Problems With Messages.

Many things get in the way of expressing and interpreting messages. Two major causes of misinterpretation are regional and social variations of expression. First of all, it is important to bear in mind that language varies from city to city and from region to region. Such differences may cause a language learner some difficulty both in understanding speakers from other areas and in being understood. Inappropriate use of regional speech can sometimes lead to humor or worse, anger. For example, the word “papaya” is used in most of Latin America, it is considered obscene to use it in Cuba, where the fruit is instead called “fruta bomba.” Use of the label “papaya” in Cuba may evoke an angry reaction.  Second, one needs to pay attention to variations based on social differences, since misuse of them may be amusing or insulting. Equally, hearers may miss important messages if they are unaware of the social message inherent in a segment of speech. In many societies it is essential that participants in a conversation adjust their language to reflect their social status. We often adjust our language to fit the occasion. When giving a speech or socializing with strangers we tend to use more formal language than we are sitting and drinking with friends. Many misunderstandings in communication are due not only to language problems but also to ignorance of nonverbal cues. Learning a language is only the first step in beginning to communicate with people from different cultures. In all societies how we move our body or the expressions on our face are usually important parts of any message. In some societies, among them the United States, one shows respect for conversational partners by looking them in the eyes from time to time. Not to do so may be interpreted as a sign of disrespect, lack of interest or even untrustworthiness. The timing of a smile also carries a message. Rules when to smile very greatly from society to society. Americans smile at strangers to signal friendliness and politeness. In Eastern Europe, however, smiles are reserved for friends and intimates, and smiling at strangers signifies intrusiveness or simple mindedness. The number of inches or feet between speakers is an important social message. North Americans prefer speaking distance in comparison with closeness which they consider intrusive and discomforting. It is important to remember that we people sometimes do something not right – at least in the beginning – so we shouldn’t be afraid to try out while noting the reaction of the listener. Through trial and error, ability to communicate and understand will rapidly improve.

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Interpreting Messages.

When we learn to interpret what other people mean, it is also very complex. Because we learn to interpret meanings by the form of expression a person uses, misunderstanding can happen. This can lead to make judgements and become convinced that a speaker is not sincere, dishonest, or disrespectful when we misread the intentions or a message within the social setting. The need to use and understand socially appropriate messages is when a speaker has said “No.” In many societies and many languages, people do not usually say “No” directly. They use less direct ways to express refusal. A non-native speaker needs to recognize the ways in which this is done. For example, in Hispanic culture it is considered inappropriate for servants to say “No” directly to their employers. The social norm requires the servant to respond with the form “Mañana”. The literal translation of “Mañana” is “Tomorrow,” and the most frequently intended meaning in this situation is “No”. But this is a polite “No”, since the request was not denied directly, only postponed. A non-native employer will wait a long time for service if he/she relies on the literal meaning. Another example of misinterpretation has to do with who may initiate a conversation. In some Asian languages – Korean, Chinese or Japanese, children do not initiate conversations with adults and do not speak unless they are spoken to. In complete contrast, American children are encouraged to initiate conversations with adults. As foreign language learners, we need to be on lookout for an appropriate way to express ourselves. When we see a native speaker gets angry, or looks confused, or laughs at what we say, it is probably because our way of expressing ourselves is inappropriate from the cultural point of view, rather than grammatically incorrect. We also need to be aware of our own misinterpretation of others. When we feel confused or even angry, we need to seek the source of the problem in the flow of the conversation and the style of our expression. This process should not discourage us, since even in our native language we continue to improve means of expression and techniques of understanding others.

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Expressing Intentions.

People say, “Nick says one thing and means another.” As native speakers, we always need to interpret other people messages and express our own in ways that make communication clear. This is not easy, and people often ask for clarification. “Have I understood you to mean…?” In other words, it is quite common to hear what a person says but not understand the message, either of the way it was organized, or the context in which it occurred. Sometimes, we recognize that others have misunderstood our meaning, and we try to correct the interpretation by saying, “What I meant to say was…” While we learn our native language much effort is directed by our parents toward teaching us how to express our intentions in socially acceptable manner, and how to interpret the intentions of others. This process begins at a very young age and for some of us continues into adulthood. As an example, we often heard was the instruction, “When you want something, you will politely have to ask for it.” Because this training makes an integral part of our early native language learning, we believe that there is only one way to send and receive messages. When I use one way, I mean we evaluate messages according to our rules of interpretation. We can act negatively when messages come in forms we don’t understand or expect them to come.  Learning to express our intentions in a foreign language we learn involves many things. It means learning how to show agreement, when and how to hide feelings, how to make a request, how to start friendship, how to pay a compliment, how to accept or decline and invitation.

