Using The Economist’s covers to teach idiomatic language

Business English activity

The Economist, that venerable magazine that so many of my learners swear by and in all probability have never read. The Economist tends to have really creative covers with interesting allusions and clever word play. Here’s an activity that’s perfect for business contexts that exploits these covers to explore idiomatic language, practise speaking, and doesn’t require learners to dive into those sometimes dense articles.


Materials

You’ll need covers from the Economist and you can get them for current and previous issues from this site.  You could then either display it on a slide or print it out or as I prefer, take the print copies of the magazine in (but of course you’ll need a subscription for that).

Preparation 

You’ll find a variety of of interesting language features on the covers including idioms, allusions, word play, metaphors, and tongue in cheek subverting of all of these.  Choose ones that are appropriate for your learners. For some of the writing courses I teach on business thought leadership, I focus on covers that use allusions and metaphors. But the ones in this post are for exploring idiomatic language.

Procedure

  • Get learners into small groups and distribute the covers to them.
  • There are several ways of doing this. You could give each group all the covers you’ve selected or have each group look at the same cover and discuss it before moving on to the next one or you could do it like a jigsaw task and assign a different cover to each group. You could also assign the covers using slides without physically distributing any printouts.

The activity has four steps:

  • Step 1: Ask groups to guess the idiom being referenced by the cover image and text and what it might mean.
  • Step 2: Give groups the idiomatic language but with gaps such as “Paper ______” and then get learners to match the idiom to the cover.
  • Step 3: Ask learners to use the frame “The Economist claim(s) that _______________ + [idiomatic expression] because …” and complete it with what they think the Economist might be saying. For example, “The Economist claim(s) that India under Prime Minister Modi is a paper tiger because …”
  • Step 4: Ask groups to discuss what they  know about the subject and if they know enough about it, whether they agree or disagree with The Economist’s perspective.

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Key

  1. Paper tiger: something that seems very strong and threatening but is actually weak and ineffectual.
  2. To walk on water: to perform superhuman feats (this one’s also a Biblical allusion).
  3. To dig yourself into a hole: to get yourself into a difficult situation.
  4. Keep your fingers crossed: hope that things will go well or the way you want them to.
  5. A long and winding road: a complicated and difficult future path (strictly speaking, this might be a fixed expression but still useful for learners)
  6. This could either be “to go the way of the dinosaur” (not a frequently heard idiom) or “to be a dinosaur” in the sense of “your phone is a bit of dinosaur” but both refer to something that’s become outdated or past its prime.

The monsoon | A cultural dictionary of Indian English

Late last year, David Crystal spoke about his priority for the next 50 years – the creation of an online cultural dictionary. He clarified that culture here refers to everything that makes a community unique. He went to discuss the role of a second language within this cultural community.

When a country adopts a language as a local alternative means of communication, it immediately starts adapting it to meet the communicative needs of the region. Words for plants and animals, food and drink, customs and practices, politics, sports and games … accumulate a local word stock that’s unknown outside the country and it environs.

David Crystal

I’ve been contemplating writing a series of posts about Indian English for some time now.  In 2016, I did some audits at a BPO to evaluate the quality of their trainers and their training. I was dismayed at how many of them, usually inadvertently and definitely not maliciously, propagated a belief to their employees that Indian English was an erroneous half-breed that they ought to expunge from their speech.  It’s curious to note that this variety of English spoken by around 125 million Indians (although that’s a drop in the ocean of Indian languages) was consistently minimised by these trainers using the dismissive expression ‘Indianism’.

Sadly, they’re not alone. Many Indians have a poor sense of ownership for a language they’ve been subverting and making their own for over three centuries. English has a long and rich history in India. In fact, the first Indian to write in English, Sheikh Din Muhammed, published his book The Travels of Dean Mahomet in 1793.

It also doesn’t help the Internet is brimming with articles that are either whingeing about how terribly incomprehensible Indian English is or full of inaccuracies like this article by an English teacher who allegedly specialises in phonology (check the undercurrent of irritation in my otherwise polite comment and the inane responses I received).

