Wednesday, October 24, 2012

TOEFL Scores for Asian Countries

From Bolton 2008 -" English in Asia, Asian Englishes, and the issue of proficiency."

Why is Japan last?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

AcWriMo Brainstorm

November's going to be a heck of a month.

Here's a blarf of all the unfinished / desired writing projects to tackle in November. I'll refine this list before Nov. 1.

(Incredibly, I just submitted two papers I've been sitting on for a year, which is awesome. But I won't be hearing back about those until the new year at least.)

Edited Oct 29, and will be edited more--


This is actually the biggie. There are 7 chapters. Data analysis will sort of happen simultaneously with writing chapters 4,5, and 6, but it's chapters 4 and 5 that present the most immediate need. Ch 1 and 7 I'll probably leave till the very end; 2 and 3 are already drafted in the form of comps from last year; 6 needs more data collection after 4 and 5 are written. So let's make chapters 4 and 5 a goal. They're the main chunk of work. And let's say 5,000-7,000 words or so apiece.

This doesn't really include other important stuff like the coding, which takes forever, and the transcription which takes another forever.

1. Introduction
2. Lit review -- theoretical framework [comp #1 revised] and “empirical review” [comp #3 revised]
3. Methodology [comp #2 + explanation of procedures for study]
4. Findings from Chinese Group (AJT + interview1) [RQ 1 + 2]
5. Findings from Non-Chinese Group(s) (AJT + interview1) [RQ 1 + 2]
6. Comparison of findings and data from interview2
7. Conclusion


1. New approaches to variation in L2 writing with Dr Kubota - finish draft to send to her. Probs 4,000 - 6,000 words.

2. Review of Dan Everett's Language for Books and Culture - finish the book(!) and write the review. I have brainstormed notes. Probs 1000 words-ish.

3. Chinese-English interface with G. Leung -- this idea is pretty well set and an outline is written, but I probs need to put in 2000 - 3000 words of work on it.

4. "Teaching WEs: Ss as researchers" Would be good for Changing English. Could actually use stuff from Early paper back in 2009! That might be better. Show a method of 'teaching WEs.' 4000 words?

5. Christian-Muslim dialogue in TESOL with Saeed. Have been reading some Miroslav Volf in preparation for this -- might want to take the same tack as some of the stuff in the Canagarajah/Wong book. (This is for a future Wong/Mahboob book.) I can write my own sections about Christian ELT & Muslims from a Christian perspective. Maybe 1500 words to start.


- Teaching world Englishes to Japanese students in Canada? -- reflection on teaching WEs at Rits. Not totally sure which way to go with this, but it would have to be conceptual rather than empirical -- something like a "brief report" or "teaching reflection" that appear in more practitioner oriented journals. Possible collaboration with student? Other teachers? What I'd really like to do is collaborate with Dollinger but I haven't even met him. This would be good to submit to something like JALT if I could figure out a shape and a purpose to it. I think somewhere in there is something good -- like, "why do it at all?"

- English at joint venture universities in China with Roma. This one is tricky because we never really quite nailed down how we were approaching the research for this one. I did a conference presentation on it as a 'work in progress' but I'm not sure if this is ready to be written. Should probably discuss with her.

- Pretty sure I have something that might become a book someday about "doing Christian language theory" apart from theology, and it would have a lot of Bahktin, George Steiner, and Wendell Berry in it. It would eventually have to engage with theology, which I don't really read. I don't think I have enough to work with at all yet, but it could be developed in a review of Every Tribe and Tongue, which I'm currently reading. Not sure where to publish that. Maybe that new Christianity and TESOL journal. (1000 wds?)


Maybe you've heard of NaNoWriMo -- "national novel writing month," which is a challenge to write a whole novel (of 50,000 words or more) in the month of November.

Some academics/grad students have tried to figure out a way to make this work (I was interested in it a couple years ago) and the consensus seems to have settled on "AcWriMo" or "Academic Writing Month."

This comes at a crucial time for me so I am going to try it out, but I don't have a strategy yet.

