Burgers, language, culture, confusion, and headaches

I had a burger in mind. It was one of those things. My friend had mentioned a burger joint on the weekend but the universe and more local and personal factors conspired against it. So the burger didn’t happen during my weekend outside of the big smoke. The funny thing is I don’t even eat burgers all that much and can easily live without them. This was a case where the idea was going to stay in mind till the desired was satiated. When I arrived at the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul I wandered around a bit and and saw a burger joint called Johnny Rockets. I had some vague memory of this place as being American and the decor was set up like something of a 50’s burger joint. Well, as much as it could in the food court of a shopping area attached to a bus terminal. I decided Johnny Rockets was the place to go, at least to get that burger out of my mind.

Before I tell you about the burger and the place I will tell you about a restaurant in my neighborhood I frequent. It is called Abiko Curry. They serve Japanese style curry rice and related dishes there. Those familiar with (Indian) curry might be surprised by the taste. I enjoy it, even though I like to think of it as vastly different from Indian curry. I don’t really have the language to describe what it tastes like so I think you will have to try it yourself if you are not familiar. Sorry. Abiko Curry sells Japanese-style curry and there is plenty of Japanese around in the restaurant as well. Something I found interesting there was how the staff says (I think) “Irashaimasen!” when customers arrive. Say is probably not the most appropriate verb here. Perhaps sing or enthusiastically shout would be more correct. I guess it adds some Japanese style or feel to this Japanese curry joint in another country. The staff also thanks and says goodbye to customers in Japanese, also in what seems to me to be a singsongy manner. I get a slight kick out of this whole thing and for me it adds to the experience.*

The most striking thing for me about Johnny Rockets at the Express Bus Station in Seoul was not the high prices or even the decor. It was the singsongy greetings and goodbyes the staff gives to customers. In English. I found it not only surprising but also jarring. “Harro!** Welcome!” they shouted in unison to each and every arriving customer. This bugged me.

 

I am still not completely sure why it bothered me so. Maybe it was just too loud for my fragile condition at that time. It was loud but I think there was more to it. I am afraid my annoyance with this doesn’t paint me in a very positive light but I have been thinking about it for a long time and I have already typed about 600 words so there is no reason to turn back now. Congrats to you for reading over 600 words basically about two dining establishments and one guy’s craving for a burger. Good job, good effort.

Back to Johnny and his Rocket, I think part of what bothered me (on some level) is that their greeting was not how we greet folks in the US of A. ‘Murica. This is not what it sounds like. At this point it might be possible for some readers to be “thinking poor little big white native speaking guy had his burger ruined by Asians not greeting customers in the way he is accustomed to and so he is now whining about it on his blog.” I don’t have much of a defense to that except to say I think I am trying to find and explore the causes for my annoyance rather than simply whinging. I think the fact it was close but still far away from the culture I grew up in that caused it to be annoying to me. When it was Japanese language and culture used in a curry shop I had nary a problem with it, but when it was closer to home and still off it was jarring and headache inducing.

One idea that kept coming to me is the idea of the Uncanny Valley.*** This place was in some ways close to my idea of an all American place servin’ up fries and burgers that came from a past I didn’t even experience but it was still way off. That gap got under my skin and was evidenced in the itchiness I felt when I heard the greetings.

If the greetings had been done in Korean it would not have registered with me, I am sure. There was something about it being done in English.  I briefly highlighted the English pronunciation above. I wonder what my reaction would have been if  the staff sounded like they were from Seattle instead of Seoul. I think of myself as and ELF kind of guy but something here got me. I guess I wondering why they had to do this greeting in English but I also realize it is part of their shtick**** and not really and of my damned business.

Maybe this  use of English (“my language” even though I realize it’s not) just for show and nothing more bothered me? It doesn’t usually. Some Johnny Foreigners get all bent out of shape when they see English errors on signs and things in businesses. It doesn’t tend to bug me at all because I know that this English is more for decoration and more for their typical customers, who are Korean. It is not about me. I am fine with that. Yet, hearing the English-ish greetings in melodious unison in this place  irked me.  Was it about sound or this specific sound. Was it something else?

I honestly don’t think the idea or the ideal of an American burger joint is sacrosanct and seeing this altered is what made me uncomfortable. Yet, I didn’t like being there and I don’t think there much of a chance I will be going back. I’d love to know if there are any other theories on why this might have impacted me in this way. I’d also love to know if anyone has had any similar experiences in their lives, whether home or abroad. Thanks for reading.

By the way, the burger was just ok. I am not sure how accurate my review is because I was in a rush to get the hell out there.

 

 

Notes: 

*I like the “Chicken Set.” I usually go for the 2 (out of 4?) on the spiciness index they use at Abiko Curry.

**Oh how I fretted about this spelling and point. The fact is it sounded more like an R than an L to me. As the many tired jokes can attest this is often an issue for Northeast Asian users of English. I don’t wish to make fun of the staff there or try to impose any sort of linguistic norms upon them.

***I realize this is not an apt comparison because everyone involved was fully human. This is simply what kept coming to my mind and not a proper explanation of my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

****שטיק –Yiddish achievement unlocked!

****I am relatively proud of myself for not using the word appropriation anywhere here. I also resisted the temptation to include a picture of Katy Perry in some weird version of geisha dress as I thought it would be confusing and detract from my points. You know, assuming I had them.

 

I wrote this post in advance and used the “schedule post” function. I will surely get back to any comments, but maybe not immediately. Comments are very much appreciated but a response from me might not come immediately. 

