IATEFL Opening Plenary – David Crystal

David Crystal officially opens IATEFL Liverpool by first warning us not to trust Wikipedia, which has knighted him for a few days and stated that he has had different numbers of children and wives. He moves on to tell us about he went to school in Liverpool and proudly tells us to listen out to the Liverpudlian influences in his accent.

Introducing us to some popular songs and then focusing our attention on a well-known song by Paul McCartney and Wings, ‘Live and Let Die’, and the much-discussed lyrics ‘But if this ever changing world in which we live in’.

The tune needs two prepositions for it to work and when music calls, grammar blends.

Lexical blends like ‘brunch‘ become part of our everyday language quickly but syntactic blends do not get into our language as easily.

It is however important to note that blends are very common in speech

Here are some examples:

I don’t know to which hotel I’m going to.

For which party will you be voting for in the March 9th Election?

Mentors are for business people, mentors can help you and be your role models, couples to which we look up to.

From which country does a Lexus come from?

Syntactic blends arise when people are unsure of which to use and so they use both.

It raises because of the clash and choice that could come from formal and informal usage.

In the prescriptive tradition that dominated schools, teachers tend to try and eliminate the informal forms and therefore enforcing rules such as ‘Never end a sentence with a preposition’. Yet, Shakespeare uses end-place prepositions all the time. But the rule appealed to classically-inclined pedants. Winston Churchill even had rules ‘up with which he would not put‘.

So those who try to follow the rules taught to us and place the preposition at the beginning… but the natural pattern of the language takes over and the preposition is put after the verb where it feels most natural, forgetting that they’ve used a preposition already.

The further away the two prepositions, the more likely this is to happen.

e.g. For which of the five candidates in the forthcoming by-election will the people of Eastleigh be voting for?

But double prepositions aren’t the only Syntactic Blend that happens.

Here, Professor Crystal introduces another Beatles song with the lyrics

He won’t do nothing right just in sitting down and look so good‘ (as opposed to ‘looking so good’)

and

I been told when a boy kiss a girl‘ (as opposed to ‘a boy kisses a girl’)

When we leave music behind and listen to spoken English, such blends all the time.

We start sentences, change our minds and end sentences differently from how we intended when we started.

We usually do not notice this though, as we are paying attention to what is being said rather than how it is being said.

Prof. Crystal uses his own lectures as examples of the non-grammatical statements in spoken English:

Within how long did it take for an American English start to grow?

which is a blend of ‘Within what period of time did it take for an American English to start to grow?

and

How long did it take for an American English to start to grow?

Here’s an example embedded in a dialogue:

‘Well, we don’t speak it?’

‘Why don’t we speak it?’

‘Well, cos I was never taught it.’

‘Well, why weren’t I taught it?’

As a result of the constant use of the pronoun ‘we’ at the beginning, the last statement is a blend of ‘Well why weren’t we/you taught it?’ and ‘Why wasn’t I taught it?

These blends of course appear a lot less in written material due to gatekeeping by editors and publishers. Thus, a lot of what is considered ‘standard English’ corresponds to what is published. Yet, with the advent of the internet, these gatekeepers might not be there and most people do not revise and re-read what they write in emails and blogs (especially if they’re blogging simultaneously during a conference plenary).

Here, Prof David Crystal uses examples from the most popular blogs in the UK with blended constructions.

Comprehension is governed by the distribution of weight in a sentence. English is governed by end weight, and speakers tend to put the  most important information at the end, after the main verb, rather than in the beginning. Most sentences use a single pronoun and verb followed by a concentration of content after the verb. One can of course use long adverbials at the beginning of the sentence, but this makes comprehension more difficult and the sentence is more difficult to process…therefore naturally, in spoken English, this does not happen as often.

Note these two sentences:

It was nice of John and Mary to visit us the other day.

versus

For John and Mary to visit us the other day was nice.

We tend to get irritated with the second sentence, thinking ‘Where’s the verb? Get on with it!”

Here, Prof. Crystal uses a random ELT coursebook to make a point.

In a chapter on relative clauses, long noun phrases are featured:

e.g. Salesman who sell books at your door are a  nuisance. The books they sell are often expensive’

A lot of information needs to be processed before getting to the verb, while trying to learn a new piece of English grammar.

