Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers by Michael McCarthy

(Book Review)

Started: September 1, 2017
Finished: September 24, 2017

Why I Read This Book
So, if you couldn't tell directly from the title, this isn't pleasure reading.

I read this as part of my bookclub for professional development.
After finishing the last book, we talked at the book club about what to read next.  For practical reasons, we try to limit the book club to the DELTA reading list.  There was a brief discussion about whether to read something more practical or more theoretical, and it was decided that we usually get our best discussions out of the more theoretical books.  So we went with this one.

The Review 
I'm going to try to keep this short and sweet, because I don't have a lot of insight to offer on this particular book.

It's an introduction to the field of Discourse Analysis, and  like a lot of introductory textbooks, it covers a lot of disparate ground in a lot of short time.
In just 171 short pages* it covers grammar in discourse, lexis in discourse, textual organization in writing, turn taking in conversations, reference, ellipsis, substitution, and many more.

Without going through and commenting page by page, it's hard to summarize this book and give a succinct review.  Other than to make some very general comments.

In terms of readability, Michael McCarthy is generally easy to read.
It's always hard for an academic to adjust his tone for a general audience, and there were a few sections where I had trouble.  But in general, he's easy to read.

The content of the book is generally pretty interesting.
To me, linguistics is at its most fascinating when it tries to discover the rules for all the speech acts we perform subconsciously.  Like, all the rules for how people take turns in a conversation. Or how we structure information in a sentence.  And McCarthy does a good job of introducing all the research that has been done on this recently. **

I probably would have found this book even more interesting had it been my first introduction to Discourse Analysis.  But I had already read Beyond the Sentence by Scott Thornbury, and this book overlapped heavily with that.
It also overlapped with a number of other books that I've read on linguistics.  (The section on lexis overlapped somewhat with The Lexical Approach.  The section on phonology overlapped somewhat with Sound Foundations).

One person in my bookclub commented that the book was frustrating because it talked about a lot of linguistic concepts, but didn't give any guidance on how to teach them in the classroom.
This was true, but to be fair, this was something Michael McCarthy was upfront about right from the introduction.  ("This book does not stop at theory and description, but it does not go so far as telling its readers how to teach.  This is because, first and foremost, discourse analysis is not a method for teaching languages.  It is a way of describing and understanding how language is used." p.2)
Actually, in the few areas where McCarthy does suggest classroom applications, I often found his suggestions to be geared more toward advanced students, and not to the elementary or pre-intermediate level students that most teachers encounter teaching EFL in Asia.

Footnotes
* 213 pages including the Reader Activities and the index
** "recently" being a relative term.  This book was actually published in 1991.  (The DELTA reading list tends to be rather conservative).  Unfortunately I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on how much the field has moved on since 1991.

Facebook Posts
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with this by now.  (I've done - this - for - several - books - now.)  A few months ago, some members of the book club told me they were having trouble motivating themselves to read these professional development books, and wanted more discussion on Facebook to help motivate them to keep reading.
So, I committed myself to posting about the book on Facebook as I read it.
I've taken all those Facebook posts, and copied and pasted them below.  For whatever they may or may not be worth.
Due to poor pacing on my part, I over posted for the first half of this book, and then ran out of time to comment on the section half of the book.  (The last 100 pages or so I had to speed read to make the bookclub deadline.)
So, unfortunately, I have no comments below for chapters 4, 5, and 6.
There were a few interesting things in chapter 4 especially (Discourse Analysis and Phonology) that contradicted what I thought I knew about phonology.  (Did you know that when people look at the actual corpus for how people talk in real life, it turns out that a lot of the conventional wisdom about tone units and English being a stress-based language doesn't actually hold up?)  But unfortunately I never got around to commenting on them below.

