Cambridge Day 2013 – part 4 -Grammar in the upper levels

One more post about the Cambridge Day 2013 in São Paulo, and once more reporting about a talk given by Michael McCarthy.

After lunch break, professor McCarthy returned for one more talk, now about grammar in the upper levels, discussing what kind of content should be taught to advanced students and what the focus should be.

The whole question of what grammar to teach stems from the problem that it is hard to choose what grammar to teach in advanced levels – post B2 – a problem that is shown by the fact that most books choose different points to teach as grammar at those levels.
A common sollution is to choose difficult – and normally rare – constructions to teach students. Something that is not normally taken into account is how relevant it is for students to learn this grammar – how useful it will be for learners in real life.

A solution he proposed was a shift from this point of view from teaching rare and difficult grammar to other kind of grammar structures, such as:

Common constructions not often taught

Things people normally say in conversations but which might be frowned upon by the traditional grammar, such as ellipsis, which we can see in sentences like: “Ever been to Brazil?” or “Finished?”

Known items but with new meanings

The example given to illustrate this was the future perfect, normally taught in the context “By the end of the year I’ll have …“.

It could be taught in advanced levels in the context of making assumptions, whether present or past. As in: “You will have been given a handout as you entered the room.” or  “You will have heard about the story…

Known meanings but different structures

Sometimes we just teach a specific structure for a meaning, and there are several other structures that could convey the same idea. For example with the conditionals. Below are some of the structures that can be used to express a condition but are  normally not taught in this context:

Imperatives: “Ask anyone and they will tell you…”, “Go to any supermarket and you’ll see.”

were+subject+infinitive: “Were I to do that…”

had: “Had I known…”

should: “Should you have any problem, please call me.”

Revisiting fossilized errors

There are issues that even after years and years remain as a problem for some students. As a part of polishing students’ language, solving these problems should be a priority.

Ok, we have just one more post about the Cambridge Day to go. Hope you guys are enjoying and finding them helpful. You can find the other posts of this series in the links below:

Cambridge Day 2013 – Part 3 – Michael McCarthy

After the morning coffee break, it was Professor McCarthy’s turn to take the stage with his talk “Profiling English – Spoken Fluency and the CEFR“.


The talk started discussing the concept of fluency and its importance to learners and general public, being the only technical term about language learning and acquisition that is shared by teachers, researchers and the everyone else. Fluency is extremely important because it affects speakers lives, whether professional, academical or personal.

Something very interesting is the thought that fluency involves both sides in a conversation.

The Common European Framework was briefly presented, with its different levels and the different performance expected in each level. (for more about the CEFR check our post on the topic: (in Portuguese)

From the definitions in the CEFR for fluency, Professor McCarthy explored the Conventional Criteria for spoken fluency, as follows:

  • Speed of delivery

It is context dependent: For example a lecture has a much lower speed than a friendly conversation which has around 10,000 words per hour.

  • Pauses

Pauses in a fluent conversation are about half a second long and any difference in it may cause some unease on the other person. Pauses should, also, never happen in the middle of chunks of language, or it might change the meaning by adding some extra stress to  the phrase.

Other criteria for fluency include:

  • Dysfluencies
  • Automaticity

To these criteria, McCarthy added some questions:

  • Can the learner use chunks of language accurately and automatically?
  • Can the learner link their turn smoothly to the previous speaker?
  • Can the learner use a repertoire of small interactive words (just, actually, I mean…)?

Finally, he added that fluency also includes the ability to take turns appropriately   in communication and linking your speech to the one of the person you are talking to. This was done in context of the research of Tao(2003) – full reference at the end of the post on what words open a speaker’s turn in a dialogue.

Some of the most common turn openers are words like: yeah, well and right. Words that show a reaction to the speech that has just happened, which helps the conversation to move on.

McCarthy also pointed out that the word “the”, despite being one of the most common in the English Language is not common in the beginning of a turn of speech, unless it is part of a chunk, because it does not create a reaction to what has been said on its own.

For more information about the English Profile he recommended the website, which has several free resources available for download.

