Learning Polish – being a true beginner (my newest challenge!)

Those of you who follow read my blog regularly will have seen a number of posts relating to my journey of learning Italian, something that I have thoroughly enjoyed doing. In my two 8-month stints in Palermo, I have managed to get myself from beginner level to intermediate level, though a lot of that improvement actually took place during the summer between those two contracts where I studied intensively and independently, partially to improve my Italian and partially to experiment with independent learning techniques.

This year, I am leaving Italy and returning to the UK, a move which I hope will be permanent. While I fully intend to hold on to my Italian (by speaking to Italian friends, reading in Italian and watching films in Italian, for example), I also decided that it was about time for a new linguistic challenge.

Enter Polish.

Why Polish? 

In no particular order:

  • I am a complete beginner at Polish. I can only say goodbye (but not spell it) – because once upon a time my mum had some Polish kids in her L2 unit at primary school. (Once I started secondary school, holidays did not coincide and so when I was on half term or holiday, I would often go into school with mum and listen to kids read and suchlike. The Polish children used to say goodbye in Polish at the end of the day when they went home.) = indubitably a challenge!
  • I have never tried to learn a language whose alphabet is different from English. Polish has some different letters, as well as using some consonant clusters that English either doesn’t use or doesn’t use in the same way. So, not as difficult as, say, learning Arabic would be but more difficult than French, German or Italian, which are the languages I have learnt to varying degrees so far. From a learning perspective, this is a challenge; from a teaching perspective, this should help me better understand the problems students whose L1 is further from English might experience.
  • My sister’s husband is Polish and his family don’t speak a lot of English, so it would be nice to be able to communicate basically with them when they visit. Of course, my sister is learning Polish too, for obvious reasons. And anything she can do, I can do better, right? Well, maybe not but we can egg each other on and practice together on Skype and stuff, I imagine. :-) And of course, when I visit them, I get practice opportunities!
  • Sandy Millin is moving to Poland to take up a DoS job there, and I would like to visit, as I have never been to Poland before. It would be nice not to be completely helpless if this happens! Also, a bit of healthy competition never hurt anybody! ;-)

What I have done so far:

  • Downloaded a Memrise course in Beginners Polish.

(This was my starting point for Italian too…).

The good thing about this is the recordings that accompany the words and the memes that you have to choose to help you remember the words. The memes for my Italian course seemed all too often to involve random rather unhelpful busty blonde women, whereas the ones in this Polish course so far are quite useful memory aids. However, I have noticed that I can often remember the sound of the word via the meme, but then can’t remember the spelling associated with it. So on my list of things to do is get to grips with the sound-script thing. Fortunately this shouldn’t be tooooo difficult (famous last words?) because, as I understand it, Polish is written phonetically, with a very small number of exceptions. I need to stop applying English sound-spelling rules (dodgy as they are!) to Polish words.

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Beginner…that’s me!


  • Looked for resources: 

This started as a hunt for Graded Readers, but apparently these are thin on the ground where Polish is concerned. What wouldn’t I give for an A1 Black Cat Graded Reader in Polish now… Nevertheless, I have found a Polish for Dummies book which looks promising (I have been looking at the free sample!). It comes with an audio disc (or, as I would get the e-book, an audio download) in that it explains the pronunciation and some grammar stuff, as one would expect, but also apparently has lots of conversations recorded. I feel like it would be helpful for me to just read and listen a bit to start with, to help me get to grips with what Polish looks like vs how it sounds, because in my life, I have not heard a lot of Polish or seen a lot of Polish. Hardly any, actually!

For Dummies like me! :-)

For Dummies like me! ;-)

I have also seen some Usborne Everyday Words flashcards, which I find rather appealing. Which reminds me, I must have a trawl through Quizlet and see if there is anything ready-made on there that I could use. I should also start to make my own in due course. The Usborne ones I saw have also reminded me that I could also post-it everything when I get back to the UK… :-D

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Yay, pictures!


Finally, I will confess, Harry Potter in Polish has crossed my mind as a possibility… or perhaps Twilight … using the same approach as I did with Italian initially, i.e. the original text and the translation side by side until I can manage without the original, but I think I need to get my head around pronunciation first!

Good old Harry Potter...!

Good old Harry Potter…!

What happens next?

  • Probably very little this week, being the last week of term and therefore very busy. If I can log on to my Memrise course a couple of times and do some review, I would be happy with that!
  • Once I am on holiday, download Polish for Dummies and start listening and reading. And work on the sound-spelling thing.
  • Then, when I get back to the UK, make myself a learning contract!

Of course, it’s going to be a bit different from last summer.

A) there is no time limit on the Polish, whereas with the Italian I wanted to get it down by the end of the summer last year.

B) I want to work on my other languages too – my French, my German and, of course, keep up the Italian. I am wondering what my brain will make of juggling 4 languages plus English on a regular basis. (Another experiment…) So I suppose my room will be little Europe rather than little Italy as it was last summer!

