Wednesday, August 31, 2011

News: Falser Words Were Never Spoken

Dear All,

This short article warns us that many pithy sayings which were attributed to well-known personalities may not be what they had actually said.

So, we need to take such sayings with a pinch of salt. They may be relevant and wise but may not be what was actually said by the attributed contributor.

Rodney Tan

Falser Words Were Never Spoken

By BRIAN MORTON  August 29, 2011

Bronxville, N.Y.

IN a coffee shop not long ago, I saw a mug with an inscription from Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

At least it said the words were Thoreau’s. But the attribution seemed a bit suspect. Thoreau, after all, was not known for his liberal use of exclamation points. When I got home, I looked up the passage (it’s from “Walden”): “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Now Thoreau isn’t quite saying that each of us can actually live the life we’ve imagined. He’s saying that if we try, we’ll come closer to it than we might ordinarily think possible. I suppose that the people responsible for the coffee mug would say that they’d merely tweaked the wording of the original a little. But in the tweaking, not only was the syntax lost, but the subtlety as well.

Gandhi’s words have been tweaked a little too in recent years. Perhaps you’ve noticed a bumper sticker that purports to quote him: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” When you first come across it, this does sound like something Gandhi would have said. But when you think about it a little, it starts to sound more like ... a bumper sticker. Displayed brightly on the back of a Prius, it suggests that your responsibilities begin and end with your own behavior. It’s apolitical, and a little smug.

Sure enough, it turns out there is no reliable documentary evidence for the quotation. The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

Here, Gandhi is telling us that personal and social transformation go hand in hand, but there is no suggestion in his words that personal transformation is enough. In fact, for Gandhi, the struggle to bring about a better world involved not only stringent self-denial and rigorous adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence; it also involved a steady awareness that one person, alone, can’t change anything, an awareness that unjust authority can be overturned only by great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence.

When you start to become aware of these bogus quotations, you can’t stop finding them. Henry James, George Eliot, Picasso — all of them are being kept alive in popular culture through pithy, cheery sayings they never actually said.

My favorite example of the fanciful quotation is a passage that’s been floating around the Internet for years. It’s frequently attributed to Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, and said to be an excerpt from his 1994 inaugural address.

“Our deepest fear,” the passage goes, “is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Picture it: Mr. Mandela, newly free after 27 years in prison, using his inaugural platform to inform us that we all have the right to be gorgeous, talented and fabulous, and that thinking so will liberate others. It’s hard to imagine it without laughing. Of course, it turns out it’s not actually an excerpt from this or any other known address of Mr. Mandela’s. In fact, the words aren’t even his; they belong to a self-help guru, Marianne Williamson.

Thoreau, Gandhi, Mandela — it’s easy to see why their words and ideas have been massaged into gauzy slogans. They were inspirational figures, dreamers of beautiful dreams. But what goes missing in the slogans is that they were also sober, steely men. Each of them knew that thoroughgoing change, whether personal or social, involves humility and sacrifice, and that the effort to change oneself or the world always exacts a price.

But ours is an era in which it’s believed that we can reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. So we recast the wisdom of the great thinkers in the shape of our illusions. Shorn of their complexities, their politics, their grasp of the sheer arduousness of change, they stand before us now. They are shiny from their makeovers, they are fabulous and gorgeous, and they want us to know that we can have it all.

Brian Morton, the director of the graduate program in fiction at Sarah Lawrence College, is the author of the novels “Starting Out in the Evening” and “Breakable You.”

Pedagogy: Teaching Large Classes

Dear All,

Teaching in large classes is a very common phenomena in many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries and in much sought after schools in Malaysia. Student numbers ranges from 40 plus to 50 plus. TEaching in such environment poses challenges. So how do teachers cope?

Here's an article written by a native speaker who had worked in South American high schools and developed effective strategies of his own.

Do you have a similar situation and what are ways that have worked in your class?  I'll be most happy to hear them and to share these strategies with other teachers.