For a longer look at this subject you can also check the article Rethinking Spoken Fluency from the magazine ELIA available at


Tao, H. (2003). Turn initiators in spoken English: A corpus-based approach
to interaction and grammar. In P. Leistyna & C. F. Meyer (Eds.).
Corpus Analysis: Language Structure and Language Use (pp.187-
207). Amsterdam: Rodopi.


Cambridge Day 2013 – Part 2 – Cidadão pró-mundo

For our second post about the Cambridge day 2013, we’ll talk about the presentation of Cidadão pró-mundo – an NGO that aims to bring English lessons for free to disenfranchised  children and teenagers  from poor communities in Brazil.

cidadão pró-mundo

This edition of Cambridge Day was really great at showing social responsibility. Besides taking food donations as admission fee, which added up to around 1ton. food to be given to  Associação benção de paz –, Cambridge University Press has also invited the NGO Cidadão pró-mundo to show their work to the attending teachers and also have a booth in the event where they could talk more about the work they do, take donations and get the contacts of possible volunteers.

Sarah Morais presented Cidadão pró-mundo, an exciting young NGO where volunteers give up one day a month teach children and teenagers on the weekend. Founded in 1997, the NGO has been expanding yearly, having a 400% growth over the last two years. Now they have eight  branches Both in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro states with 700 students.

Sarah presented a great video that could show both the team of volunteers and the effects the NGO has been causing on the lives of their students.

Something that really impressed me was the fact that the majority of the volunteers in the project are not professional English teachers and that’s where we  professional teachers could really come in, lending them a helping hand and providing training to those volunteers.

Besides, Cidadão pró-mundo is also looking for donations to help them maintain and expand their work. You can adopt a student for R$15.00 a month (which is less money than a Hamburger costs in many places, but can make a huge difference in a kid’s life). You can help them donating on their website through paypal.

Visit their website:, like their page on facebook, and learn more about this amazing job.

On the next post, we’ll have something about Michael McCarthy’s talk on Spoken Fluency and the CEFR. Check also our post on the first talk of Cambridge day 2013 with the highlights of John Corbett’s Talk.

Cambridge Day 2013 – Part 1 John Corbett

Something new here for the teachers who visit the website: We’ve been to Cambridge Day 2013 in São Paulo – the special edition, and even though it was a full house I know many of you couldn’t be there, so I’ll post here some of the highlights of the event.00002966After a nice warm up, Professor John Corbett took the stage to deliver his talk on Intercultural Language Activities.

The intercultural aspect of learning a language can help a lot, not only in communicating with natives, but also by lowering barriers students may have against learning the language. It is a great way to show how a language – English – can be present in the local culture, even if you’re not traveling abroad.

Some interesting ideas he mentioned:

Exploring Signs in English

It’s a good idea to have students go around the city and check the signs that use the English language in Brazil. Have them analyze the sighs:

  • what signs use English?
  • Are there signs in other languages too?
  • Is this use of english or other languages recent, or has it happened for a while?

Loafing and Lurking

This activity is great for students learning about a culture when they are abroad, it is actually, nothing more than going to a cafe and paying attention to other people and making notes while students are there eating.

  • What is the place like?
  • Do cafe employees wear a uniform?
  • What do people do there?
  • What kind of people go there?
  • How is the process for purchasing the coffee?
  • What is the expected behavior?

Such questions can bring some interesting insight on the  local culture.

Exploring domestic spaces

Another great idea for when students are abroad or come from different backgrounds is comparing homes in the different countries. What is there, what is different in home layouts? Is there a reason for those differences?

Building online communities to explore culture

With all new social networks online it is getting easier and easier to have your students meet online and exchange experiences with foreign students of English, so they can exchange experiences.

A website he recommended was that has many interesting resources.

If you are interested in learning more about intercultural language education,  a great resource is Professor Corbett’s blog: Loafing and Lurking

Probably my longest post here and it was only the first part… coming up: Michael McCarthy, ONG cidadão Pró-mundo e Michael Tomlinson (with a video) .