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Nabokov on spoken language

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 15 Jul 2021, 17:27

Many courses that I teach and have teach discuss the differences between spoken and written language and I was interested to read the following description by the narrator in a novel by Nabokov that I was rereading recently:

“I am a bad speaker, and the oration which I seem to render word by word did not flow with the lissom glide it has on paper.  Indeed it is not really possible to set down my incoherent speech, that tumble and jumble of words, the forlornness of subordinate clauses that have lost their masters and strayed away, and all the superfluous gibberish …..”

This short extract seems to refer to the difficulty of transcribing speech, the frequency of false starts and redundancy, which is commonly mentioned in the literature on spoken discourse.

Nabokov, V (1965) Despair Harmondsworth:Penguin

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New blog post

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This is part of an essay written by a student I taught on an online course for a Chinese university.  It is interesting that she says she and her partner dare not speak, which is a major constraint in a speaking course.  This perhaps reinforces my view that it should have focused on writing skills and teachers who could teach face to face should have taught speaking.

It is interesting that she overstated my age by at least ten years.  I suppose 60 year olds look ancient for 18 year olds.

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Successful Adobe Connect tutorials - the student contribution is key

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I had a couple of Adobe Connect tutorials that seemed to work well last week.  This was because students asked questions and these replaced the tutorial slides and plans I had made.  Of course, I always have content prepared and if students stay quiet, I tend to go through the plan but this can seem mechanical and unrelated to what they really need - some students are strangers to me (from different groups, have been to tutorials with other tutors before) so I do not know the "gap" between where they are and where the course would ideally like to be.  Students asking questions based on their own concerns enable me to really address the needs but it demands something of students and some are willing to ask questions, make comments etc.

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A history of Spanish

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This is quite an interesting video on the history of Spanish.  I suppose it has something in common with Horrible Histories in style.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAGak27LddQ

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Why I write these posts

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 26 May 2021, 19:27

A student asked me some interesting questions about my purpose in writing the blog and my intended audience.  I suppose I had not even made these explicit to myself.

I think the postings are an opportunity to reflect on issues that seem interesting and relevant to me at the time of writing.  I also imagine that my main audience is myself although I do make the postings public so I hope some other people read and perhaps feel interested enough to comment.

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An interesting incident in a recent online tutorial

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Last Saturday, I was teaching an online class and one student who had been very engaged was speaking.  She came to an end and I started to respond and she had nor turned her microphone off.  A few seconds later, I heard quite loud talk in the background and gradually it got so loud I was finding it hard to get my message across.  I then said "X, please turn your microphone off" as politely as I could (and I really understand how easy it is to forget to turn the microphone on or off). 

One of her peers initially seemed to write in a blunt way - "X, turn your microphone off" but then softened this with "We can hear your family, darling".  Perhaps she had realised that she was verging on rudeness but then mitigated this by an affectively sensitive explanation. 

I suspect that tone is very important in these kinds of tutorials and it is easy to emphasise speed through very direct interactions but this additional comment was perhaps important in maintaining a good atmosphere - of course, I do not know exactly what the responses are and whether the later comment was helpful or even needed.  It is, however, clear that this was only a comment that could have been made by peers and probably only woman to woman (possibly, but unlikely, woman to man?)

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Coronavirus and language

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An earlier posting (https://learn1.open.ac.uk/mod/oublog/view.php?user=12245&taglimit=500&tag=coronavirus) has referred to the effect of Corona on language.  There is now a new article on the effect of the virus on the German language ttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/23/from-coronaangst-to-hamsteritis-the-new-german-words-inspired-by-covid?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

It shows some words are directly taken from one language to another - eg Covidiot and some make use of rhyme to be memorable eg CoronaFußgruß (corona foot greeting)

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Voice messages on WeChat

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 4 Mar 2021, 13:57

I notice that several ex students and colleagues contact me on WeChat by voice message rather than written messages and I wonder why this is.  Do they think it is easier to speak than compose a message?  It seems less convenient to me as the receiver as they cannot be processed as quickly.

This is a contrast to many of my OU tutorials where many students seem keener to use text chat than the microphone.

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Online teaching in China - personal experience

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 23 Feb 2021, 23:26

I have been doing some online teaching for a university in China.  There have been some challenges, perhaps largely due to too little notice about preparing and difficulties in communication.

Something that surprised me was that the original intention was that I would teach oral skills to a class sitting in a classroom with one shared microphone.  So, I was sitting in my room in Bristol seeing students and they could see me through a screen.  I would say something and responses involved students passing the microphone around the classroom.  This was clearly a very ineffective way of teaching.

