Not Ready to Make Nice

Bullying is seen across all cultures;

Bullying is omnipresent;

Bullying is prevalent in all walks of life and is not limited to school settings.

While some are targets of physical violence or threatening words, others are face the possibility of being ex-communicated from social groups.

Bullying is a topic that is familiar to people of all nationalities and can be a springboard to many a meaningful discussion in the language classroom.

The American country band Dixie Chicks made a comment at a concert in London in 2003, and quickly became the target of bullies in their home country. The bullies started acting as a mob, as they often do, and soon, Dixie Chicks were receiving death threats in the mail and were banned from country music radio stations.

Picture taken from dixiechicks.com

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In response to the bullying, the band started to write an album. However, when it was suggested to Natalie Maines, the lead singer, that perhaps the songs should be about how everyone ought to just get along, she found herself unwilling to back down and instead produced the hit single Not Ready to Make Nice.

The song went on to win 3 Grammy Awards, and the album Taking the Long Way ended up winning 5 Grammys, perhaps all a sign of support for the girls who have been the target of bullying.

Being a song very close to my heart, I have felt it appropriate to create a lesson around it. However, unlike most receptive skills procedures seen in more recent approaches, this lesson takes a more bottom-up approach to listening, allowing students to use their linguistic knowledge to piece together the lyrics of the song.

In what way do you think a bottom-up approach to this lesson could make a difference to the usual top-down approaches?

(Notes for teachers are in brackets.)

Lead-in:

Picture taken from http://www.safenetwork.org
Click on picture to read more about bullying.

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(Elicit lexis: Bullying, a bully.)

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Discussion questions:

  1. Why do people bully others?
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    (Possible Answers: insecurity, jealousy, prejudice, etc.)
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  2. Where can bullying occur?
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    (Possible Answers: at school, at the office, online, etc.)

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  3. What kind of things might a bully do?
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  4. What can we do if we are being bullied?
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Pre-listening

(Hand-out)

Fill in the gaps with the appropriate word. Use your knowledge of language and rhyming words to help you.

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Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I c_____

They say time heals e_______

But I’m still waiting

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I’m through with doubt

There’s nothing left for me to figure o___

I’ve paid a price

And I’ll keep paying

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Chorus:

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back d____

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it r_____

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I s_____

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I know you said

Can’t you just get o____ it

It turned my whole world a______

And I kind of like it

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Bridge:

I made my bed and I sleep like a b____

With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’

It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her

daughter that she ought to hate a perfect st________

And how in the w______ can the words that I said

Send somebody so over the e_____

That they’d write me a l______

Sayin’ that I’d better shut u__ and sing

Or my life will be o____

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Chorus (x2):

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back d____

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it r____

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I s_____

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Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I c_____

They say time heals e_______

But I’m still waiting

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Listening for specific information

Listen to the song and check your answers.

(Note: the teacher might use the feedback stage to clarify some of the more useful or crucial lexical items)

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Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I could

They say time heals everything

But I’m still waiting

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I’m through with doubt

There’s nothing left for me to figure out

I’ve paid a price

And I’ll keep paying

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Chorus:

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back down

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it right

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

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I know you said

Can’t you just get over it

It turned my whole world around

And I kind of like it

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Bridge:

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby

With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’

It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her

daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger

And how in the world can the words that I said

Send somebody so over the edge

That they’d write me a letter

Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing

Or my life will be over

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Chorus (2x):

I’m not ready to make nice

I’m not ready to back down

I’m still mad as hell and

I don’t have time to go round and round and round

It’s too late to make it right

I probably wouldn’t if I could

‘Cause I’m mad as hell

Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

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Forgive, sounds good

Forget, I’m not sure I could

They say time heals everything

But I’m still waiting

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Reading for Detailed Understanding

Read the lyrics again, and answer the following questions

(Note: There are no right and wrong answers here. Every question offers a chance for the student’s own interpretation to come through.)

  1. How does the singer feel about being bullied?
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    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: Angry, ‘mad as hell’, and not ready to forget. But she feels that her conscience is clear and she knows she has not done anything wrong because she says ‘she sleeps like a baby’.)
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  2. What kind of things do you think the bullies did?
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    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: They wrote her a letter to tell her to ‘shut up and sing’ or they’d kill her.)
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  3. Why do you think the bullies did that?
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    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: She said something the bullies didn’t like. ‘And how in the world can the words that I said send somebody so over the edge’)
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  4. Does she blame the bullies?
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    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: No, she blames society. ‘It’s a sad sad world when a mother would teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger’)
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  5. What is she going to do?
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    (Possible Answers with song lyrics in quotations: She is not going to blame herself but she is not going to give up fighting against the bullies. ‘I’m through with doubt. There’s nothing left for me to figure out’; ‘I’m not ready to back down’)
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  6. What do you think the mood of this song is?
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    (Possible Answers: Angry? Sad?)

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Follow-up Productive Task

(This follow-up task requires students to have access to the internet. They could either make use of their mobile devices, i.e. smartphones or tablets, or this could be conducted in the Self-Access Centre, where students have at least one computer per group)

In groups of 3, use of the internet to find out more about this song and the band, Dixie Chicks.

Answer the following questions.

Report your findings back to the rest of the class.

(Note: the answers can be found on Wikipedia pages on ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ and the lead singer ‘Natalie Maines’)

  1. Is this song based on a true story?
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    (Answer: Yes)
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  2. Why were the band targeted by bullies in the 2003?
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    (Answer: The vocalist made a comment at a concert in London, UK, on the eve of the Iraq invasion that they were ashamed that their President George Bush was from Texas, where they are from. This angered a lot of Americans.)
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  3. Why did the band write the song?
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    (Answer: They wanted to write their reaction to the bullying mob.)
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  4. What kind of things did the American public do to the band?
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    (Answer: They were banned from many country music radio stations and received death threats in the mail.)
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  5. How did the lead singer Natalie feel after writing this song and the album?
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    (Answer: She felt that the album was like therapy and helped her to find peace with everything and move on.)

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When presented with a reading or listening text, students can either utilize a bottom-up processing approach and use their knowledge of words and grammar to build up an understanding of the text, or attempt a top-down approach where they make use of their knowledge of the genre, the situational and cultural context, and the background knowledge about the topic as clues to comprehension (Thornbury, 2006).

Many argue that the tendency for students when reading in a foreign language is to cling on to the individual words of the text and try to decipher its meaning, and therefore it is the responsibility of the teacher to encourage top-down processes through the use of activities that activate content schema, such as prediction and gist reading tasks.

