21st ETA-ROC International Symposium on English Teaching

The 21st ETA-ROC International Symposium on English Teaching was much quieter than last year; there were fewer big names in TEFL. However, there were still interesting talks and workshops. This TEFL conference has a large number of local teachers sharing their experiences in the classroom, as well as the bigger international names.

There were also many workshops where teachers became quite involved in discussions with each other. ETA-ROC, like other TEFL conferences provides opportunities for networking. I was offered a job at a university in northern Taiwan - although I'm happy with my present job - it's still nice to be asked.

Eli Hinkel gave a talk on efficiency techniques applied to language learning. The main efficiency technique was use long words in your TOEFL exam. Long words - and never say never, or always.

I wouldn't have guessed from the name, but this was an interesting talk. I knew that computers scored TOEFL, but I didn't know that it was 100% computer corrected. It seems that computers can be just as biased as the humans who program them.

They prefer long words to short ones, and they don't like any repetition. Use synonyms wherever possible - especially very long ones. You don't have to care too much whether they make sense. Just make them long. I was interested to learn that "nonsensical text can produce high TOEFL scores." Eli quoted an example of an American professor who entered a nonsense text, and received a high score.

So use long words, don't copy any of the question, and don't repeat the same words. Use synonyms. Never say: stuff, thing, people or society. Use lots of two word verbs, and forget any ideas that simple is beautiful. "You cannot get a good grade by writing simple sentences."

She also stressed the importance of learning longer chunks. For example: "the relationship between the...." or "an increase in the.." There are many of these.

Interesting talk, but I'm now pleased I don't teach TOEFL.

Wang Hsia Wen and Chien Ya Chen were two local presenters at ETA-ROC. They gave a talk that interested me. This was a piece of action research by an elementary school teacher. She gained permission to attempt a novel (for the school) way of teaching grammar. The students would actively attempt to find the grammatical rules from examples. Basically she gave her students puzzles which they had to solve. The solution was the rules.

The result was higher motivation and higher scores in grammar.

The presentation interested me mainly because of her situation at a public elementary school. Once the action research was over, she had to return to the traditional method, which was required by the school, despite the success of the newer method with the students.

I train teachers to teach English to children at my university, and I use the methods that I believe to work the best, but I do wonder how useful the modern techniques of teaching English will be if the teachers are not allowed to use them. This would be an issue mostly in public elementary schools. A great many of the private language schools would be happy with a teacher trained in less traditional methods.

David Paul has attended the ETA-ROC conference many times. This year he gave an interesting talk cum workshop on how to motivate students to talk in the class. One of the reasons I liked his talk was that I use many of the techniques myself :)

This way of teaching is motivating and can really help. The method is actually as old as teaching - I imagine. Use mystery to motivate.

David began with a personalized word bubble. A bubble with answers to questions; the students had to guess the correct questions. For example: Dorset. The question was: "Where are you from?"

He used a puzzle to introduce comparatives. Without telling us that he would be teaching comparatives, he wrote:

  • elephants
  • bicycles
  • bananas
  • cockroaches

on the board. We had to guess the relationship. If you know what is being taught, it is of course, easy. Elephants and bigger than bicycles. Bicycles are bigger than bananas, and so on.

So he put the students in the position of failing, then when they realize there's a problem, then effective learning can take place. So create a problem or mystery, then help the students solve it.

Philip Benson's talk on autonomy and assessment was a series of questions followed by group feedback. There were more questions than answers. What is autonomy? How can it be assessed or should only improvements in language be assessed? Sorry, but no definitive answers here. He did note that, "autonomy can manifest itself in many different ways, but it's observable."

Philip Benson noted that some skills can predict other skills. For example, how many words you can say in ten minutes can predict your TOEFL score. The same may be true with autonomy.

I attended many other talks and workshops at the ETA-ROC TEFL conference, some of which were very interesting, and I plan to write more later. You can visit the ETA-ROC website here.

From ETA-ROC 21st Symposium to ESL Articles

return to homepage