Happy New Years (Resolutions)

Happy New Year!

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photo credit: RobW_ Happy New Year! via photopin (license)

Yes a new year and many posts along the lines of “New Year New You” here is some focused on language and study.

  • Start small: statistically speaking most new years resolutions are broken and a great many of them are broken because they are too ambitious, too vague. Don’t say “I’m going to read a book in my field every week”  start with a chapter or a paper a week.
target-cc-dave-fergy-via-photopin

Creative Commons Photo Dave Fergy

  • Set goals: keeping in mind the above set small (achievable) short term goals, meet them and use this to help you move towards your long term goals. This works well within the ideal self and second language learning perspective for more on this start here.
  • Do a little often, rather than a lot infrequently, anything done too much can become a chore, but little steps taken often can make for huge improvements over time.
  • Get out and get involved: this can be a time of year when it’s all too tempting to stay at home. This in many ways is one reason so many resolutions don’t succeed.
  • Get organised: Over the years working with students, all to many limit their results and attainment by leaving assignments to the last minute. Use these weeks to look ahead at the semester and start working on assignments now. Even if it’s just starting to read around the topics. This early in the semester you have certain advantages: first the library is open but almost empty and second almost all the books are actually on the shelves.
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photo credit: Senado Federal Biblioteca do Senado via photopin (license)

There’s more help and advice for you here and here.

Listening and Speaking for Seminars: QuICK

Following on from the lecture the seminar is probably the next big hurdle and to discuss the seminar in terms of just one skill is to leave half of it out. The two key skills here are listening and speaking and seminars can be an essential part of your learning at university especially if you benefit from talking ideas out or want to try out your developing competence in your field in a supportive and colligate environment. This week the mnemonic (easily remembered word) is QuICK.

QUestion

Interactive

Content and Context

Keen

seminar

photo credit: UK in Italy XXIV Pontignano Conference via photopin (license)

QUESTION: Seminars are the ideal place to ask any questions that may have arisen in the lecture, the reading or related to the coursework and assessments. They are also a good place to address any problems you may have encountered with the materials, your assessments or your study of the field in general, but try to stay on topic as seminar time is a precious resource, you may want to book a personal tutorial to cover things as well.

INTERACTIVE: Seminars are much more interactive and student focused than lectures can be. In the UK HE sector most Seminars (but perhaps not all) will be between 15-25 people where lectures can be a couple of hundred even at a small institution like Winchester. In that it’s an interactive session it can be much more difficult to prepare and plan for it. But, focusing on the moment is just as important as it is in a lecture.

CONTENT and CONTEXT (yes I’m cheating but I only have one C in Quick!)

Firstly, when you are speaking in a seminar, you have a clear context (the subject you are studying, the reading or lecture being discussed or expanded upon, and/or the application of knowledge gained from one or both) all this serves as a scaffolding to support what you are saying and make it easier for your colleagues (whatever their language) to understand you.

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ELTSU students discussing British Painting in their TATE Britain. Photo: I Preston

 

At the same time both you and your course-mates have all signed up to study this particular field and presumably are interested in it, (at least generally if not always specifically). When they are listening to you in seminars they will be much more interested and focused on what you are saying not how you are saying it. Another important feature to keep in mind here is that language teachers have to be specially trained to do this well, most people won’t notice little grammatical or pronunciation slips (with technical jargon it’s not uncommon to hear varying pronunciation among native speakers of the language dependent on dialect, subfield or education).

The last point here is that in interactive speaking (which seminars feature within) you need to focus on fluency even if this comes at the expense of accuracy. Some seminars can be quite fast paced and if you take too much time to formulate your response or question the talk will have moved onto another aspect, (which you may have missed because you were worrying about grammar). Stick with the talk in the moment and say what you have to say, (even if you’re not sure how to say it).

KEEN: Don’t be afraid to be passionate, even out-spoken at times. Seminars are one area where international students with differing expectations and educational experience can be an invaluable asset to the group as a whole. You might be the only representation of a particular cultural viewpoint on a novel, or a business practice. Don’t keep these to yourself and don’t suppress them; enrich everyone’s experience and they’ll make sure they keep you around and involved.

