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In the four years I’ve been teaching I’ve worked at 2 different high schools and, through various workshops and organisations, had the pleasure of meeting many native English speaking teachers around Korea. While the experience and expectations in each school are undoubtedly very different, I have noticed one common theme running through

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most people’s experiences. That is, as the native English speaking teacher, we are expected to share, and teach, the native speaker expressions, idioms and slangs our students are going to require if they are going to converse in English. Of course, at face value, this does seem to be a common sense requirement. After all, we are native speakers of English, and to communicate with us native speakers fluently, surely our students are going to need to be able to use the native lingo (0 hits)? Well, if native speakers were the people our students are likely to be communicating with, this would probably be true (I say probably because many expressions and slangs vary depending on region and time).

However, when this line of thought is scrutinized, the usefulness of the native speaker idioms/slangs/expressions we often teach becomes questionable. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of our students are actually quite unlikely to be using English to communicate with native English speakers (see Jenkins et al. 2011 or Seidlhofer 2004). Now, while I don’t want to get too deeply into the theoretical background of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) in this post (please see note at bottom of blog), the basic premise is that the majority of English speakers are now non-native speakers of English, and the majority of communication that takes place is between non-native speakers of English, thus this is the type of communication we should be preparing our students for.

This now brings me back to my original question, how useful are the native speaker expressions/slang/idioms countless hours have been spent teaching. Well, I decided to consider this question in my context using the framework laid out in the excellent book ‘About Language’ by Scott Thornbury (1997). Thornbury (1997) suggests five ways that might determine the selection of language to be taught:

1) Frequency: Is the word (and this meaning of it) common?

The only real way of knowing how common an expression is is to refer to a corpus. A fantastically easy to use ELF corpus (that includes both native speakers and non-native speakers) run by the Vienna institute can be found here. I decided to run a little test (a completely unscientific one but this is only a Friday afternoon blog post!). I googled ‘common english expressions esl’, clicked on the third link and chose the first expression for low-intermediate students and then the first idiom, which happened to be ‘off the top of your/my/his/her/their head’. I then whacked this in the corpus search engine and received… 0 hits. The second expression, ‘ring a bell’ also received… 0 hits. My third attempt, ‘from scratch’ received… 4 hits. Please bear in mind (8 hits) this was only a two minute experiment.

2) Coverage: Can you use the word in a wide range of contexts, or does it have a very narrow coverage? For example, is its meaning very specific, is it only used regionally, or is it jargon or slang?

I think this is important, how regional are the native idioms/expressions/slangs we are teaching? Again, I think the corpus can help us with this, but I would suggest that, at the very least, many of the idioms/expressions/slangs are regional to the native countries, if not regions, they originate from. I know that when I go for a few beers with my mates (1 hit) from the South of England that, by our fourth beer, a lot of the conversation becomes incomprehensible to me, a native speaker. The typical idioms/expressions/slangs they use are very different to those I use as a Yorkshire man. If this is the situation for people who live in the same native speaking country, imagine two non-native speakers trying to sound native by using various idioms/expressions/slangs.

3) Usefulness: How relevant is it to our students’ needs? (Sometimes relatively infrequent items with a narrow coverage might nevertheless be very useful.)

This factor is probably the most dependent on your context. If you’re teaching English with a specific purpose, while you may receive only one hit on the corpus search, the idiom/expression/slang may still be very useful for your student. For me, in preparing my high school students for the type of communication they are most likely to face, I must take into account the likelihood of their interlocutor, who is also likely to be a non-native speaker, being able to both recognize and interpret what I am teaching my students. Considering this, I have to accept that the good old Yorkshire expression “broke” (meaning having no money) (0 hits) probably isn’t terribly useful besides if my students ever get the privilege of watching Last of the Summer Wine at some point in their lives.

4) Use: Will the learner need only to recognize the item (i.e. while listening or reading) or will it be needed for production (speaking and writing)?

