Posts Tagged ‘book’

What’s the secret to writing a page-turner – a book that you cannot put down?

July 22, 2012

What’s the secret to writing a page-turner – a book that you cannot put down?

This is the question that I think we would all like answered.

I have noticed that some books read really smoothly and quickly. You are swept along and cannot put the book down until you reach the final page. Other books are more leisurely but are very enjoyable in their own charming way, while some are difficult to get into, seem to block the natural flow and yet are deemed successful by ‘those who know’.

Having been made aware that much of my writing is ‘lumpy’ (a lovely description which makes me know exactly what it means) I plan to look at three different books that represent the three different types I have just mentioned to see what secrets they hold.

The first, the page turner: This book raced along. It almost seemed too simplified. Did it miss subtleties that make good literature that we can appreciate? This was by … no, I will not say the names of the authors for then you, like me, may already assume that they are brilliant – too good to criticise. This first author writes in short snatches of sentences, sentences that none-the-less create images that stay with you and speed you along with the action.

A sample of 76 words: (Sample ‘A’):

“A beer?”

“It’s customary to say a kind. Like … or something.”

“Oh, what have you got?”

The bartender started ripping off about a million titles. M stopped him on the Flying Fish Pale Ale, mostly because he liked the name. The beer ended up being awesome, but M wasn’t much of a connoisseur. He grabbed a wooden booth near a group of lovely young, uh, girls-cum-women. It was indeed hard to tell ages any more.” …

Comment: I find this really easy to read. My eyes sweep across the lines while I ‘get the picture’ immediately. I notice the sentences are nearly all short. They nearly always involve someone doing or saying something. The atmosphere and characters are created, I have decided, largely by the choice of vocabulary. The first person to speak is a man of few words, a man of action. The second has more time – slightly opinionated – why does he say “It’s customary to say” and not “People usually say”?, for example.

Now for Sample ‘B’:

“The wide reception squelched with the footsteps of my flat driving shoes as I walked over the polished stone slabs. To the right and opposite of the dark wood desk was a dark wood staircase with ornate banisters that swept up to the first floor. Coming down the stairs were two people. A couple.

They weren’t holding hands but had the air of being ‘together’. It was most likely their first holiday together. They’d probably spent the morning …”

Comment: This seems to be a more leisurely style. As the reader I have more time to savour the moment. Again the atmosphere and characters are created by choice of vocabulary – using the word ‘squelched’ rather than ‘made a noise’. The use of the preposition ‘of’ after ‘opposite’ made me stop for a moment – I was expecting something different – I was expecting opposite ‘to’. This sample is interesting and ‘easy’ to read because the sentence lengths are varied. There are even two words that are grouped as if making a sentence yet there is no verb to make it grammatically correct. However, I do not mind – it gets the point across. We are told not to repeat the same words close together but here the repetition of ‘dark wood’ emphasize the atmosphere, they do not detract from it.

Of the two styles, even though the first seems to fit the criteria of today’s successful writer, I prefer to have an opportunity or two to savour what is happening as in sample ‘B’.

sample ‘C’:

“She looked around the foyer. This being where N lived, and therefore some of the most expensive real estate around, the communal areas were furnished as if they were private, too; fresh flowers, sofas, a coffee table with magazines, thick carpet, artworks, no expense spared. It left her with a feeling that she was going to trespass into someone else’s apartment on her way to N’s. In the corner was a Victorian style desk with everyone’s  …”

This script I found less easy to follow. Why? I enjoyed the story and some of the most meaningful moments between the characters. Perhaps I find it more difficult because it seems to me that even though the sentences here are varied they do not seem to follow on from each other.

The first sentence lets me know who immediately and where she is. Good. However, then there is an awkward passage: “This being where N lived, and therefore some of the most expensive real estate around, the communal areas were furnished as if they were private, too; fresh flowers, sofas, a coffee table with magazines, thick carpet, artworks, no expense spared.”