Let’s see what happens… I’ll aim to post another update in a month’s time! For that matter, I also aim to actually publish some of the pile of drafts that have built up on my blog ‘work-desk’ since IATEFL!! It’s been a busy time. The tumbleweed will get booted out of the way soon, though – watch this space! :-)

My blog is 4 years old today!

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 21.43.44   I was closing tabs in my browser when I reached one that was open to a WordPress site, not mine. However, as I am logged in, my tool bar was in evidence along the top and I noticed a little cup symbol in the notifications part. I clicked on it out of curiosity (knowing it couldn’t be about likes or stats because I have been allowing tumbleweed to blow through my blog since IATEFL – work issues have kept me occupied) and discovered that, as per the image above, I registered with WordPress 4 years ago today…

Where was I?

4 years ago, I was coming towards the end of a year in Indonesia. I couldn’t remember why I decided to start blogging, so I dug out my first blog post and it turned out to be part of the ‘30 Goals Challenge‘, created by Shelley Terrell, which I believe is now in it’s I don’t know how many’th reincarnation and even has a related e-book out. I had found out about it through Twitter. My early posts largely fell into 2 categories – 30 Goals Challenge  and #ELTChat summaries. (It wasn’t until I did my M.A. ELT and Delta at Leeds Met, now Beckett, that I started writing in earnest, as it was then than I found my voice…)

Where am I now?

Now I am nearing the end of a second year at IH Palermo. My blog bears little resemblance to how it looked in the early days (during my M.A., I learnt about tech-y stuff and then gave my blog a complete overhaul, in an attempt to make it more attractive and user-friendly to navigate; it also now has 270 posts, 9 pages, 777 followers, 336,634 views and 1,370 comments) and I, myself, have had quite a journey since then too…

What have I learnt?

In no particular order…

  • how to relax!! (I have been perfecting the art today, in fact, as it’s a national holiday in Palermo! This is extremely important for avoiding burn-out…)
  • that saying ‘yes’ can lead to lots of unforeseen opportunities (it’s been an exciting few years!)
  • that you have nothing to lose in trying something, and everything to gain (e.g. I only submitted my dissertation project for an Elton because I had nothing to lose, in the end I won a prize which has led on to other exciting things…)
  • that the world of ELT is so big and multi-faceted. We may see only a tiny corner of it for the majority of the time, but attending conferences like IATEFL puts things in perspective and helps you see how rich (not in the monetary sense of the word!) a world it really is. You can then differentiate between ELT as your job and ELT the profession that you are a tiny part of.
  • that I can work really damn hard (c.f. M.A./Delta year and the distinctions I got out of it plus all the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into all my jobs before and since!)
  • that I love CPD (action research, reflection, materials writing, presenting at conferences, attending talks at conferences, doing webinars – as presenter or participant, blogging, chatting on Twitter when I can, writing articles/book chapters, doing courses..and so the list goes on…)
  • that however hard one works, it’s never enough so one has to decide when enough is enough.
  • that it’s ok to have a life outside work and stop thinking about work from time to time ;-)
  • that I can’t please all of the people all of the time, and however much I put into my lesson planning and teaching, some students won’t be satisfied. This does not make me a bad person.
  • that 10-12 year old Italian children can get very excited by post-its. This is a blessing when you forget to take the soft balls into class for vocabulary review! I love my M2s. :)
  • that the amount of time spent doing things expands to fill available time. If available time is limited, things have to get done quicker. And Things to Do lists can develop multiple layers of priority!
  • that the beauty of learning is that it is never-ending. :)

And the list goes on…

What next?

I haven’t renewed my contract at IH Palermo this time around, so I am stepping out into the unknown again. I have a ten-week summer contract at Sheffield University lined up but beyond that? Who can say. One thing’s for sure though, I will keep blogging and I will keep saying yes when opportunities arise. And see where it takes me next… Thank you all who follow my blog, read my blog, comment on my blog and in so doing make it what it is. And happy 4th birthday, Blog! :-) (Also, to anyone who watched my recent webinar on Metacognition, the promised write-up will happen… just as soon as I can make the time without overly upsetting my precarious work-life balance! ;-)  )

IATEFL 2015 Plenary Day 3

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Ann is introduced: All of us here are in education and we stay in it because we want to improve in some way the lives of the people who come to us. Ann Cotton has directly improved the lives of 1.2 million students, students who were most in need of such improvement. Camfed battles poverty by giving education to young girls in rural Africa. Last year Ann was awarded the WISE prize for education.

Screenshot of Camfed logo

Screenshot of Camfed logo

Ann starts by telling us about the history of this area in terms of suffrage, a march that was made and stormed by the troops for challenging the status quo. This city has had a profound effect on the world.

