Six rumours and conspiracy theories in ELT

Who knows the deep dark secrets of ELT? Six Things Knows!

If you stay in the world of English language teaching long enough, especially if you move from job to job (all too common for many language teachers!), there is a strong likelihood you will come across certain rumours. Whispers in the staffroom, an overheard remark at a conference, or a moment in a teacher training course when the tutor drops his/her voice to let you in on a secret… here are six rumours or conspiracy theories I am convinced are making the rounds worldwide. I hasten to add that many of these may have an element of truth! At the end of each of these I have put my own reliabity factor based on my extensive experience in the field ;-). The reliability factors go from 5 (highly reliable and almost certainly true) to 1 (very unreliable rumour, almost certainly false) 

1. Anybody who has written a book in ELT, especially if it’s a coursebook, is rolling in money. This is a harmless little rumour which often has authors of said books uttering a hollow laugh (so as not to cry…). Not to say they are all broke, but the number of “filthy rich” authors of coursebooks and especially books for teachers is much lower than you think. Where does this rumour come from? See number 2 below for an idea. 

Reliability factor: 1

2. The authors of Headway own an island in the tropics. All the rumours about money from coursebooks lead right back to two main titles: either Headway by the Soars or Interchange by Jack Richards. These authors almost certainly are… well let’s just say well-off.  I’ve heard the island rumour about all of these authors. Is it true? Has anyone actually seen one of these islands? I don’t know. 

Reliability factor: 3

3. There is a “split-tongue” operation that Korean parents force their children to undergo so that they (the children) may speak English better.This is one of the more gruesome rumours in our field. Apparently the operation helps Korean children pronounce the “th” sound in “mother” for example. OK, I’ve never met one of these people but I have read and heard this rumour enough times to believe that there is more than a grain of truth to it.

Reliability factor: 5 (pretty scary)

4. The popularity of the English Language worldwide was a secret plan crafted by the British government after World War II to replace the English Empire with “the Empire of English”. This is great material for the conspiracy theorist inside every young liberal teacher because the more you think about it the more you can believe it is true. Want quotes and anecdotes from history to back it up? Just read Robert Phillipson’s Linguistic Imperialism and you will be convinced! Unfortunately, hegemony isn’t as simple and cut-and-dried as that. There are lots of factors accounting for the position of English.

Reliability factor: 3 

5. There are people who are spreading the Gospel and forms of Christianity through English language teaching. I overheard this one at a conference and then found out more on the web. Apparently, religious groups are using English as the bait to lure students into their schools. This practice has become so widespread that it has its own acronym in the profession: TEML (Teaching English as a Missionary Language). For any of you aspiring novelists out there, there is certainly a story in here somewhere (a “Da Vinci Code” for English grammar?)

Reliability factor: 5 (also pretty scary)

6. There have been experiments conducted on a language learner’s fluency under the influence of alcohol. This is a favourite among teacher trainers when doing sessions on things like “factors influencing fluency in spoken output”. Apparently it was found that after a few glasses of champagne, fluency increased without a decrease in accuracy. Accuracy dropped with further glasses of bubbly. 

Reliability factor: 4 (only doubtful thing is if it was champagne or another kind of alcohol; I’m pretty sure this is true though)

You are of course welcome to comment here on your own views of the reliability of these or any other conspiracy theories or rumours. However, I warn you, no libellious comments please! 

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Published in: on May 21, 2009 at 2:17 pm  Comments (36)  
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Six great quotes about teaching

QuoteThis time, I won’t comment on my list – I think these quotes about teaching stand well on their own. And I have NOT included that “I hear and I forget…etc etc” Chinese quote about teaching. It’s used far too much, please stop it!

1. “To be good is noble, but to teach others how to be good is nobler – and less trouble.” Mark Twain

2. “A poor surgeon hurts one person at a time. A poor teacher hurts thirty.” Ernest Boyer

3. “Of course, behaviorism works. So does torture. Give me a no-nonsense, down-to-earth behaviorist, a few drugs, and simple electrical appliances, and in six months I will have him reciting the Athanasian Creed in public.”  W.H. Auden

4 To me the sole hope of human salvation lies in teaching. George Bernard Shaw.

I don’t know the sources of the last two, but I really like them. I’ve included a horribly cynical one and an inspirational one to finish.

5. “Teachers are people who used to like children.”

6. “Teaching is the profession that creates all the others.”

One activity I like to do with quotes like these (not necessarily quotes about teaching, but quotes in general) is to give a class half of the quotes. Students then work in pairs to finish them however they fancy. We go through their quotes, and then go through the originals. This kind of thing would work well with quotes 2,4,5 and 6 above for example. In fact, if you’ve been to a workshop of mine you may have done this activity! Anyway, it’s a great five-minute filler or finisher.

Published in: on December 27, 2008 at 7:05 pm  Comments (9)  
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Six gifts for the language teacher

giftWith the holiday season upon us, I thought I would share six gift ideas for the language teacher. Not sure what to ask for for Christmas? Need to buy something for a fellow teacher? See below.

1) Cool stationery. Things always go missing at school, and what teacher doesn’t like having a fresh set of whiteboard markers, pens and notepaper? Or how about a nicely bound notebook, some colourful post-it notes, some blu tack or a new folder. Or a memory stick to store work on. Price range: CHEAP.

2) A subscription to an English newspaper or magazine. This could be something like the Guardian Weekly, a favourite with lots of teachers, or the Guardian Monthly magazine. It could be a subscription to Time or Newsweek, always useful for planning classes around current news topics. Or it could be a subscription to a teaching magazine or journal, like English Teaching Professional or ELTJ. Price range: MID.

3) Mini speakers for an iPod or MP3 player. More and more teachers have MP3 players, and it’s just too much work to copy a favourite song or podcast to a CD to play on the class CD player. A set of travel speakers, loud enough to be heard in your class, and you’re sorted! Price range: MID to EXPENSIVE.

4) Something to read on the commute (or multiple commutes if you’re a business teacher) to class. Tastes will vary, but the following novels and books deal with language or teaching and are, in my opinion, good choices. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Loversby Xiaolu Gu, Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, The Language Teacher’s Diaryby Joaquim Appel or anything by David Crystal in the paperback section. Price range: CHEAP.

5) A resource of teaching ideas and interesting stuff… something like The Language Teacher’s Survival Guide? Ok, so that’s a blatant plug but it is cheap and it’s only ONE of the six things! Price range: CHEAP 

6) Money. Language teachers don’t make a lot, and in these tough economic times we can always use more! Of course, it doesn’t have to be cold hard cash. Gift certificates for Amazon, iTunes or some other online shopping would probably be just as welcome.

Right. Those are my six. Any one else have good ideas?

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 4:01 pm  Comments (9)  
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