Sunday, 4 December 2011

Aviation English part 1: The purest form of ESP?

In a much earlier post on this blog, I raised the idea that there are basically two approaches to ESP course design: English for … and English through

Just to recap, with an English for … approach, we are teaching learners the specific language and skills they need in order to function effectively at work in English. The starting point is the needs analysis, which generates a series of situations where the learner may need to use English, whether in speech or in writing. There’s a strong emphasis on functional language presented in context and skills work, especially role-plays, to practise it.

With an English through … approach, on the other hand, the focus is on developing learners’ level of English, and the ESP field simply provides the context. Such a course might be built around, for example, a traditional grammar syllabus, but the examples and practice sentences could be related to the ESP field. There’s a strong emphasis on learning vocabulary and reading articles about the ESP field. 

Because the books I’ve worked on have all been skills-based, I’ve tended to stay around the English for … side. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with an English through … approach. I think there’s a place for both. 

In fact, what I’ve come to realise is that it’s better to think in terms of a scale, with extreme English for … at one end, and extreme English through … at the other, and most ESP fields, and therefore courses, somewhere in between. Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about Financial English, arguing that there’s not much you can do with it apart from vocabulary and reading texts, so I’d put Financial English somewhere near the English through ... extreme. Of course, surely there’s still some useful functional / situational stuff you can do, but it's hard to argue that Financial English is a proper genre.

Further out on that wing, I’d say, is English for Oil and Gas, which is a great topic for vocab and reading texts, but I really can’t imagine any situations that both an oil rig engineer and an oil trader might both find themselves in, and therefore much in the way of functional / situational language to include in such a course.

Legal English, on the other hand, is out towards the other wing. There’s plenty of functional / situational language shared by all lawyers, and this especially true when it comes to written legal English, especially the language of contracts, which is a recognizable genre of English, with its own grammar rules (wherewith and all that) and style.

Where’s all this leading? Well, for me, as an English-for guy, there’s one ESP field that beats all the others: Aviation English: the language that all pilots and air traffic control officers (ATCOs) use to communicate with each other around the world. The language is English in the sense that it uses English words, but it also has its own very specific grammar, vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation rules. Or, to echo the title of my blog, it's a really specific English.

Take a look at the numbers 0–9 in aviation English: zero, wun, too, tree, fower, fife, six, seven, ait, niner. Wun, too and ait are pronounced as normal numbers, but the spelling is designed to discourage pilots and ATCOs from trying to pronounce them the way they are spelled. Tree is easier to say than three. Fower (which rhymes with flower) also avoids a tricky vowel sound. Niner has an extra syllable to avoid confusion with five … sorry, fife. Cool, huh?

The grammar of aviation English is also a bit quirky: ‘Request taxi for departure’ is not an imperative (Please can you request a taxi) but an actual request (I am requesting permission to use the taxiways to get to the holding point for departure). In a way, it makes sense to mark a request by starting with the word request, but when you first come across it, it’s pretty weird.

One final example: here’s a weather forecast, which all pilots and ATCOs would understand immediately:

METAR KBUF 121755Z AUTO 21016G24KT 180V240 1SM R11/P6000ft -RA BR BKN015 OVC025 06/04 A2990.
I won’t go through it all, but 121755Z is simply the date (the 12th) and time (17.55 GMT). 16G24KT is the wind speed: 16 knots, gusting (G) to 24 knots. 1SM is the visibility: one statute mile. And -RN BR describes the weather conditions: light (-) rain (RN) and mist (BR).

So … it really does seem to be a different language, which is why in my title I’ve called it the purest form of ESP. And it’s also why I had a bit of an identity crisis: how could I call myself an ESP all-rounder when, never having taught or studied aviation English, I had such a big gap in my ESP portfolio.

So that was why, about two years ago, I couldn’t turn down the chance to co-author the teacher’s book for Flightpath: Aviation English forPilots and ATCOs, which came out earlier this year.

