Teaching Languages off the Beaten Track

by Michal B. Paradowski (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 399 Pages
Series: Inquiries in Language Learning, Volume 10


The 21st-century global linguistic landscape has seen many changes for language learners. New assessments have been made in a host of areas, especially regarding learners’ needs, motives, the target of instruction, and methodologies. The new realities, locales and purposes of communication all necessitate a shift in attitude and a new set of competencies is required of the teacher. This volume comprises a multi-faceted and thoughtful response to these changes in both modern reality and teaching philosophy. It is a study of a few of the other ways to tackle situations outside of norms and routines. The authors of this volume possess many years of teaching experience, and have stepped off the roads most travelled to explore new avenues and find novel solutions in foreign language teaching. This volume familiarises readers with contemporary theoretical debate and new research, and demonstrates how to easily translate these into practical, everyday classroom applications.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Section 1: Individual Factors in Language Learners
  • Learning Style Preferences of Iranian EFL Learners with Kurdish and Persian Cultures
  • Compulsory L3 at Age 13: The Relation Between Personal History, Attitudes to Language Learning and Achievement
  • The Role of Cross-linguistic Awareness in Grammar Acquisition in a Multilingual Classroom
  • From Theory to Practice: Understanding Cantonese and Mandarin English Learners’ Pronunciation Phenomena through Optimality Theory
  • What are the Determining Factors of L2 Improvised Speech Performance? An Exploratory Study
  • What Motivates Polyglots
  • Section 2: Unconventional Teaching
  • Anglicizing Polishness. A Report from the ELT Front in Post-communist Poland
  • “Do Languages Die?” Promoting Awareness of Language and Linguistic Diversity in Preschool
  • Optimizing the Benefits of Overseas Academic Sojourns: Pre-Departure Training for Exchange Students
  • A Text-Based Approach to Teaching Writing in the ESL Classroom
  • Teaching Writing Across Borders
  • The Influence of Chinese Rhetoric on the Development of Communicative Competence in Learners of Chinese as a Foreign Language
  • The Primacy of Lexis. In Search of an Alternative to the Analytic / Holistic Dichotomy
  • Using Gestures and Paralinguistic Features of Communication in Teaching EFL Speaking
  • Teaching Linguistic and Intercultural Competence through an Emotions-based Curriculum
  • Teaching Italian with the Aesthetic Image
  • Section 3: Overcoming Learners’ Problems
  • When Words do not Come Easy. On the Importance of Phonological Awareness Training in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to a Polish Dyslexic
  • L2 Vocabulary Learning Strategies Used by Blind, Partially Blind and Normally Sighted Learners of English
  • Video Sign Language: A Research Study on Using Technology to Teach American Sign Language
  • About the authors


In the realm of foreign language teaching, much has already been practised and researched. The number of quantitative studies presented at conferences, in journals, and books investigating both the successes and the failures of different methodologies increases from year to year. We know more and more about the processes underlying language acquisition, and the factors influencing it. Teachers are forsaking mindlessly jumping on the bandwagon of a single ‘new’ and ‘better’ methodology and, in their state of healthy post-method scepticism, are opting instead for a more eclectic stance. Course books available on the market are increasingly more colourful, more ‘hip’, more communicatively oriented… and more uniform. However, despite all of this ostensible progress, every now and then we vaguely feel that we are missing something. Maybe it is because we have lost sight of the trees for the forest; maybe the mainstream is becoming monotonous; maybe our classroom situation presents a challenge with no ready-made solution to be found either on the market or the Internet.

If these musings resonate with you, this volume presents some answers. If they don’t, it will at the very least offer a new perspective. With the steady erosion of national boundaries and the rate of global migration being higher than ever before, and with unprecedented changes in commerce, society, the consumption of entertainment, international education markets, and new communications technologies, the linguistic landscape of the whole world has altered drastically. All of this has had an undeniable impact on current language teaching, learning, and assessment; this, in turn, has brought changes in the learners, their needs, motives, the target of instruction, and methodologies. For instance, the advance of cheap and fast transportation and convenient telecommunication technologies has increased the frequency of both physical and virtual face-to-face communication between people with different L1 backgrounds. This has changed the primary goal of foreign language education, shifting the limelight to practical communicative competence. Economic growth in developing ← 11 | 12 → countries and international immigration have in turn promoted less commonly taught languages among both potential learners, and educators and researchers.