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Communication Is Governed By Rules.

When we communicate with each other we have to follow a certain approach that specifies such things as who can participate, what the social relationships are, what subjects can be discussed, who initiates the conversation, how turns are taken, and who chooses the form of address. All these very from one speech community to another one. Here is an example of how we may be misled and how focusing only on referential meaning might cause us to miss the real meaning of communication. In many parts of the world, it is not polite to accept an offer of more food the first time it is offered. Americans may be surprised or even annoyed that their polite “No, thank you” can bring yet another offer of food. When native English speakers say “no” to offers of food they really mean “no”. In another social setting saying “no” to an offer of food may be interpreted as a polite refusal with anticipation that the real refusal will be made after the second or third offer. In many parts of the world people are reluctant to appear too greedy or childlike by accepting food or drink the first or the second time it is offered. Foreign visitors to the United States may be disappointed when their polite “No, thank you” does not bring a second or third offer. The point is that it social meaning depends on customary use and on the associated values within a particular social context. Through the form we use, we express our feelings about a situation or a person. Considering the distinction many languages have between formal and informal form of “you” to “thee”. When we just change the pronoun form, we can express intimacy or distance, contempt or respect. It is usually more important to find the appropriate way of expressing oneself than even to be grammatically correct or have a good pronunciation. Appropriateness in expression is linked to basic attitudes about people’s social values and how people interact with one another.

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Communication Process.

For most people the main goal of learning a foreign language is to be able to communicate. The essence of communication is sending and receiving messages effectively. When we want to learn another language quickly and effectively, we should keep this main goal in mind, for the other goals such as vocabulary and grammar will follow naturally. We all learn our first or native language quite naturally, by focusing on the need to communicate. We learn how to send and receive messages effectively in order to accomplish our social goals. All native speakers communicate without thinking about the process. However, in order to accelerate the learning of another language, we need to become more aware of the skills we bring to the process. When we identify and recognize what we already know, we can more effectively guide our learning and be able to take shortcuts and recognize where we have gone wrong in expressing ourselves or in interpreting others’s messages. Some people mistakenly think that foreign language learning entails finding how to translate word for word from the native to the foreign language. Those who have this basic misunderstanding of the communication process will find foreign language learning impossible. Behind this belief is the idea that sending messages is just a matter of supplying information about something the speaker knows or wants, and the task is to find the exact words in another language to express this knowledge or desire. One of the problems with the above point of view that we can say the same thing in many different ways. If we want a window closed, we could give a direct command “Close the window!” Or we could do less directly by asking “Could you please close the window?” Under other circumstances, we might indirect saying “I feel cold” or “It is cold here.” The way we choose to make the request depends on the person to whom we are talking, the importance of the request, and even our mood at that time. We share referential meanings – our knowledge and desires, and we also send social messages. The two occur inseparably in personal conversations. It is impossible to send one kind of message without the other. There are very few situations in which referential meaning is more important with little variation tolerated. An exceptional example of the exchange that takes place between an air traffic controller and a pilot. In this case, variation is not possible and basic information exchange is of essence. On the other hand, we sometimes use language only for social purposes with little exchange and information, when English speakers ask, “How are you?” they really do not want to know the answer in detail.

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Best Of Formal And Informal Learning.

When people ask me which is more beneficial for adult learners: studying a foreign language in the classroom or using it in real life situations, my answer to this question is, that both are needed.  When beginning foreign language learners study in the classroom without a chance for real-life interaction with native speakers, their only sources of input are the teacher, the textbook, and media materials – CDs and videos. The language learners benefit from error correction, explanation of rules, and graded practice, which reduce information overload and provide a certain amount of security. The instructor often makes a conscious attempt to use simplified and familiar language, and this makes the language learners fill successful. As the knowledge of the foreign language increases, however, such study become less valuable than the use of the foreign language outside the classroom. A beginning foreign language learner needs outside motivation in order to keep studying, but we have to remember that when we enjoy learning a foreign language in natural settings, we have to go the informal routes. We also have to keep in mind that the usefulness of the standard classroom decreases as learners progress in their foreign language. High-intermediate and advanced language learners profit more when they are in the natural foreign language environment around and communicating with native foreign language speakers, especially as far as speaking and listening are concerned. using both settings may also be helpful. Since most adults are more comfortable in structured situations yet also, they need the motivation to communicate that comes from informal settings, they may try to take advantage of both environments.