She goes on to say that she has been fighting for justice too. When she started, education for girls was not considered a priority, especially for girls in rural Africa. She was interested in the area of gender and human rights. She visited a village in Zimbabwe, and found that the area where the Tonga people had been moved when the damn was built in 19(?6) was the poorest. They had been forcibly removed from their own land and resettled somewhere where the land was not sufficiently productive to support human life. Ann was going to do a study on girls’ exclusion from education, looking for the reasons why there were 7 boys for every girl at school.

She had not understood until that point the enormous strides that Zimbabwe had made in its education system. At the time of independence, all white children went to better resourced schools, so there was the most enormous challenge to expand education access. There were 600 places for every 1000 children in the newly desegregated system. However, Ann found a level of poverty that she had never before witnessed. The government provided food aid for two years to the Tonga people but these people had lost a way of life. They had lost access to the river, and theirs was a river culture. They used the Zambezi for trade and as a source of food. They had lived a subsistence life, but now they were under huge pressure to join the cash economy. But the colonial government was dissatisfied so they introduced a hut tax, and if the taxes weren’t paid, you went to prison. And to fish, you had to buy a fishing license.

Ann saw the connection between this history and her own history in Carmarthenshire. Her family were involved in knitting. And when factories started to produce things like socks which were more fashionable than hand-knitted socks, then her family who had earnt enough to survive by knitting by hand, they had to relocate and enter a different economy. Her grandmother was passionate about education and her four children including Ann’s mother all went into higher education. Back in Zimbabwe, she saw the desire for education that her grandmother had. She realised that everything she had read in advance of going was erroneous, as she had been expecting to find resistance to education but instead found a culture of poverty so deep that it forced very cruel choices. People were being blamed for their culture, as though that were the reason girls were not at school. But Ann heard the message from everyone she met that girls wanted to go school, that the local economics favoured the education of boys. In a community with the absence of a safety net beyond the family, this was crucial. So these people were making the only decisions they could on the basis of economics and survival. Ann found that extraordinary. She hadn’t met this idea anywhere in the literature in libraries in Cambridge and London. She thought, if this was the case here, then what about elsewhere in rural Zimbabwe and beyond?

When Ann returned home, she felt completely out of her depth emotionally, intellectually, she had never thought of raising money through an organisation, but she felt the issue needed far wider consideration, because as we still see today, there is still the impact of girls being excluded from education. We see it in high rates of mortality, maternal mortality, lack of food security, the exclusion of women from the economy. The exclusion of girls has an impact far beyond their own lives. When a girl leaves school at the age of 12 or 13, she will marry. She needs food, more clothes, so the family depend on the marriage for her security. However, the security is undermined by the likelihood of pregnancy as a teenager, in a place where difficulties in labour were not able to be dealt with. She had to be transferred elsewhere, and if she died during this journey, the cost of repatriating the body was not covered. There is always a rationale and that rationale is almost always economic. It’s about taking a bet, a risk, working out what is the best risk to take. In this case, educating sons was a better bet.

Ann felt the need to explain. She started with her supervisor, explaining that she didn’t feel she could just study. She wanted to do something with this knowledge she had happened on. She didn’t embark on her PhD as planned, kept deferring it. She didn’t know what the next would be but went around organisations explaining what she had found. From the organisations, she found complete resistance to what she said. She was angry about the closed minds she met, that what she told people about that community was being rejected. This drove her on. She had said that she would return to the chief, and after 6 months she did. He said, “ah, you’re back. I didn’t think you’d come back” and she said “But I promised. And I am ready to work with you. I have no idea what to do but we can work together to make sure more girls can go to school”. One and a half days later in the morning, she was woken by the sound of voices gathering. She hadn’t thought that all these voices were heading to the secondary school where the meeting was to take place, but they were. She arrived to find hundreds of people who had all arrived to discuss the issue of girls education. Ann was profoundly moved by this. The whole community knew about this meeting via a message from the chief. The chief is a bridge between the traditional world and the modern world, and is trusted. In this meeting they discussed how to move forward. And this is where Camfed’s model was designed.

From 32 girls they have gone on to support 1.2 million girls in countries across Africa. The idea was the child is at the centre of everything, the child is their client. How often in education does the child have to fit the system rather than the system working for the child? The question is, how do you build a community around this issue? How do you build a culture that is accountable first and foremost to the child? The document they produced describes that and that is how they designed their work. They think about the different forms of capital available. In that first meeting, Ann learnt that she had to abandon everything she had learnt from the literature. So often we think of written language of the expression of intelligence because that is the measurement system that we have, but here in the community, she found a depth of intelligence that she continues to find profound.

So the model is a system for drawing capital together. But not only financial capital. If we negotiate every action, every initiative through the lens of financial capital, all we will do is remind people of what they don’t have. So we turn to social capital, which is vast. Every community, however poor, runs because of its social capital. So the fact that the chief brought the community together is a form of social capital. Of course this was a patriarchal society, the educators were almost all men, the chief, the clinic staff. This was an area where men were making it through the education system so women were not in positions of authority. So Ann raised her voice.

