Video Transcript

Unit 1 - Course Introduction: The Kalahari Situation

Welcome to this series of videos to help you prepare for your time in the Kalahari. My name is Paul Shoebottom and I have over 25 years of experience teaching ESL students at Frankfurt International School. The reason that you have been asked to watch these videos is because you too will be working with ESL students as a teacher in the Kalahari classroom.

Although you will only be there for a limited period, you can play your own small part in helping the Kalahari students achieve academic success and thereby make better lives for themselves and their families. But in order to maximize the benefits that the Kalahari students get from your teaching, it is necessary for you to know some of the most important things that successful teachers of ESL students know and do. And that is the purpose of these videos.

Before we discuss ESL teaching strategies, it is helpful to have a look at this table contrasting the situation of ESL students at FIS with that of students in the Kalahari. Just a couple of things to note before we do so, however. Firstly, the points on this chart are generalizations. It is certainly generally true that both FIS ESL students and Kalahari ESL students are highly motivated to learn, but it does not apply to all of them. Similarly, not all FIS ESL students have wealthy parents or come from an intact family. But for the most part, what you see here is true. And secondly, I will not discuss everything shown here, so you will need to stop the video if you want to read all the differences.

I think the general point is that FIS ESL students have all the advantages, such as well-qualified teachers and access to all resources and technologies; whereas, on the other hand, Kalahari students are at a disadvantage. For example, because they are in classes too large to get much individual help from their teachers, and their parents are unable for various reasons to fully support their education.

What this means in practice is that you need to have realistic expectations of the Kalahari students you will teach. Some of them may come to class tired, hungry or worried; they may have very little English, and they may not have experienced much academic success or support for their studies. All this means they will need a little patience while they get comfortable with you being their teacher-helper.

Ok, here you see an overview of the main content of the remaining videos in this course. Firstly, we are going to take a look at what makes for a good teacher of ESL students like those you will be working with in the Kalahari. And then we will be focusing on aspects of the English language that are difficult for ESL students, and finally on what you can do to maximise the chances that the Kalahari students will learn from you.


Unit 2 - Characteristics of good ESL teachers

Ok, this video will be an introduction to the characteristics of a good teacher of ESL students. If you completed the pre-videos survey, you will have chosen your top three from this list. Of course all of these characteristics are important. Good ESL teachers have a deep knowledge of how students learn a new language, and they have personal qualities such as diligence, patience and a positive attitude. But these characteristics cannot be taught or learned in the duration of a short series of videos such as these. Instead, we will focus on three aspects of ESL teaching that you can begin to understand now and then put into practice in the Kalahari: firstly, how to ask good questions, secondly, what makes English difficult, and thirdly, comprehensibility, or how to ensure that your students understand what you say to them and understand what you give them to read.

So, let's start with the topic of asking questions. This quote from a handbook for new teachers makes it clear how important questions are for good teaching. You are all used to teachers asking you questions in class but you may not have realised that questions have different functions. Note that the examples that follow will apply to all teachers, not only to ESL teachers.

So, the first type of question can be called interpersonal questions. These are the questions that establish friendly and positive relationships in the class. A typical interpersonal question from a teacher might be: "Did you have a good weekend?" or "Are you planning to try out for the basketball team?" Questions like these are very important in the Kalahari in order to quickly establish a friendly, trusting relationship with the students you are teaching. They will then feel more comfortable answering your questions and asking questions of their own.

The second kind of question has the function of classroom management. For example, you need to check if students understand what they have to do, or if they have finished the work. Asking a question is often a less direct way of giving a command. A teacher who asks the question: "Why are you talking?" does not want the student to answer with a reason ("I'm talking because the lesson is boring)". The teacher simply wants to issue a softer command than the direct "Stop talking and listen". This aspect of language is called pragmatics and we will come back to that in a later video.


Unit 3 - Pedagogic questions in theory

The previous video looked at questions to establish friendly relationships and questions to manage the classroom. The third and most important types of question are pedagogic questions. These are questions aimed at helping students understand and learn. The most important functions of pedagogic questions are: Firstly, to check existing knowledge of the content to be taught. For example: "How do you calculate the volume of a cylinder?"

The second function of pedagogic questions is to check knowledge and understanding of previously taught content. So for example, "Who remembers the name of the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach?"

