Newsletter:Winter 2013 Print Version
From the Committee
From the Editor...
Well, it's the end of another year, and what a year it has been, full of changes and ups and downs. The Newsletter committee has gone through a switch of roles; one reason why this newsletter has been a bit delayed in coming out to you. I've been learning the ropes and getting to grips with all the work that an online newsletter entails.
But here we are, finally, and right on time for the winter holidays, this edition provides some reflection on experiences, teaching and otherwise. There were a lot of interesting events taking place in 2013 and we've got some reviews of these for you in the event section, in case you missed them. A review of the Evan Frendo event will appear in the next edition. If you're feeling up to it, don't forget to treat yourself to a book from our book reviews if you see something interesting!
We wish you a very merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year. Happy Reading!
Warm regards from the Newsletter Team
From the Chair
Well, it has been a good nine months since I took over from Vasi, who, by the way, paved my way very smoothly. Many, many thanks Vasi for your generosity and patience with stupid questions!
The year has been full of wonderful star-studded events, to name a few – Vicki Hollett, Evan Frendo, Scott Thornbury, Karla Schaeper and Mike Hicks! And such a colourful variety of topics – videos, corpora, grammar, a David Hockney art talk and needs analyses.
I would like to say a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiig thank you to the Events Co-Ordinator, Emma and her helper Uwe for making all of these events possible. I realize now from the inside that it's a lot of sweat to get an event on the road. Thank you also to the rest of the Committee for being such experts in your fields! You make my job very easy!
Comings and Goings
We farewell a couple of members this year, some of whom have been with ELTA-Rhine for many years. We're sorry to see you go, and wish you all the best with your future endeavours. Meanwhile, we welcome newcomers from all over the globe. Great to have you join us!
Lesley Anne Weiling
Friederike von Schierstedt
Anchoring Language-learning in Experience
Language, the aural expression of our ideas, concepts, the way we see and experience the world around us, is inherently linked to our life experience. Equally, learning builds on existing knowledge to broaden our experience and understanding. Why then, as school teachers and university lecturers, are we often expected to teach the language for concepts that our students have not yet confronted in their own language, and how can we ease the process?
Language learning which is not linked to embedded experience is inefficient and can be quite traumatic. An experience from my own life should suffice to demonstrate:
A child of the free-spirited 70s in Australia, the discipline of grammar was a foreign concept to me – quite literally. I learned grammar to a minimal degree in my school-girl German and managed never – despite a degree in English literature and historical English – to apply this discipline to my mother tongue. Then, having come to terms with basic English grammar through teaching EFL, I foolishly enrolled in Linguistics in a German university to develop a better understanding of that thing called “language”.
I survived modern linguistics because of my growing confidence in English grammar, despite the fact that the subjects were all taught in German. Even the beginnings of historical linguistics was doable, as we handled Germanic languages, and I could make connections with my existing knowledge.
But from then on, historical linguistics was a horror. In my second semester I had to take the first of the non-Germanic historical languages – Ancient Greek – and I was at sea, up the proverbial creek without a paddle, drowning, not waving. My confidence was completely blown. I had to learn texts about farming – words I hadn’t yet encountered in German, so I kept not understanding the translations and explanations in class. (At least my childhood in rural Australia gave me some basic experience of farming, though the technology I knew was about 2,000 years younger than the stuff we were reading about.) Then I had to deal with future participles, active and passive. Here, nothing helped me out, and I still feel the visceral panic when I remember – future perfect passive participle constructions were and remain a structure for which I simply have no concept in my brain: I had no anchor-point, I couldn’t figure out how to translate them, and it left me feeling totally powerless. I survived my two semesters of Ancient Greek, but people who knew me back then can attest to my sweaty palms, caffeine-fuelled tremors and blood-shot eyes.
Soon after Ancient Greek came Latin, and I had to do the “Little Latin” exam. Needless to say, it took me three attempts. Not only was my pacifist brain confronted with Caesar’s military strategy – again, language for which I didn’t have the German – but also my abysmal knowledge of European geography left me with no anchor points for the words I was reading. I was left with a series of unconnected images in my head that bore no relation to my experience. By the time I faced learning Sanskrit, I had dealt with an awful lot of German vocabulary, and a range of grammatical structures, and the going got easier.
What I did in those years was unquestionable dreadfully inefficient learning. And the result of this is that I’ve forgotten almost everything I learned back then – most especially the Greek.
I see myself and other colleague confronted with a similar situation when we are required to teach themes that our students have not yet dealt with in their mother tongue. Whether this is pre-work business students who – at least in the early semesters – don’t have practical or even theoretical experience of the concepts they have to write exams in English about, or 9th grade high school students who have never left Germany and yet have to learn about Australian geography and culture. How can we anchor our language teaching in our students’ experience when the students have no experience to anchor it to?
Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Give them the chance to learn it in their own language. I have no qualms about students using their own language to understand concepts. Let them watch a movie or do some Internet research in their own language. Then they’ll have a basis to take on the vocabulary in a foreign language.
2. Personalise it. Tell them about your own experience, or about a friend who’s been there, done that. Let them be curious and answer their questions.
3. Tell stories and anecdotes. Give them examples from your own experience. The more amusing/surprising/shocking, the better – they’ll remember the story, and the language along with it.
4. Practical experience. Excursions (if possible) – get them out of the class room. Simulations and role-plays of a practical nature: working on projects with an outcome – planning a party or a performance, putting together a newspaper, recording news and current affairs videos or scenes from the text.
Six adults, two children 11 pieces of luggage, two pushchairs took the 08:07 S11 train to Dusselldorf Airport to Berlin and from there to a wonderfully warm Sofia.
We were to be met by Rossi's father in a seven seater and cousin in a car to travel the five hours to Omurtag. Unfortunately the seven seater broke down. Boscho arrived alone in an Audi. So we packed Alex, Helen, Eileen and Clara and as much luggage as we could squeeze into the vehicle and Paul, Rossi, Betty and I took a van to the Bus Station in Sofia and got a bus.
First impressions of Sofia: it looks like the Dublin I grew up in. Lots of small shops and businesses in an untidy line along the street. Everything looked like it needed a coat of paint. Reminded me of Fairview and the North Strand as it used to be before Dublin became touristy cute.
The sun was setting into a gloriously red sky as we drove the increasingly empty road. We passed a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction every 5 or 10 minutes, giving the feeling of being alone in a big space as darkness increased.
We stopped in Velikotarnovo for a coffee. It was only slightly bigger than expresso size but delicious. Velikotarnovo is the former capital and was magically picturesque with its double curving lines of large circular globes lighting the night.
We were picked up in a meanwhile repaired seven seater by Rossi's father Krasimir and taken to the kind of welcome you can only dream of. All the food on the table was home grown and made. The tomatoes were so flavoursome they were hard to recognize as being the same bland fruit we buy in Aldi. Mother Zhulieta (Julieta), served a chicken dish that was so delicious that even Betty, who can normally identify the number of grains of mustard used in a dish, thought it was something else.
Both parents are teachers, as is sister Svetlomira. Krasimir is a passionate hunter and has a collection of whiskey that would make Peter's eyes water. If I am a good boy I might be taken on an expedition. Watch this space.
First full day
The day of our arrival lasted until 2 a.m., when Kasimir, Zhulieta, Svetlomira and Boscho finally realised they could not outlast an Irishman when it came to chatting around the kitchen table – especially when said table is replete with lots of delicious things to drink. Kasimir said we would be starting early the next day. Knowing my family, I assured him that this would not happen.
We finally started on our journey to Etar at about 3 p.m. Having stopped for the pukings and other delays that always accompany big family travel, we got to charming Etar, which is actually an open air museum, at about 6.pm.
