How can we moodle together

Written by: Anna Parisi, SEETA  Project  Leader
TESOL Macedonia – THRACE Northern Greece, Vice Chair
The people
I’ve just arrived in Sofia and I can already  hear Greek being spoken around me. When I ask a grinning  clerk at the train station where I can get a bus to the city centre he  immediately leaves his booth  to walk with me to the bus stop so that I don’t get lost. The BETA Bulgaria board have advised me not to take a taxi outside the train station because I’ll probably be overcharged.  I could be in Greece!
On the bus I’m thinking aloud where to get off and the woman standing next to me clears away my worries in perfect Greek. She is married to a Greek doctor and divides her time between Sofia and Thessaloniki. The hotel receptionist welcomes me with a wide grin and we chat about tavernas in Thessaloniki. I take a brief walk in the spectacular city centre, which is full of beautiful churches, mosques and a bustling market very much like Modiano. The traffic is chaotic and I, along with lots of others jay walkers and motorists perform a harmonious city dance, timed to perfection due to practice over the years. A skill that has kept us all alive up to date. I could be in Greece!
BETA  Bulgaria
When I arrive at the conference venue, I’m instantly surrounded by  BETA board members , who look after me and are always cheerful, available and obliging throughout the two hectic days of the conference.  We talk about the challenges that BETA  Bulgaria are facing : organizing and funding events, finding suitable  but cheap/ free venues for these events, sustaining and increasing the number of their members, raising young teachers’ interest in the organization, the substantial rise in the cost of living without a comparative rise in wages. This has resulted in many teachers undertaking two or even three jobs, which leaves no time to extra commitments such as being an active member of a professional organization. 
Despite the odds, BETA Bulgaria are remarkably active thanks to the zeal of the executive board and the support of their sponsors. I could be in Greece!
The SEETA  Project
BETA are also one of the seven, so far, participant Teachers’  Associations  in the SEETA project, which is led by TESOL MACEDONIA – THRACE  Northern Greece and funded by the  BRITISH  COUNCIL Greece.  The  SEETA   electronic networking  project  aims to set up a virtual community for the benefit of all ELT practitioners in South- Eastern Europe.
SEETA stands for South–Eastern Europe Teachers’ Associations.
At the conference, I give a 45-minute presentation to introduce the project to the membership. Also, I address the members at the BETA  AGM , where we discuss ways in which members can be active now, in the project’s initial stages  by submitting articles with practical teaching ideas and/ or solutions to problems we face every day in the classroom. These will be loaded up onto the SEETA  site. The members are enthusiastic at the SEETA  project but at the same time questioning their expertise and value of their own ideas and teaching practices.  “Our ideas can’t be as good as those coming from leading ELT  authors.”   “We do simple things. How interesting can they be ?” members ask me. I could be in Greece!
Ideas from teachers at the chalkface are invaluable. Effective solutions to classroom management problems can only come from practising teachers. Simple ideas that work is  what we all need.  Along with great ideas from leading authors  who are sending their articles for the SEETA site !
Back to the conference
The BETA conference is a big success. The plenaries are interesting and informative conducted by well-known speakers such as Gary Anderson, Philip Kerr, Chaz Pugliese and Olha Madylus. The conference presentations and workshops are impressively diverse:

  • — Teacher: enjoy yourself or you’ll bore us !
  • — New tendencies in teaching ESP
  • — Intercultural training of learners of English
  • — Adding sights and sound to the English lesson
  • — Ideas for Internet – based  CALL projects

to name but a few. The presenters come from eight different countries.
But what makes this conference so  special is the teachers. Enthusiastic, cheerful and chatty.  Warm, friendly and loud.   I could be in Greece!
I would like to thank the BRITISH COUNCIL GREECE  for sponsoring my trip to Bulgaria.

A European project for teaching languages through national stories

Written by: Valentina Angelova Raynova, Varna Medical University, Bulgaria
Towards Awareness Raising of Multicultural and Multilingual Europe while Teaching Foreign Languages to Young Learners
The Comenius 2.1. project, subsidized by the European Commission puts into practice the idea that Languages should be bridges not barriers between people in Europe as Mr Orban, commissioner for multilingualism has stated. The project lasted 3 years and a half but it took almost a year for the product to be finalized. The aim of this article is to give a short description of the final outcomes of the project and to try to interpret and analyse some of them in view of their perspective implementation in the everyday pre- and in-service teacher training and teaching of foreign languages in Europe and Bulgaria in the future.
Overall Aims of the Project

The overall aims of the project were as follows:

  1. To raise and develop the multilingual and multicultural awareness of teacher trainers and their trainees who are expected to teach foreign languages at primary school level;
  2. To improve pedagogical skills by allowing project participants to co-operate across borders online and raise their awareness of differences of educational contexts and learners, engaging the latter in the learning process;
  3. To develop and pilot relevant and usable material that would help achieve the aims enumerated above.

Project participants

The main participants in this European project were lecturers and teacher trainers of foreign languages from 9 European countries: the representative of HENaC, Catholic Higher Education College of Namur, Belgium was the coordinator of the project; there were two teacher trainers from Bradford College, Bradford, Great Britain; 3 colleagues from St. Patrick’s College Drumcondra in Dublin, Ireland; 3 representatives of the University of Erfurt, Germany; 2 teams from Spain – 2 colleagues from the University Ramon Llull, Barcelona and 1 from the Institute of Education Edetania, Valencia; 2 educators from Popular Knowledge Society’s Lower Silesian University of Education in Wroclaw, Poland; 2 from Vilmos Apor Catholic College, Budapest, Hungary; 1 from INHOLLAND University Haarlem, Holland and 3 teacher trainers from the In-service Teacher Training Department, Shoumen University, Varna, Bulgaria. That amounts to 22 participants altogether.
Not only did the participants represent different European institutions and cultures as well as languages but some of them also came from a multicultural background, they themselves were plurilingual, e.g. one of the colleagues from Germany was actually French but had a husband from Germany, another colleague had a mother who was German and a Polish father, a third participant lived and worked in Barcelona but originally came from Denmark, yet another one worked in Valencia but originally came from Argentina and so on. Some of the project participants were fluent in more than 2 European languages, they were really multilingual and multicultural themselves.

Expected Project Outcomes
The expected project outcomes comprised:

  • A DVD containing a Methodology Pack for Initial and In-service Teacher Training that would ensure a common methodology based on the storyline approach. All the materials in the pack have been developed in English, French and German
  • A Multilingual Anthology of 12 national Stories with cultural background for each story on the DVD, a long version for teachers and a short version to be used with pupils; e.g. The Miraculous Stag; King Arthur, etc. with text and sound in Dutch, English, French, Gaelic, German and Spanish plus an original version in Bulgarian, Hungarian and Polish respectively.
  • A series of materials to be ready for use at primary schools in Dutch, English, French Gaelic, German and Spanish
  • A website that can be visited by teachers of   Foreign Languages to Young Learners with one story developed fully as an example: The Legend of St Jordi from Barcelona.
  • A CD with some Good Practice materials, e.g. children rehearsing a play based on a story, a puppet theatre video based on St Jordi, etc.
  • A CD with some Interactive Exercises: crosswords for children to do; labyrinths, multiple choice questions for reading comprehension, matching and sequencing games, etc.

The DVD is the richest product of the project and it contains a number of important components:

  1. The Methodology Pack for Initial and In-service Teacher Training in English, French and German constitutes 71 pages of theory /the English version/ organized around 3 main parts: Part 1: Learning Languages; Part 2: Language and Culture; and Part 3 focuses on Using stories. Part 1 consists of 7 chapters, each developed by colleagues from different European Institutions, some individually, some in a team. These chapters tackle issues such as: Theories of Foreign Language Acquisition; Theories of Foreign Language Teaching: Methods and Approaches; Learning styles; Young Learners; then there is a chapter on Contextualizing and Using Resources, Developing Listening Skills written by the Bulgarian team of teacher trainers and a separate chapter on Vocabulary Development and Communication Functions. The second part of the Methodology pack concentrates on Language and Culture and deals with Language Awareness and Multicultural Diversity as well as Citizenship and multicultural issues. Part 3 concentrates on the ways of working with stories; using different storytelling techniques as well as Types of Stories.
  2. The Multilingual Anthology of 12 national stories is followed by a Cultural background for each story. This anthology includes the stories told in English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch and Gaelic. Each story is told in its original language, too: e.g. Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Catalan, etc. The stories have been colourfully illustrated by professional artists, teachers or students.
    1. For each story a literary version is available and a text that can be downloaded. One can download the audio of the story in 6 languages plus the original. Trainees and teachers can download pictures that can be printed, laminated and used while telling the given story.
    2. A plethora of materials have been created to be ready for use at primary schools in Dutch, English, French, Gaelic, German and Spanish. The Activities section comprises a description of each activity; resources for activities with visual props, e.g. pictures, flashcards, mazes, collages, recipes, plays, pictograph reading, wordsearches, etc. The number of resources developed in 6 languages for each story ranges from 7 to 42 different resources! that involve a lot of creativity, imagination, enthusiasm and ultimately love for children, languages and teaching languages to children. There are also lists of 10 to 20 key words, phrases or sentences from each story organized in tables written in 10 European languages Catalan inclusive. One can find Audio files with all these key words and phrases recorded in the different languages. There are ready-made activities suggested for trainees and teachers but some can be used as resources for teachers and trainees to develop their own materials. The awareness raising of different languages and sensitizing children to similarities and differences in the way words sound, in their morphology is an extremely valuable trend in teaching foreign languages today for it allows pupils to stay open to other languages and cultures and develops a positive attitude to diversity.

The Good Practice CD
This component demonstrates a variety of interesting achievements based on the work done while teaching foreign languages through the stories included in the project. For example, one can see the plan for The Miraculous Stag /a Hungarian story/, designed by students in Namur. The Legend of St Nicholas is being told by a Belgian student who took part in the International Week for students and teachers, which has become a tradition each March. You may enjoy the performance of the legend of St Martin by Bulgarian pupils from the fourth grade from Dobri Chintulov School, Varna. Another amusing material is the puppet show based on St Jordi from Barcelona. You may encounter a great deal of resources for telling a story: pictures, posters, hand-made books from all partner countries as well as some precious ideas for storing a didactic unit and organizing the story-telling sessions from Valencia. Here is an example of a poster and a caption that goes with it designed by Spanish trainee teachers doing a specialisation in English to be able to teach English in Primary Schools. They were students at the Universidad Católica de Valencia School year 2005- 06 attending the subject of Spanish Language with teacher Norma González Peralta, specialised in English and Spanish Philology. They were expected to read different national European stories and had the creative writing task to draw a poster and a caption that would go with it.

