Archive for April, 2010

The importance of teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language must not be ignored.

April 28, 2010

The teaching and learning of English as a Foreign Language has often been viewed as a peripheral activity, a sideline, something to do in the holidays. However, recently I came across a situation in which ignorance in this field can be downright dangerous.

I have studied the process of language acquisition in adults and have assumed that most professionals are aware of the effect on communication when their staff members are using English as a second language.  But this is not always the case.

Consider the following situation: a representative of the NHS is assessing a patient‘s care before making recommendations. English is a second language for the nurse in charge of the patient and in an interview with the NHS representative the following occurs:     

“What are his sleep patterns like?” the NHS representative asks.

“Ah, sleep, we give him his medicine and he sleeps.” the nurse replies.

“Do you need to turn the patient or is the mattress sufficient?”

“The mattress is very good.”

“Are there any muscular contractions? How is he positioned in his bed?”

“He is like this.” The nurse sits very still, legs straight.

You have probably guessed what happened. The nurse caught hold of one or two key words in the questions and only responded to these words, NOT the questions. The patient, in effect, slept at night and for varying periods during the day. He DID have to be turned; the mattress was an additional aid to prevent bed sores. The patient DID have contracted muscles; – one leg was permanently contracted crossing the other. The NHS representative was accepting the nurse’s words without question. Even when it was pointed out that the nurse misunderstood the questions, the NHS representative begged to disagree – after all, this was her area of expertise.  

If the situation had been:                                                                

Native speaker doctor: “I think we’ll cut his medicine A and increase medicine B.”

“Medicine A and Medicine B, yes, increase” 

The patient would surely have been given excessive medication with life-threatening consequences.

It is time our ‘professionals’ made it their business to understand the importance of teaching and learning English as a Foreign Language in their context. If ‘minor’ misunderstandings continue to be ignored, the consequences will be disastrous. 



The best way to learn how to use a foreign language naturally

April 22, 2010

I think I have found out the best way to learn how to write and speak Spanish naturally – well, the best way for me, that is. A Spanish friend and I now write to each other. I try to write in Spanish and she tries to write in English and we correct each other’s letters and return them. Looking at what I wrote originally and then looking at the corrections my friend has made lets me see that even though I may be grammatically correct, it is not what native speakers usually say – there are more natural phrases to use. Now I can try to learn these phrases and use then in my next letter(s) and hopefully, eventually, absorb them into my usual use of Spanish. This, for me, is definitely the way forward.

How to have a book launch

April 20, 2010

I love parties – any excuse, so when I wanted to share the book I had just published, I invited friends to come for a party to celebrate, warning them they may be invited to buy a copy. It was a great way to start. Although you know you should be out there trumpeting your own success, if you are like me, you are shy about doing this. After all, ‘self praise is no praise’ as they say. However, a kind friend ‘took over’, a reading organized and books purchased.

More importantly, it was a great way to spend an afternoon and there is nothing better than chatting with friends and sorting out the world.

Seeking advice on where to place a book review

April 20, 2010

Someone has very kindly offered to write a review of my book “Out of a Learner’s Mouth” and he asked me which magazines he should send it to. I suddenly realized I did not know. I would be very grateful for you advice.

The book describes the trials and tribulations of learning a language, how I, as a language learner, feel and how I overcome my problems… Although the book is language specific (an English person learning Spanish) as an EFL teacher, I have changed my learning and teaching approaches since my experience and this should be of interest and help to other teachers and learners of languages.

Can you advise which magazine(s) may be interested in publishing this review? I propose to publish you suggestions here for your future interest…

The sweet smell of success – the book is published and people are buying it!

April 2, 2010

Ah, the sweet smell of success. The book is published and people are buying it! It was worth writing after all and if it brings a smile to the readers or encourages someone to take up learning a language, even in their later years, it has served its purpose.

Success, I hasten to add, is not the NUMBER of people buying the book, it’s the fact that they seem to appreciate the contents. After all, if the number of copies sold is the primary concern, I should have written a steamy sexy large print book about famous people – not my cup of tea.

So far, of course, kind friends have been among the purchasers, but there are others who do not know me, and people who have purchased because of ‘word of mouth’. The international feel is very rewarding too, with orders and positive praise from places as far flung as Australia and Japan.

A tentative press release has been taken up by the Ely Weekly News and this week it is featured in a full sized article with my picture staring back at me. The publication is officially announced! The magazine Cambridgeshire Pride has been making encouraging enquiries and it will probably be included in my old school’s magazine ‘Reflections’. (My old school is St.Michael’s Collegiate School, Hobart Tasmania.) I am hoping Burrows in Ely will take some copies (- watch this space) and you can get a copy at Toppings, Ely.

The most nerve-wracking person I contacted was my ex-tutor for my PhD, Anita Pincas. She really knows her stuff, and I was very nervous awaiting her comments. The book is a light-hearted account of my experiences learning Spanish based on my original diary that was more serious and formed the data for my PhD thesis. My tutor, bless her, passed it to her colleagues at the Institute of Education, London University, who also showed some positive interest -whew. I may be giving a talk on it at the University and I am presenting a workshop at the IATEFL Conference at Harrogate this year (2010).

The book? It is called “Out of a Learner’s Mouth: the trials and tribulations of learning Spanish” and it is a humorous and no holds barred diary of a language learner trying to learn the language in her later years. It is written for similar language learners, people who may want a bit of a laugh before going on holiday to a Spanish-speaking country, teachers who want to gather ideas and share the ups and downs of coping with students, teacher trainers who want to know just how a learner thinks and researchers who can laugh at the difficulties of researching language learning.

It costs £10 (plus £2.75 postage) and is available on eBay or could be purchased by contacting

A workshop for the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL)

April 2, 2010

I will be attending the IATEFL Conference in Harrogate in April this year. Here is an outline of the workshop I hope to give to support the book ‘Out of a Learner’s Mouth’. Maybe I’ll see you there?:

WORKSHOP “Out of a learner’s mouth”

Rosemary Westwell (Cambridgeshire/Bournemouth)

Thursday 8th April, Harrogate, Harewood 1, 605-650 p.m.

What do students’ comments really mean and what do they imply?

How can we satisfy their learning needs?

This workshop takes statements made by learners during their language lessons. Participants interpret the statements and devise approaches for the students. There is no right answer but endeavouring to find one helps us as teachers.

After the workshop has explored what lies behind a student statement and our consequent teaching priorities, excerpts from a supporting book are given. The book, written in diary form, is an amusing and no holds barred account of learning Spanish as a beginner.   


If a student asks: “Which course is best for me?”,  does the student want to know about the content of courses available or are there a number of constraints he/she needs to deal with first? If the student has few constraints, what is his/her level of competency, preferred topics, how much time and effort does the student want to apply,…? The list is endless.

We discuss our interpretation of the question and our teaching priorities.

 Excerpts from the diary in the book Out of a Learner’s Mouth are interpreted and discussed.

Other questions are dealt with similarly in the time allowed.


Comments? Suggestions anyone?