From there we travelled to Tryavna, a beautiful town on the north slopes of the Balkan range, in the Tryavna river valley that can trace its ancestry back to the Thracians (pun intended :-)
The Bulgarians are immensely and rightly proud of their long, long history and culture. Like the Irish, they have long memories and have not forgotten or forgiven the insults to their nation by rapacious neighbours. For example, during our conversations around the kitchen table, Boscho had told me how the Greeks (a people without any history or culture of their own) had not only misappropriated Bulgarian dance and called it Greek, they had even carved off the bit of Bulgaria now known as Macedonia. Having heard this, (it happened about 2200 years ago) I could more easily understand their resentment of the Turkish occupation,, which only ended yesterday. Every Irish person can identify with this feeling. After all, we have only recently begun to think about considering forgiving the Vikings.
Another similarity with the Ireland I grew up in was the offerings of the TV channels. It reminded me of the long, long Ceili sessions featuring the Ballygobackward Ceili Band with Phil Mc Guire on the accordion, that we were exposed to by the government controlled media of the 1950s and early 1960s. This force feeding nearly killed Irish culture for my generation. Had groups like Horselips, Thin Lizzie and Planxty not arrived on the scene, it surely would have died the death.
We stayed in a comfortable hotel in Tryavna and only paid 10 euro per person. For food and drink in a restaurant that included very good live music, we paid 7 euro person. 30C temperatures, amazing countryside and prices like that: Bulgaria is definitely a holiday tip.
We saw more of the amazingly beautiful mountain scenery and countryside views on our scenic drive home to Omurtag.
Writing this, I am being assailed by delicious aromas. In Australia, I had to buy a new suit the day before Helen’s wedding. Looks like history will repeat itself.
Of course, we are not just here for a holiday. No indeed. We are here for the wedding of Paul and Rossi, which will take place in the town of Obzor on the Black Sea, in a little shack the bride and groom arranged for us to stay in.
People will be travelling there from all over the world. Family and friends from Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and last but not least my 83 year old mother in law from Uganda, who is coming via London, where she is spending a few days with nice niece Dorothy. They will be arriving along with the Anglin family, who are coming to the wedding from visiting their relatives in Canada. John is from Montreal but has been in Kampala since stopping off there to help repair the damage done to the Baha’i House of Worship during the Amin years.
However, despite all the heroic travelling efforts everyone has made to make this day special, I have to mention the journey undertaken by my son in law Mazyar, who is currently on his way here by bus from Turkey. We ourselves felt we were participating in his adventures as Helen shared them with us on our own, relatively more mundane travels.
He flew from Melbourne to Frankfurt and was picked up by Helen, at 8am on Friday morning Aug 23. From there, they drove to the wedding of Helen’s old friend, Diana Missaghian in Innsbruck Austria. They arrived at 1am Saturday morning, spent a few hours in their hotel (with baby Clara) attended the wedding ceremony and left for Dormagen in Germany the following morning, arriving at midnight on Sunday. On Monday Mazyar flew to Haifa in Israel, getting there late at night. As anyone who has flown to Israel knows, they are a trifle security conscious. This is somewhat increased when one was born in Iran and bears the name of Iranmehr. Mazyar had not managed to book accommodation in Israel, (he had been on the road the whole time in Europe), and his phone was dead, as it always is at such times. Eventually he managed to SKYPE with a friend in Australia who had a cousin working at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa. The friend called her cousin at 2am local time. Mazyar got there by Sheroot (a multi-person taxi common in Israel) at 6 am on Tuesday. The Baha’i shrines in Haifa are beautifully perched on the slopes of Mount Carmel. They are beautiful when you look at them but sometimes trying on tired legs when you walk up and down to various venues. However a spiritually refreshed Mazyar left Israel on Friday and flew to Istanbul.
The plan, simple in itself, was to take a bus to Edirne, where he wanted to visit the house where Baha’u’llah had stayed during his sojourn in the city, and from there a bus to Omurtag. In practice, this proved slightly more difficult. Nobody in the gigantic central bus station in Istanbul spoke English. Nobody seemed to know for definite how to get a bus to Edirne and from there to somewhere in Bulgaria that nobody had ever heard of. However, Mazyar is nothing if not resourceful and now as I write at 9pm on Saturday evening, he is on a bus here to Omurtag. We are expecting him about 5am Sunday morning. However, his stay here will be short. On Monday, we are heading for Obzor – but it is only 5 hours away by bus.
Rossi’s grandfather showed me around his garden and shed where he keeps barrels of home-made Raki and wine, which they used to sell on the open market but are no longer allowed to do. He and his wife are in their eighties and like many people of that generation, look like solid old tree trunks. Without a word of a common language between us, he managed to convey that Bulgaria used to be the best place in all Europe to live – in the good old days when each gave according to his abilities and took according to his needs. Things have gone down a steep rocky slope since then and are only available now to mafia types with lots of dollars. At least that is what I think he was trying to tell me.
The street where Rossi’s parents and grandparents live seems only to be occupied by elderly and old people nowadays. Young people have already fled to the places where dollars can be earned. This speed of this flight will no doubt increase when Bulgaria becomes a full member of the EU (or is it Schengen?) in January 2014.
Progress is unstoppable. But I think we are losing something precious.
We are off now to the home of the other set of grandparents, who live out in the country, to eat a roast lamb. Unfortunately, I was cut off from a usable PC for the rest of the holiday so the following impressions are now getting old.
To our amazement, we were taken to a beautiful house, situated in the hills about 30 minutes from Omurtag. Most of the houses in the area are in a bad state of repair but the family have been renovating this one themselves for the past few years. It is not yet finished but Krasimir promises it will be open to visitors next year. We gorged ourselves on lamb and then tried to walk it off to make room for more. Mazyar, in particular was delighted to be finally reunited with his family.
Monday morning was spent packing and getting ourselves and all our luggage into the bus to Obzor. We drove for about 3 hours to Varna, where the Cliff Hotel shuttle picked us up and took us on the one hour journey to the hotel. Seven adults and two children ate a nice meal and drank as much as we wanted for a total cost of about €75 – not bad for a four star hotel!! Later we walked down the long wooden steps to the beach and discovered why it is called the Cliff hotel and not the beach hotel. At midnight, Betty Paul, Rossi and I drove with the shuttle back to Varna to pick up Mamma Senoga and the four Anglins. Hugs and kisses all round. Paul and Rossi stayed with the sister in Varna. The shuttle back to the hotel was full of happy Lugandan chatter.
Tuesday: I got up for a pre-breakfast swim and later hung around the lobby awaiting arrivals. Betty and Flavia walked along the beach into the small and very tacky shopping area of Obzor. At least they attempted to. In an incident that will be talked about around family fires for generations to come, the two ladies (one of whom is a high court judge and worth a few shillings on the kidnap market) were abandoned on the beach, surrounded by semi-naked Russians - by the gentlemen – or rather certain males – who were supposed to be accompanying and protecting them. About two hours later, a gallant Irish gentlemen (modesty prevents my telling you who I am) found them on a bench on the brink of total exhaustion. Despite the Baha'i rule that one should immediately forgive those who do wrong to us and should not speak harshly of anyone, unforgivingly harsh words were spoken. The girls were so tired that I was going to try to carry them both back to the hotel by myself or even call an ambulance. Then a miracle happened and their energy returned all of a sudden. They went shopping.
Wednesday: The English contingent arrived followed shortly by the Irish. The hotel began to fill up with excited people from all over Europe. In the end there were people from Austria, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Dublin (the Republic of:-), England, France, Germany, Holland, Iran, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Rumania, Switzerland, Turkey and last but not least Uganda. I have probably left out some – my apologies.
In one great demonstration of friendship, Paul's college pal Murat (Moo), flew in on Friday to personally tell Paul that his job had given him something urgent to do. He left on Saturday morning at 6 a.m.
The party that night was followed by rumoured skinny dipping in the pool at 4 a.m.
Thursday: Spent all day in room with the runs. Unfortunately or fortunately, I missed the stag party, which that night – or rather morning - was apparently followed by more skinny dipping in the pool at 4 a.m.