Upon examining the current approaches to teaching reading and listening in ELT, from CELTAs to the design of activities in coursebooks, there is perhaps enough evidence to show that the focus is largely on using top-down approaches, before integrating bottom-up approaches for detailed understanding.
Have a look at the following ‘receptive skills procedure’ that is often seen on CELTA courses and in coursebooks.

  1. Lead-in and/or Prediction Activity (Activating the Schema)
  2. Skimming (Gist) and/or Scanning Tasks (Extensive Reading)
  3. Reading for Detailed Understanding (Intensive Reading)
  4. Follow-up Productive Task

It becomes apparent that the Extensive-to-Intensive, Big-Picture-to-Detailed-Information, Top-Down-to-Bottom-Up approach to reading and listening has not only gained a strong foothold in ELT, but has also been taken for granted by some in our field as the best way of integrating the top-down ‘higher level’ skills with the bottom-up ‘lower level’ skills to form an integrated approach.

But is this necessarily always the best way of integrating the two?

While the use of top-down processing approaches is certainly a valid and useful way of integrating the two, it is also perhaps important to occasionally offer practice of bottom-up processes where learners are able to practise making use of their existing linguistic knowledge to try and make sense of a text.

In this sample lesson, I took the song, Not Ready to Make Nice, and get students to use their linguistic knowledge (bottom-up data-driven text-based processing) to fill in the gaps in the lyrics, after a short lead-in to contextualize the general topic.

Through piecing together the lyrics (and learning some new collocations and phrases along the way), they start to gain a detailed understanding. This understanding would hopefully generate interest in getting more information about the interesting background story to the song.

In a song like this one, the focus on bottom-up processing could create suspense and perhaps be more interesting for students when the story reveals itself as they re-construct the text.

Are there any other times you would choose to use such a bottom-up approach to reading or listening?

References

Thornbury, S. An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Further Reading:
Nuttall, C. (2005) Teaching Reading Skills in a foreign language. Oxford: Macmillan.

Silbersteing, S. (1994) Techniques and Resources in Teaching Reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Things students say that break my heart

This is a post that I wrote for the ELT Knowledge website a  month ago.

Click here for part two of this post.

 

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Learning a language is hard work and requires copious amounts of patience and determination. Its process is a complex one that, despite prevailing research into SLA (Second Language Acquisition) and Psycholinguistics, most still struggle to fully understand.

Yet many have fixed ideas about the language learning process and judge themselves harshly when it comes to their language experiences and expectations.

Undoubtedly, learning to speak a foreign language is an emotional experience that at times can be daunting and make one feel like a child, void of control over the simplest forms of communication.

And such emotions can be overwhelming at times.

I have heard different learners say similar things prompted by such emotions, and I feel for them each and every time. And perhaps the best thing is to understand why they are saying these things, and to make them better aware of the processes involved.

Here are some of the heart-breakers:

What they say: I feel stupid when I have to think and hesitate when I answer a question.

What’s really happening: When asked questions like ‘What’s your name?’ or ‘Where are you from?’, students are less likely to hesitate when answering. That’s only because they have been asked these questions a million times and no longer need to think before they answer. This also means that there is no thinking or complicated mental process needed to formulate these answers. The needed language has already been learnt and no more language learning is taking place.

When students have to think and hesitate, this indicates that they are finding ways to construct the sentence by drawing on all the lexicogrammatical and discoursal resources they have, paraphrasing, looking for synonyms and antonyms, making use of cohesive devices and trying anything to get their meaning across. Complex mental processes are activated while meaning negotiation and accuracy and fluency practice are being carried out.

I love it when students hum and haw. That’s language acquisition happening right before your eyes!

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What they say: I feel embarrassed and insecure when I have to speak English in front of native speakers.

What’s really happening: Native speakers are often seen as target role models that students would like to emulate, and this no doubt comes from the fact that people traditionally learnt foreign languages in order to speak to native speakers and to get to know the target culture.

But in an era where English is now the lingua franca, and more and more are learning the language to further their career prospects and to travel, the target interlocutors and target culture are no longer simply those from the UK and the US.

Furthermore, the fact that one is biologically a native speaker is no guarantee of their abilities to speak eloquently or write clearly, and definitely no indication of adeptness at effective communication with other non-native speakers. In fact, it is not uncommon to find UK businesses employing trainers to give their British employees English workshops so as to enable them to successfully communicate in a global environment.

Alternatively, students might say the above because they have had a bad encounter with a rude or impatient native speaker. If this was the case, I just tell them this: They can’t sympathise with your position because you speak two languages (or more), and they probably speak one. You should feel sorry for them.

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What they say: My last teacher said ‘I need more grammar’.

What’s really happening: There is a traditional belief, rooted in the tradition of the way Latin and Greek were taught, whereby learning a language was equated to the learning of grammar. One could even go so far as to argue that with most European languages, morphology and verb inflections make up the foundations on which the languages are based. While vocabulary acquisition has always been thought to be a simplistic matter of memorization, the ability to string the lexis into a syntactically correct and coherent sentence is a mental process that few understand.

So, telling a student ‘You need more grammar’ is more like saying ‘You need to know more about the English language’.

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What they say: I felt like I was improving at first, but now I feel like I am deteriorating.

What’s really happening: For students on an intensive course, what might be happening is that they started out feeling motivated and were taking on all the learning opportunities offered to them, and therefore felt like they were improving.

However, this also means that they have started to notice the gaps in their knowledge and become more aware of their mistakes and the things they can’t do. Unlike before the course, the student is now paying extra attention to his/her language use and feeling self-conscious about it. This naturally leads to a feeling that they are deteriorating.

In actual fact, they are improving.

Because awareness is the mother of all progress.

For students on a long-term programme, this issue might simply be a lack of motivation and a feeling that they would never arrive at their destination.

The novelty of learning a new language has worn off and ‘Mid-Int-initis’ has set in. Their improvement curve seems to have stagnated. And there is still so much more they don’t know.

If this is the case, perhaps it is time to review their goals. Set specific performance-related mini-goals that could be met in shorter time frames and flag up the fact that no one knows everything and every word in a language. It is being able to do the things one wants to do with the language that counts.
Besides, we know that embracing the journey is sometimes more important than the destination. And we as teachers are at liberty to make that journey all the more enjoyable.

Perhaps hearing students say these things might break my heart, but if I can give them the confidence to never need to say them again, I’d consider my job half done, don’t you think?

Devil’s Advocate vs Bethany Cagnol on Volunteering for Teaching Associations

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous installments of DA here.

