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

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Graded Language-avoid the deer in headlights

What’s graded language? It’s talking more slowly, and using simpler language when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t speak English as their first language. That’s the basics. Keep on reading for more details about it, and why you should be using it.

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 and they were talking to the students the same way they would talk to me.

The students? Like deer in the headlights. No sort of comprehension or understanding and just nervous laughter in response.

While some people say, “It’s the real world and they should just get used to it,” I tend to disagree. Learning a language is a process and while advanced students might need this, beginners and intermediate students need input that is comprehensible. That is, they can understand at least 50% of it.

You can grade your language in 2 ways:

1. Speed

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

The lower the level, the slower you should talk. For advanced students, a normal speaking speed will be appropriate.

2.Difficulty, in terms of grammar/vocabulary

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

However, avoid doing what some foreign teachers do and drop articles, or use incorrect grammar. This does not help our students!

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. And I’m sure the students weren’t loving it.

Learn More About Grading your Language Here

Check out this short video:

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!

Even more tips for making your ESL classes awesome. You’ll get ’em delivered straight to your inbox each week. I promise to respect your privacy and will never share your email with anyone for any reason:

What are your Thoughts about Using Graded Language in the ESL Classroom?

Do you do it, or do you think it’s more valuable for students to speak at normal speed? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think about this.

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