Upcoming Event: II Arenas Teaching Symposium

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The Colegio Arenas Sur in Maspalomas, Gran Canaria will celebrate the II Arenas Teaching Symposium from 25th to 27th June this year. Speakers this year include Nina Lauder, Shawn Redwood, Andrea Littlewood, Igor Gavilán, Maite Molina and myself among others. The theme this year is ‘Thinking Outside the Box’.

For more information on the programme and on the speakers, click here.

For information on last year’s fantastic symposium, visit this site.

Tips for Speaking Tests (II)

In the first post in this series, we looked at structuring contributions in the speaking test, giving full, developed answers. In the second post, we are going to look at the language we use in the speaking exam.

In all levels of Cambridge exam, from YLE Starters up to Proficiency, there is, logically, a specific mark for pronunciation. When we talk about this aspect of language, there is a tendency to focus on accent, and specifically whether the candidate is capable of reproducing a particular native speaker accent. However, the examiner is not measuring the non-native candidate against a native-speaker norm. The emphasis is instead on reproducing the individual sounds, intonation and stress patterns of English in a way which does not impede comprehension. While higher levels of exam require the candidate to be ‘intelligible’, lower levels, such as KET or PET allow for a fairly intrusive L1 accent which may make comprehension more difficult at times.

The above video, from the Cambridge English TV channel on You Tube, focuses on word stress, and how a change in stress may mark a change in meaning, and so impede understanding if not reproduced accurately. This word stress can be realised in any accent, native or non-native. Similarly, sentence stress is not dependent on accent. English is traditionally a stress-timed language, as opposed to a syllable-timed language like, for example, Spanish. This means that a successful candidate should be able to place the stress on the correct syllables within an utterance, and at higher levels (CAE or CPE particularly) the candidate should be able to use stress to suplement the meaning of the utterance.

Another important aspect which can be reproduced accurately whatever the accent of the candidate is intonation. A successful candidate should be able to use rising and falling tones within the utterance in order to indicate the internal structure of the utterance, usually rising at the end of each element of a list, for example, or at breaks in an utterance usually represented graphically by a comma, then falling at the end of an utterance, represented graphically by a full stop.This can actually have more effect on understanding at times than accuracy in individual sounds. Several years ago, I examined a PET candidate who reproduced individual sounds acurately, but whose intonation was so wrong that he was almost impossible to understand.

Clearly examiners must also focus on the accurate reproduction of individual sounds. However, different accents imply different versions of individual sounds. Here too, the important thing is to be understood with relative ease, avoiding as far as possible L1 intrusions. It doesn’t matter if the student pronounces ‘Tomato’ as in British English or in American English, but if they say ‘city’ as ‘thity’ (a typical Spanish error, since in Spain, the ‘ci’ and ‘ce’ are pronounced ‘thi’ and ‘the’), that impedes understanding, and so is marked down.

Tips for Speaking Tests (I)

As the main external exam season starts, I thought this would be a good time to write a series of posts giving tips for how to approach the speaking exams in particular. To kick off, here is a new video from Cambridge English TV with some useful ideas about answering questions in the speaking tests.

Clearly, you cannot be marked on language which you do not produce, so you should aim to answer questions fully. However, sometimes the question seems to be asking for a simple answer – an apparently closed question with no interrogative pronoun. In this case, the temptation is to give the simple answer, but these questions are provided with a possible back-up question in the examiner’s script – ‘Why?’, so if the candidate does not elaborate sufficiently in their answer, they can be prompted to do so. It causes a better impression if the candidate does not wait to be asked why, but explains and elaborates their answer from the beginning. It shows they are more willing to speak, and gives a more natural feel to the conversation.

English: Speech balloons. Question and Answer....

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a great temptation to prepare answers beforehand, particularly for the questions in Part 1 of the test which everyone is asked (‘Where are you from?’  ‘Where do yo live?’ or ‘What do yo like about living there?’, for example). However, it is usually quite obvious to the examiner that an answer is prepared, and it will possibly be cut short. Teachers should be particularly wary of relying on prepared answers for their students. In one examining session last year, I examined eight or ten candidates from the same class, one after another. When asked ‘What do you like about living here in Madrid?’ every one of them spoke of the fantastic public transport system which the city has. Clearly, this quickly became irritating and received no credit.

Classroom language for teachers: common mistakes – Luiz Otávio

See on Scoop.it – David Bradshaw ESOL

This post contains 10 examples of grammar and vocabulary mistakes novice EFL teachers sometimes make in their use of classroom language.

6 great things to do while you’re commuting | Teach them English

Here are some great ideas for time management from Adam Simpson. Happy Friday!

http://www.teachthemenglish.com/2010/10/6-great-things-to-do-while-youre-commuting/

Ceri Jones

BRAZTESOL and IATEFL LTSIG

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Teacher, trainer and writer Ceri Jones talks about herself and her session at The Image Conference.

Your favourite film:

I always find any question with “favourite” in it so difficult to answer.  My mind immediately either goes blank and I either can’t even think of one example or a huge list parades before my inner eye and I can’t possibly start to rank or choose one out of so many options.  And then the fear kicks in that I will be judged for my answer. These things can be so telling, people will tut and shake their heads (or that’s what my inner voice is telling me). My usual strategy to overcome my natural instinct to just shrug and say “dunno, haven’t got one” is to grasp at the first that comes to mind. Of course, that means the answer will probably be different each time, and dictated by so…

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