M is for Model

12 04 2015

modellingmodel n [C]: someone you should imitate because of their good qualities or behaviour [Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English]

Today, at IATEFL, I’m taking part in a debate, hosted by Cambridge English, which celebrates the publication of a new volume in the Studies in Language Testing series, called Assessing language teachers’ professional skills and knowledge (edited by Wilson & Poulter). One of the papers in this collection, ‘Teachers’ language competence: issues of appropriation and appropriacy’ by Jenny Johnson and Monica Poulter, reports the results of a survey in which teacher trainers worldwide were asked (among other things) about the level of English required for acceptance on to CELTA (i.e. pre-service) courses. One respondent replied:

‘The key, for me, is that they should be a good model for students. I wouldn’t want candidates to be teaching incorrect things to students’ (p. 187)

This more or less echoes the views of the majority of respondents, it seems, and in turn chimes with Cambridge English’s own assessment criterion (2d), viz. [the candidate should be seen to be] ‘providing accurate and appropriate models of oral and written language in the classroom.’

Which set me thinking: isn’t there something a little superannuated about the role of teacher as ‘model’? Do teachers have to be ‘someone you should imitate’? And what exactly are these ‘incorrect things’ that they might be imitating? Doesn’t this all have a vaguely behaviourist ring to it? And a ‘native-speakerist’ one, at that?  By whose standards, for example, is ‘correctness’ judged?

It’s certainly a view that has a long history. E.g.:

‘It is a sad thing to think that all over the world teachers are busily teaching incorrect pronunciation to thousands of children daily! … Yet it is within the power of nearly every teacher of English to achieve a level of speaking which is a very close approximation to the natural speech of a native speaker of English who speaks carefully and enunciates clearly’ (Gurrey 1955: 14-15).

salle de classeI once had a trainee on a Diploma course who confessed to the fact that, in an earlier life, he had been an art teacher – not by choice, since he can’t draw. But he said that this wasn’t actually a handicap. If you’re a good teacher, you can teach anything – he argued. But you don’t have to model it.

Couldn’t the same be said about second languages?

Isn’t the teacher’s main role to provide the conditions of learning? And isn’t a key condition of language learning language using? Imitating a ‘good model’ is hardly using the language – compared, say, to authentic communication. And, anyway, if it is exemplars that are needed, we now have the technology to provide any number of samples of a huge range of accents, registers and speaking styles. Not to mention writing. Moreover, these exemplars can be selected so as to match the learners own needs and aspirations. After all, the ‘model’ that a learner aspires to, or can realistically achieve, may not be the teacher’s.

And, crucially, if the teacher’s role is construed less as a model to imitate and more as a facilitator of learning, the invidious distinction between NS and NNS starts to collapse. NNS teachers need no longer feel that they are somehow deficient, simply because they can’t simulate a native speaker. Why should they? As Vivian Cook (1999: 194) argues, “People cannot be expected to conform to the norm of a group to which they do not belong”.

So, is it time to inter the notion of ‘model’ once and for all?

References

Cook, V. (1999) ‘Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching’ TESOL Quarterly, 33/2: 185-210.

Gurrey, P. (1955) Teaching English as a foreign language. London: Longmans.


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48 responses

12 04 2015
Ms Sulabha Sidhaye

Teachers can provide models in the form of audio recordings of good speakers. However, in remote areas like some Indian villages, there is no access to any gadgets. In such situations, the teacher has to be the model in spite of possible shortcomings. That is why regular teacher refresher courses help such teachers to keep improving.
-Sulabha Sidhaye.

12 04 2015
Noam David Wright

Thanks Scott.

I specialise in one-to-one tuition these days, and of course, as I base the core of my lessons on conversation-driven instruction, I am unavoidably and unapologetically a model for the learner (thought with explicit caveats to them when needed).

As I am teaching students who have migrated to Britain, it is absolutely essential that I work a lot on natural speech and spend a lot of time with them practicing how they can get their heads around, what is after all, probably the most common ways of us Brits ‘eating our words’. This is something that most NNS simply cannot do without the aid of NS models, therefore surely often have to end up relying on audio clips and other outside materials, of which thankfully now there is an abundance of authentic clips due to online sources.