This is quite an interesting one; there is no doubt that my students love US and British TV shows, movies and music. I am actually teaching a course on ‘English through Movies’ at the moment. For understanding the movies there is definitely a case for the teaching of the native English expressions featured in the movies. However, when we come back to conversational English, both my students and, just as importantly, their non-native interlocutors, are going to need to be able to use understand the idioms/expressions/slangs. In fact, teaching idioms/expressions/slangs my students’ interlocutors are unlikely to know may actually be detrimental to my students’ ability to communicate if all it does is cause misunderstanding and confusion. With the sheer number of native idioms/expressions/slangs out there, what are the chances of both my students and their interlocutors having been taught and remembering the same ones?

5) Learnability/teachability: Is it easy to learn and remember? Is it easy to convey the meaning and form of it to learners?

To be honest, I don’t think I have too much to say about this one. If the idioms/expressions/slangs fit nicely in with the syllabus, don’t take too long to teach and are usable then, to me, there is certainly a case to be made for teaching them, if done right (something I will discuss more in my next blog post).

Overall this analysis seems to indicate that, from an ELF perspective, we need to be very careful when selecting ‘common English expressions’ to teach our students. However, if your teaching environment is anything like mine, both my school and students expect me to teach a certain number of native English expressions. If I don’t, they will probably find a teacher that will. This presents a very awkward situation as I am required to teach language that I know might not only prove to be mostly a waste of time, but could actually be detrimental to my students’ ability to communicate in English. In my next blog post I hope to share some of the strategies that I believe can be used to teach native English idioms/expressions/slangs while also preparing students for ELF communication.

Note – For further reading regarding ELF I am going to put some articles I recommend checking out at the bottom, or you can read my thesis, which I’ll be uploading any day now. Alternatively, for a detailed yet eloquently summarized discussion of ELF, I highly recommend my friend Alex Grevett’s blog posts here including the discussion in the comments.

Note 2 – I have decided that from now on, personally I will only be sharing my blog posts through the AlienTeachers facebook groupmy twitter account and email subscription.

Bibliography + Recommended Reading

Cogo, A. (2012). ‘English as a Lingua Franca: concepts, use, and implications’. ELT journal 66(1), 97–105.

Jenkins, J., Cogo, A. & Dewey, M. (2011). ‘Review of developments in research into English as a lingua franca’. Language Teaching 44(3), 281–315.

Thornbury, Scott. About language. Ernst Klett Sprachen, 1997.

Seidlhofer, B. (2004). Research perspectives on teaching English as a Lingua Franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 24, 209–239.


Creating a Linked Classroom – Part 2 (Teething Problems & Solutions)

The project has now been underway for a couple of weeks, however due to the nature of public schools we have only managed one session with each school. Despite this lack of time with the students, there have been a number of teething problems we have had to deal with that I hope others trying to do similar projects can learn from.

1. Choosing a Platform
There were a number of features we wanted from the platform:
– Ease of use as we want students to have a leading role in the project.
– Ability to easily share the project with others.
– Free or very cheap.
– Able to handle a number of media formats including written work, sounds files and video files.

We decided to use a web based platform called Weebly. Weebly is a free service that allows you to easily and quickly build a website. It utilizes a drag and drop system so students from all the classrooms can easily upload their files to the website, have a role in designing it and easily communicate with each other via it. So far this is the site we have put together. By the way, Weebly will also provide a free url.

2. Organisation
The fact we have three schools communicating with each other has made the organisation that bit harder. We basically decided to split our students into four groups, each group would communicate with one other group either in Japan, Korea or Brazil. We hope that then, at the end of the project, each group will be able to do a short presentation about what they learnt from about that country.

To provide an example, if group 1 in Korea is communicating with group 1 in Brazil and group 3 in Korea is communicating with group 4 in Japan, the groups will present to each other what they have learnt from Brazil and Japan respectively. It might be clearer if you look at the interview section of the website here (under construction).

3. Time Management
Obviously we all have completely different schedules so syncing everything up is basically impossible. Our solution to this has been to share our schedules and do our best to help each other out as much as possible. However, the fact we are not just doing interviews, but videos and articles, gives us some leeway. If we don’t have interviews ready, the students can simply work on videos or articles. I wouldn’t recommend doing such a project with only interviews to work with for this reason.

