The BE/ESP Blog Carnival

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photo: S. Hofschlaeger / pixelio.de

This roundup of blog posts written by BE/ESP teachers, teacher trainers and materials writers includes personal professional blogs and regular or guest posts for a magazine or publisher. Written for two separate target groups, viz. learners vs. peers, their purpose varies widely:

  1. to reflect on personal development
  2. to share materials and start discussions
  3. to market oneself, or a group of authors, to peers and clients
  4. to organize communications with students and clients.

For a summary of all of the posts,  take a quiz to test yourself on whether you’d want to read that particular post more thoroughly. Each question contains the link you need, and background on the author.

Take the quiz here:

The BE/ESP Blog Carnival Quiz

(quiz made using http://www.proprofs.com software)

A very warm thank you to all of the bloggers or featured guest authors who contributed to this carnival (in the order they arrived):

BESIG Conference in Bielefeld, 19-21 November 2010

Dogme – Schmogme

Karenne Syvester’s “Dogme challenge 1+2”, infused by Candy van Olst’s “CELTA -Schmelta”, dampened by yesterday’s “Failwhale” #Edchat, refreshed by Jeremy Harmer’s “No Dogme for EFL” combine to inspire this friendly response, the title an obvious take-off.

So Dogme means “emergent” and “co-constructed learning” on the one hand, and “essential bareness” on the other. It has little to do with whether there is in fact a book around. It seems like the most natural approach to take until you hit on some very specific snags that can’t just be solved then and there. You, the teacher, have the experience, authority and responsibility to point the way, even define the next steps once things stop “emerging”.  As Scott Thornbury’s approach is a philosophy, rather than a method, it’s more about your perspective than about what you actually do. Got that? Right. I think it’s only natural to be somewhat confused.

I started into EFL in small town Germany, with an academic background, and was, yes, a native speaker. It’s unfair, I know. I didn’t skill up beforehand because it was so easy to get a job. My very first gig was two weeks with a hospital professional on his way to Australia to manage a huge reorganization project. I knew nothing about hospitals, Australia, “TEFL”. We were given a gawdawful coursebook on the economy in general that contained a lot of utterly useless translation work from German to English. He was keen. We both did some thinking, adjourned for research, pooled our resources, made up tasks together as we went along. He was happy. I wish I could beam myself back and see whether I would be, now. Had I started out, inexperienced, wanting to apply “tried and tested” teaching tools without the option of “essential bareness”, eager to live up to a quality standard of some sort, things might have gotten pretty ugly.

My Director of Studies then promptly gave me my first company course: Deutsche Bank. Three tiers. Six learners each. Ten weeks. No guru, no method, no teacher. No CELTA. Yet an opportunity on a silver platter. On arrival, I found they had self-study materials that I wasn’t really supposed to know about, let alone use, but the participants eagerly handed them over for me to peruse. After they’d told me in detail what they actually did all day, what worried them and what they wanted to do in our course (in English naturally), we went about carefully setting up a great big simulation based on the skills featured in those books, with scenarios that all the participants were familiar with and needed to master in English. We didn’t do it all at once, I’d watch them and they’d watch each other and then we’d figure out what they needed. The atmosphere was very friendly. I was told by my advisor to “include some grammar”, and I brought along a horrid little book that thoroughly confused us all. What made most sense and came most naturally was teaching short phrases that came up in our simulations, and comparing sentences that used or varied them. Sometimes I’d show them phrases in their self-study book before we went into the simulations. Someone else would be responsible for notes each lesson. Chunks. Emergent. Co-constructed. Scaffolding.

I still like to work like that. No method, no guru, no teacher?

Actually, my initial do-it-yourself learning curve in TEFL included:

  • how to assess what students need
  • how to use visuals
  • how to document what we are learning

It felt pretty good to figure these things out on my own, but I didn’t really get it right: An evening class student came back from an intensive course in Britain and had made incredible progress. That was very sobering. And then, one day, I met the first challenge I couldn’t handle: A woman with serious mental blockades connected to suddenly having to manage her company in English. She would shut down completely when she had to speak English. I was so sorry, and completely fascinated, and finally had the challenge I needed to make teaching my profession. So I earnestly started learning how promote language learning:

  • how to prepare students to process new language
  • how to review new input to really make it stick
  • how to get learners to notice and accept their own progress

I began going to workshops, soaking up accepted TEFL methodology, taking every bit of training offered by the different schools I worked for, and learned

  • how to facilitate groups
  • how to teach people who think they can’t learn
  • how to use media
  • how to assess performance
  • how to give feedback

I’d always used didactic approaches from museum work, e.g. responding to images and music, solving puzzles, creating and extending stories/ scenarios, acting things out, making posters etc. But there was an intensive phase where I overegged the pudding, using all sorts of therapeutic bells and whistles. I quickly realized it was just a way to keep people who like that sort of thing happy. Went mainstream again. Did the LCCI CertTEB with Mark Powell. Took the Cambridge TKT. I was always going to do CELTA, but there were always other extensive courses that seemed more applicable and interesting: intercultural competency; media in teaching; teaching ESP at college; setting up distance learning.

