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Analysing Grammar for CLIL and EFL Instruction (draft)
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Analysing Grammar for CLIL and EFL Instruction (draft)


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  • 1. Language Analysis for EFL and CLIL Instruction. Analyzing Grammar Items Alfonso López CES Don Bosco 3.1.- Getting started Questions for discussion. a) Brainstorm major differences between the Grammar of the Spanish and English languages. b) What are some areas of the Grammar of the English Language that you find / found particularly difficult to learn? (inf and ger, preps, modal verbs). c) Can you give reasons why the structures or words in (b) were particularly difficult to learn? Commentary This chapter proposes a framework for analyzing grammatical items. It first looks at grammar structures and phrases 3.2.- Analyzing Tenses and Grammar Phrases 3.2.1.- A Toolkit for analysing tenses, modal verbs and other structures For a tense, modal verb or other grammar structure (conditional or comparative sentence, etc) you need to think of: THE MEANING / USE • Time (Past / Present / Future)
  • 2. E.g. The future simple is obviously about the future, but so is the present continuous for describing plans. • Aspect (In progress / completed / state / action / habit / etc) E.g. The Present simple may be used to describe habits. • Modality (e.g. obligation, prediction, hypothetical, ability, etc.) E.g. “must” for obligation or prediction, second conditional for hypothetical situations. • Function (e.g. threat, promise, request, etc.) This may overlap with modality, but it can also depend on context E.g. The first conditional may be used for prediction, but also as a warning (You’ll be in trouble if you don’t follow my advice). • Style / Register. Can it be used in all contexts or is it sometimes too formal or informal? E.g. “You are expected to…” is a formal way of giving instructions, suitable for stating institutional rules and procedures (possibly on paper), but not for parents talking to their young children. THE FORM Think of: • Verb forms that make up the structure. E.g. The present perfect simple is formed by Subject + have / has (aux.) + past participle I have • lived in Madrid for a long time. Irregular forms, especially past simple and past participle of verbs. Think of the classic “three column” table EFL students often study, including irregular verbs like Run / ran / run See / saw / seen • Spelling rules, e.g. doubling of consonants in present participles Run - running • Auxiliary forms and contractions
  • 3. I have becomes I’ve; She will becomes She’ll; etc Bear in mind that using contractions is the “natural” way of speaking and writing English in most contexts. • Word order, especially in question forms. Pos: I can swim Interr: Can you swim? She went Did she go? Where did she go? • Forming negative sentences and questions I am / I’m not (free tonight) She smokes / She doesn’t smoke He can read / can’t read (Japanese) • Short answers Did you see her? I did. Have you seen her? I have Can she swim? She can • Question tags You saw her yesterday, didn’t you? You haven’t seen her, have you? You could have said something, couldn’t you? THE PHONOLOGY As with lexis, you need to consider • Sounds, especially difficult phonemes for your students and eliding sounds. • Number of syllables, e.g. studying contains three syllables, not two. • Word stress More specific phonological features of tenses and structures include • Strong and weak forms (extension: note on sentence stress and rhythm)
  • 4. When clarifying tense usage, we are not working with words in isolation but with connected speech. This means that, in addition to word stress, sentence stress and rhythm are also important when recognising or orally producing tenses. English Sentence stress and rhythm are quite different to other languages, especially Spanish. (At this end of this section you will find a quick note on how they work.) Although these differences are of interest to teachers, the most important consequence for tense structures is two possible pronunciations for certain words – in this case, auxiliaries – depending on whether they are stressed or unstressed. Let’s look at some examples of this. Compare the pronunciation of the word can in the following two sentences: (a) I can speak three languages. (b) Question: Can you speak French Answer: I can. In (a), unstressed can is pronounced /kəәn/. This is its weak form In (b), the answer includes a stressed can, pronounced /kaen/. This is its strong form. Note that can in question (b) will normally be a weak form, but may be pronounced more like a strong form depending on the context and/or speaker. On the other hand, auxiliaries in affirmative sentences like (a) can only be strong forms when the speaker wants to be emphatic, e.g. No, I said I can (kaen) speak three languages! (You misunderstood the first time) Similar cases occur with other auxiliaries Idea: table Auxiliary verb / strong form / weak form As we will see further down, grammar words such as a, to or the also have a strong and a weak form. • Intonation (e.g. in questions) Especially important for understanding / communicating functional meaning. (See p. ) Note on sentence stress, rhythm and weak forms Look at the following sentence: She was lying on her bed when the phone rang. If you read the sentence out loud, you will easily realise that the stress pattern is as follows: She was LYING on her BED when the PHONE RANG NOISILY.
