Graded Language, or, You’re an English Teacher and Should Know Better

Graded Language-avoid the deer in headlights

English Teachers: Why are you not using graded language?

Recently, I’ve had an opportunity to witness two university teachers in Korea interacting with students in a small-group setting and what I saw left me shaking my head in disbelief. Even though the students were at a low-intermediate level, the teachers made no attempt whatsoever to grade their language. Like seriously, no attempt.

You can grade your language in 2 ways:

1. Speed

Just use whatever grammar/vocab you want, but speak more slowly. Also use…pauses…to allow for some thinking time.

2.Difficulty, in terms of grammar/vocab

Make it simpler for lower-level students and more difficult for higher-level ones.

Deer in Headlights

These two teachers didn’t grade in terms of speed or difficulty and talked to the students in the same way they would have talked to me, were I alone.

The result is that the students had the “deer in headlights” look in their eyes and had no idea how to interject any comment into the “conversation.” The result was the teacher perhaps felt awkward and then just kept talking, and talking, and talking and ended up making the situation even more terrible because instead of the 1 minute monologue the students didn’t understand, it had now been upgraded to a 3 minute monologue. And it kept going.

It was painful to watch.

Look deeply in your student’s eyes…

Now, if the teacher had noticed the confused looks in her/his student’s eyes, she/he could have thought, “Wow! My students don’t know what I’m talking about right now” and then simplified/ summarized what she/he had just been saying.

Except, of course this wasn’t the case.

Over my years here, many Koreans have commented that they can easily understand my “accent.” It’s not the accent, it’s that I grade my language, but they don’t know how to say this. I adjust the way I talk depending on the level of the student I talk to, with my goal being that they can understand 80-90% of it. If they could understand 100%, it’s not really challenging or pushing them to improve their listening skills.

Graded language: Think about it!

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