To celebrate our eleventh installment of DA, we have Bethany Cagnol.

Bethany Cagnol is a freelance business English and ESP trainer based in Paris, France. She is the president of TESOL France, treasurer of IATEFL BESIG and on the conference committee of IATEFL. She speaks at ELT conferences and recently published “Nursing 1” with Ros Wright (Pearson).  She owns two companies in France that provide language training, project management and consulting. She enjoys advising trainers on how they can develop their own freelance status and/or business and often blogs about it .

Chia: It’s so great to have you here on Devil’s Advocate, Beth!

Bethany: Thanks for the invitation, Chia.  I’ve been looking forward to this all week!

Chia: It’s an honour to have the president of TESOL France, treasurer of BESIG, and IATEFL conference committee member here on the hot seat!

Bethany: The seat’s lukewarm at the moment.  I’m sure that’s about to change.

Chia: Sorry I couldn’t have made the seat warmer for you. I know you’re used to being wined and dined and jetted around the world by these big TEFL organisations that you volunteer for.

When you think ‘TEFL conferences’, is this what comes to mind?
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

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Bethany: [ducks for cover] Gosh, you really start off with a good jab, don’t ya?

Being sponsored by the three above-mentioned organizations is a huge perk, yes. I’m very lucky that TESOL France, BESIG and IATEFL have contributed to my attending various events around Europe.  The world? No.

But we at TESOL France have a very strict rule about sponsoring Executive Committee members for events.  Excom members have to serve on the committee for a year before we sponsor them.

Chia: Sorry, could we define ‘Excom’ before we continue?

Bethany: Excom – Executive Committee

The M is not to be confused with N.  😉

Is the Sheriff also the Ex-Con?
Photo by @dfogarty at http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Chia: OOOH! Doh! I thought Excom meant ex-committee member…!

And I was wondering why you were sponsoring people who no longer work for you…Hahaha

So why do people volunteer to be on the Executive committees? It must be all the free lunches you’re getting? Or do you do it because it makes you feel all warm inside?

Bethany: To be honest, yes and no.  When I started out with TESOL France I didn’t know travelling to conferences was an option for Excom members. I joined because I wanted to work with Ros Wright.  One of my colleagues told me: “If there’s anyone in ELT you should work with, it’s Ros Wright.”  That was one of the reasons I joined the TESOL France Excom.

It was only when TESOL France started to grow that sponsoring attendees to IATEFL and other TESOLs in Europe became part of our norm.

And yes, volunteering for these organizations definitely makes me feel all warm and fuzzy but I’m sure we’ll get to that in a minute.

Chia: I had no idea that TESOL France Excom members get sponsored to go to IATEFL and other TESOL conferences in Europe. Wow, it’s even cushier than I thought! That’s on top of getting free trips to places where committee meetings are held, and of course, you get to attend the very conference that you help organise for free as well, don’t you? Is that why most people volunteer to become committee members?

Bethany: We sponsor Excom members to attend conferences because we want them to work for us. For example, TESOL France asks them to scout out good speakers for our events.

Attending conferences also gives them a taste of what a well-run international event is like. And of course it contributes to their professional growth and development. When they come back from the conferences they are so jazzed and motivated (as a teacher and as a volunteer) that they want to help us organize the same high-quality events here in France.

Teachers getting jazzed up by Fish at the closing of IATEFL Glasgow 2012
Photo by Mike Hogan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh

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Chia:  You mentioned growth and development. That is certainly one of the real reasons why people ‘volunteer’ to be Excom members, isn’t it? Not only do they get to attend conferences and have free trips all around Europe, but they get free business training and get to hone and develop their event organisation and team management skills, not to mention develop a useful network of contacts.

Bethany: Well, before TESOL France, right as I was finishing my MA, I thought about doing an MBA. But I couldn’t possibly pay for one. An MBA costs a fortune. But I still wanted the skills that are (usually) developed during an MBA: I wanted to learn leadership skills, basic business skills, financial skills, project management skills, marketing skills, etc.  I got all that and more from being on the committees of TESOL France, BESIG and IATEFL.

And while I developed those skills, and contributed my time, ideas, and experience to the organizations, I met some amazing, incredible teachers. I made some very dear friends like Ros Wright, Debbie West, Eric Halvorsen, Gillian Evans, Laurence Whiteside, Jane Ryder and Christina Rebuffet-Broadus who all work tirelessly towards TESOL France’s cause.

And I met you, Chia! 😉 (wink)

Chia: (takes off DA hat) Aw, thanks. I’m glad I met you too…(puts DA hat back on) But I didn’t need to join an Excom to get to meet you though.

So now, the truth has finally surfaced. People volunteer not because they are being altruistic. They volunteer because they are cheap and want to save the money they would have spent on an MBA, get free business training from being on these committees, and meet the right people. Ah hah!

Yes indeed! Not only is it cheaper than an MBA, you get to meet Rakesh Bhanot too! Now, how swell is that?

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Bethany: I joined TESOL France because I wanted to develop skills and I wanted to know what it was like to work with other teachers. Teaching in France can be very isolating, you know.  Others join for many different reasons.

Volunteering for a teachers’ organization can also help expose you to the latest trends of ELT.  One good example is offering to be on the conference proposals committee.  While you may have to read a ton of abstracts, it can give you an idea of what the latest ELT trends are.

Chia: But you can meet other teachers and learn about the latest trends in ELT from networking online and attending conferences. You don’t need to organise one for that and can save yourself many hours and still profit from the kind of networking you’re talking about…

But of course, being one of the organisers puts you in a certain limelight. You’re on show, you make contacts (very good for networking and getting work, getting into publishing, writing journals, and so on.)

…which brings us back to hidden agendas of these so-called altruistic volunteers again.

Bethany: I don’t disagree with you when you say that some may volunteer to fulfill their own professional agendas.  Volunteers should ALWAYS gain something from the experience.  I’m a firm believer in it.  They should gain experience, knowledge AND recognition. But they also have to prove they are willing to carry their own weight on the team.

Chia: Could you explain what you mean by ‘prove that they are willing to carry their own weight on the team’?

Bethany: Stellar volunteers are those, who in my opinion, *consistently* demonstrate their dedication to the association’s activities and mission. They readily take on tasks, come up with ways to improve the organization and reliably carry out their responsibilities.

And if they can’t fulfill a task they have the integrity to inform the rest of the team that they need to step down or be given a different role.

