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Webinar: Having fun with festivals

A celebration of Holi Festival of Colors

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Vanessa Reilly, teacher, teacher trainer and OUP author, introduces her upcoming webinar on 27th and 28th May entitled: Having fun with festivals – cultivating interest in the target culture in your young learner classroom.

Just how important is the target culture to you when teaching English as a foreign language to young learners? Looking at a language from the point of view of speakers of that language and how they live makes the target language more real, not just a collection of words and sentences to be learnt.

All learners need to be introduced to the target culture, no matter how young or early on in their language learning experience, in order to provide them with the optimum conditions for success.

My webinar will provide an overview of the following:

Target culture in the very young learner and young learner classroom

Very early on in my teaching career, I remember reading Claire Kramsch’s book Context and Culture in Language Teaching, and this statement stuck in my mind:

If… language is seen as social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching. Cultural awareness must then be viewed as enabling language proficiency… Culture in language teaching is not an expendable fifth skill, tacked on, so to speak, to the teaching of speaking, listening, reading and writing.”

So I started to explore:

→ What are the implications for primary age children?

If, as Kramsch proposes, cultural awareness needs to be an integral part of language learning, then I believe that as teachers of English we need to explore the many aspects of English-speaking culture appropriate for all learners, however young the children we teach.

→ What can we do as primary teachers?

We need to look at culture through a child’s eyes and consider what will motivate a Primary child to want to know more about the target culture. Having worked with children for nearly 25 years, I have found even young children are really interested when I talk about what children in English-speaking countries do that is the same or different to their world. I find activities based on festivals very motivational and the children quickly become engaged in the colourful, fun activities; so festivals are usually where I begin to introduce culture into the Pre-school and Primary classroom.

In my upcoming webinar we will look at bringing cultural awareness to young learners through festivals that are important to the everyday lives of children in English-speaking countries. In this very practical session we will investigate stories, songs, games and other mysterious things to enjoy with our Primary children.


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Approaches to culture with 21st Century teens

Ahead of his webinar on 28th and 30th May, Edmund Dudley looks at why it is important for our teenage students to learn about culture in their English lessons.

Millions of young people around the world are currently learning English, making it a truly international language. In addition, many teenagers regularly use English to communicate and interact with others online. This raises a number of questions about the cultural content of any English course for teenagers.

What do we mean by culture in the context of a language lesson?

Let’s begin by thinking about English-speaking countries. Take Britain as an example. When you think about British culture, what springs to mind? What examples could you give? Take a moment to think of three things.

So what did you say? Your answers reveal something about what you think culture is.

Perhaps you chose traditional rituals or ceremonies, such as the Changing of the Guard or carol singing in December; you might have gone for annual events, such as the FA Cup Final, the Notting Hill Festival or Hogmanay.

On the other hand, your examples of British culture might have been more linked to the day-to-day habits and behaviour of ordinary people: leaving the house with wet hair in the morning, queuing at bus stops, or buying ‘rounds’ in pubs.

All of these various aspects of culture are of potential interest to students. Day-to-day activities can be just as revealing as special occasions. If we want to get the full picture of life in English-speaking countries and communities, then thinking about how people eat soup can be just as interesting and revealing as learning about how people celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Whose culture are we talking about?

Given that English is used around the world, should we only be concentrating on the culture of English-speaking countries? Not exclusively. Any meaningful discussion of culture involves comparison and reflection. So, although in the lesson we might be looking at an aspect of life in Ireland, New Zealand, Canada or another English-speaking country, ultimately, however, students are being encouraged to think about themselves and their own culture. And besides, being able to describe aspects of life in your home country to others is a crucial part of sharing cultures and making friends when you are away from home or welcoming guests from abroad.

How can culture get students thinking – and talking?

Culture can be subjective. Think about words such as cold, sweet, crowded, angry, quiet, and dangerous: they are culturally loaded and so it is easy to disagree about what they mean. Take cold, for example. Two people from different countries might have very different views about whether a child playing on a playground swing on a spring afternoon should be wearing a coat or not.

Examples like this can be used as the basis for classroom discussions, role-plays, drama activities – even creative writing tasks. Does the child need a coat or not? Who is right? What does it depend on? And how can the situation best be resolved?

By looking at the situation as a cultural puzzle, we can challenge our students to try and interpret the situation from different cultural perspectives. Promoting empathy with others is not only a great way to promote tolerance and understanding, it also shines a new light on our own beliefs and assumptions. This is what makes dealing with cultural topics so interesting: we sometimes begin to see how the attitudes and values below the surface influence the way we see the world.

Is there now a global teen culture?

Young people are more connected today than ever before – even if they live on different continents. The internet is enabling today’s teenagers to create a shared global cultural identity. What do a teenager in South America and a teenager in Eastern Europe have in common? Well, for starters they are both probably comfortable using technology and also learning English at school. Then you have movies, computer games, apps, pop music and sport – all of which are probably shared tastes. The result is a new kind of international cultural identity: young, online and learning English.

