TESOL Connections

Free TESOL Journal Article: "Integrating Creativity Into an English as a Foreign Language Reading Classroom"

by Cheryl Wei-yu Chen

In this article, the author describes how creativity is integrated into an EFL reading classroom for a class of adolescent readers in Taiwan using dramatic reading, watching relevant videos, poster sessions, and writing possible plots for the sequel. Student works were included to showcase students’ creativity and how the units were closely connected to language learning. 

This article first appeared in TESOL Journal, Volume 9, Number 4. Subscribers can access issues here. Only TESOL members may subscribe. To become a member of TESOL, please click here, and to purchase articles, please visit Wiley-Blackwell. © TESOL International Association.

This article describes how creativity is integrated into an English as a foreign language (EFL) reading classroom for a class of adolescent readers in Taiwan. The chosen focal material was a book called Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber, and the four language learning units in which creativity was infused were (1) dramatic reading; (2) watching relevant videos; (3) poster sessions; and (4) writing possible plots for the sequel. Student works were included to showcase students’ creativity and how the units were closely connected to language learning. It is hoped that more language teachers will integrate creative elements into their teaching to transform their teaching and classrooms.


Creativity has manifested itself in many different ways in language classrooms (Maley & Peachey, 2015). In reading classrooms, creative language production can take many forms, including, but not limited to, role plays, poster sessions, and reading group discussions (Ferrer & Staley, 2016), and the creative process builds on the pillars of keeping an open mind to observe, explore, and generate outputs together. In this article, I will describe the design of my reading class for a group of adolescents learning English as a foreign language (EFL) in Taiwan.

The reading course was designed for a group of 50 students in Year 1 of the Junior College Division, which is equivalent to the first year of high school with students freshly graduating from junior high schools (the average student age is 14 years old). The chosen focal teaching material was a book called Our Iceberg Is Melting written by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber (2006). It is a fable about a group of penguins in Antarctica trying to adapt to the situation of a melting iceberg. It is also a charming story rich in figurative language as the penguins speak and act like humans. In this course, the book was read not just for surface meaning and reading comprehension; it served as the catalyst for many creative language tasks in four units as described below.


To prepare students to express themselves with their voices by reading aloud, the book was divided into seven parts. Each student group (between seven and eight students) was responsible for recording a part and to play their audio file to the class. Exemplary dramatic readings (such as Ollie Heath's reading of the classic English picture book Gruffalo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThZqDoJi5S0) were played in the class. After each group played its audio file to the class, I implemented three mini‐lessons to address common pronunciation problems—namely, the pronunciation of past tense English verbs, syllable segmentation, and sentence intonation. (I reinforced the pronunciation rules continuously throughout the semester.) I designed a follow‐up dramatic reading activity where every group of students had to read and record the same passage taken from Our Iceberg Is Melting. The instructor commented on the reading fluency and accuracy of the end products in class and continued to encourage students to practice reading aloud.

Download the full article and references for free (PDF)

This article first appeared in TESOL Journal, Volume 9, Number 4. For permission to use text from this article, please go to Wiley-Blackwell.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.384

From the Executive Director: What the TESOL Convention Means to Me

by Christopher Powers

The TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo is the place where "the world comes together"; here, TESOL International Association Executive Director Chris Powers considers the meaning of the Convention on a personal and professional level. 

What does the TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo mean to me? As we like to say, it is the place where “the world comes together” and it is “THE meeting for ELT professionals.”

But what does it mean on a personal level? I took a look at what our TESOL 2019 Ambassadors had to say. “The TESOL Convention,” according to Glen Ryan Alejandro, an English language teacher from San Francisco, California, USA, “is a forum that provides attendees with an opportunity to voice their own views and also to listen to others’ perspectives or to initiate actions on issues that matter the most to them.”

“The TESOL Convention is a great opportunity for encouraging professional development, increasing tech savviness, and, at the same time, creating special bonds among English language teaching professionals,” says Erika Mejia, an academic coordinator from Campeche, Mexico. “It provides everyone with the opportunity to exchange ideas, techniques, experiences, and tips.”