Why say ‘This being where N lived’ and not “ N lived here” or “It was obvious that N lived here.” Or why not describe her looking directly at the objects mentioned later so that we are still with her and seeing the scene through her eyes?

The phrase “and therefore some of the most expensive real estate around” worried me. Why? I think it is because I became fixated with the word ‘some’. It was probably one property so why did the author not say ‘a most expensive piece of real estate’ – instead of ‘some of the most expensive  …’? Then I got hung up on the ‘too’ in ‘the communal areas were furnished as if they were private, too;’ I think the punctuation confused me here – I’d have preferred the words to flow on without the comma before ‘too’.  Finally the list of things in the foyer did not seem to help me absorb the atmosphere as well as the description in ‘B’ – why not? I think it is because there were so many different ones – too many to envisage or to appreciate fully. Maybe I would have preferred just one or two items mentioned and described a bit more. What colour were the flowers – what kind? Then the phrase ‘no expense spared’ worried me. it I expected would help me get involved with the scene but it did not seem to follow on directly from all the objects – yes the thick carpets, but everyone has coffee tables with magazines – they do not epitomize ‘expense’.

Perhaps I am being too picky but as one of the most ‘lumpy’ writers around, I hope I can take this to heart and look again at some of my own writing and improve it.

 

 

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Book review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson published by Doubleday

October 26, 2011

Bill Bryson knows exactly how to tell a good story. With an enviably fluent style his words wrap around you like a cuddly teddy bear. You want to read and read on. You are spellbound, not by the drastic dramatic events that propel you from catastrophe to catastrophe but by Bill Bryson’s sheer unarming charm.

His childhood in Des Moines USA shares many similarities with our own. It is easy to identify with Bill as a small boy as he learns to cope with the environment he finds himself born to. His endearing parents, loving but aloof, give the young Bill room to explore his imagination and to enjoy a natural and free childhood in a way that is seldom possible now. Throughout his Dennis the Menace type tales of mischief, there is a keen sense of humour. Bill Bryson, above all authors, gives a delicious slant on the ridiculousness of some of the quirks of nature and traditions.

The gang mentality of his school buddies, the inclination of children to tease the weakest, the inevitable endeavour of young lads to indulge in the forbidden fruits of adult pleasures are all part of his story. With Bill, none of these a portrayed as the wickedness of naughty children to be expunged but rather a healthy developmental process as he and his buddies grow up in a world beyond their control and often beyond their understanding. However, it is Bill who is the only child who sees how nonsensical it is to hide under a desk as a protection against an atomic bomb. Why bother? His relaxed attitude is exemplified as he sits calmly behind his desk surveying his class mates crouching under their desks below. Such disarming common sense made him unpopular with his teachers but he soon overcame any anxiety over this by developing his own special technique of zapping them with his imagined out-of-this-world secret powers. Cigarettes, the female figure, forbidden films and the problem of acquiring supplies of alcohol by his under-age pals were all at the heart of many of the adventures he and his friends enjoyed.

If you are looking for a quiet entertaining read with some in-depth research into 1950s America (that you hardly notice as it is spun so easily into his entertaining stories), this is the book for you. Read this and you will understand why Bill Bryson is so popular; you cannot help but be captivated by his persuasively, charming personality.

Rosemary Westwell

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

Book review ‘Tender is the Night’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

August 11, 2011

This is an elusive book that has many different levels and many different faces so that one is never really sure one understands the point. The jet set – gatherings  of rich people who seem to know no better than to have a good time indulging themselves — move in and out of focus in the plot that presents a tapestry of society and the high spots of Europe.

The marriage of central character Dick to his patient, Nicole, the gradual decline of their relationship and of him, the superficial interpersonal communications and ‘affairs’ between members of their society never seem to be real – rather carbon copies of stereotyped people moving about their world’s stage as if nothing really mattered.