Essentially, I agree with you that NNS teachers shouldn’t feel deficient, though we do have to be realistic – if we want to promote some form of conversation-driving teaching, more often than not NNS will not be able to match NS speech. And if the students are gearing up to understand your average everyday English in, say Britain or America, well…

13 04 2015
natibrandi

I always wonder what a good model is. What is the average everyday English? On my last visit to London, I found myself speaking to people from different parts of the world, whose mother tongue wasnt English, and this happened in bars and shops. I am non-native, tho Ive obviously been trained in English and teaching. Very few people can imitate so many varieties of EnglishYet, I do not feel I am not capable of teaching conversation classes, for instance. There are so many videos I can use, so many people I can ask for help. I have also taught legal and business English, yet I am not a lawyer or business person, it all comes down to finiding the right materials and knowing your learner needs really well (which can be way more complex than it sounds and involves so many learner training strategies,etc). I have seen native teachers teach medical English, yet they are not doctors, does that mean they are not equipped to teach Medical English? I would say, teachers need to exploit resources, and by resources I mean materials and, of course, students.
I also teach connected speech, or as Noam has said, Brits eating their words, and years studying phonology and reading books like Sound Foundations have probably helped me to teach stress time, weak forms, etc. Being non-native is not an issue, not being resourceful sounds like an issue, since in that way, students would only imitate my pronunciation and not be exposed to different varieties of English

15 04 2015
Noam David Wright

Sure. Quite often a student will ask me about the variety of accents in Britain and how they could possibly get to understand them all. I simply tell them they, of course, can’t really hope to, but in light of this, we can try to, at least, study the most obvious commonalities of ‘eating words’ and so on (wherever you go in this English-as a first language-speaking world).

Then again, one of my student’s colleagues was an British-Indian chap, who she swore she couldn’t understand! So, certainly it does depend on whose English exactly one has to deal with.

We can only realise our limitations and try to work around them. Whether we are NS or NNS teachers.

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Agreed, Noam David Wright – there are some contexts and teaching situations where students may need to closely align their output towards that of the local norm, and if the teacher represents this, then imitating the teacher might be entirely valid. Nevertheless, what you seem be describing is what I would call ear-training – essentially a receptive skill, for which either the teacher’s speech, or recorded speech, could provide the necessary data. Modelling, on the other hand, is the precursor to imitation, essentially a productive skill. At least, that seems to be how it’s defined in the literature. Take this definition by Harmer, for example:

model: when teachers say or write something clearly so that students can repeat it, they model it and we call it a language model [Harmer: 2012, Teacher Knowledge: Core concepts in English language teaching. London : Pearson (p. 273)

15 04 2015
Noam David Wright

Thanks, Scott.

Crucially, though, I feel it important to get students to imitate the target expressions (with the understanding that this is part of their ‘ear-training’).

Would we be talking about another term for this? Or does it still fall under ‘ear-training’?

15 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Yes, Noam, I admit that there’s a blurry line between receptive and productive skills – and that ear-training might cross from one to the other. Classic modelling focuses above all on accurate reproduction of ‘model’ utterances with a view to learning them, as exemplars of the grammatical system (typically), whereas having learners repeat a formulaic expression may have less to do with accuracy as with fluency. For the record, here’s a description – from a teacher’s manual published in 1964, of ‘classic’ modelling:

‘The student should never be called upon to say anything that he has not already learned through imitation of his teacher […] The experienced teacher knows the infinite patience that is required if he is to be a correct model for his students. He must be willing to repeat and repeat. He must make students imitate his speech, and he must correct them with patience and insight. Finally, he must insist that the practice continue until the students have become automatic in their oral production. It is not an easy read, but it is deeply rewarding.’

(English This Way: Teacher’s Manual and Key, New York:Macmillan, p. 9)

Notice the frequency of ‘model’, ‘correct’ and imitate’.

