October 2014
As We Speak... /aez wiy spiyk/

Leadership Updates


Dear SPLIS colleagues,

I am delighted to have this opportunity to chair the SPLIS Interest Section for 2014–2015. I feel so fortunate to be a part of an Interest Section that remains strong and continues to grow in membership and in conference presentations and attendees. I’d like to start by welcoming all our new members and thanking all the teachers and researchers that submitted or reviewed proposals for the upcoming annual convention in Toronto, Canada. I hope to see you all at the convention next March. Don’t miss such a great opportunity to meet other experts in our field and network!

I have some exciting news to share. Amanda Huensch and I have been working closely to bring to you three interesting InterSection sessions at the Toronto convention. On the one hand, we have organized one session with the International Teaching Assistants (ITA) IS called “Pedagogical Priorities for Improving Pronunciation, Listening, and Speaking Skills.” On the other hand, together with ITA IS, we will be cosponsoring one session organized by English as a Foreign Language IS called “International Civil Aviation Organization Language Proficiency Standards: Air Transportation Safety Issues” and another organized by Video and Digital Media IS called “Incorporating Digital Media to Enhance Speaking Skills.” Finally, our featured SPLIS Academic Session will be “Achieving, Assessing, and Teaching Oral Fluency.” I hope you find these panel discussions enlightening and invigorating for your research and teaching practices. We will soon hear about the research and practice-oriented presentations as well as the posters, workshops, and roundtables allotted to SPLIS for the annual convention when TESOL’s preconvention program comes out later this year. Stay tuned for more to come.

I hope you enjoy this issue of the newsletter and find great tips and ideas to incorporate into your practice. Please consider sharing your ideas and work with our membership through our SPLIS newsletter and e-list. One of the greatest strengths of our Interest Session is our passion to share and make our research more visible. I’d like to invite you to join us in our efforts and to become more involved with our IS through submissions and reviews for the annual convention and the newsletter, and with our web community available through the TESOL website. Also, please consider bringing your friends and volunteering to serve with us. If you would like to be considered for a position in SPLIS, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Finally, I want to thank all our members for their support and to everyone in our steering committee group for their invaluable help:

Chair-Elect: Amanda R. Huensch
Past Chair:
Tamara Jones
Newsletter Editors:
Lauren J. Lovvorn and Demetria Li
Member at Large
: Cindy Lennox
Community Manager:
Robert Elliot
: Char Heitman
: Judy Gilbert

Veronica Sardegna

Veronica Sardegna is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Instruction and Learning in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of pronunciation instruction and on using learning strategies and instructional technology tools for autonomous English language learning and teaching.


Dear SPLISers,

Greetings from sunny Florida!

I hope those of you who were able to attend this year’s convention came away reinvigorated by the sessions you attended and connections you made. If you were unable to attend this year’s convention, I know our newsletter editors have lined up some articles in this newsletter from our fantastic presenters.

I was honored to be nominated as SPLIS chair-elect for this year. I am excited about the Academic Session we are organizing for the 2015 convention in Toronto related to oral language fluency. It is also a wonderful experience working with the SPLIS leadership board. I would like to encourage those of you who might be interested to contact one of us about how you can be more involved. It’s a great way to get to know your fellow SPLISers a bit better while giving back to this vibrant community.

For many of us, we are about to embark upon another school year. I wish you the best of luck in your pursuits and hope you have a successful year!

Amanda Huensch
SPLIS Chair-Elect, 2014–2015

Amanda Huensch received her PhD in linguistics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently assistant professor of applied linguistics in the Department of World Languages at the University of South Florida.


Demetria Li

Lauren Lovvorn

Greetings SPLISers,

We hope to find you all well and productive as we quickly approach the end of another year.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we have a new editor on board! We are excited to be working together to present to you our fall issue of As We Speak. We have a few articles coming straight from the authors’ 2014 TESOL presentations in Portland as well as a couple of other excellent contributions.

As always, we want to remind everyone to share the wonderful things you do in your classroom or the great research you are working on with your fellow SPLIS community in our upcoming issues of As We Speak. We will be accepting submissions for the Spring 2015 newsletter soon! The deadline for intent to submit is December 1, and articles must be received by February 1. We as an Interest Section are only as strong as our members make us, so let’s continue to grow together.

Our best to you all,
Demetria Li and Lauren Lovvorn
Co-editors of the SPLIS Newsletter

Demetria Li has an MS in TESOL from Mississippi College and currently teaches full-time in the Intensive English Program at the University of Alabama. Her attendance at the TESOL convention in Dallas (2013) inspired her to get involved with the greater TESOL community and created a particular interest in speaking/listening and International Teaching Assistant Program (ITAP)

Lauren Lovvorn has an MA in applied linguistics from Georgia State University and is currently an instructor in the Intensive English Program at the University of Alabama. Her interest in pronunciation began her first semester of graduate school, and since then she has taught several workshops and presented at various conferences on the topic.



Visualize a recent pronunciation lesson you taught. Who is modeling the pronunciation point being taught or practiced? If you are like most of us English language teachers, the answer is “Well, me of course.”

Many TESL instructors believe in the value of learner-centered communicative tasks to promote language acquisition. And many also believe in the power of learner autonomy and choice to promote motivation and learning beyond the classroom.

But in pronunciation instruction, these same instructors also tend to believe in the effectiveness of explicit focus on form (i.e., the specific forms of English sounds and sound patterns), including clear modeling and feedback in pronunciation teaching. This modeling is often done by the instructors themselves and/or is provided through recordings of other English speakers to give students access to variation in accent, gender, and so on.

