A web site for the developing language teacher

August 2007 - issue 8/07


Welcome to the August Newsletter.


7. PS - Internet/computer-related links



A couple of interesting articles to follow up:

Punctuation is no place for zero tolerance - David Crystal Lynne Truss and others demand a rigidly standard English, but our language has fewer unbreakable rules than they want. There are some things in life we can justifiably be "zero tolerant" about, but punctuation is not one of them. Zero tolerance is possible when there is a clear-cut contrast between two behaviours, one of which society agrees to be right and the other society agrees to be wrong. People are zero-tolerant of child abduction, for example. Lynne Truss and others do us a disservice when they suggest that punctuation "errors" - such as the use of a plural apostrophe, as in potato's - is something to which we should give no quarter. I wrote The Fight for English to explain why, and to dissuade people from going down that path.

On speaking terms
English language lessons for migrant women working in the UK sex industry aim to tackle exploitation by clients and bosses,,2133706,00.html

This month we have another article by Alex Case, this time his ideas on 'How the future of textbooks has to be' & Christian Burrows joins us for the first time with an article titled 'The Shyness Myth' that discusses this aspect in the Japanese context.

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As usual, thanks for reading.
Happy teaching!


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How the future of textbooks has to be by Alex Case

Looking back on my 12 years of teaching English, if it is not just old age speaking I could swear that the first couple of years after I did my initial certificate (CELTA) were a golden age for EFL textbooks. It's not that they made your lessons any easier or taught the learners the language any better than the textbooks coming out now, but there was just a feeling in the air that books like Cutting Edge and Innovations were the beginning of a new wave of books that was going to fundamentally change the way we teach forever. You could call that period the Modernist Age of Textbooks.

But modernism leads inevitably, it seems, to post-modernism. Since those optimistic days the ELT publishing industry seems to have given up that radical mission as if changing the world was just a hippy dream. Not that the world of textbooks has entirely stood still, but even the most different-looking of the new bunch (e.g. Natural English) only concentrate on what we should teach rather than how we should teach it- which is strange, because the conclusions that lead people to look for new ways to teach have been backed up by more and more research and have gone from controversial to commonly accepted during that time.

The three most fundamental parts of our newly certain knowledge are:

-What we teach is not the same as what students learn

-There is a long delay and many stages between coming across the language for the first time and mastering it

-People learn differently and so learn different things at different speeds

Until a textbook deals with the points above (and I have yet to see a teacher's book that even mentions all three in full), whether we teach more natural English, more collocations, more international English etc. is not really a question I can get excited about. The question is how we teach any of these points.

Below are my initial ideas on how to create a textbook that takes the three factors above into account.

That language now

If we accept that language is not just a set of building blocks that we place one at a time into our students' heads ready to support the next one until we have built the Tower of Babel of fluency, we need a whole other way of choosing which grammar to cover. Luckily, the concept we need to use has existed for years in Business English and ESP teaching- needs analysis. Not that I am suggesting most of our General English students need English in their work or daily life today, although that could be a factor. In this case the 'need' in needs analysis is the language that most of our students need to reach the stage where they can read, listen and interact at another level and so get the input they need to move on further.

When we introduce each language point depends on these fairly easily decided aims, e.g. "How can I get Upper Intermediate up to the level to watch and enjoy Friends?" or "How can we get our Elementary students quickly up to the level to be able to be paired up with the guy who is nearly Pre-Intermediate?" My unscientific predictions for what the conclusions of such a process could be include introducing future and past forms and/ or time expressions at a very early stage, and promoting modals and demoting There is and There are. With functional language, similar changes can be made. And with those objectives set, all we need to do is to decide how to teach that language...

Our five-pronged language learning weapon

When we learn grammar naturally we first learn to recognize it and understand it. Then we learn to respond to it. Thirdly, we learn to produce it. And finally we learn to not mix it up with a lot of other grammatical forms. And teach it how we might, that is how all our students learn- and not in the one lesson, one week or even one month our textbooks try to fit all those stages into.

The simplest response to these facts would seem to be to split those stages up. First, students cope with a grammar point in a reading or listening test, with maybe a little explanation. We let that seed germinate in their brains for a while and a few lessons later they answer questions that contain that grammatical form, but only using it in the answers if they are ready. Let their brains do some unconscious magic for a few more weeks, and then we get them to use a sentence stem using that structure (e.g. If I were you...). When we judge they are ready to do some controlled manipulation and practice of this point for the first time, their brains will be completely primed to receive it. We can then repeat all the stages when it is time to contrast that grammatical point with other forms, all the while intertwining the syllabus for this grammar point with the stages for other unconnected grammar points, letting the students' brains make their own contrasts and connections between them. The same approach would also work for vocabulary, sentence stems, functional language etc.