Post 1
The New book is "Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers" by Michael McCarthy, available on the drive at the link below. Meeting is scheduled for 1PM on Tuesday September 26, 2017

Post 2
p.2
Michael McCarthy mentions H.P. Grice and his maxims as one of many interesting subjects that he has made the decision not to include in this book.
If anyone is curious, and looking for a good 8:30 minute video introducing Gricean Maxims, The Ling Space has got you covered:

Post 3
p. 5
Michael McCarthy opens up his first chapter with a quote from "Through the Looking Glass"
Actually, flipping ahead a little bit, it looks like every chapter starts with a quote from either "Alice in Wonderland" or "Through the Looking Glass".
Since I started trying to read up on linguistics, I've noticed that linguists really love Lewis Carroll. 
90% of the Alice books are just commentary on how absurd language is.
Basically almost every grammar point you want to talk about you can find examples of in Lewis Carroll.
For example, Steven Pinker in "The Language Instinct" used a quotation from Alice in Wonderland to illustrate the phenomenon of the dummy "it" in English.
I proceed [said the Mouse]. "Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria, declared for him: and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable--"' 
`Found WHAT?' said the Duck. 
`Found IT,' the Mouse replied rather crossly: `of course you know what "it" means.' 
`I know what "it" means well enough, when I find a thing,' said the Duck: `it's generally a frog or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find?
A few years ago, I decided that if I was going to see examples from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" in every linguistics book I read, I might as well just read the real thing for myself. But I still have yet to read 'Through the Looking Glass". (Actually XXXX, XXXX, what do you think of "Through the Looking Glass" for the literature book club?)
Sidenote: I know that "Alice in Wonderland" is very popular in translation. (When I lived in Japan, it was popular there. I'm told it's popular here in Vietnam.) I've always wondered how it was translated. How do you suppose the translators make sense of all the jokes about English syntax?

Post 4
p.7
So, just flipping through this book, it looks like the contents might overlap heavily with "Beyond the Sentence" which we've already read.
(Actually, XXXX, I think you're much further along than I am. Maybe you could tell me how much is repeated content from "Beyond the Sentence").
I'm okay with a bit of repeated content actually. Especially because it usually takes several encounters with something before it finally sinks into my long term-memory.
Also, XXXX once told me that Scott Thornbury has a bad reputation among linguists, because he has a reputation of taking other people's research and passing it off as his own. (I don't know if that's true or not, and I'm just passing along hearsay).
...But I wonder. This book was published in 1990. I think "Beyond the Sentence" was published in 2005. Was Scott Thornbury borrowing from Michael McCarthy?
Also look at page 7.
McCarthy writes: "Discourse analysis has grown into a wide-ranging and heterogeneous discipline which finds its unity in the descriptions of language, above the sentence."
"above the sentence"... Sounds suspiciously like another book I know....

XXXX commented:
I mean, so far there isn't a great deal that is "new", but a lot of useful reminders and things explained succinctly. There's a lot more of "teaching *this* might be useful while *that* might be useless to teach"

Post 5
p.11
Michael McCarthy talks about how "...conversations can often begin with 'well'..."
This is something I noticed when doing worksheets based upon movie dialogue for my students.
I never realized before just how common words like "well" and "Now," (used as a discourse marker) and "well now" were. They seemed to pop up on just about every other sentence in a lot of these Disney movies. 
(I think partly this is because Disney used to let a lot of these voice actors ad-lib a bit in the studio).
All of these discourse markers were noticeable by their absence when we did a movie dubbed from Japanese--Princess Mononoke. The dialogue was very heavy on conveying information, but was lacking all the "well"s and "now"s that were in the original English movies.

XXXX Commented:
That's what i like about this book. Pointing out to us what we're doing while not even aware. I liked the reference to Japanese people saying "ohhhh" as a backchannel. I wonder if they realize how often they do it. On my holiday there it nearly drove me mad sometimes how often someone chatting with me would cut in with "ohhhhhh" "ohhhhh". Makes me wonder how ridiculous the things we say sound.

Post 6
p.16
Michael McCarthy contrasts the way Spanish speakers will respond to "thank you" with how English speakers respond in the same way.
i was reminded of my experience in Japanese. The Japanese language has a word for "you're welcome", which is commonly taught in beginning Japanese textbooks, but it's seldom used in real-life. In real-life situations, the Japanese usually just say "no" when you thank them. (As in "no, that small thing I just did doesn't merit being thanked by you")

Post 7
p.24
Interesting little detail here: "S1 asks about the staff club, but he is hesitant, and stutters somewhat in his question; such hesitancy is a significant detail, and is a typical signal of deference."
Tangentially related:
TEFLology recently had an episode in which they discussed a new study which showed that people spoke in a higher intonation when talking to someone they perceived as having a higher social standing.

