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TRAINYOUCAN SETA Accredited Training Network 12231

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Asking Questions to Gain, Clarify and Check Information

Phrases to check understanding and clarify meanings are probably the most important of all kinds of functional language for second language learners, particularly for:

– Classroom communication

– Speaking exams (for checking the meaning of the question before answering it)

– Telephoning and teleconferencing

– Giving and receiving instructions (e.g. giving directions)

– Clearing up the inevitable misunderstandings of L2 communication

Suitable phrases can be broadly divided into ones which are to help the other person understand and ones which are to seek (more) help understanding. These can be further divided into:

– Asking for clarification of a particular point (e.g. “What does… mean?”)

– Checking your understanding (e.g. “If I understand you correctly,…”)

– Just showing a lack of understanding (e.g. “Pardon?”)

– Asking for changes in the delivery (e.g. “Can you explain that again, but starting at the end and working your way back?”, “Can you give me another word for…?”, “Can you speak a little bit more slowly, please?” and “Can you spell that for me, please?”)

– Responding to language, body language, facial expressions etc that show that clarification is needed (e.g. “I can see from your face that I haven’t explained myself well”)

– Giving more explanation before it is asked for (perhaps explaining why more explanation is given with phrases like “Many people think that…”)

– Other mentioning of the other person’s (probable) lack of understanding (e.g. “I know you’re not really into computers, so sorry if that wasn’t clear”)

– Offering more explanation if needed (e.g. “If any of that isn’t clear,…”)

– Asking if a particular part is clear (e.g. “Not many people know how to spell that, so…”)

– More general enquiries about if you are being understood (e.g. “Is that clear so far?”)

You could also indicate where a situation where additional clarification might be necessary with phrases like “The meaning is somewhat ambiguous but…”, and the person listening might need phrases for correcting their partner like “Did you mean to say…?” Students will also probably need phrases to interrupt the person who is speaking in order to ask for clarification and phrases for getting back on track after they give more explanation.

There is a big list of useful language for all of these at the end of this article from which you can choose suitable phrases for your students’ level and typical communication problems.

Common student problems with checking and clarifying language include:

– Using “I beg your pardon” when a shorter phrase would be more suitable

– Using “What?” when something more formal would be more suitable (often because of translation from L1)

– Similar things with sounds like “Eh?”

– Other direct translations from L1 like “One more (time)”

– Using very vague expressions like “I don’t understand” that don’t give the person speaking any information on which parts are not understood or why

– Using too direct checking understanding expressions like “Do you understand?”, which can sound like teachers disciplining children!

– Redundant words in expressions like “Repeat again”

Activities to teach checking and clarifying

Even more than other kinds of functional language, the best way of presenting checking and clarifying phrases and tactics is to first put students into a situation where they need the language, in order to see what they can already do and then help them expand on it. No attempt is therefore given to divide the activities below into presentation and practice ones, although the ones near the top are generally more suitable for presenting a large amount of language.

Checking and clarifying gestures

You can elicit or practise phrases for showing general lack of understanding, asking for repetition, showing you can’t hear, asking the speaker to slow down, etc with gestures such as cupping an ear and shrugging shoulders.

Checking your understanding or their understanding card game

Students listen to typical checking and clarifying phrases and race to hold up one of the two cards that they have been given depending on whether it is for “Checking the other person’s understanding” (e.g. “Are you following me?” and “Is that clear?”) or “Checking your own understanding” (e.g. “Do you mean…?” and “What does the last word mean…?”)

Checking and clarifying tips and useful phrases

As there are many cultural differences and general communication tactics related to this point, it is worth tying together tips and language. One way of doing this is to give students a list of good and bad tips like “Try to be specific about what you don’t understand” and “Use ‘I do beg your pardon’ as a more polite way of saying ‘What’”. After crossing off the bad advice, students work together to brainstorm phrases for doing the things that they should.

Checking and clarifying politeness competition

As mentioned above, there are many potential politeness issues with checking/ clarifying. One way of practising getting past that is to give some short and obviously rude phrases like “What?” and “Understood?” for students to improve on, perhaps as a game where they have to come up with more and more polite versions and the politest wins.

