We recently visited Nice and were struck by many signs written in the local dialect. As someone who understands French quite well, I was struck how different it was from standard French. For example, the badge of the football team has “Despi 1904”, which I assume is the equivalent of “depuis 1904”. The picture below shows a bilingual sign with French at the top and the dialect underneath.
I have been listening to a very interesting radio programme on polyglots at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz4pt
There are interesting points about the ways that knowledge of languages brings power (reference is made to Mandela learning Afrikaans, which was seen as the language of his oppressors but that it was much more useful for him to know it than not know it). This seems to have resonance with the need for English speakers to know other languages.
A speaker explains how the knowledge of several languages helps her to gain respect. It also helps her to break down stereotypes.
This tweet received wide attention recently and it seemed to relate to issues on some of the courses I teach:
Some key points that seem to emerge are:
- the interactional function is key here. It is not clear what the baby is expressing and if he understands what his father is saying (it is doubtful that he understands much of the informational content) but there seems to be a strong communication of fellow feeling, companionship here
- the communication is multimodal as the two of them use gestures to accomapany what they say
- they often mirror the gestures
This interview is interesting and relevant for several of the courses on language at the Open University.
I find this quotation most interesting "What is Chinese English for me? Chinese English is not somebody learning English from China and getting it wrong.
No, it's somebody learning English from China who is now developing a good command of English but using it to express Chinese concepts and Chinese culture in a way that I would not necessarily understand, because I don't understand Chinese culture, coming from outside it."
Presumably this would include political concepts like "the four modernisations", food terms and educational terms like "gao kao" (the National College Entrance Examinations) as well as historical terms related to Confucianism and Daoism.
I recently registered for a MOOC on learning Korean.
I was rather shocked by how little scaffolding there is in terms of basics when it is supposed to be for beginners. The first input is a video and the transcript is in Korean script. There had earlier been a list of Korean characters with very vague advice on their sounds but no practice of these sounds.
I find this very different from the careful scaffolding that is given for most Open University courses.
This article on multi-ethnic London English (MLE) https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/mar/29/ching-wap-ox-slang-interpreters-decipher-texts-for-court-evidence links to several courses I teach.
It shows how language and sub cultures interrelate and how groups might want to include and exclude certain kinds of people (there is a reference to "a “cryptolect” – a language meant to hide things". A link is made near the end of the article with Polari, which is studied in Exploring Languages and Cultures (L161).
The comment by a young "drill producer" that "If it was a young person like me translating it would be more accurate. You want to understand the context" could almost be the motto for understanding language and language use and context is certainly key.
It also seems that the variety is influential outside London and is even known in East Yorkshire so the language seems to be connected to a culture that transcends geographical boundaries.
It was also interesting to read the origin of words (mainly Caribbean but with some Arabic and Polish) and this presumably reflects some of the origins of some users.
There have been many depressing reports of a decrease in the number of people studying languages. This is reflected in this article
An interesting point is that "more than half (58%) of UK adults wish they hadn’t let the language skills they learned at school slip, 77% agree that language skills increase employability and just over half (53%) regret not having made the most of studying languages when they had the chance."
It is to be hoped that Brexit does not happen but it seems that the lack of encouragement to learn languages and to understand other cultures may have been a factor in causing the referendum result.
I have come across this dialect quiz.
Interestingly, when I tried it, the answer came as the Midlands (I lived in Coventry for the first 11 years of my life) and the north west of England - I did live there for about 5 years but I spent longer in Cambridgeshire, including my secondary school education.
There seems to be a very useful EAP initiative at the OU where students are referred for one to one help and I am hoping to be involved in this. I have had some referrals already but one student withdrew before making contact and another two have not yet replied.
This kind of support seems to be very useful and seems similar to the way pupils are supported with linguistic needs by teachers at school rather than taking separate English lessons.
I spent yesterday at the tutor briefing for the new course "Introducing English Language Studies" (L101). It looks like a very interesting course to be working on with a wide range of materials and topic.
