Friday, February 24, 2006

podcasting, family, misc.

I made a podcast today...or at least, I recorded it. It's Three Friends, a story I've had on the web for years, with its seventeen questions, more or less a standard intermediate reading exercise. The idea of a podcast is to have a listening clip on a blog where people can get at it and download it to an iPod...and walk around with it, or at least, use it at their convenience. No telling what will be popular out in the real world. It could be the start of something big, or at least, something interesting.

So here's a picture of the three young ones. I like to have them on the page where I can see them, worry about them all in one spot. Like a picture on the mantel.

Here is some more about podcasting.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

r u ready -- for chat?

The first CESL Chat came and went...and it was great. I see it as a way to get diverse people involved in CESL and talking to well as getting our internationals to share a little of themselves. I think people are a little hesitant to share in a new environment...maybe it will take time...but so far it's been pretty good. I've learned a lot. I've met people. I know more than I did.

I will say a couple of things about chat in general. First, my EAP2 students are totally comfortable with it, and have delivered to me lots of very interesting information: about Wal-Mart, about their hometowns, about grammar, etc. It's really quite amazing. As they slip in emoticons and abbreviations I become aware how much more familiar they are with the medium than I am. Where have I been? I'm kind of a piker. Here I just teach this paper-on-pencil essay kind of medium...Second, what an incredible opportunity...for communities to spring up and evolve...this I've learned mostly from the webheads, who are pretty active in this area. These two communities are both directly connected to corners of the world that are really pretty far from here...and, have widened my horizons quite a bit. Makes living in a small town not so limiting...

c ya! ^^



Lately I've been mulling over Connectivism (Siemens, 2004), which is, as I understand it, a new theory of learning. Basically it says that your ability to find out what you don't know is more important than the total amount of stuff you do know, so that we're very smart and adaptable to be using cell-phones all the time, have lots of connections, but not store a bunch of junk in our heads.

I'm ok with this theory, and even like it, since I'm a well-connected, but shallow-binned memory-storage kind of guy, but I'm not sure you can call it a "learning theory" is definitely an adaptive characteristic to a world where there is are gigabytes of information at our fingertips, and we can barely process what we need to get from day to day.

In the same way I've come to accept video games, as I see them as a way for young people to process and try to control a world that to them seems way out of control, way too violent and impossible to understand. One has to back off, grab some control (cell-phone, controller), adjust to the new reality.

I know how to work this into my TESOL presentations. But the question is, how to work it into a cohesive theory of language...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Chat Pioneers go to town

It turns out, students are much more familiar with this medium than we teachers are. As if you didn't know. Connectedness is part of life these days. And, if we speak their language, we'll know them better. Here are some Q's and A's about the upcoming CESL CHAT.

Q: Why Tapped In? Why not MSN or Yahoo?
A: If you can convince me that MSN or Yahoo is better, go ahead! TappedIn is intended for educational purposes. They help us stay non-commercial and educational in nature. They know us already, a little. I like them.

Q: How do I find out what all these emoticons MEAN?
A: We'll put together an emoticon directory. It's on its way. There are some places on the web that explain them, but, sometimes you just have to guess.

Q: How can I get more acquainted with the format?
A: Read a transcript.

Q: What happens when you join Tapped In?
A: You get innocuous e-mails every once in a while. You get access to transcripts and you get to use the facilities more. The facilities are actually amazing; I don't really know them well yet, but I know they have a wealth of resources. Also, you will not have "Gst" appearing next to your name on the transcript; people will know you sooner. It's fairly easy (and free) to join.

Q: What should I bring?
A: A URL or two. But it's not required, it's just tradition. Another tradition: we often talk about food. Don't ask me why. Just come. Relax. Join in. Thank you!

Q: How do I copy and paste url's onto chat?
A: Copy: [Apple + C]. Paste: [Apple + V}.....(is that right?)


Sunday, February 12, 2006

abe day blizzard

Posts with weather titles are directories to the language writing of the past winter. Comments are welcome; I'm mostly just getting my thoughts organized. Enjoy!