A third kind of pedagogic question leads students to an understanding of a complex idea, system or process. An example would be the series of questions that lead step-by-step to the solution of mathematics problem such as working out the formula for calculating the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

And a last type of question functions to stimulate student thought and discussion. For example:

"Why are so many people interested in the lives of celebrities such as sports or film stars?"

So we have seen examples of the different types of pedagogic question. Now, let's consider other issues for the teacher to bear in mind. Firstly, it is important that when teachers ask this kind of question they are aware of how difficult it will be to answer. Obviously, if the language of the question is too hard for an ESL student to understand, then it will be impossible to answer. We'll cover ways that you can improve the comprehensibility of your question later, so for now we will assume that the student has understood the question. And need to ask: "How can we assess if it will be relatively easy or difficult to answer?"

So, you will recognise these questions from the pre-videos survey page in which you were asked to rate questions about the Russian Revolution as harder or easier. Questions like those on the left are easier than the questions on the right, mainly because the answer can be very short and in many cases is asking for a single fact. So not very much English is required for the answer. Indeed the last one does not even require a spoken response, but simply a gesture.

The questions on the right require a much fuller answer, and so are more difficult for ESL students. As you can see from the column titles, the easier questions are often called closed questions or convergent questions, because they converge on one possible answer. The more difficult questions are open and permit multiple or divergent answers.

Here are some of the other questions from the survey, categorized by Open or Closed. Pause the video if you want to analyse why the Closed questions are easier to answer than the Open ones. In the next video you will put some of the theory about classroom questions, particularly pedagogic questions, into practice.


Unit 4 - Pedagogic questions in practice

In the last video you learned a little of the theory about the likely difficulty of a question for ESL students. Now let's consider the practical implications of this theoretical knowledge. There are two things to bear in mind. Firstly, in general, you should start a lesson or session with some quick closed questions before moving on to the open questions. For example, you could ask the closed question: "What do we call the number below the line in a fraction?" This will give even the students with very limited English the chance to answer, and will boost their confidence. The second thing to bear in mind is that when you pick a student to answer, you should match the question to the student's language ability. Don't ask open questions to students with very little English. Conversely, don't bore good students with a series of simple closed questions; challenge them with open questions that will provoke thought and require them to produce longer, more complex responses.

There are three more important aspects of asking questions that need to be considered. The first is wait time. Wait time is the time that the teacher waits after asking the question before choosing someone to answer. Of course, sometimes teachers do not wait and allow students to shout out the answer without raising their hand. This kind of questioning is actually not helpful to ESL students. It does not allow the slower students in the class to even finish processing the question before someone else has given the answer. They will soon shut down, if they feel they never have the chance to participate in discussions. So, in most cases, you should require students to raise their hand if they know the answer to a question. And then wait a few seconds before choosing someone to answer.

A related issue is whether you should disallow hand-raising altogether, and pick the student who is to answer the question. The advantage of this is that all students can be called on in a lesson, and so be made to feel they have a part to play and are not overshadowed by the quicker or better students. In general, though, this advantage is outweighed by the disadvantage of the embarrassment caused if the teacher asks a question that the student doesn't understand or cannot answer. In general, it is better to only pick those students who raise their hand or indicate in some other way that they know the answer. But then try to make an opportunity during individual working time to go to the slower or less proficient students and ask them some easy or closed questions to develop their confidence.

Finally, it should not only be you who asks questions. Students should be positively encouraged to ask if there is something they don't understand or that they want to know. They will be much more comfortable doing this if you can create the trusting, friendly relationships mentioned earlier.


Unit 5 - Difficulties of the English Language

Ok, we have looked at a first essential characteristic of successful teachers of ESL students: knowledge of everything to do with asking questions in the classroom. Let's now move on to the second essential characteristic: knowledge of the English language. In the survey you were asked to categorize aspects of English according to how easy or difficult you thought they would be for non-native speakers.

In this video we will discuss some of these difficulties, but first let's look very briefly at one feature of English that is objectively easy, certainly when compared to an inflectional language like Russian or German. So to see what we mean by inflections, let's look at English and German. As you can see the blue words in English have a much larger number of counterparts in German. This is because German requires certain words to be inflected, or changed, according to their case (nominative, accusative, genitive or dative) and their gender (masculine, feminine or neuter) or their person and number (for example, first person plural, third person singular). Pause the video if you want to take a longer look at this comparison.

