The importance of orthography

As language teachers, we recognise the importance of the written word and the need for accuracy. We write our text messages in full and become mortified when we slip up with our own spelling and punctuation. We dutifully encourage our learners that a spelling mistake is not the end of the world but they must never be repeated, on pain of certain death.
local story reported on the BBC might go a long way to providing a reason for this neurosis, which transcends just getting it right. Today a settlement was reached between Companies House in Cardiff after the omission of the plural ‘s’ in the company name Tyler and Sons led to the wrong company being wound up, the loss of 250 jobs at a company that had been trading since the nineteenth century and an £8.8m court case. 

Proofreading never seemed so attractive. 

Intensity over immaturity

recent study from the University of Zürich suggests that taking English lessons early in life is less effective than intensive studies of the language. 

Incresingly, authorities in Europe are being lobbied by concerned parents to make primary schools monolingual. The findings of this study may support this.However, this is likely to be good news for private English schools, which could pick up lessons dropped by state schools. 

I do solemly swear…

Swearing is a transgression of taboo and is inherently bad, right? Maybe not. At least not always. Today the BBC ran this article on swearing which promotes its very NSFWOAE (not safe for work or anywhere else) Radio 4 broadcast Philosophers Arms on swearing
The article discusses some interesing studies on bad language:

The emotional release from swearing has been measured in a variety of ways. It turns out that swearing helps mitigate pain. It is easier to keep an arm in ice-cold-water for longer if you are simultaneously effing and blinding. And those who speak more than one language, report that swearing in their first language is more satisfying, carrying, as it does, a bigger emotional punch.

Add to this the research that suggests that people who swear a lot tend to be more honest and we have a new perspective on blue language. Maybe it’s just a little bit big and clever, after all?

Language without words


The above video from Scientific American covers the endangered whistling language that is used by shepherds in Greece.
The language transcends code and has it’s own structure, lexis and more obviously, intonation.

Universal Grammar in 2017

This week’s Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast features Professor Emeritus of the University College London, Neil Smith discussing Chomsky’s controversial theory of Universal Grammar with Professor Ben Ambridge science is offering from the Universiry of Liverpool. To listen to how science is offering new perspectives on the age old debate, click here.

“English should be mandatory for immigrants”

Today, the BBC ran this story on how MPs and peers in a cross party working group have stated that immigrants should learn English before arriving to the UK, or attend classes immediately after arrival. This statement was made with intergration in mind, it stands to further isolate the country and harm a reputation that it once had for being tolerant. The message that “London…”, arrogantly meaning the rest of the UK, “… is open!” that was repeated like one of Robocop’s prime directives to great international fanfare during the New Year’s celebration just a few days ago, seems moot.

As an English language teacher trainer, the story seems like good news at face value but it raises more questions. How will language be assessed before arrival? If precedent stands, it will likely be via a well-known test designed for academic English to assess suitability to study in Higher Education. What is the threshold? Will potential immigrants need to be able to get by in their daily lives or will they need to be able to hold a conversation about coffee production in Brazil, or how there are too many talent shows on UK television? How will the proposed £20m be sufficient for post arrival classes when cuts to ESOL type provision saw cuts of £40m in 2015? Will the funding be discriminatory to certain demographics? Cameron’s promise of the said £20m certainly was. How will it effect organisations which rely on skilled migrant workers? Who knows, but it seems like they might be more tired and stressed if they have to attend additional mandatory language classes on to of the jobs that they are brought to the UK to do. 

It seems like London is open, but only if you have money, skills, an aptitude for language learning and can handle the post-Brexit fallout and poor weather. Within one year of arriving, half of the people who actually can secure visas to the UK cannot

The scheme is suggested to be run on a regional basis, following a similar model to Canada. This also raises the question, here in Wales, of whether immigrants should also be trained and tested in Welsh. As a lifelong citizen of the capital city of Wales, I must coyly admit that I would not fare well under such a scheme.