Er…girls…when I said ‘carry your own weight’, I didn’t quite mean ‘carry yourself in weight’…
Photo by @VictoriaB52, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Chia: I accept the fact that some volunteers do work hard and do a good job, but ultimately, would you agree with me that volunteers do it for selfish reasons and the kudos we give to what they contribute is overrated?

Many of these ‘stellar’ volunteers are only working hard and trying to do a good job because they want to move up the ladder and rub shoulders with the TEFL elite, and doing this by volunteering in an organisation like IATEFL is a lot easier than moving up the ladder in a school, for example. All one needs is to show willing to offer their services and hard work for free.

Bethany: It is true that some volunteer for that reason alone. But luckily, they are the minority, in my opinion.  Based on what I’ve witnessed in three different teacher organizations of varying sizes, they are the minority.

And yes, volunteering makes us feel good.  And as I stated above, it should.

But contributing to the world of ELT has grown larger these past few years thanks to Web 2.0.  Blogging, Tweeting, conversing about latest issues and trends online is also a form of volunteerism.

Heck, you volunteer your time to DA, don’t you?

Chia: I’m afraid I can’t agree with that. People who blog and tweet are not volunteering. They might be spending time volunteering information and sharing it with others, but they are blogging and tweeting about what they want to blog and tweet about. They are not volunteering to do tasks for an organisation that have been decided for them. And most importantly, bloggers and tweeters don’t get the kudos for being ‘charitable’ like Excom members do. So let’s not go off tangent here…

Nice try, though!

A cheeky girl decides to go on a tangential angle
Photo by @sandymillin, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Bethany: But before you rope this pony back into the pen, let’s take Shelly Terrell for example. She volunteers hundreds of hours setting up online conferences, doing free, weekly webinars, writing articles, mentoring people.  She’s a good example of how volunteers can reach out from afar.

You claim, “They are not volunteering to do tasks for an organisation that have been decided for them.” – Sorry, I don’t agree.  Many volunteers of teachers’ organizations take on tasks they want to carry out because they are confident they can.

Chia: First of all, Shelly Terrell gets paid for her webinars and the talks she gives, and yes, Shelly does quite a bit of volunteering as well. She’s investing her own time to build her brand, and she does it very well. And it’s on the strength of this brand that she gets invitations to speak all over the world.

Didn’t you mention something similar at a recent conference in Paris, Beth? About the importance of investing your time to build your brand?

Bethany: Shelly, definitely, is a good example of someone who develops her ELT brand* – and volunteering for an organization does help one promote that. Again, I don’t disagree.

But take The Reform Symposium, for instance. She volunteered her time to help organize this amazing online conference. She invested an enormous amount of time so that hundreds of teachers around the world could get together and gain hours and hours of free professional development.

*For more on developing your ELT Brand, see the article in the next issue of the BESIG Business Issues (Cagnol & Hogan 2012).

Cagnol and Hogan (2012) speaking at the BESIG Paris Summer Symposium
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

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Chia: Ah, so you’ve volunteered to do this DA with me so that you can promote your article in the next Business Issues! It all becomes clear!  Did you and Mike Hogan use your connections to BESIG (You as the Treasurer and Mike as the BESIG Online Team member) to get your article into the journal? How convenient! See, there’s no such thing as pure altruism. 😉

Bethany: Now now. In our article, we do suggest ways teachers can develop their ELT brand, but this isn’t the topic of this DA.

Anyway, we didn’t “use our connections”.  Anyone is welcome to submit an article to be published in BESIG’s Business Issues. Julia Waldner would love to hear from you!

But again, if you want to bring writing back into this debate, earlier, you conveniently tried to duck from the fact that your doing the DA is not a form of volunteerism.  I think it is.  It helps you develop skills and it gives back to the ELT community.

Chia: Nice backhand, Beth. Doing the DA simply satisfies my confrontational personality for a good ol’ verbal punchup. It might make me better at constructing arguments when I finally make it into that university debate team. So see? I’m not doing DA because I have any kind of purely altruistic bone in me either. Just like those TESOL association volunteers! We all have an agenda!

Bethany: But don’t you get enormous satisfaction in the fact that you are helping hundreds of teachers out there?  By the looks of all the comments, everyone seems to get a great deal out of your conversations with other DA “victims”. That’s gotta feel pretty darn good, doesn’t it?  It’s because of you, your readers think twice before going at an ESP course without a coursebook. It’s because of you, your readers think twice before giving just any language test to their students.  I could go on….

As this bird’s ego gets bigger…
Photo by @cgoodey, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Chia: But that’s exactly it. Social psychologists and philosophers like Ayn Rand suggests that pure altruism does not exist.

We operate on a basis of ethical egoism, i.e. we do what is in our own self-interest. And so if the self-interest is to boost one’s ego and feel good about oneself, then that is certainly an agenda too…

But we’re getting off the main point, that being my blogging is not volunteering, in the traditional sense of the word. Being in the Excom is volunteering…and with a much larger (and some might say, darker) hidden agenda.

It’s no longer just about feeling good and boosting one’s ego. It’s about wanting to be in the limelight, gaining a TEFL celebrity status, building an influential network and being recognised as an experienced, well-respected teacher at the top of his/her industry, even though in actual fact, for all we know, the Excom member could be a terrible teacher.

…and they keep coming!
Photo by @sandymillin, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

.

Bethany: Ok dearie, I’ll address the jabs one by one.  😉

You said, “Social psychologists and philosophers like Ayn Rand suggests that pure altruism does not exist.”  – Ok. I see their point. But this is an old argument going back thousands of years.

No one should volunteer for an organization if they end up being miserable.  Not too long ago I met someone who was a former member of another teachers’ organization. She said, “I worked so hard for the association, but was never thanked. I was incredibly unhappy”.  So it was from that day I decided that those who dedicate their time to these organizations deserve to be thanked and recognized *publically*.

You then said, “It’s no longer just about feeling good and boosting one’s ego. It’s about wanting to be in the limelight, gaining a TEFL celebrity status… ”  – I don’t entirely agree. Granted, the Internet (Twitter & Facebook) has helped make the recognition of these volunteers a lot easier.  Teachers, who we, as an association, praise for their hard work, can and do become “TEFL celebrities”.  But as I said earlier, wanting to be in the limelight, for the majority, isn’t the goal here.  It’s the byproduct.

And finally, you said,”….for all we know, the Excom member could be a terrible teacher.”  That may well be.  But that’s the beauty of being on the Excom.  It can help you become a better teacher, learner, leader, organizer, employee, boss, etc.

