Metalanguage in the EFL Classroom
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Underline all the past simple verbs.
Is this a second or a third conditional?
Today we’re going to look at reported speech.
Sound familiar? These are examples of teacher talk which are probably heard in English as a Foreign Language classrooms all over the world. They are also examples of metalanguage. Metalanguage is the language used to talk about language.
Maybe, but using metalanguage is a regular feature of the average EFL classroom. It is something we do in almost every lesson. However, even as we do it we realise there are advantages and disadvantages of using metalanguage in the classroom, so let’s look at a few of those to see if it’s actually worth our while.
Read more: An A – Z of the English Language
Why do we use metalanguage?
There are a number of reasons why we use metalanguage in the EFL classroom.
First of all, it makes it easier to talk about the technical aspects of the language. It provides a common framework on which to give explanations of language. Can you imagine trying to explain comparatives and superlatives without using the term adjective? Or how to construct the present perfect without using the term past participle? It would be a lot more difficult, would probably include more fluffy language, might be a bit confusing, and would definitely take a lot of time.
Similarly, metalanguage helps our language learners compartmentalise language. Effectively, using these terms helps our learners process the new language we are teaching and relate it to the language they already know. This is useful because building on our learners’ previous knowledge can help them learn more easily than learning a topic from scratch.
Then, bear in mind that our students have probably been language learners for a while. As a result, they expect a certain degree of metalanguage as they are likely to have encountered the language in previous English lessons or in coursebooks or in reference books. Especially students who come from a very traditional educational background would have been taught using the technical terms for language and would find it very odd if you as their EFL teacher did not use those same terms.
Read more: The Case For and Against Coursebooks
Finally, teachers are expected to know metalanguage as it is a sign of knowledge. We learn metalinguistic terms as a part of our training and so it becomes second nature to use it in the classroom. As soon as we learn to use the terms appropriately, it is easy to slip into the habit of using them all the time – but that’s also possibly because we understand its usefulness.
Does using metalanguage confuse our learners?
On the other hand, there are numerous arguments against the use of metalanguage.
For one thing, using it may require teaching it, which is a waste of precious classroom time that could be spent teaching the language that students will use in the real world. Being able to speak about the language is not the same as being able to communicate in the language, and it is the latter that is the main goal of our learners and not the former. Why should they waste an hour talking about the present perfect when they could be learning how to use it instead? Does it really matter what it’s called, so long as the learner knows how to use it appropriately?
It can further be confusing for students if the metalanguage is not clear or if the teacher is not totally comfortable with using metalanguage. Grammatical terms can be tricky, so even slightly misusing a term can cause huge confusion with our learners.
Plus, it can make language learning seem a lot more challenging. If a learner doesn’t understand a metalinguistic term, they can be put off from even attempting to learn the target language. If the teacher overuses metalanguage it might even make the lesson boring. And, if this happens and our learners become bored or give up, we have lost them at the first hurdle.
These are all valid reasons for not using metalanguage, but what is the alternative?
Should we use metalanguage?
As with most things in life, this is not a black and white issue.
To say we shouldn’t use any metalinguistic terms would be foolish, as they can be very useful. Rather, teachers need to identify which metalinguistic terms they should utilise in the classroom. These need to be metalinguistic terms that are already familiar to their students and the use of which will save time and simplify rather than complicate matters.
If any terms are likely to cause more confusion than clarity or if even the teacher is not totally sure of the meaning of it, then it should be left out completely. This will probably end up in the teacher using very common metalinguistic terms, like parts of speech, but not more uncommon terms, like those referring to paralinguistic features of language or theoretical terms.
On a general level, common metalinguistics terms are parts of speech and names of tenses, while more uncommon metalinguistic terms are those which relate to very complex grammar or literary devices. A good rule of thumb is if you are comfortable with the term, then it is more than likely accessible to your learners.
Older learners vs younger learners
Consequently, teachers should find that they use metalanguage more freely with older learners and learners with higher levels of English, while keeping it to a minimum with learners of lower levels and using it very sparingly with Young Learners. They should also take into account the previous learning experiences of their learners and how much metalinguistic knowledge the learners already have. All of these will help them make a decision about how much metalanguage is beneficial to use in a classroom.