Ann describes the intense arrogance of thinking the poor are a set of data and that we are entitled to know details about them (e.g. number of sexual partners) that we ourselves would not be willing to give. And what happens to the data once it is collected? It moves upwards. It doesn’t go back to the community. The power of data, however, is huge. The power of data to change behaviour, to acknowledge behaviour. Camfed works with grandmothers because many of the parental generation have died. However, the intelligence is there. They are ready to find out how they can change the educational outcomes of their grandchildren. So they have meetings and discuss the collection of data and what it can tell them. E.g. chores. Girls do the domestic chores, boys might take the animals to the field. Girls have to do more, and therefore have less space and time to study, which impacts on results. So they looked at this and worked on what to do. Later on, showing the improvements (in a graph), generated celebration.

Coming out of the system, girls were still vulnerable. Now they had the most enormous capital available in their lives, communities and future families, but they needed protection in order to be able to make significant change. So they established an alumni organisation, a powerful network. Some of the members are now in their mid-30s. And now they themselves are taking initiatives outside their own families, supporting the education of children outside their family, to the tune of upwards of 63,000 children.

Ann introduces us to a few of them. E.g. Ruka from Ghana who set up a chicken farm, which is growing now. Her community is celebrating her. It’s not only the fact of their progression but they understand the context of poverty, the psychology of it, the material impact of it. So their change-making is way beyond the change-making possible if a child without this background went into this context. If we want change, if we are serious about the eradication of poverty, we need to educate every child. We need to educate every girl and make sure that within the system they are valued and respected. Then they can emerge as pillars of society, able to fight for others like them.

Ann goes on to explain that children in this context face not only a language barrier but the barrier of metaphors and examples that they are expected to negotiate and understand. They do not see themselves in their learning materials. They enter into an educational environment that feels somehow detached and remote. So, Camfed are now working with Pearson to create materials that are more relevant to the students’ lives in their contexts, so that their experience is reflected back at them. Names and places are those with which children are familiar. So they don’t find themselves with a train timetable that looks at the distance between London and Manchester, which means nothing to them. Ann tells us about an exam question she faced that was all about cricket runs: she remembers looking at this question and being confused by it because she didn’t understand the basis of the question. In their partnership with ministries of education and with Pearson, is develop a curriculum precisely targeted at the children and these have been very successful. CAMNA (The alumni) have worked with consultants at Pearson in this development.

Camfed have also established the learner guide programme, where secondary school graduates go into schools and work alongside the teachers, most of whom won’t be from the local area. This works on several levels: teachers feel supported in their classes of 50 or 60 children; there is this fantastic language bridge; for the children, the learner guides are a friendly face (known) and role models, representing something these children can do; parents are delighted as they can see their daughters are moving forward and respected in their communities. Finally it is a bridge to teacher training college for the young women.

Ann finished with the words of Mark Twain: When everybody thinks the way you do, then it’s time to think differently. As a community of educators, she says we all have such creativity and such great ideas and she wishes us all the best for the conference and moving forward.





IATEFL 2015: All my posts indexed!

I wrote upwards of 20 posts while I was at IATEFL 2015, so thought it would be a good idea to index them all in a single post so that they are easier to locate! 

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Day 0 – MaW SIG Pre-Conference Event Day

I divided up the SIG day into 4 posts – two sessions per post.

Part 1

  • Sue Kay – “Writing multiple choice activities – What I have learnt”
  • Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones – “Maximising the image in materials design”

Part 2

  • Nick Tims – “A Technological Toolkit for writers”
  • John Hughes – “Writing ELT audio and video scripts. From basic principles to creating drama”

Part 3

  • Kieran and Anna – “How to write ELT activities for authentic video and film”
  • Julie Moore – “Does a corpus have the answer? Corpus tools for ELT writers”

Part 4

  • Evan Frendo – “Tailor-making materials from an ESP author perspective”
  • Christien Lee – “(Mis) adventures in self-publishing”

 Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Why I love IATEFL/conferences (2015 version!)

