Can You Really Motivate Someone to Learn a Language?


By Olessya Akimenko

Motivation is generally considered to be an important factor that can affect a learner’s success in English as an additional language (EAL). On the internet, you can find countless articles about how to motivate your EAL learners. The authors of these articles suggest multiple ways how this could be done, ranging from “triggering students’ interests” (Lesley University, n.d.) to “giving them a little friendly competition” (Pesce, n.d.) However, is it really possible to motivate a learner if they are not really interested?

First of all, let’s define motivation. According to Dörnyei and Skehan (2003), “motivation is responsible for why people decide to do something, how long they are willing to sustain the activity, and how hard they are going to pursue it” (p. 614). Speaking from my personal experience, as an EAL teacher with 10+ years of teaching experience, I don’t think it is possible to motivate someone to learn, unless they are already motivated. I believe that either a learner already comes motivated to learn or they don’t. The only thing that the teacher can do is not to let the learner lose this precious motivation. If they aren’t already motivated, there isn’t much that could be done.  

In this essay, I’d like to talk about how we as EAL teachers can create an environment for the learner, so they wouldn’t lose the motivation that they already have to learn a language. First of all, we do this by letting each and every learner contribute to the classroom practices and activities. It’s easy to lose motivation if you are not given an opportunity to actively participate. For example, Norton (1997) in her article “Language, Identity, and the Ownership of English” describes the experiences of an EAL learner who mentions how frustrating it can be to listen to only one student speak throughout the whole lesson. This student eventually drops the course feeling that she “didn’t learn at all”.

Second, we make sure that that the needs of all learners are addressed. People come to language classrooms with various needs, such as to get a (better) job or pursue post-secondary education, and those needs should be the main priority for the teacher. This, of course, might be harder to do in larger classrooms, but maybe this means that the classrooms do not need to be large.

Norton (2015) also suggests that classroom practices need to draw from and legitimize learners’ cultural capital, i.e., their prior knowledge and experience. Therefore, it is important to choose materials and activities that learners can relate to. Canada is a multicultural and multilingual country. However, do the learning materials for EAL students always reflect this cultural and linguistic diversity?

These are some of the ways that I believe can help teachers retain the motivation of their EAL students. And I am positive many teachers are already applying them. However, if you don’t, it’s probably high time to start.

Now, going back to my original idea that a learner either comes motivated to learn or they don’t, you may ask then why people come to learn a language if they are not really motivated? Can you really motivate them to learn? Well, this is something I’d like to hear your ideas on!

Olessya’s Bio

Olessya Akimenko is a PhD Candidate in the Languages, Cultures and Literacies program at SFU. She is currently conducting research for her thesis related to the professional identity negotiations of teachers of English as an additional language (EAL). Her other research and educational interests include dialogic pedagogy and the pedagogy of multiliteracies. Olessya also teaches at the Faculty of Education at SFU. Prior to starting her PhD program Olessya worked as an EAL teacher in Kazakhstan for more than 10 years.


Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. J. Doughty & M. H. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 589-630). Blackwell.

Lesley University. (n.d.). 3 strategies for motivating ESL students.

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.

Norton, B. (2015). Identity, investment, and faces of English internationally. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 38(4), 375-391. Pesce, C. (n.d.). How to motivate ESL students: The 10 best ways to increase teenage student motivation. Busy Teacher.


Meet Ms. Unicorn and her Class of Stuffies: Creative Teacher Education Practices for Pandemic Times


By Christie Fraser      

I am a “teacher of teachers” and that is extraordinary! When you teach teacher candidates (TCs), EVERYTHING is a teachable moment. TCs watch your every move—every word—as guidance for when they are in their future classrooms. But what does exceptional teaching look like in virtual course delivery? How do I model teaching strategies for my TCs from behind my computer screen? How do my TCs practice new teaching strategies when they are alone? How do I prepare teachers for teaching in a classroom when they are not currently able to do so because of pandemic restrictions?

The Inspired Idea

Last summer as I sat at home planning for the pandemic term, something caught my eye. In my daughter’s TV show were little children role-playing with their stuffed animals. That’s when it occurred to me: why not create a virtual classroom of stuffies that I could use to model instructional strategies? Et voilà! (“And there you go!” in French): meet Ms. Unicorn and her class of stuffies. 

Ms. Unicorn and her class

This modeling epiphany was a game-changer in my virtual teaching practice. I was able to use the stuffies to demonstrate teaching strategies and to role-play the various parts of what teachers can do in the classroom (and how students might respond). I recorded myself and posted these videos in my asynchronous virtual course. Click HERE for an excerpt from one of my videos.

The Inspiration That Followed

What happened next was really where this practice took off. In an activity that followed, the students were asked to record themselves reading a story as they might to a class of students. My expectation was that I would get just that – a view of the TC and their chosen book, reading to the camera. But what happened was amazing. The students took the strategy they had seen in my video and ran with it. I met classes filled with all kinds of stuffies! I also met live cats and dogs, small plastic animals, a blow-up giraffe, a gigantic stuffed rabbit, GI Joe figurines, and even a whole class of pumpkins all named “gourd” and a Lego school. I modelled and they followed!

Learning from Ms. Unicorn

There are so many pieces to what I have learned from this experience. I learned that it really isn’t about how a course is delivered, classroom or virtually. It is about how you teach in that delivery. I was reminded again of the value of taking risks and being vulnerable in teaching. I certainly felt very silly playing with the stuffies and recording myself the first time around! And finally, maybe together isn’t always better? Well maybe it is, but this practice can be the next best thing when we can’t be together. 

Great teaching requires opportunities for creativity and taking risks, both of which have been presented for myself and my students in virtual course delivery. With great risks can come great rewards in learning and teaching, even during a pandemic!

Bio: Dr. Christie Fraser has been an educator for over 20 years. Currently, she is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Thompson Rivers University in beautiful BC. 


Have you taken new risks in your classroom because of the COVID19 pandemic? How have pandemic restrictions unexpectedly inspired your practice? Leave your comments below.


Woolfolk, A., Winne, P., & Perry, N. (2020). Educational Psychology: 7th Custom Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson.

Classroom Corner: Word Share Vocab Review


by Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Tag Words: vocabulary, speaking, writing, peer-review

Time: 60+ minutes

Age/Level: Intermediate+

Numbers: Any number

Requirements: Multimedia, Gmail, Students’ laptops

WORD SHARE is a technology-infused task-based activity that runs through a number of skills all while focusing on the set vocabulary.


  • Learn new vocabulary
  • Write accurate sentences using vocabulary
  • Teach other students and peer-review their work


  • Create a shared Google Document for all the students in the class including the vocab you want to teach and a table for students to write sentences.
  • Have students create Gmail accounts; they will need them to edit the document.
  • Have students bring their laptops to class.


1. Assign the Vocab (15 minutes)—Bring up your Google Doc on the multimedia screen so that all the students can see the vocab. Assign 1 word to each student and tell them they must find the meaning of that word, the different forms and some common collocations. Give students 10 minutes to do this.

