Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Guest Post: Mieke Kenis on Raymond Murphy

I actually remember the first time I saw a copy of Raymond Murphy's English Grammar in Use. I hadn't been teaching long and I was sitting on a bus in Brasília, going from one class to another, when I spotted it. "Sounds like the kind of book I need to read" I joked half seriously to myself.

It then started to appear more regularly, as students would turn up to their classes with it under their arm, just in case their native speaker teacher wasn't particularly au fait with the rules behind verb + preposition + -ing, although I'm not sure where they could possibly have got that idea... ;-)

I really got an idea of the books success when I moved to Korea and saw the same piles of copies in book shops, just as I'd seen in Brazil, and I thought to myself "Man alive, I don't know who this Raymond Murphy fellow is but I think he hit the jackpot." Until recently, I still had no idea who he was. In my mind, he was a recluse, living in a solid gold house on a tiny Pacific island, surrounded by pots of cash, a bit like this.

To be honest, I think that says more about the state of my mind than anything about Mr Murphy...

Someone who has an altogether more well rounded idea about him is Mieke Kenis, known to most of you as @mkofab on Twitter. She had the pleasure of being his student 30 years ago and of being a guinea pig for what was to become the world's English language grammar bible.

Here she shares with us of her memories of her summer in Oxford with the English language learner's grammar guru...

"It was the summer of 1982. The year before we had been glued to our tiny red TV set to watch what I consider the most beautiful TV drama series I have ever seen. Brideshead Revisited, based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh (1945), was serialized for ITV and became immensely popular in Britain and also in Flanders. The story, the themes, the actors, the settings, the costumes, the language and the music mesmerized and enchanted us. The young and then unknown actor Jeremy Irons played the main character, who - in a long flashback- tells the story in an off screen voice

That rich English prose of Waugh, read by Irons, is sheer beauty turned into sound and it can still move me after 31 years as it moved the 24 year old me in 1981. The beginning of the series is set in Oxford and the city attracted me enormously. 

I had just finished my first full school year as a teacher but I knew there was still so much English to learn so although I was getting married in August I was determined to do a summer course first. Of course it had to be in Oxford and so in July 1982 I travelled to England to spend three weeks at the Swan School of English.
An early prototype of what was to become the most popular ELT grammar book in the world.
 I entered a world that is so familiar to many of you but that was exotic and exciting to me: an English language school. I had never seen a school building that was in fact “a house”. An intricate layout of floors, rooms and staircases, wall to wall carpets and a garden!

Whiteboards, desks put in a U shape, tea breaks and a social programme of pub crawls (new word for me!) and coach trips during the weekends. Stratford-upon-Avon: Yay! 

I had booked a room in a university college building so that meant a lot of time on my own in the evenings and during weekends. Studying, reading, listening to the radio. A dream holiday in the city of dreaming spires.  

On the first day of the course we had to do a placement test and I ended up in Mr Murphy’s class.  Mr Murphy, Ray, was a gentle, soft-spoken and very friendly man, who welcomed us every morning while music was playing in his classroom (I loved that!).  The days were full of surprises as I had no idea what to expect. We learnt new words, did some intonation exercises, he taught us idioms and phrasal verbs, we did role plays and  had discussions, listened to news broadcasts and wrote about the topics we had discussed in class. He corrected our work and gave feedback.

I will be forever grateful for his lessons, for his grammar book(s) and for introducing me to Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage, which was exactly what I needed and which I still recommend to my students today.

Another prototype

 I would like to conclude by some thoughts on textbooks and on grammar.

As a non-native speaker of English, and therefore still a learner, I am really thankful for textbooks. 

Not everyone has the privilege to be taught by a good teacher when and as often as they would like. Over the years I have learnt a lot from various excellent textbooks.  I can only thank the many authors, like Raymond Murphy, who have written some great (self-study) materials for us, millions of learners of English. 

And then there is grammar. Of course we should concentrate on communication and we have come a long way since the days of grammar- based courses but I hope that native speaker teachers who call their courses learner-centered will let the learner decide on this too. 

If we, learners, want accuracy, please don’t deny us accuracy. Allow us, learners, to decide how accurate we want to be or how much like a native speaker we want to sound and how much British / American culture we want to learn. 

In 2004 I attended the IATEFL conference in Liverpool with a colleague. During one of the busy coffee breaks, plastic cup in one hand, heavy conference brochure in the other hand, trying to figure out where the next session would take place, I saw a man come in my direction. He had recognised me, he said. One look at his gentle face and I started stuttering that indeed I had been in his class in Oxford that summer of 1982. 

Raymond Murphy.

A highly successful, bestselling author who recognises a student after 22 years, is still a teacher at heart I guess."

