Archive for October, 2009

One of the best ways to acquire language

October 22, 2009

I am convinced that one of the best ways to acquire language is to become involved in a conversation that matters. I observed my students in class today doing just that. They did all the exercises in the book and got all the questions right. They appeared to understand the use of the present perfect tense very well (e.g. I have finished the exercise). However, when they spoke in conversation, the present perfect tense was never used, even when it was obvious they should have been using it. Only after a great deal of practice – answering questions like “Have you ever eaten..?” did they even realize that they should be using this tense in their speech. After much discussion of witchetty grubs and various unmentionable parts of animal anatomy, they warmed to the discussion AND started to say “I have eaten …). It will be interesting to see if they use the present perfect tense when they speak tomorrow! What do you think?

Prejudice against our European visitors

October 20, 2009

It is easy to see how prejudice can creep in. When trying to buy a cup of hot chocolate recently, the girl serving was obviously from Eastern Europe. Her English was very limited. When she could not provide the marshmallows, I expected her to say something like: “I’m sorry, we have run out of them for the moment.” What she actually said was: “We don’t have.” When I pointed to the sign advertising the fact that they did indeed ‘have’ them, she scowled as if I was being stupid. When I offered an explanation i.e. “You mean you have run out of them?” she ignored my question. I felt as if she had been less than courteous, but realized that the problem was probably more a language one than one of attitude.

Against those who rubbish tweeters and Facebook followers

October 17, 2009

Against those who rubbish tweeters and Facebook followers

Who says it is only the mindless, superficial members of our society that waste time tweeting and putting entries on Facebook? Mindless some may be, but the act of tweeting and communicating in short statements on internet sites is an art, I argue, not a mindless occupation.

One of the most difficult things to do is to summarize your life in a single sentence. Try it. You will see that it is almost impossible to say what your life is about effectively if you have only a few bytes at your disposal. The more you read other people’s tweets, the more you realize which ones interest you and why.  Understanding why some entries are more appealing than others leads to the conclusion that there is an art in creating entries. Judging just the right words to use, knowing how to be in tune with your followers and how to express what you want to say so that your followers understand what you exactly is a real skill.

Then there is the question of tone. How can you express exactly how you feel? So often the use of brief statements is mis-interpreted as rudeness. Avoiding the impression that you have no time to be courteous or you can’t be bothered takes care and special ability.

Newsworthiness is a constant problem for the media and is now an issue for those who tweet. How can you make ordinary, everyday activity interesting and newsworthy? This is yet another problem for tweeters and Facebook participants and it gradually becomes obvious that some manage to make their tweets more interesting and newsworthy than others.

Then there is the question of personality. It takes only a few words to reveal aspects of personality. Your interests, hobbies and feelings are obvious signs but dig a little deeper and you will note how self-orientated some individuals are and how their intelligence, world knowledge and social skills (or lack of them) are made apparent.  

There is also the sense of community and the bond between friends that develops. Networking, information sharing and advice all have their parts to play.  In day to day activity, if someone corrects my spelling without my asking, I can easily be offended. In my tweets or Facebook entries, this sense of community engenders no such feelings. I appreciate it when someone takes the trouble to correct me when I am wrong. We are a bunch of human beings sharing our lives. We have no special points to score as we do in the outside more throat-cutting, business world.

Tweeting and participating on sites like Facebook would be worthy topics for research. Perhaps a tweeter will tell me about such research already taking place?

Rosemary Westwell  (Dr Roe on

Beware those dangerous prepositions

October 15, 2009

I had written my piece for the month and sent it. After a moment’s pause, I had a sudden fear that I had used the wrong preposition. It is amazing how such a tiny word can have such a devastating effect. I had written something to the effect that in November we witness the opening of parliament. Black Rod knocking on the door of the House of Commons represents freedom ‘from’ interference by the House of Commons. The single word ‘from’ made the sentence absolutely untrue. What I should have said was ‘freedom from interference by the Queen for the House of Commons’.  Prepositions are obviously very powerful words that must be used with caution.

