What actually happened in the USA last night – and what do we call it?

It’s been quite a day/night, and indeed, quite a year in the USA. People have had to decide how to characterize widespread unrest. Are these events demonstrations? uprisingsrebellionsinsurrectionriots? Were the people who came out for Black Lives Matter (BLM) last summer, or those who stormed the Capitol yesterday, protesters or a mob? Each term sends a very different message about what is going on in the streets.

During a speech in the Rose Garden on June 1, President Trump used the word riot five times. It is a loaded word. In general, riot connotes meaningless violence by people who have lost touch with reason. In the U.S., it also has a racial dimension. In the 1960s, it was weaponized by whites to conjure up the image of Black people creating senseless chaos in cities. The word helped to hide the political dimension of what was going on, including the socioeconomic disparities that preceded the upheaval.

Compared to riot, words like uprising, insurrection or rebellion suggest a struggle for justice, a warranted (or justified) response to oppression, with a demand for systemic change. 

Trump referred to the mostly peaceful BLM protesters by suggesting that America was in the grips of an “angry mob.” He called the people in the streets “looters, criminals, rioters” who were committing “acts of domestic terror”. He vowed to bring “law and order.” 

Law and order” is coded in its own way. Actions that the police might take – even firing rubber bullets into a crowd – are often cast as “imposing order”. The logic is that rioting is always disorder, and so whatever is done in response to it must be the opposite. 

And then there is inciting violent insurrection: causing people to riot. Even before the election, Trump and his enablers had begun delegitimizing the election in the eyes of his supporters. Some in the media say Trump has been attempting to stage a coup. On 6 January, Trump told his supporters, “You are the real people” and “Your voices are not going to be silenced, we won’t let that happen”, and told them that “we” would walk the mile to the Capitol. They then took off – but Trump let them go on their own. That mob was “wholly owned” by Trump, in both senses of the word: To own something means to have it in your belongings. And to be owned is to be made a fool of.

In the riot on 6 January, Senator Mitch McConnell and the other Senators and Representatives and their staff were chased out of the Capitol. On their return, McConnell said he would not bow to “thugs” and the “unhinged” crowd. He referred to what had happened as a “failed insurrection“. What he didn’t want to admit in his speech was that these people, whom he didn’t want to call “protesters”, included his own voters. Mitt Romney – the only Republican Senator who voted in favor of charging Trump with abuse of power in the impeachment – was more specific: He called the Capitol mob “an insurrection incited by the President of the United States.”

Trump’s right-wing enablers may continue to defend this as a (legitimate) protest, but this is connected to overturning a legitimate election. President Trump invited these people, and he is the one who instigated the mob and the riot. Under normal circumstances, we might classify his actions as treason and consider the actors traitors. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is speaking of sedition, which is conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of the state. The Trump side is doubling down now.

Today Congress is discussing whether Trump should be declared unfit for office and removed from office – his cabinet would need to invoke the 25th Amendment for this – for the last 2 weeks of his term. If that does not happen, Nancy Pelosi has announced that Congress will impeach Trump again.

There was much speechifying – i.e. making weighty speeches – in the joint congressional session to accept the electors. But Congress continues to be very divided. Vice-President Pence has now been banned from the White House. Trump has been banned on Twitter and Facebook for the remainder of his term. And the riot, or protest, or insurrection, or coup, in the streets and at the White House? The attempt by the executive branch to control the legislative branch? It is anything but over.

Suggested level: B2


uprising – Volksaufstand
to rise against – sich erheben gegen
insurrection – Aufstand
Riot – Krawall
Protestors – Demonstranten
Upheaval – Aufruhr
rebellion – Rebellion
to rebel against – rebellieren gegen
angry mob – wütender Mob
act of domestic terror – Terrorakt im Inland
law and order – Recht und Ordnung
to impose order – Ordnung aufzwingen
disorder – Unordnung
to incite violence – Gewalt anzetteln

insurrection – Aufstand
failed/successful – gescheiterter/erfolgreicher
to stage a coup – einen Putsch inszenieren
unhinged – aus den Angeln gehoben
thugs – Schlägertypen
(legitimate) protest – (legitimer) Protest
treason – Verrat
traitor – Verräter

sedition – Volksverhetzung
declared unfit – für untauglich erklärt
speechify – gewandt reden

Global dexterity

Andy Molinsky: Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process. Harvard Business Review Press. 2013

So you want to be a true “citizen of the world”? You’ll need more than a knowledge of dos and don’ts in the many cultures you are moving into. There are large gaps between knowing what behavior is required of you in any given setting and situation, and being able to actually act accordingly. To sustain your role in that setting, you’ll need to be able to adapt your behavior to the context without losing your authenticity or becoming embittered by being required to adapt to imposed norms. The process can be unsettling.

