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Aviation English Course: My TBLT Lesson Idea

One of the most exciting stages of designing a TBLT course is materials design. This TBLT lesson idea (I created on the TBLT course in 2019) is included in my Aviation English course materials (Module 3: Air Traffic Control).

Teacher’s notes + materials

Domain: Pilot/Controller communications

Learner need: vocational

Sector and/or profession: Airline Pilots / Air Traffic Controllers

Target task-type: Handle abnormal conditions in flight

Target task: Dealing with problems in flight and suggesting actions

Materials: YouTube video clip(s) of Live ATC communications – VASAviation; tapescript from clip(s) and handout with specific lines for micro-listening practice

Duration: 4 classroom hours (classroom hour = 45 minutes)


1.Learners watch YouTube video clip to tune into accents and get global understanding:

REAL ATC] Emirates B777 with EMERGENCY FUEL at Vancouver!

 (Learners read video transcript while listening)

2. Identifying the difference between standard phraseology and plain language. Learners read examples and decide in pairs which sentences are standard ATC phraseology and which are Plain English, then they write them under two headings: ATC phraseology // Plain English

3. Learners discuss the questions in small groups

4. Learners read two short texts: ICAO instructions on ATC Phraseology and Plain English use and they do True / False exercise

5. Short focus on contracted forms and connected speech patterns (e.g.  if you’d like; We’ll go to Vancouver; It’s about ten fifteen miles closer; … and understand you’re minimum fuel, I just wanna be clear here I can offer you…)

6. Micro-listening exercise with specific chunks to test recognition of function words and standard ATC phrases, plus some key vocabulary (synonyms are highlighted in the script)

7. Discussion on intelligibility & clear speech: Ls discuss the importance of effective aviation communication (ICAO guidelines and techniques for radio transmission)

8. Exit task:

Role play 1 & 2: simulation of ATC communications (reporting problems/incidents and suggesting actions)

[Learners are scored pass/fail according to whether they can perform the target task correctly]

Write an essay (around 250 words)

[Learners are scored pass/fail according to ICAO RATING SCALE, LEVEL 4: OPERATIONAL]


The lesson is based on Long’s version of task-based language teaching (TBLT). Target task is determined by needs analysis for a group of pilots and air traffic controllers (CEFR B2 level). In analyzing the discourse of ATC communications, this ATC live recording was chosen as representative. Beyond relevance, the materials aim to provide interesting tasks presenting sufficient intellectual challenge and the greatest possible approximation to real-world language use. Exit tasks are based on criterion referenced performance tests.

Focus on Form

Some difficulties that are likely to arise while students do the tasks include:

  • Difficulty understanding accent/connected speech and other pronunciation issues in performing the task
  • Possible communicative breakdowns in negotiating a solution
  • Focus on pronunciation issues: homonyms (no / know; to / too / two; for / four; here / hear; wait / weight; root / route; brake / break; dew / due; crews / cruise, aloud / allowed)
  • Focus on other language issues that can cause misunderstanding or miscommunication (ambiguity, synonyms, various accents, use of modal verbs, etc.)
  • Possible problems with teaching Aviation English as lingua franca (accommodation strategies, rephrasing, clarification, and so on)


The school year round-up

This article about my reflections on my work in the library is included in the school annual report for 2020/2021. Like everyone, over the last year, I have had to find ways to adapt to the changing landscape because of the impact of Covid-19. In spite of the hard covid year I had some amazing learning adventures: I launched a Library course on the Moodle platform and updated my Aviation English textbook.

Libraries are not only about the library space and the physical collection.

The Library course – “Carpe Librum” is delivered on the Moodle platform and intended for students with a love of literature who want to improve their English by following an extensive reading and listening program. Students are given a choice of different modules: school libraries and books; critical thinking and logical fallacies; science and pseudo-science; information and media literacy. The course aims are to promote reading books in English and Serbian, develop intellectual curiosity and critical thinking skills, encourage teamwork and collaboration, and promote life-long self-directed learning. Each module includes: a short presentation with carefully designed activities, interactive exercises or quizzes, interesting forum discussion topics, assessed tasks, and surveys on students reading habits and information and media literacy skills.  This is an optional course which does not count in students’ final evaluation.

As I had never worked with the Moodle platform before and I was learning and experimenting with all this, I was completely fine that only sixteen students participated in the course. One of the reasons was that this school year our students were overwhelmed by too much information and school assignments on Teams and Moodle. I will try to improve the course next school year and I hope to attract much more students (e.g. by posting some pictures and video clips about the library on Instagram).  

I especially enjoyed reading our students’ essays, and I published four essays from those who did the “school libraries and books” option on the Library Blog: Библиотеке и књиге.

School libraries are dynamic places that can shape the learning culture of the school and improve students’ engagement and educational outcomes.

Our teachers and students are carrying out a few Erasmus projects this year. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this difficult as social distancing is challenging for the collaboration and projects that typically involve in-person interactions. In the second semester a group of students taking part in one of the Erasmus projects: Drone KA 202 – Safe drones – safe environment, participated in a videoconference in the library. The secondary school students from Spain, Italy, Turkey, and Serbia introduced their schools first by giving some short descriptions, and then enjoyed watching a few lectures about drones online. The most important thing that the students gain from doing these cooperation projects is meeting new friends, having fun, sharing knowledge and learning.

This example of activities in the library is not, however, just about giving teachers and students resources – this is about the impact that collaboration between teachers, students and school librarians can have on their students.

The best part of this job is collaborating with colleagues and students and sharing some creative and effective ideas with them.

In the school year 2020-2021 I revised and updated Aviation English 3, the textbook I prepared about eight years ago as an Aviation English course for students of the Aviation Academy. Its contents cover the curriculum of the subject Aviation English – for Air Transport Technicians (3d year). It is a four module course (Navigation, Meteorology, Air Traffic Control, and Human factors).

The revised edition of the book is based on Mike Long’s (2015) version of task-based language teaching (TBLT) which starts from the premise that ELT should be based on practical hands-on experience with real-world tasks. Pedagogic tasks are derived from ‘target tasks’ that students will actually have to carry out in L2, identified through a thorough needs analysis carried out by triangulation of sources: domain experts, documents, published literature and O*Net.

I designed a task-based language course for pilots and air traffic controllers, based on the principles of Long’s (2015) book on TBLT. The Aviation English syllabus consists of a sequence of pedagogic tasks implemented according to key methodological principles: providing rich input, encouraging inductive ‘chunk’ learning, focus on form, respecting learner syllabi and developmental processes, and promoting cooperative, collaborative learning.

A useful feature of the book is the inclusion of the online newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with professionals, example texts and aviation documents, ATC communications between pilots and air traffic controllers (YouTube videos), etc. Aviation terminology and concepts are explained with simple definitions and materials are selected on the principle of ‘input elaboration’ – improving the comprehensibility of relevant spoken or written texts by adding redundancy and regularity.

I was intrigued to learn about Mike Long’s version of TBLT a few years ago after reading some insightful blog posts by Geoff Jordan on Mike Long and his book Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching (2015). I am very grateful to Geoff Jordan (Ph.D. in SLA, University of Leicester) and Neil McMillan (Current president of @SLBCoop and collaborating professor at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya @UOCartshum) for designing the TBLT course: Task-Based Language Teaching – from Theory to Practice. I learned an immense amount about task-based language teaching, SLA theory, psycholinguistics, and philosophy of science on the course. This helped me a great deal to design the TBLT materials for my task-based language course for pilots and air traffic controllers. Jordan’s and Neil’s tutorials and presentations, as well as Long’s webinars where he took part with participants on the course were fascinating experience and a great source of inspiration.

The only way to do great work is to love what you do.

I shared some useful ELT information and websites with my colleagues this month: about my Aviation English Course revised, the TBLT course I completed in 2019, and the Freeed. I suggested organizing discussion sessions about TBLT, or any other topic related to ELT they are interested in, on Zoom or in the Library. I hope my TBLT course materials will inspire my colleagues to design some TBLT courses/ projects together. I also invited them to write a guest post and share their thoughts, ideas, or some useful ELT information on my blog(s).

Recommended websites for teachers:

FREEED (a place where teachers and educational professionals can discuss and develop education together. With Freeed, teachers can discover and share the best ideas and materials to support teaching and connect with fellow teachers from around the world).

On Freeed you can read and download a lot of great lesson ideas. You can find my two lesson ideas about teaching media literacy and teaching collocations with podcasts here. My TBLT lesson idea: Teaching collocations with podcasts was chosen (with the other five lesson ideas on poetry) to celebrate the World Poetry Day.

Six Lesson Ideas to Celebrate World Poetry Day

Recommended websites to inspire discussion on Long’s TBLT:

What do you think you’re doing? (Geoff Jordan’s blog with an extensive selection of articles on SLA and teacher-training)

Mike Long’s lecture (on YouTube):

Task-Based Language Teaching: Design, Implementation, and Evaluation (Michael H. Long).

If you are interested in future iterations of the course TBLT: from Theory to Practice, please see the course description here:

There is only one set text which participants need to acquire for themselves:

Long, Mike. (2015). Second Language Acquisition and Task-based Language Teaching. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Readers live longer


Reading by @mkofab, Photo taken from ELTpics,
used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license 

The Aviation technical school I work in has started a bilingual education programme this school year. I wrote this post to motivate the English language teachers in my school to read about SLA research. I also want to encourage them to carry out some collaborative project works in our school library.

How we learn an L2  (implicit and explicit knowledge)

Nick Ellis wrote (2005) that learning is a dynamic process and, at any one time, our state of mind reflects complex dynamic interactions of implicit and explicit knowledge. Implicit learning is learning without awareness of what is learned, and this occurs during fluent comprehension and production. Ellis points out that ‘The bulk of language acquisition is implicit learning from usage. Most knowledge is tacit knowledge; most learning is implicit; the vast majority of our cognitive processing is unconscious.’ (Ellis, 2005).

Implicit learning is still the default learning mechanism and “most communicative language use depends fundamentally on implicit knowledge, or in Krashen’s terms, acquisition” (Long, 2015). Explicit learning is a conscious operation and it is intentional learning which results in explicit knowledge: people know something and know they know. For prof. Mike Long, explicit learning helps adult learners (who are partially “disabled” language learners) notice fragile features by drawing attention to them. This leads to a form being stored in long-term memory, allowing further examples of this form in the input to be processed implicitly. Explicit learning of language occurs in our conscious efforts to negotiate meaning, when the teacher briefly draws attention to form: Long’s focus on Form.

If implicit learning is the primary goal, students need a lot of opportunities for incidental (i.e. implicit) learning. In our school library students have abundant opportunity to interact in English and do various communicative activities, which is completely different from what they do in the classroom. Our General English classes are based on course book syllabus and focus on forms, where sliced up bits of language are somehow accumulated through a process of presentation, practice and re-cycling. This PPP model suggests that learners are first presented with information about the L2 (declarative knowledge) and then, after some practice and drills, this is converted into unconscious knowledge of how to use the L2 (procedural knowledge).

Jordan and Gray in their article We need to talk about coursebooks (2019) explain that “unlike learning other subjects in the curriculum such as geography or biology, there is a big difference in language learning between knowing about the language and knowing how to use it”. For example, our students who know the language rule about the third person singular –s (s/he reads) in the Present Simple Tense, are often unable to use that knowledge in real time when participating in a conversation. 

Geoff Jordan points out on his blog that course books do not respect SLA research findings:

“After 50 years of SLA research what we know is that L2 learners follow their own developmental route, a series of interlocking linguistic systems called “interlanguages”. Interlanguage development takes place in line with what Corder (1967) referred to as the internal “learner syllabus”, not the external syllabus embodied in course books.”

I strongly believe that “students learn faster and better if teachers spend the majority of classroom time giving students scaffolded opportunities to engage in communication activities with each other about matters of mutual interest, focusing on meaning.” (G. Jordan & H. Gray, 2019)

My reflections on collaborative project works in the library


1st year students doing an assignment in the library (photo taken by Ljiljana Havran)

These are my reflections about some collaborative projects that could be carried out in the library to promote the English language learning outside of class.

Extensive reading

Extensive reading (ER) is probably one of the best ways to acquire language implicitly. Extensive reading is not about testing, but about helping students to build their reading speed and fluency, and become more confident readers in English.

  • Silent book club

Students are encouraged to read around the library whatever books in English they want in a silent and sustained manner (just making sure that students have options increases engagement and develops intrinsic motivation!). Sometimes there’s also talking, before or after the reading.