Are these beliefs incompatible? Do we need to revert to a largely teacher-centered classroom to effectively model and lead pronunciation instruction and practice? Can we imagine a pronunciation lesson in which students are modeling pronunciation points to each other? Or is it only effective to put learners in charge when activities are communicative and less controlled?

This article provides some ideas for how to put students in charge of guided pronunciation practice in various peer-teaching classroom activity formats. Many of the drills and activities that we use to introduce, intensively practice, or review pronunciation points can be adapted to a peer-teaching format with the help of the following steps and criteria. Examples that conform to these guidelines follow.

Steps for Pronunciation Peer-Teaching

When reflecting on how to make a pronunciation lesson more student-centered, consider if you can do the following:

1. Identify a set of pronunciation features that can be divided into different items (e.g., a set of different phonemes, a set of different stress patterns, a set of different patterns of question intonation). If students in your class have the same first language, focus on target features that tend to be somewhat or very difficult; if your class includes a mix of first languages, include features that tend to be difficult for each of the first language groups. In other words, don't include items that are already easy for everyone in the class.

2. Give, or have students choose, features from this set that they feel most confident modeling for others. Note that these features should be something that students (a) are already able to produce well or (b) are able to gain control over autonomously through their own resources (such as online resources or dictionaries), so that with practice they are able to perceive and produce well enough to model and give feedback to others.

3. Set up activities that allow individuals, pairs, or groups to teach each other what they know.


While designing your activities, check them against these two criteria:

1. Do students have some control over what they choose to learn and what they choose to teach?

2. Is the lesson structured to support and encourage peer teaching?


Below are four examples of possible activities, two that focus on segmentals, one that focuses on word-level stress, and one that focuses on suprasegmentals. In each of these examples, the instructor can act as a classroom resource, listening to and verifying pronunciation, but does not lead the lesson beyond helping with classroom management.

Example 1: Segmentals (Vowels)

Adopt a Vowel: Jigsaw and Fluency Line Formats

Ask small groups of students to “adopt a vowel,” for example, using the color vowel chart as an anchor (e.g. Taylor & Thompson). Each group has one target vowel. Groups brainstorm a list of 5–10 words or phrases that contain that vowel and practice saying the words or phrases clearly, using online audio dictionaries to check their choices. Groups can then re-form to form jigsaw groups (each new group contains members from the other groups). Members of new jigsaw groups can lead practice with one another on their example words and phrases.

Jigsaw groups can then create sentences or a short role-play using at least two words that contain each sound. One or more groups can show sentences or perform the role-plays to the class while the class tries to identify which words contain the target sounds.

Reviews in later classes: Vowels can be practiced in a fluency line. In pairs, students select and hold a colored card with one or two example words with the target vowel on it, and their partner needs to repeat these words, then say and write two to three more words that have that sound before the fluency line shifts to the next person. These words can be checked at the end in groups or as a whole class.

Criteria check:

  • Autonomy/choice: Students can select vowels they have more confidence in or want to challenge themselves to master. Then they can check sounds with an online dictionary.
  •  Peer teaching: Students are responsible for partners' accuracy in identification or production of the vowel in example words.

Example 2: Segmentals (e.g., consonants)

1 or 2? Minimal pair listening drills

This activity is a twist on a common pair-practice drill and is for classes that contain two or more first language (L1) groups. Instead of a one-size-fits-all minimal pair practice in which all students do controlled practice on the same segmentals for the same amounts of time, identify which sounds are troublesome for the specific language groups in your class, and prepare materials that allow different L1 partners to listen for sounds they find easy, but produce sounds they find difficult.

Prepare minimal pair sheets (or have students prepare them) that contain minimal pair contrasts that are difficult for the various L1 groups in the class. Students choose which contrasts they want to practice, then find a partner from another L1 who has chosen another set of contrasts. Students take turns saying either the word from column 1 or the word from column 2, while their partner holds up one or two fingers to show which word he or she hears. Students can switch partners several times.

Example partial material:

Criteria check:

  •  Autonomy/choice: Learners can choose to practice sounds that are difficult for them.
  • Peer teaching: Students can model and correct these target sounds for their partner.

Example 3: Multisyllabic Word Stress

Show the Stress

Create cards (or have students create them) that have a few examples of a multisyllabic stress pattern on each card, with additional space underneath to write more. Individuals, pairs, or groups can confirm the stress pattern with a dictionary, then brainstorm several more examples of that pattern. Note: Students should not mark the stress on the words on their cards!

Students then form jigsaw groups, form a fluency line, or wander freely around the room to show each other their cards and try reading the words they see. If the reader puts the stress on the wrong syllable, the partner can ask for another try and/or provide hints by humming the words and using gestures to show stress. (Note that students can also teach each other what the words mean.)

Students can take a pretest on all the target patterns to help them notice and focus on difficult patterns during the activity, then can take a posttest to see their improvement.

Example cards:

Criteria check:

  •  Autonomy/choice: Students can randomly or purposefully choose a stress pattern they want to focus on.
  •  Peer teaching: Students are responsible for making sure their partners are perceiving and producing the patterns clearly.

Example 4: Suprasegmentals

Hearing It in Action: Finding Examples in Authentic Materials

After students have had some introduction to suprasegmental patterns such as question intonation, focus word prominence, linking, or reductions, their homework is to find a clear example of the pattern from the Internet, a video, a podcast, or a recording they make themselves (e.g., a recording with a conversation partner). Students present their examples to groups or to the class and lead classmates through practice of transcripts of the pattern.