2. Share the Vocab (20 minutes)—Once students are confident they have all the information, have them stand up and go around the room. They must partner with another student and teach them their word and all the information that goes with it. Partners must take note of the info they learn. Give them about 3 minutes to explain their words and then have them rotate around to another partner. Repeat this another 4 or 5 times.

3. Write (15 minutes)—Once students have been taught about 5 words, stop the activity and have students go back to their computers. In the table on the shared google document, have students come up with and type in a sentence that includes all the words they have learned. Alternately, this can be done on the whiteboard.

4. Peer-Review (20 minutes)—Have students read another student’s sentence and write a revised sentence next to the original. This can be done several times, so that there are multiple revisions of each sentence. Once done, revise the sentences yourself with the class on the multimedia giving feedback as you go. Once this is all done, students will have an easily accessible, lasting document with examples of feedback and accurate use of the vocabulary.

5. Homework—Have students find images online to illustrate their vocab or sentences and have them paste them into the document.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander with an English literature degree from Otago University. Before moving to British Columbia, he taught in South Korea for eight years. Since then, he has worked as an Educational Programmer and EAP instructor on UBC’s Okanagan campus and as an EAL instructor at Okanagan College.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2017, Fall). Word Share Vocab Review. TEAL News. Retrieved from

Interview: A Conversation with Michael Galli


by Joe Dobson

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Q: Ten years is a long time to serve in any volunteer capacity. How and why did you become involved with BC TEAL?

I moved to Vancouver in November 2005 and joined BC TEAL soon after. Having been a member of TESL Ontario since the early 1990s, and because of some truly fantastic professionals who mentored me about the value and importance of professional development, I had developed a firm commitment to lifelong professional development.

It was actually at a TESL Canada Conference in Ottawa, a year or so before I came to BC, where I met Sarah Ter Keurs, then president of BC TEAL. We spoke of my impending move to BC and I sought her advice. After moving here, it was only natural that I join BC TEAL, and in 2006 I became a BC TEAL Board Member.

Sarah soon stepped down, having twins on the way, and Liet Hellwig and Catherine Evashuk stepped in as Co-Presidents to fill the gap year. I was serving as Membership Chair and I still recall receiving the call from Jennifer Pearson Terrel, asking if I’d step in as President at the following AGM. I was, to coin a favorite phrase of Brian Wilson’s (our BC TEAL Honorary Member, not the Beach Boy), gobsmacked. I accepted the challenge though, and never looked back.

Q: Who were some of your greatest inspirations with regard to your roles with BC TEAL?

Absolutely my greatest mentor and role model is Jennifer Pearson Terell. She is truly one of the most special people I have had the privilege to serve with and I am honoured to be considered her friend. Through her work with BC TEAL, Jennifer has continued to serve the broader community and has been an inspiration to so many of us. She does all of it with such a wonderful smile and with such dignity. She is truly a remarkable woman and truly a woman of extraordinary distinction.

There are many others who have inspired my admiration as well. Shawna Williams for carrying the torch after my term and taking BC TEAL to even greater heights. She accomplished a lot in those four years! Nick Collins, who has been a long-time supporter of BC TEAL. To listen to his stories of how the association started and grew through thick and thin, makes me feel like I have been a part of something very special.

BC TEAL has had its ups and downs, and its share of drama (or so it seems), but I think every family goes through that and in the end, we find our way back to our common ground, as they should when good people are united in good deeds. The TEAL Charitable Foundation is probably the best example of that. When I step back and think of the goodness that comes out of the TCF, the first of its kind in the world (according to N. Collins), I feel so fortunate to have been able to add my name to its ranks.

There are so many people to mention here though so let it suffice to say that I am inspired by the collective goodness that is comprised of the thousands of members who have been a part of this very special professional association.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as BC TEAL President?

There were a number, but now they seem not so significant. To name a few, raising the membership numbers, increasing the value-proposition of the conferences, and bringing in the public and private institutions and companies to support our efforts, and also maintaining and expanding our role as a professional association.

I was a Settlement ESL/LINC teacher in Toronto, worked for the University of Toronto in a special program for international pharmacists, and did a fair bit of private consultant work, so I have worn a number of hats in our field. However, as president of BC TEAL, I had to keep my biases off the table and consider what was best for our association and our members.

There is a constant tension between management and unions in EAL schools and organizations, and this could have become an issue for BC TEAL. Even today I hear grumblings that BC TEAL is pro-union, but that seems to just be political posturing. We have had good relations with the local unions and allowed them to have a voice, but we have always striven to ensure that BC TEAL did not promote labour related issues. Those issues are why unions exist but not part of the purpose of a professional association. We made an effort not to alienate those who feel threatened by the union presence and reached out to the private sector. Lately I see that coming to fruition and I am very glad for it. The private sector is starting to come around and it seems to me that this sector is developing in very positive ways. The EAL sector goes through changes, like most industries, and it is important to go with these, rather than try to hang on to old ways. I can easily imagine the private sector leading the way for the profession in the coming years.

On a separate note, I would also call attention to the academic EAL sector, particularly the research areas. One challenge that I do not feel we have made much progress is in getting our professors to engage in sharing local PD. There are some, like Dr. Li-Shih Huang, who engage regularly and help raise the bar to higher levels, but I’d like to see more of the local academics take an interest in the professional development of our BC professionals.

Q: What did you enjoy the most about working with BC TEAL?

I enjoyed it all really. The monthly board meetings, overcoming the challenges we faced, bringing people together at conferences and other events, seeing so many people engaged in an effort to improve their knowledge and skills in order to serve others… this is what moved me most.

Q: What advice do you give to those new to the profession?

Stick with it and don’t be discouraged about the current job market or if you find yourself in a position you are unhappy with. The market changes and positions open up all the time, but you can’t wait for the positions to find you. You need to network and keep yourself in the game. Continue to develop your teaching skills and NEVER become complacent or think you can’t learn something new. There is a reason we say that we practice a profession. Simply put, it is because it is not something you ever master. Even seasoned pros need to refresh their ways and learn new strategies and techniques. Plus, our learners and their needs are always changing and so is technology. Twenty-five years ago, technology was minimally used. Now it is ubiquitous, and I can’t imagine anyone not using it to some degree.

Teaching is a great profession to be in, and EAL is a unique specialization that is often misunderstood and underestimated. The only way to remedy that is to continue developing ourselves and the profession we work in.

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments as President of BC TEAL?

I think the best thing I was able to do for BC TEAL was to breathe some life into it at a time when it seemed to be slowing down a bit. As I said above, the EAL sector goes through phases, and so too does BC TEAL. I stepped in a bit as an outsider and with few biases, alliances, or local influences. I also applied more of a business approach because I was no longer in the classroom, but was a Manager of an EAL program at BCIT.

Q: What do you see as some of the biggest misunderstandings and challenges facing the EAL profession?

