Contextualizing language


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Key words: context, language, fluency, accuracy, positive learning environment, communication, communicative competence

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Contextualizing language

  1. 1. Contextualizing Language By Biljana Pipović, Gimnazija “Stevan Jakovljević”, VlasotinceKey words: context, language, fluency, accuracy, positive learning environment, communication, communicativecompetenceMany linguists recognize the importance of language to a culture or people. Manyconsider language a reflection of reality. Language therefore should be considered a part ofculture and understood in its context. Sometimes we forget that! Sometimes we forget howimportant context is when reading or writing a text, for example. A phrase taken out of contextcan result in great confusion. Both in life and in class!Contextualization is not a teaching method or pedagogy like TPR or CLT. It is a concept, a wayto make foreign language teaching more authentic and meaningful to students. According toSarah J. Klinghammer (Textbook vs. “Real World” Communication): “The rationale for this kindof approach is to demonstrate “real” world language use, how language is used by speakers ofthat language, and to help learners construct language in their learning environments,depending on (1) their purpose and, (2) the needs of a given situational context.” This can meananything from role-playing to academic presentations! If we want to make our students acquire /learn a foreign language naturally and communicate effectively, it is our obligation to providethese three things: a positive learning environment, content and enough time for conversation.Meaningful ContentMost of the activities I use in my classroom, I do not find in textbooks, as those mostly provideand teach grammar rules and structures, and add vocabulary to these structures. However, littledo they offer related to the appropriate language use. Thus, I agree with SarahJ. Klinghammer when she points out that “Appropriate language use is learnt through context.”Contextualizing language is, first of all, entertaining and fun and can provide motivation to learn.It can provide varied opportunities for different uses of language and because it engagesfeelings it can provide rich experience of language for students. It encourages students tospeak, it gives them a chance to communicate (even if they are not very fluent), using nonverbalcommunication – gestures, facial expressions, body movements. It brings the real world into theclassroom. It helps students acquire language by focusing on the message, not the form.However, this can be a shortcoming – this creates fluency, but not accuracy of usage.
  2. 2. Therefore, if we want to practise accuracy, we have to include some other techniques. Forexample, Four voice dictation. It is one of the most realistic listening exercises that I know (Thisis one of many excellent techniques I have learned from Herbert Puchta.) We put students in asituation similar to a noisy bus station or a party with a lot of people in a small place. They haveto follow the voice of their leader and ignore the voices of the others. Excellent practice for reallife!Accuracy vs. FluencyIn reality, accuracy and fluency are closely related – which leads us to the notion that accuracyas well as fluency is necessary for successful communication. Therefore, “in order for studentsto achieve high levels of proficiency in a language, there needs to be a balancebetween language and language use.” (CAPRII article) Being a well-trained teacher I am morethan aware of that. Accuracy activities may require more teacher preparation and they have tobe carefully monitored or controlled. That is what I do with my intermediate and advancestudents because I want them to be able to read and write efficiently, too. What is more, Ibelieve that at this stage they are confident enough to start learning about the language itself.Developing fluency is important in building up the students‟ confidence and maintaining thesense of achievement. And then, in my opinion, comes accuracy. Language withoutcommunication is useless. I am convinced that knowing grammar rules does not necessarilyresult in good speaking and writing. It is obvious that we cannot teach English without focusingin same stages on grammar – on the form or structure of the language. At this point I would liketo mention eclecticism („coherent, pluralistic language teaching‟ according to the definition) as away of combining as many methods as possible to reach specific goals. I find that informedteaching is bound to be eclectic.Accuracy vs. Fluency: Is There A Third Way? Long time ago I took part in a similar debate –grammarians eye-to eye with communicative theorists. While talking to other teachers, I foundout one important thing about myself – when teaching English I strive for communicativecompetence! Namely, looking at my lesson plans, I noticed that the first thing I wrote related toaims and objectives was: developing communicative competence. Having in mind my classes, Ican say that I focus more on fluency than accuracy as I always encourage my students to speakand make themselves understood in English rather than say the right form correctly. I always tellthem that they just need to be creative as there are no „right‟ or „wrong‟ answers. What is more, I
