Prof. Tony Lynch – The Importance of Listening to International Students

Good afternoon everyone Thank you all very much for coming. A very warm welcome to everyone […] We’ll get going It’s a real pleasure to welcome you all to the inaugural of Professor Tony Lynch Tony has an MA in Modern Languages from the University of Cambridge, a Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Leeds and an MSc and PhD in Applied Linguistics from here at the University of Edinburgh He was appointed to his Personal Chair of Student Learning English for Academic Purposes in August 2011 Tony’s worked at the University in what’s now known as the English Language Teaching Centre since 1980 He’s been a tutor, teaching fellow, lecturer, a senior lecturer and now a professor He’s now head of the English for Academic Purposes section and in this role is responsible for the University’s ever-expanding range of foundation, pre-session and in-session courses to help international students This is an extremely important part of our work as a university, especially as a thoroughly international university His research has focussed on the communication between native and non-native speakers of English in academic settings and he’s developed a good deal of teaching materials based on the insights he’s gained from this research He’s produced three books for language teachers from this research: one called “Listening”, one called “Study Speaking” and another “Study Listening”, and these have had a real, genuine impact on the teaching of English for academic purposes Some of his recent papers have been focussing on international students’ informal listening strategies, which I think we’ll hear a little bit about today, the linguistic benefits of recycling classroom communication tasks, and the role of different types of feedback in improving students’ spoken English All really important topics for us as we work to develop students’ experience of excellent learning and teaching Tony’s very kindly agreed to answer some questions at the end of this lecture and then you’re all welcome to a reception outside Welcome Professor Tony Lynch to give us his lecture on the importance of listening to international students [Applause] Thank you very much Before I begin I’d like to acknowledge the professional debt I owe to two groups of staff within the university in particular: firstly the teaching staff on the MSc in Applied Linguistics in the old Department of Applied Linguistics where I did my MSc in 1977, and secondly to the many colleagues in the Institute for Applied Language Studies where I worked for 30 years My topic today is listening comprehension in the university context and specifically in relation to the experience of international students who are non-native speakers of English The title of my talk can be read in two ways: why listening is important to those international students and secondly why I think it’s important to listen to what they have to say about their experience in Edinburgh In the lecture I’ll be looking at the processes of listening: how we resolve listening comprehension problems, why listening matters for international students, how they perceive the lectures they attend in Edinburgh and ways of making lectures more accessible to them I’d like to begin with the sources of information that we use when we’re trying to understand what somebody is saying to us We have three levels of knowledge

At the top we have schematic knowledge, in the middle we have context and at the bottom we have language So schematic knowledge is our knowledge of the topic that’s being talked about, the content of what the person is telling us, and about the process of communication Contextual information involves the situation, so who is talking and when and where, and the co-text, the other bits of language that precede and follow what we are currently listening to And also the visual information that we can use in the physical context And then at the bottom, in this diagram, we have language, so our knowledge of vocabulary, of grammar and of pronunciation Now, when we’re listening to a foreign language it’s probably at the bottom level that we are aware of having deficiencies So not knowing the words that a speaker is using clearly strikes us as a problem But it’s also true that the same thing applies to us in our first language So when someone uses a variety of our own language that we’re less familiar with we can have difficulty understanding what they said or meant For example, about a week into my MSc course in 1977, I went into the Clydesdale Bank in Patrick Square, this is in the days, I think, before we had holes-in-the-wall So I wrote out a cheque to cash, put it in the trough, and the bank teller said “How will I give you the money?” Now I interpreted this that there was a problem There was a screen between us. Maybe the trough was blocked And while I was thinking what to say, she then said: “Do you want it in fives or tens?” So I know that this was the first time that I was aware that some Scottish speakers of English use ‘will’ where I would use ‘shall’, in other words, to make an offer, or to offer a choice So that’s language. In other contexts, it’s context which plays the main role I’m going to show you a question that I was asked recently and I’m not going to give you any context to begin with [“What is game, Sir?”] So from those four words with the question mark and the ‘Sir’, you’re probably, cos this is what human beings do, you’re probably trying to work out a context where that makes sense And I’m now going to tell you a bit more about the context It