Tag Archives: SLA

International CLIL Conference 2010

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The International CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) Conference 2010 “In Pursuit of Excellence: Uncovering CLIL Quality by CLIL Practitioners – Evidencing CLIL Quality by CLIL Researchers” will be held September 30 to October 2 at the University of Eichstätt in Germany. For more information, including the call for contributions, see the webpages of the CLIL Consortium.


The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (2)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Back in 1934, McElroy stated that “the textbook is decidedly not the sole condition of an effective class; quality of teaching is more important” (1934: 5). 75 years later, an enormous body of research on the role of the textbook in EFL classrooms has accumulated around the globe, indicating that ‘successful’ learning and teaching in primary and secondary EFL school environments is dependent on a wider spectrum of factors, not only on the quality (or quantity) of English language learning materials. The importance of the teacher is, of course, undisputed (see, for instance, Butzkamm 2005).

Over the past decades, it has become increasingly clear that context-sensitive EFL instruction requires teachers to take into account many anthropological and sociocultural factors which influence the conditions under which English is taught. Currently, global textbooks produced for teaching and learning English as a foreign language in many different countries are criticized for paying too little attention to this, especially for largely failing to assist EFL teachers in bridging the cultural background(s) of ‘their’ individual learners and the diversity of English-speaking target language cultures.

In Germany, global textbooks are rarely used in institutional contexts though. Instead, local textbooks and related materials and media, produced especially for the ‘German school market’ by a few major German publishers are usually employed in EFL classrooms. In my view, the overall quality of these products is high. However, as commercial products textbooks and related materials are – in Germany and elsewhere – last not least designed to occupy the textbook market, offering whatever is seemingly necessary and useful in terms of target language und intercultural education (see Kurtz 2002). In consequence, German EFL teachers are flooded with materials and suggestions. 

Psychologically, this makes it difficult to think about teaching options which go beyond those suggested by the textbook authors in the teaching manuals (arguing from a Gestalt theoretical perspective see Kurtz 2001). Viewed from an international perspective, this is a luxury problem, but it is not unproblematic; the more the better?


Butzkamm, Wolfgang (2005). Der Lehrer ist unserer Chance. Essen: Buchverlag Prof. A.W. Geisler.

Kurtz, Jürgen (2001). Das Lehrwerk und seine Verwendung nach der jüngsten Reform der Richtlinien und Lehrpläne. Englisch, 36 (2), 41-50.

Kurtz, Jürgen (2002): Fremdsprachendidaktik als Dienstleistung und Ware: Verlagskataloge für das Fach Englisch unter der Lupe. Englisch,  37 (1), 8-12.

McElroy, Howard (1934). Selecting a basic textbook. The Modern Language Journal, 19 (1), 5-8.

2008 Second Language Research Forum

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The Second Language Research Forum (SLRF) is a prestigious and internationally renowned conference which brings together researchers in second language (L2) research from all over the world. It is the premier conference on L2 research in North America providing a venue for established scholars and graduate students to present work on a wide variety of theoretical and empirical issues.

The 2008 Second Language Research Forum will be held at the University of Hawaii, Manoa (October 17th to 19th). The conference theme is “Exploring SLA: Perspectives, Positions, and Practices“.

For more information see the

Giving the Wrong Signal? The Role of ‘Signal Words’ in Teaching Tense and Aspect in the EFL Classroom

posted by Ulrike Altendorf, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

What would German learners of English do without ‘signal words’? — ‘Signal word’ is TEFLSPEAK-G, a literal translation of the German classroom term Signalwort that refers to temporal markers, mostly adverbial and prepositional phrases, taught as automatic triggers of certain tenses or aspects. Ask a non-native student of English – at secondary school or at university level – when to use, for example, the present perfect and you will get the following: a list of ‘signal words’, mostly just, ever, never, since and for, and, if you are lucky, the odd grammar rule of the categorical type.

And why not? After all, ‘signal words’ have many advantages. They work with little cognitive effort. They are easy to remember and even easier to put into practice. They spare us the onerous meta-linguistic discussion that modern teaching professionals, many of them still working in the wake of Krashen, seek to avoid. They also spare us to go into detail about a complex and still under-researched area of English grammar that even advanced students and non-native teachers of the language tend to feel insecure about.

However, it is, in my opinion, exactly the heavy reliance on ‘signal words’ that plays an important role in creating this insecurity in the first place. It makes non-native speakers dependent on a ‘safety anchor’ which is often misleading and even more often absent. As Schlüter (e.g. 2000) has shown for the present perfect, only about a third of his approximately 3,000 verb phrases were specified by temporal markers. And if the desired temporal marker occurs, it does not necessarily ‘trigger’ the tense or aspect that students expect on the basis of didacticized grammar rules. Never, for example, which EFL learners usually interpret as a ‘signal word’ for the present perfect can also occur with other tenses including the simple past. In the BNC (British National Corpus) World Edition it occurs even more frequently with the simple past than with the present perfect.