The Interactive Exercises CD

The CD contains interactive exercises designed on the basis of 5 of the stories. No internet access is necessary for using these activities. The first one is The Dwarves. They include anagrams on the topic ‘food’; multiple choice activities, listen and find the way, sequence a story, do a crossword and so on. All that children have to do is click on the language chosen /out of 6 languages/ The next story with interactive activities is Saint Nicholas and consists of sequencing the story activity, a True / False exercise as well as a vocabulary focused task. The Legend of Saint Jordi also offers a number of interactive activities such as a multiple choice test that checks reading comprehension; The Wheaten Loaf offers two ‘drag and drop’ matching games: one focused on sequencing the story for developing speaking skills and the other concentrating on matching pictures to written words that describe the process of making bread. The richest in interactive activities is the story of The Wawel Dragon. It is a whole interactive set. It has to be installed and is again available in 6 different languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Gaelic which you can access by clicking on the appropriate national flag. There are 7 interactive activities altogether: 1. storytelling (audio and pictures); 2. sequencing the story; 3. a memory card game based on matching pictures to words; 4. a grammar focused task with reading and gap-filling based on prepositions; 5. a vocabulary game based on matching written words in English and the mother tongue /Polish/; 6. read and match the sentence to the picture from the story, and 7. last but not least an activity to listen, drag and drop ‘the reel’ on the corresponding  picture.
The websites

The following websites can be used in case one needs to learn more about the project products:


The project lasted three years and a half but the materials developed are so multifarious and inspiring that they would be used by language teachers, trainees and children for many years to come. The outputs tackle a plethora of multilingual and multicultural aspects of language teaching and learning and the project definitely was very exciting to participate in. The activities for developing listening skills, the interactive activities with lots of visual props will really be very useful for language teachers and trainees of young learners. The awareness raising activities of multilingual and multicultural European issues and values are precious, innovative and most certainly constitute a cutting edge breakthrough in the methodology of teaching languages to young learners. This would help teachers allow children to stay open to the wonderful diversity of languages and cultures in Europe today. Enjoy the stories and the activities!

  1. Education and Culture, Early Language Learning, Meeting Multicultural and Multilingual Europe through National Stories, Comenius 2.1 a Project funded by the European Commission, DVD
  2. Education and Culture, Early Language Learning, Meeting Multicultural and Multilingual Europe through National Stories, Comenius 2.1 a Project funded by the European Commission, Good practice
  3. Education and Culture, Early Language Learning, Meeting Multicultural and Multilingual Europe through National Stories, Comenius 2.1 a Project funded by the European Commission, Interactive exercises
  4. Raynova, V. (2004), A European Project on Early Language Learning through National Stories, Университетско издателство “Епископ Константин Преславски”, гр. Шумен
  5. Raynova, V. (2006), Приказен проект,  Университетско издателство “Епископ Константин Преславски”, гр. Шумен
  6. Райнова, В.А.(2007), Европейски Проект за развиване на интеркултурна комуникативна компетентност, Scripta Scientifica Medica, volume 39(4) pp. 3-01-424, Medical University, Prof. Dr. Paraskev Stoyanov, Varna, Bulgaria
  7. NEWSLETTER, The newsletter of  the office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2 / 2007

Building collocation competence

Written by: Rossen Stoitchkov, “St. Kliment Ohridski” University of Sofia
Department for Language Teaching and International Students

The paper deals with collocations of the type verb + noun, which are central to building the language learner’s mental lexicon.  It draws on evidence of language learners’ lack of awareness of the psychological salience and severely limited repertoire of collocations in their output. It further looks at noticing as a central pedagogic activity and as the first step to improving language learners’ knowledge of collocations.

It has been claimed that, in contrast to native speakers, learners hardly make use of prefabricated units in language production:

“In building his utterances, he [the native speaker] makes use of large prefabricated sections. The learner, on the other hand, having automated few collocations, continually has to create structures that he can only hope will be acceptable to native speakers. His building material is individual bricks rather than prefabricated sections.”
(Kjellmer, 1991:124)

One important observation that was made by a number of researchers is that learners use an overall smaller number of restricted collocations than native speakers would have used. Similar findings were reached by Granger (1998) and Kaszubski (2000). Learners vary much more in their use of collocations than native speakers and also frequently appear to create collocations using ‘individual bricks’. This observation indicate that a model of the second language lexicon that simply assumes two types of elements, words and chunks, is inadequate. A model based on the notion of stronger and weaker links between elements appears much more adequate, as it can explain, for example, why learners in many cases combine the appropriate lexical elements, but do not choose the appropriate non-lexical elements or features (e.g. ‘make impression’ [make an impression]; ‘give yourself a try’ [give it a try]; ‘lose one’s tie with sb.’ [lose one’s ties with sb.]; ‘lift one’s spirit [lift one’s spirits]). The conclusion to be drawn is that the links between the lexical elements are fairly strong, but between the lexical and non-lexical elements are fairly weak. What can probably be claimed is that often the links between elements of (semi-) prefabricated units are weaker in the learner’s mental lexicon than in the lexicon of native speakers – both the links between the elements of collocations and those between collocations and larger units of usage. Similar observations have also been made for example by Meara (1984), who concludes from association tests that the learner’s mental lexicon is in general more loosely organized than the native speaker’s lexicon (1984:232). Weaker links would also explain why learners apparently blend collocations more often than native speakers. Although the elements of collocations are linked to a certain extent in the learner’s mental lexicon, the links between these elements can probably be broken up more easily and replaced or supplemented by other existing links.
Another inference about the representation of collocations in the mental lexicon which can be drawn is that the links between collocations and meaning are weaker in the mental lexicon of learners as compared to native speakers.
Before presenting the results of a small-scale experiment I will try to define collocation competence. Collocation competence requires both the development of  awareness and a set of skills.
The awareness which is to be fostered has the following ingredients:

  • Within the mental lexicon, “collocation is the most powerful force in the creation and comprehension of all naturally-occurring text” (Lewis, 2000:45).
  • Collocation is a vital key to language learning. “Languages are learned collocation by collocation rather than word by word” (Palmer,1981:21).
  • Knowing the meaning of a word is useless unless you also know something of how the word is used, which means knowing something about its collocation field.
  • Collocation illustrates the idiom principle, which postulates that a language user has available to him or her a large number of semi-preconstructed phrases that constitute single choices, even though they might appear to be analyzable into segments (Sinclair, 1991:110).
  • Collocation is an essential carrier of meaning.
  • Collocations cannot be divorced from the grammatical context in which they occur.
  • Knowledge of the types of lexical collocations e.g. v + n; adj. + noun; adv. + adj.; v + adv.

The skills that are to be developed are:

  • Thinking bigger than the word – always to look for the two – or three-word expressions
  • Noticing words with the words with which they naturally occur and identifying different types of lexical collocations
  • Expanding knowledge of the collocation field of words already known
  • Recording collocations with their translation equivalents in L1 according to topic
  • Storing collocations as single choices which are easy to retrieve
  • ‘Gapping’ (Hill, 2000:59) verb + noun collocations i.e. identifying verbs and nouns that go together but are discontinuous for syntactic reasons and can be one or more words apart e.g. He had a business which he ran efficiently.; We have a bit of a confession to make.

To test my students’ ability to notice collocations in text, I devised  three tests which were done by a group of 20 Upper-Intermediate students, in which students were asked to:

  1. Identify and underline eight verb-noun collocations in a small-sized text (100 words);
  2. Identify and write the English equivalents of Bulgarian verb-noun collocations to be found in a short text (100 words);
  3. Identify verb-noun collocations which are discontinuous i.e. they are far apart in the sentence and the students had to match the verbs and nouns that go together. (See Appendix)

In the first test students were able to discover up to six collocations. Three students underlined words randomly, which means they were not aware what the task was all about despite the explanations. It seems that the concept of collocation is new to some students and they just can’t grasp what collocation is all about. There are two collocations which no student was able to notice: ‘give sb a ring’ and ‘meet a requirement’.  This is indicative of the fact that predicates with light verbs and eventive nouns have no psychological salience for the learners, which was further confirmed by a severe underuse of such constructions in their writing. Also, it can be inferred that collocations involving a verb in a figurative sense as in ‘meet a requirement’, appear to be less psychologically salient for learners.
In the second test the students had to find the English equivalents of the following Bulgarian collocations in a short text: отбелязвам напредък; отправям критика; постигам резултати; сблъсквам се с проблеми; сключвам договор; изготвям доклад. Astonishingly, only four students were able to identify precisely all six English equivalents of these collocations. For six of the students the task seemed to be daunting as they provided the following equivalents, which shows that their sense of collocation salience is absolutely misguided: ‘buoyant economy’ [make progress] for ‘отбелязвам напредък, which is an adjective-noun collocation, and ‘insulted by suggestions’ [experience problems] for ‘сблъсквам се с проблеми; ‘reflect  progress’ for ‘отбелязвам напредък’; ‘against the criticism’ [level criticism against] for отправям критика’.
Another finding is that students tend to lift the phrases from the text without any grammatical clear-up, which means that they are unable to notice and record correctly collocations on their own. For example, ‘progress made’ [make progress] for ‘отбелязвам напредък; ‘against the criticism’ or ‘the criticism leveled’ [level criticism against] for отправям критика; ‘compiling a report’ [compile a report] for изготвям доклад; ‘the problems they were experiencing’ [experience problems]; ‘able to produce results’ [produce results]. The last two examples show that students tend to pick up longer stretches of language, which are incorrectly chunked. Also, four students inserted articles in the collocation ‘make progress’, producing ‘make a/the progress’. Two students failed to identify the collocation ‘experience problems’ for сблъсквам се с проблеми’.
The third test proved the students’ inability to ‘gap’ or match verb-noun collocations when they are over a span of two or more words. Students were given two sets of ten separate sentences. In one of the sets it was the nouns that were underlined and they had to identify the verbs they combine with. The other set contained sentences where the verbs were underlined and students had to find the nouns they collocate with. Only 10% of the verb-noun collocations were correctly matched. Only two students were able to match correctly all the verbs and nouns. Again, the students’ sense of collocation salience proved to be misguided. Here are a few examples:

  1. That was the message I wanted to get across to all art lovers – that dolls are another art form. [The collocation that was identified was ‘get across art’ instead of ‘get across a message’
  2. Crucial to resolving this second question is the definition of autonomy that we adopt.
    [The first collocation ‘resolve a question’ was correctly identified while the second        ‘adopt a definition’ was incorrectly matched and ‘adopt an autonomy’ was     produced instead.]
  3. Any generalizations and predictions we may wish to make can therefore never provide us with the truth in particular instances.
    [The collocation provided was ‘make a provide’ which makes no sense at all. The two collocations in this sentence were completely unnoticeable: ‘make a generalization/ a     prediction.]

