InterCom, a customizable weekly newsletter for language professionals, is provided by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) at the University of Oregon. InterCom is sponsored through a Title VI Language Resource Center grant.


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Your InterCom editor is on her way home from an information-packed ACTFL Convention and World Languages Expo. It was wonderful to hear positive feedback about InterCom content and the original content that we have introduced in 2014. We also added a lot of new subscribers, and we would like to extend a special welcome to those who are receiving InterCom for the first time this morning. We hope that you will continue to enjoy your InterCom subscription.

Topic of the Week: Assessing Vocabulary Knowledge

John Read is Associate Professor of Applied Language Studies at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, specialising in second language vocabulary assessment and the testing of English for academic and professional purposes. He is the author of Assessing Vocabulary (Cambridge, 2000) and Assessing English Proficiency for University Study (Palgrave Macmillan, in press). He has written numerous vocabulary tests for various purposes and is perhaps best known for his work on depth of vocabulary knowledge, particularly the development of the word associates format.

The first question to ask about this topic is which vocabulary should be assessed. The obvious answer for classroom teachers is to focus on the words presented in the coursebook or specified in the curriculum. However, English teaching materials do not always give much explicit attention to vocabulary and it may be necessary to consult appropriate vocabulary lists. The best lists are based on a careful analysis of how frequently words occur and in what range of contexts. Modern computer corpus analysis has made an enormous contribution in helping us to identify the most useful words, both in the language as a whole and in particular varieties or genres of English.

The next question is which aspects of word knowledge should be assessed. The traditional approach is to focus on the form-meaning link: can the learners demonstrate that they know the meaning of a given L2 word and, conversely, can they produce the L2 word which corresponds to a given meaning (often expressed as the L1 equivalent)?  However, we now recognise the vocabulary knowledge involves much more than that. Word meaning changes according to context, and high-frequency words are particularly likely to have a range of senses, both literal and figurative. Words also cluster into “word families”, and thus learners need to know that origin, original, originate and originally share a core sense, but they have different grammatical functions and shades of meaning.

Another significant aspect of vocabulary knowledge is the way that words go together in combinations. Although idioms, phrasal verbs and other fixed expressions are familiar as sources of difficulty for even advanced learners, corpus analysis helps to reveal how much of normal language use is made up of multi-word lexical units of various kinds.  Collocations have received a great deal of attention: does the learner know that we say heavy rain rather than strong rain, and we take (not do or make) a vacation?  Multi-word units also have pragmatic functions: do learners have the vocabulary resources to be able to make a polite request, apologise appropriately or express sympathy to a bereaved person?

This brings us to the question of how we assess these different aspects of word knowledge. A number of innovative formats have been devised for vocabulary research, but in operational tests the basic item types remain largely the same:
•    multiple-choice items of various kinds
•    matching of words and definitions
•    filling gaps in words or sentences
•    translation between L1 and L2
•    self-assessment tasks, using checklists or rating scales: (How well) do you know this word?
These formats lend themselves well to computer-based testing, which is one reason for their enduring appeal. What is changing is the use of these test items to assess aspects of vocabulary beyond the form-meaning link for individual L2 words and consequently more focus on testing vocabulary in context.

Activity of the Week

  • Checking Vocabulary While Practicing Circumlocution

    Renée Marshall is a Research Assistant at CASLS. Her interests are in bilingualism, bicultural identity, second language acquisition, and language policy and advocacy. She taught French at both the high school and university level. She earned her Master's in Education from UC Santa Barbara in 2011 and her M.A. in Romance Languages from University of Oregon in 2014.

    This activity has two goals: to check if students know certain vocabulary words and to help students practice successful use of circumlocution to describe the meaning of the word. This activity should be used after students have been exposed to and have had ample opportunities to practice the assigned vocabulary. This is a way to gauge student vocabulary knowledge and also to help them to practice an invaluable language skill: circumlocution. Circumlocution in language learning is when you talk around the word; you describe it; you try to express the meaning of the word without actually using the word itself. In this way, even when students do not know a particular word, they can still express their ideas through circumlocution.


    • Students will be able to employ circumlocution to get their partner to identify the appropriate vocabulary words.
    • Students will be able to decipher the appropriate vocabulary words based on the descriptions given by their partner.

