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June 2013

E-Bulletin from IATEFL Poland keeping you informed


Peter Whiley

Welcome everyone to yet another edition of the e-bulletin. This one is a bit later than the usual one, but so is this year’s Conference! Everything is running a bit late, and that includes the registration system, whilst the speaker deadline has been extended. As an Australian would say: “No worries, cobbers!”. Indeed, life goes on, and everything is now moving into top gear. The Łódź Conference takes place at the end of September, so we do have plenty of time yet to make full arrangements for it. The news is rolling in, and I can update you here with the latest plans and details for what seems sure to be another exciting event. Also, I am including a report of Radom’s latest ‘odcinek’ of ‘Culture Lane’, which was a major success; news from the ELTons Awards Event in London, in which IATEFL Poland featured; a methodological survey about L1 usage to take; and news from the ‘IATEFL Poland election campaign’, with a surprising development. We have text-wise, something a bit different for you - an academic article on Reported Speech by Justyna Jarska - it may well be hard to follow, but it's an interesting, well-written piece of work. To be completely different from the norm, I will be commercial, for once, and ‘plug’ a hotel in Łódź, which still has plenty of vacancies for the Conference, and for no obvious reason! So, stay tuned and read all the news concerning IATEFL Poland.

The Conference

Łódź 2013 Conference

Who’s Coming?

That’s the burning question on everyone’s lips when it comes to talking about the forthcoming Conference.

Question 1: Is Jeremy coming back?

Yes, he is... in full glory, and he will delight us with a plenary and an Advanced lesson for teachers. So, if you missed the experience last year, you get a second chance this time! Furthermore, Jeremy is conducting a concert on the first evening, with his colleague, Steve Bingham... titled: ‘Touchable Dreams’ (read more later on in the e-bulletin). Jeremy Harmer will certainly be active at this year’s event. Thanks to his sponsors – Pearson.

Łódź 2013 Conference

Question 2: What about Hugh Dellar?

Again, the answer is yes, ...Hugh will be at Łódź... sponsored by Nowa Era / National Geographic Learning.

Question 3: Geoff Tranter missed last year’s Conference, like you, Peter, will he be at Łódź?

Geoff will return in style, teaching a group of young students, in an observable lesson. Will it be based on his humour materials, I wonder……we shall have to wait and see.

Łódź 2013 Conference

Question 4: What about the newcomers – who are they?

Well, Mike Harrison has promised to come before, and this time, it looks like he will make it. He works for IATEFL UK on its Publications Committee, and is an up-and-coming young star in the world of ELT. Malu Sciamarelli, is coming from further afield – Brazil! So, do make her feel most welcome, if you get the chance. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus is also making her first visit to an IATEFL Poland Conference, and she will be representing TESOL France... as its Vice-President. Let’s hope she makes as much impact as Beth Cagnol and Debbie West have done.

Łódź 2013 Conference

Question 5: It’s rumoured that Jamie Keddie will be returning to Poland. Is this true?

Absolutely. Jamie will delight us again... and has planned 2 workshops – one on storytelling, which seems to be his favourite theme in teaching. OUP are sponsoring his trip here.

Question 6: What about the ‘old-hands’ if we can call them that – who is coming from their ranks?

Surprise, surprise, Beth Cagnol and Debbie West are both coming – they wouldn’t miss an IATEFL Poland Conference, oh no! Another double-act attending will be Marta Rosińska (Łódź resident, I believe) and Grzegorz Śpiewak. They will be conducting an Advanced ‘Native-Speaker’ lesson with teachers. Yes, can you spot the deliberate mistake there? Never mind. We do things in threes at IATEFL Poland, so another established duo appearing will be Hanna Krzyszewska and Paul Davis.

Łódź 2013 Conference

Question 7: Anyone else we should mention?