Friday: More swimming and shopping and greeting new arrivals. There was a fantastic BarBQ in the evening, which that night was followed by not quite skinny dipping in the pool at 4 am. This time someone was there with a camera :-)
Saturday: The Wedding went off with a bang.
When the photographers finally finished with Paul and Rossi we were entertained by Bulgarian dancing interspersed with Irish dancing. It was hugely entertaining but the first prize for dancing has to go to Mamma Senoga and her Bagandan Babes. They shook their booties into the hall and as can be seen on the video clip, the whole room was dancing before the first piece of music was over. From that point onward all the different cultures merged into one. Everybody danced, chatted and laughed with everybody. There were no strangers, only a room full of family and friends.
"Ye are all the leaves of one tree and the drops of one ocean" - Baha'u'llah
The truth of this teaching was indeed visible at the wedding of Paul and Rossi in Obzor. Everyone there did their bit to "Promote the oneness of mankind"
The trip home:
September 10, 2013
We finally made it home at 1 am on Monday morning. We could not find a bus to Sofia so we had to take a flight from Bourgas. There were exactly seven seats left on one plane, which we caught with zero seconds to spare. Being as organized as we are, we almost missed the flight to Berlin. We sat down for a last coffee on Bulgarian soil when we heard the LAST BOARDING CALL.
Eventually we landed in Dusseldorf and took a local train home. Unfortunately, it kicked us out in the main train station in Dusseldorf. After 30 minutes cold wait, we took a regional train to Neuss from where we were picked up by our wonderful friends Vie and Maz
Poor Mazyar had to fly to Spain then to Majorca then to Dusseldorf but he is home now also.
Teachers are born, not made
This was the title of one of the essays I had to write for my A-Level General Paper examination. I remember it clearly, because I had used my parents for inspiration. Spanish teachers all their lives, popular with their students and good at what they did, they complained constantly about the number of teachers they encountered during their career who, despite numerous (and higher) qualifications, did not manage to either: a) have a relationship with their students or b) get them to achieve anything or even c) care about them.
The profession of teaching is one that I fought against all my life. Having studied Spanish myself, I was always asked if I wanted to be a teacher like my parents. I rebelled.
That I ended up being a teacher is one of these ironies of life, or twists of fate. I trained as a translator and the college I ended up working for was so short-staffed that even the translators had to teach courses. After two semesters, I realized with a shock that it was the days on which I taught that I went home feeling that I had achieved something, sometimes even floating on air when a class that I had meticulously planned and nervously executed came off exceeding my expectations. After my move to Germany, the question of a job came up and for me the answer was without a doubt: teach. Then came the struggle to qualify myself for this new career.
Like my parents I have encountered many teachers. Those who taught because they were financing a gap year, those because their other, real profession was too financially insecure or work too sporadic, those because they didn't know what else to do with their lives or were waiting for their dream job to come through. There I stood, desperate to learn and impart learning, but unqualified and, of course, lower paid. After finally being able to finance the CELTA course, I could branch out into other schools that valued and demanded a qualification, and crucially, receive a salary that reflected my status.
Years later, I'm now in the German school system, qualified enough for the job that I do, though I have not been through the German system - reason enough for me to be bullied by other members of staff who see their Lehramt and zweites Staatsexamen as the Alpha and Omega of teaching qualifications. Having myself fought for my qualifications, believing in the value of it, needing to be taught how to teach and benefiting greatly from it, I was always an advocate for professional advancement. Yet, when I am, as my parents were, confronted by those who are more highly qualified than I, yet do not care about their students, I get annoyed.
Even the German teacher training programmes, more thorough than those in my home country, do not ensure that new teachers really want to teach. It is possible to go through the degree and training college without liking teaching or even hating it. A former colleague of mine said so bluntly. She is still a teacher because it's a permanent, well-paid job in the German civil service. And then I understand the point made by Anthony Seldon in The Guardian last month when he said "Teaching is like parenting: you don't need a qualification." As you can imagine, this created a furore among the Guardian readership and while I also do not agree completely with him, I relate to what he's trying to say. This is that teachers need to be passionate about their jobs, care for their learners and about what they do. They also need to be knowledgeable about their subject and be able to communicate that to their students.
So: are teachers born? Or made? Is the passion for teaching innate or can it be learned? Is it enough to be passionate or do we need more? I cannot remember what I wrote in my A-Level examination, but now I would say that it is possible to "make" a good teacher. Well-planned training courses, good materials, practical experience and exacting trainers can ensure that fledgling teachers and trainers leave their places of instruction well qualified to do the job. However, the best teachers are those who love their job intimately, (though they may complain about it), loving it passionately enough to spend hours planning lessons, creating worksheets and activities, writing down inspiring ideas when they come, constantly learning for and from their students. They are the ones who reach their students and make them want to learn.
The Reasons I’m a Fan of using MindMaps in English Teaching
Over the last few years, I’ve been in the habit of using coloured MindMaps to display information during my English teaching lessons. There are multiple reasons, and for the sake of clarity, I’ll list them in numbered form.
1. I enjoy preparing them! Little things such as choosing icons/pictures/fonts and colours to suit the theme give me a lot of pleasure.
2. I can present grammar points in a clear manner.
3. Standard text books often have very full, cluttered pages. Even if the complete page makes an attractive setting for the information, the eye and brain have a lot to absorb. So I prefer something simpler. I feel the same about lower grade reading and music books for children: many distracting pictures and snazzy graphics.
4. Students can easily refer to the maps later, to refresh their memory of the lesson.
5. I can create several related maps on one theme, e.g. using Continuous forms, so that each part can be presented separately and in detail, e.g. a) past, present, future continuous b) continuous forms used in polite expressions e.g. I was hoping ...
6. I can easily adapt a map for different student levels, i.e. A2, B2
7. I can ‘personalize’ a map for a particular student/group and firm, e.g. My example sentences use their names, and vocabulary specific to their profession or company.
8. I often hear a surprised ‘Ah’ when I hand them out. Not only do they comment on the ‘pretty colours’ but they’re looking at something they know from the business world: a diagram used to display information.
9. Basing a lesson on information presented in a Mindmap provides rich possibilities for active involvement, e.g. students can take turns: one reads out the text in each node, the next translates, then I compare differences in usages between the English and German languages so everyone’s attention is continually fixed on the map, and doesn’t get ‘lost’ in paragraphs of long text. No day-dreaming when you’re using these!! I follow this up with some written exercises - probably gap text sentences - and then oral exercises, using the particular grammar point.
10. MindMaps are relatively quick to produce. On those occasions which we all know: you’re up to your eyes in work and suddenly realise that you’ve NOTHING in hand for that session at 15:00 (it’s now 14:00!) it’s the easiest thing in the world to make some copies of a map to take along. Session rescued!!!
11. Bearing in mind that our students often come from a stressful office situation where they increasingly use English but have ‘no’ time for homework, having a stock of such MindMaps to glance at occasionally provides a quick freshener, and the colourful way the information is presented on the page actually invites another look in!
I use apps on the iPhone and iPad and very occasionally, a desktop programme, to create the MindMaps. Desktop programmes have more possibilities but that in itself can complicate the whole procedure and sometimes even be confusing. I once battled with using software on my Mac and shifted to the iPad version and then everything went smoothly. There are so many apps and programmes in this area ... and something for every pocket. I favour simplicity and clarity, every time.
I’ve got into the habit of sending the finished MindMap to my contact person at the company and asking them to make coloured copies for the sessions. Otherwise, it would work out rather expensive if I printed them all myself. A little tip here: I write ‘Coloured copies for coloured printing’ in the Email subject line, as the automatic procedure is geared to black/white. Below, you’ll see a couple of related MindMaps I prepared using Idea Sketch (an iPhone/iPad app) ... I hope the simplicity inspires you to create your own.