Indian English is whimsical, plurilingual, dynamic, utilitarian, allusive, idiomatic, and wears its motley history like a badge and I hope to capture some of it in my attempt at a cultural dictionary.


Monsoon Indian English

It’s been a week since the monsoon reached the west coast of India, a natural phenomenon that has literally shaped South Asia and its cultures.  But oddly, for a rain-bearing wind that is so pivotal to life in India, the monsoon has an Arabic name. It came to us from the Arabic word for season ‘mawsim’ via Portuguese. In fact, Hindi speakers (influenced by Urdu) prefer to use ‘mausam’ to describe both seasons and more generally the weather than words perceived as native in chaste Hindi. However, mausam, unlike monsoon, doesn’t describe rain.

The word is overwhelmingly  used in the singular and usually (and surprisingly for a community of English speakers known for their uneasy relationship with articles) with the definite article, i.e., the monsoon. Occasionally, it’s used in its plural form like in this ad – Inspired by the monsoons. But I suspect people are actually thinking of the phrase ‘the rains‘ (which is commonly used to refer to the monsoon) when they talk about the monsoons.

Strictly speaking the monsoon isn’t a season although the phrases monsoon season and rainy season are ubiquitous. India has two monsoons: the summer or south-west monsoon and the winter or north-east monsoon. Much of the rain falls during the south-west monsoon which has two arms: the Bay of Bengal arm and the Arabian Sea arm. 

The onset and progress of the monsoon across the subcontinent is associated with some specific lexis. The monsoon is generally described as arriving in an area. This same news report talks about the monsoon entering and setting in the region. The arrival of the monsoon is usually heralded by pre-monsoon showers.  These are often to referred to as mango showers (a direct translation from the Hindi आमृ वर्षा or aam varsh) because they apparently help in the ripening of mangoes.  The other herald is a bird, the koel whose timely and evocative cries just before the rains made it a favourite of ancient Indian poets (it continues to be favored by contemporary Indian English poets; read this selection of five poems about the rains and this insightful piece on the connection between the two). 

The monsoon can also a hit a region but Google tells me that it has a preference for hitting Kerala, where it first makes landfall. The early days of a monsoon season can be predictive about its performance as we are told in this article about a timely onset which leads the monsoon to make rapid progress as well as progress rapidly, all in the same paragraph. Maps that describe the (gradual) onset of the monsoon are very common in newspapers in June and July of each year.  The monsoon might make a steady advance but it could also race up the west coast which might cause it to push past cities as the leading edge of the monsoon surges over regions.

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A lot of the language associated with the monsoon is evaluative; experts and commoners alike comment on its strength. It’s very common in India to hear people talk about getting good rains or a good amount of rainfall, a situation that’s sometimes described as a normal or a near-normal monsoon. I’ve always been perplexed though by the phrase above-normal monsoon which describes a successful rather than an excessive monsoon, where ideally the phrase ‘normal monsoon’ ought to suffice.

The monsoon is described as having a schedule and like most things on a schedule, the monsoon can be ahead of schedule and behind schedule.  And before you know it, the monsoon covers half of India and many Indians perhaps visualise this monsoon distribution as an inverted triangle half smothered by clouds; I know I do. In years marked by weak monsoons (interestingly the collocation strong monsoon isn’t very common unless it’s used to describe winds), people bandy about words like deficientbelow-normal, and monsoon deficit. While Indians often find small talk about the weather inane (it’s hot – how long can you really talk about the heat?), monsoon time is an exception. A: How are the rains? B: Rains are good this year yah. A: Good no water problem then nah?. 

When the monsoon first bursts on the west coast and in the hinterland of the east (especially Cherrapunji and Mawsynram in the Khasi-Jaintia hills famed solely for their record rainfalls), people begin to nose around their lofts for their gum boots (handy for keeping good old lepto aka leptospirosis at bay) although some prefer rain shoes or sandals perhaps purchased from Bata who helpfully have a monsoon collection. You can’t, however, do without an umbrella and the very best come from Kerala which is lashed first and hardest by the monsoon. In the south of India, everyone knows of the famous rivalry between two cousins, Davis and Joseph Thayyil, that produced a pair of competing umbrella brands, Popy & Johns. I’m a Johns man myself but I know plenty of folks who swear by Popy.