Checking and clarifying longer phrases games

Another way of looking at the problems with rude clarifying and checking phrases is that they are usually simply too short. You can therefore get them to play the politeness competition game above, but with the challenge being instead to make a longer sentence than what is given and than their partners do. If you collect some longer phrases which are versions of shorter ones, you can also split these into two or three pieces of paper for students to try to fit together. After doing so, those slips of paper can also be used in the games below.

Checking and clarifying with pieces of paper

There are several games in which students are dealt pieces of paper which they can dispose of during the communicative activity, with the person with the fewest cards at the end winning that round or the game. The simplest to set up is to give the students cards with names of functions like “Check what something specific means” and “Clarify something before you asked about it” that they must do the function of to be able to discard that card. They can also be given specific words and/ or phrases that they should use while speaking in the same way. You will need to set up the situation each time they speak – see roleplays below for some suggestions.

Checking and clarifying first lesson

This point can be brought up in the very first class by getting students to interview each other and write what they learn down on an interview form, not allowing them to show the form to each other or write their answers down to stimulate this kind of language. This can be further encouraged with questions that are difficult to understand (e.g. “Educational career”) and questions that stimulate dictation (e.g. “Present classes” and “Full name”).

Dictation for checking and clarifying

Dictogloss for checking and clarifying

Dictation is probably the most natural way of bringing up checking and clarifying language. This can simply be done with the teacher dictating with something similar to a dictogloss. The teacher reads out a text fairly quickly twice, with students taking notes the second time. Students try to reconstruct the whole text in pairs and small groups, in this variation without showing their notes to each other in order to stimulate more clarifying and checking language. In this variation, each group can then ask the teacher a certain fixed number of questions (e.g. six) before comparing their versions to the original, with the best version getting points or at least congratulations.

Pairwork dictation for checking and clarifying

An obvious thing to do to add even more checking and clarifying language is to get students dictating to each other. This can be made more intensive practice still by giving them things to dictate that commonly cause confusions (for speakers of their language or more generally) such as particular letters of the alphabet, minimal pairs, and difficult to distinguish numbers (15 and 50 etc).

There are also dictation-based ideas which are less like a normal teacher-led dictation. For example, you could give them mixed up pairs of sentence halves, collocations, split idioms etc on Student A and Student B worksheets to match and write down without showing their partner their sheet. You could also do a Running Dictation, or simply do a telephoning roleplay involving dictation. There are numerous other ways of getting students to do this in the book Dictation: New Methods New Possibilities by Mario Rinvolucri and Paul Davis.

You can also turn more common speaking activities like ranking tasks into dictation by giving students half of the options each and ask both of them to write their finished list without showing anything to each other.

Use and explain activities

A more general tip can be made out of the last activity, which is to give students words and phrases that they should use during a communicative task plus explanations that they can add only when their partner asks for confirmation (or takes them up on their offer to explain). For example, one student could ask the other for advice using tricky words given on the worksheet when explaining their problems. The person giving advice should ask checking understanding questions before giving their advice.

Checking and clarifying roleplays

The best roleplays are usually realistic situations for this kind of language, such as explaining how to do something, giving directions and other instructions, explaining problems, dictating (e.g. names, urls, email address, postal addresses), leaving messages, teleconferencing, talking about something that isn’t visible, talking about processes, explaining options, explaining the reasons for something (e.g. why a recent news story happened), and something a student knows more about than their partner.

You can also prompt more unnatural but fun practice by telling students to exaggerate, e.g. by misunderstanding everything, talking too quickly and being vague.

Checking and clarifying classroom questions

Another way of looking at clarifying and checking questions is as a part of classroom language. As well as setting up activities where students need to ask the teacher questions and giving one student they information they need to answer their partner’s queries as mentioned above, you can get students to test each other on recent or useful vocabulary with typical classroom checking questions like “Can you explain what… means?” and “How do you spell /…/ (in British English)?” (with the word given in phonemic symbols, as an abbreviation or in another variety of English). Those sentences can also be presented in a similar way by giving students the written questions to answer about some vocabulary, then getting them to use the same questions to test each other.


Questions you should ask?

We often have questions regarding Accreditation:

  • What does it really mean?
  • How can I confirm that someone or something is accredited?


This falls into two different categories, namely a) provider accreditation  b) programme accreditation.