"utilitarianism" explained
language as a medium
Kotsoudas' principles
student dialect
dialect variation part II
dialect variation and Missour-ah
language change
language learning analogies & the secretary
metaphors for language - cut across the lawn
people who say "we was"
bilingualism & children
language as a social contract
fear of behaviorism
language learning and the musician's ear
the translation plateau
the familiarity hierarchy
words that start with vowels
the listening-writing connection

utilitarianism, cont'd

Don't know what to label this post, as it is primarily a retraction of the previous one. Or, clarification, if nothing else.

A little research showed that utiltarianism is a philosophy, John Stewart Mill, etc. This was not what I was after. I'm not sure what the word is for what I'm looking for, and I haven't had time to research it, but it's something like this:

The mind is aware of the urgency of developing an efficient processing system. It photographs and processes reams of data in every waking hour. It attends to its own system, classifying and filing what it has; it uses its best guesses about what will be needed the most and the soonest, and tries to make that accessible. The rest, it puts in a revolving door- it's saved for a while, then discarded.

The secret of language learning is mastering this system. The learner has to convince his/her own mind that what is being learned should be marked as "urgent"...

The mind is generally more clever than the conscious attempts to manipulate it. It does notice, however, when things are being used. And it responds accordingly.

More on this later...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

utilitarianism of the mind

This is something I'd like to look into more, but the principle is this: put the stuff you use most often closest to the front, somewhere where you can find it. The brain puts value onto things based on how often it thinks it's going to need it. If you just memorize a list of words and the brain suspects it's not going to use the memory, the words will go into a back file and disappear in a few days. If, however, you call one of the words up every couple of hours, or days, it will receive "value" and be stored closer to the front, in a more accessible place. Your brain in essence is saying, "I'll probably need this again soon."

The secret of language learning is learning how to control this system effectively. What I call "volume theory" is based on relatively obvious principles: Students should use language as much as possible; that language should be accessible, so that they have a reasonable chance of beating it (Krashen has said this in so many words), and, words should be recycled if at all possible.

Grammatical points are learned "at the point of need," - I'm quoting a Marie Nelson book, the reference of which is somewhere on this page, but this is a utilitarianist idea. More on this later.


Monday, February 06, 2006


Did a chat survey with the students who are doing chat. Was surprised that they were liking it, not ready to give up yet. Some don't contribute much; don't pitch in with their assignment either. They denied that it was too hard. Denied that they were shy or that they thought people were rude (these occurred to me). Said it was helpful- to their fluency, writing AND reading. Onward! More transcripts coming. Maybe I'll post the survey findings too (though I think it's not done- I have only 12)- and find some work done on chat assignments.


language as a medium (S-WH cont'd)

I've spent enough time around babies to know this much: a baby doesn't really need language, though he/she wants it as soon as he/she learns of its power. Language doesn't create the thoughts; the baby has them from the start, and communicates them pretty well, for the most part. Gets what he/she wants, gets held, gets fed, and doesn't need language.

Later, they become eager to please- they give you something you ask for, long before they ask you for what they want. They're still getting what they want with a well-placed cry. They talk just to show you they can.

Language becomes the medium of choice, especially among other kids, because it's faster, easier, and everyone understands it. But it's not necessary, and it didn't create the thoughts. It affects their thinking: having accepted this set of classifications and standards, one begins to see them as real. But we are all also aware of an intrinsic reality, separate of any classification we might impose upon it, one that could, in fact, sweep us away, or not be expressed by our words. And when the child becomes aware of this, he/she never sleeps again...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Kotsoudas' principles

I was influenced by a linguistics professor, Andreas Kotsoudas, in spite of his mumbling about the stock market, on which he occasionally lost big money. He maintained two principles, one of which he was even given credit for when we actually did our reading.

That was: Things that are similar to your first language are harder to master than things that are very different.

The other was one that he taught us but didn't actually take credit for. It was: There is movement in language: we "transform" words to make the sentences we want. But there's only one rule: fronting. It's one big simple rule, with lots of conditions.

