English in Manchester
English in Manchester
I recently headed up with Mike Harrison to give a presentation at the Natesol conference in Manchester, there were a number of good sessions, so here’s my report on what I saw:

The President of the organisation, Mike Beaumont, introduced the event, explaining that NATESOL was set up 25 years ago as a counterpart to the English teaching organisations that could be found around the South Coast. Until it had been set up, there was little of this in the North of the country. While it is based in Manchester, they have also held events in cities such as Sheffield and Leeds. The event had a number of different sessions, looking at different aspects of teaching – Below are my accounts of the ones that I saw:

Focus on Listening Skills – Philida Schellekens

The first session of the day was lead by Philida Schellekens and dealt with the development of listening skills. This was a similar talk to that at the ESOL SIG day at IATEFL (more on that here) but was also followed by a question and answer session. Philida believes that we need to consider a new way of looking at listening skills development. Her point is that there are two skills needed for listening – one is comprehension and the other is processing the stream of sounds into words to comprehend – much teaching seems to concentrate on comprehension while neglecting this decoding aspect. However, the ability to decode this stream of sound is vital for learners to be able to comprehend what is being said.

That English is a stress timed language might explain the problems for English and French speakers learning each other’s languages. In English the syllable stress is often key to decoding words, hence Philida’s own view that English sounds like a purring Jaguar – it is a continuous stream of sound with no easily identifiable break between words. The breaks in speech do not correspond to word boundaries. We need to equip learners with strategies to deal with this.

Philida believes that teaching some of the rules of spoken English can be beneficial. One example given was that “one apple, two apples, three apples, four apples”, actually sounds like “Won napple Too wapples Three yapples Four rapples” (example taken from Michael Vaughan-Rees (2010) Rhymes and Rhythm Garnet 2nd edition). English has a natural pause every 12 syllables, hence there is often no indication of where words start and finish. Word stress is often the most important factor in understanding spoken English. Philida cited Anne Cutler’s research that found that 90% of English words are stressed on the first syllable. This could be useful information for learners; Dictation was suggested as a way to get learners to focus on sounds, exploring the difference between what is said and what learners hear can help their understanding of English sound systems. Learners tend to scan for words that they recognise and this can lead to problems for understanding. Another approach can be to use a tool such as Vocaroo (as demonstrated by Russell Stannard here) to allow learners to record themselves and listen to their language.There was a discussion on how to bring the outside world into the classroom. A suggestion was to do this through regular visits and visiting speakers. Communication logs can be used to investigate learners’ actual language use as well as to perform a needs analysis. One point which emerged from this was that learners often want more content around language for work. (See DWP Study) Could this be related to the gender balance in ESOL teaching? Which is the symptom and which is the cause?

This was a though-provoking talk and discussion, and it has made me start to consider how best to teach listening skills – I remember struggling through the machine-gun-like listening component of my A-Level Spanish exams, so there is a lot in this talk which resonates with my experience. Developing techniques for improving learners’ ability to process the stream of sound seems to be an area that needs to be developed.


Making and sharing video clips with young adult ESOL learners – Richard Gresswell

Richard Gresswell is an ESOL teacher from Leeds, who has been working on a teacher exchange for the last year. He has been blogging on different ways of including technology in the English language classroom.

His presentation at NATESOL was about how video can be used to bring learners’ lives in to the classroom. He has taught ESOL to many young learners who have had a disrupted education and as a result their ‘traditional literacies’ have been affected. However, they often demonstrate a high level of ‘digital literacy’. Richard feels that these digital literacies can be used as bridge to more traditional literacies in the classroom.

Richard then showed different ways that these literacies could be harnessed. The first was to get learners to use Windows Movie Maker to create short video presentations on a topic. An important point that was made was that while some of these presentations used a limited amount of language, they had been produced in groups so they required a large amount of communication in English in order to be produced. Richard pointed out that these video presentations could give learners the opportunity to explore their identity.

The second part demonstrated in the presentation were presentations based around the Fallas de Valencia, which are a huge part of Valencian culture. Richard had given his students a video camera to film preparations for the festival – this allowed them to show a side of the festival usually hidden from outsiders.

The theme to this talk was that learners can use video to express their identity and that in doing so they could develop their language skills. That the use of digital literacies could facilitate this in a way that learners were familiar and felt comfortable.

Richard has also blogged about the event here.

One thing that this talk made me think about was how Windows Movie Maker type videos could be a good alternative to PowerPoint. They provide a very visual stimulus, meaning that learners have to produce more language, as opposed to copy huge chunks of text on to PowerPoint slides. (see also Prezi vs PowerPoint).

Pete Sharma – Interactive whiteboard

Pete Sharma presented a session presenting techniques taken from his book 400 activities for the interactive whiteboard. These can be seen from his blog, which can be found here.

One use that I really liked, and hadn’t thought of before was the use of the ‘infinite clone’ feature as a voting tool.

As well as looking at IWB stuff, Pete whizzed through a number of ways that technology is changing education in general – many of which can be seen in his powerpoint: here. One interesting fact he pointed out was that while Germany hardly uses IWBs, Mexico has loads of them – there’s something to be looked at in more depth there…

David Byrne – ESOL & Poetry

David Byrne is an award winning poet and an ESOL tutor in Manchester – there is more information on his biography here. This session presented a number of ways that creative writing and poetry can be used with learners in order to reflect on and present the challenges that they felt in coming to the UK. These were accompanied by videos created using Windows Movie Maker or Powerpoint. This had a common theme with Richard Gresswell’s earlier presentation where the combination of new digital literacies with more traditional literacies, such as poetry allowed learners to express their identity.

David showed a creative writing exercise where learners are asked to imagine a person and come up with answers to questions that describe this person – it seemed to be a good stimulus for creativity.

Again this was pretty stimulating. Following the Skills for Life agenda, there is a lot of pressure for Functional lessons, this session was a reminder that language is for so much more than simple functional/transactional exchanges, and that it is our responsibility to develop this.

Overall this was a nice, well organised and very stimulating event, one I will have to look out for in future. I hadn’t realised before – but all the handouts etc, are available on the following link:


7 thoughts on “NATESOL

  1. Thanks for the write up, Phil – really appreciate that.

    Just to add you can also combine PowerPoint and Moviemaker. So you save the PowerPoint presentation as a set of images and then import into Moviemaker. You can also import any soundtracks etc. This is what one of the students did here in Spain on the Fallas festival project – link for this.

    All the best

    1. Thanks for highlighting that – I guess the key thing about so much of this modern technology is that things that you needed the pros for not too long ago are possible with basic equipment (perhaps not so good for the pros though….)

    1. I hadn’t until recently – but having a day like this for only £25 is really valuable – other regional organisations should try the same – I should have mentioned in the post that big thanks are due to Will Nash and Bev Davies for organising the event – it was excellent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s