The rains are described as lashing cities and coasts, a phenomenon that might cause waterlogging and chronic flooding, annual urban inundations which are caused more by nepotism and negligence than nature. When corruption is accompanied by cloudbursts, it often results in a deluge that etches itself into collective memory such as the Mumbai floods of 2005 and Mumbaikars continue to ask each other Where were you on 26th July?” (I was at home due to an accident of timetabling and escaped the worst of it). I’m sure the citizens of Chennai and Uttarakhand have a similar way of referring to the floods that visited them in 2015 and 2013 respectively.

The slum dwellers of the big cities cover their tin roofs in blue tarpaulin, almost Jodhpurlike when viewed from a plane, praying for breaks in the monsoon. There’s a popular North Indian proverb which I’m probably going to mangle in translation but it goes something like this: When the Lord gives, he splits open roofs to provide. With rain, it’s usually a case of too much or too little. Delayed monsoons are addressed through quirky rituals including frog weddings and mud baths.

And when it rains relentlessly for weeks on end for up to four months (often caused by cyclonic circulations or depressions in the Bay of Bengal), it’s understandable that some are prone to the monsoon blues. You could soothe those mood swings with a monsoon raga. But if you’re more adventurous and live along a mountain range such as the Western Ghats, you might go trekking to an old hill fort. Or you could stay  high and dry at home with a cup of garam (hot) chai, pakoras (incidentally, this week’s Mint Lounge weekend supplement has an article titled ‘Cloudy with a chance of pakodas and this article from The Hindu explores the correlation between pakoras and rain) and bhajias (fritters), ducking out to get a blistering hot bhuta (chargrilled corn on the cob with chilli and lime) from the bhutawala on a the corner with his wheeled cart and parasol nicked from an insurance salesman. I don’t recommend eating out during the monsoon and I’m cautious about rambling in the hills. The monsoon is also the season of diseases; dengue, malaria, cholera, typhoid, chikungunya and everyone’s favourite leptospirosis prowl the streets and pepper conversations.

But just as quickly as it enveloped the subcontinent, the monsoon begins its retreat back towards the coast. The retreating monsoon dumps the last of its moisture on a fast drying land whose people store away their rich monsoon lexis until they need it again next year.

What words and phrases do you associate with the monsoon? If you were to write a cultural dictionary about the ‘rainy season’ in your own language, what would be the most interesting or unusual entry?

Image attribution: Onset dates and prevailing wind currents of the southwest summer monsoons in India | Saravask | Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0

500 Grammar based conversation questions | Book review

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Title: 500 Grammar based conversation questions with explanations of grammar points

Authors: Larry Pitts

Publisher: ESL Conversation Questions Publishing

Year of publication: 2015

Companion resources: NA

Source: Print copy bought from Amazon India

What really attracted to this book was the caption “Conversation questions designed to elicit the thirty most common grammar points”. I increasingly find myself in situations where I need to answer the question “how can I elicit this target language?’

500 Grammar based conversation questions is a large book in terms of dimensions but it’s fairly slim both in terms of its page count and contents.  It has lists of questions prefaced by a brief explanation of the target language. In principle, this could still be invaluable to new teachers. However, almost every single question includes the target language.

As … as : Are cats as fun as dogs?

Present perfect: What are some good restaurants you’ve eaten at?

Used to: Who did you use to play with in elementary school?

Will : What will happen to privacy  in the future?

This is consistent throughout the book with the exception of the section on imperatives which has scenarios that would prompt the use of the target language:

Imperatives: What’s a card game from your country? How do I play it?

So I gather that the author’s interpretation of the word ‘elicit’ is different from how I see it. I think by elicit, he means targeted practice and he’s got some commentary at the back about using these questions in the classroom. He’s essentially describing a stage of the lesson where we provide practice with language that’s been taught as opposed to the language presentation stage which is what I had in mind.

