Thursday, November 20, 2008

TEFL Assignment 3-History of the English Language

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Here's the fifth one.

I'm starting to hate this class. They want specific answers to questions whose context is completely unknown. I realize their point, but hypotheticals in teaching pisses me off. It's a useless endeavor. I feel like we should develop an ideology rather than a methodology. Then, when faced with this or that situation, we can fall back on our ideologies, rather than search for experiences that exactly match the current one. Anyway, enjoy.

Describe how your knowledge of the history of the English language will help you explain things to your students in an EFL class. Give specific examples.

What differences in student approach to English do you anticipate when working with students who speak a Latin or Germanic language versus students who speak Japanese, Chinese or Arabic?

Describe strategies you will use in class to help you with your own spelling, if it´s a problem, like bringing a dictionary to class or writing down troublesome vocabulary in your lesson plan.

There are times when, as a teacher, one must swallow one’s pride and utter the three-word confessional, “I don’t know.” In having taught elementary school, I was very wary early on to fess up to the fact that there were many things that I just didn’t know. However, as I matured as a teacher, I realized that this can actually be quite an important thing to model for your students, as long as the first three words are followed by, “but we can surely find out.”

This simple sentence is one that, in my limited ESL/EFL tutoring, I have found use for often. The reason for this is precisely because English, somewhat like the United States, represents an ongoing experiment in accumulation, assimilation, and sometimes rejection of various narratives, vernaculars, pidgins, and dictions. However, a basic understanding of the historical path our current language has taken coupled with a similarly basic understanding of how etymology works can be of invaluable benefit to students striving to unearth the secrets of the language.

Our awareness of the complexity of the English language seems as if it would only benefit us in having an excuse for words like “neighbor,” and “dough.” We should be explicit, especially with students whose L1 is spelled phonetically, that English is a complex language in terms of spelling and its rampant irregularities. On the other hand, we can use our knowledge of the influences on language to get to the root of the meaning of a word.

Familiarity with common words borrowed from any one of the Latin languages, the Germanic languages, or the Indo-Iranian languages, can provide clues in determining etymology, pronunciation and meaning. We should be explicit with students when we come across examples of words that have been borrowed from one of the linguistic families listed above, as well as the Slavic, Baltic, Celtic, and Greek families. To the extent that we recognize how we have developed strategies over our lifetimes to assist us in approaching new words, we can help our ESL students do the same. Modeling metalinguistic evaluation will prove to be very important in helping our students clear the hurdles established by the unique history of the English language.

In the same way we use our basic understanding of language development to help our students decode English, we must be cognizant of their possible hang-ups based on their linguistic origin. Not all languages utilize the same set of phonemes. In fact, vocal inflections that are commonplace and integral to meaning-extraction in some languages aren’t even audible to folks with untrained ears. Keeping this in mind, we can anticipate the different challenges that face a student who’s L1 is Mandarin, versus one who’s L1 is Spanish.

Furthermore, if we can get a sense of the basic structures of our students’ first languages, we can incorporate examples of words English has borrowed from their language, or at least a language in the same family that employs similar structures and phonemes. In this way, we can further drive home the point that English is a very tricky and complex language, which obviously reflects its sinuous history.

As I mentioned earlier, I think teachers modeling risk-taking, and therefore, mistakes, can be very beneficial for the affect of our students. I think it is important, especially in English, to assist students in gaining a sense of the rules that provide English its structure, regardless of how many counterexamples may exist. If we can do this, the students can work through the irregularities as they develop their language skills. If we fail to lay a foundation for the rule-based aspect of English, we will be remiss in our obligation to students. Students will soon discover that most adults, even those fully fluent in English, still make mistakes when it comes to words outside of the ascribed rules.

Of course, one always wants to limit mistakes, especially when it comes to one’s first language. A dictionary is an option that can help a teacher in a bind. You can’t overlook the benefit of getting under the surface of English, a language that could be characterized as the nexus of competing etymologies.

Hi Cameron,
You need to think a little more carefully about how a working knowledge of the history of English can be of benefit to you and your students and about how the ESL experience differs for learners from different linguistic backgrounds. Finally, if spelling is a problem for you, you need to think up some practical strategies for how you will deal with the issue before it becomes a problem in the classroom. Your essay was very good, and on it´s own is probably "A" level work. However, I would like to have seen you stick much more closely to the assignment instructions in order to give me a strong sense of confidence that you read the module studiously and attentively and grasped the broad themes as well as the essential lesson points well enough to demonstrate them in writing to your tutor. As I asked last time, aim to be more practical and personal, less formal and academic in composing your assignments.


Mr. Leavelle said...

Hi. I appreciate you posting your responses to these essay questions. They have been more than helpful in giving me a solid foundation to build upon to please the my tutor.

I'm currently taking the same course and this has helped me thoroughly.

I was wondering if you could post the rest of your responses, especially the redundant lesson plans that the course requires that we continually write. I'm currently on module 7.
Mind helping a fellow teacher out?

If you want, you can email them directly to me at

Thanks a million from Egypt.

Anonymous said...

Dear blogger, it was really great to have a chance to read your articles for TEFL assignments. You showed me an example, which led me a bit in a correct way of writing. Honestly I had a trouble to start my third assignment, because I had nothing to say. You showed me how, and I started to write again. Could you be so kind and send me some other assignments if you still have them? Thank you very much. Have a nice day. Kind regards, M.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your blog post. I am taking the same course, and man, do I share your sentiment! I am beginning to hate this course too. My tutor needs to take a refresher course on reading comprehension.

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shinm1 said...


I am working on this course too and there were times when I struggled with the assignments and your blogs really helped me loads!

If you don't mind, would u be able to send me (to this email the further assignments if you still have them?

Thank you so much!