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

Written by: Boyan Nikolov – NBU
[twocol_one]Download: Handout  .DOC[/twocol_one]
[twocol_one_last]Download: Presentation .PDF[/twocol_one_last]
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

Motivating Children to Learn English

Written by: Olha Madylus, e-mail:
Biodata: Olha began her teaching career as a secondary state school teacher in the UK, teaching English and Drama. She has been involved in YLELT for 25 years, living, teaching and training in the UK, Hong Kong, Venezuela and Greece.
For the past six years she has been a freelance YL consultant and teacher trainer and is involved in the training of local state school teachers in countries as diverse as Peru, Qatar, Greece, India and Malaysia, working with the British Council as well as Ministries of Education and other educational institutions. She is also a CambridgeESOL CELTA and CELTYL trainer. Olha is interested in the whole range of Young Learners from the age of 5 to 18. She is particularly concerned with the role of motivation and challenge in learning.

Motivation is, without question, the most complex and challenging issue facing teachers today.

Scheidecker & Freeman

Without doubt it would be wrong to oversimply the exact nature of motivation. But, I will take the liberty of simplifying and focussing particularly on selected aspects of motivation. I will attempt to be clear and concise, knowing that others have gone into many of these ideas in much greater depth and word-length. You have the choice to follow up for homework by diving into the bibliography, if you should so wish.
What is motivation?
While many still argue about the very nature of this vital ingredient in the learning recipe, let’s do what I advise my students to often do for some clarity, let’s refer to the dictionary, which tells us that there are, two facets to this:

To motivate:
=  to stimulate the interest of someone
= to cause someone to want to do something
Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

As language teachers we can immediately see how this is crucial in our classrooms. Once we have the attention and interest of our students and they are willing to do the activities we put before them we are well on the way to doing our job as a teacher i.e. getting them to learn something.
Mummy, why is the sky blue?
But why do they need to be motivated? Look at any toddler. The behaviour that characterises young children is that they are constantly learning, asking questions (any parent of young children will attest to this constant, even somewhat irritating, questioning), they are free from inhibitions and enjoy discovering and improving. This is true for language development as well as learning about the world around them. John Holt describes this ‘natural learning style’ thus:

The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment… He is open and receptive. He is experimental.. He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance and suspense.. He is willing and able for meaning to come to him – even if it is very slowly, which it usually does.
John Holt

Holt even gives lots of examples of children as young as three and four teaching themselves to read, just because they want to, they can and it is fun.
The Classroom Environment
With such extraordinary raw material, what goes wrong in the classroom?

Let’s face it: school attendance is compulsory, and the content of the curriculum is almost always selected on the basis of what society – rather the learners themselves – consider important. Furthermore, it is also difficult for the students who are in the most energetic years of their lives to spend what seem to them terribly long periods of time confined to the relatively small space of the classroom, and the fact that they are continuously monitored and assessed does not add to their well-being either.
Zoltan Dornyei

By the time we become teachers, we have no difficulty accepting school as the most natural environment for learning, but it so many ways it is not. Children have not chosen to be there, they have no power over what they do on any given day and they lose their individuality and special-ness in the crowd. When we are training to become teachers, how many of us consider this? Dealing with disruptive behaviour may be a module on a teacher training course, but is dealing with thirty five individual children who may be uncomfortable, unhappy and frustrated and therefore not motivated? It seems to me that a huge part of what we have to do as teachers is address this. First we need to understand how our students are feeling, for learning, especially learning a language, is just as affective as it is cognitive, that means: we must address not just the students’ heads but also their hearts.
What we need to consider is how, despite all the drawbacks of being in school and having to work within the constrictions that that entails, we can foster children’s will to learn. First we have to acknowledge what, or who, may be inhibiting learning and then takes steps to remedy the situation as best we can.

Give all children a chance
Children want to be involved and to be noticed. The children who most readily put up their hands are not the best – they are simply the quickest and usually the ones who know they will be asked by the teacher either because they are nearer the teacher and therefore most visible or the ones who know the teacher likes them more (alas this is true even if we are not aware of it ourselves).
Even if teachers try hard to ask as many different children as possible, there is limited time to do so. I have watched many classes where children are almost exploding with the desire to answer the question, to be seen, to be valued as participants in the learning experience but are not asked. Little wonder they stop putting up their hands and hold a conversation with their friends about what was on television yesterday instead.

All individuals can be characterised be two learned drives, a motive to approach success and a motive to avoid failure.
Martin V Covington

Children will make mistakes. Students are students! The very nature of that role is in the not knowing. That’s why we are there: to lead them on journeys of discovery. Is it fair then to jump on any mistake they make and punish them for it? Any time a student tries to answer a question, write a sentence in English, do a grammar exercise, they take a risk. Of course they may make mistakes, but the attempt is the vital step.

Many of the things we call mistakes and see as problems are in fact signals that our students are successfully learning the language. They are taking the necessary steps… Our Job as teachers is not to point out differences between our students’ language and standard English. That is too negative a role. Our job is to encourage the growth of language by appreciating the learning steps.
Julian Edge

I always respond to students’ efforts as positively as possible. A ‘that’s a good answer, but not the one I’m looking for’ does not fool the children into thinking they were quite right, but makes them know I admire their ability to have a go and be brave enough to try. Isn’t that worth celebrating? If we tell children they are wrong, if we inculcate the belief that they are failures, they are more prone to failure. Children will stop trying; they will be demotivated if those around them not only fail to encourage them, fail to take into account what they need to support their learning but also criticize or even ridicule their efforts. The signals may come not from us but from other students in the class, perhaps laughing or sighing at an incorrect answer, but the teacher is complicit is she allows such an atmosphere to prevail. Creating an appropriate learning environment of mutual respect, collaboration and patience is vital.
A simple solution to the above problem is to avoid a too teacher-centred lesson with a battery of questions directed at the whole class that require individual children to answer with alacrity and speed. Set tasks for groups or individuals to work on so that they can use whatever strategies come most naturally, ask for help and support if they need it from their classmates or from us and they can take the time to think and eventually reach the answer without being constantly pipped to the post by the fastest horse in the race. Allow them all to succeed –  all to be winners.

The simplest way to ensure that students expect success is to make sure that they achieve it consistently.
Jere Brophy


Dropouts don’t leave school because we didn’t give them enough facts, but because they don’t find any meaning in them.
Gertrude Moskowitz

Teachers are under a lot of pressure: large classes to teach, lots of administration and a syllabus to cover and finish as well as examinations to prepare children for. Sometimes the focus of teaching becomes solely getting through all the grammar and vocabulary and we forget how vital meaning is.
Children require and seek out meaning. That’s why they, we, love stories. What fabulously meaning-rich vehicles of language stories are. How often does the classroom become shelter for the meaning-poor? The grass is green. The sky is blue. Is the repetition of sentences such as these of any interest to children? Does it touch them at all?
We must present and practise in such a way that meaning is always paramount and that children ‘realise’ meaning. I use the word here to mean that they notice the meaning through the examples that we present to them and it becomes real, or meaningful, in their heads, so that they can then create their own meaning with it.
So in order to practise, for example, modals of probability – may, might, could etc. we can use a picture like this:

And ask the students to guess what is happening. For example – he (or is it a she? – it could be) may be late for school / he / she could hate early mornings. We are obviously not sure and all suggestions are good. Students are being asked not just to repeat language mechanically but to focus on the meaning of what they say, because this meaning is coming from them. In their minds a story to explain the picture is evolving. This is also a fabulous activity in my mind, because every answer is a good answer – the possibilities of meaning are endless and children rise to the challenge of creating different meanings with their suggestions.
Also we have to remember that I am the most interesting person in the world. That is every I – all of us.  We all love talking about ourselves and we like to express our own opinions. As teachers we must ensure that there is plenty of room for personalisation in our lessons.

