2314626_10237619-bagtote16_bAre we resistors to language adaptations?
Are we out of the language loop?
Are we getting old?

I wouldn’t have thought so (and nevermind, I’ll actually just speak for myself). I think I’m very open-minded about this sort of thing; I am normally at least aware, yet more often a user, of new vocabulary (I take my fair share of selfies), shifts in genre-accepted grammar (go ahead, start written sentences with but) and styles of expressing oneself (e.g. personal pronouns in academic writing are OK). These transitions don’t take long for me to adopt, provided I see adequate evidence of their use (I use the term ‘adequate’ loosely). In fact, this adaptation often spills over into my teaching, depending on the context students are allowed to experiment with unconventional language use. BUT, there’s one such piece of language creativity–one grammatical ugly duckling, one tawdry harlot of misuse–that took me completely by surprise recently, and though I’ve now seen it pop up in the most random places (note the tote above), my early adoption tendencies have failed to kick in; my cringes have failed to subside when it sneers at me from the page. Why? Because beliefs.

Did you raise an eyebrow just now also? Trust me, a small shudder went through me writing it.

It seems as though, unbeknownst to me, this because + noun construction (not to mention because + adjective) has mounted enough use to make the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year for 2013. What? How did I not notice this? I’m well read. I spend an abnormal amount of time on social media. I have a teenage niece and nephews.

Image by Christopher Locke

My apparent ignorance aside, I have begun to reconsider whether or not I fall into the same unquestioning traditionalism as of a previous generation who cling to placing those pesky prepositions anywhere but at the end of a sentence. Thinking of my linguistic flexibility fossilising also makes me shudder.

Thankfully, my language teaching powers have also begun to equalise this knee-jerk spasm of hate, causing me to consider how to handle my existential concerns and attempt to rationalise my distaste.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 4.39.09 PMNot long before a conversation (with this colleague) about this because business triggered everything, I was leafing through my collection of old textbooks that sit, collecting dust on my office shelf, to see what of value I could learn from them.  One that caught my eye was Grammar is Important: A Basic Course for Canadian Schools (McGuire 1949: Book Society) because old and because grammar.

Most of it contains the usual: parts of speech, sentence structure, simple explanations and of course, identification exercises. Then I turned to an intriguing section: “Special Uses of the Future Tense”, which beyond surprising content, had a nod to guided discovery.

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The opening paragraph explains how to use shall and will with particular pronouns for simple future use, but the sentence examples themselves do the opposite. Sure, it doesn’t guide much with the unclear instruction, “study these sentences”, but hey, it was 1949. What surprised me most, however, was not its approach to language learning, but in fact the language use itself. The use of shall has long been reduced to a few key movie phrases during my Canadian lifetime (“Shall we dance?“, for example), and thus by the time I was in elementary school, the distinction between the two by my grammar teachers included something like, “Sometimes shall indicates more of a promise than will.” But that’s it. No mention of coordinating either with different pronouns for meaning, let alone reversing this coordination for a different meaning. Obviously language use had changed enough to deem teaching this construction unnecessary, perhaps even harmful.

How is this relevant to my issues with because + noun/adjective? Well, if these outdated grammatical constructions that I’m not aware of–and more that I am aware of–exist and have consciously been determined more or less obsolete, am I resisting irrationally? Maybe there’s no reason logically to object.

It reminds me of a typical conversation I used to have when I was younger with my mom:

Mom: Go play outside.
Me: I don’t want to.
Mom: Why not?
Me: Because.
Mom: Because what?

The fact that the last retort ends in “what” suggests that what follows very well could have been a simple noun (though it never did that I remember). Traditional grammar rules–and now I may mean this term loosely–always indicated that what follows because is not a noun alone, but a full clause (e.g. I don’t want to because TV is more fun.) or of + noun (e.g. I don’t want to because of my a TV show.). Why didn’t we ever think to simply say “because TV”? Drilled into us were the ‘proper’ constructions.

When I first saw the because science, Internet, sleep responses, I thought the of had simply dropped out of laziness or social media-dictated concision, but in fact, the dominant explanation is to shift our grammatical perspective on because from conjunction to preposition, which corroborates a short discussion about this I had with Mike Griffin and breathyvowel here. The gist is that because is the new of, or rather the ‘why’ preposition. Regardless of the current dialogue about it, it begs the question of how it began. I’d venture to say it had to be from some popularised celebrity phrase (remember “Ssssssmokin’!“?) Or maybe it’s because Twitter.

So where does this lead in teaching, I wonder. Do we do a disservice to students who, perhaps accidentally, use this construction if we correct it? Do we start introducing it as a legitimate third grammatical construction? Do we wait for it to appear in class and do the usual warning: ‘well, you’ll see this sometimes in certain contexts, but be careful when you use it…’? Once again, it may come down to frequency of use, which although anecdotally can be noted as often enough to become a ‘word of the year’, someday it may increasingly show up in corpora.