4. Work Load
We seriously under-estimated the amount of work involved for our students in listening to, transcribing and responding to questions. We have had to limit our students to asking only 2 questions (or 3 maximum).

5. Difficulty
Another serious under-estimation! The point of the project is for our students to experience and learn from communicating with other non-native speakers. This is something they have hardly any experience at and so are unlikely to have developed strategies to help them with this mountain of a task. We found that our students found it extremely difficult to understand some parts of what was being said. To deal with this we have created a ‘cheat sheet’! We are using a google doc that we can all edit and add to share the questions that out students have made, our students, of course, do not know about or get access to the cheat sheet, but it helps us prepare for problems the students are likely to encounter.

6. Privacy Issues
Uploading videos of our students opens us up to legal issues. Basically, we are going with the premise that if the students make the choice to upload a video of themselves to the website then that is great and there is no issue, however we wanted a space where the students could feel free to express themselves knowing only the participants in this project could see it. We chose to add a private password section to the website in order to create this space.

Well that’s about it for now, we have also had a number of very real and very awesome successes which I’m looking forward to sharing very soon!

Don’t forget you can keep updated via twitter or facebook.

Creating a Linked Classroom – Part 1 (Introducing the Project)

This week has been a very exciting one for both myself and my students. We have been presented with a fantastic opportunity to link our classroom with Kevin Stein’s high school classroom in Japan and Rose Bard’s high school classroom in Brazil.

This is a really incredible opportunity for my students (and me) that we are all very excited about. If you would like to know more about the importance of, and benefits in, creating linked classrooms, I suggest checking out an article I wrote an lingua and cultura franca here, an article from John Pfordresher on a similar topic here or some research I conducted on a linked classroom here.

As long as the project is running I plan on blogging about how we go about organising the project, problems we face, how we overcome them and some of the students’ reactions to the project as well as anything else that seems relevant!

A little bit of background in case you are new to my blog. I teach at a high school in Seoul, South Korea. I teach an after school class that consists of 16 students who are all pretty high level. The after school class runs for 8 x 1.5 hours over the course of 12 weeks, so this is the time I will be using for this project. The after school class is completely voluntary.

So without further ado, I shall get blogging about the project!

Part 1 (Introducing the Project)

I was a little bit nervous about introducing the project to my students as I was worried that, with it having nothing to do with their University Entrance Exams, they might not be interested due to the time and effort required. I also didn’t want to force the students into doing the project as that would not make for a great experience for the classrooms we will be linked with. So, I decided to outline the basis of the project, then disappear for five minutes and give them the time to discuss it as a class.

To my relief, the class decided, unanimously, that they wanted to take part in the project, with the proviso that it would all be done in class as they didn’t feel they have time to add to their schedule out of school. I think one of the main motivations was the opportunity to question the Japanese students about Dokdo and the East Sea of Japan, these are two very hot topics in Korea.

I went into a few more details with the students about the type of activities Kevin and I had thought would be realistic for our students to achieve. Our plan was to encourage communication on three fronts:

1) A delayed interview exchange via recording of questions and answers.
2) Written articles on anything they would like to share with the linked classroom. These would be shared via a website.
3) Videos, again on any subject they would like to share and uploaded to the website.

My students decided they would be most interested in videos and interviews, but that written articles would be a good opportunity to practice their writing skills. We were go on all three fronts!

In order to make the project manageable we split the class into four groups of four. The next task was for the students to brainstorm topics they would like to cover for interviews, articles and videos. They then shared their ideas (see picture below).

The students were then left (albeit with a little bit of guidance from the teacher) to decide which group would get each topic. Of course, in true Korean fashion, it came down to rock, scissors, paper!

It was then left to the students to make four interview questions they will record and send to the linked classroom and plan an outline of the first article they will write (see picture below).

And that was the end of the first lesson of the linked classroom project. Unfortunately due to exams and school trips I don’t our second lesson will be for a number of weeks, but if you would like to keep up to date with the project you can follow me on twitter here or follow AlienTeachers on facebook here.

Also, if you are interested in creating your own linked classroom I recommend checking out this facebook group.