And when the ladies stood under the lime tree under the street lamps, the men would stop…
Photo by @acliltoclimb, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

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Chia: Being in the limelight isn’t a goal for the majority? (And earlier, you said that using Excom status to climb up the TEFL ladder isn’t what you witnessed to be a goal of the majority).

The key here is that those with such a goal or secret agenda are of course going to keep it secret and play their cards close to their chest. They will say all the right things about volunteering so that they can develop, give back to the community, form wonderful friendships, but in reality, their intentions are much darker. So of course, you wouldn’t be able to witness it just by talking or working with them.

Bethany: You seem to want to categorize “setting personal goals” or “having a professional agenda” as something that is terrible.  It isn’t really. I’m going to bring my mother into this because she taught me to always think through my decisions and to analyze what I could gain from every experience no matter what.

As professionals, we should always think through what we can *give* and *take* from every situation.  But my mother also taught me to trust people. I trust they are volunteering for the right reasons – to give back to the community but also to develop into a better person.

Chia: That all sounds warm and fuzzy in this context – setting personal goals, having a professional agenda.

Let me ask you, Beth, if someone in your PLN hangs out with you, acts like they are genuinely your friend and seem really interested in you as a person, but later, you find out that they are actually only doing so because you are the president of TESOL France, because you have great connections, and you can help them to fulfill their ‘personal goals’, would you forgive such a ‘professional agenda’?

Isn’t that what volunteering for TEFL organisations under the pre-text of doing something good for the community really is?

Volunteering at IATEFL conferences is warm and fuzzy
Photo of IATEFL Brighton 2011 by Mike Hogan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh

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Beth: Thanks for calling my mom “warm and fuzzy”. I agree 100%.   I’ll tell her you said that.

Well….as I’ve developed with the PLN, I find it’s now my responsibility to help bring others into the fold.

One good example is the TESOL France Executive Committee.  The newer members get introduced to the PLN who come to our conferences, they are invited to give talks, they are welcomed at the dinner tables, etc.  So, in a way, I choose to help introduce my fellow Excom members to the PLN and show them the benefits of not only volunteering for TESOL France, BESIG and/or IATEFL but also the benefits of making friends who can help them down the road.

Chia: But it’s all in the intentions, you see.

To use my metaphorical analogy earlier, if someone befriends you because their intentions had been genuine and they really like you as a person and want to be your friend, if you do introduce them to your network of professional contacts and help their career along the way, that’s one thing.

But if someone befriends you with the intentions of exploiting your status and network from the very start, that’s a totally different agenda.

How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not a cash cow?
Photo by @mk_elt, http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

Bethany: And again, I have to go back to what my mother taught me.  I will trust them.  That’s just who I am.

I know some may throw the “naive” card at me, but I really prefer to go through life trusting people.

My mother taught me it’s better to trust people.  But she also helped me develop a pretty good BS detector. 🙂

Chia: You are lucky to have such a great mother. Bet she didn’t teach you those things with any secret agendas… 😉

Bethany: Her agenda was wanting me to develop my own definition of success and to know how to achieve that.  Thanks to TESOL France, BESIG, and IATEFL, I do feel successful and very happy as a volunteer and as a professional.

Chia: And by nurturing your PLN and the new volunteers in return, you are developing your followers…a leader needs followers. In helping others, you are creating a following, which in itself will grow and give you (i.e. the volunteer in the higher position) even greater status and more limelight. Clever!

😉

Bethany: Now now. Nah…on Star Trek, maybe. To all my followers:  resistance is futile!

Chia: Mwahahaha! I’ve got Bethany Cagnol to finally admit her secret agenda!!!

Bethany: Yup! That’s what it’s been this whole time.  😉

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Chia: Beth, you have managed to come out of this DA looking like a kind, trusting and positive optimist that you clearly are! And the DA now just looks like a cynical old grump…

Bethany: Well…I can fix that.  We do have a position for you on the TESOL France Executive Committee if you want. 😉

Chia: One, this Devil’s Advocate doesn’t live in France. Two, the DA doesn’t want clingers trying to befriend her with secret agendas…she’ll end up trusting them and then feeling betrayed in the end. And three, I am afraid the TESOL France President’s positivity might actually cause the DA to lose her edge and actually become a better person.

Bethany: But the friendships you’ll make will last a lifetime (hint hint nudge nudge)

Chia: I’ve got you, Beth…what other friendships would I need?

Bethany: Let’s look at it this way. If I hadn’t volunteered for TESOL France, I wouldn’t have gotten up the nerve to give a small workshop for the membership.

If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to apply for the phenomenal conferences hosted by IATEFL Poland, TESOL Spain, and IATEFL and TESOL International.

If I hadn’t gone to those amazing events I wouldn’t have taken on the organization of the TESOL France conferences. I wouldn’t have developed a sheer hunger for professional development and volunteerism.

If I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have made the incredible friends I’ve met along the way…

And if I hadn’t done any of this I wouldn’t have met you Chia.

Ok….I’m actually tearing up now.  (sniff).

Chia: Great 3rd conditional personalised lesson you’ve got there, Beth!

Well, I’m certainly glad that you did the conferences you did and that I fell in love with the person I fell for because both of those two things have resulted in the wonderful friendship I have with you today! (Warm and fuzzy feeling…like being wrapped in the fur of a woolly mammoth)

😛

Bethany: Cue cheesy music Chia!

🙂

Chia: Cue picture of Woolly mammoth (There, Phil, I’ve said it twice!)

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy ‘conference-organising’ schedule to be on DA today Beth…you’ve been a star…

Bethany: Thanks Chia.  You’ve really made me think long and hard about all this and this has been an incredible experience.

Chia: I’m glad you enjoyed it. Now, how about introducing me to some of your influential Excom friends?  😉

Bethany: Oh honey….I can’t wait for you to meet them.  They will love you! Can’t wait until your Plenary in November at the TESOL France Conference!

(how do ya like my shameless plug of your plenary 😉

Chia: Sigh, secret agendas and shameless plugs…

Bethany: Sigh 😉

Epilogue (by Bethany Cagnol): Bethany’s views are her own and do not represent any organization she is associated with. Chia was only playing DA, and of course believes in the many positive reasons Bethany has given for volunteering. Bethany may have appeared to have been completely and utterly ass-whooped by Chia during this DA session, but rest assured they are still friends who are not adverse to the occasional rowdy debate over a glass of read wine (Bordeaux, preferably) or under Chia’s comfy duvet at 2am.