Post 8
p.35
So we're back to anaphoric, cataphoric, and exophoric again. This is all ground we went over before in the previous book club book "Beyond the Sentence" by Scott Thornbury
....But I was slightly surprised by how Michael McCarthy defined exophoric reference here. He wasn't talking about a pronoun that referred outside the text. He was talking about the whole world of knowledge that the reader brings to the text, and (our knowledge of villages, millers, and schoolmasters).
I think this is a bit broader definition than the one Scott Thornbury used. Or am I mis-remembering?

Post 9
p.36
Interesting that Michael McCarthy seems to be arguing against teaching discourse analysis for referents. Except in cases where there is a problem.
"But evidence of local difficulties hindering global processing at given points in the unfolding discourse should not automatically be read as inherent difficulties with processing at the discourse level. Only if intervention at the local level fails to solve larger processing problems might we begin to consider intervention in the form of training "discourse skills" to build up the sort of pragmatic awareness as to how references are decoded, which must, after all, be the basis of effective reading/listening in the learner's first language too."
The meaning here is that we don't need to teach this unless it becomes clear that there's a problem. Because, after all, the learners can do it in their first language, so they can probably do it in their second language without being taught. Am I reading that right?
I believe this is going against what Scott Thornbury said in "Beyond the Sentence", where the assumption was that all this stuff needed to be taught.

I Commented:
Actually maybe I spoke too soon. A little further down the same page, he does reference teaching this. "What can be (and often is not) directly taught about a system such as that of English is the different ways of referring to the discourse itself by use of items such as , it, this, and that, which do not seem to translate in a one-to-one way to other languages, even where these are closely cognate (cf. German, French, Spanish).
Post 10
p.38 
Maybe I'm overthinking this, but what did you guys think of the example sentence 2.7?
"You entered into a tiny little hallway and the kitchen was off that."
Even though the sentence sounded fine (from an intuitive point of view), I thought from a logical point of view it should have been "this" instead of "that". Because the description started with the hallway as the main focus. So shouldn't the hallway be "this" and the kitchen be "that" ?

Post 11
p.38
Looking at example sentences 2.8, 2.9, 2.10. 2.11
This is another example of where my native speaker intuition agrees with Michael McCarthy, but I can't quite logically work it out.
I agree that sentence 2.8 "sounds" wrong to my native speaker ear. ("Introduction: It traces the developments in dialectology in recent years.")
But I find Michael McCarthy's explanation unsatisfying. 
Michael McCarthy says "It seems that 'it' can only be used when entity has already been marked as the focus of attention..."
But didn't the writer mark it as the focus of attention, by stating "introduction" and then following it up with a colon? Didn't this clearly mark "introduction" as the whole focus of the sentence?

Post 12Just realized now the answers for all the reader activities are in the back (starting on pages 172.) In some cases, there's actually quite a bit of feedback on these Reader Activities. And I'd just been missing everything.

XXXX Commented:
Surprised me as well. It wasn't the case with most of the previous books we've read, as I recall.
Post 13
p.42
McCarthy writes: "Cataphoric reference is the reverse of anaphoric reference and is relatively straightforward, but language learners may lack awareness or confidence to put it into use in constructing texts, and may need to have the feature explicitly taught or exercised."
*ENDQUOTE*
Or, alternatively, they could just not use cataphoric references.
I can definitely see the value in teaching cataphoric references for comprehension, but teaching learners to use them in their own production strikes me as low priority until they get to a very advanced level. And even then...

I Commented:
And looking ahead to his section on ellipsis (p. 43-46), I have the same question. Sure, learners need to be taught to recognize this, but do they need to be taught to do it?
Post 14
p.45
On substitution.
Something I really notice in Vietnam (that I didn't notice so much in other countries I've taught in) is that adult learners especially will use "I think so" to emphasize something they have just said.
It's a usage that grates on my ears, because I think "I think so" should be used for agreeing with a statement someone else just said, not emphasizing your own statement. But I've found it curiously hard to get rid of in my own classes. I always bring it up in error correction, and yet it always persists.

XXXX Commented:
I assume it was drilled into their brains at their schools.
It will probably take twice as long to drill it out as it did to drill it in.

Post 15
p.45
I'm finding lots of passages of this book difficult to digest. Is it just me, or are other people having trouble understanding parts of this book.
For example, on page 45:
"...there are restrictions on reduced forms which might otherwise cause stress to fall on the substitute 'do', which is normally never prominent when it stands alone, as opposed to auxiliary 'do' in ellipsis, which can be stressed..."
I think I got the meaning of that sentence in the end, but it took me several times re-reading over it before I finally decoded it.

