neither theoretically nor practically possible to define either an absolutely perfect level of actual language performance or an individual with perfect language ability” (Bachman 1990:11). This can be regarded as a direct consequence of the fundamental dilemma in foreign language testing, namely that “the tools we use to observe language ability are themselves manifestation of language ability” (Bachman 1990: 9).

Analysis

Our personal observations show that in the TOEFL examination the most troublesome area appears to be the Listening Section of the test. Why should reading for example be easier than listening? After all, both are receptive skills. Yet, the phenomenon observed is not a surprising one – listening comprehension is found to be among the most difficult tasks for the learners due to several reasons. First, spoken language is ephemeral, and the examinees cannot refer to it whenever they want to as is the case with Reading comprehension texts. Consequently, they have to rely mainly on their memory abilities, which differ throughout individually. Second, examinees are pressed for time as the time is limited within the length of every particular text. Third, they have to develop different strategies for the different types of tasks depending on the types of exercises.
Accordingly, candidates sometimes fail to successfully accomplish the listening tasks. This may be owing to the fact that they do not know the meaning of a word or an expression. However, even if they did, it still might not make sense in the context, as the ideas of the text (the discourse) present a different point of view on the reality. When so, situations occur in which the students make wrong decisions even in cases when they know every single word in the string because of the fact that what they have heard merely does not meet their expectations, and sounds weird to them. Thus, candidates often fail to see the point because the language in use is strongly culturally biased.

Discussion

We shall now consider several types of most problematic discourses for Bulgarian takers of the TOEFL excerpted from the Listening sections of the two TOEFL textbooks already mentioned and classified as academic and political discourse, education, different kinds of services, everyday practices, and social behavior.

I. Academic environment

The examples connected with academic environment outnumber the rest. In general, the
main factors for making mistakes in items reflecting the specific American academic environment are a consequence of the crucial differences between the American educational system and the one we have in Bulgaria. Basically, these differences concern the syllabus structure, the types of courses offered, the existence/lack of credit system, the academic positions. Not rarely do students face the problem of the so called false friends, as it is the case with the word “professor” for instance.

e.g. 1. (Barron’s TOEFL, 1989)
A: I’d like to take Dr. Sullivan’s section of Physics 100, but my advisor is teaching it too, and I don’t want her to be offended.
B: Who cares?

The question is: What should the woman do?
The correct answer is A: The woman should not consider her advisor in the decision.


e.g. 2 (Barron’s TOEFL 1996)
A: So the course is closed. This is terrible. I have to have it to graduate.
B: You are o.k. Just Dr. Collin’s section is closed. There is another section that is still open, but nobody knows who’s teaching it. It’s marked staff.

The question is: What would the student probably do?
The correct answer is C: Enroll in the section marked ‘staff’
(cf. B. Graduate at a later date; D. Find out who’s teaching the other section – confusing)

In both examples, in order to work out the right answer Bulgarian test-takers should know what the duties of the advisor are and what his/her functions are (advisors are members of the academic staff at American Universities). Moreover, at American universities one and the same subject is taught by two (sometimes even more) people and the students are free to choose whose course to attend which presents different practice from what we have in Bulgaria. One is also to be aware of the existence of credit system at US universities.

e.g. 3 (Barron’s TOEFL 1996)
A longer conversation between a student and a professor from which it becomes clear that the student couldn’t register for the class of the instructor because the course was closed by the time he got to the front of the line. The two problematic questions are: 1. What’s Mike’s problem (The correct answer: He must have the permission of the instructor); 2. What does the professor decide to do(T the correct answer: Allow Mike to take the class this term).

Here again, different regulations at US universities are reflected which do not have equivalents within the Bulgarian educational system – Bulgarian students are to be aware of the fact that there is a competition among the students to register for a course on first-come first-serve basis as well as of the possibility for exceptions allowed by the professors themselves.

e.g. 4 (Barron’s TOEFL, 1996)
A talk concerning assessment and evaluation:
“You have a midterm examination the last week of October, and a final examination the second week of December. The midterm is worth 25 points and the final is worth 50 points. That leaves 25 points for the project that …… and you have several choices to fulfill that requirement. You either write a paper or make a half hour presentation”……

The question is: What are the course requirements?
The correct answer is D: A midterm, a project and a final exam
(cf. A. A midterm and a final exam; B. A midterm and either a final exam or a project; C. A midterm and a paper or a presentation)

Obviously, the language in use is again culturally biased – knowledge is required about the content of the notions midterm and project (written paper/oral presentation); projects do not constitute part of the continuous assessment, they are part of the final grade. Students themselves own up that the whole seems to be a complete mess and they take pot luck when answering the question.