Criteria check:

  • Autonomy/choice: Students can find their own examples.
  •  Peer teaching: Students present authentic material and lead peer-practice activities.

These examples are not intended as just recipes to follow strictly, but as starting points for further adaptation in the curriculum, as needed. As in any class involving peer teaching, it is very important to foster a trusting classroom community where students are responsible for and want to help each other. Embarrassment or competitiveness should be minimized, and all members of the class should be seen as valuable resources. The teacher can model how students can provide correction by doing a few examples with several students first and having students model together for the class. Another point to keep in mind is assessment. Activities should be designed to be easy to assess by the students themselves or easy to check later as a class in review. Students should have accountability to themselves and each other just as they would to a teacher.

As students become more comfortable leading pronunciation instruction and practice, they will see that they do not need to rely only on a teacher to improve, and in this way they will become the autonomous learners we hope to foster.

Perhaps if any of these ideas prove to be useful to you when you teach pronunciation, the answer to the question posed at the start of this article may become, “Well, it depends!”


Taylor, K., & Thompson, S. (2013, January 1). Retrieved October 9, 2014, from http://colorvowelchart.org/

Keli Yerian is senior lecturer and director of the Language Teaching Specialization Master of Arts degree in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Oregon. Her interests focus on gesture in professional communication and teacher education.


Vowel sounds are a challenge for any English language learner (ELL), from the elementary school student through the business professional, and for learners in both ESL and EFL settings. If listening and speaking is one of your learners’ goals, it is virtually impossible to avoid teaching vowel sounds to achieve comprehensibility. A common set of English vowels and vowel features (such as vowel length and quality) that constitute a “common core” or a “lingua franca core” has been debated in the context of English as an international language or as a lingua franca (see Jenkins, 2000; Jenner, 1989; Walker, 2010). Despite this global diversity and individual variability, a “common core” of 15 tonic (stressed) North American vowels can be identified based on published pronunciation textbooks (see my textbook survey in Kaiser, 2014).

With a target variety selected (in this particular case, North American English), the issue becomes choosing an effective method to teach this set of vowels. As I have argued previously (Kaiser, 2014), the use of traditional “key” or “chart” words is often ineffective because the selected words often form minimal pairs or may easily be mispronounced by learners already. For example, several textbooks use beat, bit, bate, bet, and bat as example words for learners to use as a reference for the correct pronunciation of the five front vowels (see Cook, 2000, p. 73; Dauer, 1993, p. 26; Hagen & Grogan, 1992, p. 16; Handschuh & Simounet de Geigel, 1985, p. 4; Lane, 2005, p. 2; Prator & Robinett, 1972, p. 13). For this reason, I have advocated for using “native speaker utterances” (NSUs) as a more appropriate vowel modeling system for both teaching and reviewing vowel sounds (Kaiser, 2014). In this short article I present my vowel modeling system for teaching North American vowel sounds, discuss NSUs, and focus on how to use this model in both teaching and tutoring situations.

Native Speaker Utterances

Learners often mispronounce key vowel sounds needed to make the fine-tune distinctions required for the 15 tonic (stressed) vowel sounds found in most standard varieties of North American English. NSUs move away from already mispronounced words and place more focus on the vowel sound itself, while giving it a particular meaning in a communicative context. For example, rather than using the word bead or week for the high front long vowel (which ELLs may mispronounce as bid or wick), the NSU model uses wee! As an utterance, the focus on the vowel sound is stronger (because wi with a short I does not evoke excitement as does wee! with a long E). Although Celce-Murcia, Brinton, and Goodwin (2010) also present “vowels with communicative meaning in English” (p. 151) in their book Teaching Pronunciation, they do not present utterances for the full range of vowels in North American English. Table 1 presents my complete model of NSUs in a list form, and Table 2 presents the same model as a vowel chart.

Click on tables to enlarge

NSUs in Instruction

With learners at any level, NSUs can be used both to introduce and to review vowel sounds. NSUs are also useful for error correction and can even be used by learners themselves as they monitor their own pronunciation. This model works well in a designated class or unit on pronunciation, but can also be incorporated into any speaking class or lesson. The key to making NSUs more effective is repetition and frequent review so that learners can quickly access these utterances as models for the full range of target vowel sounds to promote vowel fluency.

Before using NSUs with your learners, you may need to adapt this vowel modeling system. Not every variety of North American English makes a distinction between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ (in which case, you may collapse the two into one appropriate utterance). You may also want to replace particular NSUs with ones that feel more comfortable to you (several colleagues have suggested oy! for ahoy!). Many of these NSUs could have different meanings based on context. You should choose meanings that work for you and your learners. For example, aw could be aw, how cute (complimenting something cute), aw, shucks (deflecting a compliment), or aw, man (disappointment or irritation). The key is to use a full set of NSUs for all stressed vowels in the target variety and to provide a communicative meaning that will be memorable for learners.

As a first step to promote vowel fluency, I include NSUs in my introduction to vowel sounds. This requires making a distinction between stressed and unstressed vowels (there are no NSUs for the unstressed /ə/ or /ər/ because they cannot be uttered in isolation). Learners should also be introduced to the difference between long (tense) and short (lax) vowels in English (note that the long NSUs have exclamation points to show this difference). I use both the list and chart to introduce NSUs to learners, but for later reference and review I always rely on the chart. The chart shows the vowel sounds in relation to each other based on tongue position. A facial diagram (found in many pronunciation texts) may be used in connection with this chart (so long as the diagram has the lips on the left-hand side). The chart is a good visual reference for learners to see why particular sounds may be difficult for them to distinguish (whether that be hearing or pronouncing the difference).

