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I couldn’t make IATEFL, so it’s really great that some of the sessions are recorded and uploaded. I particularly enjoyed David Heathfield’s workshop “Storytelling and Mental Imagery”. The flow of the lesson he proposes is great. He has learners

  • listening to the teacher tell the story
  • visualizing the highpoint of the story with a partner+
  • drawing 6 pictures on your own
  • retelling the story to a partner, then the listener becoming the teller
  • going from imitating to innovating (as differences emerge)
  • perhaps acting out, or at least working on the physical aspects of storytelling

He shows (in minute 24) that students build different kinds of mental images when they are retelling the story: still/rolling film, colors/black and white, life scenes/cartoons, remember the voice and cadences of the teacher/don’t remember the voice at all, imagine sounds/don’t hear sounds, feel physically involved/feel outside the story.

Thinking about the images we remember, I stumbled across Charles Simic in the New York Review of Books blog writing about “What’s left of my Books“, and highlighting how it is images that we remember when all else is forgotten:

I recall, for example, Flaubert saying that it is splendid to be a writer, to put men into the frying pan of your imagination and make them pop like chestnuts; St. Augustine confessing that even he could not comprehend God’s purpose in creating flies; Beckett telling about a character in his early novel Murphy whom the cops took in for begging without singing, and who was jailed for ten days by the judge; Victor Shklovsky, recounting how he once heard the great Russian poet Mayakovski claim that black cats produce electricity while being stroked; Emily Dickinson saying in a letter, It is lonely without birds today, for it rains badly, and the little poets have no umbrellas; Flannery O’Connor describing a young woman as having a face as broad and as innocent as a cabbage and tied around with a green handkerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit ears; and many other such small and overlooked delights.

Pete Seger: Turn Turn Turn

Posted by Anne on March 26th, 2014

What is death in the light of such a life. Pete Seeger (3 May 1919 – 27 Jan 2014).

Ecclesiastes 3 turned into Turn Turn Turn. At this concert (he was 93), Pete Seeger says his wife Toshi made up a few extra verses for their children. They contain the words:

work – play
night – day
sleep – wake
candles on the cake

work – eat
sit and rest your feet
teach – learn
all to take their turn

cry – make a fuss
leave and catch the bus
quiet – talk
run – walk

get – give
remember – forgive
hug – kiss
close your eyes and wish

dirt – soap
tears – hope
fall – spring
hear the robin sing

How to die a social media death

Posted by Anne on March 18th, 2014

Countless media bloopers, some with repercussions, have caused me to die little social media deaths. By “social media death” I mean that sinking sensation that I’ve done something that will turn my social networks against me.

When Twitter was still young, I would lie in bed at night thinking “Have I thanked XYZ for their RT?” It sounds silly and neurotic, but social media pressure to respond does mean that if you don’t respond, you’re not cultivating social media politeness. It eats up time. Many very organized people have got it down to an art. They’re admirably friendly and attentive online. Not me, unfortunately, I can’t do friendly fast. My solution is to continue to disengage and be less responsive overall. Now I just say what comes naturally when I have the time to say anything.

I was once a member of a Facebook group that shared music on themed days. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed that a video of the Yiddish song “Zehn Brüder” that I shared contained images of concentration camps. A Lebanese member of the group took offense and responded with a shocking video showing dead Lebanese children. Oh no! We were both chastised by the moderator of the group for being political. But I hadn’t been thinking of ‘current politics’ at all, I was exploring German Jewish history.  But who’s to define where culture and history end and politics begin? The incident was disturbing enough that I decided to withdraw completely, and stopped sharing anything of real personal interest online.

In any communication with someone else, it’s key to consider: Who is this person to you? Who are you to them? So what kind of water-cooler information will you want to be broadcasting to a group of people, and for what purpose?

Emails are more directed and controllable, but they, too, have caused me embarrassment, especially since I don’t always know the people I’m writing to all that well. Something I wrote off the cuff last year was misinterpreted, and subsequently used against a colleague I admire, who suffered a temporary setback as a result. I had no idea of what was happening, and since I had not intentionally said anything harmful, was clueless as to what I was supposed to have done wrong. When I found out there was a problem, it was deeply humiliating not to be given a chance to set things right. Overall, this incident proves that email  can’t replace face to face communications and phoning. This particular incident has also showed me that you can choose to be humiliated – but you can also choose to disengage.

