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Patrick Andrews

Tutors and students learning more about each other

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I have been giving most of my TMA feedback by video recently and this seems to encourage more students to contact me (mainly by email).  I think this is a very positive phenomenon as it helps us make contact and learn more about each other.

I also had an email from a student yesterday informing me that her daughter would be in the room during the tutorial.  This was helpful as it made me aware that the student would be trying hard but there might be distractions.  In reality, it seems that it all went well from her point of view and that her daughter even listened in and was happy when her mother answered questions correctly.  I suppose being aware a child was in the room could have affected some of the content if it had been in any way distressing but that was not the case yesterday (and is not really an issue in any of my tutorials I can think of but could be if a tutor teaches other subject).

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Patrick Andrews

Linguistic authenticity in the new film about Bob Marley

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There are often complaints that accents and dialects in films are quite inaccurate so it is interesting to see that there have been efforts to ensure authenticity in the new film about Bob Marley https://www.theguardian.com/music/2024/feb/16/we-will-not-accept-fake-patois-jamaican-linguist-on-dialogue-in-bob-marley-biopic

I have not seen the film so I cannot judge how successful it is (I am also not an expert in this variety although I do have some experience of hearing patois/Patwa) but it is good that it is being taken seriously.

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Patrick Andrews

Video feedback - further thoughts

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I have been providing more video feedback and thinking more about the advantages and drawbacks.

Students have written and said it seems more personal and I can see why this seems to be the case. They can see that for at least ten minutes, their assignment is what I am concentrating on (of course, it is much more than this as I have already read and commented on the assignments).  This might help to reduce the "loneliness of the (long) distance learner". 

One student commented on how she had to listen on her phone and this represents an investment in terms of time for her and probably means that she will be engaging more with the feedback.  This does not mean she has to agree with it but it will at least mean she has something to reflect on as she makes progress.

Something I have come to think is that I should not rerecord unless I make a serious mistake.  The hesitations and grappling for the right way to express my views should be part of the experience for the writer.  I am not aiming to make my feedcback an example of a "good presentation" but an attempt to take the student's work seriously and ideally engage in dialogue.

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Patrick Andrews

Online tutorials from a tutor's perspective

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Saturday, 9 Dec 2023, 12:10

As a tutor, it is very helpful to have responses from students during the tutorial.

A few students in recent tutorials have put on their cameras and it is good to see them.  Many students say how my having my camera on helps them to feel more part of the group and reminds them that they are being engaged with in real time.  However, I recognise that there are good reasons why some students might not want their cameras on.

It is good to hear students' voices, at least at the beginning of the tutorial and I do think this also makes everyone feel that we are involved in a collective endeavour.  However, much academic work is done in a written format and use of the text chat option seems reasonable for many tutorials.  It is also quite advantageous in that many people can post at the same time.  It is helpful if students write messages like "This is helpful/I don't understand/I get this/ How is this relevant" in the chat box so I can know their reactions and what they think they are learning.

What can be difficult is to teach with is when students do not give any kind of feedback/response during a tutorial.  This means that the tutor is not clear whether the students are following or whether what is being discussed is too basic.  Just a few comments in the text box or empjis are much appreciated by tutors.

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Patrick Andrews

Threats to international education in the Netherlands

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 17 Nov 2023, 12:49

A few months ago, there was a report on how there was a backlash against EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction) in the Netherland and an article in The Guardian today shows how it is becoming an election issue https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/17/dutch-universities-slam-proposal-cap-foreign-students-omtzigt

It sees to show that the British government is not the only government is not the only political party that seems to be undermining one of the most successful parts of their economy.  It is very clear that internationalisation and the use of experts from all over the world has been very important in all kinds of innovations.

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Patrick Andrews

Video feedback for TMAs

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I am experimenting with giving some feedback in the form of spoken feedback with the student's assignment on the screen with a small window showing me talking, using Screen Pal.  I also provide less detailed written feedback.