Kay von Randow
Joint ELTA Rhine and Oxford University Press Day
On 29 June 2013, Louis Rogers and Martin Schwilk teamed up for the Joint ELTA Rhine and Oxford University Press Day. A trio of talks focused on English for Academic Purposes and introduced materials developed by OUP to help students tackle the challenges presented by academic study in English.
The first talk – Not yet in Business: Meeting the needs of pre-work learners – was led by Louis Rogers and introduced Business Result: Skills for Business Studies. As co-author of the intermediate and upper intermediate editions, Louis was in the perfect position to introduce the material and explain the decisions behind its development. Louis’ particularly good-humoured approach quickly had us sharing how we help pre-work learners deal with academic subjects in English.
We started off with a quick comparison of the speaking and listening requirements of pre-work and in-work learners. Whether taking part in an academic debate or a business meeting, listening to a lecture or a conference presentation, the same speaking and listening skills are required. However, studying Business at degree level requires learners to develop highly sophisticated reading and writing skills. Learners are expected to read long and dense academic texts and to produce essays in an academic style with appropriate vocabulary and grammar conventions.
Having discussed the need for extensive reading and writing training, the time had come to meet OUP’s answer to this challenge: Business Result: Skills for Business Studies. By looking at selected texts and exercises, we saw that the book introduces authentic academic texts from degree study programmes, selected to challenge learners with clause and sentence length and word frequency. There is a clear shift in approach from the grammatical towards the lexical, which Louis defended with an analysis of academic prose; compared to conversation, academic prose has a high noun density and makes little use of the progressive and perfect aspects. The lexical approach allows the development of critical reading skills necessary for successful academic study, such as predicting, skimming for main ideas, scanning for key words, selecting and evaluating sources, and assessing the author’s purpose.
Louis finished off his presentation by considering academic writing skills, the ultimate aim of which is to express complex ideas to a non-expert by effectively analysing and understanding the task. Business Result: Skills for Business Studies develops writing skills by focusing on argument, evidence and structure in writing and teaching students to evaluate and use sources appropriately.
The second talk – Turning Cinderella into a princess – introduced the future of workbooks with OUP. Martin Schwilk, Educational Consultant for Oxford University Press, stimulated a discussion of 21st century learning: Do we use blended learning? Are we making the most of digital media? We argued that modern technology not only relieves the classroom of time-consuming activities, but also encourages students to engage deeply with the material. It seems that the OUP fairy godmother was nodding her head in agreement. The humble workbook is being given the full glass-slipper and pumpkin-carriage makeover; apps for tablets and smartphones and online workbooks with teacher-selected content are coming soon.
Louis returned for the third and final talk of the day – Authentic materials in reading and listening: challenges for students and EAP practitioners. Despite enhancing student motivation, both students and teachers face a number of challenges when it comes to using authentic material. After discussing these challenges from a psycholinguistic perspective, Louis introduced Oxford EAP. As co-author of the intermediate edition, he presented the book’s approach and the motivation behind its development with obvious enthusiasm.
Louis encouraged us to consider the challenges faced by the teacher using authentic reading materials in the EAP classroom. Using materials from a degree study programme means close cooperation with other departments, the practicalities of which may be overwhelming; consider the sheer effort involved in acquiring and revising materials as priorities shift. It sounds bad enough for the teacher, but what about the students? Texts may appear inaccessible due to vocabulary difficulty, structure, syntax or even physical factors such as layout. Louis’ psycholinguistic description of the reading processes stressed how challenging it is right from the very beginning; the mysterious spelling-to-sound code can cause huge difficulties. Students with little experience of reading can often be put off by poor word recognition and end up avoiding reading altogether.
If using authentic reading material is such a nightmare, why bother? Well, it turns out that the more you read, the more you understand; the more you understand, the more you read. The volume of reading can have a huge impact on spelling, general knowledge, verbal fluency and vocabulary. Louis stressed that most vocabulary is acquired through indirect written exposure, not oral. Bye-bye Big Bang Theory...
We went on to tackle listening. To show us just how complex listening truly is, Louis explained the psycholinguistic processes involved. To put it (very!) briefly, acoustic input is stored in the working memory while it is decoded. Sounds (phonemes, syllables, words or phrases) are matched onto models stored in the listener’s vocabulary. The meaning is retained in the working memory and the original acoustic cues are discarded. Recognised words or chunks are combined with an understanding of the grammatical pattern to create a proposition. Pragmatic knowledge, external knowledge of the world and the speaker, and context all ‘tweak’ this proposition until the meaning is fully represented. Don’t forget – the learner does all of this with limited language knowledge while writing notes!
Louis was keen for us to see how Oxford EAP handles authentic reading and listening. Authentic reading material is introduced at the B1+ level. At lower levels the texts are slightly graded and the academic concepts are simpler. Texts are analysed multiple times, after which writing tasks are introduced. Due to the complexity of listening processes, listening material is only truly authentic at the C1 level but is designed at all levels to tackle the intense cognitive challenge. Oxford EAP introduces pre-listening reading and discussion tasks, works with extracts for closer language analysis and complements listening exercises with reading, writing or speaking tasks.
Understanding what our students are going through has huge implications for the way we teach. Consideration of the thought processes and research behind Business Result: Skills for Business Studies and Oxford EAP may help us all reassess whether or not we are truly meeting our students’ needs.
Getting grounded with the Alexander Technique
On September 14th, Angela Tuckley put on a workshop of a very different variety than one might expect from a professional development seminar for English teachers. Indeed, the focus was not on didactic or methodological techniques, but instead on the well-being of the trainer.
Together with Dorte Bryndum, Angela introduced ELTA members to the philosophy and practice behind the Alexander Technique. Developed by the actor Frederick Matthias Alexander, the technique aims to help us unlearn some of the unhealthy habits of movement and posture which we have developed over the course of our lives. Mr. Alexander believed that after the age of three, human beings begin to lose their natural posture as they start adopting certain ways of sitting, standing and moving which often eventually lead to chronic problems later in life. Almost everyone struggles with at least one of the many well-known problems associated with poor posture: back pain, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and migraines. The technique can be used as a method of dealing not only with such chronic ailments, but also as a tool for increased well-being and calmness in general. Perhaps one of the best things about the technique is that you don’t have to learn a heap of new exercises or add anything new to the list of the myriad things that you have to do every day. Rather, you can use the technique to unlearn certain habits of movement and posture that have become ingrained over the years. To quote the British Society of AT Teachers, “lessons in the AT are not a form of therapy but a form of re-education.”
In the three hour seminar, Angela and Dorte - both trained professionals in AT - introduced us to the basics of the technique using in-depth explanations, hands-on demonstrations and by allowing for plenty of supervised self-practice. In the workshop we learned that the AT starts from the ground up - one literally becomes more aware of the strength that can be gained by planting your feet firmly on the ground, whether you are standing or sitting. By shifting our awareness to the strengths inherent in our bodies and the external supports which are immediately available around us (such as the ground), we can learn to better support our bodies in both movement and stasis. Although it was only an introductory workshop, all participants were impressed by the sense of calm and lightness they gained through their initial encounter with the technique. For those who could not make it this time around, there are plenty of websites you can refer to in order to inform yourself about the method and the availability of AT teachers in your area. Even though the AT is still new to me, I can nonetheless say that is definitely worth checking out.
For further information:
http://www.alexander-technik.org (AT Verband Deutschland)
http://www.ati.net.com (AT International)
http://www.bryndum.de (Dorte Bryndum’s website)
Richard David Precht
On the occasion of its 35th anniversary, the Volkshochschule invited the philosopher and journalist Richard David Precht to the town hall in Rheinbach on the 17th of October, 2013. The theme of his speech had been chosen in accordance with the jubilee year of the municipal institution for further education: the German system of schooling and education. Following the slightly provoking title “Is this education, or can we get rid of it?” R.D. Precht spoke in front of a well-filled hall of about 350 listeners about the numerous changes the digital revolution has brought and will bring into our classrooms.
