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​How to watch a  film or read a book

June 27, 2017

The other day I was asked by my students how they might better learn relevant vocabulary. We had already established what was relevant for them to learn through building their language map. As an aside, a language map lists who someone interacts with, what that situation for the interaction is, and then matches phrases and vocabulary items.

One of the points which came up was reading their favourite book or watching their favourite film in English. So, as a learner, how do you watch a film or read a book?

Here is the method I proposed to make their reading and watching more learner-friendly, or pedagogically sound, if you will.

1. Choose a book or a film which you already know and love. This ensures that you will not be impeded by the story, as well as guaranteeing engagement.

2. Watch it or read it all the way through without stopping. Mark critical passages or places which may be of more detailed interest to you as you go along: an argument, a description of a house, how the characters ordered the food, anything which may have relevance to your English speaking world.

3. Reread the key passages you have noted and see where the key language fits into your language map.

4. Reread or rewatch the whole book or film with a greater understanding.

5. Apply your new pieces of language at the very next opportunity.

That is how I would read a book or watch a film to improve my language skills.

My coaching efforts

June 21, 2017

Working amongst difficult people can be awful. Recently a student approached me for help with getting over this ordeal and preparing for their next difficult assignment. Here is what I did and what I would do defiantly next time.
There were five face-to-face sessions, each with homework activities to reinforce the learning. The five sessions’ content was

Session 1 statement of purpose and ideal outcome

Session 2 Setting and communicating expectations

Session 3 Identify red flags, draw the line, and use the partnership evaluation grid

Session 4 Rust, values, my red flags, being reliable and consistent

Session 5 How to call people out, an expectations social email to everyone, working in an untrustworthy environment, to retrieve the anecdote.

Final homework assignment summary for self-study contained …

There was a break of two weeks between sessions four and five in order to digest, refocus, and give the student time to customise the templates and apply the general comments to their own particular situation.

In all this went well, with the student gaining useful state gie which they could immediately apply, plus building their confidence back after the difficult work period.

I have set up a telephone call with them for a few months later in order to catch up and to see what their professional diary has shown them. In this period there is homework and summary assistance which I have sent them. This summary reflects what I would do differently next time. Before the next project, if this comes sooner than the agreed telephone catch up call, they should meet with me to describe their approach and tangible actions with how they are going to accomplish their objectives. This is to ensure that the learning is consolidated, anchored in tangible action, and has not been misunderstood.

Time was the greatest problem, and was necessarily short, so as not to drag the autopsy out while it was fresh in their mind. The next time I do this I shall have to be

1. More prescient in regards to the topics and methods which need to be covered

2. Not get side tracked and be explicit about on and off topic for the session.

It turned out from these sessions that it took two sessions to get to the heart of the matter: the issue of trust. Additionally, on the fifth and final session of this short series, the fact that this often happens, that it is a pattern, also came up, which colours the previous learning.

Here is a revised program of five sessions based on this experience.

1. Background to the situation

– tools (feedback and starburst models)

– separate the person from the event

– does this happen often?

– what are the can do statements?
2. Red flags and expectations

Red flags

– my values and where I draw the line: how do I know what is acceptable

– what to look out for

Expectations

– people’s perceptions of me

– getting people to listen and hear

– communicating my needs and wants
3. Identify the core issue

– trust (engender it and garner it)

– critical conversations
4. Working under these conditions

– critical conversations II

– protecting yourself
5. Action plan

– preparation for next time

– effect closure (turn this episode into a powerful anecdote which sends the message you wish to send (not sympathy)
Coda

Now it remains for me to await the long term effects of these coaching sessions. Fingers crossed.

Reading a document

December 9, 2016

Reading a formal document in a foreign language can be difficult, regardless of whether this is a legal text, or a report on some technical matter. This can hold true even for native speakers. Here are some ways in.

Before you read

Get an overview of the document as a whole (titles, headings, paragraphs, lists, appendices). Look for the structure of the document. There may be clues in the titles as to how the writer would like you to proceed.

Know why you are reading. Are you reading for a specific piece of information, or for gist?

Know what you are going to do with this information. Are you going to need to parse this to another with more or less technical knowhow, or is there a specific action which needs to be taken based on this document?

Ensure the font, and font size are comfortable. Your eyes will soon grow tired if you have to strain them. The more comfortable you are, the better.

As you read

Look out for lists. Example signal words are the following, if, either, or, none of, some of the above, such as

Match your expectations with the document. What are you expecting from the document? Is the document likely to agree with you? Is it based on a  standard purchase agreement or other contract?

