Incidental language are those extra words and idioms used in a conversation that may be normal to us but can be difficult for Breadies to follow. It can sometimes be useful for higher levels as it is a natural part of conversation that can allow Breadies to pick up extra vocabulary and a more natural speaking style. However, for the vast majority of our Breadies it is not helpful. This is because when practiced with people not yet fluent in English, especially newer learners it can lead to a confused, agitated or non-responsive Bready.

We are used to it in everyday conversations with people who speak our language and so it can be a difficult habit to break. Most times we don’t even realise we are doing it and it takes a conscious effort to break the habit. We should endeavour to speak as slowly, carefully, clearly and to the point using only the words needed.

Try watching a recording of yourself teaching and see where you are guilty of using incidental language, you might surprise yourself how often you are doing it!


Compare the two instructions.  Which would be clearer for a Bready to understand? 

Buddy A: Today we are going to be looking at using the past tense and hopefully by the end of the lesson you will understand how to say and write verbs in the past tense.  First we will read the story together about John on the PowerPoint slide, then we will see how we use the whiteboard pens to fill in the gaps on the worksheet questions with the words we have just read, once we have done that we are going to play a game.   

Buddy B: Let’s read the story. 

(read story together) 

 Now we are going to write the missing words.  

Hopefully it is clear that Buddy B has made the instructions clearer!  They haven’t included any unnecessary phrases and have broken the instructions up into simple sentences.   

Poor Incidental Language Habits to be mindful of 

  1. First, we will X, then we will Y.  Any teacher who has come from a traditional teaching background will have had drilled into them about sharing and explaining learning objectives and outcomes to students at the start of lessons.  In the online classroom with someone who is a beginner level language student this is just unnecessary and confusing.  If each lesson is instead built around a predictable framework then the Breadies will learn to expect certain activities. 
  1. Filler phrases such as “Okay, let’s see”, “you know”, “like”.  These can be natural parts of speech that help us organise our thoughts and act as a place filler while we plan what we say next.  In an online session with a Bready the planning should have been done beforehand so that you know exactly what you say.   
  1. Transitions between activities.  Often, we plan the activities to a high level of detail and know exactly what we will say during them but neglect to plan how we will transition from one activity to the next.  It is during these times that incidental language can sneak in. 
  1. Asking “do you remember________?”.  Think about what the answer to this question requires in terms of language and thinking skills.  It is a natural question to ask in a conversation with someone proficient in a language and one we often use in everyday conversation.  However, ask it to a young Bready and you will likely get a blank response or a yes/no answer with no clear indication of if the Bready does remember or not.   
  1. Similarly, asking “Can you read this sentence?” may be met with a yes or no answer when a much better way would have been to instruct “please read this sentence” with a visual prompt to the section you want them to read.   

Positives of Incidental Language 

Incidental language isn’t always negative.  For those high level Breadies it can be an effective way of introducing new vocabulary, natural intonation and rhythm of English.  Exposing them to incidental language can help extend the amount of English words they are listening to.  However, until you are confident your Bready is at that level then it is wiser to avoid it.   

What are you going to do? 

Are there any bad habits in here you recognize? 

What could you do to change them? 

Let us know on social media and share any tips!