Of course, an approach where the stages are clearly divided also frees us up from having to use all those stages all the time and allows us to judge with each grammar point etc. whether students would benefit more from polishing something up or seeing something new, depending on our aims.

Another useful side effect of having different stages for different language points in one lesson/ week rather than having to go through a step-by-step approach with just one language point is that teachers can choose to do the easier stages at any part of the lesson/ day/ week, depending on the time of day, student tiredness due to lots of new input etc. This is another way in which we can get away from the idea of language learning as a series of steps up, and see a lesson and course rather as a marathon race where there are times you put your foot on the gas and push students, and others when you take your foot off and let them drift on neutral while their subconscious learning processes do their work. Where PPP feels like a factory production line and the Task Based Approach feels like pit-stop service of an F1 car, this approach is more like making a Stradivarius or a loaf of bread. Which do you think learning a language is more like?

One problem that could come up is students who are not happy to move on until they think they have done something 'properly'. There are solutions to this below, but I have also often seen the opposite effect where the look on students' faces when you have covered a point to complete exhaustion seems to be one of never wanting to see that grammar again. This is not the effect that a professional story teller or a TV script writer aims for, and giving students a taste and leaving them wanting something more is definitely a good thing here too.

Another objection I anticipate to this approach is it will make the whole learning process more unpredictable. However, as we cannot predict what each individual student will learn and when they will learn it whatever method we choose, having an approach that accepts that randomness seems sensible. And the next stage for producing the next generation of course is to take that idea a step further.

To view the rest of the article:

Other articles from Alex:
Writing While Listening - Tackling the Double Challenge of Note
Taking by Alex Case
Reading: Preparing Intermediate Students to Tackle Authentic
Texts by Alex Case
Discourse analysis, advanced learners and the Cambridge CPE Exam
by Alex Case & the accompanying lesson plan
Formal Letters for Everyone: Ideas of why and how to bring formal
letters into every classroom in fun, interactive ways by Alex


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The Shyness Myth by Christian Burrows


Many native English language teachers argue that shyness poses such a problem for Japanese students that it is in their best interest to attempt to overcome this feeling, but without offering clear advice on how to go about this task. As a result they fall into the trap of labeling something for no other purpose than to reinforce a certain stereotype, serving no positive function. Many teachers would agree that it is possible to label Japanese students 'shy', 'reticent', and 'quiet', but unless you are proposing ways to overcome this 'handicap' (Doyon, 2000) it appears to do little to further the research. Doyon (ibid) touches upon the real implications that need to be addressed when he lists the traits that are manifestations of shyness in the classroom. It is how this feeling interferes with the language learning process that is most relevant to teachers since teaching in foreign cultures can lead to problems of communication and even conflict due to certain cultural misunderstandings. One reason is because people from different cultures react differently to various situations, meaning the cultural basis of the teacher-student relationship tends to make cross-cultural learning situations fundamentally problematic for
both parties as:

"teaching to a student or student body with a cognitive profile different from what the teacher is accustomed to is evidently problematic"? (Hofstede, 1986:305)

This can sometimes lead to any differences being viewed unfavorably and negative assessments being reached. The significance of the cultural aspect in the learning of a second language is illustrated in the five traits Doyon (ibid) points out trouble native English teachers:
They are that Japanese students:
(a) rarely initiate discussion
(b) avoid raising new topics
(c) do not challenge the teacher
(d) seldom ask questions
(e) are reluctant to volunteer answers

Although these traits could be used to reinforce the shyness myth, more tellingly they represent certain traditions of learning and teaching in Japan which differ from Western countries, thus necessitating the need for 'a sound, culturally
sensitive foundation' (Jones, 1995:229) that recognises these differences and tries to incorporate the different ways of learning. These traditions include students' expectations, risk- taking, and student autonomy.

Students' expectations

Students' knowledge about their role in the learning process will be shaped and maintained by other beliefs they hold about themselves as students (Wenden, 1991:54). This knowledge about language learning has been acquired throughout their schooling and has contributed to their beliefs, insights and concepts in regard to the language learning process (Wenden, 1991:34). Several of the traits (a - e) are not due to inherent shyness but the expectations of the students, who after years of being evaluated through tests are simply unused to an environment which requires skills they have little practice in. For many Japanese students who enter university these expectations of what
'appropriate' behavior is are applied to their new situation, meaning they expect teacher-centered, rote-learning rather than independent, creative, autonomous learning. As a result when Japanese students encounter a communicative class they can often experience difficulty adapting to the change of learning styles, and understanding exactly what is expected of them.

