The 22nd international conference for English language teaching professionals by IATEFL Hungary

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Reima Al-Jarf on using on-line videos for EFL instruction

One huge problem faced by Professor Reima Al-Jarf and her colleagues at the King Saudi University is that freshman students on translations course have very limited access to English outside the classroom. This naturally impacts on the students’ ability to understand spoken English and one solution has been to direct them to the many online videos and language teaching lessons which are easily available.

Reima outlined the many advantages of these resources, for example, they are free and available on many different topics and at a range of difficulty levels, they contain a multitude of speakers with different accents and they are easily downloaded and can be viewed anywhere and as many times as needed.

Reima gave us an impressive list of available sites, such as and PodEnglish on YouTube. She stressed that, for students to get the most out of these resources, teachers needed to be selective and employ multiple criteria to assess relevance with particular individuals or groups in mind. They also need to do more than simply direct students to the sites – otherwise the chances are that they either wouldn’t bother, or wouldn’t get the most out of the resources. Teacher preparation involves designing activities in 3 phases: before, while and after watching task. The first phase includes motivating students and the all important setting of goals, as well as explaining to students what they are to do and focus on. After viewing activities involve class pair or group work.

Reima has used student questionnaires and researched the extent to which the use of on-line videos has impacted on learning. She has found that those students who have used the resources have attained higher test scores and made greater progress than those who didn’t. Her research areas and website can be found by going to and typing AlJarf in the search box.

Written by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald

Visit Mark and Annie’s blog offering free articles, reviews and a lot more in ELT.


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Annie McDonald on authentic listening materials design

Annie began the workshop with a snippet taken from a BBC studio interview and participants listened and brainstormed the problems the text would present for a student approaching a B2 level in English.

She then explained that the workshop would be based on a 45/50 minute listening lesson, from which she had extracted approximately 5 minutes of the original programme and divided it into divided into 4 sections. The various generative activities which she presented were based on these texts. For each activity, Annie commented on underlying aspects of task design and how listeners would benefit from engaging with each one.

Firstly, and to right the (deliberate!) wrong committed during the brainstorm, she introduced 4 activity-types which could be used to focus on context and various types of background knowledge. These included: world knowledge, situational knowledge, speaker knowledge, knowledge of setting and schematic knowledge.

The session then moved to a focus on content, which was divided into 2 two parts, the first looking at a variety of activity-types that could be used with different listening texts which help listeners decode, and the second which focussed on helping students build up meaning. Annie told a joke to demonstrate the ways in which the two processes operate in a non-linear two-way manner, and participants shared explanations of their perceptions of what they had been doing while listening.

Before going on to look at specific activity-types, Annie mentioned that it was important to cater for learners who were risk-takers, i.e. those who are happy to make guesses but might miss important details along the way, and those who are risk-avoiders, i.e. those who will be waylaid by their preoccupation to decode everything they hear.

Decoding activities involve recognition of sounds, syllables, words, phrases or chunks, where as meaning building is achieved by using syntax, intonation, co-text etc. to arrive at, well, meaning in context. The first is more problematic for non-expert listeners, who have an incomplete representation of the language to draw on. Problems are compounded by the characteristics of spoken English, for example, with its short forms, assimilation and elision. It is also an area that requires more focus as it has been largely neglected as the focus on listening activities over the past few decades has been in the direction of meaning building. Annie presented activity-types which would help students deal with unknown words, phrases and grammatical structure.

Meaning-building activities are of a familiar type: sequencing, true/false or multiple-choice, and these focussed on the understanding of specific information, meaning in context (figurative language use), the main points and detail, the main point and inference.

Downloads of the activities and a brief explanation, along with two short recordings can be found on Annie and Mark’s website.

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Scott Thornbury on keeping yourself inspired (Plenary)

Scott began by looking at some of the reasons that teachers might get to feel jaded as their career progresses. He revealed his own pet peeve as being the rampant commoditization of ELT, with words from the world of business being drafted in, such as ‘outcomes’, ‘solutions’, ‘value-added’, ‘accountability’ and so on. All of this merely serves to place the humble teacher even lower in the food-chain than they already are. Scott also outlined another reason why many teachers lose their spark. They learn all kinds of exciting and progressive ideas and methods during training, only to find them stamped upon by the authorities that be when they try to put them into practice – for example, no group work because it’s too noisy.

Scott reported on a crowd-sourcing mini-survey he conducted on twitter on the topic of what keeps us teachers going. He classified the responses into four types: 1. Good learner feedback and results; 2. Peer support; 3. External validation eg from your boss, and 4. Your personal intrinsic drive. Very often, 4 is the only source of motivation available to you, so you can you get more of it? To answer this question, Scott looked outside of the ELT world to a motivational book written by a practising surgeon, Atul Gawande, author of the book, “Better”. Scott digested the message of this book into five tips:

  1. Don’t complain. Complaining is a downward spiral. Instead, we should try to ‘keep the conversation going’. A good forum for doing this is to seek out a peer group through the social media and chat with them, seeking positive solutions.
  2. Ask an unscripted question. For example, ask your students something that isn’t just about the lesson – how they feel about different approaches for example.
  3. Count something. In other words, conduct small, informal pieces of action research, such as counting the number of times students ask a question unsolicited.
  4. Write something. Writing helps you to step back and take the longer view. A good way to do this is to take your own initiative and keep a blog.
  5. Change. Try a different way of doing something. Step outside your comfort zone.