From that perspective, this book isn’t all that useful. It contains suggested topics along with the target language in the form of a question. These sorts of conversation prompts are more effective when they are aligned to learner interests and the context of the lesson. In How to Teach Speaking, Thornbury describes criteria for effective speaking tasks and there are two that I reckon are really critical: productivity and purposefulness. I doubt whether prompts like “Where should I go to buy electronics?” will achieve either criterion in the context of advice.

On the other hand, I suppose for new teachers, the questions could be a helpful starting point but I don’t see them dipping into 500 Grammar based conversation questions for too long.

How dare you tergiversate! | The problem with power words

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Many of the professionals I teach have a perception that their American colleagues and clients have access to vocabulary that is more ‘powerful’ than theirs. One of them recently showed me this book – Power Verbs for Managers and Executives which includes eccentric entries such as tergiversate, the goose hangs high (how is that a verb), and topline (as a verb, really?). All this, mind you, from just one page.

There’s a whole genre of self-help books, usually from the US, ostensibly written to enhance an individual’s ‘lexical prowess’. Power words, however, seem to be a thing. I just googled the term and it seems to be commonly used across sales, marketing, and even blogging. There are glossaries of decontextualised power words prescribed for all sorts of situations.

These books and word lists are designed for proficient users of English and I suspect they’re not of much use to them either. In the hands of a less proficient speaker or writer, a power word has the potential to do some serious damage in a business context because the user is probably not familiar with its register, appropriacy and less critically the collocations it appears in.

Does pragmatics have an explanation for why perceptions of words differ in how they are received by readers and listeners? Do power words have any basis in research? I’m simultaneously irritated and intrigued by the whole idea and it’s something I’m going to be exploring.

Life after CELTA | An interview with Khadija Tambawala

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Last year, I blogged about the types of qualifications Indian ELT professionals could explore after completing the CELTA (Post-CELTA Development (PCD) | A primer for Indian ELT professionals). I wrote that post in response to the questions I got from teachers who’d just completed the CELTA. There’s also understandably a lot of anxiety about career prospects after the CELTA. Many of the conventional routes that CELTA qualified teachers take in other countries are either not available in India or are closed to teachers from India.

So here’s the first in a series of interviews I hope to do with Indian ELT professionals documenting their post-CELTA journey, with the aim of addressing some of these apprehensions and showcasing the rich range of meaningful career opportunities that are possible for someone who wants to work in this field.


I met Khadija Tamabawla a couple of years when I was doing a demo lesson at a CELTA course. We met again, recently, albeit virtually, on a MOOC. I was curious about Khadija’s post-CELTA journey. Here’s what she told me.

1. What sort of work were you doing before the CELTA? 

I did the CELTA two years after I graduated, during which I experimented with different kinds of work to see which one I liked best and considered worth pursuing. I worked as a content writer for a social media marketing company, as a PR professional, as a voice artist (something I still do in my free time), and also as a production executive and content creator for English e-learning services.

2. What motivated you to do the CELTA? 

In 2014, I got an opportunity to volunteer as an EFL teacher for a month in Yemen, and even though I had no direct experience teaching English, all the work I had done until then was based on my love for the language and proficiency at it. So, I went for it, and what an experience it was! It was absolutely exhilarating, and once I came back I decided that this was something worth exploring because I found it so challenging and enjoyable at the same time.

3. When and where did you do the CELTA? Have you completed any other formal qualifications since then? 

I did the CELTA in May 2015 in Mumbai with the British Council. Since then, I haven’t completed any other formal qualifications.

4. What kind of impact did the CELTA have on your teaching style? On your professional life? 

The CELTA shaped my teaching style because I didn’t have substantial teaching experience before it or any other teaching qualification like a B.Ed, which other CELTA participants often do. It exposed me to very effective ways of teaching English as a second language, great methodology and techniques, and things I would never have known otherwise. I felt better equipped and more confident about teaching and training in the field, post the CELTA.

5. In what contexts have you been teaching post-CELTA? 

Post CELTA, I worked with an MNC to train their employees in spoken and written communication skills in a full-time capacity, and after that, I started freelancing as a corporate trainer for different clients. I’ve mostly worked with young adults and junior level employees in organisations, focusing on grammar, conversational skills, soft skills and employability skills.