Check for connectors. How the ideas are connected will inform you of their relationship. Typical connection words are for addition and, additionally, while, for contrast they are however, although,

Finally

If there are any key sections of the text which you are not sure about, use a coworker and tell them what you believe the document to mean. If they understand it, then you understand it. of course this is no guarantee that your understanding is the one intended by the author, but you are at least on the right path.

If there are any new words or phrases which particularly spark your interest, then put them into your language map and make a note to use them the next time you are in an appropriate situation.

Slow down your fast speakers

December 7, 2016

I often get complaints that speakers, and usually these are native speakers, are uncaring about the language and pace of language that they use. Some of these complaints even have the plaintiff blaming themselves for not understanding fast-paced and idiomatic language. 
Here is my take on the matter.

Firstly, do not blame yourself, it is your speaking partner’s job to make themselves understood. If they do not do this then they have failed, not you.

Secondly, here is a list of useful pieces of advice which may help you find a way to slow down your speaking partner.

1. Ask for repetition or rephrasing. If data is being exchanged, then repeat each unit of data before moving one. This is particularly effective for names and addresses and code numbers. 

2. Anticipate the answer. There are no surprises. If your question is what are the fees, listen out for a number and a term, such as “ten thousand dollars per year”, or if you are asking for directions, be prepared to hear directions phrases such as “turn left, then go straight on and the manager’s office is on the right.” 

3. Ask a  double-barrelled question leaving one of the barrels redundant for your purposes. An example is it looks expensive, what are the fees? Here the small talk comment in the answer (“we had it decorated recently”) is not necessary for your primary concern of the fees. 

I hope this helps. Let me know in the comments how you get on.

Surprise!

November 29, 2016

Sometimes life deals you with the unexpected or surprising. Here is an easy way in to express such new information.

I would not have thought/ expected/ known

The other side of this third conditional is “if you had asked me”

Here are a few examples

I wouldn’t have thought you were able to do that with only a few days’ training.

I wouldn’t have expected it to be quite so expensive.

I wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t told me.

 

Have fun with these now that you are ready to express your surprise.

​In or at the beginning and end

November 6, 2016

Well, both, actually. Here is the gen.

In the beginning is the precondition without which there cannot be the following. So in the beginning of Romeo and Juliette  (a well-known Shakespeare play) the are two families which despise each other. Without this hatred there would be no story. Compare this with at the beginning of Romeo and Juliette which is what happens, and you get Romeo falls in love with Juliette. This would not be a problem is the families were friendly towards each other. 

At the other end of the play you have at the end, which is what happens: at the end of the play both Romeo and Juliette die. The result of this tragedy is in the end, as in the end the two families are reconciled. It is the deaths which bring the families together. 

In summary

In is a condition, in the beginning we were asked to build a bridge. 

In the end is a result: in the end we abandoned the project. 

At is a place

At the beginning we carried out a careful study. 

At the end we encountered too many costs for our budget to cover. 
Usually you use at the beginning and at the end. Use in the end for the result of your efforts. 

​No surprises language planning

October 27, 2016

There are never any real surprises, only a lack of preparation. This has been said by many people for many situations. Today I would like to use it to demonstrate the fact that it is possible to prepare for your language encounters, particularly where meetings are concerned. Meetings may be either virtual or face-to-face. Here is my guide. 

For the unexpected

I’m afraid I am in the middle of something. Could you call/ come back in ten minutes. 

Put this on a sticky note on your computer monitor so that initially you only need to read it off. This buys you ten minutes of time in which to prepare. 
Before the meeting

Listen to Internet radio for the accent

Add your language planning to the meeting invitation. Use http://www.dictionary.com to find the right word. Beware of false friends and mistranslations. 

On the way to the meeting start thinking in English
At the start of the meeting

Start with small talk so that you can hear how they speak: how was your weekend? How is your week going? And what are you doing this weekend?

Ask open questions and listen for the rhythm of the language and how they pronounce numbers. 


Mid-meeting

Recap/ summarise which gives you a mini break and ensures that evrything has been communicated correctly

Ask How do you understand that? Which demands that the person answering gives you a full account of their understanding. The answer to do you understand is, of course, a rather unhelpful, and perhaps untruthful, yes. 

Unpick the activity with an appropriate selection of who, what, where, when, how, and why. So ask who are you going to ask, what are you going to save in the folder, where are you going to get resources, and so on. 


After the meeting
Perform a self-review. How was your planning?

  • What do you keep (which language worked for you and you can use it again for the next time)
  • What do you throw (because it does not work for you)
  • What should you do next time (perhaps you forgot a key piece of vocabulary, or needed a phrase for next time)

This prepares you for your next encounter. 

Also, when you engage your next English teacher, you can tell them exactly where your weak points are and what kind of language you need to acquire and rehearse.