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'pidgin' vs. standard (advice on teaching) 
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Post 'pidgin' vs. standard (advice on teaching)
I was wondering if any of you teaches students whose L1 or 'lingua franca' is an English-based pidgin or creole. Or maybe there is someone here who is bilingual in an English-based pidgin/creole and in 'standard European/American' English.

I'm looking for ideas on how to stimulate transition from a type of pidgin to 'the standard'. Here is the situation: I'm working with a young teenager, doing some extra-curricular CLIL-type one-to-one in history/social studies etc. The boy is almost a bilingual, he communicates really well, his passive skills (reading, listening) are well-developed at a near-native level, suitable for his age.
I know most of the language he acquired (which is not difficult in The Netherlands) comes from the TV/computer games. The effect is that eg. his past tense forms exist only in his passive language. When he talks - whether about the past or the present, he uses basic verb forms, sometimes irregular pasts occur.
There's also some influence from Dutch on grammar, mainly at the sentence level (eg. questions VSO, instead of AuxSVO).
At the beginning I ignored these pidgin-like (or mixed-language) features, and decided to focus on exposure and communication, plus learning skills. This generally improved the quality of his communicative skills. There was a certain moment, when he started to ask 'vocab' questions with regard to irregular verb forms, so I showed him our favourite chart. We played a couple of games etc. - the result is that past forms (both regular and irregular) are present in his passive vocabulary. Now we've got a couple of weeks to 'polish' that at least to a certain point. I realised that he won't start using the standard without an extra stimulus (from me probably).
And here the question to you: How do you correct the features transmitted from a pidgin/creole? Or how were you corrected to reach the standard?

(I've already asked my partner, a bilingual in one of the creoles and in 'the standard', so I've got some ideas already. The thing is that most methods require brutal interruptions, and this is what I wanted to avoid).

If the post is too 'professional' (I'm a linguist), I could put it into something more approachable. Also, remarks on pidgins/creoles are welcome, as long as you don't judge them as 'bad Englishes'.


Wed Jun 04, 2008 6:56 am
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Tough question ... I'm not sure I can offer any advice that you probably aren't aware of.

Is his English pidgin or creole?

I assume that the student is aware that his English differs from standard English, right? Does he agree with conformity to standard English? I guess I'm asking if he sees the point in learning standard English?

With the information you gave, I'd work on some form-focused exercises. Maybe some simple past exercises via some of the games on this site. That ought to emphasize the structure and present the 'correct' verb forms.

You seem to have already passed that step.

I would probably record some speech samples from a session. Then, transcribe that and in the following session have the student 'correct' the differences into standard English. Since his passive understanding is OK he should be able to recognize the 'errors'. He also should recognize that what he's reading is what he said in the previous session. The same activity could be repeated over several sessions. All in all the effect would be to make him more aware of the differences and hopefully with time those would gradually decrease. Simply running a recorder ought to make him more careful once he understands the purpose of the recording device. Hopefully that will become training for when he needs to switch from pidgin to standard English.

I don't think that's a brutal interruption, but I could be wrong.

What were you thinking of doing?

What are some examples of brutal interruption?

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Wed Jun 04, 2008 11:39 pm
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It could be argued that the relationship between Spanish and Italian is comparable to the relationship between standard and pidgin/creole English. They share a common origin (Latin) and much of the vocabulary and grammar are similar - but much is also different. Native speakers of the two languages can just about understand each other, but it's hard work, and communication often breaks down.

Does that sound like a fair assessment of the standard v. pidgin/creole English relationship?

If so, then a lot has been written about solving the difficulties this can cause. Obviously it's mostly in Italian/Spanish, but it may be worth sniffing around on the internet to see if any has been translated into English.

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Thu Jun 05, 2008 6:14 am
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Thanks for your ideas. With the amount of time I have, I've decided to introduce some 'focus-on-form' activities, and I may hope that they past tense verbs will move from my student's passive language to the 'active' cell. I'd expect the irregular pasts to show up first, then it may be exposure which will do wonders...

