A web site for the developing language teacher

May 2005 - issue 5/05


Welcome to the May Newsletter.

Good news for dyslexia - Guardian Online article:

New typeface to help with dyslexia

Polly Curtis, education correspondent, Monday April 18, 2005

A new typeface designed to help children with dyslexia learn to read has been developed.

The Read Regular scheme avoids using letters that can be inverted or mirrored to look alike, and can be confusing to people with dyslexia.

But it still looks like ordinary text.

The font was designed by Natascha Frensch from Delft, in the

Netherlands. Ms Frensch, who has dyslexia, came up with the idea while studying at the Royal College of Arts in London.

She said: "The standard typeface works on a couple of shapes, like N and O, to create all the other 24 letters in the alphabet. While I was researching fonts I wondered why they should be so similar when the problem is distinguishing them from each other. I thought why not make each unique?

"By taking away all the extra details, and designing each letter from scratch individually, I find it easier to read. Altogether, this doesn't create as much visual distortion as normal typefaces do. When I open a book the characters can jump and distort; this helps cut down on that."

Chrysalis Books has announced that it will adopt the font in all itsnew primary school text books.

Around 10% of the population have a form of dyslexia. Approximately 4% are severely dyslexic, including some 375,000 schoolchildren. Dyslexia causes difficulties in learning to read, write and spell. It can alsoaffect short-term memory, mathematics, concentration and personal organisation.

Specialist teaching of how to read, and how to cope with dyslexia, can prove very effective.

John Rack, director of research and development at the Dyslexia Institute, said: "It's a nice idea, well thought through, and it looks very promising.

"What it does is try to reduce the confusability between letters like b and d by making sure they are not mirror images of each other. Also,it cuts down on some of the confusing parts of the font, such as the double loops on the 'g' and the two-storey letter 'a', which is confusing as it doesn't link to the way people write letters."

Previous systems have relied on clunky looking fonts, which can identify a reader as having dyslexic type problems and stigmatise them, he said. "Most importantly, it does it in an elegant way which doesn't look babyish. It looks like proper text whilst being really quite clear."

However, Mr Rack added that the new font had not been scientifically tested, though anecdotal feedback was extremely positive.

Ben Cameron, of Chrysalis Books, said: "Read Regular is good because it works subtly, it doesn't look like anything special, it's not stigmatising. People don't notice the difference. Plus, all children can read faster and more easily in this font, not just dyslexicchildren."

To see the new typeface & the article reproduced

This month Mark Lowe continues his articles with a look at ‘Language Philosophy and Language Teaching’, Vivian Chu joins us for the first time with an article titled ‘ Teaching Global Unity Through Proverbs, Metaphors, and Storytelling’, & Kendall Peet returns to help you sort out reported speech, ‘Reported Speech - A Common Sense Approach’. Scott Shelton also returns, this time with a review of ‘Teaching English Spelling’ by Ruth Shemesh & Sheila Walter CUP). Hope you find them all interesting.

More free Google GMail accounts to give away – if interested, get in touch.

Happy teaching



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Language Philosophy and Language Teaching by Mark Lowe

We EFL teachers are accustomed to finding our big ideas about language in the work of applied linguists such as Michael Halliday, Henry Widdowson, Chris Candlin, Nunan, Kajru and Carter. But there are other sources of big ideas about language, such as literary critics: for instance, I.A.Richards (The Principles of Literary Criticism), William Empsom (Seven Types of Ambiguity), Harold Bloom (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.) and Sir Frank Kermode (Shakespeare’s Language) – and also philosophers of language. Whereas linguists are primarily interested in language as such, and literary critics in literary language, language philosophers are interested in wider questions such as how language relates to reality, language and the mind, language and knowledge, language and truth, etc. This article discusses the ideas of four philosophers who have made important contributions to our understanding of language, and whose ideas have influenced language teaching theory and practice. They are Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L.Austin, Paul Grice and John Searle.

To appreciate the philosophy of Wittgenstein, it is useful to know something of his background and the intellectual milieu from which he sprang. Ludwig Wittgenstein was born in 1889, the youngest son of a wealthy Viennese industrialist. The family mansion was an intellectual and artistic centre of Viennese society: Brahms’ clarinet quintet received its first performance at a musical soiree there: Freud, Mahler, Bruno Walter and Kokoschka were frequent guests. His brother was the famous one-armed pianist, Paul Wittgenstein. This was the milieu in which the young Wittgenstein grew up, and which influenced his philosophical development.

