I’m sure we’ve all been there. We’re in a language class, and the teacher is talking, but we’re actually understanding nothing about what is going on around us. Kind of like the deer in headlights effect.
All of our students have been there too. Should we care? Should we try to use language that is simpler, or speak slower? Or, should we just soldier on because we’re helping them get used to what it’s like in the real world.
Keep on reading to find out. Let’s dig into two of the major theories related to this idea of graded language.
Quick tip. What’s the solution to not understanding a single thing your language teacher says? It’s basically the teacher grading language. Why don’t all language teachers do it? Well, that’s not an easy question to answer, but let’s dig into it here!
Grading Language: Let’s Talk 2 Theories First
Before we get into all the details you need to know about grading your language when teaching English, here are two important theories that you need to be are of.
Theory #1: Stephen Krashen and Comprehensible Input
One of the major principles of language acquisition is the idea of comprehensible input, whereby learners are able to comprehend language that is it a slightly higher level than they’re currently at. This is a major tenet in Stephen Krashen’s Natural Approach to language acquisition.
He’s a huge advocate of extensive reading and listening of this kind of input that’s at a slightly higher level.
Theory #2: Vgotsky’s ZPD
Closely related to this is Vgotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, where he proposes real learning can take place if the concept is something that is just slightly higher than the student’s current ability. They can also be assisted by a teacher or another student to understanding.
Language Grading: Essential for Good Language Teaching
Graded Language: Use it in your Classroom for Better Results
How does this relate to English class you might be wondering. Graded language—you need to use it if you want your students to learn English effectively. Sure, you can speak at a slightly higher level and there’s even some benefits to this, according to this theory, but it can’t be too high above the level of your students or nothing will actually be happening.
What is Graded Language?
Basically, grading language is when you simplify what you’re saying either by speaking more slowly, or using simpler grammar and vocabulary. This can happen for reading as well, as many teachers like to use graded readers or something like Breaking News English which simplifies the major news stories of the day into various levels.
Some Bad Stuff Going On in ESL Classes Around the World
During my years teaching ESL, I’ve had the opportunity to witness plenty of other teachers who talk at their normal rate and don’t simplify their language at all. For slow talkers, it was perhaps kind of okay. But for those who normally talked quite quickly? It was certainly not ideal
Their utterances are met with confused looks and no response because the students actually had no idea what they were talking about it. These teachers often defend their actions saying things like, “Students need to get used to how it is in the real world.”
That logic is flawed on many levels, but the biggest problem is that it’s not in the “zone,” nor is it comprehensible input. This means that it’s unlikely to help the students in any way whatsoever.
Plus, the student will likely view your class as a total waste of time since you’re just talking at them, and not with them. Nobody likes being talked at, especially in another language that they’re struggling to figure out.
Challenge Students When You’re Speaking, at a Slightly Higher Level
While it is good to challenge our students, challenge them at a level only slightly higher than they’re at. You can also help them understand what you’ve said, if necessary.
Or, I’ve had the case where a stronger student is able to help a weaker student with something like instructions for an activity or homework assignment. Student A was able to get the gist of what I was talking about, but maybe didn’t catch a detail or two. This happens informally in language classes all the time and can actually benefit language learners.
Talk Slowly and Simply for Beginners
You can do this by talking slowly and using simple grammar concepts and vocabulary. This is especially important if you have lower-level students. By not doing this, you’re actually doing a disservice to your students.
And of course remember to tell your freakishly high-level student in a class with lower-level students to grade their language as well. This is what I did when I had native English speakers from Singapore in a public speaking class with low-intermediate Korean students.
The students from Singapore were kind of unaware that most of their fellow students couldn’t really understand them! They just talked at their normal pace when answering questions or participating in class and were mostly met with nervous laughter from the Korean students!
After I pointed this out to them, they had kind of an “Aha!” moment and the rest of the class went much more smoothly as they started to speak more slowly.
English Teachers Abroad and Grading Language
How do You Grade Language for Adult Learners?
Okay, so you’re convinced that grading language is where it’s at? There are a number of ways that you can do this, including some of the following:
- Speak more slowly
- Use simpler grammar
- Consider using simpler vocabulary, especially for beginners
- Use natural English (don’t drop articles for example)
- Say things in a different way if your students don’t understand the first thing you said
- Allow students some thinking time to process what they’ve heard (or read)
- Don’t patronize your students. Lack of ability in English doesn’t mean they’re stupid!
- Introduce new vocabulary periodically, after all, that’s how people learn new things!
Graded Language: Do you Use It?
What are your thoughts on using graded language in an ESL or EFL classroom? Good, bad, or you’re not sure. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us. We’d love to hear from you.
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