The changing realities, locales and purposes of communication, and the evolving forms of discourse and text that learners will have—or want—to navigate, all necessitate a shift in attitude and a new set of competencies required of the teacher. This book is a multi-faceted and thoughtful response to these changes in both modern reality and teaching philosophy; it is a study of just a few of the ‘other’ ways to tackle situations which fall outside the norms and routines.

You are holding in your hand a collection of papers by authors with many years of teaching experience, who have published extensively in their local and international contexts and who, while au fait with established and mainstream language teaching methodologies, have all bucked conventional theory, and stepped off the roads most travelled to explore new avenues and find novel solutions. They share and are united in the belief that sometimes the ‘other’ approach is the best one, or at least worth exploring.

Also, while the English-language context has traditionally received the lion’s share of attention in literature and research, this book balances this bias and offers some unique perspectives by looking at the contexts of various languages: their different characteristics, motivations, and challenges. It will not only bring you up to date with state-of-the-art theoretical debate and new research, but at once demonstrate how to easily translate these into practical everyday classroom applications that you will be able to implement straight away.

Before some of the more unconventional teaching methods are presented, section 1 focuses on the individual traits in learners that influence their progress. While much quantitative research has indeed yielded useful insights, such studies have oftentimes concealed the learners’ individual trajectories and other traits.

People take in and comprehend information in different manners. Much of the boredom, lack of success, and frustration students experience can be due to their and their instructors’ unawareness of the former’s favoured learning styles. Understanding the dispositions forming a student’s unique learning preferences is therefore highly important. A crucial role ← 12 | 13 → in determining a student’s learning style is played by cultural upbringing. In our classes we frequently deal with mixed-ability groups comprised of students from vastly different backgrounds. In line with the shift of attention in recent years from an instructional approach to a learner-oriented approach, Mohammad Aliakbari and Nasrin Soltani investigate the extent to which learning style preferences are shaped by cultural background and gender. The results show that research unrestrained by political correctness may reveal insights that could otherwise have gone unnoticed, insights which may aid teachers in organising classroom activities, planning small group and individualised instruction, or designing remedial teaching.

Learning is a complex, dynamic process involving an interwoven tapestry of various influences that shape how the pupil feels about language study in general, about a language or culture in particular, and how s/he approaches and tackles learning the language at school. Some threads of this fabric are the past experiences of acquiring foreign languages. To discover more about the individual processes involved in the learning of an L3, it thus helps to look back at how the student experienced the first foreign language, and how from her/his perspective the learning processes are connected. The chapter by Melanie Ellis examines pupils’ language learning histories and looks at how this background impacts their attitudes towards learning and subsequent achievement in L3 acquisition. Using personal narratives with learners younger than has typically been done in the literature, Ellis casts a brighter light on teenagers’ approaches to language learning, demonstrating their high level of awareness, and the considerable role that teachers play in shaping students’ attitudes towards school-based language learning. It emerges that pupils, reflecting on their early language learning, are highly aware of teacher incompetence, of when educators do not practise what they preach, and of when the instructor comes to class unprepared. This observation is important to all stakeholders and will hopefully motivate teachers to reflect more critically on their vocational practice and individual performance. The chapter also shows that offering the learners a chance to holistically voice their insider perspective, coupled with skilled mediation—whether via the teacher or peers—can help learners to become aware of their language learning process and the influencing factors, to overcome their negative past experiences, and to build positive motivation. ← 13 | 14 →

The issue of past learning experiences is then taken up from a different angle—a more linguistic one—to propose solutions for the teaching of L3 grammar. Although inquiries into L3 acquisition have primarily focused on lexical facilitation, there is growing interest in how the process is also expedited by grammatical commonalities across languages. Research suggests that grammatical aspects of previously acquired languages can positively influence further language acquisition. However, no study has specifically assessed the role in grammar acquisition of the procedural awareness of multilingual teachers and students. Mandira Halder fills this gap by investigating how prior linguistic experiences can enhance procedural awareness and subsequently influence grammar acquisition in L3 French. Her introspective interviews with teachers of classes with Erasmus exchange students reveal that, partly owing to the self-deprecation of their FL competence, non-native speaker instructors fail to capitalise on the benefits that arise from learners’ earlier FL backgrounds. The chapter underlines the importance of boosting non-native teachers’ self-confidence and cross-linguistic awareness, which in turn should lead to further developing metalinguistic insights in the students.