Since students appear to have a rather misguided sense of the ’perceptual salience’ (Schmidt, 1990:143) of collocations, as demonstrated in the three tests outlined above, it must be recognized that the starting point for improving learners’ collocation competence is helping them correctly identify collocations in text and develop their awareness of the psychological and syntagmatic salience of collocations.
Learning to identify collocations, and the underlying patterns which individual examples exemplify is one aspect of helping students to obtain maximum benefits from the input to which they are exposed. Therefore noticing collocations has to be a central pedagogical activity. Accurate recording of new collocations aids noticing and maximizes the chance of input becoming intake. As a matter of fact, noticing is very similar to consciousness-raising or as M. Lewis puts it, “consciousness-raising resembles noticing” (Lewis, 1997:52).The crucial role of language awareness and noticing was wonderfully captured by Dave and Jane Willis (1996). They believe that the successful learner is actively involved in looking for regularities in language data and in drawing conclusions from those regularities and teachers have an obligation to encourage this process. If we are successful in this, we will succeed in inculcating learning habits which will pay valuable dividends wherever and whenever the learner encounters language. As far as collocations are concerned, students should be encouraged to search to identify them and then make them part of their collocation repertoire. A primary purpose of developing collocation competence is to help learners make better use (i.e. notice, record and retain), for acquisition purposes, of all the collocations which they meet.
Schmidt (1990) proposes the crucial construct of noticing to start to account for the way in which a) not all input has equal value and b) only that input which is noticed then becomes available for intake and effective processing. Noticing operates as a necessary condition for effective processing to take place. A degree of awareness is important before material can be incorporated into a developing interlanguage system. Schmidt specifies what influences operate upon noticing. He discusses the following influences:

  1. The more frequent a form (a collocation in our case), the more likely it is to be noticed and then become integrated in the interlanguage system. If attentional demands from elsewhere are fluctuating, there will be occasions when a form is not noticed, but because it occurs more often, there will be a greater number of occasions, other things being equal, when it is.
  2. Perceptual salience. It concerns how prominent a form (a collocation) is in input. The more a form stands out in the input stream, the more likely it is that it will be noticed. If attentional resources are variable, forms which call attention to themselves and are perceptually salient will have a greater chance of impinging on consciousness.
  3. Instruction may play an important role. Input contains many alternative features for processing, and the learner’s task is to extract relevant features which can then be focused upon fruitfully. (Schmidt, 1990:143)

Schmidt claims that frequency and salience are clear examples of bottom-up processing – what the learner extracts from input is what is highlighted by its own qualities. Instruction can work in a more complex way by making salient the less obvious aspects of the input, so that it is the learner who does the extraction and focusing, but as a function of how he or she has been prepared. In a sense, learning is still input-driven (since the input is not being transformed) but it is the learner who chooses what to prioritize in the input. What has been unstructured, undifferentiated input becomes noticeable and analyzable, leading to future progress. In this view, the role of instruction is not necessarily therefore in the clarity of explanation it provides, but rather in the way it channels attention and brings into awareness what otherwise would have been missed. Equally, the ensuing noticing, provoked by instruction, does not cause learning to occur necessarily – it simply satisfies a first condition. Noticing has a mediating role between input and the operation of memory systems.
Certain factors make noticing more likely to occur, and therefore have an impact on the elements that a developing interlanguage system has to work with. There are two such factors – one concerned with input properties (frequency and salience) and one concerned with how instruction can influence predispositions to extract particular material from the input. Noticing impacts upon the memory systems in general. Some of the time working memory will be implicated, but on other occasions direct connection with long-term memory will reflect aspects of long-term memory in a state of high activation having an impact on what is currently being noticed.
Schmidt (1990) also discusses three other influences on individual differences (IDs) in processing ability: readiness, and task demands. Individual differences in processing ability concern the learner’s capacity to deal with the range of forms (collocations) in input. This seems to be an individual difference variable, in that some people will be more effective input processors than others, and be more able to notice, for given input, new forms (collocations) which may then be integrated into their language development. This might be because some people have greater working memory and attentional capacity or because the analytic processes within working memory are carried out at greater speed.
Schmidt’s fourth influence on noticing is the current state of the interlanguage system – readiness to notice. Noticing might be a function of what the internal structures or mechanisms are predisposing the learner to be ready to attend to. Schmidt’s claim that noticing also depends upon readiness implies that a prediction can be made about what the learner can profitably notice in the sense that the product of such noticing stands a chance of being incorporated into the interlanguage system, because it is the ‘next’ thing to be acquired. This can be illustrated by teaching a figurative sense of a collocation, which is well-established in the interlanguage. For example, intermediate students will know the collocation ‘arrive at + place’ e.g. ‘arrive at the airport’. When this collocation appears in the input the students are dealing with, the collocational field of ‘arrive at’ can be extended by its figurative senses as in ‘arrive at a conclusion’. Similarly, if students (even elementary students) encounter the collocation ‘meet people’ in the input they are using, the teacher can provide them with ‘deadline’ and ‘requirement’ as collocates of ‘meet’ thus supplying the learners with collocations which have great communicative value as they pack meanings that the learners will most often have to express in real life. In doing so, learners are provided with a shortcut to acquiring the collocation fields of verbs. Otherwise, they will have to wait for quite a while until they meet these collocates of ‘arrive at’ and ‘meet’ in the input in order to learn these collocations.
The last of Schmidt’s influences on noticing is task demands. Particular tasks may, through their characteristics, make certain language forms (collocations) salient. A focus on a particular form may be associated with the nature of a particular task which, as a result, makes targeted noticing more likely to occur.
In Schmidt’s terms noticing has a mediating role. It is not simply a function of input, but is also affected by learner factors which influence how input is processed. In this sense, noticing is the result of existing knowledge systems and processing capacities (top-down processing) constraining what the learner can attend to effectively.
I strongly support the view that the conscious noticing of features of the language (collocations in particular)  that learners meet does facilitate acquisition. Krashen’s claim (1985) that we acquire language in one and only one way, by understanding messages, provides a clear starting point from which to examine our presuppositions about how learners acquire language. His position is that a learner’s interlanguage is modified by meeting new language which lies on the edge of what the learner already knows in such a way that it is incorporated into the learner’s interlanguage so that it is available for spontaneous use. In other words, acquisition involves taking in new material and incorporating it into the knowledge or skills learners already have. Expanding learners’ language resources involves intergrating new language into their intergrammar and mental lexicon.
Although I support the idea of independent learning, if we want to turn the language learners meet – input – into language they acquire and have access to for spontaneous use – intake – they almost certainly need to “notice the linguistic wrapping in which the message is delivered” (M. Lewis, 2000:159). Exactly what noticing might involve, and what may help or hinder input becoming intake, is perhaps the most important of all methodological questions. At least, ”focusing learners’ attention explicitly on some aspect of the linguistic form of the input (collocations) is helpful in accelerating the acquisition process. “ (M. Lewis, 2000:160). The phenomenon of noticing can vividly be explained by ‘the journey-to-work-metaphor’: We all make a daily journey from home to our place of work. The route is completely familiar, and we could give someone else directions for the journey. However, we may not know the names of all the streets we drive or walk along. We have not noticed the names of some of the streets – they are irrelevant when we can achieve our global purpose without attending to such details. The global purpose of language is the communicating of messages; but the medium for doing it is language items – words and phrases – which may need to be noticed if they are to be acquired.
In normal language use, we are usually so predisposed to focus on the message, that the language in which it is delivered is frequently ignored, or, if presented in writing, transparent to the point of being invisible. Therefore, students might fail to notice unless the teacher provided guidance. It is my observation that even advanced and motivated learners often do not see the difference between their  inaccurate or unnatural collocations and a similar correct, natural version which expresses exactly the same content. For example, once a student argued with me that the awkward collocation he used in his essay ‘fall into a traffic congestion’ is as natural and effective as ‘get stuck in a traffic jam’.
Learners frequently do not notice the precise way an idea is expressed by a collocation, unless their attention is explicitly drawn to it. I will illustrate this by a sentence from an open-the-brackets-exercise for Upper-Intermediate students: ‘The Stonechurch estate’, answered Paul, aware of the reputation for crime it _______________ (acquire) in recent years. (New Headway Upper-intermediate) If I did not draw the learners’ attention to the collocation ‘acquire a reputation’ and did not elicit the Bulgarian equivalent спечелвам си репутация from the students, they would never notice it for themselves. All they care about is to get the verb form right. The sentence seems to be empty of lexical substance for them. Learners are usually pre-occupied with the grammatical features of an utterance and fail to capture the ‘lexical filling’, especially collocations, which usually express a common idea in a language-specific form. In doing so, they miss many opportunities for expanding their repertoire of collocations and other items of phrasal nature. Some training in the sorts of collocations and other chunks which make up the texts they read or hear increases the chance of them noticing useful language. As M. Lewis warns us, “Do not assume students are noticing collocations and recording them for themselves. They won’t unless you train them to” (M. Lewis, 2000:163).
In his article The Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning (Applied Linguistics, 1990, Vol.11 Nr2) Schmidt points out the crucial difference between information that is perceived and information that is noticed:

“When reading, for example, we are normally aware of the content of what we are reading, rather than the syntactic peculiarities of the writer’s style, the style of type in which the text is set, music playing on the radio in the next room… However, we still perceive these competing stimuli and may pay attention to them if we choose.”
(Schmidt, 1990:139)

