How to Increase Your Language Awareness

How to Increase Your Language Awareness

As most teachers well know, learning never stops, be it in the classroom or out of it. You could say that it comes with the territory, yet so much time seems to be focussed on our students’ learning, how often do we stop to consider our own in relation to the subject we teach? Just as we expect doctors to have the necessary knowledge to do their job successfully so should we, the teacher, be the authority in the classroom. Bearing in mind though that this is not about knowing everything (who can ever lay claim to that?) but about being prepared to fill in the gaps when necessary. And one such way to do this is by increasing your language awareness (LA). It is important to note that LA is distinct from language proficiency, which refers to the ability to use a language – communicate, comprehend texts interact with others and so on. Instead, language awareness is about knowing the language – being able to explain the grammar and differences in meaning, knowing what is an error and what isn’t and then being able to explain why. More often than not, the quality of one’s language awareness can make the difference between a good teacher and a great one. So, read on to find out 10 ways to boost your language awareness and in turn, become a more effective teacher.

1. Learn another language

The act of putting yourself in the student’s shoes can reap numerous benefits, but as a language teacher in particular you are very much aware of what to expect and more sensitive to the intricacies being taught. Plus, it can also give insight into how your students perceive the language you teach. Depending on the language, there might be some surprising similarities and/or radical differences such as perceptions of time or how the use of verb forms changes across cultures, and each time your brain “clicks” that could be considered language awareness in action.

2. Don’t shy away from questions

You don’t have to be a student to ask questions and as the old adage goes, if you’re wondering about something, it is likely that others are too. And as much as students may think or even expect us to be, we are not walking encyclopaedias, well grammar books or dictionaries in our case, and so there are simply things that we do not know. Therefore, take advantage of more experienced colleagues, forums, social media groups and so on to ask about the language aspects that you’re not sure about. The field of education is generally a caring and sharing environment willing everyone to be the best teacher they can be. And you never know, you could be the next one to pass on some crucial knowledge which helps someone else’s language awareness!

3. Notice authentic language in use

Beyond the classroom walls exists language in its natural context, used in countless ways. Yet everything still (generally!) abides by the same grammar structures and meanings that we impart in class, so what better way to see language in action than noticing how it is used authentically. Disclaimer: it may take some practice to become conscious of the structures, phrasal verbs, idioms and so on when reading the newspaper, watching a TV series or listening to a song. Conversely, there is the salience effect where after teaching something you suddenly start seeing it everywhere!

4. Go beyond the student grammar

The grammar reference typically found at the back of a student’s coursebook is by all accounts a useful feature. However, it is designed for student use and as the teacher it helps to have a deeper understanding of the grammar we are teaching. This is why such grammar specific books as Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage or Martin Parrott’s Grammar for English Language Teachers remain immensely popular and are usually considered recommended reading for CELTA courses and the like.

5. Pick up a book

The ELT profession could be said to be oversaturated with books but language schools should ideally stock at least a few good reference books to support their teachers. Many answers and golden nuggets of knowledge can be mined here but if you’re not sure where to look, just ask your colleagues or head teacher and they should be able to point you in the right direction. Obviously, if you intend to buy any yourself, be aware that they are not cheap so choose wisely and select ones related to an aspect you’re interested in or likely to be of use for more than just a once off consult.

6. Invest in yourself

Living costs money, but what better way to spend than investing in your own professional development. In the ELT world this is likely to take the form of enrolling in a course, attending a conference or obtaining resources such as books – ELT ones certainly are an investment! And by doing one, or even all of these things, you are likely to come across new ideas while also increasing your knowledge, which with any luck includes language awareness.

7. Stay up-to-date

The older we become, often the further we get from knowing how our own language is evolving or what slang teenagers are currently using, even more so if teaching in a non-English speaking country. Hence, though you yourself may not use such language, for teaching purposes, it’s important to stay up-to-date with it. Dictionary websites and their word(s) of the year can particularly useful in this regard.

8. Take an interest in etymology

Getting to the root of all things lexis allows teachers and students alike to see the logic behind meaning, which has perhaps changed from the literal to the figurative, affixes, and how words are sometimes shared across borders, or not, false friends take a bow! There are a lot of different fields associated with ELT but knowing where words come from can be of great assistance in increasing language awareness, not to mention building up a collection of fascinating lexis related stories.

9. Challenge yourself to an exam

As you probably know from experience, the moment students sign up to take an exam the gravity of the situation kicks in and their focus improves tenfold. Yet our students are not the only ones who can sit Cambridge exams. There is an exam called the Cambridge TKT (Teacher Knowledge Test) which, as the name suggests, tests a teacher’s knowledge and one of the areas covers aspects of, you guessed it, language awareness. Alternatively, doing a C2 proficiency exam in which you can say you’ve reached the summit of language competency requires a healthy dose of language awareness to get there, likely achieved by a bit of study along the way.

10. Introspection

Taking time to reflect on our teaching is a very useful undertaking and better still when the purpose is to identify language knowledge weaknesses and how they can be improved. Introspection, cliché as it sounds, offers the chance to really examine what is needed and then hopefully do something about it. That way, a weakness is merely the first stop on its way to becoming a strength.

 

And there you have it. With 10 different ways to improve your language awareness, there should be at least one for everybody. I wish you happy teaching and all the best for your language awareness journey – bon voyage!

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