Language Matters - Genre Analysis: Novels

 


Look at the following extracts from a crime novel (Camilla Läckberg, The Preacher, 2009 Harper Collins) : 

Can you identify at least five features of language and/or content which are typical of the genre.

 


Extract One (the first two sentences of Chapter One of the novel)

The day was off to a promising start. He woke up early before the rest of the family, put on his clothes as quietly as possible, and managed to sneak out unnoticed.

 

Extract Two (the first sentences of a second section of Chapter One with different characters)

Sweat made the sheet stick to her body. Erika tossed and turned in bed, but it was impossible to find a comfortable position. The bright summer night didn't make it any easier to sleep, and for the thousandth time she made a mental note to buy some blackout curtains to hang up, or rather to persuade Patrick to do it.

 

Extract Three (from Chapter Two of the novel)

Ernst and Martin had come back to the station from the call they’d been on, and Patrick decided to start by getting them up to speed in the case. He called them into his office and couldn’t help noticing that Ernst was beet-red with anger ….

“I assume you’ve already heard about what happened?”

“Yes, we heard it on the police radio,” said Martin. Unlike Ernst, he was young and enthusiastic, and sat bolt upright in the chair with a notebook in his lap and his pen poised

 

Extract Four (from Chapter Two)

 

Patrick sat deep in the bowels of Tanumshede police station and dug through old documents… even though he didn’t know exactly what he was looking for, it had to be there somewhere.

 

Extract Five (the first sentences of Chapter Five)

 

Robert found him out in the shed. They knew each other so well and he knew that’s where his brother went when he was worried about something.


Scroll down for some suggestions.

 


Content

1a.  Narrative text with the events reported in the third person: He woke up early…; Erika tossed and turned… Ernst and Martin had come back…; Patrick decided to start by…

 

1bHowever, the  narrator is “omniscient” – ie  can “see into the mind” of the protagonists: Patrick decided to start by…; He couldn’t help noticing that…; She made a mental note to…; he knew that’s where his brother went…

 

Linguistic features

 

2.  Text narrated as a sequence of past events and therefore a predominance of past tense verbs: it was impossible; Ernst and Martin had come back; he didn’t know exactly what he was looking for; Robert found him out in the shed.

 

3. Descriptive text with adjectives used  to allow the reader to visualise the scene and the characters: the bright summer light; a comfortable position;  he was young and enthusiastic

 

4. Use of direct speech to give the reader the impression of listening to the conversation:

“I assume you’ve already heard about what happened?”

“Yes, we heard it on the police radio,” said Martin

 

5. Use of imagery and figurative language to create powerful mental images and convey abstract ideas:

a promising start; Erika tossed and turned…; Patrick decided to start by getting them up to speed…; Ernst was beet-red with anger…; … and sat bolt upright in the chair; Patrick sat deep in the bowels of Tanumshede police station and dug through old documents…

 

6. Cataphoric reference used to create suspense and make the reader want to read on to find out who is being described He woke up early.., put on his clothes …; Sweat made the sheet stick to her body; Robert found him out in the shed.

Teaching Grammar

The following task comes from material originally used on our Delta Module One course to prepare learners for Paper 2/3. If you are using it for this purpose, you may find the following introduction useful. If not, just skip this part and go straight to the article itself.

The answer to this task contains 15 basic points, and therefore would gain 30/30 of the marks available for the “breadth” of the response. Five of them are elaborated and would therefore probably gain about 4/10  depth marks. This puts the answer firmly in the distinction average category.

As you read through the answer you may notice that many points and examples have been “recycled” from other answers to tasks in this series. In the exam, you don’t have thinking time –it’s therefore essential that you already have points in mind that you can adapt as necessary to the specific questions. Notice that five of the answers go beyond stating the basic point to include reference to and explanations of theories, examples from personal teaching experience and the other depth categories outlined in the Cambridge Handbook on p.15. If you’ve prepared and repeated enough of these in your preparation for task 2/1, they will come to mind spontaneously in the exam.

 

TASK

This task discusses the following statement: The practice of breaking down language into discrete items or areas for formal presentation, explicit rule giving and controlled practice is of very limited value

It then asks: 

a) What arguments can be put forward in support of this statement?

b) What are the arguments against it? 

c) How do you achieve "the best of both worlds" in your teaching?  




SUGGESTED ANSWER

 


a)  Arguments supporting the criticism

1. The Presentation – Practice- Production approach described in the statement focuses on “Grammar McNuggets” (Thornbury) - ie preselected linguistic items to be learnt in a specific order - but this may not be realistic in terms of the actual processes of second language acquisition. Many writers ( Thornbury but also eg Krashen) argue that acquisition does not occur in this “predictable” way. Krashen suggests that each learner will be ready to acquire the “next” item (which he calls “ i+1”) but we have no way of predicting what this is. 

2. Similarly it may not be realistic to expect learners to acquire the item immediately in one lesson or even one unit, moving from no knowledge of the item to its spontaneous use in a production stage.  This recurrent problem led to the contradiction in the PPP approach where some proponents argued that it “didn’t matter” if the TL was not used in the Production stage. However, logically this would seems to make the stage irrelevant to the lesson. Others argued that the Ls still be should be “pushed” into using the TL  - but this again shows that expecting acquisition to take place immediately was an unrealistic aim. 

