Thursday, 17 December 2015

Beethoven's Birthday Doodle from Google 17/12/2015

December 17th - Beethoven's birthday. Google's landing page for their search page featured a brilliant Doodle today. A search afterwards will probably bring it up to play again. It consists of putting together some of the composer's greatest openings. Fur Elise, the 5th etc.
Great fun, more please Google.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Getting up to band 7 or more at IELTS - 1 of 4 - Listening

Here's something I've been working on recently. A set of hints and tips for each of the four skills included in the IELTS test. The first skill is listening.

Overview The listening component of the IELTS test is divided into four sections. The time allowed is roughly 30 minutes, followed by 10 minutes to transfer your answers to a machine readable sheet. It is worth knowing that questions and answers follow the same order as the listening. You will only hear the recording ONCE.

Questions may be any of the following formats. Multiple choice, matching, labelling a plan, map or diagram, completing forms, notes, tables of information, flow charts, and summaries. Other question types include sentence completion, where you are allowed only a certain number of words and/or a number. Always read the ‘rules’ of the question carefully sometimes the number of words varies. It can be one, two, three or four words, though usually it is three. The speakers can be from any of the countries which use English as a major official language, this includes The UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. All the speakers talk clearly and do not have strong accents, however, it would be a good idea to make yourself familiar with a variety of accents. You can practise listening by watching or listening to the BBC or CNN news. Movies are not normally as good as the language tends to be less formal, but some are useful to practise listening skills. From time to time throughout the recording you will hear phrases like “You now have 30 seconds to check your answers.” It is probably better use of the time to read the questions more thoroughly and try and predict what type of word the answer will require.

  Part 1 This section, along with part 2, deals with every day or social situations. There will be two speakers in part 1, there will be a conversation, perhaps about arranging a party or similar. It will be fairly basic and not too fast, a good place to get easy marks. Always remember that the questions are asked in the same order as you hear the conversation. If you hear the answer to a later question, move on, you have missed the information.

  Part 2 There is only one speaker in this part. The person will give information connected to an everyday or social occasion. This could be a short talk about a subject like facilities at a library, or on how to buy a monthly rail ticket. This part is also fairly easy as you do not have to distinguish multiple speakers. If you lose the flow of the conversation you should look ahead in the questions to find a question you can listen for the answer to. Sometimes you will need to do some simple maths to properly answer a question. For example, you might hear: “About 1,000,000 cars are stolen annually in the UK. Only about 25% of these vehicles are ever re-united with their owners.” The question might ask: How many cars are returned to their owners each year after being stolen in the UK?” _____________ If you wrote 25% that would be marked as incorrect, the right response is 250,000. The question asks for a number not a percentage.

  Part 3 This part is set against an academic or training background and is between multiple speakers. Usually something like two students guided by a tutor or supervisor. It can be quite difficult to recognise who is speaking if all the speakers are male or all female. Sometimes the question asks you to say who agrees with a particular suggestion or similar. If you are having problems deciding who is speaking listen for clues at the handover times. This is when one speaker is passing the turn to speak to another. You will hear phrases like. “What do you think John?” Obviously, John will speak next. Or, “I don’t know what it’s like; Mary’s been there, tell us what you thought Mary?” Again, the next voice should be Mary. Sometimes the clue is in the next speaker’s first phrase. For example, a new speaker might thank or otherwise acknowledge the person who has just finished talking. “Oh, that’s useful Peter, good to know, thank you.” In this case the previous speaker’s name was Peter. The conversations tend to be orderly and polite so are not very difficult to keep track of. As spoken English is much less formal than written English you may hear contractions, such as “I’ll be there, but Bob won’t be able to get there on time.” Make sure you are familiar with the sounds of these common contractions.

  Part 4 The final section is, by far, the longest listening and is usually a university lecturer or other formal speaker talking about an academic subject. It is important to remember that, even if you know the topic very well, you should not bring in any outside information to inform your answer. Base your answer only on the material you hear. Prediction is a very useful skill for this section, look at gaps and choices and think about what class of word is needed from a grammatical and logical point of view. As an example look at the following summary which needs to be completed from a listening. Predict what type of information needs to be given. You can see that question 1 requires a number, question 2 needs a place name, most likely in Europe. Number 3 would be a number. The final question requires a noun or noun phrase.