Fortunately, my co-author was Philip Shawcross, a world-class expert on aviation English, and the President of the ICAEA (International Civil Aviation English Association).

So it meant my main job was ask Philip thousands of really stupid questions – the sort of questions that a new teacher of aviation English might be expected to ask. This was a technique I’d perfected while working on my legal English teacher’s books, but it still meant a year of very very hard work for all involved. But I’m very proud of the finished product.

Now all I need to complete my ESP portfolio is something on oil and gas … only kidding.

Related posts:
Two approaches to ESP course design
Financial English - if such a thing exists
Where was I?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Assessment in ESP

A few weeks ago, I was asked an interesting question by an ESP teacher called Rosa in Algeria. The question related to an ESP course Rosa was running as part of her research for her doctorate. She'd conducted a careful needs analysis and designed her course based around those needs. But then the course had stopped unexpectedly before its scheduled end, which meant that there was no way of assessing if the course aims had been achieved. The question was: is the research still valid.

Well, let me start of by admitting that I’ve never been involved in the academic side of ESP. My experience of ESP courses has always been either in-company (where the employer pays) or with mixed groups of professionals and pre-experience students at the British Council (where the students themselves or, occasionally, their parents, pay).

The reason I bring up the grubby subject of who pays here is that it has a big impact on assessment. The person paying for the course has a large say in what the aims of the course should be, and therefore what constitutes a successful course. Whenever I ran an in-company ESP course, I (or my colleagues in sales) had to justify it to the customer in that company. In other words, in my experience, assessment is a service for the employer (usually represented by the HR department) and/or for the student (and his/her parents). The student is also paying in another way – in terms of time invested in attending the course and self-study.

Now, of course, when we get to the public university sector, we have a different customer: the taxpayer. Is the taxpayer getting good value for money out of the education they are paying for? It’s an interesting question, and I sometimes wonder if teachers in the public sector realise they’re doing a service for me as a taxpayer. Of course, individual taxpayers aren’t in a position to check the effectiveness of the courses they pay for, so responsibility is delegated to the government, the universities and ultimately the English teachers themselves, who are expected to provide evidence that they’re actually teaching and that the students are actually studying and even … learning something useful.

OK, so let’s look at Rosa's question first, and then we’ll step back to look at some broader issues. First of all, the problem with courses stopping before they’ve finished is, unfortunately, very common. If assessment is an important part of your course, don’t leave it all to the end. You can actually get a lot of assessment done during the course – not just in formal tests, but also by assessing role-plays, listening activities, written work, etc. You can conduct assessment as part of your regular teaching, to check how much they’ve learnt during the lesson, but perhaps it’s more useful to assess in a later lesson, to check how much they remember. For example, if one of your course aims is to teach your nursing students to conduct a patient admission, you could teach it and practise it in a role-play in one lesson and then repeat the role-play a few weeks later, in controlled conditions (so you can grade it properly) – perhaps without warning the students that there’s going to be a test.

It’s important to think carefully about your criteria for assessment – should everything be based on your course aims? A good way of planning aim-based assessment is by writing your course aims in the form ‘By the end of the course, students will be able to …’. This will then form the basis of your assessment: can they do it or can’t they. Ideally, break each aim down into several sub-aims, so you can give a detailed and objective assessment of how well each student can do things, rather than just an impression mark or whether they can do it or not.

But this then raises the next question. Have they learnt this ability during the course, or could they already do it pretty well before the course? In other words, have they actually improved? To assess this, you’ll need to do some benchmarking at the beginning of the course to identify the starting point.

Of course, not all assessment needs to be aims-based. You can also assess their general level of skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking. For this, I’d recommend using professionally created assessment materials, such as practice tests for Cambridge exams (FCE, Advanced, BEC, etc.). This obviously won’t be connected with the topics you’ve studied in your course, but it can still be valuable to check for and measure improvement in, say, general listening comprehension skills.