Most definitely. There’s Simon Greenall, for starters, and he became an OBE this year for his services to the world of ELT. Simon has been here before, but many years ago……welcome back, Simon! A great speaker. A speaker who often comes to our conferences is Pete Sharma. Sponsored by Macmillan Education, he will be covering the theme of digital learning, and who better to do it? The same sponsors are providing a second speaker – Roy Norris. Nowa Era, who are funding Hugh Dellar’s visit, will also be providing a second speaker, Paul Dunnett. From Germany, comes Timothy Phillips, a Business English expert, who has formed his own company, SKYLIGHT GmBH, and it will be sponsoring his trip... no surprise there!

Question 8: Who’s the big star?

Luke Prodromou! Just confirmed as we were about to distribute this e-Bulletin. Luke is British, but has lived in Greece for many years now, and though he has been to Poland on several occasions, he has not been for some time. He is a showman, but also a speaker of some substance... so, he 'packs a humorous punch', you could say. Often associated with exams, he has written many coursebooks, including the famous 'Star'. At Łódź, he will serve up a treat of three talks. One is based on building up the self-esteem of our students; another will deal with the difficulties of teaching idioms; and the third - perhaps the most intriguing of all, will be based around Charles Dickens, - his educational beliefs and acts. Luke will read from some of Dicken's works, and show how to use his literature in the ELT classroom. Wow! This news really rounds off the exciting array of speakers we have lined up for you this year. In my opinion, seeing Luke perform his three talks would, in itself, make the Conference weekend worthwhile. As you know though, we are offering much, much, more! Luke Prodromou will be sponsored by Global ELT and IATEFL Poland.

As you can see, it’s a packed programme of speakers, with 100+ workshops/talks, with live lessons for all levels, and for local students (observable). Łódź 2013 should certainly be a great hit as a result.

Conference Entertainment

Friday Evening: A Concert with Jeremy Harmer and Steve Bingham: (and a glass of wine)….titled: ‘Touchable Dreams’... a mix of poetry and music, with 2 songs included – on the theme of love. Steve plays acoustic fiddle and electric violin….wow! Find out more about this colourful show at: http://www.otherloves.co.uk/touchabledreams/ and see 3 videos at http://www.otherloves.co.uk/videos/ Sounds good? An ideal way to relax on the first evening of the Conference.

Saturday evening: Local teacher/singer, Robert Cynkier, and his band – ‘Fabrykanci’ will perform for you, whilst you will get a lovely meal….so, again, a restful form of entertainment for you……but wait a minute: it will be accompanied by a karaoke! A chance for you to perform, too!

Conference Hotel Accommodation

Hotel Focus

One hotel which has had few bookings so far is the Focus Hotel, and yet it’s an excellent hotel... so, the organisers tell me. I trust them. It bills itself as a ‘low profile’, ‘discreet and professional’, and is located in a former cotton factory owned by Juliusz Kindermann dating from 1890. It is listed in the historic buildings register. So, it sounds a bit special to me! The famous, one-and-only Piotrkowska street is only 900 meters away from the hotel... and sports lovers can go to the nearby Atlas Arena Sports Hall, under a kilometre’s walk from the Focus. Easy access to the City Centre... it really does seem impressive. Give it a try! It’s offered on the registration online list of accommodation.

Ela Wassell

Do you recognise the name? No. Well, Ela is a new, ‘driving force’ who’s joined our ranks, and is promoting IATEFL Poland via Facebook – contact her via her name or IATEFL Poland, and get regular Conference updates from her. Her work neatly supplements that of the IATEFL Poland Group on Facebook, who are in discussion every day or sharing ideas, tips, video references, etc... and have built up a large network. Congratulations to Ela, and the IATEFL Poland Group, who are doing their best to spread the word globally about IATEFL Poland. PS – Follow me on Twitter, where I have over 400 followers.

