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TEFL Masterclass – Keep Talking

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Dylan Gates – Trinity Cert TESOL Course Director Teacher Trainer & Course Designer.

Dylan is a highly experienced ELT professional. He currently lives and works in Spain as a freelance teacher trainer, business English coach, and course designer. His qualifications include an MA in Applied Linguistics and ELT, the Cambridge DELTA, and he was recently awarded a distinction grade on a course entitled ‘Online Teaching: Creating Courses for Adult Learners’.

What you will learn

In this workshop, we will look at communication strategies and explore how they can help learners avoid communication breakdown and keep on talking even when they don’t know the right words to use.

In the first part of the workshop, we will find out about two types of communication strategies: avoidance and achievement. We will look at specific examples of communication strategies such as circumlocution and word coinage.  Then, we will consider whether we should teach them or not and if an inductive or an explicit approach is more effective.

Finally, we will reflect on a simple approach for raising awareness, facilitating acquisition, and activating them to prepare our learners for participating in conversations and performing meaningful tasks in English.

By the end of this workshop, we hope you will have some ideas about how to integrate communication strategies into your English classes.

Workshop Summary

Understanding Communication Strategies

In the Gallery Teacher’s Masterclass, Dylan Gates explores communication strategies and their crucial role in effective conversation. The workshop revolves around understanding what these strategies are, their teachability, and their application in real-life contexts. Communication strategies are defined as methods employed to overcome communication barriers, either due to difficulty in expression or understanding. 

Types of Communication Strategies

The workshop categorises communication strategies into several types. Avoidance or reduction strategies, often used when linguistic resources are limited, may involve abandoning the message or avoiding topics, potentially hindering language development. In contrast, achievement or compensatory strategies, such as circumlocution, approximation, and the use of all-purpose words, are more proactive. Additionally, non-linguistic strategies like gestures and literal translations, despite their risks, contribute to effective communication. Managing conversations, which includes gaining time and turn-taking, is equally important in maintaining the flow of conversation.

The Teachability of Communication Strategies

Gates discusses the teachability of communication strategies, which varies according to individual differences and language teaching perspectives. Factors such as extroversion, tolerance for ambiguity, and personal language goals influence the use of these strategies. While some strategies are more easily integrated into teaching materials, the general consensus highlights the importance of raising awareness about them. This helps learners link strategies from their first language to a second language, potentially involving explicit teaching for those less familiar with the concept.

Benefits and Integration in Language Learning

The workshop outlines several benefits of communication strategies, including enhanced motivation, opportunities for feedback, and preparation for real-life scenarios. These strategies encourage risk-taking and promote learner autonomy and communicative competence. Gates proposes a three-step process for integrating these strategies into language learning: raising awareness, acquiring skills, and applying them in real-life situations. This approach involves exposing learners to examples and allowing them to practise and apply these skills in meaningful tasks.

Strategy Training Principles and Practical Applications

Dorneyei principles for strategy training emphasise problem-based activities, testing competencies, and providing a variety of examples from both native and non-native speakers. These principles encourage learners to explore and reflect upon strategies that work for them. Digital tools and interactive games like Taboo and Just a Minute facilitate the acquisition of these strategies. For business English learners, real-life tasks such as meetings and negotiations offer practical contexts for applying these strategies, with repeated task performance enhancing reflection and improvement.

Preparing Learners for Real-World Usage

In conclusion, communication strategies are essential for language learners to navigate real-life situations, maintain conversations, and overcome communication challenges. The role of language teachers is to guide learners in effectively using these strategies, preparing them for practical applications beyond the classroom. This involves not only teaching the strategies but also creating opportunities for learners to experiment with and apply them in real-world contexts. The ultimate aim is to enhance learners’ ability to engage in meaningful and effective communication in their second language.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. Do you think learners benefit from explicit communication strategy training?
  2. Communication strategies benefit fluency but not accuracy. Do you agree?
  3. Does being aware of communication strategies transfer into active use? Why? Why not?
  4. To what extent does conversation analysis facilitate better conversations?
  • Dörnyei, Z., & Dornyei, Z. (1995). On the Teachability of Communication Strategies. TESOL Quarterly, 29(1), 55. https://doi.org/10.2307/3587805
  • Jones, C., McCarten, J., & McCarthy, M. (2021). Conversation Strategies and Communicative Competence [E-book]. Independently published.
  • Luciano, M. (2010). Communication Strategies: Learning and Teaching How to Manage Oral Interaction. Lulu.com.

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