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Tutoring Reflection 7 (Final Reflection)

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In response to the ancient oracle's proclamation of his wisdom, Socrates is quoted as saying that "It is only because I ... know that I know nothing." If I have learned anything about teaching from my three months tutoring Eliana, it is that I know, at best, very little. Teaching is both an art and a science; while I may know something of the science, I feel that I have a lot of learning still to do, especially about the art. As with all arts, they can never truly be mastered. And as with all sciences, much of what we believe to be true is mere illusion, like the fanciful figures we see in clouds which in reality are nothing more than our minds playing tricks on us as photons reflected from billions of atoms of water dance around in our eyes. So I must ask myself if the modest improvements I perceived in Eliana's English language abilities were real, or whether they were only artifacts of my perception, like the faces we can't help but see in clouds. My experiences with Eliana have taught me that, especially when it comes to learners whose interlanguage is long fossilized, the power I have as an instructor to help my student improve her language skills is limited. Although I did my best to help Eliana reach her stated goals, in the end I fear that we made precious little progress. My enthusiasm was insufficient to overcome her motivation. I will never really know if the small victories we achieved in the crucible of the classroom will transfer over to her real-world language skills.

I have also been convincingly reminded by this experience that teaching beginners, intermediate-level students and advanced learners are all distinct endeavors that require correspondingly distinct methods and strategies. It also seems that I may have initially overestimated my student's English proficiency, although weighing fluency against accuracy in language assessments is never an easy task. I am haunted by the possibility that I allowed myself to be drawn into Eliana's comfort zone--the part of her expressive range that is accurate but limited--and that I failed to push her to exceed her current bounds. At the end of the day, however, I must accept that since Eliana is generally satisfied with her current language skills, I have no reason, or right, to try to convince her to feel otherwise.

My greatest challenge during the tutoring period was finding a way to get the learner to use new language. Although I presented lots of new structures and vocabulary and Eliana practiced them (in controlled sessions) during the lessons, it was not easy for me to get her to use the new language in her free production. I would frequently attempt to elicit the newly-taught structure or lexical items only to receive a response that landed right back in the middle of Eliana's comfort zone, drawn from the same set of structures and vocabulary that she had already mastered and avoiding the new, more "difficult" (i.e., less familiar) structures and terms. The area where I seemed to find the greatest success was helping Eliana notice some of her grammatical and lexical errors, for my corrective feedback was often met with successful learner uptake. Again, however, I am unsure of whether that progress will result in permanent changes to Eliana's interlanguage or whether she will only be more aware of her errors after the fact. Is awareness of one's language errors and mistakes of any real benefit if that awareness does not yield permanent improvements to spontaneous speech (i.e., unrehearsed utterances)? I suppose that this is an interface question that is still unresolved after more than thirty years of vigorous academic debate and so I should not be overly concerned with it, yet it troubles me nonetheless.

If I could go back and do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I would try harder or be more persistent in encouraging the learner to incorporate new language (the structures and vocabulary I presented during the tutoring sessions) into her speech. I have little doubt that Eliana made some gains to her receptive language skills, which as Folse informed us can be a good "first start," but given my student's experience with English and her current proficiency level, I believe that she needs more than a "first start." Her receptive language skills are already impressive and her passive vocabulary probably approaches that of a typical (although perhaps not university-educated) native English speaker. The conundrum was finding a way to convert the learner's receptive knowledge into active knowledge. Should I have been more insistent? Could I have been more creative? Does my still-developing teaching toolkit lack the pedagogical implements to achieve these aims, or did I just fail to use the right tool for the job? These are a few of the questions that I will continue to ponder long after this course and my tutoring project with Eliana have ended. Looking back on the experience, I am left wondering whether the progress I saw in my student was real, or whether it was illusory, like a face in the clouds.