Eventually, I managed to persuade the College to change the model so that students were working outside the classroom on individual computers or using the phone.  However, we were using Dingtalk and I was told that breakout rooms were not possible.  So, although the communication was improved, I was not able to monitor group work or even have any idea if it was actually taking place.

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Translation in times of crisis

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 23 Dec 2020, 12:36

I have just seen a tweet about a poor translation of advice into Polish https://twitter.com/TOrynski/status/1341540344832385024?s=20

The description of how poor it is makes use of back translation, a topic covered in L161.  A famous, but perhaps jokey, example is the back translation of "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" from Russian to "the vodka is good but the meat is bad".

It is surprising that the authorities could not find a good translator for the advice, especially considering how large the Polish community is in the UK.

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Stereotypes of OU lecturers again

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My wife sent me the following sentence from an email she received:

"My dad was on Open University BBC late night TV when I was a kid as the classic bearded wool jumper wearing maths type lecturer!"

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Stereotypes of OU lecturers.

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Some time ago I posted a Private Eye cartoon that featured a stereotype of OU lecturers.  I have discovered that there is at least one more cartoon that makes use of this view.

Thanks to Mike McNulty for sharing this.

Badly dressed OU tutors at a funeral

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Online teaching and mindsets

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I have recently been teaching a course on academic literacy to students studying for a doctorate at the Open University.  This is the first time for me although I taught EAP (mainly writing skills) to a group of Doctoral students at the University of Bristol for many years. 

The current course has existed for many years and I am taking over from previous tutors and, to some extent, building on what they have done rather than building a completely new course.  However, this is the first time it has been taught online.  There are certain constraints such as not being able to see each other and gauge desires and needs through expressions.  However, there are also some advantages like more people being able to access the course because they can do it from home (people were joining from other countries like Ghana and Cyprus as well as the length of the UK (several students in Scotland as well as some in the south of England).

We are using Adobe Connect, which is sometimes temperamental.  Today, I wanted students to analyse texts.  I first showed them in plenary and wanted participants to discuss them in a breakout room but they were not there when I expected them to be and would not load when I tried to download them.  This disconcerted me and I was about to exit and come back in (the equivalent of turning the computer on and off) but one student made the excellent suggestion that they take screen shots and then discuss from their screen shots.

This struck me as an example of the second mindset or the "new ethos stuff" that Lankshear and Knobel discuss.  I see the value of technology in helping learning but sometimes do not think creatively enough about this new way of thinking that technology enables.

Knobel, Michele and Colin Lankshear. 2007. “The New Literacies Sampler.” New York: Peter Lang, pp.2-17.  Available at https://newlearningonline.com/literacies/chapter-2/knobel-and-lankshear-on-the-new-literacies  [Accessed 04/11/20]


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Football and language again

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I have recently been watching the documentary "All or Nothing" about Tottenham last year.

There are a variety of languages used representing the multinational nature of the team.  I was interested to see Jose Mourinho talking one to one with the England international, Eric Dier in Portuguese.  Dier's Portuguese seemed fluent (but I am not expert on this) but I wonder whether there was a power dynamic at work here as it is obviously Mourinho's first language.

I was also struck by how often swear words were used as part of the culture.  Do the players and managers think this provokes more passion?  Interestingly, Amazon did not bleep out the "f word" but did bleep out the "c word".

There is also an interesting section where Mourinho learns the names of the players.  Again, there are aspects of hierarchies.  Harry Kane is called "Harry" so Harry Winks has to be called "Winksy".  He also asks the player Kyle Walker Peters if he is "Walker" or "Peters" and he replies "Walker Peters".  It seems surprising that Mourinho who has worked in Britain for a long time is not really aware of double barelled surnames.

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Multilingualism and football

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 14 Sep 2020, 17:52

I am preferring to watch football on the television without artificial crowd noise when I can.  This means that it is often possible to hear the managers and players.  I was watching Arsenal and Fulham and heard a few shouts in French as well as English.

The rather old fashioned pundit Martin Keown was disapproving and said that English should be the only language used.  This seems to be an assumption but as the manager of Arsenal, Mikel Arteta is multilingual, it seems reasonable that he should make use of his linguistic capabilities to speak in the language that is the most appropriate for the circumstance.  If he is able to speak French to the French players, it may give them a very slight advantage in terms of the time it takes to process the message as it is in their first language even if their English is good.  It might also help them affectively in feeling that their first language is valued.

