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 graded language and why you should be using it. Check out if you need tips for teaching English to lower-level ESL students.
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 an input that is comprehensible. That is, they can understand at least 50% of it.
You can grade language in 2 ways:
Here are the two main ways to grade your language when you speak to your ESL students.
1. Speed: Essential to Graded Language
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.
Grading Language: Learn More About It
Check out this short video about what graded language is and how to use it in the most effective manner:
Grade Language: 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.
FAQ About Grading Language
Here are the most frequently asked questions about graded language and the answers to those.
What is graded language?
Graded language refers to the language that is adapted to the proficiency level of the learners in a classroom.
How do you grade your language?
There are mainly two ways of grading language. First, slow down the speed. Speak more slowly and pause to let your students take in and think about what you are saying. Second, avoid using difficult grammar or vocabulary. Keep it simple for the student. However, this does not mean that you should be using incorrect grammar.
When giving instructions, is it important to grade your language?
If ESL teachers give instructions using jargon, idioms, phrases, and unfamiliar inside jokes, students will feel unconfident, bored, and even unmotivated to learn. Therefore, it is important to grade language and make the instructions as easy as possible to understand for ESL students.
How do you grade your language to adult learners?
Speak slowly, use simple vocabulary and grammar, and pause to give your students time to think. However, do not treat your adult students as if they are children. Remember, they are not stupid. They are trying to learn English as their second language, which can be very challenging.
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?
Also, be sure to give this article a share on Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook to help other teachers like yourself find this useful teaching resource.