Tutoring Reflection 6

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During our recent tutoring sessions, Eliana and I have been working mainly on improving her syntactic and lexical accuracy. We have continued to address some occasional pronunciation problems (such as her difficulty with /ow/, which often sounds more like /a/, obscuring the distinction in minimal pairs like won't and want) and sporadic word confusion (the trio restrict, restrain and retain made an appearance during one of our sessions). However, the student's use (or misuse) of auxiliary verbs has been a point of special emphasis. I noticed several weeks ago that my student severely overuses the auxiliary do, liberally inserting it into structures where native English speakers would only use it for strong emphasis (e.g., ?I do have a new client instead of simply I have a new client). She also tends to inappropriately stress modal auxiliary verbs, which she almost never contracts (e.g., I will go there tomorrow instead of I'll go there tomorrow). Consequently, I took the opportunity use Ellis' principle 4 ("instruction needs to focus on developing implicit knowledge of the second language while not neglecting explicit knowledge") during our class this week with the hope of helping my student resolve this issue, especially her overuse of emphatic do, which can definitely lead to communication problems if listeners presume emphasis where none was intended.

The question of how, or whether, explicit knowledge (i.e., declarative, articulable knowledge of grammatical rules and principles) is of use to second language learners has long been a matter of contention in the field of second language acquisition. According to Krashen's monitor hypothesis, explicit knowledge is of marginal use in aiding performance in that speakers can only use it to check mentally-rehearsed utterances for grammaticality. Thus, as Krashen's controversial hypothesis goes, explicit knowledge is only helpful when speakers have time to carefully pay attention to the form of their speech in addition to its content. If this strong non-interface position were actually true, then teaching grammar qua grammar would be almost pointless (as would almost all commercially available ESL textbooks). Such a zero grammar approach (one that prioritizes meaning and meaning-based learning activities while forcing learners to induce grammatical structures purely from exposure to input) would also doom my student, since it would presume that she has acquired this structure "incorrectly" (i.e., her implicit knowledge results in the production of ungrammatical utterances) and since this aspect of her interlanguage appears to be strongly fossilized, she would only be able to correct the error when carefully monitoring her speech.

I disagree with Krashen's extreme position. I believe that some amount of interface (the extent to which explicit knowledge can be converted to implicit knowledge) can take place for most learners, provided that they have enough opportunity to practice structures until they become proceduralized. If this were not so, then second language learners would be unable to acquire less common structures to which they are infrequently exposed, and all fossilized errors would be impossible to correct; both of these premises are demonstrably untrue. In accordance with my belief that explicit grammatical knowledge can be converted to implicit knowledge, I spent about twenty minutes during this week's lesson with Eliana carefully reviewing the use of auxiliary do. This explicit grammatical discussion was followed by another half hour or so of form-based practice to allow the student to begin to proceduralize the correct use of this and related structures. The practice session contained exchanges such as the following:

Richard: So, do you have any appointments this afternoon?

Eliana: Yes, I do.

Richard: Great. What else could you say?

Eliana: No, I don't.

Richard: Well, yes, you could say that, but I meant what else could you say if the answer is "yes"?

Eliana: Yes, I have.

Richard: Yes, I have...[prompting the student to self-correct]

Eliana: Yes, I have some appointments.

Richard: Fantastic. Now, what could you say if I told you I don't believe you? What if I think you don't really have any appointments? Maybe I think you just want to end the class early! What would you say if you wanted to convince me that the statement is true?

Eliana: I'm not lying?

Richard: Well, that might be a little strong. Remember, you can use "do" before a verb if you're trying to intentionally emphasize the truth of the statement, but that's really the only time we use "do + verb" unless we're negating the verb. So, try it again. Convince me that the appointments are real. What would you say if I asked you "Are you sure you have an appointment this afternoon?"

Eliana: Yes, I really do have any appointment at 3 o'clock.

Richard: [Relieved that the student demonstrates that she understands by using the correct form] Perfect!