Before dismissing the artificiality of the book, I was struck with moments of sheer genius when the author caught exactly that elusive quality of a relationship that never fully came to fruition, he caught those fleeting moments that seem insignificant at the time but have tremendous impact on the psyche and are never forgotten.

His quick character descriptions, his colourful descriptions and his slight-of-hand manner that evokes exactly what it was like certainly caught the imagination. The reader is also constantly informed of historical and cultural facts and descriptions that leave one in awe of such an informed author and the tantalizing use of French and of exotic locations and events take the reader into a forgotten affluent world as a relatively uninvolved observer.

This book was a fascinating read, introducing me to a world quite different to any that I have or ever will experience. It was not a book that I could ever say I could relax with. As a reader I had to work hard to follow the characters’ trains of thought, or to appreciate their feelings and actions but while reading it, I was constantly aware that much deeper issues underpinned the writing, ones that matter a great deal and although these were never brought right out into the open, I was aware that it was these issues that made this book worthy of its place in the greatest of literature.

good reasons for having your book reviewed

May 18, 2011

As part of my marketing plan for my newly published book: Teaching Language Learners, after presenting the book at the IATEFL Conference  (IATEFL = International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) I asked people that I thought knew something about the subject and who showed interest in the book to write a review for me.

Having someone else comment on your book, even if it is negatively, is much more helpful than I realized. Not only do you have plenty of scope for improving the book, you get advice on how to approach your next project and you are given greater insight into something you may have thought you knew well already. It is a very humbling, educative experience. I found that several people have expressed completely different ideas.

This review was written recently and I have included it to share with you how interesting someone else’s view can be and how new ideas can be generated from their different perspective.

Review of  the book by Rosemary Westwell: ‘Teaching language Learners’ by Jane Hayter (included with permission from Jane Hayter)

Dear Rosemary,

Thank you so much for sending me your book. I don’t think I am at all qualified to review it, but I enjoyed it very much indeed.

I never trained as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, but I had English up to degree level, but could not take up my place at university. I was given a whole box of text books for the course for TEFL by a friend in France. I spent over six months going through them in great detail before I had French children wanting to learn English. Over six years I taught about 20 from ages 7 – 16.

I have to say that I think your book is so good. It is the first book I have read of an account by the author, an English specialist, learning another language. I have read many books on English Grammar. Pinker’s ‘The Language Instinct’, several of Chomsky’s and others. I have always been very interested in how we learn our own language as very young children but your book goes further by drawing on your persona; experience of how you learn and the methods you used at different stages of your ability. Your book is very clear about these methods and how to make teaching interesting and enjoyable for both teachers and students. I thought the suggested tasks were excellent, as was the general layout. You gave plenty of scope for teachers to come up with examples of their own and perhaps, most importantly, to recognize what is needed at different stages. When I was learning French I never heard spoken English and so was immersed in the sounds of the language — its rhythms and pauses. This helped me a lot when I took lessons from a 75-year-old ex-Grammar teacher who spoke no English. Unlike some books, the author gave great importance to listening before conjugating verbs and dictations etc.

I’m afraid I don’t really have any negative things to say about the book. I thought it was well set out, with excellent content. I wish I had had it when I was in France! I liked very much your pronunciation conundrums. When I had my French students, I made 5 foolscap-size cards of them. They dreaded them and groaned each week. We did 10 old words and 10 new ones each lesson and always 5 sentences for homework along with other stuff!

I hope this has been useful. It is not very academic I afraid – just a personal view. Good luck with this excellent book Rosemary.

Best wishes      Jane Hayter

For further information about the book contact rjwestwell@hotmail.com

Giving a presentation

April 23, 2011

This post contains a description of my experience giving a workshop presentation to the IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign language) Conference in Brighton April 2011

After a relatively iffy presentation at the conference last year, I was determined to do better this time. Kind friends came and suffered my first attempt and after making improvements from their suggestions, I believe it was OK! In fact, one member of the audience said to me as we left – that was a very good presentation and I had people crowding to see the book and asking me where they could get hold of it. So, my efforts to give much more information in a more agreeable way seem to have paid off.  One change I made was to have a lot of pictures. …

The presentation: Who or what do we teach? We don’t teach English, we teach language learners and if we focus on how learners acquire a language we can teach much more quickly and effectively.