To work with teams across cultures, and to lead people from other cultures, you need a key competence that Andy Molinsky calls “global dexterity”. He offers a self-coaching toolbox. At its core is his key message: Remain true to yourself. Take a holistic approach. Be successful in your own way.

The first step is to crack your own “cultural code” as well as that of your foreign environment. This means determining the prototypical behavioral and mindset considered appropriate in a given situation you must negotiate, and to compare that with how you would normally behave.

Molinsky offers the following behavioral categories:

  • how direct or indirect (degree of directness)
  • how enthusiastic or restrained (degree of enthusiasm)
  • how formal or informal (degree of formality)
  • how assertive or compliant (degree of assertiveness)
  • how self-promoting or modest (degree of self-promotion)
  • how self-revealing or private (degree of personal disclosure)

Consider the entire range of behaviors in the target culture that would be considered appropriate, defining a “zone of appropriateness”. Then consider whether any of your preferred ways of behaving would still fit within that zone.

Where this is not the case, the question inevitably arises whether you can stretch your comfort zone to overlap with the appropriateness zone of the other cultural code, to create a “new normal” for yourself in given situations. Before we look at Molinsky’s suggestions, consider the psychological challenges he identifies:

  • Can you maintain your authenticity when your personal values and convictions are in conflict with those underlying the behavior?
  • Do you have the know-how and the ability to actually execute the new behavior?
  • Do you have the strength to overcome any resentment and bitterness about having to conform?

Molinsky uses a coaching approach to help you explore this. After taking inventory and setting goals you are invited to test the new behavior gently in small experiments in a safe environment, asking familiars and mentors from the target culture for constructive feedback on your performance. Each experiment requires emotional and psychological reflection and inventory taking so that you try new behavior on for size only so far as you feel comfortable. Your aim is to integrate this behavior through new insights on a self-paced journey. So you build global dexterity much as you would develop a “muscle memory” through sports coaching. You build self-confidence as you experience your own increased efficacy.

Molinsky uses acting as a metaphor for the process. When you learn a new role, mastery does not mean that you lose other aspects of yourself. On the contrary, you are acquiring or realizing your potential, expanding your repertoire. As you learn and practice these new abilities you can look at them critically and say: “That’s not me… or not yet”.

The real challenge is making this new behavior acceptable to your old self. If you have decided that you do indeed want to try, the way is twofold: First, to seek to understand and appreciate the logic behind the behavior; secondly, to seek harmony in your shared goals. If your values remain at odds, Molinsky suggests engaging in intercultural bridge-building, i.e. attempting to integrate the logic of the foreign culture with your own to create a completely new culture.

Let’s Talk Business workshop

It was a good challenge to give a workshop on B1-C1 books to teachers whose mainstay are A1-2 learners. The teachers were great, and jumped into things.

It was very interesting to me to listen to the teachers talk about the unwillingness of their students to go along with activities, even to make the effort of getting up and walking around the room to change partners. I remember that well from my own classes at the VHS. I think the key is to introduce a certain culture in your classroom that feeds back to learners how they are actually making progress as a result of their increased efforts. We discussed writing reflections in class as a free writing activity, and I think that can be used very productively to get students to start thinking about what they are actually doing in class.

We did 4 activities that let them walk in their students’ shoes in terms of feeling what such activities are like. This is something I learned from Rolf Tynan at his dictogloss workshop for MELTA back in 2009. Jo Westcomb wrote it up in her great teacher’s column in Spotlight Online. His trick was to use a level of English in the dictogloss that was a bit challenging for us, too, and that was what I did yesterday, using a dialogue and playing it from a recording. I actually think we need to do that sort of thing more often, to better appreciate the effort our students are making, and to get a sense for what type of effort is actually worthwhile.

We discussed building memory as an integral part of language learning, and how to get learners to work harder by going from dictation to grammar dictation aka dictogloss, and going from role-play with a set of instructions to reading a description of a scenario, and relating that scenario to others in the first person without referring back to the text.