IATEFL is over for another year (well, it’s not quite – I think the final plenary is in process as I type! – but for me it is, as I am sitting on a train to London…) and once again it has surpassed expectations. If I am honest, I wasn’t actually looking forward to it that much this year. (Which is different from previous years when it’s been an “I can’t wait!” situation!) I was tired, I felt mildly annoyed that I was losing half an Easter holiday week for it (last year Easter holiday I travelled around Sicily with some family and had an actual break!) and I generally couldn’t be bothered. I arrived in Manchester on Thursday evening, checked into my ‘aparthotel’ room and thought, “I don’t want to be here…I want a holiday…bah.” Friday morning, I walked to the conference centre. As it came into sight, all the negativity fell away, to be replaced with some more customary excitement! “I’m at a conference, wheeeeee!” I was quite relieved when the switch flipped and have gone on to have an absolutely marvellous time in Manchester. It was definitely cure rather than kill! If it weren’t for wanting to get all these thoughts down while they are fresh in my mind, I would definitely not be typing right now… Over the course of the conference I have written and published 22 posts and a further 2 are waiting for finishing touches. None of the posts are less than 1000 words in length, most are significantly more. So I have written well over 22,000 words in the last 5 days (maths isn’t my strong point – correct me if I am wrong!). No wonder my fingers are tired! But it’s worth it when you get people saying: Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 14.06.03 Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 14.06.37 Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 14.06.47 (The last tweet was in response to me admitting that my fingers were officially tired!) I have seen a huge variety of talks and workshops: EAP, materials writing, corpus linguistics, teenagers, young learners, linguistics (David Crystal this morning!), IELTS, language testing (ELTJ debate), technology, publishing… and so it goes on. I think this is one of the things I love about IATEFL so much: the opportunity to connect with the bigger picture of my profession, rather than just my tiny corner of it. I also had the wonderful opportunity of sharing what I’ve done in my tiny corner with a handful of the many people who came to IATEFL and chose my talk (despite it being second to last slot on the last full day, when everyone is knackered!). I have picked up my customary Black Cat publishers bag (aka my alternative handbag for the next 12 months till I get next years!) from the exhibition hall. What an enormous hall! It was absolutely vast. I didn’t spend as much time in it as previous years, because I didn’t want to be tempted into buying books (my usual weakness) to carry back with me when I relocate back to the UK in under two months. I did, however, treat myself to one book: The Company Words Keep published by Delta Publishing. Looking forward to trying out some of the activities in the next 6 weeks. I think I successfully managed to bump into everybody I wanted to bump into with very little organisation. And that’s another thing I love about conferences and IATEFL in particular (because it unites people from all over the place): the opportunity to catch up with people who live and work a long way away from where you live and work but who you’ve met through social media,  doing your M.A./Delta, at previous conferences or because you used to work somewhere else a long way from your current location. I LOVE all the hello’s! And as I slipped off after David Crystal’s talk today, without attempting to find anybody, I managed to avoid any goodbyes! Not so keen on goodbyes… So it was that after dragging my heels every step of the way to the conference, I felt a real pang when I handed in my lanyard and name tag for recycling and walked out that main entrance door for a final time. Having spent 5 days going in an out and…very happily.  On the plus side, I no longer have something round my neck that says IELTS and I’m no longer labelled as “Elizabeth” (Who is this “Elizabeth”? :-p ) IATEFL is over for another year but the injection of enthusiasm, freshness and connectedness that I have had from it will last for a while yet. Next year is IATEFL’s 50th anniversary, to be held in Birmingham, so if you haven’t yet made it to this wonderful conference, that could be an exciting first time! If there is any way at all you can make it, even for just a day, go! There is no way you will regret it. Thank you IATEFL, for another amazing conference. See you next year! Hopefully by then my fingers will have recovered… ;-) Thank you everybody who made my conference experience what it was – you are all fabulous! <Cheese over and out!>

IATEFL 2015 Signature event: A question of language – David Crystal

Yay, I finally get to see David Crystal speak! 

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David is the patron of IATEFL and has written a number of books and articles on the English language. Today, he is going to answer questions – collected via social media in advance of today’s session and any we have later on.

1. Can you tell the Father Christmas story?

Yeah, well you see, I was in Columbia in Bogota. There is a big mountain there and at the top a shrine, and we had gone up there to see around. There is a railway that takes you up and down again. At the top we were queuing to come down, it was a snake queue. As they waited in the queue, a Columbian family with a little boy saw them and said to his parents – it’s Father Christmas! David agreed – what else do you say to a 3 year old queue. The little boy spread the word in the queue and other children started waving and asking questions, about what they could have for Christmas. :)

These days in schools he is called Gandalf or Dumbeldore in schools.

2. Apart from carrying around a notebook to write down long words in Wales, do you have any hot tips for linguistic ornithologists?

Yes, you need a NOTEBOOK and PEN/PENCIL. You are always on the look-out for interesting things and there is always one around the corner saying “Hey David, notice me!” and it goes in the book. When David started writing his big book, he had a drawerful of such notebooks. The longest place name in Wales has 57 letters. Welsh doesn’t have the longest place names in the world. In New Zealand, David and his wife passed a signpost which says “Longest place name in the world, 40km” – he could not ignore this. …30km…20…10…5…1.5km and there it is. An 87 letter place name. No postcards, no hot dog stands, just the place name. Talk about understatement. Beautiful, beautiful thing. It means ‘the mountaintop where Tamatea the giant with the big knees, eater of mountains, traveller of land and sea, played the flute to his beloved.’