I like the variety of genres for assessment - tutor group forum postings for TMA 1, presentation slides and script for TMA 2, a commentary for TMA 3 and an essay for TMA 4. This should help to raise awareness of the wide range of different uses and style of language even if they are all in an "academic context".
There now seems to be widespread agreement that the appointment of Peter Horrocks as Vice Chancellor was a very big mistake and thankfully the Open University now seems to be led by a VC who is committed to the students and staff.
It is interesting reading the latest edition of the London Review of Books to see how many of the characteristics of the management of the BBC and especially the World Service presaged the management style he carried on to the OU
I think most of the staff and students now feel much more confident about the university than we did one year ago.
I have just seen a fascinating tweet from Michael Rosen:
"My mother was a ‘suppressed ‘ bilingual. We discovered on a trip to Germany in 1957 her first language was Yiddish which from about 15 she suppressed and repressed. I’m still figuring out the personal, social and political reasons why she did and what we all lost as a result."
I wonder if he will ever be able to completely figure "out the personal, social
and political reasons why she did" it.
I have been spending the day at the Associate Lecturer Assembly.
There was a brief talk by Mary Keller, the Acting Vice Chancellor, followed by a more extended discussion. She was persuasive and quite inspiring in some ways. She seems very committed to the vision of the Open University making a difference to students’ lives. She also seems flexible about ways of working, including the continuance of face to face as well as online tuition. I certainly feel more optimistic about the OU’s future than under the previous VC.
We were also updated on the prospect of an AL contract. There has been discussion of the for nearly two decades but it now looks more likely than at any previous time. This should make the position of tutors more secure.
In the afternoon, there was an interesting talk by Cath Brown, President of the Open University Students Association. We discussed the issue of whether we thought we should encourage students to use microphones rather than text chat in online tutorials. I tend to think it should depend on context but the widespread use of text chat in online tutorials can be useful but is very tiring for the tutor if they need to speak and monitor and in these cases, tutorials should be kept to one hour in length.
A video has been produced to discuss the benefits of attending tutorials. The speaker was one of my students last year and showed great levels of initiative and drive by travelling for several hours to attend my tutorials. The video can be found at:
Over the past few years, I have taught several students in prison. The OU's support of students seems to be very laudable as it can help in rehabilitation and I have often found students in prison hard working and serious about their students. Most have made very good progress.
There are, however, quite serious challenges and my experience today illustrates one of the main ones which is the way that students are often moved. I have spent several weeks trying to arrange a tutorial with a student and the Education Officer told me yesterday that it might have to be cancelled. This morning, the cancellation was confirmed as he has moved prison so my work in arranging the meeting has been a waste of time.
As most of my OU courses only run from October to June, I need to do other work to "keep the wolf from the door".
This year I did two. One was at Reading and involved working with teachers of EAP from Chinese universities. I have done this several times before and it is always interesting and enjoyable although the teachers are from such diverse institutions and backgrounds that it is difficult to know how much impact there is.
The second course was a pre-sessional at Warwick. I have done many pre-sessionals in the past (at Manchester and Bristol) but this was my first one for more than five years. It was similar to previous ones in that it was largely based around a small scale study project.
It was, however, quite different to previous pre-sessionals in that it was very specific. All of the students will be studying for a Masters degree in Supply Chain Management. We were given relatively light teaching loads so that we could design quite specific materials and I quite enjoyed working with content on the topic and helping to scaffold students to cope with articles using content that was relevant.
My teaching was "Text based studies" (ie reading and writing). We worked with three articles and there was variation in the style and formatting. One made much more use of diagrams than the other two and one of the others described the research methods in more depth. If I did the course in the future, I would also like to make more use of student writing such as responses to the kinds of assignments students would write.
Working towards a Study Project seemed quite focused and authentic but the final week of the course consisted of tests that seemed less valuable. Some students on the course (this were mainly from other groups rather than the one I taught) seemed to be very disappointed with their results and I wonder how much of a blow this would have been to their morale as they are about to enter their courses.
