Aug 022012

If  human beings communicated like most ELT course book characters, the world would be a much simpler place. There’d be next to no hedging or vague language or ambiguity or politeness strategies. Everything would be very literal. We wouldn’t have to consider issues like context, culture, power or gender and how they might affect meaning. In fact we’d just have to focus on getting our grammar and vocabulary right. That’s how course books generally work. If the grammar and vocabulary is correct, the message gets understood.

What a curious world it would be. No differing interpretations. No shades of grey.

I’m not having a go at ELT course books here. A good syllabus needs to transform the sprawling messiness of  the English language and make it into something managable and learnable.  To some extent writers have to simplify. Taking a black and white perspective on communication is one way to do that. And it’s easier to include the answers in the back of a book if there’s only one correct alternative.

But I do think we have to be aware of it and compensate. We shouldn’t be implying that if the grammar and vocabulary is correct, all will be well. It’s just not true. Human beings are often indirect, and they often have good reasons for being ambiguous. So rather than presenting models of language that ignore ambiguity, I suggest we present examples that explore it.

And that’s what the lesson below is about. It’s based on some research that readers of this blog kindly helped me with some time back. Click on the picture below to start the program. Hope you and your students enjoy it and find it useful.










To see the original research question: click here. Please comment or hit the ‘like’ button and let me know what you and your students think of it.

What’s your take? Should ambiguity be explored in the ELT classroom and if so why and how?


 Posted by at 5:00 am

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