Understanding Discourse – Grice and Implicatures Part 3

This is the last of three parts on Grice and Implicatures.

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4.      Implications for the Classroom

In Bouton’s experiment (1999), a total of 6 hours of explicit instruction was given over a 6-week period using teaching materials (see Appendix below) that focused students on implicature interpretation. On the basis of Bouton’s albeit tentative findings (3.3.1), English teachers should draw attention to how utterances take on different meanings in different contexts, discuss when different implicatures are appropriate, how they function, and how they compare to implicatures from the students’ native cultures (ibid:60-61). Alongside raising awareness of the native culture to help with relevance-based implicatures, I believe teachers can develop new materials, adapt old ones, highlight implicatures when they arise and expose students to examples through film, situation comedies, Twitter postings (As Twitter postings are limited to 140 characters, ‘tweets’ have to be short and succinct. Popular tweets often contain implicatures used to present an attitude or an innuendo, and in most cases, to be witty and humorous), and other aspects of pop culture, without wasting valuable class time.

There are also times when interlocutors fail to realise that learners are infringing a maxim or opting out.  Students can avoid generating unintended implicatures or creating wrong impressions by using discourse markers:

forgive me if I’m wrong’ (non-observance of quality maxims),

by the way’ (non-observance of relevance maxim),

for want of a better word’ (non-observance of manner maxim),

to cut a long story short’ (when faced with a quantity-quality clash).

Few coursebooks (the book ‘Conversation Lessons’ (Martinez, 1997) comes closest to presenting such lexical items in context. Most coursebooks e.g. Cutting Edge, Inside Out, and Vocabulary in Use Upper Intermediate (McCarthy and O’Dell, 2001:56-57) touch on them briefly but tend to present them in a de-contextualised, isolated fashion) focus on teaching such adverbials, perhaps not understanding that they could be essential to successful communication and deserve more classroom time. Teachers could work with emergent language, providing and highlighting the use of such lexical items when the context arises.

As English becomes an international language and is learnt as a tool to communicate with NNS (Jenkins, 2003:4), it is undeniable that the cross-cultural interpretation of utterances faces a new challenge. Currently, most intermediate-level NNS would negotiate meaning while giving each other a wide berth when interpreting implicatures. However, as most countries are now insisting on the learning of English from a young age, we will soon have a new generation of proficient English speakers confronted with a new breed of potential misunderstandings when communicating cross-culturally. The awareness of implicature interpretation in different cultures will necessitate more attention in future EFL classrooms, and a new understanding of CP will be called for.

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5.      Conclusion

Grice’s principles have offered the linguistic world a way of looking at conversations beyond the words and opened up new areas of exploration in the area of pragmatics, but the implications of these studies have yet to be filtered through to the English language classroom. For learners who are immersed in an English/American culture, it is essential that we help them to adapt by raising awareness of implicature interpretation. As we move into a new age of English as an international language, the subject of implicatures would need further study and applications to teaching.

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Do you deal with pragmatics and discourse in your classroom? How can we help learners become more effective interactants through understanding the Co-operative Principle better? Comments with any practical ideas you may have will much appreciated. Meanwhile, here’s one practical worksheet developed by Bouton (1999) to get us started, followed by a bibliography to all three parts of this series. Thanks for following. I hope it has helped somehow.

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Appendix

Sample materials developed as handouts for teaching implicature

Lesson 1: Introduction and Pope Q Formula

Introduction: In many languages, including English, people often do not say exactly what they intend to communicate. Sometimes in English we imply information and expect others to figure out what we really mean. One kind of indirect speech is called conversational implicature. Conversational implicature take different forms, but they are always a result of the interaction between language and context. The examples below illustrate one kind of conversational implicature.

Instructions: Read the following examples and answer the question following each example.

Example 1: Paul and Georgette are discussing a mutual acquaintance who is always running late.

Paul: Do you expect Sheila to be late for the party tonight?

Georgette: Is the pope Catholic?

What is the answer to Georgette’s question? What do you think she means?

Example 2: Celia and Ron are discussing their boss, who is very unpleasant.

Celia: So, do you think Mr. Stingy will give me a raise?

Ron: Do cows fly?

What does Ron mean?

Example 3: Larry and Charlene are talking about a test they recently took.

Charlene: Do you think you got an “A” on the test?

Larry: Do chickens have lips?

What does Larry mean?

Discussion: In each of the examples above, the second person answers the first person with another question, so we have the formula Question 1+Question 2 = Answer. In each case, the obvious answer to Question 2 becomes the answer to Question 1 also. For example, in the first case, Paul asks, “Do you expect Sheila to be late for the party tonight?” (Question 1). Georgette answers, “Is the pope Catholic?” (Question 2). Because the obvious answer to Question 2 is “yes” (the pope is the leader of the Catholics), Georgette’s answer to Paul is also “yes.”

Bouton, L.F. (1999:67-69) ‘Developing non-native speaker skills in interpreting conversational implicatures in English: Explicit teaching can ease the process’, in Hinkel, E. (ed.) (1999) Culture in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

 

Bibliography

Austin J.L. (1962) How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bouton, L.F. (1988) ‘A cross-cultural study of ability to interpret implicatures in English’. World Englishes 7/2: 183-196.

Bouton, L.F. (1994) ‘Can NNS Skill in Interpreting Implicature in American English Be Improved Through Explicit Instruction?: A Pilot Study’. Pragmatics and Language Learning Monograph Series 5: 89-109.

Bouton, L.F. (1999) ‘Developing non-native speaker skills in interpreting conversational Implicatures in English: Explicit teaching can ease the process’. In Hinkel, E. (ed.) (1999) Culture in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

Brown, G. and G. Yule (1983) Discourse Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cameron, D. (2001) Working with Spoken Discourse. London: Sage.

Carston, R. (2004) A review of Stephen Levinson Presumptive Meanings. Journal of Linguistics 40/1: 181-186.

Clyne, M.G. (1994) Inter-cultural communication at work: cultural values in discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cohen, A.D. (1996) Speech Acts. In McKay S.L. and N.H. Hornberger (eds.) Sociolinguistics and Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cook, G. (1989) Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davis, W.A. (1998) Implicature: Intention, convention, and principle in the failure of Gricean theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fox, K. (2004) Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour. London: Hodder.

Gazdar, G. (1979) Pragmatics: Implicature, Presupposition and Logical form. New York: Academic Press, Inc.

Grice, H.P. (1975) ‘Logic and conversation’. In P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds.) Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts.New York: Academic Press.

