Rugby Unplugged

January 23, 2011 § 16 Comments

“My mother said to me,
“if you become a soldier, you’ll be a general,
if you become a monk, you’ll end up as the Pope.”
Instead I became a painter, and wound up as Picasso.”
Pablo Picasso

My middle name was originally going to be Llewellyn, a strongly Welsh name starting with a voiceless /l/, like saying “hl”, but because I looked so much like my dad, I was named after him instead: Colin.

It’s such a simple activity, this one, from Teaching Unplugged, “How I got my name”, and which was mentioned by Anthony and Izzy at the IATEFL Sig in 2010. Their presentation was about Teacher Training Unplugged, and I found it first rate. I rather belatedly came to it via Luke, after following the debate on A-Z of ELT on PPP.

My initial ELT training, a distance learning course without any contact hours, meant that my first ever real-life lesson to a class of teenagers in a secondary school in a sleepy town in Hungary not long after the fall of communism was actually the first time I’d put theory into practice. This horrifying episode is greatly offset by my never being moulded into a PPPer. I carved out my own style by doing what I felt most comfortable with.

It seems the overriding weakness of PPP is the pre-plannedness of it all. Comments did conclude that PPP moments can occur in a dogme lesson, bite-sized chunks measured in minutes rather than hours. Likewise, PPP can encompass dogma moments. But on the whole, I would say that the two are essentially at odds with one other.

Shelly recently elaborated how she prepares for a talk, relentlessly rehearsing, reviewing, refining, repeating, imagining, daydreaming, thinking what questions might be asked, determining what could go wrong, all in her head, so that when she’s there for real, it’s a doddle. Fail to prepare; prepare to fail, I think she would propound.

Half of me being of Welsh stock had its advantages growing up in the 70s. Those were the heady days of the likes of Gareth Edwards, the Welsh wizards of the rugby field.

Dogme teaching is all about doing it on the hoof, winging it, making it up as you go along. Well, let me restate that. Dogme teaching is about being able to do those things. They take great skill, the ability that experts have at making it seem so easy. The Welsh greats did this in my favourite sporting moment. It’s perfectly executed, second nature, inspired, inspiring rugby, unplugged.

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Memories of Wales

January 20, 2011 § 13 Comments


“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Nelson Mandela

Candy thoroughly enjoyed her homeland sojourn, and has returned with a timely post on English in South Africa that neatly adds to the wonderful posts on translation in the classroom by Ceri and David and Andrew.

Gwyneth rang up my mam this evening. She was my mam’s best friend from when they were little girls growing up and doing everything and going everywhere together, not that there was much you could get up to go in a small coastal town in mid-Wales way-back-when. The biggest mischief seemed to be knocking on windows and running off, and swapping the words, in Welsh, in chapel, to say “I am the bread and butter” rather than “I am the bread of life”. “Myfi yw bara menyn” and not “Myfi yw bara y bowyd”.

The phone call watered the seed of an idea for a blog post which I felt like contributing to the subject of the importance of your mother tongue.

The two old ladies greeted each other in Welsh and reminisced. It’s pleasing to hear the stories from when the world was still in black and white, and my own memories flooded back too. Like the hymn Jerusalem, that portrays a pre-industrialised, idyllic, fantasy England, my Wales is a land of legends and heroes, where the mountain Cader Idris, “the seat of Idris”, a giant who roamed the land, overshadows one of the many farms on which my relatives raised their livestock.

The village of Beddgelert is not too far away either, home to one of the saddest stories I ever heard, “bedd” meaning “grave” of Gelert, the faithful dog slain by his owner Prince Llewellyn on returning from the hunt and being confronted with an upturned crib and the dog’s bloodied mouth, leading him to mistakenly believe Gelert had killed the baby heir it had been left to guard. Too late did he discover the blood was from the corpse of a malicious wolf; the baby lay unharmed under the crib.

The men I knew had great big hairy sideburns and great big hairy forearms from flipping sheep onto their backs to sheer them. I had a nightmare one night in one farmhouse we were staying at of a fox chasing after me and biting my backside. I’d been playing with a posse of puppies out in the farmyard earlier and the event had eased itself into my night-time.

When I visit schools in the UK, it is common to see “Welcome” written in the reception area in weird and wonderful scripts. Language switching and mixing is a natural human trait outside the classroom. Translating between Welsh and English happened all the time within the thick stone walls of the farmhouses, and Welsh is once again compulsory in Wales.

Community languages, as they are known here in the UK, are now promoted and valued, and EAL (English as an Additional Language) teachers I recently shared a table with in a workshop all had stories to tell of how the children they had taught gained self-confidence and self-respect from being allowed to use their own language in class to teach the English-speaking children, who enjoyed it immensely as well.

Personally too, I can think of many students of all ages who have revelled in the role of teacher when offered the chance to present a phrase or two of their language, and can bring to mind the fun we’ve all had translating English compound nouns into languages from all over. I like how English can pile up nouns all in a row, whereas most other languages seem to work from the other direction, using prepositional and postpositional phrases. Using colour to show word class literally shows the different word orders and grammars languages can have. Excluding L1 from the classroom doesn’t reflect the translating skills we use in our lives, and denies us access to a well of memories.

A Poem By Jeremy Harmer

January 11, 2011 § 14 Comments

These last few days, I had been getting the urge to write my first post in a while. I had in mind a number of topics, having heard some wonderfully enlightening programmes on television and radio, not least on the barbaric experiments by the behaviourists Pavlov and Skinner, and the research showing multitasking to be less efficient than focusing solely on one thing at a time. Then there was the programme on the South, the southern states of the United States, where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. “You can kill the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream,” we were reminded. What spurred me out of inaction was reading English Raven’s comprehensive list of activities to go with Jeremy Harmer’s recital of his beautiful poem Knocking and Pulling from Touchable Dreams, with Steve Bingham on violin. The combination of poetry and music like this takes language input to an all together grander, more inspirational, spiritual level. The language plant at the start of this post is of this poem.

Language plants inhabit the huge void between having the full text at hand, and having nothing at all to support the ear. The A and B gapfills that Jeremy provides are another example of filling this, with a reason to listen and interact deeply ingrained in there too.

I love considering rewording things I hear and read, mixing and matching words and phrases, making use of cohesive devices like repetition, ellipsis, anaphora and cataphora. As soon as “and” is used for example, there’s an opportunity crying out for ellipsis or repetition, to speak what the author chose not to, and to change the original. As Jason observes, this poem has a lot of repetition, and is full of affordances for language work. Here are two:

“All this knocking and pulling and turning out”

could be:

“All this knocking and
all this pulling and
all this turning out”

Why did Jeremy choose the former and not the latter? Which do you prefer? Personally, I’m edging towards the second, it’s got a punchier rhythm, but the questions are infinitely more important than any answer. To know that both are possible is enlightening enough.

“Hey carpenter, make me a coffin,
a small coffin
of perfumed wood”

could become:

“Hey carpenter, make me a small coffin,
one of perfumed wood”

Here, I prefer Jeremy’s, but I’m glad I tried something else nevertheless; it makes me appreciate all the more his choice.

The poem has numerous more bits of language to get your teeth into, and using the language plant is a fluid way of trying them out. The new language plant maker is ever closer to completion. It lets anyone and everyone make language plants online really easily, well, not just language plants, but mind maps, or any other image one may wish to make with words. It’s eagerly awaited by some schools and local authorities, and in my mind’s eye, I can see them adopting it enthusiastically across all the curriculum, and blowing the seeds far and wide. That’s my dream.

You can kill the dreamer,
but you can’t kill the dream.

Where Am I?

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