I recommended Nick Bilbrough’s wonderful resource book, Memory Activities for Language Learning, as well as Gillian Porter Ladousse’s classic Role Play Resource Book for Teachers.

Here’s the blurb for the event:

11 October 2014
Informationszentrum der Cornelsen Schulverlage, Friedrichstr. 149, 10117 Berlin
Let’s talk business – Building speaking and business skills from B1 to C1
These days even at lower language levels, our learners are expected to think on their feet and show skills in typical business situations. How can we get them a) to use the language of the workplace in the classroom setting, and as they progress, b) to think through how well they are communicating and where they can make improvements?
In part one of this Cornelsen Business English Day we’ll go through the approach taken and the role-plays and simulations developed in the Basis for Business series, which get learners to use the language they need at work in class. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of building on the units as input to create more personalized tasks, and present/practice numerous ways to personalize the material.
As learners progress to the higher language levels, they will be expected to handle more complex business situations. We will look at the language they need based on research into the real language of meetings, and explore communication frameworks recommended for difficult conversations. In part two of the Cornelsen Business English Day this will form the basis of simulations for C1 learners that will help them become more spontaneous in English. Trying these out in groups, we will look at each situation and the language that would be appropriate in it, and pool ideas on how to model the language and give related feedback.
Anne Hodgson, anne.hodgson@t-online.de

Basis for Business wins a bronze medal at the Best European Learning Materials Awards

Basis for Business wins bronze in secondary school /adult education materials at the Best BeBELMA 2014
Basis for Business wins bronze in secondary school materials at the Best European Learning Materials Awards (BELMA) 2014

Today at the Frankfurt Book Fair the Basis for Business series was awarded a bronze medal in the annual Best European Learning Materials Award (BELMA) competition.
We’re delighted the series has received this international recognition and would like to take the opportunity to thank you all once again for your excellent contributions to this highly successful coursebook series. We look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at BESIG in Bonn this November.
Best wishes from Berlin,
Sinéad Butler
Programm- und Marketingmanager Englisch in der Erwachsenenbildung”

The evaluation criteria make my heart sing.

Mike Hogan started this series so well, and then he and Carole Eilertson teamed up for B1 and B2. I did much of the writing for C1, and then there were all the great advisors and Janan Barksdale, the wonderful editor who held things together from B1 on. Overall, Cornelsen and the team did a great job. It’s a privilege to be part of this winning team.


PowerPot – An English lesson for e-lab technicians

Imagine that you’re on a camping trip out in the wild, far away from buildings with power sockets. You can’t connect any equipment to the power supply. Your mobile phone needs recharging. Luckily, you and your friends have invented a device that will let you recharge it. What technology is it based on? What spare parts do you carry with you?

Guess what, such a device has been invented. Watch this video, and answer:

  1. What technology is it based on?
  2. What components is it made of?
  3. How does it work?
  4. What devices does it provide power for?
  5. What problems did the inventors have to overcome?
  6. Which users and what markets do the inventors want to reach?
  7. Is there more than one model? What for?
  8. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform. Did this invention get funding? Check the website.
  9. Find out at least one more fact about this invention by googling ‘PowerPot’.
  10. Would you buy one? Why or why not?

Read along in the transcript and do language exercises in the pdf worksheet after the break below:

Continue reading PowerPot – An English lesson for e-lab technicians

Activities to personalize topics, language, communication skills and business skills

The IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium was a wonderfully intimate event with a wide range of excellent presentations. On Friday, Evan Frendo provided the excellent keynote, Exploring business English. He’s got a clear vision that is enormously helpful to anyone working in the field. Then I went to Simona Petrescu’s presentation on how to create a customized syllabus (see her blog, Enterprise English).  Her key message was that you need to base the curriculum on a very specific needs analysis of the communication situations all along the standard flow of work processes, and working through these in their logical sequence. Pete Rutherford presented his work in process in developing a competency radar chart (=spidergram) to supplement the CEFR, an interesting suggestion including a range of communicative competencies in addition to linguistic competency. I presented on day 2, and then heard a number of talks including Paul Walsh’s on Decentralized Teaching and Clarice Chan’s on What we can learn from interaction in learner roleplays, which I’ll review separately.

In my talk I introduced the concept behind Basis for Business C1, I explained that the book is rooted in my reflective teaching approach of reconstructing the communicative situations my  clients experience at the workplace in class, discussing these with both them and my business mentors, and applying research on discourse and culture to work on better ways of handling those specific situations.  The presentation is here.

