Basket Weaving has been Eclipsed: Welcome to Circus Studies!

circus

While there is no obvious connection to ESL, we couldn’t help but be captivated by an article in University Affairs about how “Circus Studies” is actually a thing and there is some effort being made now to study the positive effects of circus training for battling childhood obesity. It may not come as a surprise, but Quebec (home of Cirque du Solei and the Bloc Quebequois) is the hub of circus studies.

Intrigued? Read more on University Affairs.

Corpus Curiosities: Why You Ought to Know about Corpora

corpuscuriosities

You might be wondering why I decided to choose the verb ‘ought to’ to stress the importance of Corpora. Well, if you decide to keep reading, you will understand. The reason why I’ve hand-picked it has to do with the short anecdote I am about to tell you.

When I was a young learner of English (yes, I am a NNS), I was lucky enough to partake in a class that literally changed my life. I attended EFL classes twice a week and my teacher was also a NNS of English. On that day, he taught us a lesson on modal verbs. The lesson followed the same old drill of ‘presenting’ the language – in that case ‘should’ and ‘ought to’ – followed by a ‘practice’ and ‘production’ stage where myself and other learners used mostly ‘should’ to express our communicative needs. At one point, the teacher stopped the lesson to stress the fact that we were not using ‘ought to’. I clearly remember asking the teacher why we should use such a verb when the majority of the time I only heard “should” being used in English. He pointed out that ‘ought to’ was an important verb and commonly used in English. I remembered going home and basically reading through all my Azars and Murphys, watching movies and listening to music. I was desperate to find more examples of the “so-frequent” ‘ought to’. And guess what? I didn’t.

Fast forward 20 years and here I am. Still questioning the usage of ‘ought to’. I’m not going to blame my teacher for the lack of exposure to ‘ought to’. However, I am going to question the issue of authority in language. Teachers – and learners too – are frequently bombarded with statements and rules about language. But the question that remains unanswered is: where do these rules come from? What are they based on? Is there any evidence to support them? Who came up with them? How could my EFL teacher be so sure of the importance of ‘ought to’?

When we teach a language, we are basically imparting knowledge that we have acquired over the years. The main sources are: a) introspective – this refers to ‘observation and sometimes the speaker’s intuition about language’ b) secondary – usually refers to ‘an interpretation of information gathered from primary sources’. In other words, referring to grammar books, coursebooks, and, even, other teachers. c) empirical sources, on the other hand, refer to authentic samples of spoken and written English.

And that’s where Corpora comes into play. It is a more ‘hands on’ approach to language because it takes into account language that native speakers have produced as opposed to language they could produce. It helps teachers and learners “observe” and “hypothesize” about rules and patterns of the language and then “experiment”.

Language that comes from Corpora is more authentic and can be “treated with a much higher degree of confidence” because they contain extracts that come from real use of the language.

To give you an idea, the biggest and most well-known corpora, The Corpus of Contemporary American English (also known as “COCA”), is comprised of more than 450 million words.

Now, with the advent of Corpus linguistics, it is possible to say that should is 25 times more commonly used than ought to.  However, I am not here to say that we shouldn’t teach ‘ought to’, but rather focus on language people actually use and be more cautious when making any pronouncements about language use.

So…you may ask:  ‘Should I use Corpora?’  To which I will say, ‘you OUGHT TO!’

References

  • “Primary and Secondary Sources.” – Ithaca College Library. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.
  • “Introspection.” – Scholarpedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.
  • Lewis, M. 1993. The Lexical Approach. Hove: LTP.
  • Lewis, M. 2000. Teaching Collocation. Hove: LTP.
  • “Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA).” Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

English Central would like to thank Leo Gomez, teacher and teacher trainer, for signing on to write this column for us.

Leo Gomez is a teacher and trainer based in Toronto. He’s been TEFLing for over 14 years in different countries. His interest lies in a lexical approach to language learning and Corpus linguistics.
leo.elt.trainer@gmail.com

Thumbs up to the Flipped Classroom

flippedclass

For  quite a while now, cooperative learning, group-work, minimized teacher talk time, task-based teaching and other such innovative approaches to education have been common in English Language Classrooms. We have been a little ahead of the curve, haven’t we? It is not surprizing to learn that the introduction of the flipped classroom to the more traditional, lecture-based, post-secondary classrooms is seeing beneficial results. A new study from Yale University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst is based on analysis of 5 years of results of an upper level biochemistry course taught traditionally and flipped. It shows that student’s exam marks increased by approximately 12% and there was a marked improvement in female and underperforming students.

 

Read the full report.

Competency Mushrooming across the US

mushrooms

… or competency-based education, we should say. In the past year, there has been an astounding growth in colleges offering or developing competency-based education programs (programs that are focused on developing concrete and applicable skills rather than academics). Specifically, last year there were 52 such programs while this year there are approximately 600! In October, a group of college officials will be meeting in Phoenix to discuss best practices for developing these programs.

Read more in Inside Higher Education.

Communication and Writing Skills are What Employers are Looking for

Workopolis, a work and carrer website, has recently released the results of a survey of hundreds of employers and analysis of thousands of job postings. They have found that many employers find it difficult to find employees with the skills that they need, and “communcications” tops the list. Most job applicants are, in the eyes of employers, lacking soft skills. This is a problem that should be addressed in school and certainly this holds true for international students as well…. we have said this before, but consider Macmillan’s Mind Series for exactly this reason.

Read the full report (it’s not too long).

Share the infographic with your students.

What is Studying Abroad Good For?

 

 

 

internationaleducation

A lot of people have thought – maybe even argued – that internationalization in schools is good at promoting positive feelings towards other cultures and engendering global citizenship. A recent study suggests that the effects of studying abroad may not quite be what most of us assumed. Read and be surprized (unless you  yourself have studied abroad) here.

Internationalization May Put Academic Values “At Risk”

mobility

Over the past few decades, post-secondary institutions have been very commited to the internationalization of their student bodies. But some questions have arisen, such as:

– Have academic values and principles been protected?

– Has the quality of education suffered in the pursuit of profit?

A recent study by the European Parliament explores these issues and more. Read the 300+ page study or read a succinct article in the The Times Higher Education.

International Students Launch Class Action Against their College

classaction

International students at Niagara College have launched a class action suit against the college. Affected students were in a four-month program that was to lead to a three year post-graduate work permit, but they allege that as their courses were almost entirely online, they were denied permits by the Canadian government. The class action represents about one hundred of the the approximate 500 students affected and the argument is that Niagara College should have known that the largely distance-learning based program did not meet Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s requirements for the awarding of these work visas.

Read more in The Star.

Heavy Social Media Use Linked to Mental Health Problems

 

socialmedia

Ottawa Public Health recently released a study that shows that teenagers who spend two hours or more a day on social networking sites are significantly more likely to suffer from mental health issues, psychological distress and suicidal thoughts. The study involved analysing data captured in the 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, in which 25% of respondents said they spent more than two hours a day on social media.

Read more on The Huffington Post.