Literacy and Language Listservs – My favorites

August 22, 2011

Do you subscribe and participate in professional listservs? Though some say listservs are outdated, I still find tremendous value in the tips, information and ideas that are exchanged. Here are the publicly available lists I subscribe to:

#1. Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) –  They have lists on:

  • Adult English Language Acquisition
  • Adult Literacy Professional Development
  • Assessment
  • Diversity and Literacy
  • Health and Literacy
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Math and Numeracy
  • Reading and Writing
  • Transitions to Post-secondary Education
  • Technology and Distance Learning
  • Workforce Competitiveness

Subscribe to any or all of these lists here:

#2. Foreign Language Teaching Forum (FL Teach) – I’ve been on this list for years, possibly over a decade. Definitely worth it for teachers of second, foreign or world languages.

#3. Edling list – This is more of a research list for people interested in linguistics and language teaching methodology and other research related questions. I met the listserv administrator, Dr. Francis Hult, at a conference last year and he invited me to subscribe. I enjoy it and keep up on the messages. If you’re in a scholarly or research field, check it out:

Tip: I always choose the “digest” option to receive messages, so my inbox doesn’t fill up.

All of these lists are free, public professional exchanges of information. They are all moderated, so there is no spam, profanity or sales pitches. (Bless the list administrators!)

If you know of other content-rich lists, feel free to offer your contribution to the list by leaving a comment.


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Marketing tip: Ask your students where they heard about you

August 20, 2011

This is a simple way of determining which method of marketing works for your language or literacy program: Ask your students how they heard about you. Do most of your students find out about you through the Internet? …word of mouth? …your brochure? … trade fairs? Once you figure out what has proven most successful, you will know where to focus more of your marketing dollars.

I suggest getting this valuable information in writing. Whether it is through an evaluation form or an exit interview where the results are recorded, get the information in concrete written form. Compare it from year to year. See if your most successful marketing strategy changes over time.

Of course, we know that word of mouth is the most powerful way to market your program. If the majority of your students come to you through word of mouth, then you are very lucky. Most language schools need to combine word of mouth with other marketing efforts.

But what other marketing efforts are successful for you? You may be surprised. You may be pouring thousands of dollars into a fancy brochure and find out that 85% of your students used the Internet to find you. If that is the case, you would want to drive more of your marketing dollars into the Internet (maybe pay for a higher ranking on a search engine or get a banner ad onto other people’s sites). Once you know what has proven successful, you can use that information to generate even more interest and registrations.
Marketing materials: tools and tips to do the job better

This post is adapted from “Idea #18” in 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program


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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) Please visit my speaking page, too.

Does language learning make us racist?

August 18, 2011

Language and culture are often lumped together, spoken of in the same breath, as if they were one in the same. Language teachers revel in the cultures of the languages they teach. But does learning another language really make you any less racist? Some researchers caution that if we rely on cultural stereotypes, we may be adding to our students’ myopic view of the world and that we’re not really doing them any favours.

Researchers Byram and Feng say that language teachers need to get out there and connect with those who work in the field of cross-cultural training in the business world.  They argue that language and culture are value-laden and socially and politically constructed, and that language teachers often rely heavily on stereotypes to teach culture.

Another researcher, Hugh Starkey, agrees with that point, only he takes it a step further by saying that language teachers may unintentionally promote stereotypes or narrow views of other cultures by talking only about “food, fashion, festivals and folklore” as representations of culture. He even goes so far as to say that language teachers can become so enamored with the positive aspects of the target culture (particularly if they have lived or studied in that culture) that they develop a kind of cultural idealism, to the extent that they dismiss their students’ latent prejudices.

That article struck a chord with me. As a Spanish teacher who has lived in Spain and worked for short periods in Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela and Cuba, I can honestly admit that I am somewhat enamored with the people and cultures of the places I have personally visited. In my classes, I have tended to focus on the “positive” aspects of these places and I have been known to avoid or gloss over questions around poverty, drug cartels, the Basque separatist group ETA, or lack of clean water and electricity in some of the areas I have been.

Rarely do I tell students about the time I was working alongside a Cuban professor and when coffee was served, I asked if he drank his coffee with milk. He replied that he loved milk, but that he saved his weekly ration for his two year old daughter because he felt she needed it more than he did.

