Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ambiguity tolerance as a key skill for maintaining lifelong language learning

“The greater the ambiguity, the greater the pleasure”
Milan Kundera


            Ambiguity in communication represents a big threat for EFL learners. They immediately surrender and stop learning as soon as they couldn’t understand the connections of items which might help them construct meaning. Therefore, the teacher has to handle this problem:
         1. Either by never using texts with ambiguous words or structures
         2. Or by teaching the learners how to cope with ambiguity.

         I guess the first solution is completely inappropriate because texts in real life situations are not all ambiguity free. Besides, it kills creativity and deactivates thinking. So, the second is the most convenient approach although it requires hard work and prudence to implement it.

         Tolerating ambiguity is “a tendency to perceive or interpret information marked by vague, incomplete, fragmented, multiple, probable, unstructured, uncertain, inconsistent, contrary, contradictory, or unclear meanings as actual or potential sources of psychological discomfort or threat” (Ely, 1995, p. 88). 

         Striving to learn a foreign language is already an indication that the learners are aware of the difficulty of the task and that they are ready to tolerate novelty as well as ambiguity. Despite the diversity of learning styles and personality traits, the students, especially the prejudiced ones, have to be tolerant towards pragmatic ambiguity so as to be able to smash the barriers of dogma which generally impede them from accomplishing normal and successful interaction with ambiguous input of any sort. Ambiguity intolerance can be summed up as the rejection of and resistance to the unusual or different intermittent stimuli which don’t correlate with previously formed ideas and adopted attitudes.

         This paper aims at showing how comprehension of a text should not only focus on understanding the explicit but also the inferential meaning with a little inclination towards training the learners to tolerate vagueness since moderate level of ambiguity can have very positive effects on poor or incomplete schemata. Apart from Frege*, perhaps, everybody else agrees that ambiguity is a very powerful tool.  In a language learning context, simplicity but not simplification is what urges the learners to grasp the technique of assimilating the dubious and ambiguous about texts in order to be able, later on, to go further with undertaking ambiguity resolutions in real life situations.
* Gottlob Frege (1848/1925), German philosopher, Mathematician and logician.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

What is it really like to be a teacher nowadays?

Nothing about doing the job of a teacher is easy. So, if you choose this thorny mission for a career, do it perfectly well or die trying. Don’t just expect from anyone to appreciate what you do.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Present Perfect Tense for EFL learners


"Nothing is "perfect" even the so called perfect tenses"

            The present perfect tense is particularly confusing for learners of English as a foreign language from various angles. All the English tenses describe actions in relation to the time of their happening or their position in the sequence of events in the past, the present or the future. Only the present perfect tense doesn't really seem to abide by this rule. It is vague for speakers of other languages as it describes actions or events as having happened before the moment of speaking and no more details after that.

           Because it is vague, the present perfect needs too many details to make itself comprehensible and all those details have to be taken into consideration for authentic natural communication. Teaching the tense to speakers of other languages has to be approached carefully. This paper will try to present one way for teaching this tense with almost all its features.

Continue reading

Friday, June 26, 2015

What is wrong with this writing prompt?

            When it comes to writing topics, several sensible elements have to be regarded with a lot of concern, the most important of which is motivating individual critical creativity. For this reason some crucial details have to be considered meticulously to be the maximum open to all categories of testes, for example

(1) The gender divide
Girls’ and boys’ generally diverge in personal interests and capabilities. Talking about equal opportunities means being careful about the topics for writing tests
- Describing a football match (boys are good at that)
- How to make an apple-pie (girls are great)
(2) Cultural particularities (food, marriage, clothes, footwear etc)
(3) Geographic locations (city life Vs country life)
(4) Social classes (Describe a tour with a Ferrari / a trip by plane / How do you like Caviar? etc)
(5) Avoiding polarizing topics
(6) Not too tight and narrow nor too broad topics.
(6) etc.

With such topics, we must be very careful especially with writing assignments for a wide range of candidates from different regions, with different customs, economic status and gender, and also with different inclinations and capabilities. Any small deviation can be fatal for a great number of candidates, and will shake the right of equal opportunity. Therefore, proposed topics for writing tasks should take a lot of various details into account.