He said that school as an institution for the passing on of knowledge was already nearly insignificant today. “If you want to know something about the origins of the Weimar Republic or about the calculation of molecular masses, you don’t need a teacher for that. You just look up this information on the Internet.” The main task of teachers rather consisted in training children and young people in social competences like team spirit and social responsibility. Therefore, schools in future had to look different from schools today.
You could keep the class communities up to Year 6 (or the age of 12), Precht said. Afterwards it would be more sensible in his opinion that pupils individually find their own learning projects which should be offered by teams of teachers in the form of projects. “I could imagine, for instance, a project ‘time of Goethe’ where interested pupils not only read an annotated edition of ‘Faust’ but got to know something about the social background of the time around 1800 as well and look at ‘Faust’ under economic aspects”, R.D. Precht outlined his idea of such a project. By viewing a theme from different angles and, in this way, making it meaningful, pupils would be able to keep in mind things they had once learned. If things were only learned by heart schematically for the next test, not much of that would stick, Precht said.
When he wants to test the knowledge of his audience, the amusement is general: “Who of you, being no German teacher, still knows what a consecutive clause is?” is one of the questions he asks and which can be answered only by a few. “That’s the Year 6 syllabus, all of you learned this once.” With these questions he demonstrates clearly what is still remembered of the knowledge accumulated during school time: it is not much. But Precht comforts his audience: “There is a reason why you don’t know much of what you learned in school: because, even while you knew it, you knew that you wouldn’t need it anymore.”
Precht also deals with the theme of the valuation of such forms of learning in greater detail: he believes marks do in no way reflect the learning of a person and did by no means indicate his or her intelligence. Nevertheless, he does not simply want to abolish marks but would like to promote a school without the need for marks. Instead, personal valuations should take their place, which would of course be much more interesting for future employers as they convey something about the personality of a future colleague.
Towards the end of his speech Precht also talked about those people who were to give form to this new concept of schooling and fill it with life – the teachers. In his opinion they would play an important role in making this new concept work and consequently, he calls for a completely different training of teachers: “How about finding suitable teachers by arranging some sort of casting. The prospective teacher would have to talk for about half an hour about a given theme, and this not in front of people like you and me, but his audience should consist of children and young people. And they would have to decide if they had liked to listen to this person and if they understood what he or she had tried to explain to them”, Precht suggested.
A good teacher, he explained, has to be someone who “first of all likes children, and this was not true for half of my own teachers, and secondly, someone who is able to explain something in a way that you like to listen to him or her, and this was not true for half of my teachers, either”. After his speech, the 48-year-old professor of philosophy patiently answered numerous questions from the audience before he ended the evening with an autographing session.
translated by Barbara Appuhn-Winkhoff
What can we teach in a minute?
Vicki Hollett – Sunday 17 November 2013
Vicki Hollett’s enthusiasm for teaching and helping teachers develop is infectious. The moment she walked into the room, I knew this workshop was going to be special.
Jumping right in, she explained that her interest in video had grown out of the debate surrounding the value of media like video. She posed the question: Does the use of video correlate with increased pedagogical effectiveness?
In the words of Barry Tomalin: Everybody lights up when you put a video on. So that’s exactly what Vicki did. A 60-second video showed us clips of fellow video enthusiasts discussing its merits. Vicki immediately joked: We can all go home now. As we would find out, the opinions expressed offered a great summary of her workshop, but that video served a purpose: she had us hooked.
She went on to stress that there’s no right length for a video. After all, the most popular TED talks are 18 minutes plus. Just think of the most popular TED talk: Ken Robinson’s How schools kill creativity at 19:29. That said, the video maker for TED advises speakers to never use more than one minute of video in their talks. So if one minute is the optimal length for video, what can we teach in a minute?
Vicki began experimenting with these one-minute videos to find out. We watched one of her first attempts: an amusing explanation of alone vs. lonely. Vicki quickly realized however that beyond easily confused language pairs such as by vs. until, bring vs. take, stop to do vs. stop doing, the concepts you can get across in one minute are extremely limited. So what else is possible?
One of her video buddies, Peter Viney, said that we remove the blindfolds with video. That is, through video we can see the where, the who and the when in seconds. We can see context. That’s just what Vicki has done with her videos. She said it was hard to stick to one minute, but in 90 seconds or 2 minutes she can show language, not just describe it. This is particularly useful for indirect questions; with animation, you can see the sentence structure changing, hear it and see appropriate context.
Removing the blindfolds and seeing context helps students understand the complexity of social rules and how meaning is derived. Vicki showed us a clip from The Apprentice – perfect reality TV for the Business English classroom. We can literally see how real people agree and disagree. No one says I couldn’t agree more; people nod. No one says I disagree; people hesitate.
The clip supported Vicki’s claim that teachers oversimplify English and teach set language patterns for set functions. However, naturally occurring speech is full of incomplete phrases, repetition, interruptions and short turns. Vicki asked us if we wanted our students to listen to this? Of course, we shouted. They’re more likely to see the language used to do a task, rather than the language to talk about it. This is exactly what our students need.
So if video offers such a fantastic way to work with naturally occurring speech, why aren’t we all doing it? Firstly, more often than not, it’s illegal to use video. You have to have the copyright owner’s permission – even if you’re using it for educational purposes. Secondly, it can take hours trawling through YouTube clips before you find anything worth using. After all, the majority of videos show a teacher standing in front of a whiteboard explaining a rule or pattern. But students need the language for doing their jobs, not talking about them.
Vicki spent the rest of the workshop showing us exciting ways to use video legally and easily in and out of the classroom. She started off by showing us some ELT options. The Good Practice video from Cambridge University Press offers unscripted conversation between real doctors and medical actors with typical features of unscripted speech: vague language, technical terms, idioms. However, this video is only possible because of the long tradition of medical actors; it’s not so easy to find similar material in other fields. So what else is there? English360 is a web-based learning platform free for teachers from Cambridge University Press.
In addition, you can send students off to watch shows alone. After all, it’s easier to get students watching TV than reading extensively, and there is evidence that watching videos significantly supports language acquisition. What should they watch? Something with a good story; they’re more likely to stick with it. Vicki asked us: What makes a good story? Plot? Characters you care about? Conflict? Soap operas and sitcoms offer these and have pretty natural language, but sometimes, even with the visual support, this language is too complex.
What can we do to help? Get them using the interactive transcripts on TED. Point them towards websites aimed at language learners, such as Vicki’s own Simple English Videos. Simple English Videos offers new movie trailers and clips every day with independent study activities such as interactive transcripts, translation tools and dictionary tools. Movie trailers are powerful condensed stories with character development, a clear plot, conflict and resolution – everything a good story needs!
Video is also great for showing language and skills for building and developing relationships. However, most ELT videos tend to show good language models, but things going wrong make us much more interested in the story than everything going right. As proof, Vicki showed us Ken Tanaka’s cringeworthy small talk video – we were mesmerized! Vicki herself has developed bad-model videos as part of the Simple English Videos collection. These videos, such as her good model / bad model for greeting a visitor, were aimed for use outside the classroom, but she developed teachers’ notes and worksheets when teachers began using them with students. One teacher went even further and used Vicki’s videos as a prompt to make her own and to get her students making videos with their mobiles. Students won’t forget a chunk of language once they’ve made a video about it.
Video really is a versatile medium; it’s a prompt for creative writing, dictation exercises and role-plays and a source for critical thinking. So what can we teach in a minute? With video, it’s a hell of a lot!
