Archive for September, 2011

Book review: Dog Days in Andalucia by Jackie Todd Mainstream publishing

September 30, 2011

What a pleasure it is to read an ‘ordinary’ biography by someone who is not a celebrity, famous and pontificating about their privileged lifestyle. Dog Days in Andalucia is an endearing story of a couple settling in Andalucia in Spain and their love of animals which defines their lifestyle.

The writing is positively charming, smooth and easy to the eye. This is the kind of book one needs for a holiday, especially one in Spain. Underlying the attractive doggie tales you are aware of this delightful British couple integrating readily into their new environment.

This book is highly recommended for a relaxed and heart-warming read.

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A quandary: What is the difference between ‘register’, ‘style’

September 20, 2011

What is the difference between register and style and what has ‘audience’ to do with them?

I am in a bit of a quandary. While preparing the teachers’ DIY kit of ideas worksheets and exercises to prepare students for the IGCSE in English as a Second Language for next year’s IATEFL Conference (I hope), it struck me that I don’t REALLY know the difference between ‘register’ and ‘style’. It is a good idea to know what you are talking about when writing a textbook, so I need to know: what IS the difference between ‘register’ and ‘style’?

I searched the web and read the books I could get my hands on and it seems to me the simple difference is ‘register’ is concerned more with specific language choices i.e. whether vocabulary and grammar is ‘formal’ or ‘informal’.

‘Style’, on the other hand, not only concerns register but looks at the way the words, sentences and paragraphs are put together. A particular author may have a preferred style – e.g. Jane Austen.  ‘Style’ also concerns the correct or conventional use of language e.g. is ending sentences with prepositions using a correct/appropriate style of English for the purpose intended?

When the examination specifications mention ‘audience’, I assume that when considering an appropriate register and style one is also considering the audience – the person/people for whom the language is written.

Sorted. I hope – DO correct me if I am wrong!

Book review: The $300 Man by Ross Morton

September 16, 2011

Sometimes it pays to reach outside the norm, to take a look at a different genre of book than usual. As an avid reader of ‘who dunnits’ or family orientated novels, a western was a completely new experience for me.

On the plus side, I have to admit I enjoyed the well choreographed battle fights, the detail of the history of that era in America and the feeling that the novel had a well thought-out structure.

But alas, I missed the more modern human interactions, the red herrings and the brooding psychology of the characters that modern ‘who dunnits’ seem to employ.

If you want a quick read, like of bit of excitement and enjoy westerns, then you too might like to take a look at Ross or Nick Morton’s books.

book review: An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

September 16, 2011

review: ‘An Equal Music’ by Vikram Seth

It was one in the morning. I closed the book and cried. I had just finished reading ‘An Equal Music’ by Vikram Seth. No other book, person or experience has touched me so deeply. Through the thoughts of violinist Michael and his desire for Julia, his soul mate, I relived the intensity of my own student life as an emerging pianist.  The author broke through the imaginary wall I had built over the years to protect my feelings from the pain and suffering of unrequited love and the intensity of heightened emotions developed through  constant involvement with music and the musical world.

With uncanny insight, Seth’s words transported me far deeper into the elusive world of music than I have ever been with any other writer. He captured exactly the exhilaration of those rare moments when a phrase is so exquisitely expressed that time stands still and the imprint of the moment is permanently implanted into the life force memory of performer and listener – the very reason for the existence of music in our lives.

Yet I do not share this author’s knowledge and love of his cities, the compositions he writes about, and even the musical import of the pieces he includes.  I have visited Vienna, Venice and London which are interesting enough, offer most enjoyable musical experiences but my city of musical intensity is Melbourne. Schubert and ‘The Trout’ are expressive enough. I admire Schubert’s lightheartedness and lyrical beauty but for me it does not reach the darker parts of the soul that Beethoven does and it is one short phrase in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto for piano that has haunted me over the years. Bach and his fugues impress me, they intrigue me and in the most powerful moments of development, it is the tension rather than the emotional impact that transfixes me.

When Michael has moments of weakness and is unable to play – these moments do not ring true for me. No matter what emotional upheaval may be driving my life, music is my saviour — playing it helps to release my anguish or anger. But I was never as talented as Michael, so that is probably why I do not fully understand.

The strength of the book is that it has moved me so much in spite of our differences.  If you have ever studied music, you must read this book, but get your tissues ready.

Flip flops and an identity crisis – (an item to tickle your sense of humour)

September 16, 2011

I’m a brilliant teacher. I’ve taught English for over 20 years. (Probably more, but I’d rather not count.) I know all there is to know about language acquisition – a posh way of saying language learning  – well, I’m supposed to – after all I spent 10 years writing a PhD thesis on the subject!

I have a bright idea that no one else has thought of – well, okay, maybe it is what teachers do anyway but my idea is better. I like to say it is more profound.

The theory is, you get students to follow a 4 step progamme:

First they ‘notice’ – meaning ‘look at’ the target language, then they relate it to what they know, they practise it and then they recall it later. Simple. This is obviously the best way to learn.

Okay then. I should be able to teach myself by following this method. I’ll be fluent in Spanish in no time. At the moment I speak a kind of Spanglish – a pigeon Spanish littered with the wrong nouns, words without endings and absolutely no verbs in the past or future.