During my PhD study (The development of language acquisition in a mature learner) I realized that a lot of the ideas I had been developing were also important to the way we teach. If we use our knowledge of how we acquire a language to restructure our approach, we can teach much more quickly and effectively. I have put these ideas into a book called Teaching Language Learners and we used ideas from this book in the workshop.

Have you ever felt, as I have, that I would be good teacher if it weren’t for the students? So many times I prepare a lesson in meticulous detail that would be the perfect lesson only to find that the students mess it up. They believe they have already learnt the subject, they don’t want to learn grammar at the moment or they would go off in a tangent, become terribly interested in a minute detail that was relatively unimportant. However, if we focus on how our students are acquiring language, few of these problems will arise.

So, how do we acquire a language? Note: I talk about ‘acquiring a language’ rather than ‘learning a language’ because for me the term ‘acquire’ includes a wider more permanent aspect to the process. So in order to acquire a language, we need to notice the target language. You can hardly avoiding noticing a picture of a tiger on a page, for example, but if you turn the page over, how much detail were you aware of. Did you notice the position of its paws and its tail? Where were the shadows? What other thoughts made the picture of the tiger real for you? The term ‘noticing’ in language acquisition, in its technical usage, means thinking about it in depth.

After noticing the target language, we need to make sense of it. We need to relate it to what we already know. That is why language acquisition is a unique experience for every individual. Each person has a different background and different previous experiences. Relating new target language to our own experiences and previously acquired knowledge makes the target language real for us. For me, a tiger lily, one of my favourite flowers reminds me of the tiger, making it easier to relate to the word ‘tiger’.

After noticing and making sense of the target language, we need to remember and recall the new language in order to fully acquire it. Then we need to use the language, we need to push ourselves to produce it in meaningful situations.

How can we encourage our students to ‘notice’ the vocabulary they need to learn? e.g. ‘vegetable’. Think of as many different ways as possible you could encourage your students to notice the word ‘vegetable’.

You no doubt have offered a number of useful ideas, some of which may have offered the following:

  • You could break up the word into short syllables: veg – e – table
  • You could make connections with the syllables – the word ‘table’, or for more advanced students you could move into using colloquialisms or idioms such as ‘to veg. out’ meaning to relax.
  • For beginners who have difficulty with pronunciation, you could concentrate on how the word is pronounced. You could focus on the silent vowels for example. Students often find it easier if they see the word written exactly as it is pronounced e.g. vegtbl
  • You could ask the students how many different kinds of vegetable they can name. By the time they have mentioned a number of examples, the word ‘vegetable’ has been used a number of times thus reinforcing it in their memories.
  • Or you could provide text containing the word ‘vegetable’ and ask the students to select other words they think would be useful to add to their vocabulary.

Next, how can we make it easy for students to connect to the language? How can we encourage our students to connect with the word ‘vegetable’ in ways that are meaningful to them as individuals?

  • You could ask them to translate into their own language.
  • You could ask them to select the correct meaning from several that you have offered.
  • You could ask them to name as many collocations as they can e.g. you can have ‘fresh’ vegetables, that is a common collocation, but do we talk about ‘new’ vegetables so much?
  • And of course there is the ever-useful gapfill in which you provide sentences with gaps and one of the gaps needs to be filled with the word vegetable.

Then, how can you encourage our students to remember?

How many different ways can you think of that will engage the students in memorizing the target word or words?