Written by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald

Visit Mark and Annie’s blog offering free articles, reviews and a lot more in ELT.

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Margit Szesztay on the power of questions

As well as her plenary on teacher development, Margit Szesztay presented this very practical, classroom-focussed workshop on harnessing the power of questions. First of all, she asked participants to simply formulate one question we would like to ask, and then ask it to as many other participants as possible. We had questions like, ‘How can you inspire a mixed ability class?’, ‘How can we remember all the things we learn at the conference?’, ‘Do we want to teach English or educate more broadly?’ and  ‘How can I improve my IT skills?’. She suggested doing this activity with students, pointing out the benefits in terms of finding more out about them and their pre-occupations.

In the main part of the workshop, Margit gave us a handout with a list of actual questions a teacher might ask at different stages in a lesson. Our task was to match these with a set of functions these questions might serve. These functions included, for example, establishing raport, focusing on the group, keeping discussion on track, offering choice, inviting creative thinking, encouraging reflection, probing and so on. We were shown that there is much more to classroom questioning than the formulaic IRF pattern, in which the teacher asks a question, a student responds and the teacher says, for example, ‘Good!’. We need to be much more supple than this in our use of questioning, and indeed, we mustn’t hog all the questioning to ourselves but also encourage students to formulate their own questions to you and to each other.

Written by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald

Visit Mark and Annie’s blog offering free articles, reviews and a lot more in ELT.

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Two talks on English as a Lingua Franca – Éva Illés and Bálint Feyér

Éva Illés of ELTE in Budapest, began by explaining how English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) differs from pidgin: 1. Pidgin is limited, for example to one trade hub, while ELF is global; 2. Pidgin is limited to a trading domain, while ELF is used in all domains, and 3. Pidgin doesn’t have native speakers while ELF does. She went on to demonstrate the importance of ELF citing the 1991 estimation that 80% of exchanges in English, globally, are between non-natives.

Éva explained that an important source of research findings in ELF is the Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English (VOICE) – available at Among the findings of this research are that: 1.  the present simple 3rd person –s is frequently cut where prescriptive rules say it ought to be present, and vica versa, and 2. Speakers normally break the rules of agreement prescribed for tag questions, saying for example, ‘isn’t it?’ or ‘innit?’ in all cases.

It is probably safe to say that the points made thus far are the most widely known aspects of ELF. From here on, though, Éva went into lesser known territory. She explained that ELF is not a dialect or variety of English but a context of use. This means that in ELT, we need to view ELF not as a target model but as strategies by which speakers accommodate to one another. In ELF contexts, there must be more negotiation of meaning, more tolerance of hybrid forms such as literal translations, more paraphrasing and code-switching. In ELF conversation, speakers need to suspend their assumptions of what constitutes normality, since these vary around the globe.  Éva clarified by comparing ELF and traditional teaching. In the traditional, students are prepared for potential future interaction with an idealized native speaker (ironically, a very small population). In ELF-friendly teaching, students are prepared to cope with variety. Correctness and appropriateness are not fixed, but negotiated in real time among interlocutors.

Éva concluded by looking at the implication of ELF for materials and task selection. She explained that two currently unfashionable classroom activities gain new importance: 1. Literature – reading literary texts involves interpretation, working after meaning, in a way which parallels struggling to reach an understanding in ELF contexts. 2. Translation – in order to translate effectively, you need to put yourself in the listener’s shoes. This forces you to examine your own cultural assumptions.

Éva Illés has published on this topic in ‘Views’ – the University of Vienna online journal.

In a separate talk, Bálint Feyér, who is working for a PHD under Éva’s supervision, spoke about his research relating to understanding of different accents on the part of a group of Hungarian secondary school students. His research procedure had three components: 1. A listening comprehension test using audio of speakers with 4 different accents; 2. A questionnaire designed to reveal the students’ attitudes to the accents and 3. Interviews with the individual students.

Bálint’s results thus far have shown that comprehension of the different accents improved with proficiency in English, unsurprisingly enough. They also show that previous exposure to a given accent helps, which is why they did better listening to British speakers, well listening to Hungarians, and poorly listening to an Egyptian speaker. Finally, results suggest that  awareness of accent variation is important and improves the student’s receptive accommodation. Bálint commented that successful students go beyond just understanding the text, but also tend to analyse it and reflect on what made it hard to follow. For example, they might explicitly recognize that the speaker’s realization of TH as /z/ or /s/ made them difficult to follow.  As regards attitudes, the students rated the native speakers of English highest, the Egyptian speaker lowest, and the Hungarian speaker rather low too. This latter is paradoxical, given that they themselves are Hungarian speakers, and one can imagine how insecure they must feel about their own pronunciation! Bálint suggested that part of the pronunciation teacher’s role in this situation must be to help learners change their chip and see their own, and other non-native accents, in a more positive light. He also recommended raising students’ awareness of typical ways in which accents tend to vary, and helping them to develop strategies to become more flexible listeners.

Written by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald

Visit Mark and Annie’s blog offering free articles, reviews and a lot more in ELT.