I think the greatest misunderstanding is still the old arrogance that because someone can speak English, they are able to teach it. Of course those of us who teach or have taught EAL, have a much deeper understanding of the many complexities involved, but the average person lacks the experience of bringing a class of non-native speakers together and providing learning experiences that allow them to de-construct a new language code and develop the skills to read, write, listen, and speak with that new code. It is no easy feat to acquire a new language and to plan, structure, and teach lessons that facilitate language acquisition is equally challenging. Kudos to all our BC TEAL Members who do so and who continue to hone their skills to improve their methods and make the experience better and better year after year.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself, your career, or your work with BC TEAL?

My 25 year career in education has taken a few twists and turns, and currently I am working more in international education. However, I still have peripheral involvement with EAL issues at my organization. I am glad for this on-going connection because EAL will always be the career I chose and came to love. I have enjoyed every part of my career, and there were a few ups and downs, but I feel that the work we do in EAL is good work. We truly help people and like the ripples in a pond, we never know where our good work will land. Our students don’t generally come to us to learn English just for the sake of it. The acquisition of this language is usually to achieve a more primary purpose, like finding a job, attending school, etc. Learning English is an absolutely necessity for our students and by assisting them the way we do, we give them an invaluable gift.

I hope everyone who reads this understands the value and significance of BC TEAL. While we professionals may function well in our individual classrooms, without the association to bring us together to share and learn from one another, we would have no “profession”, just a lot of people doing their own thing. I would encourage everyone who reads this message to help spread the word on why BC TEAL is of such importance and why all EAL professionals should join and maintain membership. I found a professional home in BC TEAL, and I hope you all do too.

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  At the time of this article, Joe Dobson was the president of BC TEAL. He is a senior lecturer at Thompson Rivers University. His research interests include educational technology, teacher education, and intercultural communication.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Dobson, J. (2017, Summer). A conversation with Michael Galli. TEAL News. Retrieved from

A Reflection of Curriculum Development for EAL: The Creation of a Canadian Socials Studies 10 Curriculum for a BC Offshore School


by Tom Bone

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Since I began teaching in China almost 10 years ago, I have been fascinated and amazed how Chinese students can learn enough English to become successful in western universities. Having failed my French classes so many years ago in high school, and having experienced a few unsuccessful attempts of learning languages on my own, I believed learning additional languages to be enormously challenging. Or, I just did not have the predisposition for additional language learning. In my second year of teaching Canadian Social Studies in a British Columbia off-shore school in China, I had started to learn Chinese despite my “disadvantages”, in hopes of better understanding the challenges that my students faced and overcame. From there, I became fascinated by language acquisition. A few years back I was approached to produce a Social Studies curriculum for a BC offshore school in China that would fulfil the requirements of the BC Ministry’s Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) and meet the needs of English as an additional language (EAL learners). I would like to share part of the process and strategies I used in this process.

When creating the new Social Studies Curriculum the first task that had to be addressed was an investigation into theories and practices around curriculum development for English language learners. A comprehensive analysis of the leading theorists was in order before the program could be implemented. I would like to discuss two of the design strategies I employed in this process: Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and Backwards Design. But first it is necessary to define some terminology which I have adopted in my practice.


BICS and CALP are terms used to describe two distinct levels of language acquisition based on the research by Jim Cummins (Cummins 1979). BICS, an acronym for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, can loosely be defined as basic everyday language. Conversely, CALP—Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency—can be described as having more complexity and delves into a deeper understanding of a particular subject matter’s language by employing a more complex and abstract vocabulary. Understanding these distinctions is crucial in the development of any additional language curriculum. By knowing what level students are at as far as language development, teachers can adopt particular strategies that best suit their learning.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)

CLIL is a term coined by David Marsh in 1994 that generalizes the idea of learning content and language at the same time, similar to that of the immersion model (Marsh, 1994), but with distinct differences. CLIL is more flexible in its approach and there is an equal amount of emphasis put into both content and language (Harrop, 2012). To meet both the needs of students and fulfill BC Ministry requirements, students enroll in provincially recognized subjects taught exclusively in English. CLIL meets both of these necessities as it concerns itself with both acquiring a new language while at the same time learning the content of the subject. As such, “language is the medium for achieving content objectives with language objectives being matched to content objectives” (Douglas, 2015, p. 8). English teaching strategies are incorporated in the learning of the content.

The selection of this strategy is a necessity for students in BC off-shore schools as most have very little background in English and developing English language skills. A regular EAL program can be five years in length (Coelho, 2004); however, many students are accepted into high school programs with a mere 500-word vocabulary; equivalent to that of a first year EAL student. With CLIL, students are able to learn English while still learning the vocabulary they need to succeed academically. EAL students, like students from native English speaking backgrounds, are expected to think, reflect, discuss, and debate issues using appropriate vocabulary for their grade level. This cannot be accomplished without CLIL.

As Coelho (2004) points out in when considering how to integrate language and content instruction, content-based instruction with added language support can overcome English language challenges in students who do not have the desired 5-year EAL development. Coelho also recommends language teaching strategies such as Key Visuals, Guided Reading, Response Journaling, Cloze activities, Scaffolding in writing, Frequent checks for Understanding, and Vocabulary Enhancement.

Because CLIL is content driven, it offers relevant issues for exploration. Students at the high school age scrutinize their lessons closely and easily recognize the value of what they are being taught. Content, therefore, is very important for fostering motivation. Harrop (2008) concludes that “there is increasing evidence that, as its proposers claim, [CLIL] leads to a higher level of linguistic proficiency and heightened motivation, it can suit learners of different abilities and it affords a unique opportunity to prepare learners for global citizenship” (p. 60). However, even teacher motivation can be affected by CLIL since “one of the most powerful findings of CLIL groups centres on increased motivation in both learners and teachers” (Coyle, 2008, p. 11).

However, CLIL does not present a simple solution as it still has its complications. The CLIL model does not always make accommodations for language families, age, or cultural differences. As opposed to the parallel approach which would focus on the differences and similarities in languages, CLIL does not typically distinguish between languages. A person learning English whose native language is French may have an easier time than a person whose native language is Japanese.  These families of languages must be considered when considering the progress of an additional language learner. CLIL typically also has no provisions for age specific language acquisition. Since the content matches the grade level, the learner must simultaneously acquire the target language while still learning the content. This can leave a gap between proper composition as well as form in grammar and the subject related material which students are learning (Harrop, 2012). Students may also graduate from CLIL making no connection with the rich culture from which the language has evolved. “Chi le ma?” is a common expression in Chinese which literally translates to, “Have you eaten?” This has the same meaning in English as “How’s it going?” These linguistic nuances might potentially be forgotten with the CLIL model. As a result, the acculturalization model may better explore many of these unique characteristics enriching learners’ experience with the target language. Similar languages share similar cultural references often expressed in idioms not taught with the CLIL approach. China and Korea share references to classics like San Guo Yan Yi as does England and France with the Iliad. In a practical sense, students who wish to study abroad are not exposed to the cultural differences found in other models of language acquisition, and often fall short of language proficiencies in tests like the IELTS or TOEFL where language literacy is more the focus than content. Even the grade 12 English BC provincial examination, for which universities often require a high mark, does not require subject based content knowledge. It often does, however, require cultural knowledge (the 2015 English 12 provincial contained many references to Wayne Gretzky—students taking the test overseas did not perform well on this exam due their lack of exposure to this Canadian icon). So as we have seen, while adopting the CLIL strategy, teachers must recognize its limitations and accept the shortcomings.