Teaching is measurable [Guest post]

This is a guest post. To read about the author please be sure to read the bottom of the post. 

The other day somebody said to me that “teaching is measurable.” It’s not really important who said it and why; X simply needed some argument to support his viewpoint and thus paraphrased what somebody else believed. Anyway, this post is not an attempt at an academic piece of writing – I’m just one of those inquisitive teachers – so I hope the reader will excuse the impudent lack of references. In short, the main aim of this post is to share some of the reasoning that went on in my head after X cited Y’s assertion that we can measure whether a teacher’s instruction is good or bad.

 

abacus

The very first thing which occurred to me was that one way of measuring the quality of our teaching is doing it vicariously, i.e. through the lens of our students’ learning. In other words, if there are satisfactory learning outcomes, we can assume that our teaching is/was good. Here pops up a problem that worries me though; how do we reliably measure someone’s learning outcomes? Obviously, what immediately springs to mind is testing, quizzing, exams and the like. We can, for example, count the number of words Student A remembers on a Monday morning. We can say with certainty that Student B can produce such and such number of language structures correctly. We can contentedly conclude that Student C can write a decent formal letter. So far so good. However, even if I accept the idea that we can measure somebody’s learning via tangible results, I can’t come to terms with the idea that learning is just about that. There are kids who always mess up tests, write clumsily and speak terribly, yet I’m convinced that some learning happens to them. And the other way around, there are learners who excel in taking tests, yet this may only prove they are good test takers.

Allow me to elaborate. Did a student with an excellent score learn more than just a few correct answers to more or less challenging problems? Is it demonstrable that this particular student learned more than the one with a low score? Only time will tell. The point is that there are some very important ‘side effects’ related to learning, or rather, to what one expects to be the only, ultimate learning outcome, e. g. the correct answer in a multiple-choice test or a well-written essay on global warming. What about all sorts of useful learning strategies acquired throughout the learning process, what about internal motivation stemming from participation in engaging lessons, critical thinking skills a student learns while working with thought-provoking material, what about the valuable learning experience itself? These are equally important outcomes which, I suspect, we are prone to overlook when judging the quality of our students’ overall performance. The irony is that they could provide clear evidence of the effectiveness of our teaching.

At the beginning I said that I believed that one way of measuring the quality of our teaching is by observing what our students can do. Now I should add that I think it’s quite possible that we can be wonderful teachers even if our students are hopeless. Poor performance and lows scores of weak students are not hard pieces of evidence proving that our teaching is bad. And conversely, if we are lucky enough and teach exceptionally talented and motivated students, whose results are equally exceptional, does that say that we are exceptional teachers? How can we measure the quality of our teaching if we end up in an environment where the real nature of our teaching can’t manifest itself to the full; where nobody really cares about our great teaching abilities or, by contrast, where we can easily get away with very poor teaching skills?

What’s left then? What are some other measurable criteria which define the quality of our teaching? I’ve been observed several times by the administrators and their conclusions were generally very positive: “you are a born teacher, you can make a great lesson out of nothing, your classroom management skills are amazing”, etc. Does that make my teaching good? Does what somebody else thinks about my lessons turn me into a good teacher? What if that person is not exactly demanding? What if she knows nothing about the recent SLA research? What if her goals are different from mine?

Finally, what is it that makes us attempt to measure the immeasurable? Is it fear or a lack of confidence? Is it the need to label things and thus make them acceptable/unacceptable? My guess is that it’s the natural human desire to feel safe. The trouble is that teaching is fluid; at one point we’re doing great and in a matter of seconds the lesson goes south. As teaching is a multi-layered venture and there’s so much we can’t grasp and control, we tend to stick to anything that looks like concrete evidence, and we reject the intangible and seemingly insecure, perhaps in order to keep our balance as teachers and human beings.

 

The author of this post is Hana Ticháa teacher in the Czech Republic. Hana is a very proflic blogger and her posts come highly rated and highly recommended from me. To get a feel for her blog you can check out this post where she mentions a few of her posts on her blog anniversary.
I spent some time trying to think about some of my favorite posts of here but this was a challenge because all of her posts offered a lot. Thanks very much to Hana for taking the time to write this and to share it here. 

Why don’t Korean students use apps for learning English?

This is a question that has been in the back of my mind since last fall when I found myself talking apps, ELT, and more with Ian Cook. My sense at that time was that Korean students typically use their smartphones more for fun than learning. Yes, even in South Korea, a country afflicted with English fever and with blessed with super fast wifi and amazingly high smartphone penetration rates. Last week on this blog I shared reports on IT from my students as well as points from a discussion on edtech with a group of students. I think David Harbinson’s related post is well worth reading.

My students are very successful learners and users of English and I wondered how much of a factor this was in their lack of engagement with apps. I tried to ask them about friends, siblings and former classmates but the general sense was using apps for studying English is not really the done thing.  
I had some theories about why apps might not (yet?) be so popular. The first was that many (most?) apps seem like nothing more than digitized and vaguely interactive versions of things found elsewhere.  I also thought there is something of a lack of awareness among students of the types of apps out there to help students improve their English. Maybe this is related to all this app stuff being relatively new and non-Korean companies not having much of a foothold into or sense of the market. Just a thought. The other thought was about how smartphones seem to be used for killing time and having fun and not for studying and personal development. I am far from an expert on anything said here so I’d be happy for other view points and theories. Update: A thought that came to mind after publishing this post is that I don’t want to imply there is something wrong with not using apps for learning English, or even anything wrong with not learning English. My curiosity was just that, just curiosity about how Korean students, apps, and learning English might seem like a good fit at first glance but don’t seem to be at this point. 