It is difficult to judge the extent to which this strategy of explicit grammatical instruction will ultimately prove successful for my student. The fact that she managed to achieve consistently accurate production in class--a controlled environment where she can pay more attention to the form of her speech than she would be able to normally--in no way guarantees "real world" communicative accuracy. However, at the very least she is now aware of her difficulties with the structure in question and should be able to monitor her speech more effectively and/or self-correct after making an error. At best, she will be able to successfully convert her new explicit grammatical knowledge into implicit knowledge, thereby permanently modifying her interlanguage. Either way, it seems that the exercise was worthwhile and of benefit to the student.

Tutoring Reflection 5

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Assessment of Learner's Pronunciation

Overall, Eliana's pronunciation is almost always comprehensible. Although she has a noticeable (at times strong) foreign accent, pronunciation errors that impede communication are rare, although some native English speakers might find her foreign accent bothersome. While several of her pronunciation errors are persistent and systematic (such as deletion or hypercorrect insertion of unstressed word-final [iy] and merger of /z/ and /s/ in word-final position), others appear to be lexically determined and involve close cognates in English and Portuguese, for which she tends to pronounce the vowels like they are pronounced in Portuguese (example: ['na-zl] instead of ['ney-zl] for nasal). Eliana's English pronunciation is strong in several respects: unlike many of my other students, Eliana has mastered vowel reduction in English (the fact that Portuguese has a phoneme similar to schwa as well as its own version of vowel reduction is probably a great help here). In addition, she has no difficulty distinguishing most English vowels (including the pairs /e/ and /ɛ/ and /o/ and /ɔ~a/) due to the large number of vowel phonemes in Portuguese.


The following table summarizes the student's systematic elements of speech difficulty:

Consonants: /θ/, /z/, /s/, /ʃ/, /l/, /r/

Vowels: /ɪ/, /ʊ/, /i/ (word finally only)

Grammatical Endings: -s (but only when realized as voiced [z])

Word Stress: No systematic difficulties although the student has some problems caused by L1 interference for close cognates.

Rhythm: Non-native but difficult to describe in systematic terms


Eliana has difficulties with the phoneme /θ/ in all environments, as this sound does not exist in Portuguese (or any other language she speaks other than English). She can articulate the sound correctly when monitoring her speech, but when unmonitored she often produces the acoustically similar [f] instead of [θ]. In contrast, her problems with /s/, /ʃ/, /l/, /r/ only involve positions in the word where the sound does not occur in Portuguese, usually word-finally. For example, although Portuguese distinguishes /z/ and /s/, the two sounds only contrast word-initially and between vowels in that language. Consequently, Eliana tends to produce [s] for [z], but only when /z/ appears in word-final position (saying [wrds] instead of [wr:dz] for words; notably, she has little difficulty with the syllabic [r] that trips up many students). This error manifests itself often due to the frequency of the grammatical ending -s, although it rarely if ever hinders her communicative efforts. Similarly, she has trouble distinguishing /s/ and /ʃ/ word-finally but not in other positions. She can articulate /l/ as [l] at the end of words, but must use care to do so since in the dialect of Portuguese that Eliana speaks, the phoneme /l/ vocalizes to the glide [w] in word-final position, forming a diphthong with the vowel nucleus of the syllable (such that she tends to say [maw] instead of [ma:l] for mall). The only other difficult consonant for Eliana is /r/, which has an unusual and complex allophonic realization in Brazilian Portuguese involving the voiceless velar fricative [x] (a stronger, throatier version of [h]) and flap [ɾ]. As Eliana is already aware of these difficulties (as evidenced by the fact that she can correct each of these errors when carefully monitoring her speech), frequent correction would serve no purpose other than to frustrate or even humiliate the student. With the possible exception of those rare instances when one of these pronunciation difficulties clearly interferes with communication, I believe the wisest course is to ignore them (after all, the primary purpose of error correction is to alert the student to the error itself, and in each of these cases the student is already aware of her difficulties).

