Tag Archives: EFL

International Conference: Language, Learning, Technology

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

Conf Luneburg 2015 Leuphana logo

On November 20-21, 2015, the Institute of English Studies and the Center for Modern Languages at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany will host the international conference “Language. Learning. Technology”. The conference aims to explore the role of technology in language learning, teaching and research. It will highlight not only the opportunities that technology provides for language students to participate in authentic foreign language discourses, but also the educational rationales that necessarily underlie such scenarios when they are integrated into the classroom. Creative and innovative research methods for investigating the evolving  language classroom are the final focus of this conference. The conference is designed to be of interest to both researchers and educators, and to this purpose invites both original research papers and hands-on practice reports.

The conference theme revolves around the following three topics and the conference aims to explore the connections between them. Example questions given are not all encompassing:

Research Methodology: How can interdisciplinary research inform teaching and learning approaches? How can classroom-integrated research be designed effectively? How are quantitative and qualitative methods integrated in analyses to uncover the student experience? Which data collection techniques, or combination of techniques, are capable of capturing the multimodality of tech-based learning processes and learning with mobile devices?

Technology: How effectively are new media used by students inside und outside of the classroom? How do pedagogical approaches need to be adapted to incorporate technology effectively? How can technology improve students’ access to interactional opportunities? What is the efficacy of mobile apps, e.g. mobile games, for language learning inside and outside the classroom?

Language Learning: How can linguistic development be promoted through online or blended learning? What learner strategies are effective in supporting the use of technology for language learning? How do learners adapt their language use in the computer-mediated communicative context? How can technology facilitate management of mixed-ability classrooms?

Registration fee (incl. lunch meals and coffee breaks):
Early registration (until Sept. 12, 2015): 55,- €
Regular registration (until Nov. 15, 2015): 65,- €
Cash (at the conference, if available): 75,- €

For registration and more information, please click here.

How to Improve Foreign Language Teaching Significantly

posted by Wolfgang Butzkamm, Aachen University (RWTH), Germany

In my view, the theory and practice of teaching beginners is stagnating. One of the reasons for this stagnation are fundamental flaws or omissions in the language teaching theories of the mainstream. The four areas in which significant improvements can be achieved concern the communicative principle, the imitative principle,  the bilingual principle, and the generative principle. They are all based on our knowledge of how humans learn languages naturally, irrespective of educational arrangements.

(1) We are born and bred to communicate. It is our social talent that makes us smarter than all other living beings. Preschool children already have the expressive means for a magnificent array of speech intentions, using their voice, mimes and gestures. And they bring these communicative competencies to the task of foreign language learning. It follows that utterances, not words, are the primary reality of language, and dialogues, for which we need a partner, are the ideal basic texts for foreign language teaching. They define a specific situation and constitute a total communicative event. So let us teach learners to enact these situations in face-to-face communication as naturally as possible. If rightly taught, they perform them with verve and gusto no matter whether they are children, adolescent or adults, slow or fast learners. With our social brains we are naturally born performers and masters in make-believe. Most modern coursebooks are peppered with colourful pictures, but don’t contain enough short, actable and sophisticated dialogues with which learners can enjoy team work and create moments of excellence for themselves and their audiences.

(2) Imitation is our “motor for culture” (Gopnik); it forges the neuronal link between hearing and speaking. Language learning and teaching is at the very beginning strikingly physical: ear-training, articulatory training and body language combined. Listening plus imitating is therefore our most basic form of practice. It must first and foremost begin with short utterances in the context of the mimicry-memorization of dialogues. To achieve this, precision techniques have been developed. However, repeated intensive and noisefree imitation is often neglected. But without ears and articulatory organs attuned to the foreign language we cannot take much pleasure in it.

(3) Sophisticated dialogues are possible from the very beginning because we teach them with systematic mother tongue support, via the bilingual sandwich-technique. In a laudable effort to make teachers conduct classrooms in the foreign language, mainstream philosophy has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. However, a naturally acquired language is the greatest pedagogical resource that learners bring to foreign language classes, as it lays the foundations for all other languages we might want to learn. Two thousand years of documented language teaching, as well as modern brain research, have shown that foreign language learning is fundamentally a bilingual endeavour. Because, in a deep sense, we only learn language once. All languages help us to make sense of the world, so they all dance the same dance. All humans can talk about persons and things, time and space, past and future, basic event types like give & take, possession, number, instrument, agent, obligation, condition etc. etc. In our first five years we have accumulated a huge cognitive capital for the rest of our lives, usually via the mother tongue. It would be sheer madness to cut learners off from what is the very foundation of language. It follows that it is not just a more flexible and less rigid attitude towards own-language use which is needed, but the well-targeted, systematic exploitation of the explanatory potential of learners’ own language(s), however with the foreign language still being the working language of the classroom.