After a long discussion of the role of consciousness he concludes that “intake is what learners consciously notice” (Schmidt, 1990:142).
Teachers need to be proactive in guiding learners toward the input language which is important from an acquisition point of view. If learners do not notice the differences between the collocation they used to express something and the correct natural version expressing the same content, then that input cannot contribute to intake. Explicit noticing is a necessary condition to ensure that input becomes intake.
It is likely to be helpful to make learners explicitly aware of the lexical nature of language. This means helping learners develop an understanding of the kinds of chunks, collocations and prefabricated groups of words which are the prerequisite of fluency. This is one part of the teacher’s task in encouraging learners not to break the language they meet down too far. Discussing the value of instruction, of which noticing is a part, Diane Larsen-Freeman comments:

“Several researchers have pointed out that explicit grammar instruction will not likely result in immediate mastery of specific grammatical items, but suggest nevertheless that explicit instruction does have a value, namely, facilitating input.”
(Larsen-Freeman, 1977:60)

Although her comments relate specifically to grammar instruction, they surely apply equally to instruction which ensures learners notice any kind of patterning in the input they meet.
Noting multi-word vocabulary in exactly the form it is found in text, recording it, and trying to remember it in that form for re-use later has been on the periphery of language teaching, when in fact it deserves a central role.
To appeal to lexical collocation is not to appeal to something recently discovered. One is simply getting students to look at words in a way new to them, new even in their own language. It is a kind of  a ‘recollection’ of what they know already. Yet, although we appeal to what they already know, it often seems to them to be a new and exciting phenomenon. The newer it seems and the more exciting it is, the better, since what one wishes to achieve is a strategy that encourages motivation. One way to achieve it is through a word game proposed by Brown (1994:25):

Subject Verb Adjective Noun
Preposition Object

The object of the game is to surround the chosen noun with those linguistic elements that will constitute a collocationally correct sentence, e.g. The police are conducting a thorough investigation into the explosion, or, The company is making a careful investigation into consumer complaints. The point is to help students to see that learning more vocabulary is not simply a matter of learning new words, but of learning old words in new relations. Thus they can learn that both investigations and research are conducted but investigations are made while research is done.
Students can be taught to read to see how words hang together. They should be advised to read in manageable chunks, analyzing sentences, noticing how words co-exist with others. And all this is part and parcel of teaching them to look not simply for new words, but at words they know already; not simply at the words they know already, but at these in relation to other words, many of which they will also know already. This type of reading strategy was called ‘pedagogical chunking’ by M. Lewis (1997:52)
Brown (1994) suggests that students should be asked to adopt a Green Cross Code of Reading:

“When you see a word, even in particular a word with which you are already familiar, STOP, LOOK LEFT, LOOK RIGHT, LOOK LEFT AGAIN, AND, WHEN SATISFIED, PROCEED! This is a reading strategy which is, for natural reasons, unnatural – because it seems much more natural to pause in one’s reading when one does not know the meaning of a word; one stops to look up an unfamiliar word in a dictionary, or to give it a dirty look, or simply to pretend it’s not really there. One does not normally stop to take a wider look round a place that is already familiar. Familiarity breeds contempt. But contempt gets in the way. After all, it might strike one that what seemed too familiar to be worthy of note is not all that familiar at all – in just the sense that every “advanced” learner will know what investigation means but will not know how to use the word with the correct collocation, i.e. will not know how to use it correctly. The reading strategy now recommended entails the refusal to take things for granted.”
(Brown, 1994:26)

Brown goes on to say that “some students imagine they discern the cold light of structure and form wherever they look, and seek to apply the logical “must”, a notion of stark necessity, even to a language not their own” (Brown, 1994:27). He argues that it is not a question of belittling this type of student but of trying to illustrate the sociology of language language (any language), of bringing out the patterns where they may be discerned rather than of assuming that they can be constructed a priori. Brown concludes that “it seems perverse to undervalue the potential collocation offers as a means of accessibility to the multifarious uses of language” (Brown, 1994:27).
It is thus necessary to have access to two types of data: contrastive data and learner data, which will allow the selection of the most useful collocations for teaching purposes. To accomplish this purpose four major categories of data are necessary:

  1. Detailed descriptions of English collocations.
  2. Good descriptions of collocations in the learners’ mother tongue.
    These are necessary to assess the potential influence of the mother tongue and consequently to produce the appropriate pedagogical aids for specific mother-tongue groups.
  3. Bilingual computer corpora.
  4. Good descriptions of learner use of collocations.

On the whole, the starting point for improving learners’ collocation competence is getting students to notice and correctly record collocations, constantly revising them and encouraging them to use the collocations they have acquired in their output.


Test 1
Underline eight verb-noun collocations in this text.

My friend Beth is desperately worried about her son at the moment. He wants to enroll on a course of some sort but just can’t make a decision about what to study. I gave Beth a ring and we had a long chat about it last night. She said he’d like to study for a degree but is afraid he won’t meet the requirements for university entry. Beth thinks he should do a course in Management because he’d like to set up his own business in the future. I agreed that would be a wise choice.
(English Collocations in Use, Michael McCarthy & Felicity O’Dell, 2005, p.9)

Test 2
Read the text and find the English equivalents of the following verb-noun collocations:

  1. отбелязвам напредък – …………………………………………………
  2. отправям критика – ……………………………………………………..
  3. постигам резултати – ………………………………………………….
  4. изправям се пред проблеми – ………………………………………
  5. сключвам договор – ……………………………………………………
  6. изготвям доклад – ………………………………………………………

Exports increased in the last quarter due to the present buoyant economy. Ministers are content with the results, saying that they reflect the progress made in decreased regulation for small businesses.
Tax refunds are on the increase as invalid assessments multiply in the tax office. Tax officers protested against the criticism leveled against them, saying that they were insulted by suggestions that they were not able to produce the correct results. They said they were compiling a report which would present in minute detail the problems they were experiencing since the computer contract had been placed with another company.
Test 3
A: Read the sentences and find the verbs, which usually combine with the underlined nouns. For example: make a decision. Some sentences have more than one collocation.

  1. Crucial to resolving this second question is the definition of autonomy that we adopt.
  2. Any generalizations and predictions we may wish to make can therefore never provide us with the truth in particular instances.
  3. If you manage to persuade her that she is loveable without designer gear, then you will certainly do her a huge service.
  4. You mustn’t give in to temptation.
  5. They like to save their money but are shouldering heavy debts.
  6. The main parties are so much alike that it doesn’t make much difference who is in power.
  7. A lot of social problems never seem to get dealt with properly.
  8. The National Health Service doesn’t seem to work no matter how much money is thrown at it.
  9. People would soon kick up a fuss if they aren’t allowed to vote.
  10. As soon as my application has been processed, I’m going to leave the country and live in Canada.

B: Read the sentences and find the nouns, which usually combine with the underlined verbs. For example: make a decision. Some sentences have more than one collocation.

  1. In both countries, eye contact is avoided as a sign of respect.
  2. In Britain, you might have a business lunch and do business as you eat.
  3. His genius as an artist was soon recognized by many people.
  4. He survived two plane crashes.
  5. We have a bit of a confession to make.
  6. His father had a business, which he ran effectively.
  7. Exercise is important if we want to be healthy and fit, but only when it is performed in moderation.
  8. Pollution is one of the greatest dangers we must face.
  9. This of course, will eventually spell disaster for low-lying areas that will be flooded as sea-levels rise.
  10. The problem of too much trash with no place to put it is being faced by all modern municipalities.


  1. Brown, Phillip R. (1994): “Lexical collocation: A strategy for advanced learners”. Modern English Teacher, 3 (2), 24-27.
  2. Granger, S. (1998): Learner English on Computer. London: Longman.
  3. Hill, J. (2000): Revising priorities: From Grammatical failure to Collocational Success. In: Lewis, M. Teaching Collocation. Thomson & Heinle.
  4. Kaszubski, P. (2000): Selected Aspects of Lexicon, Phraseology and Style in the Writing of Polish AdvancedLearners of English: A Contrastive, Corpus-Based Approach. PhD Thesis.Poznan: Adam Mickiewicz University.
  5. Kjellmer, G. (1991): A Mint of Phrases. In: Cowie, A. P., Phraseology: Theory, Analysis, and Applications. Oxford: OUP.
  6. Krashen, S. (1985): The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications, Longman
  7. Larsen-Freeman, D. (1977): Chaos, Complexity, Science and Second Language Acquisition. Applied Linguistics, Vol 18/2.
  8. Lewis, M. (1997): Implementing the Lexical Approach. LTP.
  9. Lewis, M. (2000): Teaching Collocations. Further Developments in the Lexical Approach. Thomson & Heinle.
  10. Meara, P. (1984): The Study of Lexis in Interlanguage. In: Nesselhauf, N., Collocations in a Learner Corpus. (2005) Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  11. McCarthy, M. and F. O’Dell (2005): English Collocations in Use. CUP.
  12. Palmer, F. R. (1981): Semantics. A New Outline. Cambridge: CUP.
  13. Schmidt, R. W. (1990): “The role of consciousness in second language learning”. Applied Linguistics, Vol 11/2 , 129-150.
  14. Sinclair, J. McH. (1991): Corpus, Concordance, Collocations. Oxford: OUP.
  15. Soars, J. and Liz Soars (2003): New Headway – Upper-Intermediate. OUP.
  16. Willis, J. and Willis, D. (1996): Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. In: Lewis, M., Teaching Collocations. Thomson & Heinle.

Using technology in teaching learning-disabled

Written by: Helen Trugman Ph.D., Edith Gotesman Ph.D.
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Abstract: Our paper discusses the use of innovative technological solutions in foreign language teaching for a particular student population, specifically learning-disabled (LD) students. The present research summarizes four academic projects implemented in institutions of higher education in Israel: Holon Institute of Technology, Ashkelon Academic College, Netanya Academic College and Levinski Teacher Training College.

Keywords: dyslexia, learning-disabled (LD) students, assistive technology, presentation accommodations, text-to-speech engines, reading software

1. Introduction

The present projects examine ways to assist language learners in developing foreign language literacy with the help of computers. We strongly believe that in a competitive modern environment of the ‘global village’, computer literacy becomes a prerequisite of professional accomplishment for any person in general, and for a learning-disabled one, in particular.  To function efficiently in a global economy, one has to build up and constantly perfect her learning strategies, starting at school, through college and continuing all life. This paper shows how developing reading skills with the help of computer software can assist LD students in achieving this aim.
The main goal of the paper is to raise English teachers’ awareness of the existing assistive technology, specifically, text-to-speech engines (or reading software). We discuss multiple advantages of such reading software over traditional accommodations provided for LD students, mention some logistical and financial considerations involved in setting up language programs using such software, and provide some suggestions on the choice and use of particular software.