Like a great many students, Eliana finds it difficult to distinguish /i/ and /ɪ/ and /u/ and /ʊ/, for neither of the lax high vowels exists in Portuguese. Of all her pronunciation difficulties, this is one of the more serious from a communicative perspective: since English has so many minimal pairs involving /i/ and /ɪ/ (heat/hit, seat/sit, teen/tin) and to a lesser extent, /u/ and /ʊ/ (Luke/look, fool/full), the likelihood that the error will interfere with listener comprehension is substantially greater than for her problematic consonants whose mispronunciations are for the most part positionally conditioned. Nevertheless, because this type of long-fossilized pronunciation error is not very amenable to improvement (in fact, this situation, in which two very close vowels are phonemically distinct in the L2 yet one of them does not exist in the learner's L1 and the sound falls within the phonologically-determined perceptual space of the other vowel, is one of the worst-case scenarios when it comes to helping a learner improve her pronunciation) and the student is already aware of the problem, I will only correct this error when it jeopardizes successful communication.

One error that I do believe warrants some attention and correction is my student's sporadic (or seemingly sporadic) deletion or hypercorrect insertion of /i/ (/iy/) in word-final position. I intentionally selected a nursery rhyme (Humpty Dumpty) to test the student's ability to correctly pronounce this sound. As I suspected she might, Eliana deleted the final /i/ in Dumpty (pronouncing it as dumped) almost every time she pronounced the word during her recorded recitation. In the student's native Brazilian Portuguese dialect, unstressed word-final /i/ is either devoiced (producing a whispered vowel) or deleted during normal (i.e., non-careful) speech. Although Eliana knows that she tends to make this pronunciation error, she is frequently unaware of the error during production. Consequently, in order to increase her awareness of this fairly serious pronunciation difficulty, which sometimes does lead to miscommunication, I believe it is important for me to point it out, at least in contexts where the error could lead to listener confusion.


After this week's lesson, I replayed the nursery rhyme recording for Eliana and we talked about the pronunciation errors she made. One very important point that came up, which I will use to guide my remaining lessons with Eliana, is that she feels comfortable with her English pronunciation and is not troubled by the fact that she speaks with a noticeable foreign accent. Since her pronunciation errors rarely lead to miscommunication, she has good reason to focus on other more important language learning matters (such as improving her vocabulary and using more complex grammatical structures effectively, as described in previous posts). Since Eliana does not feel the need to emphasize pronunciation in our lessons, I feel obligated to respect her wishes. In fact, I agree with her approach. Given that Eliana has been speaking English for more than twenty years, she and I both realize that at this point there will likely be no more major breakthroughs in her acquisition of English phonology. The interlanguage phonology that she has already acquired is extremely stable (fossilized) and is unlikely to change significantly.

Since I have prior experience in the fields of phonetics and phonology, this analytical process was not difficult for me, although I continue to learn more about how I can successfully apply my theoretical knowledge to practical teaching contexts. I also marvel at how well my student has acquired the sounds of English, many of which (especially the vowels) are quite difficult. I see each new student as a fresh case to investigate and analyze and am excited about the prospects of helping Eliana and my future students improve their English pronunciation, even when the steps forward (as with Eliana) represent small yet cherished triumphs. Perhaps the most important lesson that I have learned is that, especially when it comes to teaching pronunciation (which for many students will always be a hurdle), the most important pedagogical principle is to do no harm. Where pronunciation is involved, I believe that overcorrection has the potential to do more damage than no correction at all, as it can frustrate the learner, thereby magnifying the affective filter than can impede acquisition. This is not to say that we as teachers should ignore our students' pronunciation errors, but rather that we should pick our battles to ensure that our corrective efforts are strategically guided to do the most good and the least harm.

Instructor Comments: Nice reflection and analysis.