IATEFL Poland Elections at the AGM

We have had some enquiries from interested parties about some of the vacant posts... and one point I should stress here is that the posts are filled by volunteers – they are not paid. (Speakers at the conference are unpaid, too)….yet some of you have had the opposite impression. Another twist has been interest expressed from abroad, with a few of you wanting to do the job online. The Committee members are very busy people and we need regular meetings in Poland to conduct our business fully. Travel expenses are paid, but we couldn’t really afford to cover the costs of someone coming from abroad. We are not sure about the legal situation – but we think the courts would expect the Cttee. members to be resident in Poland. Without wanting to discourage anyone, we feel that 70% of the work could be done online, but the other crucial 30% needs personal contact/discussion. If you have any further queries, please contact a relevant Cttee. Member, or contact me, in the first instance, at: newsletter@iatefl.org.pl

The ELTons


The ELTons, for those who don’t know, are the ELT world’s equivalent of the ‘Oscars’. Held annually, this year’s event was held in London, and hosted as usual by the British Council. They were also videoed, so that you could watch the proceedings live on your laptop, as I did. Interviews on the red carpet, before the main ceremony got underway, got things off to a good start, and Anna Gębka-Suska and Joanna Leszkiewicz were two of several guests, who were greeted and interviewed by Amanda Wilson. Why were our two intrepid Executive Committee members there? To hopefully receive an award for Local Innovation. IATEFL Poland was nominated for such an award, and got through to a shortlist of four, because of its brilliant idea to provide Advanced English lessons for teachers via Native-Speakers at last year’s Wrocław Conference.

Did we win? Sadly no, but to be on the final list of nominations was a great achievement in itself. Anna, our President, rightfully paid tribute to Polish teachers of English, when she declared that they have a major passion for the English language, and they do their jobs because of their love of English. Here! Here! Btw, it must be said that the Native-Speakers who teach English, often have a major passion for the Polish teachers, and do their jobs because of their love of them!

Late News just in... Another Major Speaker signs up for the Conference!

Professor Dr. John De Jong, Vice-President of Test Development since 2006, has announced his participation at this year’s Conference, sponsored by Pearson. Involved from the outset in the design and development of the Common European Framework for Languages, he is Programme Director for development of the PISA 2015 Frameworks, and therefore, a prominent figure in the exam world.

Methodological Survey: L1 usage in the classroom: should it happen? is it useful?

A colleague of mine, Tim Harrell, is presently conducting some research into L1 usage in the classroom. If you feel you are knowledgeable about methodology, or have a position to reflect this, then please complete the questionnaire to be found at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ZPD2PXM. His e-mail is: harrell.tj@gmail.com (In case you need some further details, or have problems with the link). If you live in Warsaw, you may prefer to be interviewed by Tim. Interesting survey – I’ve done it, already.

Culture and Language Lane Conference, Radom 16th-17th March, 2013

Culture and Language Lane

During this year’s conference organised by IATEFL Radom Region, we were joined by the American Corner in Radom, thanks to whom, one of our presenters was Mark Wenig, the Cultural Attaché at the US Embassy in Warsaw.

In this year’s sessions, we were hoping to create a forum for sharing ideas on:

  • drama techniques
  • songs as literary texts
  • technology in language teaching (CALL and using mobile phones in classroom)
  • enhancing teaching and learning by using gamification
  • cultural issues such as the motif of journey in American cinema, Alaska, religious freedom in the USA, and contemporary African-American writers
  • ways to keep your teacher’s voice going thanks to advice from a voice projection expert
  • interactive whiteboards

There was also a literary quiz with a fancy-dress competition inspired by Jane Austen, plus a prize draw.


by Dagmara Mathes – Sobocińska, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń

The following workshop attempts at familiarising with drama techniques that can be used in the classroom. Starting with relaxing physical exercises, it will follow the pattern of a lesson using a text, pictures, and imagination, and conclude with a dramatic presentation of the text exploiting a few of the techniques used in UK schools’ drama lessons. The techniques can activate students’ learning in different styles and make your lessons fun without the stress-effect of everyday school performance. Some of the techniques performed will include: mirroring, visualisation, soundscape, conscience corridor, frozen scene, and motion.


