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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

This is a script of a Lecture given at the 20th IATEFL Poland Conference in Warsaw – September 2011

The Role of Linguistics in Securing Quality in Language Learning and Language Teaching

Geoff Tranter, Germany

Geoff Tranter has been working in further and adult education both in Britain and in Germany for many years. During this period he has been heavily involved in all aspects of vocation and non-vocational language testing - including syllabus design with particular reference to the CEFR, examiner training, test materials development, etc. From 2003 to 2008 he was Team Leader for telc GmbH. And humour, especially humour as a learning tool in the classroom, has been his hobby throughout his professional At present he is a free-lance language and language test consultant working together with various organisations including German Ministries of Education, regional associations of Further and Adult Education Colleges in Germany, and quite recently the German Civil Aviation Authority. His latest project is the development of an online test for Technical English together with Mondiale GmbH. He has just brought out a book with Klett: “Humour in the English classroom”.


I should like to talk to you today about the role of linguistics in securing quality in communicative language teaching and learning. But I am not here referring to the standard branches of linguistics, such as pragmalinguistics, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, etc. I am referring today to a new branch of linguistics that is based on the well-known fact that a person’s language and communicative competence can be enhanced or impaired by the intake of alcohol.


This new linguistics area known as Alcoholinguistics which has been developed over the years as a result of intensive research has three main aims:

# firstly: to establish the alcohol needs of individual learners in order to optimize the acquisition of language and communicative proficiency;
# secondly to determine the co-relation between alcohol and the communicative performance of language learners inside and outside the classroom, and
# thirdly. to enable teachers and learners to always have available the correct dosage in order to master the communicative task that may confront them at any given moment.

The alcoholinguistic approach does however incorporate a number of problems. .The first of these is

  1. Access.. It is not always easier to get access to alcohol, and for many years this was a great problem in the UK. “ Time Gentlemen Please” was the death-knoll for the alcoholinguistic progress of many learners. So thanks should be given to the otherwise much maligned Mrs Thatcher who in the mid-1980s abolished pub opening hour restrictions, allowing in many areas up to 24/7 alcohol access. A small step for a politician but a great step for alcoholinguistics!
  2. The second problem is the aspect of Retention. The weak bladder syndrome can greatly inhibit communication - especially among beer drinkers, as output inevitably exceeds input.
  3. And finally there is the weak liver syndrome, which can prevent learners achieving their full alcoholinguistic potential, as established by the well-known alcoholinguist (or alki as they are known to the initiated) Sir Rhosis.

So before embarking on the road to alcoholinguistic proficiency, intending learners are well-advised to take some form of diagnostic or placement test in the form of a pub crawl, a brewery visit or a wine tasting.

Alcoholinguistics and Methodology

Having established in this way one’s suitability and propensity, the next step is to find an appropriate learning programme.. Empirical research has now demonstrated the necessity to have a structured approach.

And this has lead to the development of TDFL – Teaching Drinking in a Foreign Language .as an academic subject – also commonly known by the acronym EAP = English for Alcoholic Purposes.

There are a number of different approaches and methodologies, which are annually presented at IADEFL conferences.

Many of these approaches can be subsumed under the title of “Learning the Natural Way” , where for example in self-access courses the learner exposes herself or himself to alcohol and learns natural bar adjacency pairs., for example the phrase “What’s yours?” which should always be responded to with “Mine’s a malt whisky and make it a double!” Alcoholinguists then attempt similar strategies on the principle of "trial and error" until "fluency" is achieved, or as the famous French alki summed it up centuries ago "I drink, therefore I am (learning).”

In the course of time learners discover whether they are D1 = native drinker or D2 = near-native drinker. Unfortunately due to the low legal age limit in most countries, very few learners achieve D1 status, as this is normally only possible before puberty, and the minimum drinking age of 14 is counterproductive.

Some child geniuses also known as child Guinnesses .have achieved a high degree of success but this has frequently lead to excessive communication. that nobody is able to decipher (often known as “Irish”).

To overcome these problems, a number of classroom ale-ternatives .have been developed. And here there are two main approaches: inductive methods (i.e. learning by drinking.) and deductive methods ( cognitive or conscious drinking.).

