I wrote most of these articles and conference reports while I was doing my M.Ed.(CI). Originally put up on the website TeachAsiaOnline.com (defunct since 2009), I have decided to archive them here as I think most of the information is still relevant and useful for others. (2012) I'm now picking up where I left off to write about more recent seminars I attended.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Teaching the Vocabulary of Conversation

Speaker: Em. Prof. Michael McCarthy
Organised by: CUP, Bangkok
Date: 27 January 2015
Location: Windsor Suites, Bangkok
Promoting: Touchstone / Viewpoint course book series

In his first lecture of the day Prof. McCarthy introduced the corpus of English and its importance for teaching English.

The global corpus is a collection of 2 billion words and phrases (“chunks”) of English, of which 4.7 million are used in conversation.

Prof. McCarthy assumed that Thailand is interested in American English, so he used the American English corpus in his lectures. High frequency words and phrases in this corpus are for example
“I”, “you”, “don’t, “just” and “actually”, but also “uh-huh”, “absolutely” and “you know what I mean”.

A vocabulary of 2 – 3,000 words suffices for regular English conversations. Teachers should include the most common vocabulary of the corpus in their lessons to enable their students to
  • Organise their talk
  • Take account of other speakers
  • Show listenership
  • Manage the conversation as a whole
  • Sound fluent and natural (the students “should not sound like robots”).
Prof. McCarthy also referred to Scandinavian research that shows that raters of oral English tests unconsciously rate students who use “small words” like “just” and “actually” at a higher proficiency level (not: students who use complex vocabulary or have a native accent). 

References
Davies, Mark. corpora, size, queries = better resources, more insight. Web. Jan 2015.

My comments
Of course English teachers already teach what they think is the most common vocabulary used in conversations, and a corpus can help us make it better. However, as non-native speakers vastly outnumber native speakers and Thai non-native speakers are most likely to speak English to other non-native speakers (like other ASEAN members), I don’t see the need for them to learn typical American English words and phrases like “you know what I mean”. I think the world would benefit more from a standard English not affiliated with a specific country or culture and without implied meanings.

Using a corpus will make teachers dependent on course books, as they do not have free access to the aforementioned high frequency word lists used by English course book publishers.

(c) 2015, cafavier

Lecture 2: Bringing Real Conversation Skills to the Classroom

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