  • 5. Now look at the words that are stressed. They are what we call content words (also lexical words), that is, words that carry meaning. In fact, if you were to read them in isolation LYING – BED – PHONE – RANG - NOISILY You could probably get most of the meaning of the sentence, and be able to guess what the other words are. Content words are normally nouns, verbs, adjectives and most adverbs, and they are typically more stressed in sentences than the other words, called function, structure or grammar words. These are normally articles, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, some adverbs and, most interesting here, auxiliary verbs. This is incomplete! See • Weak and strong forms Because of auxiliaries, pronouncing English tenses … - Note that not all the categories above need be relevant for the given target language. Reference: Swan, Thomson & Martinet, Murphy (see course outline). 3.2.- Identifying Learner Problems: Common Areas of Difficulty Learners can of course have all sorts of problems with English tenses and grammar structures, but here are a few suggestions of things to look for when planning your classes on these language items. (a) As with lexis, it is always a good idea to ask yourself, How is this said in my student’s mother-tongue (Spanish)? Typically, the less correspondence there is between the grammar of the two languages, the harder it will be for your students to grasp the precise use and form of the structure.
  • 6. Take conditional sentences, for instance. Conditional 1 (If you study, you’ll pass) is much easier for the Spanish speaker than Conditionals 2 (If you studied, you’d pass) and 3 (If you’d studied, you’d have passed). Now, it’s true that the concept involved in conditionals 2 and 3 (unreality) is also harder to grasp, but the fact is that, whereas conditional 1 is constructed as in Spanish (present simple + future), conditionals 2 and 3 vary significantly, Spanish relying on subjunctive tenses to express hypothetical situations / actions. At other times, there is no equivalent structure, or the equivalent structure serves other uses which lead to confusion. English “used to” to describe past habits or situations is sometimes translated as Spanish “solía”, but then Spanish students intuitively try using “used to” in the present as *use to – understandably, as in Spanish the verb soler can be used in the present simple tense. (b) Another source of trouble is caused by interference between different English structures. In other words, students may use a similar tense but not the right / appropriate one. At a low level, a student of Primary might say *I play football (now) instead of I’m playing football to describe action in the immediate present. This often happens whenever differences of function are involved, as in future tenses. The weather person says “It will be sunny tomorrow”, but we say “It’s going to rain tonight” when we see dark over our heads. (c) Often we are good at predicting or detecting student errors, but we should also look for language that is used too much or too little, making the user’s speech less natural than it could be. This often happens because of one of two reasons: • Sometimes, the equivalent structure is used less (or not at all) in L1. This is the case with the passive voice, which is used much more frequently in English than in Spanish. (Spanish will often prefer active voice or pasiva refleja sentences beginning with the particle ‘se’.) • At other times, although both languages may use the structure in (roughly) the same way, the form of the L2 structure is particularly difficult and so students choose easier L2 alternatives. Teaching upper-intermediate students of English, I have noticed that they are reluctant to use modal verbs of speculation (That could be / She must have been, etc), preferring instead to rely on adverbs (probably that is / perhaps she was). So care should be taken to ensure that students actually use the structures we present, and not just some less demanding alternative.