6. In your experience, how do Indian employers perceive the CELTA? 

Either they’ve never heard of it, and are just looking for someone who has relevant teaching experience, or they are aware of it and are only willing to hire people with a CELTA because they think it brings some credibility to the training and they can vouch for the trainer. Sometimes, employers just have ‘CELTA’ as a required qualification in their job profiles, but don’t really know how that should translate to the training quality and experience once the person has been hired. They believe getting a CELTA-qualified trainer will guarantee quality training and are thus also willing to pay for it, because it shows them that you’ve invested time and money towards your craft and are serious about it.

7. Did you apply for any jobs overseas? What was your experience? 

The first few months after I completed my CELTA I often contemplated looking for a job oversees and getting a year or so of experience teaching people from around the world, thus widening my repertoire. However, the opportunities are extremely bleak if you aren’t white-skinned or don’t hold a passport to prove you’re a native speaker. I did a lot of research about teaching in places like China and Vietnam, where it is believed that some schools and institutes are willing to hire “non-native” English speakers, but it honestly didn’t seem worth it to me. Most of them had crazy working hours, or were in extremely remote places, often hard to find on a map, so I gave up the idea.

8. How have you been developing yourself? 

I’ve been looking for a substantial qualification to further my career, something that doesn’t just look fancy on paper but also adds significantly to my skills and knowledge- I’m primarily considering an M.A. in ELT- but there aren’t a lot of options if you’re looking to do it in India. I’ve done a lot of research on credible digital M.A.s in ELT too, but can’t find anyone to vouch for them or share their experiences. In the meantime, I’ve been doing whatever I can to upskill myself, like taking courses through sites like Udemy and FutureLearn, participating in webinars and following blogs and websites that I find interesting.

9. Where to next? 

As a freelancer, I’m currently working on getting more consistent work which would be ideal. I’m looking to explore different kinds of training as well as polish the kind of training I already do. Within the next few years, I not only want to get another useful qualification, but also work on different kinds of projects with varied clients.

10. What advice do you have for new CELTA qualified English teachers in India? 

One very important thing I would say is, don’t expect the CELTA to create jobs for you overnight. From what I’ve seen, in India it’s quite a niche qualification for a niche industry, which not a lot of people are even aware of; but if you look really hard and in the right places, you will find people who are interested in your qualification and willing to hire you for what you bring to the table. It’s not like an MBA that often promises high-paying jobs in big companies, but what you learn from the CELTA is something that will always be with you and can’t be replaced by any other qualification.

I would also advise newly qualified CELTA teachers to keep themselves updated with what’s relevant to their fields. It’s easy to get comfortable at a full-time job that pays the bills, but keep developing yourself professionally, or one day you may just become obsolete!

If you have questions for Khadija, please put them into the comments section and I’ll pass them on to her. 

‘Topless’ images | A bias exploration activity

Topless image

This activity is inspired by something I saw on a project I was on although that particular activity was being used to explore gender roles. Since then I’ve used ‘topless images’ many times with my learners. Whether or not you want to explore biases and stereotypes, it’s a really productive speaking activity that gets everyone talking.


Objective

  • Explore biases, stereotypes and their impact
  • Develop oral fluency in this context

topless photos ELT

Materials

  • You will need to keep an eye out for images that are sure provoke a discussion on biases.

Preparation

  • Snip the tops of the images and place them on slides or print them out.

Procedure

  • Put learners into small groups.
  • Bring up each image and ask learners to come up with a backstory for the person in the image.
  • Take whole class feedback (Learners will generally suggest that A is a Hindu/Indian woman who is getting married, B is an Asian female model and that C is a Scottish bagpiper).