In a nutshell, using metalanguage is a choice the teacher must make, based on the needs and abilities of the students, and the knowledge of the teacher. The ultimate use of metalanguage must be to simplify linguistic explanations, so the teacher must be confident in their knowledge, as well as skillful in their use of the metalinguistic terms.
But if you can handle this balancing act, using metalanguage is an excellent tool in the EFL classroom.
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- We will ask you for an explanation about why you think the processing is unlawful, and may also ask that you provide evidence to support this view.
Processing of personal information you think is inaccurate
- You can tell us if you think the personal information we are processing about you is factually inaccurate. You can require us to restrict how we use your personal information until we can verify the accuracy of the information. We will ask you for an explanation about why you think the information is inaccurate, and may also ask that you provide some supporting evidence of the alleged inaccuracy.
- If we find that the personal information we are processing about you is inaccurate, we will take appropriate steps to correct the information.
Personal information is no longer needed by Everything TEFL Ltd but needed by you in connection with a legal claim
- In most circumstances, we will securely delete or dispose of personal information when we no longer need it for our legitimate business purposes. Our approach to retention is outlined in our corporate retention schedules.
- However, if the personal information we no longer need would assist you in establishing, exercising or defending a legal claim, you can require us to keep the information for as long as necessary. We may ask you to provide an explanation and any available supporting evidence that a legal claim is ongoing or contemplated.
Right to erasure of personal data (“the right to be forgotten”)
In the following circumstances, you have the right to require that Everything TEFL Ltd securely deletes or destroys your personal information:
- If the personal information we hold about you is no longer necessary for the purposes for which we originally collected it.
- The processing is based on consent – if you have previously given your consent to Everything TEFL Ltd collecting and processing your personal information, and you notify us that you withdraw your consent. Please note: withdrawing your consent does not mean the processing of your personal data which occurred before the withdrawal was unlawful.
- We are processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes, and you want us to stop.
- If you think Everything TEFL Ltd has processed your personal information unlawfully.
If you think any of the above situations apply, we may ask you for an explanation and further information to verify this.
Right to object to processing
You have the right to object to the Everything TEFL Ltd processing your personal data in the following circumstances:
Personal information used for direct marketing
If we are using your personal information to send you direct marketing, you have the right to object at any time. If you exercise this right, we will stop processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes. However, we may keep your information on a “suppression list” to ensure your information is not added to any marketing lists at some point in the future.
Automated decision making and profiling
- ‘Profiling’ is the automated use of personal data held on a computer to analyse or predict things that have a legal effect, or other similarly significant effects, on the individual. Examples would include economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests and location. You have the right not to be subject to a solely automated decision (that is, a decision made electronically, with no human intervention), and this may include profiling (although there is no general right to object to profiling). If you are concerned the Everything TEFL Ltd has made a solely automated decision about you, you can object.
- Please note, Everything TEFL Ltd is allowed to carry out automated decisions with no human intervention where you have given your explicit consent to this processing (although you have the right to withdraw your consent).
- We are also permitted to make automated decisions with no human intervention in the following circumstances:
- The automated decision is necessary to enter into, or perform a contract, or complete a contract involving you and the Everything TEFL Ltd.
- The automated decision is allowed under a law passed at the European Union level, or at the level of the European Union or EEA member state level (i.e., is allowed under national law). The law will provide safeguards to protect your rights and freedoms.
However, you still have a general right to object in both of the above circumstances, providing reasons why you think the processing is having a negative effect on you. If you do object, we will carefully consider your reasons, and decide whether to review the decision-making process in your specific case.
Right to data portability
- If you have provided your information to Everything TEFL Ltd, you have the right to request and receive a copy of that information in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
- You also have the right to ask us to send the information we hold about you to another organisation.
- There are some situations in which the right to data portability does not apply. For further information, please contact us.
Exercising your rights concerning the processing of your personal information
If you wish to exercise any of the above rights concerning the way in which we process your personal information, please contact:
Risk Management Team
Everything TEFL Ltd
28 – 32 Pembroke Street,
Republic of Ireland
Telephone: +353 (1) 554 6227
Email: [email protected]
Your right to complain to a national data protection regulator (data protection supervisory authority)
- If you think we have processed your personal information unfairly or unlawfully, or we have not complied with your rights under GDPR, you have the right to complain to a national data protection regulator.
- Complaints about how we process your personal information can be considered by the data protection regulator.