Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blowing my own trumpet

A few months ago, Zarina Markova, whom I met at the BETA Bulgaria conference in May 2009, asked me to host a SEETA week.

For those of you who have never heard of it, SEETA is a  collaborative on-line community of eleven Teachers' Associations in SE Europe run by volunteers.

I feel honoured as some of the former hosts invited to share their ideas on the website were Scott Thornbury, Jamie Keddie, Nik Peachey and Philip Kerr among others.

From 14th to 20th of May 2010 I'll be there discussing all possible issues related to Classroom Management.

Hoping that some of you will find time to join me :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

How I learned your language – part 4 Turkish

Turkish, from my point of view, is a pretty exotic language. Unlike any language I'd been learning before, it has amazing characteristics such as vowel harmony and a whole complex system of agglutination.

Prior to my settling down in Turkey I spend a year learning the basics from a self study book called ‘Teach Yourself Beginner’s Turkish’. And I did learn only very simple stuff – numbers, colours, days of the week and basic grammar rules. Needless to say, it wasn't enough to get by.

Looking back, I learned most of what I know during my first year in Istanbul. In my former workplace nobody except for the three other language teachers knew English and the students... let’s say they spoke Turkish most of the time. They were my first teachers.

And Turkish surrounded me and swallowed me up.

Without much effort I caught myself picking up words and phrases, occasionally asking for definitions or clarification but most of the time simply guessing. Quite often I had to handle important matters entirely on my own therefore my Turkish phrasebook consists of largely unrelated words such as ‘vergi numarası’ (tax number), ‘fesleğen’ (basil) or ‘duş perdesı’ (shower curtain). The peculiar situations I was in obviously forced me to speak the language without hesitation. I also developed my miming skills to a near perfection.

During my second year I decided to enroll on a course designed for foreigners living in Turkey. It was a disaster. We had 3 classes in a row: 1 – students took turns to talk about what they did last week (speaking – 3min, listening – 47 min), 2 – we checked homework, 3 – we learned a new grammar rule e.g. ‘can’ which was followed by hundreds of mindless gap fills.
I paid for 5 weeks and left. The classes were boring, frustrating and felt like a waste of time.

But there were some bright moments. I realized, for example, that compared to other students that were studying in that school from the very beginning, I was much better at speaking and listening. Sure my grammar was imperfect at times but I covered it up by gesticulation and always got my message across. The only serious problem I faced was writing – I still have a very vague idea about how to write anything in Turkish.

It’s my third year now and I feel like I should know a lot more. I would compare my current knowledge of Turkish to a colourful patchwork. Some patches look nice, some don't but you can still cover yourself up with it when you're cold. Maybe I would have learned a lot more if I had attended courses, maybe not.

Summing up, there are a few things that struck me when I was reflecting on writing this post.

  1. There is/ must be/ should be a clear division between T(x)SL and T(x)FL in terms of curriculum development to start with.
  2. Any language teacher should experience learning a given language in a native speaking environment first and foremost to understand the students better.
  3. It seems like the current trend in today’s ELT is to mirror the kind of ‘natural’ learning I described in regular classrooms. Yet is it actually possible considering the dissimilar nature of both worlds?
Now here's another chance to win something. Below you can see a photo of a popular Polish brand of vodka
If you tell me what the connection between the brand and Turkey is, you can claim your prize!
If you are Polish, please give other people a chance to guess :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Me and my Men - a list of 10 great men in my life

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single educated woman in possession of a good sense of humour must be in want of inspiration.’*

‘Me and My Men’ was supposed to be the topic of my first Pecha Kucha. Those of you who have actually seen my Pechachka at Istek know that I was eventually talking about something else ;)

I might not have the chance to do this particular PK and it might be too personal so I have decided to blog about the men of ELT who are a constant source of inspiration for me and without whom I certainly wouldn’t be here. Some of them I’ve met and some I haven’t and the selection was hard as I had to choose only 10 names.

Why 10 men and not women?
Why not!

If you are male but I haven’t included you on that list, don’t worry, I’m currently preparing more lists J 

  1. Hebert Puchta (@herbertpuchta– What a gentlemen he is – charming, super intelligent and very kind. He’s recently joined Twitter so if you haven’t started following him yet, you should! Btw, have you realized that his belt always matches his shoes or is it just me? 
  1. Jeremy Harmer (@Harmerj) – Meeting him at the Istek conference was one of the most pleasant experiences as he’s such a warm and modest person J Jeremy’s responsible for introducing me to high quality teaching. Hadn’t it been for his ‘Practice of ELT’ I would probably consider Grammar Translation a very useful teaching method.
  1. Ken Wilson (@kenwilsonlondon) – A volcano full of energy, wit and ideas. There’s no way you can get bored having him around. He’s the one who made me see the benefits of using drama in ELT for which I’m eternally grateful.
  1. Scott Thornbury (@thornburyscott) – I have never met this gentleman but would love to do so one day. I love reading his blog as it gives me plenty of food for thought. He replies to every single comment even if it’s not written by an ELT VIP and has my full respect for that.
  1. Gavin Dudeney (@dudeneyge) – An edutech guru that was very surprised with the way I look like in real life. It must have been truly shocking as he even tweeted about it. If you’re reading this by any chance Gavin – I have finally read your book and am willing to pay for everything once we meet again ;)
  1. Nick Jaworski (@Turklishtefl) – I have to say I know him best of all the men here as we both live and teach in Istanbul. We tend to either totally agree or totally disagree. Nick’s also known for his love of debates of all sorts and has the rare ability to set fire to any discussion heating it up to a maximum.
  1. Mike Harrison (@harrisonmike– I’ve never met him but hope it’ll change soon. Mike seems to be one of the friendliest and most active people I’ve met on Twitter. His enthusiasm is very contagious so whenever I feel down, Mike’s there to cheer me up. Thanks for that!
  1. Mark Andrews (@marekandrews) – His blog focusing on culture is one of its kind in the blogosphere. I’ve always considered it a brother of L_missbossy’s ELT playground as both blogs were born after one memorable session at the IATEFL Hungary 2009 conference.
  1. Jamie Keddie (@cheimi10) – He’s young, smart and full of amazing, original ideas related usually to pictures and drawing, something that I find particularly appealing. I adore his accent as it always reminds me that I have to visit Scotland.
  1. Last but not least, the Godfather of my blog, Lindsay Clandfield (@lclandfield). I could devote a whole post for expressing my thank-yous but let’s leave it for a different occasion. What I really appreciate about him is his rationality combined with immense creativity. Plus a great deal of sense of humour of course. I can listen to him for hours and there aren't many men out there who can make me do that. Lindsay, I do owe you!