And according to Suzanne Rajkumar, teacher, researcher, administrator, and founder of Corporate Bilingual Consultancy in Cortes, Honduras, “TESOL Conventions help you think outside of the box and, in this case, outside of the classroom. They engage and empower you to explore more options in your professional teaching career than simply being in a class.”

I love these messages. They show how the personal and professional blend together to create unique experiences and opportunities for each attendee. This is what the TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo means to me. It is a community; a home; and a place to recharge and renew, strengthen and uplift us, and inspire and challenge us. It is a place where we meet old colleagues and new friends.

As most of you know, last year was my first TESOL Convention. I proudly joined 1,890 other first-timers and immersed myself in the experience. To me, the Convention was everything that our ambassadors said and more. It was my first TESOL Convention, but I felt like I had been coming here my whole life. I felt at home.

Meeting members, colleagues, and partners, it was a place where we explored new ideas and embarked on new ventures. Meeting with our Board of Directors and member leaders, it was a place where our work over the past year came together and culminated. It left me exhausted and energized all at the same time. And I can’t wait to feel that way again.

I hope that you have all registered for Atlanta (it’s not too late!), and I invite you to find me, say hi, and let me know what you think the association can do to better serve you and all of our members worldwide. It is going to be an incredible convention. We are expecting more than 6,000 attendees and more than 100 exhibitors. The Convention features keynote addresses; academic sessions; Preconvention Institutes; a day focused on K–12 education; special sessions on The 6 Principles; and special activities for new members, first-time attendees, students, and emerging professionals. Given these expansive offerings, there is literally a place for everyone at TESOL.

Finally, if you asked me to wrap up what the TESOL Convention means to me in one sentence, I would say that it is the one place, at the one time of the year, where all of our work comes together. Referring to our Strategic Plan, with participants from more than 100 countries, it is the purest example of our Global Presence and Connectivity; with more than 900 academic sessions, it is a microcosm of TESOL’s Knowledge and Expertise; and with more than 6,000 TESOL educators under one roof, it is the starkest example of the power of our Voice and Advocacy strength.

I would love to hear what the TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo means to you. And I can’t want to see you in Atlanta!

Christopher Powers
TESOL Executive Director
Email: cpowers@tesol.org
Twitter: @TESOL_Powers


21 Online Pronunciation Resources for Teaching and Learning

by Lynn Henrichsen
Not all pronunciation resoures are created equal; they address a wide range of skills and vary in quality. This list will help you select the resources that will work best for you and your students. 

A growing number of English language learners are turning to online resources to improve their pronunciation, and a large number of websites and mobile applications have been developed for this purpose. Nevertheless, not all of these resources are created equal. They address a wide range of pronunciation skills, they take a variety of instructional approaches, and their quality varies considerably.

Pronunciation Resources: An Expansive Variety

Computer-assisted pronunciation teaching (CAPT) websites and apps for ESL learners (and teachers) differ in a number of ways. Some provide articulatory explanations but offer few, if any, practice activities. Some seem designed to be used with a teacher or textbook; they provide practice but do not explain underlying pronunciation principles or rules. Some are offered free of charge, some require payment, and others charge users a membership or subscription fee. Some focus only on vowels and/or consonants, others on suprasegmentals like stress and intonation, and a few provide instruction and practice with both segmentals and suprasegmentals. Some employ helpful graphics, others offer only text, and a few provide video. Some pronunciation websites and apps allow for a more flexible, individualized approach; others expect every user to follow the same learning path. In sum, the variety in purposes, instructional approaches, quality, and cost of these apps and websites is great. As potential users try to find the right one for their needs, some may even find this variety daunting!

Selecting Resources Carefully

Rather than adopting CAPT programs based simply on whatever is readily available, English language teaching professionals need to be analytical and particular. As Navarro (1999, as cited in Martins, Levis, & Borges, 2016) explained, “There is an unquestionable need to analyze these programs from a critical perspective using pedagogically coherent and technically elaborated criteria” (p. 142). In this spirit and to help the students in my graduate-level Teaching Listening, Speaking, and Pronunciation course learn to make informed decisions about which websites and mobile apps might best meet their future instructional needs, I had them each select and then review a mobile app or website designed to help English language learners improve their pronunciation.

