Month: September 2010

Motorway signposts in Europe

Men at work!

Here are just a few thoughts about the way we use language in motorway signs:
Whilst travelling across Europe by car, this summer, I noticed an interesting cultural variation in the way different states justify the fact that the whole of the area seems to have become one big building site. It started in italy when we were simply informed on the Modena/Brennero motorway that there were “lavori in corso” (Work underway). Admittedly, the closer we got to Bolzano this was also provided with the succinct German version “Vorsicht! Bauwerk.” (Be careful! Bulding Work) This is already more than just information as it tells us to “be careful”, stressiing the idea that this work may be dangerous for drivers. When we got to Austria though it was interesting to note that it was not simply a question of giving information or telling us that it might be dangerous:

“Wir bauen fuer Sie!” (We’re building for you)

This stresses the interpersonal aspect of language in use, telling us that this is for our benefit and thereby maybe stops us complaining. Is this because the Austrian public expects to be taken more seriously, treated as thinking human beings with their own contribution to make to their society.

In French speaking Luxembourg and Belgium the message became:

Avec l’intelligence cela avance!
Men at work…

The English added perhaps out of a sense of respect for visitors, in line with the geographical position which means that so many people cross these areas, and rather than the Austrian interpersonal the emphasis here is on human intelligence and creativity. The message seems to be something like: see what we are building together: a newer, better Europe, perhaps.

In fact, when you are driving across the continent it just seems as though everyone has put off basic maintenance work until the summer, but reading the signs helps you to spend the time in the traffic queues as well as providing food for thought.

More on the Baking Cakes video

If you read the last blog abt baking cakes and saw the video the grammar purists among us may well have thrown their hands up in horror at the “conditionals”. I also reacted badly when I first started noticing this simple past use in what is effectively a third conditional, because “It isn’t the way I use it so it has to be wrong, right?” Well, no, actually, if we’re being descriptive rather than prescriptive the answer is “No.” There is a large segment of the English speaking world that uses the simple past in this way, so this has to be respected.
I also reacted badly when I first noticed the use of “would have” creeping in where I would use the simple past (We’re still in the realm of the third conditional.” One summer, in the UK, it was suddenly everywhere: on the TV, in the streets. ( It might have already arrived in the spring but living abroad means that I only tend to get back in the summer, and then I notice all kinds of novel usage.) I heard people saying things like: “If you would have told me I’d have known!” Again I would never use a conditional form where what I think I need is a subjunctive (or a past perfect doing the same job.) But this is only a matter of convention and if a large enough community wants to use the conditional to do the same job, well, who am I to protest?

It’s so easy to get fixed in our ways and think that of course we know best, but language, like so many things, is constantly in flux.

having said that I did think twice about using that particular video in class and in the end decided not to as it might have confused my poor students.

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The power of baking cakes

The effect of the cake depends on how you mix the ingredients

It’s raining quite hard in Verona this morning so rather than going out and busily “achieving not very much” I decided it was the perfect time to sit down and reflect, or at least to write what I was thinking on Facebook. Feeling irritated, like so many people these days, with the overload of information we are all bombarded with, all the time, I wrote that information without knowledge and wisdom is like the ingredients without the cake. This sparked off a little discussion which made me reflect a bit more. (So, yes, Facebook can be used in all kinds of ways 🙂 ) In fact, making a joke, I addedd that cakes are also very dangerous, as we all know.

On reflection though this is not a joke because the power of the cake lies with the baker rather than  with the person who eats it. The baker decides what to put into it, and therefore what the effect will be. This is true of many things in life, not forgetting, of course lesson planning and teaching (Two of the many points in the learning  process. )

The person who eats the cake, or goes to the lesson, also contributes to the process though, by exercising choice. You can choose which cake to eat, how much of it etc. but we have to think about what it is that leads us to choose one particular cake and not another…. This opens it all up for even more thought and discussion.

In any case, reflection is the essential part of the process. If we just throw in the ingredients without thinking, or if the cakes we eat are mass produced by unthinking machines, for instance, the results will be questionable, at the very least.

So, I’m off to meditate now… and then I might bake a cake…

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Bye Summer

studyingI haven’t written much recently because… well, it was the summer, which is generally a time for doing jobs, recovering from the academic year, travelling etc. etc. But I’m back now and beginning to psych myself up for a new year. So to start it off I made a Glog of my summer to use in class (Click on image to go to glog).

Here are a few ideas for using it:

1) Predict the story: Tell students you are going to tell them a story. They ask you yes/no questions to find out what it is about: (Then show students the title of the glog to see if they were right)

2) Have a quick discussion about the way we all tell each other stories every day in anecdotes etc. (Then ask students to read first box to see if they agree with you)

3) Scroll down and show students the circle of images and get them to tell the story of your summer in pairs. (This could also be done in a pyramid activity until you just have the one group story).

4) Ask them which one they want to know more about and show it to them. (There is media connected to one or two of the images, such as a Prezi attached to number 1. It may take some time to navigate and is really better done independently by the students so that they can focus on what they are interested in) If your students have access to computers in class this stage may be done autonomously, or they may do it for homework. (Allow time for them to comment on what they have seen.)

5) Ask students (in class or for homework) to make a quiz based on the glog: 8 questions to test the others or use in a team game next lesson.

6) They should also choose three expressions or interesting words or collocations that they want to remember.

7) In small groups share the results of activity 6  asking students to explain their choices  to each other. (This could be extended into a poll or mill drill activity where students find the most popular expression/collocation etc.)

8) This language can then be built into a vocabulary extension phase for the next lesson, and finally students may be encouraged to go home and make their own glogs about their summer.

Hope you like it, and… that you had a great summer 🙂

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