Tutoring Reflection 4

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When I asked my tutee Eliana which areas of English grammar she finds to be most challenging, she answered without hesitation, "some prepositions (especially in, at and on), modal verbs and where to put it." Indeed, as demonstrated by her writing sample below, Eliana has excellent insight into her own strengths and weaknesses--her writing sample displays numerous prepositional errors, includes an omission of the impersonal subject it and fails to incorporate a single modal verb. When I asked her why she thought she has problems with these particular grammar points, she gave me an answer only another language instructor could provide (recall that Eliana is an experienced and accomplished Portuguese teacher): "Because all L2 learners have problems with prepositions, Portuguese doesn't have any modal verbs and we don't have a word for it [referring to the semantically empty impersonal subject it] in my language." Oh, if only all students had such diagnostic powers! Eliana went on to identify verb conjugation (because English has so little compared to the complex verbal morphology of Portuguese, she pointed out) and the lack of grammatical gender in English as the least difficult aspects of English grammar.

Turning to the writing exercise, my tutee produced a generally cohesive, coherent and entertaining text in a fairly short period of time (under twenty minutes), recounting a personal story of how she once had an amusing experience at a drive-through grocery store due to another non-native English speaker's pronunciation difficulties. She gave me permission to reproduce the text in this blog post. Other than typing it (she wrote the original text by hand), I not have edited the text in any way.

How Much an Accent Can Interfere in a Conversation

It was Sunday night and suddenly I got the desire to drink milk with coffee, with a piece of cheese in a baguette. I decided to go to a drive throught to save my time. I took my dogs with me. I drove to the store. The salesman came to ask me what I wanted to order. The guy is from Asia and has a strong accent. He looked to my dogs and said:

- Nice dogs. Nice dogs, he said.

- Thank you. I smiled and ordered the milk and the baguette. The guy put the bread in the oven and come back to chat a little with me.

- Nice dogs. Nice dogs. Do you sale poop?

- I beg your pardon!?

- Do you sale poop? He asked me again. Took me a minute to realize that he was asking if I sell puppies.

I told him that I don't breed my dogs, but he was welcome to go to my back yard and grab the poops for free!!

Error Identification

I identified the following errors in my tutee's text (for present purposes, I am ignoring stylistic errors and only focusing on grammatical and lexical ones)

1. Incorrect preposition: in for with in the title How Much an Accent Can Interfere in a Conversation

2. Omission of the indefinite article a in the phrase Sunday night (the student's version is not technically ungrammatical but implies that the Sunday night in question was recent, which she did not intend).

3. Questionable use of the preposition in in the phrase cheese in a baguette (the conjunction and would have been more appropriate in this context.)

4. Misspelling or word confusion in *throught for through

5. Incorrect addition of my in save my time (the collocation save time does not permit a determiner before time in this and most other contexts).

6. Inappropriate word choice in salesman for clerk (salesman is not normally used to refer to grocery store employees).

7. Incorrect verb tense: is for was and has for had in the sentence The guy is from Asia and has a strong accent (the historical present would have been acceptable if it had been used consistently throughout the story.)

8. Incorrect preposition: to instead of at in He looked to my dogs...

9. Incorrect verb tense: come for came in the sentence The guy put the bread in the oven and come back to chat a little with me.

10. Noun/verb confusion: noun sale for verb sell in Do you sale poop?

11. Omission of subject it in Took me a minute to realize that he was asking if I sell puppies.

12. Incorrect verb tense: sell for sold in the same sentence (the prescriptivist rule regarding sequence of tenses requires the simple past here.)

Note that poops for puppies in the last sentence was intentional, as the student was quoting the store clerk for humorous effect.

Most of the recurring errors (viz., incorrect usage of articles, determiners and prepositions) plague English language learners at all proficiency levels (including advanced students like Eliana) and native languages. My student's persistent difficulty using the impersonal subject it also made an appearance in her story, which is not surprising given that this fossilized error is a ubiquitous feature of her speech. Analysis of the text and its errors reveals that the student has a generally strong command of English grammar, including advanced knowledge of collocations (e.g., take a minute, save time, beg your pardon) and stylistic conventions, but that transfer from her native language is still often present, as evidenced by the omission of the impersonal subject it and insertion of my into phrasal positions where a determiner may appear in Portuguese but not in English. In addition, the lack of expected discourse markers and cohesive devices, especially between sentences, occasionally obscured the connection of ideas and contributed to the text's choppiness. Based on the errors my student made in this writing sample, I will be sure to address preposition and determiner usage as well as discourse markers and cohesive devices in upcoming lessons.