Rodney Tan

Alastair Grant, a Teacher Development Manager in Buenos Aires, looks at the challenges in managing large classes of teenagers, and suggests ways to ensure successful lessons.

I shut the door behind me and realised I had made a big mistake.

No, this isn’t the starting sentence from a creative writing class that I went to when I was 12, but the feeling I got when stepping into that secondary school classroom…

Me, a first year teacher, fresh off my teaching course, and full of ideas about communicative activities, interaction patterns, etc., suddenly faced with 32 teenagers all speaking in a language which I didn’t understand, and not paying me any attention! I needed to change things fast.

Back when I started teaching (time seems to move at twice the normal speed in this profession), I found this pretty intimidating. We know that large classes can have their fair share of challenges – I’ve picked out five to get you thinking:

1.      Monitoring
Let’s see: you have 32 students doing an activity; that means you’ll have about 12 working quietly, 6 working together, 4 talking about their weekend, and 10 calling your name in unison, demanding help. And if you’re lucky, it’ll be in that order.

2.      Environment
There are desks in the way, bags all over the place and it can seem impossible to be able to reach your students to help with them while they’re working.

3.      Discipline
With even the best adolescents and adults, there’s a temptation for them to speak in their native tongue, or just not to work, which is even more common in a larger class, especially as there’s less chance of you spotting it!

4.      Interaction
Trying out a “find someone who” activity with a class THIS size can turn you into a policeman, because you have to make sure students don’t use the activity as a reason to speak in their language. It’s also hard to make sure everyone can get to speak to each other without creating chaos!

5.      Testing
Having 32 writing, reading, listening, speaking, and grammar tests to check for only ONE of your classes, is exhausting for any teacher.

Ok, so far so bad, but strangely, six months into the job, when asked by my director which class I was enjoying the most, I found myself answering “the one at the secondary school”.

So what had changed?

Here were my recipes for success. Five solutions to complement the five challenges!

1.      Monitoring
Introduce a “hands-up” system, and explain your methodology to the students, so that they understand and respect this: it’s their learning environment that you want to make as productive for them as possible. After all, there is only one of you!

2.      Environment
Right from the start of the class, make sure the students know where you want them to sit, not where they do. Your classroom – your rules. That means, where the desks go, who they face, where they put their bags… and get them to move the furniture!

3.      Discipline
The “red card” system – the first person to speak in their language (not English!) gets the card and it is passed on. At the end of the class, the last student with the card brings in something nice for the class for the next lesson. Also, give students a grade for their involvement in the classes, so they can see that it has a tangible effect, and that it contributes to their learning.

4.      Interaction
Ensure that speaking activities are structured, and that the students respect turn-taking, just like they would outside the classroom. Speed debating is a great activity for this: two students come to the front for one minute only, and discuss the topic. The rest of the students have to pay close attention, as you will randomly pick another student to come up once the minute is over.

5.      Testing
Although direct tests of speaking and writing are essential, using Multiple Choice and True/False tests for reading, listening, and even grammar, can drastically reduce your workload. Pre-prepared and editable tests are great too. You can be confident that they’ll be the right language level for your class and, because you can edit them, you can quickly adapt them to suit your own students. Perfect for saving you time and effort too.

Everything I’ve mentioned here has always helped to make a productive and well-organised lesson for me and my students.

And you? Imagine you were me, the voices of the 32 students drowning out the sound of the door as it closed behind you… What would you do?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

News: Muhyiddin Asks Why The Bad English After Learning The Language For 13 Years?

Why the Bad English?

Posted: 06 Aug 2011 08:30 PM PDT
LABIS: Are teachers incompetent, or school books unsuitable?

The Education Ministry will look at these factors to determine why students continue to have a poor grasp of the English language.

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also education minister, said the ministry would review the curriculum with regard to the teaching of English as well as identify the reasons behind students’ poor command of the language.