Here are some relevant pieces thinking about how to do this:

My condensed explanation of the 'rules,' a longer version of which is at  PhD to Published:

Here are the rules for #AcWriMo 2012:
1. Set yourself some crazy goals.
2. Publicly declare your participation and goals.
3. Draft a strategy.
4. Discuss what you’re doing. [OK so being on Twitter and Facebook with us all day isn’t acceptable – you’ve got work to do – but checking-in at certain times is imperative!]
5. Don’t slack off.  ‘Write like there’s no December!’
6. Publicly declare your results – and please be honest! 
The Thesis Whisperer explains why AcWriMo sounds kind of bad, but might be good:

Firstly #acwrimo encourages you to make a schedule; to put aside time to work on your writing and declare it a distraction free zone from social media and email. 
Consistent writing, such as #acwrimo encourages, is the only cure I know for perfectionism. The more you write the more ideas you generate and the less time you have to pointlessly polish the words you already have. 
Finally, by joining a global community and keeping in touch with other writers via #acwrimo on Twitter, or by following the PhD2published blog, you will increase your own personal learning network and connections.  
So I am choosing to see #acwrimo as a way to resist and give myself the gift of time to write because I genuinely enjoy it, not because I have a specific word count or goal in mind.

Monday, October 15, 2012

"...Fear for the English Language"

Day 2 of the TESL Canada conference: after spending the morning finishing up my PowerPoint slides and practicing my talk, I showed up to the conference in time for lunch and then the keynote by Steven Pinker. It turned out to be a talk he's given before (seems like there are some videos online) based on his most recent book about language, and it was pretty fun -- most memorably about swearing and its functions. (And only a few mentions of "why we swear" in that vague pop-neuroscience way -- e.g., "this part of the brain lights up when people do this, therefore we know why they do it!")

I did my presentation on acceptability judgments and other stuff related to my dissertation research, and it was fine, but there was some interesting discussion from the audience afterwards, including from one woman who said something like "I'm just starting to learn about world Englishes, and what I feel after learning about this stuff is fear for the English language."

I handled her concern/comment as best I could, I think, but it made me realize that there is a divide between teachers who buy into the idea that variation is OK/inevitable in practice, and those who are keen to promote a standard and more ideologically opposed to accepting variations.

To me, all these new-ish perspectives, like EIL, ELF, world Englishes, etc., aren't threatening to English -- they're just ways of describing what actually goes on with the language. And I don't think they necessarily have all that many implications for teaching, other than "know your context" --  which is a pretty big one, and probably shakes out differently if you accept WEs/ELF stuff as an accurate depiction of reality.

So let me try to lay out some ideas that would explain a more variation-friendly perspective to someone like the audience member who was worried about English, presumably because she thinks WEs & related perspectives are all about eliminating standards:

1. English is an old language that came about as the result of contact between numerous European languages in what is now England.
2. It started to come into something more like its current form sometime in the last 300 years or so, also in England.
3. English has moved from the place it began to a lot of other places
4. Like all languages, conventions in English vocabulary, grammar, words' meanings,, etc, change from time to time, due to idiosyncrasies of its users.
5. Because of #3, this happens differently in different places.
6. Because of #4, there is a need and desire for language standardization  in societies, and it is useful to have a standard English for things like education, media, literature, etc.
7. Because of globalization, there is probably a greater need than ever for literacy in standard American and British English
8. However, that need is probably only felt by a small group of people who desire lives in which English is necessary -- those who travel internationally, those who work in internationalized fields like education, government, big business, etc.
9. Those people should be and are taught standard Am/Br English
10. Almost everyone else in the world who learns English is also taught standard Am/Br English*.


11. Most people in the world who know and use English are not American or British.
12. Most people in the world who teach English are not American or British.
13. Most communication in the world in English takes place between two people for whom no variety of English is their mother tongue.
14. Since these encounters often take place in transnational, transcultural, etc. contexts, #6 above is less important in these situations.
15. Therefore, the earmarks of standard American English and standard British English are often not particularly relevant in these situations, as long as intelligibility is achieved.
16. Whether people in these situations are satisfied with the degree of intelligibility achieved in their uses of English should probably be up to them.
17. Some of them are probably OK with speaking English in a way that sounds different or wrong to people from the US or the UK.
18. On the other hand, some of them are probably not OK with it, and would like to further learn standard Am or Br English in order to have a better grasp of it.
19. Those people can take some more English classes, if they want, where they will probably be taught standard Am/Br English.
20. Despite this teaching, people -- non-native and native speakers -- will continue to use language idiosyncratically at all time and in all places, and this will eventually lead to small changes in standard English.