In other words, assessment is a complicated business, and to do it properly, you’ll need to do lots of it. But then … will you have any time left to actually teach the poor students? Too much assessment can demotivating for learners and a huge drain on your time both in the classroom and away from it (marking!!!).

This was something that used to bother me when I was teaching at the British Council. We had a wonderfully sophisticated assessment system, with all sorts of assessment events scheduled throughout the semester, which generated a page full of statistics that could be combined into scores on a range of skills for each student. The problem was, there wasn’t really time both to complete the assessment regime and to teach, so some teachers (dare I admit I was one of them?) invented some of the figures in order to prioritise teaching.

You see, I guess I need to come clean about one of ESP’s guilty secrets. We claim to be very sophisticated with our detailed needs analyses and carefully designed courses, but we’ve actually got very little control over what our students take away from the course. For example, you may be doing an exercise with the aim of developing their reading subskills, but what they’ll actually get out of it is some new vocabulary (which you didn’t even notice) or a deeper understanding of some grammar rule, based on the way it’s used in the text. In another lesson, your garbled explanation of a grammar point may fail to teach your students much about the grammar point in question, but they’ll become aware of some nice expressions and idioms for giving explanations (or for apologising for failing to explain something). In yet another lesson, while you are arguing with your students over why answer X from the listening exercise is right, and answer Y is wrong, you may be helping their negotiation skills more than their listening skills. (Note that this only works if the class is conducted in English).

(This is connected with a concept I call the leaky pipeline, which I’ll have to explain in a separate post, along with the related concept of obliquity – achieving great things by not trying too hard to achieve them.)

That’s not to say that our needs analysis and course design is a waste of time – far from it. We need it as a starting point for our teaching, and it needs to appear relevant, interesting and useful in order to motivate our students to engage with it. We also need to include a wide range of language and skills work in our courses – they’ll certainly benefit from it, but perhaps not in exactly the way that we planned. A strong syllabus also provides a focus for their study: a list of good words or useful phrases to learn, for example, is surely beneficial. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think this is all they’ll get out of our lessons, or even the most important thing.

So what does this mean for assessment? Well, on the one hand, it means assessment is less important than we make it out to be. But on the other hand, assessment can be extremely useful in motivating students to learn. Customers (by which I mean parents, employers, taxpayers and others who pay for the courses) also have a right to expect some measurable results from the course. And we mustn't forget that not all teachers are as competent or conscientious as those who read this blog - there are lazy, incompetent teachers out there (apparently), and assessment is perhaps the only way of keeping them on their toes.

So we definitely should assess, both formally (in mid-course and end-of-course tests – including writing, role-plays, etc.) and informally (during the course). But we also shouldn’t take the results too seriously. By the end of the course, a good teacher should know which students are good and hard-working and which are clueless or lazy simply because you have spent time getting to know them and their English (including plenty of time hearing them speak and reading their writing). The formal assessment should simply confirm what you already know.

Does this answer Rosa’s question? Not really. If I were her professor assessing her research, I guess I’d just discuss with her if she thought she’d achieved her aims. I wouldn’t worry too much about missing end-of-course tests. But perhaps that’s why I’m not a professor. I guess ultimately it comes down to each university’s policy on what counts as valid research, and my common-sense approach doesn’t really have much bearing on individual universities’ policies!

So sorry, Rosa, for not really answering your question - although you've given me lots to think about. Perhaps some readers of the blog can add their opinions.

Related posts:
Exams: Financial English ... if such a thing exists
Needs: English for Nursing
Syllabus design: ESP consultancy, Cyprus

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Where was I...?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written for this blog, or at least anything more than the briefest of posts. So it’s about time I talked about what I’ve been up to. It’s been such a crazy couple of years that it’s difficult to know where to start, but perhaps two years is a good time to go back. That’s roughly when my life went from being seriously busy to unbelievably crazy. It’s also when I started seriously neglecting this poor blog.