If we consider the students in our classes to be more interesting than the rather cardboard characters found in the traditional course book, it follows that a real need exists for activities where the students are invited to speak to each other and express their ideas using structures that have already been presented to them (it) is much more emotionally real..
Frank & Rinvolucri

Challenge children

Human beings feel best in flow, when they are fully involved in meeting a challenge, solving a problem, discovering something new
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Children, as well as adults, love being absorbed in a task. And only when we are absorbed and focussed on what we are doing can we learn well. We can get lost in a good book, a good film, a good conversation, painting a picture and this gives a great sense of satisfaction and pleasure. There are too many distractions vying for our attention throughout the day. Have you noticed your students staring out of the window when they should be doing an exercise in their book. Their minds have wandered, perhaps distracted by a soaring bird or an airplane flying over the school. These triggers have captured their imagination, have proved a welcome relief to the tedium of the task at hand. So the task at hand should be attractive and also challenging to keep the student’s mind focussed.
There are many tasks that children find challenging in the class that can absorb them and stretch their thinking capacities. Take for example a simple activity like this. Write these letters on your board – I  B  A  E  N  R  D C, ask the children to work in small teams of 2 or 3 and create as many words as possible using these words – bean, in, rice, bread etc. Watch them get excited trying to get as many as possible, watch them collaborate and help each other with spelling and even telling each other what a word means. Energy levels rise, interest is roused and the atmosphere in the room changes. That’s the atmosphere of a learning, motivated class.
Fun and Games

This brings me on to what I believe is a crucial motivating element in any classroom, in any workplace in any home – fun. From a long time ago the need to play has been recognised as a key component to children’s learning. An 18th Century Frenchman was exhorting us

to encourage free expression and natural playfulness…
Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762

And the cry was still heard in the 20th Century, with Jean Piaget stressing that :

play leads to consolidation of newly learned behaviours… exposing the child to new experiences and new possibilities for dealing with the world
Wood & Attfield

Laughter is very motivating. Pleasure is very motivating.
We play games in class to make students feel comfortable, to help the language be memorable, to practise language, to facilitate involvement and because we recognise that language learning is affective as well as cognitive.
Of course we must choose games that recycle the English that students have been studying. They are a great way of helping students review and use language in different ways – crosswords, quizzes, riddles, guessing games etc.

Beware of red-pen-it-is (the deadly disease, known only to teachers, of being unable to look at any work of a student without automatically reaching for  red pen)
Assessment is an area that teachers consider very serious. It is often the most formal aspect of the teaching we do. But do we get into bad habits in the way we assess? I have shown the following piece of writing to many teachers over the years asked their opinion about it. Please note it is just the opening few lines of a short story.

On year 10,000 scientists found a very big problem! A very tiny microchip was into a computer. This microchip could destroy the hole world. Scientists were trying over five years to destroy it but it was so impossible.
A twelve year old Greek student of English

The question I ask is ‘What would you do with this, if a student handed it in to you as their homework?’ many teachers hone in immediately on the mistakes and start correcting. One teacher even screwed up the paper I handed her with this printed on and said she would throw it in the rubbish bin. Shame on her. Are we so programmed to see errors that we don’t see the great things that students produce? This is a fabulous introduction to a story. It is dramatic and draws the reader in to discover what this awful problem could possibly be. The contrast between ‘very tiny microchip’ and its capacity ‘to destroy the hole world’ is powerful indeed. (That spelling mistake in comparison is minor.) And don’t forget to look at the complex structure of the final sentence – well crafted indeed.
Let’s not forget Julian Edge and his call for us to appreciate the learning steps our children are making – and jolly well celebrate them too!

Let’s be honest – homework is often the least motivating assignment that children get. It’s the long writing composition or the grammar exercises. How many times do you look at what is given in and despair as your hand reaches for the pack of red pens that you will need to tackle this mammoth task? Do your students sometimes do their homework in front of the television, on the bus or even copy it from their friend while walking into their lesson; or even, heaven forbid, get their mother to do it for them? The resulting anguish on both our parts – for us at having to mark work that we actually know is substandard and does not reflect what they could do when motivated, and for the children handing it in whose heart just wasn’t into the chore and whose heart sinks even further when it is returned covered in red ink and stamped with a low mark or grade.
Why can’t homework be more fun and more motivating? I think it’s because many of us run out of steam by the end of the lesson and assign tasks automatically – often things that can be marked easily. In my mind, it is better to have children do something, anything well and with some enthusiasm for five minutes at home than in the desultory manner described above. Why can’t children just be asked to read something in English that they enjoy – a magazine, story or website, thereby fostering their pleasure in using English and respecting their choice of what they read?  Why can’t children illustrate a story they wrote in class, thereby rereading the story and thinking carefully about its meaning while putting crayon or brush to paper?  Why can’t students chose an English song they like and transcribe the lyrics to share with their classmates in a future lesson, thereby honing their listening and concentration skills and playing a part in shaping one of their own lessons?
Just pause a second before you set the next homework for you class and consider how motivated you would be by a similar task and is there any way you can make it more meaningful and / or more fun for your students to do.
In conclusion
Let me return to the John Holt quotation above to put together some basic approaches that we can try to put into practise in our own classrooms.
The child is curious – so we should allow children to ask questions, to explore, to feel free to reflect on what they do not know.
He wants to make sense of things – don’t do that for him, allow him to discover, to feel that flush of success when he has found the solution, sees the connections and appreciates his role in his own learning.
He is open and receptive – don’t force him to shut down, by convincing him he is not a successful learner.
He is experimental – allow room for experimentation and discovery in the classroom
He is bold – respect that miraculous capacity of self-belief.
He is not afraid of making mistakes – so don’t you be afraid of your students’ mistakes or even your own.
He can tolerate uncertainty, confusion, ignorance and suspense – so why can’t we?
He is willing and able to let meaning come to him – so nudge it in his direction.

We do not have to train children to learn…we have to avoid interfering with it.
Frank Smith


  • Brophy J E, Motivating Students to Learn, McGraw-Hill, 1998
  • Covington, M V, A Will to Learn, , CUP, 1998
  • Csikszentmihalyi M, Finding Flow, Basic Books, 1997
  • Dornyei, Z, Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom, CUP, 2001
  • Holt J, How Children Learn, Penguin, 1967
  • Edge J, Mistakes and Correction, Longman, 1990
  • Moskowitz G, Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Classroom, Newbury House, 1978
  • Scheideker D & Freeman W, 1999, Bringing out the Best in Students: How Legendary Teachers Motivate Kids, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press
  • Smith F, Reading, 1978, CUP
  • Wood E & Attfield J, Play, Learning and the Early Childhood Curriculum, Paul Chapman Publishing, 1996

Some aspects of intercultural training of Bulgarian learners of English

Written by: Bistra Vasileva, Asst. Prof., MA, SU “St. Kliment Ohridski”, DLTIS, Sofia
Download: Handout in MS Word .DOC | Adobe .PDF format

The ability to communicate effectively in English is a well-established, traditional goal in the communicative language classroom. A lot of adult Bulgarian learners can identify personal needs to use spoken and written English and a great number of younger students are aware of the future necessities for trans-cultural communication, related to the issues of career pursuit, life-long learning and mobility. In the quickly changing and globalising world we can see that people with different cultural and linguistic identity need to take up contacts with other groups. This phenomena is analysed in Byram`s study of the issues of Intercultural Communicative Competence where he describes …” the state of the world…as such that societies and individuals have no alternative but proximity, interaction and relationship.”(Byram1997: 2) In this respect the teachers of English have to work towards building of a reasonable potential for a successful English language communication, including knowledge of the cultural dimension in the target language. It means that students need to be prepared for “inter-lingual and inter-cultural experiences”(Byram 1997: 4) of the contemporary situation. To be able to operate effectively in diverse cultural contexts, students should be exposed to plenty of opportunities to practise language in situations which stimulate them to express personal needs, ideas and opinions. Therefore we have to stimulate an improving capability to use English to communicate with individuals from different cultural backgrounds, to acquire, develop and apply knowledge, to think and solve problems, to respond and give expression to various experiences. Within these contexts we need to develop and apply an ever-increasing understanding of how English is organized, used and learned. All these objectives can be summed up in T.Hedge`s conclusions that “ …in our classrooms, where possible, language practice should resemble real life communication with genuine exchange of information and opinions.”(Hedge: 2000) But in order to have natural communication we should make our students aware of the intercultural element of every true speech act. This means that our major task is to assist students in becoming “transcultural” language users who are confident speakers of the foreign language across a range of contexts.
According to the findings of methodologists as Chris Rose, Claire Kramsch and many others intercultural learning is a process in which students become more aware of their own culture and begin to understand other cultures around the world. In this process of accummulating experience about their own cultural identity the aim of the intercultural learning is to enhance cross-cultural tolerance and understanding. In our article we are going to use the term “intercultural awareness” in the sense which C. Kramsch attached to it, which is the ability to understand the “cultural relativity following reading, writing, listening, and speaking.” (Kramsch:  1993) In this respect we can quote further from her research that:

“If language is seen as social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching. Cultural awareness must then be viewed as enabling language proficiency…Culture in language teaching is not an expendable fifth skill, tacked on, so to speak, to the teaching of speaking, listening, reading and writing.”
(Context and Culture in Language Teaching, OUP, 1993)

Assuming the idea that language is defined by culture we believe that we cannot be competent in the target language if we do not appreciate the culture that has shaped it. Therefore in order to learn a foreign language we need to have an awareness of the foreign culture and how it relates to the native culture of the learner. In his study of the Intercultural awareness Chris Rose points out that having cultural awareness is not enough – it is working towards gaining intercultural awareness that should be emphasised. Following on Kramsch`s ideas, Chris Rose suggests looking upon the intercultural awareness as a collection of skills and attitudes that can be called a competence. In this sense Intercultural Competence includes raising students` awareness of their own culture thus helping them understand and interpret other cultures as well. We can conclude that IC comprises a set of practices requiring knowledge, skills and attitudes. Chris Rose lists them as the following:

  • observing, identifying and recognizing
  • comparing and contrasting
  • negotiating meaning
  • dealing with or tolerating ambiguity
  • effectively interpreting messages
  • limiting the possibility of misinterpretation
  • defending one`s own point of view while acknowledging the legitimacy of the others
  • accepting difference.

Many of these are similar to what we teach but it is the raised awareness of what we do that makes the intercultural communicative competence a more attainable goal. These vital skills can be developed by designing materials which have cultural and intercultural themes and tasks. The role of the teacher is to help students become more aware of the diversity of the world around them and to interact with it in a better way. In this respect teachers can be considered to be mediators of cultural relativity. “Cultural awareness” is not seen for advanced learners only, but as a fundamental feature of language and an integral part of language learning important at all levels. In his articles dedicated to the issue Chris Rose advises teachers to analyse the notion of intercultural awareness as consisting of several different perspectives. He suggests that we should enable our students to:

  1. have a good understanding and awareness of their own culture
  2. know how their own culture is seen from outside, by other countries and cultures
  3. understand or see the target culture from its own perspective (i.e. understand and be aware of what other people think of their own culture)
  4. be aware of how the target culture is seen.

There are numerous ways how to deal with each of these steps. We may encourage students to produce posters and webpages for visitors to students` town or country, in which famous places are described and basic information for the tourists is provided. Cultural references and explanations might be used to give visitors some ideas about what can be done there.These tasks will involve students into research, critical reading, selecting and processing the information and in general their work will have value higher than the purely linguistic one. Then we can ask students to look for some sources (books, newspapers, magazines or websites) written by people who have visited the students` town or country – materials from the newspaper The Sofia Echo, for example, because it is meant for foreigners who live and work in Bulgaria and is issued every week. It is very useful because it gives us an immediate access to different viewpoints, attitudes and responses to current issues in Bulgarian society. They can read and compare commentaries and analyses related to vital social realities of Bulgarian life.While accomplishing such projects students will inevitably practise the four basic skills and hopefully improve on their linguistic competence. Every time when they work on the task of organizing the accommodation and stay of English-speaking visitors to Sofia besides the basic vocabulary and grammar structures revision they learn a little more about Bulgarian cultural reality and customs as well.
At the same time we should systematically provide students with sources of information about the target culture. We can use articles from magazines or newspapers as authentic reading materials, recorded interviews, and podcasts as additional input.  When we choose them we have to consider the level of our students in relation to the linguistic potential of the text and its intercultural content. We have to find readings or videos
of suitable difficulty but of high interest so we can motivate students to participate fully in the tasks. A lot of teacher-trainers have made their case for using authentic reading materials in the classroom after careful selection and some simplification to answer the individual needs of students. In his work dedicated to discourse analysis beyond the sentence level Scott Thornbury comes up with a list of criteria which ensures a reasonable balance between authenticity values and teaching purposes.
He advises teachers to consider carefully the potential of texts applying what he calls “comprehensibility ranking of texts” (2005: 116), which includes the following factors:
“Top-down” factors:

  • topic familiarity, including background knowledge
  • context familiarity
  • cognitive complexity, e.g. density of information
  • visual support, e.g., pictures, maps, diagrams
  • length
  • layout and signposting
  • organisation of the text
  • internal cohesion, e.g., linking of sentences.

“Bottom-up” factors:

  • sentence length and complexity
  • grammatical familiarity
  • lexical familiarity and idiomaticity
  • lexical density.

The challenge facing teachers is to alleviate text difficulty and make it comprehensible for students using text adaptation and task design strategies. In his work S.Thornbury lists a number of text adaptation strategies as shortening of the text, segmenting, simplifying, co-textualizing and glossing. To reduce the length of the text is one way of easing the processing load but we need to be careful about keeping the overall coherence. When we segment the text it means that we split it into shorter sections and deal with them step by step. We might employ jigsaw activities work when pairs of learners have two different texts which they read and report on, doing related tasks. If necessary, we can provide maps and pictures to the text or give explanations of some specific lexical items. S.Thornbury suggests replacing low-frequency, specialized or idiomatic vocabulary with high frequency words. Another way of simplifying texts is to reduce the length and complexity of the sentences, for example by making dependent clauses into independent sentences.
The reading material we are going to look into focuses on learners using the target language to read and discuss concepts of culture differences and modern taboos. The web page is and the title of the article is 21st Century Taboos by Ian Jones, MSN Homepage Editor.
We have chosen that text because we believe that working with it will contribute to raising awareness among learners of issues of culture and diversity. It encourages them to form and express views, to compare and contrast the target culture with their own, to discover similarities and disparities. We need to warn that relying on a single example can lead to stereotyping or to taking a “tourist view”, and these aspects should be highlighted. Moreover, we, as teachers, should be careful not to force our interpretations on students. Here is the full text:

21st century taboos

We live in a world where, for good or ill, certain things have become off-limits. No-go areas. Notional cans of worms.
To dabble in them is to invite at the very least a raised eyebrow or pursed lip; at worst, complete social opprobrium.
Moreover, these affectations are peculiar to our time. A generation or so ago, they were considered normal. Indeed, some of them would be thoroughly welcomed. Now, though, they have become unmentionable, untenable, unacceptable.
They are the 21st century taboos. How many have you broken so far today?
1) Giving money to beggars
Once there was no stigma attached to the practice of handing over loose change to somebody asking for money on the street. The equation was clear. They were down on the luck; you could do something about it. Now there’s a morass of moral mazes to negotiate, all of which inevitably lead to the implicit assumption: walk on by. Voices in your head are now conditioned ring out the likes of: “It only encourages them”. “It isn’t helping”. “You’re only making things worse”. “You’re adding to the problem, not the solution”. But when did giving someone ten pence for a cup of tea become an epic ethical conundrum?
2) Speaking to a stranger on a bus or train
Woe betide the person who dares to essay a conversation with someone they don’t know on public transport. Once, such an innocent pastime was considered the height of good manners and to be encouraged. Nowadays such actions are treated as the product of a disturbed mind and someone up to no good. They might as well paste up a new poster alongside the no smoking signs: Button Your Lip.
3) Holding a door open for a woman
At some point in recent history this noble gesture of courtesy got redefined a shocking act of chauvinism. It’s not clear when precisely this happened. Perhaps Mrs Thatcher was to blame. Perhaps it was The Young Ones. Whatever, Britain went into the 1980s with its sense of etiquette intact and came out of it engrossed in an emotional free-for-all. Heaven help anyone, meanwhile, who compliments somebody – male or female – on their appearance.
4) Saying that ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon is rubbish
There’s speaking ill of the dead, then there’s speaking ill of a dead Beatle. A multi-millionaire asks us to imagine no possessions. He does it in as dreary and tuneless a manner possible. Then he gets his wife to sit next to him in the video looking insufferably smug. Then they exchange a horribly intimate kiss right on camera. But never mind all that business, because the multi-millionaire died in tragic circumstances, and ‘Imagine’ sounds a bit sad and soppy, so let’s regularly vote it the best song in the world ever!
5) Complimenting a friend/relative on their children
A real taboo, this. On no account must you venture even the mildest of observation about somebody’s kids. Society dictates even the vaguest, most throwaway of remarks is tantamount to a confession of something dangerously sordid, if not criminal. Physical contact is even worse. Teachers suffer more than most because of this, unable to pat a pupil on the back for fear of being landed with a lawsuit from a vengeful mob of school governors. Something has gone terribly wrong when fear of child abuse – which has always been around and, sadly, always will – becomes so all-pervasive that we end up living our lives on a paedophile’s terms rather than our own.
6) Owning up to drinking full-fat milk
It’s still readily on sale in shops across the land. But do you ever see anyone admitting to enjoying a cup of tea made from proper milk (let alone with a couple of lumps of sugar)? There’s a corollary to this, which is…
7) Asking for a cup of tea in an upmarket cafe
If you do this, you are treated like a fool. Clearly you’re off your head to even enter a branch of Starbucks, Costa, Cafe Nero or any other well-known high street purveyor of beverages and have the temerity to ask for something as ordinary as tea. Why, implies the look of disgust on the face of everyone around you, are you not ordering a tortuously-named exotically-tinged cumbersomely-prepared brand of coffee – despite the fact tea is advertised up there on the board as being able to select, buy and consume?
8) Being irreverent about Princess Diana
If they still sent people to the Tower of London, the Daily Express (for one) would be petitioning for anyone who dared besmirch the name of this self-appointed Queen of Hearts to be dispatched there forthwith. She’s been dead for almost a decade, yet there remains an astonishingly priggish attitude towards the idea of questioning the woman’s life. While other members of the royal family are deemed ripe for abuse, Diana’s legacy is patrolled in a vicious fashion. This is likely to only get worse as the 10th anniversary of her demise approaches.
9) Arguing that taxes are good
They pay for things that need to be paid for. Yet to even breathe a word of argument in favour of taxes, never mind the idea of putting them up, is to single you out as variously a) insane b) a communist c) a threat to the nation d) sick. The equation, again, is simple. More taxes = more money for schools, hospital, public transport, the environment and the wellbeing of the nation in general. Yet somehow this relationship has come to be classed as invalid, or defunct, or simply intolerable. Everyone – the public, politicians, the media – needs re-educating about tax, rendering the link between what you pay in and what you get in return utterly self-evident and incontestable.
10) Contesting that England has a third-rate football team
Never mind, runs the argument, the appalling track record in competitive tournaments, the woeful efforts at penalty taking, the innumerable preening egos, the thunderously mediocre management, the hysterical coterie of hangers-on and the patronising attitude towards each and every foreign team – England still won the World Cup!
*41 years ago
An opinion piece by Ian Jones, MSN Homepage Editor

The genre is easily recognizable, a magazine-type article, and is segmented into 10 distinct pieces, each with its own subtitle summarizing the main points and supported by pictures. The text is linguistically very dense, there are metaphores, figurative language, culture references and high idiomaticity. The sentences are complex, with emphatic structures which may present some difficulties to the learner. It is up to the teacher to decide which parts can be shortened and to what extend to simplify the lexis. Besides the activities related to the pure reading, speaking and writing tasks it is attractive to students because of its cultural load, sense of humour and parody. It presents an opportunity to introduce the notion of taboo in more general, even lighter terms and relate it to modern societies. This has to do with their awareness of what language and topics are appropriate, what should be avoided and what can be treated in a more light-hearted manner. When students communicate in English for daily purposes in contexts where it is the native language, it is important to understand both taboo language and taboo topics, but at the same time they should not feel afraid to have a different view. Nowadays students are constantly exposed to them so we as teachers have the responsibility to guide them through.
In the table that follows I am going to offer a list of activities and tasks that aim at linguistic exploitation of the text as well as culture difference exploration.
Lesson Title: 21st century taboos
Class: General English
Language level: (B2-C1)
Duration: 90 min

  • To stimulate intercultural awareness – students need to recognize that cultural differences should be considered when choosing a topic for conversation with native speakers.
  • To enhance communicative competence

Language focus:

  • Structures: emphasis, complex sentences
  • Active vocabulary: collocations, phrasal verbs, idiomatic expressions, synonyms

Skills focus:

  • speaking
  • reading
  • writing

Course book: an article from


Activity One: Class discussion
We can start by showing the pictures illustrating some of the topics in the article and provoke an exchange of commentaries and opinions in students.


  • (e.g. To warm up students, recycle some of the vocabulary necessary for the discussion, detect some problems which can be clarified, pre-teach some lexical items,  revise structures used when we need to make a point or state an opinion )
(Give a detailed description of each stage of the activity.)
Materials Time Interaction
(e.g. S-S, T-SS)
1. Students look at the pictures and describe them pictures 3 min S-S
2. The teacher helps them clarify the notions with additional questions pictures 5 min T-SS

Activity Two: Reading for global understanding and matching subtitles to pictures.
Objectives: Students are introduced to the notion of taboo.

  1. Giving money to beggars
  2. Speaking to a stranger on a bus or train
  3. Holding a door open for a woman
  4. Saying that ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon is rubbish
  5. Complimenting a friend/relative on their children
  6. Owning up to drinking full-fat milk
  7. Asking for a cup of tea in an upmarket cafe
  8. Being irreverent about Princess Diana
  9. Arguing that taxes are good
  10. Contesting that England has a third-rate football team

(Give a detailed description of each stage of the activity.)
Materials Time Interaction
(e.g. S-S, T-SS)
1. Students read the ten subtitles and match the relevant ones to the pictures. Check their matches. subtitles 5 min S-S
2. Students read the title and the introduction to the article. Brainstorm predictions. Title and  the introduction 3-4 min SS
3.The teacher makes culture-eliciting questions to clarify the notion of taboo. (e.g. Within your own culture, when you do not know someone well, what topics do you choose to discuss?; What would you not discuss?) Students can be asked to find expressions from the introduction related to the idea of taboo. The teacher should help them put the interpretations right and check the meaning of the problematic items. A definition of taboo 5 min T-SS

A suggested definiton of taboo: If there is a taboo on a subject or an activity it is a social custom to avoid doing that activity or talking about that subject, because people find them embarrassing or offensive.(Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner`s Dictionary)

(Give a detailed description of each stage of the activity.)
Materials Time Interaction
(e.g. S-S, T-SS)
4. Students make predictions about the probable interpretation of the subtitles. 10 texts 4-5 min S-S
5. Students read the ten passages and match them to the subtitles. 6-8 min SS
6. Students check in pairs and then with the teacher if their matching was correct. 2 min SS – T

Activity three: Reading for details.
Objectives: Detailed understanding of the passages, dictionary work, successful conveying of the ideas expressed in the texts to the rest of the group.

(Give a detailed description of each stage of the activity.)
Materials Time Interaction
(e.g. S-S, T-SS)
1. The teacher divides the group into 5 pairs, each pair has to read two passages and check the new vocabulary and structures. Students need to find expressions that the native English speaker exaggerated in order to emphasize the point. Dictionaries
5-6min SS-SS
2. The teacher asks comprehension questions and supports each pair´s performance to the rest of the group. texts 10 min T -SS

Activity four: Round-off discussion and writing
Objectives: Students identify and contrast features of the target culture with their own culture.

(Give a detailed description of each stage of the activity.)
Materials Time Interaction
(e.g. S-S, T-SS)
1. The teacher stimulates a discussion around the topics, provoking students to attempt a comparison of the topics with popular attitudes in their own culture. He/She can ask them to express ideas how these statements would change if they occurred in their native culture. texts 10 min S-S
2. The teacher asks pairs to produce their own writings about taboos in Bulgarian culture. 8 min T-SS
3. Pairs read out their suggestions and discuss them with the rest of the group. 8 min SS-T

Here are some of the writings that were produced by students on the topic of taboos in Bulgarian society:
1. Owing up to listening and really enjoying pop-folk music.

There is hardly a party or a celebration with your colleagues which doesn´t end with wild dancing and singing of pop-folk songs. Nevertheless, not all who had fun would admit it on the following day.
Albena, 26 and Miroslav, 34.

2. Escaping from domestic violence.

This topic is becoming more and more popular in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, the number of abused women and children is growing too. A lot of families experience domestic hell but the majority of the victims can´t summon enough courage to make a step towards getting help.
Diana, 25 and Tatiana, 40

3. Freely talking about being a gay.

People in Bulgaria have to catch up with the rest of the world in this respect. Despite some TV shows  which address the theme in a light-hearted way, average Bulgarians do not have warm feelings towards people with unorthodox sexuality.

