Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Perfect Piece

No, don't.
I thing it’s you can easy know, if the sentence who you are reading it was write from a berson who it’s have English for him ferest langauge, or it’s write from other one people who it’s not English him ferest langauge. Isn’t it? One point must further consider, even English sentence it looks so clear, it is not so train-wreck as previous, and you are easy to understand, it is possible to know the writer if his provenance is Anglophone one or not. I think you can have knowledge feeling. 

Yes, we’ve been marking essays again. Look, mes agneaux, this is your first attempt at putting together an essay using a number of academic sources, quoting them, paraphrasing them and referencing them. It might be only 800 words in length, but we understand that most of you find typing it as laborious as chiselling it onto a marble slab. We do not expect perfection, or anything approaching perfection: indeed we get a bit fed up when perfection is handed to us and the writer claims it as his own unaided work.

Mansoor sent me a draft of his essay on Thursday last for my final comments. The language level was pretty much that of the first sentence of my opening paragraph, but Mansoor is a dedicated and hard working lad who had really got to grips with the source texts, done some independent research, and produced a piece of work that was well organised and informative. The language was eccentric and erratic, but this is relatively early days, and that can be fixed. I e-mailed the piece back to him with a few small suggestions. Three days later I received the essay through the centre’s website. It was flawless: perfect grammar, perfect spelling and punctuation, not a single clod-hopping collocation, sentences flowing effortlessly from theme to rheme, and such a dependency of thing on thing as e’er I heard in draft. Obviously a native speaker had gone over the earlier version and given it a damn good buffing up.

When questioned, Mansoor produced a stack of drafts with my notes and corrections on them, and said he had followed my guidelines to the letter, and this explained the nonpareil before us. Well yes, a friend had cast an eye over it, just a bit. Now, as I said, Mansoor is a thoroughly dedicated student, and a touchingly earnest and grateful boy with it. I don’t believe he had any intent to deceive: in fact, I’ve decided he got his friend to check over the essay because he didn’t want to disappoint me after I’d given him so much feedback and advice. I think he sees the essay as a kind of present to me. It’s my fault for (once again) taking it for granted that all the students have understood that in our lessons, we focus on process, not product, and that getting somebody to edit your essay deprives you of a learning opportunity. I’m going to have to hammer this more in future.

*****

A pox of paraphrasing: would it had never been invented. It’s the bane of an EAP student’s life around this time of year. I imagine myself faced with the task of paraphrasing Greek academic texts in order to produce an essay in Greek. I wouldn’t fancy it, and I’m very glad I’ll probably never have to. I found some arresting instances of the paraphraser’s art in Khulud’s essay. She has got the idea that paraphrasing your sources involves changing the words, but imagines that this is achieved simply by ransacking the dictionary: I wonder if Smith would recognise himself here:  

'ERG theory is capable to proffer model foe needs likewise to Maslow for definition pyramidal concatenation individual categorical in lieu of immobile (Smith, 2001)'

There's more in the same vein:

‘However, there are numerous theories and makes that help as replace tittles to the description of motivation.’ 

I might have got this arse-backwards, but I take this to mean that there are numerous examples of motivating forces. I checked one of her online sources, where the writer gives as an illustration of extrinsic motivation the parental bribe ‘I’ll give you a candy bar if you clean up your room’. Instead of simply quoting this directly, Khulud chose to paraphrase it, and came up with:

‘I will stretch you a chocolate piece if you spotless your area.’ 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Rant and a Recipe

It’s an uncertain business these days, English Language Teaching: famine or feast. Allowing for the fact that there’s many a slip, etc., for this year at least I’m in the chips until the end of November. I can’t look any further than that, though. Such regular readers as remain to me may remember that a couple of years ago our department fought off an attempt by the management slime-bags to sell us off to a kind of educational Macdonald’s. Well, it seems they’re at it again. At least they won’t issue a straight denial, which is as good as saying they’re still plotting. Maybe someone who knows more about economics and education and integrity than I do can explain this? We have the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners), a small department that is staffed by well-qualified people, is fairly busy most of the year and bursting at the seams from June to mid-September. It receives glowing feedback from the punters, and relative to its size, is the most profitable department in the university. Would you not expect such a department to be designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, and that any attempt to despoil it be decisively repulsed? Why do they want to flog it off? Well, they can replace us with younger, slimmer, prettier people who have just rolled off the CELTA production line, and staff with a fraction of our collective qualification and experience can be paid less than half what they pay us. Sod the long-term consequences, so long as certain fat cats get fatter. Once their desiccated hearts and fatty livers have packed up, what will they care about the state of education in this country?

Photo Well of Health
Anyway, I was going to share a recipe before you got me started. I decided famine rather than feast will be the leitmotif of my remaining days in this world, and I’d better start spending less on food. The other day I made a salade Niçoise: lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, tuna, anchovies, olives, capers, basil – no arguments about ‘authenticity’, please, I just used what I had in. I also added a couple of soft-boiled eggs. I have tended to limit severely my intake of eggs over the last few years for fear of their cholesterol content, but now they appear to have been reinstated, and man, what is more comforting than warm, runny egg-yolk mingling with the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, lettuce and capers in your salad? Or bursting over crisp toast at breakfast? I looked up egg recipes in my large (and largely ignored) collection of cook books, found ‘fisherman’s eggs’ in The Silver Spoon, the Italian cookery Bible which I bought yonks ago and have never used. I cooked this a few evenings ago, adapting it to what I had in the cupboard and omitting the butter that blights the original. As I’ve said before, the allure of butter is lost on me, but by all means include the loathsome stuff if its vomit-and-sebum aroma appeals. Don't let me put you off.