This time two years ago, summer 2009, I was in a kind of ESP heaven. I was teaching loads of legal English, and getting pretty good at it. I was finishing work on two books for my series, Cambridge English for Nursing Pre-Intermediate and Cambridge English for Marketing.

In addition to my role as series editor, which was pretty much complete for those two books by summer 2009, I also had some additional work on both books. I edited the free online teacher’s notes for Nursing Pre-Int and wrote a series of grammar worksheets, one for each unit of the book. You can find both the teacher’s notes and the grammar worksheets here: …

For our Marketing book, I wrote the online teacher’s notes myself. It seems like a little job to write online teacher’s notes, but it’s a good couple of months’ work, just as hard as writing a full teacher’s book. In fact, the only difference is that printed teacher’s books generate more money – the workload’s the same.

I was also getting into technical English in a big way: I did a lot of work on an award-winning webcourse called e-Xplore Technical English, an online course developed by the HTWK University of Leipzig. (It won its awards before my involvement, I hasten to add).

The course already existed and was very good, but my job was to dramatically extend of the materials without adding new content. For example, for every reading or listening text, where there were, say, 5 comprehension questions, I wrote another 20. This meant that the computer could select 5 from the bank of 25 (using clever algorithms), so that every person taking the course had a slightly different set of questions, which eliminated the possibility of cheating (which had been a big problem earlier). I also did my usual editorial stuff on the course, fixing things that I didn’t like and suggesting improvements and extensions. Good fun and very satisfying, but a lot of work. But I learnt a lot about technical English on the way, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of e-learning.

Oh, and I was also doing my regular work for Professional English Online: 2 activities (lesson plans) per month, 2 financial English jargonbusters per month, and a quote of the week every week. So I can add financial English to the legal, medical, technical and marketing English I was working on at the same time. And of course I was also teaching at the British Council.

So that’s our starting point, late summer 2009: life was seriously busy, but not yet unbelievably crazy. This poor blog was a bit neglected, but not yet abandoned.

That’s when I got not one but two dream job offers, neither of which I could possibly turn down.

The first one came as a result of a combination of sheer luck and hard work – the usual combination in this business. A year or so earlier, I’d received an email from one of the Grammar editors at Cambridge University Press: she’d noticed my name on the International Legal English teacher’s book, and wondered if I was the same Jeremy Day that used to work with her in Krakow, about 10 years earlier. And of course I am. She remembered that I’d been into grammar in a big way back then, and had always written worksheets and done training sessions for other teachers, so she gave me the chance to do some odd jobs for the Grammar team at CUP. Brilliant – it goes to show that you can never predict which people from your present life will turn out to be useful contacts in the future.

Anyway, those odd jobs included lots of reviewing and evaluation work on Grammar for Business – a very nice and useful book, by the way. And I managed to get a mention in the acknowledgements, which was nice.

I was then asked to write a series of revision units and end-of-unit tests for level 1 (elementary to pre-intermediate) of a new three-level grammar series for teenagers. It was a great break but a huge amount of work: there were 14 revision units and over 70 tests to be written – a substantial fraction of the whole book, in fact.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I slogged away at that for many months, and finally, about three years later, in early 2011, the book finally emerged: Active Grammar Level 1. Series editor: Penny Ur, one of my ELT heroes. Anyway, I got a small mention in the thanks pages of both books.

But here’s where it gets really interesting: as a result of my hard work on Active Grammar Level 1, I was invited to submit a sample unit to be a co-author of Level 3 of the same series, the advanced level. This was, as I say, towards the end of summer 2009 – the dream job I’d been waiting for all my career. (Yes, it’s true. Much as I love ESP, I’m at heart a grammar guy, and I’ve been obsessed with grammar since the day I started teaching).

So, there I was, September 2009, waiting to see if my sample unit for that project would be approved. Around the same time, I gave a presentation for the British Council at the IATEFL Poland conference, on ‘My favourite grammar structures’. At the end of that presentation, I was approached by one of the editors from Pearson Longman, who asked me if I’d ever thought of writing a book! Again, to cut a long story short, I was invited to submit a sample unit for a general English course for teenagers preparing for their school-leaving exams (e.g. the Polish matura exam). Actually, they were looking for someone to co-author the second edition – the first edition has been a best-seller here in Poland and elsewhere for several years. How could I turn down a chance like that?