Recently, I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with a Korean college student who is preparing to study abroad in the US this fall. In a very nerdy chain of events we were talking about and apps and learning English and related issues and as it started to get very interesting, well for me at least, I stopped the conversation and started talking notes. I asked her if what she said could be used in my blog and she said it was fine. Of course all caveats about this just being the response from one person apply. I thank “Jenny” very much for her patience, time and insights. What follows after the pic is my paraphrased (and translated in parts) version of what she said in response to my question, “Why don’t Korean students use apps to learn English?”

 

 

Hmm, interesting question. I never really thought about it. Do people even use smartphones to study English? It’s not something I’d usually choose to do. For me and my friends the smartphone is more about fun and games. I think most people use their phones for messaging and playing and killing time. KakaoTalk is super popular as you know. BTW and OMG, Mike, I think it is so funny and weird you don’t use Kaotalk. You really are from a different generation! Facebook is also popular. I think most people spend their time on their phones using kaotalk and Facebook. Nate Pann is another popular place. People can share what they are doing and tell people what they are up to and keep up with friends and things like that. Of course, some people, like me, read the news as well. A few people read books on their phones but I think this is not so popular. Shorter things are better on phones.

You know what? I don’t think I have seen anyone ever study English on their phone! Some people surely watch movies or dramas on their phones and lots of these are in English. Is this studying? There are usually subtitles unless people are very good at English. There are programs and apps to watch shows and movies. Sometimes we pay and sometimes we don’t.

Yes, Yes, Korea has super fast wifi and everyone has smartphones but we don’t really use them for studying. I am a college student and none of my friends do it. I know there is some contradiction here. English is so important and we are very wired and connected but phones are not used for studying. I think it is related to people wanting to escape from everyday life which is very competitive.. It is nice to zone out and chill out on your phone for a while after studying and working very hard. Phones are sort of a personal thing and a personal chance to be relax and be in our own world. Commuting is a time to rest and relax.

Studying English is very important for me, as it is for all college students. One time, I downloaded an app to listen to “Good Morning Pops” on my phone. It was okay and a good chance to hear and listen to English. I could learn some expressions and things like that. But sometimes it is better and more fun to just listen to music so that is usually what I do. I don’t want to work hard to pay attention and focus on English all the time, especially after a long and hard day of studying or working. I have my own studying to do at other times.

TOEIC and TOEIC speaking are really important for us. For example, I need to get a certain score to graduate from my major. Each major has a different score. My major’s score is 700, and I need to reach that before I can graduate. This means that we are not always so interested in improving our English communication, but more focused on TOEIC scores. Students don’t have time to enjoy their vacations or weekends with TOIEC scores constantly looming over us. English stressed almost everyone out.

Actually, I am personally not stressed. Learning English is interesting and fun. Yet, English and learning English can be boring at times and many people think it is boring. I’d like to practice English more with dramas and things like that. I am not really interested in learning more grammar, to be honest. We have studied English grammar for more than 10 years. I don’t need more of that. Of course my grammar is terrible but that is not what I need or want right now!

Most Korean people study English grammar with books. We are used to that. We are accustomed to spending hours and hours with our books alone and it is different on a phone. I think a phone can be too distracting and when I study English I need to focus and concentrate, especially for complicated things like grammar and vocabulary. We are used to studying hard at the library or other places with books but with phones it’s not usual. It’s just not really popular or common. Maybe it will be someday but I am not sure.

In defense of ELT blog culture

The insightful and never boring Geoff Jordan recently wrote a post called “The Culture of ELT Blogs” and his post certainly caught my attention and got me thinking. Geoff was kind enough to post my response to his post as comments on his blog but I thought I would share them here as well.  I chose this option mostly to share some links and because, especially as comments, what I wrote was very long. 

By the way, in my most recent post I interviewed Geoff on a range of issues but didn’t talk very specifically about his post on the culture of ELT blogs. My response to that is below. 

 

Dear Geoff,

How are things? For some reason it feels strange to offer the standard praise one might offer when starting a letter such as this. Not because I don’t believe all the nice things I might say about you and to you but because it might read like bullshit. It isn’t. Let me just say I love your blog and your voice and I am very happy you exist and happy you share things on your blog.

Blogging and blogs is what I wanted to talk about here, actually. In your recent post you critiqued the culture of ELT blogs. I wanted to share some thoughts and experiences on this. I am not sure I will be able to change your mind or convince you of anything but I think the value is in conversation so here I go. I knew I was going to respond to your post pretty much immediately. I noted that Nathan and Steve have covered much of what I hoped to say in the comments on your post, and far more eloquently than I’d hoped but since I already started this response I thought there might be some value in finishing it and sharing it. Please forgive me for the rambling and potentially incoherent nature of this response.

To be honest, I occasionally wonder if people are too polite in the ELT blogosphere. Yet, I tend to think too polite is better than the opposite. Personally, I sometimes have disagreements and concerns with what people have written. Sometimes I do my best to engage and politely disagree. Sometimes I keep my disagreement to myself but what I read informs my thinking and teaching. Sometimes I reach out in a private channel (Google drive and email are my favorites here) to discuss things on a deeper level. Sometimes I just think about the issues on my own and then write a (semi) related post. Sometimes I talk about things with friends and colleagues. Sometimes these discussions happen in pubs. Often on Facebook. One thing I am trying to emphasize here is that just because there is no clear battles or records of things on blogs doesn’t mean there isn’t critical thought happening on the basis of what people are writing.  Blog silence doesn’t equate to an absence of critical thought.