3. Even when Ls did seem to have mastered the item within the lesson or unit, it was frequently noted that in subsequent lessons it had been forgotten and no longer used spontaneously where it would have been appropriate (Willis). This suggested that there was something wrong about or missing from the approach.

4. PPP could be appropriate for dealing with grammar, but did not focus in any depth on skills development or discourse, and downplayed a focus on lexis. This led to a "top-heavy" syllabus where grammar was given priority and other areas received less attention.

5. An analytic grammar based approach (whether PPP or any other) is not suitable for  very young or primary age learners who have not yet developed the cognitive skills necessary to cope with abstractions such as rules of form and use. These Ls are still able to acquire the language in the same way as they acquired their L1 – by exposure to meaningful language use.

6. It may also be unsuitable for learning contexts such as summer courses in Britain where the class members all come from different backgrounds and, even if their general level has been ascertained,  the T cannot be sure exactly what each person does/does not know. Using an approach based on a pre-determined syllabus might therefore mean that a lot of the learners were covering items which they had already acquired. 

7. Similarly, a PPP approach used for a revision lesson could lead to the learners feeling “But we’ve done this before” and to frustration at apparent lack of progress. 

8. Traditional PPP was often very T-centred, The presentation stage was generally T-led, with the T. setting up a context, feeding in the TL, and then asking concept questions to elicit rules of form and use. These would often be answered by the strongest Ls in the class (especially in larger classes and/or if the T didn’t nominate), leaving the others fairly uninvolved. Depth of cognitive processing was therefore fairly shallow and may have led to the problem in point 3

9. Swain’s “Output Hypothesis” suggests that Ls acquire language by attempting to use what they know to communicate what they personally want to say, reformulating misunderstood language until they succeed. A traditional PPP approach leaves little time for this (except possibly in the use of non-target language items in the production stage).

 

c)  Arguments against the criticism

10. Point 8 above is, however, more a criticism of the way  the PPP sequence was handled than a criticism of a “Grammar McNuggets” approach itself. More recent approaches have retained a focus on grammar but favoured a text-based methodology where the T no longer leads the presentation but Ls work on Guided Discovery activities, working out the rules for themselves. The text may be a reading a listening text (thus allowing for receptive skills work first), a conversation between the learner (as in Thornbury's  Dogme approach) or the learners' own written work - but whatever is used, the language is presented in a context of real language use rather than being "broken down" - ie presented in isolation "for its own sake". The emergent language focused on may include any language system or subskill, thus avoiding the "top-heavy" approach described above while still allowing ample room for grammar focus. The active approach of GD and the personalisation involved in the speaking/writing activities increases depth of cognitive processing, which should also improve retention. 

The approach may be the most suitable for various learner types and learning contexts – eg :

11. Analytic learners (McCarthy) who want to come to a full understanding of the rules of form and use before being asked to use the language.

12. Similarly,  learners with a preference for systematic lessons where they first fully understand the language, and then are asked to manipulate and finally use it in activities which increase only gradually in level of communicative challenge. (Serialist Learners Pask). These learners appreciate a step-by-step approach with simpler CP activities provided before they are asked to use the language to communicate. They would be uncomfortable with approaches where they were “thrown straight in” to communicating – eg TBL .

13. Very large classes where a lockstep approach makes it easier for the teacher to check that every learner has understood, produced correct answers etc.

 

d) The best of both worlds

14. Although I frequently use a pre-determined syllabus and PPP/Guided Discovery approach in my teaching, I also leave ample time for focus on and explanation of emergent language (as suggested by Thornbury and developed into the method  Dogme) and the use of  techniques similar to those advocated bt Demand High ELT to practice it “on the spot” (see Thornbury P is for Push).The argument here is that, as the language focused on is that which the learners have wanted to use to express personal ideas, the input will be more engaging and processed at greater cognitive depth than language chosen by the teacher – thus resulting in greater retention, ie learning. This meets the criteria for Swain’s Output Hypothesis. For example, I would leave ample time after any productive activity (be it a warm-up discussion or Production stage activity) for a full class follow-up. During the follow-up, I would focus not only on correction of the target language but also on emergent language providing a) correction and explanation as necessary; b) praise for and recycling of any language used by Ls which we’d covered in previous lessons; c) upgrading of correct language to an expression that reflected the learner’s level. Eg if I heard a B2 learner say “It was raining heavily”. I might focus on the fact that the expression was correct and appropriate, but then upgrade it that but by introducing and practising  “It was pouring with rain” as an alternative.

 

15. An alternative format, useful in situations such as those in points 6 and 7,  is the  Test - Teach -Test format. This starts with a productive activity that allows the T. to diagnose whether the learners do in fact need a formal re-presentation and practice of language already covered, whether they can go on to more complex items. This prevents the problem outlined in point 7 and also allows for differentiation. For example, if recycling polite requests, the T may notice some learners having problems with the structure “Would you mind +Ving”, while others are using it accurately. It can therefore be focused on in the Teach stage (which may be identical to presentation and Controlled practice) and remedial help given to the weaker Ls. At the same time however, the expression “I wonder if you’d mind Ving” can be introduced. In the practice activities that follow, the weaker Ls can practice the basic structure and the others use the new version. All Ls therefore feel they’ve learnt something new.