I have needed to do various kinds of training on aspects like the GDPR legislation, Health and Safety and Prevent for my work at the Open University and other universities. Although these aspects are important and it is vital that I know some of the content (the OU could face a very heavy fine if its staff, including myself, make serious mistakes in terms of the protection of data), I am struck by how trivial some of the assessment is. For example, I did a GDPR module at another university today (I am working on a presessional course) and one of the questions was about the organisation responsible's name and I needed to get this correct to pass the test where in the real world, I would need to know more than the name but how to contact them if there was really a problem.
These kinds of multiple choice questions are often very inappropriate for such areas of knowledge where the real issues are exercising good judgement in complex issues. Universities need to decide whether they really want to train and assess their employees' skills or whether their aim is just to put the responsibility on the employees if anything goes wrong.
I have been teaching some EAP classes recently (presessional) and have been encouraging students to use mobile phones at times in class (eg searching for articles using search engines like Google Scholar). I think this is often appropriate and most students use the phones appropriately.
Today, I saw a large lecture where the lecturer made use of Answer Garden (https://answergarden.ch/) to make a lecture more interactive than it would have been. Students could type short responses to questions that are then displayed on a screen as a kind of word cloud. I think this has potential to make lectures more interactive than they would otherwise be.
Final results for many of the courses I teach have just been released. Some students have given feedback on the courses, which I think is useful for me and the designers of the courses as it indicates what students think has been particularly pertinent for their needs.
The comments are probably quite altruistic but I think they can improve the effectiveness of my future support for students on future courses.
I have been marking quite a large number of TMAs for L185 (EAP Online)
and LB170 (Communication Skills for Business and Management) and notice
that many students only reference when they quote something from a
source. I suppose this is a common misconception that references are
only needed when the exact words are used. Perhaps this is compounded
by the way that sometimes students are asked to write from a limited
number of sources that they know I, as the marker, has read. They also
have to use a great deal of material from these sources and it can
perhaps seem unclear where the reference would go - at the end of each
sentence, at the end of a paragraph, at the end of several paragraphs?
Considering how to be more effective in raising awareness will be an
important aspect of teaching on these courses next year.
I recently went to London to make a podcast with two other tutors on E304. The aim was to give advice for students on doing their EMA. The edited version of the first part of the discussion can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrD9XnZGDVw&feature=youtu.be - I think the second part will be available soon.
I think/hope that hearing tutors discuss what they are hoping for in an EMA can be useful for students when they are writing their own work. I think it might help to demystify the project and make it seem manageable. It might also help the students that tutors are consistent and clear about what kinds of aspects they are looking for.
It is interesting to listen to Helen Sharman at about 58 minutes of this programme describing how the first few months of her training to go into space were devoted to learning Russian and physcal fitness.
She seemed very matter of fact about the need to learn it.
I am impressed by the dedication and commitment of many students and I was struck by one particular example yesterday. I had a tutorial yesterday evening and all the students who attended were very engaged and this is impressive in itself as they have busy lives and online tutorials are useful but not always easy ways for students to study as they require a great deal of concentration. One student joined the tutorial from China and he said it was 3 am there and he had especially set his alarm to wake up for it. He only used the textbox function rather than the microphone as his wife was sleeping in the next room (his choice seemed reasonable in the circumstances). He made a very useful contribution despite having only just woken up.
I am experimenting with the use of screencasts to support students with study skills and content on analysing English grammar. So far, I have made the following:
On aspects of theme https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFehbwDXbm
Lexical cohesion https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFnrb4o9kt
Using sources in assignments https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFVX6oo6C5
I have just come across this intriguing site.
It enables the viewer to not only hear the sounds but includes a video
of how the sound is made. It seems useful for learners but I wonder how
easy or otherwise it is for the to transfer the video to their own
production in practice.
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