I think there are advantages to providing feedback in this form.  One is that the tone of voice perhaps helps to show students that we are "on their side" and although we might make some criticisms, these are made with the intention of helping them.  This kind of feedback also means that students need to engage with feedback rather than briefly skim the written feedback.  Of course, this advantage only works if the students engage with the video feedback.

I emailed students whether they would like video feedback and I had a few replies and so far, I have restricted the video feedback to those who seemed keen to try it.  I am hoping they will comment on whether they preferred it and (more importantly) whether they learn more from it.

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Patrick Andrews

Multilingualism in Qing dynasty China

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We recently went to the exhibition "China's Hidden Century" at the British Museum https://www.britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/chinas-hidden-century, which was fascinating and, as is usually the case, language issues were very important.

The exhibition made it very clear that China was very much a multilingual society and there were recordings of texts in Mandarin, Cantonese, Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan.  This large variety of languages reflected the languages that were spoken in the Empire and Beijing, in particular, was a multilingual cosmopolitan city.

I bought Lovell's (2011) book on the opium wars to learn more about the background.  At several points, she discusses language issues.  She describes how the Emperors had a desire to learn languages.  For example, Qianlong knew six languages and used Mongolian and Tibetan in audiences with representatives of these groups.  He stated "I use their own languages and do not use an interpreter ......to conquer them with kindness"  (Lovell 2011: 90).  So, he saw knowledge of languages as giving power.

Not knowing languages was also seen as a way of preventing enemies or rivals from having power.  The Qing did their best to prevent foreigners from learning Chinese and Manchu.  This even went as far as making teaching foreigners Chinese in Canton in the early nineteenth century a capital offence (Lovell 2011).

Current politicians in the UK who do little to promote the learning and teaching of modern foreign languages could learn from the Qing Emperors.

Lovell J (2011) The Opium War London: Picador


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Patrick Andrews

James Meek on Ukraine

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Saturday, 28 Oct 2023, 11:04

I am fascinated by the language situation in Ukraine and the recent article by James Meek in the London Review of Books  ( https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v45/n16/james-meek/every-field-every-yard) helps to feed this interest.

Meek refers to those who have changed from using Russian to using Ukrainian and gives the example of a singer, Ruslan Kuznetsov, who used to sing in Russian but now uses Ukrainian.  He surprised Ukrainian speakers by using it so well but for many Russian speakers, this change will be a challenge.

Meek also refers to the way that English is playing a more important role and how it might be more sensitive to try English in Ukraine first rather than Russian if a person only knows English and Russian, which is the case for him.

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Patrick Andrews

Graduation ceremony at Cardiff University

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I attended the graduation ceremony for my son at Cardiff University today.  He has been studying modern languages so it would be expected that there is a focus on languages but this was made extra special by the mixture of Welsh and English in the ceremony and reception.  This is reinforced by the mixing of these languages and, of course, many others in the city as a whole.




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Patrick Andrews

A backlash against EMI?

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There is an interesting report in today’s Guardian of moves against the “Englishing” of degrees in the Netherlands 

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2023/jun/20/netherlands-seeks-curbs-on-english-language-university-courses?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

It is revealing that the government want international students to learn “basic” Dutch so that they will be more likely to stay and add to the dynamism of the Dutch economy - quite a contrast to the xenophobic attitude of the current UK government.  In fact, the learning of Dutch should also help the students to integrate and have a better experience even if their studies are through the medium of English.
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Patrick Andrews

Tutors discussing what makes a good tutorial

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 23 May 2023, 14:14

There have been quite heated discussions on OU tutor forums this week about what makes a good tutorial.

Several tutors feel that face to face tutorials are really best and any online tutorial is second best.  Others state that online tutorials are here and that the advantages of convenience are vital for students (and tutors) who are often very busy with other work.