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

True, Sulabha – it’s not always possible to use recorded models, but access to samples of speech is a lot easier than it used to be. One alternative to teacher modelling is where the teacher acts, not as a model, but as ‘human speech recognition software’: she writes on the board what the students seem to be saying, prompting them to adjust their output so it exactly represents their intended message.

12 04 2015
Nevine

I agree that trying to model something you are not is not the aim of learning a language. However, since the goal is communication then there should be intelligibility .At times wrong pronunciation leads to miscommunication . I have occasionally had to ask students to spell the word to recognize it .

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Agreed, Nevine – the bottom line is intelligibility, and where intelligibility is at risk, learners need a clear message to that effect. But that would seem to be the role of feedback, rather than modelling. I.e. a reactive approach (‘you said X but I think you meant Y’), rather than a pre-emptive one (‘I’ll say Y and you repeat it after me’).

12 04 2015
Luan

On the surface, this argument comes down to issues surrounding the appropriateness, amount and quality of teacher talk. Clear and effective TT is certainly intrinsic to:

— giving instructions
— demonstrating examples
— executing activities
— giving feedback
— and crucially at times for providing an on-the-spot authentic listening source, unhindered by the limitations of technology

The problem with a non-standard model in these areas is that it undoubtedly deprives the learners. We all need models in life and in language learning. But not just one, we need lots of them to develop! And thus perhaps the saving grace of non-standard and non-native speakers is another type of model: the role model, factoring on the extrinsic and affective level — which you could easily argue, even in our context, is more important than a purely linguistic one.

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

On the topic of role models, I saw a nice demonstration as to how this principle could be used to improve learners’ pronunciation, without invoking the (for most learners, unachievable) goal of native-speakerness. In a presentation at this week’s IATEFL conference in Manchester, Robin Walker described how he asks his (Spanish-speaking) learners to choose a successful Spanish speaker of English who they would like to emulate, e.g. Ferdinand Alonso or Penelope Cruz. They find a YouTube clip of said person speaking fluently in English, transcribe the talk, have this corrected by the teacher, and then they rehearse the text in their role model’s accent as many times as they need before they feel ready to perform it.

14 04 2015
Luan

Great idea.

12 04 2015
Emilia Siravo

Hi Scott,

Thanks for this interesting article. As teachers we need to provide the ‘conditions’ for learning but in order for this to be possible we need to set some sort of higher standard. In Switzerland students often expect this. I’d assume students worldwide also want this.

If we keep lowering the bar on language standards, or not requiring any whatsoever, what will this mean for our language? What’s wrong with expecting more from teachers? Are we at risk of hampering classroom learning when we set this standard?

Enjoy the debate. Emilia

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment, Emilia. Yes, it’s true that there has been a lot of resistance, on the part of non-native-speaker teachers, to the notion of ‘English as a lingua franca’ (ELF) because of the suggestion that it is a sort of ‘second best’ version of English, suitable only for foreigners. And it’s also true that some of the discourse on ELF does tend to sound a little bit condescending: ‘You’ll never master the third person s, but don’t let it bother you… etc’. Moreover, since no one quite knows or agrees as to what ELF actually looks like, it is in fact difficult, if not impossible, to ‘model’. Even some proponents of ELF now accept that – in the absence of a codified ELF variety – the default model will, perforce, be a standard native speaker variety – but that, even if a model, it need not be the goal. That is to say, the learner can approximate to this model even if not 100% reproducing it. And, anyway, no two native speakers sound identically alike, so why shouldn’t some idiosyncratic variation be acceptable (such as a perceptible L1 accent), so long as it does the job?

But your comment raises another issue – and possible confusion – regarding model as noun (meaning something like a standard) and model as verb, meaning the act of providing a ‘good’ (typically native speaker) exemplar for imitation purposes. I think it’s possible to have the former without the latter. Or?