This could make it more difficult for students and perhaps coursebooks should use relative clauses with shorter subjects when introducing the grammar point, and leave such long noun phrases for more advanced levels.

e.g I don’t like salesmen who sells books at the door.

It’s often expensive to buy the books they sell.

In ELT, we come across blends often in students’ writing.

e.g. ‘Does it not worry you that the man to whom you will marry might be cruel to you?

It is important to realise that errors such as these blends are signs of growth and not be condemned.

Teachers should try to understand the origin and source of the blend. To condemn them as mistakes would result in students not daring to try out new constructions in the future.

Blends tend to occur more often when the speaker/writer is under pressure and has to complete the sentence quickly, and the grammar finds it harder to keep pace with the thought  e.g. football commentaries, family rows, etc.

Blends are nothing to feel guilty. In writing, we try to eliminate them for being labelled as careless and sloppy by readers who have more time to examine our sentences.

Here, Prof. Crystal clarifies that he is not advocating that we teach blends, but more that we not condemn blends in speech when we are likely to use them ourselves.

Ending his plenary with a piece of titbit about his days as a saxophone player, he muses that Paul MacCartney may have earned much more than him, Paul MacCartney never quite had the honour of ending up as the patron of IATEFL.

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IATEFL Part 1 – Mike Hogan on How to be a successful freelancer

Mike Hogan starts this year’s IATEFL with one of the three ‘How-to’ sessions just before David Crystal’s opening plenary with the very useful topic – ‘How to be a successful freelancer’.

He first looks at ‘Organisation’. Many of the talks and workshops tends to be about what happens in the classroom and ‘in-training’ ideas, but sometimes there’s less focus on the organisational side of being a freelancer. Essentially, as a freelancer, you are a one-person business, and so it’s important to think about the way you budget your finances. Consider the lifestyle you have now and the lifestyle you want to have and how much that would cost you per month/year, bearing in mind that as a freelancer, you don’t get paid for holidays or sick days. Mike recommends that the freelance teacher learns basic accountancy and the use of Excel so as to reduce the stress levels when dealing with taxes and year-end accounting.

Balancing out when and where the income is coming from also means looking at alternative sources of income, e.g. teaching online, writing, etc. It’s important to know where your most stable income is coming from and to guarantee this ‘bread & butter’ income before scheduling the unlimited holidays that you might think freelancers get. Think of yourself as a company and plan your annual budget and do not just live from day to day/month to month.

When getting work, one must not forget the marketing strategy one employs or intends to employ. Know your product and know what you are selling. Be clear about why clients should choose you over other competitors.Consider how you can get the contract by either offering a lower price or adding value to your product. Find out what your competitors are doing and what the going market rate of what you are trying to sell. And where can your clients find out about you?

At this point, Mike emphasises the importance of CPD (Continual Professional Development) and how the CELTA is merely the beginning of one’s career development. If you are trying to get work, ensure that you professionalise yourself first by looking the part. Find out what everyone else in the company wears and try not to overdress or underdress. Practise the skills that you are teaching. If you are teaching students to present, get as much experience presenting yourself so that you can add value to what you offer. If you are teaching students to negotiate, go out there and try and get some negotiating practice in the shops or with your mobile phone service provider.

When talking to your client, be aware of possible unrealistic expectations and clients who try and treat language training like any other commodity, e.g. wanting the same results with fewer contact hours. You therefore need to be creative when putting together your training packages. Also remember that different people have different needs and so it is important to carry out a needs analysis to tailor the course to suit the individuals and not simply roll out a ‘one-size-fits-all’ course.

Be realistic and do not try to take on every kind of course. Know your specialisation and know how your product differs from the other competitors. Do not be afraid to say no to a client that wants something you can’t offer and do not hesitate to recommend someone else who can do the job. As they say, pay it forward!

This summer, the European Profiling Grid is to be published. A tool for mapping and assessing language teaching competencies internationally might change the way clients buy language training and so it is important to keep up to date with what the industry is implementing.

Finally, Mike finishes off with the importance of reflecting on the relationship between quality and reputation. If someone mentions your name at the coffee machine at work, how will that conversation run? What will they say about you?