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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

Register Now for the 2015 National Spanish Examinations

Source: AATSP
Language: Spanish Back to Quick Links


The National Spanish Examinations (NSE) are online, standardized assessment tools for Grades 6-12, given voluntarily by more than 3800 teachers throughout the United States to measure achievement and proficiency of students who are studying Spanish as a second language. The examinations can be used as a motivational competition for students as well as for assessment purposes.

Registration for the 2015 National Spanish Examinations opened November 1st and runs through January 31.

Learn more about the National Spanish Examinations at

Chinese Grammar Wiki Expands English Translations and Pinyin

Source: Chinese Grammar Wiki
Language: Chinese Back to Quick Links


We have described the Chinese Grammar Wiki in a past article.

The website has been expanded now so that all beginner level grammar points on the site have English translation and pinyin for all sentences. It currently has 1680 articles and continues to grow.

You can access and explore the Chinese Grammar Wiki at

2015 Year of the Sheep Nengajo Contest

Source: AATJ
Language: Japanese Back to Quick Links


The American Association of Teachers of Japanese Nengajo Contest is a nationwide contest for students in elementary school, middle school, high school, and university. All participants receive a certificate of participation. Winners at each level in each category also receive certificates and prizes from AATJ.

2015 will be the Year of the Sheep, and the Sheep will be the subject of AATJ’s 2015 Nengajo Contest.

You need to be a 2014 member in good standing of AATJ in order to nominate your students. The submission must be postmarked on or before Saturday, December 27.

For full details go to

Boston Event: Playing the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Games and Social Change

Source: Goethe-Institut
Language: German Back to Quick Links


Playing the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Games and Social Change
Remembering the Fall of the Wall
Games and Lecture
Monday, December 01, 2014, 7:00 pm
Goethe-Institut Boston, 170 Beacon Street, Boston
admission free

This semester, students at MIT’s Education Arcade have created games on the theme of the Berlin Wall. The finished games will be presented at the Goethe-Institut Boston as videos and can also be played by the audience. Using Minecraft as a game design tool, the students have researched the German border and created a playful experience around a serious subject, remembering the fall of the Wall 25 years ago at the same time. Scot Osterweil, Research Director, Comparative Media Studies, who is teaching the MIT class will introduce the concept of using games as a collaborative, social experience where students can explore how the world works and discover important scientific concepts. All players welcome.

For more details go to

German Language Stack Exchange

Source: Stack Exchange
Language: German Back to Quick Links


German Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of German wanting to discuss the finer points of the language and translation.

In the Stack Exchange format, anyone can ask a question, and anyone can answer it. The best answers receive more votes and rise to the top.

Explore the German Language Stack Exchange at

Help with the Interpretative Mode on French Please!

Source: French Please!
Language: French Back to Quick Links


The French please! website has free authentic video and audio clips, readings, and grammar quizzes. Here’s an example: a video about the engagement of Simone de Beauvoir, with a transcript and a comprehension quiz:

Explore more resources on French please! at

Opposites Activity Ideas

Source: Spanish Playground
Language: Spanish Back to Quick Links


Building relationships among words is one way to reinforce vocabulary, and “opposites” is a relationship that even young children can understand.  Here is a link to a blog post on the Spanish Playground with ideas for using printables with photos representing opposites relations, especially good for young children but adaptable for any age of learner:

De Cine: Blog about Using Film for Teaching Spanish

Source: De Cine
Language: Spanish Back to Quick Links

De Cine is a teacher’s blog dedicated to using film for teaching Spanish. She writes,

“Creo que el uso del cine y de todo lo audiovisual puede ser una herramienta muy útil para nuestros estudiantes de ELE.

“En este blog pretendo ir insertando todo aquello que yo he recopilado para trabajar en el aula con el cine y además poco a poco ir mostrando mis propias creaciones que espero os sirvan de algo.

“Además quisiera incluir apuntes sobre cultura e interculturalidad ya que es un tema que me interesa y relaciono constantemente con las
actividades audiovisuales.”

View the blog posts at

Lesson Plan: A Virtual Tour of Buenos Aires

Source: Language Coaching
Language: Spanish Back to Quick Links


Teacher and blogger Amy Lenord has put together an exciting lesson for her Spanish 2 students.  Here is her overview:

“In this lesson I take my students through a virtual tour of Buenos Aires using their own smart devices. They will explore various attractions and neighborhoods in that city, plan their transportation for day tour and then write me an email to tell me all about how they managed their day in Buenos Aires.”

Access all of the materials to accompany the lesson and read more about it in her blog post:

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

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

Call for Proposals: 36th Annual NYS TESOL Applied Linguistics Conference

Source: LINGUIST List
Content Area: ANY Back to Quick Links

36th Annual NYS TESOL Applied Linguistics Conference
March 7, 2015
New York
Multiple Perspectives: Integrating Theory and Practice

For this conference, submissions that help expand our understanding of the integration of theory and practice will be given preference. Excellent proposals on other themes in the area of language teaching and learning including, but not limited to, curricula, theory, research, technology, assessment, and best practices will also be considered.

Call Deadline: 30-Dec-2014

View the full call for papers at

Call for Proposals: Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Education

Source: PA-NAME
Content Area: ANY Back to Quick Links


PA-NAME – 17th Annual Conference – 2015
Keystone College
April 10-11, 2015
Conference Theme:  Inclusive Multicultural Education: Uniting for Political, Economic and Educational Empowerment

The 17th annual meeting of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Education will focus on the various ways political, economic and educational issues intersect in the multicultural education movement. As NAME strives to be at the forefront of empowering individuals through education and community building, this conference will focus on the idea of inclusive education to inspire conference attendees to become critical thinkers and actors, find their voice, identify inequities, and advocate for social change.

Presentations should be designed to analyze and generate conversation addressing various dimensions of diversity, social justice, and multicultural education. Proposals addressing the research and the application of concepts related to the theme are also invited. The deadline for priority consideration for received proposals is December 15, 2014. The final deadline is January 5, 2015. The conference committee, comprised of PA-NAME members, will review and select proposals based on applicability, creativity, and clarity. Accepted presenters will be notified by January 19, 2015. All presenters will be responsible for their own conference fees and travel expenses. Please click here to submit a conference presentation proposal.

View the full call for proposals 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

Applications Available for 2015-2016 Teachers of Critical Languages Program

Source: American Councils
Content Area: Heritage, Learning Materials & Resources, Policy/Issues/Advocacy Back to Quick Links


The Teachers of Critical Languages Program, a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, is designed to increase the study and acquisition of important world languages in U.S. schools. This program enables primary and secondary schools to strengthen their teaching of Mandarin and Arabic by bringing Chinese and Egyptian teachers to the U.S. to teach their native languages and culture for an academic year. The exchange teachers receive on-going methodological observation and training opportunities, live and work in an immersive English environment, and receive a certificate of participation following their exchange.

Applications for 2015-2016 are now available for schools in the United States and teachers in China and Egypt.  For more information 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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