  • Joining book club discussions

This can be a wonderful way to talk with your friends about the books you have read. These discussions also allow you to hear other people’s thoughts on the book that might have never occurred to you otherwise.

My latest post on my Library Blog is on book recommendations during the pandemic:

Focus on the things that bring you joy 


Mike Long’s TBLT (task-based language teaching)

Mike Long’s version of TBLT is based on the principle of learning by doing. Tasks are the real world activities and they are identified by a thorough needs analysis. Key methodological principles of Long’s TBLT include providing rich input, encouraging inductive ‘chunk’ learning, focus on form, respecting learner syllabi and developmental processes, and promoting cooperative, collaborative learning.

Instead of spending most of the time on presenting and practising a sequence of grammar structures, we lead students through a sequence of tasks and give them help as and when they need it. Some examples of target tasks related to students using the school library are: borrowing books from the library, asking for information, locating/ evaluating resources, producing digital content, learning about information and media literacy – citation and issues of copyright and avoiding plagiarism; talking about books/ writing reports or reviews, etc.

These are some of the pedagogic tasks our students can do in the library:

  • make presentations (on Skype/ Zoom/ Microsoft Teams) on the books you have read; then discuss the plot, the characters, inferring their feelings and emotions, discussing why characters are behaving in a certain way, what could have happened if the character had made a different choice, etc.
  • make a video clip (e.g. use your smart phone): 3 minute book reports or reviews.
  • find and bring some quotes/ passages from the books you have read, and explain the emotions expressed in these quotes; students can vote on the best quote.
  • write flash fiction (six word stories or poems), or write tweets, or blog about the books you have read and want to recommend.
  • write a letter to a character in the book about something you agree or disagree with, trying to assume the same tone as the book.
  • write a summary of the book you have read, on Google docs. Write out a simple piece about it, including a basic summary and some of your own feelings about the text. Other students make comments.
  • write a script, prepare and role-play some interesting scenes from the novels/ plays you like.

You can find and download my TBLT lesson idea: Teaching media literacy skills with podcasts on (a global discovery platform for teachers to connect, share ideas & find resources).

Extensive reading and listening programme

One of Mike Long’s suggestions for a pedagogic procedure through which to realize MP5 (encouraging inductive ‘chunk’ learning) is to add an extensive reading and listening programme to the main classroom or distance learning course. Listening to podcasts or audiobooks can serve as useful input for students going on to practise target chunks as wholes in a series of pedagogic tasks with a focus on form. The idea is that if students want to convey their ideas more effectively and sound naturally they need to be exposed to realistic samples of target language use as input components of pedagogic tasks and “then helped to incorporate, store, and retrieve collocations within that input as prepackaged chunks.” (Long, 2015)

You can find and download my TBLT lesson idea Teaching collocations with podcasts on (a global discovery platform for teachers to connect, share ideas & find resources).


Photo by Balázs Kétyi on Unsplash

Some suggestions about how to develop reading habits

In order to enjoy the full language learning benefits of these extracurricular activities, students need to read a great deal. I am planning to:

  • refer our students to a study from Yale [Bavishi 2016] showing that readers live longer, and ask them if that can develop their reading habits 
  • use Google forms for conducting an online survey about our students’ reading habits 
  • use Google docs for asking students: How do you make more time for reading? 

*How do you make more time for reading?  (my suggestions):

Apart from reading paper books, you can get a Kindle, or listen to audiobooks during times when your eyes are preoccupied: commuting, workouts, going for a walk, cooking, etc., or you can buy audio and Kindle versions of the same book, then listen along (2 –3x) while you read, it’s more immersive and makes it easier to read while e.g. eating breakfast.

You can find thousands of audio books for free online here: Lifewire

Suggested Readings:

Long, M. (2015). Second Language Acquisition and Task-based Language Teaching. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

What do you think you’re doing? (Geoff Jordan’s blog with an extensive selection of articles on SLA and teacher-training)

Jordan, G., & Gray, H. (2019). We need to talk about coursebooks. ELT Journal.

Ellis, N. C. (2005)At the Interface: Dynamic Interactions of Explicit and Implicit Language Knowledge. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27(02).

Bavishi, A., Slade, M. D., & Levy, B. R. (2016). A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity. Social Science & Medicine, 164, 44–48

The only teacher to whom you should compare yourself is the teacher you were yesterday


Reflecting on some interesting conversations I’ve had with my colleagues and students in the library is always stimulating and helpful when planning my future goals and library activities.  

  • Conversation 1 (with my colleague, an English language teacher)

L: Teenagers can be difficult to motivate, but I think it’s important to talk to them about their interests and reasons for learning English.

C: I do interact a lot with my students. They have different interests and it’s not easy to cater to individual differences in goals.

L: I think our students are usually engaged with the topics they found personally interesting, like music or sport or films they’re fond of. Also, they are interested in the topics connected with some school subjects relevant to their further education/ future job.

C: The thing is teenagers generally don’t know what they want or need to learn, and they often can’t articulate their needs and goals.

L: You’re right, but then we can consult domain experts, they can help with carrying out a need analysis and identifying target tasks. Students are motivated to learn when they do some interesting tasks in the classroom, lab or school library… One of the best ways to learn English is through a lot of extensive reading and listening, in my opinion. You can bring your students and have a class in the library next week.


  • Conversation 2 (with a 4th year student)

L: I can recommend this book of English romantic poetry, you’ll really enjoy Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge. Coleridge wrote this magnificent poem one night after he experienced an opium-influenced dream, after reading a work describing Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and Emperor of China Kublai Khan.

S: How interesting! I dunno, I’ve never read English romantic poems…

L: I fell in love with English romanticism during my studies thanks to my professor of English literature who was a translator, too. In one of her memorable lectures she revealed to us how she translated Kubla Khan: that night when she was translating the poem she went through a similar experience as Coleridge because she had taken some medicine to relieve pain and fever caused by the flu.

B: Ha, your story suggests we should take drugs if we want to be great poets, doesn’t it?

A: *I was at a loss for words* Oh, of course not, …. this sublime poem just brought to mind an amazing lecture…


By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

   Down to a sunless sea.


U Zenaduu Kublaj-kan 
sazida divan dvor za pir
gde sveti potok, Alfa zvan,
kroz špilja svod još nikom znan,
u morski hrli vir.

(prevela sa engleskog Ranka Kuić)

  • Conversation 3 (with my colleague, a history teacher)

L: There are a lot of examples of misinterpretations of ideas or concepts in history. There’s no more drastic example of this phenomenon than what has happened to the theory of Karl Marx.

C: Yeah, the prevailing ignorance is the problem, and the fact that so many people are satisfied with a minimum or superficial knowledge of something.

L: I think that of all political philosophies anarchism has been perhaps the most misunderstood and misrepresented by writers from all sides of the political spectrum. As you know the term anarchy is often used as a synonym for chaos and disorder; however, anarchy, as understood by most anarchists, means the exact opposite of this.

C: I must admit I know very little about anarchism… I’ve never talked to students about it.

L: I mentioned the term anarchism to a student the other day, but she told me she was not for chaos and anarchy. Then I explained that anarchy means not chaos, or a lack of organisation, but a society based on the autonomy of the individual, on co-operation, one without rulers or coercive authority, anarchists are for a society organized through a federation of voluntary associations…

C: We don’t talk about such ideas in the classroom, but I always recommend Orwell’s 1984 and Animal farm to my students, … hmm, no wonder these books are not in the school syllabus.

If you are interested to learn more about anarchism you can find some interesting articles here: Infoshop – Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth


My reflections ### My reflections ### My reflections

The only writer to whom you should compare yourself is the writer you were yesterday (T Pynchon) 

* I’m happy to have succeeded in making the school library the most democratic space at school, where open discussion and the free exchange of ideas are encouraged. My future goals are: to promote reading, free thinking, learner-centeredness and collaboration.

** English is a compulsory subject in our school. In the library our students have abundant opportunity to interact in English, for extensive reading and listening programmes, and for doing ESP (Aviation English) assignments and tasks. I have already written on this blog about experimenting with some lighter versions of TBLT in the library and why doing tasks is the best way to learn. I wrote then that I’m interested to learn more about task-based teaching as I found it suitable for our students.

***In my context where teacher-centered, PPP model, with plenty of explicit grammar instruction is a prevailing model of teaching, English teachers delivering a TBLT course could face the problem related to learners’ preferences for more traditional approaches. I’ll try to persuade the school management and motivate my colleagues to implement the strong Mike Long’s version of TBLT, by talking to them and explaining the importance of implicit learning (through my presentations and blog posts).

****Mike Long’s version of TBLT based on an analytic syllabus with a focus on form is the optimum version, in my opinion. It is consistent with SLA theory and it is an efficacious and appealing way of teaching English. I’m going to apply the theoretical & practical knowledge I acquired on the online course I completed in July: Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT): From Theory to Practice (run by Geoffrey Jordan, Neil McMillan and Marc Jones, with special guests contributions from TBLT experts Mike Long and Roger Gilabert).

This inaugural TBLT course was organised by Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona‏ @SLBCoop. I enjoyed their excellent presentations and tutorials, a carefully selected reading material, engaging interactive exercises, thought-provoking discussions, and intellectually challenging output tasks. For further information about the TBLT course please visit the site:

I also recommend this excellent book to English language teachers: Second Language Acquisition and Task-based Language Teaching by Mike Long.

20190307_132022“The relevance of course content to students’ communicative needs and respect for individual differences and underlying psycholinguistic processes is more important for language learning than everyone feeling good about themselves. Students can still be treated with as much delicacy and charm as typically overworked, underpaid teachers can muster, but superficial affective considerations pale in importance for students compared with the self-respect that comes from being treated as rational human beings, associating voluntarily and playing an active role in their own progress in learner-centered, egalitarian classroom.” (Long, 2015)

Long, Mike. (2015). Second Language Acquisition and Task-based Language Teaching. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Aviation English as a global lingua franca



In this post I want to discuss the need of acknowledging Aviation English as a lingua franca, and also to explore some recommendations to redefine and improve the training of pilots and ATCOs.

English is an international language of aviation. Pilot/ Controller communication in international flights is generally in English used as a lingua franca (Crystal, 2003; Seidlhofer, 2004): it allows dialogue between a controller and a pilot who do not necessarily share the same first language.

Barbara Seidlhofer, a linguist at the University of Vienna, who has studied and written extensively on using English as a lingua franca, explains ELF as:

“any use of English among speakers of different first languages for whom English is the communicative medium of choice, and often the only option.”

Seidlhofer (2004) points out that ELF has a number of characteristics that distinguish it from the native-speaker standard. It is characterized by the frequent use of accommodation strategies to resolve misunderstanding. Successful English as a lingua franca communication is, according to the findings of Seidlhofer’s analyses, “overtly consensus-oriented, cooperative and mutually supportive.”

Mitsutomi and O’Brien (2003) link aviation English to Kachru’s (1992) description of the three circles of English users. These users come from the inner circle (countries such as the UK, the United States of America (USA), Australia etc., which are considered to be English speaking countries), the outer circle (countries such as Nigeria, India, the Philippines etc., where English is widely used but shares official or unofficial language status with languages other than English) and the expanding circle (just about everywhere else in the world). The users of English that form the outer and expanding circle greatly outnumber those users from the inner circle and therefore there is the vast number of types of legitimate English and the wide variety of contexts in which they appear. In this sense, people who speak English as their first language might also be present in ELF interaction, but they would more than likely be in the minority.

According to ICAO (2010), “Native speakers may be perceived as the ‘owners’ of a language through whom ultimate standards for proficiency are set”. However, ‘native speakers may lack the vocabulary to discuss certain themes or may speak with a regional accent that is an impediment to intelligibility for those from outside that region. They may fail to take into account or use appropriate sociolinguistic differences in register. They may be inefficient users of the language in terms of their pragmatic competence.’

Recent findings suggest that responsibilities for ATC communication problems are distributed across NES and NNES users. Many researchers have cited the risk to aviation safety posed by native English speakers’ non-adherence to ICAO phraseology, frequent use of jargon, slang, nonstandard phraseology, and overreliance on plain language (Bieswanger 2013; Moder 2013; Prinzo & Hendrix 2009, Kim & Elder 2009).

The recent research, commissioned by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and carried out by linguist Dr Barbara Clark, examines reports of language-related miscommunication incidents. The core of the issue, the report CAP 1375 (2017) reveals, is that Aviation English is a lingua franca, and native English speakers who fail to comply with its standards can be just as dangerous as non-native English speakers.

