Colleges Responding to Soft Skills Deficit


Surveys of employers over the past few years have consistently shown that recent post-secondary school graduates are lacking in soft skills (otherwise referred to as People Skills, Life Skills or 21st Century Skills). To address this problem, a number of Canadian colleges have been making changes to their programs. Last fall, George Brown College in Toronto piloted a course devoted entirely to soft skills. Other colleges are collaborating with businesses and high schools to address the problem.

We took note of this as we have been promoting Macmillan’s MindSeries, which is unique amongst general English integrated skills courses because it explicitly addresses and develops Life Skills.

Read more in the Globe and Mail.

Number of Chinese Student Studying Abroad Increased Again in 2014


2014 saw an 11.1% increase over the previous year in the number of Chinese students studying abroad, for a total of 459,800. Interestingly, a large portion of this growth was from secondary school students, who approximately 30% of Chinese students stydying abroad. Some students are funded by the state or by businesses, but 92% are self-funded. Most students choose to study in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France and Japan.

Read more in the ICEF Monitor.

IATEFL 2015 in Manchester

Well, we aren’t actually going to this one and if you haven’t already planned to go yourself, you probably aren’t going either. However, we feel the need to mention it because IATEFL is by far our favourite conference… it is great because it much more has a very healthy feel of peers coming together to share ideas and just hang out together together… often with a drink in hand (we’re talking about the evenings here). Hopefully, we’ll get there next year. There are lots of recorded sessions, too, so we recommend going to their site and experiencing as much as you can from your living room.


Webinar on Study Skills with Dorothy Zemach on April 15th 2015


This webinar is offered by Macmillan and is free to attend. It is aimed at English language teachers and professionals of all levels.


“They should have learned study skills in high school.” Yes-but what if they didn’t? University students sometimes arrive with brain power and drive, but without the organisation and habits necessary for academic success. Dorothy will demonstrate useful techniques for teaching and practicing academic study skills to help make students better at their most important university tasks – studying and learning.

Register Now!

About Dorothy Zemach

Dorothy E. Zemach taught ESL for over  18 years, in Asia, Africa, and the US. She holds an MA in TESL from the School for International Training in Vermont, USA. Now she concentrates on writing, editing, and publishing ELT materials and textbooks and conducting teacher training workshops. Her areas of specialty and interest are teaching writing, teaching  reading, business English, academic English, testing, and humor. She is a frequent plenary speaker at international conferences, and a regular blogger  for Teacher Talk at

As far as recent publishing projects go, Dorothy is the series consultant for the Skillful series and one of the authors of the new edition of the Mind Series, a four-skills coursebook with an innovative and highly practical “life skills” strand that helps students connect the classroom to different  areas of their lives.

Zoltán Dörnyei and The Principled Communicative Approach


Personal, Practical and Principled

Jack Scholes asks author Zoltán Dörnyei about his unique approach to language learning

How did an English language teacher from Hungary get interested in psycholinguistics and become professor of psycholinguistics at the University of Nottingham?

I started out as a teacher of English and came to a point when instinctively I knew what would work in my classes and what not, yet I could not explain why. I realised that to move forward I needed to understand the linguistic and psychological processes underlying second language acquisition (SLA). I applied to study applied linguistics at a PhD level, but at that time – the mid-1980s – this discipline was not recognised in Hungary as a proper PhD subject. So I selected what I thought was the closest field, psycholinguistics, and ended up doing my linguistics studies at a department of psychology. It was a curious combination at the time, but the dual background of linguistics and psychology turned out to be a real asset in my future professional development.

How did I end up in the UK? It’s mainly due to my wife Sarah, who is English and whom I met when I was on a scholarship in England in 1987. She was a modern languages specialist, and when I returned to Hungary she came with me and started to teach English in Budapest. We spent ten years living there, but for family reasons we moved to the UK in 1998 and settled in the Nottingham area, where Sarah grew up and where her parents lived.

You believe that communicative language teaching could do with some revitalisation, and you offer seven maxims which you refer to as ‘the principled communicative approach’. Could you briefly explain these?

Although I am perhaps best known for my research on language learning motivation, I have always had an interest in communicative language teaching. I have done extensive research on communication strategies, and when I spent some time as a Fulbright scholar at UCLA in the early 1990s Marianne Celce-Murcia, my wife and I developed a comprehensive model for describing the components of communicative competence. Some of the main ideas for the principled communicative approach started to emerge at that point, but the seven principles in their current form are the results of a later effort: ten years later I revisited the question of SLA in a major survey of the psychological literature which I conducted with the aim of summarising what cuttingedge psychological theories can contribute to our understanding of SLA. The result was a booklength summary, The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition (OUP, 2009), and the current form of the principled communicative approach is a summary of what I understand to be the best practices of language instruction according to the theoretical insights. This was, therefore, genuine research led theory construction. The seven principles are broad maxims because I wanted to focus on the most solid tried-and-tested knowledge in scholarship that is likely to stand the test of time. However, I hope that exactly because of their robust nature, the principles can usefully orientate language professionals in developing a language teaching methodology that is fitting for the 21st century.

