Ben Goldstein’s six ways to sell English

In this image-rich post I am joined by none other than Ben Goldstein, an expert on images and language teaching. His book Working with Images (Cambridge) was one of my “books to look out for in 2009” and has duly been nominated for the Ben Warren Prize for this year. Ben has a keen eye for images and how to critically analyse them. He gave a Pecha Kucha called English for Sale at IATEFL and TESOL Spain this year. I asked him to share some of the images he found with us here.

I have spent some time researching into how language schools, publishers and multinationals (Berlitz, Inlingua) promote the English language. What images of English are presented, what messages are transmitted and how is the language marketed as a commodity?

1) English as owned by native speaker. Many adverts clearly show the uneven power relationship between the native and non-native speaker which is still present in many campaigns.However, other ads seem to make fun of native speaker supremacy as in this Inlingua ad:

B english mother tongue

2) English and its cultural icons.  Telephone boxes and Big Ben still dominate as icons particularly in the marketing of language schools, regardless of English’s status as a lingua franca. Here is a particularly extreme example!

C live it

3) English and its stereotypes. Surprisingly, many campaigns actually emphasize negative stereotypes, in particular about the British. This gives the impression to learners that they better get on and study the language, whether they like or not. Be it a weak, sickly youth or a hooligan, these are not exactly attractive role models:

D enough of weak english

E hooligans

4) English providing the promise of a better future. Much in the same way as other products, English is conventionally sold as a passport to a better life and the chance to achieve an elevated social status. Here is an example from a Filipino website, interesting in that it is celebrating bilingualism in a country where English is losing its elitist role:

F english is cool website

5) Inability to speak English. Negative images of learners being humiliated or and ‘getting it wrong’ are frequently used as a way to get the customer to identify and hence buy into a course. Language schools use this technique more than other, it seems, because it makes the customer feel guilty that his/her English is not up to scratch.

G inlinguaAntenna

6) English and other languages. Finally, some campaigns which attempt to do something different, placing English alongside other languages. Here’s one celebrating cultural diversity and code-switching. The ad cleverly shows three ways of saying yes in English, French and Hebrew and it also reads ‘Yes, we can” – at last a truly positive message for the learner!

J berlitzyes

Ben Goldstein is a teacher, author and presenter based in Barcelona. You can find out more about him and his work here.

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 7:12 am  Comments (2)  
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Six classroom activities with mobile/cell phones

I have just started classes again, and the other day I arrived to see my students all gathered around someone’s new iPhone chatting quite animatedly about it (they are adult students, by the way). They switched to English when I arrived and we devoted a good fifteen minutes checking out all the different aspects of the phone. It made me think of other activities I have done with mobile phones, which for me count as one of the “ultimate” realia items in class… so many people have them and they are so multifaceted now.

So here are, you guessed it, six activities you can do with a mobile phone/cell phone in class.

1. Describe, compare and rank them

Ok, this is the obvious one. It’s what my students were doing quite naturally. To make it a bit more formal and generative, put students into groups of three or four and tell them to 1) describe their phones and capabilities 2) rank the phones in order of usefulness/value/interestingness etc 3) decide which is the best and worst feature of each phone.

2. Role play conversation back to back.

The arrival of mobile phones has made this technique of “playing a phone call” much more realistic than holding your thumb and forefinger up to your face as I used to get students to do (I even brought in bananas once for this purpose). One of the ABSOLUTELY best phone roleplay activities I have done comes from Ken Wilson’s book Drama and Improvisation, where students pick a card saying where they are and what they are doing and improvise a conversation from there.

3. Think of alternative uses

Hold up your phone and ask “What is this?” When the chorus of bored responses “It’s a phone” comes back at you, say “No, it looks like a phone, but it is in fact a garage door-opener and alarm” (or some such invention). Elaborate on this a little. Then tell students to think of an alternative use for their phones. Each student presents their “alternative phone” in small groups. Each group then decides which is the most interesting, and that student shares their alternative phone with the class.

4. Roleplay at the phone shop

Who hasn’t a problem getting something to work on their phone? Brainstorm a list of possible “phone problems” and get students to write these on little pieces of paper. Put students in pairs and redistribute the papers, one per pair. Each pair of students have to roleplay a conversation at the phone shop, with one student playing a customer with a phone problem and the other playing the shop attendant/technician.

A variation would be to have students try to “sell” their phone to a partner, explaining all its attributes etc.

5. Discuss issues

Of course, the whole issue of mobile/cell phones is a rich area to tap for discussion. Questions include: Are they bad for your health? What is good phone etiquette? How old should you be before you get your first phone? Are phones in class a problem? Where should phones be banned? Are phones too expensive? Can you remember old phones, what were they like? Do you screen your calls? Do you still remember (or even know) phone numbers or do you depend on your phone for that now? Could you live without your phone? Many of these could kick off a discussion, which may even get quite heated.