The study into 267 reported incidents over 18 months says that misunderstandings in English between air traffic controllers and flight crew have caused pilots to follow the wrong departure procedures or fly their aircraft too close to each other. These errors could have led to catastrophic accidents, and UK news organisations are right to be alarmed. But most relegated to just a sentence or two one of the study’s main findings: British pilots and air traffic controllers “play a significant part in language-related miscommunication”. Large chunks of the 91-page report, commissioned by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, says that while foreign pilots and controllers need to improve their English, so do their British counterparts.” [Foreign pilots are failing at English — but so are the Brits

English-speaking pilots and controllers also cause problems by speaking too fast, especially under stress, and by failing to establish that non-English speakers have heard numbers correctly, the report says. The CAA report says native English-speaking and non-native pilots and controllers all need training in simplifying their speech and avoiding redundant information. According to Dr Barbara Clark, both native and non-native English speakers should undergo the same training and testing.

 “Both native and non-native English speakers must accept responsibility for their utterances, and ensure that they are speaking as clearly and concisely as possible,” the report says. “Lack of precision can cause misunderstanding even between native English speakers.”  


In 2003, International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) adopted the recommendations of the Proficiency Requirements in Common English Study Group (PRICESG) regarding minimum language proficiency requirements. ICAO announced that all of its member states’ pilots and air traffic controllers must reach an ICAO Operational Level 4 by 2008. This deadline was then extended to 2011.

ICAO established a language proficiency rating scale delineating six levels of language proficiency ranging from Pre-elementary (Level 1) to Expert (Level 6) across six areas of linguistic description: Pronunciation, Structure, Vocabulary, Fluency, and Comprehension & Interactions.

In 2009, ICAO explicitly states that teaching in Aviation English must “focus on speaking, listening, and interactive skills” because spoken communications are the essential way of pilots and ATCOs exchanging information. To ensure therefore that these skills were targeted in the teaching of Aviation English, ICAO (2009: 2) mandated that a “communicative approach” must be adopted.

In spite of the growing research interest in the use of English as lingua franca (ELF) (e.g. Seidlhofer 2004; Jenkins 2000, 2007), the widespread use of English as the language of aviation has seldom been characterized in ELF terms. The ICAO language testing policy focuses only on language proficiency of the non-native English speaking pilots and controllers, while native English speakers are frequently automatically granted or assessed at ICAO Level 6 (CAA, 2007). However, a core part of the training of all pilots and controllers, whether native or non-native, should surely involve training in the use of communication strategies to facilitate successful and efficient communication with speakers from diverse language backgrounds.

The focus of the training should also be on the core features of pronunciation (Jenkins 2004). Laura Patsko (2013) explains that “Jenkins’ suggestions regarding pronunciation teaching for the lingua franca core (LFC) – a list of pronunciation features which appear to be crucial to produce accurately in order for ELF communication to be intelligible”, in short are:

  1. Most consonant sounds + one vowel (/ɜː/)
  2. Preservation of most consonant clusters
  3. Vowel length (especially before voiced/unvoiced consonants)
  4. Appropriate word grouping and placement of nuclear stress

(Please find more about the Lingua Franca Core (LFC) on ELF Pronunciation blog: What is the Lingua Franca Core Laura Patsko 2013)

There are millions of people around the globe who are effectively communicating with one another in accents of English which could not be considered ‘native’. However, various accents can affect clear and concise communication between pilots and controllers, resulting in excessive time on radio frequency, loss of situational awareness, and added stress. Because NES pilots and controllers are going to encounter and interact with speakers whose native language is not English, it is very important that they are well-trained and prepared to attune their ears to the range of accents that they will encounter during their flying career.

In a recent series of blog posts on teaching pronunciation in Post-ELF (2018), Mark Hancock points out:

“The implication is that we see pronunciation teaching as strategic – as empowering students to modify their speech to suit the situation, and helping them to be more flexible in terms of understanding the variety of speech they will hear. All of the features that pronunciation teachers have traditionally taught can be recast and evaluated in this light: as ways of increasing the students’ capacity to accommodate.

Focusing on the process of understanding and making yourself understood in varying global contexts and teaching various accommodation strategies should be the main goals according to Hancock.

“We now have an asymmetry between productive and receptive pronunciation. Each speaker will have their own accent (or range of accents) in English, and each in turn must learn to tolerate, receptively, the differing accents of their various interlocutors” (Post-ELF 5: Beyond Dogma and Denial, Mark Hancock 2018).

English language courses for pilots and ATCOs should be designed with a focus on:

  • Practising intercultural communication skills: being tolerant of others as they engage in communication tasks (e.g. paraphrasing of utterances when these are found to cause problems of comprehension)
  • Practising such strategies which include simplification of speech and avoidance of redundant information
  • Practising core features of pronunciation that need to be mastered for mutual intelligibility between English users from different native language backgrounds
  • Practising to understand different accents heard in English: non-native English-speaking accents that pilots are most likely to encounter during their flight, and also so-called ‘native’ varieties
  • Addressing variations in intonation, rhythm, and pauses that native and nonnative English speakers have

As part of their training, pilots and controllers should also be provided with a deeper insight into the structures of language and the way that phrases and words can be misinterpreted. They must be aware of, and practise to avoid some common types of linguistic errors that can be caused by such linguistic phenomena as: ambiguity, homophony, synonymy, code switching, etc.


References & Further Reading:

Jenkins, J. 2001. The Phonology of English as an International Language. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seidlhofer, B. 2004. ‘Research Perspectives on Teaching English as a Lingua Franca’, Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, pp. 209–39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Seidlhofer, B. 2011. Understanding English as a Lingua Franca. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clark, B. 2017. Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 1375, Aviation English Research Project: Data analysis findings and best practice recommendations

ICAO Document 9835: Manual on the Implementation of the Language Proficiency Requirements. Montreal 2010. International Civil Aviation Organization.

Cir 323, Guidelines for Aviation English Training Programmes. 2009.

Aviation English Hub (Natalia Guerreiro’s blog) – Aviation English Reference Lis

PronPack (Mark Hancock’s blog) – Post-ELF 5: Beyond Dogma and Denial (2018)

ELF Pronunciation (Laura Patsko & Katy Simpson’s blog) – What is the Lingua Franca Core (2013)

Kim, Hyejeong, & Elder, Catherine. 2009. ‘Understanding aviation English as a lingua franca: Perceptions of Korean aviation personnel’. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 32 (3)

Music, Language and the Brain


This is a self-indulgent post on music and language, more precisely on brain connections between music and language. The post is inspired by a great book I read this summer: Musicophilia – Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks.

Oliver Sacks, a renowned neurologist and author, loved words so much; he often dreamed of them, and sometimes dreamed them up. “Musicophilia” is one of the words he made up, meaning an intense love of music.

In his book Sacks describes our exquisite sensitivity to music. Music has a unique power to express our feelings or to evoke some memories. It can get us dancing to its beat or lift us out of depression. Music can cause some catchy tunes to subject us to hours of mental replay, or can be the reason of nonstop musical hallucinations that a surprising number of people can acquire.

The author examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and ordinary people – from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to a group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; he describes people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds – for everything but music.

Music is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional

Sacks writes that there is a tendency in philosophy and psychology to separate the mind, the intellectual operations, from the passions, the emotions. The neuroscience of music, in particular, has concentrated almost exclusively on the neural mechanisms by which we perceive pitch, tonal intervals, melody, rhythm, and so on, and, until very recently, has paid little attention to the affective aspects of appreciating music.

“Yet music calls to both parts of our nature – it is essentially emotional, as it is essentially intellectual. Often when we listen to music, we are conscious of both: we may be moved to the depths even as we appreciate the formal structure of a composition.”

Professional musicians, or anyone practising a piece of music, may sometimes have to listen with a critical ear to ensure that all the minutiae of a performance are technically correct, but technical correctness alone is not enough; once this is achieved, emotion must return, or one may be left with nothing beyond an arid virtuosity. And, as the author points out “it is always a balance, a coming together, that is needed.”

The author explores further and explains that we have separate and distinct mechanisms for appreciating the structural and the emotional aspects of music which “is brought home by the wide variety of responses (and even “dissociations”) that people have to music.” And thus it is quite striking that “one may be quite “musical” and yet almost indifferent to music, or almost tone-deaf yet passionately sensitive to music.”

Professional musicians, in general, possess what most of us would regard as remarkable “powers of musical imagery”, as many composers do not compose initially or entirely at an instrument but in their minds. The author gives an example of Beethoven who wrote some brilliant compositions even after he had become deaf.


“There is no more extraordinary example of this than Beethoven, who continued to compose (and whose compositions rose to greater and greater heights) years after he had become totally deaf. It is possible that his musical imagery was even intensified by deafness, for with the removal of normal auditory input, the auditory cortex may become hypersensitive, with heightened powers of musical imagery (and sometimes even auditory hallucinations).” 


Brain connections between music & language

There are theories that music is older than speech or language, and some even argue that speech evolved from music.

“Language and music both depend on phonatory and articulatory mechanisms that are rudimentary in other primates, and both depend, for their appreciation, on distinctly human brain mechanisms dedicated to the analysis of complex, seg­mented, rapidly changing streams of sound. And yet there are major differences (and some overlaps) in the processing of speech and song in the brain.”

In Musicophilia Sacks gives examples of the patients with so-called nonfluent aphasia who do not only have an impairment of vocabulary and grammar, but have “forgotten” or lost the feeling of the rhythms and inflections of speech; hence the broken, unmusical, telegraphic style of their speech, to the extent that they still have any words available.

As we know speech itself is not just a succession of words in the proper order – it has inflections, intonations, tempo, rhythm, and “melody.” And, pitch is not only central in music but in language, too, revealing the meaning of utterances (question or statement, angry or ironic, enthusiasm or indifference, etc.).

Intonation in speech and music are largely similar in concept. While pondering this similarity/difference, a post I read a few years ago On singing accents by David Crystal came to my mind. There is a common phenomenon, that most British singers adopt an American accent while singing. One (most convincing) theory is that British singers lose their accents because of the melodies and beats they are trying to follow as they sing. According to Crystal there are two reasons for it:  the first is phonetic, singers are forced to stress syllables as they are accented in the music, which forces singers to elongate their vowels. Crystal says it is unusual for a singer to hold a regional accent throughout the whole song, resulting in what he calls ‘mixed accents’ for most. The other reason for accent levelling in songs is social. Some singers want to drop their regional accent, because they want to sing like the fashionable mainstream. This has been especially noticeable in popular music since the early days of rock ‘n’ roll.

sheet music @SueAnnan, Photo taken from ELTpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license 

Do Musicians make better L2 learners?

In the New York Times article “New ways into the brains room” from 2016, Natalie Angier writes on the research of a group of professors of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (they reported their results in the journal Neuron). The findings offer researchers a new tool for exploring the contours of human musicality.

The researchers at M.I.T. have devised a radical new approach to brain imaging that reveals neural pathways that react almost exclusively to the sound of music – any music. When a musical passage is played, a distinct set of neurons tucked inside a furrow of a listener’s auditory cortex will fire in response. Other sounds, by contrast – a dog barking, a car skidding, a toilet flushing – leave the musical circuits unmoved.

“Importantly, the M.I.T. team demonstrated that the speech and music circuits are in different parts of the brain’s sprawling auditory cortex, where all sound signals are interpreted, and that each is largely deaf to the other’s sonic cues, although there is some overlap when it comes to responding to songs with lyrics.”

In an article on second language learning and musical ability Do musicians make better language learners, Aneta Pavlenko, Research Professor at the Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan at the University of Oslo, writes that it seems that music and language do rely on common – or at least similar – processes: detection of differences in pitch, rhythm, phrasing and interpretation, tonal memory, memory for long sequences, and the ability to imitate and improvise based on familiar sequences. These similarities led researchers to ask two questions: Are abilities in one domain easily transferred to another? And are musicians better L2 learners than the rest of us?

Some studies found that speakers of tonal languages (Vietnamese and Mandarin, for example) were better at identifying musical pitches than speakers of English or French. They are also more likely to have absolute pitch (i.e. the ability to identify and recreate musical notes without the use of a reference tone). A. Pavlenko points out that these findings suggest that musical training enhances pitch ability and/or because people with high levels of pitch ability gravitate towards musical training.

“Other than a minor advantage in discriminating tones, however, there does not appear to be any conclusive evidence that musicians are better at L2 learning or have superior pronunciation skills.”

According to these neuropsychological studies music and language are represented in distinct areas of the brain, indicating thereby that the link between musical ability and second language learning is not as direct as one would think.

So where do we stand on the relationship between music and language?