When presenting NSUs, it is crucial to make an explicit connection between the vowel sound in the utterance and the pure vowel sound. Choral repetition is an effective way to introduce and review these sounds. In the earlier stages, this can be done in three steps. First, take learners through only the NSUs: wee!, ick, hey! Next, have learners repeat the NSU and then the pure vowel: wee!, /iy/, ick, /ɪ/, hey!, /ey/. Finally, go through the chart using the vowel sounds only: /iy/, /ɪ/, /ey/. In each case, learners should be repeating after you. As learners become more familiar with this model, they may recite the utterances and/or vowels together or individually without the you modeling them first. The goal is for learners to access these NSUs readily as models that have been appropriated into their own set of English language skills. With appropriate practice, this model promotes vowel fluency, whereby learners can readily distinguish North American vowel sounds when both listening and speaking.

A visual reference of the NSU chart can be helpful for learners. In K–12 settings where the instructor may have more control of the classroom, a poster with the NSUs and vowel sounds may be used. If transcription symbols would be too advanced for your learners, they may be replaced with a simplified transcription system (such as ē, i, ā, e, etc.). A data projector or overhead projector may be used to display the NSU chart on a screen for review. In tutoring situations and classroom settings, handouts are effective and learners can refer to them at home.

In pronunciation classes, the NSU chart may be reviewed before and after an explicit lesson on a particular vowel contrast. In a class that involves public speaking or giving presentations, NSUs can be a great warm-up for the class (similar to warm-up exercises done by actors). Practicing NSUs with others and individually can help the quieter learners who need practice speaking up (because these utterances require being loud). If you do private tutoring, whether it be conversation practice or English for specific purposes, NSUs are great as a warm-up activity and review.

After NSUs have properly been introduced, they may be used for error correction. When a learner mispronounces a vowel, the appropriate NSU may be used. For example, if a learner says “maintAHn” (/meyntɑ́n/), you can note that the vowel is /ey/ as in hey! I have even seen learners use NSUs for their own error correction. Through frequent review in our classes, they develop the vowel fluency to monitor their own pronunciation and recognize when their vowel production does not match their prediction. When you see learners stop, recite the NSU for a particular vowel, and then repeat the word with the correct vowel sound, learners are developing vowel fluency.

Learners young and old find NSUs fun, and they are far more memorable and meaningful than a list of “key” or “chart” words. NSUs are easy to introduce in the classroom or during tutoring sessions, and they do not have to be limited to pronunciation classes or lessons. If your goal is for your learners to acquire a full set of North American vowel sounds that they can distinguish in both listening and speaking, this may be a helpful model to promote their vowel fluency, strengthen their intelligibility, and use instruction time more effectively.


Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D., & Goodwin, J. M. (2010).Teaching pronunciation: A course book and reference guide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Cook, A. (2000). American accent training. Hauppauge, NY: Baron’s Educational Series.

Dauer, R. M. (1993). Accurate English: A complete course in pronunciation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Regents/Prentice Hall.

Hagen, S. A., & Grogan, P. E. (1992). Sound advantage: A pronunciation book. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Handschuh, J., & Simounet de Geigel, A. S. (1985). Improving oral communication. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language: New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Jenner, B. (1989). Teaching pronunciation: The common core. Speak Out! 4, 2–4.

Kaiser, D. (2014). Grunt and cheer: Teaching North American vowels through native speaker utterances. In The Conference Proceedings of MIDTESOL: Cultivating Best Practices in ESL, 2012 (pp. 133–149). Retrieved from http://midtesol.org/docs/MIDTESOL_Proceedings_2012.pdf

Lane, L. (2005). Focus on pronunciation: 3. White Plains, NY: Longman.

Prator, C. H., Jr., & Robinett, B. W. (1972). Manual of American English pronunciation. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Walker, R. (2010). Teaching the pronunciation of English as a lingua franca. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

DJ Kaiser, PhD, is an assistant professor and coordinator of TESL at Webster University, in St. Louis, Missouri. He has taught ESL at the University of Illinois, Parkland Community College, and Washington University in St. Louis and has also been a visiting professor at the University of Barcelona. He has presented on topics such as pronunciation, translation studies, ELT, and program development throughout the United States and in China, Mexico, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, and soon Canada.


Creative writing courses are popular electives in ESL program curricula where students often look for opportunities to express themselves creatively in English. With several different writing genres to choose from, creative writing teachers can provide students with a wide range of activities that allow students to learn about the social uses of the English language. With the use of literary devices, such as metaphor, simile, and alliteration, being so pervasive in social use, it is imperative for ESL students to learn how to use literary devices when speaking, writing, and pronouncing complex vocabulary. Using literary device exercises, creative writing classes can provide ESL students with additional practice in speaking and pronunciation that will improve student proficiency by focusing on the cognitive process of language.

Literary devices are commonly used in ESL courses in reading, vocabulary, and writing, but these devices are rarely used in speaking and listening courses where pronunciation is emphasized. Research shows that the use of literary devices in speaking often limits nonnative speakers’ comprehension (Finch, 2003). One of the best ways to explore language via literary devices is through the genre of poetry. Green (2014) notes “the use of poetry in the ESL classroom enables students to explore linguistic and conceptual aspects of the written language without concentrating on the mechanics of language” (p. 1). Still, many language teachers resist using poetry in classes due to concerns that their students may not have the cultural or linguistic understanding to learn poetry or understand the literary devices used in poetry. Nevertheless, current research shows that literary devices can be used to explore issues important to students in depth and provide them with a means for speaking and pronouncing new vocabulary.