was January, and it was at the checkout at Savacentre, Cameron Toll, and it was the assistant who was checking through my goods who asked the question, “What is game, Sir?” Now, I understood this to mean something like “What’s your game?” [laughter] so I thought I’d probably done something wrong, but that didn’t seem to fit in with the ‘Sir’ So now a bit more context: the assistant was Indian. I could tell that by the name on his badge And so I said “Pardon?” And he then said the same thing, but this time he added the adjective ‘British’ “What is British Game, Sir?” Now at this point I know that schematic knowledge about British colonial history kicked in, The Great Game etc so maybe he was asking me to comment on The Raj. [laughter] So, in the way that you do, I said “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” And this time he raised his eyebrows, jutted out his chin towards my shopping and said “What is British Game, Sir?” And at that point I remembered that one of the items I had bought was a casserole mix labelled ‘British Game’ So I was able to answer his question, saying: “Rabbit, pheasant, venison, that sort of thing.” and he was very grateful for me informing him what it was he’d just put through the checkout Now, the whole process, I hope, took only 2 or 3 seconds, but I think it’s a very good example of the routes that we take when we’re trying to make sense of what somebody has told us

So, we rarely go directly from our background knowledge to comprehension We use the context and language and our background knowledge. We shuffle backwards and forwards so-to-speak, between the different sources, and we try to make sense We’re not normally aware of the routes we take unless there’s some sort of obstacle such as it being in a foreign language that makes us conscious of the decisions that we’re taking and to communicate at normal speed we do this in parallel and quickly Now, when we’re listening to a foreign language there’s a tendency, particularly at lower levels of competence in the language, to over-rely on language, on the bottom level Here’s an example from my learning of Spanish I was in Asturias in Spain and I was watching a TV programme, news programme, a male newsreader Behind him there was the photograph of a young woman And he announced her as “lanzadora de jabalina” Now, my language told me that ‘lanzar’ is to throw, ‘adora’ means ‘someone who’, so a thrower, ‘jabalĂ­’ is a wild boar, and ‘ina’ is a diminutive In fact, it’s a female diminutive, in the North West of Spain So what I pictured was this woman who was in the habit of hurling around young female wild boar piglets This seemed slightly odd, and at that point there appeared behind the newsreader a photograph of an athletics stadium, and it was then that I twigged that ‘jabalina’ was a javelin, not as I’d suspected And I think it was at the time rather than later that I did wonder whether this might be a Basque sport, because the Basques are well-known in Spain for having games that involve feats of strength and endurance, rather like the Highland games But I was able to correct myself in time So far I’ve talked about things that happen inside our heads when we’re trying to understand Normally in conversation we resolve these problems through what’s called the negotiation of meaning , or conversational repair What you find is that speakers, particularly when they’re speaking to non-native listeners, make three main sorts of adjustment: to input, to interaction and to information I’m going to say a little bit about each of those In the case of input, speakers typically adjust the grammar by making their utterances, which is spoken sentences, shorter and less complex, less complex in the grammatical sense And increased use of the present tense, particularly when telling anecdotes that happened to them, speakers to limited listeners in the language tend to put everything in the present tense rather than the past tense When it comes to vocabulary, they tend, we tend, to use more common vocabulary, to avoid idioms that we think may not be obvious to the listener We also tend to repeat nouns, rather than to refer to a person as ‘he’ or ‘she’ And when it comes to pronunciation, speakers tend to articulate more clearly and more slowly, to use a greater amount of stress, to stress the really important words with heavier stress than usual, and also to use a wider range of pitch And for non-verbal adjustments, we tend to use longer pauses to give the listener time to process what they’ve just heard

We use more gestures and we increase our use of facial expressions I have to tell you a story which concerns a hat seller What you see are the last two pictures in a six-picture set The scene is a tropical country An old man who makes sombreros from straw was sitting in the shade of a tree waiting to sell his hats to passers by Because it was hot he fell asleep. Up in the tree were a troupe of monkeys The monkeys who, while he was asleep came down, each took one of his hats, went back up the tree, and stuck the hats on their heads When he woke up the man saw his hats had gone and up in the tree were monkeys wearing them He was very angry so he shook his fist at them And all the monkeys shook their fists at him He didn’t know what to do so he scratched his head whereupon all the monkeys scratched their heads At which point, between the two pictures he realised what he should do, that the monkeys were copying him, so he dropped his hat and the monkeys helpfully all dropped theirs The reason I told you the story is because I’m going to focus on each of those pictures in