Aside from the aforementioned critiques, the CLIL model is best suited for the design of an EAL curriculum. CLIL leads to greater language proficiency, increases motivation in both students and teachers, and also offers a many strategies best suited for EAL learners. More importantly, it directly addresses the needs of EAL students in offshore schools regarding the learning objectives prescribed by the BC Ministry of Education. While CLIL on its own lacks the necessary tools to suit the requirements of offshore schools, CLIL augmented with extra learning support best suits the needs of students in these schools.

Backwards Design

Backwards Design was introduced in 1998 by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins and can be loosely described as a design with the goal in mind. In this model, there are three stages of development: 1) Identifying the desired result, 2) Determining acceptable evidence, and 3) Planning learning experiences and instruction (Wiggins & McTighe, 2001). For the sake of this type of curriculum design, assessments are created that incorporate all the learning outcomes prescribed by the BC Ministry first, and then unit plans and lesson plans that align themselves with those goals are created.

At first inspection, this model presents itself dangerously as an assessment based method to learning, and I will address some of these criticisms here. The Backwards design model appears to well suit students in BC offshore schools, who may be culturally adapted to the “teaching-to-the-test” approach that puts an emphasis on the assessment, rather than a holistic approach to learning (Culatta, 2013). While the utterance of such a phrase insights angst in many teachers, the reality of its implications resides in mandatory provincial examinations prescribed by the Ministry of Education (Clark, 2014) (Note: the ministry is now in the process of removing provincial examinations and replacing them with Math and English Literacy exams). Teachers have a right to complain, as many observe such a stratagem removes creative and critical thinking and replaces it with memorization. Also, there is an inherent danger that the course instructor might perceive or confuse the outcomes to be knowledge-based and assess by only a single criterion. For example; the question might be, “What are the causes of World War I?” The answer is simply, “Militarism, Imperialism, Nationalism, and Alliances.” This can be easily memorized without having a deeper understanding of the roles each played in society, which is more closely aligned with the PLOs than the superficial straight-up answer provided in the test. For example, a question often appearing on the Social Studies 11 provincial examination is “In what battle was gas first used?” This is especially true for additional language learners who are already struggling with basic language and look for simple answers to content based questions. I have experienced this first hand while teaching Social Studies that students typically wish to memorize all the possible answers rather than learn the deeper meaning behind the questions. Again, in practice, this approach to curriculum design appears not to meet the requirements of EAL learners in offshore schools.

To quickly condemn Backwards design, however, would be to ignore its benefits.  Backwards design provides an instructional framework from which educators and students may meet learning outcomes more effectively with educational tools and a hierarchy of organization. The Backwards Design approach allows for better organization and planning, and assessments can be created to avoid the pitfalls of superficial learning. Clark’s (2014) guide to framing a curriculum breaks down the structure into three levels: the Curriculum level which includes benchmarks, summative assessments, and scope and sequence; the Macro level which discusses the prerequisites, elaborative and thematic; and finally, the Micro-Design level which includes the craft of teaching, strategies, and formative assessments. These can easily be translated to be the Course Overviews, Unit Plans, and Lesson plans. The organizational approach to Backwards Design is a crucial element that focuses the curriculum writer’s energies into a clear path of understanding that can be shared within the system and easily adapted to the needs of each subject. It reminds us to start with a learning outcome or question and helps us keep focused.

With CLIL integrated into Backward Design, a curriculum can be tailored to best suit the needs of EAL learners in offshore schools using the BC curriculum. While there are still challenges to overcome in creating the perfect EAL curriculum, this approach surely meets most of the pressing issues. Teachers can be organized and plan better, they can assess and provide feedback better, they can motivate and inspire better, and mostly, they can prepare students for college or university better.


Clark, B. (2014). Thoughts on Framing a Curriculum & Teaching Review. University of Calgary. p. 6.

Coelho, E. (2004) Adding English : A Guide to Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Coyle, D. (2008). Content and Language Integrated Learning Motivating Learners and Teachers. Retrieved from

Culatta, R. (2013) Instructional Design. Retrieved from

Cummins, J (1979), Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Linguistic Interdependence the Optimum Age Question and Some Other Matters. Working Papers on Bilingualism No. 19.

Douglas, S. (2015) Multilingual Classrooms and Higher Education: Leveraging Content to Support Academic English Language Acquisition. BC TEAL News. (p. 8). Retrieved from

Harrop, E. (2012). Content and language integrated learning (CLIL): Limitations and possibilities. Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Alcaláp. p. 60

Marsh, D. (2012). Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). A Development Trajectory. University of Córdoba.

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2001). What is Backward Design? in Understanding by Design (1st ed). Alexandra, VA: Pearson.

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Tom Bone has taught in China for over nine years. At the time of this article, he had been the Vice Principal for Maple Leaf International School Systems in Tianjin and taught Social Studies and Psychology in Wuhan for five years. He has a passion for language acquisition and has been a major contributor in curriculum development for BC offshore schools.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Bone, T. (2017, Summer). A Reflection of Curriculum Development for EAL: The Creation of a Canadian Socials Studies 10 Curriculum for a BC Offshore School. TEAL News. Retrieved from



Refugee Rights Day—EAL Act!on


by Taslim Damji

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

On April 4th, 2017 BC TEAL launched a nationwide campaign in celebration of Refugee Rights Day. On this day in 1985, the Canadian Charter of Rights recognized refugees as having the same fundamental human rights as Canadians—the right to life, liberty and security of person.

This campaign connected the relationship between security of person to a sense of belonging and inclusion in our diverse communities—not just for refugees, but for all individuals. It included webinars and an activity package for teachers and was intended to highlight our commonalities and the importance of feeling safe and accepted for who we are. By applying an intercultural lens, activity participants were invited to explore and further cultivate these feelings.

Intercultural is a word we hear often these days, as are diversity, community, and inclusion. As increasing numbers of people arrive in Canada, our understanding of culture and identity shifts and evolves in noticeable ways. Sometimes we embrace the changes that greater diversity brings, but often discomforts and questions arise for both Canadians and newcomers.

How then do you apply an intercultural lens to Refugee Rights Day? It starts with how people identify themselves and how they identify others. Do we focus on how we are different or do we focus on how we are similar? Do we anticipate that we may have something in common with another person though, on the surface, they may seem very different to ourselves? How do we respond to that difference? Do we embrace, reject, or feel uncertain about it? How does difference shape our behavior towards others? How does this affect who we include in our communities? How do our thoughts and feelings about “others” impact our own ability to belong? All big questions!

The EAL classroom provides a primary community, and a good place to start strengthening that sense of community is by getting to know each other. We often don’t know much about each other’s cultural background, ways of doing things, or personal histories. Through lack of contact, media representation, or unsuccessful interactions, we may be unaware of stereotypes that exist in our classrooms. There can also be an underlying assumption that others have the same codes of interaction as we do. It can be challenging to interpret behaviors except by our own standards and norms. In a classroom context, teachers making time and space for the group to be curious about and open to each other is key to modelling and growing intercultural sensitivity as well as preparing learners to find greater acceptance in the community at large. This ability is as important as language if our goal is to promote healthy, inclusive, and diverse communities.