The use of literary devices to practice speech and pronunciation can allow ESL students to conceptualize the language (Hoang, 2014). Hoang (2014) points out that literary devices, such as metaphor, are “pervasive in everyday language, and more important, that metaphor can structure thinking.” Furthermore, Hoang asserts that using writing in conceptualizing language allows students to process the language and structure thinking. Finally, Zyoud (2011) points out that creative activity in the ESL classroom “draws upon both cognitive and affective domains, thus restoring the importance of feeing as well as thinking” (p. 1). Using literary devices can help students learn the “process of making meaning” (Hoang, 2014).

In teaching my creative writing class this summer, I wanted to focus on helping students learn meaning by engaging language through all six skills that the students were studying in their core classes: reading-vocabulary, writing-grammar, and listening-speaking. More specifically, I wanted to use literary devices to focus on speech and pronunciation because the current data from the Academic English program shows that our students need more practice in these two areas. For this practice, I chose to use our poetry unit, in which literary devices are most often used in writing and concentrated on metaphor, simile, and alliteration. The focus of this unit was poetic annotation, and we took a four-step approach to deconstructing three poems: (1) reading the poem aloud several times, (2) identifying the image that inspired the poet to write the poem, (3) underlining any sensory description, and (4) finding any major examples of metaphor, simile, and alliteration. Each step in the approach required students to practice speaking, pronunciation, and writing and helped students learn how to process language.

This approach allowed me to assess how students were processing the language. One of the biggest difficulties for nonnative speakers in learning a language is their confusion “of different senses of a lexical item or different lexical items” (Hoang, 2014). We began our process by reading each poem out loud. For this part of the practice, I used simple poems such as “I Sing the Battle” by Henry Kemp. I looked for poems that had simple language, used multiple literary devices, and used consistent repetition. I had each student read the same poem and recorded him or her reading for further analysis of his or her pronunciation. The second part of the process was for students to identify the image that inspired the poet to write the poem. During this step, students examined specific vocabulary and identified words that provided imagery to help them interpret the poem. The third step of the process was for students to underline any sensory description. This step helped students identify parts of speech that are used in sensory description, such as adjectives and adverbs. From there, the final step in the process was to identify the literary devices. It is through the use of literary devices that students learn how to identify abstract concepts through metaphor, how to identify rhythm through alliteration, and how to make comparisons through simile. These identifications can help students learn how to conceptualize and pronounce new vocabulary as well as how to use that vocabulary in everyday speech.

In conclusion, the use of literary devices in an ESL classroom can provide students with greater understanding of language and enhance their English proficiency. Poetry is an excellent way to explore how literary devices are used in speaking and listening, and reading simple poems can enable students to learn how these devices use everyday language to express meaning. The use of literary devices can expand ESL students’ thinking, which helps them make gains in their speaking and listening.


Finch, A. (2013). Using poems to teach English. English Language Teaching, 15(2), 29– 45.

Green, E. M. (April 2014). Honoring ourselves, creating community through poetry. TESOL Connections.  Retrieved from http://www.tesol.org/read-and-publish/newsletters-other-publications/tesol-connections

Hoang, H. (August 2014). Using metaphor to teach second language writing. TESOL Connections.  Retrieved from http://www.tesol.org/read-and-publish/newsletters-other-publications/tesol-connections

Zyoud, M. (2011). Using drama activities and techniques to foster teaching English as a foreign language: A theoretical perspective (Unpublished manuscript). Al Quds University.

Dr. Sumeeta Patnaik is the academic English coordinator for INTO-Marshall University, in Huntington, West Virginia. She has been working in ESL since 2001 and is interested in second language writing and speech and pronunciation. Dr. Patnaik received her doctorate in education (curriculum and instruction) from Marshall University in 2012.


This article is based on the presentation given at TESOL 2014 in Portland, Oregon, titled “Teaching Speaking: Content and Methodology.” The background to the talk is the fact that when we enquire about someone’s language ability, we usually ask, “Do you speak English/French/Japanese?” indicating the centrality of speaking among the four skills in our concept of what second language ability means. Of course, there are many different kinds of speaking. Lectures, presentations, formal debates, and so on are all kinds of speaking, but the most common speaking activity that all people engage in is conversation, that is, the daily quotidian exchanges that are the mainstay of our social relationships with others. The word conversation should not carry connotations of triviality and formlessness in comparison to other more traditionally prestigious kinds of speaking. Rather, it should be recognized that conversational language and behavior is just as rule governed and particular as other genres of speech that are the mainstay of academic English and other specific purposes courses. To sum up, speaking is the central skill within the traditional four skills, and conversation is the central genre within speaking.

The following points are based on my experience teaching English in Japan. Although the background may have some bias towards the situation in that teaching/cultural environment, the points will also have a more general application to other EFL and possibly ESL teaching classroom cultures.

Conversation as a Genre

Cook (1989, p. 56) describes the defining characteristics of conversation as follows:

1. It is not primarily necessitated by a practical task.
2. Any unequal power of participants is partially suspended.
3. The number of participants is quite small.
4. Turns are quite short.
5. Talk is primarily for the participants and not for an outside audience.