Muhyiddin said even after learning the language for 13 years at primary, secondary and matriculation levels, some students still could not master English.

“I have no answers for this problem. I will ask the (Education) director-general to review the English curriculum to find out the reasons behind the problem.

“Is it because the teachers are not competent or there are not enough teachers, or because the books are not suitable?We can’t ignore this anymore.” He said this during his visit to SMK Maokil here yesterday. Present were Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Ahmad Maslan, Bukit Serampang assemblyman Tahir Taat and school principal Noor Hashimah Hassan.

He said many parents were worried when the ministry changed its policy from the Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI) to the Upholding the Malay Language, Strengthening Command of English (MBMMBI) policy.

“They were concerned that English would be ignored and considered as unimportant.
“This is a wrong assumption.

As the education minister, I have always stressed the importance of mastering English as a second language as it is a language for international trade.” He said students must be given the opportunity and exposure to speak and understand both languages.

During the visit, Muhyiddin presented awards to the school’s top Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia students of last year.

By Rizalman Hammim

NST Online    7 August 2011

Satire : The Consonant goes a-courting (Parts of Speech)

Dear All,

Found this witty satire from the Facebook Notes page of Azlan Adnan.

It's a play with the classification titles found in Parts of Speech in the English language.


Rodney Tan Chai Whatt

The Consonant goes a-courting...

by Azlan Adnan on Thursday, 04 August 2011 at 11:19
Thursday, August 04, 2011
The Consonant goes a-courting...
...English as was then taught in reflective ages not too distant ago:

A consonant walks into a bar and sits down next to a vowelly girl.

"Hi!" he says. "I'll alphabet that you've never been here before."

"Of cursive I have," she replies. "I come here, like, all the time. For me, it's parse for the course."

The consonant remains stationery, enveloped by the vowelly girl's letter-perfect charm.

"Here's a cute joke" he states declaratively. "Up at the North Pole, St. Nicholas is the main Claus. His wife is a relative Claus. His children are dependent Clauses. Their Dutch uncle is a restrictive Claus. And Santa's elves are subordinate Clauses. As a group, they're all renoun Clauses."

Then he lays on some more dashes of humor: "Have you heard about the fellow who had half his digestive tract removed? He walked around with a semi-colon."

"Are you like prepositioning me?" asks the vowelly girl.

"I won't be indirect. You are the object of my preposition. Your beauty phrase my nerves. Won't you come up to my place for a coordinating conjunction?"

"I don't want to be diacritical of you, but you're like, such a boldfaced character!" replies the vowelly girl. "Like do I have to spell it out to you, or are you just plain comma-tose? You're not my type, so get off my case!"

Despite his past perfect, he is, at present, tense.

"Puhleeze, gag me with a spoonerism!" she objects. "As my Grammar and other correlatives used to say, your mind is in the guttural. I resent your umlautish behavior. You should know what the wages of syntax are. I nominative absolutely decline to conjugate with you fer sure!"

"You get high quotation marks for that one," he smiles, "even if I think you're being rather subjunctive and moody about all this. I so admire your figure of speech that I would like to predicate my life on yours." So he gets himself into an indicative mood and says, "It would be appreciated by me if you would be married to me."

"Are you being passive aggressive?" she asks interrogatively.

"No, I'm speaking in the active voice. Please don't have a vowel movement about this. I simile want to say to you, 'Metaphors be with you!' I would never want to change you and become a misplaced modifier. It's imperative that you understand that I'm very, very font of you and want us to spend infinitive together."

"That's quite a compliment," she blushes -- and gives him appositive response.

At the ceremonies they exchange wedding vowels about the compound subject of marriage.

Finally, they say, "I do," which is actually the longest and most complex of sentences -- a run-on sentence, actually -- one that we all hope won't turn out to be a sentence fragment.

Then the minister diagrams that sentence and says, "I now pronouns you consonant and vowel."

They kiss each other on the ellipsis and whisper to each other, "I love you, noun forever."