2. Target population

The projects under discussion targeted a heterogeneous LD population in four different colleges in Israel. The majority of the participants were assessed as dyslexics, with some students diagnosed additionally as having Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (AD(H)D). Some other students had problems with short-term memory. In several colleges visually impaired students and poor readers of English were also involved in the projects.

2.1 What is dyslexia?

defines the specific reading disability dyslexia as “a difficulty in learning to read in a person who has good intelligence, strong motivation, and who has received appropriate teaching”. Dyslexia is not a developmental lag, but rather represents a chronic condition. It cannot be cured and often stays with the person through the lifespan (Gerber, Ginsberg and Reiff 1992, Shaywitz and Shaywitz 2001 and references cited therein). However, many LD students have normal or above-normal intelligence and exhibit high-level academic achievement despite their reading deficiency (Shaywitz 2003). Since such students cannot be denied full and equal access to educational opportunities in instruction and testing by law, they have to be provided with appropriate accommodations both in class and on tests. These alternative teaching and assessment options are aimed to measure these students’ abilities rather than disabilities. To do otherwise puts them at risk of joining the grave statistics of underachievers or failures.

2.2 Accommodations provided for LD students

In this section we give a brief synopsis of various accommodations that LD students enjoy in institutions of secondary and higher education in the West (see Landau, Vohs, & Romano 1998 for a complete list).
(1)     Accommodations for LD students

  • timing/scheduling accommodations

LD students usually get extension of time on tests and exams. Sometimes, an LD student can be tested at a time most beneficial to her—for instance, tests can be administered in the morning; or students can be allowed short rest breaks during tests to regain concentration level.

  • setting accommodations

Dyslexic students can be tested in a small group in a separate room with a proctor (this is especially beneficial for students with AD(H)D). When problems with concentration are coupled with stress and Test Anxiety syndrome, a student can be tested without a proctor in a separate room.

  • presentation accommodations

The way a test is formatted is not of little importance: large-print editions of texts and question sheets are very helpful, as well as increased spacing between and within test items. It is recommended to use standard instructions for test tasks, consistent with those used in class assignments, in order to reduce tension which might be created by an unusual task instruction. Instructions should be given in simplified language and the key words in test instructions should be highlighted, underlined or boldfaced, so as to help LD students get quickly to the gist of the question. Some dyslexic students get a permission to use assistive technology, such as audio-taped texts and questions, text-to-speech engines, electronic or online dictionaries, etc.

  • response accommodations

When funds permit, a tester can be provided to transcribe the answers of a dyslexic student (or a dysgraphic one) on a test. When assistive technology is available, a dysgraphic student can use a word processor with a spell check to type in her answers on a test. If a test is administered with a pen and paper, then quite often spelling and punctuation requirements are waived. Since many dyslexics appear to have low self-esteem (Riddick, Sterling, Farmer and Morgan 1999), it is advisable to run periodic checks on the student’s progress with a test and to bring students back on track if needed.

3. Advantages of computers over traditional methods

3.1 What is Assistive Technology?

As we can see in (1), various forms of technology can be provided to LD students as part of response or presentation accommodations. Technology used as an educational aid is known as assistive technology (AT), which is defined in Raskind and Higgins (1998: 1) as “any technology that enables an individual with a learning disability to compensate for specific deficits”. In some cases such technology helps LD students to improve their performance in a given area of disability, whereas in others it can be used to “bypass” their specific deficits entirely.
Recently, researchers have been investigating ways in which computers and other forms of advanced technology can be utilized to support LD students in their effort to succeed academically (Raskind & Higgins 1998, Anderson-Inman 1999, Pisano 2002). In the following section we compare traditional methods used for facilitating LD-students work with text-to-speech engines and discuss the former’s downsides.

3.2 Audio aids versus text-to-speech engines

Traditionally, the dyslexic population has been dealt with by providing additional instruction to such students, the so-called ‘private tutoring’, and by using human testers transcribing the student’s answers or testing her orally on tests. Such methods presuppose, first and foremost, availability of qualified tutors and testers, as well as proper scheduling of tutoring sessions and exams (i.e. finding time slots convenient for both a tutor and a student). In addition, the institution has to provide facilities for tutoring and testing sessions, and, last but not least, find funds to pay for the services.
If traditional audio aids are used instead of or in addition to human testers, then one has to take into consideration purchasing necessary equipment (tape-recorders, cassettes, players, etc.), besides paying to English-speaking personnel for taping all the necessary materials, and to proctors supervising students during tests.
Confronted with such considerable investments in time and money, some institutions have been recently replacing audiocassettes created by human readers by audio CDs recorded with the help of speech synthesizers. This solution eliminates some logistical and financial problems mentioned above (for instance, a need for an English-speaking reader to tape texts), but only to some extent. Other problems remain, as shown in (2):
(2)     Some logistical and financial problems with using audio CDs

  • Creation of audio CDs/mp3 files requires computer-literate personnel.
  • Though faster than recording a tape, it is still time-consuming to create an audio CD appropriate for a test, i.e., with each paragraph of the text recorded as a separate track.
  • Multiple CDs are required if several LD students take the same exam.
  • Every minor change in a text or question sheet requires preparation of a new CD, which additionally increases investment in time and money.
  • With the advent of mp3 and mp4 gadgets, CD players become less available on the market.

In addition to the logistical and financial downsides mentioned in (2), audio aids exhibit a number of other serious drawbacks, which led many students to see them as an unsatisfactory answer to their needs. For instance, students find it time-consuming to locate a particular sentence on the cassette/CD even if tracks are created. Nor is it possible to get fast to a particular word on the tape/CD. It is also hard to create an exact correspondence between an audio and a visual sign, i.e. between the taped text and the printed one. Quite often students seem to be dissatisfied with the tempo of reading or the reader’s accent, even when a tape/CD has been created with a human voice.
Irrespective of all these drawbacks, however, it seems that audio support in this or that form (either as audio cassettes or audio CDs) still prevails as a technological solution offered to the LD student across many educational institutions. What is the better alternative? We claim that computer technology, specifically speech-to-text engines converting a written text into speech, can provide a better solution to the LD student’s problems (cf. Norris and Graef 1990). Compared with audiocassettes/ audio CDs, computerized speech synthesis offers several important advantages, summarized in (3):
(3)     Advantages of text-to-speech engines:

  • Computer software allows for more efficient reading comprehension due to simultaneous multi-sensory support—students both see the text on screen and hear it being read.
  • Computer software improves listening comprehension by allowing the user to create personal ‘readers’ and thus eliminating problems with the human reader’s accent and tempo of speech (in TextAssist program); or by choosing a human voice (in TextAloud program), whose speech can also be adjusted to the user’s needs. Importantly, voice editing can be done on the spot and as many times as needed.
  • Using reading software on a test is less time-consuming for the LD student than audio aids since any particular word or phrase can be easily found on screen and repeatedly read by the program. There is no need to constantly wind and re-wind a tape or a CD.
  • Doing a test on a computer enables faster scanning for key words in questions thanks to a smart use of computer functions (Ctrl+F), which also saves the LD student’s time and bypasses his inability to scan.
  • It is more convenient for the LD student to do a test on a computer since it allows replacing several written sources (a test paper and a dictionary) with one medium—a computer. Students can arrange the text, the question sheet and the dictionary in different windows on screen. Organizing in this way their virtual working place helps them concentrate on the task and stay in focus longer.

Even though using computer technology also entails a serious investment of money and time, especially at the initial, setting-up stage, eventually it becomes less expensive and more manpower- and time-efficient than using audio-taped materials. The following section presents the text-to-speech engines used in the projects and discusses some pre-requisites for starting such a project.

4. Selecting the appropriate technology

According to Raskind & Higgins (1998) and Raskind (1998), selecting the appropriate technology for an individual with a learning disability requires careful analysis of the interplay between the individual (a dyslexic student in our case), the specific tasks or functions to be performed (decoding and understanding a written text), the specific technology (a text-to-speech engine) and the specific context of interaction (doing a homework assignment or writing a test). Knowing the needs of learners can help language instructors with the choice of a specific technological aid. However, as with the use of audio aids and human testers, there are other factors that might affect the choice of text-to-speech software. Table 1 summarizes technical parameters and features of the three programs used in four different colleges in Israel: ReadPlease, TextAloud and TextAssist. After pinpointing major upsides and downsides of each program, we discuss organizational and financial considerations that should be taken into account when choosing a proper text-to-speech engine for a specific student population.

4.1 Comparison of different reading programs

Table 1: Features of text-to-speech engines used in the projects

ReadPlease (ReadPlease Plus) TextAssist TextAloud
Synthesized voices + (only 4 readers) + (28 readers) +
AT&T Natural voices + (should be purchased separately) + (should be purchased separately)
Voice modification possibilities speed only very precise adjustment (speed, (singing) pitch, volume, intonation, echo, frication rate, smoothness, richness, etc.) somewhat limited (only speed, pitch, volume ), only speed with human AT&T voices
File types read e-mail, txt, doc, rtf, (unprotected) pdf, html e-mail, txt, doc, rtf, pdf, html e-mail, txt, doc, rtf,  (unprotected) pdf, html
Uploading the text into the program the text should be copied-pasted into the program’s main window works directly in the original file; no need to copy-paste the text is opened in the program’s main window in .txt mode
Highlights text when reading + + +
The text is read in the program’s main window in a separate window above the original file in the program’s main window
Program window size 640×480 (full screen in ReadPlease Plus) full screen full screen
Change of font and color + + +
Smart keys for word search + (runs search from the original file by using Ctrl+F) + (somewhat limited search functions in the program’s main window)
Ease of operating
easy but time consuming; many very easy and user-friendly; personal reader profile creation requires more training easy but learning  various functions and options, may require more extensive training
Records files for later listening ReadPlease does not have this option, only the paid version can record  .wav files +
can record files in .wav, MP3 and MP4 formats
Availability of free and trial versions ReadPlease is free
no trial version for ReadPlease Plus
no free or trial versions a 21-day trial version without natural voices
Cost of a downloadable version (AT&T voices are extra) $50 ($59.95 for the latest version of ReadPleasePlus)