I had one face to face class recently and it was good to meet students.  I also think they very much valued being able to meet each other.  The effect of knowing that they are engaged in the same course and have the same hopes, challenges, desires etc could be very helpful for maintaining their interest in the course.

Online tutorials can also help students to get to know each other and see how they are individuals working with other people who are different but see some aspects in common.  For example, yesterday, I had a tutorial with one student in the UK and another in Dubai.  We established that they both worked in the broad area of the "caring professions" and this helped them to bond. 

For me, a problem arises when students attend but do not participate.  This means that the tutorial becomes rather similar to the rest of the students' experience of the module.  They may be mentally interacting with the content of the module but they are not engaging with other students or enabling the tutor or fellow students to see how they are interpreting the module material and therefore we cannot give feedback.


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Patrick Andrews

Russian and Ukrainian in a time of war

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The Guardian published a report that it seems that many Ukrainians whose first language is Russian are trying to change the language they use most often to Ukrainian.  The article can be found  at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/apr/24/russian-speaking-ukrainians-want-to-shed-language-of-the-oppressor

There are interesting comments about how Russian had been seen as the language of the city of Kharkiv/Kharkov and how Ukrainian speaking people from the countryside had faced stigma and had often switched to Russian. 

There seems to have been a dramatic increase in the use of Ukrainian in formerly Russian speaking areas.  This has not happened suddenly and one speaker says she decided to use Ukrainian more after 2014 but this change has become more marked since last year's invasion.

One person in the article referred to Russian as a lingua franca and presumably it still could be if there become more contacts with other countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.  It will be interesting to see whether people in Ukraine continue to learn and speak Russian because of its instrumental usefulness or focus even more on languages like English and German.

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Patrick Andrews

"Everyone hates marking"

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This is the arresting title of an article by Lorna Finlayson in a recent edition of the London Review of Books.  She describes it as an activity that is despised.

However, she refers to it as being dignified and noble, even magical.  I think I can see something in what she says about this.  As a tutor, it is something that I spend a very large proportion of my time doing and I am aware that my marking has important consequences.  At times, it can inspire students and I sometimes have very grateful messages from students who feel that they have learned something from my marking (this is parhaps part of the noble and magical part).  However, I also get messages from students saying they find it confusing or discouraging (perhaps linking back to the "despised activity" Finlayson refers to.

Nowadays, we have criteria we are expected to mark to and this doubtless provides a transparency that was not the case when I was a student in the 1980s (I had no idea why I got the marks I did).  However, as Finlayson writes, these are often rather general and subjective. 

I prefer to think that the formative feedback suggesting to students what their strengths and weaknesses are is more important than the mark.  However, I doubt that many students agree with this and the marks clearly are high stakes for many students.

This means that there is often a tendency to mark quite generously - this is true of most lecturers at most institutions it would seem.  Finlayson makes an interesting point about this and the way it could lead to "grade inflation" when she writes:

"But even if it were possible to return to the good old days when only the top 10 per cent got firsts (and a similar proportion of the population went to university), why do it? To make it easier for Deloitte and Accenture to take their pick? Alternatively, you might make life a little easier for some young people who have been screwed over since before they were born. Whose side are you on?"

I am definitely on the latter side in principle but, of course, standards are important.  I would want the young people that follow to be treated by good doctors, taught by good teachers, served by good public servants etc.

She also refers to students asking what their markers want from their work.  I can empathise with them but also the teachers who often might not have a clear idea and willing to be open minded about what is good work.  I know that very good work from students sometimes surprises me with new insights and this is where marking can be magical (and I hope my responses to the work let my students realise that it is magical when it occurs).


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Patrick Andrews

Adobe connect sessions

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One of the most striking features of Adobe Connect sessions is that they are very unpredictable.  Sometimes, I have 20 students or more and sometimes it is just one student.  There certainly seems to be very little relationship between how many have signed up for the tutorial and how many actually attend.