Someone may think this is overstatement because all that the candidate needs to do is to write with correct English. If this is the way they view writing assignments, I am sorry to say it but they don’t know what they are meddling with.

Now, this is the topic proposed (imposed) for 2ème Bac. Scientific streams in the writing section of the first session English exam (June 2015)

The Topic

Your friend doesn’t use facebook. Write an email telling him/her about the advantages of using this social network.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Grammar for Learners with poor narrative skills

Table of contents

° Forward ------------------------------------------------------------- 3
° Teaching writing via grammar lessons ---------------------------- 4

° Part I
           The simple past tense
- What happened? ---------------------------------------------------- 5
- The past simple from discrete sentences to narration ------------ 6

° Part II
         The past continuous tense
- What was happening? ---------------------------------------------- 7
- The past progressive from grammar to Narration ---------------- 9
- Implementation ----------------------------------------------------- 9
- Students’ sample writings ----------------------------------------- 11

° Part III
       The past perfect: Simple & progressive
- Sequence of events ----------------------------------------------- 15
- Illustration --------------------------------------------------------- 16
- Conclusion ------------------------------------------------------- 17

Key words: 
writing, narration, past tenses, simultaneity, sequence of events, recount, cohesion,
coherence, unity of the topic, connectives,


          Narration is a skill which needs a relatively high scale in language manipulation and communication abilities. Like everyone else, the teenagers are also fervently keen on recounting their past experiences, telling tales, and making up stories especially in a foreign language to share with people from other cultures. Yet,
they are frustrated as the use and usage of language is an eminent obstacle hard to overcome overnight. Consequently they give in and never try again. What a loss!

         As these same learners love grammar classes so much, I've thought of teaching them narrative writing through grammar. I mean teaching the past tenses for the sake of paving the way for them to break the silence barrier and tell what they have to tell. I suppose when they learn the past tenses, they will be able to make use of them to tell about past events in a clearly well-organized and comprehensible way.

         Teaching grammar for the sake of writing purposes is more beneficial for the learners who have a lot of ideas, vocabulary and expressions and are eager to exploit them to improve their narrative skills. Therefore, why not teaching them the tenses in contexts to take as models to copy and then gradually try to write their own texts. This has greatly facilitated using English for them to come up with exciting recount writings?

         In this first part, I’ll concentrate on how to make possible exploiting teaching the past simple tense to enjoin the students to write about their personal deeds some time in the past, last night, yesterday, last week(end), last month, last summer holiday, last year and so on.

         The combination of the simple past and the past progressive in accurate grammatical and semantic structures can result in astonishing stories provided that the imagination is fertile and the vocabulary repertoire is relatively rich, hence the gate for inventing fictitious stories becomes possible. The students need to master the use of the tenses in addition to some linking words such as “when”, “while”, “before” and “after” to focus only on these four in this stage.

        Teaching compound sentences describing actions in the past is better done through simultaneity showing that two or more actions happened or were happening at the same time. Later on they could learn to use the past perfect and the simple past to set chronology about actions in the past using more connectives apart from “before and “after”, like “as soon as”, “no sooner .. than”, “by the time”, “x days/months/years later” and so on.

         The learners get motivated because all that they need is to surmount the obstacle of describing simultaneous actions or sequencing events in the past. This measure is crucial to allow them to recount their experiences or share what happened to them or describe events for the sake of informing, entertaining or reflecting. Grammar thus can be successfully employed to target and boost the learners’ narrative skills and communicative competence.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Being three times the age of your students

             Old teachers can savour the zest of these words, yet young hats will get the pleasure of taking the trip through time back to the golden age of creating and sharing knowledge amiably and with lots of love and mild moral authority for both teaching and learning sake. However, everything changes except for the basis on which schools have been designed from the start.

            The very essence of being an educator is not teaching but making learning enjoyable. Therefore teachers are not dealing with students any more. They are rather dealing with new friends every academic year. The teacher doesn't choose her students and vice-versa, neither the students choose their classmates. The whole set looks like a cluster of islands, each of which has its own proper weather and topography. They all meet without prior arrangement to interact, and they have to make sense of this new experience.