6. Make your classroom more “souped up” with a smartphone

I was quite happy with my list of ideas so far until I saw Karenne Sylvester’s post and its responses on using smart phones. Suddenly I felt pretty old-fashioned with my ideas. With today’s smart phones you can connect them to your computer, hook up to speakers, play songs or podcasts, show videos, make films, use apps, record students, playback recordings, project things, play games etc. Check that post out to find out more. It almost merits a separate list altogether, as my ideas are all things to do with the phone turned off.

Have you had any ideas on using the phone in class? Post a comment.

Published in: on September 25, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Comments (16)  
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Six amazing words you never knew existed


Blogging is an amazing thing. The other day I got a message via my blog from an author whose book I had bought as a Christmas present for my father a few years back. His name is Adam Jacot de Boinod and the book in question was The Meaning of Tingo. His new book, The Wonder of Whiffling (pictured above) comes out this week.  We exchanged a few emails and, never one to miss a trick, I asked him if he would like to propose six amazing words that you wouldn’t recognize. He duly obliged, and I include them below.

1 pingle (Suffolk) to move food about on the plate for want of an appetite

2 mumpish (1721) sullenly angry; depressed in spirits

3 crambazzled (Yorkshire), prematurely aged through drink and a dissolute life

4 cagg (UK military slang b1811) a solemn vow or resolution used by private soldiers not to get drunk for a certain time

5 twizzling (Sussex dialect) spinning a pointer on a pub ceiling to decide who should buy the next round

6 shangle (Cumberland + Westmoreland dialects) to fasten a tin or kettle to a dog¹s tail

The English teacher and materials writer in me thought of adding example sentences but why not leave that for the comments?

For those of you who are word lovers, please check out Adam’s book and website. Thanks Adam!

Published in: on September 22, 2009 at 10:20 am  Comments (10)  
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Six things about teaching English in Romania

Earlier this month I had the chance to visit Romania for a teaching conference.  It was my second time, and a very nice conference with teachers from around the country, held in the province of Constantza on the coast. Between workshops and meals overlooking the Black Sea I managed to gather part of the following six pieces of information which I share with you here. Back from the conference, I asked Melania Paduraru, a former school inspector in Constanta, for more details – all the text in italics is quoted from her e-mail to me.

(Note that these country lists are not intended as useful jobsearch information for travelling English teachers looking for their next post, as there are a million sites like that already. They are rather intended as information about the overall picture of language teaching in the country taken from the people who live there.)

When is English taught? A modern language (be it English, French, German or any other one) is a mandatory subject in schools from the age of 9. A second modern language is obligatory from the age of 11. The school year in Romania begins in September and ends in June. School days occur in “shifts” depending on various factors such as the grade, district etc. The morning shift can start as early as 7:00am and finish at 12. The afternoon shift can start anywhere from 11:30 to 1:30 and might finish as late as 19:00.

How does one become a language teacher in Romania? Becoming a teacher in Romania isn’t a case of a quick four week course. As I was told, All teachers (state and private school) need to have attended university. Nowadays, after completing a 3 year degree at university (the equivalent of BA), graduates can teach in primary and lower secondary schools (1st grade to 8th grade).

Those willing to be allowed to teach in upper-secondary schools (or high schools as we call them) will have to have completed a Masters’ Degree of 3 semesters. University means studying mainly English and American Literature, Cultural Studies, Grammar, Linguistics, Translations, Pedagogy/Didactics, Psychology and Methodology etc., but also many other subjects, usually depending on the university’s choice and offer.

How much do teachers make? Salaries for teachers in Romania are, quite frankly, shockingly low. A teacher starting out can expect to make €160 a month. This can go up to €450 with seniority and extra degrees. Different positions (director, school inspector) can mean more money too, but it’s still very low.

What is the level of English of teachers and students in Romania? The above point notwithstanding, both teachers and students of English in Romania have an impressively high level of English. I have often been amazed at how easy it is for Romanians to pick up new languages and English is no exception. By the time they are in high school students are already using Upper Intermediate and Advanced books. It’s one of the only countries that I know that has what they call “super-advanced” coursebooks. I was told that the reasons for this were as follows:

Romanian teachers and their students are said to be the best among the European speakers of English, with the least country-specific accent. One reason we’re so good at this: before 1989, English was studied in very few schools in Romania, the main modern languages studied at the time being Russian, French and German (French and German being obviously preferred, but Russian being almost compulsory); after the Romanian Revolution in 1989, English gradually became the #1 modern language in schools, while the interest for Russian dropped so drastically that now there are very few schools studying it. The interest for German has never been too high and French lost lots of ground to English.