(4) In language, we make “infinite use of finite means” (Humboldt). A finite stock of words or word groups can be recombined again and again to produce innumerable novel sentences – and thus, new ideas. This combinatorial infinity is according to Chomsky the core capacity of all human languages. It means that the words and constructions of the basic dialogues, stories or songs must not remain encapsulated in those texts, but must be extracted, recombined and varied in order to fit new situations and personal communicative needs.  (What shall we do with the drunken sailor? => What shall I do with my hair? => What shall I do with my life?). Children are excellent pattern detectives, which is visible from the two word stage on. But 3- hours-per-week learners must be helped to shorten the process of pattern recognition – by mother tongue mirroring, for instance – and by repetition cum variation of basic constructions, which is also evidenced in child language. The practical solution proposed are semi-communicative bilingual pattern drills as stepping stones towards communication – so mother tongue support again. If constructions are fully understood, they can take root and learners feel encouraged to risk something new on the analogy of what is familiar. Bilingual pattern practice ought to be a cornerstone in our teaching methodology. It is conspicuously absent in our coursebooks.

After forty years of working with foreign and second language learners and observing them in and outside classrooms I have come to the conclusion that we must free ourselves from two dogmas which have harmed, and not helped, the teaching profession: The monolingual dogma tried to banish the learners’ native language from the classroom. The communicative dogma led to the wholesale rejection of pattern drills. Let us re-orient ourselves and make a significant step forward.

The Dortmund Historical Corpus of Classroom English (DOHCCE)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

Dortmunder Corpus Titelblatt Scan
(S = student; L = teacher)

About a decade ago, my extremely influential academic teacher and esteemed mentor, the late Helmut Heuer (1932-2011), asked me to drop by his office at the University of Dortmund, on short notice, when I happened to be in town. I had just received my first professorship in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) at Karlsruhe University of Education at that time, after about ten years of working as a high school teacher in Dortmund, one of Germany’s largest cities. Since he had left me completely in the dark why he wanted to see me, I thought he was simply going to wish me good luck, and provide me with some further valuable advice, as he had done so often in previous years.

When I arrived in his office two weeks later, he immediately drew my attention to a pile of three old cardboard file folders, presented in a rather ceremonious fashion on the tiny table where he used to invite students to sit with him during his office hours. I must admit that the three folders did not look particularly interesting to me. They were stuffed to their limits and covered with dust. One of them had almost fallen apart. When he urged me to open them, I recognized that they were filled with English as a Foreign Language (EFL) lesson transcripts, written on a typewriter, dating back to the early 1970s, with hand-written remarks scribbled here and there. The paper on which the approximately forty transcripts were written had turned yellow with age so that some parts were difficult to read.

“It may not be obvious, but this is a treasure trove for research on learning and teaching English as a foreign language,” I remember him saying to me in German, referring to the pile as the unpublished ‘Dortmund Corpus of Classroom English’. “I would very much like you to have it”, he continued, adding that “there might be a time when you wish to take a closer look at it”. In the following conversation, he gave me some very general information about this apparently dated collection of classroom data, emphasizing that all lessons had been conducted in comprehensive schools (i.e. in non-selective lower secondary schools for children of all backgrounds and abilities) in the federal (West-) German state of North Rhein-Westphalia between 1971 and 1974.

Since our meeting was crammed between two of his classes, we did not have sufficient time to talk about the origins and the genesis of the corpus material in all the necessary details. So I sincerely thanked him and took the material with me to Karlsruhe. Mainly, perhaps, because this was my first professorship and everything was excitingly new and challenging, I somehow lost sight of the folders, keeping them stashed away in a safe place in my office.

In March 2011, I was appointed Professor of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) at Justus-Liebig-University (JLU) Giessen. While thinking about ways to enhance evidence-based or data-driven research in the field of foreign/second language education in the widest sense, I came across Olaf Jäkel’s work at the University of Flensburg. As a linguist interested in how English as a Foreign Language is actually taught in classrooms in Germany nowadays, he had just published the Flensburg English Classroom Corpus (FLECC) (see also Jäkel 2010) which comprises a total of 39 transcripts of English lessons given by pre-service student teachers in primary and lower secondary schools in Northern Germany, most of them in parts of the federal German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

This reminded me of the ‘treasure trove’ I was still sitting on, the unpublished lesson transcripts Helmut Heuer had so generously passed on to me so many years ago. I contacted Olaf Jäkel on this and was pleased to hear his positive and encouraging feedback to my initial thoughts about creating a digital version of the old documents. We agreed that making this historical collection of classroom data available to the international research community in a computer-readable format, publishing it as downloadable open access material on the Internet as well as a print-on-demand corpus, would be of considerable interest and value to anyone interested in or involved in researching authentic foreign or second language classroom interaction and discourse world-wide, both from a diachronic and synchronic perspective. I am grateful to him for co-funding the digitization of the classroom data, and for his generous support with publishing the book online and in print.

Scanning the original corpus material and converting the images into more easily searchable text turned out to be no longer possible. So the entire corpus material (more than 400 pages) had to be retyped again manually.

