Does the CEFR require different
materials or teaching?
Hugh Dellar
Lexical Lab
Work in groups.
Discuss these questions.
1 What do you know about the CEFR and its
goals / objectives / rationale?
2 How much impact has it had on your job?
3 How would you describe your attitude
towards it?
Attitudes to the CEFR…
Anger / annoyance
Cynicism / complacency
An example of complacency?
• Uses some simple structures correctly, but
still makes basic mistakes, for example
tends to mix up tenses and forget to mark
agreement; nevertheless, it is usually clear
what they are trying to say.
• Uses reasonably accurately a repertoire of
frequently-used ‘routines’ and patterns
associated with more predictable situations.
What the CEFR actually says!
One thing should be made clear right away.
We have NOT set out to tell practitioners
what to do or how to do it. We are raising
questions, not answering them. It is not the
function of the CEFR to lay down the
objectives that users should pursue or the
methods they should employ.
So does the CEFR demand
different methods and materials?
Some questions for coursebook
• On which theory of grammar have they
based their work?
• What are the assumptions as to the nature of
the learning process are the coursebooks
based on?
• What language will the learner need / be
equipped / be required to (a) recognise and
understand (b) use?
Underlying political goals…
To ensure … that all sections of [the CoE’s]
populations have access to effective means of
acquiring a knowledge of languages…as well as
skills in the use of those languages that will enable
them to satisfy their communicative needs and
in particular:
• To deal with the business of everyday life…;
• To exchange information and ideas …and
communicate their thoughts and feelings …
To promote, encourage and support the efforts of
teachers and learners at all levels…
• by basing language teaching and learning on the
needs, motivations, characteristics and resources
of learners
• by defining worthwhile and realistic objectives
as explicitly as possible
• by developing appropriate methods and
Do the CEFR goals require different
materials and teaching?
NO ?
Learners needs, motivations,
characteristics and resources
• What will they need to do with the language?
• What do they need to learn in order to be able
to achieve those ends?
• What sort of people are they?
• How much time can they afford to spend?
• [and why do they come to a class to learn?]
Some Elementary unit titles…
Time off
Relatively famous
Pretty woman
Have a good trip
How terribly clever!
Mind and body
Bigger and better
Future plans
World records
Can you speak English?
Neighbours from hell
Their theory of language
• Grammar and words are separate.
• Students can learn a canon of grammar rules
and grammar is generative.
• Words slot in to the grammar structures.
• Grammar needs to be taught in a particular
• Natural usage is relatively unimportant.
The effect of a grammar driven course:
Bad examples of usage
Angela’s running.
I’m not wearing a jacket, I’m wearing a jumper.
Did people drive cars one hundred years ago?
Are you going to wash your hair?
Can you walk backwards in a straight line?
Never will I forget holding him for the first time.
Explain the difference between these words:
shack / hut / hovel / shed
The effect of a grammar driven course:
restricted examples of natural conversation
What do you do?
What are you doing …later?
What did you do …last night?
Have you been there / to …?
How long have you …?
The CEFR is not prescriptive…
It is not the function of this guide nor of
CEFR to state a preference for one
[syllabus] strand over another. The choice
of driving strands will depend on your own
beliefs and preferences about language and
language learning. However, CEFR does
suggest a number of ways in which
learners’ needs and wants can be described.
Meeting CEFR goals - an
alternative approach
• Start from typical topics of conversation.
• Imagine the actual conversations. (What
would you say, when, to whom, why?)
• Devise language exercises to help students
vary and personalise those conversations.
• Select conversations and grade tasks
according to level.
A theory of language learning …
• Grammar and vocabulary are inter-dependent.
• Learners can learn and use grammaticalised chunks
before they learn any underlying rule.
• Grammar and lexis is learnt through repeated
exposure over time to typical examples in their
natural context / collocations.
• Learners need exposure to many more grammatical /
lexical patterns outside the EFL canon.
In what ways should learners be expected or
required to develop their vocabulary?
• Simple exposure in authentic texts?
• Learner elicitation or dictionary - look up / teach as
• In context in texts and subsequent recycling in exercises?
• With visuals - pictures, mime, realia, etc?
• By memorisation of word lists? - with translations?
• Through semantic fields and mind maps?
• By dictionary training?
• By training in the application of lexical structure?
What distinction, if any, is made between learning for
recognition and learning for productive use?