“We certainly should not jump to the conclusion that speakers of tonal languages make better musicians. There is more to musical talent than sensitivity to pitch. By the same token, not every musician is a polyglot – there is much more to L2 learning than tonal discrimination and when it comes to syntax, vocabulary or pragmatics, musicians have no advantage over the rest of us.” 



Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

DC Blog: On singing accents

The Telegraph: Why you put on an American accent when you sing –

 Do musicians make better language learners

 The New York Times: New ways into the brains music room

My reflections on September classes at the library


My September classes with 1st year students went pretty well. My main aim was to welcome a new generation of students to the library, to show them that I care about their success, and to motivate them to ask questions and think about the library in a different way. 

We did the three activities: two activities in Serbian (What do you expect from your school library & Ask your librarian), and one in English (Gift of words – 20 beautiful single sentences in literature). The lesson plan is in my previous post.

Students’ expectations were mostly about the library being available / with a lot of good books for teenagers / the librarian should be helpful, kind and friendly. They expect to find enough assigned readers, and a peaceful and quiet space for reading and learning. The librarian should help them choose the books and literature for their school assignments and project works. They also expect their teacher-librarian to recommend the books that will develop their love of reading and increase their vocabulary and their creative potentials.

Students’ questions were mostly on: the number of books / the oldest / biggest / best … book in the library; computers, video surveillance, working hours and other library regulations.

These are some most interesting questions:

When was the library founded? Who was the first librarian?

Can we donate books to the library?

Are there some English graded readers in the library?


Who is more interested in books: boys or girls?

Can we spend the time in the library when we skip our lessons?

Can we have some extracurricular activities in the library: literature, drama, chess…?

Can you help us learn some learning  strategies?

Can we do some project works in the library?

Can students volunteer in the library?

What is your favourite book?

*What is the point of love?*


In the English language activity: Gift of words I got the students to read the sentences first (single sentences in literature about life, love, curiosity, dreams, perfectionism, etc.), then to choose a slip with a sentence they liked best and say why they liked particularly that line. Our conversation was spontaneous and students were relaxed and not afraid of making mistakes. I took some photos and told them that I would write my reflections about the classes on this blog.


We talked about the things we found interesting and relevant at the moment: from our favourite books and writers, some effective ways of learning English, to students’ hobbies and recent experiences. For example, a really interesting moment was when I asked a student with a neck collar why he wore it, what happened to him, and he described that he had hurt his neck while jumping into the sea during the summer holiday (he only needed a little help with the word “seabed” while explaining it). Another student explained that he learnt a lot by playing games on the Internet and he was happy to have made friends with a few nice Syrian boys. A student who loves history was curious about the history books we have, and he told us that he had won the first prize at a competition (he was particularly interested in Tukidid). Some girls were curious about the dictionaries at the library, and asked if they could use the Aviation English dictionaries for their assignments.

English is compulsory in our school and we have mixed ability classes (there are about 25 students from beginner to intermediate level in each class). I was so excited to be able to organize the classes the way I found useful and effective. I strongly believe that students learn the language implicitly and the role of a teacher is to create a supportive space and an atmosphere conducive to learning. 


I think that some students were really glad to have the opportunity to speak English, their English was very good and they asked me some interesting questions. Some students were hesitant to speak and they were mostly quiet, but they enjoyed listening to others; only a small number of students were unwilling to speak English. I told them they were free to use the slips with the sentences in Serbian. But, it was funny when a few students asked me (in a trembling voice) if they had to speak only English at the library when they come to borrow books. I reassured them and said: of course not, but it’s up to you, everybody who wants to practise English can ask me for a book or any information in English.

I tried to engage the students by providing opportunities to use the language for communication outside the classroom, and also by providing an achievable challenge. The students were involved in communicative interaction, where they were focused on meaning. They spent the time talking in the target language, and not listening to a teacher talk about it. While talking with students I tried to use some useful words & short expressions for clarifying or explaining, or expressing surprise or excitement, and so on (actually, really, sorry, wow, no way, oh no, that’s amazing…).

I really enjoyed the classes because the students were interested and engaged (although it was their 7th class of the day).  They looked lively and cheerful, and before leaving they enjoyed some chocolate seashells at the library, too. 🙂


September classes and students’ (positive) feedback helped me create the library syllabus for this school year. I also found some articles on the Internet with the topics relevant to teenagers and that might be interesting for creating some activities in the ensuing months:

  • Learning techniques & strategies

How should students revise? A brief guide 

  • Cheating & plagiarism

Oxford dons alerted to plagiarism 

  • Healthy habits & sports

Poor sleep can negatively affect a student’s grades, increase the odds of emotional and behavioral disturbance

  • Ecology & Climate change

‘Losing Earth’: A Climate Change Curriculum

  • Save our planet & endangered species

Call from the Wild  (Bella Lack @BellaLack )

  • Films, music, travels, hobbies & humour

Buster Keaton – The Art of the Gag []

  • English language club

Literary Hub: Dictionary Stories


Libraries provide an inspiring space for inquiry, learning & reflection


For school libraries, it can sometimes be difficult to get students comfortable with coming into the library and engaging with librarian(s). A good idea to make the library seem more approachable and more responsive to student needs and requests is organising a class at the library for a new generation of students.

I’ve been thinking lately about some engaging activities I could try out with the students. The activities should be designed in the way to make them find out how the library can help them succeed in reaching their educational goals. My major objectives would include interacting with students in a fun and relaxing way, while also introducing elements of learning and feedback.

I wonder if it is outdated to stick to the idea of ‘library’ as a place of knowledge, intellectual freedom, equity, reflection… as with the rapid expansion of digital information technologies students can access resources anywhere, anytime, without entering the library. In the era of the Internet, digitized and audio books, I am well aware of the importance to teach information and media literacy to students.

I understand that libraries need to evolve with the world; however, as a book nerd I am drawn to the approach to libraries as contemplative spaces where you can enjoy reading and good coffee. I love that atmosphere of serendipity, emotion and action… The power of libraries is certainly not in their collection of books or high tech, but in that insatiable pursuit, creation and sharing of knowledge and ideas.

What I also love about libraries is that they develop intrinsic motivation in learners, which is very important in education, as the conditions that support intrinsic motivation promote greater creativity and better conceptual learning. According to research (Kohn 1993), intrinsic motivation is associated with greater pleasure and more active involvement in activities; intrinsically motivated learners are also more likely to select challenging tasks.

“Children are likely to become enthusiastic, lifelong learners as a result of being provided with an engaging curriculum; a safe, caring community in which to discover and create; and a significant degree of choice about what (and how and why) they are learning.” (The Risks of Rewards, by Alfie Kohn)



Activities I am planning to try out with 1st year students in September

Introduce myself, then say a few words about the library and wish the students “good luck” for the coming term.

Divide the class into 3 groups of about 8 students. All the groups do these three 10 minute activities (but rotating  in 3 stations: A, B, and C).

Place the required materials at each station, set the rules and give guidance for students. Assign the roles to students:

reader:  reads the instruction aloud

facilitator: makes sure that each member of the group has a chance to speak, pose questions; writes down students’ responses/ suggestions

materials manager: handles the materials at the station and makes sure the materials are put back in place at the end of the activity

A.   Activity 1

What do you expect from your school library/ librarian in the next four years of education?

[Think for a few minutes and write the responses/ suggestions on a paper as a group]

B.   Activity 2

Ask your librarian whatever you want to know about the library.

[Make some interesting questions and jot them down on small papers, then please put the paper into a box. You’ll find the responses next month on our library blog]

C.   Activity 3

Gift of words20 beautiful single sentences in literature 

[Read the sentences printed on slips, then pick a sentence you like best, and say in English why you’ve chosen that sentence]

*The library is filled with library information handouts and sweet treats.




Some practical thoughts & ideas:

1  Ensure that library is an inclusive, vibrant and collaborative space where teachers and students learn from each other and try out their ideas in an environment where they’re comfortable exploring and taking risks.

2  Have conversations about literature and reading, and try to motivate students to read more (and not only the books that are in the Serbian language syllabus). Fill the library with the books that students and teachers recommend (& get some quirky books, too)

3  Take an inquiry stance to building a library culture by wondering and asking questions.

What books do you love reading?

What’s the last really great book you’ve read?

Is there a book that you expected to like but didn’t like?

Is there a book or author that you always return to?

Do you prefer to read on paper or on a screen?

How do you use digital books/ audio books?

What do you know about using information ethically: citing information appropriately, guarding their privacy, sharing information without plagiarizing?

4  Pay special attention to the culture in the library: foster polite behavior and healthy conflict resolution (conflict as normal part of life can be resolved by applying active listening skills).


5  As Serbian and English language teachers & librarians share similar passions, a good idea is to maximize all of our talents by combining forces to achieve our goal: do project works, set up book clubs, reading/ writing contests, extensive reading sessions, school e-magazine…

6  Encourage my colleagues to enhance their personal learning network by reading this blog (there are a lot of really useful links here). This way they can access some great ELT blogs and other reliable websites with materials for a student-centered classroom.


Thinking outside the box


DRDIx4zWkAA2TvGAhead of the curve


I love the smell of books and coffee in the library. I enjoy every single moment spent with my colleagues and students, a lot of interesting conversations and questions that make me think. I particularly enjoy this precious alone time when I can reflect on the stuff I have just discussed, read or learnt. This post is mostly about my library notes from 2017.




Seize the day! You are completely responsible for what you are and will become. Take charge of your life, act now, without delay!

I’ve been pondering the reasons why people tend to be stuck in their routines.  Fear of change is the most probable reason; they simply feel more comfortable to remain where they are than to move on. After some time they become so used to their comfort zone that it is difficult to ever break from it.

While it’s certainly true that routine is helpful, and the development of habits helps us do quite complex things with greatest ease, it can also limit our progress in life. Moving on requires us to break the existing structures from time to time. Breaking the rules gives us the opportunity to explore something out of the ordinary; only if we dare and risk can we discover something new, surprising and exciting.




Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner.” (Richard Feynman)

I’ve been reading lately some articles about R. Feynman – a brilliant scientist famous for his boundless curiosity and rebellious spirit! I was interested to find out more about his lectures, intrigued by an interesting conversation with a smart student about his book: Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!

I came across a great article on Open Culture about the Feynman notebook method

Feynman’s hunger to understand what he didn’t know and his learning all his life long with an exceptional depth and rigour is fascinating.

People resist learning the hard things. Learning is hard and requires significant amounts of deep learning. Dedicating a notebook to a new learning task, however, can provide concrete cues that help you stick with this hard process.

R. Feynman “was also a great teacher and a great explainer,” owing to his ability to “boil down incredibly complex concepts and put them in simple language that other people could understand.”

You understand something only if you can explain it in a simple language. I remember how difficult it was for me to simplify some air navigation concepts while teaching Aviation English to secondary school pupils.



“It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.” (C. Sagan)

In a similar vein, and inspired by R. Feynman, C. Sagan, R. Dawkins, I told some students who were studying in the library the other day, that there is a common belief that an artist enjoys the beauty of a flower, a tree, a sunset, much more than a scientist. Scientists are generally thought to be unromantic and boring. I told them that I disagree with that popular belief. I feel that science knowledge and all kinds of interesting questions that come to mind based on that knowledge can only add to the excitement and the mystery of a flower/ tree/ sunset. I didn’t expect their response; I just wanted to make them think…


It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works – that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.”
— Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), 159 (Carl Sagan)

I googled the last sentence of the quote and found two great sites:

Starts with a Bang: The Physics of Sunsets 

Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics: Ten Physics Facts about Summer 




At the beginning of each school year our 1st year pupils have a class in the library. This school year in September, instead of preparing to talk to the pupils about the library rules (‘you don’t to this, and don’t do that’), I got the students to make questions about our library in order to get a sense of what’s there and what’s it about. I promised to answer their questions on the library blog. The students a little puzzled at first (as they are obviously not used to asking questions during classes or reading blogs) realized that that was not such a difficult task and jotted down some questions on stickers.

How many books are there in the library

Are there any foreign language books/ are there any books in English

Can we study/ read/ play chess in the library

Are computers connected to the Internet

What is the oldest/ biggest/ smallest/ thickest book in the library

Which book in the library has the most words (how many & which font) >>??<< [this Q made me laugh, to be honest I was not sure if someone writing the Q was serious or wanted to be fun/ funny 🙂 ]


This first meeting with 1st year pupils was an exciting learning experience for both of us.

Students should have a lot more practice on thinking on their own, logical thinking, questioning some beliefs and asking questions.

Traditional approach doesn’t foster an environment where mistakes can be made and answers can be questioned.

