IATEFL Manchester Online Registered Blogger 2015

1. David Crystal on English Pronunciation

“English language is like a garden of flowers with each accent being a distinct flower.” What a profound statement made by David Crystal in an interview during the IATEFL Manchester conference! While English teachers around the world are obsessed with the ‘correct’ and ‘accepted’ pronunciation of English, David’s dispassionate observation comes as a welcome relief and prompts us to look at the pronunciation of English from a global perspective. With the help of a number of examples, David pointed out how the English language and its pronunciation have been changing over the years. David’s interview should be an eye opener for the teachers of English who make a fuss about the purity of the ‘native’ pronunciation of English.
Accents are varied throughout the English speaking world and people should be proud of their accents, David remarked during the interview. So long as you are clear and intelligible, retain your identity. Mixed accent is the norm and we should aim at an ‘Educated Understandable accent’, not the so called Received Pronunciation. The hallowed RP of the past has changed. Citing the way the word ‘cool’ is pronounced, David pointed out that the manner of articulation of this word has changed over the years. We don’t pronounce it with a rounded lip any more, we pronounce it with lips spread. It’s not a question of right or wrong, it is the question of how it is pronounced today. Again, referring to the wide variation of accents of English words, David pointed out how a simple three syllable word ‘POTATO’ is pronounced in various ways across the globe. Some stress it on the first, some on the second and some on the third. Though David put forward his arguments in a very informal manner, the logic of his argument is beyond any dispute. He is a keen observer of the language and is a realist, not an Utopian. His arguments are based on facts and figures.
How should English teacher respond to the changing pronunciation of English? The young interviewer asked him. Quick came the reply. Follow the young people and try to be net savvy. The young people are the transmitters of the language and we should honour the language used by them. Not only the young people, even the kids have a role in language transmission. If you distance yourself from the kids, you distance yourself from the living language and your language becomes obsolete.
David eulogized the role played by the internet in sustaining the language. Don’t dismiss the new technology, respect it, David remarked. He stated that for the people of his generation, books were central and the screen was marginal, for the young people today, the screen is central and books are marginal. Therefore, English teachers should be aware of what is going on in social media, they should make use of the resources of the net and the creativity of the young people.
Are you ready, my dear English teachers? Hope, David’s talk will change your mind set and you will look at English pronunciation from a realistic global perspective.
PS. During the interview David also talked about ‘Shakespeare including practical tips for teachers on how to engage learners with Shakespeare and how they can improve their understanding of the great works’. But in this blog post, I have confined myself to the second part of the interview when he talked ‘about how language and pronunciation is changing and how teachers can keep up to date and evaluate what they focus on in class when teaching pronunciation’
Watch the recording on IATEFL Manchester Online http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/…/…/interview-david-crystal ‪#‎IATEFL

2. Gender inequality and bias in ELT Conferences: Reflections on an interview ar IATEFL, Manchester

Does it really matter if an ‘ELT celebrity’ delivering a keynote address in an international conference on English Language Teaching is a man or a woman? Have you ever scrutinized the ‘big names’ in ELT and tried to find out how many of them are men and how many are women. For me, a plenary speaker speaking at an international or national conference is just an ELT professional, it hardly matters if the said speaker is a woman or a man. But, for Russel Mayne of the University of Leicester and Nicola Prentis, a Freelance ELT expert, the issue of gender equality and bias is a serious matter in ELT. They have come to IATEFL Manchester conference to share their research findings with the fellow delegates.
In an interview on IATEFL online at Manchester on 13 April,2015, Russel and Nicola talked about research they had done into gender equality and bias particularly among the range of conference speakers on the regular ELT circuit. They think that the ‘big names’ in ELT are the names of men, not women. They opined that there was sexism and gender bias in ELT seminars and conferences. Women disappear from plenary speakers, they asserted.