turn for different reasons to illustrate the sort of adjustment that I’m talking about In the case of the left-hand picture or rather between the left hand picture and the right-hand picture OK, this data comes from my PhD study where I was interested in the ways native speakers of English would adjust or not adjust what they said to a series of individual separate listeners What you see here is what one native speaker said to his or her native listener He expressed the realisation as “the penny dropped”, so, an idiom To the advanced listener, this being a non-native speaker, a learner of English, he used a different idiom, one that is arguably slightly more obvious: “it dawned on him” To the intermediate listener, he didn’t use the idiom at all He said: “he realised” And to the elementary listener he said “And then he thought, and he realised” and then a long pause “it was easy” So here we have an example of the ways in which a native speaker adapts for different levels of listener, using the same data In each case the listener had the same pictures as the speaker and the listener had the task to order the pictures, they were jumbled up Those were adjustments of input, that is adjustments of language, the choice of words More important according to research is adjustments of interaction The first type of thing that we do is a confirmation check – “L” is listener, “S” is speaker – wqhen the listener makes sure they’ve understood what the speaker means So you may say something like: “So you mean he lost his money?” Checking that what I’ve understood is what the speaker meant A comprehension check is when the person speaking makes sure the listener has understood And we may make that clear by saying “Do you follow? Do you understand? Is that clear?” Or it might just be “OK?”, expecting the other person to confirm they’ve understood A clarification request is where the listener asks the speaker to explain or to re-phrase “When you said ‘obstacles’ did you mean something like problems?” And repetition – either party can repeat either their own words or the other person’s words in order to check that both parties are happy with what’s been understood Reformulation – the speaker re-phrases the content of what they have said Very often language teachers are found to do this more than repetition Non-teachers talking to non-native listeners tend to repeat what they said before

Completion – the listener completes the speaker’s utterance Intended to be helpful of course but I’m sure there are people, I’m sure we all know them, who do this to us in our own language and inevitably are wrong I find Backtracking is where the speaker thinks ‘OK I’d better go back to the point where it actually looked like she was understanding’ And we’ll try that out and if that doesn’t work we’ll go back further There are adjustments of information choice This is something that I became particularly interested in because of the data that I found in my PhD research I found that speakers used more descriptive detail, more explicit logical links, and also filled in what they assumed were gaps in the listener’s socio-cultural knowledge Back to the monkeys, [..] the left-hand picture this time, the scratching of the head This is a different native speaker than the one you saw just now To the native listener, the speaker said “This was rather puzzling, so he takes off his hat and scratches his head.” To the advanced learner: “He takes off his hat, and scratches his head in confusion.” So you could say ‘in confusion’ is just about the same as puzzling, but again when it comes to the intermediate listener: “Well the man doesn’t know what to do, he’s very puzzled, so he scratches his head which means ‘I don’t know what to do'”, implying, assuming the listener doesn’t know what head scratching indicates And to the elementary: “Old man’s very puzzled and worried about how to get his hats from the monkeys “And he takes off his hat and scratches his head, as people often do when they feel puzzled.” Speakers also adapt, adjust to their listener by the information they choose to highlight I’ve talked about three sorts of adjustment as if they were separate but in fact they normally occur in combination I’m going to, by way of illustration, show you a short transcript of a conversation between three of my past students: Isabel is from Spain, Yuko is Japanese and Khalid is from Malaysia It’s a point in the conversation where Isabel who is from Seville is talking about Seville “I was telling one of my friends, yeah, we have all the streets full of orange trees, ” “and he asked me ‘But don’t you eat the oranges?'” “‘No, they’re very bitter. It’s impossible, they’re really bitter.'” Yuko then says “Must be wild one, wild orange tree” “Wild?”. By the way the plusses indicate the length of the pause When she says “Wild?” it’s a repetition of what she’s said, but it seems to be a comprehension check as well ‘Do you know what I mean by wild?’ Khalid says “Huh?” Which I would categorise as a minimal clarification request And Isabel also says “Wild?” – repetition “Yeah so nobody tries to eat them, the oranges from the street.” – another completion “No, no. But do you know why do you use that orange for?” And Yuko knows so she says “For marmalade.” And Khalid says “What?” He was a man of few words Yuko then says “Marmalade. A sweet sort of jam.” So she’s repeating the word that Khalid appeared not to know And she’s then re-formulating, using a different expression for it And Isabel then said “Yeah, but for the queens of England, not for us. We don’t use it at home.” “Just to throw to each other.”