I provided my students with a list of criteria to use in their reviews and a template to follow. Impressed by the quality and the value of many of these reviews, I decided to compile and then share them with a wider audience. Together, we created a collection of brief (300- to 900-word) reviews of 21 websites and apps for helping English language learners improve their pronunciation. In 2017 and 2018, I presented this collection at various conferences (Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching, Intermountain-TESOL, and the TESOL International Convention), where people expressed considerable interest in the reviews. They asked how they could get copies and read them. Therefore, my coauthors and I prepared a manuscript containing these reviews, which was recently published in the TESL Reporter (Henrichsen et al., 2018). 

Pronunciation Resources: The List

I’ve listed and briefly described 10 of the 21 resources reviewed in the TESL Reporter article (Henrichsen et al., 2018) below, in no particular order. View the article for a full review of all 21 resources, each of which gives information on the software’s sponsor/author, type, source, cost, instructional type, intended audience, objectives, major features, pros, and cons. Each review ends with a “verdict” (general conclusion) regarding the app or website’s overall value.

Here, following the title and hyperlink to each of the 10 resources, I include a brief explanation of the resource “from the source” (the resource’s website) and an excerpt of the reviewer’s verdict. Later, the other 11 resources are listed with links.

1. American English Pronunciation Card and American English Pronunciation Tutor (website and mobile app)
Cost: Free for basic app
From the Source: “The American English Pronunciation Card provides a compact, inexpensive overview of American English pronunciation.”
Reviewer Verdict: “Although the free app is limited, the content is clear and concise. It is a much-needed resource for pronunciation practice, especially for students at the higher levels who can practice more on their own…I strongly recommend these resources for teachers who would like to incorporate pronunciation more into their instruction.”

2. Rachel’s English (website)
Cost: Free; additional “English Academy” subscription for US$14 per month
From the Source: “Rachel’s English provides over 500 free videos…to help non-native speakers improve their spoken English and listening comprehension.  Videos focus on a variety of topics from the correct mouth position of sounds to words that reduce and real English conversation study.”
Reviewer Verdict: Rachel’s English has a great deal to offer and gives a very thorough treatment of many different aspects of pronunciation. It provides very specific, helpful pronunciation instruction and practice for those who have achieved at least a low-intermediate level of proficiency.…Despite some organizational flaws, the site is an excellent resource with a wealth of information overall.”

3. Pronunciation Doctor (YouTube channel)
Cost: Free
From the Source: “I’m here to give you a prescription for speaking more clearly. I’m going to give you expert guidance and extensive practice in refining your oral production and listening skills.”
Reviewer Verdict:Pronunciation Doctor is a 'treasure trove' of ideas, activities, and information for instructors seeking to improve their ability to teach English pronunciation (and other language skills). It is also a resource not to be overlooked by ESL learners who wish to improve their intelligibility or reduce their foreign accent in English.”

4. BBC Learning English (website and mobile app)
Cost: Free
From the Source: “BBC Learning English has been teaching English to global audiences since 1943, offering free audio, video and text materials to learners around the world.”
Reviewer Verdict: “This resource is valuable as a supplement or review for advanced students seeking to achieve more comprehensible and native-like pronunciation.”

5. English Accent Coach (website and mobile app)
Cost: Free; additional games are US$1.39 each
From the Source: “The interactive online game that improves your English pronunciation.”
Reviewer Verdict: “User friendly software that makes pronunciation learning enjoyable and rewarding is definitely welcome…It’s fortunate that the phonological scope of these programs is restricted to vowels (and consonants) only.”

6. Sounds of Speech (website and mobile app)
Cost: Free for the website, US$3.99 for the mobile app
From the Source: “Sounds of Speech provides a comprehensive understanding of how each of the speech sounds of American English is formed. It includes animations, videos, and audio samples that describe the essential features of each of the consonants and vowels of American English.”
Reviewer Verdict: “All in all, the program is a very useful tool….While there is still some room for upgrades and development, even in its present incarnation Sounds of Speech is a solid professional instrument that can be called ‘a must’ for ESL teachers’ and students’ toolbox.”

