Mar 012013

I came across a site called ‘Tiny Texts’ the other day run by a Annette in Italy. She’s getting people to make short audio recordings which students can use to ‘‘Read, listen and learn a little English’ . Turns out she’s always looking for folks to made recordings so I had a go. I think I might have spoken too slowly, but there are lots of other nice recordings in different voices and accents on the site.

If you feel like giving it a whirl and contributing to a lovely project, contact Annette.

 Posted by at 10:29 pm
Jan 092012

Got a book inside you waiting to get out? Well, then meet Paul Emmerson. He’s just written one. In fact he’s done more than that. He’s actually published it himself.

So what was the process and how much did it cost? I thought I’d find out more about it:

There’s a slideshow here with further information on the book’s production. And if you liked the interview, you might also be interested in Peter Viney’s self published videos.

 Posted by at 1:50 am
Jan 052012

Regular readers of my Learning to Speak ‘Merican blog will have noticed many proofreading errors over the years. It’s a wonder readers have ever been able to make sense of my books, but fortunately I have always been blessed with good proofreaders.

Via Jeremy Harmer’s google+ page I have come across this video that demonstrates the importance of one of the many valuable services good editors perform. Enjoy!

 Posted by at 2:19 am
Dec 032011


When Albert Einstein visited Oxford University in 1931, someone with foresight thought to preserve the blackboard he used when he was talking about the theory of relativity. When my colleague, Megan, came across Einstein’s blackboard many decades later, it intrigued her. She felt that the impressions teachers leave on their students couldn’t be captured or quantified, but with modern technology, she knew their seemingly random scribbling and half-drawn pictures or symbols could.

So she set out to capture some of them. Megan feels there’s a moment before the classroom blackboard gets wiped when the echo of the class still hangs tangibly in the air. There’s an expectation that the impressions that teachers leave on students are not as transitory or delicate, as those they leave on the blackboards. And that thought gave birth to the Blackboard Project

So here’s a request to teachers reading this. Before you wipe your next blackboard clean, please take a photo of it and email it to Megan. As she says: ‘We do not have to be Einstein to make a difference in the lives of others’. But through blackboards, she’s hoping it’s possible to capture some glimpses of the energy of ideas of classes, however random they may seem.

Here’s a blackboard picture that Megan snapped at the end of one of my classes. It’s my handwriting and I’m sure I wrote this, though I’m no longer sure why. But I think that’s actually one of the Blackboard Project’s charms. Meanings are closely related to time and context, and deciphering that can be intriguing. Who knows what will emerge if teachers from around the world share their blackboards across time and diverse contexts.

So teachers whip out your cameras and come join in this international project. Take a shot of your blackboard, white board or smart board and send it to Megan at blackboard project 1 (with no spaces).



 Posted by at 5:22 pm
Jun 202011

I thought I’d interview another video enthusiast today. Do you remember ‘A Weekend Away’ and ‘A Week by the Sea’? They were very popular ELT videos written by Peter and Karen Viney (along with lots of other good ones like ‘Mystery Tour’ and the ‘Grapevine’ videos).
Well, they went out of print and Peter and Karen have licensed them back from Oxford University Press and published them themselves. I thought I’d talk to Peter to find out more. Our conversation wound up being rather like an ad for the videos. No, Peter did not pay me to make this. Ha! His videos just sound like a good deal to me.
And it raises the question of whether we can expect more teaching materials to come down in price in this rapidly changing ELT marketplace – especially if they are delivered electronically. Do any of your students have a digital course book for learning English yet? And would you like them to?

 Posted by at 6:46 pm
Apr 172011

I have a guest post that’s a bit different today. I’m curious about creativity – how does it happen? I remember reading a study somewhere that debunked the stereotype on the lonely artist. Rather than toiling away in a solitary garret, the most productive ones were generally rushing around engaging in multiple projects and interacting with lots of people. So I was interested to hear about a collaborative project Stewart Tunnicliff’s been  working on. Without more ado, here’s Stew to tell us about it.

Utterances at The Closest East to the Heart

LE Writers left to right: Ralf Lowland, Svetlana Lavochkina, Diana Feuerbach, Stewart Tunnicliff (photo: Maeshelle West-Davies)

A quote by James Earl Jones has resonated with me for years:

“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”

At secondary school I always wanted to be a writer, but could not find my voice. It took me at least another half a dozen years to actually find one. But then I misplaced it like an odd sock down the back of a sofa.