I have had a couple of one to one sessions over the past few days and thought that they worked well.  It meant that I was able to get to know the student and work flexibly with them.  In both cases, there were some interruptions for family reasons on the student's part and they were able to disappear for a few seconds to deal with them and then we could resume the tutorial.  It also meant that we could focus on what the student felt they needed to focus on and pass over or ignore what was less important to them.

I had spoken with friends who had been teaching online in a university where tutorial attendance was compulsory and they found this hard to visualise and they asked questions like "how do you prepare if you don't know how many students come?"  I suppose the ability to be flexible is a key part of working at the Open University.

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Patrick Andrews

Language learning in Lea Ypi’s “Free”.

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 30 Jan 2023, 10:53

I very much enjoyed Lea Ypi’s “Free”, an account of growing up in Albania at a time of great changes.  The book is sometimes ironic as the reader gradually understands more than the narrator or the important people in her life.  There are quite frequent references to language and language learning.

One account that particularly resonates is when she describes her father feeling he needs to learn English after the demise of the Communist rule.  Ypi’s describes how he already knows five languages as well as Albanian.

He has a few setbacks when he tries to learn English but then he had some luck.  Ypi describes this as follows:

“Hope came in the form of a fortuitous meeting on the bus home from work with a group of young Americans.  Probably marines,  he said - that’s how he’d heard them introduce themselves.  One could see it in the discipline with which they carried their black rucksacks, in the tight fitting trousers, the crisply ironed white shirts.”

This all seems plausible but then something seems strange at the end of the paragraph:

“They organised free English classes in the evening, they said, and he was welcome to enrol.”

Would marines organise English classes?

Anyway, he joins the class and is happy:

“Not only was my father making fast progress learning English from native speakers, the textbooks were very interesting in their own right.  He learned about something called the Church of Latter-Day Saints and about a doctrine he had never heard of before.  ….The debates were very profound, very substantial, my father reported, never about the kind of trivialities you would expect in an elementary English class.”

So, it becomes clear that they were Mormons rather than marines, which seems more logical.  This reminded me of how religious groups used English teaching as a tool for spreading the religion.  When I worked in China in the 1980s, there was an American Christian group called ELI who sent English teachers who, more or less explicitly, aimed to spread Christianity.  I also remember that many students at Moscow university in the early 1990s were offered the chance to go to courses offered by the Moonies.

It is interesting that the father liked the courses as the content did not seem trivial to him.  In the book, he is portrayed as open minded and humane and this is reflected by his behaviour in class “My father didn’t take sides…. He enjoyed listening and arbitrating” but some of the other students became very agitated as they put forward the Muslim perspectives. 

The issue of what is to be taught in General English classes is a key one.  Content which is motivating for some people (as this is for the father) might be boring for others (it would be for me) or perhaps alienating for others (perhaps those who have particularly strong opposing religious views).

Ypi’s grandmother thought the Mormons were dishonest about their motives but in keeping with his easy going nature, her father suggests that most of the students (who were often devout Muslims) gave as good as they got.

The extract seems typical of much of the book by describing important changes in people's lives in a humorous way.  This links quite closely to what my students on L101 are studying at the moment.  Hultgren (2019: unit 14) discusses humour and describes various categories.  It seems that this book mainly makes use of "breaking with expectations".  This occurs as the father originally thinks marines are organising language classes whereas it is Mormons.  There is also some surprise as the father enjoys the arguments where perhaps many readers might find the arguments tedious or threatening.


Hultgren AK (2019) Unit 14: Breaking with expectations, in L101: Introducing English language studies. Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1994429 (accessed 27 January 2023)

Ypi L (2021) Free London: Penguin

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Patrick Andrews

Christmas greetings in languages of the UK

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 18 Jan 2023, 16:15

This is a list of Christmas greetings in indigenous languages of the UK

https://twitter.com/uklanguagemaps/status/1606932757019607043?s=61&t=90DAp2beqMYFHq-zO-qzNA

The course L101 discusses the Scottish languages as part of the course.