Post 16
p.51
Michael McCarthy uses the example sentence:
"It's The Guardian Joyce reads." and then comments that "The Guardian here seems to operate simultaneously as complement of is and as object of reads"
This is slightly different from the explanation I learned (from the various textbooks I've taught out of.) I've learned that there is a relative pronoun "that" in the sentence (i.e. It's the Guardian that Joyce reads) and that the relative pronoun is sometimes ellipted under certain conditions. But it is this eliipted relative pronoun that would be the object of reads.

Post 17
p.51-52
This section on "Theme and Rheme" is something else that overlaps heavily with what we already covered in "Beyond the Sentence" by Scott Thornbury.
But this caught my eye. On page 52, Michael McCarthy writes: "In English, what we decide to bring to the front of the clause (by whatever means) is a signal of what is to be understood as the framework within which what we want to say is understood. The rest of the clause can then be seen as transmitting 'what we want to say within this framework'."
*Endquote*
Interesting that he qualifies this with "In English". Do other languages operate differently?

I commented:
Oh, never mind. If I would have read to the end of the paragraph first, I would have answered my own question. Michael McCarthy goes on to write: "It seems that first position in the clause is important in many of the world's languages, and that creating a theme in the clause is a universal feature, though it's realisations may vary from language to language"
Post 18 
 p.53
"Language teachers might recongise in this jejune version some of the characteristics of low-level learners' early attempts at letter or essay-wrtiing..."
First of all: yes. 100% yes. This is the major problem I recongize in practice IELTS writing.
Secondly: Jejune? I had to look that word up. Am I the only one who didn't know what that meant, or is Michael McCarthy using obscure vocabulary.
Jejune means (apparently): "naive, simplistic, and superficial."

Post 19
p.58
I frequently find I get myself in trouble in IELTS classes by over-teaching topic sentences.
In reading lessons particularly, I tell students that each paragraph has a topic sentence, and that by reading the topic sentence they can tell what the paragraph is about. (And I suggest they use this for skimming). I tell them this because in part this is what I learned in school in 10th grade English class.
But, then when we actually do skimming practice, I find to my embarrassment that much of the time the actual reading text doesn't match the rules I've taught the students. Most of the paragraphs DON'T have clear topic sentences.
Therefore I found interesting what Michael McCarthy said on page 58 when talking about topic sentences:
"However, this [the idea of topic sentences] seems to be an oversimplification, and many paragraphs have initial sentences that do not tell us what the paragraph is about. Jones and Jones's (1985) study of cleft and pseudo-cleft sentences in discourse shows that the presence of a cleft structure, even if not paragraph-initial, is often a more reliable signal of paragraph topic, and anyway, relatively little is known about why writers make paragraph divisions the way they do."
That last sentence I found especially interesting. In my own writing, I tend to just make a paragraph break whenever it feels right. I don't know if I could even explain the logic. Presumably this is what most people do?

XXXX Commented:
Joel, this is quite interesting. I found myself recently talking about exactly this with my roommate a few nights ago as we were marking writing work from our students.
We came to the conclusion that maybe we have had enough exposure to and education in writing/reading that paragraphing has become natural to us.
Our students, however, may not find this to be such a natural skill. Perhaps they could benefit from these over-simplifications, much as we did in high school, until they themselves master it.
What do you think?

Post 20
p.61
I thought this section on the use of the historic present was very interesting.
It contradicts somewhat what Michael Lewis said in The English Verb, no? Michael Lewis argues that the present tense is used anytime the speaker feels the events to be psychologically close. McCarthy shows that the historical present is used only at certain structural points in the story. (McCarthy is basing his arguments on actual data analysis, something Michael Lewis never did in The English Verb).
I also thought this part was interesting: "In Schiffrin's data, historic present often occurs in segments where the episodes are understood by the listener as occurring in sequence and in the time-world of the story; therefore, to some extent, the grammatical marking of pastness may be considered redundant."
After reading this, I was reminded how pedantic I can be sometimes about making sure my students use the past tense in past situations.
Or on level tests, I'll often write comments like: "mixed accuracy on the past tense in free production. the student starts out using the past tense, but the slips into the present as they continue speaking"
But actually, maybe native speaker regularly do the same thing?