Apart form leaving students in the dark about the correct functioning of tense and aspect in English, ‘signal words’ also deprive them of communicative options. After all, tense and aspect can be used to express a range of attitudes and functions, including tentativeness and annoyance. These and other communicative functions should be available to advanced learners of English, especially if their language education prides itself in aiming at communicative competence. In order to become familiar with these options, advanced learners need to be introduced to the more complex functioning of tense and aspect, from an early, at least intermediate level onwards. It is true that ‘signal words’ come in handy for pre-pubescent beginners. With increasing cognitive maturation and language proficiency, however, teachers should gradually move away from the gross oversimplication of the ‘signal-word’ strategy. For this purpose, one should also move away from the old-fashioned prejudice that language work is inevitably boring, theoretical and irrelevant. In the hands of an able teacher, language work can be interesting and intriguing as well as cognitively demanding.

The approach outlined by Jürgen Kurtz in this blog provides a flexible methodological framework for such an undertaking. In message-oriented communication students will encounter or be made aware of situations in which a more skilful handling of a particular tense or aspect would have helped their communicative cause. In the related medium-oriented intervals, the relevant meta-linguistic information can be provided, also inductively. In the following message-oriented section, the newly acquired insights can immediately be put to the test. Unmotivated pondering over seemingly superfluous linguistic structure, which some students will have forgotten again at production stage, will hopefully become a thing of the past.

Schlüter, Norbert (2000). “The present perfect in British and American English: selected results of an empirical study.” In: Christian Mair & Marianne Hundt (Eds.). Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory. Amsterdam/Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 313-320.

TEFLSPEAK-G and the Idea of Encouraging Improvised Speech in the EFL Classroom (9)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Why is improvised speaking important and valuable? How can it be incorporated into foreign language classroom practice in a systematic way? Focusing on English language teaching, Davies & Pearse (2000: 82-84) point out that in order to “develop the ability to participate effectively in interactions outside the classroom”, learners need to be accustomed to “combining listening and speaking in real time”, because “in natural listening-speaking situations the listeners must be able to handle [..] shifts of topic and unpredictable language in listening, and then they must be able to improvise their responses.”

In The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (Carter & Nunan 2001), Bygate (2001: 18) underlines the importance of improvisation as well, emphasizing that “improvised speech needs practice, but around some content familiarity.”

Lack of familiarity with content is of course not the only barrier to unscripted, increasingly self-regulated improvised speaking, i.e. to developing learners’ target language participatory abilities in secondary school foreign language classrooms. There is rather a whole range of potential barriers that may impede the development of spontaneous and flexible target language production in institutional settings, for instance:

  • lack of creativity, flexibility and balance in the overall instructional design (focus on form versus focus on meaning; language as system versus language in use; scripted versus unscripted teaching; whole class, teacher-led discourse versus small-group, learner-led discourse; planned (largely predictable) versus unplanned (incidental, spontaneous, largely unpredictable) interaction in the target language;
  • overaccomodation of teacher talk (TEFLSPEAK) combined with a forced immediacy of learner contributions in traditional IRF-sequences; textbook dependency and overuse / misuse; one-sidedness of error-treatment (because learners are viewed as deficient, and not primarily as successful communicators);
  • thematic content failing to attract learners’ communicative interests (why should foreign language learners say anything, if there is nothing interesting to talk about from their perspective?);
  • high level of speaking anxiety in the classroom; lack of learners’ self-confidence; lack of social cohesion inhibiting target language negotiation of meaning and lively peer-to-peer interaction;
  • overemphasis of traditional PPP (presentation – practice – production) procedures; reduction of learners’ production to a disadvantageous minimum;
  • overadjustment of target language production activities to test requirements and standardized test items (i.e. teaching to the test); lack of distinction between language learning versus language assessment activities and tasks – which, in my view, is a shortcoming in current empirical SLA research as well, resulting in serious problems concerning the ecological validity of some of the findings);
  • uncontrolled use of the mother tongue, especially in learner-led, small group activities (see Butzkamm’s comment and his recommendations on this blog).

The “cultivation of the speaking skill”, as Rivers (1968/81: 94) put it forty years ago, takes time and patience. Next to and in combination with intercultural learning in institutional contexts, it is probably the most difficult challenge foreign language teachers are faced with in the Internet Age. Remembering what Rivers (1968/81: 246) wrote about this important aspect of learning is by no means anachronistic or inconsistent with modern foreign language education in the 21st century:

“The flowering of natural language use will come in its own time; it cannot be forced. When students begin to interact naturally, if only for a few minutes, we must be quick to recognize the change and let the natural interaction take over until its energy is spent. Being able to withdraw and leave students space and room to take over and learn through their own activity is the mark of the real teacher.”