12 04 2015
Camillion Relocation Coaching

I am about to start working as a Homestay teacher in the UK. Previously I have taught conversational English in the US, not structured lesson plan but rather communication opportunities, including mini lessons in areas needed, to people who have just arrived in the US and in need of learning English. I have a TEFL Certificate and look forward to being more structured in my teaching while having the freedom to try out all the wonderful resources available online. I consider myself bilingual (Swedish and English) however my English is “international”. I have lived in the US, Australia and southern England, and attended international schools. My accent varies depending on where I am as I adapt to the local pronunciation, but many believe I am Canadian. My students have often told me that they appreciate learning from me as my English is easily understood, also I have a tendency to understand their difficulties, most probably because I know more languages than one. In the US I did not come across anyone questioning my language skills or my pronunciation, however since moving back to the UK I have come across far more. However I feel confident that even though I may mix American and British words I do model a language my students will find useful. There are many British people with dialects so heavy that they could never be understood outside of the UK. The point I would like to make is that yes of course it is important to model the correct way of talking, only there are so many ways to talk English “correctly”. My daughter was taught to spell according to the thrass phonics chart at an international school. It was a complete disaster as everyone had different phonics and the students spelling was terrible. They soon let the experiment go. So be a good model to your students and make sure they are understood, but don’t let yourself be intimidated if your own pronunciation is not the Queens English at all times.

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment – and the point that ‘yes of course it is important to model the correct way of talking, only there are so many ways to talk English “correctly”.’ So, even if you were to model for imitation purposes, what model would you choose? Not to mention that fact that only a very few students have the ability to imitate a model with 100% accuracy and that most abide by what is called ‘the shortfall principle’: ‘In the teaching of phonetics, the goal is hardly even attained, and learners fall short of the target’ (Peter Trudgill).

12 04 2015
Glenys Hanson

Hi Scott,
I agree with your trainee that “If you’re a good teacher, you can teach anything … But you don’t have to model it”. In my own career as an English teacher I gave up modelling the language nearly 40 years ago. I occasionally used English in the classroom but only for giving instructions and feedback. At the same time, I was as rigorous as I could be in demanding as an close approximation to Standard English as each student could manage.

Requiring a teacher to act as a “model” assumes that “listen and repeat” is the best way for learners to learn pronunciation. However, there are many other more efficient -to my mind- ways of getting students to do that.

I have some experience as a NNST of French. I was able to to get some of my students so speak more like native French people than I do myself.
Cheers,
Glenys

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thank you, Glenys: yes, it is amazing how persistent is the notion that language learning involves not a great deal more than ‘listen and repeat’. If this was all that was involved, machines would have taken over the teaching of languages aeons ago!

12 04 2015
Kathy

Hi Scott,

I agree that it is not necessary to provide a model of standard or ideal speech (whatever that is!) for students to imitate. But I’m not yet ready to cast lime upon modeling as an important part of English class!

A NS or NNS teacher can provided a model of fluent speech, not for imitation but for analysis. I regularly stop myself and ask learners about something I just said, for example. “Ja’mind’fI’raceth’board?” (Do you mind if I erase the board?) What parts were said clearly? What parts are disappearing? Why?As I happen to be a NS, I have that to offer. But I know excellent NNS teachers who do the same thing. Once learners get the hang of it, they rather enjoy stopping me to question my language use. “Why did you say ‘Who … to?’ and not ‘To whom …?'” A lively discussion may ensue! This also opens the door to analyzing a learner’s free speech. Pause to acknowledge well-chosen words, or to work out alternative forms that may be more effective. Not correcting, but paying attention and sometimes revising.

So really, there’s another kind of modeling that underlies this. That’s the model of a person who, in the interest of language learning, has one part of the mind on the alert for new or “not standard, as far as I know” and pauses periodically to explore with curiosity. I don’t ask anyone to imitate this explicitly but if they pick up the habit, it may be the most valuable thing they gain from the course!

Thanks for the post,
Kathy

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

“A NS or NNS teacher can provided a model of fluent speech, not for imitation but for analysis.” I totally agree, Kathy – but analysis is different to imitation – see my response to Noam above, where I try to distinguish between ‘modelling’, on the one hand, and ‘ear training’ on the other.