Deliana, 23 and Svetla, 21

4. Roma people – punish them or not?

When we watch TV reports about the gruesome conditions of life of Roma people we might feel sympathy and urge to do something about it, but when we are out in the street, the dominant emotion is fear, distrust and hostility, and a desire to get away as soon as possible.
Bulgarian people find it difficult to alter their attitude towards this minority group, and what is more, do something to help them change their situation.
Vasil, 27 and Silvia, 34

5. Eating pork with sour cabbage and garlic

A much-loved and everybody´s favourite on mama´s list of best dishes, nowadays it is hardly ever mentioned among fashionable dietic and non-fattening food, advertised profusely on TV, in magazines, on the Internet. Money, social status and success, which require a lot of energy and ambition, are associated with such modern trends as consuming balanced food, doing a lot of exercise and having a healthy lifestyle besides heaps of hard work and excellent timing.
Kristina, 36 and Nora, 28.

We need to add that at some point of their learning students should try to look at societies as researchers, which means that they have to develop skills for cultural understanding and observation. Rather than giving them the information, we need to design lessons where they will look for it and thus develop the ability to link cause and effect, to balance disadvantages and advantages, to find historic, economic or geographical reasons for habits and ways of life.
In conclusion we can say that developing Intercultural Competence is a process of sharing knowledge in which we have the possibility to transcend the limitations of a singular world view. Contacts with other worldviews may lead to a shift of perspectives, together with an appreciation for the diversity and richness of human beings. As language educators, we may have a significant role in that process. A concern with cross-cultural effectiveness and appropriateness along with a foreign language development will lead beyond tolerance and understanding to a genuine appreciation of the others. To make this happen, we need to develop the awareness, attitudes, skills and knowledge that will turn us into better participants on a local and global level, able to comprehend and empathize with other individuals.


  1. Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence, Multilingual Matters Ltd
  2. Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner`s Dictionary 2003, HarperCollins Publishers
  3. Fantini, A. (1997) New Ways in Teaching Culture, Bloomington: Pantagraph Printing
  4. Hedge, T. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, Oxford: OUP
  5. Kramsch, C. (1993) Context and Culture in Language Teaching, Oxford: OUP
  6. Rose, C. (2005) Intercultural Awareness -1 and 2, British Council, Italy
  7. Rowlands, G. (2006) Culture in the Classroom, British Council, Bahrain
  8. Thornbury, S. (2005) Beyond the Sentence-Introducing Discourse Analysis, London: Macmillan.
  9. Widdowson, H.G. (1979) The Authenticity in Language Data in H.G. Widdowson: Explorations in Applied Linguistics 2, Oxford: OUP.
  10. Williams, E. (1984) Reading in the Language Classroom, London and Basingstroke: Macmillan.
  11. Internet sites used:

New tendencies in teaching ESP – two-year working experience

Written by: Biljana Ivanovska, PhD, German and English Language teacher
The author has been teaching English for specific purposes part-time at the Faculty of Medicine, University ‘Ss. Cyril and Methodius’, Skopje, R. Macedonia
Download: Presentation in MS PowerPoint .PPT format
[toc class=”toc-right”]
This paper presents my two-year working experience teaching English for specific purposes at the Faculty of Medicine in Skopje, the Republic of Macedonia.
The use of multimedia technology provides the students and teachers with unlimited opportunities for learning and acquiring foreign language. The most significant outcome in the newly-developed course at the Skopje Faculty of Medicine was the change in students’ attitudes and preferred learning styles. This influenced their overall attitude to the teacher-student role, their attitude to the university education and tolerance to other professional cultures and models of behavior. Teaching Medical English via Internet improves the teaching process and makes it interesting, motivating and useful. At the same time the teachers and students are emotionally triggered and motivated. The new multimedia technology provides the teacher and the student with interesting materials, data, handouts, worksheets indicating that they have no limits to their access of learning. It is worth experimenting and investigating the potentials that Internet can offer.


The ‘Ss. Cyril and Methodius University” in Skopje is the first state university in the Republic of Macedonia which was founded in 1949 and today it represents a family of twenty-three faculties, ten institutes and other institutions.
The Faculty of Medicine was established as an independent faculty within the University in Skopje, R. Macedonia, whose mission is to be an autonomous, scientific and higher educational faculty that provides teaching, scholars and applicative activities in medical sciences. It educates highly trained professionals: doctors, graduate nurses-practitioners, graduate medical technicians, radiologists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists, and its syllabus is designed to meet the needs of the health managing system not only in our country but also in the west European countries. The Faculty offers Bachelor and Master Degree programs. It has a freedom to decide how many academic hours should be allotted to foreign languages for specific purposes as well as the teachers are given the right to propose their own syllabus and design their own teaching materials.
In 1993 the Republic of Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations and the Council of Europe and became a member of La Francophonie, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for security and cooperation in Europe. Since December 2005 Macedonia is also a candidate for joining the European Union and has applied for NATO membership. Unfortunately, the decision on Macedonia’s admission to NATO was postponed a month ago, in April, 2008, so my country didn’t obtain NATO membership invitation at the Bucharest Summit, although the Macedonian politicians and the Government were cooperative and willing to accept a compromise proposal and although Macedonia significantly contributed to the West Balkans’ security and stability.
With the opening of Macedonia to the western world and the activation of academic and scientific exchange, Macedonian scholars and students needed English not only for passive understanding, e.g. for reading specialized medical journals, reading textbooks on medicine and grammar drills, for maintaining personal contacts, but also the Macedonian doctors and students of medicine realized that they need to be able to communicate effectively with their colleagues from abroad. It was a prerequisite for the transition from the old to the new economic and political system.
At the Faculty of Medicine, the English, German and the French language are taught as elective subjects, within the syllabus designed for foreign languages, developing 45 academic classes in form of credit-transfer system during the first semester in the first year of studying.  The students have the opportunity to chose between the English, German and the French language and those who would like to learn English (as ESP) make a single group, which is further subdivided into 2 subgroups.

Previous teaching process

Few years ago, the course in English for Medical Purposes at the Skopje Faculty of Medicine was based on the textbooks (Pandora D., 2000, Popovska L, Panova-Ignjatovik T 2000, Siljanovska M,) approved by then the Ministry of Culture and Education. In them priority was given to memorization of fragments of medical terms and phrases in certain specific context. The teaching process was mainly grammar-based with a number of drills for automatisation and translations. It was teacher-oriented, the ESP teacher being the knowledge-provider, lecturer and evaluator. They had no say in the selection of teaching materials, texts or tasks. On the other hand, the students‘ role was restricted to the passive reception of linguistic and specialized knowledge and subsequent reproduction. Students were supposed to read and memorize the medical terms on the given topic from the text to follow. Neither had they any choice of learning styles, methods and materials. The expectations of both students and teachers were a reflection of the traditional methodology and teaching/learning styles widespread throughout the country at that time.

The importance of teaching Medical English vie Internet

I would like to focus on the importance of multimedia technology in foreign language teaching.
In Macedonia we are in the fortunate position that the government has launched a nationwide program, in which the universities are connected to the Internet, and a special emphasis has been put on the introduction of information technology to students. It means that within a couple of years we are going to face this new generation at the universities, and we should take precautions to meet the new demands.
The Macedonian government intention was to supply not only the faculties but also all primary and secondary students to have a computer within next 2 years.
For the last few years more and more Macedonian universities and schools have been equipped with computers as a result of sponsorship from different foundations, joint projects, etc. In this way some schools were in a focus on ESP. The software unfortunately is not sufficient and neither is the number of the available computers. This is why most of the students do not have regular access to these computers and the same applies to teachers. At least a couple of computers are needed to be able to work effectively, preferably a lab with 10-15 machines, and that is quite expensive. When we have the equipment we need programs: software, CD-ROMs and they also cost money.