Putting it into practice

In my upcoming webinar, I will be trying to find the connection between the topic of culture and rewarding learning experiences. In addition to addressing the questions raised in this article, I will be showing some practical classroom ideas for approaching the topic of culture with teenage students.

Culture is there to be exploited, and our students are the ones who can benefit. Hopefully, they will not only learn something about various parts of the world, but will also gain fresh insights into their own culture and new perspectives on who they are, what they value, and what they aspire to.

To find out more about teaching culture in English classes, register for Ed’s webinar on 28th or 30th May.

 


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Toffs and oiks: the language of social class

Union Jack flagJudith Willis, former Publishing Manager for bilingual dictionaries in ELT at Oxford University Press, looks at the language of social class.

A recent survey conducted by the BBC revealed a new class structure in the UK consisting of seven social classes. The top class is termed the elite and the bottom one, the precariat, or precarious proletariat. Leaving aside any political or sociological consequences, we will almost certainly be hearing a lot more of the word precariat, until now a rarity in everyday English.

Le précariat was first used by French sociologists in the 1980s to describe temporary or seasonal workers, and has since been used in other languages including Italian (precariato), German (Prekariat), Spanish (precariado) and even Japanese (purekariāto). Its meaning has evolved into that of a social class – or underclass – as formulated by the sociology professor Loïc Wacquant and the British sociologist Guy Standing in his 2011 book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class.

At the top of the new structure we find another word of French origin, elite, which has been used in English since the early 19th century to mean a group of powerful, influential people. English may be the language of a famously class-conscious people and have given the word ‘snob’ to the world but it relies heavily on imports for the vocabulary of class.

Social class has been defined in different ways over the years. Back in classical times, there were patricians and plebeians. In our agricultural past, class was determined by a person’s family and their links to the land – the nobility or aristocracy, the gentry, including the squirearchy, the yeomanry and the peasantry. With the coming of 19th century industrialization, the focus shifted to the individual’s relation to the means of production and the bourgeoisie and the proletariat were the two conflicting classes in Marxist theory. ‘Bourgeoisie’ and ‘petite bourgeoisie were also used in non-political contexts to refer to the growing middle classes. Recent times have tended to speak mainly of ‘the middle class’ and ‘the working class’, with the middle class often divided into upper and lower middle class. The terms ‘upper class’ and ‘lower class’ are less frequent in serious discussion of class.

By studying corpus statistics we can see how adjectives ending in ‘-class’ are actually used and gain a better picture of our perception of class. ‘Working-class’ is typically followed by the nouns ‘struggle(s)’, ‘movement’ and ‘exploitation’. ‘Middle-class’ collocates with ‘suburb’, ‘families’ and ’respectability’; ‘upper-middle-class’ with ‘suburbanites’, ‘enclave’ and ‘accents’, and ‘lower-middle-class’ with ’background(s)’, ’ insecurity’ and ’origins’. ‘Lower-class’ is used of ‘delinquents’, ‘accent’ and ‘subculture’, whereas ‘upper-class’ is used largely in insults, followed by words such as ‘twit(s)’, ‘toffs’ and ‘snobs’.

Social class has become more fluid: in the 19th and early 20th centuries the English language adopted the French forms arriviste, parvenu and nouveau riche to speak in a disapproving way of people who, in the latter half of the 20th century, would be spoken of approvingly as upwardly mobile and aspirational. If someone is described as being of lowly or humble origins, they have usually made it up the social ladder!

More informal words describing individuals are nearly always used as insults, giving us a polarized view of a posh bunch of la-di-da, toffee-nosed upper-class twits, Hooray Henrys, chinless wonders and toffs with plummy accents at one end of the spectrum, and at the other a common bunch of chavs, oiks and plebs.

In 1990, the incoming British Prime Minister, John Major (who rose to the highest office from working-class origins!) vowed to create a ‘classless society’. It seems Britain still has some way to go.


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“Thank you, thank you so much” – the language of acceptance speeches

Celebrity red carpet interviewJudith Willis, former Publishing Manager for bilingual dictionaries in ELT at Oxford University Press, looks at common themes in the language of acceptance speeches.

If you’ve ever had a nightmare about standing tongue-tied on stage grappling for words, you may find it instructive – and consoling – to study what the winners of major film awards say when they pick up the accolade. Analysis of recent acceptance speeches reveals the key features of the genre.

The stars are urged to keep their speeches brief – the average length is just 187 words and on the whole they’re getting shorter. As the main purpose is to express gratitude, the word thank is unsurprisingly the runaway winner occurring on average nearly 6 times per speech, with Thank you, thank you so much a common phrase:

Thank you, thank you so much.  […] Thank you so much, the Academy, what an honor.

This quote illustrates the popular rhetorical device of repeating words to emphasize the message. Some speakers, maybe aware of over-reliance on a single word, display a touch of irony:

There are  […] thousands of people to thank, so thankfully I’m not going to thank them now.

Unfortunately, award-winners don’t consult a thesaurus – occurrences of gratitude and grateful are fairly sparse, but there are a few instances of shout-out as in:

A big shout-out to Monty Norman and the late John Barry for that iconic theme.