A second reason might be the sudden burst of alternative textbooks, most of them written by native speakers, which provided access to genuine materials. These, combined with the enthusiasm of the English teachers, resulted in intensive-study or even bilingual classes. To avoid any misunderstandings, a regular class has 2 English classes/hours per week, an intensive class has 4 English classes/hours and a bilingual class has 6-7 English classes/hours per week. Intensive and bilingual classes are divided into groups (usually 2 per class) and are generally taught by 2 teachers.

A third reason: the conferences held in Romania and the scholarships offered to Romanian teachers. Both these meant an important turnpoint in many Romanian English teachers’ careers.

Another reason, affecting mainly children’s interest for the English language, might be the TV programmes presenting so many American and English films, not to mention the cartoons, which had a huge impact on the generations born following the revolution. Sadly, the cartoon programmes  nowadays are dubbed with voices of Romanian actors.

Teacher training? Teacher development programmes? By this I mean formal organised teacher training. All the teachers at the conference were very enthusiastic about their teaching and development and I wanted to know more. Again, Melania helped me with the answer.

Although all teachers in Romania should attend some form of regular training or development programmes on a five-year basis, it is rather a matter of personal choice whether to do so or not. There are two different ways to do that:

– by obtaining the teaching degrees (which go from Definitive teacher to Second Degree and then First Degree – higher than that there’s only the Doctor’s Degree or Ph.D.), based  on continually teaching for a number of years and sitting for an examination (…)

– by attending different development programmes which must necessarily give a number of transferable credits (90 credits every 5 years); these do not need to be in English or have anything to do with it – one can get the credits one needs from attending a 3-module course in Management, ICT and Communication; also provided by the Ministry of Education through one of its departments of Continual/Permanent Development;

Unfortunately, quite a large number of courses offered by the British Council in Bucharest or the Teachers’ Houses in each county don’t get any credits; also, no credits for attending or presenting at conferences.

Who are the teachers? As you would expect, the majority of English teachers in Romania are Romanian. There are some private language schools in the big cities that employ native English speakers, usually from Britain or the United States. At the conference there was someone from the Peace Corps. Here is some more detail about this and other foreign teaching initiatives.

The largest impact and contribution belongs to the U.S. Peace Corps. They used to have between 60 and 80 volunteers going to Romania every year, for a 2-year contract, which means that, except for the first year, there were around 100-120 volunteers teaching English every year. The number of volunteers has dropped recently.

Another important contribution was that of the British Council and the specialists who went to Romania between 1990 and 2002. The British Council organised or co-organised lots of  annual general meetings for the school inspectors of English, conferences and other meetings, and offered support through materials and courses, which they actually continue to offer.

Many thanks to Oana, Claudia from Macmillan Romania for inviting me and helping me while their. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to former school inspector Melania Paduraru who provided me with all the information above and without whom this post would not have been possible. Melania gave a particularly good workshop on learners in the 21st century at the conference. She has her own blog about teaching English in Romania and her workshops here.

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 8:13 am  Comments (6)  
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Six books that could revolutionize how you think about ELT

Roll on the guest posts! This time we are joined by Sara Hannam. Sara is an articulate, passionate and perceptive colleague whom I met via Twitter and on various blogs. She always brings a critical eye to things and has recently started her own blog Critical Mass ELT. Sara and I have “crossed swords” on issues before, and I am really pleased she agreed to contribute a list for me. Here then, are six books or articles that could forever change the way you think about the profession/business/industry/racket of English language teaching!

Thanks Lindsay for asking me to choose six books that influenced me as a teacher. A very tall order for me, as there are so many great books out there, so I would like to apologize to all those writers who I have missed! Those I list below have helped me see the bigger teaching picture, which as I have gained more experience as a teacher, has become more important.  They answer questions like what is my role as an EL teacher both within and outside the classroom, how should I relate to my students as real people and what is the impact of the development of English as a global language? The insights they have given me have changed my teaching practice and me as a person, and have been a wonderful addition to the reading I did in the earlier part of my career which focused more on refining teaching skills (don’t get me started on that, as I could do you another six if you want for part II – pretty please?!).

*Extracts available at Google books from the following publications

1. Changing Teachers, Changing Times – Andy Hargreaves, 2000*

Why are teachers asked to produce better and better results with fewer and fewer resources, and how does this influence our individual performance in the classroom?  This book answers key questions about how teaching in the new millennium is a very different ball game – many changes for the better such as increased sensitivity to individual learners, but some for the worse, such as the constant measurement of “success” rather than emphasis on building relationships, communication and shared questioning of the world.  It also addresses the concept of teacher guilt, or the fact that for all the amazing pleasure that teaching brings, it can seem difficult to clock off at the end of the day due to extra-curricular responsibilities such as a concern for student welfare.