7. English Central (website and mobile app)
Cost: US$15–US$130 per month
From the Source: “Learn English with the world’s best videos.”
Reviewer Verdict: “If learners are looking for a professional and fun site for general English learning, English Central is a solid paid option. The videos and activities are motivating, and learners’ progress can be seen and tracked. The opportunity to interact with live tutors also gives learners conversation practice…”

8. Pronunciator (website and mobile app)
Cost: Free
From the Source: “Pronunciator offers the largest ESL curriculum on the planet (50k+ instructional phrases), with courses taught in 59 non-English languages.”
Reviewer Verdict: “Overall, this software may be a great companion to learners’ language studies, both on their own as well as in a language course….As an instructor tool, Pronunciator will most likely be best used as a pronunciation practice supplement to class.”

9. Juna: Your American Accent Coach (mobile app)
Cost: free (limited), US$4.99 for complete program
From the Source: “This App is a visual representation of what happens inside your mouth when you speak American English. You can learn the specific American sounds by seeing inside the mouth of our animated character, Mimo.”
Reviewer Verdict:Juna is well worth the low $4.99 purchase cost. It is quick and easy to use, can be pulled out in a classroom for quick review, and may even be given as homework.”

10. Pronunciation for Teachers (website)
Cost: Free
From the Source: “‘Pronunciation for Teachers’ is meant to provide professional help and resources for those interested in teaching pronunciation in all educational contexts. We started this site to provide teachers and researchers a place to find out what others are doing in this quickly growing area of language study.”
Reviewer Verdict: “Pronunciationforteachers.com shows great promise. With the passage of time and the addition of more resources, it will become increasingly valuable to teachers (and researchers) looking for information on the teaching of [second language] pronunciation.”

Here are the 11 other pronunciation resources (in alphabetical order) reviewed in the TESL Reporter article:

  1. AmEnglish Pronunciation in English (cloud-based software; subscription costs beginning at US$29.95)
  2. Mango Languages (subscription database and mobile app; free at participating libraries, US$20 per month for personal subscriptions)
  3. One Stop English (website; US$68/year membership, free 30-day trial)
  4. Perception of Spoken English (POSE) Test (website; free for students, cost variable for teachers, free 30-day trial)
  5. Pronuncian: American English Pronunciation (website; free and paid membership options)
  6. Pronunciation Matters (website; cost variable)
  7. Reading Horizons English Sounds and Letters (software; cost variable for individual or classroom subscriptions) or (mobile app; $0.99)
  8. Ship or Sheep (website; free)
  9. Train Your Accent (website; free)

Note that—despite the pronunciation-teaching/learning theme that all these websites and apps share—there is great variety in their objectives, procedures, quality, costs, and so on. Of course, that variety is good. For the wide range of learning purposes and learners that exist, no single instructional tool can be universally superior. Instead, teachers and learners must choose the most appropriate website, app, or other tool for a particular instructional purpose or situation. Doing that is largely a matter of finding the right “fit” with learner’s needs, goals, level, learning style, and situation (Byrd & Schuemann, 2014, p. 383).

Given the intimidating array of websites and mobile apps dealing with a wide variety of aspects of English pronunciation, this collection of reviews is intended to help English pronunciation teachers find the software that best fits their (or their students’) particular teaching/learning circumstances, purpose, style, and budget.


Byrd, P., & Schuemann, C. (2014). English as a second/foreign language textbooks: How to choose them—How to use them. In M. Celce-Murcia, D. M. Brinton, & M. A. Snow (Eds.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (4th ed., pp. 380–393), Boston, MA: National Geographic Learning.

Henrichsen, L., Devenport Blanco, K., Carreño, S., Carter, S., Decker, L., Fry, L.…Zhao, K. (2018). Online resources for learners and teachers of English language pronunciation. TESL Reporter, 51(1), 23–89.

Martins, C. G. de F. M., Levis, J. M., & Borges, V. M. C. (2016). The design of an instrument to evaluate software for EFL/ESL pronunciation teaching. Ilha do Desterro, 69(1), 141–160.