The Start is the End!

It’s almost the start of another academic year at Winchester, (Tuesday of Welcome week as I write this). Today is also the pre-sessional exam board. Our tutors have already been teaching for 12 weeks. So with that in mind, and sparked by a conversation over coffee this morning, let’s look at what a pre-sessional programme should do. The points below are all taken from feedback and expectations of students both past and present.

A pre-sessional should:

‘Teach grammar and vocabulary’ – yes and no. This sounds like a very basic expectation of any language class, (from the view that language is made up of grammar and vocabulary). By the time you get to the pre-sessional you have probably got most (if not all) of the nuts and bolts grammar you need. Additionally, the formulaic verb phrase teaching that helped you get this far isn’t as useful in academic contexts. It is true that there are words which are much more common in academic contexts. SEE Coxhead LINK. Practicing sentences with dummy subjects (ones that start with it/this etc.) can also be useful as it’s often left out of grammatical syllabi, or glossed over in application, and you will use this frequently in academic writing. Of course applying some of the grammar and vocabulary knowledge you already have; work on good drafting, proofreading, rewriting and editing skills is invaluable. So teaching grammar and vocabulary no teaching proofreading and editing of that grammar and vocabulary yes.

essay

‘Raise my IELTS score’ – No, proficiency point exams like IELTS can do no more than provide an indication of proficiency in a language. They occur on a single day and can be prepared for and even coached through. Your IELTS might go up (or it might not) the language skills you need at Uni are very different from what you need for IELTS. For example writing you will be writing an order of magnitude more for even first year papers that is possible within the framework of IELTS. What’s more what you write will be expected to be polished through several (or at least a few) drafts, supported with reasoning, citations, data, research, evidence, analysis and argumentation, again hardly possible in a couple of hundred words.

Creative Commons attribution information. Testing times. ©comedy_nose via Flickr

‘Let me on to my University course’ – Well yes if you’ve been required to take a pre-sessional before starting then this is something you need to do. However, this wording gives the impression you’re not really engaging with the pre-sessional in its own right. Any good pre-sessional prepares you for your course of study, but this is much more complicated that the tick box or a traffic light system this implies. Some Universities have separate pre-sessional programmes for different streams of study while this may be in part due to different requirements it’s also because different fields of academia tend to express themselves differently. And when you have so little time to prepare it can be a benefit to prepare very specifically. For example in many business focused programmes reports are much more common than traditional essays. In the arts and humanities (and also business) you’ll almost certainly have to stand up and give a convincing (argumentative) presentation. Whereas in the sciences you might need to report on research or give a presentation of data, but you want to let the facts/data convince the audience not try and argue them into agreeing.

The challenges of academic writing in ESL

‘Help me settle into life in the UK’ – We do pride ourselves at Winchester on the pastoral care of our students. Naturally, we’d argue that all good pre-sessional programmes do this. However, this isn’t something that will get a lot of classroom time devoted to it and even more than adjusting to the academic life this can be a very personal issue. Some students will want to study here for purely academic reasons; others will be much more keen to integrate socially as well as academically. Additionally, every different culture will need to adapt differently, and every student personally.

Coffe

‘Teach me how to do well at Uni’ – Yes this is another thing that every good pre-sessional programme does. Academic culture can be subtly (or quite unsubtly) different at different institutions let alone countries, even ones that share a single language. Many of our American international students have struggled with differing expectations, despite going to school their whole lives in English. Our pre-sessional at Winchester engages lecturers from around the University to teach and give guest lectures, workshops and seminars every week. The current heads of both the English Literature and English Language Programme are former ELTSU tutors. We’ve had lectures from Linguistics, Education, Business, Sport, Music, Archaeology, History and many more.