My guess, however, is that where adaptations (adoptions?) like this are more easily forgiven in oral production, it won’t gain legs anytime soon in formal genres of writing. Of course, I can guarantee that every time I see it in a piece of student writing, I will think twice about correcting it because blogging.

grammar

 

Over the last 5 years that I’ve been heavily involved with the online ELT community, it has been extremely satisfying to see the dramatic rise in participation at web conferences, online streaming of offline conference sessions, and types of synchronous Twitter chats. Webinar series–Shelly Terrell’s for American TESOL Institute springs to mind as the go-to–continue to be the most frequent and widespread OCPD (check out the ELT Calendar for a bunch in blue).  Yet still, I know there are a number of teachers who have some apprehension about attending, let alone leading one themselves.

To this end (and because I have a passion for these things) I’d like to introduce more opportunity to engage in online CPD through a series of webinars, offered on a fairly regular basis, at different times for different time zones, sometimes led by people you know, sometimes (hopefully) by those wanting to give it a try. With added choice, I hope to persuade more of us to get involved online and share their ideas.

The first 4C in ELT webinar, thanks to the Webheads Community for the resources:

chia

Abstract:
As we look back at the history of English language teaching, we can see a correlation between the trends in the most popular language acquisition theories of its time, and the application of such assumptions into the language classroom. Whether it be Krashen’s ‘Affective Filter’ hypothesis translating into humanistic approaches such as De-Suggestopedia, or Searle’s speech acts giving rise to the functional syllabus, practitioners have tried to apply theory to practice in a way that best helps learners to best acquire the language. But we don’t always get it right.

Since the late 1960s, we’ve seen Hymes refute the focus on grammatical competence, highlighting instead the importance of communicative competence, we’ve had Michael Long talk about the role of interaction in language acquisition, and we’ve heard variations on Ellis’s proposition that teachers should not predetermine the linguistic content of a lesson. We claim that we’ve moved into a communicative era of language teaching, but how far are we really from the grammar syllabi of the 1950s?

Interaction:
If you have any questions the bubble to the front of your mind beforehand, feel free to write them in the comments section and during the Q&A, should they not be discussed during the talk itself, maybe Chia will be able to do it.

Speaker bio:
Chia Suan Chong is a General and Business English teacher and also runs teacher training courses such as the CELTA and the Cert IBET, in addition to cultural training courses. Based in York (UK), she is a regular conference presenter and graduated with a degree in Communications Studies and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching. She is passionate about languages and is fascinated by the interplay between culture, communication, language, and thought. Chia blogs and tweets regularly for English Teaching Professional (@ETprofessional) and you can find out more about her at chiasuanchong.com and about.me/chiasuanchong.

Date:
Thursday, April 24, 2014 @ 4:00PM – 5:00PM EST (see your timezone).

The recording of the webinar is now available. Click here.

PS – A special thanks to Shelly Sanchez Terrell and BELTA for the inspiration.

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2013

At the end of the year, I like to look back on a year’s worth of blog posts, both my own and those that caught my eye by others in our community. It gives me a broad-picture perspective on the breadth of sharing, insight and dialogue that has occurred throughout the year. I’d like to congratulate everyone who puts their ideas into a public forum, for their courage, their wisdom and their contributions. So as I’ve done for 2011 and 2012, here are just a few noteworthy posts from others that provided me (and probably you) with ideas to consider (click on the headers to go to that post).

cardoso
Beyond the slight gasp let out by all those who autotweeted this post (that was classic, btw!), Willy brings balance to the discussion (something we all should have had before scoffing) about Brazilian prostitutes being offered free English lessons by their association in preparation for the World Cup. Best line: “Do people condemn language tuition to executives of tobacco companies? … Are they doing any better to society than prostitutes? Well, they’re all fucking someone in their own way, but draw your own conclusions.”

griffin
A third of Mike’s blog title is “rants”, so you can expect a certain amount of discussion involving annoyances, yet done so in ways that don’t come off entirely negative, but more in a ‘right-on-brutha’ fashion. In this post, as you can imagine, he aptly lists of 13 (just a coincidence, folks) industry irritants from webinar pre-registrations to Scoop.it links on Twitter to people not bothering to Google something before asking for help (ok, those are the three that irk me the most from the list). So stop the madness!

huang
It wasn’t difficult to agree with Li-shih’s commentary about the divide between researcher and practitioner. Throughout my ELT career, research has seemed like this impenetrable haystack of academic-ese that wasn’t worth sifting through to get to the useful needle buried within; what practising teacher has time for that?, I thought. More and more, however, I’m swayed to the side of evidence-based practice, beyond simply my anecdotes and intuition. However on spot these two may actually be, it’s always thrilling to see validation somewhere else, and a growing acceptance to admit you might be wrong. Li-shih, here, addresses some of these concerns in response to Penny Ur’s recent articles and keynotes on the subject.

loseva
Ann Loseva is a beautiful writer, though she may not admit it; and this is is one post she did in her blogathon for the British Council that opened my eyes to this truth. She craftily weaves together a commentary on “the tyranny of limits” through the example of Twitter, written assessment and the platform of the blogathon challenge itself. Since then, it’s easy to notice this craft on each post on her blog, many of which I’d likely include in another list.