Download this article (PDF)

Lynn Henrichsen is a professor of TESOL in the Linguistics Department at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, USA. He teaches courses in TESOL instructional methods, research methods, materials development, and the teaching of English listening, speaking, and pronunciation.

Facilitating Transformative Intercultural Learning

by Roxanna M. Senyshyn
Partnerships that pair preservice teachers with international students allow for extraordinary intercultural learning and growth for everyone. Prepare your ELs for intercultural learning with this activity. 

At the 2018 TESOL Convention in Chicago, Illinois, USA, I presented a session on how to prepare for intercultural learning partnerships. The session attracted more than 75 participants, a testimony to the interest in the topic in both language education as well as the teacher preparation field. In this article, I build on that presentation and briefly share my experience implementing intercultural learning partnerships between advanced English learners (nonnative-speaking international students) and preservice teachers (native speakers of English). I justify why such active out-of-class experiential learning is beneficial in teacher education and share an activity/intervention that can serve as a way to engage in discussions about intercultural (with focus on interaction and communication) and cross-cultural (focus on comparing and contrasting) experiences and learning.

Partnerships With International Students to Support Intercultural Learning in Teacher Education
Early in my career as the English as a second language (ESL) specialist, I taught first-year college composition courses designed for a recent immigrant population. My intent was to provide meaningful opportunities for my students to engage in writing reflective journals about their college experience. I soon discovered from the journals that students were lacking a sense of belonging on a commuter college campus and that they had powerful stories to share about themselves and their culture-crossing journeys. Collaboration with a colleague, who taught an upper level intercultural communication course, provided a meaningful opportunity to pair my second language (L2) composition students with her mostly senior business majors (and native-language [L1] speakers) for an out-of-class intercultural learning and transformation (see Senyshyn & Chamberlin Quinlisk, 2009).

As my career shifted toward teaching TESOL courses for preservice and in-service teachers, I still kept teaching a course or two for college English learners; presently, I teach concurrently a course for first-semester international students on intercultural communication and a course for undergraduate preservice teachers that centers on introduction to teaching English learners. This teaching match is intentional, and working with two groups of students who can benefit from each other has allowed me to bring the two cohorts together in intercultural learning partnerships.

I first implemented such an interclass partnership experience for international students and undergraduate preservice teachers in 2012 (see “Abington International Conversation Partners Make World of Difference”). The partnership project is based on one-on-one regular meetings over the period of several weeks where both partners involved are equally active participants in learning about each other and one another’s cultures and languages. This in turn provided an opportunity to research the impact of this transformative experience on both cohorts of students (see Senyshyn, 2018; Senyshyn, in press). Despite some resistance or hesitation and discomfort that L1 teacher candidates often experience initially and some logistical issues, such as finding a commonly suitable time to meet on a commuter campus, the intercultural learning experience proved to be beneficial for both cohorts.

Transformative Intercultural Learning

Transformative intercultural learning is a journey, and I strive to provide opportunities for my preservice teachers to experience transformative learning moments both in and outside of the classroom. There are many reasons why such learning is important in teacher education, especially when one of today’s major goals is to prepare professionals who are capable of teaching and learning in linguistically and culturally diverse spaces and advocate for equity and inclusion for diverse students, including English learners.

Raising Awareness

Demographically, the K–12 student population has been increasing significantly, while the cadre of teachers has largely remained stable over the years. Moreover, both social justice and critical teacher education require that prospective teachers engage in self-reflection and build awareness of their own identities (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, language), develop curricular and pedagogical practices that recognize and draw on their students’ linguistic and cultural diversity, and engage effectively with students (and their families) who are different from themselves. Finally, becoming a more globally aware professional, as stated in TESOL’s 2018 Action Agenda for the Future of the TESOL Profession (Priority Five), is equally important.

Recognizing Biases

In addition to the aforementioned reasons, a major motivation for designing and implementing an intercultural learning partnership project for preservice teachers was to address unconscious biases and perceptions of differences both culturally and linguistically, such as attitudes of L1 speakers toward L2 speakers. Studies have shown that before teachers even have a conversation with a student, they have already formed their opinion about that student (Dee & Gershenson, 2017). In my experience in the classroom with preservice teachers, when it comes to language, L1 speakers sometimes have negative attitudes toward L2 speakers. For example, when asked to describe a typical (stereotypical) native and nonnative speaker of English, students generally provide more negative descriptors for nonnative speakers.

