Education Goes the Longest of Ways

When I say education, I mean we got so used to having our opinions and defending them, and listening to people who think alike, that we forgot to explain and show why we think that, how we’ve come to that position or state of mind. Furthermore, this line of thought would imply educating other people, as in explaining, clarifying, informing, communicating. It might sound as elitist as the whole establishment I am trying to criticise here, but how about explaining why it’s not okay to use violence to defend ideas? How about trying to make people see not that it’s logically wrong to believe immigrants steal local jobs, but clarifying why that is so? How about showing people that expressing your opinion is all great, and we all embrace freedom of speech, but first let’s just try to base it on facts and not on social media news feed? Yes, it should be as rudimentary as that.

It’s pretty straightforward – and decent, and the right thing to do – to condemn what happened yesterday in Washington, to listen to all the statements, and all the stern comments, and the grave finger pointing, and even the angry positions on the serious thought and intellectual imbalance that led to the misguided attacks.

Yet as it happens, so many times we rush into finding the guilty party, the catalyser, the manipulator of events and facts – when we should go way beyond that. A lot of voices point towards the last four years of fake news and deep fakes where the lines between facts and opinions are as blurred as they have come to be non-existent. But this is not the cause, it’s just a symptom of many. For instance, it was all so intellectually stimulating to superiorly and massively laugh at and dismiss people who quoted Facebook or Twitter to support their beliefs in the so called birther movement, or the reasons for not wearing masks, or how immigrants steal local jobs.

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Come What May

During a year where we didn’t as much miss instant connections, I did miss physicality of almost instant travelling. This century has brought fast travel and having breakfast in Madrid and then lunch in Montréal to end up having dinner in Sidney, yet this last year forbade that and left us with the second best thing and a whole lot of a bitter taste: facetime and time alone.

It is common practice to hope the New Year be better than the one just left behind, and it seemed all the more practical to wish for it when we just took our leave from 2020. After all, 2021 has it really easy when it comes to being only just slightly better, right?

I for one can’t complain, and I won’t: 2020 has been pretty good for me, all the world suffering and pain aside – and that’s all I’m going to say. As for how much better 2021 can be, I just wish I can fully appreciate whatever may come.

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Teaching English in Times of Pandemic

Teaching English online is possible, and can be done in even better than average conditions. But this sets a new paradigm, which may come to a serious debate, beyond teaching English. It remains to be seen whether education can be moved to the online sphere – partially or completely. And I believe this is much bigger than any of us teachers, the profession, even the activity itself: if education can adapt to be performed within extreme social distancing conditions, if molding mentalities and shaping minds and souls can skip the in-person part, what else can we skip on doing directly? And how long before we develop an aversion to human contact and a deep fear of close face-to-face interaction – just as in the gloomy fictional future I mentioned?

A far-away society where people are taught to avoid direct contact at all costs, necessary face-to-face interaction (such as when you have to procreate) is considered dirty business, communication is performed exclusively through enhanced technology – holograms, 3D screens and the likes of it – and a deep fear of human contact is so strong that some may even consider suicide to avoid it. This was the first imagined paradigm of social distancing I ever came across in a book (The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov), many years before reality beat the life out of fiction and made us all at least consider the situation, as well as its consequences.

I am considered to be a millenial, which basically means I have come to age along with the internet. I can still distinctly remember the first time we went to an internet café in the mid 90s in Romania – there was a group of us skipping some class – to go check what all the fuss about the internet was. I remember one of my classmates who had the privilege of having a computer at home (not connected to the internet, though) sat in front of it while we stood and watched how he typed the three magic Ws to get on the first webpage I had ever seen. Soon after, another colleague taught me how to set up a free email account to keep in touch after having met in different city while taking part in some high-school language competition.

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What We Should Learn from This

Some of us may seem to think that since we are millennials, generation X, or generation Z, using a smartphone, apps, and a Wi-Fi connection is just about as easy as washing your hands (yes, pun intended). Joke aside, I have personally come to discover that I was wrong: people need a lot more training when it comes to taking digital steps and it´s not at all a question of age or generation.

When you need perspective, you take a step back. What is right now probably not easily visible, because the foreground is currently centred someplace else, could become less so in the weeks to come. And it would be a shame to waste such an opportunity to make everything digital available to more people.

This crisis, that is as a health-related one, could soon turn out to have social intricacies. Barely had we survived a weekend under quarantine.  Next, we have been literally flooded with free online resources: courses and classes, theatre and opera plays, movies and books, advice and expertise on how to videoconference and take your business online.

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Inglés B2 con temario a 100€

El inglés ya no es un idioma que se aprende — a su ritmo y plazo — que implica deseo, disponibilidad, tiempo y estudio, práctica constante e inclusión en probablemente cada aspecto de la vida fuera del aula. El inglés tiene nada que ver con el deseo de conocer la cultura, los libros, las películas, la gente. El inglés no se prueba y se mejora cada día al hablar, sentirlo, pensar en ello. No: el inglés es una asignatura. Una asignatura para la cual se puede comprar un temario dividido en temas y variantes de exámenes que se estudian y aprenden capítulo por capítulo; una asignatura que puedes odiar constantemente, pero que hay que coger, porque “te la piden por todas partes”; una asignatura cuyo temario puedes comprar a 100€ en un grupo de Facebook.