Nunan (1987) adds:

Genuine conversation is characterized by the uneven distribution of information, the negotiation of meaning (through for example, clarification requests and confirmation checks), topic nomination and negotiation by more than one speaker, and the right of interlocutors to decide whether to contribute to an interaction or not. In other words, in genuine communication, decisions about who says what to whom and when are up for grabs. (p. 137)

Following these points, it can be seen that high levels of teacher control, topic and group selection, time limits, goal orientation, and so on will preclude the occurrence of genuine conversation in a language classroom environment. The classroom must be reconfigured as a psycho-social space if anything approaching genuine conversation is to occur.

Creating a Venue for Conversation

Traditional classroom interaction is not in harmony with the norms of conversation. Activities are often geared towards a task, controlled to a greater or lesser extent by the teacher, are mono-topical, and so on.

Learners must be given the opportunity to move away from traditional classroom interactions and towards a more naturalistic mode of speaking. In my classes I have a phase called “student talk time.” After taking the register, the students start talking to each other in English without any cue from me. This phase and its purpose must be explained to the students from the outset. Students need the space and time to automatically initiate conversation in English and develop key skills such as proffering; negotiating and changing topics; managing turn length, content, and turn boundaries; and so on. The phase lasts for 20 minutes so that the “how are you” type openings can get exhausted and the students have to work to keep the conversation going, drawing on their own resources rather than relying on guidance from a nonparticipating overhearer of differential status. I act as a monitor during this phase, ideally backgrounding my presence as much as possible.

Features of Conversational Language

Spoken language and written language are different in vocabulary and grammar, and students need to know what the features of conversational language are and have extensive practice using them in order to internalize conversational language norms.

Markers, Filler, Smallwords

These terms all refer to high-frequency words such as well, you know, I mean, and like, which are often treated as unnecessary extras in the business of speaking, or even as undesirable speech habits which should be avoided. The reality is that these words are central in performing various interactional tasks and vital to creating a sense of fluency (see Hasselgreen, 2010). These words are pronounced as hearable chunks and spoken slightly more quickly and quietly than the surrounding discourse. They should be an ongoing focus of all teaching of spoken language.

Vague Category Markers

This term refers to expressions such as something like that, that kind of thing, and stuff, those guys, and so on. They are frequent, fixed expressions in spoken English and serve a variety of functions, indicating convergence in epistemic world view and tacit assertion common understanding. They often occur at the end of a turn and may be a useful signal for speaker transition. Again, they are pronounced as hearable chunks and spoken slightly more quickly and quietly than the surrounding discourse.


Listeners do not sit silently while others talk. Rather, they contribute to the discourse by backchannels such as yeah, right, uh-huh, really, and others, which show agreement, understanding, surprise, and so on, and also signal continued acceptance of the other’s speakership. Students need to avoid using their first language backchannels (a common phenomenon in Japanese speakers) and use the English backchannels appropriately.

Vague Counters

Vagueness in expressing numbers, amounts, times, prices, and so on is a common feature of spoken language. People meet at about six-ish. They go to a bar for an hour or two and have a couple of drinks, spend about 20, 25 dollars and get back at 10, 10:30, something like that. Also related to amounts and numbers, the words much and many are used mainly in questions, negatives, and positive sentences with too or so. In other positive sentences speakers usually use a lot of, lots of, or other expressions (e.g., tons of, a whole bunch of).


Basic English adjectives usually have a parallel upgrade adjective. Cold can be upgraded to freezing, hot to boiling, funny to hilarious, and so on. These upgrade adjectives can be collocated with absolutely, but not with very. These words can be used to express a stronger version of the basic adjective and also as a way of showing agreement whilst avoiding repetition. It would be unusual in English to hear the following exchange:

A: It’s hot today.
B: Yes, hot.

The following exchange shows agreement and also signals comprehension. It is easy to repeat a word, even if one doesn’t fully understand it. It is difficult to upgrade a non-understood assessment.

A: It’s hot today.
B: Yeah, it’s absolutely boiling, isn’t it?

In addition to upgrade, opinions can be hedged. Kind of, a bit, sort of, a little bit can all be used to hedge and are especially appropriate for negative or critical assessments. Continued giving of assessments which are never upgraded or hedged will lead to language which is bland and unengaging.

Reported Speech

It is hard to overestimate the ubiquity of reported speech in our daily conversational interactions. Reporting what others have said forms the background to much of our conversation as we most often talk about the ongoing social world in which we find ourselves. The reporting verbs say, speak, talk, and tell can be used variously to report the fine-grained contents of others’ speech, (said that) or a more coarse-grained report of just the topic (was speaking/talking about), with the option of including or omitting the listener (said (to B) that vs. told B that). In addition, the use of be like can blur the line between reported speech and thought and can be used at the climax of narratives to indicate the anticipated/appropriate reaction (So she didn’t come to the party and I was like “Thank God for that”).

These are just some of the basic features of conversational language, and if learners wish to engage in conversation, they should be able to draw on these linguistic resources repeatedly and automatically. Teaching conversation should not be seen as the poor cousin of “serious” teaching, an intellectually light and content-free “fun” activity, but as a rich discipline in its own right. As Cook (1989) comments, “If the difficulty with conversation classes is widespread, so too is the desire of students to converse successfully in the language they are learning” (p. 116).


Cook, G. (1989). Discourse. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Hasselgreen, A. (2004). Testing the spoken English of young Norwegians: A study of test validity and the role of “smallwords” in contributing to pupil’s fluency. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Nunan, D. (1987). Communicative language teaching: Making it work. ELT Journal, 41(2), 136–145.