Justification for using Internet  in the teaching process

Numerous researchers have reported on the theoretical constructs that support the use of multumedia technology for EFL instruction (Jonassen 2000; Kitao 1995; Kang 1999; Pino-Silva 2002, 2004; Step-Greany 2002, in Carlos A. Mayora, 2006). This research shows that using multimedia technology in the classroom:

  • allows students to work individually at a computer station, at their own pace, and according to their own needs;
  • helps teacher to deal more effectively with a large group of students;
  • makes the introduction and presentation of content more dynamic and attractive for students
  • increases student motivation due to the interactive nature of activities;
  • trains students  to self-monitor and self-assess their progress, which promotes autonomous learning
  • promotes a task-based approach to learning;
  • allows students to experience real-life and communicatively meaningful language situations and context; and
  • introduces  a variety of print, audio, and visual materials that match different student learning style and preferences.

My experience using Internet

The classroom setting is a well endowed  computer lab equipped with 15 computers for 30 students and a set of hyperlinked texts. In the computer room which I used as a language lab there are 15 computers allowing the students to work in pairs.
Activity 1
Students were ask to surf the net looking for sites they were interested in. The options such as advances search, preferences and language tools (which are on www-google) were previously explained to them. I split the same group into three. The first sub-group was searching the free on-line medical encyclopedias, the second one the free on-line medical dictionaries (English-English, English-Macedonian and vice versa), and the third one the medical atlases. The searched topics on the web pages were the following: Wikipedia-Medicine, Columbia Encyclopedia (which contain 52,000 entries /marshalling six and one-half million words on a vast range of topics/ more than 84,000 hypertext cross-references), MedlinePlus – service of the U.S. National library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health, Medical Atlas with 3 D images pictures and photos of diseases, Human body atlas: human anatomy and diseases, discovery Health (video, texts, mode and slides) and American Medical Association: Atlas of the body (links to images, graphics, information about various body system, health issues affecting each topic). The suggested links were the following:
I suggested them also all sites that were available through the Macedonian Central Medical Library, and web-site of the National University Library ‘ Ss. Kliment Ohridski’ in Skopje as well as the links given by the web-site of the Faculty of Medicine in Skopje.(e.g. Multilingual Glossary of technical and popular medical terms in nine European Languages Encyclopedia Britannica – Wikipedia – Columbia Encyclopedia MEDLINEplus -MedicalEncyclopedia)
I asked the students to collect a list of topics (for example: the human body, the locomotory system, the digestive system etc.) they want to talk about, then they chose one particular topic. They chose particular texts they find interesting but at the same time it is about the topic they are supposed to deal with. They feel more free to talk about things they want to. They are given some time to look for material in the free on-line encyclopedias, dictionaries or atlases about the given topic, not only texts but illustrations, pictures, tables, videos. They have to share the information they have collected and have a discussion asking each other questions, expressing their own views, etc. This exercise provides good opportunity for students to practice one of the tasks in the 1st year oral exam: they have to read and report on a text and have a discussion about the topic. From the student feedback it has been one of the most popular task. The first set of each readings and tasks is structured to flow from initial key concepts to more descriptive data containing more topical concepts and subsidiary information that, constitute reference material for current and future use. This exercise provides a variety of tasks: since words occur in context, spelling, word order, new vocabulary, brushing up old words can also be practiced.
Activity 2
In the following part of my presentation I would like to describe the way I use the case analysis  in my ESP classes, e.g. application of case analysis in teaching medical English using the article given on proposed by Jack Kimball.
The article referring to Internet-assisted language learning written by Jack Kimball has motivated me and my students to analyze the topics on medicine using the Internet. We have used the web site “Topics in Medical English” for our further analysis. Students are given a certain topic, e.g. “healthy lifestyle”  and the problems and challenges that they as future doctors have to deal with.  This is a small group activity. The case may be introduces in various ways: -a lecture on  lifestyle habits; introducing a topic with a statement; telling a personal story; referring to learners’ own experience in healthy lifestyle; and/or brainstorming.
Students should fill in the empty spaces with their own words. They comment on each item and explain how it is connected with the other problems listed (see table 1).
Table 1:

Healthy Lifestyle
Variety of nutrients, whole grain bread, fruits, vegetables. maintain a healthy weight, eat moderate portions, eat regular meals, reduce (don’t eliminate) certain food make changes gradually, select foods

The tasks that were given to the students were the following: 1. Identifying the problem: Summarize the case (the main ideas) in five sentences. Do not draw up any solutions. Describe the character of Hiroshi Tanaka using 6 adjectives. How does he should approach the problem?
2. Suggesting solutions: Task: How would you deal with the situation if you were Hiroshi Tanaka? Do you think that the solutions suggested would produce a desirable result? Students were asked to assess  each of the options and list their pros and cons.
3. Selecting “Best ” Option
What do  you think Hiroshi Tanaka should do now? How can he make sure that the situation is improved?
The basic readings which were suggested on this www-site help students become comfortable with inputting ideas and conversing about different medical issues in English and medicine, too. Easily gasped concepts such as “Diet and Cancer”, “Alcohol and Health”, “Alternative Therapies” and many others lead to more complicated biochemical concepts in associated readings and exercises on  the covered topics. They also help students to become familiarized with computing in English, surfing both the “Topics” web site and the Internet beyond, and to introduce general medical subjects for reading, discussion and writing. The multi-perspective principle, such as photographs, diagrams, charts, and other graphic representation contribute to supplement readings and discussion as audio-visual materials. The next stage will be summarizing data, fact-checking and small-group discussion and debate related to implications of data  under review. This stage encourage in-depth reading and discussion of a case study, leading to multiple drafts of a case analysis composed by each student.
The next stage was asking the students to write an article for publication in the on-line newsletter of the English language magazine. The students decide on the topic for the article in collaboration with the instructor, the news-letter editor. All articles must be original, though they can be based on information gathered from other sources e.g. interviews, readings or questionnaires. Rough drafts of articles are submitted to the instructor first, who indicates errors. The drafts must be corrected, before final word-process articles are submitted to the editor.

Activity 4
Another exercise which encourage students to take part in active discussions and which I think is encouraging one is so called aquarium or ‘fish bowl’. Five students are sitting in the middle of a seminar room. Around them are the others students as observers. The teacher gives them a certain topic, (e.g. Diabetes mellitus). The time for discussion is limited: 10 minutes. After this time, the involved students make notes and the observers give their personal evaluation on this topic: agreement and/or disagreement. In this exercises the correctness of the language is not important. The main thing is that the students actively take part in this discussions. This type of work is very interesting and useful, but can be applied only with students who have a background of intermediate knowledge of English and those with limited knowledge who are feeling uncertain should be given more attention and opportunity for self-confidence.
I stimulate the students work in pairs, constantly encouraging and assisting the weaker ones they feel safer, and when they get the taste and the skill they can work on their own. The materials should be engaging, the task stimulating and the teacher should have extra task in reserve for the quick ones.

Advantages and/or disadvantages (challenges)

Internet-assisted learning gives the students the possibility for individual work. The stress is given on acquiring practice skill. Many interesting materials, handouts and interesting discussions improve the teaching process. The atmosphere is very friendly. The students, as well as the teachers, acquire some basic knowledge, learning word processing, lurking on the Net, sending E-mail messages to a friend being able to create things and think about how to use the basic computer programs. The teaching process using Internet is very interesting, motivating and useful. Students are emotionally triggered and motivated. They are faced with different types of texts and they use computers not only for professional training but also for information and entertainment.
The teaching process is focused more and more on student autonomy so the teacher should provide students with such tools and should try to show the different approaches to learning, thus helping  them to acquire the style that suits them best and enables them to make most of their capabilities. The computer can be one of the possible helping aids with its flexibility, variability, visuality and all the other potentials it can offer, what  is especially important in higher education.
Atlases and encyclopaedias offer an enormous amount of beautifully presented information, and students are memorizing grammar and learning new words simply by exploring topics related with their specialized training (medicine) or ones of their own interest. Students also improve their linguistic features – discourse, functional, structural, lexical, which are commonly used in professional situation.
The applied techniques and strategies that motivate and satisfy the learner’s needs as potential target users of the language is also a challenge not only for students  but for the ESP teachers who should find appropriate ways to adjust the materials and methods to students’ individual learning.
One of the disadvantages may be that students are not strictly focused on the teacher, the information and the tips are on the screen together with explanations and the answers. Some technical problems may unexpected occur and the students expect the teacher to solve them. All these lead to certain limitations to the teacher’s control over students work.
Another disadvantage is that some students may be not feeling confident enough in front of machine and they need more time for practicing and learning all that huge information.
Although they enjoy the learning process but sometime, students and teachers feel frustrated, helpless and need time to overcome the psychological barrier when working with these machines.
Teachers should not be afraid of technology. They should get started and they will get used to it, as they have got used to using cassette players or videos. Many things can go wrong in a computer environment, but it should not deter us. There are always a couple of students who know more about computers that we do and they are happy to help the teacher if anything goes wrong.
Another disadvantage is that students might get lost in details and become obsessed with multimedia facilities (pictures, video, sound), lose focus, and need more time for task. However, once the novelty is over students can get more and more focused, and it takes less and less time to complete the tasks.


