Catherine Walter was a keynote speaker in the “Language issues (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation)” content area in 2015. Watch her plenary session and the interview.


Catherine Walter is an English language teacher, teacher educator and materials developer. With Michael Swan, Catherine is the author of numerous English language teaching books. She lectures in applied linguistics at the University of Oxford and the quality of Catherine’s university teaching has been recognised by a lifetime UK Higher Education National Teaching Fellowship for outstanding achievement in learning and teaching in higher education. Her research interests include second language reading and pedagogical grammar. She has a special interest in the teaching and learning of students with disabilities. Catherine is a past President of IATEFL and remains active in the association. She is also the Chair of the British Council’s English Language Advisory Group.
Topic: Learning grammar and pronunciation: what do we know, and what can we do about it?
This presentation examines the teaching and learning of grammar and pronunciation. Each part begins with a review of the evidence about effective teaching and goes on to practical classroom implications.
I will begin by exploring the research evidence about grammar teaching. Some of the questions will be: What is the best way to teach grammar to adolescents and adults? Does learning grammar rules work? (And what are grammar rules, anyway?) How do teachers choose which grammar rules to teach? What happens after the students learn the rule? What is the role of communicative activities in the learning of grammar?
The second part of the presentation will focus on pronunciation. I will argue that proficiency in understanding English pronunciation is more important than proficiency in pronouncing English. Research on the problems that learners encounter in hearing English sounds will be reviewed. I will explore the strong links between high-priority grammar features and high-priority pronunciation features. Finally, I will discuss how these links can be exploited in the classroom.
Video recording of the plenary session
You can watch the full recording of Catherine Walter’s talk on British Council Russia’s YouTube channel by clicking the link below:
In this interview, Catherine looks at whether explicit language teaching works suggesting that research and evidence points to success in this area. She talks about the connections between teaching grammar and teaching pronunciation, explaining her ideas about what she calls 'receptive pronunciation'.
Watch the recording of the interview here:
As part of the interview, Catherine answered some of the questions that our online audience asked. Read the questions and her answers below:
If we give examples of grammar rules, how should we present the exceptions to these rules?
This links with the discussion about relevance. This criterion says that the rule you teach should answer the question the student’s interlanguage is asking. With adults we can tell them that we are not going to teach them all the intricacies of each grammar feature when we first introduce it, but are going to give them rules of thumb that will help them use the feature correctly, and that we will gradually move them towards a more and more sophisticated use of the language.
What do you find most difficult in providing communicative activities while teaching adults grammar?
I don’t see this as very problematic. There are a lot of resources available to teachers who want to use communicative activities in their grammar teaching. What we know now, from the systematic analyses of a large number of rigorous research projects, is that communicative activities on their own are not the most efficient way of teaching grammar. The most efficient way is to teach grammar explicitly, either in a way that is integrated into a communicative activity, or separately from a communicative activity.
Have you learned any foreign languages? If you have, what was most difficult about Grammar in them for you as a specialist?
My first modern foreign language was French, which I began learning at the age of 20. My French is proficient: I completed a second degree in linguistics and French literature at the Sorbonne; I have a broad and idiomatic vocabulary, I write well and I am sometimes called upon to chair committees in French. I have a slight English-language accent in French, which I don’t mind: I am not pretending to be a French person, and I am not planning a career as a spy. However, I do mind, just a bit, the fact that I still occasionally make mistakes in the gender of past participles when they are in a dependent clause: in the French equivalent of ‘The letter that I have written’, the word ‘written’ should agree in grammatical gender with the feminine noun ‘letter’. I don’t always do this. I think that this gender category for me is a bit like definite and indefinite articles for Russians – a category that doesn’t exist in my L1, and that I haven’t managed to acquire in my L2.

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