  • 7. (d) A huge area of difficulty when looking at tenses are auxiliary verbs. They are hard because there are many of them (do, be, have, will plus the modals) but also because they tend to get contracted. In my experience, many students of English rarely use contractions. This is not surprising, as they have often studied them in class as an appendix or addendum to the “real” word, the uncontracted form. Don’t teach like this. Children need to be exposed to real English, which heavily uses contractions. This means that both your use of English and your explanations should emphasize that, in most cases, contractions should be used by default. 3.2.2- Sample analysis Target language: Present perfect continuous Model: She’s been staying with her grandparents for the last three weeks Meaning / Use: The Present perfect continuous is used to talk about an activity that began in the past, has continued into the present without a break and may or may not continue into the future. If the activity has finished it is recently finished and has some results or effects in the present. (In this case the person may have recently found a flat and is about to move out). Form: She has been staying Subject + has/have + been+ -ing form of main verb Contractions: She’s, He’s, We’ve, I’ve, etc. Spelling of –ing forms may be irregular: studying, sitting. Phonology Stress: She’s been STAying with her GRANDparents Sounds: been is a weak form: /i/ not /i:/ Anticipated Problems 1.Meaning / Use Solutions
  • 8. It is not sure whether the activity is finished or not. If it is finished, the action will have recently finished. Use clear concept questions and timelines to clarify and check meaning Students may confuse the structure with other similar structures such as Present Perfect Simple, Past simple or the Present and Past Continuous. There will probably be confusion over whether the activity has finished recently or not. It is not sure whether the activity will continue into the future or not. Style: this structure is used in all contexts. 2. Form The contraction ‘s for “has” might cause problems. They might think it refers to “is”. Make this clear at the presentation stage using finger highlighting. Students might mix up the two time expressions “for” and “since”. Highlight the difference between the two explaining “for” refers to an amount of time and “since” refers to a specific point in time. Students might have problems spelling the Students should be familiar with this but you might have to review it briefly. -ing form. E.g. *studing, *siting, but *writting 3. Phonology The students might have a problem with the weak form of “been”. Highlight this at the presentation stage and so some backchain drilling to help. They might have difficulty pronouncing sentences with the right stress pattern: * OOO instead of ooO Concept Questions 1. Is she staying with her grandparents now? (N) 2. When did she start staying with her grandparents? (Three weeks ago) 3. Was she staying with them all the time? (Y) 4. Will she continue staying with her grandparents? (Perhaps; we don’t know)
  • 9. 3.2.3.- Teaching Focus: Timelines 3.3.- Analysing Grammar (II): Grammar Words So far we have looked at grammatical structures involving verbs – both tenses and sentences. However, much work on grammar is devoted to single words that perform a structural, rather than lexical, function. In other words, whereas they convey little or no information, they help to establish relationships between other words. In the previous section we came across auxiliary verbs as important grammar words. Other characteristic examples of these words are articles, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and some adverbs. As you will shortly see, analysing grammar words combines features of both lexical and structure analysis. 3.3.1.- A Toolkit for analysing grammar words When analyzing grammar words, you need to consider MEANING / USE • Functional meaning. For instance, the words also, and and in addition to are used to add information. Prepositions like in or on can have all sorts of uses: to refer to time, duration or period, to specify topics or fields… Task – How many uses can you think of for the preposition over? Position - Flying over me Orientation to the speaker - Over the road Circumstances: Discuss plans over coffee Duration: over the next weeks For this reason, grammar words are often analysed by functional groups or families, in a way resembling lexical sets. e.g. prepositions of place, connectors of contrast. Also, note that a lot of grammar words are taught in the context of language functions.