Commenting on blogs, to me, is the canary in the coal mine of social networking. If I feel comfortable responding respectfully and intelligently on someone’s blog, in his or her reflective space, something good is going on. If I hesitate and rephrase and leave the blog feeling stupid, well, maybe it’s simply not a blog I should be leaving a comment on. What am I trying to prove? What have I got to lose? What are we all here for, anyway? Thus spake the canary, and flew away. In fact, feeling out of my depth on some of the better blogs made me realize I had much to learn. So I went back and hit the books.

Back online, doing ‘social media light’, I’ll probably die many more little deaths. Never mind. I think I’ll take these ‘deaths’ with a pinch of salt.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, Twitter

Posted by Anne on March 7th, 2014

After a year off social media, I’ve rejoined Facebook because so many of my peers are networking there, and I really felt I was missing out. Things like organizing meetups are happening there, or news on who is going to which conference, but also people having children and getting married, and career changing events like writing something or changing jobs.

Seeing what else people are sharing is really interesting. It’s frankly completely random, but easy to relate to, and quite entertaining.

I do have to keep my tendency to comment in check. I’m the responsive type, but in Social Media I tend to put my foot in my mouth. That’s what, in the end, made me decide to disengage a year ago. So for me it helps to concentrate on the fact that in social media, being a part of the game is the whole objective.

I just read a wise quote (posted by a colleague at BESIG, Holly Longstroth) that we often listen not to understand, but to reply. So less replying, more understanding.

Business correspondence

Posted by Anne on February 27th, 2014

A short phrasebook for secretarial business correspondence has been published in my name. I was somewhat surprised when it was brought to my attention. I’m pretty sure it extracts the key phrases from a large collection of letters I wrote about 12 years ago, edited down by the publisher a few years back to bring out the ‘essence’ of each letter. I’m grateful for the additional publication, but frankly, my input here was limited.

The slim phrasebook is a “Prämie”, or bonus, offered online to attract customers, with a “Schutzgebühr”, or nominal or token fee,  listed on the cover. It’s also on offer on online marketplaces for €14,95, but would anyone really pay that much in this day and age?

I do find looking up complete phrases to be very helpful. I needed some formal French correspondence phrases yesterday to write to a gallery, and found the right phrases online. Sometimes it’s a special grammar form you need, and more involved phrases such as the ones in the 16-page booklet are more liable to include such extras.  So here’s wishing you a bit of serendipity – incidental, fortunate, unexpected discoveries – as you go through business correspondence phrases!

Cornelsen Basis for Business C1

Posted by Anne on February 20th, 2014

How exciting – the book I worked on for a year, with Carole Eilertson writing the practice sections, has just been published. I’ve been lucky to work with inspiring people and a great team, with Janan Barksdale editing, and now the book is public. There will be a teaching guide by Andreas Grundtvig and a workbBasisCook by Mindy Krull coming out soon. Here’s hoping learners find it useful. I wish everyone who uses this book very productive and enjoyable learning sessions! Do let me know what works well for you, and what doesn’t.

Getting real in teaching listening

Posted by Anne on February 18th, 2014

phonology-for-listening-richard-cauldwell-paperback-cover-artBook review:
Richard Cauldwell: Phonology for Listening. Teaching the Stream of Speech. Speech in Action. Birmingham, UK 2013.
ISBN 0954344723, ISBN-13: 978-0954344726. Printed on demand by Amazon. €25.68
http://www.speechinaction.com

Richard Cauldwell makes a key point: Listening acquisition lags behind the acquisition of other skills, he says, because we treat listening skills as something learners will acquire through enough exposure, as if by osmosis. Instead of teaching listening, we simply test listening comprehension. Drawing on learner diaries, Cauldwell reports that, as a result, learners typically have two complaints:

  • Ying’s dilemma“: Ying from Sinagpore says she can’t catch the words she knows, as she doesn’t understand how their sound shapes change in the middle of sentences, squeezed together, especially in spontaneous speech.
  • Anna’s anger“: A student from Finland is angry at her teachers for underusing recordings. She wants them to go beyond comprehension practice to teach what Cauldwell calls “the realities of the stream of speech.” (p. 3)

Approaching the problem from the standard pronunciation syllabus doesn’t resolve the problem, Cauldwell says, because the “careful speech model” that underlies that syllabus treats language as “a correct, tidy, steady-speed, rule-governed phenomenon,” with a limited set of sounds and rules for sentence types and connected speech phenomena, “optimised for clear pronunciation.” (p. 4) So while it may be easy to use such a syllabus to teach, it doesn’t help learners acquire the listening skills they need. Cauldwell explains the challenge using three metaphors: Beyond the “greenhouse” of the classroom, and outside the “garden” of careful speech, the student of English needs to deal with the unruly “jungle” of spontaneous speech (p. 260). That’s the messy, real world that we need to prepare our students to handle.

