Friday, January 16, 2009

When is the "native speaker style" too much?

A quick post on my mind before I go!

Today at lunch, my coworker and I were discussing our disagreement with our other coworker's style of teaching. She wasn't there but we have talked about this before so we essentially know the gist of her argument. It goes as follows:

She thinks that institutions employ native speakers in order to get access to their natural way of speaking in order that the students will be able to imitate us and speak naturally. This means that we should try to speak at a normal rate, using a normal kind of style in class. The students will be able to see the "real deal," as in what they'd actually encounter if they were to travel to Canada or the USA.

Both my coworker and I disagreed with this on many levels, including some of the following:

1. I think it sounds bizarre if second language students have bad, distracting grammar but they throw around a bunch of slang. Or if they use phrases that only native speakers would know, they don't sound native-speaker like, they just sound kind of weird. Like I'd rather a student speak in a simple, basic way that is free of errors rather than trying to sound like a native speaker.

2. The students that we teach at my university are low-level beginners, usually with only 1 or exceptions in a class of 20. If we don't speak slow and simply, I'm not sure they really have any hope of comprehending anything. My students have actually told me that my class is the best English class they've ever taken with a native speaker because of the simple fact that they can understand me and are not confused about what they need to do in activities or whatever.

3. To me, comprehending simple and slow comes first as they are grasping the basics. Fluency, in listening and speaking heading towards the native speaker level comes much later.

What are your thoughts on this?


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Anonymous said...

You are right, and for so many more reasons than even the ones you have come up with. There are ways of combining the two approaches though:
- Keep (more or less) natural linking in your speech but stress the important words more strongly than natural
- When they know what you are going to say from the context, e.g. they know you always ask about their weekends when you come in, begin to say what you usually say but at absolutely natural speed
- Do a few activities that involve them picking out the important info from more or less natural speech, e.g. Grammar Dictation (= Dictogloss)
- Always use natural contractions (I'm rather than I AM-both stressed- which has a very different meaning). If you have to use the non contracted (uncontracted??) form to make yourself understood, illustrate the pron of the contracted form straight after and then go back to using it
- Get them doing shadow reading so that they start thinking about and using some things that improve their speaking speed
- Teach schwa from day one

Wow, that's more than I thought I was going to come up with I started writing that! As I said, though, you're point about boosting their confidence and showing them that it is possible to communicate in Elementary English is much more important

TEFLtastic blog-

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Brian said...

You seem to attract a lot of spammers.

I grapple with this question, too. If I speak too slowly or simply, why don't they just use the tape player? But if I speak too quickly (or if I speak at a pace I consider medium), they won't understand anything, "authentic" or not.

I go for moderate place, with practically no introduction of slang. Maybe that's not the best way, who knows, but I'm among the few people they've ever met who can speak and properly pronounce any sentence not written in a book, so even what I consider easy will be good for them.