by Małgorzata Zdybiewska, NKJO Radom

Hitting the road is a unique manifestation of the American Dream and so-called ‘road movies’ seem to be an American specialty. This film genre in which the main characters leave home to travel from place to place, typically altering the perspective from their everyday lives has never lost its popularity. We are going to have a closer look at some old favourites like ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, ‘Thelma and Louise’, ‘Natural Born Killers’, ‘My Own Private Idaho’, but also at some more recent ones, such as: ‘Broken Flowers’, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, and ‘Sideways’. Some suggestions for classroom work are also included.


by Danuta Gocławska, NKJO Radom

For many years, song lyrics have been used in the classroom for teaching general or idiomatic English. However, some decades ago, people discovered that song lyrics are imaginative, emotionally effective and often communicate a truth which makes them valid for all time. Their writers started to be referred to as bards, poets, artists… Do song lyrics possess any other literary qualities apart from being emotionally moving and ingenious? If so, can we teach literature using song lyrics? This presentation is an attempt to answer these, and other relevant questions.


by Ewa Klęczaj-Siara, NKJO Radom

The aim of this presentation is to show how contemporary African-American authors and illustrators of children’s books debunk the existing stereotypes of blackness. Focusing on such issues as black history, standards of beauty, black masculinity, and the power of family and community love, they challenge the usual routine of books marketed to black children, and instead of telling them how bad they are, they inspire them to love their blackness. Given the lack of accurate resources on African-American life in Poland, the books add a new perspective to Polish teachers’ awareness of American culture. Enriched with exhilarating pieces of black art, they are a real feast for the eyes.


by Mikołaj Sobociński, Kazimierz Wielki University, Bydgoszcz

The following talk attempts at presenting how our schools and universities could enhance the teaching and learning process by using gamification, or the incorporation of game elements into non-game settings, However, if gamification is to be of use to schools, we must better understand what gamification is, how it functions, and why it might be useful. Gamification is not limited to counting points. Experience reflected in points, bars, or charts, is just one element of organising classes with the mechanism of games in mind. A number of individual tasks designed for classes is supposed to enhance the learning experience, to improve autonomy and the motivation of students. The grading system presented above is only one element of the whole system. By being fair and rewarding performance, it is supposed to influence the final outcome.

‘JANE AUSTEN REVISITED’ – quizzes and competitions (and prizes)

Magda Zawadzka, Małgorzata Zdybiewska, NKJO Radom

In 1813, exactly 200 years ago, Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice, one of the best-known and best-loved English novels, which, together with her remaining 5 works, has been turned into numerous film adaptations and has given rise to spin-offs and modern retellings. Our session is a fun tribute to her output and characters she created.


Kamila Burzyńska, NKJO Radom

This presentation is addressed to all the teachers seeking innovative ways to enhance their Ss' writing skills and fight learners' negative attitudes towards the skill. I will present a number of web-based activities which are likely to complement (not replace!) traditional classroom instruction. The procedures are mostly task-based. They involve real-world processes, include any of the four skills, engage students in language search, and broaden their knowledge. Your learners will gladly take part in the mysterious language and content quests. Dear techno geeks as well as technophobic teachers, you're cordially welcome to come and … get wired up!


Monika Izbaner, 1 Liceum Ogólnokształcące, Bydgoszcz

‘Mobile me English’ is a practical workshop divided into two stages: a bit theoretical, where we are going to discuss if it is necessary to use technology in the classroom, and if so, what are the pros and cons of digital teaching. During the second part, we will show how to turn a mobile phone into a very handy tool boosting creative writing, spontaneous speaking and team work. All participants of the workshop will get a handful of ideas ready to use in the classroom for all year long, both to have fun, and also to prepare students for their serious exams.


by Iwona Zamkowska, Kolegium Nauczycielskie, Radom

With “In God, We Trust” on its currency, “under God” included in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Bible Belt occupying a vast part of its territory, and overwhelming numbers of its citizens placing a high value on religion, America is considered to be one of the most religious - and at the same time, religiously diverse - nations in the world. The freedom of religion has been listed in the country’s Constitution as one of the core ‘unalienable’ rights of the citizens since the nation was born, yet how it is supposed to function in the public sphere is still far from settled, and continues to be a prime source of conflict. Nowhere is the battle more heated than in public schools where the hearts and minds of children are involved. During my presentation, I will touch upon some of the key issues that the US educational system has been compelled to tackle in the area of religious liberty.