With that word critical in mind, I think maybe we need to be clear on what we mean by this word. Maybe we are operating with a different meaning of the word but I feel like maybe your definition falls more on the “critique” or “be critical of” side of things. Does that sound about right?

One confusion I had while reading your post was if you were advocating more criticism of the big names in the field or among bloggers to each other, or both. For me, these are altogether different matters. Just speaking personally, I don’t typically feel the need to trash another working teacher’s thoughts. Perhaps people are (justifiably?) reluctant to do so? When it comes to big names I don’t see the same reluctance, really. All the Mitra (admittedly not exactly an ELT person) posts in the aftermath of IATEFL come immediately to mind. I have the sense you were talking more about the lack of critical pieces about the accepted doctrines in field. Our lenses, perspectives, expectations, and definitions might be different but I feel like I see a fair amount of this type of critical post.

I took the challenge you suggested and checked out a list of popular blogs and (from memory) I noted and remembered quite a few blogs and posts I’d consider to be critical of the status quo in this field. Perhaps, as above, we have a different standard of what that might mean or maybe we also differ on what  a good or reasonable percentage of critical posts might be.

Even if we disagree on the optimum level of critical blog posts (or even the definition of such) I think we can agree there are many blog posts out there that are not critical at all. Of course there is a lot of crap and, to borrow your term, pap out there. Personally, I am not a fan of the “7 iPad apps you simply must use on Monday morning or you are a bad teacher and quite possibly a bad person” type posts. Not a fan at all. I am, however, happy to say that such posts are fine for many people and just not up my alley. I am not sure if anyone or anything needs to or can be blamed for this state of affairs but if I had to place blame somewhere it would be on the working conditions and situations many teachers (read: blog readers) are in. I think many teachers are looking for easily digestible and applicable ideas online. I dare say many (most?) English teachers don’t have the luxury of time to grapple with more in-depth blog posts.

I am not trying to defend all ELT blogs and bloggers but I think there is plenty of good and critical stuff out there. If there were more, I might not have enough time to keep up with everything! My contention is that ELT blogs are, or at least in certain pockets are, filled with critical thought. I’d suggest this ELT blogosphere is actually more critical than many other spaces. Could it sometimes be more critical? I suppose so.

A few other considerations came to mind when considering your view of the lack of criticality in blog posts.  I have already mentioned time issues above and I think these apply to both readers and writers.  Next, this might sound like an excuse but I am not sure what sort of access most teachers have to journals and the like.  I might also suggest maybe what the big names say is not as important or relevant to most teachers on a day-to-day basis as one might assume at first. How important is what Ellis (just for example) says to the average teacher? How important should it be? How much time do teachers need to spend rebuking things when they can go on with their teaching and reject or accept ideas from the experts in their classrooms. Of course, the question of to what extent teachers follow the experts is an important one.

Just to give an example, while I tend to favor task-based learning at times, I don’t blindly follow (or particularly like for that matter) the Willis framework on this. Now, if I were to make a blog post based on what I do in class, I might not even mention the framework or the Willises (Willi?). I would likely just write about what I did in class and why I did it and how I thought it went. I think by not following accepted wisdom and sharing what happened I’m tacitly showing my take on their work. I don’t think I necessarily need to mention them by name and critique their work. I think at times the critique can be seen in the actions taken by the teacher.

At the end of your post you shared some suggestions for blog posts. I am personally not sure how interested I’d be in a blog post on “What is the current most widely-accepted explanation of SLA?” Maybe I would. I am not sure. If you wrote it I would surely read it, though. I liked and appreciated the other suggestions and I will keep them in mind for a rainy day. I hope others do too.

One final point, then. Part of the reason I was comfortable enough to respond to your post here is that we have developed a relationship over time and I trust that you will try to understand what I am writing in the way it is intended. If I didn’t have this trust I would have been unlikely to respond to your post. You mentioned Russ in your post. I have had some very critical discussions with him. I think part of this stemmed from building up trust and rapport and me feeling comfortable to dispute things he said (and vice versa, I hope and believe). My idea here is that both on and offline it takes time build up relationships to where people feel comfortable disagreeing and engaging in critical conversations.

Thanks very much for reading this and also for your provocative post(s).

Sincerely yours,

Mike

 

PS- Your post was the nudge Steve Brown needed to finish his excellent post on Globalization, so I thank you for that too.

PPS-If my memory is correct, in the past you have mentioned blogs by Russ, Alex, TheSecretDOS, Carol, Hugh, and Rose as examples. These are all great suggestions for reading. I might also add Divya, Kevin, Hana, Willy, Tony, The TEFL Equity Advocates and lots more.

 

An interview with Geoff Jordan

I am thrilled to be sharing my latest interview here. I have been hoping to interview Dr. Geoff Jordan for ages, probably since I first became aware of him and his blog. I appreciate the comments he has left on my blog as they always provide good food for thought. I also think his blog is a great resource and I recommend checking it out. I think his recent post on “The Culture of ELT Blogs” attracted a bit of attention and this post was the final push I needed to muster up my courage and ask if Geoff would be interested in being interviewed. I was delighted when he accepted. The process and results were as fun and interesting as I hoped and suspected they would be. 

 

duff birthday 050

Cad? Dangerous bourgeois dilettante anarchist adventurist? Grumpy harmless armchair scribbler? You decide.

 

Thanks very much for doing this. I appreciate it.
Thank you Mike for inviting me. It’s an honour to appear on your blog.

Let’s start with a drink. What are you having?
I’ll  have a local beer, please.