These themes seem weighty, but the activities provided in the activity package were intended to foster a feeling of commonality while at the same time acknowledging difference in an enjoyable way. They also aimed to raise awareness of what inclusion, community, and diversity mean to our students and to explore how we can “do” these in our daily interactions. It was great hearing from so many of you about your experiences doing the activities in the package. This article is to celebrate your class experience using the materials. I’d like to thank Augusta Avram, Jennifer Low, Debra Dahlberg, Tanya LeBar, and Leanna Inokoshi, all of whom teach a range of classes and levels, for taking time to share their experience using the materials, and here’s what they had to say.

Teachers talked about selecting activities appropriate to their groups and providing a safe space to explore…

Augusta: “Before doing the activities, in private, I asked the refugee students in my class if they were comfortable discussing the topic. My experience with refugees has taught me that I need to be careful because of possible issues around trauma. Also, I used the image of people holding hands around the globe as a starter, and not the pictures.”

Jennifer: “I gave the theme and the topic ahead of time and told the students that if anyone felt uncomfortable to let me know. I wouldn’t have done it if someone had told me they weren’t comfortable. I started with the tree visual to introduce a broader sense. Then, as I put each picture up I checked in. I like how the sequence led into more pleasant pictures, but the focus was really on community and diversity and inclusion”.

Teachers also talked about some of the conversations and activities that students had engaged in. They used different materials from the package including visuals, reflections, concept maps, value statements, and a total physical response (TPR) style activity to raise awareness and open conversations.

Debra: “Students talked about how they had come to Canada. Two had come as refugees. They were both comfortable telling their stories. One woman hadn’t been in her home country for over 10 years and had lived in so many different places with so many different people. The other man was comfortable telling his story as he’d told it so many times. Maybe he felt that he was educating people. We also looked at the photos of the camp, the boats, the people. They talked about how refugees are from all around the world and then I asked them why someone would flee from their country. But the activity that worked best was the “Walk across the room…”. That was so much fun. They really enjoyed it and the self-reflection, too. We tend to look at the obvious, the external”.

Tanya: “I did have refugees in the class and they were okay with the pictures. I felt comfortable because my parents were refugees also, so I talked about my parents living in a camp for 3 years. I thought it was nice to finish with an optimistic pictureWelcome to Canada! People in my class were absolutely sympathetic and empathetic. They knew what’s going on and were very willing to talk about it. They didn’t feel discomfort.”

I also did the Walk across the room…” activity. Things that they had in common were being afraid, worried, feeling lonely, missing home. We used the commonalities to springboard into diversity and inclusion. We then went to mind map. I used community instead of classroom –I wanted it to be as broad as possible. Diversity was easy. They talked about race, religion, sexuality. But inclusion was really hard. What does inclusion mean and how do you do that? Seeing difference is easy, but how to include is more of a challenge.”

Teachers had different reasons for choosing the activities they did. Some did a single activity and others worked their way through more of the package…

Augusta: “I like to get into culture, where they explore it on a deeper level. The refugee and newcomer experience have a lot in common, for example, identity crisis. I encourage them to explore their own biases, too.”

Jennifer: “It was an important topic and a great way to lead into the term. The idea of diversity and inclusionfeeling different/feeling the same; feeling included/feeling left out; appreciating diversity; making sure that everyone feels included so that they can participate more fully. How can we make it work?”

Debra: “I like to tie in topics like this to let students know that multiculturalism is fairly new to me too; 30 years ago it was different. We’re constantly evolving, new people come, there are changes.”

Leanna: “I used the visual photos of refugee experiences to elicit, teach, and share language around ‘inclusion’ and ‘exclusion’ with the end goal for students to create a poster board with visual images cut out from newspapers and magazines to express what they see as forms of social inclusion.”

Teachers told of student response to the materials…

Augusta: “They like to talk about what’s going on in their lives and about what makes one different from others. The cultural difference is there, and it helps if you discuss it. You celebrate the difference, yet at the same time you desperately want to belong. You end up questioning how you do things and what you believe. If you create a safe space to explore this, they like it, they enjoy the challenge. One of the students said: It doesn’t matter what our differences are, everyone has equal rights and should be treated respectfully.”

Debra: “There was lots of laughter and then sometimes surprise. It really pulled the group together and in the end everyone felt connected to everyone else in the room in some way. At some point everyone found they had at least one thing in common. You have to find a gate to open first. The package had a nice structure”.

Jennifer: “Initially, students wondered, ‘So why are we talking about this?’ Yes, it was Refugee Rights Day, but these are all broader themes. Students said ‘we’re really glad we’re learning this. It helps me think differently. It’s important to learn about’. It was neatthe next day we had a refugee student enter the class and is now part of our classroom community.”

And of their own response…

Augusta: “I like to share my own identity story as someone who came to a new country. It doesn’t matter what the reason is for you being here. You are here now and it’s a difficult time, but there are commonalities… I wanted this activity package to be about all of us.”

Tanya: “The class is really open and I try to normalize things. I see the students look to me for my response. They are watching me for how I will respond. Refugees often tell their stories and we just deal. We listen and sometimes there’s nothing to be said. We’ll have a moment of silence and then I’ll say, ‘Is it okay if we move on?’”

And overall, teachers reported…

Debra: “The whole experience was very positive… It gave a better sense of what diversity is and how we can be included because we do have things in common. It opened the door to other possibilities, to meeting new people and other Canadians. That we can see beyond what’s on the outside.”

Leanna: ‘The student’s especially liked being divided into groups to work on their poster board that reflected what they deemed as “Social Inclusion”. They liked the creativity, the visuals, the variety and freedom of choice, cutting, pasting and overall enjoyment of working together to create a positive message as a group.”

I asked instructors if they had any comments or advice for fellow teachers using the package.

Here’s what they shared:

Augusta: “It’s important how the teacher presents this because it models respect. Encourage learners to describe their own experiences.”

Tanya: “Know your class. Make sure you’re comfortable with it. And if you’re not comfortable with it, ask yourself why you are not comfortable. Be a little brave! Allow a little discomfort.”

Jennifer: “It was a great lesson and links well to every day. Creates a safe space to create more openness”.

Leanna: “This was my first time teaching a lesson on refugees, but I found it enlightening and educational. The lesson [was] easy to follow for an instructor and provided many choices/activities for different levels to accommodate multi-level classrooms.”

I hope that being able to hear about different instructors’ experience provides support and encouragement to keep using the materials in the coming months. Keep in mind that United Nations World Refugee Day is June 20th or you can apply these activities to any curriculum theme connected to growing community, celebrating diversity, and cultivating inclusion.

To access the materials discussed in this article go to:

Good luck on your intercultural journey and, if you do use the materials, we’d love to hear from you. Post on our EAL Act!on Blog or share on Twitter or Facebook using #EALaction.