Today my classes are materials-light though I actually write self-study materials; I’m focussed on my learners and don’t make my students work online unless they want to, though my classes are permanently hooked up to the internet. I’d quite possibly fail CELTA, as my lesson plans hardly ever turn out the way I thought, and I hardly use my laminating machine anymore, though the guillotine does comes in handy for made-to-lesson cards. If a learner needs to be immersed in hands-on, friendly learning materials, I can still pull out the stops.

Looking back at my teaching life so far, I see I’ve missed the boat on CELTA. It should have come after about a year of teaching. I feel a bit naked around EFL movers and shakers who espouse CELTA, but that can’t be helped. It’s so easy to get too comfortable in teaching, so I’d still take a course, frankly, reviewing the whole of TEFL, with a trainer whose philosophical approach embraces dogme and who focusses on support and coaching, rather than on input and training.

Will the real Anne Hodgson please stand up?

Ken Wilson challenged me to write something about the many Anne Hodgsons I’ve come across online. There are hundreds of us. It’s like being a Mary Smith or Hans Müller. When I first joined Facebook, an Anne Hodgson “friended” me and immediately wanted to play some social game. She had a longish list of Facebook-friends, all called Anne Hodgson, and to avoid the fate of getting lost in a virtual House of Mirrors, I’m afraid I unfriended her.

I’m clearly not the nicest Anne Hodgson online.

One of my nephews thought I was another Facebook Anne Hodgson. She looks that much like me.

Now, being confused with namesakes or similarly named people doesn’t worry me in the least. On the contrary, there is safety in numbers. Here are my favorites:

  • The similarly named Ann Hodgman has written children’s books with great titles like “The French Fry Aliens” and “My Babysitter Bites Again”. Please feel free to confuse me with her.
  • Ann Hodgson is a professor of Education at the University of London, with a special focus on 14-19 education and training and life-long learning. I’ve found her in connection with IATEFL. I’m afraid she’s got qualifications I’ll never have.
  • Anne Hodgson & Co, a group of lawyers headed by my namesake, lends a touch of class to our dogsbody name.

No, what really has me worried is what happens when I type my tag annehodg into the internet. I did so last night for a laugh,  and looking over all the links gave me a bit of a shock. I work hard to create a professional online presence, only, and to protect the privacy of people close to me, and I’ve been relatively successful. But using Twitter in particular means that the things I’ve written all over the place this past year do come together in a rather disconcerting way.

I’m turning over a new leaf for the sake of privacy. I’m off Twitter for anything but professional networking, for one, and it’s time to change my tag.

Coming up: A Business English/ ESP blog carnival

As announced by Larry Ferlazzo, coming up on 1 November, there’ll be a blog carnival – that is, a round-up of posts submitted by bloggers for the purpose – dedicated to the teaching of Business English and English for Special Purposes, here on this blog.  If you’re a blogger, please use this form to submit your post. If you’re not a blogger (yet) but would like to write an article to share, I’d be most delighted to have you guest blog here.

This particular blog carnival came into being when Carl Dowse was rounding up blogs dedicated to Business English in a links list for BESIG, the Business English Special Interest Group of IATEFL. The conversation brought to light that there are just a few blogs that focus completely on business, like Evan Frendo’s “English for the Workplace“, Jeremy Day’s “Specific English“, the Business Spotlight blogs by Deborah Capras, Helen Strong and Robert Gibson, or Jeffrey Hill’s “The English Blog: Business“. But even writers for and teachers of Business English will treat non-business topics in their blogs; just think of Vicki Hollett’s “Learning to speak ‘merican” or Karenne Sylvester’s “Kalinago English“. Then, teachers of general English are highly respected and much read in the BE/ ESP community, like Alex Case of “TEFLtastic“, Larry Ferlazzo of “Websites of the Day” or Jamie Keddie,  etc. etc. Plenty of teachers – including many readers of this blog! – cross over on a daily basis between teaching young learners, giving general English classes and handling business English groups, and they must have interesting lesson ideas to share to introduce themselves to a more specialized, business-focussed readership. The round-up of blogposts will also be published on the BESIG website – so new readers are guaranteed!