* I assume one of the fears is that accepting non-native varieties of English or being tolerant about variations will somehow lead to teaching Ss that there's no right or wrong. This probably isn't true, but more needs to be said to assuage those fears, since some of the trendier positions on this do make it sound like we should just abandon teaching any kind of standard.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Penny Ur at TESL Canada

Quick report from Kamloops, BC, where I'm at Thompson Rivers University for the TESL Canada conference. Yesterday I was at the Graduate Student Symposium where Penny Ur was the keynote speaker.

Her topic was "English as an International Language: What Difference Does it Make?" Ur is an interesting person to address this topic because she's kind of a teacher's teacher -- she doesn't have a PhD and hasn't made a name as a fancy scholar or theorist, but she's incredibly well known to almost every ESL teachers because of her books about practical classroom activities.

I like seeing somebody like her wade into the English in the World debate because she can help to cut through the theoretical morass most of us are stuck in.

Her main point, which is indeed a very practical one, was that NNES-NNES communication is the norm. Rather than wanting to do descriptive research like Jenkins, Seidlhofer, and the other ELF people, Ur asks instead "how then shall we teach?"

She went through Kachru's circles and touched a little on ELF, finally suggesting three possible ways of teaching EIL.

1. One of the native varieties (i.e., US/UK)
2. Diverse flexible models (i.e., all the trendy theoretical stuff -- grammarless, context-based, no right/wrong, focus on intelligibility rather than rules, etc)
3. A standard variety (i.e., the mythical -- my adjective, not hers -- World Standard English)

She argued that #3 was the most sensible for teaching. I understand her point, but her WSE ended up looking more like splitting the cost between American and British English, leaving out regionalisms and deferring to "simplicity" (program > programme, zee > zed) and other common sense-ish rules to settle disputes.

This makes a lot of sense, but it really just sounds like what every conscientious EFL teacher tries to do -- we're aware that there are different varieties, but we're pretty much bound to teach our own variety plus those major differences that we are aware of. How many times have I talked about crisps, chips, potato chips, and french fries in China? How many times have I made the "pants vs underwear" speech? I kind of feel like focusing on these bigger obvious differences distracts us a bit.

The big question -- "who decides?" -- is in part being answered by corpora, and I'd like to see how ELF research can support Ur's argument for a world standard -- though when I asked her whether she'd accept ELF features like non-marked third person verbs she said "the jury is still out" on these expressions which are "jarring on the ears."

In the end I didn't really think Ur's argument for #3 was much different from #1. #2 is untenable for a number of reasons -- and actually very few people support it outside of tenured professors in developed countries -- but the lacunae between actual usage, preferred usage, and what is taught are so wide as to make an argument for any of these pretty difficult. As usual, it comes down to teaching as best you can with what you know, and continuing to educate yourself about what English is and how it works.

The next keynote is Steven Pinker, who is not a TESOL professional, but a famous cognitive linguist and proponent of evolutionary psychology, which is probably my least favorite model for understanding human behaviour. But I've heard he's an interesting speaker.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Thought: Shifting from WEs to 'variation' in general

"Acceptability" is a facet of variation. If we accept the idea that error is in the eye of the beholder, we can investigate how/why people identify problematic variations.

But to limit that to one perspective might be too narrowing -- there are plenty of people who have come up with different ways of looking at variation. (Ferris/Truscott? Williams?) So what if I compare readers' reactions/rejections of certain chunks of language to a number of things:

- attested/proven/proposed features of a particular local variety of E? (We have to assume there's some kind of assumed standard English in mind that the local usage is being compared to -- and of course that's tricky, too, but we can at least gather, from WEs theory, that 'unenlightened' respondents are judging their local English against 'standard English')
- proposed features of ELF (this is a lot more important than i thought it would be, actually. The more I think about ELF the more sense it makes, and it would be interesting to compare what I find to ELF ideas.)

- traditional "common errors made by ESL writers" (Cf Hinkel, Silva)

- slightly less codified but also commonly cited "common errors made by Chinese L1 speakers" (cf. the thing from Chang that I wrote about a while back)

- this '"cross-language relations" thing which I'm kind of afraid of

In the end this study would be less about the bottom-up understanding of CE and more about how we deal with variation in academic writing. Can I actually look at all of these though?