Mieke and Raymond are in there somewhere if you can spot them
Thanks to Mieke for her lovely account of meeting Raymond Murphy and from her description I think you can get a sense of why his book went on to be so popular.

And if you want to hear more about him and how the book came about, Cambidge University Press have uploaded an interview with Mr Murphy on their Youtube channel. I guess he's not quite as reclusive as I thought...

Many thanks to Mieke for sharing her story with us. Make sure you follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mkofab.


After reading this article, Raymond Murphy was kind enough to get in touch with Mieke and thank her for the article. Thanks to Ian Cook (@idc74) at Cambridge University Press for passing it on to him.
Read more ►

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Same Difference

Earlier today Mike Harrison tweeted the following question

Sandy Millin replied, as retweeted by me below, and the conversation continued...

And this made me think of a blog post I read a few months ago. I think it was a rather silly anti-dogme post, full of poorly made arguments and incorrect assumptions, and was clearly spoiling for a fight. Somewhere in the article there was a swipe at those of us who see don’t see students as being particularly different, wherever in the world you teach. The article was already irksome because of its anti-dogme stance, and this just added salt to the wound.

I’m one of those people. I’ve taught in Brazil, South Korea and now Belgium, three utterly different cultures and in very different teaching environments. And yet I have never found my students to be that radically different from each other in any of those countries. When you think it about it, it does seem unlikely that they could be so similar, but that’s what my experience bears out.

The conversation we had today gave me an idea of how this is possible. So here it is, just a thought, an idea of mine, based on my experience, the things I’ve read and the people I’ve spoken too. Not very academic and possibly wrong, but it feels right to me...

All over the world, English language learners are on the receiving of very similar teaching methodologies. At worst, they might sit in lecture rooms and have grammar classes in their own native language, followed by some translation. If they are a little bit luckier, they might have a colourful coursebook that in no way reflects their own life and invites them to discuss what they had for breakfast (a reductive stereotype I know, but you get the point).

The vast majority of students may well come through this mill before they end up in our classroom, and that’s why they are so similar, because most of them may have always had the same relationship with English language learning i.e. a boring one.

That doesn’t even take into account the fairly limited range of goals we normally encounter, which are usually related to work, travel or “because English is so useful nowadays” (and who’s going to argue with that?).

Our students are in our classrooms, having had similar prior experiences with the language and with similar objectives, no matter where in the world they live. And sure, there are some very general national characteristics that are true, but when you get down to the nitty gritty and really get to know your students, those traits really aren’t that important. On the surface my Korean students were reserved and quiet, but after a while, you discovered that for every quiet learner there was a class clown or show off.

So while it might sound reductive to claim that everyone is the same, it’s quite the opposite and claiming that a Japanese class needs to be taught in a Japanese way is more reductive and patronising to me.  And that’s why, I reckon, with the right level of local cultural sensitivity, we can find that we don’t need to radically alter our teaching style or our expectations of students needs. The thing is, I don't approach my class as being a Brazilian one or a Korean one. Basically, I don’t teach Brazilians, Koreans or Belgians, I teach Paulo, Min Jee and Vincent.

Sorry, that was corny, but it’s true...

Read more ►

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Video Games Unplugged


I'm currently reading Kyle Mawer and Graham Stanley's Digital Play, published by DELTA, for a book review (which I'll share with you as soon as it's online). So far it's a great book, passionately and convincingly arguing for a place for video games in the ELT classroom. 

The second part of the book, and the biggest, contains a myriad of activities, including ones that are about video games rather than using video games. I was particularly struck by an activity on page 39 called Game Chatalogue. The essence of the activity is that students use video game catalogues to discuss what they find interesting.

If you want more detail, you'll have to buy the book... ;-)

But I will tell you this, as I read the activity I thought this could have come straight out of another book from the DELTA teacher development series, one that some people still maintain would be dead set against technology in the classroom. And I thought that was it was very interesting to see a dogme activity there in a resource book so obviously appealing to techheads. And then I realised it wasn't the only the one, but a lot of the activities were essentially video games unplugged.

And I guess there are two main ways of interpreting this. On one hand you can say that this is an example of how Dogme ELT has had such a strong influence on classroom practices in the last decade that it is now used without even its label. Or your position may be that Dogme ELT is just a label for common sense teaching which existed long before Scott Thornbury's 10 Commandments and this is just another example.

Anyone who has read this blog before will know that I'm much more inclined towards the former than the latter, but what's really important to me is that this is a practical, clear example, free from argument and labelling which enables teachers to get on with teaching. And that's what I'd like to see more of, not just on blogs, but in resource books and yes, even coursebooks. I can dream, can't I?


My review of Digital Play is now online: 
Read more ►

Copyright © TheTeacherJames Design by O Pregador | Blogger Theme by Blogger Template de luxo | Powered by Blogger