Coming right up. Here you are. First, I really enjoy your blog. Why did you get started on blogging? What do you get out of it?
I work from home as assistant tutor in a distance learning MA in applied linguistics programme run by Leicester university. I started the blog to offer some supplementary material to students doing the MA. So the first posts were bits of advice on how to do an MA, and lots of videos, articles and links to stuff which I thought would be useful.  I had to make it clear that the views expressed were in no way endorsed by the university, which didn’t stop the general antipathy among senior members of staff towards my little venture. One worthy  later opined that “The University takes a dim view of Dr. Jordan’s dubious attempts  at satire and humour.”

I soon got rather fascinated by blogland. I’d never read ELT blogs before I started my own (yes,  a very  sheltered life, mine)  and I was surprised by how much interaction there was among bloggers themselves as well as among  readers and bloggers. There  really is a community feeling about it all, although l  can’t believe I said that. Anyway, I was also surprised by how supportive established bloggers like the Secret DOS, Rose, Carol, Hugh, and you of course, were, which got me more interested, more involved. After a while, the posts became less MA-focused and I  wrote about whatever was on my mind, which seems to be what most bloggers do.

I’m not sure what I get out of it; I’d like to hear your response to the question! I hope the blog  helps the post-grad students a bit, but I guess, like many bloggers, I’m a writer in search of an audience. I suppose it’s also  cathartic: “a purgation which brings about a release from tension” as a dictionary might say. I get very annoyed  (sometimes thrown into a rage!) about things I read, and a blog post can act as a release. But while writing posts might make me feel better, it often seems to make readers feel terrible, so maybe I’m just transferring the rage and should stop it and seek professional  help. What do you think, doctor?

I find blogging very cathartic. One thing I find useful about having a blog and blogging is that it continually helps me think about things in a different way. For example, an interesting (well to me at least) thing related to language and culture happened to me recently and thinking about how I might try to convey this story to others on the blog may have helped me understand it in different ways. Other things I get out of it is writing practice and an opportunity to share views with people from all around with all sorts of different experiences and views.

As for your question about rage transfer and writing to make you feel better but readers to feel worse…that is an interesting one but I can’t say. My personal preference is that you keep writing, though.

How do you find writing a blog similar and different to more academic writing?
They’re very different genres aren’t they? Let me just say I agree with you that writing a blog helps to sort your ideas out, not just to let off steam. Back with the issue, all writing requires you to take care with sentence construction, coherence and cohesion, all that stuff. Writing  an academic paper takes a lot of work and by comparison, writing a blog post is a walk in the park, though sometimes it might feel to the reader like a midnight walk in Central Park, NY. But still, you have to try to develop an appropriate style for you and it’s interesting to see the different styles of different bloggers. I bet if we were given four sample texts from blogs which we read regularly we could name the blog, don’t you think?

I think so. I’d feel pretty confident in my ability to name the writer based on sample texts. Speaking of style, I think it is safe to say you and your blog have your own style. You said your writing sometimes makes people feel bad. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this?
Most of my posts don’t attack anybody; they try to critically evaluate the work of leading writers and academics in our field.  I (not very humbly) suggest that in those posts the style you can detect is one of clarity and focused argument. The ones that make people feel bad are the ones where I insult certain leading figures in a “nasty”, “unkind”, “defamatory” way.  I think the objection is probably right; I should stop doing it.

From my view, the types of post you just swore off come from a desire to change things in this industry. Does that sound right?
Up to a point. Unless you’re one of the few who are rich and influential, and unless you think the industry provides good language education worldwide, then you should surely desire change, shouldn’t you? Lampooning celebrities, satirising conference plenary speakers, exposing the shoddy work of academic big shots, etc., is one way to highlight  the need for change.  But at my age (70), I just do it to let off steam and amuse myself. What I recognise is that I shouldn’t amuse myself by indulging in “character assassination.” Apart from such lapses, I like critically evaluating what I read for the fun of it. At one time I was described as “a dangerous bourgeois dilettante anarchist adventurist”. Now I’d be better described as a grumpy harmless armchair scribbler.

What are the main things you would like to see changed?
I’d like to see the whole damn thing dismantled and a more bottom-up, democratic, locally-organised structure replace it. As I’ve said in the blog, the current structure is typical of a capitalist industry: a tiny minority win and the vast majority loose. Given that capitalism is unlikely to be swept away anytime soon, we have to push for piecemeal change. I’d like to see an end to the discrimination against NNS teachers; teachers organising locally and insisting that they, the locals, are responsible for the curriculum and for producing local materials. I’d like to see teachers unanimously refusing to use the big coursebooks; systematically questioning the examination boards; ceaselessly challenging the celebrity culture; totally  boycotting the big conferences and its sponsors and organising alternative conferences with different selection principles, different formats, different speakers. As Groucho says: “Those are my principles and if you don’t like them, well, I have others.”

Thanks for sharing these Geoff. What I especially like is that these don’t sound like impossible or insurmountable or impossible tasks. Shifting gears here a bit, I wonder if you should share some thoughts on what you think makes a good MA program and also any thoughts on the differences and similarities between on and offline programs?
An MA should be judged on its success or failure to grab and hold learners’ attention and improve their capacity to think critically and rationally. A good MA course encourages you to think rather than amass information; it’s informed by a humanistic and liberal educational philosophy; and it expels anyone who ever calls scientists who use logic and empirical experiments “positivists.” Only kidding on that last point.