Amazingly (and to cut two long and stressful stories short), my sample units for both books were accepted, so I found myself co-authoring a major new grammar book for Cambridge and a major coursebook for Pearson. As I described in an earlier post, writing for two publishers at the same time is never easy: you can’t turn round to one and say ‘sorry, I can’t meet your deadline because I’ve got a more important deadline on my other book’. You’ve just got to work harder than ever before, and sacrifice other parts of your life. That’s around the time I really stopped writing for this blog.

Again, that grammar book has just come out: Active Grammar Level 3. It was a fantastic experience and I learned a huge amount. What I like best about Active Grammar is that it’s a CLIL-based course, which means that you learn about all sorts of things (geology, arts, chemistry – but always in a fun way) at the same time as you’re studying grammar. I certainly learnt lot and probably enjoyed writing it more than any other book I've been involved with.

The Pearson coursebook, New Success Upper Intermediate, was very slightly easier, because it was the second edition I was working on, so we could follow the general plan of the original edition. But it’s still plenty of work to keep you busy for a year – my editor warned me at the beginning to make sure I had a clear schedule (!) to work on it. Anyway, it’s out next year. I’m also really proud of the work I did on it – again, some really interesting topics and I was able to be a lot more creative than with my other books. Also, writing for teenagers is very different from writing for adults, so as usual, I learnt a huge amount along the way.

But that’s not all. My role as Series Editor can’t be switched on and off depending on what other projects I’m working on, so that rolled on at the same time. We commissioned the next two books in the series, Cambridge English for Scientists and Cambridge English for Human Resources, around the same time (late 2009), so for well over a year I was working on four big writing projects at the same time, plus all my other little projects. Anyway, Cambridge English for Scientists came out a couple of months ago, and it’s looking really good. I think that one deserves a separate blog post, which will come soon.

Cambridge English for Human Resources came out a couple of weeks ago, and I’m also really proud of it. Again, I promise to blog about this properly soon.

The downside of working on those four books (Active Grammar 3, New Success Upper Int, Cambridge English for Scientists and Cambridge English for HR) is that they should all generate income for me in the coming years … wonderful, but not much use to me as I try to feed my family and pay my mortgage now. So in addition to all of these, I also needed to take on plenty of other writing jobs, especially as the work on the four big ones was coming to an end about a year ago – summer 2010.

So what did I take on? Bizarrely, I received offers to write or co-write four teacher’s books, all around the same time (a year ago) and all offers I couldn’t resist. The first was Dynamic Presentations, written by another of my ELT heroes, Mark Powell.

Again, my trainer’s notes are online, so no nice book to put in pride of place on my shelf, but still a lot of work and a great opportunity to be involved with such an excellent and important book. The book came out late last year, in time for the BESIG conference (where I was delighted to find myself sharing a taxi with Mark Powell himself – see my blog post here for a report on that conference).

The second teacher’s book was Flightpath, a new course for pilots and air traffic control officers (ATCOs).

Aviation English had been one of the big gaps in my ESP portfolio – I’ve done something on all the other big ESP fields (except maybe IT English), so this was my opportunity to plug that gap. I was invited to co-author the teacher’s book, together with Philip Shawcross, the author of the Student’s book and the president of ICAEA (the International Civil Aviation English Association, ), which was very reassuring. He provided the expertise, while I asked all the silly questions (and got wonderfully detailed answers) and made sure it worked in terms of methodology. As with everything else, I’ll have to come back to this topic later. The books are out around September 2011.

The third teacher’s book was the new edition of International Legal English.

Having written the teacher’s book for the first edition, I wasn’t going to let someone else re-write my masterpiece (!), so I had no choice but to take that on too. That’s out later this year too. 