The next chapter also corroborates the utility of consciously recognising learners’ existing languages. Alongside grammar, one of the areas of language that poses the most problems in the acquisition process is that of pronunciation. Even Joseph Conrad, whom nobody would deny the ability of composing brilliant literary pieces in English, was notorious for his ‘foreign accent’. With this in mind, Josephine P.S. Yam employs Optimality Theory to account for varied learner success by taking into consideration both transfer and developmental effects; factors whose interaction is of major influence on SLA. By demonstrating how through the application of OT it is possible to predict and explain, under a single framework and in a systematic way, the varied forms and patterns of pronunciation by language learners from different backgrounds, the chapter shows how theoretical study and an awareness of the structural differences between the learners’ L1 and the TL can inform actual teaching. The author concludes with suggestions how the methodology can successfully be employed by a cognisant teacher to help tackle via appropriate intervention the difficulties that learners are likely to encounter. ← 14 | 15 →

Despite the vital role of speaking, many learners find it amazingly difficult to actually speak in a foreign language compared to the other skill areas. They are aware of this fact, and many wish to improve their speaking skills in their language classes. While the effects on L2 speech production of pre-task and within-task planning have already been extensively studied, existing research does not provide helpful suggestions on how to improve L2 speaking performance in the common situations in which little planning time is available for preparation. Given that even in the mother tongue improvised speech performance varies among individuals, Tomohito Hiromori investigates the factors influencing L2 learners’ unplanned speech performance and identifies not only linguistic, but also cognitive and affective considerations. His conclusions suggest that speaking performance quality may be improved by training learners to control the last two areas, and demonstrates how identifying factors other than linguistic can provide useful insights into how to provide more effective instruction.

With English functioning as a lingua franca in further and further territories of the world, many students merely make do with this language and neglect to pick up new ones. Yet there are paragons who choose to go one step further. Michał B. Paradowski and Anna Wysokińska talk to polyglots in order to find out what motivated them to take on board a fourth, fifth, and further languages. With a lot written about societal multilingualism on the one hand, and motivation in the school context on the other, there is a substantial research gap when it comes to the question of individual multilingualism outside the institutionalised context. The circumstances our authors’ interlocutors bring forward, illustrated by their personal histories, indicate that becoming a multilingual speaker is not restricted to a select few. They also offer motivating factors, both instrumental and integrative, whose attractiveness could be emphasised to learners to keep them on track and fuel their interest in other languages, and which may be a path to creating a truly multilingual society.

Given these intricate facets of language acquisition, what methods can be employed to address and meet learners’ needs, modalities and interests? The second section of this volume presents an array of methodologies worth considering in unconventional language pedagogy.

As mentioned earlier, English is increasingly becoming a global language, taught in far-flung places and the most isolated corners of the planet. This ← 15 | 16 → naturally brings many practical benefits. But is this phenomenon always a good thing? The readily embraced supremacy of English in school systems raises some cultural questions which are often ignored by overall majority indulging in the language’s empowering potential. Without neglecting the obvious benefits of the enabling powers of the global language, Anna Gonerko-Frej investigates how, after a major political shift in Poland, English became the primary language focus of education and work. She argues that this has had certain negative long-term repercussions on the field of language teaching, and offers some words of warning to educational settings that may be dealing with a similar situation currently or will be in the future. The author focuses on the role of English as a relay language and the ensuing necessary shift in pedagogical emphasis to the different functions, skills, and students’ desired competence levels. She takes this approach, rather than the native-speaker ‘ideal’ still present in many places which not only frustrates learners and impedes their progress, but also stresses local teachers. She also exposes other dangers lurking behind the uncritical adoption of the ‘big’ and ‘popular’.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
Spracherwerb Lehrerausbildung Zweitsprache Sprachbewußtsein
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 399 pp., 12 b/w ill., 41 tables, 16 graphs

Biographical notes

Michal B. Paradowski (Volume editor)

Michał B. Paradowski is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Applied Linguistics at the University of Warsaw. He is the author of numerous book chapters and articles, an editor and reviewer for journals and research councils, and has been an invited speaker at over 60 scientific events worldwide. He also works as a teacher trainer and ELT consultant for television.


Title: Teaching Languages off the Beaten Track
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401 pages