As to the second part, the thing is there are huge differences among onsite MA courses and among online courses, so it’s difficult to compare the two. Most MA courses in Spain involve  buying the course notes off somebody, spend 6 hours a day listening to boring people who haven’t got a clue how to teach, and then  going home to the supper your mum has prepared.  At the end of the course you do truly absurd exams where any attempt to express a personal opinion is penalised.  In contrast, in the UK, you’re encouraged to live with fellow students, to spend as much time as possible at the university communicating with people in various ways, to read what you like, to decide for yourself where to focus your attention, to only attend lectures if you want to, etc.  So rather than really answer the question, I’d say that online MA courses are great if you’re already quite busy, you have a certain amount of self-discipline, and you get a good tutor. If you can afford the time and money, leave home and go and study at a UK university.

Thanks, I have been meaning to ask your thoughts on MA programs for a long time.I will overlook the mention of other countries than the UK.  I think your blog has lots of advice and tips for MA students and prospective MA students so I won’t ask for more advice on that here, but I have a related question coming up soon. Something that caught my eye in the past was your appreciation for Stevick and Fanselow. What is it about them?
“Appreciation” in the 2 senses. First I appreciate the help and advice they gave me in the 80s and 90s; I did various courses with them which profoundly influenced me as a teacher, and I really enjoyed the time I spent with them socially.  Second, I appreciate the enormous contribution they made (and John’s still making) to ELT.  They are both (I’ll use the present tense even tho Earl’s not around anymore) very special, generous, warm human beings who speak from an unusually untainted high moral ground. They both eschew dogma; they both take a very humanistic approach to education;  they both see teaching EFL as a craft, they both argue for an eclectic, very fluid understanding of language learning which can be informed as much by eastern wisdom as western pop psychology; they both played a major part in the revolution in ELT methodology which bumped along through the 80s;  and, perhaps tellingly, neither can be considered an academic.

Shifting back to MAs for a moment, I’d like to ask you, what are some good reasons not to do an MA in the field?
Well that follows very well from the last question, doesn’t it! I know Earl and John had MAs, but they didn’t put much store by them, and I think they were right in their opinion that you don’t need an MA to be the very best language teacher on the  planet. Part of the problem the ELT world faces today is that if you want to teach  English in China, or in lots of other countries, an MA is mandatory.  It’s absurd. Most of what you need to know to become a  language teacher is best learned in training courses with people like Stevick and Fanselow, not wading your way through Rod Ellis’ turgid account of theories of SLA. Unless you want to be an academic, where an MA serves as a stepping stone to a doctorate,  THE  good reason not to do an MA is that if you want to be a language teacher you don’t need one and shouldn’t be required to have one. Having said all that, I’d never try to persuade anybody not to do an MA.       

Fair enough. Thanks. And now we are entering the Lightning Round, where random and rapid fire questions and answers are the order of the day. Let me give you another beer before we start.

Would you  be kind enough to share 2-3 of your own blog posts or pages you’d like people to read?
Newsflash: Hoey Well; Monitor Theory and Lexical Approach Still Dead

Crap Books 1 ,Crap Books 2  and Crap Books 3

Cognitive Science and SLA

Sneaky move listing the Crap Books series as one. Ok. In the past (including above) you have highlighted  blogs from Russ, Alex, TheSecretDOS, Carol, Hugh, and Rose. Are there other blogs you’d recommend?

The Linkedin ELT blogs (10,000 members!); any of Scott Thornbury’s; Students for a Free Tibet; Verso Books; Chomsky Info.

You know, I was going to ask you for some recommended resources in the field but I remembered you already shared some on an old post of mine in the comments and have a nice list of resources on your blog and even an extensive list of resources for MA students.  I was also going to ask for some general reading suggestions but you shared some of those in the comments of my blog as well. Thanks for those. I will move on. What are your favorite things about Spain?
Its anarchist traditions; the  absence of a nanny state;the weather;  the wine.  

Please define “pap” in 140 characters or less. No names!
Something without substance; worthless reading material. Rhymes with “crap”.

What does your blog title, “canlloparot,” mean or stand for?
House of the big wolf. What?

What is the most ridiculous thing in the field many people seem to believe?
Students learn what teachers teach.

Finally, what advice would you give to a young Geoff just getting started in this field?
Be discreet. Not that the young Geoff would take any notice.

I think that does it. Thanks very much for taking the time. I enjoyed it very much.
Readers interested in hearing a bit more about Geoff the person can check his “about me” page 
and his post with responses to 11 questions. 

 

Reports on IT in Korea from my students

In yesterday’s post I shared some responses from my students to questions about edtech from the folks over at eltjam. Today I’d like to share reports from another group of students on the IT industry in Korea. This group is 2nd year students in a 2 year advanced interpretation and translation graduate program. The “reports” were written in about 10-15 minutes before class around ten weeks ago.  The speeches my students were going to interpret that day were all about the IT industry in Korea so I had the  brilliant idea to see how they’d be able to share ideas and background about IT in Korea to someone who doesn’t know much about either Korea or IT.  I thought it might be interesting to have students write a quick note to my mom (who, shhhhh, is not all that interested in IT in Korea). They asked if she had ever been to Korea. I said yes, 10 years ago (though it was actually more like 13 years ago) and then I answered some other background questions. Some of these students were involved in my convince my mom Korea is not dangerous campaign last year.  The students’ mission was to write a short note/letter to my mom, telling her whatever they think she might need or want to know about IT and the IT industry in Korea. The benefits and challenges of the industry for Korea was highlighted as potential avenues. I asked students to put a big X on their paper if they didn’t want me to share their answers digitally on my blog or elsewhere with my mom. The responses below are from students who were fine with me sharing their answers widely. I typed them up just as they were written (and only changed the names).  I feel compelled to state that these were written in a hurry without much prep or thinking time. and there was not much time for editing or proofreading. I’d also like to mention my students are not really experts in IT but just needed enough background to interpret the speeches. I was pleased with the responses and I hope you, and my mom, will be too. I feel there are a lot of interesting things here, linguistically and culturally that are worth thinking about.  I also thought these letters could be good models for teachers (esp in Korea) because I think the messages are clearly conveyed but there are still a few minor errors and slips. I am very thankful my students allowed me to reproduce the letters here so I thank them for doing so whilst thanking you for reading.