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Patrick Andrews

Language and slavery 2

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Saturday, 26 Nov 2022, 20:04

Another part of the exhibition at the National Museum was a card that talked about language related to slavery.  This made an argument that “the trade in enslaved people” is a preferred term to the slave trade.  It emphasises that the people affected were people first of all and that something happened to them rather than being slaves as their whole identity.

I was interested to see this term being used on a sign I saw on The Christmas Steps  in Bristol yesterday.


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Patrick Andrews

Language and slavery

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Last weekend we visited our son in Cardiff and went to the reframing Picton exhibition at the National Museum of Wales 

https://museum.wales/blog/2458/Reframing-Picton--from-idea-to-exhibition/

The main focus is on whether someone so cruel should be glamorised and has parallels with the Colston issue in Bristol (and there is even a Picton Street near where we live).  The exhibition is interesting and important in its own right but there were some particular areas that link to my interest in language.

One part of the exhibition discussed the trial of Picton for the sadistic torture of a young woman and her testimony is described as follows:

It is interesting that the Creole is described as a corruption.

This report is from the following source.
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Patrick Andrews

Open Learn Ukrainian course

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 8 Nov 2022, 15:23

There is now a free Ukrainian course on Open Learn 

https://www.open.edu/openlearn/languages/introduction-ukrainian-language-and-culture/?active-tab=description-tab

I think it is particularly aimed at people who have contact with Ukrainian refugees but I am finding it interesting as someone who knows Russian and is interested in that part of the world in general.  

I have done the first two weeks of the five week course.  I had started learning Ukrainian on Duolingo.  This Open Learn course is generally better.  It is more contextualised and teaches in a more varied way that the “sink or swim” approach of Duolingo - I wonder if I could have coped without my knowledge of Russian because nothing is really taught on Duolingo.

The Open Learn course has discussion forums and they provide some social learning but they have not been used much yet.  There has been some feedback and I hope that as more people join there will be more interaction.
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Patrick Andrews

Adobe Connect tutorials

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 13 Oct 2022, 19:04

I had my first two tutorials of the academic year yesterday.  It was obviously early in the course and I could not expect the students to know much of the course content so developing a good rapport was probably the main aim.

One seemed to do this better than the other.  In one tutorial, very few were prepared to use their microphones and this led to a slightly stilted tutorial.  It was still useful but it did not really help students to break down barriers and think of how they can support each other.

The other seemed livelier as students turned their microphones on and we were able to speak more naturally.  Unfortunately, my slides did not load (there was no problem with that in the other tutorial) which meant it flowed less smoothly than it might have done.

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Patrick Andrews

Article on plurilingualism in The Observer

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 5 Sept 2022, 09:40

This is quite a good newspaper article on parents and schools encouraging children to speak several languages and for a newspaper article, it seems quite well linked to what seems to be known.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/sep/04/britains-multilingual-children-we-speak-whatever-language-gets-the-job-done-?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

It seems that there are great benefits to knowing several languages besides the practical ones.  This is true for older people as well.  People can become more flexible and this confers cognitive benefits and it also seems that being multilingual can help with recovery from strokes and make the development of dementia less likely.

There still seems to be resistance in some places to the development of languages other than English at school but this is perhaps less true than it used to be.

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Patrick Andrews

Language issues - Russian and Ukrainian

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 4 Aug 2022, 17:07

As often, the London Review of Books has an interesting blog posting related to some of the language issues regarding the invasion of Ukraine and how language choices may often reflect the social realities (Hanafin 2022).  The writer is studying Russian in Paris.

One point that is made is that Ukrainian is very different from Russian.  I am trying to learn Ukrainian on Duolingo and my previous knowledge of Russian is a great aid in this but I am struck by how much is different.  The language distance seems as great as between Russian and Slovak.  Incidentally, there is mention of the language/dialect distinction and this is always a political rather than a linguistic one (there is a famous quotation that a language is a dialect ""a dialect with an army and a navy" (attributed to Weinreich, RLG 2010).