II. Education

e.g. 5 (Barron’s TOFEL, 1996)
The text presents a talk – in fact, this is a public service announcement telling about possibilities offered by a college for distance learning provided by the help of video telecourses. The question is : What is the announcement mainly about? (The correct answer: Video telecourses). In the explanatory notes the other two options (The Sun up semester programme & The community college campus) are said to be ‘secondary’ as they have been ‘used to develop the main topic’.

Bulgarian takers of the TOEFL exam are generally not aware of the existence of distance education as these are usually young people at school age.This type of education seems to be quite extended in the US whereas in Bulgaria such a possibility has been provided for only a couple of years now by few institutions and does not have as long traditions as in the US.

III. Political discourse

e.g. 6 (Barron’s TOEFL 1996)
This is a lecture on history with the following key expressions:
Each political party… nominates a slate of electors pledged to support the party’s nominees… each state has the same number of electors in the college as it has members of Congress …. registered voters go to the polls to choose the electors. The ballots list only the names of the candidates… This vote by the people for electors is called the popular vote and the candidates who receive the most popular votes win all the electoral votes in a state.


The text includes a lot of specific terms and the test-takers need specific subject knowledge about the political electoral procedure. At short notice and after having heard the talk once only they have to identify all the names and to adjust them to the roles played by the different groups of people at the elections. The very word college is rather confusing – “An organized body of persons with shared functions and privileges” (Oxford Reference Dictionary). Thus, it is beyond doubt that language proficiency is far from sufficient if a Bulgarian student is to answer the questions: How are the people nominated for the electoral college? What is the popular vote?

IV. Everyday practices – food and drinks

e.g. 7 (Barron’s TOEFL 1996)
This example presents a longer conversation between two speakers in front of a coffee machine which has just stolen the man’s money. Finally they decide to go to the library to try the vending machine there. The questions to be answered are: 1. Why did they decide to go to the library? (The correct answer:To have coffee); 2. What prompted the conversation? (The answer: The speaker wanted coffee); 3. What do the speakers mainly discuss? (The correct answer: The coffee).

Vending machines are typical for all public places in the US and other countries, yet hardly ever seen in our country. So, you can go to any public place (library including) and be sure to find a machine there whereas to a Bulgarian a library is a place to only borrow or read books. An additional problem is the fact that the word “vending” has no equivalent in Bulgarian – no word for non-existing artifact.

e.g. 8 (Barron’s TOEFL 1996)
A: What do you want on that?
B: Everything and extra catsup, too, please.
The question is: What does the man mean?
The correct answer is: lettuce, pickles, onions, mustard, mayonnaise, and catsup

The TOEFL textbook explains: “Everything is an idiomatic (?) expression that means all
the condiments included”. Obviously, this item does not test language proficiency at all. You have to have lived in the US for some time to know the expression. As Bulgarian takers of the TOEFL examination are usually young people at school age, most would have no prediction as to what the phrase means.

V. Health services

e.g. 9 (Barron’s TOEFL 1989)
This is a conversation between a pharmacist and a patient of Dr. Williams’s, the doctor being supposed to give a prescription.
Key phrases: Aspirin is the strongest medication I can give without a prescription; I can call him…. Dr. Williams will give me a pain prescription over the phone.
The question to be answered: 1.Where does the conversation take place? (The correct answer: In the drug store); 2. Why did the man call Dr. Williams? (The correct answer: To get a prescription for the woman on the phone)

Something one should take into consideration here is the existence of different words in the two varieties – drugstore in American and chemist’s in British English. It is true though it does not usually cause problems for Bulgarians, but it might well be a problem for some native speakers of British English.
The main problem for a Bulgarian here might be the behavior of the chemist which seems rather strange since it is not possible to get a prescription on the phone in our country. What is more, in Bulgaria, no prescription would be needed a for a pain killer.

VI. Services

e.g. 9 (Barron’s TOEFL 1996)
A: You turn on the TV by pulling on this button. The heat control is on the wall. Will there be anything else, Ma’am?
B: No, thank you.
The question is: What can be inferred about the man?
A.   He’s a TV repairman
B.   He’s a bell boy (the correct answer)
C.  He’s a tailor.
D.  He’s a security guard.