madhavan
To be honest, through my current incarnation as MA student, research has been this omnipresent dark cloud looming over me; that’s why it was difficult to choose between many of Divya’s posts on research (others here and here) as each has shed new glimmers of hope, both through commiseration and inspiration. I chose this one, however, because of Divya’s ability to both criticise and suggest how ‘research’ is used by those in our industry. If interested, you may also want to check out Russell Mayne’s Evidenced-based EFL blog, like this talk posted here, for example.

meddings
Luke’s one of my favourite people, as are a number of the people who commented on this post about how Pearson is on its way (or continuing its way?) to infiltrating all sectors of education on the grounds of measurable outcomes and transparent reporting. Correct or not, where this post rang home for me was the concern that one day coursebooks would find their way into the higher education EAP curriculum (have they already?), like they have through most private language school curricula. I prefer the autonomy of the teacher, myself.

mewburn
It’s valuable to read blogs outside ELT circles for the perspectives I get on struggles, triumphs and attitudes in other areas of education as clarity in my own thinking about our own industry often comes. Dr. Mewburn talks about a pervasive culture of dominant, aggressive and jerk behaviours among academics to those under them, suggesting it gets them further in their work environments and an (unfortunate) perceived relevance to being expertised. She, however, remarks that for this to change, it has to be rejected, where it currently isn’t. This post gave me perspective on my own career trajectory, in terms of keeping my ego in check.

millin
Though quite a short post, Sandy’s concern about what ELT educators do when they retire provokes a hearty discussion in the comments section from many of us struggling in the same boat. It’s a topic I’ve never seen directly discussed so openly on a blog, but one which we all know is a huge worry in our industry of low wages and insecure contracts. I say we all unite, open a massive joint investment account to contribute to and share it when the time comes.

muir
Remember before that horridly overshared fox song, there was this wonderfully infectious public service announcement from Australia featuring cute characters setting themselves on fire and slicing themselves in half? If you don’t, check out this lesson from Allatc, complete with video, handout and teacher’s notes, which came at a time I kept wondering how I could use it in class.

patsko
One post I needed to read at exactly this time (you may notice a theme emerging from some of my chosen noteworthy posts), Laura shares some major lessons learnt through the process of completing her MA in ELT & Applied Linguistics. She talks about the use of literature, real research, effects on her outside life and a couple other things one truly should consider before taking on this enormous task. In the end, it helped me feel like I wasn’t abnormal in my confusion.

stille
Saskia is a colleague of mine at New College and starting blogging this year with an academic bang. In this post, she refers to how her children creatively negotiate the rules of games and ‘hack’ the way a toy was initially meant to be used in an attempt to thwart their own boredom, which she instead refers to as “an extended amount of time to do nothing and be free to explore and create out of the resources that surrounded them.” It prompted me to consider how if students were given this time, what unexpected (and perhaps valuable) learning they may do together.

terrell
I cannot relate to why anyone bullies, let alone bullies someone so thoughtful, cheerful and supportive as Shelly. In this raw response to cyberbullying tactics of which she’s been at the receiving end, it hit closer to home that the Internet has the potential for giving a perpetual voice of attack to public personas. And yes, it gave me pause, but Shelly shows through attitude and action how you can’t let it defeat you.

wilson
During an era where a vast number of posts and articles nearly entirely focus on the learner, the learning process and how to engage all learners, Ken’s post lauding the teachers themselves and their efforts was a refreshing read. He doesn’t argue that ultimately what it comes down to is the learner, but compares much of the attitude and effort of learners with that of the teachers they (may not) engage with. Hear, hear.

Other notable contributions to ELT blogging in 2013 who deserve a mention:

Nathan Hall on ELT Reflections
a tireless string of single-word titled posts that relate outside experiences to ELT topics.

Kevin Stein on A Whisper of Gratitude
part of a trio of recent JALT conference-goers who touched me with how they connected.

Vicky Loras & Eugenia Loras on The Loras English Network
very proud of the continued dream-seekers on their new, meaningful ventures.

Scott Thornbury on An A-Z of ELT
an era came to a close this year with Scott ending his run on my favourite blog ever. Sad days for me.

Joanna Warden on Teacherpants -
a colleague of mine who is jumping into blogging this year; great things are to come in 2014 I’m sure.

Beyond all of these were the ELT posts not written during the uprising in Turkey in midyear. I was deeply affected by the numerous social media updates from my ELT friends teaching across Turkey, too numerous to mention throughout this bibliography. It’s the first time I really felt thoroughly touched by the power an event like this from across the world, thanks to the internet and how media can and CANNOT be controlled. It was during this hiatus from blogging that Facebook and Twitter proved to be the avenue for first-hand accounts of the tragedies that the world wasn’t seeing through traditional media and demonstrated how vital these avenues are for the transmission of information. I worried about my Turkish students, who’d returned to their country for the summer break; my friends and colleagues like Dave Dodgson and Adam Simpson; and all of the citizens who stood up for their beliefs. I admired them and tried my best to support from afar.

2013 has been quite a year for the ELT blogging community. Cheers to all for a happy, healthy and safe 2014. I look forward to compiling the list of 14 for next year.

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