Grice, H.P (1978) ‘Further Notes on Logic and Conversation’. In Kasher, A. (ed.) (1998) Pragmatics vol. IV: 162-178. London: Routledge.

Hatim, B. (1997) Communication Across Cultures: Translation Theory and Contrastive Text Linguistics. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

Jenkins, J. (2003) World Englishes: A resource book for students. London:Routledge.

Keenan, E.O. (1976) ‘The Universality of Conversational Postulates’. In Kasher, A. (ed.) (1998) Pragmatics vol. IV: 215-229. London: Routledge.

Leech, G. (1983) Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman

Levinson, S. (1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Levinson, S. (2000) Presumptive Meanings. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Martinez, R. (1997) Conversation Lessons: The Natural Language of Conversation. Hove England: Language Teaching Publications.

McCarthy, M. and F. O’Dell (2001) English Vocabulary in Use: Upper Intermediate. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spencer-Oatey, H. and W. Jiang (2003) ‘Explaining Cross-Cultural Pragmatic Findings: moving from politeness maxims to sociopragmatic interactional principles (SIPs)’. Journal of Pragmatics 35:1633-1650.

Sperber, D. and D. Wilson (1986) Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Sperber, D. and D. Wilson (1987) ‘Précis of Relevance’, in Kasher, A. (ed.) (1998), Pragmatics vol. V: 82-115. London: Routledge.

Sperber, D. and D. Wilson (2004) ‘Relevance Theory’, in Horn, L. and G. Ward (eds.) Handbook of Pragmatics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Thomas, J. (1995) Meaning in Interaction: an Introduction to Pragmatics. London: Longman.

Wierzbicka, A. (1985) A semantic metalanguage for a cross-cultural comparison of speech acts and speech genres. Language in Society 14: 491-514.

Yule, G. (1996) Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Understanding Discourse – Grice and Implicatures Part 2

In my last post, I looked at Grice’s Co-operative Principle (CP) and how the observance or flouting of the maxims creates meaning and implicatures in interaction.

In this post, I will look at the criticisms of Grice’s theories and the alternatives to CP that were proposed. I will also examine the universality of CP and how they might or might not be applicable across cultures, with a special section dedicated to the use of irony and British humour.

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3.      Criticisms of Grice

Critics say that Grice’s maxims are not only inapplicable ubiquitously, but that he had not used the terms in 2.2.4 consistently. CP has also been criticised on a number of counts: lack of distinctions between the maxims and between types of non-observance when calculating implicature, and the inability to withstand evidence of real language use (Thomas 1995, Gazdar 1979, Leech 1983). However, the most substantial criticisms are as follows.

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3.1     Relevance Theory

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Sperber and Wilson (2004) questioned the need for CP’s maxims, saying that expectations of relevance alone are enough to guide the hearer towards speaker meaning. They suggest that the search for relevance is basic to human cognitive systems (Cognitive Principle), and when utterances are made, interlocutors combine the input with available background information, while using the least processing effort required, to derive meaning. Consider:

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(xiv)     I’ll google it.

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Using the input plus the background knowledge (which can also be described as one’s schema of the internet) that ‘Google’ is an online search engine, one understands that the speaker intends to search online for the information. Grice was criticised for failing to address such loose uses of language, and for treating metaphor, hyperbole and irony equally as flouting of the Quality maxim (ibid). Relevance theorists claim that besides irony, all the above loose uses of language are used to convey optimal relevance more economically (ibid), while irony involves ‘an expression of tacitly dissociative attitudes’ (ibid:272) and requires a higher order of meta-representational ability.

Not believing in the co-operative nature of humankind, Sperber and Wilson (1986) suggests a Communicative Principle where the audience would only pay attention if the stimulus is worth processing and relevant enough, and that the speaker, might have to be capable and willing to draw the hearer’s attention to his/her intentions, away from competing stimuli. Grice was criticised for seeing speaker unwillingness as a violation and thus not conveying implicatures (ibid 2004), although I worry about such a misrepresentation, considering that a violation simply comes from a speaker not wanting to convey the implicature, and does not mean the hearer cannot infer from the unwillingness. Arguably, Grice tended to focus on implicature generation and less on hearer interpretation strategies.

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3.2     Politeness Principle (PP)

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(xv)      I don’t suppose you’ve time to spare?

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Based on claims that sentences do not always have information-bearing functions, PP is proposed as a necessary complement to CP (Leech 1983:80), to explain indirect sentences like (xv) which seem to violate the quantity maxim.  While CP enables communication through the assumption of cooperativeness, PP allows for such co-operation by regulating social equilibrium and relations (ibid:82). Thus, PP is seen to override CP at times.

The Ironic Principle (IP), however, allows for PP to be exploited in order to uphold CP (ibid:82-83). In (x), Sue is afraid of causing offence to Brian and makes light of Brian’s flaws, allowing him to infer her real meaning through indirectness, by way of irony, ‘an “honest” form of apparent deception, at the expense of politeness’(ibid:83).

While CP has been criticised repeatedly for not being universal, PP allows for the study of how such principles are variable on different dimensions and are exploited differently in different societies (ibid:84). Nevertheless, how much of CP is non-universal?

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3.3     The universality of CP

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I have found disagreement over whether Grice believed in the universal application of CP. Spencer-Oatey and Jiang (2003) claimed that according to Grice, they were universal principles of language use. Leech (1983:80) believed that no claim has been made that CP applied in the same way everywhere. Sperber & Wilson (1987) and Davis (1998), however, both think of implicatures as social conventions, and therefore, interlinguistic, and lists quantity implicatures and irony as common to many languages (ibid:186). Gazdar (1979:54), on the other hand, takes Grice’s claim that CP is something ‘reasonable for us to follow’ to mean that the nature of the maxims are universal, and argues that Grice’s maxims ‘cannot be defended as universal principles of conversation’ (ibid:55). Clyne (1994:12) believes the maxims are anglo-centric, of limited relevance, and need reformulation to take non-English cultures into consideration.