12 04 2015
manar

Hi,
The idea of modelling is important in the context of second and foreign language teaching. However, I think that teachers are not the only model in the classroom, because learners tend to consider other learners (typically the successful learners) as models, and imitate their speech, learning strategies, etc. This is applicable to the learner-centered classroom, where most of the work is done by the learner himself and the teacher is a coach. So, basic in the understanding of ‘model’ is the teacher’s and learner’s role in the classroom.
Furthermore, I think the ‘model’ idea does not apply to all teaching tasks, because while it is well noticed in speech in terms of pronunciation, accent, fluency, etc, it is not easy to depict “modelling” in other language areas such as writing.
Thank you for the post,
Manar

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

“…learners tend to consider other learners (typically the successful learners) as models” – yes, this is a great observation, Manar – I would love to know if anyone has researched the extent that learners of a second language aspire to emulate their peers: it makes perfect sense to me.

14 04 2015
Ms Sulabha Sidhaye

Thanks Scott & Manar !

Using the most successful student in a particular speaking activity as a model to be emulate during that session is one of my favourite methods in getting the class to speak in an intelligible and acceptable way . Different students get the opportunity each time. It does wonders for their self-confidence too. Simultaneously, it prevents creating “clones” of the teacher’s speech !

In case of corporate training,we record the student on a moblie telephone handset so that the absentees can listen to the “model” recording of their colleague and practise through imitation before the next session. However, I haven’t yet done a systematic research on this, though I keep personal notes of the activities.

-Sulabha .

14 04 2015
manaraboba

Dear Scott,
I am a teacher of English as a foreign language, and I am researching this topic currently. So far, I could observe learners who consider other successful learners as “models” in aspects related to pronunciation and some learning strategies; the study is an ongoing research, and further results may be revealed over time. Hence, basically “modelling” exceeds the teacher as a main source of language use and usage, and project-based learning -I think, is a good point in case; learners learn from each other and consider good presentations of “successful” learners as “models” for their projects. So, not only the “What” which is language itself with its various aspects is “modeled”, but even the “How” through the methodological designs. I would be in a better position to argue for learners considering successful learners as “models” by the end of the study.

Thank you

15 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Manaraboba – your research sounds fascinating – and badly needed. I have been trying to find references in the literature to what you might call ‘peer modelling’, but I can’t find much. Yet I am convinced it plays a big part in both classroom and naturalistic learning. You might want to look at this paper, if you don’t already know it:

Swain, M., Brooks, L. & Tocalli-Beller, A. (2003) ‘Peer-peer dialogue as a means of second language learning’. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 23: 171-185.

13 04 2015
Luiz Otávio

Hi Scott,
“And, crucially, if the teacher’s role is construed less as a model to imitate and more as a facilitator of learning, the invidious distinction between NS and NNS starts to collapse.”

Indeed. Time and time again, I have inherited classes that were previously taught by (often excellent) NS teachers and, as expected, students used to make the same kinds of inter / intralingual errors and show remarkably similar patterns of development. The only area in which they usually outperformed students taught by NNS was listening comprehension – for obvious reasons, I think.

So, yes, the concept of “teacher as a language model” may be intrinsically flawed, as you suggest. Perhaps “teacher as a resource” makes more sense in terms of the sorts of demands (knowledge, skills and attitude) that mainstream ELT places on us – and the more unplugged you go, the more prepared you have to be to deal with the unexpected, teach at the point of need, provide the right sort of scaffolding etc. So in that sense, NS teachers who happen to speak the learners’ L1 may be at an initial advantage, I think, especially at B2/C1. But, as you said, I don’t think we can address this issue from a “model” perspective.

