EUKN Liverpool: October 3rd 2015

Talks and Ideas to Share

 

Jane Short: Bridging the Gap between IELTS and Academic Writing (EUKN Conference, October 3rd)

By Claire Basarich

One of the talks I attended at the English UK North conference was by Jane Short, whose aim was to highlight ways that we as teachers can connect IELTS writing with academic assignments.

I’m sure this is a familiar scenario for many teachers: How frustrating it is to hear from a student that they think they do not need much help with their writing because they scored a 6 or 6.5 in IELTS in this component and they are already well on their way to grasping that MA…

Even though the Academic IELTS exam is generally aimed at university students, we know there are clear differences in the expectations placed on writers in the academic context and those expected for passing the exam. Though in both cases the students are expected to generally use a logical structure, appropriate and academic vocabulary, a range of grammar, and cohesive devices, academic assignments still require a different approach.

Jane made a useful remark, which I’ll paraphrase here: IELTS does not prepare you for the world of academic writing, it only qualifies you to enter that world.

So, a helpful way to frame this for students (and to give them a reality check) is to say that IELTS opens the door initially for them, but they still need further preparation and training in order to become skilful academic writers.

This can be achieved by contrasting the differences between the two types of writing in a very explicit way.

Jane demonstrated this by taking an IELTS writing task and modifying the task instructions to make it more academic. For example, in an IELTS writing task, you might be asked to write an essay like this:

You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.

Many high-level positions in companies are filled by men even though the workforce in many developed countries is more than 50 per cent female. Companies should be required to allocate a certain percentage of these positions to women. To what extent do you agree? Use reasons and examples from your own experience.

Write at least 250 words.

 

Jane suggests adapting it to show what would be required in an academic essay:

 

You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.

Many high-level positions in companies are filled by men even though the workforce in many developed countries is more than 50 per cent female. Companies should be required to allocate a certain percentage of these positions to women. To what extent do you agree or disagree? Use reasons and examples from your own experience. Use evidence and examples from research and external sources to support your answer.

Write at least 250 words.

Thus, the key points in academic writing vs. IELTS writing are:

  1. Write critically and analytically, not descriptively
  2. Use external evidence and research in your argument, rather than personal experience and opinion

In order to achieve the first, students could be shown different texts which show the difference between simply focussing on one side of the argument and a more nuanced view which takes into account other perspectives through critical examination.

In order to achieve the second, students could be shown different texts which highlight the use of impersonal vs. personal language and how to incorporate sources in order to support your stance as a convention of academic writing.

This may be obvious for many teachers and you may already do this in your own classes, perhaps it would be useful to draw attention to these points for students at an early stage in a pre-sessional course, for students on ELS courses who have not had the benefit of a pre-sessional introduction to academic conventions in writing, or other pre-university classes where students focus heavily on IELTS.

It would be great to know how other teachers highlight these differences and what other strategies could be helpful to enable students to bridge the gap between these two types of writing.

Mark Hancock: Pronunciation Up North (EUKN Conference October 3rd)

By Claire Basarich

I didn’t realise I knew Mark Hancock already: his book Pronunciation Games has helped save my Social English classes on more than one occasion!

If you’ve used his book before, you already know that he has a special talent for making pronunciation teaching and practice simple and enjoyable.

His talk focused on the perceptions and practices of teachers who teach pronunciation in the context of different UK accents and offered a few suggestions for teaching.

One interesting question was that of how to deal with sounds (or lack thereof) that are particular to a specific region. For example, the lack of or presence of diphthongs, dropped /r/ or /h/, the vowel sound in the word “grass,” etc.

His advice was very practical and I will try to summarise what I can recall from my notes:

  • For example, as most languages are rhotic (have /r/), including many varieties of English, it may be useful for a teacher to highlight the /r/ sound in class even if they themselves do not usually pronounce it.
  • He claimed that it was not necessary to overly focus on fixing the pronunciation of students who use different sounds for “th,” since much variation of this sound exists within varieties of English and there was research proving that this does not markedly affect intelligibility.
  • Mark also encouraged teachers to focus on the goals of the students when considering aspects of pronunciation to teach: it’s not important to teach them RP, but depending on where they want to use English, it may be worth considering what will make them most intelligible and what will help them understand spoken language wherever they will be going. For example, if the student plans to spend many years in Sheffield, it would be useful to highlight certain pronunciation features used in this area so that they can better understand what they hear. If the student has developed a strong regional accent and wishes to apply for jobs in a different region, the teacher should be mindful of the perceptions and intelligibility of different accents and make the student aware of such differences. Some students will also mainly use English with an international community speaking a form of Global English, and thus many issues of pronunciation to fit a particular “standard” of English may be irrelevant.

As someone from the US (and whose accent is all over the place), I know first-hand how enjoyable and daunting it is to discover and understand the wide variety of accents used in the UK.

We would best serve our students by exposing them to this variety where possible/appropriate and focus on the aspects of pronunciation that will best serve their purposes and maximise intelligibility.