Teachers and students have no limits to their access of learning. It is worth experimenting and investigating the potentials Internet  can offer. The teacher can facilitate a stimulating environment in which students can achieve their maximum potential.
Exploring new frontiers of knowledge and challenging traditional notions of school, I personally believe in the statement given by the former president of the United States Bill Clinton: ”Technology is reshaping our world at an astounding speed” (WHPR, 1995c) the meaning of which was adjusted to our needs in the same article by Pedroni (1996, 2): “We, as teachers need to restructure our philosophy of teaching”.


  • Major, E. 1998. Experiences in using computer in the language classroom. Paper presented at the Conference on Foreign language for specific purposes. Varna, Bulgaria.
  • Pandora, D., eds. 2000. Medicine and dentistry: ESP English for specific purposes. Skopje: ‘Cyril and Methodius’ University Press.
  • Pedroni, E. G. 1996. The importance of the world wide web in education K-12. (August): 1-7.
  • Pandora, D.2000. ESP. Medicine and Dentistry. Skopje, R.Macedonia
  • Tatjana Panova Ignjatovik, 2000, Workbook. ESP Medicine and Dentistry, Skopje. R.Macedonia
  • Mayora A. Carlos 2006. Integrating multimeia technology in a high school EFL program. English teaching forum. 2006Vol. 44 nr. 3, pp 14-21.

Reading comprehension in the classroom – how to motivate students to read „difficult texts” full of „unfamiliar words”?

Written by: Mariya Bagasheva-Koleva, e-mail:
Senior Assistant-Professor, South-Western University, Blagoevgrad
This topic has been of interest to me for a long time. In my 10-year teaching experience I have been asked the question: „What does this word mean?” quite a lot of times. It is not unusual, though, having in mind that I teach a foreign language. During reading comprehension activities this question appears to be the most frequent one. While tempted to give an immediate reply, I have always asked myself if I should or there is another way. As it appears, there are many various ways to avoid answering this question at once.
So, I decided to present you what I have found about the successful techniques in motivating students to read authentic texts in English and about instruction how to do it. It aims at intermediate to advanced learners of English as a foreign language.
What is Reading Comprehension?

If we say that a student is „good at comprehension”, we mean that he can read accurately and efficiently, so as to get the maximum information from a text with the minimum of misunderstanding. We may also mean that he is able to show his understanding by re-expressing the context of the text – for instance, by writing sentences or paragraphs in answer to questions, or by summarizing the text. (M. Swan, 1992)

According to Françoise Grellet (1991):„Understanding a written text means extracting the required information from it as efficiently as possible.”

As Frank B. May says:”The reading process is an intelligent, active process of observing, predicting, and confirming, with a purpose in mind.”

In a word, reading comprehension means reading a text and then showing that you understand it by doing a number of activities or actions.
We do reading comprehension every day – when we read the newspaper or look for a job in classified advertisements, or want to choose a holiday destination and look through different travel brochures, or read the manual of some appliance to see how it functions. In everyday life we come across different written texts, which we read in order to find some information or we read them just for pleasure. But when we read in life, we mainly do it in our mother tongue. As long as we can read and understand a text and find the needed information, we do not pay attention to how we do it.
Reading in a foreign language, though, and more specifically, reading in a foreign language in the classroom is different from reading in your own language although the reading process and the comprehension techniques we use are the same regardless of the language.

Knowledge of the foreign language is important but not the only factor in successful comprehension: some students who speak and write English very well are poor at this kind of work, and of course people may be bad at comprehension even in their own mother tongue. (M. Swan, 1992)

That is the reason why comprehension instruction is very important in the reading process and English teachers should pay close attention to it so that their students acquire effective reading habits.
Reading Comprehension in the Classroom
Reading in the classroom has several specific features which make it different from real-life reading. First, it is time-limited. There are rarely English classes in which students do only reading comprehension activities. They are generally combined with speaking, listening, writing and grammar exercises. The duration of the lesson is also limited. Second, the text may not be one that students would normally choose to read outside the classroom and the material is always more difficult to understand if it is outside their personal taste, experience and interest.
Third, students are not only expected to read the text but they are required to show their understanding of it by doing a number of activities.
Last but not least, students have to do the required tasks whether they feel like reading or not.
So, the role of the teacher is to motivate students to read the text by giving them useful instruction for effective results.
Observing, predicting and confirming
These are the three stages a student has to go through while reading a text for comprehension. Observing and predicting are set as pre-reading activities, when the topic is introduced and students make predictions about it. Here is how a teacher can do this:

  • To start a discussion about the topic or the author.
    e.g. Before you read the text about Nelson Mandela, discuss what you know about him. Write information about him on the board.
  • To look at the layout/organization of the text and make predictions about its source.
    e.g. Where are the following extracts from?
    a) a letter; b) a newspaper article ; c) an encyclopaedia
  • To use pictures, photographs, cartoons, diagrams, etc. to predict what the text is going to be about.
    e.g. Look at the cartoon in the article „Bringing up a better baby”. Who are the people? What are they doing?
  • To discuss the title/heading of the text
    e.g. You are going to read a newspaper article on „Artspeak”. What do you think this is?

During the pre-reading discussion the teacher should encourage the students to participate and express their ideas on the topic. The teacher can help by providing them with relevant vocabulary because some students may feel diffident to speak out if they do not know how to say it in English.
Confirming the predictions comes after the students have read the text for the first time and before doing comprehension exercises.
When students start reading the text, they inevitably come across unknown words. Some of them are so disturbed by unfamiliar vocabulary that their comprehension of the whole passage suffers. To motivate them to continue despite the unknown words, the teacher should give instructions before they start reading. There are two ways in which the students may read the text for the first time: by skimming or by scanning it.
Skimming – quickly running one`s eyes over a text to get the gist of it.
Scanning – quickly going through a text to find a particular piece of information.
By skimming and scanning the text, students can increase their reading speed and find answers more efficiently.
The instruction to skim or scan the text comes in the pre-reading stage of reading comprehension. This could be done in different ways. For instance,
Skimming (general overview):

  1. Read these remarks by eyewitnesses of three events. What natural phenomena are they describing?
  2. Before you read the encyclopaedia entry for Mount Everest, predict what the following numbers and dates refer to. Then skim the text to see if you were right.
  3. Read through the texts quickly to get an idea of where they come from and what they are about.

Scanning (details):

  1. Read the text quickly and find 10 items that you could find in someone’s home.
  2. Read the whole text and complete the fact file.
  3. There is a lot of uncertain information in the text. Which words tell you that the writer isn’t sure of the information?

In my own experience, I can say that students easily succeed in finding answers to such questions, which makes them confident to proceed with the tasks. Students feel they can at least understand what the text is about or they can find  details even if there are unknown words.
Some teachers tend to teach difficult or unfamiliar vocabulary before students read the text because it saves time and they think it helps students understand the text better. But, by giving „ready answers”, they prevent the students from developing their reading skills and enhancing their comprehension abilities. Another problem is that a great number of English words have more than one meaning and you need a context in order to define the concrete meaning. If a teacher gives the meaning of an unknown word before the students have read the text, he/she should also explain the context in which the word has this particular meaning. This takes some time which, I think, is unnecessary. Moreover, students know different words and have different prior knowledge on the topic, which means that some words are unknown for some students, but familiar for others. As a  result, this activity can continue for a long time.
Indeed, sometimes there are vocabulary exercises in the pre-reading stage but they are included only if the text contains some specific or specialized vocabulary, terminology, proper nouns or realias, which will help students to understand  the idea of the text better. They could be unknown to students or they could be part of topic vocabulary introducing the main idea of the text. The explanations are always given in English. For example,

  1. Before you read the next article about rhinos, what do the following words mean: conservation and an endangered species?
  2. Before you read the text about the American school system, make sure you understand the meaning of the following words. Which two of them mean the same thing?
    Compulsory       optional        graduate/graduation       course work
    Mandatory         board of education         federal government
  3. Before you read the text, here are explanations of some of the words and expressions.
    –          The Loch Ness monster may fall victim to Mad Cow Disease (lines 2-3). Fall victim to in this case means to catch a disease. Mad Cow Disease is the popular name given to BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis), a disease which affects cows.