Throughout their marriage, their structure is perfectly parallel and their verbs never disagree with their subjects.

After many a linking verve, comma splice and interjection, they conceive the perfect parent thesis. Then come some missing periods and powerful contractions, and into the world is born their beautiful little boy. They know it is a boy because of its dangling participle.!/notes/azlan-adnan/the-consonant-goes-a-courting/10150259775576769

Friday, August 5, 2011

Views: Social Psychology and ELT - The HALO Effect

Dear ETs,

Impression counts! To be seen and acknowledged by our students and the public as a competent, charismatic or expert teacher, we need to create a good impression. This can be achieve due to an interesting phenomena known as "The HALO Effect".

Please read this very engaging article below about research done on what students perceived to be friendly, successful and effective teachers. It may help us be ëxcellent teachers!!!

Rodney Tan Chai Whatt


Social Psychology and ELT – The HALO Effect

by Nick Michelioudakis

(This article was originally published in the TESOL Greek Newsletter.)

Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) is an Academic Consultant with EDEXCEL. He has worked in the field of ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner and trainer. He has written more than 50 articles and regularly gives talks to both private and state school teachers. He likes to think of himself as a ‘front-line teacher’ and is particularly interested in one-to-one teaching and student motivation. He also has a keen interest in Social and Evolutionary Psychology. When he is not struggling with students, he likes to spend his time in a swimming pool or playing chess. For any questions, comments or feedback, you can contact him at . To see more of his published articles you can visit his site at

How important is one’s handwriting? Hardly at all you might say, especially today when most people use a computer. Yet research shows otherwise. In a revealing experiment, a number of exam scripts were copied twice – once in good handwriting and once in bad handwriting. They were then passed on to two groups of examiners who were told to mark them and were specifically instructed to mark for content. Amazingly, the neatly-written scripts got significantly higher marks than the others (Sutherland 1992). Why did such a thing happen? The answer is that very often when we have to assess someone (or something) and this person has a salient, positive feature, the latter colours our judgment, so we tend to make all kind of positive attributions about this person, judgments which are at best only marginally related to the quality which stands out. This is called the ‘Halo Effect’.

An experiment: One would expect the scientific world to be less susceptible to such an effect. Not so. In 1982, two psychologists decided to try out an interesting experiment. They selected 12 well-known journals of psychology and to each one they sent an article to be considered for publication. These articles are routinely checked by two authorities on the particular field as well as the editor. The results: in 8 out of the 12 cases the articles were deemed unworthy of publication. Out of 16 ‘evaluators’ and 8 editors who (presumably) read them, not a single one had a different view. Well, one might say, not all articles submitted are up to par. This is true, only in this case these particular articles had been published by the very same journals, under the same title only a few months previously!! The only thing the two psychologists had changed were the names of the authors (eminent university professors) to imaginary ones and their affiliations (originally such prestigious universities as Harvard or Princenton) to non-existent (and by definition obscure) ones! Well, you might think, at least 4 of the articles were thought to be good. Not quite. In 3 out of the 4 cases someone simply realised that they had published this material before… (Sutherland 1992)

Why did such a thing happen? The answer is probably that journals like the above are probably inundated by submissions from academics on the make who are anxious to add yet another entry to their CV. It is equally likely that many of these articles are run-of-the-mill, with little to recommend them. This being so, it makes sense for the ‘evaluators’ to resort to ‘shortcuts’ (Cialdini 2001) – rather than scrutinize each script, they look at the name of the writer first. If s/he is a famous professor from an Ivy-League University, then the article is more likely to be worthy of publication. But if we start thinking like this, then an amazing change happens: as Sutherland (1992) points out, when faced with a piece of work by an established writer, we tend to look for its positive aspects, while if the writer’s name rings no bells then we start looking for flaws!