John Campbell-Larsen teaches English at the School of International Studies, Kwansei Gakuin University, in Japan. His research interests are conversation analysis and teaching the spoken language.



Professional organizations could not function without the support and service of their members, and TESOL International Association is no exception. One valuable contribution TESOL members can make is to serve in an Interest Section (IS) leadership position. ISs are a crucial part of TESOL International Association. In addition to providing communities of support, resources, and advice for members, they also play a role in carrying out essential organizational functions, shaping policy, and providing input to TESOL about future initiatives and directions. In fact, the TESOL website refers to ISs as “the lifeblood of the TESOL International Association.”

The leaders of each IS perform numerous tasks vital to the operation of the TESOL organization. The chair of each IS, for example, is responsible for coordinating the proposal selection process for each TESOL convention. They oversee the recruitment and training of proposal readers, make final selections of proposals selected by the readers, and schedule sessions for the convention.

The community manager oversees the communication with IS members by updating and maintaining membership email lists and issuing announcements to members, communicating with the TESOL website manager about issues relating to the IS’s site, and performing other communication-related responsibilities. Other IS leaders perform additional essential duties.

Benefits of Service

While it may be easy to see how an IS leadership role benefits the TESOL organization, it is important to keep in mind that there are numerous benefits to the individual serving in the role as well.

Professional Development

One of the benefits of serving in a leadership role is the professional development opportunities it presents. Newsletter editors, for instance, receive training and mentoring in editing and publication. IS chairs learn about and facilitate the conference proposal reading process. Both Robert Elliott, former chair of SPLIS, and Britt Johnson, former chair of the Program Administration Interest Section, agreed that getting a behind-the-scenes view of the convention proposal selection process was educational and beneficial for them. Johnson said, “I learned more about the ins and outs of proposal writing, having the job of both reviewing proposals and making final decisions about which proposals received time slots for TESOL Portland.” Elliott believes that “reading so many proposals helped me become a better proposal writer.

Professional Networking

Another benefit of serving in an elected IS leadership position is the professional contacts you can make. Elliott said he enjoyed “meeting professionals interested in the same areas, including many ‘famous’ people whose work I admire, as well as new and up-and-coming people who are enthusiastic and full of ideas.” I, personally, have found it exciting and educational to be in steering committee meetings with the likes of Judy Gilbert and other well-known and influential personalities in the field and to learn from their wisdom and insights.

Lara Ravitch, who has served in several positions, including member-at-large for the Sociopolitical Concerns Committee, community manager for the Program Administration Interest Section, assistant chair of the Higher Education Interest Section, and chair of the International LGBT and Friends Forum, said, “In the Interest Sections, I learned more about the experiences of others in similar educational settings or roles, and perhaps most valuably, I helped to organize panels and, in that capacity, worked with an amazing array of accomplished presenters.”

Johnson echoed similar sentiments: “I made lasting friends that I still consult for advice, ideas, trends in the field.” She said she enjoyed bringing people together from across the world to approach an issue from multiple perspectives. She also related a story about when she was in danger of losing her job due to fiscal issues and her friends on the board forwarded her any job opening they knew of and wrote her glowing letters of recommendation. There is no doubt professional networks can enrich and positively impact one’s career.

Learning More About TESOL and How It Functions

Perhaps a less obvious but also important advantage of holding a TESOL IS leadership position is getting a better understanding of how the TESOL International Association functions. Ravitch said, “I learned more about the policy issues relevant to the field and to the organization as a whole and got valuable experience contributing to white papers and other elements of policy advocacy.” Understanding who the key go-to people are, how the organization functions, and how various aspects of the organization fit together can be helpful in understanding how and why things work the way they do and how to go about facilitating a change or bringing an idea to fruition. Getting a closer view of the inner workings of the TESOL International Association, one also gains an appreciation for the many “moving parts” of the organization, the many functions it fulfills and roles it plays in advancing professionalism and increasing the visibility of and respect for the field.

Having an Impact on TESOL Policies and Initiatives

Finally, being in an IS leadership role gives one the opportunity to influence and shape future directions in the field and the organization. For instance, during the 2013 TESOL convention in Dallas, the SPLIS steering committee decided to host a series of joint TESOL/IATEFL virtual seminars on the theme of pronunciation. The result was two of the best-attended virtual seminars ever hosted by TESOL. This is an example of how a simple idea or decision can translate into actions that have a large and positive impact on members.

Also, it is the IS steering committee that brainstorms ideas and makes final decisions about InterSection and Academic Session topics and participants and which interest sections to collaborate with and/or host joint sessions with at the following year’s TESOL convention, based on the input they receive from IS members at the general IS meeting. In other words, steering committees make decisions that directly and substantively affect the programming of the TESOL convention.

Steering committee members are also encouraged to attend the TESOL town hall meeting, where they represent the IS and share ideas that surfaced in their IS general or steering committee meeting. The chairs of the ISs are also part of a leadership counsel, which is another venue in which they can give input about and vote on future directions of the organization and/or various organizational initiatives under consideration. Thus, participating in an IS leadership role at the national level can have real and tangible impacts on policies and actions of the TESOL International Association. Having a voice in actual policies and procedures at the national level is very empowering and can help one feel more connected to and positive about the field and organization as a whole.

Why Leaders Recommend Service Positions

When asked if serving is something they would recommend, all former IS leaders interviewed agreed that it is.

