All cut up

October 15, 2014

Just after my son started in primary school his teacher called me over one day as I was picking him up. Damn! In trouble already I thought. But no, it was simpler: “you know he is left handed?” she asked. Indeed I did know. I had noticed. He is my son.

She then asked me why he hadn’t a scissors for left-handers. I had to tell her I didn’t know the answer to that. After over twenty years in Spain (and I hope pretty good Spanish) I still speak with a distinctly foreign accent so she took a step back and started speaking very slowly. My Spanish was not good enough for her to understand what I was saying: or at least, that was what my accent was telling her. The reality was, in any language, I just didn’t know there were special scissors for left-handed people and that was what she had to explain to me.

It is curious how accent can make you appear dumb. Words, attitude, social norms can cover it up but it remains, when meeting people for the first time at least, a striking identifying feature and can often lead native speakers to view you in a negative fashion. Regional accents can, of course, within groups of native speakers, have the same effect!

scissorsAs teachers we spend (or should spend) a lot of time on pronunciation and intelligibility is essential. Nevertheless, sounding like a “native” speaker is probably beyond the ability of most “non-natives”. That shouldn’t be a problem but as Robin Walker highlights in this post, perhaps native listeners also need to demonstrate less prejudice when it comes to “judging” a non native speaker solely on the basis of their pronunciation. Judgments based on skin colour or the shape of your eyes can be classed as racist: should we be equally carefully when sizing up a person on the basis of their accent? The speaker has to make an effort to be intelligible: but listeners may also need training to understand intelligibility.

My son remains left-handed: my Spanish accent remains deficient … but I can and have done more things in Spanish than I have in my “native” language. Maybe I just need the right kind of scissors.


The Present is never Perfect

July 14, 2014

10,000 hours may be necessary to master the violin according to a recent Economist article. Nevertheless, while it can be argued that with enough practice anything is possible, research may prove otherwise. Unless you have a musical ear, years of practice may just not be enough!


As teachers I think we must agree that the same applies to language learning: practice will certainly help and, indeed, is essential but it may not make you perfect. Twenty some years on I still speak (pretty good) Spanish with an awful foreign accent, and it is not from a lack of practice.

It is humbling to realise I may never be perfect and gratifying, encouraging even to realise many of our students won’t be either. But that is no reason to stop teaching or learning. 10,000 hours can never go to waste, can they? That would be too ironic: even Alanis Morissette might agree.

Original article at


Thanks for all the phishing

September 19, 2013

Hi all and welcome back to a new teaching year after the summer. For those of you who may be slightly paranoid about internet security the Economist has an in-dept survey on the issue and an interesting debate about whether or not security agencies should be allowed pervert the flow of information as it were. If you don’t want to read the complete article scroll down to the fun section on Panoramic paranoia where the newspaper gives some tips on being really safe electronically (ie keep your mobile safe from interference by switching it off, taking out the battery and storing it in the fridge when not in use).

This blog is, of course, about technology and teaching but maybe the security issues remain the same. At what point should we shut technology out and store it in the fridge just in case it corrupts our classrooms? My daughter has just started secondary school and has been told that all mobile devices have to be turned off and locked away during school hours. A recent talk by a work-mate encouraged me to get my teenagers to take our their mobile phones and use them creatively in class last night. There is always a back door when it comes to technology. The trick may not be finding it but using it productively, creatively and in a way that stimulates the teaching and learning process. Technology is not an automatic virus. It can be, but in education that probably depends on the teacher.

That has always been the intention of this blog: learning about and using technology in the best pedagogical way possible. I have just re-read the aims of this blog stated in the WHY section and I hope to some extent they have been fulfilled.

Time moves on and technologically things change ever quicker than time does. After nearly 300 posts I think this blog may have reached an end. Three years is a long time in the history of internet. Things have moved on. I may return here or on a new blog when I have found a new angle: at the moment I feel that it is time for an upgrade, and they always take time to de-bug.

Meanwhile thanks for all the phising! Let me leave you with one final clip which does what we try to do every class: put a humanistic layer on intelligence, artificial or not.

Being resourceful

May 13, 2013

Here is a site I, surprisingly, have just come upon. Lots of practical information and ideas here. The blog posts cover a range of issues in EFL from teaching pron to using coursebooks. What I particularly like are the downloadable lesson plans as they are clearly tagged to CEF levels and they are based around some really entertaining videos. Have a look, some good fun and thoughtful input here.

Setting your sites high

April 29, 2013

A curiosity from the Guardian: the Ten best words the internet has given us. Think about it before you read the article … what would your ten be? Google? Phish? Spam? The joy of the article is that I bet you won’t predict more than two from the list.

Here is a very simple tool to translate text into phonetic script It allows for both British and American English. Incredibly simple to use and from what I can see effective. You will need to sign up for longer texts but for you and your students it is a very effecient transcriber for single words or short sentences. Could be particularly useful for students!

Rings a bell?

November 2, 2010

| haɪ fəʊks | haʊ ˈkwɪkli kən ju riːd ðɪs | ənd haʊ ˈkwɪkli wʊd ju həv ˈrɪtn̩ ɪt | hɪə z ə saɪt ðət wl də ɪt fə ju əˈlaʊɪŋ ju tu tʃuːz frəm rɪˈsiːvd prəˌnʌnsɪˈeɪʃn̩ ɔː ˈdʒenrəl əˈmerɪkən ɪn ðə ˈprəʊses | aɪ ˈhævnt traɪd ɪt aʊt ɪn dɪˈpɑːtmənt səʊ jə ˈkɒments ˈwelkəm |

Hi folks, how quickly can you read this? And how quickly would you have written it? Here is a site that will do it for you allowing you to choose from Received Pronunciation or General American in the process. I haven’t tried it out in dept so your comments welcome!