Right, for the ‘fisherman’ bit, you need a couple of cans of sardines in oil. For the rest, get a fistful of chopped parsley, a smashed clove of garlic, two or three eggs and, optionally, a few capers and a splash of virulent chilli sauce. I say optionally as these are my additions to The Silver Spoon's original recipe. Heat the oven to very hot, and warm up a small oven dish. When it is warmed through, throw in your sardines, drained of oil. Pepper them extravagantly, add the garlic, and bung them in the oven for five minutes or so. When they are warm, scatter over them the parsley and capers, then add the eggs, taking care not to burst the yolks. Return the dish to the oven for seven minutes or so, until the whites of the eggs are set but the yolks are still smooth. Add the teensiest slatherette of chilli sauce. (Or the whole bottle, if you want - who am I to dictate?) I ate this with wholemeal toast rubbed with garlic, and a green salad. It was at once smooth and crisp, bland and salty, punchy and comforting, and probably cost about one pound fifty.

The original recipe tells you to remove the bones from the sardines, but I’ve never felt that necessary with the small, tinned variety at least - and anyway, how bloody fiddly would that be? Not as fiddly as that seventies Anton Mossiman recipe that called for the hollowing out of small, artfully corrugated courgettes, that they might be stuffed with pureed carrot, steamed, then sliced into decorative 'cog wheels', but too pernickety for me these days. I’ve been using Tesco more lately, as Marks and Sparks and Waitrose are getting absurdly overpriced. People in Tesco are more likely to talk to you in the queue, I’ve found. ‘They reckon you shouldn’t eat ready meals,’ an old woman in front of me said recently. ‘I can’t see what’s wrong wi em. Forty year cooking for two, now I’m on me own, I can’t be bloody arsed.’ Maybe I’ll be like that soon.    

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Now You're Cheating

I spent what must have amounted to several months of my fifteen-year stint in Greece trouncing badly-designed practice tasks in home-grown English language teaching material. Here’s one I’d regularly denounce in teacher training seminars:

Complete the sentence with the correct form of the verb:

Look! Mary ……… out the candles!

a)      is blowing
b)      has blown
c)      blew
d)      will blow
e)      is going to blow

We do not know – nor is it of any great consequence to us – who Mary is, where she is, or when the action is taking place. We don’t know who is drawing our attention to the fact that there’s a connection between Mary and the extinguishing, at some point in spacio-temporal continuum, of some sodding candles. Is it a doting Granny at a little girl’s birthday party? A dispute over who gets to close a Satanist ritual? Unless we know and give a stuff, all five options are a possibility. Context, I’d say evangelically, is all. No context, no meaning.   

This evening I got a text from a colleague telling me to start on page 9 of the course book tomorrow. This has practice of the distinction between simple and continuous forms in English, and our supposedly up-to-the-minute coursebook gives us this to do:     

Five of the following sentences are wrong. In pairs, identify which they are, and discuss why they are wrong.

1.      You’re absolutely right! I am agreeing with you.
2.      I was writing a letter to my mum on the train, but I didn’t have time to finish it.
3.      She’s working as an au pair until she goes to university.
4.      We stay with our parents until the work on our house is done
5.      My grandfather is knowing how to text.
6.      Look. He talks to the linguistics professor.
7.      Peter is studying telecommunications at the moment
8.      These days mobile phones get smaller.

Cotton D., et al (2008) Language Leader Upper Intermediate Harlow: Longman. 

You are supposed to go for numbers 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8. However, I reckon only number 5 stands out as obviously not 'natural'.Even the grammar checker on my laptop doesn't like it, because ‘know’ is a stative verb, and stative verbs are not used in continuous forms, except when they are. (‘Yah, it’s rarely good on you – and I’m liking the mandarin collar.’) Of course there are stative and non-stative uses of verbs rather than verbs that fall decisively into one or the other category, but I can’t, off hand, think of an instance of ‘know’ used in a continuous form, can you? Anyway, all the other ‘wrong’ forms seem perfectly OK to me, potentially:

1.      You’re absolutely right! I am agreeing with you, right, so chill, dude, yeah? (Use of the full form of the auxiliary here might itself suggest that interpretation.)

2.      We stay with our parents until the work on our house is done. It’s always such a pain. Where do you stay when you have the builders in, now your mum’s dead?

3.      My grandfather is knowing how to text. (‘Wrong’- or at least it tastes a bit off. However, see Scott Thornbury's comment below.)

4.      Look. He talks to the linguistics professor. Honestly he does. He talks to him after every lecture, but he never gets any sense out of the bugger, OK?

5.      These days mobile phones get smaller, computers get more sophisticated, consumer choice increases, yet how many of us, brothers and sisters, are truly happy?

In a university in England in 2013, are students to be presented with perfectly formed English sentences and required to judge them wrong? Well, not in my class they aren’t. I just hope everybody else is skipping this bit that got past the editors – or maybe even got put in by them. I know from painful experience that not everything you write for your book actually gets into it. Editors have egos too. 

Back in Greece, I gave a group of new teachers a few sentences to judge correct or incorrect. This they did quickly and decisively. Then by placing the sentences into various contexts, we proved them all ‘correct’. One woman was not happy. ‘No, no,’ she said, ‘now you’re cheating.’  

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