A second point that resonated was the way that teaching examples might change.  So, Hanafin describes how his teacher is adding points about how people and institutions referred to in the texts used for teaching are affected by the war.  This seems to be a reminder that texts used for teaching are not politically neutral and presumably ignoring the war would be a political choice that for Russians would be tacit support for the war.  In a similar way, many language teaching texts address political issues such as climate change.  Language teachers may not be politicians but they do have political as well as language and teaching interests.

Hanafin refers to the way some refugees he encounters "couldn't or wouldn't speak Russian".  The latter seems more plausible to me but of course, I do not really know.  I can imagine that many Ukrainians may now have a negative attitude to the language of the invaders.  This slightly reminds me of a more trivial example I experienced in Hungary.  I do not speak Hungarian and encountered a waiter who did not speak English and seemed apologetic about this, I tried French and again he seemed apologetic but when I tried Russian, he seemed indignant that I asked. 


Hanafin S (2022) Translation exercises LRB Blogs at https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2022/july/translation-exercises?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20220803blog&utm_content=20220803blog+CID_dc3d5ac355cacfedc0624ee8c34eefb4&utm_source=LRB%20email&utm_term=Read%20more {accessed 04/08/22}

RLG (2010) Of dialects, armies and navies The Economist August 4th 2010 at https://www.economist.com/johnson/2010/08/04/of-dialects-armies-and-navies {Accessed 04/08/22}

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Patrick Andrews

The importance of language for integration

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 4 July 2022, 16:23

My son is studying in Germany and we went to visit him last week.  We met in Dusseldorf and went to a museum about the state he is living in and there was an interesting section on immigration into the state.  Language was often an important issue and this is one of the captions.

Caption about the importance of language in the case of an immigramt to Germany from Russia.

It is interesting that she believed that "language is a key to life in Germany".  They are described as learning German from dictionaries, which no teacher training course on language teaching would recommend.  However, this seems to show how important having investment in wanting to learn a language is (Norton 2010).  These people have a real investment in the imagined community they want to join.


Norton B (2010) "Identity, Literacy, and English-LanguageTeaching" TESL CANADA JOURNAL/REVUE TESL DU CANADA1VOL. 28, NO 1, WINTER 2010


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Patrick Andrews

Use of sources

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Sunday, 7 Aug 2022, 11:34

I have been marking a lot of work recently - about 70 EMAs and a large number of final TMAs.  Something that strikes me is issues around use of sources and referencing.

One issue is that many students overquote and some even seem to think that there is only a need to reference if they quote.  This seems a quite ineffective way of referring to knowledge of the course.  The references are often too wordy for the point they need to make.  Sometimes they do not make sense out of context - e.g. writing "now" or even "yesterday" when the student's work is about the situation a few years later. 

Another issue is that many students put a full stop before a reference when the reference finished the sentence.  Sometimes students even put a full stop before and after a reference.  This seems to suggest that they consider the reference as being apart from the rest of the sentence rather than an integral part of the text. 

These perhaps suggest that there need to be new ways of presenting how sources are used in academic contexts.

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Patrick Andrews

Time wasted on inappropriate training modules

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 23 May 2022, 10:37

Occasionally, staff need to do online training on issues like safety and the "one size fits all" means that time is wasted on irrelevant content.  For example, I had to do a course on health and safety for people who work remotely.  This included several minutes spent on safe behaviour when driving.  I do not drive and do not intend doing so.  Perhaps there could have been a yes/no question about whether the person taking the course drives and if they answer "no", they would not have faced the questions.

There were also some fairly irrelevant questions about carrying heavy loads at work.  I do not carry anything heavier than a book for work but I suppose that content could be useful for other times in my life.

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