Debrief 

  • You can either display the original images and tell learners who these people are or ask them to visit the Huffington Post articles they’re taken from and confirm their backstories.
    • A is from http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/11/08/heres-theresa-may-looking-gorgeous-in-a-saree/
    • B is from http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/11/04/80-year-old-model-crushes-stereotypes-with-his-runway-swagger/
    • C is from http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/11/07/indias-first-female-bagpiper-is-a-self-taught-delhi-girl/
  • I usually keep QR codes ready and ask each group to send a representative to scan the QR Code on his or phone, access the article, skim and discuss it with their group members. Alternatively, you could stick the articles up on the walls of your classroom.
  • Ask learners to discuss how similar or different the real stories are from the back stories they came up with. Ask them to consider what this might reveal about their biases and the impact stereotypes have on their thinking. Get them to discuss what kind of impact this might have on their interactions with others, at work and in their personal life.

Here are the original pictures:

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Image attribution –  fair use for educational purposes: 

  1. Here’s Theresa May Looking Gorgeous In A Saree (Link), Huffington Post, 09/11/2016

  2. 80-Year-Old Model Crushes Stereotypes With His Runway Swagger (Link), Huffington Post, Suzy Strutner, 04/11/2016

  3. This Woman, Who Claims To Be India’s First Female Commercial Bagpiper, Has Made Some Really Cool Music (Link), Huffington Post, Anwesha Madhukalya, 07/11/2016

The headless black and white image is in the public domain.

Text mapping | An alternative approach to designing listening tests

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Earlier this year, I attended a course organised by the Hornby Regional School on designing communicative language assessments in Bangladesh. The course was taught by Dr. Rita Green, from Lancaster University, who is a research leader in the field of language assessments. My biggest take-away from the course was an alternative approach to designing listening tests called text mapping. Text mapping is a technique that Dr. Green conceived as a way of addressing some of the issues test designers experience when they select items from a listening text for a test. In January, when I was at the course, the technique was literally hot off the press and her new book Designing Listening Tests had just been published.

Text mapping questions prevailing practices for selecting items in a sound file for a test. Here’s what I normally do and perhaps you do something similar.  I usually skim the transcript to get a sense of the text and maybe write a gist listening question and then read it again to come up with some listening for specific information questions. I might then listen to the clip to ensure that the accent or speed isn’t too challenging for the target learners.

Dr Green challenged this practice and these two quotes she cited drove the point home:

A transcript and the speech it represents are not the same thing, the original is a richer, contextualized, communicative event.

Lynch, 2010

Life doesn’t come with a tapescript.

Helgesen, 2008

Text mapping attempts to address this gap in how we deal with listening texts. But, before we get on to the actual process, it’s important to distinguish between Specific Information & Important Details (SIID) and Main Ideas and Supporting Details (MISD). I think in teacher training, when we refer to these two listening strategies using the oft-used terms, listening for specific information and listening for detailed understanding, we inadvertently obfuscate what they really are. Dr Green differentiated the two in a way that was very easy to understand.

SIID requires selective listening. We listen for information such as dates, times, places, names, prices, percentages, numbers, measurements, acronyms, addresses, URLs, adjectives and nouns.

MISD requires careful listening. We listen for ideas, examples, reasons, clauses (nouns + verbs), descriptions, explanations, causes, evidence, opinions, conclusions, recommendations and points.

Text mapping can be used for gist, SIID and MISD but I’m going to describe the process for SIID which is what I experienced at the course and subsequently tried out on some unsuspecting colleagues.

1. Prep

Choose a level appropriate audio clip and organise a quiet room with good quality speakers. The text mappers you assemble should not have heard the clip before.  The clip should be short (approximately 30 seconds)

You will need to prepare an Excel sheet with SIID from the clip along with the time stamps of individual items which means you will need to text map the sound file yourself.

2. Briefing 

You need at least three text mappers to ensure validity. A larger pool will increase validity. Explain to the text mappers that they are going to be listening for Specific Information and Important Details. You may need to ICQ this to ensure that all the text mappers are on the same page about what constitutes SIID. SIID is usually not more than one or two words.

3. Listening to the sound file

Play the clip only once and ask the text mapper to listen for SIID. They must not make any notes during this time. When the clip finishes, ask the text mappers to write down SIID. The clip is played only once because Dr. Green suggested that over exposure could lead to too many items being identified.