Studies also show that language awareness and language attitudes influence L1 speakers’ ability to understand L2 speakers (Grey & van Hell, 2017), that accents shape our perception of a person (Rakic, Steffens, & Mummendey, 2010), and that L2 speakers benefit from interaction with L1 speakers who have more positive attitudes toward L2 speakers (Lippi-Green, 2012).

Engaging and Collaborating

Raising awareness about accents and language in the classroom with my teacher candidates is important, but engaging in conversations with L2 international students over a sustained period of time allows them to raise their language awareness and learn how to adjust their own communication style and negotiate meaning with L2 speakers. In addition, providing structured contact spaces—as supported by Allport’s (1954) contact theory, which suggests that negative attitudes can be reduced through intergroup contact—allows L1 and L2 speakers to interact and work collaboratively toward common goals, which has a positive effect on both counterparts (see Kang, Rubin, & Lindemann, 2014).

Planning Interventions

Meeting these goals when preparing a rather homogeneous group (predominantly White females, monolingual native speakers with little cross-cultural experience) of undergraduate students in an elementary education program for linguistic and cultural diversity can be a challenging task, especially if that is done within one course. Some interventions to raise awareness can be completed in 20 minutes, and others require more time. I strive for both: small active learning opportunities in class and more long-term intercultural learning outside of the classroom, all involving debriefing and written refection.

Preparing for Intercultural Learning in Partnerships: An Exercise

I initially designed the following activity to help students who were planning to travel abroad experience culture shock without leaving the classroom. I have since adapted the activity for my teacher education courses and have used it as a starting point or a midproject activity to facilitate student learning in their intercultural partnerships, and it can be adapted for other audiences as well. The activity is called The Numbers Exercise (Appendix).

The idea for the activity also came because many people think that math is a universal language and that it is easy to do math in another language without delving deeper into it and its symbolic representation.

Purpose of the Activity

The main purpose of this activity is to help teacher candidates understand, empathize, and experience perspective-taking. Perspective-taking techniques, according to the research, are a way to address attitudes and reduce biases in L1 and L2 communication (Subtirelu & Lindemann, 2014). Specifically, The Numbers Exercise is intended to spark discussion regarding several different aspects of intercultural communication, including working with international students and language learners, recognizing and being aware of linguistic and cultural differences, and experiencing what it might be like to try functioning in a new social context. The unique feature of the exercise is that the symbols with which students are familiar do not carry the same meaning any longer, and they have to adapt to something new and work on completing the activity under time pressure, as explained in the activity directions.

Completing the Activity

Time: 15–20 minutes
Materials: Copies of the activity distributed to students face down

Once all students receive a copy of the activity, direct them to turn the page and begin working on the activity. Do not remind them to read directions, and there is no need to time the activity, unless you will ask them to do it again to check how practice leads to better outcomes. Walk around and observe how students complete the activity and how they react to what they are experiencing. After two or three students complete the task and raise their hands, tell the rest of the group to stop. At that point, invite all participants to reflect on what happened and on their experience in the actual doing of the activity.

There are always a few participants who do not read the directions and proceed to complete the exercise only to realize, often by observing the reaction of their classmates (e.g., amusement, disbelief), that they have committed mistakes because they assumed similarity and did not familiarize themselves with the new rules for doing the activity. This, too, raises some important discussions about individual differences and assumptions.

Reflection is the key step. The activity is only as good as the processing that takes place afterward.

Debriefing the Activity

Display debriefing questions for students to reflect on individually and then share with a partner or in a small group:

  1. How did you feel when completing the exercise? Why did you feel this way?
  2. What strategies did you use to complete the activity?
  3. Why did we do this exercise? What does it relate to?
  4. What did you learn by engaging in this activity?
  5. If you had to repeat the exercise again, would the results be better? Why?

