What about Brexit?

This post discusses both the word and the events.

Brexit is an interesting term, with over 100 million hits in Google it’s also a hot topic, despite what some wish. First recognised by the OED in 2012 it’s older than some imagine if still very young as a word. Also in 2012 from the OED there was Grexit which was perhaps popularised a little earlier (but now has just 4.5 million hits in Google) under fears that Greece would crash out of the Eurozone. Also posited were Frexit (not yet recognised as a word by the OED, 0.8 million hits in Google and described by Wikipedia as “based on Grexit”) and the possibility that Spain and or Italy may also leave the Eurozone. “Spexit”seems was never likely to catch on  (with a mere 50K Google hits). While *Itexit *Nexit (The Netherlands) are discussed their traction is limited; although perhaps growing in the case of Nexit.

union-jack-hat

Why does Brexit work so well? well Brexit and Grexit are easy to say, clear and understandable as blends of the words they derive from. The consonant cluster at the beginning of the word seems to help. But, Spain also starts with a consonant cluster. But, in this case the following vowel sound is a diphthong not the short /e/ that starts exit, and  the /I/ in Britain and the /I:/ in Greece being monothongs merge better with the overall shape of the word.

Of course we also get asked what it will mean for us.

eltsu-banner

UK Universities and schools have been feeling the pressure of uncertainty here, and Winchester is not alone in that regard although some figures show we’re less threatened than many institutions. While this has obviously been of particular concern for us in ELTSU, here at Winchester we’re continuing to build on our base as an open and welcoming institution with this message from our Vice Chancellor.

Brexit and US immigration

 As I said following the results of the EU referendum last year, we are a proudly European university with a global outlook. With students and staff from nearly 80 countries, we hugely value the contribution and uniqueness of each individual, wherever they are from.

For many members of staff and students, these are troubling times; questions remain about what Brexit means for EU nationals, and the deeply disturbing developments in the USA pose real threats to people in our community. 

Whilst these questions remain, may I reiterate our commitment to all of our students and staff. We are working closely with colleagues across the sector as policy emerges following the recent Brexit vote in the Commons. We will be establishing an EU Nationals support group that will seek to provide advice and guidance as policy becomes clearer over the coming months. 

Our community will always remain resolutely open and hospitable.Shield

 

Are you an international student at Winchester who’d like help? Canvas Link

 

 

Happy New Years (Resolutions)

Happy New Year!

fireworks-london

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.
reading2

photo credit: Senado Federal Biblioteca do Senado via photopin (license)

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

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

Happy 100th birthday to the Women’s institute (gendered language in English)

Today is the 100th anniversary of the WI (Women’s Institute)  in the UK. This very stereotypically British organisation was actually originally founded in Stoney Creek Ontario in 1897.

Our local branch is just outside the Historic Roman and Saxon cities of Winchester.

WI House from Google Streetview

In Honour of the centenary let’s look at gender in the English Language.

English is less inflectional and less gendered than many other European languages. However, there are some areas where English is still quite gendered and one area is our pronouns.

He/She/It (the 3rd Person):

It’s annoying when students assume that because someone is an academic, and a professor that they are male. Especially as more and more women are staying in academia longer and more successfully. Keep in mind that the only person to ever win two Nobel prizes in different fields was Marie Skłodowska Curie.  So claims that “language hasn’t caught up yet” and “it’s only a recent phenomenon” are hollow and puerile.

There remains some debate about how to talk about lone (or hypothetical) individuals of neutral or neither gender. Using “he” is problematic because the person may or may not be a “he”. Statistically speaking in the UK despite the fact that slightly more male children are born than female this indefinite person is more likely to be female.  Using “she” is just as problematic. Historically, there was a bias towards using “he” but switching to “she” is overcompensating and when traditionally masculinity, roles, and identity are undergoing changes already this could only worsen the impact for many.

If you find “(s)he”, “she or he”, and “he/she” or my personal bête noir “it” awkward, clumsy and generally lacking in style and flair. You wouldn’t be alone. There have been numerous attempts to insert a gender neutral third person singular pronoun into English. The fact that there have been so many attempts should tell you something; they failed. Whether it is “X” “Xe” (incidentally this would be pronounced ‘she’ by speakers of some languages) “ ‘e” or even the Greek letter sigma “∑”. None of them were widely adopted, remained persistent within certain groups, or even consistently applied within the originating academic disciplines and/or schools of thought.

The problem is inventing a new word isn’t easy. Inventing a new word in a closed syntactic category is next to impossible. One thing all the examples above lack is pronounceability. A novel word needs to be pronounceable or it won’t catch on. Another is that English already has words which (in almost all situations) meet this need. What is this magical expression you ask “they”. Yes traditionally they and there are associated with plural 3rd person usage. But, English would not be alone in using a plural for a singular in certain situations. Additionally, this use is already fairly widespread and in most situations does not introduce any ambiguity.

Consider this sentence. “Sam said they’re still coming this morning but they’d be late; they have to drop their children off at school.” We don’t know in this case whether Sam is short for Samantha or Samuel (or perhaps just Sam. But, we do know who “they” and “their” refers to.

Women’s / Men’s magazines:

The glossy press is one area where gendering is still particularly strong. But, both the terms “men’s magazine” and “women’s magazine” are quite dismissive. Perhaps this is because they are being defined by their target audience and assumptions about them as a group rather than their content.