  Tips and advice From time to time a speaker ‘changes’ information you have been given. You may be listening for the nationality of someone who has been mentioned and the speaker says “She’s from America.” Just as you are writing down “the USA” or “American”, the speaker realises he has made a mistake and corrects himself. “Oh! I’m wrong, she’s actually from Canada.” As the answers are written on a machine readable form be especially sure you are writing the answers next to the appropriate box number. Be VERY careful when doing this as the machine will only mark what you write in a certain box, it cannot notice that you have missed a line. Therefore, if you make a mistake in the first few lines then everything after that line will be incorrect.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Is this the Cutest dog you've ever seen?

Now, I'm not a dog person, but this little fellow, whose name is Bruno, could change my mind. I was teaching people to become TEFL teachers this weekend and one of my students, who lives in Filey on the Yorkshire coast, mentioned that his family breed dogs. I looked at their website because I had not heard of the breed before. They are Prague Ratters, or Prazsky Krysarik. 
My youngest daughter loves dogs and I casually asked how much a cutie like this would cost. The answer means that my daughter will be disappointed as they cost a minimum of £1000.00. So, a cat or a rabbit it is then until we win the lottery!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Sakura in York

A friend wrote a Haiku on her FaceBook wall after seeing the Sakura in Toronto. It inspired me to write one of my own.

Spring blossom petals

In profligate abundance

Earthwards drift as pastel snow

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

York to Cork and back again

It began one Friday afternoon. I was just thinking about my schedule for the following week, which I needed to send out to some online students in order for them to book some slots with me the following week, when the phone rang. It was the company I do TEFL teacher training for. I usually teach once a month for 20 hours in Hull, East Yorkshire. This month I’d been lucky and had spent the previous weekend delivering the course in Liverpool. This was because the teacher for Norwich was ill and it was easier for the Liverpool teacher to cover Norwich and for me to teach in Liverpool. Now I was asked if I would like to teach in Cork, Southern Ireland.

It has been more than thirty years since I was last in Ireland. That visit was pretty swift too. I was competing in the Circuit of Ireland International Rally. Cork was the venue for a service halt in the middle of the night before moving on to Killarney the next day. It being so long since I’d last been there that I jumped at the chance.

The problem was which UK airport to travel from. It was Friday afternoon and the last weekend before St. Patrick’s Day was about to begin. Flights were fairly full and the few seats available were being offered at an extortionate price. We eventually settled on a flight from Manchester as being both doable in terms of timing and price. Still, it was a hefty £386.00 return. A few months earlier I had taken all four people in my family all the way to Switzerland and back for a hundred pounds less.

Logistically I had to stay three nights in Cork. The high cost of the flight was negated somewhat by the really rather reasonable price for the hotel. As I indicated earlier, the previous weekend I’d stayed in a hotel in Liverpool for one night. This had cost an eye-watering 169 pounds. Curiously, for the Cork hotel was operated by the same chain and the rooms were perfect clones of each other, the Irish hotel cost only 210 Euros for the entire three night stay. I’m sure there must be some sort of Adam Smith-inspired economic algorithm to explain these flight and hotel cost differentials, but it escapes me.

My group of aspiring TEFL teachers were the usual mixed bag of young and old, native speaker and non-native English speakers. They all had hopes and dreams of TEFL somehow taking them from whatever they were doing to somewhere a little more exotic or a little more affordable or just a tad different. I was there to equip them with the confidence and the basis of a teacher’s toolkit to enable them to make the leap towards their individual goals. I regaled them with stories of travel and memorable lessons intertwined with nuggets of good practice and ready-made lesson plans. I watched them make their first leap into teaching with micro teaching sessions directed at their new found peers.

All that took us to Sunday evening. Be mindful that St. Patricks Day is now bearing down on Ireland and most people will take the Monday off so as to have at least a four day holiday stretching from Friday evening to Wednesday, or perhaps Thursday morning. My peace and quiet was well and truly shattered by a drunken banshee of a woman complaining to all who would listen that her “feckin key card” would not open the “feckin door”. I was glad of that. It was my door and three-thirty in the morning. I slept fitfully until breakfast and wandered down to eat after speaking to my wife via Skype.