Non-prescriptive key words from
can do statements
Stock phrases
General topics
My own attitude to the CEFR:
Cautious optimism
Teacher beliefs
and theories of
language and
Hugh Dellar
Lexical Lab
Teacher beliefs and language:
Grammar + words
Language is a list of grammar rules and vocabulary.
Grammar is the glue which holds language together.
It’s unimportant if examples are invented and are unlikely
to be used in real life as long as they clearly illustrate the
meaning of
the grammar.
We learn grammar by mastering one structure before
moving on to the next.
If you teach grammar, students can learn words to slot into
Students shouldn’t see grammar that they haven’t been
taught yet.
Teacher beliefs and language:
A lexical view
Without grammar, you can say little; without vocabulary, you
can say nothing.
6 Vocabulary should not be seen as single words, but as
collocations and chunks.
8 Grammar can be acquired through unanalysed phrases. (i.e.
you can learn and use Have you been here before? without
‘knowing’ the present perfect)
9 How we experience and use vocabulary develops and shapes
‘correct’ grammar.
11 You can’t separate grammar from vocabulary.
Language: grammar + words
It’s six less twenty
It’s two thirds of five
It exceeds 5 by forty
It’s twenty to six
It’s forty past five
It’s five forty
It’s ten after half five
Language: grammar + words
There’s no pleasing some people.
There’s no angering some people.
It’s no satisfaction for some people.
Making some people pleased is impossible.
Some cannot be ensured happiness.
A few can gain no satisfaction.
Grammar + words?
I bark, you bark, he barks
You’re not going to go to Norway.
Venus Williams is taller than Messi.
Are you waving?
I’ve only got one back.
There’s a fat man sitting on a blanket playing the guitar.
Michael Hoey & Lexical
• natural / actual usage and choices can’t be
explained by grammar rules / ‘deep’
• collocations, chunks and – to some extent
– ‘grammar’ are formed through priming
(which is essentially traces of how the
words have been used thus far)
• words that occur together are recalled
quicker when one of them is heard / used.
Vocabulary and priming networks:
what you know when you know a word
• Apart from knowing meaning, spelling and pronunciation,
learners should (eventually) know / be primed for:
– connotation
– grammar / colligation
– word forms
– synonyms (That new thesaurus is nothing to write house about)
– antonyms
– collocation
– lexical sets (hyponyms / meronyms (finger is a meronym
of hand) / metonyms (Moscow is a metonym for the
– co-text
– register / genre
Some key ideas
• explain, exemplify, expand
• vertical / horizontal development
• understand, notice, do
Explanation: vocabulary
What does grasp mean?
A It’s this: mimes grasping a bag
B Seize, clutch.
C If you grasp something, you take it and hold it firmly.
D You grasp someone’s arm, or you grasp a rope or grasp a bag
this [demonstrate] – tightly.
E Translate into students’ language
F Grasp? What was the sentence? What did they say?
Explanation: vocabulary
“The grammar is difficult to grasp.” What does grasp mean?
A Grasp means comprehend.
B Because the grammar is very complicated – there are lots of rules – it’s hard to
grasp – it’s difficult to understand.
C Translate grasp into students language
D It means it’s difficult to comprehend – to understand fully. So you often look
and realise you didn’t fully understand something. For example:
I knew the changes were big, but I didn’t grasp how much they’d affect me.
I didn’t grasp how serious the illness was
I didn’t grasp the importance of planning.
I didn’t grasp the significance of the decision at the time.
E It means XXX [translates]. For example:
I knew the changes were big, but I didn’t grasp how much they’d affect me.
I didn’t grasp how serious the illness was
I didn’t grasp the significance of the decision at the time.
it’s difficult to grasp
How might you improve the way meaning is conveyed?
A a whale
“It’s a big fish, like a big dolphin. It’s in the sea. It jumps out of the sea.
You know Moby Dick, the book. Moby Dick was a whale. Very big.
Woosh! Woosh! [T mimes water blowing out of a whale’s spout].
B do up
“It means refurbish”
C rush
“If you rush, you run you do it quickly”.
T acts out “rushing” by running to the door.
D portion
“If you had a pizza and divided it into 4, you’d have a portion for each
E make
It’s ‘hacer’ in Spanish
F He was screaming in agony
“He was crying loudly because it hurt a lot”.