In March this year all that changed with the second public reading of my poetry at the “Leipzig Liest” event of the Leipzig book trade fair. The Buchmesse and Leipzig have increased their world fame with mentions in the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers. On the coat tails of this the Leipzig Leist organisation ran small reading events all over the city. The one I was part of was at Noch besser leben.

It all came together through the club I founded called LE Writers, where four disparate word-smiths met and came up with the idea of an all English reading for the Buchmesse – the first of its kind. This collaboration also included working with three musical artists, a multi talented musician and two opera singers.

We have coined a phrase as best to describe these kind of readings: a literary concert as it is a fusion of text and music that is more performance based than straight forward readings. They are also recorded to produce “audio books”

But let us go back to this notion of “voice” for a minute. I solemnly believe that this hodge podge group of ink squiqqlers and keyboard quiverers has two very distinct qualities.

Firstly there is the invigorating support you receive from like minds who are struggling with their own notion of ”voice” and regular expression. Also a single voice among many is not drowned or lost in the mass in this case but becomes a chorus of multi faceted tonal nuances.

The greatest thing for me is to have found a large part of my Personal Learning Network, where my voice can be heard by sympathetic ears. Likewise during the editing process of fellow writers I can see how adamant I am to retain my own unique voice and defend it from the wielded red pen.

As a disclaimer for this speaking ‘merican blog we have so far had no American voices in our writers’ circle, so cannot yet write about the American voice in this blog entry. This will change for “the Embassy of love” on the 20th May at our next performance, whereby we have two American writers contributing.

I will be intrigued to see how they add to the group voice and am also interested in all bloggers, writers out there and how you found or train your voice.

You can see  an extract from one of Stew’s performance here and I’m hoping he’ll pop back sometime later to tell us how things are going with the new ‘merican collaborators.

 Posted by at 4:52 pm
Nov 272010

Back in the eighties I taught at a large business English school where amongst other things, I was responsible for hiring and timetabling teachers and developing resources. Materials-lite lessons were often a good way to go in the context we were working in. (Our term for it then was ‘minimum input, maximum output’). Teachers were always hunting for ideas, so I shared some in filing cabinets and some of my colleagues did too. After a few years I sent a batch off to some publishers and they later turned into a book called In at the Deep End (Speaking Activities for Professional People)


The activities and frameworks had no texts or language content when we submitted them. We explained that the content would come from the students, and the teachers would then work with the language that came up. (We didn’t have a term for emergent language back then, either). The publishers insisted that a few functional phrases and grammary-looking boxes were inserted, but they didn’t require us to add texts, so there was no reading nor audio.

Looking back, that was very hard core line to follow and I’m grateful to Oxford University Press for letting us explore it. No dogme-ists today would suggest there should be no texts. It runs counter to an obvious truth: to learn new language, students need to be exposed to it somewhere, so either via listening or reading.


Do I still like to teach lessons that draw on the learners for content today? Heck yes. Obviously it has strong appeal for me, and in the contexts in which I’m working, it’s still often a good way to go. Are there times when I don’t? Why yes. For example, I sometimes prepare students for advanced management courses at the Wharton School where they will need to have read lots of lengthy business case studies and follow lectures. I don’t see how we’d be doing our jobs if we didn’t give those students ‘materials-heavy’ lessons. There’s a lot of specific vocabulary to learn very quickly, and there are features of discourse and genre that I can’t see a way to highlight without extensive listening and reading. Is materials-heavy as enjoyable and motivating for the students or us? Quite possibly not, but we all know it’s our job and get on with it. It sure beats the alternative.


And when you look around the diverse world of ESP, I don’t think this kind of situation is uncommon. Back in the eighties, I thought our student driven conversational approach would be best in all contexts. Twenty five years on, I feel like there are a lot of shades of grey and I’ve learnt more about successes achieved with genre-based approaches, lexical approaches, task based instruction, case studies, CLIL, and other methodologies.

I’ve also met a lot of different stakeholders involved in training. As teachers, I think we may tend to focus on our students’ needs because they are the people we have most contact with. But the students’ company (which is often footing the bill) may have its own rather different needs. I may not have always agreed with some of the other stakeholders, but many have been bright, caring people with legitimate concerns that I think we have to address too. Evan Frendo made a tongue in cheek blog post illustrating this point this week. You can read it here.


 Posted by at 12:44 pm