“It is another lens through which you can see the field. It puts you in contact with new ideas, new solutions, and it is reinvigorating to get together with a group of professionals and thinking positively and excitedly about what we can do together for the good of the field.” Britt Johnson, former Program Administration Interest Section chair.

“Serving in volunteer positions for my local affiliate, Oregon TESOL (ORTESOL), and later for TESOL International Association has simply made all the difference in my professional development and career. . . . These opportunities have enriched my professional development through generous mentors, inspiring collaborations, and a greater awareness of current issues in our field. Moreover, I have gained an international network of dear friends and colleagues. I highly recommend pursuing opportunities for service in TESOL! Everyone benefits—you, your own institute or school, your learners, and our field of language learning and teaching.” Kay Westerfield, cofounder and former chair of the ESP Interest Section.

Leadership Description

For more information on the specific roles of each leadership position, visit http://www.tesol.org/connect/interest-sections/become-an-interest-section-leader.

For more information about becoming an IS leader, please contact TESOL's Education Programs Department at edprograms@tesol.org.

Dates and Deadlines

The following are the relevant dates and deadlines for the upcoming TESOL election cycle:

17 October: Election slate information due to TESOL

7 November: Ballots sent electronically for voting

23 November: Voting is closed

5 December: Election results provided to IS leaders

Each candidate must provide his or her name, affiliation, and a 50-word bio to the IS chair by 17 October. It is important to note that candidates must be current members of TESOL International Association and primary members of the IS in which they are running for office.


There is no one “right” way to be professionally engaged. Service opportunities abound and are needed appreciated at every level—local, regional, and national. But if developing professionally, networking with a wide array of dedicated, inspiring fellow ESL/EFL teaching professionals, gaining insights into the inner workings of the TESOL International Association, and having an impact on policy and actions on a national level sounds appealing, then you should consider nominating yourself or a promising colleague for a leadership position within SPLIS!

Char Heitman has taught ESL/EFL in the United States, Japan, Holland, and Spain for the past 24 years. Her professional interests include pronunciation, oral skills, project-based learning, alternative assessment, curriculum design, materials development, cross-cultural communication, and teacher training.



The British version of TESOL has had a vigorous Pronunciation Special Interest Group (PronSIG) with an excellent newsletter since its founding 25 years ago.

1992 TESOL Vancouver

I showed copies of the PronSIG newsletter to a pronunciation-oriented audience and told them about the British group. The reaction was immediate: “Why don’t WE have such a group in TESOL?” So a group of us started collecting names on petitions at every convention we each attended. We collected a LOT of names in the next 3 years. But we were also running into resistance. We heard repeated use of the explanation: “We don’t feel it’s a good idea to encourage proliferation of Interest Sections.” This struck us as peculiar, since we were only asking for a little corner of our own, one out of 18.

1995 TESOL Long Beach

A PronSIG representative and our little group cooperated to put on a well-attended preconvention institute at TESOL in Long Beach. This was encouraging. But several of us attended the Interest Section Council meeting and realized that there was going to a problem. The rules required that the then existing 17 Interest Sections were going to have to vote in favor of our request at their annual business meetings, which were all held at the same time. So we had to get organized to send volunteer representatives (aka lobbyists) to each meeting. The core of the problem was that those Interest Sections were going to have to share convention slots and budgets with us. Also, it became sadly apparent that a lot of teachers really just don’t like pronunciation. This is weird but true.

1996 A Year for Getting Ready

As TESOL ’97 approached, we had an ongoing e-mail discussion of potential arguments, and many of us wrote letters to the leadership of the 17 existing Interest Sections. This letter-writing campaign even included some PronSIG people explaining how helpful they found having a forum concerned with their professional subject.

1997 Orlando

On the evening of the business meetings we established a central “Command Center” in the coffee shop, to gather the responses from each rep to the business meetings. The reps reported back: 17 yes votes and 1 no (elementary school level—people who didn’t realize that pronunciation is related to learning to read). The next day at the crucial Interest Section Council meeting, David Mendelsohn gave the 3-minute pitch we were allowed. The Council chair commented that there had been an “unprecedented” outpouring of letters in favor. Despite some lingering objections to “proliferation,” the motion was passed. We still had to wait for approval from the TESOL Board.

1998 Seattle

We were official. We now have our own meetings, our own newsletter, and a real place on the program. That’s how we came to be.

Judy B. Gilbert has an M.A. in linguistics from the University of California at Davis, with special study in acoustic phonetics at U.C. Berkeley She is the author of Clear Speech from the Start, (2nd edition) and Clear Speech, (4th edition) both from Cambridge University


The SPLIS e-newsletter, As We Speak, is soliciting articles on any of the various aspects of teaching and tutoring pronunciation, oral skills, and listening that apply to and/or focus on ESL/EFL pedagogy, second language acquisition, accent addition/reduction, assessment of those skills, and other related research. We also solicit book reviews for both classroom and methodology texts. Teaching tips, tutoring tips, and classroom strategies are also acceptable submissions.


Articles should have the following characteristics:

  • Be no longer than 1,500 words
  • Include a 50-word (500 characters or less) abstract
  • Contain no more than five citations
  • Follow the style guidelines in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition (APA)
  • Be in MS Word (.doc(x)) or rich text (.rtf)


As We Speak
will be published two times per year.

  • Submission deadline for the intent to submit for the Spring issue is December 1.
  • Submission deadline for the intent to submit for the Fall issue is July 15.

Note: You may contact the editors at any time to discuss possible submissions.