May 08, 2013

Affective Language Acquisition Stages: Intermediate Fluency

It is with great pleasure that I continue Affective Language Acquisition Stages, a collection of 5 posts that explore  the stages of pre-production, early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency, and advanced fluency through an affective perspective. We will explore how language teachers can interact with young learners to provide them a supportive, meaningful, and productive language environment.

These posts reflect the pedagogic work done at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo, a language school where children learn English affectively through play in small groups. The strategies presented below have been developed and refined for 20 years and I understand that they might require adaptation to be implemented in other realities.  

Make sure you read the silent period post, early production, and speech emergence posts before reading this one, so you can understand how children have developed to be ready for their early production. 

Ready or not, here we come!

We want our young learners to feel and think the following during this stage: 

I can speak English without having to stop frequently!

I can make friends, watch TV and read books in English!

I am happy that I can communicate everything I want to say!

Here we are at this interesting and fascinating stage. Yes, the students you and your colleagues have taught for so many years are able to communicate freely! Aren't you so proud of it? Yes, I know how it feels. But work is far from being finished!

English language learners at the intermediate fluency stage have a wide vocabulary that enables them to express freely during most of the time, although they might frequently not have the best words to express their thoughts. They are beginning to use more complex sentences containing a wide range of structures and verb tenses when speaking and writing to express opinions and share their thoughts. Comprehension of English literature and social studies content is increasing. At this stage, students will use strategies and sometimes structures from their native language to learn and express in English. These English language learners are able to work in grade level content (academic English)  with some teacher support.

Students at the level of intermediate fluency can:

Tak freely about their likes, dislikes and give reasons
Describe with details a place or an event the have attended
Read a newspaper article and tell you their opinion about what was read
Understand the main idea of movies, songs and internet reports
Retell stories with good command of verb tenses
Understand simple poetry
Read authentic chapter books in English
Understand riddles and double meaning jokes
Do grade work with support
Interact with native speakers with some support

Typical production at this stage:

What's up? / What's going on?
I went to my friend's house and we had lots of fun, because we played a lot.
My friend thinks we should watch this movie because it is much more fun than the other one and I saw the first one and I liked it.
They found out there wasn't enough time to reach the shore (with help of the educator)

Educators should focus on:

·      Providing complex and interesting language for the student in a way that it is more elaborate and sophisticated than his or her actual level of competence.
·      Explore the richness of adjectives, language constructions, phrasal verbs and idioms.
·      Help students understand not only the language but the different genres and context in which language is used.

Educators are expected to:

·      Present and use idioms, phrasal verbs and expressions
·      Engage the student in retelling stories in order to expose students to the same language
·      Watch internet videos that teach you how to do things
·      Explore specific language such as parts of a car, pieces of clothing, etc
·      Read authentic chapter books with students
·      Read and listen to news from the internet
·      Explore different ways to express the same things (ex: like/ think/nice/how are you/ said)
·      Work with structures as so/such/too/enough/little/much/supposed to/ although/ if/ as long as 
·      Engage students in journal writing
·      Promote read aloud moments as a way of developing pronunciation and rhythm
·      Engage students in selecting a book for them to read it on their own
·      Expose students to different accents by listening material from different countries
·      Connect students with native speakers
·      Share personal experiences they have had with language in a foreign country
·      Promote ways of self-assessment and learner empowerment

Language resources and strategies for students at intermediate fluency:

Saying it differently– the teacher can present new structures to students by using language that is different from the language students use. Language which has just been learned can be frequently used to make sure students listen to it in context. 
Example: Start using I couldn't agree more instead of I think so too in your speech. 

Expansion- here we can grow sentences learners produce only in English by adding missing words, pronouns, or anything that can refine meaning. We can also present expressions or sentences that match the student's intention. We present language with the intonation of active rephrasing as if the student had said the full sentence in their mother tongue.
Example: S: This is easy, I know how to do it, I always do it. 
               T: This is easy. I've got the hang of it. 
               S: This is easy. I've got the hang of it. 

Transformation –  here we invite students to say their sentences in a more elaborate way by giving them a structure that should be present in the new construction. Students may need to change some aspects of their sentences to make them work.  Note that the sentences students produce here are perfectly fine. This is a way of scaffolding the quality of their oral production. 
Example: S: We are planning to go out after class. 
               T: Have you heard that...
               S: Have you heard that we are planning to go out after class?

