We held our 2nd Professional Development Workshop for TEFL experts on 8th August here at UCT’s Hiddingh campus. Our thanks go out to both Warren Lilley and Daniella Favis for presenting their workshops, and also to those who attended. It was an interesting afternoon, especially as we looked at Calvin and Hobbes’ cartoons and learnt some Klingon!
Daniella has provided us with this summary of her presentation:
Helping students recognise implied meaning
There’s often quite a lot of meaning outside of the words a speaker uses. For example, the word ‘really’, when spoken, can mean ‘I’m surprised’ or ‘I don’t believe you’ with a simple change in tone, intonation and stress.
However, this is not the only way to imply meaning. Sometimes, we do so, not by how we say something, but rather by what we don’t say. Here’s an example:
Mark: Has Bonolo left for work yet?
Christine: It’s after nine.
Mark is able to understand Christine’s response using contextual information. Since he knows Bonolo gets to work by nine, and since Christine has now provided him with the time, he is able to infer that yes, Bonolo has already left for work. Someone who is able to interpret meaning according to context is said to have pragmatic competence. Pragmatic competence is acquired through understanding the words used as well as the intention of the speaker.Pragmatic competence is only useful when both participants cooperate with one another, and when they share an interest in furthering the purpose of the conversation. This is what Grice, a well-known philosopher of language, called the Cooperative Principle. He believed that conversations, in order to work, need to follow a set of rules that he called ‘maxims’. These maxims, he believed, ensure that conversations comply with the Cooperative Principle. These are his four maxims, or rules for conversation:
- Don’t say something you believe to be false, or for which you have little evidence.
- Don’t give more or less information than is needed.
- Be relevant.
- Don’t be ambiguous or use words that are difficult to understand.
This means that in order to converse in the most efficient and cooperative way, participants should speak honestly, relevantly and straightforwardly while providing just the right amount of information. But, sometimes, what we say is not trustful, appropriately informative, relevant and clear. And, sometimes, this is our intention.
In Mark and Christine’s dialogue above, Christine is not actually providing Mark with the exact information on Bonolo’s whereabouts. Therefore, Grice would say she is ‘flouting the maxim of relevance’. However, since Mark has pragmatic competence, and since he assumes Christine is adhering to the Cooperative Principle, he is able to find the implied relevance in what she is saying. When we flout, a maxim, we do so in order to convey a message beyond what is directly said, to imply something.
What does all of this have to do with the field of ESL? Comprehension of implied meaning takes much more time and processing effort than that of conventional meaning because of the perceived mismatch in information. As a result, studies have shown that, compared with first language speakers of English, ESL learners are poorer at grasping implied meaning.
Further studies have shown that, while natural interactions with first language speakers are helpful, deliberately teaching students to develop the ability to understand implied meaning is necessary for them to master it.
Ways to help ESL students to recognise implied meaning
There are a number of ways to help ESL students to begin recognising implied meaning.
Firstly, English has quite a few conventions with regards to indirect, or implied speech acts. For example, polite requests, such as ‘Can you please pass the salt?’ or ‘I was wondering if you could pass the salt’ have implied meaning, as they don’t directly command that the listener pass the speaker the salt. But, since they’re common conventions for making polite requests, they can simply be taught as such.
Another way to assist students in identifying implied meaning is to allow them to practice using linguistic and contextual clues to figure out meaning that isn’t immediately evident. An example of such an activity is to provide students with sentences in which one word has been replaced by the word cucumber; students should change cucumber to a word that makes better sense.
Lastly, a few interesting studies have stressed the importance of using videos and cartoons to help students with identifying implied meaning. These are helpful as they provide realistic models of contextualised language, they represent various social and cultural contexts, they provide visual cues to assist students in comprehending the auditory information, and they increase motivation.
If you would like further reading material on this topic, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or Daniella on this address.
Language learning through mobiles devices
Warren gave an introductory session into how we, as TEFL teachers, can use technology in our classrooms, to enhance our students’ learning. It was a very practical session. The most inspiring aspect was that Warren has learnt an entire fictional language, Klingon, as made famous in the science fiction series, Star Trek so that he could, in turn, teach us some Klingon using technology. The point was to place us in the same position as our students. He introduced us to Duolingo and Quizlet and after being introduced to some words and phrases, and practising it, we competed against our ‘classmates’ in a game on Quizlet. It was very exciting to experience it. Warren has made a website if you would like further information Language Learning in the 21st Century. Warren ended by reiterating how important it is for the TEFL industry to stay at the forefront of the technology wave.
More TEFL Experts
- Focus on Reading – Understanding the process led by Christelle van Niekerk
- A Peek into the World of ELT Publishing by Sarah Gaylard.
We look forward to seeing you there!