Exemplifying language
Think of examples of the words / phrase.
When would you say it? Why? Who to?
do up
screaming in agony
Noticing: Examples and highlighting patterns.
We can often help students speak more fluently by showing
‘chunks’ of language or patterns in sentences.
Tenses are obviously one kind of pattern, but there are many
more around words or that ‘frame’ sentences. For example:
Sorry. I can’t stop. I’m in a rush.
(chunk based on rush)
Do you fancy a coffee
(pattern based on fancy)
a cigarette?
doing something later?
going out for lunch?
Just because I’m English, it doesn’t mean I’m cold and unfriendly.
(sentence frame)
Can you see any chunks or patterns in these
sentences and exchanges?
I stayed in and watched the latest episode of Mad Men.
Learning to manage a budget may be boring, but it’s essential.
I didn’t expect it to be so polluted.
More and more people are working longer hours.
I’m going to run a marathon.
> Really? Rather you than me!
Chunks and patterns
I stayed in and watched the latest episode of Mad Men.
Learning to manage a budget may be boring, but it’s essential.
I didn’t expect it to be so polluted.
More and more people are working longer hours.
I’m going to run a marathon.
> Really? Rather you than me!
‘Horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ development
Vertical development
Avoid the tendency to only look at single words – or sentences.
Think about the common patterns in conversations.
Have you tried . . . .-ing?
Well, maybe you should.
Yeah, maybe. / Yeah, that’s not a bad idea, actually.
A: Have you tried …..-ing?
B: Yeah, but it didn’t work.
A: Oh, right. Well, in that case, why don’t you . . .
Think about how conversations develop.
Which questions would typically be asked? Which comments made?
How would they be responded to?
A: I’m pregnant.
Vertical development
I’m pregnant.
That’s great. When’s it due?
Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?
No. / Yeah, it’s a girl.
Horizontal development
Different variations of chunks
A range of answers to the same question
Follow-up comments to the same answer / serving the same function
Have you been to France?
No. I’ve never really fancied it
No, but it’s supposed to be great.
No, but it’s supposed to be awful
No, but I’d love to.
No, never. Have you?
I’m really sorry. I’ll get a cloth
I’ll clean it up
I’ll buy another one.
I’ll pay for the damage
Look at these sentences.
Think about how they could be expanded
vertically into dialogues – or horizontally by
adding extra comments.
We’re going to get married.
Are you OK? You look a bit tired.
Did you see the game last night?
• Language is essentially ‘lexical’ (collocations, chunks, ‘texts’)
Lexis is teachable and learnable but grammar isn’t – unless it’s taught as
To teach / learn, students need to
- understand (translate / explain / draw …)
- hear (even for reading?)
- notice / pay attention (explain, underline, do exercises)
- do something with the new language (skills, exercises, translate, drill)
- repeat over time in a variety of contexts in a variety of ways
Language learning is essentially a long process. It is NOT linear and it’s
never complete.
All learners translate, whether openly or internally, and most will also do it
for other people at some point.
You need a certain amount of self-motivation to succeed, but teachers can
also motivate in a variety of ways.
The best motivation is learning something which can be used by the learner.
Some more beliefs
Language may be lexical, but the vast majority of materials are grammar + words
(+ skills) so we may need to adapt and to accommodate.
There is no single entity that is English and, therefore, no English which is strictly
‘correct’ – just usage that’s shared by more people. Teachers (and students) can
only be correct within their experience of English. It’s up to them how far they
want to find out and use the ‘native-speaker’ language.
The process of teaching language in collocation, chunks, texts is more important
than the ‘native-likeness’ of the language.
The process of teaching language to fulfil outcomes is more important than the
‘native-likeness’ of the language. (tour de france / describing a picture)
Teaching in different ways is good, but learning styles can’t be defined and don’t
Most successful learners do a lot outside class, but most students who come to class
see the class as the learning time.
Explanation: grammar
• If students don’t know the jargon, the grammar term is useless.
• If you only use the grammar term, students may still not know
what to say (e.g: you need the adjective of safety).
• Students may only know the form without understanding why.
• Avoiding the grammar term can be wordy.
• Just saying / telling does not mean students have understood.
– Examples are key (as we have already seen sometimes the answer will
be –
because that’s what we say!)
– Questions to check / expand are helpful
– Explaining changes with rules and terms may help.

Does the CEF require different materials or teaching?