Language Etc Now Has a Video Channel

I’ve uploaded some videos to the new Language Etc Video Channel!

Link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC25IcZ4CW4-expYekeqXDVQ

So far, I’ve put up a series of short videos on Phone English, but more will be coming soon. This series contains some tips regarding register & intonation, as well as some common expressions. It’s mostly business English. I figured learners who use the phone to talk with friends probably already have an established rapport with those friends and don’t need particular help. If I’m wrong about that, please let me know and I’ll see if I can address whatever queries you have. For these Phone English vids, I imagined a hypothetical worker at a car rental agency (“Ride Right”), but they’re meant to be useful for any learners having to do business over the phone. Please leave any questions or thoughts you have in the comments section, either here or on the Youtube page!

Formal Debates

Formal Debates in the EFL Classroom

This is an activity I’ve found useful over the years. It gives sts an opportunity to experiment with different registers and try their hand at less-interactive speaking, so it’s good practice for public speaking and presentations. In larger classes, it also provides a way to get shier sts to have a full turn at speaking. If you try it with your own classes, please let me know how it went in the comments. Here’s how I do it:

The ideal size for teams is about 6 sts, fewer is no problem, but 8 is probably about the maximum. Since each st is going to have an argument, or sub argument, of their own, coming up with more than 6 or 8 of them for a given topic could be quite difficult. This means that for just about any high school class, the debating will have to be done in Continue reading

Site Intro

Welcome to LanguageEtc! This site deals with language & language teaching/learning, plus some random stuff.

I’ll offer resources for learners & teachers, using mostly English but with some Spanish and special attention to false friends between the two.

Comments are welcome in English or Spanish. (Sorry I ask for your email before commenting. It’s meant to keep spam down, as I was having a problem with that.)

Enjoy and thanks for visiting!

Jon

Forked Speech

Capture

Acclaimed author Javier Marías found plenty of agreement last spring with his opinion piece attacking Madrid’s educational system for offering Natural Science in English. (the column, in Spanish)  Cyberspace and real space buzzed –blazed even –with assenting voices following its publication in El País, just a week before local elections. I know this because Madrid is where I live, and my work here happens to include training teachers of Natural Science in English.

The syncophony (no, the word doesn’t exist) echoed from many respectable corners. This surprised me because the article presents its case without any evidence, or even reasoned argumentation. In fact it strays so far from the tenets of effective persuasive writing that I’m tempted to stick it in the Teaching Writing section [here] as an example of what not to do. It’s all heat no light.

It follows then that many readers came to it with already set opinions about Spain’s bilingual programs. The experiences Continue reading

False friends: Law and unrest

Crime includes shoplifting and even littering, not only murder

Artifact is not the usual word for a bomb.

Organizing a riot, scandal, etc. sounds about as undoable as controlling time, as they’re usually pretty chaotic.

Homicide is the department that investigates murder. Manslaughter (soon to be personslaughter?) is something else. And don’t even ask me to translate nocturnindad.

Chicken Flight (Gapped)

Messing with my students’ heads, [1]_________ it real or [2]_________ it is you’d [3]_________ what I do, I asked classes the following question:

Which of the 5 senses is the greatest threat/enemy to the illusion of time?

The answer, of course, is smell.

It hit me when I was walking [4]_________ Bravo Murillo one night and listening to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse 5 on the Ipod. In the (audio) book, the author seems to milk the metaphor of memory as time travel enough to warrant the category of science fiction. To be [5]________ , he does throw [6]_________ some flying saucers and aliens, though sparsely. Vonnegut, like Frank McCourt and many other writers, puts a high premium on personal experience —on memory —as fodder for fiction. It’s a good way to steer [7]_________ of the great common mound of cliché and rehash, if nothing [8]_________ .

And there is a time travel element to remembering, to be [9]________ . So it was [10]_________ of ironic that it hit me while I was mentally traveling along that particular narrative. My feet, [11]________ , were carrying me toward a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which had won [12]_________ amid several roughly equidistant competitors in a complex calculus of taste, price, healthiness (imagine the competition!) and portability (Metro eating, ideally).

The thing is, I’m walking and listening, minding my own business on a crowded Madrid street, when I must have caught a tiny [13]_________ of that KFC chicken. Instantly, [14]_________ before registering the smell, I was rocketed back to Shattuck and Virginia, in Berkeley, at the age of 8 or 9 –maybe even earlier –and to the KFC that [15]_________ to be there. Though the space/time dimension of this teleportation was keen, overriding it was another feeling. Or rather a feelings mix. All [16]_________ the same micro instant came a layering of feelings from several visits to that KFC, from many times and thus from no particular time. Continue reading

Chicken Flight

Messing with my students’ heads, keeping it real or whatever it is you’d call what I do, I asked classes the following question:

Which of the 5 senses is the greatest threat/enemy to the illusion of time?

The answer, of course, is smell.