    Resources: Check your vocabulary handout


    1. Have students partner up and decide who is Partner A and who is Partner B. Pass out the Check your vocabulary handout to students, being sure to give Partner A the Partner A handout (top half of handout) and Partner B the Partner B handout (bottom half of handout). Stress that they cannot show each other their handouts!
    2. It's a good idea to go over the directions (#2 on handout) as a whole class. Model the example given on the handout. You could explain the importance of learning how to use circumlocution, and that this activity will help test their vocabulary and practice their circumlocution skills.
    3. While students work on the activity, walk around and monitor. Take notes of which words are harder than others for students.
    4. When students have finished guessing all 4 of Partner A's words, have a few Partner A's share what they said to get their partners to guess the word correctly. This highlights the variety there may have been in describing the words.
    5. Now have students move to #3 on the handout and switch roles. Partner B now uses circumlocution to describe the vocabulary on their sheet to try to get Partner A to guess the vocabulary words correctly.
    6. Again, once students have finished guessing all 4 of Partner B's words, have a few Partner B's share what they said to get their partners to guess the word correctly.

CASLS Spotlight: ACTFL 2014

Last week the CASLS team joined over 6000 language teaching and learning professionals for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages 2014 convention. The annual ACTFL gathering is a great opportunity to connect with colleagues, old and new, as we explore innovations in teaching and learning languages. This year was no exception. Some highlights included:

  • An inspiring opening keynote by Annie Griffiths highlighting personal stories of global perspective through photography.
  • Many great conversations with teachers from around the country at the CASLS booth in the World Languages Expo.
  • Connections with the newly funded group of Title VI Language Resource Centers.
  • A working meeting of language partners working around the country to expand language capacities through a collaboration of leaders in immersion, heritage, foreign language, and Flagship programs.
  • And...members of the CASLS team on the cover of The Language Educator!

Thanks for a great week and we look forward to continued work throughout the year!

Language Corner

The Best Sites To Learn & Teach About Thanksgiving

Source: Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day
Language: ESL/Bilingual Back to Quick Links

Here is ESL teacher Larry Ferlazzo’s annotated list of links to helpful resources for learning about Thanksgiving:

The Play’s the Thing: In-Class Simulations and Authentic Materials

Source: Language Magazine
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links


The Play’s the Thing
by Lori Langer de Ramirez

“Nothing gets a student more excited (or engaged) than being able to express herself or read a sign in situ in the target language. We can all remember that moment when we first communicated something to a native speaker in French, or Mandarin, or Hindi — and we were understood! It is exhilarating, but it is the kind of interaction that can be hard to replicate in the language classroom.

“…there are viable alternatives to the static realia of the textbook or the mock reality of a short fakealia activity. Fantasy trips, simulations, and online virtual worlds provide teachers with excellent materials, authentic contexts, and possibilities for asynchronous communication that help extend the language-learning experience for students while connecting them with the broad community of speakers around the world.”

Read the full article for good ideas on doing classroom simulations using a wealth of realia:

Gamification Strategies for TESOL Students in STEM Fields

Source: FLTMAG
Language: ESL/Bilingual Back to Quick Links


Gamification Strategies for TESOL Students in STEM Fields
by Russell Moon and Nick Einterz
November 14, 2014

“At the University of Colorado Boulder’s International English Center (IEC), students from all over the world develop their English proficiency and academic skills with the intention of studying at a university in the United States. A significant number of these students intend to study engineering.

“… Since vocational identity seems to play an important role in motivating students to succeed in their English studies, the IEC has begun offering upper-level, content-based science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses.

“These courses aim to develop students’ proficiency in academic English by offering them the opportunity to study English in the context of their chosen field. Founded upon research-supported curriculum design that ensures content accuracy, such courses provide an opportunity for students to engage in authentic engineering practices, such as project planning and implementation. This article presents the curricular design for a project-based STEM course, ‘English for Engineering,’ and reviews our approaches to teaching the course and staging the course within Desire2Learn (D2L), the University of Colorado Boulder’s course management system.

“… In our case, students were presented with two project options: build a virtual structure using Minecraft, a popular computer-based sandbox game, or design and construct a physical Rube Goldberg machine.”

Read the full article at

Linguacafé: Conversation Activity that Works with Young Children

Source: Musicuentos
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links


Teacher, consultant, and blogger Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell writes,

“Linguacafé is a conversation activity that gets kids talking, helps shyer students have a low-anxiety speaking outlet, and gives the teacher opportunities to both give meaningful feedback and complete administrative tasks like collecting homework or taking attendance, or even setting up the next video, while students are still engaged with language.”

Read how she does it in this blog post:

ACTFL Releases New World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages

Source: ACTFL
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links


With the help of a three-year grant from the US Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities, an eleven-member task force, representing a variety of languages, levels of instruction, program models, and geographic regions, undertook the task of defining content standards — what students should know and be able to do — in language learning. The final document, Standards for Foreign Language Learning: Preparing for the 21st Century, first published in 1996, represents an unprecedented consensus among educators, business leaders, government, and the community on the definition and role of language instruction in American education. This visionary document has been used by teachers, administrators, and curriculum developers at both state and local levels to begin to improve language education in our nation's schools.