There was also a session in Polish on voice projection, which received very positive feedback.


Did the conference meet your expectations?

  • I was really involved in all the sessions. What’s more, the atmosphere was really positive.
  • Yes, of course. In every way.
  • 5/5
  • The conference was inspirational.
  • It was very interesting and well-organised
  • Yes, I’ve collected some new ideas to implement and do more research on.
  • It was a social, as well as an interesting, learning experience. The food was excellent. It’s a small conference, but has a variety of topics.

What themes would interest you in future events organised by Radom Region?

  • new technology in ELT
  • learning through songs and music /musicals
  • voice projection
  • teaching vocabulary
  • how to make students speak
  • practical, ready-to-use activities
  • literature / film / cartoons and animations
  • pop culture in the UK and USA / culture
  • future of language teaching and teacher-training in Poland
  • mixed ability classes
  • CLIL
  • Lexical approach

The list above shows that there is enough material for many, many more future sessions :)

Reported Speech as a Speaker-Oriented Phenomenon

Justyna Jarska


The phenomenon of reported speech seems to be peculiar, especially with reference to the use of the tense in the subordinate clause. Due to the past determination in the matrix clause, there is the past orientation in the subordinate clause. However, one may observe examples where the verb in the argument clause, as speculated by Jespersen (1965) and Malak (2009), remains in the present tense, despite the past specification in the main sentence. Subsequently, for us teachers, it may be challenging to explain such complexity to students. This article aims at providing the explanation to this problem, highlighting the role of the speaker in the communicative act who determines the use of the proper tense in the clause. Both the theoretical background and practical examples will be discussed in this study.

1.0. Introductory Remarks

To start the study of tenses with reference to indirect speech and the speaker’s specification, it is noteworthy to observe how the phenomenon mentioned above is defined by linguists. Reichenbach (1956) mentions various clauses adjusted to one another by certain rules. Kałuża (1983) terms the back-shift of the present tense into the past tense as the sequence of tenses. Yule (1996) refers to the change of proximal forms into distal ones in reported speech. Tabakowska (1995) indicates the cases of mental transfer, a shift of a deictic centre and finally the change of the speaker’s point of view. Thus, the distal forms make the speech event more remote. Subsequently, one may assume that the ‘pastness’ of the sentences is orientated to the past time due to the back-shift. As suggested in Kałuża (1983), the subordinate clause was previously present, now it is changed into the past tense in accordance to the past determination of the main clause. Therefore, it seems peculiar why in certain subordinate clauses the tense is unshifted, whilst, in the majority of them it is marked. The answer will be provided in the following study.

1.1. The Change from Present to Past and no Temporal Subordination

In regard to the phenomenon mentioned above, and following Reichenbach’s (1956) postulations, one may lay stress on the notion of the permanence of the reference point. Despite different time points in the clauses, the reference point should be the same for all clauses. To illustrate the situation, the following sentence is provided in Reichenbach (1956, p. 293):

(1) I had mailed the letter when John came and told me the news.

The sentence may be diagrammed as follows:

1st clause: E1- R1 -S
2nd clause: R2, E2 - S
3rd clause: R3, E3 - S

On the basis of the example given above, one may conclude that the point of speech is the same in all three clauses, however, the event time (E) and reference time (R) are relative to each other, which pertains to the past determination in the subordinate sentences. According to Tabakowska (1995), tense is treated as a deictic category that is a linguistic means to provide the deictic location of events in the temporal space. As hypothesized by Declerck (1989), the verb forms in ‘that’ clauses are relative tense forms. They relate the situation to the time in the head clause situation. Hence, the examples provided below, are temporally bound or temporally subordinated to the head clause, (c.f. Declerck, 1989 p. 1):

(2) Bill told his children that the Eiffel Tower stood in Paris;
(3) Bill told his children that the Eiffel Tower had stood in Paris;
(4) Bill told his children that the Eiffel Tower would stand in Paris

In the ‘that’ clause, the present tense may be used, which relates the situation directly to the moment of speaking. Here, one may observe no temporal subordination, as specified by Declerck (1989). As an illustration, the following example is given:

(5) Bill told his children yesterday that the Eiffel Tower stands in Paris.