The night before (Sunday) I’d eaten in a very curiously decorated converted market in the centre of Cork. They had chandeliers reputedly of an identical design to those in the White House. I cannot attest to the veracity of that claim, but they looked impressive anyway. The food was the highpoint for me though. I chose bangers and mash as this was on the specials board.  The sausages were sourced from the nearby English Market and were delightfully seasoned. The mash was of just the right consistency and tasted so much better than the dreary varieties of potato we can get in England. The Irish certainly do know their spuds, these were great. Surrounding the mash was a moat of gravy with soft onion and herbs, deep meaty flavour and a superb compliment to the sausages. 

The following day I returned for lunch as my teaching course was over and I had some hours to fill before my flight. This time I chose the gourmet burger with chunky chips. Once more the superior tasting Irish spuds worked their magic. The burger was indeed a gourmet offering and the depth of flavour in the beef, bacon and cheese (all Irish of course) was nothing short of miraculous. I enjoyed both dishes immensely and would love this restaurant to be a little nearer York where I live. York and Cork; only one letter different, but a world away in both value and flavour.

A comment or two on the beers is warranted too. I selected the Midaza stout with both meals. This is an amazing traditional Cork-style stout and well worth seeking out when in Cork. It is a real gem, dark and malty with hints of dark chocolate. Apparently the word means fantastic and so I'll use it for both meals at the Bodega. "Me dinner and me lunch were both midaza, thanks very much".

The full name of this place is the ‘Bodega at St. Peter’s Market’. I can certainly recommend that you enjoy at least one meal here when in Cork.

Monday afternoon darkened towards evening and it was time to get to the airport. I had travelled into Cork by taxi on Friday night but thought the twenty euros charged a bit expensive for the relatively short distance. As the bus station was almost next door to the hotel I had bought a ticket earlier in the day. The journey was comfortable, safe (which I had not felt in the taxi) and not a lot slower than the car. However, I needn't have rushed to the airport, my Aer Lingus flight was delayed by one and a half hours.

Once on board I was further disenchanted with Aer Lingus to discover that there was no fresh food on the aircraft. I was reduced to eating crisps and snacks. Doubly disappointing as I had been looking forward to a chicken and stuffing sandwich at least. I’d also begun to lust after a scone and jam with coffee too. I’d remembered them from the outward flight. This may have been because this was the last flight out of Cork on the night before St. Patrick’s Day. No wonder there were only a few passengers on the plane.

On landing in Manchester I still had a couple of hours on a train before reaching home. I began to write this account of my long weekend. As you can imagine I slept well that night and awoke to St. Patrick’s Day in England. I was peeved to hear that there had been a spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights in Ireland, appropriately in bright green, that night. York on the other hand had a fine display of tupperware-shaded clouds.

I hope it's not as long before I visit Ireland again. I'm working up enthusiasm with the family for a trip later this year. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Taking the pain out of referencing in academic writing

I must have written several dozen pieces of academic writing. These range from proposals to conference papers via essays and reports. Not to mention a 15,000 word dissertation.
All of them had one thing in common which I hated because of the time it took to do correctly. That was REFERENCING!!!

They are really tedious to do: and when you are citing lots of sources it is quite stressful too.
Help is at hand. Below is a link to a slideshare presentation that should make things easier. It goes through how to set up and use the referencing tab within Microsoft Word. This really does save you time. Different formats of citations are handled with the flick of a toggle. It handles in text and bibliography citations easily.
A big thank you to the author, Mike Glennon, for this really useful resource.

In praise of Non-Native English Speaking Teachers

I have said for some years now that NNESTs (non native English speaker teachers) are in many ways more suited to teaching English as a foreign language or English as a Lingua Franca than native speakers. NSTs (native speaker teachers) are sometimes burdened with 'too much' English. By that I mean, idioms, exaggerated elision and contraction, question tags, metaphor and all manner of needless extras. None of this is needed in the quickly increasing outer circle users ELF toolkit.

NNESTs are also in a position to empathise with, and perhaps teach better strategies to, others going through the same difficulties as they may have encountered.

So, there is my contribution towards the empowerment of the thousands of great teachers who were not 'lucky' enough to be born under one of a few select flags.

It will come as no surprise to many of you to hear that the highest performing nationality in the TKT test sample from the Cambridge handbook which I have used with close to 200 trainee teachers are not British, American or Australian teachers, but Romanians. Native speakers don't know enough grammar or IPA to perform well in it.   

Wednesday, 7 January 2015