La primera vez que un alumno me comentó que se dice por allí que hay un cierto número de temas en la parte de Writing de un examen oficial de inglés y que talvez podríamos trabajar estos temas en concreto durante las clases, pensé que se trataba de un gran malentendido.

En un segundo capítulo, una alumna me preguntó en clase si tengo conocimiento de la validez de unos 10 temas de la parte de Speaking que una señora le ofreció vender en un grupo de Facebook por 100 euros.

La tercera parte baja el telón sobre una perfecta escena de teatro del absurdo. Una profesora me cuenta que verás… sus alumnas del grupo de preparación del C1 están en un grupo de Facebook. Oh, boy! —se me escapa. That´s what I thought —me comenta la profesora; y sigue: que sus alumnas que están en ese grupo de Facebook se han enterado que en la parte de Reading del examen toca uno de tres textos sobre (en este orden): los osos panda, Singapore y algo sobre los micro créditos. Y que si por favor ¿podríamos preparar estos temas, con vocabulario específico? Ah, y por cierto, ¿no habría una lista de vocabulario para exámenes oficiales?

La curiosidad me pica.

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What One Can Learn from Teaching

[…] within the lines of downright shaming teachers who claim “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me”. He explains that “with due respect to my colleagues in the teaching profession who use this expression, I am compelled to say: if that´s true, then you´re not a very good teacher”. Well, I beg to differ.

There is this book I have been reading, The Death of Expertise, whose pompous subtitle The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters initially made me think it´s going to be an <<unputdownable>>. The author argues that in times when everybody not only has an opinion, but that opinion also has to be respected as such by everybody else, here we are facing the situation where the lines between fact and opinion are awfully blurred and even more so, knowledge is something everybody has, on any topic whatsoever. Tom Nichols defends the expertise and experts, making a pretty convincing point that by sheer definition, it is that difficult to be an expert on any given field as it is easy to be the superficial owner of some very questionable degree of knowledge you can force on others to respect under the newly discovered virtues of tolerance and individual freedom of opinion. He blames among other factors the (American) higher education system that grants more people than ever access to a degree, thus invalidating the differentiation that the name itself bears. Okay, all good so far, at least good enough to keep reading. But then he goes on and says something that falls within the lines of downright shaming teachers who claim “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me”. He explains that “with due respect to my colleagues in the teaching profession who use this expression, I am compelled to say: if that´s true, then you´re not a very good teacher“.

Well, I beg to differ. This is when I do put down the book and can´t help but think that is not at all accurate. Leaving aside the “very good teacher part” — an utterly subjective matter of opinion nonetheless which asks for an entirely different conversation about peer review and student feedback (the author also argues in a bit of a questionable way that student evaluation is too subjective to be reliable enough) and the relevance and relativity of both when it comes to assessing educators — I do feel that I learn a lot from my students.

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When Hate Catches You Unaware

However annoyed a native English speaker might have felt when reading my question, did that even begin to justify my being called “you and your people are the scourge of Europe and nothing will get the smell of campfire out of you”? Did that somehow explain my receiving private messages with pictures of poorly dressed people in front of an ATM, allegedly trying to rob someone and supposedly sharing my nationality, only to help make the point that my

When I first decided to share my first post on several Facebook English teaching groups, little had I suspected I was already on a bitter path. The kind of path that you find yourself on when you ask for opinions and what you get is an open personal attack based exclusively on where you were born. One could also say I was looking for it, just by being there.

Did I not know there are people who still think like a century ago when it comes to language, race, culture or religion? Did I not at least suspect that there are people who are still willing to use nationality or birthplace to label, judge and condemn all at once? Did I really expect to have a decent conversation, however controversial? Absolutely. What I never intended was for a question about the appropriateness of teaching English as a non-native speaker or what and how native speakers feel about sharing a profession with non-native counterparts to lead to aggressive verbal attacks from some of the former.

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No, Not, and None. So Which Is It?

No and not are two of the most common English words to express negation. And it´s as simple as this:

Negatives are tricky in any language, and apparently all the more so in English. But they shouldn´t be; at times, it´s just because English is all over that some of its simplest uses turn into headaches.

No and not are two of the most common English words to express negation. And it´s as simple as this:

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How to Say 0 in English

There are many ways of saying the #number0 in #English, and these do not include the #slang terms. Here is a short review on how and when we say #zero #nought or #nil

Spoiler alert: this is a text for all those who still believe English is simple because it has no overly developed vocabulary. To them and everybody else I suggest you take one simple item of vocabulary – the number 0 for instance – and try to think of at least three ways of saying it. Here is a hint for you: there are more than three.

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All the Love for English Past Tenses

What I honestly find linguistically romantic in the unreal English past has mostly to do with the comparison to how other languages express situations that are far from reality. Some use conditionals, others use subjunctives; yet English has found a way to express distance both in time and from reality.

The English language has something as romantic as an unreal past. What is that – a past that is not real? Is it because it never happened? Never will? It´s actually a down-to-earth grammatical term and it refers to situations that are not real, because did not happen. But the beauty I still see in it is the distance the past manages to encompass.

Only it´s not the distance in time the past usually sets, but the distance from reality, from things that actually did happen.

The unreal past is often used in conditional sentences or in situations that express wishes or regrets. Broken down, it´s the use of past tenses – past simple and past perfect mostly – for hypothetical situations that might exist at some point, but did not yet.

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