I’ve read recently on the Net (but can’t remember the source, sorry) that “the classroom of today resembles a military training ground, where students are drilled to produce perfect answers to potential examination questions”.

Learning and knowledge is NOT to simply know the right answer for the test.






I’m currently enjoying: A short history of nearly everything, by Bill Bryson

I plan apolausticism for 2018 too.

I wish you a lot of LOVE and LAUGH in 2018  🙂

Librarians as Teacher-Leaders


When talking about teaching and learning teachers do not immediately think about a school library. Most teachers see a library as just a place filled with shelves of books and a librarian as someone who is cataloguing, collecting and issuing books. In my view, teaching staff is mostly confused about the role and responsibility of a teacher-librarian. 

I try to challenge some librarian stereotypes, and I do my best to make our library a ‘hub’, a central place in school where students and teachers come together to share literature, read and learn.


School library is an invaluable resource for learning

Libraries are about Freedom. Freedom of ideas, freedom of communication, freedom to read, think and learn… Library is a safe space where everyone’s questions, suggestions and ideas are welcomed and encouraged; it is a unique place at school where each student is treated as an individual in their attitudes, needs and taste. A librarian responds to everyone’s enthusiasms and enjoys spending the time thinking/ recommending/ finding the right book for the right student.

In a school library teachers have the feeling of intellectual independence which is essential to the proper fulfillment of the teachers’ functions.

“The teacher, like the artist, the philosopher, and the man of letters, can only perform his work adequately if he feels himself to be an individual directed by an inner creative impulse, not dominated or fettered by an outside authority.” (“Unpopular Essays” on The Functions of a Teacher, Bertrand Russell).

Libraries are about values and ideals. School librarians strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing their own knowledge and skills, and also by encouraging the professional development of co-workers. They are passionate about reading and books, and about maintaining philosophical values that reflect wisdom, truth, and intellectual independence. They always express a commitment to lifelong learning, and try to develop humanistic, idealistic, and aesthetic values in school.

Libraries are very collaborative spaces. By observing the inner workings of a school from a slight distance, a teacher-librarian is in the privileged position of being able to work with teachers across all subjects and students of all ages: in some collaborative projects, CLIL / TBLT /Dogme lessons, seminars and lectures, extracurricular activities, blogging/ writing teaching journals, e-magazines, etc.



Teaching is an increasingly important part of librarians’ work

I am broadly spending less time with collecting books and more time helping students with learning and doing homework… Thanks to my PLN (which is a great source of information and inspiration to me) and some online seminars on information and media literacy, I am knowledgeable about current research on teaching and learning, and skilled in helping students to access, evaluate, and use information from multiple sources in order to learn. I also provide students with materials and some useful tips on how to use the Internet, how to cite correctly and not plagiarize. Plagiarism is especially difficult for students to understand, as plagiarism has a wider meaning than just not being allowed to use a material without citing it.


ELT opportunities in the library



ELT extensive reading classes

Our school library has a large reading and study space. There is a wide variety of text types and topics to choose from. Students can read a lot and often and they can choose what to read. Reading purposes can focus on: pleasure, information and general understanding. Materials are within the language competence of the students. Reading is individual, and silent. The teacher-librarian is a role model… a reader, who participates along with the students.

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TBLT classes

In general English and ESP task-based lessons students can complete a task in pairs or groups using the language resources that they have as the teacher-librarian monitors and offers encouragement and help with the materials. In a task-based lesson the teacher/librarian doesn’t pre-determine what language will be studied, therefore the students are free of language control. The language explored arises from the students’ needs. This need dictates what will be covered in the lesson rather than a decision made by the teacher or the coursebook. As the students can use the quality online dictionaries or dictionaries and reference books in the library, they are exposed to a whole range of lexical phrases, collocations and patterns as well as language forms.

TBLT is a strong communicative approach where students spend a lot of time communicating; it is enjoyable and motivating. I have written before about a TBLT lesson in the library .


Dogme classes

If you love Dogme teaching but cannot apply it in the classroom (because of the imposed coursebook/ grammar syllabus) you can bring your students to the library and enjoy unplugged lessons.

In Dogme lessons there should be no methodological structures that interfere with the free flow of participant-driven input, output and feedback. The source of all activities is the students and teacher themselves. If a particular piece of material is necessary for the lesson, a library is a perfect place where that material is to be found. The only recorded material that is used should be that recorded in the library itself, e.g. recording students in pair or group work for later re-play and analysis.

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I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with students in the library so far, on the topics they found relevant: food, travelling, sports, hobbies, future job(s), books and authors they love, etc.

A few weeks ago I enjoyed a conversation with Ana K., an avid reader and excellent 3d year student. Ana came in smiling and said hello to me, sat at a table and started writing something in her notebook. The library was bathed in sunshine; I was busy and quiet cataloguing some books. All of a sudden she said with a sigh that she was writing a poem for a poetry event, and that it was not at all easy because she is not a poet, but her teacher nudged suggested that she should write it for the event.

I suddenly thought that would be nice to ask her a few questions (in English) just for fun, as she once told me she loved English. We started talking spontaneously in English and I really enjoyed listening to her. I let her speak whatever came to her mind. She was talking fluently about some books she had read recently. I elicited some responses (re: giving opinions on the books) and then introduced some new words and phrases like: gripping, thought-provoking, witty, humorous, hilarious, make a pun, wordplay…

I explained these words by talking about the books I love, by giving some example sentences focusing on collocations/colligations and pronunciation, too. Then I wanted her to practise these words in context on her own, and so I mentioned a specific English humour based on wordplay and puns (which is often difficult to translate into our language). She nodded and gave me an example of a word with several meanings (tip), or read and red (words that sound similar) that can be used in a pun, just to show that she grasped the meaning of pun.

As we are both Monty Python’s fans we went on talking about Monty Python’s sketches and comedies, and their surreal humour based on wordplay, absurd situations and sublime silliness. We agreed about that there’s a barely a moment in either “Holy Grail” or “Life of Brian” that isn’t funny. I told her about my favourite “He’s not the Messiah” scene.

 20171030_110733Then we returned to Ana’s notebook (of poems). I recommended her the film Paterson by Jim Jarmusch, a film celebrating poetry, and living in the now, and appreciating those little things – small details in life…

“Paterson wants every day to be a blank page in the same book – one worth filling, but only with the right words.”

A few days later Ana came to the library just to tell me that she watched “Paterson” and liked it very much. She told me that the film was somehow different from the mainstream movies, and that it inspired her to write a poem.


On knowledge, clarity, and more


‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone,

‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything.

 Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll



Knowledge is light

If you do an Internet image search on “bright idea” you’ll get a page full of pictures like the one above. The imagery of a light bulb (so well-known) symbolizes the sudden arising of a new idea or of understanding something that was previously perplexing (this is usually expressed with: “it dawns on me” or “I get it”).

There are many metaphoric expressions and idioms with the idea of understanding and knowledge connected to light and a lack of understanding and ignorance connected to darkness. When you have some knowledge about something, it is as if you are shining a light on it. Not having knowledge is like being in darkness. We usually talk about: e.g. the brightest children in the class, the most brilliant scholar in his field, her dazzling/sparkling wit, etc.

“Light,” in such idioms as “shed light,” “shine a light on something,” “bring something to light,” “see the light,” and “see something in a whole new light” represents not a physical but a cognitive phenomenon that suggests clarity and understanding.


Understanding is seeing; ideas are light sources



I see what you mean. Now I’ve got the whole picture.

What is your outlook on that?  I view it differently. It looks different from my point of view.

Let me point something out to you. Let me illustrate my point.

It is a concise, lucid description. She made her point crystal clear.

It’s a transparent argument. The argument is clear.

Could you elucidate your remarks? That was a brilliant remark.

That’s an insightful idea. It was a very enlightening discussion.

Now I see this in a whole new light. I need time to reflect on this.

I had a flash of inspiration.

(or: It was a murky discussion. The discussion was opaque.

I haven’t got the foggiest/faintest idea what you’ve been talking about.)


Intelligence is like a knife or blade

The more intelligent someone is, the sharper the blade. Thus we say for someone that s/he is very sharp/ sharp-witted (s/he notices and understands the things), s/he has a razor-sharp mind, s/he has a keen intellect, s/he is an incisive critic, they made some pointed remarks, or scathing comment/ criticism.




Clarity of communication

Clarity of communication means that we must be clear in how we communicate our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas.  Careful use of language is essential in order to prevent misunderstandings. Clarification is important in many situations, especially when what is being communicated is difficult or confusing in some way. For example, when we talk about “theory” one person may have in mind its meaning “hunch, speculation” while another may be thinking of “scientific understanding, explanation”. Defining our terms can greatly help us in the quest for clarity.

In an interpersonal exchange clarification is the skill we use to ensure that we have understood the message of the speaker. Clarifying can involve asking questions, paraphrasing, or occasionally summarising what the speaker has said. Some examples of clarification-seeking questions are:

  • “I’m not quite sure I understand what you are saying.”
  • “When you said …….. what did you mean?”
  • “Could you repeat ……..?”
  • “So, I think what you’re saying is …….. Is that more or less right?”

In communication, clarification involves offering back to the speaker the essential meaning, as understood by the listener, of what they have just said. Thereby checking that the listener’s understanding is correct and resolving any areas of confusion or misunderstanding.

This clarification (or confirmation/correction) process is typical of ATC communications as well. “The pilot/controller communication loop ensures the integrity and accuracy of communications. Readback/Hearback errors may result in an event such as: operational deviation; airborne conflict; less than required separation; runway incursion; near midair-collision, etc. Strict adherence to this closed loop constitutes a line of defense against communication errors.”


Clarity as an important principle of critical thought

If we imagine that thoughts and ideas are represented as beams of light, communication of a clear or precise idea can be represented by a sharp, focused beam.

Clear thinking is the ability to express ideas in a simple and straightforward manner. It also involves the ability to analyse statements and follow logical arguments. The claims we make must be expressed in a clear and logical manner, and should be based on facts and evidence.

Bertrand Russell, the great British philosopher, mathematician, and social critic, places an emphasis on clarity and exact thinking, because when we are able to reason and make notions and decisions with the use of exact thinking and clarity, we can free ourselves from the deceptions that we make.

When asked a closing question on the BBC programme Face-to-Face in 1959: what would you tell a generation living 1,000 years from now about the life you’ve lived and the lessons you’ve learned, his answer was short, but pithy:

“The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only and solely at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.”



One more (random)  thought on devotion to clarity

I strongly feel that it is important to be honest and frank and clear. It is obvious that in our society clarity sometimes sounds pugnacious and threatening to some people, even if it isn’t. People ‘obsessed with clarity’, and thus straightforward and incisive, may often sound harsh to other people.

No one is perfectly rational, I’m well aware of that, but it’s particularly important to apply rational and clear thinking best as we can, as it is necessary in order to develop some immunity to the kind of bullshit (pseudoscience, stereotypes and prejudices, ELT neuromyths, etc.) that surrounds us in our everyday lives.

Teaching is art & science



My teaching tips and reflections in this post are inspired by some insightful blog posts I have read recently. While pondering the advice that I found useful to EFL teachers, I tried to be a discerning observer of an exceedingly complex ELT picture painted by the confluence of teacher, students, subject matter and the multiple contexts in which they interact.

Just be you!

Be adventurous: reflect, inquire and experiment new teaching methods and strategies, and develop your own teaching style.

A teaching method we use depends on our English language proficiency level, our values and attitudes, and our pedagogical knowledge and practical skills. One of the most desirable qualities of a good teacher is their enthusiasm and willingness to improve their teaching techniques. Introducing and applying a new more effective method entail a proper teacher training and support. If we are, for instance, committed to concepts of learner-centredness and autonomy, we must (know how to) help our learners to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to plan their own learning activities, monitor their progress and evaluate their outcomes.

*School leaders should play a key role in encouraging and advising teachers about high-quality professional training. They should also do their best to develop a school culture of high standards, where team work and collaboration among the colleagues is a norm.

Be genuinely interested in your CPD

Read about pedagogy and research, go to conferences and courses, look for inspiration online (ELT blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc.) where you can find out about new philosophies, new methods and strategies, new ideas… Share your experiences and insights.

Most English teachers do not go to conferences, seminars or courses; still fewer take time to read about pedagogy and research. Lack of time and low pay are mostly the reasons. Preparing and teaching lessons, attending meetings and doing some other unpaid work for school usually take up all teachers’ working hours, often more. Many teachers do not see the point of continuing professional development as their employers do not promote or encourage PD. Also, many teachers have a stereotypical image of researchers as living in an ivory tower, and tend to feel that only working teachers could have credible opinions about good teaching.