  • 10. E.g. expressing purpose / cause for + -ing form to + infinitive because… When analysing use, note important exceptions to rules and specialised uses wherever relevant. E.g. in / on / at. e.g. in the morning, in the evening but at night However, remember that the quantity of information / clarification you give depends on your students’ level and needs. Finally, as we saw in the previous chapter, prepositions are often to be found in collocations with verbs, nouns or adjectives, for instance admit to / count on / succeed in accustomed to / good at / glad about respectful of / frustrated with / shocked by My suggestion is that you analyse and teach them with a lexical focus, that is, whenever you are teaching the content word in its lexical set. • Style. Task Compare the uses of furthermore and and, which perform the same function. Can you think of texts / contexts where one would be less appropriate than the other? Sometimes, some grammar words are more appropriate in some contexts than others. For instance, moreover is a more formal connector than and or plus (this one being the most informal), and you wouldn’t expect to see it in an informal email between, say, two friends. FORM Think of: • Syntax and word order. Where in the sentence? Task – compare the position in the sentence of and, also, too. • Plurals for some determiners
  • 11. Person for personal pronouns and determiners. My / your / her / etc Me / you / her / him / us / you / them PHONOLOGY Consider: • Sounds. Task. Which of the prepositions below contain difficult sounds for Spanish speakers to produce?* Explain your choices. Below On top of under above along underneath behind until during *Note: It’s a good idea to use a dictionary or online resource if you are unsure of the exact pronunciation of the word or phrase. • Weak forms As we saw in the previous section, grammar words tend to be unstressed, therefore normally pronounced as their weak form: Task. Find examples of weak and strong forms of each word in connected speech, following the example provided. Word Weak Strong form for form fɘ fɔ: Examples W: Good for saving money S: What is that for? And Of A
  • 12. To some 3.3.2.- Sample analysis Target language: like and as to express similarity and function* Models: See below *Note: like and as are often taught together, as they are synonyms in some uses, but not in others. Also, some languages (notably Romance) only have one word for both of them, leading to learner confusion. (e.g. “como” in Spanish) A.- Like Meaning / Use: Use1: (a) - To express similarity: My brother’s accent is like mine. (b) – To express similarity, more informally, instead of as: It’s difficult to play the piano like she does. Use 2: - To give examples: He’s good at team sports, like rugby. Possible extension: the phrase such as could also be taught as a way of giving examples. Form: Uses 1 (a) and 2 Like is a preposition Like + noun / pronoun Use 1(b) like is a conjunction (see below) Phonology
  • 13. /laik/ B - As Use 1: To express similarity: It’s difficult to play the piano as she does. Tomorrow, as on Tuesday, we will meet at 7 pm. Use 2: To express function or role: She worked as a librarian for a few years. (= in the position of) In questions, the conjunction will go at the end of the sentence: What do you want to work as? Form Use 1: As is a conjunction as + clause (as she does) As + preposition phrase (as on Tuesday) Use 2: As is a preposition as + noun group (as a waiter) Phonology As is normally a weak form, pronounced /əәz/
  • 14. Anticipated Problems Suggested solutions 1.Meaning / Use The main problem we have here is that Spanish only has one word (como) for these two English words in this context. Therefore, students could easily use one instead of the other incorrectly, for instance She likes team sports as rugby. My brother’s accent is as mine When presenting the TL, contrast work as / work like by giving several examples. Check understanding through concept questions. To reinforce the initial presentation, drill the use of “as” for position by showing different professions on the overhead and having students repeat, He/she works as a _______ (Less likely, as like is normally taught before for similes and will therefore be preferred) She works like a teacher. 2. Form Students might put the grammar words at the beginning when asking questions: Insist that prepositions and adverbs usually go at the end of questions. As what do you want to work? 3. Phonology Students will probably find it difficult to pronounce as well in connected speech. They are likely to pronounce the strong form /as/ instead of the weak form. Model the weak form /əәz/ in connected speech and drill. Correct students on the spot whenever necessary and encourage them to produce the weak form. Concept Questions If he drives like a professional car racer, is he one? (N) As a manager, she has to make a lot of important decisions. Is she a manager (Y) Like a manager, she has to make a lot of important decisions. Is she a manager (N) 3.4.- Common areas of difficulty and teaching suggestions - again, difference with Spanish - most prepositions can used in many ways. problematic area: preps (e.g. in / on / at); for / to) Teach according to function, not by name. E.g. prepositions of place, not “uses of to” - combinations - Phrasal verbs? Treat as lexis