     Compared to the old generations of students, this generation’s life is quite complicated, hence their awkward attitude towards learning. They don’t look interested in anything which requires a little hard work and attentiveness. Yes, everything seems complicated with them due to lots of new factors that until recently they have been completely unknown to us. Technology has terrifically changed their lives upside down. Consequently, the values themselves have been contaminated and some of them have the wrong side up while some others have almost been lost. Therefore, teachers have to deal with this delicate new situation using innovative methods that would fit the era quite well.

     If it happens that a teacher insists on educating this new generation the way she used to do a few decades ago, she will suffer greatly. She should be aware of the changes, and she should know for sure that

    The learners are leading a life where there are no boundaries between reality and illusion.
    They are torn apart between what they want and the means disposed for reaching that goal.
    Some of them don’t even know what they want or what they are heading for.
☺  Concentration becomes so low that few of them only could say what is going on round them.
    They become multi-tasking “machines”; so it has become harder and harder for them to concentrate.
    Their assimilation has fallen to almost null owing to the virtual world of internet and video games they dwell in most of the time.
    They cannot make the difference between the normal and the anomalous in terms of behaviour.

Thus, the teachers’ job is getting more complicated itself. All that they need to do before everything else is,

Ø      Trying to understand this generation’s interests well.
Ø      Never criticising them.
Ø      Assisting them in discovering their weaknesses, and providing them with the adequate tools to surmount them.
Ø      Helping them to identify with the real world.
Ø      Giving them the opportunity to recognize and master their emotions.
Ø      Trusting them when they decide to do projects that allow them to regain confidence in themselves.
Ø      Emphasizing their individual abilities to consider improving them.
Ø      Amplifying the very little skills they have so that they could feel their worth and importance for their future life.
Ø      Engaging them into collaborative and team work.
Ø      Teaching them to think critically by exposing them to challenging true to life problems.
Ø      Avoiding providing them with readymade solutions, and letting them brainstorm.
Ø      Encouraging them to innovate and come out with creative answers to different issues.
Ø      Motivating them to be positive initiators.
Ø      Teaching them to develop and employ self-discipline appropriately.
Ø      Paving the way for them to fully position themselves in their community as useful citizens.
Ø      Sensitizing them of the significance of knowing how to evaluate and assess anything they get from doubtful sources. (active critical reading)
Ø      Inciting them to think outside the box.

   That’s too much, I know; still there are more. The youngsters today have no idea how much their personality is patchy. They are fragile and anything seems new and often shocking for them. They should be given the opportunity and time enough to open their eyes on different issues of life through school.  

   This generation is known for its enmity with reading (print). They rely greatly on the visual to be informed about what happens around them. When it comes to media, they are spoiled for choice, Satellite TV, DVD, internet, and others. As they live in the illusion of the visual and the virtual, it is indispensable for the teacher to tune, adjust and improve their perceptive faculties to be able to see the imperceptible.

-          The videos they watch are likely to be fabricated.
-          Visual effects are distorting the original story.
-          Subliminal messages are recurrent in some videos.
-          Make ups give false impressions.
-          Voice is boosted through technology.
-          Almost nothing is true to life in videos.
-          Deceitful manoeuvres are heavily deployed in most what they see.

Once they couldn't get to this fact about diffusion, the consequences will be fatal. They can easily be fooled if they are not equipped with robust critical views.

   Nowadays, it becomes so easy to formulate pieces of information with evidence (footage). That’s why they are misled though they know for sure that there are programs, like illustrator, Photoshop, video editor, movie maker and so on which are able to change the original copy completely, and that everyone can use them, kids included. However, when they see a video or an image, they tend to react to it positively or negatively as such unquestionably. They would even give it a like, share it or disparage it idiotically.