One of the oldest inductive methods is the international “Barlots” .method, so-called because its inventor used to approach the bar and drink lots. And it many parts of Europe so-called Barlots schools (also known as pubs) can be found on virtually every street corner.

A more controversial method was developed by a Bulgarian psychologist .and is often known by the name Suggest-A-Beer-Dear.. The essence of this method is to utilise both the left and right-hand side of the mouth .in order to increase both intake and output. One disadvantage of this approach however is the need for multi-media preparation because baroque drinking songs. are required to enhance the success of this method in the classroom.

Other methods include:

+ Practise In Language Structures, the so-called PILS method. Originating in the Czech Republic, this is often used in Total Immersion courses.
+ A further promising approach - Structured Help in Talking - was discarded for lack of a suitable and acceptable acronym.
+ Finally Drinking the Silent Way, which can be very difficult after having consumed ten pints or three bottles of wine.

Basically, it has to be admitted that these direct methods do have inherent alcoholinguistic deficiencies in that they do not lead to enhanced drinking awareness, but are simply based on a cue-response behaviourist approach (hence the expression "to have a Skinner full"). The result is that learners acquire faulty and limited drinking habits and become “pidgin drinkers” .

The other basic alcoholinguistic approaches are based on cognitive methods. The learners are first confronted with a range of drinking rules before starting to drink. They have to learn for example how many grams of alcohol are to be found in a glass of red wine. Hence the name: gram-atical approach.

However, the consequence is: insufficient drinking practice. The time spent on rules and the consequent lack of drinking practice tends to produce so-called "metadrinkers".

A new interesting development in the field of alcoholinguistics is the implementation of the Common European Framework. Mindful of the importance of defining levels of alcoholinguistic competence, the Council of Europe has set up a project group to establish internationally recognized levels.

A Level: Ale and (for younger learners) Alcopops: - Basic User (or Boozer)
B Level: Beer and Brandy - Independent Boozer
C Level: Cognac, Champagne and Cocktails - Proficient Boozer

A series of skill-based scales determine the level of proficiency. These criteria include Coherence (sic!), Fluency, Flexibility and Turn-Taking – e.g. “Holding the Floor” , the C level equivalent of the A level sub-skill “Holding the Glass” and the B level sub-skill: ”Holding the Bar” .

An interesting feature of this European framework is that the definitions have all been formulated as CAN‘T DO statements especially at the C level. In fact, the higher the proficiency level, the greater the linguistic and communicative incompetence.

C level also requires a wide repertoire of drinking registers and drinking techniques, including supping and sipping, tipping, gulping, guzzling, etc.

On the basis of the Council of Europe framework, a curriculum has now been developed, covering aspects such as

Drinking Structures (How much can/must, etc? Who can drink the most?
Drinking Functions/Acts (e.g. drinking to express sympathy)
Drinking Text Typology (wine lists, beer mats, etc.)
Drinking Situations (in the pub, on the park bench,)
Drinking Strategies (how to get alcohol after hours, which interestingly led to the development of the alcoholinguistic Cloze Test)

Talking of tests, an international academic organisation have now adapted their suite of tests to meet the needs of this new market. Their most renowned test is now to be re-branded as the Thirst Certificate.

In addition they are considering offering new tests such as
KET: or Knows Every Tipple, and
IELTS: or Imbibes Everything Liable To Stupefy.

Not to be outdone, a British Mobile Phone Company is about to launch a spirits-based telephone communication test especially for the Polish market called “Vodkaphone“.

And for informal learners the Council of Europe has – believe it or not - developed a so-called PORT-folio, incorporating a learner bier-ography and a dossier for collecting samples (known among aficionados as the minibar).

The Message tonight therefore is to regularly use the IATEFL approach, i.e.

Incorporate Alcohol To Enhance Fluency in Learners.

But teachers should be cautiousand heed the following WARNING!

Choose your drinks carefully, because

Rum makes you dumb!
Sherry makes you merry!
Whisky makes you frisky!
And - above all - watch out for Brandy!

So, in the name of alcoholinguistics and on behalf of all well-known and anonymous alkis worldwide

Cheers, Santé, Prost, Salute, Skål, Sláinte, Na zdrowie, bottoms up, cin cin, etc. etc.


Please check the Improving English through Humour course at Pilgrims website.

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