Ok, there are certainly other aspects of English that are objectively easy for learners, but as a teacher of ESL students it is more useful for you to be aware of the difficulties. If you know what is likely to cause problems, then you can plan to provide sufficient help in ways that we will discuss later.

A first difficulty for English language learners is the tense system. Here are some examples of the choices that learners have to make. Native speakers never have to worry about choosing between, for example, I saw her and I've seen her, or I'll help him and I'm going to help him. But for ESL students this is a major problem. Stop the video and think about how you would explain to a non-native speaker when and why you would use one or other of the two alternatives listed here.

A second significant area of difficulty is the spelling/pronunciation system. English has imported many words from other languages, and it has also undergone some major spelling shifts in the last 1000 years. Because of this there is a large amount of irregularity between how words are said and how those words are written, so that you cannot reliably predict how to spell a new word that you hear or how to say a new word that you read.

Let's look at a few examples of this irregularity. Here are several words with the same '-ough-' ending, but in each case the '-ough' is sounded differently in British English. [ ... ]

These simple words actually have two different pronunciations, depending on the meaning. [ ... ] And these words have spellings that do not give reliable hints about how they are to be pronounced. Pause the video and see if you know how to say them before I read them out. [ ... ]

So, on the last slide we saw words all ending with the letters '-ough' but all with different pronunciations. On this slide we have the reverse: four words with different spellings but identical pronunciations (at least in British English).

Compared to a language like Korean, German or Turkish, the English spelling and pronunciation system is a real mess.


Unit 6 - Difficulties of the English Language: Vocabulary - Part 1

In the last video we looked at two difficulties of English, the tense system and the spelling/pronunciation system. Now we will look at a third major area of difficulty: English vocabulary.

As an introduction to the topic of vocabulary we need to note that English has more than twice as many words as German, which is the next most word-heavy language. Depending on whom you believe English has between 500,000 and 1 million words. This huge difference is because of disagreement in what constitutes a word for counting purposes. For example, is 'book' one word or two words because it has two different meanings according to whether it is the readable object or what you do to ensure a seat at the train? Are the four verb forms of 'book': 'book', 'books', 'booked' and 'booking' four words or one word? Is 'hot dog' one word or two? What about 'swynke', a word that appears in Chaucer's writing seven hundred years ago, but is not used today? And if I coin the word 'macmerized' meaning to be addicted to Apple products and write it in a blog, does this now count as a word?

All this discussion about numbers of words in the English language may be interesting in theory, but what is difficult in practice for ESL students is that there are several varieties of English, and therefore more words to learn. For example, they read the word 'diversion' in a British newspaper and learn what it means. But then they come across the word 'detour 'in an American newspaper and now need to learn this too as a second word with the same meaning. There are numerous examples like this as you can see from this list, which shows just the differences in words beginning with the letter C.

A similar problem that arises from the size of the English vocabulary is that very many words have synonyms, sometimes several of them. So a learner may have learned the meaning of 'confused', but then finds out that all these words have exactly the same meaning.


Unit 7 - Difficulties of the English Language: Vocabulary - Part 2

In the last short video you learned about the size of the English vocabulary and how there are many words for the same meaning. A more serious vocabulary problem for ESL students is just the opposite, namely that there are also many words that have several meanings. The most extreme example is the word 'set', which has over 40 meanings. Here are just 4: A mathematical set, a TV set, a set in tennis, and set as in the sun going down.

The reason that this is a problem for learners is that they will often read or hear a word they know already, but which is being used with a new meaning to them. The name for a word that has different meanings is 'polysemous'. Here is a table showing some common polysemous words. The 'First meaning' column shows the meaning that the student is likely to meet first. The subsequent meaning is a less common meaning and is likely to be met later.

For example, students meet the word 'arms' as part of the body in their first days of learning English, and may subsequently be confused when they meet the word in a sentence about terrorists buying arms. They know 'subject' as referring to an area of study, so they don't understand it in the phrase 'subject to'; for example, that a decision is subject to change. 'Odd' is 'a type of number: 1 3 5 etc. ', but it also means 'strange or unusual'. And so on.