*Good teachers are interested in reading the research as they find that personal professional experience gained in the classroom and based on intuition (even when enriched with discussion with colleagues) is never enough. (Penny Ur)

“Evidence-based education is the idea that research of various kinds should be used to inform decisions about teaching and learning. It is conceived of as an alternative to teaching practice that is guided by intuition and/or experience.” (Jonathan Firth: What is evidence-based education)

If you are interested in reading about ELT research you will find a lot of excellent articles on: ELT Research Bites (@ResearchBites), and, on  Evidence Based EFL (@ebefl)     

Provide your students with lots of opportunities to practise English

“Research findings on interlanguage development undermine the credibility and viability of explicit language teaching, synthetic approaches, and PPP.” (Geoff Jordan)

Provide your students with interesting activities in your classes where the language is used communicatively and spontaneously. Recommend some good sites for learning English: podcasts, blogs, e-magazines, YouTube clips, and books and materials they can find in a library, etc. Get students to choose the topics they like to deal with, and bring their own materials/ texts, or get them to do project work, create their own tasks (help them to make reading comprehension questions/ tests/ quizzes, brochures, etc.).  Use English almost all the time in your classes and react to linguistic problems as they arise, thus respecting the learners’ ‘internal syllabus’. 

Understand and explain to your students that language evolves and rules change. Please read about this here:

A new linguistic world by David Crystal

Words in constant motion by Stan Carey 

Be present

Be fully in the moment in order to really see what is happening in the classroom.

Raising awareness of classroom processes and focusing on learning in the classroom require advanced level of proficiency and good pedagogical knowledge (classroom management, lesson planning, syllabus design, observation/ reflection, etc.).

*Good teachers are skilled at observing students in class, analyzing what they see and providing intelligent response (they completely grasp the reflective process of teaching/ learning in the classroom). They are, also, good listeners who are deeply engaged in understanding what students have to say through words, gesture, and action.


Enjoy the silence

Silence is an important part of the learning process

Most teachers feel uncomfortable about the periods of silence in their classes, as the atmosphere of a constant buzz of conversation filling the air is generally associated with dynamic and interesting classes.

Silences are part of the learning process: e.g.  a teacher asks a question, students are *silent*, a student raising her/his hand answers the question, the teacher asks the students if they agree/disagree, *silence*, the teacher asks a few random students to respond, students are *silent* and engaged in thinking and making their own questions in order to make clarifications, questions inspire discussion, teacher gives an explanation, etc.

Silence provides time for students to think how to formulate their statements/ questions or how to respond in L2, so we should be patient and wait for 7-8 seconds to give them time to think and respond. Students can use silent thinking periods to think about what they have just read for gist/ in order to summarize it; or they can jot down questions for a teacher, or give the class feedback to a teacher.

“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” (W. A. Mozart)

*The periods of silence in the classroom remind me of the rests, intervals of silence in pieces of music which are part of beat-length units. A rhythm and melody of the composition depends on the silence between the notes. If there were no rests there would be no music. Silences make the language classes more dynamic and harmonious.

The First Term Round-Up


The first term has flown. During the last four months I have enjoyed writing a few posts on my library blog (about book recommendations, one collaborative project), and an article for the school online magazine.

At the end of September I observed an experimental (bilingual) class dedicated to Shakespeare’s 400 year anniversary. The experimental class (Hamlet – the characters) was prepared by my two colleagues: Jelena J.M., an English language teacher, and Ksenija D., a Serbian language teacher. The main aim of the class was to make this difficult topic easier and more interesting for the 4th year students by creating a correlation between the two subjects. The class was enjoyable, the speaking activities and video clips were perfectly chosen, and the students were engaged and interested. I shared my impressions about the class later with my colleagues, and I told them I was going to write a post about that on the library blog.

The library blog posts and my school e-magazine article ‘All the world’s a stage and all the people in it merely players” (on some phrases coined by the Bard), were aimed at encouraging our students to use the Internet for learning on their own, and to motivate our teachers to collaborate and share their good practice, thoughts and ideas.

Our school library is bright and almost always packed with students reading books and magazines, tapping away at the computers, chatting, playing chess… I am really happy to have met Anne Hendler (my PLN friend) in October – she was my guest at the library. You can see Anne in the first picture above. Anne blogs at livinglearning and is @AnneHendler on Twitter

The beauty of the job of a teacher-librarian is that it is never boring. You have some stimulating (or semi-stimulating) conversations with your colleagues, students, school managers, and parents each day. By listening carefully you gain insights into the teaching/learning process at school, and so you have an overview, a bigger picture of the school life and learning.

Here are some issues I have been pondering lately. I hope my thoughts and suggestions are useful:

1.  Teachers are compelled by the school managers and curriculum to devote most of their time to testing and grading students (i.e. preparing formal lesson plans and tests, and doing some unnecessarily bureaucratic work). Students cram for tests in order to get the highest mark and then they forget all they have memorized soon after the test. The tests have a considerable backwash effect on the lessons and made them insufferably boring.

Teachers deserve a better teacher training

Teachers must advocate better teacher training. Most teachers lack knowledge and skill in reflecting on teaching/learning, candid lesson planning, providing monitoring and feedback on their students’ understanding, formal and informal assessment, classroom observation, etc.

“Excellent teachers display a deep representation of pedagogical subject knowledge [the ability to present key concepts to suit the prior learning and ability of the target students]. This is much more than straightforward academic subject knowledge; academic subject knowledge is certainly essential but it does not distinguish expert teachers.” [For more information please read: What makes an excellent teacher by Geoff Jordan on CriticELT

Geoff J. writes in his article The lose-lose folly of coursebook consumption  about the detrimental effects that using coursebooks in ELT has on both teachers and learners:

 “Coursebooks pervade the ELT industry and stunt the growth of innovation and teacher training. The publishing companies that produce coursebooks also produce exams, teacher training courses and everything else connected to ELT…”


Students must be proficient users of the Internet

2.  We often assume that because young people are fluent in social media, they are equally savvy about the news and information they encounter online. In my experience, the students are not skilled in finding relevant information online; they are not discerning in evaluating digital content; they do not recognise acceptable and unacceptable behaviour; they struggle to separate fact from fiction online (they don’t know when news is fake).

The skills like digital and media literacy have to be taught at schools as an element of a broad, challenging and comprehensive computing curriculum (and not as a vague part of the 21st-century skills*). It is very important for students to be able to understand ways to use technology safely, respectfully, responsibly and securely. Students also have to be able to judge whether or not a publication or an internet site is trustworthy. They have to know whether a scholarly article is regularly cited.

Some useful links to help you judge information:

Evaluating information



Quote Investigator | Tracing Quotations

*“21st-century skills” (any digital learning or use of technology, thinking critically, solving problems, communicating and collaborating effectively) has become a buzz term in ELT today.

I have really enjoyed a series of Mike Griffin’s blog posts on “21st-century skills” buzz entitled Please teach them English. The form of the post is very inventive – it was written as a series of emails and diary entries. The post was prompted by an initial post written by Mike (as a series of emails written by an imaginary language school manager) and then continued with the help of a few guest writers (an imaginary English language teacher and two students with different views). Michael Griffin’s blog is another ELT blog I highly recommend because of Mike’s always interesting, fun and thought provoking posts.


Reading makes you smarter

3.  According to the library statistics (the number of students at the library and the number of books borrowed per year) I could write in my annual library reports that our students love reading books. Statistics, as you know, can be very misleading. Our students borrow the books that are on the (Serbian language & literature syllabus) reading list because they are more likely to get a higher mark if they bring the books to class. They generally do not read them, they mostly read the book forewords or reviews before literature classes.

Teachers forget that it is not the pace that makes the classes great. Students should have more time to read, think and dream.. One of the most important goals of the literature classes must be to motivate students to read for pleasure.

Here are some useful ideas: get your students to do tasks/projects: e.g. recommending the books they have just read/enjoyed reading, making quizes about the books and writers, writing a reading diary, creating the reading lists for each school year (with the teacher and school librarian). The Perfect Classroom Gift: A Gift of Words by Jane Hancock is a lovely idea I tried with the students and we had a lot of fun. My gift of words for you – a quote by Emma Goldman:



Thanks for reading my blog 🙂


September Reflections


There is something truly exciting about September…You are full of energy and enthusiasm after summer holiday. You are surrounded with some beautiful young people radiating joy while telling you their summery stories. September is the time of year when you reflect on the previous school year, and think about what went well, what could be improved this school year, and what you want to focus on in the coming year.


What went well last year

I learnt a lot from my students, colleagues and through my PLN. There were a lot of wonderful opportunities at the library to learn by listening to my students, collaborating with my colleagues, and sharing thoughts and ideas with my colleagues and friends from all over the world. Writing and blogging, reading books and listening to podcasts helped me to hone my English language skills.

Students were my constant source of inspiration. Students who loved spending their time at the library, reading, preparing tasks, and making video clips for their Aviation English classes… I enjoyed chatting with them, helping them with English, and recommending some useful books and sites for learning. They were particularly interested in: how to enrich their vocabulary in order to speak English fluently.

I truly enjoyed autonomy to plan my work and activities with students and teachers at the library. I had more time to read for pure pleasure, or to do what I found useful for my professional development. And I was so fulfilled.


What could be improved

I should not be sensitive to the general opinion that a profession of a teacher-librarian is uninteresting, or not as dynamic, challenging, or important as teaching.

Also, I should improve my time management skills. I usually work late and spend a lot of time online (I enjoy reading and writing at night). A lot of coffee (or green tea) usually helps in the morning, but I hope to change this habit soon. Also, I tend to do the stuff I enjoy doing first, and to put off till later something so dull and formulaic like cataloguing books, for example, and thus there are so many books waiting to be put into my computer programme b++.


What I want to focus on in the coming year

Collaborating with teachers on some CLIL/TBLT projects, writing articles for my two blogs: English language teaching & my Library blog, and also for our school e-journal Vazduhoplovac (Aviator).

I’ve been musing lately about starting an English club at the library for the students who are interested in improving English. There is a large smallish, but lovely group of students who read my blogs, and who have told me lately that they would like to spend more time at the library reading and speaking English with me. Some of them told me that their classes were boring and they were not willing to speak English for fear of making grammar mistakes.

I am currently thinking about how to provide the students with lots of structured opportunities to hear and read English. These are some of the tenets that came to my mind while thinking about this idea: 

  • students should be responsible for their own learning (we should explore the language and learn together)
  • we negotiate the syllabus, topics, time and the way the students want to learn, each month (process syllabus)
  • students enrich their vocabulary by doing a plenty of language activities and tasks (more time for student-generated language)
  • grammatical concepts are presented in context, students are encouraged to reflect on the form and purpose of the structure before giving a name to it (inductive approach)
  • students reflect on their learning (discussing, creating portfolio, learning log, an online journal or using Twitter)


Some materials and activities that could be interesting for students:

Graded readers – for practising extensive reading (e.g. Gerald Durrell: My Family and Other Animals, OUP)

ELT magazines for teenagers, Airport magazines and brochures (for TBLT/CLIL projects)

Love – in literature & music & art (project work/ or: Five Love(ly) Lesson Ideas activities)

Flash fiction (Students write six word stories/ short stories up to 100 words: about themselves, or they look through the window, or choose a photo in their mobile phone, etc. and write whatever comes first to their mind/ a tweet up to 140 characters on the book they have read or the film they have seen recently)

Spooky Science (Instruction for play: two decks of cards, one in Serbian and one in English. Each deck contains: 54 cards with questions and four multiple-choice answers, 4 Joker cards and 2 master cards for the Judges with all the right answers. Two players from the same team collect more cards than the opposing team and win the game.)

Logic and Conversation: What are Grice’s conversational maxims (reading on the Net, and discussing logical thinking & logical fallacies)

Podcast – Cultural differences (Luke’s English Podcast: 381. Discussing cultural differences (with Amber and Paul)

#FlashmobELT  (teachers’ resources bank: activities created by teachers for teachers)

Interesting blog ideas: Cool things that happened today/this week/this month (writing & speaking activity)


This idea might sound pretty unrealistic for a Serbian public secondary school: motivating teenagers to learn English on their own, without grading them, just helping them to explore the language and see the importance of reflecting on how and what they have learnt! I promise to write about the English club, or some other similar learning adventure in the ensuing months.

My Top Ten Favourite Podcasts


21st century skills in action. (a photo and tweet by @C_Hendrick)

Teaching is a lifelong learning process of finding out about new philosophies, new methods and strategies, learning from the experts, from your colleagues, and also together with your students.