So I’d like to extend a very warm invitation to all of you, from the specialist to the generalist, to contribute to this upcoming event. Just make sure that your entry is indeed geared to Business English or ESP, that is: the English people need at work. Have a look at the form, please, and let me know whether you’ll be joining us.

Remember Reagan? Seriosity plus humor

He was called “The great communicator”. At the time I wasn’t willing to listen to any of his speeches, because he was at the opposite end of the political spectrum, and I was out in the streets demonstrating against cruise missiles, Star Wars and all that. But I was just reading Vicki Hollett’s very interesting analysis of the current BP crisis yesterday and have been thinking about her idea that Americans are expected to demonstrate “seriosity“, a lack of which is seen as cynical and subversive. Vicki thinks that seriosity doesn’t play the same role in the UK. I don’t know much about the British take on this, but I do have insight into the American side, and I think the magical formula to demonstrating that you are 100% engaged and really care about an issue in the US must be seriosity plus humor. For me, Reagan telling Russian jokes in 1988, the year before the wall came down, epitomizes what Americans cherish in their public figures. Reagan’s timing was brilliant, he knew the exact moment and situation when humor would seal his commitment.

Grammar Guru: Nice meeting you/ Nice to meet you

Which of these two is correct? We say

  • “Nice to meet you” when we meet someone for the first time, and “Nice meeting you” when we then say goodbye.
  • “Nice meeting you” when we meet someone for the first time, and “Nice to meet you” when we then say goodbye.

˙noʎ ʇǝǝɯ oʇ ǝɔıu (s,ʇı) :ǝuoǝɯos ʇǝǝɯ
˙noʎ ƃuıʇǝǝɯ ǝɔıu (sɐʍ ʇı) :ǝʎqpooƃ ʎɐs

The difference is very subtle, and perhaps not everyone will agree with me, but it really sounds wrong to me when someone mixes up the two. I think it’s because we also say “(I’m) pleased to meet you” (which doesn’t work grammatically with the -ing) and “It was nice meeting you” (which seems to refer more to the whole event rather than just the act of meeting).

Socializing is my own main topic this week! I’m very honored to be a guest blogger on Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto’s blog, Teaching Village. She’s the co-author of a children’s English textbook series called Let’s Go, teaches children and adults in Japan, and you can “meet” her here in Darren Elliott’s video interview:

Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto Interview from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Her blog subtitle says it all: “We’re better when we work together”. The blog has been gaining momentum as more and more people from our PLN (professional learning network) join as guest authors. Her latest venture is a series of quizzes on blogposts written by different members of the network, a great way to zone in on what these people are “all about”.

My contribution is on a socializing game I did recently and will repeat this coming week. It’s a variation on one I learned from Jo Westcombe, who is just full of great teaching ideas.

Celebrating language blogs

It’s been a rather self-referential month in the “teaching English as a foreign language” blogosphere. I’m extremely honored to be listed by Babla and Lexiofiles among the top 100 language blogs. They put in an enormous and much appreciated amount of work. Frankly, being in that list comes as a huge surprise, considering the players involved and the quality of writing going on at this Bring Your Own Blog Party. The list is impressive. I mean, it includes Word Routes by the luminary Ben Zimmer, executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus, “On Language” columnist for the New York Times Magazine, former editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press, consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary, and blogger at Language Log. Now, that’s a language blog.

Markus, Karenne, Barbara and Shelly did really well, which is splendid, and a huge number of bloggers in Karenne’s BELTfree are in that list, teacher colleagues who have become friends even if we’ve never met… which once again proves the power of social networking.

“Language blogs” are clearly a Good Thing. But what are they, and what are they for? It’s all a bit of an experiment. The kind person who nominated this blog wrote that this was a blog by a teacher who has some good grammar tips. That made me grin. As far as I’m concerned, we’re simply carrying on a conversation here, and that attracts people with similar interests.

Blogging is like hanging out at the bar, or at your local market. A blogger follows her natural inclinations. I happen to like my students, and Germans, so I write that grammar guru bit and pick up on what’s going on in the world mainly for them.

My thoughts migrate towards the everyday grammar issues I stumble across in the course of my work, and how to deal with them so my students will get it. But as I ramble on, I find more teachers and fellow ramblers and bloggers leaving comments. This guides the direction I’m heading. When connected teachers start doing show and tell about their work, I join in.

I’m a method blogger, I depart from the script. That does make it difficult to say where we’re going.

Thank you for walking with me.