Finally, there’s the online teacher’s notes for Cambridge English for Human Resources, which I co-wrote with George Sandford, the author of the Student’s book. As with my work on the Marketing teacher’s book, it doesn’t look like much work when you just have a URL to show for it, but it was very hard and time-consuming. (Actually, I haven't even got a URL or image for the teacher's notes - I guess they'll be up on the resource site in a few days).

Oh, one other thing. I also ended up writing two sets of worksheets for the new edition of … [sorry, but I guess that’s still top secret for the time being].

Is that all? Well, I also co-wrote a short handbook, An Introduction to Teaching English for Specific Purposes, with Mark Krzanowski, the co-ordinator of IATEFL’s ESP SIG and a very important person in the world of ESP. It was only a little handbook, so not much work (for a change), but it’s still nice to have that on my CV. You can download the handbook for free here.

In the meantime, I also left my job at the British Council, and have now actually stopped teaching. As I mentioned briefly before, I’m now working for English360, which I think has got to be the future of ESP (and possibly the whole ELT industry).

One project there that has dominated my time with English360 recently has been the trainer’s notes for the TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test) course, which I was asked to write as part of the deal to put the TKT course online the platform. It’s been a huge project for me, and extremely time-consuming, but I’m very proud of it. I’ve just finished off the trainer's notes this week, so they'll appear on the website very soon I guess. That'll be the last of ten books that I was working on at the same time for most of the last 12 months.

Another book I’ve finished off this week (today, in fact) is the trainer’s notes for Communicating Across Cultures, an innovative new course by Bob Dignen. The course is part of Cambridge’s new Business Skills series (along with Dynamic Presentations), and will be really useful for anyone who needs to work in an intercultural environment. (The book will be out soon, and hopefully I'll have a URL and image for the trainer's notes in a couple of months).

Of course there are more books on the way: I’ve started working on one more already, with several more on the horizon, including some really exciting ones. But I can’t say more. I’ve probably already said too much anyway. So I’ll end now with a summary of the past two years, more for me than for you: I can’t believe I’ve done all of this in two years (publication/completion dates in brackets):

As editor / series editor:
(2009) Cambridge English for Nursing Pre-intermediate
(2009) Cambridge English for Nursing Pre-intermediate (Teacher’s Notes)
(2009) Cambridge English for Marketing
(2011) Cambridge English for Scientists
(2011) Cambridge English for Human Resources

As teacher’s book author / co-author:
(2009) Cambridge English for Marketing (Teacher’s Notes)
(2010) Dynamic Presentations (Trainer’s Notes)
(2011) Flightpath (Teacher’s Book – co-author)
(2011) International Legal English 2nd edition (Teacher’s Book)
(2011) Cambridge English for Human Resources (Teacher’s Notes – co-author)
(2011) The TKT Course (Trainer’s Notes)
(2011) Communicating Across Cultures (Trainer’s Notes)

As consultant / writer of supplementary materials
(2009) Cambridge English for Nursing Pre-Intermediate (Grammar Worksheets)
(2009) e-Xplore Technical English
(2009/10) Professional English Online (Activities and Jargonbusters)
(2011) Active Grammar 1 (Review Units and Tests)
(2012) XXX (sorry – still top secret)
(2012) XXX (sorry – still top secret)

As co-author:
(2011) Active Grammar 3
(2012) New Matura Success Upper Intermediate 2nd edition
(2011) An Introduction to Teaching English for Specific Purposes

Sooooo … that’s where I’ve been for the last two years. I hope that explains my absence from the blogosphere for so long. (I could also add that over the last two years my work has taken me on about four tours of Poland, plus Germany, the UK, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Cyprus, Switzerland, Bosnia and Serbia). I promise I’ll come back and blog about everything properly as soon as things calm down … if they ever do.