Nor do I tell them about being in Honduras a year after Hurricane Mitch and seeing shelters made of twigs where houses had been instantly destroyed. The makeshift shelters were hardly enough to protect anyone from the elements.

Nor do I tell them about the homeless man at the bottom of the stairs in a Madrid metro station who started to smell after three days because while passers-by thought he was drunk or asleep, he had in fact died, with thousands of people (including me, I am ashamed to say) passing him by. None of us knew… and personally, it had never occurred to me as a young, naive 20-something student from abroad, that someone could actually die in a subway station. Such a thing was so far out of my personal experience at that point in my life, that the shock of the nameless Spaniard’s death is something I’ll never forget.

I don’t share those stories with my students. Not ever.

I try to present the happy side of culture in my classes. I only start to “dig deep” or share stories that could be shocking or distressing when I am working one-on-one with students or in small groups with students whom I think can “handle” the other side of the reality I have lived and seen.

As I read these articles, I can’t help but ask myself if I have done the right thing all these years? Who am I to judge what my students can and cannot “handle”? Should I have pushed “the dark side” a little more, I wonder? Have I glossed over some of the more complex realities of real world culture in order to encourage my students to become as enamored with language learning as I am?

Starkey paired up with another scholar, Audrey Osler and together they wrote an article about how representations of culture in language learning textbooks has an effect on students’ understanding of that culture. While positive representations of culture can often be found in textbooks, culture goes beyond photos depicting national dress or typical food.

Researchers who specialize in the area of intercultural education and competence are calling on us language teachers to engage our students in deep conversations about identity, cultural integration, race and social values. They are also calling on us to engage with teachers of global citizenship and cross-cultural trainers who work in the business world, to help our students develop deeper understandings of culture and the idea that a person can have multiple cultural identities.

I grew up in a bi-cultural family, with a Canadian father and a British mother. I have lived in Canada, England and Spain. I’ve studied Spanish, French, German and American Sign Language. I sometimes rely on my national Canadian identity, which is firmly grounded in multiculturalism, to explain my own sense of multiple cultural identities. I think I do this sometimes just because it is easier than trying to “drill deep” into questions of identity. I am starting to realize that having parents from different cultures may very well have influenced my own cultural identity and fascination with the world outside the small city of 65,000 where I was born.

What about you? What elements have constructed your sense of culture and identity? If you’re a language teacher, are you enamored with language(s) you teach and the cultures you have experienced? Is it important to you that your students develop the same love of language that you have?

How do we “dig deep” into culture in a beginner-level language courses and engage our students in critical and reflective dialogueto help them develop true intercultural sensitivity and competence?


Byram, M., & Feng, A. (2004). Culture and Language Learning: Teaching, Research and Scholarship. Language Teaching, 37, 149-168.

Osler, A., & Starkey, H. (2000). Intercultural Education and Foreign Language Learning: Issues of racism, identity and modernity. Race Ethnicity and Education, 3(2), 207-221.

Starkey, H. (2007). Language Education, Identities and Citizenship: Developing Cosmopolitan Perspectives. Language and Intercultural Communication, 7(1), 56-71.


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Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching: A Practical Introduction for Teachers

August 16, 2011

Developing Intercultural Dimension in Language TeachingIn this 42-page guide, available free from the Council of Europe authors Michael Byram, Bella Gribkova and Hugh Starkey offer practical insights for classroom language teachers. The topics covered in this resource include answers to questions such as:

  • What is the intercultural dimension of language teaching?
  • What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values are involved in intercultural competence?
  • Do I need to be a native speaker?
  • How can I promote the intercultural dimension if I have to follow a set curriculum and teach grammar?
  • How do I deal with learners’ stereotypes and prejudices?
  • How do I overcome my own stereotypes and misconceptions?
  • How do I assess intercultural competence?

This is a brilliant piece of work that includes extracts from the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and an extensive bibliography.

Get yours here:


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News: Video games teach kids ‘new literacy’: Do you buy it?

August 11, 2011

Dakshana Bascaramurty reported in a recent Globe and Mail article, “Video games teach kids ‘new literacy’: Do you buy it?” that children basically need to play video games in order to learn ‘new literacy’:

A new article on PBS’s Mediashift web portal presents a different argument: our definition of literacy is outdated. Kids may be learning a “new literacy” through playing video games.