13 04 2015
Petra Holtkamp (the Netherlands)

Dear Scott,

I wholeheartedly agree. We are having a sort of discussion at our institution, Hogeschool van Amsterdam (teacher training for second and first degree teachers), about this: what do we teach when we teach speaking and listening, and asking that: why and what do find important to correct learners and which, or rather whose English do we teach them? Interesting topic. I know the website splendid speaking.com uses non native speakers (learners actually) of English with the argument that most people do not speak RP and are very capable of learning from others who aren’t either. When we go to the areas where English is a first language many of them speak their own version of it. So, yes let’s keep talking, for the sake of our learners, continue talking about this topic. Is it time for a new definition of standard language (pronunciation)?

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thank you, Petra: I’m pleased that you are having this discussion. The question ‘whose English?’ is key. In the end, it has to become ‘their English’ – what Kurt Kohn (2011) characterizes as ‘the my English condition’:

“How do people make English their own? The answer is deceptively simple: they acquire it. But rather than like acquiring a car or a house, people acquire English, or any other language, by creatively constructing their own version of it in their mind, hearts, and behaviour…. Acquiring a language is the very opposite of copying or cloning – it is a cognitive and emotional process of sociocultural and communicative construction … Regardless of how powerful the communicative and communal pull towards a ‘common core’ might be, the English that people develop is inevitably different from any target language model they chose or were forced to adopt.

Kohn, K. (2011) ‘English as a lingua franca and the Standard English misunderstanding’, in De Hower, A., & Wilton, A. (eds.) English in Europe Today: Sociocultural and educational perspectives, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, p. 80.

13 04 2015
Luiz Otávio

Hi (again) Scott,
An afterthought.
I went to bed last night thinking about this post (thanks… I guess) and about the degree to which the teacher’s English is a bona fide source of i+1 in its own right.
So, if we assume that, yes, the English we use naturally in class can have an impact on acquisitional processes – and this seems like a fairly reasonable assumption to make – then maybe it’s too soon to dismiss “model” out of hand?
But having said that, and here I’m probably contradicting something I said in the other post…
B1/B2/C1 students taught by NSs (who in theory at least can more easily provide the sort of i+1 I’m referring to) should eventually start to produce language which is comparatively more accurate and more complex. And this, anecdotal evidence tells me, is hardly ever the case.
I’m not making a point. Just thinking out loud.🙂

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Think away, Luiz! Your thoughts spur mine on.

If the L2 system that the learner constructs were wholly dependent on – and a reflection of – the teacher’s system, then yes, it might be the case that the more complex, the more accurate, the more fluent the teacher’s system is, then the more complex etc, the learner’s. But the system that the learner constructs is seldom if ever the product of exposure to a single source (Man Friday in ‘Robinson Cruse’ being a famous exception). Rather it is the product of a multiplicity of influences, written, spoken, live and recorded, and although the teacher may be crucial in terms of making these ‘affordances’ available, we really do need to bury the idea that the teacher is the sole architect of language acquisition, and that teaching is a process of cloning.

This is not to say that there aren’t some students who aspire to be clones of the teacher, but I suspect they are rare (and a little creepy). Others might be better off modelling themselves on a local celebrity, or their best friend. Or their ideal self.

13 04 2015
Elka Todeva

Thanks for another thought provoking piece, Scott. I agree with you that we should be thinking of teachers as facilitators of learning, not as models to follow. To me, a teacher’s primary role is to create with his learners a porous classroom ambiance where noticing happens faster, form:meaning mapping is facilitated, and the conditions of learning are aligned with conditions of use, which helps with fluency (the noticing and making meaning explicit helping with accuracy). Just exposure to “native speaker English” as suggested in some of the postings (apropos whose English – that of someone from Australia, England, Newfoundland, Canada, the south of London, the American South, Staten Island or Brooklyn, NY, all linguistic varieties with some quite distinct peculiarities, not shared by the rest) does not help with facilitated expedited learning. We continue to ignore the research based evidence that many categories in English such as articles, prepositions, and gerunds & infinitives, for instance, are late acquisitional categories taking native speakers up to their teens to fully figure out, which in terms of hours of exposure means plus or minus 70 000 hours of exposure to the language. With us being strategic about what we engage the students with (gravitating toward interesting, socially important, meaningful things they are buzzing about that invariably offer natural input flooding of particular grammatical structures if we know what to be looking for), the class explorations can offer important cognitive shortcuts. Once the students have these breakthroughs and their communicative and strategic competence gets robust in a very short time, then the students themselves can start choosing the things they want to read or listen to (plenty out there these days), and they can decide if they want to sound like native speakers and conform to their norms or not!