Tools for language teachers and learners
Simple English Videos – http://www.simpleenglishvideos.com
TED – http://www.ted.com/talks
English360 – http://www.english360.com
Yappr – http://www.englishyappr.com
English Attack! – http://www.english-attack.com
Rachel’s English (pronunciation) - http://http://www.youtube.com/user/rachelsenglish
Videos from Vicki’s workshop
Good Practice course: Dog bite – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbzu-y0zYdo
Small talk: What kind of Asian are you? – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWynJkN5HbQ
Dentist negotiation – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_qwjcxwUqw
Derren Brown Mind Control – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcURS3tHhWo
Tools for making videos
iMovie – http://www.apple.com/mac/imovie/
You Tube editor – http://www.youtube.com/editor
Adobe Premier Pro – http://www.adobe.com/products/premiere.html
BESIG Prague 2013
Saturday, 9 Nov. Christina Rebuffet-Broadus
"Yes, and ...": Improve theatre techniques to build creativity and spontaneity.
I liked this talk because Christina embodied what she was talking about. She's a lively spark and I was totally immersed for the whole 45 mins.!
One of the most common objectives for business English trainees is "speak more spontaneously". Christina took principles from applied improvisation and explored the benefits of integrating improvisational theatre activities in the business classroom. Her talk included impro activities that can be used immediately in the classroom and adapted to professional situations. She also addressed the need to persuade trainees of the validity of such creativity-based activities in a business setting.
She kicked off by giving us the rules of improvisation in the classroom.
2. Let yourself fail
3. Listen – really listen!
4. Say "yes"
5. Ask a series of questions with yes, and?
6. Play the game
7. Relax and have fun
Some activities demonstrated were:
1. Metronome - an activity she got from her local improv theater group. Ss stand in a circle and wave their arms up and down in rhythm, like a metronome. This shouldn't be too fast. When the arms reach the top, Ss1 says a word. The arms go down and back up, and when they reach the top again, Ss 2 says a word they associate with Ss1's word. Idem - arms go down then back up, when they reach the top, Ss 3 says a word they associate with Ss2's word. If a S can't say a word when it comes their turn, they silently step out of the circle and let the others continue uninterrupted. Continue until one person is left standing.
2. Opening lines of dialogue, from Bernardi, P. (1992). Improvisation Starters. Cincinatti, OH: Betterway Books.
Easy - T gives a pair of Ss one line of dialogue. Ss have a few seconds to think of what/how they are going to say and then act out a short scene. These are short - just a few exchanges. The aim is to get them thinking on their feet.
3. Fishbowl from Wilson, K. (2012). Drama and Improvisation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
A pair of Ss will be performing. Elicit from others who the pair is, where they are, and what they are doing. Then ask all Ss to write on 3 separate cards a phrase they would hear in such context, a question they would hear in such context, a word they would hear in such context. All cards are put into a fishbowl. Remind the performers who, where, and what they are (doing), then let them play. If they need ideas or begin to lag, they draw a card from the fishbowl and try to incorporate it as soon as possible into their dialogue.
After all of this, you do an evaluation stage, which looks at the overall performance rather than just language use (though language is certainly part of it too).
The whole cycle is verbal warmers - improv – evaluation.
I also wrote down 2 phrases which stuck in my mind.
"Set learners free from the concern of correct speech"
"Disarm the mental gatekeepers"
I think both phrases describe very aptly the inner struggle of my S's and Improvisation is definitely one way of breaking down these barriers.
Christina works as a freelance business communication trainer and university professor in Grenoble, France. She likes to find ways of bringing creativity and the arts into the business classroom to help trainees meet their objectives while having a bit of fun!
Verdicts from the Supreme Court
Meetings of the ELTA-Rhine Literature Group in July and October wildly misrepresented by Graham Sutherland
The Lit Group has met twice since the last Newsletter came out and on both occasions produced a narrow verdict against the book in question. Like the Supreme Court, the Lit Group has identifiable tendencies and its voting record shows that it tends to split down predictable lines. There is the minority faction which is open to the new, willing to take each book on its own merits and eager to find enjoyment in its pages. Then there are the Bolsheviks, like their Russian namesakes both bolshie and slightly in the majority, who’ve seen it all, read them all, are jaundiced and prejudiced by experience and deeply inclined to scepticism.
So while nearly half the group was convinced that Dickens couldn’t put a foot wrong and lapped up the relatively slim volume of social criticism known as Hard Times, revelling in the vernacular of the eccentric circus performers and drooling over such set-piece descriptions as the suffocating heat of August settling over the already smoky mills of Coketown, the Cynics not only claimed to be suffering from serious Dickens fatigue, but even had the impudence to suggest that the great man had here faltered. Was the thin plot not overburdened with worthy causes: the harsh rigour of schools, the gruelling injustice of the divorce laws, the inhumanity of working conditions, the equal inhumanity of union demagoguery, the complete dependence of the proletariat on the whims of their employers, the immunity of the privileged? Was it not all too in your face, repetitive, self-defeating overkill? Were the characters not Manichean in their extremes, the absurd coincidences a travesty of ingenious plotting? Was it not all too obvious that this was not really Dickens’ natural milieu?
Cut to The Music Room three months later ... The thumbs-downers are still not impressed. Yes, it’s full of obscure nature vocabulary even the native-speakers had to look up. Yes, it’s an interesting insight into the lives of those who actually inhabit the stately homes we flock to and rubber neck around every summer, the easy relationship between the lords of the manor and those who live nearby and serve them. Yes, it’s an interesting take on the life of a boy growing up with a disabled, irascible and unpredictable elder brother. But has it changed our lives the way all good literature should? The bolshies shake their heads in denial. The thumbs-uppers are unabashed. Didn’t you find it interesting how William Fiennes intertwines the story with anecdotes from the history of brain research? Wasn’t it fascinating how the parents coped with their unmanageable son, always patient, even when threatened? How the brother identified with the herons? Did you notice the function of the music room itself, a refuge from the crowds, a place where even the weakest can shine. The Doubting Thomases flinch at the beaming faces from the other side of the coffee table. Finally, a Guardian reviewer rides out to the rescue. Is the book not after all about stewardship, about minding not only the family’s silver but also its wayward scions, about compromising with the pressures of progress and impecunity to preserve historical substance for future generations? The two sides are relieved to agree. Maybe, for all its faults, not such a bad book after all.
Ridiculer or romantic? Which side will you be on when Herman Melville’s Billy Budd is unwittingly cast into the unrelenting arena that is the ELTA-Rhine LitGroup at 4 p.m. on Sunday 2nd February? Book your seat now by contacting our host on that occasion: Elizabeth Hormann, Neußer Str. 866, 50737 Köln, Tel. 0221 / 745067 email: email@example.com
Many thanks to Astrid Kölblinger and Ursula Roth for being such generous and welcoming hosts for our last two meetings.
This year the ELTA-Rhine choir has continued to rehearse a wide range of four-part songs, varying from quite challenging 16th and 17th century harmonies of both a religious and secular nature to more contemporary folk and pop melodies near to the hearts of individual members. While new singers have joined us, others have had to absent themselves under the pressure of work and family commitments, so there is always room for new choristers if you feel the urge (for more details contact Davine Sutherland firstname.lastname@example.org). Ivan Midgley, our leader, had a birthday with a zero this year, which proved a good opportunity to celebrate and thank him for keeping us all in musical order so well, for so long and with such fun. And we are all looking forward to demonstrating the results of his hard work with our performance of Christmas songs familiar and unfamiliar at the ELTA-Rhine Christmas party on 7th December at the Alte Feuerwache in Cologne.
BOOKS OFFERED FOR REVIEW
We've got one new title on the list of books available for you to review: The Business 2.0 published by Macmillan (number 6 on the list). In case you missed them earlier in the year, we've got under general English Next Starter A1 (number 7), Brush up A2 (number 2), global pre-intermediate (number 12), and a pre-intermediate reader from the Macmillan Reader series – England (number 13).