Memory techniques:

  • You could say the word and ask the students of repeat the word after you. There are some annoying adults who can remember words immediately this way, There are others, like myself, who need much more help than this.
  • You could use the method used to teach spelling many years age – You have the word written down, the learners look at the word, cover it, write the word down and then look to check if they have written it down correctly
  • You could ask them to use the Linkword method which worked very well for me although I only managed to retain the new language temporarily. What you do is to look at the new word for ten seconds while you think of interacting images, often humorous, bizarre that not only reflect the meaning but also use similar sounds to the syllables of the word. For example, if you want to remember the Spanish word for cat, the word is ‘gato’. Gato sounds very similar to gateaux, cake, so you could think of a cat eating, sitting on flying over a piece of gateau.

How can we encourage our students to use the language?

  • We could try the sledge hammer approach and try to force them to use it under duress, by saying ‘Use the word in a sentence NOW’ but that may not be the most successful way.

Let us take teaching the present perfect (I have done) for example, as in ‘I have thrown the ball over the net’.

Here is one way you could go about it.

1) You could ask the students for all the past participles they know and or introduce ones they need to know at their level or for a particular task. e.g. do (I have) done;  see (I have) seen

One way in which we use the present perfect is when we want to focus on the action itself.

2) To practice this use of the present perfect you could ask students to make up a series of questions e.g.

What have you done recently?

Which films have you seen?

3) Then you could ask your students to move into pairs or groups. One student could use the questions and the other student could provide the answers, both students using the present perfect in meaningful ways.

Another major issue I have with my students is the way I would burn the midnight oil marking students’ written work and return it to them the next day. They would look at the overall mark or comment(s). Yes a ‘B’ OK and then put the page away. They would ignore the corrections and learn nothing. You could ask them to rewrite the passage correctly, but some many have an aversion to writing. So, how can we encourage our students to notice, make sense of, remember and make use of our corrections to their written work? For example our student may have written ‘I am student by brighton.’ I think we should give the work of correcting to the students to do. I suggest using an Editing Guide. This is a list of common errors on one page, each error being numbered. Each error is explained and the correct forms listed. For example, if there is a problem with the use of an article, this could be listed as the first common error.

1. article? A? the? No article? e.g. a book (we don’t know which one); the book on the table (we know which book); Books are popular (we don’t know how many books we are talking about.)

Armed with a page of such information, each common error numbered, all you need to do is underline where the error occurs and write the number that corresponds to that type of error in the written work. It is then the turn of the student to read the information in the guide and to correct their mistake accordingly. In this case, they would write ‘a’ between ‘am’ and ‘student’. Not only would they notice their mistake, but in having to read the guide they would learn how and when to use this form correctly next time.

So you can see, using our understanding of how we acquire language, that is, knowing that we need to notice, make sense of, remember, recall and use the language can help our students learn much more quickly, effectively and enjoyably with a minimum of resources.

Depending on the age and level of the students, some may indeed be able to teach themselves much more if they are encouraged to use this approach.

‘Give them the tools and they will finish the job’ I say (with apologies to Winston Churchill)

Giving a presentation

This post contains a description of my experience giving a workshop presentation to the IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign language) Conference in Brighton April 2011

After a relatively iffy presentation at the conference last year, I was determined to do better this time. Kind friends came and suffered my first attempt and after making improvements from their suggestions, I believe it was OK! In fact, one member of the audience said to me as we left – that was a very good presentation and I had people crowding to see the book and asking me where they could get hold of it. (It is available from Burrows Bookshop in Ely and I hope to do an ebook version later.) One change I made was to have a lot of pictures. …

The presentation: Who or what do we teach? We don’t teach English, we teach language learners and if we focus on how learners acquire a language we can teach much more quickly and effectively.

During my PhD study (The development of language acquisition in a mature learner) I realized that a lot of the ideas I had been developing were also important to the way we teach. If we use our knowledge of how we acquire a language to restructure our approach, we can teach much more quickly and effectively. I have put these ideas into a book called Teaching Language Learners and we used ideas from this book in the workshop.

