An Interview with Miles Craven from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I first saw Miles speak a couple of years ago at another JALT event, and at the time was very impressed with his fair but candid assessment of writing and publishing in ELT. When I started this series he was one of the people I was hoping to talk to, so I was delighted to see his name as a featured speaker at this years JALT conference in Shizuoka.  Amongst other things, we talked about how a book is put together, design, the pain of writing, the needs of students and teachers and the future of the publishing industry.

The edit point is for me to politely ask a couple of blokes to pipe down, not for Miles to dish any major dirt on well-known authors, so don’t get too excited. Once again, the worms-eye view is in operation. We do what we can with the equipment…..

An Interview with Scott Thornbury from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Scott was giving a plenary at the Japan Association of Language Teachers national conference in Shizuoka this weekend, as well as a couple of presentations, but was kind enough to spare me half an hour or so for a chat. We talked a grammar, Vygotsky and socio-linguistics (inspired by James Lantolf, who was also speaking at the conference), technology, textbooks, testing and, of course, dogme. Like his fellow Kiwi Paul Nation, he is a thoroughly nice chap. If you want to pick up some of Scott’s books (and I really recommend that you do – he has a great talent for bringing complex concepts to life)  you can get them through my store and contribute a few pennies towards the running of this site at the same time….


Window-dressing vs. Cross-dressing in the EFL Sub-culture. (The article I referred to in the interview… revived by the magic of twitter)

The New School– Online MA programme which Scott Thornbury (amongst others) is teaching on.

Scott’s own website, where you can see his edited plenary slides and plenty more.

Apologies, as usual, for the racket in the background and the occasional cropping of vital body parts.

A presentation at the Japan Association of Language Teachers conference in Shizuoka,  21/11/2009.

Choosing the technology that works for you! from darren elliott on Vimeo.

You can download a copy of the handout here. I’d love to hear your feedback on the presentation itself or, better, any of the technology you are using. How do you check out whether it’s right for you or not? Any questions I missed? Have I neglected issues important in your context?

An Interview with Angela Buckingham from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Today I talked to textbook writer, teacher and teacher trainer Angela Buckingham about how she got into textbook writing, why the characters in her books are non-native speakers, the differences between certificate and diploma trainee teachers and working with asylum seekers in the UK Further Education context. She was great company and didn’t even mind too much when I asked her to hold up two of her textbooks to camera, and she had plenty more of interest to add after the cut. Charles, by the way, is our local OUP rep who is busy guiding her around the area. He’s a pretty good sport too!

In a previous post I mentioned an article I had read on ‘nativised’ reading materials – readings which are adapted to include local (and familiar) names, places and foods (for example) whilst retaining the vocabulary and grammar structures of the original. In the article, the researchers took a story based in New York and transplanted it to Canakkale, a coastal Turkish city. The authors reported that students’ reading fluency was best with a combination of pre-reading tasks and ‘nativised’ readings. I had a little correspondance with Salim Razi, one of the authors, who is kind enough to allow me to reproduce some of his insights here.

Recently I have been reading a book titled ‘Acts of reading: Exploring connections in pedagogy of Japanese’ which was edited by Hiroshi Nara and Mari Noda (2003). It might help me answer your question, I suppose. Nara gives an example of a tofu recipe in the book (I think, you are familiar with tofu soup as you are living in Japan but I am not as a Turkish resident). It is important to make an awareness of the topic by providing essential background knowledge in case of lack of relevant prior knowledge; however it is also important to provide the balance between teaching culture and reading comprehension. The teacher needs to consider his/her aims in asking students to read the text. If the aim is comprehension then is it really vital to spend much time on culture? I do not mean to imply that we should not teach culture in foreign language classes; but I try to stress that culture should be taken into consideration when it is necessary. Especially if we are teaching English which has more non-native speakers than native ones and called as franca lingua. The case might be different for Japanese language teaching as Japan is the only country in the world speaking it. We have Japanese language teaching department here at Canakkale and I know that they integrate much more cultural elements into their curriculum.

It’s a point I think we have to consider. If we learn the Japanese language, we need to study the culture too. I don’t disagree with that. Is English different from other languages in this regard? Is there even an ‘English’ culture? And how do teachers of Spanish, French, Arabic and other languages with a wide range deal with it? Is it a debate for them too?

I have a confession to make. My Japanese is pretty crappy. There, I’ve said it.

I mean, I can read a menu. I can figure out what’s going on when I watch a movie or join a conversation about everyday topics. I can go shopping and get around. And in my defence, Japanese has three writing systems, one of which contains thousands of ideograms. Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking how great it would be to be able to read a whole newspaper….

I can think of several reasons why a language teacher should also be a language student.

  1. It makes one more empathetic towards the students.
  2. It helps understanding of WHY students make certain mistakes with English
  3. It enables the teacher to use L1 in the classroom
  4. It sets a good example for the students

A serious question of priorities. Ideally, I would study Japanese, teach, do classroom research, publish and present, spend time with my friends and family, watch the football, keep up my photography, and go to the gym. Some of you self-disciplined scoundrels manage it all, I know. But if you are native speaker of the language you teach, do you think it is more important to study another language, or to engage in professional development activities? Which, ultimately, makes you a better language teacher?

(I can read most of these signs…)

*extra points if you can place the title

I am a sucker for an analogy. Only this week I got contorted in a lengthy comparison of the plight of Southampton Football Club, starting the season on minus ten points but now powering up the third division, to a student who had missed the first few lessons and homeworks but had buckled down and caught up. I sense it went somewhere north of the head of my American colleague but no matter… I’m with George Lakoff when he claims that pretty much all human thought is expressed through metaphor.

It’s time for the mid semester reflections, to look back on what we have learnt, to reassess goals from the beginning of the semester and to galvanise for the final push, and I’ve been organising my materials ready for class. One of my favourite questions, and most enlightening, is the simple metaphor tester I open with. “A teacher is…. “, a “A learner is….” and “Language learning is…”. Unlike Dede Wilson (whose excellent article just dropped through my letter box wrapped up with a bunch of other good stuff in English Teaching Professional) I give the students no options, nor guidance. Nevertheless, regardless of level, the students have no problem grasping the concept and running with it … metaphor is a universal, after all.

Oxford et al. came up with a detailed taxonomy for these metaphors, but I’ll place them into just three categories. These are all common examples from previous classes.

1. Nuturing. Teacher as gardener, parent etc. Student as flower, child….

2. Controlling. Teacher as dog trainer, god etc. Student as dog, disciple…

3. Utility. Teacher as map, encyclopedia etc. Student as traveller, researcher…

There are a few things we can do with this. The first is to see which students match with our own metaphors as teachers, and which don’t. How are the students who see things differently performing? Are there discipline issues? Can we adjust our teaching to meet the needs of those students, or offer them support which fits with their beliefs about the learning process? I speculate that there is a strong correlation between metaphor choice and learner autonomy, for example.

But deeper than that, I wonder if the beliefs or the metaphor are the driving force. Can we, simply by reframing a metaphor, adjust the learners whole approach? If nothing else, it is the most immediate and direct method of raising the learners’ awareness of their own inner feelings about what they are doing.

Further Reading

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Oxford, R., Tomlinson, S., Barcelos, A., Harrington, C., Lavine, R.Z., & Saleh, A. (1998). Clashing metaphors about classroom teachers: Toward a systematic typology for the language teaching field. System 26(1), 3–50.

Wilson, D. (2009). Learning language is like… English Teaching Professional 65 (November), 18-19.

(and if you still want to know what a gift from a flower to a garden is, meditate on this)