Instructor Comment: The use of humor by your tutee is impressive :) Excellent post.

Tutoring Reflection 3

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Reflection on Recent Tutoring Sessions

My last two tutoring sessions with Eliana have focused primarily on vocabulary building and correcting grammatical problems caused by L1 interference. On the vocabulary front, we have journeyed from advanced phrasal verbs (e.g., leaf through, fade away) to idiomatic expressions (e.g., a grain of truth, for my taste, to my liking) while shoring up lacunae in my advanced student's vocabulary (e.g., slight, core, and the much less common welt, which happened to come up during Eliana's free production). We have struggled with some of the most common grammatical difficulties experienced by English language learners who are native speakers of Spanish and Portuguese, including have/be and in/on confusion (also sticking points for many students, regardless of their native language) and a persistent omission of it, both as an impersonal subject (*Is a book instead of It's a book) and as a mandatory object of verbs that are only transitive in English (e.g., non-auxiliary have, take, put) but both transitive and intransitive in Portuguese (*I put in the computer instead of I put it in the computer; *Yes, I have instead of Yes, I have it, when have is being used as an action verb and not as an auxiliary verb). Some portion of each lesson so far has been devoted to Eliana's difficulties with it, but it is clear that this aspect of her interlanguage is long fossilized and so while we will continue to work on this point during our tutoring sessions, I am realistic in my expectations about our prospects of completely resolving this systemic error and I will take care not to frustrate the student by overreaching on this point.

Building Awareness of Pedagogical Discourse

I learned a lot from listening to the recording of this week's tutoring session. I know that I have a tendency to dominate conversations, so I always try to be conscious of my teacher talking time. Eliana has already reached an advanced level of proficiency in English and is learning English in an ESL context in an area where English is spoken by a substantial portion of the population, so access to grammatical input is not an issue. Consequently, unlike for students in an EFL setting in which the instructor may be the main (or only) source of grammatical input, Eliana does not need me as primary source of input, but rather as an expert to facilitate her improvement in the language. I was therefore pleased to find that my teacher talking time was limited to perhaps one third of the total session when I played back the recording. My speaking rate was also normal (not intentionally slow), which I believe is appropriate for advanced learners. However, I was disappointed to hear myself interrupting my tutee several times, denying her the opportunity for self-correction on a number of occasions. I was also disappointed with the limited amount of positive reinforcement that I provided. I will be sure to pay much more attention to these issues during our future tutoring sessions.

Most of my questions were referential and served the discursive purpose of keeping the conversation going when my student's speech became halted, although I did use a few display questions to elicit specific vocabulary or grammatical structures. For example, after hearing my student make the common error of pluralizing noun in the number + noun compound adjective construction (as in ten-dollar bill, three-car garage), I later asked the question "How long is this class?" hoping to elicit the construction. When the student replied, *Is a 45-minutes long class, we had the opportunity to address both errors (omission of the subject it and the incorrect plural form). I corrected Eliana somewhat frequently during the tutoring sessions (which I believe is necessary and appropriate given that one of the primary goals of our sessions is to improve her accuracy), usually by eliciting the erroneous lexical item or grammatical structure in the form of a question in order to draw her attention to the incorrect form. This strategy was successful for most of the fossilized errors of which the student was already aware, but for those errors of which she was not aware (as was the case for the number + noun construction described above), explicit correction and explanation were required.

Instructor Comment: I once did a grammar project with a very high level ELL informant - he continually omitted the referential IT. Amazing! His L1 was Urdu. I hope you found the recording more helpful than painful. Nice post.