So, it is clear that you need to be aware of the difficulty of polysemous words for the Kalahari students. But this is not the only kind of word that causes problems.

The three blue categories listed here typically also cause significant difficulties, and are important for different reasons. The General Academic group contains words like 'arbitrary', 'propensity', 'rapid' and 'deteriorate' that are essential for understanding written texts and teacher explanations in all the subjects. Of course, students learning mathematics, geography, physics, and other subjects, will need to learn the vocabulary specific to that subject, such as these math words. But in most cases this vocabulary will be explicitly taught and learned, and is often the focus of the lesson.

On the other hand, general academic words like these listed here may occur in any or all of the subjects. The problem is that they are only very rarely explained by the teacher. In most cases general academic words express abstract concepts and are not used in everyday language. This makes them very difficult to learn in the natural way that students learn much of the other vocabulary. You need to be aware of this difficulty in the texts you read with the Kalahari students or what you say to them.

Idioms like the ones you see here are very common, especially in everyday English. They can be particularly difficult because the student usually understands all the words that comprise the idiom but has no idea what the sentence containing them means. There is no way, for example, that you can work out from the words alone that 'to be on cloud nine' means 'to be very happy'.

The next group of words, called phrasal verbs, are probably the most difficult category of vocabulary for English learners. Here are some phrasal verbs: 'to get at', 'to set off', 'to turn out', 'to put down', and 'to make do with'. As you see phrasal verbs usually consist of an extremely common short verb together with one or two prepositions (or particles, to be more exact). These words are very important because they are very common. And they are very difficult, because in many cases, like idioms, the actual meaning does not derive from the component parts. What makes phrasal verbs even more tricky is that many of them are also polysemous, so that even if the student has learned one meaning of the phrasal verb, there is no guarantee that it will be understood the next time the student meets it.

As an example, let's look briefly at the phrasal verb 'to put down'. In the first sentence it has the literal meaning of moving something down to a surface. In the second example it means to humiliate. In the third sentence it means to crush or quash and in the last sentence it means to kill.

Here are some more phrasal verbs. They may seem easy and obvious to a native speaker but they are certainly not for language learners; and you need to be aware of this when working with Kalahari students.


Unit 8 - What makes language incomprehensible

OK, let's now focus on the third characteristic of a good teacher of ESL students, comprehensibility. Comprehensibility means understandability. If the Kalahari students cannot understand what you say to them and what you give them to read, then they will not learn anything from you.

Before we look at some ways to ensure that you are comprehensible, let's consider the factors that may make it difficult or prevent the student from understanding spoken language. If you did the survey, you will have already given some thought to this question. It is helpful to divide the factors into one of these three categories: Teacher factors, student factors and situational factors. We won't discuss them all, so pause the video if you want to have a closer look.

The teacher factors include talking too quickly or softly. Student factors include not concentrating - maybe because the student is tired or worried. And the situational factors include background noise and other distractions.

Any one of these factors alone can impede understanding, so you can imagine how difficult it is if several come together, such as the teacher using difficult words about a topic the student has no knowledge of when there is a loud soccer game going on outside the classroom.

Ok, now let's have a quick look at what makes written language difficult to understand. Obviously, a major cause of difficulty will be the text itself. This is often the case when the teacher scribbles notes or homework assignments on the blackboard, and the text simply cannot be read. More likely, though, is that the text will be incomprehensible because it contains many difficult words or is written in complex syntax.

The student factors and situational factors are virtually the same as those that prevent understanding of spoken language. As with spoken language, the text becomes all the more difficult to understand if several factors combine. For example, I'm sure you've all experienced not understanding what you're reading if you're not at all interested in the topic, the text is full of long, long sentences and you can hear the television on in the next room.

Ok, on both this and the last slide you've seen that failure to understand may be because of complex syntax or because the student lacks pragmatic or cultural knowledge. These terms need a little more explanation.

Syntax means sentence structure. What we have here are three simple sentences (A simple sentence is a single clause with a single subject and predicate.) These are not difficult to understand, but writing would be very boring if it consisted of a series of simple sentences like this. Instead, good writers combine clauses into sentences with complex syntax such as this: 'Because of the rising cost of food and the fact that many people had lost their jobs, revolts broke out all over the country'. But sentences with complex syntax can be a lot harder to understand'.

