The need for civic courage

Last Friday on the train in Erfurt there was a very ugly case of xenophobia and racism directed against a young Syrian. A German man with a bike hurled verbal abuse at the boy, and then physically attacked him, kicking him and smashing his phone on the ground. The man was later arrested, but I certainly imagine that the boy is scarred.

I wasn’t there – this was shared on Twitter. But as I have witnessed a number of frightening attacks on fellow passengers where my reactions were sometimes more and sometimes less effective, and I want to do better, here is a note to myself: If someone is attacked in my presence, my most promising intervention would go like this:

I would not confront the offender – that would only attract the aggressions of the perpetrator. After all, in his view, I would have no official role or privilege, I’d just be a fellow citizen, so he would be able to challenge me directly.

Instead, it would make sense to notify the driver, who could close the doors to prevent the attacker from escaping; also, to call the police to report the incident. Ideally, I could engage with the other passengers around me to get this done.

Overall, my and our attention would then need to be on the victim, who is experiencing something traumatic. So I would go to him, sitting down with him, and address him nicely, starting a familiar conversation, as if we knew each other. “Good to see you here. How is school going? I’m on my way home from work. What about you?…”

Something to bear in mind is that courage is contagious – courage begets more courage – and civic courage is liberating.

Saturday Night Live Minnesota News Cold Open

Saturday Night Live has picked up on current political events in the USA. The comedy series opens this week’s episode with a fictional Minnesota morning show with two Black anchors, played by Ego Nwodim and Kenan Thompson, and two white anchors, played by Kate McKinnon and Alex Moffat.

They begin their weekly news review by discussing the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer on trial for the murder of George Floyd. The defense has tried to pin the cause of death on Floyd’s alleged drug use, while the prosecution has presented evidence that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen directly connected to the knee-hold on his neck. The jury is still out, the verdict has yet to be spoken.

In the SNL Cold Open, Nwodim’s character says that watching the trial has brought back “so many bad feelings” from last summer. McKinnon comments, “Sounds like we all agree there’s no way that Derek Chauvin walks away from this”. But Nwodim and Thompson disagree. “Well…,” Nwodim and Thompson say, looking unhappy. Nwodim adds, “Let’s just say, we’ve seen this movie before.” McKinnon insists, “But after all the protests that happened last summer, there’s no way this doesn’t go the way we hope.” Nwodim turns to Thompson, and says, “I don’t know what she’s talking about.”

McKinnon acknowledges that “skepticism of the legal process is valid… Historically, police have gotten away in other cases like this.” “Historically?” Thompson asks incredulously. “She means every single time,” Nwodim says.

As they argue, Nwodim pointedly uses her colleague’s “Nordic-sounding” last name. Intending to pick his words carefully when talking about the sensitive subject of race, he starts in: “To quote Thomas Jefferson…” “That’s a bad start,” Thompson responds. (Slaveholder Jefferson is clearly not PC.)

McKinnon asks the show’s Black weatherman, played by Chris Redd, to join in the discussion. “Man, don’t put me into this mess!” Redd says. “I’m still in hot water for being in that Paul Pierce video,” a reference to the former NBA player-turned-sports-analyst just fired by cable news for posting a racy Instagram Live movie. In Redd’s opinion, “It’s an open and shut case.” But the anchors don’t agree on what that means for the outcome of the case.

“For the sake of our city,” says McKinnon, “I hope justice is finally served.” They can all agree on that hope. “The last thing we want is another riot.” But then Thompson says, “And I think we can all agree that no matter how bad things are, destroying property is never the answer.” The Black anchors seem to see that differently. “I wouldn’t say that.” “There’s insurance.” “I just think protest should be non-violent.” “Well, thank you for that little note, Craig!” “Yeah, you’ll be sure to tell the others, Craig Matthew Juergensen!”

“At least we agree on the stuff”, says Moffat. If so, Nwodim says, they can all begin major reforms, “and we start with reparations” – proposed payments to the descendants of slaves for the lasting systemic socio-economic impact of slavery. “Now, wait just a minute…”

The news team, seeking harmony, moves on to other big stories from the week. McKinnon says, “More sad news this week. Unfortunately, we lost royalty yesterday.” “Yes, the rapper DMX died,” Nwodim adds. McKinnon’s anchor explains that she is talking about “the prince.” “Girl, Prince been dead,” says Nwodim. Moffat explains that she means Prince Philip of England. “Meghan Markle’s boyfriend??” Thompson asks.

Looking for even one news item to agree on, the team lands on Matt Gaetz, the US Senator currently accused of sex trafficking with a minor. While they seem to all agree that he is toxic, Redd comes to Gaetz’s defense, saying “17 is not all that young”. “That’s why you’re in trouble!”

With that, they give up trying to agree on anything, and drop the mic with the show’s opening catchphrase, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

You can watch the video on Facebook
What is your impression: Is this funny or serious? What makes you say that?

Where do the anchors agree, and where do they differ?

The list below contains the phrases used by the anchors to create common ground and to clarify their differing points of view.

Who says what, and in which context? Which phrases get laughs in that context, and why? Which would you use, in which of your contexts?

(repeat): “…”? – She means “…”
Wait, so what are you trying to say?
Propose common ground
This has been (highly emotional) for everyone, I’m sure.
There is no way that…
And I think we can all agree that…
We can’t deny that…
The last thing we want is…
Let’s just say,…
That’s all we’re saying.
You can at least admit…
Ok, look…
At least we agree on…
I know.
Sure did. Yep. No doubt about it.
Hopefully. That would be nice. God willing.
Of course not.
You know, that’s fair.
Agreed. I’m with you there.
Amen to that.
Can’t deny that. No argument there.
Well, I…
I’m not saying that.
I don’t know about that.
That’s a bad start.
I wouldn’t say that.
(Sarcastic tone) Well, thank you for that little note.
Not necessarily.
I don’t know what she’s talking about.
For who(m)? When?
Now, wait just a minute.

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,

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