And Khalid says “Throw?” Now, I’m assuming that he’s recognised that it was a verb It could be that he’s actually saying the word t-h-r-o-u-g-h Anyway he makes the sound ‘threw’ Yuko laughs And Isabel: “Yes, it’s true. At Christmas I was having a party with my friends, just a dinner, very quiet…” “and suddenly we went in the balcony.” “Mm-hm?” says Khalid “And somebody throwed us an orange.” And Yuko says “Ah!” “It went ‘boosh!’ to the wall.” And then Khalid says “Is that traditional way to celebrate something or what?” So he’s asking for cultural background Isabel says “No”, and “Just to annoy”, confirmation check, “to bother us” They laugh There’s nothing unusual about that conversation It just illustrates how 3 international students effectively sort out their communication problems as they arise in interaction Summarising what I’ve said so far: listening comprehenses can be complex We can fail in various ways, as listeners. We can not hear We can mishear. We can misunderstand and we can not understand The resources we use in one-way listening, where we don’t have the chance to reply, are made up of three types of knowledge which we apply as seems relevant When it comes to two-way listening, to two-way conversation, listeners and speakers tend to generally co-operate to make sense of each other, and they use a range of interactive adjustments All this is true of communicating in our first language, but we’re more aware of it when we’re listening to a foreign language We’re more aware of particular things going wrong in the foreign language The next question is ‘Why does listening matter?’ for international students And I think it matters because students’ level of listening skill can either open up or close off access to two main types of experience There’s the access to the academic knowledge in their programme, and the access to informal language learning , potentially, in the university community around them I’m going to look at academic knowledge first At Edinburgh we measure the listening skills of some international students through a test called TEAM: Test of English At Matriculation In the original version you had 4 sections: vocabulary, listening, reading and writing Some years ago I did a study of TEAM’s validity That is, its predictive ability, how well it predicts a student’s academic success, in this case a year later The data came from nearly 300 students who were on taught 1-year Masters programmes I compared their TEAM scores and other English test scores with their academic outcome a year later The suspense is dreadful What I found is the overall relationship between the TEAM test, that is as a whole, and the academic outcome was roughly 0.3 In other words roughly 10% of the variation, the variance, in students’ performance a year later, could be statistically explained by their English ability To give you an idea how other tests would fare, the other main two tests of English, IELTS and TOEFL, various studies have tended to find that the correlation is very similar to that of the TEAM test, around about 0.35 But within the TEAM sections it was only listening that was statistically significant Almost all the predictive validity of the four tests was in fact carried by listening Why should this be? Why listening and not the other skills

Because most people, most students and most staff are aware of students’ success or failure through what they write rather than what they listen to Writing is how you show what you’ve understood I think the reasons for the connection between listening on the TEAM test and the academic outcome here later, are likely to be indirect I think if you are a student with poor listening skills when you arrive in Semester 1, you don’t actually grasp all you need to of the content of your course You may well try to compensate for that by doing a lot of reading, but the other students are doing reading as well and the other students are getting better at listening so you can’t actually ever catch up the lack of grasp of the content Secondly I know from what students have told me and my own experience in Spanish that there are psychological effects of poor listening You lose confidence, you become anxious and one general finding about adult language learners is most people think they are the weakest in the class except for the one who knows he’s the best, and it’s usually he and not she The other thing is poor listening is a barrier that stops you getting as much social contact with other students through English as would otherwise be the case, so there’s a sort of isolation I think the last point is really important because potentially international students in a place like Edinburgh in an English medium setting have a wide range of opportunities to improve their English outside the classroom but for many students it remains potential. They don’t make use of what their teachers are advising them to do It may be because they simply prefer to stay, as British students do abroad, with people who share their own culture But many international students in various surveys have reported finding it difficult to establish relationships, friendships with native students And the other thing is that there’s a sort of a conflict, a tension, between the role of student, doing a course at university, and being a language learner I’m going to say a little bit more about that At this point I need to mention that the sort of advice that second language researchers and therefore teachers tend to give to language learners, much of it is derived from what was called ‘Good language learner’ studies in the 1970s Among the main researchers in this area was Evelyn Hatch This is a quotation from what she wrote “Learners should practise saying ‘Huh?’, echoing parts of sentences they don’t understand.” “They should be told to use “Um… um?” or whatever other fillers they can to show they really are trying.” “If the learner gets to recycle the same topic several times with the same or different native speakers, he will have the vocabulary.” “He can recycle the topic again with another person and pay attention to his syntax.” “He should be taught not to give up in any contact with a native speaker.” That’s what a leading applied linguist, native speaker, recommends we should be advising students to do There’s a wonderful essay by a Danish academic called Peter Harder and he briliiantly captured the problem with this His essay was subtitled “On the reduced personality of the second language learner”. He said: “One gets the picture of a very well-defined social role when one imagines the learner ” “assiduously repeating bits of the previous utterance, blocking out interruptions by saying ‘um’,” “sticking like glue to unfortunate natives who said ‘hallo'” “The picture that emerges is one of an utter pest.” “And this, the learner, unless he’s an unusually callous or charming person, is likely to be acutely aware of.”

I have a shorter simpler quote from one of my students which I think says much the same thing An undergraduate came to see me about his problems in understanding what the British students he was studying with were saying When I said “Don’t you remember, in our language classes at the summer ” “you were very good at getting people to clarify.” He sort of looked world-weary and he said “Yes but I’m the only foreign student.” “So I can’t ask very much.” When it comes to the social side of things the learner cannot, as it were, chain everything, chain all the discourse to learning He or she has to play the role of being part of the group And not necessarily part of the group who is there because they want to improve their English I was interested in finding out more about the ways in which international students manage to practise listening in informal settings So a couple of years ago I carried out a project which I called ILSE which is Informal Listening and Speaking Encounters So I asked Edinburgh post-graduates what type of speaking practice they engaged in outside the language classroom And what advice they would have for incoming students There were 105 responses As you will see just over half the students said they’d made less progress in listening than they’d expected And most of the others said they hadn’t made any more than they’d expected Only about 10% of the group that I asked reported that they’d made more progress than they predicted they would I asked them to estimate the time they spent each day listening or talking Talking meaning listening and speaking You’ll see that there’s about half an hour’s difference overall between those in the A group who reported less progress and the other two But there’s no real difference in the overall figures of B and C However if you look at the red figure you’ll see that there’s a big difference in the amount of time that the C group reported talking So there’s some evidence that although the overall time that students spent listening or talking is similar in B and C there is something about getting more practice in talking which is associated with feeling that you’ve made more progress I’m going to give you a couple of quotes from the students that I interviewed as part of the study The Cuban PhD student – I’ll let you read it because you can read it faster than I can say it Notice he says “They don’t correct you.” One of the complaints from international students to me personally, but on behalf of the British nation, is that we don’t correct them enough Of course for us if you correct somebody in a normal conversation unless you’re a teacher in the classroom it’s socially marked. You’re listening not to what people are saying but to the way that they’re saying it But anyway he said “Don’t isolate yourself.” This is a quote from a Chinese student She is equally convinced that this is advice that should go to the students who are coming in I leave you to work out which of the two had in fact made much greater progress than the other But the point is students come with relatively fixed ideas which may be malleable as to how they’re going to improve their listening outside the classroom So the implications of the ILSE study seemed to me that we need to persuade students that informal conversation is a valid and important way of improving your English It’s not ‘just’ talking And secondly we need to encourage students to listen out for potential learning points in the conversations we assume they’re having in English with other students The example I’m going to give you is “a bottle of”