13 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thank you, Elka – you put it much better than I could have. I totally agree that ‘the class explorations can offer important cognitive shortcuts’ but not in the form of just ‘copy the teacher’. And that students should be encouraged to choose their own L2 ‘role model’ in the interests of finding their own, unique (albeit derivative) ‘voice’.

14 04 2015
Farid Bashiri

Hi Scott,

Thanks for the topic. I feel I’m learning a lot from the debate. It seems to me that we all more or less agree that the notion of model and modeling should be redefined, but just to share my experience, I’d like to say that sometimes no matter how correctly you, for example, pronounce; there are individual differences and sociocultural issues which determine the degree of correctness (success). so I guess, first, the teacher should take into account those differences and work on them, if possible, to remove obstacles (differences which hinders the progress), then begin modeling. That way, correct modeling could be effective.

14 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Hi Farid…. yes, the ‘modelling’ approach seems to be founded on the principle that (a) there is a ‘best way’ of saying something; (b) you learn by imitating; (c) language is a static system, and is the same across time and space. I think all three assumptions can be challenged.

14 04 2015
Luiz Otávio Barros

Thank you, Scott.🙂
Two questions come to mind:
1. Do you think the emotional uniqueness of the student-teacher relationship might matter in terms of how teacher talk might impact interlanguage restructuring? In other words, could it be that the teacher’s English as a source of input might carry special affective significance? (this really is a genuine question)
2. I’ve never taught in an ESL / multilingual context, where most students have widespread, out-of-class access to the affordances you’re referring to. In the monolingual, EFL context in which I operate, some students (especially teens) end up building their own English-speaking worlds, where, I agree, the teacher is just a tiny piece of a much larger acquisitional puzzle. So, yes, Bruno Mars and the Modern Family cast are much more likely to be significant sources of input. But adult students from lower-income brackets (80% of our A1/A2 adult population) usually have far less exposure to English outside the classroom and lack the sort of emotional connection with the language that would enable them to more easily create an English-speaking ideal self (in Dornyei’s sense). It’s not that they can’t access youtube on their mobiles – it’s just that some of them can’t be bothered. I’m generalizing, of course, but maybe against this sort of background, teacher talk might matter a bit more. Does that make any sense?

14 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

I can see where you are coming from – and what you are getting at, Luiz. The situation you describe might certainly induce greater reliance (both cognitive and affective) on the teacher – and certainly the teacher can be instrumental in fostering a positive attitude to the language and the target speech community. In that sense, the teacher is a model, albeit more a role model, perhaps, than a language model.

From a sociocognitive perspective, if language learning is less a process of internalizing a body of knowledge, and more a process of ‘aligning oneself’ (in Dwight Atkinson’s terms) to a target speech community, then maybe the teacher’s role is to help foster the imagined future community that the learner can aspire to align to.

When I was taught French at secondary school in New Zealand in the 1960s I never heard a word of French that didn’t come out of the mouths of my (mostly non-native speaker) teachers.(Needless to say my French is virtually non-existent, and what survives is heavily L1 accented). Would my French have been any better had I had a teacher who was a more capable (and more charismatic) ‘model’ than Mr Bonny or Mr Roche? I doubt it: what I needed was a teacher who could instil a plausible vision of myself as the member of an imagined, French-speaking community to which I just had to belong.