We should admit that money considerations often force an institution to prefer a less costly text-to-speech engine at the expense of student convenience. However, financial considerations should not be the primary driving force, for student satisfaction and motivation to use the program ultimately underlie the success of the whole project. We have found that students often begrudge their time spent on learning complicated commands and get easily frustrated if doing a test on screen requires multi-tasking, i.e. simultaneous work with several application windows. The student satisfaction stems mainly from the ease of learning and operating this technology, as well as from the availability of various functions simplifying the work with the test.
Though ReadPlease is the only freeware being used in the project, it turned out to have too many shortcomings to be recommended for institutional use (see also reviews on website for detailed discussion of shortcomings by the editor and users). The need to cut and paste a body of text into the program’s main window is quite inconvenient. Neither does the program allow for customizing the reader’s voice or for a wide choice of readers. Particular difficulties arise with ReadPlease when a student has to work with two files simultaneously or read different portions of one file. Since there is no option allowing a student to skip to a certain paragraph, she has to upload a selected portion of the text/questions to the ReadPlease window or scroll down manually to locate that section in the file. This significantly complicates a student’s task and might cause frustration.
Similarly to ReadPlease, TextAloud also reads texts in the program’s main window, to which one or several texts may be uploaded simultaneously. And as in ReadPlease, uploading a file changes the format of the original file into a .txt format. Though not a problem for the program users who are just interested in reading long texts, it becomes a predicament on an English test—students cannot highlight or mark in any way topic sentences of paragraphs or key words they might need for the test. In addition, uploading a .doc file with the test into the program’s window automatically converts it into .txt format and eliminates the correspondence between the test on screen and the printed one, thus eliminating one of the major advantages of using reading software.
In this respect, TextAssist program appears to outperform all other programs since it allows its user to operate it from within the original file, be it an e-mail message, an Internet site, or a Word file. The TextAssist floating toolbar is very small and unobtrusive, which floats over any other program window and does not prevent simultaneous use of multiple windows on screen. For instance, a student can simultaneously open a file with a text in a .doc format, the Word Translator window, and the Text Assist program, and have them all appear on screen together. In contrast, TextAloud, which does not have an in-built translator, requires opening the Word Translator window or any other translator program and adjust both windows manually on screen. Moreover, translating words from TextAloud file using a separate translator program is more cumbersome than translating words from within a .doc file using the Word Translator. The same can be said about the search functions allowed by TextAssist and TextAloud programs: while TextAssist does not prevent using standard Word smart keys, such as Ctrl+F, for locating any word or string of words in a text (which is an indispensable tool for LD students, who find it hard to scan for words on their own); TextAloud comes with an in-built search application which searches for a word inside the program’s main window. Unfortunately, this search application differs from the standard Word application and has to be learnt separately; moreover, it does not always perform faultlessly. Hence, very rarely students opted to learn and use this application on tests.
Though TextAssist program seems to be the easiest to operate since it capitalizes on the user’s knowledge of Word and other programs, it has one significant downside in comparison to the other text-to-speech engines—its incompatibility with natural AT&T voices. The program’s voice menu provides a wide range of synthesized voices (28 in-built ones) and allows for their very precise adjustment in tone, pitch, speed, volume, echo, etc. In addition, a user can create her own reader by customizing one of those in the menu and save it for future use. Yet, students tend to complain about the quality of synthesized voices, especially at the beginning.
However, we didn’t find this to be a real stumbling block for the majority of LD students, especially for those who persist in using and practicing the program on a regular basis. Moreover, sometimes ‘mechanically sounding voices may actually be more intelligible’ (Raskind & Higgins 1998: 5), i.e., clearer to understand by non-native speakers than native speakers’ voices. Yet, in several cases the decision not to purchase TextAssist stemmed from the dissatisfaction with voice quality.
To summarize the discussion above, the institution administration and project heads have to consider the following issues, when deciding which text-to-speech program to choose for our students:
(4)     Major considerations to be taken into account

  • financial considerations (availability vs. lack of site licenses, of free downloadable or trial versions, etc.)
  • availability of natural voices
  • students’ time spent on learning and practicing the software
  • ease of using the application
  • time spent on scanning, editing or formatting tests and reading materials for the use with reading software
  • correspondence between the test on screen and on paper
  • possibility of creating audio files (mp3, wav. and other formats)

4.2 Pre-requisites for starting the project using reading software

It is clear that the major pre-requisite for starting such a language teaching program is financial. First, the decision should be taken by the administration and necessary funds should be allotted for the project. It entails buying and installing necessary equipment in a computer laboratory (e.g. text-to-speech software licenses, earphones), as well as purchasing a CD-writer and re-writable CDs for creating individual test CDs for the students. Implementing such a project certainly requires time, commitment, and effort on the part of the project head. At the initial stage, it is necessary to convert all teaching materials into digital form, by typing them up or scanning.  Digital course materials can be handed out to LD students on individual CDs, or uploaded to online course sites (see Managed Learning Environments discussed in Barrett, Rainer and Marczyk 2007). To ensure that LD students know how to use the program, it is necessary to prepare manuals on program use for students (translating the instructions into their mother tongue) and to hold regularly instructional workshops for LD students enrolled in English courses. Students should be encouraged to use the program constantly in order to improve their skills and minimize the time needed for organizational matters. If the language program entails use of text-to-speech engines not only in class but also on tests, there is a need to train personnel for program use during tests—such as technicians responsible for computers maintenance, as well as proctors supervising students in a computer lab during tests.
Even though use of reading software in a language program may require a considerable investment of money and time, especially at the initial, setting-up stage, in the long run it becomes less expensive and more efficient than using audio-taped materials.

5. Ways to combine traditional teaching with AT

In Israeli universities and colleges English instruction is provided in form of reading comprehension courses in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) which aim to equip students with the skills and strategies needed to meet their English reading requirements in academic courses. EAP courses often require very extensive reading in English, which presents an almost insurmountable task for any student with learning disabilities, especially dyslexic students. Such requirements put high demands on language instructors that frequently face a heterogeneous population in class. As a result, quite often LD students are considered to be a burden or sometimes incapable of foreign language acquisition. In order to ensure that all students, no matter how diversified their abilities are, acquire the proper knowledge of English, several projects were initiated in four academic colleges in Israel, each using a speech-to-text engine, yet within a distinct format.
The information concerning all the projects is summarized in Table 2 below. Note, that in the three out of four projects, regular students learned side by side with LD peers, with frontal teaching being the major kind of instruction in class. In such heterogeneous groups, LD students could manage reading materials in class in several different ways. In some projects, dyslexic students could use a laptop with a text-to-speech engine during class assignments. In another, students had access to the computer lab where they used the reading software, while their peers read the text in class. In still others, LDs students did not enjoy access to the reader in class, yet could do their homework with the help of one. Only in one project conducted in Levinski Teacher Training College, all dyslexic students studied as one group in a computer lab with a permanent access to the text-to-speech engine and other online language resources. Such students enjoyed all the benefits of assistive technology both in class and on tests. However, this class was composed of LD students of three different language levels, which greatly complicated the task of the language instructor.
Another important factor distinguishing the projects is homogeneous versus heterogeneous use of AT in teaching LDs. While two projects, in H.I.T. and Levinski, used only text-to-speech engines in English courses, the other two supplemented the use of computers with audio aids. This heterogeneous use of AT stemmed from logistical problems, for instance, unavailability of computer labs at all time slots when English courses are conducted.

5.1 Synopsis of the four projects

Table 2: English programs using AT

STARTING YEAR 2001-2007 2003 2005 2006
STUDENT POPULATION dyslexics, ADHD dyslexics, visually-impaired; poor readers dyslexics, dyslexics
READER USED TextAssist ReadPlease/
ReadPlease Plus
TextAloud ReadPlease/later TextAloud
ASSIGNMENTS USED FOR homework, unseen tests, final exams classwork, homework,
final exams since 2007
final exams all activities
ADDITIONAL AT none audio cassettes on final exams audio CDs created with TextAloud on tests and quizzes none
MAJOR COMPLAINTS quality of synthesized voices; insufficient  Word dictionary dealing with two ATs, bad voices, need to cut-paste texts speed & quality of voice;  two ATs; lack of experience with TextAloud bad voices of ReadPlease, students of different levels in one class
LOGISTICAL PROBLEMS lack of computer labs and creating personal CDs with tests sending LD students to the lab for reading during classes lack of computer labs, creating multiple audio CDs none
improved reading fluency and comprehension;
boosted self-confidence;
higher grades with nearly 100% rate of success (1-2% of failures); more consistent student performance and fewer complaints with homogeneous use of AT

5.2 Project results

It was found that in all the projects LD students significantly benefited from the use of assistive technology, both in class and on tests. Though the heterogeneous use of AT (i.e. using both computers and audio aids for language instruction) somewhat complicated the students’ work by requiring them to master two technological aids instead of one, we found no increase in the failure rate in these cases, in contrast to students’ anticipation. Nevertheless, the homogeneous use of assistive technology appears to be preferential for a number of reasons. First, in the absence of other aids provided for LDs students, they have no other choice but to learn and master the reading software. Constant use of the software, in turn, increases students’ confidence and, eventually, their satisfaction with the reader. This leads to improved performance on tests and, in the long run, to success in the course.
It was also found that the homogeneous approach to AT in language courses ensures higher grade consistency: we can anticipate success or failure on the final test based on the student performance at intermediate tests, if the same technological aid is used throughout the course. When confronted with a different technology on the final test, students might perform in a less predictable way, and their final grades can deviate from their class averages to a greater extent.

6. Conclusions

Based on the findings accumulated in the four projects, we conclude that the best results are achieved when one kind of assistive technology is used consistently and practiced extensively both for homework, in class and on tests (cf. Levinski Project). It seems that simultaneous use of various technological aids sends LD students a wrong message—passing an English course by any means becomes their primary concern rather than acquiring a new learning tool for life. When a text-to-speech engine is mastered by a student it stops being just an aid for passing a language course and becomes an integral part of a student’s life, helping her to bypass her impairment and integrate into modern society.
Logistically, the best format for a language course using AT is conducting a course in a computer lab.  This both relieves students’ anxiety by exposing them to AT on a permanent basis and prevents scheduling problems. Unfortunately, the best format may be unrealistic due to financial or administrational restrictions. These considerations must be taken into account before a decision is made to start such a project. Though the optimal solution seems to be provided by a language learning center serving the needs of English-learning LD students, this is also the most expensive solution. Therefore, when funds are not forthcoming, a well-thought-out compromise may be needed for the interim period, for a partial solution is better than no solution at all.