A Chinese student told me in a speaking class that she’d had great difficulty talking to her German flatmate because he often didn’t understand what she said “He’d asked me what the book was I was reading” “and I told him it was a bottle of.” So I then said “A bottle of what?” And she said “No, no, no.” “That’s what he said. It’s not a bottle of what.” “It’s a bottle of.” There is some recognition and smiles At which point I went to my strategy of last resort and said “Can you spell it?” And she said “Yes:” “A-B-O-U-T L-O-V-E.” Potentially a little incident like that could alert the speaker to the fact there are certain sounds they need to make differently if they’re going to stand a chance of being understood Lastly listening to students at Edinburgh – under the Internationalisation Strategy – it seems to me that the future success of the strategy is going to depend in part on the ways in which the university takes into account what today’s students have to say I think the basic issue that the university faces was neatly summed up by this Thai student who said “I’m a non-native speaker student. In fact the language problem might be a problem just for me ” “but the university is likely to increase foreigner students by about 30% maybe” Implying that in her particular course maybe she was the only person with problems but then thinking ahead, it’s something the university needs to think about I collected some data on international students’ perceptions of lectures; the acronym is ISPOL [International Students’ Perceptions Of Lectures] I collected the data in the autumn of last year and it was collected from students who had taken the TEAM test and I got 126 replies What I did was I gave them a two-part questionnaire In the first part I listed 12 pieces of advice commonly given to lecturers who teach international students And they were derived from work by Teresa Morell in Spain These are the first five And these are the other seven The orientation of the study was to regard the students I was asking as experts in listening Or rather people with a growing expertise in listening to second language lectures What I asked them to do was to look through the 12 items in the list and to indicate which 3 they thought were the most important and to mark them 1, 2, 3 And in the second section of the questionnaire I said “Is there any other advice you would give your lecturers, which isn’t covered in the 12 points?” This shows you the first four items that were ranked in 1st place You’ll see that perhaps not surprisingly “Control your speed of speaking” was chosen by practically twice as many students as the next most frequently 1st place advice Here are a couple of students’ comments Again this is a student who appears to be in a group that is largely British He says maybe the teachers aren’t aware of the speed, they don’t notice it Another point of view from somebody who suggests several things: slowing down, “I wish they’d slow down a bit.” “I wish they could repeat and emphasise what the main information is” and an interesting point “At the beginning of the semester”, that is Semester 1, “it would be good if lecturers controlled their speed of speaking.” A suggestion that lecturers should be particularly conscious at the start of the year that their listeners may not be able to follow them very easily This is a slightly different picture. This shows the cumulative totals for items that were ranked 1 or 2 or 3 You’ll see that speed still emerges as the most mentioned item

But now the 2nd ranked item is ‘look out for signs of difficulty’ Nobody said (wrote) what those signs of difficulty were so it seems students assumed that lecturers will know what the signs of difficulty are and will do something about it I know for example that in a big room I can’t actually look out for frowns but it’s quite easy to see one student turning to look at another student’s notes which to me is a suggestion that the student who is looking is not sure that they’ve understood But presumably there is a wide range of signs of difficulty Interesting none of the students said what they were It was just assumed that they were going to be visible The next most frequently chosen advice was about selecting and adapting examples Two comments here from different students Both referring to cultural difference, asking lecturers to make sure that they take care that the examples that they may be used to using from years before are actually going to be ones that are accessible to international students When it came to creating a relaxed atmosphere, two opposite views Students saying lecturers should be humorous, and then one saying “Please don’t always tell jokes only understood by British and Europeans.” This reminded me of an email that I was sent a couple of years ago Here it is, from a Chinese student [laughter] I eventually got my answer down to 25 words I’m willing to send it to you if you want to know what it was Among the other issues mentioned by the students the ones that they had literally empty space for on the questionnaire they mentioned timing, largely the fact that lecturers try to cram in too much material into 50 minutes, something on supplementary materials, there was a bit on the use of language which tended to be that they felt lecturers were using language that was too formal which surprised me. I would have thought it would have been too informal from an international student’s point of view And then something on the assumptions of shared knowledge I’m just going to mention the assumptions of shared knowledge “Don’t assume that all students have the same background on the subject matter.” A second quote: “I suppose lecturers should introduce the background of some important technique or concept.” “Then we’ll probably more quickly keep this knowledge in memory.” This seems to be different from cultural assumptions, culturally weighted examples, it’s actually about what lecturers assume students know within the subject area My conclusion, the pointers I think that we can pick up from the ISPOL data: clearly, speak slower; lecturers should keep an eye out for signs of listening distress; ensure that examples are accessible; and create opportunities for students’ questions At first sight you might think that