If you decide to review a book, we provide criteria to help you with writing your review and the book is yours to keep after reviewing. This is a great opportunity to keep up-to-date with all the teaching materials out there and will benefit those of us who are always looking for new books to try out in our classes. The reviews also help other teachers to choose new books for courses or their schools. So please do not hesitate to contact me (email: email@example.com) with your name, address and the desired title and I will gladly post it to you.
Book review „Key A2“ by Cornelsen
This course book in format A4 was published in 2010. It´s divided into two parts: the author Carole Eilertson wrote the course book, and Annie Cornford wrote the homestudy part. A large team of counselors helped to create this book, which is targeted supposedly at adolescents from 15 years upwards. The pack includes a small phrasebook and a pocket teaching guide, both of A5 format. The book is also accompanied by two audio CDs. The covers, which are equally designed, have a white background and one photo in its middle. The design is not outstanding, but calm and straight, neutral enough for a book that can be applied in various teaching settings. Originally it is drawn for the so-called “second education training” within “vocational Training”, in Germany “zweiter Bildungsweg”. For Germany that means all types of educational and vocational training schools that include the achievement of a school certificate in a second chance, several kinds of “Kolleg schools” and evening schools. The Kolleg system, going from 10th to 13th class, has a big variety. The book Key A2 covers all these types.
Key A2 has 12 units covering 171 pages, which are divided into easy-going topics, and straight learning goals of basic grammar knowledge. The issues appear to be relaxing and neutral, but not boring. The focus lies on handling the basics in a playful way. The pupils should enjoy themselves more individually with discovering their own interest in things. It starts with an introductory index, table of contents over the two pages, horizontally. Vertically, we can see simply held headlines, a short held overview of the unit, one or two topics each unit, one grammar task and the practical goal in one sentence. At the end of unit 12 there are a range of appendices: files with solutions, grammar explanations, homestudy answer keys, transcripts. It is easily available on the German book market and costs around 19 Euros.
As it is no secret that nowadays younger individuals lack a bit of patience for long sessions, large text segments, elongated reading and big explanations, it must have been a decision from the authors to avoid this in the course book. We can imagine that the evening hour after a long day with training on the job or work led to the idea to convey the English language in short grammar sections, small types of riddles, very small exercises and a wide mix of tasks in one unit. Thus, one unit becomes a colourful display. Everything in its contents appears taste neutral, but includes also an all-cultural approach and an approach to global English. The topics, which are integrated in a more hidden form, are very up-to date. They are derived from a common sense of “everybody”, a knowledge that may interest individuals as a common language: Travel, food and nutrition, leisure culture, new technologies of communication, work-life balance.
It has a good homestudy part at the end of each unit. There are two pages with a lot of encouraging, partly funny, partly emotional and also informative, practice-oriented small exercises. It appears good and realistic as a task in a pause, the learners can stop whenever they want to and they can continue rapidly with the next task box. A lot of these small boxes contain enough grammar to make a small but effective learning step. While applying it to an older pupil it sometimes turned out to be trickier than it had appeared. Solving a task was an immediate little success. Often it is up to the learner´s individual independence to do even more exercises on their own than merely the homestudy part, if they want to. Basically a pupil only needs a guide or a person to motivate them to go through a unit, but of course, it depends on the individual. In schools of the type “Kolleg-Schule” a lot of different learners come together in a lesson. They can consider it as a refresher course book or something new to learn now, as a second chance.
For older learners it appears to be too adolescent in its topics, but perfect in its structure. Some tasks appear more mature than others. So, this appears to be a bit problematic, because the market lacks modern and vivid courses of a neutral refresher content for the older generation up from 35 years, without pure Business English as a direction. With this course book, as an older learner, you get used to a rhythm that is fast, young, brief, like twitter and facebook. You can apply it otherwise to all situations. A teacher needs a bit of patience to look through all the small boxes in a unit, a double page of which is designed for 90 Minutes on average , depending on the pacing of refreshers or beginners and their linguistic backgrounds.
But, compared to A2 refresher course books of former years, it is a progress, because it is didactically more intensive, more universal a book for global English, more intercultural and also more individual-oriented. One can do a lot on one´s own. The contents raises the question of a pupil´s self-knowledge concerning real daily life, something which happens during the course. It is highly recommendable, despite of the aspect of an age-limitation.
Claudia Heib M.A., journalist and language teacher
Book Review by Suzanne Osterburg
Fit for BEC
Paula White Maier, 2013
This is a self-study work aimed at secondary and university students in German speaking communities, aiming to familiarize themselves with the BEC exams on task items that reflect both formally and thematically the 'real deal', an endeavor which is not to be underestimated.
Fit for BEC introduces potential exam candidates to all of the pertinent aspects of a BEC exam, acquainting learners with the CERF descriptors, exam eligibility and general exam structure for a start. As the book covers all three exams, each unit provides a concise overview of entry level, skills to be assessed as per paper as well as the time and weighting of each. The unit overviews further delineate the various text, speaking and writing genres that occur in the respective exams.
The body of each unit treats each reading, writing, listening and speaking paper in turn with each part of a paper being covered in turn. Therefore the parts are not successively presented as they would be on the exam. Rather 2 practice tasks, called 'Beispieltests', are provided per reading and writing paper part. The number of practice tasks reduces to one in the listening and speaking sections, likely owing to the space needed for task presentation and explanation. This is confusing at first for those who are familiar with the exams, particularly because the initial presentation of the material leads one to expect the normal progression. Trainers who work with this book are well advised to explicitly point this organization out to their classes to avoid confusion. However, this characteristic can be useful for those who wish to concentrate on particular task types of the exam or for purposes of detecting patterns.
On the other hand, the explanations that accompany each of the parts give the learner invaluable information for approaching the task: what is and isn't needed, for example email addresses are provided while the learner must supply the appropriate salutation; what is and isn't appropriate, e.g. neutral or formal written style instead of informal, friendly tone in written correspondence. The practice tasks themselves demonstrate the usual BEC fare, serving up meetings that need postponing, order forms that need filling, and price increase factors that need elucidating, etc. Taken together with the practice tasks the explanations enable learners to get a good idea of exam expectations with regard to both formality and performance, in addition to knowing what questions to ask.
Finally the tasks have been thoughtfully written to include the appropriate types of distractors that succeed in increasing the demand of the tasks as dictated by level, thus approaching a good degree of validity and reliability. Although is not indicated whether the tasks were taken from past tests, it is safe to assume that they have been modeled after them.
Speaking and listening tasks are administered and supported on the accompanying CDs. The speaking parts are introduced with explanations as discussed above, followed by the practice tasks in the format that such tasks appear on the exams. Yet the audio supplement of the speaking paper includes simulations of each of the tasks in which each task is played out by an ‘examiner’ and ‘examinee’. I found the simulations to be a bit disappointing given that the roles of the examinee were played by L1 English speakers. I feel that an opportunity to provide authentic models of learners at each level has been missed. The author did however ensure that the language reflected in the simulated responses approximated the caliber that is expected in each exam.
In sum Hueber’s Fit for BEC is a good sampler for learners who aim to explore the mechanics, strategies, exam organization and task structure. Given that it spans all three exams, I am at pains to imagine it as a course supplement, but perhaps I’m missing something. I do see diagnostic merit at several levels ranging from proper exam placement, identifying individual areas of difficulty and approach mapping. Ultimately it provides concise insight into the inner workings of the exams, while efficiently pointing out areas for further practice.
Intercultural Competence in Business English.
Rudi Camerer and Judith Mader
Berlin: Cornelsen, 2012
200 pages, supplementary CD-ROM € 28.95
From a language teacher’s point of view, intercultural competence can be depicted as a series of concentric circles. At the centre is linguistic competence, consisting of syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology and all the other practical tools of the applied linguist. In the 1970s we made a great push outward, and the idea of linguistic competence was expanded into communicative competence. Suddenly all the socio-linguistic and pragmatic elements of communicative acts were on the radar, and we added to our didactic approaches both paralinguistic (e.g., register, tone, turn-taking, affective noises such as sighing or “hmph”-ing) and non-linguistic (kinesics, proxemics, occulesics, etc.) elements of communication. These elements are themselves culturally determined, so it was not much of a jump to start adding cultural and country-specific information to contextualize our language teaching. This outer circle of intercultural competence, comprising wide-ranging information on how native speakers lead their daily lives, has a long tradition in Germany under the name of Landeskunde or Mentalitätskunde.