These are two totally different processes, meaning that a Training Provider must be Accredited with one of the ETQA’s (SETA’s) and each programme they use must carry its own accreditation.

“Provider accreditation can only be with one SETA, but they have the approval to train different programmes in different SETA’s. These programmes has been approved by the relevant SETA who gave them the approval to train these programmes”

Accreditation Explained

Lets see what SAQA say about Training Provider Accreditation:

(Or click here to download this document)

A body may be accredited as a provider by an Education and Training Quality Assurance Body whose primary focus coincides with the primary focus of the provider, provided that the body seeking accreditation –

(a) is registered as a provider in terms of the applicable legislation at the time of application for accreditation;

(b) has a quality management system which includes but is not limited to –

(i) quality management policies which define that which the provider wishes to achieve;

(ii) quality management procedures which enable the provider to practise its defined quality management policies; or

(iii) review mechanisms which ensure that the quality management policies and procedures defined are applied and remain effective;

(c) is able to develop, deliver and evaluate learning programmes which culminate in specified registered standards or qualifications;

(d) has the –

(i) necessary financial, administrative and physical resources;

(ii) policies and practices for staff selection, appraisal and development;

(iii) policies and practices for learner entry, guidance and support systems;

(iv) policies and practices for the management of off-site practical or work-site components where appropriate;

(v) policies and practices for the management of assessment which include appeals systems;

(vi) necessary reporting procedures; and

(vii) the ability to achieve the desired outcomes, using available resources and procedures considered by the Education and Training Quality Assurance Body to be needed to develop, deliver and evaluate learning programmes which culminate in specified registered standards or qualifications contemplated in paragraph (c); and

(e) has not already been granted accreditation by or applied for accreditation to another Education and Training Quality Assurance Body contemplated in Regulation 2 of the ETQA Regulations.

So how can I check if a Training Provider is accredited?

Firstly we must understand/use the correct terminology. There is a big difference between “Accredited Programmes” and “NQF Accredited Programmes”.



Accreditation / Accredited is a process in which certification of competency, authority, or credibility is presented. In most cases by a higher authority. Nowhere does it mention SETA, SAQA or NQF! The terms “higher authority” can also mean your Head Office.
NQF Accredited is stipulated in the SAQA and the Skills Development ACT as SETA / NQF Accredited courses. You cannot use these terms if you do not have an approval letter from the relevant ETQA (SETA) for the specific programme. There is also a big difference between “Unit Standard Aligned” and “NQF Accredited”. Question: Why would I want to offer “Unit Standard Aligned” programmes and don’t use the words “NQF Accredited”? Makes you think. Most companies use this as a “sales technique” to sell their course to learners.

How to confirm that a Training Provider or Programme is accredited?

Here are some guidelines on this process:

  1. You can ask for their Accreditation Number or Certificate from the SETA. They should also have this on their website or programme correspondence including manuals. Most of the SETA’s do not allow the use of their logos on Websites, Emails or Learning Programmes. Don’t be fooled with a SETA logo!
  2. Contact the relevant SETA (ETQA) directly (click here for a full list of contact details). These SETAS approved the Training Providers and Training Programmes, so why not ask them directly? Alternative you can also check on the SAQA website on this link by confirming the providers name at the bottom of the unit standard or qualification. We had several reports in the past where this information was not 100% correct, so once again, rather check with the relevant SETA directly.
  3. Contact the local SETA and ask for any feedback from the Training Provider. (Did they receive any serious complaints about the provider in the past?)
  4. Ask for referrals directly from the Training Provider.
  5. What is the process or duration till I receive my Final Certificate?
  6. Ask about their supporting structure and possible re-assessment fees.
      • Do they provide ongoing support?
      • Do they ask for “registration fees” that is normally used as commission for the middle man between you and the provider?
      • Do they make mention of their supporting structure on their website or communication?
      • Do they make mention of their fee structure on their website or communication?

(It’s always easy to change the terms and conditions  if you haven’t confirmed this in writing)

So what are my rights?

Looking at the above criteria it is clear that the SETA / NQF Accredited Training Provider must have all the required documentation, processes and supporting structures in place. Not providing the necessary support during the learning process must be reported directly to SAQA or the relevant ETQA (SETA).

After all, it is one of the key criteria provided by SAQA for Provider Accreditation.