A way of increasing your word knowledge

October 13, 2009

There was an interesting article in the Sunday Mail last Sunday 11th October 2009. It gave one of the reasons why Stephen Fry is so well informed. He has been visiting the website Every click awards a free grain of rice to the needy – brilliant idea. It tests your word knowledge and as you guess the meanings of given words, you begin to learn new ones. You are presented with a word and then have to choose the correct meaning from a choice of given suggestions. If you happen to get a word wrong, you are provided with the correct answer. The word is recycled so that it appears later and so you ‘learn’ the word and it becomes part of your vocabulary. There are many words I did not know existed and sometimes the meanings are not an exact match but it is fun trying to guess by association which meaning to choose.

Poetry Day October 2009

October 11, 2009

Poetry Day Oct 2009

What a wonderful idea! I doubt if I would have approached the subject of poetry had it not been for Poetry Day and an event advertised at the Babylon Gallery in Ely. I was having lunch in Ely with a friend so I arrived a little late but what a fruitful afternoon it was! I had several poets on hand helping me try to improve my attempts at poetry. They encouraged me to write anything at first – leaving a line between each of my efforts and then revising. It is the revising where it gets difficult. What makes a good poem? It seems one must avoid common phrases, adjectives and adverbs. The words, I believe, need to evoke a feeling and or an image in the reader. This image/feeling need not necessarily be the same as those expressed.  Each word has to be exactly the ‘right one’.

I am still working on the poem but here is a first attempt:

Screeching voice

Pierces oneness with Debussy

Wrinkled piano keys shake.

My fingers in black thirds, soothe.

My soul wretches: over-cooked cabbage

Fuses with rippling chords.

Putrid, slippery floors drown

In my moonlit dream.

 It is supposed to reflect my feelings as I played Debussy’s  Clalre de Lune on an old piano when I was at boarding school.  

One of the poets at the Poet’s Day event at the Babylon Gallery was John Lyons who has a book launch on 15th October 2009 at 7 p.m. in Ely library which you may wish to attend.  His book is called No apples in Eden and is about Caribbean life.

What is wrong with spelling lists

October 5, 2009

Why do schools insist on sending pupils home with word lists to learn? Studies have shown that giving pupils a list of unrelated words to spell is not the best way to acquire language. So why are schools still insisting on giving them to pupils to take home to learn? Many of the pupils find this ‘method’ of learning difficult if not impossible and this ‘method’ has little connection with current theory.

I recently saw such a list contain words like ‘neck’, ‘pack’ and ‘ramp’. These words have no sensible connection in meaning or structure (save for ‘ck’).  If it is important for the pupil to be able to spell words containing ‘ck’, this item should become part of a varied lesson in class. The pupil should look closely at the two letters separately, together as a single unit of sound and then as in integral part of words in meaningful text. The pupils are more likely to acquire these words if they are involved in class activities such as drawing the letters separately, then drawing them together forming patterns on a page and looking at a word containing these letters for 10 or more seconds while imagining unusual or funny interrelating pictures. Only after activities such as these will the pupils remember how to spell the words.  They will remember them on a more permanent basis if they are asked to read a text that contains frequent usage of a particular unit such as ‘ck’, if they are asked to gap fill these words in the text and then if they are then asked to write their own sentence or story containing these words.

 It is commonly known that an open and relaxed mind is necessary for efficient learning.  Sending pupils home with extra work to do that should have been done in class, creating tension in the home when the pupil and the parents are likely to be tired and want to relax after a busy day and denying them the opportunity to spend ‘quality time’ together only helps to support the growing belief that learning is painful and a necessary unpleasant activity geared to dreaded tests that have little relation to real, appropriate and relevant learning. It is no way to create a firm foundation from which our future generation will become informed and valued members of our society.

An end to isolated word lists I say.