However, as a rule, vocabulary exercises appear in the reading or post-reading stages where the students figure out the meaning on their own.
The role of the teacher here is to motivate students to use different comprehension techniques in order to guess the meaning of a word and successfully complete the reading comprehension task without consulting a dictionary. Students should be aware that in any comprehension exam, the texts will always contain words that they do not know. They shouldn’t panic if there are fifteen or twenty unknown words: if they think carefully and use comprehension techniques, students should be able to understand most of them.
So, what are these comprehension techniques? How to figure out the meaning of unknown words?

  1. To identify the grammatical function of the word in the sentence: what part of speech it is.
  2. To look for clues in the word itself – negative prefixes such as un- or dis-, other prefixes such as re– or sub-, or suffixes pointing out the part of speech of a word, e.g. -ness/-tion/-dom/-er for a noun, -al/-ous for an adjective, etc.
  3. To find clues in the context – the sentence in which the word is used, the sentence before and after it. Does the word seem „negative” or  ”positive”? Does it involve movement? Is it referred to elsewhere by a different name? Could it be a thing, a substance, an emotion?
  4. If they replace the word in their mind with a blank space, remembering its „function”, are there any words in Bulgarian which they could put into this place, which would give a reasonable meaning to the sentence?
  5. If there is still something illogical or strange about what they have read, is it possible that the writer may ironically be saying the opposite of what he or she means?
  6. Does the general meaning which they have deduced from the `unknown` word make sense in the context of the whole paragraph or passage, when they re-read it?

In order to learn how to do this guessing, students should be given appropriate exercises so that asking themselves questions while reading should become part of their reading skills.
These exercises can include separate sentences in which a word has been replaced by a non-existing or nonsensical word and students are asked to figure out the meaning and suggest a real word in English to substitute it. This could be done in pairs and after that a class discussion may follow.
Another type of exercise could be when the teacher prepares sentences containing difficult or low-frequency words (which exist in English) and asks the students to guess their meaning and explain it in English.
Of course, the teacher should monitor the discussion and ask questions to direct the students in the right direction. These questions should show them how to do the guessing and what to pay attention to.
Sometimes there are hidden difficulties which the students may face. For instance, when they `know` all the words, but still find it difficult to understand a sentence or a paragraph.. There can be various reasons for this:

  1. They may have misunderstood the grammatical function. The inflections –s,   -ed, and –ing can always be misleading.
    e.g. This building houses valued items from the last century.
  2. Simple words often have more than meaning.
    e.g. pretty, past, talks
  3. Proper names at the beginning of a sentence cannot be identified by their capital letter.
    e.g. Reading next stop! He closed his book.
  4. Words may be used literally or figuratively.
    e.g. He came thundering into my office like a herd of wild bulls.
    = He came into my office very noisily and angrily.
  5. Words may have to be understood as combinations, not as individual words.
    e.g. Nobody has been granted paid leave before. (holiday with pay)
    Do not exceed the use by date.
    No use by unauthorized personnel.

The way the writer expresses himself may also present obstacles to efficient comprehension. Long and complicated sentences are difficult to cope with in a foreign language; even when the words are easy, syntactic complexity may cause a comprehension problem. Some writers favour a wordy and repetitive style, so practice is needed to be able to `see through` the words to the (often very simple) ideas which underlie them. A writer may express an important idea indirectly. In order to understand some texts, the students need to draw necessary inferences from what is not stated directly, which of course is particularly difficult in a foreign language.
How students read a text is also important and the teacher should pay particular attention to this process so that they read efficiently. The reading speed is different with different students. But high speed does not always show effectiveness. Some students find it difficult to `see the wood for the trees`. They may read slowly and carefully, paying a lot of attention to individual points, but without succeeding in getting a clear idea of the overall meaning of the text. Other students, especially those who read quickly, do not always pay enough attention to detail. They may have a good idea of the general meaning of the text, but misunderstand particular points. Sometimes, by overlooking an important small word (for instance, a conjunction, a negation, a modal verb) they may get a completely false impression of the meaning of part of the passage. So the teacher should monitor the process of reading of all students in class and give instruction how to do it effectively. Increasing the reading speed is one of the teacher’s purposes when teaching reading comprehension techniques, but it should not be at the expense of comprehension.
Another reason for failure in comprehension is that some students are `imaginative readers`: especially if they know something about the subject, or have strong opinions about it, they may interpret the text in the light of their own experience or viewpoints, so that they find it difficult to separate what the writer says from what they feel themselves. It is important for students to understand that they should do the reading comprehension activities based on the text according to the text and the writer’s opinion on the topic. Their personal opinion and point of view can sometimes mislead them from finding the correct answer.
In conclusion, I would like to say that although the reading process is  individuall, the teacher is the one who gives instruction and monitors how students proceed with it. The reading comprehension techniques are an essential part of reading instruction and the more students read, the better their reading comprehension skills become. So encourage your students to read information-rich authentic texts on various topics. This will enrich their world knowledge, build up their vocabulary and increase their reading speed, which, eventually, will help them develop their reading skills and enhance their reading comprehension abilities.

  1. Headway – Advanced, John&Liz Soars, 1995, OUP
  2. Paths to Proficiency, Hellen Naylor, Stuart Hagger, 1993, Longman Group UK Limited
  3. Prospects – Upper-Intermediate, Ken Wilson, James Taylor, Deirdre Howard-Williams, 2003, Macmillan Publishers Limited


  1. Grellet, F., (1991). Developing Reading Skills, Cambridge University Press
  2. May, F.B., (1990). Reading as Communication, Macmillan Publishing Company
  3. Pressley, M., (2001, September). Comprehension Instruction: What Makes Sense Now, What Might Make Sense Soon. Reading Online, 5(2). Available:
  4. RAND Reading Study Group, Catherine Shaw, Chair,(2002). Reading for Understanding
  5. Swan, M., (1992). Inside Meaning, Cambridge University Press

Reading Comprehension in the Classroom – Motivation and Instruction

Exercise 1

Identify the grammatical function of the word `PRIN` (which is a word with no meaning) and think of a real word that could replace it.

  1. She makes me so prin I could kick her.
  2. Whenever she prins her cat, it always wants food.
  3. Mary had the fire prinning in no time at all.
  4. He left the prin and walked slowly downstairs.
  5. Although unprinnily full, she managed to eat two more cakes.
  6. Her grandmother was full of good prin which she passed on to her grandchildren.
  7. You have to develop prins to get you out of difficult situations.
  8. He sat, prinned and silent.
  9. Prin her no matter what happens.
  10. She tried to see prin the building but it was too dark.

(from: Paths to Proficiency, Hellen Naylor, Stuart Hagger)

Exercise 2

You probably do not know many of these words: ungainly, boorish, knoll, tacky, shamble, undercoat, glum, notch, washer, gullible.
Look at the way they are used in the following sentences and then say, or write, what you think they might mean. (Do not look in your dictionary, of course.)

  1. She’s a big ungainly girl – always breaking things and falling over.
  2. I’ve never met anyone as boorish as you are – what you said to me yesterday was absolutely unforgivable.
  3. Napoleon rode up on to a little knoll to see the battle more clearly.
  4. Put the glue on the broken pieces, wait until it is tacky and then stick them together.
  5. He must be tired: look at the way he is shambling along.
  6. I can’t go on with painting the bathroom until the undercoat is dry.
  7. You’re looking a bit glum – what’s the matter?
  8. California Pete had thirty-four notches on his gun: one for each sheriff he had killed.
  9. I think we need a new washer. The tap keeps dripping.
  10. She’s amazingly gullible. I told her yesterday that Switzerland had declared war on China and she believed every word.

(from: Inside Meaning, Michael Swan)


  1. This building houses valued items from the last century.
  2. pretty, past, talks
  3. Reading next stop! He closed his book.
  4. He came thundering into my office like a herd of wild bulls.
  5. Nobody has been granted paid leave before.
    Do not exceed the use by date.
    No use by unauthorized personnel.