3. What’s the verb of the noun orientation, is it orient or orientate?

Well, both of course. Both well-represented in the corpus. But orient about 3 times as frequent as orientate. It’s especially the norm across the ponds (USA, Oz etc). Orientating ideas i.e. figurative uses, don’t attract as much criticism as the literal. When in doubt, look at a corpus. Should be one of the background resources of any classroom.

4. Will anyone be using the word ‘whom’ in 50 years?

This is the man to whom I was speaking. This is the man who I was speaking to. It’s a usage that’s been controversial almost since it came into the language as it was associated with formal usage. It became controversial when in the 18th century it got into prescriptive grammars. ->Don’t end sentences with prepositions… It went in as a rule. You should always say whom and never who in such circumstances. The opposition to that rule was there from the beginning. People noticed it was a silly rule because English had always ended sentences with prepositions, even Shakespeare does. 18th Century grammars responded, “well there you are you see, even Shakespeare gets it wrong. So to avoid these mistakes, use my grammar and follow my rules” ! It has built up into a psychologically charged usage. If you read books by pundits on correct English, you will find whom mentioned. It has become a flag, a symbol, an imagined notion of correct usage. And that is going to keep it alive. Both are valuable – we need formal and informal language. The fact that there is the contrast there plus the psychologically charged value mean it should be around in 50 years.

5. It seems that English speakers have dropped the present perfect in some uses e.g. just in US English. Does this trend apply to other uses and how grammatically acceptable is it?

There has been a shift in the last few decades. The important point is, English speakers have dropped the present perfect in some cases. E.g. I already went instead of I’ve already gone. I just ate instead I’ve just eaten. The common factor is the adverb. Just, already, yet. These are the contexts in which US English differs from UK English. When there are no adverbs there, US manage quite well with the present perfect. The adverbs carry the time reference and this motivates the shift. They are very important. I go to town is just the present tense, I go to town three days a week. Three days a week gives the habitual. Shifts in use might elbow their way into an acceptability matrix due to how much it happens.

6. Do you predict any change in English grammar in the near future due to the impact of social media?

No. Absolutely not. Well, it’s too soon to say, but certainly not in the near future. When the internet arrived, the prophets of doom made these kind of predictions which didn’t turn out to be true. Remember there was no internet before 1991. Google 1999. Text messaging 2000. Chatrooms, 1990s. Facebook 2004. Youtube 2005. Twitter 2006. It’s all very recent. But it takes time to influence grammar. Vocabulary and pronunciation can change quite quickly but grammar, no. It takes time. Remember when the internet came along, everyone thought it was the coolest thing ever. Free information. It’s a lovely world. In the 1990s, they wanted to show people how cool they were, by inventing a new plural ending. For these guys, add a ‘z’. So if you download films, they are legal. If you download filmz, then they are pirated. Tunes, legal. Tunez, pirated. So ‘s’ and ‘z’ became a new plural ending for a while, but then copyright came along, and usage died out largely. That’s the only example David knows and it didn’t last very long. So not going to happen in the near future.

7. In many languages in my part of the world, we say there are six tastes but in English only 5. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, hot. Is there a word to refer to the taste of a raw banana?

Of course! Bananaish or Banana- like. That’s the beauty of English. -like and -ish endings mean you can talk about anything you like in a fuzzy sort of way. English has more words for taste than you might think. How do you find out? Well, this is what David did. He went to the OED to the historical part of the thesaurus. It traces the history of vocabulary in English in terms of clusters of words that relate to a particular theme. So what words were there available for Shakespeare to talk about weather or vehicles? You can find out. David looked for taste. You can find dozens. Savoury, nutty, spicy, picant, unctuous, rancid, zesty, sugary… the vocabulary of English isn’t as denuded as taste terms as you might think.

What do you call your beloved now? Darling, sweetie, honey. In the middle ages, you would use names of fish. E.g. Prawn. Oh my prawn, I love you so much. Shakespearean, “ladybird” – in Romeo and Juliet.

8. Does Cockney slang count as a dialect? And do you have it in your repertoire?

It’s a dialect, yes. Rhyming slang is a lexical feature of that dialect. Accent is pronunciation, dialect is local vocabulary and grammar, with vocabulary as the dominant. No, it’s not in David’s repertoire, though he has studied it. Rhyming slang still exists e.g. “plates of meat” – feet. A rhyming phrase that relates to a particular word in the language. It was originally a kind of criminal slang. Still developing: I forgot my Barack Obamas – my pyjamas.

9. An article in the Washington Post entitles on English majors wanted focuses on the decline in English majors in the US. Computer majors have soared. Why should people invest time and money on an in-depth study of English?