My cleaning lady has moved my flip flops.  I know I should do my own cleaning – I have such a small flat — but she is Spanish and I want her to help me learn the language. Unfortunately, she has no teeth, speaks a dialect and yells so I am not doing very well. I cringe to think what the neighbours hear when we try to have a ‘conversation’. My favourite word is ‘que?’ So I’ll have to get the Spanish word for ‘flip-flops’ just right. It is not in the dictionary (surprise, surprise). In desperation I ask on Facebook – Maureen kindly gives me the word. It is ‘chancletas’. There, I’ve noticed my new word. Now how am I going to relate it to what I know? – simple – they are my flip-flops and I can picture them easily. I need more. Okay I’ll use the Linkword method – you know, you imagine silly interacting pictures that sound like the word. What does chancletas remind me of? I suppose the first bit is like ‘chunk’, the next ‘let’ and the last ‘us’. So I could imagine saying ‘Chunk let us …’ Who is Chunk? – Well Chunk sounds like ‘Hunk’ so I’ll imagine a hunk of a man. Mm. What would he ‘let us’ do? Something funny, or bizarre with flip- flops. Maybe he would let us have a flip-flop fight – boring. Maybe a flip-flop eating – no I feel sick. I know, I’ll imagine Chunk letting us cover his lovely body with flip-flops. Mm that’s better.

Okay, so what’s the word? My picture springs to mind. Mm What is the word? – something to do with flip flops and a good-looking man – oh Hunk, – I mean Chunk – ah yes Chunk let us Chancletas. Brilliant! See it works. Now I’ll try to remember the word for flip flops tomorrow.

Tomorrow came and I remembered a gorgeous looking man covered with flip-flops, but could I remember the word? No chance. I despair. I think I’ll just look up sandals in the dictionary when the cleaning lady comes.

(This piece was written in a similar style to the book ‘Out of a Learner’s Mouth’: the trials and tribulations of learning Spanish) …

It pays to ask people to comment about your writing. You learn a lot.

September 11, 2011

I have recently asked a number of different people to review my book ‘Teaching Language Learners’. The responses are so varied, that is is amazing that they are all talking about the same book. This latest review is by Jane Cronin, well-known teacher of Spanish in Torrevieja, Spain.

I have included the whole review and my response to the bit she did not like. What do you think?

Review:

Rosemary Westwell’s book “Teaching Language Learners” covers territory familiar to language teachers in an original way.  The main focus of the book is the need to adapt teaching methods to the individual needs of language learners, a concept which Rosemary has developed through her own experiences of learning Spanish.  The book focuses on the actual process of acquisition, recognizing that it is our “internal thinking” and personal ideas and points of view which must be addressed for learning to take place.

 

Given the obvious premise that no teacher can be familiar with the individual thought processes of all their students, Rosemary gives a number of pointers to help teachers become aware of the issue and to help learners to recognize their own learning patterns.  One of her key concepts is the focus on internal “needs” rather than external “goals” of language acquisition.  There is also a recognition that unconscious processes run alongside conscious processes, facilitating acquisition in unexpected ways outside the classroom environment.

 

“Teaching Language Learners” also contains a range of interesting and useful summaries and resources. There are lists of “false friends”, learning strategies, language teaching methods, summaries of grammar rules and definitions, spelling rules and topics for debate.  Each list stands on its own as a generic resource for both learning and teaching contexts.

 

The weakest point of the book for me are the examples of Rosemary’s own learning strategies using picture memory techniques, clearly because by their very nature they are individual, and as such do not coincide with methods useful to me in my learning.  Having said that, these personal examples abundantly illustrate the fact that when traditional methods fail we should not be afraid to look to our own internal thinking processes to advance our language learning.

Jane Cronin

 

Reply:

I am interested to learn that you do not find using pictures/images useful – Maybe you are one of these lucky ‘natural’ language learners who find learning languages easy…?

I have found using picturing/imagery very useful for me and for others – when teaching EFL and English on a number of different occasions and with different students. I plan this to be my next area of ‘study’. When I was studying for the MA in TESOL, our tutor demonstrated the ‘Linkword’ technique developed by Michael Gruneberg and the group of us was amazed at the speed with which we learned new words. However, for me, although this technique works well – I do not remember the words long-term. I need to practise recalling the words several times at different intervals.

Rosemary Westwell

Big is not necessarily best!

September 7, 2011

Thank goodness for WordPress!

At last I can have a say. With the ever-increasing size of organizations, ‘big’ is certainly not ‘best’ as far as I am concerned.

I watched Dallas Campbell in ‘Bang Goes the Theory’ the other night and kept muttering – but this has all been done before! Michael Gruneberg – a name hardly anyone seems to know – ‘invented’ the ‘linkword method’ for learning languages years ago – using the same technique – relating unusual, spectacular or bizarre interacting pictures that mean something to us in order to retain new words. With his technique you look at a new word for 10 seconds while visualizing items interacting, – the names of the items relating closely to the sound and meaning of the new word, e.g. the Spanish word ‘gato’ could be remembered by visualizing a cat eating a gateau.

The only trouble is, the BBC pay scant attention to the method – yes the programme was flash, interesting and entertaining – but says nothing of what those of us who have been studying the subject  for years have to say. My particular beef is that I spent years writing a PhD thesis on how we can learn a language as a mature student, found that visualizing was tremendously helpful, but that the new words were only retained temporarily. You need to practice recalling the material again and again over increasing periods of time to retain what you have learnt on a permanent basis. (Just in case you are interested, my thesis was ‘The development of language acquisition in a mature learner’.)

There, that is off my chest now. I tried to add this comment to the BBC site, but, as is the tendency with huge organizations these days, I was sent round in circles and had nowhere to add my comments in a quick and easy manner.

I doubt if the untouchable BBC will ever know about me or be interested in anything I have to say – I am not famous, glamorous or wealthy so I dare say my comment will go unheeded, but thanks to WordPress, I’ve at least been able to say my piece! More power to WordPress!