It hit me when I was walking down Bravo Murillo one night and listening to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse 5 on the Ipod. In the (audio) book, the author seems to milk the metaphor of memory as time travel enough to warrant the category of science fiction. To be fair, he does throw in some flying saucers and aliens, though sparsely. Vonnegut, like Frank McCourt and many other writers, puts a high premimum on personal experience —on memory —as fodder for fiction. It’s a good way to steer clear of the great common mound of cliché and rehash, if nothing else.

And there is a time travel element to remembering, to be sure. So it was kind of ironic that it hit me while I was mentally traveling along that particular narrative. My feet, meanwhile, were carrying me toward a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which had won out amid several roughly equidistant competitors in a complex calculus of taste, price, healthiness (imagine the competition!) and portability (Metro eating, ideally).

The thing is, I’m walking and listening, minding my own business on a crowded Madrid street, when I must have caught a tiny whiff of that KFC chicken. Instantly, even before registering the smell, I was rocketed back to Shattuck and Virginia, in Berkeley, at the age of 8 or 9 –maybe even earlier –and to the KFC that used to be there. Though the space/time dimension of this teleportation was keen, overriding it was another feeling. Or rather a feelings mix. All in the same micro instant came a layering of feelings from several visits to that KFC, from many times and thus from no particular time. Continue reading

The Virtue of an Open Mind

Growing up in Berkeley in the 60s & 70s, a with-it young dude could hardly point to a more laudable trait than open-mindedness. It was as if all the previous generation (hip oldsters excepted) and their occasional brainwashed offspring had to do was shrug off the square traditions and prejudices that were the root of all evil, and everything would be possible: utopia, the Garden regained, the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to overstate the power of that open/closed-minded dichotomy, maybe the closest we came to a good vs. evil worldview. As a teen I lofted it up, or back, a couple of generations for consideration. My Kentucky grandmother exclaimed “Your mind is so open, sometimes I worry it’s gonna fall right out!”

I took that as a compliment, as far as I could grasp its metaphorical logic, or, if you will, get my mind around it. I later put it to my step-grandfather on the other side in some context like how good or important it was to find, perhaps at the university, equally open-minded friends. This had probably come to me as a sort of obvious litmus test. Jo, a conservative Republican whose past had led him from a Polish palatial childhood to a professional life in the biology lab, replied that as he saw it the real friends one found were not open-minded, but close-minded in the same way as you.

That sounded wrong, very even, at the time, as I took it to mean a kind of ideological partner in crime, someone sharing the same messed-up prejudices. Reflecting now though, I wonder if he wasn’t onto something.

After all, who is the most open-minded among us? Babies, certainly. But knowledge and experience gradually encroach upon that openness, and who would have it any other way?

Judgmentality gets a bad rap, while judgment is wisdom, just as we may seek to retain some child-like freshness without being childish. To what extent does glorifying open-mindedness amount to exalting intellectual immaturity, a kind of ignorance is bliss bs? To regain the garden then, but knowing what’s what.

The Virtue of an Open Mind (Gapped)

Growing up in Berkeley in the 60s & 70s, a with-it young dude could hardly point ______ a more laudable trait than open-mindedness. It was as if all the previous generation (hip oldsters excepted) and their occasional brainwashed offspring ______ to do was shrug off the square traditions and prejudices that were the ______ of all evil, and everything would be possible: utopia, the Garden regained, the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to overstate the power of that open/closed-minded dichotomy, maybe the closest we came to a good vs. evil worldview. As a teen I lofted it ______, or back, a couple of generations for consideration. My Kentucky grandmother exclaimed “Your mind is so open, sometimes I worry it’s gonna fall right out!”

I ______ that as a compliment, as far as I could grasp its metaphorical logic, or, if you will, get my mind around it. I later put it to my step-grandfather on the other side in some context like how good or important it was to find, perhaps at the university, equally open-minded friends. This had probably come to me as a sort of obvious litmus test. Jo, a conservative Republican whose past had led him from a Polish palatial childhood to a professional life in the biology lab, replied that ______ he saw it the real friends one found were not open-minded, ______ close-minded in the same way as you.

That sounded wrong, very even, ______ the time, as I took it to mean a kind of ideological partner in crime, someone sharing the same messed-up prejudices. Reflecting now though, I wonder if he wasn’t onto something.

After all, who is the most open-minded ______ us? Babies, certainly. But knowledge and experience gradually encroach ______ that openness, and who would have it any other way?

Judgmentality gets a bad rap, while judgment is wisdom, just as we may seek to retain some child-like freshness without being childish. To what ______ does glorifying open-mindedness amount ______ exalting intellectual immaturity, a kind of ignorance is bliss bs? To regain the garden then, but knowing what’s what.

Longer False Friends Intro

Learning a language is no small thing. Doing it well amounts to no less than partitioning your hard disk (coconut?) and installing a new operating system there.