In order to decide on which the correct answer is, one is to first identify the settings – deduction should be made about a place with both a TV and a heating device for which someone is responsible. This is more or less a matter of common sense, however only possible for experienced travelers since very few hotels provide bell boys services in Bulgaria and these are usually very expensive ones.

VII. Social behavior

e.g. 10 (Barron’s TOEFL 1989)
This is a restatement example:
My invitation has RSVP printed at the bottom.
A.   I should dress formally.
B.   I should tell the hostess whether I’ll go (the correct answer)
C.  I should take liquor.
D.  I should buy a ticket.

It is of crucial importance here that the abbreviation be interpreted correctly. The abbreviation itself is a borrowing from French and means repondez s’il vous plait. This phrase has almost no circulation in Bulgaria except on very formal occasions . We should not except the average Bulgarian to know it.

Some conclusions

  1. The TOEFL textbooks do never provide any information about cultural specifics and concentrate on grammar and lexis only. Consequently, many prospective test takers go in for courses which prepare them for the successful sitting of the examination.
  2. The courses but most often provide instruction only in grammatical and vocabulary issues and focus mainly on the techniques and building strategies to complete the test tasks within the time required.
  3. The material discussed above and the situation observed lead inevitably to some important consequences concerning the type of instruction necessary for the preparation for the TOEFL not only in BG but elsewhere. The basic presumption is that every candidate targets higher scores, hence a correct answer to every test item seems to be crucial for him/her.
  4. This puts additional load onto the instructors as they have to provide at least the minimum information on several cultural specifics, and especially in the academic discourse as this topic area presents abundance of different cultural practices included in the test content.
  5. From everything said so far one general question follows: who will make a better instructor for the TOEFL examination – a native or a non-native teacher? In the authors’ opinion a non-native teacher seems to be better suited to perform this task as cultural issues involve implicit or explicit comparisons with another culture and only a non-native teacher can possess the knowledge and intuition what the similarities and the differences in the target culture are so that to elicit the most problematic topics and issues.
  6. In the Bulgarian environment the above problem might sometimes have an alternative solution, namely – a British native-speaker teaching in TOEFL courses. Having in mind that sharing one mother tongue does not necessarily imply sharing one and the same culture, we could conclude that a British teacher is often a better choice than an American one because the former will also feel the specifics of the social practices adopted in the US.
  7. The analysis of the material shows that the TOEFL ( as well as many other standardized proficiency tests of English – cf. FCE) tests language proficiency as well as cultural awareness although it is often pointed out that culture should be subject to a different testing procedure. Still, in our opinion it is often absolutely impossible in cases of proficiency tests to divide language from cultural competence as it is intrinsically embedded into the use of the particular language.
  8. One additional point to be made here is that the preparatory TOEFL courses can successfully provide information about the social, educational, behavioral and political specifics in the US .
  9. Finally, we can conclude that the TOEFL aims at testing not only the language competence of non-native speakers of American English, but also their communicative competence which encompasses both linguistic competence and cultural awareness without which language cannot be used appropriately in different social contexts. So, the TOEFL reflects the general tendency in ELT which is to move further on from pure accuracy (or language competence) to pragmatic competence.

Pre-service teacher education in Bulgaria – critical evaluation

Written by: Diana Yankova, Irena Vassileva [toc class=”toc-right”] Aim.
The aim of the present study is to establish the correlation between the objective social needs for EL specialists, the students’ subjective motivation for taking up English language studies and their career expectations on the one hand, and the actual type of education in terms of knowledge and skills they are equipped with after graduating from the Bulgarian universities on the other, since, as is duly pointed out by Foldes (1994:3) “The market demand does not correlate automatically to the established social and individual needs as they may also be influenced, for example, by requirements of the educational system (administrative requirements, certificate recognition, etc.) or by tradition and prestige.”
The study is based on evaluation of: questionnaires to students and university lecturers, the existing curricula, job offers in terms of skills requirements, the need for teachers versus other career opportunities.

Critical analysis of ELT in Bulgaria.

High Schools.

The current ELT policy in Bulgaria has a long way to go. At present the bulk of practising teachers are either state-university graduates who have not been expressly trained for the job or people not qualified at all. At the same time, there is a marked shortage of EL specialists. It seems that Bulgarian educational authorities have no clear-cut FLT policy since there is no single compulsory FL in secondary and high school; students have to choose among available courses, contrary to tendencies in most European countries. The Ministry of Education has tried to prevent the influx of unqualified teachers into Bulgarian high schools by forbidding school authorities to appoint them. The students of English, on the other hand, are not fascinated by the idea of becoming secondary school teachers due to the low social prestige and payment of the job. The ensuing outcome is a further decline in the level of high school graduates as far as their knowledge of English is concerned, thus closing the vicious circle.