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Taslim Damji is the developer of BC TEAL’s Refugee Rights Day package. She has an MA from King’s College, London and two decades of international teaching, teacher training, and research experience. At the time of this article, Taslim was the manager of Intercultural Trainings through MOSAIC Works.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Damji, T. (2017, Summer). Refugee Rights Day—EAL Act!on. TEAL News. Retrieved from


Promising Practices: A Peer-led English Conversation Program that Works


by Natalia Balyasnikova

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

I came to Canada in 2013 as a PhD student at the University of British Columbia; however, my most influential and transformative learning occurred when I started volunteering as an English language facilitator at the UBC Learning Exchange, located in the Downtown Eastside. I was so enraptured by the program and the way it was set up, that in 2015 I proposed to interview other facilitators in the English Conversation program in order to find out what encourages them to volunteer. I was hired by the UBC Learning Exchange to conduct this study and single out promising practices from the perspective of the volunteers, who facilitate English language conversation groups. In this article, I would like to share some of these practices in the hope that other community-based practitioners would find them useful for their work.

A historical sketch

The UBC Learning Exchange is a community-engagement initiative of the University of British Columbia. Founded with a goal to find ways to link the University of British Columbia to Downtown Eastside community groups, to this day the Learning Exchange continues to bring together people from different walks of life and experiences. Over the years, building on multiple strengths of a vibrant Downtown Eastside community, the Learning Exchange has grown from a drop-in computer workshop to a well-known presence in the community, offering a range of workshops, public talks, and educational and arts-based programs.

One of the programs at the Learning Exchange is English Conversation. This program aims not only to develop the conversational proficiency of language learners but also to provide them with opportunities to gain confidence and leadership skills. The program is divided into four levels of English language proficiency and is led by community and university volunteers.

The learners are typically allowed to take one English language class per week during a 10-week session. English as an Additional Language (EAL) conversation groups meet for 75-minute sessions once a week for ten weeks to discuss a range of topics chosen by the program coordinator and student staff. These topics include cultural holidays, Canadian traditions and customs, popular culture, famous people, internationally famous places, etc. Additionally, there is free reading material that could be interesting for adult EAL learners, such as the West Coast Reader and Canadian Immigrant available for all learners of the program to read at the centre or take home. During each session, learners use various worksheets with a short text and follow-up questions that guide their conversations. The role of the facilitator in the class is to use the worksheet as a starting point for their class and to encourage learners to speak as much as they can. Facilitators are encouraged to choose topics that they think could be interesting to learners in their group; some of the more experienced facilitators bring their own worksheets or use the reading material provided by the centre in their classes.

All learners are free to use Learning Exchange resources such as free access to computers and Wi-Fi or attend free workshops for learning computer skills. They can also spend time at the centre having coffee or tea, reading, or socializing with other language learners and other patrons of the centre.

Volunteer community

The facilitator community is quite diverse; there are both native and non-native speakers of English who lead the classes. However, similar to the learners, many of the facilitators are either retired or currently not employed and are residents of the area where the Learning Exchange is located. Moreover, many of the facilitators are non-native speakers who have previously attended the program and advanced to higher levels of proficiency. One of the salient characteristics of this community is the peer-to-peer nature of interaction in and outside the classroom.

Most facilitators in the Learning Exchange do not have substantial pedagogical training. In order to make their transition into a facilitator role an easier one, the incoming volunteers are required to participate in a series of training workshops delivered by the coordinator of the English Conversation Program. (Currently the facilitator training program is being restructured to offer more holistic and diverse training for incoming facilitators.) During the course of these workshops, the incoming volunteers are presented with the goals of the EAL program, the philosophy behind the Learning Exchange, class management techniques, foundations of intercultural communication, and other topics that are relevant for the context they are entering as facilitators. The training workshops run in tandem with facilitators’ first classes. This gives the novice facilitators an opportunity to put the workshop materials into practice. Upon the completion of the workshop series, the new facilitators are assigned a group of learners and begin their volunteering with the Learning Exchange. At times, these facilitators are given an opportunity to team-teach the first sessions and to collaborate with more experienced facilitators. In addition to facilitating, some volunteers are allowed to take other classes offered by the Learning Exchange. For example, at the time of this study, some EAL facilitators were enrolled in the Spanish language classes offered by volunteers.

Promising practices

I must acknowledge that adult language and literacy programs are diverse and pursue different goals. For this reason, it is hard to give clear best practices that will undoubtedly work in any context. Nevertheless, there are promising practices that I have noticed at the English Conversation program. I believe they could be applied across various contexts. The three promising practices that I have observed in the Learning Exchange are 1) development of the English Conversation program as a community of practice 2) sustaining of an informal context of learning and interaction and 3) recognition of experiences shared by learners and facilitators and building upon them.

The English conversation program as a community of practice

The first promising practice is sustaining the English Conversation program as a community of practice. It’s a model of volunteer/learner support that can enhance many programs that rely on volunteers in their work.

A community of practice is an organizational model that was developed by Etienne Wenger. A community of practice is first and foremost a joint enterprise, whose members share a repertoire, activities, and mutually support each other. Through their participation in shared activities, the members of a community of practice move from novice to expert status simultaneously drawing upon and contributing to the strengths of the community. While communities of practice can be quite diverse, they have specific characteristics that distinguish them from formal professional groups. The main difference is that the purpose of a community of practice is to develop individual potential by encouraging knowledge exchange among members who select themselves.

The volunteers at the Learning Exchange are participating in a community of practice and thrive through doing so. First, they are engaged in a joint enterprise of facilitating English language conversational groups, and, due to a pre-established curriculum, share a repertoire, both pedagogical and conceptual. Second, they participate in shared activities, such as facilitator training workshops, and feel the necessity to continue doing so. Third, as facilitators move from the novice status to a more experienced one, they grow in confidence to add their knowledge to enrich the practices at the centre, while still relying on those who are located in the centre of the community—the core staff and student staff—for support in some cases. These changes inform the growth of the program and add to the reasons why facilitators continue to stay active with the program. As communities of practice, adult EAL programs can be maintained through the commitment of individuals and their interest in sustaining their group.

Informal context of learning and interaction

The second promising practice that I observed in the Learning Exchange is the informal context that shapes the interaction between the learners and the facilitators. Facilitators and learners are engaged in a collaborative learning practice that benefits both learners and volunteer facilitators and constructs this learning community of practice. In the Learning Exchange, facilitator/learner roles are multilayered and fluid in nature. Some of the facilitators are non-native speakers of English, others are not experienced teachers of English. Despite this, they bring strengths to the community. For example, the non-native speakers of English bring an understanding of the challenges that learners face. At the same time, they are increasing their language proficiency through leading the classes. More importantly, facilitators maintain their roles as learners, albeit more experienced ones, in their interaction with novice learners. Native English speaking facilitators bring knowledge about life in Canada and some culturally-specific aspects of language use. At the same time, they develop awareness about challenges that newcomers to Canada face in their everyday interactions with native speakers of English. The Learning Exchange has created a system of informal interactions between people, which supports both learners and facilitators and ensures their persistence in the educational setting.