Bascaramurty goes on to cite studies that support the notion that the exploration and problem-solving qualities of video games make them excellent learning tools.

I agree – to an extent. Here’s the comment I left on the Globe and Mail blog in response to the article:

I’m a big fan of educational technology and using games for educational purposes. In her TED talk, Jane McGonigal makes a strong case for using video games for learning and I think she’s on to something. In our house, games like Assassin’s Creed and Halo are among the favorites. So, basically, I’m a techo-geek-educator.

Having said that, research also shows that what is missing, at times, is the link between using technology for entertainment and using it for education. Authors Oxford and Oxford in their 2009 book on “learning in the net generation” caution that students’ comfort levels with technology do not always transfer successfully to pedagogical settings. Hourigan and Murray in their 2010 study published in the Australian Journal of Educational Technology, (vol. 26, issue 2, pp. 209–225) state that even digital natives require instruction on how to use technology for educational purposes. They note that self-regulated learning and personal accountability are key themes for today’s students in helping them make the link between using technology as entertainment and using it for learning.

Our job, as parents, educators and even just grown-up gamers, is to help the next generation make the link between the virtual world and real one, showing them HOW to transfer their skills, knowledge and problem-solving abilities to every day life.

Here are the articles I cited in my comment on the article:

Oxford, R., & Oxford, J. (Eds.). (2009). Second language teaching and learning in the net generation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii.

Hourigan, T., & Murray, L. (2010). Using blogs to help language students to develop reflective learning strategies: Towards a pedagogical framework. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(2), 209–225. Retrieved from

What do you think? Is there such a thing as “video game literacy” and if so, is it important for today’s children to be literate in these games?

Stroke robs man of multilingual abilities

August 10, 2011

Here’s an interesting (and heart wrenching) article about a multilingual Edmonton man who lost all of his languages after a stroke. In the Globe and Mail article, Abdul Kamal reports that, “In the aftermath of the stroke, I lost all the languages I knew – English, French, German, Urdu and Bengali. I could neither read and write nor speak and comprehend.”

Kamal is a retired professor of physics at the University of Alberta who enjoyed physics, writing, travelling, sports, theatre before his stroke, but has been unable to take part in his favorite activities.

Determined to get his speech back, he reports, “Undaunted, I rounded up my own children’s books along with picture and alphabet cards and launched an uphill battle against my formidable foe – aphasia. David drove me to the Glenrose Hospital twice a week to learn English under the tutelage of a speech pathologist.” That was ten years ago, he states. From there, he progressed from working with a speech pathologist to group language learning sessions for aphasics (people who have lost their speech due to a stroke), and working with graduate students at the University of Alberta who were working with aphasics as part of their research and academic training.

Now, at age 75, Kamal offers a message of hope to others who have lost their speech due to a stroke:

After I had the stroke, a speech pathologist told me that I would show improvements in all my mental faculties over the following year and a half. However, at 75, I’m still learning. My speech, comprehension of spoken language and syntax are still improving, albeit slowly. The message is that if you challenge the brain, it will respond. Although at a certain age our memory bank starts to deplete, I’m sanguine about the future.

Kamal’s story reminds us to value the abilities we have to speak one, two or more languages. And when self-doubt or feelings of inadequacies fill us that we are not doing enough, not good enough or not as fluent or as perfect as we would like to be, we are reminded to celebrate the abilities that we have today and commit to the lifelong process of learning, no matter where we may fall on the continuum of proficiency.

Thank you, professor Kamal, for the inspiration.

Read the whole article.


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10 Steps to Raising a Multilingual Child

August 9, 2011

The Multilingual Children’s Association has a great list of 10 steps to raising a multilingual child:

  1. Agree on multilingualism
  2. Know what to expect and when
  3. How many languages — what is practical?
  4. Decide which language system works for you
  5. Don’t wait — now is the perfect time!
  6. Declare your intentions
  7. Establish a support network
  8. Get relevant materials
  9. Set your goals, but remain flexible
  10. Have patience and keep going

I loved what they have to say. Check out the full article here: 10 Steps to Raising a Multilingual Child


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