Pre-service teacher training.

The 50-year long tradition in English language and literature studies at university level has undoubtedly its strong points. Bulgarian universities have produced highly qualified English language specialists well-versed in linguistic theory and literary studies who have achieved considerable standards and international recognition of their academic research. All this, however, has been at the expense of more practically oriented teacher training programmes. Present curricula, adopted with practically no substantial variation by all state university English departments in the country, aim at providing students with comprehensive knowledge of the English language as a system and British and American literature in the course of 8 semesters (BA degree), followed by 2 semesters of specialized MA courses.

The BA course.

In contrast to current practice in other countries (e.g. Germany), graduate studies at Bulgarian Universities are English-language medium based with the aim of further developing students’ linguistic competence, which has proved to be both time-consuming and costly. This traditional practice is still adhered to in spite of the high general English admission level of the students (approximately Cambridge advanced).
The basic compulsory courses are covered during the first 6 semesters and the specialized courses (electives) appear as late as the 4th year. Compulsory courses may roughly be divided into the following categories with the respective percentage of overall teaching classes: General English (seminars on the lexical, grammatical and phonetic level of the language plus translation) – 47%; Linguistics (lectures and seminars) – 30%; Literature (British and American) – 20%; Culture studies – 3%.
The data presented above demonstrates clearly that the focus falls heavily on acquisition of linguistic competence, whereas recent ELT trends point to the precedence of pragmatic competence, thus courses such as “Shakespeare on Stage and Screen” have marked an economical attendance, to say the least.

The MA course

is based on the same assumption, at least as far as two of the electives are concerned: the ‘British studies’ programme includes predominantly British literature, the ‘American studies’ programme – American literature respectively, which is in total contradiction to the established fact that cross-cultural competence is an integral part of communicative competence.
Other MA courses include applied linguistics, and translation theory and practice. The applied linguistics course is highly theoretically oriented and far-fetched from any practical applications and no teacher-training course is offered at all.
Teacher-training qualification is compulsory for all university students of English as part of the BA degree and consists of general introductory courses in psychology, pedagogy, methods of ELT and observation of classroom lessons plus 5 weeks of teaching practice. The actual training students are subjected to reminds one of the English language education in Germany criticised by Edelhoff (1995:38) in the following way: “……very few (students) were educated to be intercultural learners and communicative classroom teachers”. And how could they be, having in mind the multitude and diversity of subjects they are made to study? Literature, linguistics and teacher training merged into one major turns graduates into Jacks-of-all-trade and least of all into FL teachers.
Attempts at ‘breaking the rules’ in terms of earlier specialization and orientation of students towards the teaching profession have recently been made by some private universities in Bulgaria. Their programmes pay particular attention to the specificities of ELT to various age groups, to learners with diverse needs (EGP, ESP) in different types of courses (intensive, extensive, etc.), which makes the students better equipped for teaching at all levels of the educational system up to university level. These universities seem to be on the right track in showing greater flexibility and adequate consideration of modern tendencies in teacher training by focusing on up-to-date interactive, co-operative, communicative and interdisciplinary approaches to foreign language teaching. Unfortunately, they are a drop in the ocean and besides, encounter a number of serious problems due to the limited number of students who enroll (as tuition is rather expensive) and the lower admission level of English.

Solutions and recommendations.