Cauldwell’s solution is to take a comprehensive approach, “teaching learners to decode the sound substance of the stream of speech.” (p.1) He lays out a “window on speech framework”, a toolkit for contrasting the clearly pronounced “citation form” with the changed sound shapes in spontaneous speech. The framework is built around the speaker-defined speech unit, rather than the grammar-defined sentence unit, as it reflects “the moment-by-moment choices that speakers make as they communicate.” (p.5) Speech units are defined as multi-word rhythmic sections with prominent and non-prominent syllables, steps up and down in pitch, and tone glides (up, down and level). Cauldwell’s special focus is on the “squeeze zones” of non-prominent syllables contained in speech units, and he highlights the compression of whole word groups.

  • Part 1 (Chapters 1-5) presents the “window on speech” framework, expanding on the work of David Brazil, Richard Bradford, Martin Hewings and others to introduce notation techniques to describe the precise sound effects of squeezing.
  • Part 2 (Chapters 6-10) describes the sound substance of the stream of speech, including shifts in stress. This includes an interesting discussion on syllable timing, i.e. how speakers of an L1 such as French will retain syllable timing when they use English.
  • Part 3 (Chapters 11-15) studies the range of factors influencing the stream of sound, including accents (i.e. Britain, Ireland, North America, and Global including English as a Lingua Franca), as well as how identity, emotion and attitude influence speech.
  • Part 4 (Chapters 16-20) suggests learner activities for spontaneous speech listening, in both low-tech (teacher and peer listening, recordings) and high-tech (recordings and apps) contexts.

Overall, the exercises raise awareness for getting past the “decoding gap”. The key requirement is “letting go of the careful speech model”. While Cauldwell uses sample recordings throughout the book to raise awareness for the specific sound shapes, with careful listening/analyzing and preparing/performing tasks, Part 4 goes the extra step of explaining how to work with the material.

The activities pivot on what Cauldwell calls “savouring” and “handling short stretches of speech“. Such activities often involve drafting a transcript of the various versions of one and the same phrase. Notations bracket phrases in speech units between double lines to signify short breaks in the stream, capitalize the stressed syllables and underline the main stress. One of the exercises goes like this:

18.1 Stepping stones (mp3 sound files 18.01-4)
This pair work activity to explore a variety of ways a phrase can sound is modeled in four recordings using the phrase “It’s the second biggest city in my country, I think.”

  1. First, students or the teacher create a “greenhouse” version of the phrase, i.e. every word is spoken very clearly.
  2. Then they create a slightly messy “garden” version with stress being dictated by the speaker’s personal intended meaning.
  3. After that, pairs speak in unison to contrast the two different versions (then performing before the class). In the recoding, this sounds quite disjointed.
  4. Finally, students are presented a very messy “jungle” version with hesitation, stumbling, hedging (perhaps from the teacher, or from an authentic recording)

This is a rather general awareness-raising exercise that could be used to introduce the overall approach, and to practice noting down a phrase in its different sound shapes.

Other activities targeting more specific areas include:

  • Practicing clusters of frequent forms
  • Close listening following transcripts
  • Soft focus listening to suggest “mondegreens” – phrases that are misinterpreted because they sound like something else – i.e. “occasionally” can sound like “ok jolly” (p. 285)
  • Formulating multiple choice questions to include an answer that the learner would give based on mistakes in decoding the sound stream
  • Taking phrases from the squeezed version to the clear version and back
  • “Instant dictations” in which you stop recordings and have students write down the last 4 words they’ve heard, which are still fresh in mind and not yet processed for meaning

Finally, Cauldwell suggests using Audacity or another digital editor to record and study the wave shape of sounds, and Audio Notetaker to listen to, analyze and edit the chunks of a given piece of audio.

Overall, Phonology for Listening represents an original and enormously practical approach to teaching an essential language skill that needs attention, and is clearly in need of improvement among many of our students. Highly recommended.

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