those are relatively uncontroversial but if we assume that lecturers are open to the advice that we should reduce our speed of speaking and also encourage students to contribute questions the logical consequence of those two adjustments is that we have to be prepared to cover less in the standard 50-minute lecture This would actually be in line with some recent research in Sweden A couple of studies there concluded that the implication of really taking international students into account is that less information can be delivered in lecture form One way to do that would be to follow the recommendation by several of the students which is to make more material available online which students could either study before or after the lecture And another would be to encourage students to ask for clarification by using what I have called ‘question pauses’

These would be pauses of 2-3 minutes at a couple of points in the lecture where, by announcing the question pause the lecturer marks the fact that questions aren’t just allowed but they’re expected By making these two relatively simple adjustments I think we may allow the natural mechanisms of conversational repair, negotiation of meaning, to come into play in the lecture theatre as they do in conversation I have one last quotation I agree with that, but then I would because I wrote it 20 years ago My feeling is if we don’t make the sort of institutional adjustments that I’ve mentioned there’s a risk that international students are going to remain, as it were, audience members rather than participants What I’m really proposing is that we need to find ways of making our lectures more like academic conversations in which listeners help speakers to make themselves better understood Thank you very much [applause] I think that was a very clear lecture I’m sure there were no signs of distress in the audience I think you gave us some very important messages on how we can improve the way we manage to teach all our students, from the analysis of what you’ve done with international students We do have some time for questions Thanks for the talk. I teach on the MSc in Economics here We have a problem with our international students where students who are from a country where there are lots of other people from that country will often sort of segregate and their language doesn’t improve as much as people who come from e.g. Bhutan, no-one else speaks Bhutanese, you mix and you learn, you move on better I wonder if you have more suggestions on how we can sort of stop that behaviour I get the feeling students think at the beginning “Well, it’s just a bit easier, my English isn’t so good right now.” “I’ll learn it later.” and then they get trapped It never really improves It’s very difficult It’s particularly difficult now because as far as I can see the main international student group now are Chinese and I think they’re much more dominant numerically than say the Japanese were 20 years ago or Arabic speakers were 30 years ago I’m also aware that there’s a much stronger – it seems to me, I’m an outsider – but I think there’s a much stronger informal network among Chinese students now here also linked with Chinese students who have been here before and I think – I mention Chinese because they are the dominant group at the moment – I think as you say it’s very easy for them to slip into the habit of going to their own fellow language speakers for help. As I hinted, I think British students would actually do the same if they were foreign language students Even if they were foreign language students, not students of other subjects in other countries From a practical point of view there needs to be a good reason, if you like, I think why a student doesn’t mix all the time with their own nationality And one reason could be that they join a student society which is in whatever the thing is that they’re most interested in Because if you encourage students to join a society they go to that society because that’s the reason for going there They don’t actually go there for the purpose visibly, ostensibly, of improving their English, but they would I think partly it is a question of numbers – larger numbers than we’ve had before

But also I feel from my point of view in the ELTC, one thing we need to persuade our international students to do is talk socially to other speakers of English We need to persuade them that doing that is not a waste of time, it’s actually a way in which they can improve their informal learning of English Thank you very much for that talk. Andy Thompson, Politics One of the issues you raised right in the early stages was the evidence you had that listening seemed to be the most important dimension to language learning and obviously taking in the subjects they’re studying You conclude by saying we should cover less in the lectures and move more material online I presume you mean here not simply material to be read, otherwise that would seem to be self-defeating in a way, well, not self-defeating but it wouldn’t actually encourage the listening aspect Are you suggesting therefore that material should be as much as possible material which they would listen to which would encourage them to speak as well? I would, yes The students who suggested it weren’t thinking about listening because in various of their comments they talked about texts that they could read But I’m aware that it takes time to record something which you may be recording only for the people that are going to access the place where you are going to put it It’s extra load onto the teaching But I think more