Still not convinced? Here is another example. In the mid-70s, someone sent a book to no less than 27 different publishers and literary agents. No marks for guessing what happened. All 27 rejected it. Yet this book (‘Steps’ by Kosinsky) had actually been published in 1969 and had won the American National Book Award! All that had been changed was the title and the name of the writer. What is more remarkable is that one of the publishers who rejected the ‘new book’ was ‘Random House’ – the ones who had published the original one!! (ibid.)

Lest you should think that this phenomenon is restricted to the world of books and publishing, here are some more examples to show you just how widespread it is: Good-looking people are universally thought to be friendlier, more intelligent and more humorous, tall people are thought to have all kind of leadership qualities, they are clearly favoured in job interviews and make more money than people like me who are slightly challenged in the vertical dimension, and, of course, men of a high social status are judged as more attractive by women…(Brehm, Kassin & Fein 2002).

Applications in the field of teaching: If we can create for ourselves this ‘aura’ of the competent/charismatic/special teacher, then we are halfway towards winning the battle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of our students. Here are some ideas:

Friendliness: When I ask my students to describe the best teacher they know, they almost invariably mention someone possessing this quality. When I try to probe deeper to see what it is about their method that is so special, my students are often stumped. It is because attitude is such a salient feature that it colours the students’ perception of the teacher both as an individual and as a professional (for research on this very theme, see Alberson, Frey & Gregg 2004, p. 8)

First impressions: Teachers often ‘save’ their best techniques for later – a big mistake in my view. By using your favourite materials/techniques early on, you create a positive impression in the students’ minds which will pre-dispose them favourably towards all your subsequent lessons. The tendency of first impressions to ‘stick’ has been demonstrated again and again (Fine 2005)

Professionalism: Little details like being prepared, giving an outline of your lesson in advance, revising what you did the previous time, showing students that there is a continuity in your sessions – all these create an impression of ‘professionalism’ and they are more observable than, say, a profound activity sequence (Lewis & Hill 1992). The point is that once you have acquired a reputation as a ‘true professional’, this reputation precedes you and everything you do will then be seen in this light!

Success: Unfortunately perhaps, teachers too are judged by results. This is particularly true in the case of 1-1 lessons. Consequently, there is a lot to be said for ‘blowing your own trumpet’. This will create an expectation of success which boosts the students’ confidence and acts like a self-fulfilling prophecy (Dornyei 2001).

Titles: As I have said in other articles and as the above experiment clearly demonstrates, titles like ‘MSc’, ‘PhD’ etc. never fail to impress people about your competence – so if you have them, flaunt them! (On how effective this ‘aura’ can be, see also Goldstein, Martin & Cialdini 2007). Similarly, if you happen to work for a prestigious institution, then mention it to your students. I remember how people’s faces used to light up when I told them I was an Oral Examiner for the British Council!

Looks: At the cost of repeating myself, the importance of being good-looking can hardly be exaggerated. Not only does this quality affect the ‘marks’ one gets in virtually all other fields, but there is evidence that this positive pre-disposition of others actually elicits all kind of positive behaviours from them (Aronson 1999). The moral is clear: it pays to work on your appearance!

What about ELT? So, what about our field? Are there any elements which can create a ‘Halo Effect’? Yes, there are - two of them: a) Your passport and b) your accent. Let me explain. I believe that if would-be employers receive 2 identical CVs, one from a native speaker and another from a Greek teacher, there are many cases when only the former will be short-listed. I believe that if two Greek EFL teachers go through an interview and one of them has a native-like accent while the other one does not, then the former is far more likely to be hired, even if the latter has better qualifications/more experience. And I am certain that (ceteris paribus) native speakers are on average better paid when it comes to private lessons. Now, I do not have any hard evidence for all this, but I am prepared to bet good money that all 3 hypotheses are true. Anyone for research?