10/04/2013 20:08

This concept is on my list for things to try next semester. I look forward to following your progress. When you say “they will record and send to the linked classroom” – will you be doing this whole thing with just a website? If you wind up trying out any other tech, I’d be interested to know what worked and what didn’t… Great stuff!

Alex (AlienTeachers)
11/04/2013 00:32

Hi Tom,

I’ve considered a couple of options, the simplest is probably to record and email, next simplest is a shared file sharing service such a dropbox, the least simple is uploading to a website. At the moment I plan on going for the latter option, the reason being that, with my students permission, I would like other people to use the recording for their classes as a means of exposure to other ESL speakers output.

I will definitely keep you updated with how it goes. Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

11/04/2013 00:06

Hi, I just came across your post and it is exactly what I am looking for. I tried to set up a linked classroom with a Japanese university, but it fell through. I work at a uni in Malaysia, and I teach students who will eventually go into the main foundation or degree course. They are from various countries and I would like to set up a linked classroom with them. Any advice? or could we possibly be included with your group? Thanks!!

Alex (AlienTeachers)
11/04/2013 00:36

Hi Simon,

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment? Want caused your linked project to fall through? Perhaps we can learn from it in this project!

At the moment I think university level might not suit my students, I’m worried it would make them a bit nervous with more mature students, however I highly recommend joining the following facebook groups and asking around to see if any university teachers could link their classroom with you.

Let me know if you need any more help at all,

All the best,





Alex (AlienTeachers)
11/04/2013 00:39

BTW I just had a quick look at your blog, you have some awesome ideas on there. Mind if I link it in my sidebar?

11/04/2013 04:05

Hi Simon. Mine are frosh uni students. Would love to link up. If you’re interested, please email me at tomtesol@gmail.com. Oh – I’m a mate of Alex’s in Seoul. Terrific blog, but I didn’t notice a way to connect, so here I am. Maybe I missed it. Cheers.

12/04/2013 03:56

When I see my 9th graders (14 year-old Ss) engaging in the creation of the video and taking all the steps to it by reflecting on the questions they had received, working on the video script and trying to do their best to present it, I feel even more comfortable in linking up with other classrooms. There are so much possibilities there in how to. I feel so blessed for being connected to such a wonderful community of educators.

14/04/2013 06:17

I’ve been seeing tweets and facebook updates all week and wondering what you were all up to. I’m glad I finally got a chance to read this and find out the details. 🙂 As always, your dedication at creating an authentic space for communication is inspiring.

Are you accepting additions to the linked classroom or will you try to finish the cycle created between the three of you?

Alexander Walsh
19/04/2013 01:08

Hi Josette!

Sorry for late reply, been of of those weeks! I think for now three is the logistical limit due to time constraints etc. However next semester I will be looking to replicate the project with a boys after school class so if you know of any interested parties that would be awesome!

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!


Using Students Output in Preparation for Lingua & Cultura Franca

The use of authentic materials in foreign language learning has a long history, dating back to Sweet (1899:177) who highlighted the use of “natural, idiomatic texts over artificial methods”. The authentic materials we have access to and utilize in our classrooms are often created by native English speakers, or, extremely competent and fluent like non-native speakers of the English language. Yet, we are now living in a global society where by one billion people are learning English as a foreign language, Crystal (1997) predicted that by 2010 there will be more speakers of English as a foreign language than there are native speakers, and approximately 80% of English used worldwide does not involve a native speaker (Crystal, 1997). Given these facts, I questions whether by confining our students to tasks based on native/near native speakers of English we are adequately preparing our students for the communicational needs they are likely to encounter outside of our classrooms. This challenge has provided the inspiration for a project a close colleague (John Pfordresher) and I have been working on called the ‘ESL Learners Output Library’. We believe the open resource we have created can provide the tools we need to better prepare our students for inter-cultural communication.

There is no doubt that English is now a global language, and as such it has inevitably “diversified into a proliferation of forms, varying in pronunciation, intonation, grammar, vocabulary, spelling and conventions of use” (Gilmore 2007:103). With English now a global language it is no longer adequate to prepare our students to communicate simply through the ‘English language’, we need to prepare them to communicate with English as a lingua franca, in other words English as a common language used as a means of communication between speakers of many different native languages.