Good teaching is surely not about following the 21st century skills trend without truly questioning it, and without realizing what a really meaningful learning is.

One of the most effective ways of using the Internet for learning about the world and for practising English both inside and out of the classroom is podcastListening to podcasts (on a daily basis) can be very useful for improving your listening and speaking skills. Podcasts give you the chance to listen to various accents, and also to listen to the topics you are interested in. Almost all of the podcasts are free to download (you can upload them to your mp3 player, or just listen to the file on your computer too).

Podcasts that I enjoy listening to are not intended just for the English language learning; they cover many subjects from science to philosophy, art, social science, linguistics, etc.


This is a list of my ten favourite podcast sites:

Latest (national and international) news stories, a lot of insights, intelligent analyses, big political stories with lively discussion and expert comments and analysis, the best new comedies, and a lot more can be found on BBC Radio 4.

If you have an inquisitive mind and thirst for knowledge you’ll enjoy fun and interesting podcasts on Radiolab. You can read on the site: Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.

Space Place Musings: Podcasts are for those who are fond of science and earth & space exploration.

Open Culture offers 100s of cultural and educational podcasts ready to download onto your iPod.

A Podcast about Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics is an excellent podcast site for English language teachers.

“The social world is a world we create, that we all have in common. In this series of illuminating podcasts, hear leading social scientists present their perspectives on how our social world is created, and how social science can help us understand people and how they behave. Each podcast includes a downloadable written transcript of the conversation.”

  • Philosophy Bites – podcasts of top philosophers interviewed on bite-sized topics…

You can enjoy listening to Philosophy Bites interviews (podcasts) of excellent lecturers, and they are arranged by theme here.

New Statesman runs two weekly podcasts covering politics, policy and the arts.

This is ‘the world’s leading forum for debate and intelligent discussion. You can listen to most interesting discussions and enjoy in the company of some of the world’s sharpest minds and most exciting orators.”


I suggest using podcasts in the English language classroom: while discussing various topics that are relevant to your students you can learn with your students, too.  You can get your students to do a project work, or debates/discussions on:

  • the philosophy that planet Earth does not belong just to us humans, but to all species
  • how to save the life on our beautiful planet, how to adapt to the impacts of global warming (with focus on environmental issues and the fact that developing countries generally have less capacity to adapt)
  • how to fight against greed and hatred and ignorance
  • how to encourage independent and rational thinking and fight against dogmatic, irrational beliefs
  • how to deconstruct all of the messages we’re getting that are false, that may be racist, or sexist
  • how to change our ideas about masculinity and femininity, how to fight against gender stereotypes, or cultural stereotypes, etc.

The most important of all is to teach our students how to have a skeptical look at the facts. They need to learn to question the truth of what they’re told by asking themselves: Can I prove it? Can I test it? Is it evidence-based? How accurate is it? Our students do have to learn logical thinking, the process of argument, the process of presenting facts, of proving their point of view; they need to learn that our first thoughts are very often not our best thoughts, that disagreement can be negotiated, and so on.

“Philosophy teaches its students to become thoughtful and reflective, and so to know themselves better. By so doing it opens them up to being careful about their own ideas and habits of thought. It is a matter of opening the questioning mind, taking charge of ideas, rather than being enslaved by them.” (Why there should be a philosophy GCSE, by Simon Blackburn, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge).

Listening to podcasts will bring a fresh impetus to our language learning/teaching. Also, hearing some intelligent discussions by great lecturers, their insights and interesting ideas can broaden our horizons, and even make us change some false beliefs. And, changing one’s opinions or strong beliefs is usually much more difficult than most of you think.

Thank you for reading the post. If you have any idea about how to use podcasts in the English language classroom, or if you have your favourite podcast site(s), please share in the comments.

Why doing tasks is the best way to learn (some thoughts on TBLT)



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When you think about the job of a librarian, the first thing that comes to mind is something to do with books: buying, cataloging, preserving, recommending books to students and teachers. In this post I wanted to show that an English language teacher-librarian is also a key pedagogical partner for teachers in school.

During this school year I talked with students about the books they loved, about how to learn effectively, how to find reliable information on the Internet, how to write well… I can remember many great moments, but the highlight of the school year was my participation in a few TBLL activities at the library. My main aim in the post was to illustrate how TBLT (task-based language teaching) was feasible, and effective in EFL/ESL secondary school classroom, and how an English language teacher – librarian could participate and help students do the tasks successfully.

In March this year a group of 4th year students (Milica, Dušica, Anastasija and Andrea) prepared a task and created a video clip for an ESP class. My participation in this task was in providing the students with the materials they needed, taking some photos, and giving them some help with pronunciation (of the words like: process, circumstances…). I was glad that they liked my ‘Aristotle philosophy box’, and that they used it while making the clip. And we had a lot of fun. 🙂


English for Specific Purposes – TBLT Lesson:  A plan of evacuation of a building

A group of four 4th year students (B2 level) created a clip (about 8 minutes long) – A Plan of evacuation of Hogwarts (which was set on fire by Lord Voldemort). They told me that the idea came to their mind as their teacher Jelena J.M. loves Harry Potter books. That was a fabulous idea, and very funny, too!  They recorded the Hogwarts news at the library, and the commercials: magic wand & magic chalk, in the school corridor. Ministry of Magic presented an elaborate plan of evacuation of the building. (Unfortunately, I could not embed the clip in the post as my blog does not support it, but I really enjoyed watching it.)

The English language teacher introduced the topic by giving some explanations and helped the students to recall some language (key vocabulary regarding a plan of evacuation of a building) that might be useful for the task. The students took notes and spent time preparing for the task.

The students completed the task using the language resources that they had.  The teacher-librarian assisted and offered encouragement while the students practised and rehearsed their roles. Then the students made a video clip with their smartphone at the library, and in the school corridor.

The students prepared a short oral report to tell the class what happened during their task. They then practised what they were going to say in their groups. The teacher-librarian helped the students to clear up any language questions they had.

Before the English language teacher played the video clip to others in the classroom the students reported back to the class what had happened during their task.  The teacher gave the students some quick feedback on the content.

The teacher then highlighted relevant parts from the text of the recording and the language that the students used during the report phase for analysis.

Finally, the teacher selected language areas to practise based upon the needs of the students and what emerged from the task and report phases. The students then did speaking and writing practice activities to increase their confidence and make a note of useful language.


What is the task-based approach?

TBLT is a strong communicative approach to language instruction which aims to provide learners with a natural context for language use. As learners work to complete a task, they have abundant opportunity to interact. Instruction is organized in such a way that students will improve their language ability by focusing on getting something done while using the language, rather than on explicitly practising language forms, as in more traditional methods of instruction. Content selection is based on the needs of the learners and they are encouraged to activate and use whatever language they already have in the process of completing a task. The most important tenets of the TBLT are: the provision of opportunities for learners to focus not only on language but also on the learning process itself, and the linking of classroom language learning with language use outside the classroom.

My thoughts on TBLT (regarding my TBLT experience)

  • TBLT is a learner-centred approach, and the focus is on collaborative learning.
  • The active involvement of the learners is central to the approach.
  • It offers learners a rich input of target language.
  • The students are exposed to a whole range of lexical phrases, collocations and patterns (the focus is on meaning as well as on form).
  • It is enjoyable and (intrinsically) motivating.
  • It involves a high level creativity and dynamism on the part of the teacher.
  • It requires resources beyond the textbooks and related materials generally available in EFL classrooms.
  • Some students may object to task-based language learning in that this type of instruction is not what they expect and want from a language class.
  • It can be used together with a more traditional approach.
  • Teachers (or facilitators) should take into account the learning context, and they need to negotiate with learners to ensure that they are motivated and happy to learn in that way.

As I don’t know much about TBLT, this has been an interesting and useful experience. I’m interested in exploring TBLT in the ensuing months. I also hope to do a lot more collaborative projects with the English language teachers at my school (not only ESP, but General English, too).


Further reading on TBLT

Mike Long, Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

David Nunan, Task-Based Teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Rod Ellis, Task-based Language Learning and Teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Criteria for identifying tasks for TBL – Jane Willis

Some thoughts on blogging and using Twitter for PD


I believe in lifelong learning, and I have always thought that learning is more an adventure than a journey. An adventure is more exciting, it implies that you love to try something new and challenging, and that you enjoy exploring and discovering about the world on your own.

My blogging and Twitter adventure started about three years ago when I created this blog as an assignment for an online seminar. Blogging helps me to improve my writing, and to reflect and develop my own thoughts about EFL teaching and learning, and education in general. While diving into many topics, I can get insights and learn by viewing from different angles and discerning the differences about the topic. I am sometimes confused because of many contradictory ideas, but, through blogging I can clarify my thoughts as when I write something down and explain it in such detail in a blog post I end up understanding it myself.

In one of my first blog posts I compared learning a language to playing the piano, and teaching to conducting an orchestra. This image sprang to my mind while thinking about my classes which sometimes were as enjoyable as the piano concerto in the post, usually they were quite good, but I can remember some disharmonious lesson failures. Creating a good classroom dynamics and atmosphere conducive to learning can be difficult even for an experienced teacher.

I enjoyed musing and composing a poem Teacher cocktail, about what makes a good teacher (the post was inspired by an activity from Teaching Grammar Creatively by Scott Thornbury, Gunter Gerngross and Herbert Puchta).

However, nothing in ELT is as simple as it often seems to so many people, and it is really impossible to make a recipe for a good teaching. The way we teach depends on the context, purpose of learning a language, our students and their abilities and preferences; it also depends on our beliefs, knowledge and skill.

I described my struggle and Challenges of introducing and using communicative language teaching in my school.  In My dream job and reality  I wrote how an exploitative educational system and teaching against our beliefs and opinions about what is right and professional can considerably dampen our enthusiasm. We must advocate better professional development, and press for improved conditions and for change (as it is obvious that ELT has become an industry focused much more on making a profit than making a genuine quality).

One of the prevailing Misconceptions regarding learning & teaching is that course books are useful for students because they provide them with controlled grammar / vocabulary practice and give them a sense of improvement. Course books give students the feeling that they can control what is going on, they know the main grammar rules and vocabulary (that is used in the course book), they can pass tests and may have the illusion that they know language well. However, learning a language is much more complex than learning grammar: students can recite grammar rules, but cannot sustain a conversation as they lack vocabulary and fluency.

In the post About truth, knowledge and Russell’s teapot I explained that not to be absolutely certain is one of the essential things in rationality.  I pointed out the importance of distinguishing between pseudoscience and scientifically valid ideas mentioning some well-known neuromyths in ELT.

The beauty of the unknown is about the importance of valuing intellectual curiosity and sceptical reasoning. We should appreciate “unknowledge” and the likelihood of surprises much more than “our incomplete, imperfect, infinitesimal-in absolute-terms knowledge”.

Knowledge isn’t a matter of owning a truth by making it familiar and then asserting its ideal presentation, but quite the opposite – an eternal tango with the unfamiliar (Hegel).

The greatest pleasure of flicking through books at a library or a second-hand bookshop is serendipity of finding something that you did not know existed, and that is deeply interesting or connected with your intellectual interests of the moment.


On Twitter I follow some great English language teachers, linguists, some art, science, philosophy teachers, writers, astronauts…. I particularly like people who are open to new ideas, and who are not afraid to express their opinions freely. Also, I think that ideas should be open to robust debate. We live in a culture where people often form their “opinions” based on superficial impressions or passively accept some ideas without investing the time and critical thought into it. Thus controversy is good as it makes us reflect and change such opinions.

What I especially like about Twitter is the short length of tweets (140 characters) which forces the writer to be succinct, and the random character of tweets which makes Twitter lively and dynamic.

I mostly tweet about English language learning/teaching, books, music, science… I am pretty ‘selfish’ on Twitter as I tweet only what *I* find interesting and fun/funny. I occasionally check some ELT hashtags: #ELT, #KELTchat, #ELTchat, #ELTpics, #makeamovieTESL etc. [Hashtag is an easy way to group all tweets related to a topic that interests us. The symbol is used in music, too >> # is called “sharp” in music]

One of the negative sides of Twitter is that it can be addictive (like any other social media). I read (I can’t remember where exactly) that it is because with every small burst of information the brain receives, it releases dopamine, the same pleasure chemical released when we eat chocolate, fall in love, or take drugs. If you have any (good) suggestion(s)/advice regarding the information overload and distraction, please write in the comments. 🙂

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I am enjoying reading Erich Fromm’s “Man for himself” at the moment. Fromm writes: “Living itself is an art – in fact the most important and at the same time the most difficult and complex art to be practised by man.” I fully agree and I would only add: Try to have time for yourselves, for your pleasures, for daydreaming, even for boredom. Go for long walks, ride your bike or do some sport, and sleep well… And do not be afraid to be idealists and dreamers.

