Video Transcript 8

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.