However, qualitative research on improvised speaking indicates that EFL teachers can do a lot more to encourage learners actively to speak freely. Improvisational enactments can help to foster flexible target language production beyond incidental classroom speaking, if they are integrated into (well-balanced) classroom practice as early as possible and, above all, on a regular basis.

Bygate, Martin (2001), “Speaking.” In: Carter, Ronald & Nunan, David (2001). The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 14-20.

Davies, Paul & Pearse, Eric (2000). Success in English Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rivers, Wilga (1981). Teaching Foreign Language Skills. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (first edition 1968).

Kurtz, Jürgen (2001). Improvisierendes Sprechen im Fremdsprachenunterricht. [Improvised Speaking in the Foreign Language Classroom]. Eine Untersuchung zur Entwicklung spontansprachlicher Handlungskompetenz in der Zielsprache. Tübingen: Narr. [also available at Google books].

AILA 2008 Research Symposium

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The 15th World Congress of Applied Linguistics will be held in Essen, Germany from August 24 to 29, 2008. The conference theme is “Multilingualism: Challenges and Opportunities.” The congress is organised by the German Association of Applied Linguistics (GAL e.V.), the University of Duisburg-Essen, Congress Centre Essen (CCE), and further partners.

On behalf of the German Society for Foreign Language Research (DGFF), Prof. Dr. Karin Aguado (University of Kassel, Germany) and I will be co-chairing a full three-hour research symposium which is scheduled for Tuesday, August 26, 16:00-19:00.

The symposium is intended as a forum for dissemination and discussion of current empirical research on foreign/second language learning and teaching in Germany. Its main objective is to present the breadth and diversity of large-scale, medium-scale and small-scale quantitative and qualitative research in this area to an international audience of experts.

The symposium will have three main sessions. Each session will be scheduled for a one-hour time slot. The individual sessions will be facilitated by renowned scholars as well as early career researchers and devoted to the following issues (arranged in the following order):

Current Research on Teaching and Learning Foreign/Second Languages in Germany

Session 1
Prof. Dr. Günter M.J. Nold (University of Dortmund, Germany) (60 minutes)

Sociopragmatic and grammatical awareness – findings from the DESI project

DESI (German-English-Student-Assessment-International), a large-scale assessment study commissioned by the German federal board of education, was designed and implemented by an interdisciplinary consortium of applied linguists and educational researchers. Two of the tests in the test battery that was developed were sociopragmatic and grammatical awareness tests (N=11.000; ninth grade students). The empirical results of these tests will be discussed both with an emphasis on theories of language awareness raising and on questions related to theories of second language acquisition in the fields of sociopragmatic and grammatical development.

Session 2
Prof. Dr. Marita Schocker-von Ditfurth (Freiburg University of Education, Germany) / Prof. Dr. Michael K. Legutke (University of Giessen, Germany) (60 minutes)

Task-based language learning in EFL classrooms

Research on task-based language learning has been running strong for 20 years now, but has been dominated by a psycholinguistic research paradigm for a long time. While some of these research findings have been important in terms of learning about the mental processes involved in second language acquisition, they were largely focused on isolated tasks of individual, usually adult learners, and therefore did not take into account the complexity of the contextual factors that influence learning in the foreign language classroom. The presentation focuses on the complex issues that arise when researching the methodological implementation of a task-based approach on the classroom level as well as on the level of teacher education.

Session 3
Prof. Dr. Grit Mehlhorn (University of Leipzig, Germany) (30 minutes)

Learning a foreign pronunciation – evidence from individual pronunciation coaching

Individual learner coaching focusing on pronunciation can reveal interesting insights in individual language acquisition processes. This talk reports the results of a longitudinal study with foreign students at a German university. It will be shown that the following factors influence the learner’s progress: first, an individual diagnosis of the deviations in the target pronunciation; second, an increase of the learner’s consciousness with respect to the foreign pronunciation and the choice of individual learning strategies; and third, permanent feedback on learning progress. These factors lead to an increased self-reflection on the part of the learners regarding their learning process, language awareness, and they also serve to foster learner autonomy.

Sevilen Demirkaya M.A. & Nazan Gültekin M.A. (University of Bielefeld, Germany) (30 minutes)

MIKI – Research of the pre-school language support program for ethnic minority children in Bielefeld, Germany

Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, this project focuses on examining the second language development of ethnic minority children who participate in a support program at the pre-school level.