The use of French might also be of value in confusing non French speaking opponents.  I remember listening to an interview with the ex Coventry player Dave Bennett where he said that he and Cyrille Regis often used patois, partly to confuse opposition players.  It might also have helped to bond Regis and Bennnett through commonalities in their backgrounds..

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MOOC on Antisemitism

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I have started a Future Learn MOOC on antisemitism.  So far, it seems much stronger than the rather vague MOOCs I had done recently on language and cultures.  I wonder whether my more favourable impression is the result of knowing less about the issues than on the previous ones but there does seem a more academic tone and engagement.

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Language and Covid

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There have been several articles on popular websites referring to language creativity and Covid.  The following is interesting in many ways:

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200522-why-weve-created-new-language-for-coronavirus

Key points I take from this are:

- there is creativity in recombining for new contexts (e.g. "quarantine and chill" repurposing "netflix and chill" although the latter seems to have a sexual implication that the former might not have)

- there seems to be a tendency to form abbreviations like WFH

- the metaphors used like "a war" are consequential and perhaps both reflect how people are thinking about the pandemic and how they may react to it.  There is perhaps a key role for politicians to think carefully about how these are used.  It was, for example, pernicious for so many allies of Johnson to say he would survive Covid because he was a fighter.  How does this make relatives of people who did not survive feel?

- the links between cultures and the forms used are clear - e.g. there seems to be a trend for Australian English to shorten words.  Presumably there are many more specific examples of creativity in smaller cultures.

I also read the following article about the way that new terms are being created in Welsh:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jul/23/coronavirus-coronafeirws-dictionary-welsh-speakers-wales

It seems telling that the writer refers to a term being "rather lengthy" in Welsh when the English is hardly shorter. 

Perhaps the most important point is that in the last paragraph where the Welsh language commissioner warns that Welsh speaking patients could be at risk if they are not able to use their own language.

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A creative notice on a shop

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 4 Aug 2020, 21:58

I saw the following poster yesterday and it links to some of the themes of some English language courses at the Open University.  The use of « the thing » rather than Covid is perhaps euphemistic but is perhaps also an inter textual link to the film of the same name.

The picture from the film Betty Blue is also a link to the product of the shop - it rents videos and also arranges for small scale screenings of films.  The reference to Betty Blue might also relate to the use of a French phrase at the end.

A poster on a video shop

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MOOC on Language and Culture

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 21 Jul 2020, 14:52

I have had a relatively quiet time at the moment in terms of tutoring duties so I decided to take a MOOC on Language and culture 

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/intercultural-studies-language-culture/6/todo/72483

As someone with a Masters in a related area and also being the tutor on L161, I was not expecting to be particularly challenged in terms of the content but I thought there might be some new perspectives.

Despite realistic expectations, I was rather disappointed by the course.  Many of the tasks were rather vague.  Course participants often posted interesting examples and ideas but there was no interaction with the course writer who might have been able to clarify exactly what she was expecting from the discussion.  I think this is quite a serious weakness.

There was a final test that did not seem to be well thought out. It had multiple choice questions and I am convinced that some of the answers that were not accepted could be argued for but there is no chance of dialogue on those.

Some of the content seemed very out of date.  For example, there was a document on the Welsh language that seemed to make some dubious assertions and the references were all quite old.

One of the learners also made the good point that sign language should have been considered.  This is an issue I have become particularly aware of in the past year as one of my students has been working with deaf students and there is a great deal of variation in language practices and cultures.

Perhaps the content of L161 has spoiled me but I was disappointed by the MOOC.  Anyone wanting to study this area would be better off studying with the OU.
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Online one to one tutoring for school children

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On the BBC news last night, I saw a brief extract of what was supposed to be online tutoring.  It all looked quite slick in terms of the quality of the picture and the tutor seemed empathetic but it seemed to be an example of the constraints of using a tool that provides a webcam of the tutor rather than a Whiteboard as in Adobe Connect.  The tutor held up a piece of paper that had a sentence on and asked the school pupil what mistakes there were (some words that should have been in capitals were in lower case).  She had to check the learner could see and it probably was not very clear.  With Adobe Connect, this can be put on the whiteboard, which would be clearer.  She then asked the learner how to correct it.  Again Adobe Connect might look less slick but would have the affordance of allowing the learner to be able to correct it themselves by using the "draw" tool.

It seems worrying that money is being spent on online tutoring tools that seem superficially "modern" but a less spectacular looking platform like Adobe Connect (or OU Live and Elluminate - previous OU tools) would be better in terms of pedagogy and allowing learners to do more themselves.