A conversation with one of my students last week provided a clear example of this need: I started teaching Mina just before she spent her two month break from university travelling through Europe. Last week was our first class since this trip, and while discussing her travels I asked her how she found communicating in English. She replied that she was extremely shocked as she often found herself sat in hostels and bars, communicating in English with people from China, Japan, India and many other places around the world. I asked why she was shocked by that situation and she replied that she didn’t feel she had been adequately prepared for it at school, or in English classes she had taken since school. She stated that she is only familiar with native accents, native sentence structures and native uses of vocabulary. She went on to tell me she has never been more highly motivated to improve her English, as she now realized it is not necessarily about communicating with native speakers, but the whole world. Given this reality that the English language is now a lingua franca we have a duty to our students to overcome the linguistic imperialism our textbooks and materials often force upon us. In other words, we need to find a way of exposing our learners to the output of other speaker of English as a second language (L2 output).

The need for exposure to L2 output is not only necessary due to English being a lingua franca. If English is being spoken by people with vastly different backgrounds, it is impossible that all L2 English speakers are disassociating themselves from their cultural knowledge when communicating in English. This cultural loading of language has resulted in English becoming a cultura franca as well as a lingua franca. As Pulverness (1999:6) explains, this is simply an issue that most textbooks fail to deal with. In fact, their usual solution is to side-step it all together by presenting completely inauthentic and impractical ‘international contexts’. This is not through fault of material developers, as how can one possibly expect to disassociate themselves from their own culture, especially when language is so representative of one’s culture? All of our communication, and interpretation of others communication, is inevitably loaded with our background and culture, this includes both our actual and our own interpretation of others meanings in writing, speaking, listening and reading.

The need for us to help our students develop the skills to deal with English as a cultura franca isn’t only apparent when our learners are communicating with people outside of their own country. We now live in huge urban melting pots of nationalities and cultures. Our students’ ability to successfully communicate is therefore dependent on their ability to understand English from as by people of different cultures and ethnic identities. As teachers, both John and I firmly believe it is our responsibility to expose our learners to as much output from different L2 speakers as possible. By doing this we not only develop our students communicative competency, but also their intercultural competency. Quite simply, if we can present our students with examples of other L2 output (which is the aim of the ESL Students Library) we can substantially reduce the likelihood of our students facing cross-cultural miscommunication.

Of course, I am not suggesting we completely overhaul the materials we present to our learners. As teachers, if once or twice a week we could just commit five minutes to the exposure of our students to materials that represent the myriad of levels, cultures and backgrounds they will be exposed when communicating outside of the English classroom it would make a significant difference to their confidence and skills in communicating with other non-native speakers, a situation they will almost definitely encounter.

It is for these reasons that John and myself were inspired to create the ESL Learners Output Library, a resource providing teachers with access to all the L2 output they could need. We realized that such resources don’t have to be difficult to find because as educators we have all the L2 output we need right at our finger tips, in the form of our learners output (work). It is to take advantage of this that we built the ‘ESL Learners Output Library’. This project is a free service that is designed to allow educators all around the world to share the output of their students. Our mission is, through this website, to create a global community sharing their students’ output. This can then be used to expose our students to English language produced by learners of different cultures, background, levels, ages or any other factor that will help our students communicate outside of our classrooms. We can create tasks for our students that will prepare them for inter-cultural communication, we can inspire each other to try new activities in our own classrooms, we can encourage our students by showing them projects students are doing all over the world, we can compare and contrast the specific needs of certain groups of students, we can even create links between our classrooms that will allow our students to interact with each other, the possibilities are both endless and necessary.

We welcome you to join us in creating this special project, to get involved simply visit www.esllol.org to explore, share and contribute to the ESL Learners Output Library.

Also please check out this passionate blog post from the co-founder of http://www.esllol.org @johnpfordresher http://observingtheclass.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/why-create-the-esl-learner-output-library/


Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gilmore, A. (2007). Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. Language Teaching. 40 (.), 97-118.

Pulverness, A. (1999). Context or pretext? Cultural content and the course book. Folio 5.2, 5–11.

Sweet, H. (1899). The practical study of languages. London:Oxford University Press.