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Formal Settings To Learn A Foreign Language.

In formal settings, learning activities are generally graded, simplified, arranged around specific thirty topics, and accompanied by presentation of specific grammatical structures and vocabulary lists. This situation provides an opportunity to learn a controlled sequence, with the teacher usually providing feedback by correcting mistakes and emphasizing the conscious learning of language rules. Classroom environments do not always offer continuous strong motivation to communicate or the opportunity to observe the way language is used in real life. The emphasis is often on being able to produce correct sentences and on knowing why they are correct or incorrect. When foreign language learners speak in the classroom, the teachers want them to produce correct grammar with the content of the message often considered secondary and occasionally totally irrelevant. After all, when one is practicing the plural forms of nouns, it is unimportant whether one uses vegetables or pieces of furniture as long as one does so correctly. The focus is not on what is expressed, but on how it is expressed. In real world settings, however, confusing noun endings is much less serious than confusing vegetables with furniture. In formal settings, language learners often learn a particular structure and then practice it in different contexts. Once the structure is mastered, the teacher proceeds to the next, until the learners completed the structures considered essential. However, there is no guarantee that the learners will be able to use these structures when they need to convey a message and they are concentrating on its meaning. In fact, I know that many learners who study a foreign language only in a classroom have difficulty communicating in the foreign language although they know a great deal about it. However, formal settings do have certain advantages. With their emphasis on accuracy, they allow learners to become aware of the rules of the language. This, in turn, helps them to develop an internal alarm system that will allow them to notice their own mistakes and to self-correct themselves.

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Informal Settings To Learn A Foreign Language.

There are two basic environments in which a foreign language can be learned: informal and formal. When a language is learned primarily through immersion into the foreign speech community, I refer to it as an informal setting. When a language is learned mainly with a teacher and a textbook, I call it a formal setting. Learning a foreign language in a community where it is spoken has its advantages and disadvantages, because outside the classroom, communication is not generally organized around the learner’s needs. The language to which the learner is exposed is not organized around grammatical topics, and the vocabulary is not presented in an organized fashion. However, an informal environment does offer a great deal of information about the nature of interaction and about appropriate ways of speaking. It usually also offers clues to the meaning of a conversation, since the setting, the relationship between participants, and the topic are generally clear. Further, and more importantly, it offers one of the strongest reasons for learning – the need to communicate. Most people study a language in order to talk to other people. In informal environments in which only a foreign language is spoken, the need to make oneself understood is crucial. Hence, informal environments offer unlimited opportunities for practice as well as instant reward – being understood. Punishment is just as instant and obvious: one fails to communicate the intended message. In informal settings, learners are neither particularly aware that they are learning, nor are they generally able to describe what they have learned. Since the primary use of language in in informal settings is communication, people learning another language in such settings usually go through a number of stages before they attain mastery. Learners in informal settings often go through a silent period; they are just listening to the new language and do not speak until they feel ready. In the early stages, they make lots of mistakes and rely heavily on their first language, on gestures, and on the help of their conversational partners. With additional practice, most of them begin to make fewer mistakes, and rely less on their native language and on their partners. A certain percentage of people continue to learn more and more words and make gains in fluency but continue to make grammar mistakes. I sometimes refer to this kind of language as “fossilized.” This is not uncommon among the immigrants who come to a new country as adults. Eventually, however, most informal learners reach a stage at which their speech approximates that of native speakers.

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Task Based Language Learning.