How to be a Better Listener

Peanuts - A better listener


A few months ago I attended an interesting seminar on Active listening. In this post I would like to share some insights and practical tips about how to become a better listener.

Being a good listener is one of the most important skills of a good teacher/learner. When you really listen, you demonstrate your interest in what is being said and you show your genuine and sincere respect for the individual saying it.

Good listening skills are needed to assess whether your students understand what they are being taught, and also to develop empathy and understanding with them. Active listening is an intent to “listen for meaning”, in which the listener checks with the speaker to see that a statement has been correctly heard and understood. The goal of active listening is to improve mutual understanding, i.e. to avoid conflict and misunderstandings.

Stages of active listening

The first stage of active listening is to try to really listen and sense the real, underlying meaning of what is being said. You should listen for ideas, implications and feelings, as well as the facts being conveyed. Try not to close your ears to words you do not want to hear and only hear the words you want to hear.

The second stage is to interpret, or reconstruct, what is being said, remembering always that words have different meanings to different people. Do your best to listen with full attention, and withhold judgment, assumption and criticism at this stage.

The third stage is to evaluate what is being said, only after you have made a reasonably objective interpretation of the message. At this point you should reflect on the information and options being presented, and sift through the evidence.

The fourth stage is responding. Here you demonstrate that you have a real interest in what the other person is saying, and that you have truly been listening. Reassuring the speaker that you have been giving him full attention is a critical aspect of constructive listening. Feedback is usually given by asking for clarification or for more information, or at least giving some visible acknowledgment by making small remarks such as “Ah ha”, or smiling, nodding or frowning.


Here are five ways to increase your listening abilities:

  1. When listening try not to be distracted by other things that are going on around, but focus on the speaker.
  2. Pay attention not only to the words but the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. This will give you information that will be as important as the words themselves.
  3. Do not keep interrupting or trying to change the topic; wait a few seconds after the person finishes speaking to make sure they have finished their thoughts.
  4. Do not think and rehearse in your head of how you are going to reply instead of listening.
  5. Do not be afraid to ask the speaker to explain something you have not understood.

In the classroom, it is not always easy to empathise with your students’ viewpoint. Personality clashes, age/status/cultural differences are just some of the obstacles to empathic listening and communication between the teacher and students. Despite this, genuine communication between teacher and student can only occur by showing a willingness to try to understand the students’ feelings. When they are speaking, make an effort to think of where they are coming from, imagine what their life is like and what struggles they might be facing. Empathic listening in the classroom promotes honest communication and builds trust and confidence, reduces tension, enhances the students’ self- respect, and keeps communication active and alive.

For example, in the following dialogue, a teacher (T) provides feedback to a student (S) by guessing the student’s implied message and then asking for confirmation.

S:  I don’t like this school as much as my old one.

T: You are unhappy at this school?

S: Yeah. I haven’t made any good friends.

T: You feel left out and lonely here?

S: Yeah. I wish I knew more people.

Some of the ways teachers can convey the genuine desire to understand are:

  • Listen in a friendly way – Create a positive atmosphere with your nonverbal behaviour (your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice: don’t cross your arms, use appropriate eye contact, have a sincere tone of voice,…).
  • Be interested in the students’ needs – do not be judgmental and do not criticize.
  • Act like a mirror – reflect what you think is being said and try to paraphrase (“Are you saying…”, “You seem…”, “If I understood you correctly, you ….”)
  • Never belittle or negate any aspect of a problem, even if it seems unimportant to you. Don’t brush aside the person’s feeling with phrases like ‘It’s not that bad’ or ‘you’re making a mountain out of a molehill’.
  • Don’t get emotionally involved, angry, upset or argumentative. You need to remain professional in your interactions with students, as you are a role model and the students are looking up to you for guidance and direction.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions or judgments about any students. Try not to have any pre-conceived ideas about any student based on what you may have heard from another colleague or former teacher.

It is really important that your students see that you have enough regard for them to give undivided attention to what they wish to say. By using active listening with students, you build the relationship of trust and caring essential to students’ motivation to learn.


Language is wine upon the lips

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These are some articles I have enjoyed reading recently, on language, culture, education, and more. I hope that you find a few items of interest in this batch of links from recent weeks.

1.  The writer’s job is to change the world.  “I think an author should write what the reader does not expect. The problem is not to ask what they need, but to change them…”  (Umberto Eco: ‘Real literature is about losers’ )

2.  People are incredibly receptive to meaningless buzzwords, and the vast majority of people are willing to believe complete bullshit. Pseudo-profundity is the art of sounding profound while talking tosh. Unlike the art of actually being profound, the art of sounding profound is not particularly difficult to master.”

3.  Harvard Guide to Using Sources. (A very useful Guide which introduces you to the fundamentals of using sources in academic papers.)

4.  Culture and Society: An all-women panel (Ien Ang, Larissa Behrendt, Robyn Archer, Bridget Kendall) takes up this debate on Australian Stereotypes and Cultural Identity at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. This event was presented by the Sydney Opera House and the St James Ethics Centre.

5.  Can education be judged on simple customer satisfaction? We assume that if students are satisfied with a course then the teacher has done a good job and the students have learnt a lot. Or have they? Do students know what is best for their own learning?  You can read about this here.

6.  Teachers are unsure how much importance they should give to grammar, what grammar they should teach, and how they should teach it. 

According to the British most eminent linguists who came together for English Grammar Day (presented by UCL and Oxford University in association with the British Library last year), it’s an exciting time for grammar. But there’s a need for fresh thinking and the word itself can be misleading. The main focus of the discussion was on the problems with how grammar is taught in schools.

“You have to put the notion of grammar in the background. It’s about meaning and clarity. Clarity unites us. I’m not afraid to use the word grammar, but I can see why people would be.” (David Crystal)

Why grammar lessons should be renamed ‘understanding language’

Michael Swan: Teaching grammar – Does grammar teaching work? 




7.  I love WORDS as “Words are delicious and intoxicating. They do much more than just denote; they have appearance, sound, a feel in the mouth, and words they sound like and travel with. All of these participate in the aesthetic experience of the word and can affect communication. So why not taste them like a fine wine?”

 About Word Tasting Notes –  Sesquiotica (Words, words, words) 

 Alice in Blenderland (by Stan Carey on Macmillan Dictionary Blog)

Stan Carey’s older posts on words and language for Macmillan Dictionary can be viewed here.    

8.  Mondegreens – Words that result from the mishearing or misinterpretation of a statement or song lyric.

The term mondegreen was coined in 1954 by American writer Sylvia Wright and popularized by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll. The term was inspired by “Lady Mondegreen,” a misinterpretation of the line “hae laid him on the green,” from the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl o Moray.”


“Excuse me while I kiss this guy” (for the Jimi Hendrix lyric, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”)

“The ants are my friends” (for “The answer, my friend,” in “Blowing in the Wind,” by Bob Dylan)

“She’s got a chicken to ride.” (for  “She’s got a ticket to ride.” Ticket to Ride, The Beatles)

“You and me and Leslie.” (for  “You and me endlessly…”  Groovin’, The Rascals)

9.  This is an odd poem I’ve created by some interesting searches leading to my blog:


wisdom begins in wonder

how to enrich our vocabulary

it is a very good idea to have a vocabulary notebook

stay hungry stay foolish early morning

rilke english to french at the bottom no one in life can help anyone else in life

something interesting happened during the holidays

the studio was filled with the rich smell of roses

he wishes for the cloths of heaven lesson plan

English listenings about dreams

teaching is more an art than a science

10.  Zodiac signs for linguists you can find on Superlinguo 

comic2-2804Dinosaur comics: So you want to learn English


Teaching culture as an integrative part of EFL

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Kalemegdan Park and Statue of Victory (in Belgrade) at dusk, photo taken by Ljiljana Havran

If we want to provide our students with genuine skills for effective use of English, culture must be incorporated as a vital component of language learning. Teaching culture should be integrated into the second language curriculum in ways that engage learners actively in the acquisition of language and culture.


What do we understand by the word ‘culture’?


  • reflects the values of a society
  • frames our attitudes and experiences
  • provides us with patterns of behavior, thinking, feeling, and interacting
  • influences our expectations of what is appropriate or inappropriate
  • affects every aspect of daily life

Cultural misunderstandings arise mostly out of culturally-shaped perceptions and interpretations of each other’s cultural norms, values, and beliefs.

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, has defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another”. The “category” can refer to nations, regions within or across nations, ethnicities, religions, occupations, organizations, or the genders.

The importance of teaching culture to the EFL students

Linguists have long recognized that the forms and uses of a language reflect the cultural values of the society in which the language is spoken. Cross-cultural pragmatics, intercultural communication, and intercultural learning are some of the areas of applied linguistics that study the link between language and culture.

Studying culture gives students a motivation to study the target language. It also plays a useful role in general education; studying culture, students could also learn about the geography, history, etc. of the target culture. Furthermore, it aids the growth of tolerance for differences, because communication with and about people from different backgrounds enables students to learn more about their lifestyle, their values, and customs, which in turn increases understanding and empathy, and eliminates ethnic stereotypes.

Linguistic competence alone is not enough for learners of a language to be competent in that language (Krasner, 1999). Language learners have to understand that, in order for communication to be successful, language use must be associated with other culturally appropriate behavior. They should also know that behaviours and intonation patterns that are appropriate in their own speech community may be perceived differently by members of the target language speech community. Language learners need to be aware, for example, of the culturally appropriate ways to address people, express gratitude, make requests, give or receive compliments, agree or disagree with someone, etc.

EFL teachers should identify key cultural items in every aspect of the language that they teach. Cultural information should be presented in a way that does not place value or judgement on distinctions between the students’ native culture and the culture explored in the classroom. Kramsch (1993) describes the “third culture” of the language classroom – a neutral space that learners can create and use to explore and reflect on their own and the target culture and language.

Learning to be intercultural involves much more than just knowing about another culture: it involves learning to understand how one’s own culture shapes perceptions of oneself, of the world, and of our relationship with others. Intercultural communicative competence is an attempt to raise students’ awareness of their own culture, and in so doing, help them to interpret and understand other cultures. Raising intercultural awareness implies the development of skills for successful communication, i.e. competent and peaceful interaction with people who are different from us.

Ways to develop intercultural competence 

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A cafe in the centre of Belgrade, photo taken by Ljiljana Havran

Students are eager to explore the world around them and there are numerous topics and activities related to various cultures that EFL teachers can use in their lessons.

You can:

  • Make your students think about a funny experience they once had related to cultural issues or misunderstandings. You can encourage them to share their funny stories and experiences (for example, by sharing your own experience first). Then they can discuss a few similarities and a few differences between the two cultures.
  • Use photos in class exploring new topics about various cultures and lifestyles and answering questions together. A photo can also expose students to unusual places/customs/food etc. that they might not be familiar with, promoting discussion and engaging students’ interest. It also gives the teacher a chance to learn something new and it enables a lesson to take the form of collaborative discovery.
  • Get your students to make quizzes about their own culture and the culture of the target language – several rounds of general knowledge questions to be answered in teams.
  • Teach students about the different foods, art and songs that have value in different cultures by incorporating important elements of cultural celebrations into an English language classroom. Films and music are often vital and engaging depictions of contemporary culture, as well.
  • Read articles or extracts from books, newspapers, magazines or websites written by people who have visited the students’ town, country or region. For example, there is a good source of articles from the travel sections of newspapers such as The Guardian or The Independent, the guidebooks on the Net such as Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, or extracts from books by travel writers, such as Colin Thubron, Bill Bryson, Jan Morris, etc.
  • Get students to recount their experiences if they have visited the target culture. If there is no such source available, students can do a valuable creative writing activity – imagining a journey into the target culture, predicting the problems and misunderstandings they may encounter and creatively resolving them.
  • Produce a guidebook, poster or webpage for visitors to their town, country or region. This should not only describe famous sites and places to visit, stay or eat, but also give visitors advice about what they may find strange or unusual about their own culture.

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American Culture through Serbian Eyes by my student Maja Gašparović, who created this lovely brochure about her eight month stay in Colorado, USA, in April 27, 2007

For further reading: Culture in Second Language Teaching, Elizabeth Peterson and Bronwyn Coltrane, Center for Applied Linguistics