Have you ever felt, as I have, that I would be good teacher if it weren’t for the students? So many times I prepare a lesson in meticulous detail that would be the perfect lesson only to find that the students mess it up. They believe they have already learnt the subject, they don’t want to learn grammar at the moment or they would go off in a tangent, become terribly interested in a minute detail that was relatively unimportant. However, if we focus on how our students are acquiring language, few of these problems will arise.

So, how do we acquire a language? Note: I talk about ‘acquiring a language’ rather than ‘learning a language’ because for me the term ‘acquire’ includes a wider more permanent aspect to the process. So in order to acquire a language, we need to notice the target language. You can hardly avoiding noticing a picture of a tiger on a page, for example, but if you turn the page over, how much detail were you aware of. Did you notice the position of its paws and its tail? Where were the shadows? What other thoughts made the picture of the tiger real for you? The term ‘noticing’ in language acquisition, in its technical usage, means thinking about it in depth.

After noticing the target language, we need to make sense of it. We need to relate it to what we already know. That is why language acquisition is a unique experience for every individual. Each person has a different background and different previous experiences. Relating new target language to our own experiences and previously acquired knowledge makes the target language real for us. For me, a tiger lily, one of my favourite flowers reminds me of the tiger, making it easier to relate to the word ‘tiger’.

After noticing and making sense of the target language, we need to remember and recall the new language in order to fully acquire it. Then we need to use the language, we need to push ourselves to produce it in meaningful situations.

How can we encourage our students to ‘notice’ the vocabulary they need to learn? e.g. ‘vegetable’. Think of as many different ways as possible you could encourage your students to notice the word ‘vegetable’.

You no doubt have offered a number of useful ideas, some of which may have offered the following:

  • You could break up the word into short syllables: veg – e – table
  • You could make connections with the syllables – the word ‘table’, or for more advanced students you could move into using colloquialisms or idioms such as ‘to veg. out’ meaning to relax.
  • For beginners who have difficulty with pronunciation, you could concentrate on how the word is pronounced. You could focus on the silent vowels for example. Students often find it easier if they see the word written exactly as it is pronounced e.g. vegtbl
  • You could ask the students how many different kinds of vegetable they can name. By the time they have mentioned a number of examples, the word ‘vegetable’ has been used a number of times thus reinforcing it in their memories.
  • Or you could provide text containing the word ‘vegetable’ and ask the students to select other words they think would be useful to add to their vocabulary.

Next, how can we make it easy for students to connect to the language? How can we encourage our students to connect with the word ‘vegetable’ in ways that are meaningful to them as individuals?

  • You could ask them to translate into their own language.
  • You could ask them to select the correct meaning from several that you have offered.
  • You could ask them to name as many collocations as they can e.g. you can have ‘fresh’ vegetables, that is a common collocation, but do we talk about ‘new’ vegetables so much?
  • And of course there is the ever-useful gapfill in which you provide sentences with gaps and one of the gaps needs to be filled with the word vegetable.

Then, how can you encourage our students to remember?

How many different ways can you think of that will engage the students in memorizing the target word or words?

Memory techniques:

  • You could say the word and ask the students of repeat the word after you. There are some annoying adults who can remember words immediately this way, There are others, like myself, who need much more help than this.
  • You could use the method used to teach spelling many years age – You have the word written down, the learners look at the word, cover it, write the word down and then look to check if they have written it down correctly
  • You could ask them to use the Linkword method which worked very well for me although I only managed to retain the new language temporarily. What you do is to look at the new word for ten seconds while you think of interacting images, often humorous, bizarre that not only reflect the meaning but also use similar sounds to the syllables of the word. For example, if you want to remember the Spanish word for cat, the word is ‘gato’. Gato sounds very similar to gateaux, cake, so you could think of a cat eating, sitting on flying over a piece of gateau.

How can we encourage our students to use the language?

  • We could try the sledge hammer approach and try to force them to use it under duress, by saying ‘Use the word in a sentence NOW’ but that may not be the most successful way.

Let us take teaching the present perfect (I have done) for example, as in ‘I have thrown the ball over the net’.