Shield

English for Peace

We’ve now started recruiting for our newest collaboration. “English for Peace” is a multilevel language course focusing on peace making and peace studies as the topic and English language development as the medium of transmission. You don’t need to be an expert in peace studies but you might be, and we can incorporate students with English proficiencies from CFER B1+ up. We’re really excited to be offering this in collaboration with the Centre of Religions for Reconciliation and Peace. The course is taught and run by staff from both centres. We met just the other day to work out the details for the extension excursion (subject to numbers) 3 days in Northern Ireland to meet people on both sides, and those in-between and learn about their experiences of peace first hand. But, that is just the things most present in one’s mind to be excited about. That said here’s a brief outline of what we’re looking at.

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Belfast (this photo is city hall by Iker Merodio via Creative Commons

We’re starting in Belfast, then visiting the peace centre at Corrymeela and on top of that trying to catch a bit of nature, culture and history.

Giants Causeway 1888

An 1888 photo of the Giant’s Causeway. Via Creative commons

With the (seemingly ever) growing prominence of English as a Lingua Franca more and more English is becoming the working language of diplomacy and international peace-making efforts. There is a certain advantage Nelson Mandela said If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. This of course can be one of the reasons to use a 3rd language to resolve disputes between communities or individuals; and English as the most spoken second language globally is likely to be the vehicle for this. In a number of circumstances throughout history conflict has be resolved by addressing it in a common lingua franca but not necessarily the mother tongue of the affected communities.

In the course we’ll be covering a wide variety of skills, including ICT, Research, Presenting and (academic) Writing, Debating, Negotiating and more. Language skills wise we do put an emphasis on speaking over writing but we do encourage and support the writing side as well. We’ll be supporting participants as they confront and address peace in their lives both professional and personal, as well as in the world around them both locally and internationally. Additionally, we aim to foster scholarship and promote the participants becoming more self-directed and reflective learners through use of journals and blogging. Lastly we’ll look at a wide variety of contexts for peace not just limited to the personal interests and professional foci of the participants.

English for Peace could serve as an introduction and/or companion to the Master’s in Peace.

In developing English for Peace we’ve been combining the expertise and experience of two parts of the university ELTSU and CRRP and naturally discovered some interesting synergies in the process. Working so closely together has also provided a prompt for both groups to independently and as groups reflect on our own practices and procedures; further benefiting our students and partners even where they are not involved in English for Peace.

EFP Flyer A

50 Adverbs to avoid in academic writing

Adverbs are often first on my list when editing down to a word count.

Learning, Teaching and Leadership

Most academic writing is strengthened by eliminating adverbs. To emphasize a point, provide more evidence to support it. Avoid unnecessary words and in particular, adverbs. Instead, choose more precise verbs.

An adverb modifies or describes:

  • A verb (e.g. He runs quickly.)
  • An adjective (e.g. His writing is extraordinarily descriptive.)
  • Another adverb (e.g. He runs extraordinarily quickly.)

Often, but not always, adverbs in English end in –ly. Here are 50 adverbs that I have seen in academic papers that you can eliminate and your writing will be better for it:

  1. Adroitly
  2. Amazingly
  3. Awesomely
  4. Badly
  5. Basically
  6. Carefully
  7. Clearly
  8. Completely
  9. Convincingly
  10. Deftly
  11. Desperately
  12. Dexterously
  13. Effortlessly
  14. Extremely
  15. Faithfully
  16. Fundamentally
  17. Generally
  18. Goodly
  19. Honestly
  20. Inherently
  21. Instantly
  22. Interestingly
  23. Narrowly
  24. Naturally
  25. Nearly
  26. Necessarily
  27. Obviously
  28. Precisely
  29. Previously
  30. Preposterously
  31. Quite
  32. Really
  33. Relentlessly
  34. Simply
  35. Spectacularly
  36. Successfully
  37. Suddenly
  38. Surely
  39. Truthfully
  40. Ubiquitously
  41. Unequivocally
  42. Ungodly
  43. Unnecessarily
  44. Unquestionably
  45. Utterly
  46. Unwittingly
  47. Usually
  48. Very
  49. Widely
  50. Zealously

Often, when writers make a conscious choice to eliminate adverbs…

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