  • 15. 3.5.- Researching grammar (grammar books, word reference…) Once in one of my classes students were practising ways of expressing purpose, with phrases as People go abroad …. to improve their English for holidays. because they can’t find work at home At some point, a student asked me whether she could use for + a gerund, for instance, People go abroad for getting to know new places. Obviously my answer was that this sentence was wrong, but at the same time I knew that sometimes you can use for + gerund to express purpose. But when and how? “I’ll get back to you on this”, I said. Task. Brainstorm on the answer to this question. If you have a grammar book or Internet access, try to research the answer. That night I looked for clarification in a Grammar Book and was able to give a clear yet concise explanation the following class. It probably took me two minutes to find the answer, but those two minutes have helped me better plan explanation and practice work on expressing purpose ever since. As with lexis, the skill of researching grammar usage and explanations is crucial to language teaching. Traditionally, the only way of doing grammar research for learning and teaching purposes has been through grammar books. Nowadays, however, there is a plethora of online resources on the Internet. Let’s take a look at how both may be used. a) Grammar books Task Compare the following well known grammar books: Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use Thomson and Martinet Oxford Practice Grammar / Cambridge…
  • 16. Discuss the following questions: What obvious differences do you find between them? Can you put them into two categories according to their potential users? Which of the two kinds should you have? There are many kinds of grammar books, but perhaps the most important distinction is that between practice and reference grammar books. Practice grammars emphasize student learning, which is why they are published according to language level: elementary, intermediate, advanced. (Grammar in Use is a good example of this). While they may be used for reference and clarification, readers may find the exercises distracting, and the information may not be presented as clearly and concisely as in a reference text. Reference grammars, on the other hand, are there to provide clarification on the use of language items. In this sense they are directed at teachers and expert language users. b) Internet resources (some of this for the lexis section) There are hundreds of valuable web-pages devote to TESOL, ESL and language teaching generally. For the purposed of language research, you may find the following particularly interesting: - Online notes and explanations from language teachers and professors. - On-line forums for language teachers. The interesting thing here is that you can post messages and ask clarification. Often, however, you can access discussions on the language items that interest you without posting a new message. The quickest way of accessing specific information is, of course, by using search engines. The nice thing about these searches is that you can be as specific as you want. For instance, if you’re unsure about when to use important for vs important to, just google [important for or important to] and in a couple of minutes you will have had time to read a few discussions on the topic. Browsing on paper, the process would of course be less direct and probably less effective. You would have to look up the word “important” in a dictionary, and hope to find examples of these combinations. Task Use a search engine to answer the following questions: 1.- I’ve heard a native English speaker say “There’s five beers in the fridge”, and yet my grammar book says it should be “There are five beers”. What’s going on? 2.- What is correct: at weekends or on weekends? c) In conclusion: pros and cons of grammar books and Internet resources PROS CONS
  • 17. Grammar books Comprehensive treatment of the grammar of a language Often very expensive. Most published English grammar books are of great quality Many people still prefer browsing on paper than computer screen. Internet resources Inexpensive Can get to specific information very quickly. Can obtain very specific information about usage in different English speaking countries. Documents may contain wrong or misleading explanations Information (especially on forums) must be used with caution, as there are few mechanisms to ensure its correctness. Interactive – you can post your own questions and get specific answers / advice. In conclusion, chances are that you will be doing a lot of language research on the Internet, but don’t neglect paper reference texts, as often they’ll provide you with a more in-depth and comprehensive treatment of language from true language specialists.