generally, other than only focus the students’ attention on the content of their course they would be missing out on a wide range of audio material on the net not specifically on their subject but in a sense listening to anything improves the psycho-motor skills of coping with language at speed So, provided they’re listening to something that’s of interest to them, I would say we should be encouraging them not just to focus on any material – whether it’s audio or reading – that’s put up online for them but they should be taking the opportunity to listen to, who knows?, lectures like this but also other events in Edinburgh as well as what they can listen to on the net Some years ago, I’m thinking of the 1980s, there was a fashion for testing English according to its specific purpose The ELTS test, the precursor of IELTS, is a very good example of that Do you think that was a good idea? And does TEAM operate in that way? And if not, why not? No it doesn’t In fact TEAM isn’t a test of communication. It’s not related to a student’s subject In fact although I haven’t yet gone into detail, the TEAM listening test is, if I’m being devil’s advocate, is the most unrealistic test of listening that one might imagine Namely, it is a once-only dictation test Yet, its results correlate well, as well as overall figures from IELTS in total, with academic outcome And I think that’s because, although dictation is a test of listening, it is classically an integrated skills test because it also tests one’s ability to write, to identify words, as well as a general language competence so, arguably, the reason why the TEAM listening section does provide a reasonable predictor of academic outcome a year later is because actually within itself is a general language proficiency test delivered as a speaking test but unrealistic in the sense that native speakers might not score 100% on the test It doesn’t test a student’s ability to extract information It tests their ability to replicate what they hear We do allow semantic equivalence So if the word ‘problems’ is actually in the dictation text they hear,

if a student writes ‘difficulties’, we count it right because that’s what native speakers do We understand the meaning of something. We don’t retain necessarily the physical form So that would be my answer: that TEAM is definitely a different test from IELTS in total, or ELTS, but seems somehow to tap into something that seems to be an underlying competence that students need in order to do well over the course of the next 12 months Sarah Henderson from the College of Medicine. It’s actually a follow-on from a previous question As I’m sure you appreciate the College of Medicine has the largest proportion of online distance learning programmes at the university many of which – and I think possibly related to the importance of listening, speaking and interaction with other students – and of course many of our students on online distance learning courses don’t have any day-to-day interaction with people that are native speakers especially those that are on programmes that are particularly focussed towards international students, some that have entire cohorts of students for example in various African countries I wondered what advice you could give to any of the programme directors that are in similar situations given the importance of listening, interaction with other students and speaking, and academic performance And of course in an online environment quite a lot of that element is removed from the teaching situation Sorry, just checking: you were asking about – confirmation check – what advice I would give to the distance learning directors, to give to their students, to improve their listening? OK I’ll have to try and remember what it was I wrote yesterday because yesterday, I don’t think you know, I wrote a unit on listening, intended for the distance learning students in particular, who would be coming to Edinburgh but wouldn’t have access to direct social interaction I think I would say what they need to do is to compensate: find a way of compensating for the fact that they won’t have face-to-face communication practice in the same way that students doing a conventional course would I think I would say, as you will have gathered, my interest is in listening I tend to see listening as a possible answer to quite a lot of things If the students are not going to get practice in face-to-face listening I would say we need to maximise what they know about the opportunities that they have on the net for listening in, even to discussions, lectures, seminars related to the topic that they’re doing for their degree There’s now a fantastic range of specialist academic lectures freely available where students can get I think practice like the experience they will have – I’m assuming that on the distance learning courses the students will be listening to lectures? Some yes, some no OK. And I guess some of them will be watching video lectures? Yeah So, again, there are various websites They always seem to be funded by very religious Americans There are certain sites which seem to provide what I regard as a very good range of subjects and topics I think directing, alerting students to the possibilities that are out there Each time I update my teaching materials I find that there’s more out there than there was when I updated it six months before I think that is the way that I suggest, that they advise their students to go I think now is the time to practise our listening and speaking skills over some wine I’d like once more to thank Tony Lynch very very much