In the history of language teaching, there have been a number of theoretical models developed to guide teachers to an ideal method to help their language learners acquire and learn a native or a second language. We all learn in different ways, and thus different methods and types of activities are required to facilitate an immersive learning environment that allows each language learner to learn effectively. The main focus of this discussion will be about the Task Based Language Learning model, including its advantages and various components. The concept of the model grew out of an observation that language learners could learn languages more effectively if a language was presented in the context of everyday, practical, and interesting tasks: asking for directions to a restaurant, going to see a doctor, conducting an interview, shopping on-line, mailing a registered letter or a parcel at the post office, checking in to a hotel, ordering a meal by phone, or boarding an aircraft at the airport. The model grew out of communicative language teaching, in direct opposition to the pseudo-communication that a language learner receives from more traditional classroom activities derived from non-real-world activities. A language learner is the focal point of the lesson. This is contrary to what is usually the case in most teaching methodologies, where teachers are the focal point of the lesson. The model is focused on how language is used to achieve understanding between people, and how language can be used to accomplish certain tasks. The pre-task consists of a teacher introducing the topic and explaining the task. The task cycle is made up of all the different parts of the task that were assigned; the language learners plan the task, gather the information in the language to do it, and then produce the piece of writing or spoken performance. In the end phase, the language focus, the class analyzes the language they used in the task, making adjustments and revisions when necessary. The main advantage of the model is that it is language learner centered. This enables language learners to employ the language they already know as well as the new language being taught in that lesson, instead of only using just the ‘target language’ of the particular lesson. It is also likely that the students will be familiar with the tasks being used in the lesson, such as mailing a registered letter at the post office. Thus, the students will be more enriched and fulfilled in their language learning and will be motivated to continue learning. Some other advantages are that TBLL allows for meaningful communication, and often provides for practical extra linguistic skill building. When it comes to beginner level students, Task Based Language Learning may not be the best method for every way of teaching. This is because beginner level students need a substantial amount of comprehensible input to grasp the entirety of a language, and Task Based Language Learning focuses on the output of the target language. Another shortcoming often cited by foreign language teachers, is that Task Based Language Learning only focuses on certain production of language, and neglects others, such as debate or discussion.

To fully understand what makes up the heart and soul of a task-based language learning lesson, a framework of its characteristics needs to be outlined. There are five characteristics of a Task Based Language Learning lesson. They are:
An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
The introduction of authentic texts (teaching materials) into the learning situation.
The provision of opportunities for learners to focus not only on language, but also on the learning process itself.
An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
An attempt to link classroom language with language activation outside the classroom.

The preceding discussion talked about the elements make up a TBLL lesson in general. However, what are the elements that make up the core component of TBLL, the task? These are four characteristics that define a task, which are:

A task involves a primary focus on real meaning. A task has some kind of so-called gap.
The participants choose the linguistic resources needed to complete the task.
A task has a clearly defined, non-linguistic outcome.