  3. 3. think that correcting mistakes (especially in the case of young learners) can becounterproductive – it may create a negative attitude towards learning English and may diminisha child‟s interest in learning English. I remember that as a child I hated teachers who did that.So, what do I do? If I find a student cannot answer the question or has made a grammarmistake (I call them BGs – big grammar mistakes), I ask other students to help, I use gestures, Iuse the tone of my voice and I always smile.Enhancing the EnvironmentI try to be supportive all the time. I tend to offer positive feedback whenever possible and Ipraise children for their participation. As you can notice I am really into a positive learningenvironment. Creating a positive learning environment is something that all students deservebecause that allows them to feel comfortable, safe and engaged. In that way students are moreopen to actively participating in class. A positive learning environment contributes a lot to theway students learn because it resembles the way they feel at home. Conversations at home aregenerally in cosy surroundings with the people they know. What is more, the language iscontextualized. In the classroom, language is different and the children are expected to learn anew language very quickly while keeping up with the demands of the curriculum. As teachers, itis our duty to make sure that our students acquire rather than learn the language. We must putthe language we teach in context.Being an enthusiastic educator who places a large emphasis on differentiation, I understandthat each child is unique and that students learn in different ways. I believe it is essential foreducators to recognize the needs, interests and the ways each child functions and according tothat to differentiate their lessons to better meet the needs of their students. Therefore, effectivelesson planning must take into account many different points. We may use the sametextbooks and we may know the same methods and techniques, but we must never forget thatour students are not the same. Because all students are different, they will respond differently totasks, thus I believe in giving a multitude of tasks including: quizzes, projects, presentations,songs, games, drama, dictations (!) and other types of activities to put my students in a situationwhere they can practise the target language meaningfully, but also to make my lessonsinteresting.
  4. 4. If variety is the spice of life, so why not the spice of ELT? „Teaching should be full of ideasinstead of stuffed with facts‟ (author unknown) and show that some, for students boring andrather dry activities, can bring a lot of fun and be not only interesting but also highly educational.Teaching writing skills as well as grammar rules does not have to be time-consuming, teacher-centred, non-communicative, uncreative, ineffective… On the contrary, it can be so interestingthat it can turn our passive and not so motivated students into eager and, believe it or not, prettyactive and involved participants. You simply have to try something new, somethingdifferent…You will enjoy, and what is more your students will enjoy, too. Not to mention,improving your students‟ knowledge and their communicative competence.References:J.Klinghammer, Sarah; Opp-Beckman, Leslie (2006). Shaping the Way We TeachEnglish:Successful Practices around the World, University of OregonÇAKIR, Dr. Ismail (2006). The Use of Video as an Audio-Visual Material in Foreign LanguageTeaching Classroom, The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, Volume 5 Issue 4Article 9Tedick, D (1998). Proficiency-oriented language instruction and assessment: A curriculumhandbook for teachers. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Center for AdvancedResearch on Language Acquisition. ***** Biljana Pipović is an English teacher, born in Leskovac, studied in Nis, employed at Gimnazija ‟Steva n Jakoljevic‟ in Vlasotince with working experience of 15 years. She has also been working as a language instructor in private schools for eight years teaching teenagers and adults of all language levels, both general and Business English. Since 2006 she has been a mentor to talented students, the members of the Regional Talents‟ Center in Vranje and two times award winner in the Republic Competition
  5. 5. for Talented Students. She is the author and a teacher trainer of two seminars recognized as aform of professional development by the Ministry of Education, trying to make teachers changetheir approach to teaching, showing them that variety is the spice of ELT. The accreditedseminar Variety as the Spice of ELT intends to provide some guidance on this interesting andchallenging idea. Her present interests include teaching FCE, CAE and CPE examclasses, international school projects, classroom interaction and working with gifted students ina mixed-ability classroom.