lunes, 2 de mayo de 2011

Hearing Voices

Myself and Osama bin Laden were the only people in the universe not at Brighton, and now that he's gone, it's just me left. So I have been doing my best to follow the conference as it echoes around the blogosphere. Just last night I read Scott Thornbury's technosceptical post and its many comments and reblogs. I too feel ambivalent about technology, but have never been quite how to put my feelings into words. But I do feel glad for my modest old laptop and internet connection. Let me offer my defence of that aspect of technology at least.

I've been in this shabby business long enough to remember when the cassette recorder was the only multimedium available, and pretty much all you could play was the cassette that came with the book. (For those of you who do not know what a cassette recorder is, here  is an excellent introduction.)

All that ffwing and rewing. All that tape hiss. All that lugging the frigging stuff around on buses and tube trains. The constant risk of your tape-player turning into a plate of moaning brown spaghetti. So why did I bother?

Because it was another voice. Even a crap one. Another dimension - especially when I was doing one-to-one classes. And I think the content and quality of that third voice have improved in the days of the multi-worldwide-inter-online-blogo-tubo-sphere-net.

And does the third voice get in the way of dogme? See what you think. I've found the following kind of strategy often works - inviting the third voice to join in near the end of a conversation class.

If we've been talking about food or cooking, we might take a look at Videojug. (See the end of this blog for details about each of the sources.)

If we've been talking about just about anything from science or social science, we make a bee-line to TED.

If crime is the subject, we might try The Real Hustle on YouTube. The Real Hustle is also great for social interaction with strangers (shops, hotels, passers-by and so on).

I think there's a huge difference in emphasis between starting a class off with a video sequence (teacher-led) and allowing a third voice to chip in at the end of a student-generated conversation. Dogme? Dogmaybe.

And I notice one curious thing time after time: If the conversation has arisen from the people in the room, students tend to be able to understand the video sequence much better than if it had been brought in by me. As listeners, they seem to punch above their weight.

If you've never done this before, I would spend a little free time skimming through a few videos from each site. But in class I don't hesitate to say "Well since we're talking about what you ate on holiday in Vietnam, do you want to take a quick look at a website which has lots of recipes? Maybe we can find something Vietnamese?"

And if nothing useful turns up, so be it. We do something else with the existing voices.

So definitely a freshly-made dish, but garnished with a little multimedia. Bo proveite!

Appendix - The Sources

The Real Hustle is a TV programme which has been posted extensively on YouTube. It is a hidden-camera programme where a trio of performers demonstrate con-tricks and scams on the unsuspecting public. The English is hard - lots of untidy colloquial speech - but I usually ask my students to try to follow the dynamics, rather than the speech.

TED is a very well-known conference on various key issues featuring many leading experts. All the talks are posted on and many now feature multilingual subtitles.

Videojug features short video tutorials on how to cook, keep fit, do DIY and many other subjects. Anybody can upload to the site, but the best quality clips are those made by the Videojug people themselves. A godsend for foodies. Try this one.

5 comentarios:

  1. I enjoyed this post. Informative, and you're finding your voice. You made me laugh too. Interesting point about punching above their weight. People play better after watching professionals, which is a similar phenomenon. Can you search for videos with any level? Is there a site where students of all levels post videos/audios which could be easily searched? Kind of like TED for EFL.

  2. Hi Dave, and sorry for replying so late. Monday is my busiest day.

    First of all, I'm blushing at your compliments! Especially since you've arrived in the blogosphere fairly recently and have done so well yourself, both in terms of the quality of your content and the interest you've generated.

    There IS a site where people post their favourite video extracts of bits and pieces - it was pointed out to me by a student ages ago, but I didn't bookmark it, and now I can't remember the title. Maybe someone else can help? I do remember my initial impression - that it was fine to search if you already knew what you wanted, but there didn't seem an obvious way to browse by content.

    Sorry to be so useless...

  3. Ah, another TED and Videojug fan! I've also recently found Howcast which is similar to Videojug. The Real Hustle is great and thanks for the suggestion but I think youTube has spoiled me because I just wish it was in HD and with better sound.

    Strangely enough I long for a tape-player. I'm using two phones (my smartphone* and my Nokia N96) at the moment and neither of them are great a recording sound from the classroom. Recording the students being a brilliant way to raise awareness and recording yourself being a good way to get exactly the listening material you want (saying and repeating it in class just isn't the same thing). No, the best tool I have ever used was a Coomber tape player/recorder. Even the smaller tape recorders like the one you show tend to record better sound than mobile phones.

    * The Smartphone isn't an iPhone. :-(

    What I do remember about the AudioVisual equipment in my French and German language classes at secondary school was the poor quality of the recordings and how I felt completely defeated understanding what felt like only 5% by the end of the task.

    So I've got to disagree a bit about your point about another voice, "even a crap one", though my disagreement is on behalf of low-level learners (in the case of my French class, extremely low level).

  4. I wasn't at Brighton, either. I'd say don't believe all the hype but I'd get shot down very quickly for making such a statement.

    Nice to be able to leave messages on your blog! Will be back again soon.

  5. Thanks Gordon and Adam for your comments. Adam - I'm sure I would have loved to be at Brighton, but your secret opinion is safe with me.

    Gordon, I remember very vaguely the thirty of us in the French class being herded along the corridor to the language lab by Mrs Thompson once in a blue moon, and I can't say it made much impression on me one way or the other. But (and I think it's a big but) what we had to listen to and repeat had nothing to do with what we were interested in, or even what we were doing in the French class that week.

    Have you tried using net material as a follow-up to emergent language?

    Oh by the way, if you have a laptop in class, get hold of Audacity, which is a very simple audio-rec program. See my earlier blog on "Begoña."