Jeremy Day, July 2011

Related posts:
Back from BESIG 2010 
All change 
Good to be back

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Cambridge English for Marketing - Book of the Month

I know I only use this blog these days either to apologise or to blow my own trumpet, but I can't resist feeling a bit smug. I've just got my latest copy of the EL Gazette and the newest book in my series, Cambridge English for Marketing, is Book of the Month. Excellent.

Here's the review:

Saturday, 27 November 2010

New English360 video

Some time ago, when I got my new job at English360, I promised to explain what it is and how it works. Predictably, I've been far too busy to blog (still am, but I'm hoping to be a lot less busy in the new year), so I never had the time. Fortunately, though, this nice new video has just been released which sums it up pretty neatly.

I'll be back in the new year with solid evidence of the work I've been doing - ten new books, at last count, mostly due out in 2011 - to prove I'm not just a lazy blogger!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

All change ...

Well, so much for 'Good to be back!'.

No sooner had I promised to be a good blogger from now on than I found myself even deeper in deadlines than before. So sorry especially to thise of you who commented during my latest absence. I promise I will respond ... as soon as I get through my latest deadlines.

Actually, my current deadline is a bit artificial - I'm off to Ireland for a week in the middle of nowhere tomorrow, with no internet access, no TV, no nothing. It's going to be great - enforced absence from all my online commitments. But it means I've got to get everything done tonight!!!!!

Anyway, I've called this post 'All change', because I've gone and got myself a new job. I'm now an editor for English 360, which is very exciting (I mean the fact that I got the job - editing itself isn't all that exciting, although I do find it strangely relaxing).

I'll post properly about my new job soon, I promise. (Although, judging by recent performance,'soon' might be a bit of a stretch). In the meantime, you can read my interview with Cleve Miller, the man behind English 360, which I did last year. It's strange how things work out, isn't it!

My other commitments haven't changed. I'm still very much Series Editor of Cambridge English for .... Book six in the series, Cambridge English for Marketing, is out this week, which really is exciting. To find out more, check out Nick Robinson's new blog, English4Marketing. Nick is the author of Cambridge English for Marketing. Again, I'll blog about it properly soon, but I did actually mention it here back in February.

On the subject of new blogs, another great ESP writer, Virginia Allum, has set up a blog called English for Nursing and Health, which should be really useful for teachers of medical English.

Anyway, now Cambridge English for Marketing is out there, it means I'm officially only working on four books at the moment, although there are a few more in the pipeline. Easy life ...

Right, better get on with some work. Thanks for your patience, and hopefully I really will be a more conscientious and reliable blogger one day ... if I can just get these books finished!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Good to be back!

After a month away from the blogosphere, it's good to be back.

I've spent the past month (well, longer, to tell the truth) deep in deadline hell. For clarity, let me define deadline hell as 'being badly behind schedule with at least two major projects, such that any time spent on one project inevitably leads to the other one slipping ever further into long-overdueland. And all the time you have to keep ressuring both parties that their deadline is your absolute number one priority. Nasty.

The worst thing is that I can't even hint on this blog as to the projects I'm working on. I suppose it wouldn't be giving too much away to say that there are exciting new titles for my series, Cambridge English for ..., on the way. But all I can say about the others is that they're big, exciting (for me at least) and top secret.

So, taking my inspiration from Karenne 'n' Maslow's Pyramid of Needs, here's my own set of needs (inverted, so my top priorities are first).

1. Mortgage stuff - teaching and other work that pays the mortgage while I'm waiting for the exciting stuff to bear fruit.
2. Deadline stuff - big exciting projects that might make me rich one day, but which probably won't, knowing my luck.
3. Spending a bit of time with my wife and kids, at least so that they remember who I am, but it'd also be nice to spend enough time with them so my kids could at least speak English.
4. Blogging obligations (blogligations?) like writing a post from time to time, responding to the people who've heroically commented on my recent posts and waited ages for a sign of acknowledgement from me, venturing out into the blogosphere to see what other people are up to ...
5. Relax. Watch TV. Go jogging!