Leaving gaps – here we adding prepositions and conjunctions at the end of sentences said by the students in order for them to expand their sentences. But the catch is that here we insert prepositions and conjunctions that require the students to think and flex the language. 
Some words that are inserted include unless, even if, if, although, due to, in spite of, etc. 
Example: S: I enjoy going to the beach
               T: as long as ... 
               S:the weather is good.

               S: My dogs take a nap every morning               T: as a result of...
               S: their morning running. 

Retelling – here basically the student retells a story from a different angle. Students can be the wolf/grandma/the hunter in little red riding hood. Telling a story from a different perspective requires students to use different verb tenses connecting cause and consequences. 

Role reversal – this is super fun! You can start by telling students something exciting you have lived. Then students tell you about their experience using your model. So far, nothing new. Now  you exchange places with the student and "become" the student and you retell the student’s story  adding adjectives, describing places and even adding things that the student didn’t say. Student goes back to his place and tells the same event again this time choosing what he or she wants to incorporate from your retelling. It’s important to physically change places. You can have the student doing the same with you. Talk about how it felt being the “other”.

Freeze- another favorite! Come up with a theater scenario in which there is conflict. Once you reach the climax, tell students to freeze. Then go behind the student and  give him/her the exact language the student could say in a series of “inducing whispers” which build on what the student has said. The idea is to present many possibilities and when action is said the student mixes his or her own discourse with the suggestions that were presented.

Example: (complaining about a fly in the soup)
              S: there is a fly in my soup, call the manager! 
              T: Freeze! 
              T: This is just unbelievable, can't believe my eyes, this is disgusting, call the manager straight away, the fly is still alive, is this part of your delicious recipe, disgusting, gross, I will call the press. (using different intonations to show anger, surprise, irony, etc)
               T: Action!
               S: This is disgusting, can't believe what I see, look the fly is alive! 

Feed ( also known as third person) - Also used in theater scenarios. Here we present student language by giving  instructions, conditions and situations that should be retold to a third person, opposed to the actual language given in Freeze. In the moment of meeting with this third person the student will mix his/her own discourse with the feeding he has received. Interesting to notice is that the student has not received the actual word that will be used. (ex. Convince him, warn her, apologize that, etc)
 Example: (The student are playing Three Little Pigs)
                T: if the big bad wolf comes here, tell him that you have big friends that are very strong. If he still wants you to open the door, ask him if he is scared of bears. Make the noise of a bear if he tries to open the door. 
                T or other St: Open the door, this is the big bad wolf.
                S: Go away, I have strong friends. 
                T: I don't care. 
                S: Are you afraid of bears? 
                T: No, I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid of any animals. 
                S: GROWWWWLLL!!!

Using the newspaper - I used to teach a student who was crazy about soccer and he subscribed a soccer newspaper. During classes we used to have lots of fun doing the following activities with the newspaper: 
1. The student and I would take turns reading parts silently and summarizing it to the other. We would write down language to be researched.
2. The student and I would take turns translating at the exact moment we were reading. 
3. The student would read the piece of news and I would interview the student as if the student was one of the players/coach/somebody in the news. 
4. The student would read the piece and tell you the story being a character but changing many details or even the whole story!  


Free conversation with students at this stage or reading an interesting adapted book might not be fostering real language development! Make sure that materials are relevant, authentic, and challenging for your students. Pay attention to their writing skills and their writing process once students tend to be much more advanced in their oral English.

Sosô and Juan’s secret hints

Translating with the original – whenever you are able to get hold of the original and translated copies of a book students really enjoy,  you can try the following activities:

1.     Give the student the version in their native language and you (or another student) have the original one. Ask the student to translate a paragraph or smaller chunk to English. Then you read it in the original and the student retells in English the paragraph you have just read. You can even try it out by translating and having with the student read you the original to show how hard translating is.
2.     Another activity is to let the student read a page or two in the original version in English and then the student "retells it" as they translate/remember while he/she reads along the translated version.  

Wow, another long post!
Happy that you are still here with me!
Do you have young learners in early production?
Does all this that I presented here make sense to you?

Send you a big hug,


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