Your new book, co-authored with Jane Arnold and Chaz Pugliese is called The Principled Communicative Approach. How does the book present and explore these seven principles?

Because my theory was genuinely applied both in terms of its nature and its objectives, it lent itself to being implemented in actual classroom contexts. Personally I have always been fond of the recipe book format developed in the late 1970s by Alan Maley, Mario Rinvolucri and their colleagues and associates – a great genre because it not only offers a very practical classroom resource for teachers but it is also one of the most effective ways of disseminating new ideas within the teaching professions.

It appeared an obvious way of implementing the principled communicative approach to design sets of classroom activities that exemplify each of the seven principles. I was fortunate that two wonderful professionals I knew from the past, Jane and Chaz, enthusiastically joined me in taking on this task. They both have a highly creative materials-writing talent backed up by a great deal of practical experience in language teaching and teacher training. Together we made a real international team – an American living in Spain, an Italian living in France and a Hungarian living in the UK. All we needed was a suitable publisher, and Helbling embraced the project right from the beginning. We were very pleased about that because we thought that with its innovative and creative edge The Resourceful Teacher series is the ideal context for the novel evidence-based teaching approach we are recommending.

Another research interest you have concerns the interrelationship of religion and second language acquisition. Could you please elaborate on this?

My main interest in this comes from the belief that if we can bring together different aspects of our identity – such as our personal and professional selves – this fusion can generate a powerful motivational drive that we can then harness for different applied purposes, such as the study of foreign languages. I have been particularly curious about how faith – in my case, Christianity – can impact on SLA, but the integration of the personal and professional spheres of one’s life can also involve other personal aspects such as penchants, hobbies, passions, basic likes and dislikes – areas that are sometimes summarised under the term transportable identities. In this sense this research direction is closely related to the first principle of the principled communicative approach, the personal significance principle, which concerns the striving to make language teaching personally meaningful for the students in the spirit of student-centred learning that characterised communicative language teaching right from the beginning.

Jack Scholes is an international teacher trainer and conference speaker for Helbling Languages. He is also the author of several books for EFL learners and teachers, including Helbling Readers.

Interview originally appeared in the EL Gazette. Reproduced with permission from Helbling Languages.

Learning a Second Language When Relocating: Not Just for Humans

In 2010, nine chimpanzees were moved from a Dutch safari park to a zoo in Edinburgh. The chimps in from the different locations had different languages; more specifically, they had different “referentiall calls” (calling for apples is the example given). By 2013, the Dutch chimps had learned and were in the habit of using the call that their new companons in Edinburgh used. There is also a connection between the emotional sound of the calls and the feeling of the chimps towards the object they are calling for.

Read more on the BBC.

An Argument for Teaching Life and Work Skills


This probably comes as no surprise, but many people don’t like their job.

A recent study by Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC) reveals that one in two Canadians who have never had career counselling wish that they had as they are not happy with their job. To a certain extent, those who did not receive career counselling were not able to access it.

The link may at first seem a bit weak, but we have been actively promoting the Mind Series recently. The Mind Series is unique as far as general English courses go, in that it spends quite a bit of time teaching Life Skills (or Soft Skills). We have been arguing that often what is taught in high school – things like Chirstopher Columbus’ birthday – are taught yet not nearly as important as many life skills, which are not as consistently taught. Knowing your aptitudes, learning styles, work styles are very important life skills that would undoubtedly help students avoid the eventual problem of being unhappy with their job. Learning these skills might well be worth more than one session with a guidance or career counsellor too… just something to chew on.

More on the report.

Smartphones Make for Lazy Thinkers


The University of Waterloo recently reported on research done on smartphones that indicates that our reliance on smartphones to find and recall information for us is making it easier and more common for people to think for themselves. That may not be a huge surprize, but it gets more interesting…

People are divided into two cognitive styles: intuitive and cognitive. Intuitive thinkers – those who tend to rely on instincts and gut feelings when making decisions – tend to rely on their smartphones to look up information that they already know rather than bothering to recall it. Cognitive thinkers are more critical and tend to think through problems on their own rather than rely heavily on their smartphones. The research at the University of Waterloo shows a strong connection between heavy smartphone use and lowedered intelligence, though it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation.


Read the news release.