As it comes to the relationship between creoles and their lexifier languages, they are rather reflections of vocabulary digested via the systems of other donor languages, afterwards they developed separately. So what is involved is the grammar of a couple of languages...This makes the relationship a little bit different from the relationships between various languages which belong to one family. Anyway, the solutions may be similar, thus it seems I will have to return to articles on interlanguages and crossing. Well, cheers for a hint!


Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:44 am
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Sorry, Nika, I reread my post and I may have come across as patronizing. That's not at all what I meant. I would like to know of an example of interruption techniques that are considered undesirable if you have the time.

Since I teach students via a speech first method, I get some pidgin type formations from my students. Then, when they enter junior high school, they must conform to ridgid standard English with zero tolerance (even for acceptable variations of the desired response.) It's sometimes very difficult for my students.

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Tue Jun 10, 2008 7:11 am
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Well, Mark, that's the point - my student is going to start a bilingual Dutch/English lower secondary school next year (which is quite fashionable here in The Netherlands at the moment in general), and I simply want to avoid the situation of him being returned his piece of writing full of red/green marks: this might be 'somewhat demotivating'. On the other hand, I may need to do it myself, quite soon. His last writing task was focussed on the so-called 'irrealis', I'm going to see the effect soon.

As for your advice - with a slightly older student, it is exactly what I would do myself. The only doubt I have is whether he sees the need of using these 'different' linguistic items. On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago we did some American-into-British translation, and the boy was well aware of the differences. Thus I guess that he might be mature enough for some language awareness tasks.

I've also realised that my post was slightly misleading in terms of the terminology I used. I called my student's language a pidgin, since for me it's got many features of these, the boy's vocab is rich, and the communicative purpose is fulfilled. We talk naturally, although I notice many features of Dutch grammar (I speak some Dutch myself) . This may be considered an interlanguage, and it would be, for an adult student.

But... I did some research in pidgins/creoles and mixed languages, I've got a Creole-speaking partner and my passive knowledge of his creole is at a reasonable level. What's more, I consider the 'language-contact' terminology safer, because there isn't so much judgemental thinking in it, since we abandoned the 'broken-lexifiers' theory.

In my teaching, particularly at the lower levels, I stick to one rule of 'correctness' - as long as I grasp you, it's correct. Of course, students need 'The Grammar', especially in the further stages. My favourite method of correction - let them do it on their own, so I usually jot down a couple of 'non-standard' expressions and then guide the correction. Sometimes it's enough for the student to see that it's not what the wanted to say - and it's corrected on the spot. Sometimes I repeat my student's utterance, tagged - to provoke self-correction via repetition.
Eg. S: The woman cook.
T: Oh, she cooks, doesn't she?
S: The woman cooks and...
When my (adult) students know me, it's enough for them to look at me when talking.

Undesirable? Well, any kind of interrupting a student in the middle of the sentence is dangerous, we may end up with somebody who would be ashamed of talking at all.

I'm curious about your methods, Mark. I much prefer speak-first methods, even with adult students.


Wed Jun 11, 2008 10:47 pm
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Nika wrote:
I'm curious about your methods, Mark. I much prefer speak-first methods, even with adult students.

Well, that's why this site has so many flashcards. I start all classes with cards and just playing with the cards, the language and speaking using cards as prompts. For example, my first lesson is animal vocabulary. With the cards, the students learn some vocabulary, but then I start teaching "What's this?" and "What's that?"

So, I teach or give them the tools to get information first. I do that for a while building vocabulary. Then we work through cards again, ellaborating on different vocabulary. So, when we go back to the animals, they have to tell me about the animals 'This is a bear. Some bears are brown. Bears live in caves. They eat fish and berries. ...'

I posted a couple years ago about my "grammar-less/all speaking" teaching philosophy. http://www.mes-english.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=629

I must say that I've come back a little more to center recently, but that grammar-less and all speaking ideology is still present in my classes.

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Tue Jul 08, 2008 2:07 pm
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