This is less apparent to the beginning learner, but becomes more evident over time in what is a never-ending, never completely achieved process. I’m speaking from experience here, as someone who, after decades, has acquired a serviceable and fast Spanish (I guess this shouldn’t be countable, in English. I’ll try to get something up on countable/uncountable, maybe under concept division), if not a rich and beautiful one. I think that for people learning their first foreign language and moving into it from the frame of a firmly embedded mother tongue there is a tendency to assume the new language is essentially the same as the old one, simply with different graphic and phonetic signs following a slightly different syntax. The feeling is that all thoughts and ideas are perfectly translatable. At this stage one may well conceive of communication as the transmission of universally human propositions like this steak is too well done (though not demasiado bien hecho —we Spanish learners [I’ll try to make a note somewhere including yourself in utterances like Los profesores tenemos] have plenty of false friend problems too!), the table is downstairs or I like octopus. Indeed, this viewpoint has its psychological value, keeping the task manageable and easing the transition.

Exceptions to this framework are perceived initially as curious anomalies, bits of exotica. Like the Uno de enero song, ¡San Fermín!, or raining cats and dogs (section on proverbs and idioms coming soon), or for a German learner saying the equivalent of please when one means thanks.

This illusion breaks down as one internalizes the language more and more. An apter metaphor would be that of a dancer, say Flamenco or square, going to Africa to learn some tribal dance. Really feeling the desire to express please, I have to assume, when one feels thankful, is quite another matter.

By talking about false friends I intend to take what was already a metaphor and extend it further, so that its purview becomes anything –not only single words but grammar, culture or whatever else –that presents particular difficulties in moving from one language system to the other.

False Friends Intro

False Friends, for me, has come to mean basically anything that creates translational interference when shuttling between Spanish and English (for example), not just the standard definition of false cognates. The good news is that between these two languages there are many true friends, but of course that’s where the problems starts. What’s the Spanish expression about trust (confianza, in this case) leading to problems? (It’s actually closer to generating disgust, isn’t it?). Anyway, I’ve tried to break the false friends down by category and serve them up in bite-sized posts. Enjoy.  :)

False Friends: Oft Confused Time expressions

In the (not this) moment is a good place to be, a la carpe diem, but if you just mean now (which in English means now, not in a few minutes or a few minutes ago) you probably mean at the moment.

Soon/early (both translate as pronto): Potentially tricky concept division here. Soon is generally in reference to now, while early usually means before an understood or arranged time. I’ll get it done soon would mean that you won’t have to wait long, but you talk about being early for an appointment/date (not exactly the same thing) /class/interview, etc. If you get up early (Sorry, no single-word equivielnt for madrugar), it means compared to normal or what one would assume (not asumir) to be normal. Continue reading

False Friends: Bureaucracy (competent organisms?)

In the USA, the Internal Revenue Service is who you file your taxes (not make the declaration) with. Whether or not (those last two words are pleonastic, but I like them here) they are a competent organism depends entirely on (not of) your opinion. And it would be strange if they were called the Ranch and the official program for preparing your taxes (not the rent) were called Father.

You don’t discount things on your tax forms, but you can deduct them.

Rest is what you do after you get your taxes in. It doesn’t mean subtract.

Dreams, Pipedreams & Daydreams

or Growing up & Growing Old

Gotta love the lyrics on the Allman Bros’ classic Dreams, off their 1st album:

 Sometimes I hunger

for the dreams

I’ll never see

Who can’t relate (FF alert!) to that? And how cool a verb is hunger?

Then there’s the powerful line In Clint Eastwood’s late-era Oscar-winning Western The Unforgiven. When explaining to the young wannabe gunslinger that killing actually is a big deal, the seasoned Eastwood says something like: “When you take a man’s life, you take away all his dreams.”

Now it strikes me that there are different types of dreams, as everyone knows and as my title here suggests. Beyond the obvious awake/unconscious dichotomy, a line can be drawn between aspirational dreams and other ones. By aspirational, I mean those that we aspire to fulfill or reach —our goals, ambitions, etc. Daydreams, meanwhile, have the rap of mere free-time fillers, while pipedreams are daydreams mistaken for aspirational ones.

I’d like to see if this breakdown holds together once we break it down, however. Aspirational dreams are clearly definitional when it comes to humans. Art, technology, organized society itself can only germinate and have germinated from dream seeds. Indeed, the root of aspirational, like inspire and expire, has to do with breathing, with life itself.

But who’s to say that those other kinds of dreams are less life-sustaining? Can a person without a rich fantasy life be said to have a rich life at all? How can we discount the power of early fantasies in the later organization of one’s life, in terms of love, work and the rest? How many inventions originally spawn in the fertile clouds of daydreams? How few, or depressingly few if you prefer, of our aspirational dreams actually come to fruition as we grow old(er)? And does that lack of eventual reality (real eventuality?) make them any less life-sustaining? I’d say not, hence the power in the lines from The Unforgiven and Dreams.

Intro Ditties

Many of these ditties were originally used as dictated gapfills for my students. Some, like Dreams, turned out to be nearly impossible, even for the most advanced students. For notes on how texts like these might be used in class, please see the Intro in Gapfills. Meanwhile, I’m hoping some of these little snatches (resonant term?) will stand on their own without having to be bent into exercises and force-fed to captive audiences.