Taking Declerck’s (1989) observations into account, one may refer to the following principles, which define how the verb forms in that clauses should be used: “[C]lauses which are not temporally subordinated demand the use of the absolute tense form in accordance with the situation’s actual temporal location.”; (cf. Declerck, 1989).

Subsequently, the preterit must be used to refer to the situation prior to the speech utterance; the present tense relates to the situation that takes place at the moment of speaking, and the future tense expresses the situation posterior to the speech act. With reference to the above postulations, it is valid to suggest that Kałuża’s (1983) hypotheses related to some examples in the sequence of tenses, where epistemic priority is stressed because the verb in the subordinate clause does not change, despite the past tense specification of the verb in the main clause. However, in temporally bound clauses, there must be the reference to the actual location of the situation relative to the binding time. It pertains to the use of the tense expressing anteriority, simultaneity or posteriority to the binding time, as speculated by Declerck (1989).

2.0. Hypotheses

The use of the tense in the subordinate clause depends on the speaker and the spatio-temporal conditions of the situation. As specified by Declerck (1989), it is the conceptualiser who locates the situation in time, using a particular tense, which is not only determined by the situation’s real location, but mainly by the speaker’s temporal focus. If the time determination is added by such words as: ‘now’, and ‘yesterday’, the sentence is referred not to the event, but to the reference point of the sentence. Therefore, one may observe the rule of positional use of the reference point, which is used here as the means of time position. It is crucial to lay stress on the following sentence, (cf. Reichenbach, 1956):

(6) “Now that John tells me this, I have mailed that letter”,

Analysing the example (6) provided before, one may conclude that the verb in the subordinate clause is not affected, if the situation in this clause is relevant to the time of utterance. Furthermore, the speaker reports what has been said to him and subsequently, he becomes responsible for the validity of news now. Tabakowska (1993) refers to the choice of the present tense, that enables him to describe immediate reality, as it unfolds itself in front of the speaker’s eyes. Taking the optional uses of the sequence of tenses into account, one may observe the 1epistemic rather than deictic parameters in the sentence, which pertains to the fact that it is a phenomenon determined by the conceptualiser. It is noteworthy to hypothesise that the tense is shifted not by the deictic load, present in the verb forms of the main clause, but by the epistemic load, which is denoted by the verb in the complement clause of the main clause, as postulated by Jespersen (1965) and Malak (2009). As an illustration of this, the following examples are provided, (cf. Malak, 2009):

(7) John heard that Mary was pregnant
(8) John has heard that Mary is pregnant

The 2haveNon-D does not bring about the backshifting, despite the same lexical material in both sentences. Thus, one may observe that the phenomenon of the sequence of tenses does not depend on deictic inclinations, related to the temporal reference, but what seems to be peculiar here, is the epistemic load, that induces the form of the verb in the subordinate clause. If the idea of the universal truth is quite obvious, the tense may be unshifted, which follows Jespersen’s postulations. To illustrate the mentioned belief with reference to Jespersen (1964), the following example is provided:

(9) We learnt at school that 2 and 2 is 4.

Following the above observations, one may assume that universal truths remain unchanged in reported speech.

3.0. Conclusions

To sum up, a shift of temporal focus may or may not suggest that the situation holds to the present. Declerck (1989) indicates that there must be a proper context with reference to the particular time. The speaker might use the preterit to lay stress on the past time, although the situation includes the moment of speech. In the case when there is no past time identification in the context, the preterit locates the situation before the moment of speech, which is termed as a conversational implicature of the use of the isolated preterit, therefore, the situation does not continue to the present, cf. Declerck (1989). As an illustration of this, the following example (10) is given below:

(10) The Eiffel Tower stood in Paris.