At this point, it is important to engage all participants (e.g, utilize think-pair-share) and allow time for learners to reflect on and share their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. I also suggest that a good strategy to capture reflections is asking participants to write their responses to the debriefing questions before they share with the group.

Concluding Thoughts

Over the years I learned that students benefit the most from activities that take them out of their comfort zone and expose them to different ways of making and negotiating meaning. Though they are time intensive, intercultural learning partnership projects fulfill this purpose well. To help students make critical connections to the course topics, the theoretical ideas, and practical pedagogical strategies, these projects require effective planning of outside-of-the-classroom practical experiences and facilitation of in-class discussions about the intercultural learning. As one student noted, for example,

We learned in class how most of the world is bilingual and many countries teach English along with their native language. So why isn’t it required for American students to learn a certain language early (besides foreign language that we usually can’t speak fluently in middle and high school)? Is it ethnocentrism? We think our culture is better and we don’t need to learn the language of others? Certainly, all of the international students are bilinguals and I respect them for speaking such good English to the point that they can learn college level curriculum.

I consider such partnerships an alternative to study abroad with many advantages: It takes advantage of local resources (international students), allows education students to engage in transformative intercultural learning, and supports integration of international students into the new linguistic and cultural academic community.


Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

Dee, T., & Gershenson, S. (2017). Unconscious bias in the classroom: Evidence and opportunities. Mountain View, CA: Google Inc. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/O6Btqi

Grey, S., & van Hell, J. G. (2017). Foreign-accented speaker identity affects neural correlates of language comprehension. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 42(93), 93–108. doi:10.1016/j.neuroling.2016.12.001

Kang, O., Rubin, D., & Lindemann, S. (2014). Mitigating U.S. undergraduates’ attitudes toward international teaching assistants. TESOL Quarterly, 49, 681–706.

Lippi-Green, R. (2012). English with an accent: Language, ideology and discrimination in the United States. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rakic, T., Steffens, M. C., & Mummendey, A. (2010). Blinded by the accent: The minor role of looks in ethics categorization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(1), 16–29. doi:10.1037/a0021522

Senyshyn, R. M. (2018). Teaching for transformation: Converting the intercultural experience of preservice teachers into intercultural learning. Intercultural Education, 29(6), 163–184. doi:10.1080/14675986.2018.1429791

Senyshyn, R. M. (in press). A first-year seminar course that supports the transition of international students to higher education and fosters the development of intercultural communication competence. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research.

Senyshyn, R. M., & Chamberlin-Quinlisk, C.R. (2009). Assessing effective partnerships in intercultural education: Transformative learning as a tool for evaluation. Communication Teacher, 23(4), 167–178.

Subtirelu, N. C., & Lindemann, S. (2014). Teaching first language speakers to communicate across linguistic difference: Addressing attitudes, comprehension, and strategies. Applied Linguistics, 37(6), 765–783. doi:10.1093/applin/amu068

TESOL International Association. (2018). Action agenda for the future of the TESOL profession. Alexandria, VA: Author. 

Download this article (PDF) 


Roxanna Senyshyn is assistant professor of applied linguistics and communication arts and sciences at Pennsylvania State University, Abington College, where she teaches TESOL education and intercultural communication courses. Her research interests include intercultural transformative learning in teacher education, intercultural competence development for  academic and professional purposes, adjustment and acculturation, and second language writing pedagogy and assessment.

3 Tips to Avoid Cultural Misunderstandings With Adult ELs

by Diana Cooper
Sometimes, our lessons or words are based on cultural assumptions, and we convey unintended meanings to our English learners. This article considers three such assumptions. 

English language learners and teachers come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. As teachers, we try to present topics in the classroom in ways that are understandable across cultures, but we may unintentionally convey our cultural assumptions in our words, gestures, and expectations. When this happens, our lessons may be misinterpreted by students who rely on the meaning of a gesture or abbreviation they learned in their home country. This article is written based on my experience teaching English in the United States as a North American and offers tips on how to reduce cultural miscommunication in the classroom. Let's consider some examples of three potential pitfalls in English language teaching and how to avoid them.