Here is one way you could go about it.

1) You could ask the students for all the past participles they know and or introduce ones they need to know at their level or for a particular task. e.g. do (I have) done;  see (I have) seen

One way in which we use the present perfect is when we want to focus on the action itself.

2) To practice this use of the present perfect you could ask students to make up a series of questions e.g.

What have you done recently?

Which films have you seen?

3) Then you could ask your students to move into pairs or groups. One student could use the questions and the other student could provide the answers, both students using the present perfect in meaningful ways.

Another major issue I have with my students is the way I would burn the midnight oil marking students’ written work and return it to them the next day. They would look at the overall mark or comment(s). Yes a ‘B’ OK and then put the page away. They would ignore the corrections and learn nothing. You could ask them to rewrite the passage correctly, but some many have an aversion to writing.

So, how can we encourage our students to notice, make sense of, remember and make use of

our corrections to their written work?

For example our student may have written ‘I am student by brighton.’ I think we should give the work of correcting to the students to do. I suggest using an Editing Guide. This is a list of common errors on one page, each error being numbered. Each error is explained and the correct forms listed. For example, if there is a problem with the use of an article, this could be listed as the first common error.

1. article? A? the? No article? e.g. a book (we don’t know which one); the book on the table (we know which book); Books are popular (we don’t know how many books we are talking about.)

Armed with a page of such information, each common error numbered, all you need to do is underline where the error occurs and write the number that corresponds to that type of error in the written work. It is then the turn of the student to read the information in the guide and to correct their mistake accordingly. In this case, they would write ‘a’ between ‘am’ and ‘student’. Not only would they notice their mistake, but in having to read the guide they would learn how and when to use this form correctly next time.

So you can see, using our understanding of how we acquire language, that is, knowing that we need to notice, make sense of, remember, recall and use the language can help our students learn much more quickly, effectively and enjoyably with a minimum of resources.

Depending on the age and level of the students, some may indeed be able to teach themselves much more if they are encouraged to use this approach.

‘Give them the tools and they will finish the job’ I say (with apologies to Winston Churchill)

Review of Trespass by Rose Tremain

March 28, 2011

Rose Tremain is undoubtedly a very good writer. Once you are immersed in her characters, and you are from the start, you want to know what happens. Trespass is the kind of book that you read and read, well into the early hours of the morning until you know how the dark threads of the plot are resolved.

Trespass is set in a valley in southern France, and has an ideal title – all kinds of trespassing goes on. Aramon Lunel, after a criminal past, degenerates into a self-seeking alcoholic completely insensitive to his sister, Audrun. He trespasses on her peace and quiet by threatening to make her homeless by selling his farmhouse on land that they share. Audrun lives in a tidy bungalow and is haunted by her ‘episodes’. She dwells on a final resolution for her brother and his threats.

Characters trespass on the each other in a web of mystery and soul-searching. Anthony Verey, a lover of boys, leaves his failed antiques business in the UK to be with the sister Veronica on whom he has always relied thereby trespassing on her relationship with her partner, Kitty a failing artist.  A young Parisian girl Mélodie, an outsider in the countryside, ruins a school picnic by her traumatizing find. Her teacher, Jeanne, tries to sooth Melodie’s fretfulness and as a solution offers to take Mélodie back into a city environment, an environment she misses so much.

With a web of dark clues we are led into a gradually evolving mystery trail that swerves and turns in unexpected directions. As the book moves towards an uneasy but satisfactory ending we are transported into the characters’ different worlds and anxieties that they endure and attempt to resolve.

However, above all, it is the style of the writing that captures you. Rose Tremain’s words are carefully crafted so that you are immediately inside the mind of each character. With powerful images that float into the characters’ thoughts, we share their inner most fears and uninhibited thoughts. We empathize with them and want to know what happens to them. We also revel in a vibrant sense of place that Rose evokes and we are disappointed when the book comes to an end and we have no more to read and discover.