There is no context of the speech act. Subsequently, it is the role of the speaker how s/he relates the situation to the temporal conditioning of the communicative event. According to Grice’s rule of relevance, the use of the past tense is less prior than the present tense, (cf. Declerck, 1989). Similarities may be found as far as indirect speech is concerned. If the idea of the universal truth is quite obvious, the tense may be unshifted. Reichenbach (1956) assumes that the shift mentioned before should not be considered in terms of the meaning of the tense, but it is the result of the change of the point of speech.

To conclude, it is valid to specify the reference point, speech time and event time, determining the use of the present tense in the argument clause. Furthermore, as stressed in this study, the role of the speaker is crucial as he decides about the remote or present significance of the given situation. Thus, his/her role seems to be important because of the epistemic character of the postulations that s/he makes.

J.W. Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do”. Following Goethe’s thoughts, it is important to encourage our students to learn grammar, e.g. reported speech, so that they could be aware of the intricate phenomenon. To revise indirect speech and indicate the epistemic character of the human nature, I recommend using the song: ‘ALL THE WAY TO RENO’, by R.E.M.

1 Epistemic- related to knowledge, cf. Lyons (1977).
2 Non-D-Inflection- a group of verbs: v-ø/-es, am/is/are+v-ing; have/has + v-en; have/has been + v-ing, would + v, (cf. Malak, 1998),


  • Declerck, R. (1989). Tense, time and temporal focus. Kortrijk: Faculteit van de Letteren en de Wijsgeerte.
  • Jespersen, O. (1964). Essentials of English Grammar. London: George Allen and Unwin ltd.
  • Joos, M. (1964). The English Verb: Form and Meanings. Madison: The University of Wisconsin.
  • Kałuża, H. (1983). Tense forms of the indicative mood in contemporary English. Wrocław: PWN.
  • Lyons, J. (1977). Semantics, 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Malak, J. (1998). Sequence of tenses in English: A deictic or cognitive phenomenon. Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Opolskiego: Filologia Angielska, 9, 7-24.
  • Malak, J. (2009). Deictic-Epistemic Hierarchy and the Indications of the Past in English and Polish. Language, Cognition and Society. Opole: Uniwersytet Opolski.
  • Reichenbach, H. (1956). Elements of Symbolic Logic. New York: Macmillan Company.
  • Tabakowska, E. ( 1993). Cognitive Linguistics and Poetics of Translation. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.
  • Yule, G. (1996). The Study of Language. Cambridge: University Press.
  • Website [access 12.07.12] http://www.quotationspage.com/
  • Website [access 14.07.12] http://www.azlyrics.com/

British Council Section

British Council

Welcome to another contribution from the British Council for IATEFL Poland's E-Bulletin. Here we present an article on the value, or lack of it, of testing. Polish teachers of English love using tests with their students on a regular basis... but what are they actually testing? In a thought-provoking article, Andy Baxter suggests that tests are essentially a waste of time, and de-motivating, and explains why. So, please read his article and let us know your thoughts on the subject.

Peter Whiley
IATEFL Poland E-Bulletin Editor

Testing - why bother?

by Andy Baxter

This article will ask why we test learners of English. Before I start, let's get some terminology straight. I'm not talking about exams. We as a society need exams. Governments and large institutions couldn't function without exams. Governments can't deal with tiny sub-sets of people: individuality prevents it from doing its business of dividing people up into large groups, separating out, say, the kind of person who will go on in life to run the laundrette on the corner, from those who will go on to run our banks into the ground. Governments have to plan via demographics. How many spaces will universities need in 20 years time? Will this area need a new or different type of school? Should we encourage people into the IT industry? This basic business of government - sorting people into socio-economic groups largely through the education system - has been going on for years.

And there are some other exams, too, like driving tests, or IELTS, that need to exist to test a particular function. Such as whether Person A will be able to function on University course X in English (the English not being able to speak any other languages).

Okay, so we can see that there is an argument that exams need to exist. But tests? And by "test" I mean anything that looks or acts as a test, and that hasn't been designed by experts at a national level. Do they need to exist? Most teachers say yes. Let's look at some of the arguments why.