Reconstructing the setting in which the initial ‘Dortmund Corpus of Classroom English’ was assembled turned out to be both fascinating and difficult. Based on evidence from a variety of sources, including personal correspondence with participants directly or indirectly involved in the project, it soon became clear that the corpus project was launched in turbulent times, i.e. in the context of the ubiquitous school and education reform controversy which had been raging in former West Germany since the mid-1960s. At the heart of the controversy lay the polarizing issue of what constitutes equality of opportunity and effectiveness in education. Fierce political battles and scholarly conflicts over the crucial need to restructure the school and education system of the time eventually led to a large-scale, funded experiment with comprehensive schools which has come to be known as the (West) German Gesamtschulversuch. The complex process of setting up and implementing the first experimental comprehensive schools was accompanied with extended research (Wissenschaftliche Begleitung). The pre-digital corpus project represents a remarkable example of such accompanying research.

There is a sizable body of literature available (in German) today documenting and examining the large-scale school experiment which began in 1968 and ended in 1982. However, much of the published material focuses on general issues related to the definition and interpretation of comprehensiveness in secondary school education, the general and specific structure, aims, and objectives of comprehensive schooling, the link between structural and curricular innovations and reforms, the development and implementation of adequate curricula and instructional designs, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the newly established comprehensive schools as compared with traditional German secondary schools. Comparably little has been published to date illustrating and examining how (subject matter-) learning was actually organized and promoted in those new experimental schools, as for instance in the EFL classroom.

The DOHCCE (Kurtz 2013) contains a total of 36 annotated transcripts of English as a Foreign Language lessons conducted in German comprehensive schools prior to the communicative turn. Currently in print, it will be available in fall, both as open access data on the Flensburg University server and as a book on demand, published by Flensburg University Press. More on this in a few weeks. Please stay tuned.

Jäkel, Olaf (2010). The Flensburg English Classroom Corpus (FLECC). Sammlung authentischer Unterrichtsgespräche aus dem aktuellen Englischunterricht auf verschiedenen Stufen an Grund-, Haupt-, Real- und Gesamtschulen Norddeutschlands. Flensburg: Flensburg University Press.

New Journal: Children’s Literature in English Language Education (CLELE)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

CLELEjournal (edited by Janice Bland, Christiane Lütge and Sandie Mourão) is a new, bi-annual, comprehensively peer-reviewed online journal for scholars, teacher educators and practitioners involved in using and researching children’s literature in the field of English learning as a second, additional or foreign language. The journal investigates children’s literature as an art form, and as a framework with which to connect L2 literature teaching across the school years. The scope covers the affordances of children’s literature for L2 acquisition with pre-school infants through to young adults.

CLELEjournal will consider contributions on all forms of children’s literature: fiction and non-fiction, oral storytelling and picturebooks, fairy tales and poetry, comics and graphic novels, educational drama and plays for children and young adults, children’s films and language learner literature. Contributions are solicited that cover the theory or practice of children’s literature in the English language classroom, encompassing the sharing of research projects and results, in-depth textual analysis and interpretation, teaching ideas as well as writing and adapting literature for second language education on any of the following topics:

– visual literacy
– critical literacy
– reader-response theory
– intercultural competence and ideology issues
– gender and diversity issues
– the constructions of childhood in children’s literature
– children’s literature and language play
– the canon of literary texts for TEFL
– teacher education, methodologies and materials design

CLELEjournal Volume 1, Issue 1, is now available online. This first issue contains five papers sharing perspectives from Poland, Germany, Lebanon, India and Portugal, offering perceptive and innovative ideas, suggestions and shared experience with students from primary through to secondary education. The texts referred to include picturebooks, nonsense literature and an alternate history written for young adults.

The call for papers for Volume 1, Issue 2 (November 2013) has been extended to July 1st 2013. This is a themed issue: Intercultural approaches to English language education through children’s literature. For further information about contributing please click here.

The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (6)

by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Here’s another voice in the ongoing debate on the role of the textbook in the EFL classroom – “My Take on the Unplugged/Dogme/Coursebook Debate”  (Dave Dodgson):  

“After a week or so reading some very interesting posts detailing various people’s stances on the ongoing discussion about the usefulness of coursebooks, the merits of an unplugged/dogme approach (assuming those terms can be used interchangeably) and everything in between, I thought I’d pitch in my two pence with some reflections on what I’ve taken from it all. Of course, this discussion has been going on for much longer (and will probably continue for a while yet!) but recent posts on the blogosphere have really got me thinking.” Click here to read more.

AAAL 2011 Annual Conference

Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The 2011 conference of the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) will be held March 26 – 29 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, Chicago, IL. The 2011 AAAL conference will serve as a meeting place for applied linguists to generate ideas, cross disciplinary boundaries, and disseminate research about issues and concerns in language policy, second language acquisition, language pedagogy and assessment, discourse analysis and other areas of applied linguistics.

The submission of abstracts and the refereeing process will be carried out through the AAAL web submission system. Abstracts for all presentation formats should be submitted for blind peer review at:

The proposal submission deadline is August 15, 2010.

DGFF Hamburg 2011: Workshop Proposal Accepted

Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

A few weeks ago I submitted a workshop proposal to the DGFF Conference Review / Organizing Committee (i.e. “Enhancing Young Learners’ Developing Concepts of Self and Other in the Primary Foreign Language Classroom”). I am pleased to announce that the proposal has been accepted. I will keep you up to date on all further developments here.