Pragmatic knowledge can be exemplified in these three exchanges. You would find it strange if, when you ask you friend, 'Do you have any cash on you?', she answers 'Yes, I have. How about you?' This is because, in fact, you are not asking a question about money but making a request for money. Both asker and answerer share the pragmatic knowledge to interpret this situation correctly. Similarly, if you visit your friend and you say: 'It's not very warm in here', it will be understood as a request to turn the heating up, not as a statement with which your friend may agree or disagree.

Ok, I'll leave you to interpret the teacher's full and honest opinion about Mary!

So the utterances on the left all rely on the listener sharing pragmatic knowledge with the speaker. Since pragmatic knowledge is developed intuitively within the language environment you grow up in or live in for a long time, you cannot expect Kalahari students to share it with you.

Cultural knowledge is also developed automatically over a long period of time in a language environment. As an example have a look at this question from the grade 8 Mathematics book used at FIS. I'll read it: 'The 12 office staff at The Tannery won a prize of 34,859 pounds on the pools. This prize was to be divided equally between the 12 people. How should they share this prize? Discuss'. It is probably incomprehensible to anyone who has not grown up in England, understands that The Tannery is a pub or public house (meaning a place where you go to drink alcohol), and that the pools is a kind of lottery based on soccer scores.

Students who do not share the cultural knowledge that is implicit or explicit in a spoken or written text are not going to understand that text, and a dictionary is not going to help them.


Unit 9 - Making spoken language comprehensible

Ok, in the last video we analysed the different factors that can make spoken and written language difficult to understand. And many of those factors are beyond the control of the teacher. But there are several things that you can do as the teacher of Kalahari students to maximise the chances of them comprehending you. Let's look at spoken language first. Obviously you need to speak clearly and naturally. You may need to slow down your normal speaking rate just a little and enunciate the words a little more distinctly, instead of swallowing them in a question like 'Jave a good weekend?' But do not slow down to the extent that you sound unnatural and even patronising 'Did you have a good weekend'?

The next pieces of advice relate to issues we have covered in previous videos. Basically, be aware of what you say that is likely to cause problems because of the words themselves, or because the implicit cultural or pragmatic knowledge or because of the syntax of utterances you produce.

One last and very important piece of advice is to use visual aids whenever possible. You can imagine how much more difficult it is to understand a new scientific process by listening to a podcast about it, than to see a video with lots of images, diagrams and animations. The same applies at word level. Imagine that the Kalahari group you are working with doesn't know the verb 'to skip' (or jump rope). You will convey the meaning more quickly and reliably if you show students a drawing of someone skipping than if you try to explain in words alone. You can even act out some words.

It is best if you can predict difficult words in advance and make quick drawings in your preparation time. But you should also have plenty of blank paper ready during your lesson so that you can spontaneously draw pictures or diagrams to help explain words that you didn't predict would cause difficulty.

Of course, there are very many words whose meanings cannot be conveyed in a picture, and we'll take a look at how to make those words comprehensible in the next short video.


Unit 10 - How to explain unknown words

If the Kalahari students don't know a word that you cannot explain with a picture, then you have three basic choices. Firstly, you can give a definition. So if the new word is 'predict', you can explain that predict means saying what you think will happen in the future. Secondly, you can use the word in a sentence or two exemplifying it, as here with the word 'superstitious'. And thirdly, it may be best to simply give several examples of the word, because neither a definition nor an example sentence can easily convey the meaning; for example, the word 'preposition': 'in, on, at, by, with, under are all prepositions'. Of course, there is no reason why you should not combine methods to make sure you are really understood.

Before continuing, watch this video of a former Kalahari participant explaining the word 'sin'.

Ok, now it's time to try out these methods yourself. Here is a list of words from various practice exam papers that Kalahari students have used over the past few years. Pause the video and think about how you would explain each of these words using one of the methods we have discussed. The word 'heat' here is polysemous and has to do with athletics not with temperature.

Of course, it is entirely possible that Kalahari will still not understand the word after your long explanation. If that is the case, you should get a translation of the word in Tswana, either from one of the other students in your teaching group, or from a Kalahari teacher after class. In some cases you may want to skip a long explanation in English altogether and tell or show them the Tswana translation that you have learned in advance or that a more proficient student in the group tells you. This is perfectly fine on occasion, but in general it is better to try stick to English.