Thanks to ELTpics for the great photos!

Speaking on behalf of the publisher, Cornelsen, I suggested 4 activities to personalize topics, language, communication skills and business skills in any intermediate or advanced coursebook:

1. Topical personalization: Freewriting reviews

In the first lesson with a new book, use a free-writing activity to get ideas flowing and agree on how to use the book.

Have students to write 3 headings a sheet of paper:

  • An article about…
  • A picture of…
  • Something about…

(This activity and the headings were suggested by Jo Westcombe here in her column, Try it Out)

Give them a few minutes to browse the book. Then ask them to write down under the 3 headings what they found. Encourage them to note down anything that comes to mind, and keep writing. Full sentences and accuracy are not important.

Put them in pairs to share what they’ve written. Encourage them to explain to their partners how what they saw relates to their experience. Then have the pairs look through the book together.

Use to lead into a group discussion on how you will use the book in class. Those selecting a particular topic or skill could be engaged to chair that particular lesson and provide additional materials from their workplace, field, or area of interest.

2. Linguistic personalization: Dictogloss (“grammar dictation”)

Learners reconstruct a dictated text in a grammatically acceptable form. Initially the learners work individually to take notes. They then get together in small groups to pool their ideas and work towards a final version. Texts can be up to ca. 12 sentences, and should be challenging. In Basis for Business C1, “Outside view” will work well, but you can easily use materials supplied by your learners,  i.e. short business reports, press releases, involved business emails, presentation scripts… any genre you want them to notice the linguistic details of.

Read the text once at normal speed. Students listen. Then read the text again and have learners take notes on key words and phrases. Recommend leaving room between words and lines to be able extend their notes. Pause very briefly after each sentence.

Put them in groups of about 4 to reconstruct a grammatically correct version of the text containing the same information.

Follow up with feedback, comparing the group versions with the original.

In the Basis for Business C1 Teachers Book, Andreas Grundtvig’s worksheet 5 “Don’t let it escape your notice” is a listening dictogloss to help students identify relevant language and adapt structures for their own purposes that uses a visual organizer to compile smaller units of language.

3. Communication skills personalization: Listening trios

This activity practices all skills, but especially listening, and encourages collaboration and learner autonomy. The aim is to produce a 3 sentence written summary of three separate texts.

Take three short texts – A, B, C. You could take an article in the book, e.g. Unit 7C on Nutella, and 2 similar new articles by bloggers e.g.  something by Seth Godin or Daniel Pink on trends in social media marketing, and a short article on social media overload). Make one copy of one of the textx per student. Make three groups, A, B and C. Give the A texts to the A group, and so on. Give the students a few minutes to read their text, and to check understanding in their group. Everyone needs to fully understand their text. Then divide the large groups into groups of three containing an A, B and C student. Have the students share the information in their texts with each other. Student A  reports on the content of his or her text. Student B listens and will write the summary. He or she asks any necessary questions. Student C monitors to make sure English is used and they are on task. After a few minutes, ask the Bs to make notes on what they have heard. Repeat the steps for the second round: student C tells the story, A listens and B monitors. Once the three rounds are completed and notes have been compiled, the groups polish each of the summaries collaboratively to produce three sentence summaries.

Compare the summaries by pinning As, Bs and Cs in groups.

4. Business skills personalization: Storytelling

In Basis for Business, business skills (e.g. SWOT analysis, report writing, performance review…) are connected to the business content of any given unit, often featuring in Part C. For example, in Unit 5, stories loom large, suggesting ways of using them in their own business context. Storytelling as a business skills introduced in Part A in a presentation recounting the rise and fall of a company in hindsight – listening, accompaniesd by a look at language markers. 5B shows that not every presentation should be a monologue, as here the focus on the dialogue aspect of pitching. 5C contrasts persuasive and objective reporting, and storytelling is discussed in Outside View 5 on speaking, summarizing Robert McKee’s reflections on storytelling as a persuasive cultural skill. Business File 3 also involves storytelling, i.e. looking back on a decision making process as part of a simulation.

Students can bounce off the book’s presentation of and practice with stories at many points here. I would  have them tell business stories repeatedly throughout this unit, both orally and in writing, with the aim of persuading others to see the issues from their point of view.

David Heathfield’s workshop on storytelling and mental imagery

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.