Originally, Ludwig was set to follow his father in the family business. After technical studies in Linz and Berlin, he went to Manchester University in England to study aeronautical engineering. But while there, he developed a passionate interest in mathematics and logic, and heard about the work of Bertrand Russell. In 1911, he called on Russell in his rooms in Cambridge.

Russell was then a leading figure in the international movement to make philosophy more scientific and to clear away the clouds of Hegelian metaphysics which had dominated European philosophy for the previous 100 years. Russell believed this Hegelian philosophy to be pernicious nonsense. He and his friend and colleague Alfred North Whitehead had recently completed their monumental Principia Mathematica, which demonstrated the logical foundations of mathematics. Russell was working on his new philosophy of Logical Atomism, which sought no less than to describe the logical foundations of the world. He was looking for a gifted collaborator to work with him

Russell was immediately impressed by Wittgenstein’s intellectual ability. He had found his collaborator. Wittgenstein abandoned his engineering studies and settled in Cambridge as Russell’s student. He quite soon started work on his first masterpiece: the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He continued to work on it while on long holidays in Norway, and then while serving in the Austrian army in the First World War. He completed it while on active service fighting the Russians on the Galicia front (he was recommended for the highest Austrian medal for valour – their equivalent of the Victoria Cross). His traumatic war experience deeply influenced the final form of the Tractatus: what had started as a treatise on logic evolved into a kind of poem on life’s deepest truths. At the end of the war, Wittgenstein was taken prisoner by the Italian army, but he was able to smuggle the text of the Tractatus out to friends in Vienna and Cambridge. The book was finally published in German in 1921 and in an English translation (with a forward by Russell) on 1922.

At one level, the philosophy of the Tractatus can be interpreted as a form of Logical Atomism. At this level, the aim of philosophy is to reveal scientific truths about the world of the most general kind. Ordinary language being inadequate to express such truths, it is necessary to develop a logically pure language in order to describe the world accurately and faithfully. Such a language generates a network of logically consistent propositions which mirror the logical structure of the world. The Tractatus presents a blueprint for such a logical language. At another level, the Tractatus is a meditation on the mystical. It is quite unlike most other works of philosophy. It contains no discussion: it aims to present bare truth. It is written in a series of aphorisms: ‘the world is what is the case’, ‘ethics and aesthetics are one’, ‘death is not an event in life’, ‘whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’. The book was enormously influential. It inspired much of the work of the scientific philosophers of the Vienna Circle in the 1920s and 1930s, for instance Rudolf Carnap’s The Logical Structure of Reality and A.J.Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic. The Tractatus became a Bible for the scientific spirit in philosophy.

Wittgenstein abandoned philosophy on the 1920s. He worked as a gardener in a monastery, and taught children in an Austrian village school. He also practised for a time as an architect, designing an ultra-modern house for his sister. He gave away his vast personal wealth and led the life of a solitary ascetic. He had a few meetings with members of the Vienna Circle, though he never attended that society’s formal gatherings. He was eventually persuaded to return to Cambridge and resume his work in philosophy by his friends John Maynard Keynes, the economist, and Frank Ramsey, the logician and philosopher, in 1929. During the next few years, Wittgenstein repudiated his earlier philosophy and developed a new one. This new philosophy forms the heart of this article.

To view the article


Teaching Global Unity Through Proverbs, Metaphors, and Storytelling by Vivan Chu

ESL teachers working with learners from the international community have tremendous opportunities to foster understanding and harmony between people of different cultures, while simultaneously facilitating language acquisition. When teachers envision language learners from abroad as co-creators in the peace process, a greater goal of helping people communicate in a common language can be to work towards global unity.

The vision is both simple and profound:

  • ESL/EFL educators can foster global understanding and unity while facilitating language acquisition.
  • Language learners from the international community can become individual co-creators in the peace process.
  • Educators and learners can move towards the vision of global unity, through exploration of three paths: Proverbs, Metaphors, and Storytelling.

Through the path of PROVERBS, learners may:

  • Explore universal themes and common values across cultures.
  • Increase consciousness of the universality of human experience.
  • Examine global issues in light of the wisdom of the world.
  • Develop depth of thought on the interconnectedness of all life.
  • Discover the link between language, cultural values, cognition and behavior.

In the language of METAPHORS, learners may:

  • Recognize how metaphors can express boundless connections between unalike entities and ideas.
  • Explore how symbolic language can express transcendent meaning.
  • Appreciate the common ways in which people perceive and make meaning of their world.
  • Harness the power of metaphors as a tool to communicate complex concepts or convey meaning concisely.