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MOOC on intercultural studies

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I have been studying a MOOC on intercultural studies for the past week

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/intercultural-studies-concept-culture/6/steps/736782

There are some differences from previous MOOCs I have studied.  It is shorter (two weeks) but more intense (5 hours per week).  There seems to be no presence from moderators/facilitators and some of the discussion questions seem slightly vague and it would be useful to get more feedback on what is expected.

The content is mainly quite familiar to me from previous studies but there are some useful examples which might be useful for future teaching, especially on L161.
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Online learning and inclusion

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Sunday, 17 May 2020, 13:54

The current situation means that online learning is being discussed more than previously.  This article https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/may/04/i-cant-get-motivated-the-students-struggling-with-online-learning is one of many that refers to the issues.

One issue that is mentioned is that some disadvantaged students may not have good computer equipment and/or a good internet connection that they need in order to study effectively.  This is presumably a useful reminder that the newest technologies might not be the most appropriate ones.

There is also the slightly surprising comment that "(s)ocial mobility experts are warning that the shift to online learning could severely hold back some students, including those from poorer backgrounds, care leavers, students with caring responsibilities and those with disabilities."  It seems that in many cases online study may be the realistic alternative for students who are from poorer backgrounds as they can combine study with work.  Those with caring responsibilities may have (and need) more flexibility about when they care and when they study.  In terms of disability, online learning seems the best option for many disabilities (eg severe social anxiety or physical disabilities that restrict movement).

Weller's mention of the importance of icebreakers for online learning seems important and the Open University's induction courses, early face to face tutorials (in normal times) and Forum activities seem important.

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Intensity and online tutorials

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Last Saturday, I had two online tutorials and was again struck by how intense they seem to be compared to face to face teaching.  There were several instances that struck me in this regard.

In the first tutorial, there were originally three students.  One suddenly disappeared and I was left wondering why that was.  She has not written since to explain so I am left slightly mystified.  Did she have technical problems?  If so, why not write to explain?  Did she think she was not getting what she wanted? 

Then during the rest of the tutorial, there were two students.  I know one quite well as he is in my tutor group and we have met face to face.  This means I feel comfortable pitching content to his level and interests.  We can refer back to previous conversations, his TGF contributions and assignments.  The other student was unknown to me which means I was having to react to any clues I could obtain about whether what I was doing was too quick/slow, complex/simple and my judgements were not helped by the way she was keener to use the textbox facility than speak.  She was also influenced by the way her family was in the room and sometimes this would presumably have affected her concentration.  My student was very sensitive to the dynamics and was keen to not dominate and eventually, it seemed like there was useful discussion and learning taking place.

The group for the afternoon tutorial was larger and this in some ways led to even greater diversity.  Three students only used text box chat and one of these hardly even used that and so I have no idea whether she obtained anything useful from the tutorial as I have no clue about her starting level and level of understanding of what we did.  However, the three who did use the microphones were engaged. I had not met any of the students before but one was in my tutor group so I did know something about her.  It seemed like we were able to do work where the students discussed issues in quite an exploratory way.  There was use of speech and text boxes as well as the drawing tool in the whiteboard so there was a rich multimodal communication.

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Associate Lecturer Assembly taking place online

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There was due to be a face to face meeting of the Associate Lecturer Assembly on Saturday but this has now been moved online.  It seems a pity but probably a good decision in the circumstances.

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Corona virus and online teaching

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I am in contact with several ex students who are university teachers of English in China and they are currently replacing classes that would have been face to face with online classes.  Classes at schools also seem to be interrupted and online teaching is being used through an app called DingTalk - students of mine also refer to Tencent as another platform (Wang 2020).

It will be interesting to see what emerges in terms of a new experience of online learning.  Perhaps there will be new innovative practices or possibly students and teachers will feel that online learning is inferior (if it is used badly, this seems possible).  I wonder whether researchers will use this as a test case.

In informal chats through WeChat, my ex students refer to problems related to poor broadband speeds or other technical problems and, of course, this is a problem we face at the Open University.

Wang XY (2020) "The word from Wuhan" London Review of Books Volume 42, Number 5 Available at https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n05/wang-xiuying/the-word-from-wuhan?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=4205&utm_content=ukrw_subs [Accessed March 4th 2020]

P.S. As I was writing, I got a notification that Italy is closing schools and universities https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/mar/04/coronavirus-live-updates-who-global-recession-fears-update-latest-news

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