I need to see if my students have learned what I've taught them

Well, this is the easiest one to answer. The answer is a simple "No, they haven't". Why? Well, because they have learned what they have learnt, and not what you have taught them. It has often been pointed out that the relationship between "teach" and "learn" is very different from that of "sell" and "buy". You can't say "I sold him the bike, but he didn't buy it". Yet all round the world staffrooms are filled with people saying "I taught the present perfect but they still haven't learnt it". Learners learn what they notice, not what the teacher notices for them. There may be happy occasions where the teacher helps the learner to notice. But these are few and far between. Because there isn't much time to allow for encouraging or assisting learners to pay attention to their individual intake because… we must cover the syllabus so they can pass the test.

I need to see if my learners have made progress

Another easy one. The answer is that your test won't tell you this. The chances that we could devise a test that could test exactly the same items or skills on Occasion A as again on Occasion B are tiny. And what would it tell us anyway? "This person has made progress". Oh. Good. Can it tell us why? Can it tell us how? Can it tell us whether, if we had taught differently, they would make the same progress? Or less? Or more? Should they have made more progress than the progress they did make? Then you start asking "What is progress?", and we disappear down the rabbit hole of madness.

And progress tests can easily be misused. Sometimes teachers want to prove to themselves that they have been Doing A Good Job. Sometimes Academic Directors use them to prove the opposite – as a form of teacher appraisal: "none of her students knew their reported speech!"

Of course, progress is entirely a perceptual construct, so really it would be better to ask the learner "Do you feel you have made progress?" Our learners might then consider the question, and this might lead to a discussion about what helps them learn, how they notice progress, how the teaching process could help more. But of course that syllabus means we haven't got time. And the learners know the game. They will say "Yes, I have made a lot of progress. Could you write that on my report, please?" Because they realise that schools value tests more than learning.

I need to know what they don't know

Another familiar test is the placement and/or needs analysis test. These are often the saddest tests. A group of teachers with a dodgy take on grammar and testing will devise a test which will cover the traditional structures in a traditional order, with a few prepositions and phrasal verbs thrown in. This will represent The Ladder of English (or any other language), up which prospective learners will be sent, like newly press-ganged recruits on 18th century sailing ships, up, into the masts amid the howling winds of the Mixed Conditional and the Gales of Inversions. In colleges and offices some of these items will be replaced by Special Vocabulary and be born again as ESP. Does "the language of negotiation" come higher or lower than "describing graphs"? The tragedy is that, once this information is collected and the scores assigned, what does it mean? Who will interpret it and following what logic? Why test these things indirectly when you could simply ask a question? It's as if involving the learner is somehow a threat: we need to prove our professionalism by producing – yes! a special syllabus to follow. And then test.

A waste of time

Let's face it. Most testing that we do today is a waste of time. It has all the trappings of good responsible teaching, but essentially is just a time-consuming activity. Teachers administer tests that take up useful class time (unless, of course, they're being used as a form of collective class punishment). And then comes the marking… "Do we give half-marks or not?" "I think she's shown she understands the questions" "Does spelling count?" "Is that an "s" or a squiggle?" Hours of this stuff using all your breaks at school or late at night while the family watches TV in another room wondering where you are. To produce – what?


Registration software produced where I once worked allowed us to enter a single percentage mark to sum up a learner's year of learning. Yes, we had to summarise Peter. We had to balance out his reading difficulties and his handwriting issues with his wide vocabulary and his excellent interest in the classes, his variable control of past tenses, his playing a constructive and leading role in group work but with his high total of absences due to him taking his sister to school when his mother was working. When I asked where I could enter these comments, I was told the software didn't keep comments, just percentages. Okay then. Let's give him, erm, 58.5% then. And round it up. Of course, every teacher in the school used slightly different criteria and assigned their percentages in different ways. The school thought that made us look unprofessional. So they told us to write a test to make it fairer.

Testing. Yeah. Whatever...

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