Teaching higher-level students can be quite daunting for teachers a lot of the time; it certainly was for me in the early stages of my career. As students move up levels, they have certain expectations of learning ‘sophisticated’ or ‘professional’ language when they reach C1 and C2 levels; these expectations and wishes just come with the territory. To better prepare ourselves we are oftentimes scrambling to get dictionaries to equip ourselves with concrete definitions of words and phrases we sometimes don’t use productively, or checking a corpus like SKELL to share examples of collocations that are seen as correct instead of saying to the student, “this collocate just doesn’t go with this word” which can leave the student frustrated.
While this is all true, there is something that I have recently learnt after receiving feedback from a C2 level student.
After finishing a lesson on how to chair a meeting which involved studying some nice but ‘sophisticated’ vocabulary, I asked the students what they would like to do next week. One student who I would consider to be the strongest asked for something that really threw me back. He said that while it was nice to be studying complex language, he wanted to look at words that were more common, frequent, or ‘basic’ in the future. The reasons for this were very important. He wanted to make sure that when he was presenting that the language he used was understood by everyone in the room. Creating an inclusive nature was very important for him. Life as an audience member can be quite alienating for him when he doesn’t understand overly complex structures and abstract idiomatic words and phrases. He doesn’t want someone to not understand his message. He also doesn’t want to come across as arrogant.
This gave me a lot to think about and really challenged my beliefs about teaching higher-level learners. As English continues to dominate as a second language around the world, I think inclusion is an important factor that higher-level learners need to think about, similar to how teachers do when we grade our language to allow the content we teach to be accessible. This was also a lovely thought that the student talked about and I think it’s one I am going to pass on to other students of his level.
I shared this story on LinkedIn and it generated a lot of positive reactions from teachers. One particular comment shared was that this idea of inclusion also relates to blogging. One teacher said that she grew tired of the overly complex language and slang terms the blogger was using and just stopped reading. This is something I need to be aware of in future because I want everyone to understand what I am saying. As I had written in a previous blog, I am actively trying to increase my productive language. I will need to balance this previous objective with this new one of harbouring an inclusive nature to my readers.
Up-cycling vocabulary studied at previous levels then has a newfound importance for me. I shouldn’t feel guilty reintroducing words that the students might know. I think in this case the students should try to achieve a greater depth in the language e.g. connotation, how the word works with other words, word families, etc. The other principle behind this belief would be to assess if the student has achieved a greater level of automaticity to the word.
I am really thankful to this student, and it’s great when it’s the student who challenges your beliefs on teaching and not trainers or coursebooks. I will definitely be open to further suggestions in my career.
One thought on “The importance of up-cycling language items for higher-level learners.”
Your student made a very good point. The C2 ‘sophisticated’ language is rarely used in real life, even by native speakers. Those who use advanced and convoluted words are often perceived as stuck up and difficult to approach. At the end of the day, we just want to be understood!