The object of these outpourings are the awarding body, the fellow nominees (a term used predominantly by American English speakers, echoing the presidential my fellow Americans/citizens), the director – sometimes spoken of in nautical terms as our beloved skipper or our visionary captain, the cast, crew and team, and, of course, the speaker’s entire family. All of the above are frequently assured of the speaker’s love, especially at the Oscars:

And to our kids  […]. I love you guys.

Along with the thanks often comes surprise – favourite exclamations are wow, oh my, etc:

Oh my, oh my God. Oh wow really, […] truly wow. / Oh boy. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this.

The top adjectives used to describe the honour, emotions, etc. are, in order of frequency: wonderful, incredible, amazing, brilliant, extraordinary and fantastic, sometimes preceded by the intensifiers really, absolutely and truly.

Film or movie? This clearly depends in part on who the individual award-winners are: the BAFTAs show a strong and consistent preference for film over movie, but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the Oscars are undergoing a shift from film to movie with movie staying ahead of film at the 2013 ceremony, continuing a trend that started in 2012.

Speeches may be structured with the use of phrases such as first of all, first and foremost, matched by last but not least or finally:

And then finally, finally – okay, I am really getting there – finally, finally,…

To use a favourite end-of-speech phrasal verb, let’s wrap up this post with some interesting language from Quentin Tarantino’s acceptance speech at the 2013 BAFTAs:

I want to thank my actors for doing a bang-up job with my dialogue […] this was a pretty hot potato script  […]

… for them to actually do it, pony up a lot of money to do it, and do it the right way…

… and the more telegraphic style of the conclusion to his 2013 Oscar speech:

You guys are all wonderful. Peace out.

Data for this blog is drawn from BAFTA winners’ acceptance speeches from 2011-2013 and Academy Awards® winners’ onstage speeches from 2010-2013.

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The Language Legacy of the Olympics

2012 Olympic Stadium

Image courtesy of Nick J Webb on Flickr

In this article, Margaret Deuter, a managing editor, and Leonie Hey, an assistant editor in the ELT dictionaries department at Oxford University Press, look at some of the language that came out of the Summer 2012 Olympic Games in London.

As memories of the 2012 Summer Olympic and the Paralympic Games fade, interest shifts to the legacy of the Games. Work has begun on the Olympic Park. Some of the buildings are being dismantled and taken to Rio. Others will be transformed for other uses. The poetry displayed around the Olympic site and read by thousands of spectators last summer will stay. But what about the words that were not carved in stone? The words that were on the lips of commentators and spectators – will their legacy include a permanent place in the English language?

Like true athletes, words are versatile, and during the Summer Olympics they were changing discipline all over the place. Competitors no longer ‘won a medal’, but ‘medalled’ – Michael Phelps even became the ‘most medalled Olympian’! To receive their medal, they used to stand on a podium – now they can ‘podium’. Neither of these verbs first appeared at these Games (‘to medal’ has been around since 1822) but the boost they received may mean that they will be around for longer.

And what a godsend for teachers dealing with comparison of adjectives the Games with their ‘faster, higher, stronger’ motto is. Reporters claimed they were running out of superlatives and reaching feverishly for the dictionary…

‘Medal munching’ was a new name for something that winning athletes have probably done for some time – biting into the gold for the cameras – or was it just another opportunity to show off that patriotic “nail art”?  Talking of nails, how many of those athletes were ‘nailed-on winners’? Of course they ‘nailed it’ – they won – but beforehand, pundits knew which candidates were guaranteed to succeed. This expression is a nailed-on certainty – it’s already used in a variety of contexts, including many sporting ones (‘a nailed-on penalty decision’) but also going beyond the world of sport: ‘A merger and acquisition boom looks nailed on.’ ‘It’s a nailed-on recipe for disaster!

Words not only morph into new parts of speech, they associate with new companions. Flag-bearers and torch-bearers always make appearances at the Olympics. A new compound was created for London in the shape of Games Makers. Although volunteers had helped at the Games when they last came to London in 1948, this year they were christened  ‘Games Makers’ in recognition of the way they helped ‘make the Games happen’. They were featured on a commemorative stamp after the Games, but their name might not be immortalized in the language. I doubt whether that’s a compound that will make its way into the dictionary.

New venues, too, will generate new terms. Perhaps in 2016 we’ll all be adding sporting words of Portuguese origin to our vocabulary.

The sporting legacy of the Olympics may be less spectacular than the politicians and sports organizers hoped – too many of us preferred to sit back and watch others achieve sporting greatness to doing anything more athletic than reaching for the remote control. But a little corner of the English language will have been shaped by the excited crowds and commentators of London 2012.

Margaret Deuter is a managing editor in the ELT dictionaries department at Oxford University Press.  She taught English in Germany and the United States before becoming a lexicographer in 1991 to work on monolingual and bilingual learners’ dictionaries.

Leonie Hey  taught English in Sardinia and worked as a language teacher in the UK before joining OUP in 2011 to work on monolingual and bilingual learners’ dictionaries.

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