Rock Mclimbing*

February 21, 2014 § Leave a comment


“Climbing to the top demands strength, whether it is to the top of Mount Everest, or to the top of your career.”

A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, one-time President of India

To this above quote, I’d add learning a language. It can be a long, arduous climb.

I did a bit of rock-climbing at school. Ideally, you’re told, keep three points in contact with the rock face at any one time. Two feet and one hand; two hands, one foot. Only once you’re an expert should you consider dangling over a precipice by a fingertip or two.

I’ve been spending some time over the last 6 months or so, on and off, learning Arabic, mostly by myself, with YouTube videos and a grammar book, but with a few hours, one-to-one, in the company of a couple of Arabic tutors. It’s the structure of the language I’m particularly interested in, and the writing system.

Here is what I’ve found:

At first I couldn’t even work out where one letter started and the other finished. I didn’t know which dots belonged to which squiggles. Some English ex-pats I know in the Middle East call it spaghetti writing.

I see a word, I hear it. A few days later, not only have I forgotten it, I have no recollection of ever meeting the word. I’m convinced I’ve never met it before, until I flick back through my Arabic notebook and see I’ve written it down.

It takes me numerous sighting before I even begin to recognise the word as a whole, to “know it on sight”. Usually, I have to sound out the letters, getting many wrong, so my offering is often largely inaccurate. A dot above a short squiggle is obviously pronounced differently from a dot below a slightly longer squiggle. Obvious in hindsight, or rather hindhearing.

Arabic doesn’t have to show the vowels in the word (it can do, with diacritics), only the consonants, so I am basically guessing the vowel sounds. If it were English, I’d be saying things like “ilafont” instead of “elephant”, “fatbil” for “football”. Some of you will spot the similarity between me and the English policeman in “Allo Allo”.

One set of YouTube videos I found was quite good, they’re just a collection of phrases with say 6 or 7 words. At first, I can pick out a word or two. After literally 20 playbacks, I can hear every sound and every syllable, understand every word and say it back, and know what I’m saying. Progress. Very much so. But also very much slow.

So, what do I want, need, as a language learner, at least as a self-access resource, something I can use by myself?

Well, actually, I want language plants.

What are these?

A way of presenting collocations, lots of them, and the interactive ones have lots of listening practice, changing a word here, another there, keeping three words out of four, say, at any one time. What I don’t want is to hear a sentence, then another one, then another, and another, in a seemingly never-ending stream of “engaging” content. That’s like hanging off a cliff face by my fingernails.

Image*The title, “Rock Mclimbing” is a reference to the McNuggets view of grammar splicing.

The Passing of Time

October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment


“Autumn is a second spring
when every leaf is a flower.”
Albert Camus

We all know that February stands brave and alone in being the shortest month of the year, a mere 28 days (normally). It’s a shame there isn’t a longest month. Or is there??


“I must govern the clock,
not be governed by it.”
Golda Meir

In fact, at least here in England, there is a longest month! It’s October. The clocks just went back an hour last Saturday, so we gained an extra hour. October is therefore 31 days and 1 hour. Congratulations October, you’re the winner! If not a bit blustery.


June 19, 2013 § Leave a comment


“Teaching is less about navigating the container ship of the class
through the narrow canal of the coursebook/syllabus
than about shepherding a motley flotilla of little boats,
in all weathers, across the open sea,
in whatever direction and at whatever speed
they’ve elected to go.”
Scott Thornbury

And so, the A-Z of ELT finally closes its eyes one last time and drifts to sleep.

At the British Council ELTons last year, Scott admitted how proud he was of the above quotation, which he’d conjured up for his post P is for Postmodern method, and which he saved till last in his latest, and last post, The End.

I had brought it up first that evening with him, saying how vivid an image it conjured up, and feeling his enthusiasm for it, I couldn’t resist making it into a language plant some time after.”Brilliant!”, he replied, when I sent it to him, so I post it now as a thank you from me for all the fascinating reads he has brought us all.

Sweet Dreams.

Happy New Year

January 2, 2013 § 3 Comments

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

Happy new year to my friends
and happy new year to my family.
Happy new year to those I am close to
and happy new year to those I am not close to.
Happy new year to those I hope to meet this year.
Happy new year to those who I will meet this year
and happy new year to those who I will never meet.
In fact, happy new year to everyone,
and of course, happy new year to you!

Happy Christmas!

December 20, 2012 § 3 Comments


It’s Christmas!
The season of peace
and goodwill to humankind;
a time to rest the body
and relax the mind.

The season when
there’s a nip in the air,
when temperatures drop,
when nature battens
down the hatches
and shuts up shop.

A time to look back with fondness,
to look forward with eagerness,
to know spring will soon be here;
and I’m sure winter wishes us
a happy and enjoyable Christmas
and a successful and rewarding New Year.

Tears of joy

July 10, 2012 § 4 Comments

So, it all started like this. Maria Alejandra Pinardi and I had been commenting on some of the lovely language plants that members of the Facebook group had made, and she said that she had been using the free resources with her daughter, and that they were really enjoying working together. I asked what her name was, it was Sofía, so I made the little plant above for her.

Here’s Maria’s response:

I´M REALLY HONORED BY THIS LOVELY PLANT! You’ve made me cry, David! thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m so glad we have met! I’ll show Sofía as soon as she comes back from school! BEAUTIFUL!

Tears of joy, I hope 🙂

Yes, David, tears of joy!!! My daughter has just seen your present: she’s clapping and saying: “This is FANTASTIC!” You’ve made our day, David! Thank you!!!!!!

Well, of course, it made my day too. And the good thing is, with the plant maker, she’s started to make language plants herself, like the one below, and loving it, as Maria describes again:

She is beginning with the Present Continuous. Working and playing with plants is a great way to learn spelling and to remember the meaning of verbs. She had to write the words a million times before publishing her plant as it had to be “perfect”! Amazing practice. Thank you!!!!!

Nice plants, Sofia 😉

Aha! hardworking student!!!!!lovely works! I love you Sofia…VIVA ARGENTINA!

well done Sofia, this is FANTASTIC!!! You are doing lots of things :))

So go on, make someone’s day by clicking here. Just make sure they’ve got a tissue to hand first 😉

Seek and Ye shall find

July 5, 2012 § 6 Comments

“What I am looking for is not out there.
It is in me.”
Helen Keller

Parallelism is one of my favourite words. Well, the idea of parallelism, what it signifies. Probably the two words I highlight most when I’m training teachers here in the UK are “collocation”, closely followed by “parallelism”.

It’s a feature of good writing, good rhetoric, and once you’re aware of it, you can’t help but notice it cropping up everywhere.

Not only that, in normal speech, we often repeat, rephrase and paraphrase, so here too, parallelism is very common.

Visit the Facebook group! It’s alive with activity!!

Here’s an example, an extract from Martin Luther King Junior’s famous “I have a dream” speech:

“I have a dream that
every mountain shall be made low
every valley shall be exalted
the rough places shall be made plain
and the crooked places shall be made straight
and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
and all flesh shall see it together.”

Can you see how each line follows a similar pattern? That’s parallelism.

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Keep an ear out for it in speeches, or an eye out in writing, look for it in poetry especially, but also in everyday prose. Turn over a stone and you’ll find it lurking underneath, pull apart the branches and you’ll discover it hiding behind, peer up overhead and it’ll be hovering above, it’s everywhere!

And fortunately, for language learners, it’s inspiring and perfect language to study.