*The first person to guess where the original quote comes from can claim his or her prize!
I’m terrible at cooking and have already promised a guided tour of Istanbul to Mike so please use your imagination, ask for something else and you shall be given J

On a final note, thanks again for keeping your fingers crossed during my PK at Istek! 
It wasn't that bad after all :)

Monday, April 12, 2010

No Title

Some of you may have noticed that I've been recently absent from Twitter and my posts have become infrequent.

To those of you who read my blog I owe a few words of explanation.

In the past couple of weeks my world has turned upside down more than once.

At the end of March my father was diagnosed with cancer and last Saturday my country lost not only its president but Poland's most influential intellectual elite.

I still have plenty of things to write but cannot concentrate on anything these days. 

I do have hope but for now, I'm simply very sad.

My thanks go to all the people who have expressed words of sympathy and support.

Thank you once again!

I will be back - just need some time for reflection.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

How I Learned Your Language – Spanish by Mike Harrison

A potted history of my language learning life – like many, I started learning languages at secondary school. The first was German, followed a year later by French. I had ditched German and I added Spanish when I started university. Each of those languages has been my favourite at a particular time, and in fact, each became my favourite in turn (German, French, then Spanish) – I really am fickle with my languages. I studied German for a total of 7 years, and have studied French for 14 and Spanish for 10 (though my formal education for those two finished in 2006).

Anyway, on to the main part of my post. There have been things in common with all of my language learning experiences (location, teaching styles, learning environments) but I think I have had by far the most success with Spanish, and I want to find out why, in particular why I succeeded more than with either French or German. Come on a journey with me.

First steps in language learning  – German and French 1995-2002
I learned both German and French at school. My teachers were not native speakers, but British. There were the usual activities – grammar gap-fills, listening/reading comprehension, role plays, dictation, spelling – all quite normal, and we did work from text books. Despite not being native speakers, both my German and French teachers spoke a lot in the language they were teaching, right from the start. I thrived in that environment and got As for both languages in my GCSEs (exams you do in the UK aged 16). But after that I started to get confused between French and German and also between the different cases in German (possibly the most difficult thing I have ever studied). I fell out of love with German and eventually dropped it aged 17. I continued with French and went on to study it at university.
The absolute best thing about studying both languages at school was the chance to go on exchange trips (twice to Aachen in Germany and once on a work experience trip to Nantes in France).

Next steps in language learning – French and Spanish 2002-2006
When applying to go to uni, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and ended u applying for languages because I was good at them (despite the break up with German). However, I did know that didn’t want to do just French. I toyed with French and War Studies (don’t know where that came from); French and Italian; French, Italian and Spanish at Bangor, and what I ended up doing – French and Spanish.
I really enjoyed the shift in how I studied at university. The onus is more on the student than at school. You have to put in the work in your own time or you won’t improve. I found studying a new language stimulating. All the while surrounded by highly educated people teaching about matters related to the language (literature, film, geography, history...) and native speakers (part of the key to REAL progress here) for conversation and grammar classes.
The best bit was being able to live in Spain for a year, which I did working as a language assistant. I had a room in a flat just down the road from the beach,  and not 10 minutes walk from the school I worked at.

Learning on my own – Spanish 2006 onwards
I don’t think I’ve stopped learning my languages, and I was lucky to be able to make use of my Spanish language skills fairly soon after graduating. I moved to Pamplona in 2007 and worked there for a year teaching EFL. My French to some extent, and certainly my German, have fallen a bit behind and I think I know why. The language I have lived more is Spanish. Living and working in Spain has meant that I have had to use the language and also I have had to learn new things about the language (more conversational, more idioms, more vocab.) and I’ve been able to do that in a native speaker environment. I also had an Argentinean girlfriend which helped motivate me! If you’re not sure about that, check out Ken Wilson’s comment at the end of this video by Lindsay Clandfield:

So there you have it. My tips for language learning are:
be motivated or find an environment that motivates you
living the language is key – if you have to use the language in your day-to-day life it will become part of you

Mike Harrison is an ESOL teacher in London, in the UK. In his spare time he tries not to fall over while doing capoeira. He is on Twitter at http://twitter.com/harrisonmike and blogs at http://mikeharrison.edublogs.org