The research topic seems to be paradoxical. Russel and Nicola admitted during the interview that women are everywhere in ELT and they outnumber men in classrooms and conferences. But when it comes to ‘big names’ in ELT and when you count the names of plenary speakers of ELT conferences around the world, you are surprised to note the underrepresentation of women. Why do women disappear entirely from plenary speakers in a hugely female dominated profession of ELT, Russel and Nicola wondered.
During the interview, Russel and Nicola referred to some of the remarks made by the ‘big names’ in ELT who lacked gender sensitivity. One ELT specialist once wrote in his blog, “ I feel uncomfortable with the fact that I am a man standing in front of a sea of women”. A plenary speaker in an international conference once asked his audience, “Everybody sit down if they are women.”
What is the basis of their research? Facebook groups and twitters, Russel and Nicola told the interviewer. They further stated that 520 respondents from at least 30 countries took part in the research.
Why do women ELT professionals face discrimination in the selection of plenary speakers around the world? Is it due to the mind set of the men controlling the ELT organizations or is it due to some barriers faced by women alone? Why is it that the ‘big names’ in ELT include the names of more men and fewer women? What can we do to help women overcome the sense of sex discrimination? Russel and Nicola talked about a website which addresses the issue of gender discrimination in ELT.
The IATEFL online interview of Russel and Nicola was quite interesting. I wish I could attend their session to learn more about the ‘perceived’ gender discrimination which prompted them to undertake an innovative research project. All the best.

3.Reflections on Donald Freeman’s Plenary: ‘Frozen in thought? How we think and what we do in ELT’

Donald Freeman’s plenary ‘Frozen in thought? How we think and what we do in ELT’ on the opening day of the IATEFL Manchester conference on 11 April 2015 was a wakening call to the ELT teachers who are often immobilized by their preconceived notions of teaching in general and English language teaching in particular. It is really unfortunate that we as English teachers often tend to accept uncritically the traditional notions for what ‘good ‘ teachers ought to know and what they are supposed to do in their classrooms.
In a very lucid and lively manner, Donald examined three myths that we live by in ELT and analyzed our preconceived ideas about how teaching and learning work, about the teacher’s role, and about the classroom goals of English instruction.
It was nice listening to Donald when he demystified the three ‘myths’: (1) Direct Causality which is based on the belief that teaching makes learning happen, (2) Sole Responsibility which is based on the assumption that the teacher makes critical decisions, makes teaching plans and prepares materials for the desired learning outcome, (3) Proficiency is the goal of ELT, a myth that is grounded on our assumption of ‘nativeness.’
Donald argued that these three myths should not go unscrutinized and unchallenged, because, if they go unscrutinized and unchallenged, they can undermine teachers’ professional confidence and impede training and research.
There was, of course, a note of caution. Donald pointed out that (a) Myths are not ‘right or wrong’, (b) Each myth has useful and misleading aspects and (c) Unpacking the distinction helps to ‘thaw’ our thinking.
While I started listening to Donald, I was wondering why on earth myths exist in the field of education. Donald was , of course quick in reading the mind of the audience. He pointed out that myths exist because (a) they organize our work, (b) they help establish what we do as teachers and (c) they bring a shared understanding.
Referring to the myth of ‘Direct Causality,’ Donald pointed out that the teacher creates opportunities and his ‘moves’ are connected to learners’ moves. The myth of ‘Sole Responsibility’ makes teaching a game of chess, but Donald asserted that teaching is actually a ‘distributed opportunity’ and not the sole responsibility of the teacher. He quoted the remark of one of his Brazilian students who had told him, “When you teach, you have to manage what you can’t control.”
Regarding the third myth, Donald was quite straight forward. He asserted that ‘nativeness’ is a geopolitical and not a linguistic construct. We should not think of ‘proficiency’ in the singular, Donald reminded his audience. Instead of ‘proficiency’, we should aim at ‘proficiencies’ which are always situated in particular contexts and are conditioned by a particular social practice.
Donald’s presentation was highly pictorial. The imageries drawn by him, the lively pictures shown by him and the convincing arguments put forward by him made his plenary a memorable one. A highly thought provoking plenary that set the ball rolling at IATEFL Manchester Conference.
Donald’s plenary at IATEFL was a highly balanced academic discourse on the theories and practice of ELT and I do hope that it will prompt the teachers attending the Conference to ignite their frozen thoughts. Why should we be frozen in thought after your plenary, Donald Freeman?

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