If these expectations remain unfulfilled they may result in 'hotspots', (Oxford, 1990:80) where students notice discrepancies between what they expect and what is actually happening in the classroom. This is one of the numerous problems students encounter when they learn a second language. There are other students who experience certain psychological blocks and other inhibiting affects, feelings of alienation, anger and frustration (Brown, 1994:174). From my own experience these are feelings which affect many Japanese students specially those participating in group classes where there is the extra pressure
from the other group members. I have observed many Japanese students writing their answers during speaking activities instead of using the time more productively, as they assume their answers will be checked and that having the 'correct' answer is the most important thing. Other students quickly complete speaking exercises, as opposed to using the tasks as a means to communicate and develop their linguistic proficiency. Reliance on the teacher can also lead to confusion when asked to perform independently, leading some students to even question whether they should complete the speaking exercise in English or Japanese!

The article continues at:

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The OSDE methodology offers a set of procedures and ground rules
to structure SAFE spaces for dialogue and enquiry about GLOBAL
promote the development of:
Independent and informed thinking
Enquiry skills and systems thinking
Critical, political and transnational literacies
Responsible and accountable reasoning and action
'Critical literacy is an educational practice that prompts teachers and learners to examine the connections between language, power and knowledge, to transform relationships and to reason and act responsibly.
The notion of Global Citizenship prompts fundamental questions such as: how should we live together? who should decide this? how are we connected to people we do not know? what are our responsibilities in relation to one another?
This website presents educational agendas, tools and initiatives that promote the development of critical literacy in global citizenship education.'
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Worldwide newspapers online in English.
All about books from the BBC.
'English Teacher's Portfolio is a unique self-study language improvement programme, specifically designed to help Brazilian teachers of English develop listening and speaking skills. ETP focuses on pronunciation and vocabulary development. There are also teaching tips and all from a Brazilian context.'
VOA's Special English Feature Stories - from:
Interesting Things for ESL Students - A fun study site for learners of English as a Second Language
NY Times Learning section.
'Kids Mysteries - Mysteries to solve, scary stories, and magic tricks'

If you've visited a site that you think would be beneficial for all or would like your site to appear here, please get in touch. Thanks.

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A few days to plan your lessons around in August:

1st - World Wide Web Anniversary
12th - International Youth Day
13th - Lefthanded Day
15th - Indian Independence Day
31st - Malaysia Independence Day
La Tomatina Festival, Spain
The Burning Man Project in Nevada

To see the list of Days:

Wikipedia's excellent focus on days of the year:
Some holiday origins.

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There's a review from Scott Shelton of 'English Pronunciation in Use Elementary Book with Answers and 5 Audio CD Set' (English Pronunciation in Use) (Paperback) by Jonathan Marks (CUP) & also 'English Pronunciation in Use Advanced Book with Answers and 5 Audio CDs' (English Pronunciation in Use) (Paperback) by Martin Hewings (CUP)
To read the review;

If you're going to, or then please go through our Books page. You will pay the same & we will receive a few pennies to keep the site & newsletters free. Thanks.

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Free weekly practical teaching tips by e-mail.

Recent Tips have included:

- You can't blame the youth.. - lesson ideas for International Youth Day.
- What's up, Doc? - a look at diagnostic testing.
- Quick & easy placement testing level assessment of a large number of students.
- Up front - classroom management, asking for students to perform in front of the group.
- But I don't speak their language! - what to do.
- Sign language - lesson ideas.

To see the Past Tips:

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7. PS – General internet/computer-related links

A few computer use rules of thumb:

- make copies of all
- important files
- run scan disk & then defragment the hard drive
- use firewall software - use a virus scan & update the files every week
- install security patches that software providers offer
- update your DirectX files regularly
- don't open attachments without scanning for viruses first
- don't respond to spam
- just delete & forget
- don't send personal or bank information by email
- turn off your computer at night
Cartoon videos accompanying Alan Watts.
'Vital Desktop is a desktop animation utility, a program designed to bring a fresh new look to your desktop. Never again will you be faced with the same static background every time. Now, your desktop actually comes alive!
The idea behind Vital Desktop is simple. You have a favourite screensaver. Why wait until it starts? Or you are bored with the static picture on your desktop. Well - pick a screensaver. Run it on your desktop. Make it vital!'
Open Source Food - 'Delicious Food. Beautiful Photography. Created, rated and improved by you and fellow food-lovers from all over the world. Open Source Food is your gastronomic hub where every visit will bring inspiration and a rumbling belly...'
'Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.
Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also gaining a deeper understanding of the process of design. Scratch is available free of charge.'
'How To Do Just About Everything'
'Look at the word. Type the first word or phrase that comes to mind.'
'Convert an image and process to a text file of the original image. Convert picture to text. A helpful tool for ASCII Art.'

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Has to be.

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