I've been meeting needs 1, 2 and 3 recently, and I'm almost ready to move to need 4. Need 5 will  have to wait for the summer.

So ... last week I met two of my biggest, most overduest deadlines ever (if you can 'meet' such deadlines). Huge relief. And I allowed myself three days with the kids. Very nice. There's still a scary amount of work to do, but it's a lot more under control than it was a week ago.

A few highlights from the past month:

1. The wonderful IATEFL conference in Harrogate. I was only there for about 48 hours, so not much time to do things. I had two big meetings related to my exciting projects. I gave my joint presentation with Virginia Allum on Results Focused ESP (covering some of the same points as my recent post on English for Nursing). I met up (albeit briefly) with some of my favourite people from the blogosphere/discussion groups. I made some new useful contacts. And I even made it to a couple of sessions (5 in total).

My joint session went well. It was my first experience as a joint presenter, but Virginia (nurse, writer and all-round expert on English for Nursing) was very professional and knowledgeable.

The nice thing about our session was that it was tweeted live by Karenne, so our audience of around 30 was boosted by about 2000 of Karenne's followers, hanging on her every tweet, no doubt, and all rushing out to buy the books. Possibly. But anyway, much much much appreciated, Karenne.

This was my favourite tweet:


It's true - I felt uneasy last year at the idea of having a unit in English for Nursing Pre-intermediate on dealing with terminally ill patients. You can't include stuff like that in coursebooks ... but then I realised that we absolutely had to include it.

The issue of roleplays on difficult subjects also came up in Natasha Jovanovich's great presentation on ESP course design. It was a really thought-provoking session, centred around Natasha's experiences creating a course on English for Human Rights. She'd included some incredibly powerful materials in her course, including a very emotional video about infant mortality and a case study / role-play on abortion rights.

As with my nursing course, my first reaction was 'wow - this is a bit too heavy for an ESP course', but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that Natasha was right to include them in this particular course. Human rights advocates and lawyers and specialists need the language to discuss and work with highly emotive issues like these.

I might come back to this idea of different people's reactions to roleplays in a later post.

The lowlight of the conference for me was losing my bag on the way there, so that I arrived in Harrogate with only my suit on a hanger and the scruffy clothes I'd travelled in. No laptop, no presentation, no shirt, no toothbrush, no memory stick, no phone recharger, no clicker, no printouts of urgent work I was planning to be getting on with, no socks, no shoes ...

Fortunately my wife pointed out that I could buy most of those things in shops. Sometimes it takes someone else to point out the obvious - I suppose that's why guys like me need wives. My colleagues from Cambridge provided a copy of my presentation and a laptop, so the only thing that was missing was my shoes (which I couldn't bring myself to buy just for one presentation), so I wore trainers with my suit. Hope no-one noticed. At least Karenne didn't tweet about it:
Of course when I got back to the hotel after the presentation, my bag had arrived, rushed there by courier and now completely unnecessary (apart from my laptop and memory stick, of course).
#specificenglish #iatefl OMG jeremy's trying to be cool in a suit and trainers. LOL!

2. (Yes ... this started out as a list of highlights of the past month, remember) The second highlight of the past month was a visit to my business English upper int class from Vernon Ellis, the brand new chair of the British Council, i.e. the new global big big big boss. Vernon Ellis used to be Chairman of Accenture and is also Chairman of the English National Opera. In other words, a very experienced and knowledgeable businessman. And on his first visit to a foreign country on taking over from our previous chair, Neil Kinnock, he came to Poland to see me teaching. Well, that wasn't the main reason for his visit, I suppose. But it was great for my BE students to interview him about his business experience. I might blog about that one of these days too - it was a nice way of spending a class.

Anyway, I'm sure there were more than 2 highlights of the past month, but that'll do for now. If I don't finish this post tonight, it'll be the end of April before I get round to it.

Right ... I promise to be a good blogger from now on. I'll start working back through the comments and replying. And I'll post a lot more regularly next month. Honest ...

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