The World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages create a roadmap to guide learners to develop competence to communicate effectively and interact with cultural understanding. “World-Readiness” signals that the Standards have been revised with important changes to focus on the literacy developed and the real-world applications. Learners who add another language and culture to their preparation are not only college- and career-ready, but are also “world-ready”—that is, prepared to add the necessary knowledge, skills, and dispositions to their résumés for entering postsecondary study or a career.

These Standards are equally applicable to:

•    learners at all levels, from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary levels
•    native speakers and heritage speakers, including ESL students
•    American Sign Language
•    Classical Languages (Latin and Greek)

The updated 4th edition of the Standards, incorporating the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages, will be available in December 2014 (print or eBook).

Learn more about the Standards at and about the impending release of the revised edition at

Report: Schools Struggle To Adapt to English Language Learner Needs

Source: Pennsylvania State University
Language: ESL/Bilingual Back to Quick Links


Faculty research: schools struggle to adapt to English-language learner needs
by Kevin Sliman
November 14, 2014

A College of Education faculty member presented a research report that explores the relationship between school-district infrastructure in new-immigrant destinations and the marginalization of English-language learners (ELLs) in those districts. Megan Hopkins, assistant professor of education, and her colleague, Rebecca Lowenhaupt of Boston College, reported that in many schools, the teaching of English as a second language (ESL) and the teaching of academic subjects are separated and disconnected, which can cause ELLs to fall behind academically.

“This does not represent current thinking in the field,” said Hopkins. “While a separate ESL instructional block can be beneficial, ELL educators also advocate for content-based language learning that requires all teachers to have training related to ELL instruction, and that necessitates meaningful, ongoing collaboration between ESL and general-education teachers.”

Hopkins added that school districts that separate ESL and content require ELLs to become proficient in English before learning content. This often places them far behind in their learning of content and of content-based academic language.

Read the full article at

Professional Development

Call for Papers: Conference on Language, Learning, & Culture

Source: Virginia International University
Content Area: Assessment, Learning Science, Methods, Policy/Issues/Advocacy Back to Quick Links


The School of Education at Virginia International University will be hosting the Conference on Language, Learning, and Culture (CLLC) on April 9-11, 2015,with the goal of sharing best practices and emerging trends in assessment.

The 2015 theme, Next-Generation Assessment, intends to reframe assessment in terms of its ability to meet the needs and achieve the goals of all stakeholders: empowering students with awareness of their strengths and areas for development; giving educators additional diagnostic information and tools to adapt their instruction; and providing administrators, testing organizations, policy makers, and community members with rigorous data on outcomes that can be used to improve educational programs. The goal is to begin a solutions-oriented dialogue on the next generation of innovations in assessment by acknowledging the interplay among a variety of factors related to language, learning, and culture.

Proposals for workshops, practice-oriented sessions, colloquia/panel discussions, posters, and paper presentations are invited in the following areas, as well as others related to the conference theme:

•    Innovations in Assessment
•    Ethics, Accountability, and Education Policy
•    Effective Assessment Design, Implementation and Use


View the full call for papers at

Language Testing Research Colloquium

Source: ILTA
Content Area: Assessment Back to Quick Links


Language Testing Research Colloquium (LTRC) 2015
March 18-20, 2015
Pre-Conference Workshops March 16-17
Eaton Chelsea Hotel, Toronto, Canada

Language Testing Research Colloquium (LTRC) is the annual conference of the International Language Testing Association (ILTA).  LTRC is the most important conference not only for language testers but also for language testing institutions/organizations, as the list of the co-hosts for the previous conferences attests. The list includes major stakeholders in the field of language assessment, such as TOEFL/ETS, ELI/University of Michigan, and Cambridge ESOL and many, many more.

Early registration ends on February 14, 2015.

Visit the conference website at

Two Helpful Websites for Ohio (and All) Language Teachers

Source: OFLA
Content Area: Assessment, Curriculum Design, Learning Materials & Resources, Methods, Standards Back to Quick Links

From the OFLA listserv:

There are two ODE pages for World Languages that you may find very helpful.  We wanted to come up with an easy way for teachers to quickly find what they’re looking for on the ODE website, given the extensive world language resources that we’ve added this past year:
1.     HOW TO…? resources:
This Model Curriculum page has dozens of great links such as: Using authentic resources with a textbook; Saving internet videos;  Finding IPAs, video series, music, practice websites, podcasts, etc.; and many more!

2.     How Do I…? for World Languages:
This page gives fast links for finding resources related to Standards, Model Curriculum, SLOs, IPAs, Rubrics, Proficiency, Can-Dos, Content, Instruction, and Connections.