14 04 2015
Nick Bilbrough

I was sorry to have missed this discussion at IATEFL this year Scott. I was in the next room where Adrian Tennant was also in a sense downplaying the importance of the teacher as model in his very interesting talk called ‘Teaching at the edge of chaos’. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of the teacher not being a model though, especially in the kind of exposure poor contexts that Luis describes above and that Adrian was talking about in his talk. For one thing the teacher intervening in group work activities and asking questions, is, in my opinion, an excellent way of modelling the kind of language that the learners can use themselves in these situations.

I love Kathy’s idea of asking the learners to notice the language that she uses in teacher talk and to try to write it down. In fact this approach would be even more effective with NNS teachers doing it in monolingual contexts, in my view as they are more likely to speak a variety of English that is within the grasp of the class. NNS teachers are great models for their learners because they have achieved what the learners are trying to do themselves in learning English as a foreign language to a high level.

15 04 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Nick, for the comment. I like the fact that you have extended the notion of modelling beyond simply giving ‘model sentences’ for repetition, into the idea of modelling interactions – which, in a sense, is a definition of scaffolding – the way the ‘better other’ (in this case the teacher) provides an interactional structure that can be appropriated by the learner in order to frame and regulate their own participation in talk. But this kind of modelling does not require the teacher to have – or to simulate – a native-speaker accent.

15 04 2015
Nick Bilbrough

No I’d agree that it doesn’t require a native speaker accent. In fact it may be that the non-native speaker accent may actually be more appropriate for this type of modelling as it is more attainable by the learners, no es cierto?

15 04 2015
manar

Hi Scott,

I was thinking whether all learners are affected by teacher “modelling”. The idea sounds true for young learners who are still constructing their personalities and linguistic identity. However, old learners tend to have a linguistic immunity system that is not easily responding to change, provided through “modelling”.
The new understandings of teachers’ roles in the new agendas of technology-based classrooms has limited the teacher domination in the classroom over tasks control; so, the more student-centered the classroom, the less the teacher acts, and within less “modelling” occurs.

Thank you
Manar

16 04 2015
manar

Hi Scott,

I would like to kindly inquire about the lesson models used in teaching grammar. I think the most used model is the Presentation-Practice-Production pattern. Would you please suggest other models available in the literature.
Thank you very much
Manar

17 04 2015
Anna

Hello,

Very interesting observations. I teach ESL and I have noticed there is a kind of obsession with pronouncing things properly; this is evident in the staff, teachers and also students themselves. This is not to say that pronunciation is not important, but I have seen students obsessing to the point where I just have to say ‘you’re fine! You’re fine!’

I think a lot of it is a general belief, and this is worldwide, that the English language is somehow superior. Everywhere kids are learning English — in China, in Poland, in France, in Germany. The Gurrey quote sounds like something that would have been said in 1955. At the time, there was an even stronger belief that everything English was good. I think we have a different opinion now about these things, particularly with so much emphasis on diversity and culture.

About the ‘modeling,’ I too have taught courses I haven’t had that much experience in…it was all about facilitating learning, sparking interest, and I found that in many cases, I was learning WITH the students.

I too have an education blog I have started. I would appreciate it if you took a look!
Thanks

– Anna

3 05 2015
tiptetips

Different models are taken into account, from my own experience it does depend on the students’ objectives and also their learning styles. I used to be very shy when learning languages (German and French) and preferred a teacher more like a resource.🙂

6 06 2015
Bruno Coriolano

To what extent have your German and French teachers influenced the way you speak those languages?

20 06 2016
tiptetips

A lot! I really liked to attend classes and listen to my teachers’ stories carefully, stories such as anecdotes which motivated me to speak more fluently to understand them better.

20 06 2016
Sulabha

Through their speaking in class, my German teachers provided accurate examples of how words should be pronounced. But my imitation though broadly recognisable, was often short of being exact.They always encouraged further practice with the audio material accompanying the book at home. That’s because our course duration did not allow them sufficient time to deal with drilling of pronunciation in class. But the teachers’ speaking was always correct and tallied with the pronunciations we heard on the media . Thus the teacher talk was always a good model !

5 06 2015
Bruno Coriolano

What is the importance of the EFL teacher as a model for second language pronunciation?

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