Tutoring Reflection 2

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Eliana and I are making slow but hopefully steady progress. Most of our work thus far has been devoted to error recognition and self-correction, vocabulary building and structural accuracy. We have also had to place a great-than-expected emphasis on pronunciation, for it seems that my initial assessment of the frequency of communication breakdowns due to the student's pronunciation errors was unrealistic. The two greatest areas of concern in this area have been the student's difficulty reliably distinguishing /i/ and /ɪ/ (the beat ~ bit distinction) in production (a difficulty experienced by many students whose native language does not distinguish these two high front vowels) and her superimposition of the Portuguese allophonic variation of the phoneme /r/, in which a segment very close to English [h] is realized in word-initial position (thus obscuring the distinction between minimal pairs such as read and he'd); the latter problem has been particularly intractable, yet since it has caused so many communicative difficulties already, it is one that we will have to continue to address. On the brighter side, Eliana has made a bit of progress in incorporating the "past" forms of modal auxiliary verbs (especially would) into her active lexicon and using them appropriately, even if haltingly. One thing seems certain, however: Eliana's interlanguage is well-established and stable--much of her inaccurate production is the result of errors long fossilized and so improvement in structural accuracy is likely to be a slow and steady uphill climb.

One of our major goals (one identified by the student) is the detection of patterns of grammatical or lexical errors caused by transfer from Portuguese. This week, we focused on the very common noun + noun construction in English, which Eliana typically renders, often inaccurately, as noun of noun, as in *manual of telemarketing instead of telemarketing manual, which appeared during Eliana's free production. Of course, the fact that English does have plenty of noun of noun constructions (e.g., wheel of fortune and not *fortune wheel, both filet of fish and fish filet, etc.) complicated my answer to her question: "So how do I know when to use one and when to use the other?" I explained that there is no magic bullet for this particular construction (which also happens to be true for most others) and that understanding when noun of noun works (and when it does not) and when noun + noun is required is part of her evolving word knowledge. We spent some time talking about the importance of word knowledge and I tried to impress upon her that word knowledge is not an all-or-nothing proposition; knowing the meaning (dictionary definition) of a word is just the tip of the iceberg of "knowing" a word. Understanding that telemarketing manual "works" whereas manual of telemarketing does not requires more than superficial knowledge of both the words telemarketing and manual.

As I mentioned in the last post, Eliana is mainly interested in improving her English skills for professional reasons, especially to help her communicate with her English-speaking clients more effectively, both over the phone and in person. Because Eliana already has excellent reading and writing skills and since most of her prior schooling and education in English have emphasized academic communicative competence, the primary goal of our tutoring sessions is to help improve her interpersonal communicative competence. In fact, her academic competence sometimes interferes with her interpersonal competence; this is particularly noticeable in her nearly complete aversion to the use of contractions. As she explained to me, many of her former English instructors in Brazil (incorrectly) told her that contractions should not be used in English and so until she moved to the United States, she never used any contractions at all. Of course, she now understands that the prescriptivist ban on contractions applies to formal written discourse and not to spoken English, even in formal contexts (as we saw in President Obama's speech on race a couple of weeks ago), but so many years of I would and I am make I'd and I'm a rather daunting challenge for my student, especially when she is not carefully monitoring her speech. I really think that Eliana did not completely believe me when I told her that it is not only acceptable but natural and situationally appropriate to say things like I'duv bought it if I'd had the chance instead of I would have bought it if I had had the chance in just about every conceivable context other than formal written discourse. I will continue to press this theme in our tutoring sessions to help Eliana improve her interpersonal communicative competence.

Our most recent session included a short self-assessment to help focus our tutoring goals. Although I searched online for self-assessment instruments, most of what I found was overly simplistic, specifically designed to be used with K-12 students, or not particularly well-suited to Eliana's situation (for example, many of the self-assessment worksheets I found overemphasized academic communicative competence and/or reading and writing skills, which Eliana has made clear are not significant concerns for her). I therefore improvised a self-assessment worksheet specifically tailored to Eliana's needs. I learned that she places a high value on what she calls "correct" pronunciation and that she feels this is one of her weakest areas. She also noted that, although she has a strong vocabulary, she often finds herself grasping for the "right" word or struggling with the right word form (just a few minutes before the self-assessment, she produced *comfortability for comfort and saloon for room, the latter mistake being the result of transfer from Portuguese involving a semi-false cognate, thereby confirming this aspect of her self-assessment). Finally, she and I both agreed that while her fluency is excellent, her accuracy is not, and so our tutoring sessions will continue to include a significant error correction component, as originally planned.