Obviously, there is a dire need for refocusing and reconceptualization of the whole basis on which ELT in Bulgaria functions. All the current socio-political, economic and technological changes have initiated new types of external and internal needs and motivation in the language learner. English-language specialists and educational authorities should reconsider the way English is taught. Language learning should get away from the static but still powerful, especially in Bulgaria, Latin or Greek model. A total discrepancy exists between students’ expectations and social demand for teachers on the one hand, and the qualifications of university graduates on the other. Questionnaires show that graduate students are not satisfied with the teacher qualification they obtain, neither are they fascinated by the idea of becoming high school teachers as the job has an unduly low social standing. University lecturers, on the other hand, do not seem particularly inclined to get away from the classical model of traditional philological instruction. Perhaps most of them simply feel comfortable enough in their old shoes?
At the same time, the conducted survey of job offers in Bulgarian media shows an ever increasing demand at present for EL teachers at all levels in both private and state institutions. High schools suffer an incredible shortage of ELT staff and are forced to offer other foreign languages, thus not being able to meet their students’ needs. Those needs, on their part, arise from the fact that it is practically impossible to get any decent job in Bulgaria without a good knowledge of English.
One way to remedy this situation seems to us to start with changes in syllabus design. From the onset of their university education students should be offered the possibility to choose between a more practically oriented teacher training course or predominantly theoretical linguistic/literary studies. This division of labor would benefit teacher training programmes immensely by providing time in the already tight students’ schedule for important courses such as ESP, materials design, culture studies, teaching English to various age groups, etc.
Besides being a comparatively new theoretical discipline, English for specific purposes finds more and more practical applications with the constant setting up of new specialized high schools and the springing up of new majors at Bulgarian universities such as public administration, management, business studies, etc. As our questionnaires show, there is a marked tendency for instrumental rather than integrative motivation with most Bulgarian learners of English. The needs of the different types of learners determine the content to be learnt, the skills to be acquired, the criteria for learners’ performance. Therefore, future teachers should be instructed how to teach English to lawyers, economists, engineers, etc. – something heretofore overlooked in the curriculum.
This leads to another very important aspect of teaching – that of materials design. With the exception of a few specialized EL schools in Bulgaria, other institutions make use of textbooks and materials produced mainly in Britain which, of course, cannot take into consideration students’ L1 and the possible points of collision between native and foreign language, i.e. those elements of L2 which are especially difficult for a speaker of Bulgarian to acquire. There is a number of English-Bulgarian contrastive studies that could be resorted to in designing textbooks with the aim of eliminating of L1-L2 negative transfer. We do not in any way wish to undermine the use of British and American textbooks, but rather endeavor to suggest that they should be complemented with teaching materials based on the established cultural and linguistic differences and similarities of the respective communities. Few educationalists, however, set about producing such materials perhaps because they find it time-consuming, low paid and not worth the trouble; and above all, because they have not been taught how to do it. Teachers are not equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills for materials development and on entering the teaching profession they tend to stick to the good old textbook approved by the Ministry of Education.
But as any good teacher is well aware, one way to keep learners interested, is going beyond the old chalk-and-talk method by providing more communicative, challenging, suited to learners’ needs activities. Instructing future teachers how to design their own materials and be creative would make the learning process more meaningful, more variegated, more made-to-measure. The choice of materials is not an end in itself, they should be made to work in the classroom and should be effective as representation of language as well as effective instruments of language learning. Teachers should be taught (!) that they themselves shoulder part of the responsibility of what is to be learnt, how it is to be learnt and how to take into account the particular target and learning situations. But first and foremost, language learning should be fun!
Yet another very important concept in FLT is cross-cultural learning. The crux of communication is the capacity of people from different cultural backgrounds to interact. Communicative competence encompasses not only linguistic competence but also cultural awareness without which language cannot be used appropriately in different social contexts. Teachers-to-be should be encouraged to take the role of intercultural interpreters by providing them with the knowledge and skills to digest and relay the socio-cultural environment of L2 community. They should have the capacity to deal with printed and electronic authentic materials which is the link of intercultural experience and facilitates the learning process.
Taking into account all the above considerations and incorporating them into pre-service teacher training programmes would raise the awareness of future teachers of learners’ needs in terms of age and professional interests, of teaching objectives and environment. It would make them more sensitive to ways of facilitating the transition from learning to acquiring a FL, and better equipped to show flexibility and creativity both in the immediate teaching context and in defining long-term goals. We are more than convinced that these measures will mark the right path towards raising the prestige of the teaching profession, which has for so long been looked down upon by society as a whole and neglected by state authorities in terms of funding.

Final remarks.

The general idea of the present study has been, in a nutshell, to locate, clarify and offer at least partial solutions to the current state of ELT and teacher-training courses in Bulgaria. We strongly believe that what is most needed is a substantial refocusing of curricula towards the inclusion of critical and social theory and the adoption of an interdisciplinary approach, without which ELT in this country would continue to lag behind global modern trends. And even more importantly, we do not consider this to be a problem only in Bulgaria, but also in many other countries all over the world. We sincerely hope that reading this article many educators might stop and think twice about the way English is taught.

REFERENCES:

Edelhoff, C. 1995: English Language Learning in Europe: Issues, Tasks and Problems. in Best of ELTECS, British Council.
Foldes, C. 1994: Deutsch als Fremdsprache in Mittel-, Ost- und Sudosteuropa. Uberlegungen zu Bestand und Bedarf. in: Deutsch als Fremdsprache 1, 3:12.