David doesn’t see an opposition between the two. Whatever the language you are studying, computer guys need to know it to face the problems that come up. E.g. refining the nature of searches means an in-depth understanding of language will help you. Also, you won’t get your advertisements right. E.g. There was a story about a street stabbing in Chicago. The ads down the sides were trying to sell knives. Buy your knives here. Cheap knives on EBay etc. Everyone was embarrassed. They asked David to solve it. It’s obvious what’s gone wrong: the stupid software (not English sophisticated) had found the word knife, looked in the advertising for the word knife, found it and there it was. For us, knife as a weapon is different from knife as cutlery. Different collocations too. So the analysis needs to include the collocates. Murder and police, you usually don’t get in a cutlery context. A little bit extra awareness of language can help solve a problem. Now multiply that by all the pages on the internet… 4/5ths of the words in English are polysemic and therefore could give rise to the knife situation. Anybody in the internet and advertisement world needs this kind of awareness to avoid trouble.

10. With the increasing presence of English in an environment/region where it is not L1, futurologists have predicted the extinction of other languages, what do you think? 

There are two main reasons for using language. One is for being intelligible, promotes the use of a standard language, the other main use is to express identity, so we have different languages, accents, dialects. Any international language that becomes seriously global always comes with a risk to minority languages, as it is the language of power and communication, it is dominant. But, do you want to lose your identity? No, not at all. And the best way to maintain that identity is maintaining local language, dialect and accent. If I want to show you I am from Wales, I could wear a big badge, or a big hat or I could play a harp. But there problems with these – you can’t see them in the dark or around a corner. How do you express your identity in the dark or around a corner? Speech. Speech reaches everywhere, which other forms of identity don’t have. So there is a strong force pushing for survival of languages. But it’s a problem alright, in the course of this century, unless something happens, 1/2 the languages in the world will die out. Not necessarily because of English – whatever the dominant language is, e.g. Spanish and Portuguese in South America.

People are already beginning to talk about an English family of languages. In 50 or 100 years time, yes, there will be mutually unintelligible varieties of English. There already are. E.g. Singlish. Somebody coming in from outside doesn’t understand what’s going on. Over 100 years shifts could become grammatical as well as vocabulary/pronunciation. This is language for identity. Standard English won’t die out, language for communication. We will just become diglossic. Learn standard English for international purposes, and a local dialect for other purposes.

11. With the rise of EFL, what are your thoughts on dropping native speaker and referring simply to variants of English?

David only uses it in a biological context not a linguistic context. There has always been variety – accents, dialects. This has increased enormously, because of the enormous immigration into Britain, has produced lots of diversity, and globally. Recognising this has an impact on everything we do. The fact that there is now so much “non-native” variation is simply a natural development similar to the diversity amongst people in the biological native context. People are all just speakers or writers on youtube, for example. There is a blurring of distinctions. Think of the couple who speak English as their mutual language, EFL, have a child, and speak to that child in English, then that child is a native speaker of EFL. At the end of the day, teaching knowledge is the important thing, in a teaching context. Pillow talk and nursery rhymes are the most difficult things for “non-native speakers”, according to a Swedish friend of David’s. No corpus of it – an IATEFL potential project? Watch out for microphones appearing between you in bed… ;-)

12. To what extent do you think the use of English in pop music is just a fad? Or valid evidence of the spread of English?

Pop music drives the language around the world of young people at least and perhaps slightly older people too. David thinks there might be a Pop Music SIG one day…it’s already there in the Media SIG or Literature SIG.

13 <I took a finger break! This typing malarkey is not as effortless as you might think! Especially on Day 5...>

14. Now that more than the majority of English communication is between L2-L2, how will we teach?

One must become more aware of different varieties of English, when teaching listening. It is much easier these days thanks to the audio side of the internet. Do you know the website called IDEA? The International Dialects of English Archive. It is based in Kansas. The aim is to collect good quality examples of all dialects of English. There are over 1000 already. Or you can visit David’s site http://www.yousaypotato.net and you can listen to all the recordings of people saying potato that exist already. You can record yourself too, so can your students. What we need is the expectation that variety and divergence is the norm.

15. What about the plural ‘they’? (audience question)

Our pronoun system doesn’t allow an alternative. So we are stuck with using a plural to refer to a singular. Not the first time that singular and plural have come together e.g. plural you and singular you. English pronouns rely on context to distinguish between singular and plural. But the 18th century guys took against it, so we have a problem: People will criticise its use in circumstances where you should be adhering to traditional notions of correctness. To avoid criticism in EAP, avoid using it. If you don’t mind criticism, then fine. David avoids it in radio programmes so that people should focus on the message not the grammatical point. Socio-linguistically is where the problem is.

16. <finger break mixed with getting lost due to tired fingers>

17. Would you mind doing the rap song?

The context for this was that somebody asked me what trends are affecting pronunciation around the world. The change from stress-timed to syllable-timed.

<little video clip of David rapping will be uploaded when I get a net connection that permits!>

And that, sadly, brought us to the end of a fascinating hour and 20 minutes! Glad to finally have seen David Crystal talking, as awesome as expected! A great end to the conference for me. 