   They are lost in the medley of this complicated world of theirs where there are no borders between right and wrong, legal and illegal, real and fantasy. The internet especially has made everything chaotic to the extent that during tests and exams the youngsters don’t know if they are cheating while doing it. They think it’s their right to “cheat”, to plagiarize, to download copyrighted music, movies, and anything else available. They have no idea what is a private property. The black hat hackers have become the knights of the internet for them. Violence has become a symbol of manhood. They smoke, drink or gamble just because their favourite hero in the movie does. They identify with singers, football players and others. They dress like them, have the same haircut and so on. In brief, their idols have no real physical identity.

   Because of all this, they become the least motivated for education. They have become disappointing in class. For the teacher to cope with this situation, she has to soldier on and keep inspiring them. Therefore the teacher’s role has greatly transformed to include other facets of her connection with the youth apart from “delivering” knowledge. The new relationship is based essentially on showing them how to learn outside the classroom because the amount of lessons they have to learn outside greatly outnumber those they get in class.

Not mentioning the affective filter and the use of humour among others, the teacher has to focus on reason based tutorials. This generation needs to know,

Ø      How to use logic in reading and writing (active perception of the world)
Ø      How to avoid jumping to conclusions
Ø      How to spot fallacies and rebut them logically
Ø      How to detect stereotypes
Ø      How to differentiate between facts and opinions
Ø      How to discover bias
Ø      How to stop being negative and dependent
Ø      How to deal with the virtual world wisely
Ø      How to be tolerant to novelties with caution
Ø      How to keep their privacy protected
Ø      How to be creative and inventive
Ø      etc

Before I close, I still have two pseudo-questions to pose.

   (1) Are teachers doomed to be outdated rapidly? I’m not talking here about the “continuous training” (software), I’m rather referring to the values of being The Teacher (the hard disk). Any program (software) could be installed, re-installed, updated or uninstalled. However, the hard disk cannot be uninstalled, when it is outdated, you must get rid of it once for all, and change it with a brand new one. Such is the case with the old teachers who bear the gracious values of being a mentor and a healer.

   (2) Could the novice teachers win this battle? I doubt it. Curricula and educational policies must back them up. Life is keeping changing incessantly, and things will get more complicated for both the learners and the teacher. Therefore, teachers should all be on their toes ready for any eventuality. New approaches should be constantly tailored to fit every here and now. They should also be put into practice immediately to cope with the complicity of the world that is getting more and more complicated so fast that only a few can catch up with. The business of electronics will never let us take our breath, and the kids are the first to embrace novelties in the field of technology. If teachers could not cope with this rapid change, school, which is still arguing about how to integrate I.C.T in teaching, will soon be outdated before it reaches a decision. Unfortunately, his article, itself, will be outdated even before it reaches you, I’m afraid.

   Finally, let’s just be optimistic and beaver away to save the moral authority of school and never let it deviate from its basic role as a gate for knowledge, intellect, progress and prosperity. The best we can do in such a rickety world of complexity is to hope for a better life for this generation and for those to come. 

The potency of Non-posed questions in Reading Comprehension Tests


          Reading activities in high school start to bring about boredom, and most learners don’t feel like reading because they feel aliens in the print paper environment. For the majority of students, reading a text, which they are forced to read, is complete torture. We, teachers, usually choose the text our students must read and must understand the way we want them to understand it deductively or inductively. Sometimes, the content we ask them to read isn’t motivating for them. It is out of their main field of interest. They suddenly become inactive and indifferent. So, instead of asking them to read such or such text and then answer the usual comprehension questions we are used to posing, it would be better to ask them to see if the content of a certain text is “good”, “poor”, “inspiring”, “boring”, “interesting”, “true to life” or “biased” and explain how they get to that conclusion. This way, the students will voluntarily try to read the text to learn how to pose the adequate necessary questions to reach that level of profound comprehension. They will certainly enjoy regaining their true individual abilities and start enjoying the habit of rediscovering themselves through reading.

            To master the skill of reading critically, the students should learn how to question texts through the non-posed questions generated by their interaction with the content and their own critical approaches to unveil the secrets of the hidden meaning and bias of any text. The non-posed critical questions they should provide themselves will reveal unspoken details which lead to conceivable interpretation and eventually real understanding of the message in any given text. Consequently, they will learn to never rush to conclusions inconveniently, and their evaluation of the text will logically be reliable and invulnerable.