We hope these pages will be beneficial to you.  Have a great rest of the week. J

Kathy Shelton
World Languages Education Program Specialist
Office of Curriculum and Assessment
25 South Front Street | Columbus, Ohio 43215-4183
(614) 995-4840 | (877) 644-6338 |

Shelton, K. [OFLA] two helpful ODE World Language pages. OFLA listserv (OFLA@LISTSERV.KENT.EDU, 18 Nov 2014).

Call for Proposals: 2015 ACTFL Annual Convention

Source: ACTFL
Content Area: ANY Back to Quick Links


Be a part of the 2015 ACTFL Annual Convention and World Languages Expo of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) which will be held November 20-22, 2015, with pre-convention workshops on November 19, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. The ACTFL Convention will feature more than 700 educational sessions covering the whole spectrum of the language education profession.

Submit a proposal that will inspire your audience, keep them engaged and ultimately, help them transform their classroom. The entire selection process is designed to provide attendees with an exciting array of sessions and events to further your knowledge and skills to become better, well-informed teachers, professors, and administrators. ACTFL welcomes language educators at all levels and of all languages to submit a proposal.

Please note: When you login, it is very important that you carefully read all the information in the Submission Guidelines (  before proceeding to complete your online submission. The submission deadline is Wednesday, January 14, 2015. All proposals for consideration must be submitted online and will not be accepted after the deadline date.

Submit a proposal at

CARLA Summer Institutes for Language Teachers

Source: CARLA
Content Area: ANY Back to Quick Links


The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota is celebrating 20 years of providing high-quality professional development for language teachers. Launched in 1996, this internationally known program reflects CARLA's commitment to link research and theory with practical applications for the classroom. Each institute is highly interactive and includes discussion, theory-building, hands-on activities, and plenty of networking opportunities.

Here is a list of the summer institutes to be offered in 2015:

Using the Web for Communicative Language Learning and Professional Development—online course
July 6–August 9, 2015

Using Technology in Second Language Teaching
July 13–17, 2015

Creativity in the Classroom: Fostering Student Learning by Engaging the Senses
July 13–17, 2015

Going “Green”: Bringing Sustainability and Environmental Themes into the Language Classroom
July 13–17, 2015

Improving Language Learning: Styles- and Strategies-Based Instruction
July 20–24, 2015

Culture as the Core in the Second Language Classroom
July 20–24, 2015

Content-Based Language Instruction and Curriculum Development
July 20–24, 2015

Developing Assessments for the Second Language Classroom
July 27–31, 2015

Developing Materials for Language Teaching
July 27–31, 2015

Focusing on Learner Language: Second Language Acquisition Basics for Teachers
July 27–31, 2015

Immersion 101: An Introduction to Immersion Teaching for Chinese and Japanese
June 22–26, 2015

Meeting the Challenges of Immersion Education: Partner Teacher Collaboration for Biliteracy Development
July 13–17, 2015

Immersion 101: An Introduction to Immersion Teaching
July 20–24, 2015

For full descriptions of these institutes go to


Book: Teaching Language with Technology

Source: Bloomsbury Publishing Back to Quick Links


Teaching Languages with Technology: Communicative Approaches to Interactive Whiteboard Use
Edited by Euline Cutrim Schmid and Shona Whyte
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

This book draws on theories of second language acquisition (SLA) to illustrate how interactive white board technology can be exploited to support language acquisition. It examines interaction, collaboration and negotiation of meaning and focus on form in the communicative language classroom in primary, secondary and vocational schools.

In recent years new technologies have been incorporated into second and foreign language education as tools for implementing teaching methodologies. IWBs have established their role in the field of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) and are an effective and inspiring tool which motivates both teachers and learners. Although the number of IWBs in classrooms has rapidly increased over the past decade in many parts of the world, teacher training materials and pedagogical support for the design, evaluation and implementation of IWB-based materials in the foreign language classroom has not kept pace. Research also shows that language teachers do not always use IWBs in pedagogically sound ways. There is a real need for the development of training models and examples of good practice which can support teachers in developing the necessary competencies for exploiting the IWB in ways consistent with current theories of language teaching pedagogy. This book provides that best practice and gives a full account of in-depth research in an accessible manner.

Visit the publisher’s website at

Book: Consciousness and Second Language Learning

Source: Multilingual Matters Back to Quick Links


Consciousness and Second Language Learning
By John Truscott
Published by Multilingual Matters

This book explores the place of consciousness in second language learning. It offers extensive background information on theories of consciousness and provides a detailed consideration of both the nature of consciousness and the cognitive context in which it appears. It presents the established Modular Online Growth and Use of Language (MOGUL) framework and explains the place of consciousness within this framework to enable a cognitively conceptualized understanding of consciousness in second language learning. It then applies this framework to fundamental concerns of second language acquisition, those of perception and memory, looking at how second language representations come to exist in the mind and what happens to these representations once they have been established (memory consolidation and restructuring).

Visit the publisher’s website at

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