 

Dear Mrs. Griffin,

Hello, how are you?
My name is B and I’ve just received a mission from your son MICHAEL to give you some idea about the IT industry in Korea. I’ve heard that you’ve been here ten years ago but things are really different from then. Especially the IT industry grew significantly.

I think the reason behind this great change & development in the IT industry is that we do not have enough natural resources to be competitive in global arena and that’s why we’ve chosen IT as our key driving engine for economic growth. It’s dramatically changed the way we live from as simple thing as subway ticketing to complicated technology like fingerprint recognition system.

However, as IT brought huge benefit to us, it also brought some negative impact to our lives too. The most serious problem would be related to security issue such as cyber-espionage, internet fraud and disclosure of personal information. To combat these issues, Korea is actively and preemptively taking many measures for better IT future. I hope, therefore, we can benefit from the advancement of the IT industry without having to worry.

Thank you very much and I hope to talk to you again.

Kind regards,
B


 

Dear Mrs. Griffin

Hi, Mrs. Griffin. I am S from Korea. I’m writing this mail to tell you about IT in Korea. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

Things have changed a lot in Korea over the past 10 years. I guess if you visit Korea, you will be surprised at how Korea has changed so dramatically in such a short time. First of all, people do not read newspapers anymore. They instead read news on their smartphones. Right, smartphones have become an essential part of our life. You don’t need to go to the bank, you don’t need to pay for international calls. You don’t even go to the mall for shopping. All you need is your smart device and some applications that you can download for free. Life is a lot more convenient and easier than ever before.

Unfortunately, there are some security and privacy concerns over the use of mobile services. Actually we are seeing more and security and privacy-related incidents.  But it will be addressed soon. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

From S.
Best Regards.


Dear Mrs. Griffin.

Hello, I am N, one of Mike’s student. I am writing this letter to tell you about IT in Korea. I heard that you visited Korea 10 years ago. I can’t really remember what kind of technology was available since I was in Australia back then. However, I will tell you about IT in Korea from what I know.

IT sector played an important role for this country’s development. Korea is now one of the leading IT powerhouse in the world. We have wireless network nearly everywhere including subways, public library and banks. This made people in Korea to access the internet anywhere anytime.


 

Dear Mrs. Griffin,

I am Y, one of your son’s students at Chungang Graduate School. How are thing going?

I have been told that you have much curiosity about the IT industry in Korae. I decided I might help you understand the IT industry’s influence on Korean society.

I head you had visited Korea 10 years ago and I believe Korea has changed a lot since then, mainly due to the fast development of the IT industry.

Almost all Koreans, except for some older people, use smartphones and internet. Korea has one of the fastest and internet and broadband in the world. Thanks to them, people’s lives have become a lot easier. For instance, Koreans now just check the time when buses arrive so they don’t have to wait for a long time for a bus. Koreans also pay their bills and do banking on their phones, which saves them the trouble of actually going to the bank. There are a lot more benefits and changes the IT industry has brought about. Please feel free to write me in case you wanna know more. Bye for now. Take care.

Sincerely,
Y

#ELTYAK: Talking EdTech with my students in Korea

On a random Wednesday at some point the last ten weeks I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do with a class of future interpreters, who are in the first year of a two year graduate program. As I was considering this question I saw an invitation to talk tech from eltjam. They listed some questions regarding tech use and I thought the questions might be a nice intro into discussions on autonomous learning and summer plans for improving English and technology in general. The good people at  eltjam listed 11 questions and before that there were some general discussion questions loosely focused on Sugata Mitra’s talk at IATEFL this year (and maybe the ensuing debate). Before starting with either set of discussion questions I cued up some Mitra with a few comprehension questions. It was starting to feel like a real planned lesson.

We talked about the following questions as a whole group (four students and me) after students had discussed them in pairs. It was a mix of me interviewing people and nominating speakers and a more free flowing discussion.

  • Do you like working without a teacher?
  • Would you enjoy working in a small group with a computer (ie a SOLE)?
  • Would you like English help from my Mum (ie a grandma)?
  • When do you think your English improves most: in class or outside?

Students liked the word mum vs. mom, by the way. They thought it might be nice to talk to random grandmas they didn’t know but also wanted language and teaching experts. For their field as potential conference interpreters they pointed to history and culture as very important things and felt random grannies in the cloud could be helpful for this. They also liked the idea of potentially cheering up or giving company to someone. There was some concern that the elderly might talk in old-fashioned ways or might not pronounce things accurately or quickly enough. There was also the worry grandparents might not understand the students well. The consensus seemed to be that discussion partners in the cloud might be good as a supplement but not as the primary way of learning.

As a group they were largely pro-teacher (and not, I believe, because I was the person asking). They thought it was good to have someone devoted to the task of helping them learn. They placed a high value on trust and reliability and thought maybe a stranger wouldn’t have these things. They liked the idea of having experienced and trained teachers.