4. Text mapping 

Ask the text mappers to tell you the SIID they wrote down. Enter these into an Excel worksheet. Poll the group to see who else got this SIID and maintain a tally. If you have variations in the response because they only heard a part of it or misheard it, record these as separate entries. After you’ve finished eliciting these responses, copy paste the time stamps that you’d prepared earlier. You’re likely to get items that are not SIID. A simple test is to check if the information being offered has a noun and verb in which case it is MISD and not SIID.

There may be variations with numerals because in real life we tend to write down numbers immediately or ask for them to be repeated. The test designer will need to keep this mind when selecting an item which has achieved consensus through a number of variations such as Room No. 4045, 4045, 4054, 4055 etc.

The text mappers might not give you items chronologically which is alright. You’ll just need to reorder them so that they appear sequentially in the worksheet.  You’ll also need to be strict about disallowing any  responses that were not written down. I experienced this with my colleagues when several said “Oh I remembered that but I didn’t write it down.”

5. Analysis 

Look at the SIID that a majority of the text mappers were able to identify. These are the items you ought to be testing. However, there are some things to bear in mind. Items at the very beginning of the clip should be disregarded even if you reach consensus (consensus means at least two thirds of the text mappers have identified it) with it because a test candidate may miss it merely because she is orienting herself to the clip in the first few seconds. Additionally, if two items appear within four to six seconds of each others, we ought to test one but not the other. Items should be evenly distributed through the sound file. It’s also important that all items test the same kind of listening behaviour – in this case selective listening for SIID.

6. Writing the test

The next step is to design questions using the items that were identified.

Reflections on text mapping

Here’s one that a colleague and I worked on with a sound file on making a hotel reservation. By text mapping a sound file, you have a systematic approach for identifying what you ought to test as we did with this file. The fact that you are listening to the file as opposed to reading a transcript facilitates the selection of  more authentic items  i.e., that reflect how we receive and process information in real situations. Selecting items from a transcript (and this often happens with me) may result in the testing of obscure items which we may not even register in a real life context.

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When we ran this exercise with a group of our colleagues, we faced some resistance to the concept. The main bone of contention was that we were testing memory instead of listening skills. I think the clip we selected (at 2 min 10 seconds) was far too long. I recall Dr. Green using really short clips with us (around 20-30 seconds). In a Google Preview of her book, I also recall seeing something about chunking the clip for MISD and allowing text mappers to make notes while listening for SIID with longer clips. Unfortunately, those chapters are no longer available online.

However, our colleagues came around when they saw the extent to which there was consensus for the items outlined in yellow in the preceding table and interestingly this coincided with an earlier round of text mapping with another group of text mappers.

I’m still a little uncertain about the relationship between the text mappers who are selected and the items that are identified through consensus. Text mapping as a process is designed not just for test designers but also to empower teachers to work collaboratively to design meaningful tests.  Therefore, wouldn’t the items selected depend on the language proficiency level of the text mappers? I suspect that in a monolingual English-speaking environment, the results of text mapping may be different than one where English is not the L1 like I experienced in Bangladesh. Further, what kind of impact does this have on item selection from the learner’s perspective, taking into consideration their own language proficiency. While theoretically, a sound file at B1 should have all of its items at B1 but in reality, this may not be the case.

These unanswered questions not withstanding, text mapping is a useful alternative to the somewhat random way in which listening tests are currently constructed. If you try out text mapping, do let me know about your experiences in the comments section.

Dr Rita Green.jpg

No prizes for guessing who in this triad is Dr. Green!

References

  • Green, S. Designing Listening Tests: A Practical Approach. Palgrave Macmillan: 2017.
  • Helgesen in Wilson, J. J. How to teach listening. Pearson: 2008.
  • Lynch, D. Teaching Second Language Listening. OUP: 2010.

Many thanks to Azania Thomas for creating the text mapping sheet that I’ve used in this blog.

Dr. Green’s book is unfortunately really expensive (as interesting ELT books tend to be). You can read a preview here. It includes some relevant chapters on text mapping for gist and issues with listening texts and working with authentic sound files.