Teaching Genre at An ESP Class

In this new semester, I have a new teaching resolution that I’d like to see through. I’m trying to trust my students more to take charge of their own learning, to set their own goal, and of course to bring their own material.  This way, the class instruction is more individualized and customized to each student’s level and need. It is an important consideration since the proficiency levels in an ESP class are not uniformed and setting one syllabus for all is not working (trust me, I know). Of course, as a teacher, I should still set the standard competence as a guideline.

For an introduction to genre, this week I asked them to bring their favorite reading material without any restriction other than that it should be in English. It could be from a novel, short story, biography book, news article, manga/webtoon, or even from a blog post. They then had to share it in a group discussion. I still gave them some pointers of what to look for and what question team members could ask while still letting them bring the discussion to whichever direction. This way, I hoped that the activity run in an ‘organic’ way. After that, one of the team members gave an oral report to the class about the discussion, followed by a Q&A session.

Deducing from the report and my observation as the starting point, I began to explain about genres, their differences in function and basic structure, a little bit about linguistic elements that form them, etc. Also, a bit of reading strategy that they can use in the future.

Regarding the grouping, it is important to have a small one with 3-4 people and one highly proficient student as the captain. The captain is responsible for the team learning including, but not limited to, making sure the members do their assignment, helping them giving corrective feedback, and moderating group discussion. There are many ways of providing feedback to students. However, in this model, I did not let myself give any during the discussion. I kept note and addressed them at the end of the session, though.

It is still too early to measure the effectiveness of this model in a pre-and-post score manner. However, there is no resistance shown. Students from both high and low proficient levels actively engaged in the activity and the class appeared to be much more alive than last semester. Oh, I also heard more laughter as well, and that was a good enough indicator for me, ;)

Lasik Mata di Surabaya

Jadi, awal bulan ini suami menjalani operasi lasik mata. Keinginan untuk lepas dari kacamata sudah lama sih, tapi baru berani untuk menjalaninya tahun ini. Alasan takut lasik, selain masalah biaya, sebenarnya klasik: mata adalah aset yang sangat berharga, kalau ada apa-apa, bagaimana? Namun setelah baca-baca, statistically speaking, lasik itu prosedur populer yang insyaAllah aman banget. Proses (3 hari max, masing-masing rata-rata 1 jam per hari) dan pemulihannya lumayan cepat. Tidak ada keluhan yang berarti. Begini prosesnya:

  1. Konsultasi ke dokter spesialis mata. Kemarin kita ke Dr. Haryo (nomer telepon klinik yang bisa dihubungi +62318700136) dengan pertimbangan beliau adalah dokter senior, salah satu yang ‘membawa’ lasik ke Indonesia dan adik juga ditangani beliau tahun sebelumnya. Proses ini di Klinik Mata Dr. Haryo, Rungkut. Biaya konsultasi: 200K
  2. Hari berikutnya, pemeriksaan kornea dan retina pra-lasik. Prosesnya cepat, tidak sampai satu jam. Yang lama adalah menunggu/antrinya. Proses ini di Surabaya Eye Clinik, Jemursari. Berikut rincian biayanya:
    • Biaya pendaftaran: 35k
    • Biaya orbscan+2ywave+Sirius: 500k
    • Retina G3 2 mata: 750k
    • Laser Argon (karena waktu periksa ditemukan masalah pada retina): 1.100k

      Bulu mata Maybelline yang bikin ngiri.
  3. Hari berikutnya masih di Surabaya Eye Clinic. Adalah hari lasik. Prosesnya cepat saja, yang lama adalah menunggu dokternya. Hahaha. Sebelum operasi, mata akan ditetesi obat dulu, prosedurnya tidak lebih dari 10 menit, menunggu post-op sekitar 30 menit. Kemudian periksa ulang dan pulang. Biayanya 25juta, ditransfer sebelumnya.

    30 minute post-op waiting period
  4. Kemudian control (H+1, H+7) free of charge, gratis. Dan control lagi sebulan dan 6 bulan pasca operasi.

Total biaya (diluar akomodasi dan transportasi): 27.585.000

Mengingat mulai kelas 2 SD ia tidak pernah lepas dari kacamata, 13 hari paska operasi, suami sangat happy dengan keputusan ini. So, overall we recommend this procedure to those who need it.

