Archive for the ‘Language teaching and learning’ Category

Cartoon diagramming

September 16, 2012

From Craig Campbell to Barbara Need on Facebook, this Mother Goose and Grimm of 4/22/02:

Sentence diagramming (in particular, a Reed-Kellogg diagram) in the comics.


Dora Johnson

July 20, 2012

News from the Center for Applied Linguistics yesterday:

CAL is saddened by the passing of our cherished colleague and friend, Dora Johnson, on June 26, 2012. Dora joined CAL in 1964 and was at the heart of many of our activities for 45 years. She will be profoundly missed by all whose lives she touched.

Dora was, I think, the only CAL staff member who lasted all through my years of association with the Center (including service on the Board of Trustees and involvement in several CAL projects). She was smart, energetic, funny, and motherly, and I always looked forward to spending time with her on my visits to the Center. She had a wonderful life history; from the Center on her retirement:


The education report

July 15, 2012

Recently, a California Report on KQED noted (with alarm) the impending closure of almost all adult education in the Oakland school district. From the Oakland Local (“Edward Shands School to Close, Adult Education Faces Severe Cutbacks in Oakland” by Pamela Drake on the 3rd):

Thursday night may have been the last graduation the Edward Shands Adult School puts on. After 139 years of free basic adult education and ever-expanding offerings, including its high school diploma program, Oakland Unified School District has decided to close almost the entire adult school department.

All that may be left would be skeletal literacy training for ESL students whose kids attend the school where they study. Some GED programs would be saved, but the complex in East Oakland named after Oakland’s beloved adult education leader, Edward Shands, will be shuttered.

Shands has offered ESL programs, nursing assistance training classes, morning and evening GED classes, and the high school subject program in which students may take regular high school classes and receive diplomas in front of their friends and family. It is located next to the Eastmont Center and is convenient to the majority of students who live in Fruitvale, Central East Oakland and Deep East .

I’m especially concerned about the ESL and GED programs, which are offerings with obvious significant public good. How will immigrants learn English, and how will dropouts get a second chance at a high school education?

How did we get to this?


Language instruction fun

February 28, 2012

In my “Language shards” posting, I looked at some entertaining examples from language teaching materials — entertaining because of the absurdity (“Just you dare, zebra!”) or poetry (“The wind has come, bearing with it the scent of amber”) in them. This is a rich vein of material.


Romance languages

January 17, 2012

Today’s Zits:

Hey, one Romance language is much like another, right?

Things she did

January 16, 2012

(Only a little about language. Another installment in reminiscences about Ann Daingerfield Zwicky, for her grand-daughter Opal.)

Six things that Ann did in her life: horseback riding, acting, cooking, writing, teaching, learning languages.


A Step Back For Learning Languages

June 5, 2011

Words of one syllable department.

“A Step Back For Learning Languages” is the headline on Jim Dwyer’s “About New York” column in the NYT (on-line May 31, in hard copy June 1). Dwyer reports that

Next week, students across the state will take Regents exams in foreign languages for the last time, as the state is dropping its tests in Spanish, French and Italian.

This will save $700,000 a year, or to put it another way, roughly the cost of policing a homestand at one of the baseball stadiums.

Do not be confused, dear citizens and students: the state still believes that it is important to learn foreign languages and culture before graduation.

Just not $700,000 important.

“With these exams, we actually tested our students’ skills at navigating through conversations,” said John Carlino, who teaches high school German, which was eliminated last year from the Regents testing scheme, along with Hebrew and Latin.

At a time when it seems as if new tests are being devised every week, it is almost quaint to see the state dropping one series of them. Students will still need foreign language for the advanced Regents diploma, but it will be up to each school district to figure out how to rate their proficiency.

“If they don’t have the money to print the exams, will the state have the money to check on what the districts are testing?” asked Mr. Carlino, who is also the executive director of the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers.

To pass the current Regents exams, students have to show that they can carry on a conversation, grasp what they are being told and also make themselves understood. They also have to show that they understand the cultures of the places where the languages are spoken. It is not just a matter of filling in the circles on a multiple-choice test.

We don’t need foreign languages. We have English.

Making sentences interesting

May 7, 2009

Over on Language Log, I’ve posted about a grade-school workbook exercise on writing “interesting” sentences. The instructions were minimal:

A good sentence should be interesting.

“I have a dog” is not a good sentence with which to begin a story.  If you are writing a story about your dog that was lost, it would be better to begin the story, “Last week my dog Shep ran away from home.”

Can you change the following sentences into interesting sentences?

On the basis of that, the kids were unleashed on six other sentences, like “I have a bicycle”.

Now, this is a workbook about how to write, so the suggestion is that the problem with the sentences is their form. I looked at two ways in which an English teacher might view such sentences as defective: they “lack vitality” because of their syntax; and they are information-poor (ultimately, a criticism about discourse organization). But of course the sentences (considered with no other context — this is important) are uninteresting because of their content, which is not only minimal but also scarcely gripping. If a stranger came up to me on the street and announced “I have a bicycle”, I’d be worried. (If the stranger was a young child, I wouldn’t be worried at all; kids often confide information that’s important to them. Context, context, context.)