1. Nonverbal Communication

Have you ever used a peace sign with an Aussie or thumbs up sign with an Italian and received a mortified look in response? Although this experience may have left you perplexed, the explanation is in the different meaning of nonverbal hand signals across cultures. These innocent and positive hand symbols used in the United States may be associated with vulgar meanings for immigrant students.

We cannot learn the meaning of every gesture and action that is potentially offensive to our culturally diverse students, but we can start with an awareness of hand gestures, head movements, and expressions we use daily in the United States and understand that these may mean different things to different people. Also, observe the nonverbal communication used by your students. People who have just moved from India will tilt their head gently from side to side instead of nodding up and down as is done to express agreement in the United States. Students from Muslim regions may choose not to shake hands with people of the opposite sex, but some Islam students don’t subscribe to this custom. Crossing your legs, especially when the sole of your shoe becomes visible to others, is disrespectful in many Asian countries. Eye contact is a sign of honesty in the United States but seen as disrespectful to those in authority by many students from China.

Being aware of the potential for miscommunication is the key to opening the conversation with students on this subject. I often learn from my students. If you know you are in the habit of using nonverbal cues while teaching, you may present your concerns in class. Ask them to tell you if you use signals or movements that carry meaning in another culture. Also, Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than 60 Countries, by Terri Morrison and Wayne Conaway, presents many examples of the interpretation of a wide range of hand gestures and customs. This is a good reference to prepare teachers in ESOL classrooms for a wide range of nonverbal actions that may cause miscommunication and to open the discussion with students whose cultures are represented in the book.

2. Acronyms

Another way to confuse students is use of acronyms: abbreviations from the initial letters of other words, such as NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NBA (National Basketball Association).

In the United States, we use abbreviations daily—in the workplace and socially, in talking about sports, food, and a variety of subjects. One problem with acronyms for English learners is that the pronunciation of some letters sounds so similar to other English letters that the acronyms are misunderstood. The student hears “MBA” when someone says “NBA”; the meaning received is not “National Basketball Association” but “Master’s in business administration.” Additionally, meanings of acronyms could be different for students from various cultures. When North Americans hear the acronym “NASA,” we think of the U.S. space program. If you are from Central America or Mexico, you may confuse NASA with a familiar term, masa, a type of flour used in daily cooking in many Hispanic kitchens. Then, there are expressions that use the same acronym, such as “STD,” which have multiple meanings depending on context: “sexually transmitted disease” and, in another context, “save the date.”

It is helpful to present acronyms related to class topics and explain them to students—and reveal the potential double meanings. Also, ask students to bring examples of acronyms to class to share their confusion or discoveries.

3. Expectations

The third pitfall is in expecting students to know culturally acceptable behaviors in class. One role of English language instructors is to guide students in learning standard classroom practices. For example, in the United States, I encourage students to participate in class, make eye contact with me, and speak up with questions, as all of these behaviors are common practice in North America. However, these behaviors may make students uncomfortable and be considered disrespectful in the native cultures of many students learning English. There may be students, too, who seem quite forthright and even challenging in interactions with their teacher and other students. As instructors, we might take offense to these cultural differences. It is important for teachers to introduce students to common practices and guide students in learning class behaviors that may be new to them.

Here are a few ways to ensure everyone is aware of what cultural practices you would like to see in the classroom:

  • Present  and discuss guidelines of culturally acceptable classroom behavior, opening up a dialogue about behaviors in your classroom and in your students’ home cultures.
  • List those behaviors in a visible place so students can refer to them when they need to.
  • Use role-plays to demonstrate the behaviors.

Doing these things will lead to a productive and comfortable learning environment, adding to students’ life skills in their new home.

Mindfulness of cultural differences and our students’ perceptions will improve adult students’ understanding of English and daily life experiences. Intercultural awareness opens the door for instructors and students to learn from each other and laugh over the meaning of actions and terms we, as teachers, may take for granted.

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Diana C. Cooper, PhD, is a business instructor at Columbia College, Sonora, California, USA. She has taught English language learning in a nonprofit center in Minneapolis and was senior lecturer in work and organizations for 10 years at The University of Minnesota. Her research area is in expatriate experiences with mentors in cultural adaptation on international assignments.