Examples in 2.2.1 showed how some adherence to the maxims is already instinctive in my learners, but consider (iii) again. In parts of Northern Greece, ‘children’ conveys the GCI of ‘sons’. When interlocutors do not share the same schema of the word ‘children’, misunderstandings could arise. Considering the four factors Grice (1975) purported interlocutors use to communicate through implicature: the literal meaning of the utterance, the roles and expectations of participants, the situation, context and nature of the conversation, and the world around the participants, we can deduce that people from different cultural backgrounds would have different expectations, roles and world views, and see the contexts and nature of conversations differently (Bouton, 1999).  Van Dijik’s (1977 in Brown and Yule 1983) Assumed Normality of the World suggests that our reactions to particular communicative situations are learnt through our experience of interpreting them in prior similar contexts. If the respondent’s sociocultural (Sociocultural abilities refer to the respondent’s skills at selecting speech act strategies appropriate to the culture involved, the age and sex, the social class and occupations and roles and status of the participants in interaction) and sociolinguistic abilities (Sociolinguistic abilities refer to the respondents’ skill at selecting linguistic forms to express a particular speech act strategy and their control over utterance’s register of formality) must be considered for the success of speech acts (Cohen, 1996), so it must be when interpreting implicatures.

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3.3.1    Bouton’s cross-cultural study

Bouton (1988) found a significant difference between the way NS and non-native speakers (NNS) interpreted the implicatures presented within contextualised dialogues (the dialogues were presented on paper and lacked the paralinguistic and non-linguistic features that would normally be present when interpreting implicatures. This may have had some effect on his findings.), with the Germans/Spanish/Portuguese having more similar scores to NS than the Chinese/Japanese. We could perhaps conclude that certain cultures have more similar expectations and world views to the target culture than others.

Subsequently, Bouton (1994) noted that without explicit instruction, there was increased mastery of implicature types as time passes (particularly, those based on flouting the relevance maxim), although progress was slow after 17 months, and irony remained a problem even for those immersed for 54 months. The types of implicatures that remained difficult for those immersed for more than 17 months, however, were the ones that improved when a separate group was given explicit classroom instruction. Such instruction, conversely, did not help them improve on relevance-based implicatures.

Bouton (1999) believed implicatures differed in their opaqueness to NNS. Relevance-based implicatures required a lot of background information to interpret (idiosyncratic implicatures) and seemed impervious to teaching efforts, but depended on the building up of native-culture schemata over time. Formulaic implicatures, such as PopeQ (Bouton (1988) uses the term PopeQ to refer to typical ironic questions used in answer to another question. Other examples include, ‘Can ducks swim?’ and ‘Do bears sh*t in the woods?’) [see (xvi)], indirect criticism [see (viii)] and irony, however, have pattern-based structural or semantic clues, and these patterns can be taught, recognised, and used.

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(xvi)

Deb:    Do you like ice-cream?

Derren: Is the pope Catholic?

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3.3.2    Irony and English humour

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Much cross-cultural misinterpretation of implicatures concerns sense of humour. Consider:

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(xxii)

(Pointing to a bottle of Coke on the table)

Nao:    Is this coca-cola?

Me:     It’s a pizza.

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The Japanese Nao, who thought I had meant to treat her like a fool, was puzzled. Some months later, Nao said, ‘I understand! British humour is about bullying others!’ Both the Japanese and Chinese have one expression to mean irony and sarcasm, and being ironic carries a negative connotation of insult. Although Nao had identified the semantic pattern in irony, her sense that the English found humour in bullying others was misplaced.

Anthropologist Fox (2004:65-66) notes that the English treat irony as ‘a constant, a normal element of ordinary, everyday conversation’ and the ‘dominant ingredient in English humour’. What makes irony even more difficult for foreigners is that a deadpan face is the expected norm. Fox sympathises with foreigners, admitting that self-parodying is part of the English psyche deeply schematised in the culture.
If spoken irony is difficult for NNS, written irony poses a bigger problem. Hatim (1997) attributes irony to the English preference for understatements and the cryptic, enabling one  to express an attitude without saying very much. Irony is hard to preserve when translating written texts. Hatim (ibid:196) suggests that Arabic is intolerant to such opaqueness, with translators of irony needing to flout the quantity maxim by being over-informative.

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3.3.3    Making CP universal

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Keenan’s (1976) investigation in Malagasy culture has spurred criticisms that Grice’s principles were monocentric and full of assumptions based on Anglo-Saxon norms and culture (Wierzbicka 1985, Gazdar 1979). Keenan (1976) admits the Malagasy community are not uninformative, but explains that Grice’s maxims do not hold in some societies. However, perhaps it is the critics themselves who have been monocentric and have interpreted Grice’s words from an English perspective. Arguably, being ‘as informative as required’ would stand with the Malagasy speakers if the ‘information’ expected and the schema of what ‘information’ entails differs in their culture. I believe CP could be realised in different cultures in different ways. Consider.

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(xviii)               Returning an unidentified missed call,

Singaporean: Hello. Who called?

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Clyne (1994:192) states that in both European and East/South-east Asian culture, the more information/knowledge provided, the better. Singaporeans, however, sometimes seem comfortable with the bare information minus the niceties, so we could argue that what is ‘required’ depends on cultural variation and situational expectations. Clyne (ibid:194) proposes a set of revised ‘maxims’ (Appendix) to make CP more universal by considering different cultural norms and expectations when applying Grice’s principles. How can teachers then apply this knowledge to help students adapt to a foreign environment?

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In the last part of this series, I will be looking at the implications that Grice’s theories have on teaching and asking for ideas as to how this could be relevant to what we practitioners do in the language classroom.

 

Appendix

 

Clyne (1994)’s revised maxims

Quantity:     A single maxim – ‘Make your contribution as informative as is required for

the purpose of the discourse, within the bounds of the discourse parameters of the given culture.’

 

Quality:        Supermaxim – ‘Try to make your contribution one for which you can take

responsibility within your own cultural norms.’

Maxims (1) ‘Do not say what you believe to be in opposition to your cultural

norms of truth, harmony, charity, and/or respect.’

(2) Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.’[1]

 

Manner:       The supermaxim can be retained in its original form – ‘Be perspicacious.’[2]

Maxims (1) ‘Do not make it any more difficult to understand than may be

dictated by questions of face and authority.’

(2) Avoid ambiguity unless it is in the interests of politeness or of

maintaining a dignity-driven cultural core value, such as harmony,

charity or respect.’

(3) ‘Make your contribution the appropriate length required by the

nature and purpose of the exchange and the discourse parameters

of your culture.’

(4) ‘Structure your discourse according to the requirements of your

culture.’

 

Clyne, M.G. (1994) Inter-cultural communication at work: cultural values in discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

 


[1] Maxim (2) of Quality and Maxim (2) of Manner have disclaimers put onto them.

For more detail, see Clyne (1994:194).

[2] I believe there is a typing error here. Grice’s original maxim of Manner was to be ‘perspicuous’, rather than ‘perspicacious’. This slightly changes the meaning of the maxim, which I assume was not the intention.