IATEFL 2015 Bringing corpus research into the language classroom – Jane Templeton

Corpus time! This talk is by my M.A. colleague of yore, Jane Templeton, also known as corpus guru! :)

We start with a small thought experiment:

A class of students don;t know how to use a dictionary. They are reading. One of them asks you the meaning of a word. There is a dictionay next to him. What do you?

  • a. Tell him to look it up
  • b. look it up yourself and tell him
  • c. show him how to look it up

The answer was C, which led us to the following questions:

  1. Why is C the best from the point of view from the student, compared to the others.
  2. Would you expect him to be instantly proficient in dictionary use?
  3. What would you advise if he couldn’t find a word in the dictionary?

Jane explained that her talk is based on some assumptions from Timmis (2015):

Corpus research is potentially useful for learners. It contains information about frequency and behaviour and frequent language is often useful.

However, the potential is not being exploited fully. We will look at ways of doing this, overcoming some limitations:

Jane wasn’t quite sure what to with CR research or techniques to use with students to start with. The two main objections she encountered at work was that 1) it’s too difficult for the students and 2) data driven learning doesn’t work.

She set out to disprove this. In actual fact the opposite happened… CR is difficult for students. Research requires technical expertise and knowledge, time, that most teachers don’t have, never mind students. But this isn’t the kind of corpus research we need students to do.

Data driven learning should work (see Timmis, 2015 again) – it enables more authentic language use, rich input, inductive learning and promotes and practices the skill of noticing, which is very important. But in 2009, it hadn’t been shown it’s more effective as a language presentation method than traditional methods. It was shown to be effective as a reference tool.

For students to learn, for learning to take place, students need to be engaged – either by the language (Relevant to them, they want to use it, need to use it) or by the task, if it’s a task they might replicate outside the classroom, that they can engage with.

So why didn’t DDR work for Jane? The teacher selects the language so it might not be relevant, T researches it, filters results, creates questions and practice activities. The task might not be engaging. Concordance lines do not naturally occur (except in texts about concordances and corpus!) so concordance line tasks are not authentic for them. So it depends on if that particular student at that particular time likes that kind of activity: some do, some don’t.


Even if we can move more students into the green zone, some of them will always get left in the negative zone. It also is very time-consuming for the teacher. So all in all tends to fall to the way-side.

Show vs Tell

Jane talked about the importance, generally, of showing rather than telling students information.


Jane then showed us how she used www.wordandphrase.info to solve a problem she met in class – finding collocates to use with weakness, opportunity and threat of the SWOT analysis to show obtaining benefit. Type in the word, click on search, click on the word when it appears in the box. Choose from the list of verbs.

E.g. overcome weakness; combat threats; counter threats; etc.

This was the first time she used this site as a reference tool with students. The next time it came up was with a different group of students, with whom she was mind-mapping globalisation. They needed verb collocates with threats.


Back to wordandphrase.info to discover…

One of the threats POSED BY globalisation TO local businesses.

How is this useful?

You/the students can use it to answer questions such as these:

  • What verb can I use with noun to express meaning?
  • Is the noun the subject or the object of the verb?
  • Is it the direct object?
  • If so, is the verb used in the passive?
  • Is the noun the indirect object?
  • If so, what preposition is used between the noun and verb?

…and so on.


Quick, easy, no preparation required (just used in the classroom in response to queries), authentic task (they can use it outside the classroom) and it’s relevant as it’s based on language that comes up in class.

These are the kinds of errors you can address:


Errors relating to structure, collocation, formality/register etc.

If you are interested, email Jane and she will send you a link to the wiki she is launching for students to help them use wordandphrase.info independently. (I will link to it from this post once I have the link!)

Jane also showed us “AntConc” where you can do a frequency search and look for content words. You can also discover collocations around key content words. You can use it to check errors. You can compare your own text as a student to an authentic text and look at differences in the way language is used. This can be stylistic e.g. Bangladesh used 4 times in an authentic text vs 25 in a student text.

The aim is to help student be able to do this themselves in the future, in their academic writing.


Jane left us some advice to bear in mind as we set off to try these tools with students:

  • Try it!
  • Don’t be scared.
  • Try the activities on the wiki that Jane has made (for access/the link email her at the address provided below), think about how you could use it with your students.
  • Don’t worry if things don’t work, it happens.
  • Don’t feel you have to know everything. It’s ok. You and your students can learn together.
  • Give students scaffolding.
  • Enjoy it!

(And remember the tools are just as useful for us teachers as for students…!)

To find out more/get the link to the wiki, contact Jane on j.templeton@leeds.ac.uk

A very useful, interesting talk and I look forward to seeing the wiki in the near future when it is launched! :)


Timmis, I. (2015) Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice (Routledge Corpus Linguistic Guides) Routledge.