Recognition of experiences shared by learners and facilitators

The third promising practice at the Learning Exchange is that the program takes individual lives into account and draws upon members’ shared life experiences. Because of this, volunteers at the Learning Exchange have deep altruistic motives for volunteering and they appreciate feeling needed and being in demand. They share the experience of trying to learn a new language, learning at a mature age, or understanding the importance of access to education. This attests to the power of altruism and community-building in adult learning contexts where learners might struggle due to their socio-economic status, level of education, or language proficiency.


In this short article, I wanted to introduce the UBC Learning Exchange that grew from one program into a multifaceted community-engagement initiative that is trusted and respected by many members of the community. Moreover, I wanted to highlight three promising practices elaborated in the English Conversation program. These practices stood out for me during a small-scale study conducted in 2015. These three practices are: 1) development of the English Conversation program as a community of practice 2) sustaining of an informal context of learning and interaction, and 3) recognition of experiences shared by learners and facilitators and building upon them. The English Conversation at the Learning Exchange is driven and sustained by volunteers, some of whom are former learners—and that is perhaps the greatest strength of this program. If you would like to learn more about UBC Learning Exchange and work done there, please visit their website.


I would like to thank Spring Gillard, UBC Learning Exchange English Conversation Coordinator, and Angela Towle, UBC Learning Exchange Academic Director, for their support and feedback on this article.

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Natalia Balyasnikova has collaborated on a range of research and outreach projects with community-based initiatives in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Her research explores English language education in community-based settings, and through this work Natalia aims to support older adults learning English as an additional language.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Balyasnikova, N. (2017, Summer). Promising practices: A peer-led English conversation program that works. TEAL News. Retrieved from


Classroom Corner: Constrained Writing


by Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Tag Words:  Lateral thinking, Writing

Time:  30 + minutes (depending on how many rounds you do)

Age/Level:  Modifiable for different ages and levels, but better at higher levels and ages

Numbers:  Can be done individually, with a partner or in small groups

Skills:  Creative thinking, Writing

Constrained Writing is a fun writing warmer taken from poetry writing that makes students think beyond the structures of a normal sentence.


  • Think quickly and creatively
  • Write sentences that follow various rules yet maintain grammatical and lexical sense


  • Print out the rules of the activity for your own use.
  • Put students into small teams; have them take out a piece of paper and a pen and chose a team name.
  • Put team names on the board with a space below each team name.


  1. Explain the activity (3 minutes): Write the name of the activity on the board and ask students if anyone knows what “constrained” means. It’s a fairly uncommon word, so you might have to explain it. I like to use the noun form “constraints” and do a mock arrest on a student.
  2. Model the activity (3 minutes): I usually model this activity by using the first rule which is “You cannot use any Es in your sentence.” The goal of this activity is to write the longest possible, grammatically correct, sensible sentence, so you can give an example of a sentence with no Es on the board.
  3. First Round (3 minutes): The “no E” rule is a good one to start with, so give the students 3 minutes and with their team, have them write the longest possible sentence they can without Es. Be strict on time.
  4. Check the Sentences (5-7 minutes): When time is up, pens go down and have the teams read their sentences out loud while the teacher writes them on the board under their team name. (Alternately, with a multi-media set up and google docs, this can all be done automatically). Once the sentences are up, give the class 2 minutes to review the sentences and try to find any grammar mistakes. Go through each team’s sentence and check it for grammar, if it makes sense, and if it follows the rules. The team with the longest, correct sentence gets 1 point and the team with the most points at the end is the winner.
  5. Following Rounds (20 minutes +): There are many different rules you could institute for following rounds, but here are my personal favorites. You may need to model some of these to make the rules clear:
  • Lipogram: A common letter (such as E) is banned.
  • Reverse-Lipogram: Each word in a sentence must include a specific letter.
  • Alliteration: Every word in the sentence must begin with the same letter.
  • Anagrams: Teams choose 1 word and must make a sentence out of the letters.
  • Chaterism: Each word must have more letters than the last word Ex. “I am sad today.”
  • Single Syllables: Each word must only have 1 syllable

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander with an English literature degree from Otago University. Before moving to British Columbia, he taught in South Korea for eight years. Since then, he has worked as an Educational Programmer and EAP instructor on UBC’s Okanagan campus and as an EAL instructor at Okanagan College.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2017, Summer). Constrained Writing. TEAL News. Retrieved from

Returning from Abroad: The Weight of Transformations


By Nathan J. Devos

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2016 issue of TEAL News.]

“Transformation” is a word in the English lexicon that carries a lot of weight for me. Without opening a dictionary, my understanding of the word is as follows: Someone or something going through considerable change that involves alterations which might not be expected, cannot be reversed, and may be surprising to those observing from outside. In this case, positive transformations are exciting to watch and fascinating to be a part of, like watching a caterpillar transform into a butterfly or a small seed transform into a massive sunflower. Meanwhile, negative transformations, being equally complex, appear tragic, like the downward spiral of substance abuse. However, as I consider the word “transformation” further, less complicated and more positive images surface as well, like, for example, my childhood memory of a toy Transformer that I finally got one Christmas after begging for it for months. For me, this memory is also valuable as it helps me construct a complete understanding of what this word might actually mean. Maybe that is what makes these words so weighty, the basic fact that they can conjure up both complex explanations and humble images at the same time.

In order to connect transformation with second language learning, I think I need to include the word “identity” to build that bridge properly in my mind, however. Without considering identity in this process, a certain conceptual gap remains between how language learning may indeed be able to transform an individual. Like the word transformation, identity is a term that also requires some serious thinking and often cannot be explained quickly. Again, if I try to describe identity, I would say that it is something each person possesses and is profoundly intimate to what marks us as the individuals that we are. It additionally develops over time and is influenced deeply by family, culture, heritage, religion, and personal experiences. It might especially be the last of these factors, personal experiences—and specifically for my reflection, learning a second / foreign language as an adult—which may cause a very noticeable transformation in a person. Indeed, many adult language learners can tell you that their identities and personal journeys of language learning are inextricably linked.

My own journey of foreign language learning and transformation began in 2003 when I moved to Europe to immerse myself in a new culture. I wanted to explore its history mostly and, by way of numerous detours, landed in a city in northern Germany, about an hour from Hannover. I believed naively then that I could quickly learn the language and travel around the country, passing myself off as a cosmopolitan and native speaker. However, I was just as hastily humbled as I sat in my first intensive Basic German class and struggled to pronounce, “Hallo, ich bin Nat-han. Ich komme aus Kanada.” From that moment on, a much deeper understanding and empathy grew within me as I recognized how extremely difficult yet transforming foreign language learning can be. I spent the next ten months—five hours per day and five days a week—with other immigrants from Turkey, Russia, Poland, Spain, Peru, Japan, and more, laboriously trudging through grammar, speaking, writing, listening, and reading tasks. I watched as some students aptly grasped phonemes, grammatical structures, and discourse conventions, while others painfully sank in the depth of these. A small handful quickly gained confidence and pushed the teachers to move on. Meanwhile, others merely stopped attending or hung their heads in class, hoping the teacher would never call their names. I also consciously recognized in this process how my identity had become extremely vulnerable. Where I used to feel confidence in my first language, perhaps being humorous, witty, deep, thoughtful, and well-spoken, I suddenly became timid, formal, serious, self-conscious, and exposed in my second language. I lucidly remember the shock to my identity as people lost patience with me when I couldn’t find the right words, sometimes snickered at their mispronunciation, or even looked outright confused when the sentences that I had strung together became illogical and incoherent. The humbling feelings of shame and embarrassment I experienced in these moments remain crystal clear in my mind to this day. However, I believe that it was persistence and perseverance through such situations that a process of positive transformation through language learning did indeed occur within me.