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English preterit and perfect testing techniques

Written by: Boryana Rogozherova, Senior Lecturer, e-mail:
T. Kableshkov Higher School of Transport, Chair of Humanities and Languages, Sofia
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Summary: The article treats some general issues related to the importance of language testing, types of tests, criteria testing materials should correspond to as well as more specific topics as to particularities and implementation of English preterit and perfect new testing techniques. Suggested innovative procedures concern the use of graphs, pictures, poetry, fiction texts, story-telling, text elicitation and editing.

1. Introduction

The current article, devoted to English preterit and perfect testing, represents a continuation of a previous paper (Ruzhekova Rogozherova 2007 on testing) focusing on roles of tests in general and for assessment and educational purposes, types of tests and some implementation ideas concerning testing and contrastive (French-English) testing of English preterit and perfect. As it has already been pointed out in some of my former works, both languages mentioned categories’ study and comparison of temporal, aspectual meanings and use, represent a major topic of interest (see in references other articles of Ruzhekova Rogozherova) as well as this one of my thesis. Even though current article is consequently written within the framework of these research interests, it is not purely theoretical; it does not only treat preterit and perfect test foundations, but it also puts forward innovative techniques and procedures as far as their implementation is concerned.

2. Importance of testing

In Introducing Applied Linguistics Corder regards tests “as measuring instruments” as they “are designed to measure the learner’s “knowledge”, or “competence in ”the language at a particular moment in his course …”.
However, tests supply much more information to specialists assessing the “relationship between the teaching materials and their exploitation, and language learning.” (ibid.)[1] Tests, consequently can be used in a large variety of purposes: providing relevant data to applied linguists as to teaching / learning styles; learning / acquisition problems; learners’ personal characteristics (background knowledge, qualifications, age, sex, native as well as other previously or simultaneously studied language(s) or issues regarding interference or interlanguage, emotionality, etc.) and the way they are related to curricula, teaching techniques and lecturers’ professional knowledge and skills. Last but not least, tests can be used as a teaching tool due to relevant feed back, explanation and remedial work, on the one hand (following this principle, they can be also implemented in the accurate representation grammar teaching stage), and on the other, test materials can “teach” in the very process of sitting the test through inferences and conclusions on the part of the examinee, granted the fact they fulfill quality tests criteria and encompass a large variety of arising interest test tasks. Thus, good quality testing materials are likely to provoke and stimulate interest in taught material or the language itself and this way enhance overall examinee linguistic knowledge and awareness. To sum up, quality test materials, their right application and results’ analysis can turn out to have several implications in influencing and promoting further research in language learning and acquisition, error prediction and error correction, relevant teaching methodology and resources, and also, in enhancing learners’ competence and motivation.
Before proceeding with preterit and perfect testing techniques and ideas, I shall write a few paragraphs related to types of tests as well to criteria test materials should correspond to.

3. Types of tests

Let me examine the following tests classification belonging to Cohen[2].
According to the types of achievement they measure tests fall into the following categories:

a. prognostic tests including aptitude tests and placement tests
b. evaluation of attainment tests including achievement tests (“assess the student’s performance in a given course ”) and general proficiency tests (“assess a student’s skill for real-life purposes ”)
c. norm-referenced (compares “a respondent with other respondents”) and criterion-referenced (measures “whether a respondent has met certain instructional… criteria”).

According to the skills tested tests can also fall into the following categories:

d. listening
e. reading
f. speaking
g. writing

According to “levels of intellectual operation” tests can check:

h. knowledge “(bringing to mind the appropriate material)”
i. comprehension “(understanding the basic meaning of the material)”
j. application “(applying the knowledge of the elements of language and comprehension to how they interrelate in the production of a correct oral or written message.)”
k. analysis “(breaking down a message into its constituents parts in order to make explicit the relationships between ideas…)”
l. synthesis “(arranging parts so as to produce a pattern…such as in effectively organizing ideas in a written composition)”
m. evaluation “(making quantitative and qualitative judgments about material)”.

According to “tested response behaviour” tests can check:

n. fluency “without concern for grammatical correctness”[3]
o. accuracy “phonological or grammatical correctness”.

According to “characteristics of respondents” tests may be designed for:

p. different age groups
q. different socioeconomic levels
r. different ethnic or language groups.

According to the “item response format” tests can be classified into:

s. fixed format (“include true / false, multiple choice, and matching items.”)
t. structured format (“include ordering (…respondents are requested to arrange words to make a sentence…), duplication…identification…and completion.”; Cohen also includes written or oral compositions, role-playing activities.)

According to tested language elements tests can check:

u. phonology
v. grammar
w. vocabulary
x. pragmatics
y. mechanics
z. stylistics.

This classification, quite exhaustive, is important to be mentioned in current paper although it considers two specific grammar categories’ testing, as in my view, tests quite often encompass different procedures, various techniques and always interrelated language skills, in other words, assessment materials may display rather mixed characteristics. I shall try to support this statement in further paragraphs through exemplifying items revealing various testing techniques.

4. Criteria testing materials should correspond to

Bachman and Palmer (2004: 9) define tests in terms of their usefulness, “consisting of several qualities (reliability, construct validity, authenticity, interactiveness, impact and practicality)”. They regard usefulness as “an overriding consideration for quality control throughout the process of designing, developing, and using a particular language test.” (ibid.) Having in mind the relevance of enumerated criteria in all test materials selection and elaboration, these principles will be briefly presented as it follows (description is based primarily on Bachman and Palmer’s work).
Reliability, considered along with validity as most essential test requirement, represents “consistency of measurement.” It means that test result should be more or less the same if it were produced by another equivalent purpose test, consisting though of different items and administered on different occasions. Were test results too much diverging, wouldn’t that mean acquired tested ability idea is not relevant? Can we state that such a test has already fulfilled its purpose? It is quite evident that the answer is “No”.
Construct Validity
A construct represents “… the specific definition of an ability that provides the basis for a given test or test task and for interpreting scores derived from this task. The term construct validity is therefore used to refer to the extent to which we can interpret a given test score as an indicator of the ability(ies), or construct(s), we want to measure.” This definition reveals examined criterion as indicator of testing materials’ appropriateness, characterized with tasks adequately revealing skill(s), language ability(ies) or domain tested.
A test is considered authentic if tested language use corresponds to the one needed to the examinee outside the test itself. The correspondence between “the characteristics of TLU[4] tasks and those of the test task (…) is at the heart of authenticity”, as evaluating mastery of a skill or of its components, which are not very likely to be used is of little value.
A test interactiveness is defined in terms of test taker’s personal characteristics (language knowledge, strategic competence, topical knowledge and affective schemata) involvement. I consider areas of language knowledge (vocabulary, grammar and pragmatics) absolutely obligatory to be tested in language tests. However, topical knowledge, combined with language use and skills appears too. It is characteristic to tests assessing specialized language competence and behaviour, aiming at “diagnosing” specific language use level of a test taker, possessing specific professional qualifications. It should be taken in consideration that topical knowledge elements inclusion is not recommended in purely linguistic testing – it can make the test biased giving advantage to those examinees with the higher degree of specialized competence.
Tests are characterized with certain degree of influence on a large or small scale, at micro or macro level, upon the individual or educational system and curricula. Tests can affect “educational practices and beliefs” (Cohen 1994), teaching and learning quality (Hughes 1989). We also support the view that specialists developing and using tests must investigate characteristic areas of impact, its degree and whether it is positive or negative (Wall and Alderson 1993).
Practicality is a test quality depending on resources needed to develop and implement in a test. It also represents important test quality participating in overall test criteria balance. As Bachman and Palmer (2004: 36) point out practicality can be defined “as the relationship between the resources that will be required in the design, development, and use of the test and the resources that will be available for these activities.”

5. Taking into account grammatical features of tested categories – prerequisite for the achievement of tests quality criteria and their balance

Accomplishment of just one of above enumerated test quality criteria as well as their combination in the right degree to which they are represented is impossible without possessing the strict knowledge of tested categories’ grammar features, the way they interrelate (in case forms are jointly tested) as well as procedures as to their effective teaching (teaching and testing, representing both sides of a unified process and thus mutually complementing each other). Grammar features’ analysis (as well as other factors like interlanguage, NL, FL1, FL2, error prediction, see Ruzhekova Rogozherova’s articles on contrastively teaching English preterit and perfect) determines not only types of test tasks, but also their number, sequence, resources, measuring the “weight” of different tasks and their components or scoring.
Taking into account interconnection between tested skills and abilities’ features, teaching and testing techniques, we shall proceed with a short description of English preterit and perfect temporal and aspectual characteristics.

5.1. English preterit – temporal characteristics

English Preterit represents the marked member of the typical for English temporal system binary opposition simple past – simple present (Quirk 1985, Downing and Locke 1992, Valeika and Buitkiené 2003, Huddleston 2002 on present and past being tenses in contrast with will + infinitive). All other forms (progressive, perfect, their combination, will-future and other modality-based forms) are not considered tense forms due to their lack of deicticity and unified morphological structure, characteristic to tenses as well as modality (in the case of will and other modal verbs-based forms).
English preterit’s main temporal features deriving from the form’s deicticity – pointing at the past moment in which the activity took place – are: lack of current relevance and consequently, expression of a single or a series of non-current relevant event(s) or narration, expression of simultaneous or non-chronologically presented events, omnitemporality, transpositional use in conditional structures and while expressing politeness in some functions.

5.2. English preterit – aspectual characteristics

The category’s aspectual features deriving from its deicticity are within the scope of its perfectiveness (finished activity) as English preterit also possesses the ability of expressing imperfective (non-finished) activities.
Suggested test materials only concern the form’s perfective aspectual meanings, or as it follows: inchoativity (beginning of an activity), punctuality (activity accomplished in a minimal time period, duration (finished in some time limits activity), repetition (finished series of repeated events), and termination (emphasis on the end of an activity, the opposite of inchoativity).