Chairperson:

We’ve probably all heard the joke that “90% of chair people are women” the punch line is that “it’s still only 10% of chairmen that are chairpersons”. Chairperson is one of the terms thought of collectively as political correctness and perhaps because of this not as widely used as it might be. In academia there was already fairly wide use of “Chair” as a role before chairperson became common. However, this remains persistent Google has 24 million hits for chairperson, and 249 million for chairman (more than 10 times as many) so we still have a lot of work to do. And that’s not all, there is still a huge pay gap.

Marginalisation through child terms:

Women are still much more likely to be called girls, than men are to be called boys. Where men are collectively referred to as boys it’s usually an affectionate closeness. While this does cover some uses of girls the term is applied much more broadly.

Personnel Access Conduit Sealing Device:

Image under creative commons from The Tire Zoo on twitr

Image under creative commons from The Tire Zoo on twitr

This is the politically correct term for what was historically referred to as a “Man Hole Cover”. So perhaps correctness can go a bit far. When nobody knows what you mean any more; you’re not using language effectively.

English for Peace

An innovative new course combining the expertise of two groups within the University of Winchester, English for Peace, is led by an experienced international team of English Language and Peace Studies practitioners. The collaboration between the Winchester Centre of Religions for Reconciliation and Peace and the English Language Teaching and Support Unit, capitalises on the experience and expertise of both, and utilises the networks, both local and international, of both.

By focusing on Peace through English, participants can improve both their knowledge of the topic and their language skills relating to it. Students can scaffold their own knowledge and experiences into their developing communicative competencies. In this way it does not matter whether you have a higher or lower level of language, or whether you have little to moderate levels of knowledge about the workings of peace making. All are welcome to join in active participation in our community of peace scholars learning, and sharing, through English.

EFP-Flyer

About the Course:

The course mixes traditional classroom learning techniques with visits both from and to various organisations and individuals working in the broader field of peace. These are principally drawn from local networks and organisations, however, international visits will be engaged whenever possible.

The guest speakers provide a supported engagement with real and relevant issues of peace through English as a medium, however the speakers are not themselves language tutors, this supported engagement develops confidence in the learners’ engagement with peace issues in the language.

Similarly, during field work participants will be accompanied and supported by a tutor, but not explicitly led by one; this further supports their development and independence as learners and language users.

The subject matter throughout the course is focused on Peace, the materials have been specially developed and curated by the tutors to this end, and they include: academic papers; publications from both government and non-governmental organisations, (as well as some super-national UN etc.); articles from the press including local, national and international sources and range across various media including print; web; audio recordings; and video.

Students work on a portfolio that can be tailored to their own specific needs and interests; regular participation in discussions, debates and presentations supports the development of their spoken English while the encouraged reflective writing further strengthens both productive skills as well as metalinguistic and topic awareness, not to mention personal development.

During their stay in Winchester participants can choose either to stay in (self or fully catered) university accommodation or to live in a “home stay” with a local family offering further chances for language immersion and a taste of what it’s like to live in Britain.

Classes run morning through mid-afternoon, and while some field work may require longer days, and some guest speakers may only be available for evening slots; this still leaves participants time to explore Winchester and it’s environs, independently, in groups or in the company of host families.

The course can optionally be extended for a weekend visit to Belfast in Northern Ireland where we will visit organisations and learn about the workings of the peace process there, this is dependent on numbers.

This year the course will run from the 17th – 28th of August. Email ELTSU@winchester.ac.uk for more information and registration.

Three tips for reading your own work.

It can be essential to passing, it is (usually) essential to getting good marks.

But why is proofreading so very difficult?

Get some distance from your work. We all get very close to our work (even if we just wish it was over and done with). There’s an idiom for all this “when you can’t see the forest for all the trees”. One way to get distance is time; get time away from your work. Several well-known writers and writing tutors have advocated this. The time varies between two days and a month. Obviously you may not have a whole month to leave your assignments sitting, but if you have a complete draft one week before the deadline you can leave it for two or even three days. This time helps you read what you have actually written, not what you were thinking when you accidentally wrote something else.

Listen to your writing. Reading aloud, or even getting someone to read it to you. This allows you to use your ears to listen to your grammar. Vygotsky identifies spoken language as first order representation, and written language as second order. Perhaps this is why mistakes that we often miss in our own work when we read it on screen (or even on paper) pop out when we hear it. The ear tends to be more critical of grammatical errors, poor cohesion and other language slips, but also of poor argumentation and sloppy logic.

Mark your writing.  You don’t need to buy a pack of red pens, (but you can). Take the grade descriptors, (also called: Marking guide/crib) and see how well (or poorly) your work matches up against them. This is difficult without training and standardisation. How do you tell exactly where the line between good presentation and excellent presentation is? However, this process may help you find presentation errors or just better ways of presenting something by focusing on the grades in a similar way to your reviewer. Also look at your original assignment. Are you guilty of mission creep? Ask yourself “Does my response answer the question set”. Answering the wrong question is unlikely to get you a pass no matter how good your paper is. Writing in the wrong form will also cause problems. (We’ve seen essays that started with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or that had labelled bulleted structures.) (I once got a very nice, closely observed elegantly argued poetry paper; the problem was it was in a linguistics module).