Acquiring a truly bi- or multilingual identity can be a positive transforming process; however, not every speaker of another language gets to experience this. In total, I spent twelve years in Germany. After the language courses, I enrolled in a university, finished a Master’s degree, went on to teach in a postsecondary institution, and completed my PhD. During this time, I was lucky enough to travel back and forth to BC on numerous occasions. It was during my travels that it became clear to me that I had transformed my monolingual identity into a bilingual one. Biliteracy and biculturalism gave me an amazing sense of feeling truly comfortable in two countries. By the same token, I consider myself very fortunate as my bilingual identity was openly received in Canada and Germany, something speakers of other less prestigious languages who have other cultures, races, and religions may never experience. Indeed, I know young people from the Middle East and Eastern Europe, just for examples, who have endured stigmatization and felt that they must linguistically assimilate to the point of almost forgetting their first language. Subsequently and over time, they experienced complicated feelings of neither being accepted in their country of residence nor in their country of heritage. This predicament is found not only in Europe, however. Upon returning to Canada permanently this past summer, I have actively sought conversations with newcomers to Canada to share immigration experiences. Despite the majority of reports being positive, I am still saddened by some of the stories I hear. Rejection, unacceptance, or simply a dearth of open-mindedness and flexibility seemingly prevail in some institutions, irrespective of our present age of internationalization and globalization. I am disappointed when I hear these stories, mostly because I know how incredibly vulnerable one is as an adult language learner, yet at the same time how incredibly enriching transforming from a monolingual identity to an accepted bilingual identity can be. Thus, any unnecessary roadblocks set by others along this path can make this already arduous journey negative and more difficult.

In the end, the weight of the word “transformation” and its impact on individual personal experiences should not be taken lightly as language learners transform and acquire bi- or multilingual identities. Like the word itself, this process can be complex, and language teachers can play an important role in turning these journeys into positive memories of the past for those who chose to—or are even forced to—undertake this transformation.

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  From 2006-2015, Nathan Devos taught EFL and TEFL in Germany. He has also published articles on Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), bilingual education in America, and EFL teacher education. His most recent publication is a volume on peer interactions in new CLIL settings.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Devos, N. J. (2016, Winter). The weight of transformations. TEAL News. Retrieved from


Social Media for Teachers: Twitter for Professional Growth


By Nathan Hall

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2016 issue of TEAL News.]

Twitter is a strange creature: vilified by some, while lauded by others. My journey in Twitter began with a mix of curiosity and trepidation. I was required to join as part of my Master’s program, but my account sat dormant for many months. Thinking I had nothing to share, I chose to simply follow others from whom I felt I could learn.

Fifteen months later, I still hadn’t tweeted and I felt it was time for me to either close my account or bring it to life. That was January 2012, and my New Year’s resolution was to start a blog and to use Twitter to share my posts in hopes of connecting with others. Not knowing what to post on my blog, I took inspiration from a technology blog I regularly read, Daring Fireball. This site uses short commentaries along with links to news articles and websites that discuss Apple products. The posts are short and simple, while still adding a bit of personality and reflection. I started up a website, found a news article I thought was interesting, and posted a commentary along with a quote and a link to the original article. With that completed, out went my first tweet.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t even get a single reply, but it managed to give me confidence to tweet more. The proverbial ice was broken and I felt free to share more openly. Slowly, I made more connections as I learned how to use hashtags, followed people who were tweeting on subjects I cared about, and participated in Twitter chats. My blogging began to evolve as I started creating my own content instead of just commenting on what others had written. Over time, I met some of my fellow tweeters at conferences and workshops, creating instant friendships with many of them. Eventually, tweeting became more natural and less contrived. Most of all, I grew as a teaching professional. The act of reflection forced me to consider, and often reconsider, what I knew or believed to be true about language teaching, and by sharing that with others, the act became reciprocal.

For those of you who are where I was back in January 2012, deciding whether to join Twitter or not, allow me to share some of my ideas about how you can use Twitter to grow your Personal Learning Network (PLN).

  1. Be yourself: One of the things I learned from others is to allow people to see the real you. Dean Shareski, an educator and trainer from Regina, created a video “warning” others that he would be tweeting about life, work, and everything in between. Just as in an office, school, or any other workplace, we don’t just talk shop; we share about what is happening in our lives. Education does not define me, even if it is something I deeply care about. You might not be comfortable sharing personal information online, which is understandable, but you don’t need to share too much. Be willing to open little windows into others areas of your life so people can connect with you on a personal level. We all hate the major disconnect we feel when we communicate with a large business. It might be their automated phone system, or form emails we receive in reply. We feel connected through personal means of communication. That’s how I feel about Twitter. The joy is in the connections, not just the content.
  2. Don’t be afraid to copy: I’m not advocating plagiarism here, I’m simply suggesting that if you don’t know how to tweet or blog, find someone who does and then emulate their techniques or style until you create your own. That is what I did with my blogging, eventually creating my own writing style. It is also what I did with my tweets. I found people who were more experienced on Twitter and I watched how they interacted with others and worked within the confines of this medium.
  3. Join in: For me, the most rewarding aspect of Twitter is making connections with people from around the world. I experience this the most during conference live-tweets and twitter chats. When I first started live-tweeting at conferences, I was amazed at how well this tool allows people from around the world to join in with those who are physically attending the conference. It enhances my own experience at the conference by forcing me to condense what I am learning into manageable, bite-sized pieces. On top of that, it gives me the opportunity to take part in other sessions I am unable to attend. I also love participating in Twitter chats. These are scheduled times when people tweet using a single hashtag, such as #LINCchat. People share ideas, links, problems, and questions on a single topic. These live, online discussions are also a time to find like-minded people to follow. You can go back over the tweets by searching the hashtag, even if you were unable to attend during the live chat.

Twitter is not magic, nor will it make you into a better teacher. What it will do is give you a voice and connections to those whom you would normally never have the opportunity to meet. It is a venue in which the conversation can happen. What you do in that space is entirely up to you.

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Nathan Hall has been an Instructional Resource Coordinator for LISTN, an EAP instructor and TESL Trainer for Douglas College, and a Community Coordinator for Tutela. He has also been a member of both the BC TEAL board and the TESL Canada Research and Outreach Committee. He is an avid blogger and Twitter user in the areas of language teaching and educational technology. You can find out more at


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Original reference information:

Hall, N. (2016, Winter). Twitter for Professional Growth. TEAL News. Retrieved from