5.3. English perfect– aspectual characteristics

English perfect is only characterized by aspectual features as it is not a tense (Comrie 1998, Brinton1988). The form is not deictic, it predominantly expresses correlation or if I could mention here deicticity at all, it would be “correlation deicticity” (term of mine). In my view, resulting from scientific research, perfect’s basic meanings derive from its possessiveness (due to the possessive auxiliary acquiring the activity result, group (A)), from “correlation deicticity” (group (B)), as well as from the combination of both types of features (group (C)). Meanings pertaining to group (A) are: possessive resultativity (term of mine), recent activity, anteriority, future transposition; meanings pertaining to group      (B) are: “not yet” perfect (term of mine), omnitemporality, integral and progressive actuality (term of mine); meanings pertaining to group (C) are: acquired experience, superlative perfectness (term of mine), generalization (term of mine). These meanings are bound to be included as test values (it goes without saying that test takers do not have to be acquainted with scientific classifications or names of meanings), depending on examinees’ level of grammar knowledge; forthcoming paragraphs treat applicable to most frequently used meanings test procedures and techniques.

6. Ideas in designing English preterit and perfect test items

Hereby proposed ideas, as it was pointed out, stem from tested forms’ characteristics as well as from already presented test classification and quality criteria.
My former testing article (2007) focused mainly on ideas of fixed and structured format exercises like the following ones related to: sentences completion using suggested (jumbled) verbs in their correct form; sentences completion through brackets opening – putting the verb into the correct form, positive or negative; ordering jumbled words to form sensible sentences; sentences translation (taking into account most probable NL or FL1 interference); matching phrases from columns using suitable conjunctions; reading comprehension  with “labelling” statements as “true” or “false”.
I shall present some more creative suggestions involving varied techniques use making the test more attractive, appealing and this way, enhancing test-coping and learning opportunities. These ideas were partially inspired by Celce-Murcia and Hilles’s book (1988) on grammar teaching techniques and resources. Believing that (as above written) teaching and testing are closely intertwined, being both sides of a unified process and can, consequently, interconnect, I reckon that teaching procedures and methodology can be used in testing and vice versa. Suggested techniques have been, of course, adapted to suit the purposes of a test, and especially preterit and perfect testing materials.

6.1. Story telling

In Ruzhekova Rogozherova 2007 on contrastively teaching English preterit and perfect story telling was suggested as being quite appropriate at accurate use grammar teaching stage, especially when teaching the preterit, due to its characteristic narrative use. However, it should be kept in mind that this technique could be successfully implemented while testing the perfect as well – in sharing experiences, talking about acquired things or achievements of living people, expressing opinions, commenting results of activities. One and the same text could involve both categories’ use; it happens quite often in testing, due to problems most learners face regarding to understanding, not confusing and consolidating these forms’ meanings and use.
Test takers could be asked, in accordance with tested levels, to produce a real or imagined, short or detailed story on some memorable happenings they lived (or have lived through); they could be asked to comment on it and motivate their choice on telling this story exactly. Use of forms will provide relevant information on tested category(ies) mastering.

6.2. Pictures use

Pictures can be also adopted for testing purposes. A sequence of consecutive or jumbled activities images could represent the basis of a written account, thus testing again preterit use.
In case pictures present changes, results or acquisition, their description will certainly involve perfect use and this way, test it (as for example, Murphy 2004).

6.3. Charts, tables and graphs use

Learners (especially adults) face the need to correctly present their CVs or interpret different tables and graphs. Similar types of test task, being relevant to learners’ experience, are likely to be fruitful in teaching and testing as well. I shall present here three ideas; although all of them are mainly related to testing the preterit, a perfect testing possibility will be also suggested.
Preparing a CV
Learners can be asked to fill in a similar chart and then describe their employment, skills and acquired experience, imagining they are at a job interview. An example could be given, like the following one:

Education, years, start from the most recent Employment, years, start from the most recent Duties Acquired knowledge and experience so far
1995-1999-PhD in accountancy and trading Advertising and sales manager, Bosh, 2007-2002 Marketing research, marketing plans, strategic planning, promotions, planning advertising campaigns General economic and managerial knowledge, specialized knowledge in…
Foreign languages at levels…
Business School, 1989-1994 Sales manager in Siemens, 1999 – 2002 Research, sales  planning

Test takers will obviously show some preterit knowledge and skills while describing consecutive employments and fulfilled duties during the period. However, the third column will be likely to make them use the perfect of acquired result and experience.
In case the applicant is still at work, the first column, first box description will be likely to make him/her use the perfect of current activity.
A daily routine table
Examinees could be presented with a table to fill in their daily routine and then, using it, they need to be asked to write about things they did on the previous day.

Graph(s) interpreting or drawing
In case the test requires some topical (business, for example) knowledge, test takers could be asked to interpret a graph describing shares or some products’ prices change. This task could be carried out in a simplified or more difficult (designed for advanced learners) variations. Advanced learners are only provided with possible infinitive verbs to use, whereas lower levels examinees just fill in blanks with appropriate verb forms in a prepared beforehand text. This idea (partially inspired by Strutt 2000) is illustrated on the figure below.
Test takers can be also required to draw a graph on a coordinate system illustrating a short article similar to the following one (this exercise and text were used by Strutt 2000):
“The price of zinc went up slightly by $50 a tonne during the first three months of the year from its turn-of-the-year price of $1,550 a tonne to reach a respectable $1,600. It then rose sharply on 1 April and continued to climb steadily until the end of June when it peaked at (…) It continued its fall to reach a record low of $1,350 on 3 November. Since then it has picked up gradually and is expected to continue to rise slowly in the coming weeks.”
As it can be seen from the text, this type of activity does not uniquely presuppose the preterit use, learners can be equally asked to show their mastery of the perfect of current activity.

6.4. Poetry or fiction texts use

Poetry (it is likely to be more appealing to test takers due to the rhythm and rimes, though it could create more problems with understanding in comparison with fiction) or fiction texts can be also implemented while testing studied categories, at higher levels. A poem or a fiction text could be typed leaving blank spaces at some verb forms’ positions. I suggest while using poems we should not “deprive” test takers of all preterit and perfect forms; we should pick up some to remain in the purpose of making context more evident and, consequently, minimize needed time to cope with the task. Test takers are asked to fill in the blanks; all right suggestions are accepted. However, this task can be simplified if test developers supply jumbled infinitive verbs that should be used.
This task may be illustrated through a poem by Robert Frost; the integral text was selected by Celce-Murcia and Hilles 1988 to be implemented in grammar teaching, with proposed different from hereby suggested procedures, of course.

The Road Not Taken
Two roads ……………….. in a yellow wood,
And sorry I …………….not travel both
And be one traveler, long I ………………
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it ………………in the undergrowth;
Then ………….. the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it ……….. grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally …………..
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I ………… the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads on to way,
I ……………. if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two diverged in a wood, and I –
I ………… the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

6.5. Text manipulation

In this task test takers will have to transform, for example, a written in the present simple text into the preterit and introduce slight contextual changes if grammar context requires it.
Slager (1973 in Celce-Murcia and Hilles 1988) proposes an interesting technique in text manipulation consisting in ordering random presented sentences belonging to a paragraph in the purpose of forming a sensible sequence. This way, I reckon, meanings and use of forms are tested too.

6.6. Text elicitation

This task consists in creating some imaginative context appropriate for the use of studied categories. Test takers should develop a short paragraph providing required information as proposed. Examinees can be asked for example, to imagine they have recently been promoted and explain why. This task will certainly reveal the extent to which they have mastered the perfect of result and experience, used when describing achievements.

6.7. Text editing

This test task focuses on correcting deliberately wrong grammar (either morphological form could be mistaken or a category’s meanings and use). Some clues, like pointing out number, type(s) and location (in a harder text) of errors, should be provided.

7. Conclusion

In the paper I tried to briefly present FL testing role in FL teaching process together with some creative preterit and perfect testing techniques and procedures. I shall not dwell long on test items’ variety importance as it has been already discussed, neither on quality test criteria. I shall just emphasize the fact that quality testing is bound to have not only its personal, related to language competence enhancement effect, but also, it can influence the teaching / learning process as a whole, curricula as well as overall FL studying motivation in its capacity of measuring and teaching tool at the same time.


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  7. Ruzhekova Rogozherova, B. 2007: Durative Value of English Preterit. Liternet 11 (96).
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[1] Corder 1973, both quotations are on pp. 351, 352.
[2] Cohen, A. 1979: 332,333
[3] However, I reckon that fluency is impossible without at least to some extent adequate grammar that does not hamper understanding. There are frequent examples proving the existence of fine but relevant to meaning and therefore obligatory to be mastered grammar hues (for example related to discriminating time-referenced perfect from preterit).
[4] Target Language Use (term used by quoted authors) – language structures, register, style or level of language knowledge  needed or frequently used by the examinee

Adding more sights and sounds to the English lesson through music videos

Written by: Boyan Nikolov – NBU
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The primary purpose of this workshop is to suggest some practical ideas about the use of music videos during the English lesson and to demonstrate some of the possibilities that they offer as a means of expressing concepts and emotions, presenting stories or events. Videos’ main advantage is that they combine pieces of music and short films, which guarantees a wide range of activities prior to, during, and after watching a particular video in the classroom. These activities could be summarised in the following way:
At the beginning of the lesson the teacher may wish to prepare learners for what they are about to see and hear, e.g. by a short discussion about the performers of the song related to the video, an interesting story or fact about the video or the song, etc. Another handy warm-up is to tell learners to invent a story using words from the song’s lyrics. The teacher may also ask learners to visualize what the video might be like while only listening to the song – after that they watch to compare the video with their expectations.
There are numerous approaches to using music videos in class. We may first ask learners  questions that are related to the video (say how the character(s) feel; follow the storyline to retell or interpret it; see certain objects or people in the video, etc.) – they watch to answer. This can be followed by some standard tasks connected with the lyrics of the song (gap filling, putting lines in the correct order, matching beginnings to endings of lines, etc.) – then learners may watch again to check answers. Another option is to start working with the lyrics and then go to the video.  Naturally enough, all these activities can be combined in a different way and order depending on the particular video, the level of the learners, the teacher’s aims, etc. The very fact that we can use the thematic link between lyrics, songs and videos provides us with numerous combinations of tasks both in and outside the classroom.
At the final stage of the lesson different sorts of planned or improvised discussions may follow depending on the teacher’s aims and the learners’ responses. The topic of the video could be developed further by different kinds of creative writing or project work usually set for homework.
Videos Featured In The Workshop:

  1. Lisa Stansfield – All Around The World
  2. Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence
  3. Abba – The Day Before You Came
  4. George Michael & Aretha Franklin – I Knew You Were Waiting For Me
  5. Mike Odlfield – Don Alfonso
  6. Erasure – A Little Respect
  7. Mike Oldfield & Bonnie Tyler – Islands