EFL learners’ socio-pragmatic awareness; a reflective writing

In an intercultural communication, an error might arise during the process of carrying-over culture-specific aspects of language by speakers from two different backgrounds. One notable example from my latest classroom discussion was Pak Roni and his lady friend’s coffee story. Asking someone to have a cup of coffee is not entirely free of implicature in many cultures. As honest as his intention was in offering coffee as a gesture of hospitality, in eastern society, depending on the context, it is a hint that a guest has overstayed his/her welcome. In contemporary western culture, on the other hand, it insinuates a date invitation that might or might not involve the actual act of drinking coffee.

An attempt to carry-over the same implicature using different languages is the common pitfall of most foreign language learners. It is because languages have social constraints (Harlow, 1990) and different languages pose a different limitation on what its speech community could think (Sharafian, 2017; Zegarac & Pennington, 2008). People born in an L2 environment have acquired linguistic repertoire and knowledge concurrently since their childhood. This is not the case with L2 learners whose main source of (minimal) information is from textbook, with lack of authenticity in their instructional practice and material — especially those dealing with cross-cultural competence — and limited immediate social feedback from an interaction using L2. Consequently, they still use the mental sets of L1 in L2 communication which is a minefield of cross-cultural misunderstanding. Failure to comply with grammatical rules might only render a person as a non-proficient speaker, but failure to have the sensitivity to social appropriateness in language use most automatically renders him/her as having a lousy personality. People usually tolerate the former but not the latter.

A very memorable example of how easily someone can be mistaken as being non-considerate was an exchange between my students. We were engaged in a discussion about mental health issue when one of them asked this question, “Have you considered suicide?” To say I was a little taken aback when hearing this was an understatement. It took me a moment to realize that he was only asking whether the friend had had a suicidal tendency in the context of an attempt to diagnose a symptom of depression. Following all five of Hymes’ communicative principles (in Harlow, 1990), this question was already propositional as it was meaning-based, interactional as it was uttered in social interaction, and it was well structured.  Conventionally speaking, he was using an interrogative structure to ask a question. What he did not know is, similar to that in bahasa Indonesia, an asynchrony of form and function in the speech act is a common practice. An interrogative structure is not always used to express a question and when it happens, it serves different implicature. When he asked said question, it was actually a suggestion, and any L2 speaker familiar with the utterance common use would think how formidable it is to suggest someone to commit a suicide.

Well, there are many chuckle-materials when addressing the topic of socio-pragmatic transfer error made by students. However, it is no longer funny when it deals with somebody’s potential life and death situation, is it?

References

Chapman, S. (2008). Language and Empiricism After The Vienna Circle. (pp.88-107). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harlow, L. L. (1990). Do They Mean What They Say? Sociopragmatic Competence and Second Language Learners. The Modern Language Journal, 74(3), 328-351.

Sharafian, F. (2017). Cultural Linguistic and Linguistic Relativity. Language Sciences, 59, 83-92.

Zegarac, V., & Pennington, M. C. (2008). Pragmatic Transfer in Intercultural Communication. In H. Spencer-Oatey, Culturally speaking : culture, communication and politeness theory (pp. 141-163). New York: Continuum.

 

The intercultural error of ‘You’ and ‘I’; a reflective writing

As an English teacher, I have always been constricted by my own understanding that my primary goal is to assist students in reaching an acceptable standard of English proficiency – that includes fluency and comprehension. The instructional focus, therefore, is on two components only: students and language. Little did I ever try to acknowledge, let alone accommodate, the cultural value in my students’ language and that of English. One assignment in identifying errors made by students makes me realize the gravity of my mistake in doing so. First, language is not a neutral entity. It is and will always be laden with cultural and social load. Fairclough (2001) highlighted the notion that language has a dialectical relationship with society. Every linguistic phenomenon is determined by social rules and, in turn, has social implication. Second, failure in acknowledging so leads to error in language production and a potential hindrance of communication. The overwhelming evidence of these is my students’ errors in the use of pronouns.