Along the path of STORYTELLING, stories can:

Provide opportunity to share personal experiences, explore depth of meaning, and access creativity.

  • Engage our attention, bringing us into connection with each other and ideas.
  • Provide contextual information that helps us make sense of another’s experience and ways of making meaning.
  • Communicate messages indirectly, maintain and create harmony.
  • Involve us in deep listening and empathy.

Proverbs from around the world contain universal themes and often convey similar values. They offer common ground for people from different cultures to express their shared humanity and wisdom. In the language of metaphors, the interweaving of images and words can create transcendent meaning from entities and ideas that are totally unalike. There are numerous possibilities for guided discovery of the similar ways in which people from different cultural backgrounds perceive and make meaning from their world metaphorically. Storytelling is a powerful multi-dimensional communication process that enables individuals to speak from the heart, share values, explore depth and meaning, and access creativity. All three paths are workable for learners at various levels of English language ability, and can be used to focus on supporting peace, unity, and harmony between communities and in the world.

To view the article


Reported Speech - A Common Sense Approach by Kendall Peet


* Part One: A brief analysis of reported speech
* Part Two: Problems learners face at different levels
* Part Three: Approaches, methods, and materials

Part One: A Brief Analysis of Reported Speech

Reported speech, traditionally called indirect speech, but also referred to by linguists and grammarians as hypotactic locutions(1), refers to the use of a noun clause(2) to report a person’s words, thoughts, beliefs, etc.(3) To better understand reported speech, it is helpful to first look at direct speech, which can also be used to report a person’s words, thoughts, and beliefs.

Direct Speech

Direct speech is used mainly in writing to report a person’s words exactly. It is found in conversations in books, in plays, and in quotations, and is often used in situations where accuracy is important, such as in areas relating to law and public media. The following examples highlight the form of direct speech.

She said, “I’ll call you as soon as I’ve finished up here.”

“ I’ll call you as soon as I’ve finished up here,” she said.

The distinguishing features are the use of quotation marks to tell the reader that the words are the original words spoken by the speaker, and the reference to the speaker, which can be made before or after the quote, with the comma placed accordingly.

Reported Speech

In contrast to direct speech, reported speech is used mainly in conversation and is concerned more with communicating the exact meaning than the exact words. (4) As such, the reported message may vary depending on the point of view of the speaker and the vocabulary selected (5):

She said/told him she would phone/call/ring him when/as soon as she (was) finished (at) work.

Shifting from Direct to Reported Speech

When shifting from direct to reported speech, Swan writes that grammatical changes may need to be made to the original text in order to account for the fact that “words spoken or thought in one place by one person [are or] may be reported in another place at a different time, and perhaps by a different person.” (6) The changes that Swan refers to include:

1. Pronouns and Possessive Determiners

In reported speech pronouns and possessive determiners may need to be changed when the speaker or listener change. For example:

David: Where’s Peter? Is Peter here? Have you seen him?

John: No, not today.

David: Do you know if he ’s finished his report yet? I need it.

John: No, I don’t know. Sorry.

David: He promised me it would be finished today.

John to Peter (the next day at lunch): David asked where you were yesterday. He said he needed your report and wanted to know if I had seen you. I said I hadn’t. He seemed pretty angry.

In this situation the speaker and listener have changed so the pronouns and possessive pronouns must change accordingly, as is indicated above.

To view the article


Thanks to Mark, Vivian & Kendall


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Some days to plan your lessons around in May:

1st - May Day - Labour Day
5th - Cinco de Mayo - México
8th - World Red Cross Day
12th - Limerick Day - birthday of Edward Lear
18th - International Museum Day
24th - Victoria Day - Canada

To see the list of Days

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

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A new book review by Scott Shelton - 'Teaching English Spelling' by Ruth Shemesh & Sheila Walter CUP). I’m sure you’d agree that this is a very under represented area. Here’s how Scott begins the review:

If you have ever wondered at the complexity of English spelling and felt less than adequate when faced with the “awesome mess” of teaching it to non-native English students - many of whom also have to deal with the challenge of a new script and sound code, a new language direction or very possibly, dyslexia, or simply a short term memory problem - then this book it just what the doctor ordered.

Teaching English Spelling is a high calibre response to this all-too-common-situation for English Language Teachers, which the authors themselves had faced as practising teachers. Turning to action research, this book is the fruit of a trial and error response, systematically applied, in an attempt to address their own learners’ needs while at the same time providing an overall framework for other teachers in a similar situation. The final result is this wonderfully designed and carefully researched collection of practical lessons dedicated to the conscientious end of developing better non-native English spellers.

To read the review

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