2. English and the Discourses of Colonialism – Alistair Pennycook, 1998*

If I hadn’t read this book, I don’t think I would really know very much about the development of ELT/Linguistics as a discipline or how so much contemporary practice has its roots in the colonial legacy. With meticulously compiled historiographies from India, China and Hong Kong, this book provides an antidote to the much circulated accounts of our profession which tend to gloss over the ways in which the English language was initially spread and learned alongside the violent expansion of the British Empire.  It confirms the importance, in this post-colonial era, of teachers (particularly NESTs) understanding how they are implicated in this legacy and encourages the exploration of the roots of many taken for granted assumptions in the field today – not least of all the myth of the superiority of the ‘native speaker’.

3. English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity – Jennifer Jenkins, 2007

A fascinating insight into how identity is crucial in shaping feelings about language use, and, more importantly how this informs individual tolerance/intolerance of other people’s English, often at an unconscious level. Jenkins’ research is truly groundbreaking for ELT, and provides a perfect combination of rigorous investigation into the views English users have about their performance, and further explanations as to why the belief that sounding ‘native’ is best continues to be so prevalent in teaching methodologies and materials.  When teaching practice ceases to be determined by mainstream Second Language Acquisition theory, with its emphasis on standard varieties of ‘native speaker’ English as a goal, a different sort of classroom emerges which is led by the celebration of meaning, diversity and the new and exciting forms of English currently being documented by ELF researchers, including Jennifer Jenkins.

4. The Politics of English  – Marnie Holborow, 1999

Many a teacher may think that teaching English has nothing to do with politics – this book goes a long way to questioning whether that is really the case.  Marnie Holborow reveals the less attractive side of the billion dollar industry that is English Language Teaching, and how this is led by a money-driven global economy at almost all levels.  Holborow shows how as EL teachers we are in a position to really notice and question the way access to opportunity is being structured around us, as English is increasingly being used as a gate keeping device through language testing and policy development.  Holborow also argues that there is nothing inherently different about men’s and women’s language use and that perception of male/female-specific language is more a reflection of gender inequality in society than gender-based language forms or styles. This sets her apart from many socio-linguists, who argue the opposite in relation to politeness or assertiveness – Holborow locates the source of the inequality in society rather than in the individual or group. Finally someone who celebrates our similarities rather than focusing on our differences!

5. Values in English Language Teaching – Bill Johnston, 2003*

My second to last choice provides a more practical emphasis on putting some of those ideas in the previous selections above into practice.  It examines a range of situations where EL teachers’ individual values and morals will dictate how they respond.  Johnston explores typical scenarios which may cause teachers to react in a diverse number of ways, such as testing and assessment or managing diversity and conflict in the classroom, and looks at possible outcomes, as well as exploring how to work towards becoming a more ethical practitioner in behaviour towards colleagues, students and self.  All this is done through personal stories and experiences which really illustrate the kinds of dilemmas teachers face every day.

6. ‘Teaching Peace through English: Utopia or Reality?’. Radmila Popović (Paper presented at the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language Annual Conference: Exeter 2008 available in the proceedings).

My last choice is an article, rather than a book.  Radmila’s talk at IATEFL conference looked at how she dealt with carrying on her teaching during the NATO bombardment of Serbia.  It really moved me, particularly because so much of my own field work and research is based in Serbia and the Balkans.  This paper explores what it means to teach ‘peace’ from the perspective of a teacher trying to make sense of war with her students, and demonstrates how teachers and students can discuss and understand difficult subject matter in genuine partnership and trust. The reason I chose this paper to finish off my selection, is because it demonstrates how a teacher who uses critical theory to inform practice, can produce really remarkable results – Radmila’s balancing of the two in her teaching of peace under the most difficult circumstances is as poetic as her rich and interactive plenary talk that involved the audience in activities alongside the theoretical discussion.  As an English teacher, I also think we require theory with practice, and practice with theory, and neither one is more important than the other – they are both essential.


Sara Hannam is the Director of the English Unit at City College, Thessaloniki, Greece. Sara was the Associates’ Representative for IATEFL from 2006-9, and Vice-President of TESOL Northern Greece from 2003-5.  Sara has a BA (Hons), MEd ELT, CTEFLA, DELTA and is currently completing her PhD with the School of Education, University of Sheffield, UK.  Sara is also involved in EL teacher development at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. In her spare time, Sara likes to blog (her blog is called Critical Mass ELT twitter, listen to music, dance, spend time with family and friends and is the co-founder of the Campaign for Birth Choices in Greece

Twitter: @sjhannam  Email:

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (15)  
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