Pronoun is not only a small part of grammar rules in English but also a mirror of a bigger social value in (the speaker’s) culture. It contains information about the concept of self-and-other-ness, how the speaker forms her identity, and how she assumes her position in power spectrum. In bahasa Indonesia, for example, the first person singular pronouns ‘aku’ and ‘saya’ have a stark semantic difference. The former is stronger in its self-ness compared to the latter. In a very communal society like Indonesia, therefore, saya is more socially appropriate. Likewise, the use of second person singular pronouns in Indonesia – kamu, engkau, Anda – reflects the degree of formality influenced by social status, age, power, and interpersonal distance between the speakers. Kamu and engkau are more casual, showing the degree of closeness. Anda is more formal but, on the other hand, it puts distance between the speakers, so much that it poses a risk of patronization. A linguistically aware person would resort to a strategy of not using pronoun at all. Instead, she is going to use ‘Bapak, Ibu, Tuan, Nona, or Nyonya’ that might or might not be followed by their name.

However, the difference in social, power, distance and stratum of speaker is not contained within English pronouns. It envelops the equalitarian nature of its speaker’s culture (Brown and Gilman 1960:118-119). In modern (current) English, singular I and singular you are the same regardless of the speakers’ status or distance. This is where errors occur. Students, unaware of this different politeness concepts, avoid using objective pronoun ‘you’ altogether or compensate it by the coding of title and name or by using a direct translation of ‘Bapak, Ibu, Tuan, Nona, or Nyonya etc.other than as vocative. It is because the use of you eliminates the social structure, diminishing the power of the addressee, something that is considered as impolite when sending a text to the teacher, in students’ culture.

The following examples illustrate the error caused by source language cultural interference.

In this example, the sender goes as far as switching the code to Javanese ‘njenengan’ just to emphasize the politeness, his ‘submission’ to the (assumed) powerful receiver.

 

This example illustrates how the student tried to compensate for the lack of ‘subordination’ indicator in the language, so she transferred the politeness strategy in Bahasa Indonesia directly to English (Bu –> Mrs.).

These intercultural errors mainly because students still think in what their source language’s culture dictates them to. They could not fathom the equalitarian concept in interpersonal interaction of English speaking culture. Leavitt (2015) stated that the words your language gives you determine and limit what it is possible for you to think. Therefore, another goal to add in EFL instruction is to train students NOT only to speak in English, but also to think in it. All in all, these errors need to be addressed by giving corrective feedback, explicit teaching of cultural value, and exposing students to as many intercultural materials as possible.

Reference:

Brown, R & Gilman, A. (1960). The Pronoun of Power and Solidarity. In T.A. Sebeok (eds). Style in Language. MIT Press. 253-76.

Fairclough, N. (2001). Language and power.  Longman: Harlow, Eng.

Leavitt, J., (2015). Linguistic relativity: precursors and transformations. In: Sharifian, F. (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Culture. Routledge, London and New York, pp. 18–30.

What I learn from my (current) research journey

credit: Pro Church Media

So, currently, i’m in the process of conducting a research about language attrition (and maintenance) in EFL context. The first stage is to reveal the phenomenon from teachers’ perspective. For that, I conduct a survey.

The first week in data collection process, preliminary look shows a stark homogeneity. It could mean 3 possibilities: 1) my instrument fails to capture/accommodate variability, 2) The demography is uniformed, and 3) that is the real situation in the field.

For possibility 1, I did literature review and tested it again and again, and it’s okay. So I go on to test possibility number 2, and yes, most of my respondents are those teachers in higher education setting.  SO here comes a problem: how I can get K-12 teachers to participate in my survey. I have friends, colleague, and family members who work as K-12 teachers but I have never been comfortable in asking others to do things for me, I don’t want to impose anyone to do my bidding. But then I muster up my courage and reach out to them.

And they don’t fail me.

Most of them are willing to help me, filling out the questionnaire, and going as far as passing along the survey to their friends, colleagues, teacher groups, CPD groups in their region, and more.

I am left speechless.

As much as I feel so grateful beyond belief, I also learn something here:

  1. keep in touch, contact, with people in your life,
  2. do not be afraid to reach out,
  3. don’t forget to always strive to be on the other end of the favor. You will never know the scale of help you could give to people and how grateful they could be.