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Unit 11 - Explaining written texts

In this video we'll look at what you can do to make difficult written texts easier to understand. It is unlikely you will be writing too much yourself for Kalahari students to read, but if you do, be aware of the various difficulties we have discussed earlier and try to avoid them.

A much more likely scenario is that you will need to explain texts written by someone else, including practice exam questions. If it is just a single word that is causing difficulty, you should draw pictures and diagrams if possible, or use the explanation methods that were described in the last video.

But often the difficulty in understanding written texts goes beyond failure to understand single words or phrases, but is because of the complex structure of the sentences. Let's look at a short passage from the grade 10 World History textbook about emancipation in the USA, which is written in very complex syntax.

Imagine that you are working with a group of Kalahari students taking history class, and you need to prepare a mini-lesson to help them understand the text. Pause the video while you analyse the text for its likely difficulties and how you could help the students overcome them.

Ok, to start with, we should note this text is based in a cultural assumption that women should enjoy the same rights as men, which is not shared across all cultures. This might be an interesting starting point for discussion.

That aside, let's look at vocabulary and note that there are no idioms or phrasal verbs - which we have identified before as causing significant problems. But there are general academic words such as 'disperse', 'obstacle', 'stereotyped' and other words such as 'bigotry' and 'acculturated' that are not common to everyday spoken language. All these are likely to be difficult. There are also two polysemous words to be aware of. It is likely that students will have first encountered the word 'board' as in 'blackboard' or 'bulletin board', and not with its meaning here as a group of governors. Similarly, 'grave' is likely to be known as a burial place, and not as meaning serious.

Another significant difficulty is the complex syntax of the text. The first sentence contains a very long noun phrase as its subject before we come to the main verb 'faced'. The second sentence starts with a long dependent clause before we come to the main subject 'women'. Both of these grammatical features, long noun phrases and postponement of the main subject, make texts difficult.

So having established the reasons why the text is difficult, let's consider how to make it more comprehensible to the Kalahari students. The first thing you can do is to identify the key words. Together these will provide an essential summary of the passage. In the first sentence, the key words are the noun subject 'women', the verb 'faced' and the three objects 'obstacles', 'humiliation', and 'bigotry'.

In the second sentence the essential words are the subject noun 'women' and the verb 'hesitated'. You can build up an understanding of the rest of the passage just based on these key words

As a general rule, the important words in a text will always be nouns and verbs. Other parts of speech such as adverbs and adjectives are of secondary importance in establishing the key ideas.

For our second example of difficult written text we'll take a very brief look at another question from the mathematics text book. Pause the video to analyse it yourself before listening to the discussion.

Actually there is not a lot to say about this except that it makes the cultural assumption that the student knows the rules of rugby; that a try is equivalent to a goal in soccer but earns three points.

This would not be hard to explain to the Kalahari students. What is hard, however, is being aware of the cultural assumptions you make or are made in written texts and the fact that they not be shared by your students.


Unit 12 - Course Summary

Ok, let me summarize what you have learned during these several videos. But before I do so, please note that the web page embedding the videos contains links to much more detailed explanations of the various issues we have covered. There is also a link to several pages of interesting comments from former FIS participants in the Kalahari Experience. I'm sure you will find some of their insights very valuable. And finally, if you have a question about anything you have heard in this video course, please send it to me by email. Your FIS supervisor can pass my email address on to you.

Ok, so what have you learned from these videos? Well, firstly, you have learned two important aspects of the English language that make it difficult for Kalahari students, namely the frequent mismatch between spelling and pronunciation, and the various types of difficult vocabulary such as idioms, phrasal verbs and general academic vocabulary.

And secondly, you have learned something about teaching ESL students, particularly the central importance of questions and how to ask them, and then the various ways to make spoken and written language comprehensible.

If you put some of this advice into practice, while at the same time demonstrating the personal qualities of patience, empathy and cheerfulness, then you can play your part in improving the Kalahari students' chances of academic success and pursuing the career of their hopes and dreams. Not only that, you yourself will enjoy and benefit from your challenging role as their teacher.

So the only thing now left for me to say is: Good luck and have fun!