The students thought the ideas of SOLEs was okay and said they already do a lot of work on their own in groups and are quite capable of choosing tasks they need to do. My impression of their take on the SOLE idea was that it was nothing new or revolutionary and the impression I got was they felt “Of course students can get together to do tasks with the help of technology.”

They came back to the idea of a teacher being helpful and important, in order to keep students on task and to provide expert feedback. They said it is too easy to be distracted when working in small groups without tangible goals or tasks. They also suggested it is very nice to have a teacher around when they get stuck or misunderstand something. It is nice to know if you are on the right track, they said.

I mentioned distraction above and this was very much a key issue for the students. They were worried too many apps or too many sources or too much going on might distract them from their goals. I got the sense that doing and using lots of tools seemed a bit scattershot to them and they’d prefer to work with just a few quality things.

My students said they preferred and believed in a mix of in and out of class learning. Some of the tools they mentioned as most useful were online dictionaries and apps, TED talks, NPR podcasts, lectures from EBS, and newspapers online (with and without accompanied audio). They preferred things that had a connection to Korea but said this is not necessary. They said they don’t like to pay for apps or materials because there is so much out there for free and they can find the free or pirated versions quite easily.

I was curious about smartphones being used for studying here in the most wired country on earth and they said they didn’t do so very often and neither did their friends or siblings. Smartphones are mostly for fun. The main educational uses were podcasts and dictionaries. They said they didn’t know much about apps for learning English that were made outside of Korea. This matched with my perceptions about not so many Korean students using apps for improving their English.

They were also not so hot on the idea of social media for improving English. Many of them had Facebook before they were asked to make an account for another course. They didn’t seem to see the point of social media for improving their English. I took a few minutes and shared who I think Twitter could be super useful for students in their situation. I saw some nodding but I think this would take a bit of nudging (or devoting class time to it.)

I enjoyed the conversation and got a lot out of it. I hope and believe the students did too. It looked like they enjoyed hearing the strategies and tools their peers employ. The class flew by and at the end I asked the students to answer some of the other questions from eltjam. Their (occasionally edited just for clarity and flow) responses are below.

  1. Apart from textbooks, what do you use outside of class time to help you learn English?
    Ted Talks, Good Morning pops (app). 
    Sometimes novels or short stories or movie scripts/scenarios.
    Watch TED Talks and speeches and EBS World News. Recently Freakonomics.
    Radio, apps (Ipad), newspapers.
    EBS programs. 
  2. What technology do you use to learn English when you’re not in school?
    Smartphone apps and computer websites.
    Websites-google to find English texts.
    Apps-Podcast, TED, Umano, dictionaries.
    Websites-Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal. 

    Googling, dictionary apps, EBS program, NPR, podcasts. 
  3. Why do you use them?
    Because they are more interesting than textbooks and more practical.
    Because speakers normally use good English. Basically I believe their English is good enough for me to learn grammar, words, and also for me to memorize because they are publicly giving a speech.
    The two websites (Huffpo and WSJ) provide both Korean and English scripts.
    Podcasts are good for listening to fun programs for free.
    TED is good for learning the structure of speeches and various information from various fields.
    They are reliable and I can access them any time. 
  4. How do you know if they are helping you learn?
    I don’t know exactly but friends’ or teachers’ positive comments are helpful.
    I sometimes find myself using the expressions I picked up.
    I can learn various expressions and use them in interpretation.
    Because Native Speakers teach or speak and the teachers are qualified and professional. I learn new expressions.  
  5. Do you use them in class?  What technology do you use in class?
    Oxford Dictionary (English-English), Nave Dictionary (English-Korean), Google Search (to find out appropriate collocations).
    Yes, we use Ted Talks sometimes and googling for translation.
    Yes, WSJ, dictionary and TED apps.
    English dictionary app or googling. 
  6. What language is your phone and things like Facebook set to?
    Korean.
    Korean.
    Korean.
    KOREAN. 
  7. What do you think about using technology in class?
    If properly used it would be very helpful but if too much is used it will distract you.
    I think it’s necessary sometimes. Since we are learning interpretation skills, we need more practice rather than apps in class.
    Sometimes good but usually some PowerPoint or screens make my eyes tired. I have to protect my eyes. And they are boring. 
  8. What English skills do you think technology can help you with?
    Listening. I often listen to TedTalks but I think face-to-face conversation is better to improve one’s speaking skills.
    Listening.
    Fluency and vocabulary (through dictionaries).
    Listening (especially through TED and NPR). 
  9. Would you like to do homework, or communicate with your class, on the train home?
    Yes. While commuting I listen to podcasts (Good morning pops app) or read some English materials.
    Yes, but not online. Face-to-face.
    I drive so I can’t do homework in my car.
    Class is enough. After class I have to review on my own. 
  10. Do you study English outside of class with other students?  If so, do you use any technology to do this?
    Yes, searching for materials and listening to dialogues or speeches.
    Skype and KakaoTalk.
    Yes, I use an Ipad to practice interpretation.
    Yes. Listening to TED or speeches together. 
  11. Is there anything you want to do with technology and learning English, but can’t?
    With technology including Skype or Facetime I can talk or converse with someone who speaks English. So, technically, I can. But, in fact, I can’t because I don’t have enough time.
    I don’t know what I need. If there is a cool app I would use it.
    No, I have a lot of stuff I have to study. 

It seems that their answers clearly show their specific interests, goals and challenges but I hope their answers are helpful on a more general level too. Thanks very much for reading. Please be sure to see the follow up post on eltjam about what students want from edtech. If you have any questions you’d like me to ask my students in the fall I will more than likely be happy to do so.