Many intercultural communication trainers, especially those without a language teaching background, work from the outside of the circle inwards. Factual information, behavioural standards (do’s and don’ts) and intercultural theory often make up the bulk of the training, and a certain degree of linguistic competence is tacitly assumed. We language teachers, however, start from a privileged position: perceptive teachers easily discover what conceptions and world-views lurk under the surface of their learners’ use of English. After all, any verbal intercultural communication is communication in a specific language. As English teachers, whether conscious of the fact or not, we train intercultural communication in English as well.
This has important consequences for language teachers, and even greater ones for those language teachers who want to expand their portfolio and become intercultural communication trainers. The systematic, informed and detailed exploration of these consequences is the subject of this excellent book.
Rudi Camerer and Judith Mader conquer their subject by dividing it into two parts: Part One of the book consists of seven chapters that “prepare the ground” for the fledgling ICC trainer. It supplies the background theoretical knowledge that is necessary if one is to do this work seriously and well. Most introductions to intercultural communication cover definitions and explanations of culture, the big names in (especially empirical) intercultural research and theories, and the various “layers” of culture in our daily lives (national, regional, corporate, educational, etc.). Rudi and Judith cover this ground as well, and manage to pack an enormous amount of information into prose that is not only digestible, but palatable as well. They go the extra mile for language teachers, exploring how the role of language is central and ineluctably culture-bound. Chapters such as “Culture and language”, “International English”, and “Politeness in intercultural encounters” uncover the rich cultural substrata of language that we so frequently teach. I was especially thankful for the chapter in this section on that powerful and scandalously underused tool, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. In “The CEFR and intercultural competence” they make a convincing case for teachers’ use of the CEFR in conceptualizing and designing intercultural communication training and for defining competence pragmatically and non-dogmatically.
Part Two of this book demonstrates the application of the theories and know-how introduced in Part One. The authors claim that this part of the book “covers the practical implications for courses and provides examples of material and activities”. And they deliver: the chapter on “Practical issues” is subtitled “How to run a course in intercultural communication” and it is a godsend to the novice trainer. It takes the reader through an impressively extensive list of training contents, practical considerations and constraints (and it certainly opened the eyes of this seasoned, but now humbled trainer!). In ensuing chapters, sound advice is given on teaching theory so as to emphasize its down-to-earth and practice-friendly relevance. Other aspects covered include “Teaching self-awareness”, “Teaching metacommunication” and “Teaching critical incidents”. Each of these chapters outlines possible approaches the trainer can take and provides numerous activities that can be immediately implemented. The eighth and final chapter of this section, “Testing and assessing intercultural competence”, is a crash course on good practice in testing in general, reminding us of the importance of assessment types, construct validity and the difference between competence and performance. The reflective language teaching practitioner will be delighted to see how (yet again) her expertise in language teaching lays the groundwork for sound intercultural communication training and assessment.
With its 200 pages, this book is dense with knowledge, guidance and examples of good practice. It is fully cross-referenced: notes in the margins refer the reader to other chapters in the book (virtual hyperlinks, if you will) and a glossary and excellent bibliography for further reading round the book out. But the best for last: the accompanying CD-ROM contains a goldmine of activities, critical incidents and commented checklists that can be printed out and used in tomorrow morning’s class or workshop. These are formatted in both .pdf and in .doc, giving trainers the possibility of adapting the material to individual training circumstances.
Trainers who follow but a fraction of the valuable advice in this book will increase the probability of their being asked back to do more. Language teachers who want to launch into intercultural communication training will find the necessary blueprints here. How I wish I’d had this book twenty years ago, when I first made the transition from language teacher to intercultural communication trainer!
James Chamberlain is Director of the Language Centre of the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences.
Book Review by Suzanne Osterburg
Roy Norris & Amanda Jeffries
I'm sure all of us at one point or another have heard an upper-level learner say: "There are so many things that I'd like to talk about in English, but I just don't have the words!" This is the comment that's resonated in my thoughts while preparing this review on Straightforward Second Edition Advanced. The updated edition, like its predecessor, is chock full of engaging and current topics that provide much fodder for thought and discussion against a supportive backdrop of English language development opportunities.
The course content is presented in a variety of media with the core elements consisting of a student’s book, teacher’s book with a resource CD, and a workbook with audio CD. The student’s book contains 12 thematic units that are subdivided into four stand-alone sections. Each section contains conventional sequence of lexis pre-teach, input and output opportunities, language focus and larger scale communicative tasks. These can easily be managed within one lesson, whereas the run up work to each communicative task takes up about 2 instructional hours. There are no case studies in the student’s book.
The language reference section has kept place and format at the back of each unit, whereas the word list feature has been advanced to include interactive, learner-centered revision practice in the online portal. The teacher’s book is a trove for veteran and new teachers alike, offering suggestions on adapting and abridging the material.
The class audio is available for download to the students free of charge through the course book’s online portal which is accessible by keying in a unique book token which is provided on the inner back cover. A set of audio CDs can be bought at additional cost for learners who prefer this mode of delivery. The online portal replaces the CD-ROM from the first edition, accommodating the current trend in blended learning. Another digital addition to the course package is the digital course book which seems to accommodate for learners’ preference for paperless learning or paring down of transport load. Taken as a package this course is a cornucopia of well-balanced language use and focus.
The visual presentation of the second edition stays true to the color pallet, overall design, organization and sequence of the first edition, thus successfully transmitting the Straightforward DNA, which should come as a relief to teachers who know the first edition. And while the multi-strand syllabus reflects pervasive carry-over in regard the actual content, closer inspection reveals one or two new additions per unit.
Unit 3a is a good example of updated content. The theme of the unit is still consumer economics but the author has replaced the article about credit card debt with a passage discussing the virtue of ‘having enough’. What could be more relevant after five years of economic slump? Other examples of updated content include exchanging topical content on starting a new school for one about starting a new job, and switching out material on a music award for arguably more interesting content on the uses and effects of ambient music in 11c. Yet these modifications serve well to update the content based on changing trends in current and global events or, by appearances at least, even the target learner.
Language focus as well as writing and speaking activities have either been carried over or only slightly modified either as dictated by the changes described above or to achieve better balance. Grammar instruction is presented in the spirit of raising the learners’ awareness of form and meaning, playing a supporting role and not the lead role, and can be adapted for inductive learning. Lexis is presented based on lexical or morphological relation, while all language focus originates from and draws the learners’ attention to its use in context.
A clue to the book’s target users is the inclusion of topical content on starting a new job in place of starting a new school. I see it best placed with adult learners who seek to develop competence beyond their field of work. These would be the learners who at the very least want opportunities to discuss or write about matters that impact all of us at personal and social levels. I don’t think that this material precludes the notion of English for work or profession. Straightforward Advanced Second Edition presents compellingly relevant English learning content based on a balanced structure of learning support with which learners can not only round out their work English but gain more confidence in engaging others in dialogue that is globally and cross culturally relevant.
There is indeed much inherent value in the second edition of Straightforward Advance. It is best-practicebased, well-researched and adapted. Learners and trainers alike would be hard-pressed not to be motivated by the topics and learning offerings in this series. But as always in the face of such comprehensive course packages, the challenge these days lies in finding groups of learners who commit to longer term learning (3 semesters at least) that such a package requires. I’m sure they’re out there somewhere. I would love to work with this book.
Newsletter of the English Language Teachers'
Association - Rhine, e.V.
Vol. 30 No. 1, Autumn 2017
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