1. Abelson, R., Frey, K. & Gregg, A. “Experiments With People” Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 2004

2. Aronson, E. “The Social Animal” Worth – Freeman, 1999

3. Brehm, S., Kassin, S. & Fein S. “Social Psychology” Houghton Mifflin, 2002

4. Cialdini, R. “Influence – Science and Practice”, Allyn & Bacon 2001

5. Dornyei, Z. “Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom” CUP, 2001

6. Fine, C. “A Mind of its Own” Icon Books 2005

7. Goldstein, N., Martin, S. & Cialdini, R. “Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion” Profile Books 2007

8. Lewis, M. & Hill, J. “Practical Techniques for Language Teaching” LTP 1992

9. Sutherland, S. “Irrationality” Constable and Company, 1992

Monday, August 1, 2011

News: Foreign Fixation

Dear All,

Recently, the MOE of Malaysia has begun to hire native speakers of English to strengthen the teaching & learning of the English language in Malaysian public schools.

But here's a piece of news that appeared in our local newspaper The STAR about a suitably qualified Malaysian by birth and who was born and bred in the UK for much of her life not being able to get the job because she is a Malaysian.

Read her story below.

Rodney Tan Chai Whatt

The Star Online > Sarawak

Thursday July 14, 2011

Foreign fixation

KUCHING: When the Government announced a mentoring programme to improve the proficiency of English in schools last year, Karen Shepherd, 37, a Sarawakian who grew up in the UK, thought she would have the opportunity to put her language expertise to good use but she thought wrong.

Despite fulfilling all the stipulated qualifications, she was rejected on the grounds that she is a Malaysian. She had never expected that her status as a local would be a barrier for her to get a job in her home country.

“Surely the only criteria appropriate for filling any position should be the candidate’s skills, experience and abilities,” said Karen, who fulfils all the requirements of the English Language Teachers Development Prog-ramme (ELTDP), a project managed by British Council in Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan.

An officer from the Ministry of Education said that the project was one of the measures to strengthen the language in schools by employing native English speakers.

“We did receive complaints on this (hiring foreigners only) but it is the ministry’s policy to employ external native speakers,” the officer said.

British Council had recruited some 85 mentors for 40 primary schools in Sarawak and 45 in Sabah and Labuan since early this year. A total of 120 are needed.

The majority of the mentors are British and from other English speaking countries such as Australia, the US and Canada.

Mentors, who will work closely with local teachers, will go through a one-week induction course before they are assigned to the schools.

The project will end in September 2013 when suitable local teachers are identified to take over as mentors to continue to support the professional development of their colleagues into the future.

According to the British Council website, the candidates “must have a minimum of a recognised Teaching English as a foreign language qualification and two years’ experience including with young learners, experience of teacher training/ development, line management or coaching/mentoring is desirable, a highly proficient speaker of English and must have a first degree or equivalent.”

Karen has six years teaching experience, three of those in Malaysia. She has a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults and a post-graduate qualification in teaching English from UK. “Imagine my surprise, on applying for one of those teacher mentor positions, at being informed that the job is closed to Malaysia citizens,” she said.

Karen said Malaysia had many excellent English language teachers who have good command of the language to native speakers level and are educated to Masters level in their field, have full teaching qualifications and years of experience delivering the Malaysia curriculum.

“Overseas mentors will leave Malaysia at the end of their contract, not only taking all their experience with them but also a sizeable chunk of Malaysian money.”

The remunerations package for overseas mentor, is very attractive at up to RM10,000 monthly income with transportation provided.

The British Council website said the nationality of the applicant is not a selection criterion. It is, however, the wish of the Government to invite ‘international expertise’ to join this project.

Among those who shared Karen‘s frustration is Sarawak Teachers Union chairman William Ghani, who thinks that “importation” of foreign English teachers is an insult to the Malaysian education system.

“We do not mind if the government hired some qualified trainers to train English Language teachers here if we do not have enough trainers. But we are doing okay. We have produced qualified English teachers here,” he said.

Ghani suggested that the government train teachers locally in local colleges instead of spending taxpayers money hiring overseas English teachers.

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