Instructor Comment: Your phonetic and phonemic descriptions are spot on! Your explanation of the rather idiomatic phrases such as filet of fish to Eliana is good - Folse will tell us that many of these idiomatic phrases must be memorized since there's really [n]o rule to learn. I am also of the school that teaching and using contractions and reduced speech are not as necessary as other things, but if the student is confused by native speaker use of these notions, then they need to be made aware.

Tutoring Reflection 1

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I conducted my first tutoring session with Eliana R. on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 in Coral Gables, Florida. Eliana, originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a delightful student who is interested in improving her English proficiency mainly for professional purposes. Eliana is herself an experienced and accomplished Portuguese teacher; in addition, she is fluent in French and speaks what she describes as Portuñol (a combination of Portuguese and Spanish; see Eliana's current and prior classroom-based English learning experiences have been mainly limited to private, one-one-one instruction (she has avoided the traditional group format).

During our first session, I conducted a needs assessment and oral proficiency interview (OPI) using the ACTFL speaking proficiency guidelines ( to determine Eliana's level of English proficiency. I determined that her current level of proficiency is Advanced Low (roughly equivalent to a low 3 on the ILR proficiency scale) primarily on the grounds that (1) although she can handle a wide variety of communicative tasks, she does so haltingly at times; (2) she has the ability to narrate and describe in all major time frames but does not demonstrate full and consistent control of aspect (for example, during the interview, Eliana persistently failed to use the "past" form of modal auxiliary verbs when contextually required, using "will" where "would" is expected, and avoided using perfect tenses in all time frames); (3) her connected discourse is typically limited to paragraph length; (4) the structure of her dominant language (Portuguese) is still often evident in the use of false cognates and literal translations (for example, she often fails to use the semantically-empty subject pronoun it in impersonal constructions, as evidenced by her statement *"Is a very warm day today" instead of the grammatical "It's very warm day today"); and (5) when attempting to perform functions or handle topics associated with the Superior level of proficiency, the linguistic quality and quantity of her speech deteriorates significantly (Ibid).

Through the needs assessment, I learned that Eliana believes that her strengths include an extensive vocabulary, which is to be expected given her high level of education and advanced proficiency in French (which has contributed so many thousands of words to English), and general fluency and ability to discuss almost any topic, even if haltingly. She recognized difficulties in grammatical and lexical accuracy, especially when complex (periphrastic) verb structures (such as "modal auxiliary + have + past participle" and conditional constructions) are required. She also expressed dissatisfaction with her pronunciation (while fluent, she speaks with a noticeably non-native accent) and contextually-determined register usage (or as she put it, "knowing when to use formal and informal language"). I generally agree with Eliana's self-assessment, and although I find her pronunciation to be well within what I consider to be an acceptable range (her pronunciation errors only rarely impede comprehension, although some native English speakers may sometimes find them bothersome), I respect her desire to focus on "improving" her pronunciation.

Based on Eliana's expressed desires and our mutual assessment of her needs, our tutorial sessions will focus largely on a combination of structural practice using form-based exercises targeting her areas of greatest difficulty (especially the use of modal auxiliary verbs), error recognition and correction through production activities focusing on language functions and themes relevant to her professional needs and target proficiency level (Advanced Mid of the ACTFL proficiency scale), and pronunciation improvement. I plan to use a combination of authentic materials/texts and (probably to a lesser extent) traditional ESL teaching and learning materials to facilitate the lessons and will encourage Eliana to bring in materials relevant to her personal or professional life, which should help maintain what appears to be an already high level of intrinsic motivation.

Instructor Comment: I think Eliana is in very good hands!

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