As shown in the second characteristic of a task, every task has some kind of problem-solution equation that needs to be bridged; this is referred to as a ‘gap’ and there are identified three kinds of gaps. The first one is called an information gap, which is a transfer of information from one person to another, from one place to another, or from one form to another. It generally calls for the decoding or encoding of information from or into language. One example of an information gap task is paired group-work, where each member of the pair has one half of the information and must convey it to the other verbally. The second gap is known as the reasoning gap, which requires students to use given information to produce new information through inference, deduction, practical reasoning, or a perception of relationships or patterns. An example of this kind of activity is a ‘choose the best course of action’ exercise, where the students are given information about a stated problem and must select the optimum solution. The last type is the opinion gap, which involves students giving their personal opinion, view, feelings, or attitude about a given topic. An example of an opinion activity is story completion or discussion of a social issue.  In order to operate a TBLL classroom in the matter discussed above, a teacher will need appropriate activities to conduct their classes. The following discussion contains a number of examples for such activities. Activities involving the direct use and handling of products of a culture, such as postcards, photographs, symbols, and images in song lyrics, can be very effective in the classroom. One such activity called Culture Composition has as its purpose the development of writing skills, as well as the recognition of cultural artifacts. The teacher hands out various pieces of regalia, collected from travels abroad to English speaking countries, such as bus or air tickets, receipts, coupons, money, and photographs. The items are mixed up and in random order. Students are put into groups of two or three. They identify each item, and then make up a story about their set of items. The groups present their stories to the rest of the class, each person in the group taking a turn to tell part of the story. As an item occurs in the story, it is shown to the class and placed on the table. When all groups have finished, the students write their own individual version of their story. For these types of activities which teach culture, a task-oriented approach is suggested. Students work together in pairs or small groups to fine tune precise information. They share and discuss what they have discovered and interpret the information within the context of the target culture and in comparison, their own culture. One way to focus students’ attention on developing real world listening skills is through listening activities. This activity called Eavesdropping, teaches strategies for listening. Students are told that they are guests at a party and that they can eavesdrop on conversations. They listen to short segments of real-world party conversations and complete a worksheet in which they note down what topic the people are talking about. They also indicate on the worksheet whether they are interested in the topic or not. Follow up activities could include eavesdropping in the real-world settings where English is spoken, taking notes on what is heard and reporting back to the class. There are many creative approaches for using video in the classroom. One idea is through silent viewing clips to let students consider what is going on and guess what the speakers are doing and saying. Another approach would be for students to watch only the beginning of a video clip, and then they must predict what will happen next. Also, teachers could present a video clip through split viewing; half of the class sits with their back to the screen; the other half can see the screen; and both groups can hear. Pairs then come together after the split viewing and recreate the story. In all activities like these, a task-based approach is suggested. Teachers need to decide what, if any, language needs to be pre-taught. Students’ attention should be focused on particular viewing tasks. The teacher should decide what particular language points are to be taught, what follow-up activities will be used, and what student worksheets need to be prepared. If possible, it is helpful to make transcripts of the dialogue from the video clip for review later with the students. Another approach would be to set up a simulation of some real-world scenarios in which students familiarize themselves with the details through interaction with authentic materials. Then the students have to play a certain role in the scenario and communicate with others in a realistic manner while attempting to accomplish certain tasks. The aim of analysis activities is to encourage learners to investigate language for themselves, and to form and test their own hypotheses about how language works. In the task-based cycle, the language data comes from the texts or transcripts of recordings used in the task cycle, or from samples of language they have read or heard in earlier lessons. Having already processed these texts and recordings for meaning, students will get far more out of their study of language form. As the preceding discussion has shown, task-based language learning was developed by using real world educational environmental observations about how people actually acquire a second language. Using genuine, every-day, and common errands as the vehicle for teaching language that can applied to the students’ life, a task-based lesson can be extremely beneficial in building up a strong foundation for fluency in a second language. TBLL activities are particularly effective, because of the fact that they take into account that people have different learning styles, and thus need to have different types of stimuli to learn at the highest level possible. It also takes information which the student already knows and allows the student to apply that information to the new second language. Despite all the positives of task-based language learning there is still at least one drawback, that being due to the nature of TBLL using already existing knowledge to produce output of the target language; it is not the best choice of methods for beginner level students, who need a massive amount of input rather than output. We here at CIFLE fully endorse the task-based language learning model and encourage all teachers to use it in their classrooms.

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Nobody Teaches A Foreign Language We Want To Learn.

The foreign language we want to learn is not taught anywhere in our geographic area, or the foreign language course we want to take is offered at an inconvenient time, or the pace of a particular foreign language course is inappropriate to us. The alternative is independent study. We have to keep in mind that independent study requires a great deal of self-discipline and self-motivation. We have to ask ourselves if we can sustain motivation on our own, and if so, for how long we can do it. If we have been successful in self-study before, we will be able to handle such an approach. If we have never tried independent study in the past, we might consider finding an educated native speaker to work with temporarily. One of the most important steps toward success in foreign language learning is selecting the course of study which is right for us. When we know the objectives for learning a foreign language, we should be sure to choose a course that will help us to attain them. We treat the selection of the course like we treat any other major purchase.  We also have to consider the amount of experience we have in a learning foreign language. If we are a very inexperienced language learner, we may lack the learning strategies necessary for a self-instructional course. On the other hand, we are an experienced foreign language learner – the individualized program is right for us. Last but not least, we have to be realistic about the amount of time we can and have to spend on learning a foreign language. Foreign language courses are usually very demanding and require regular study, so we have to be sure that we can devote enough time to make the learning process worthwhile. We have to spend at least three hours of study which should include listening and then giving a summary and giving a gist, reading in the beginning out loud and follow by retelling what has been read, and speaking to oneself on various topics. All these elements have been done by thousands of my students in various types of programs. These elements are very important for building a foreign language foundation.

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