More on each of these (relatively) unrelated principles later.


weblogs and critical thinking

A few years back I got out on the web and realized that some expatriates had started weblogs and were doing some very interesting discussions on the nature of teaching and language. This is what I should be doing, I thought at the time, though it took me a few years to first start a weblog, then begin thinking these things out. One of the threads that got me started was this one on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and the Korean honorific system. It's interesting...something I've mulled over since the days that I learned Korean and the days that I first heard about the S-W H.

From this I've learned: old weblog threads get lost easily; this one was hard to dredge up, and I hope it stays. Second: discussions of the S-W H bring up all kinds of facts: that Hopi has no past, present or future; that Japanese has no word for water, only words for hot water and cold water; that in Hopi words for thunder and lightning are verbs, not nouns (this I remember from graduate school, but haven't run across on this round). More research follows. The question really is: how powerful is language in shaping our perceptions or the way we experience reality? Good question, why did I stop asking it?

The fact is, weblogs tend to keep such things alive. And more. More about this also to come.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

ie/mac problems

IE (Internet Explorer) is ruining some student blogs: flattening out the main part, moving the template down, screwing up the vision. I'd like to use Safari every minute but I shouldn't have to. Who did it? Part of the war between Microsoft and any competitor? If so, how so? More later...

student dialect

I've been teaching for so long that some things look like normal to me. They look so normal that I don't bother correcting them when I'm line-editing. So, if you go back through my students' work on the web (you can find this term's at ae2 or at eap2) you will find some of these errors.

They are consistent over time; I've seen some of them countless times for 17-24 years. They are spoken or used by a large population of people; sometimes Americans in Korea, for example, refer to "Konglish"...they actually convert some English-speakers so that they go around using Konglish phrases (living in Korea, it makes perfect sense)...but, the most interesting thing is that, in some environments, the words and phrases come and go as if they are just any language. It's an interesting concept of dialect, because if everyone involved understands, there's no need to change or adapt to anything.

dialect variation part II

When I was 10, my family moved to the Pittsburgh, PA area where I first heard the term "gum band" used to refer to what the rest of the world knows as rubber bands. Of all the outrageous things we heard in Pittsburgh that first year, we though "gum band" was the wildest, because it actually redefined a common, everyday item. We could see how it was called "gum" - being all stretchy and all, it just seemed, well, like reality was altered.

Fast forward: my wife is from California, so she calls one of the four things you take out of a butter case a "cube" of butter. This again is by far the hardest for us to swallow (not that we boys actually swallow these). To us, it's a stick. And a stick can be all kinds of shapes - after all, you have sticks of gum, sticks of matches, sticks of dynamite, etc. But cubes have to be pretty close to square, and this butter just doesn't do it.

Now, I'll grant you, if you can have wide variety in what constitutes a "stick," why can't you have that same variety with cubes? You can, but we don't, or at least I never had before. What I notice is how much it affects me when a new term actually bends my conception of shapes and if to remind me that reality is only what I make it, and the classification of it is but a temporary arrangement...

Now here's my question. If you leave the butter on the counter in the summer heat, is it still a "cube" after it melts?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

high heels on a rocky path

Leverett, T. (2006). High heels on a rocky path. Global Study Magazine Online, London.

This is about cultural stubbornness and the problems of language learning. It deals a little with some of the things I've been talking about here: the price of walking the last mile. It just appeared; another is on its way.

dialect variation & Missour-uh

I was curious enough about this situation to actually write an expert in dialects; this was a couple of years ago, and I hope I remembered it right. I wanted to know what the deal was with Missour-ee vs. Missour-ah. Who says which? Why? Turns out that in the early days of the state it was settled by groups of people from the Midland states (including Maryland...people who had moved west through CincinNATT-uh)...and those were the ones who said Missour-ah. The others said Missour-ee. Neither version had any special meaning, they were just names for the state, and since it was rural, the people in different parts of it didn't have that much contact with each other, or with television, so they both survived for a while.

But times are a lot different now; geography is less important in determining which one you'd choose. Everyone has heard them both and chooses which to use based more on their idea of how they want to sound: more local, more folksy (Missour-ah), or more worldly, more in touch with the media (Missour-ee)...and that's how dialect goes these days. There aren't many people who haven't heard them both; at least, there aren't many around here!