Post 21
p.65
In the book we did for book club last month, "Implementing the Lexical Approach", Michael Lewis took great pains to emphasize that collocation is not about probability. It therefore surprised me a little to read Michael McCarthy say on page 65 "collocation only refers to the probability that lexical items will co-occur" .
But then I remembered that Michael Lewis was a contrarian, and that McCarthy has (I assume?) the more conventional view.

Post 22
p.65-68: Lexical Cohesion
This is yet another section that overlaps heavily with Scott Thornbury's book "Beyond the Sentence".
And yet... my take-away from this section was almost the opposite of what I thought Scott Thornbury was saying.
Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but Scott Thornbury was saying that writers often create lexical cohesion by repeating the same word several times, and that we shouldn't be teaching our students to always use synonymy.
As Thornbury writes on page 62 of "Beyond the Sentence": “Explain to writers that lexical repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. Show, using authentic texts, how effective writers use both direct and indirect repetition to convey their argument and to create cohesion.” (Thornbury p.62)
Michael McCarthy, however, seems to be arguing the opposite--too much lexical repetition creates unnatural sentences. McCarthy writes on page 67:
"Another implication for language pedagogy is that material writers who create their own texts or who simplify naturally occurring ones should remember that disturbing the lexical patterns of text may lead to unnaturalness and inauthenticity at the discourse level; simplification may mean an unnatural amount of repetition and reiteration by other mans found in natural texts." (McCarthy p.67)

Post 23
p.65-67 Lexical Cohesion
I was a bit confused by the terms "hyponym" and "superordinate" which I think Michael McCarthy never properly defines for his read (unless I missed it). But I think I got it now. The words are opposite of each-other. Hyponym is the specific word, superordinate is the category.
So in McCarthy's example of "rose-flower", rose is the hyponym of flower, and flower is the superordinate of rose.
Did I get that right?

Post 24
p.70
Michael McCarthy writes: "Speakers can throw topics into the ring, but whether they are taken up or not depends on the other speaker(s); if one speaker insists on pursuing his/her topics, ignoring the wishes of others, this is precisely when we recognise deviance into monologue or complain later to our freinds that 'X was hogging the conversation'."
*ENDQUOTE*
So true, isn't it? I've certainly known people like "X" (no one in this group).
It's interesting how some people just lack the social awareness of how conversations should develop, and try to start monologuing.
The worst example I've ever known was a co-worker in Cambodia who used to hog the conversation to monologue about all his experiences in China and Thailand. He got so bad we had to dis-invite him from social gatherings, and sneak out after work so he wouldn't know we were going out.
I hope I'm not generally one of those people myself. Although I do admit sometimes after when I've read an interesting book, or have a pet issue on my mind, I tend to steer the conversation in that direction.
It's interesting that we always feel the need to talk about what we are interested in. Why can't we be quietly interested in what we are interested in? Why do we always feel the need to tell other people about it?

Post 25
p.70
Michael McCarthy writes:
"Topics unfold, and the vocabulary used by the speakers offers openings for possible development, which may or may not be exploited. The "conversation" class where topics are pre-set may be a straitjacket to this natural kind of development; a safer course of action might be to see pre-set topics merely as 'starters" and not to worry if the discourse develops its own momentum and goes off in unpredictable directions."
*ENDQUOTE*
Interesting. I'm certainly guilty myself of telling students to "stay on topic" in conversation activities.

Slideshow: slides, pub
(This was for the book club discussion.  I threw it together an hour before the meeting, and ended up only covering the first 3 chapters.  Sorry, it's been a busy month.  I'll try to do better next time.)



Video Review
Video review here, and embedded below.


Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky 28: The Human Species Has Never Faced A Question Like This 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Finished: Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers by Michael McCarthy--Review coming soon (hopefully)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Life Elementary 6A The Face of Money p.70-71

(Supplemental Materials for Specific Textbooks--Life Elementary)


Quizlet link: docs, pub

Life Elementary 6A The Face of Money p.70-71
https://quizlet.com/_22gm92

Life Elementary 6A The Face of Money p.70-71
https://quizlet.com/_22gm92

Life Elementary 6A The Face of Money p.70-71
https://quizlet.com/_22gm92

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Joke Using Reported Speech

(TESOL Worksheets--Reported Speech)

Google: slides, pub

[This little Google Slides is plagiarized from my lesson on jokes, which was in turn plagiarized from my joke-a-day post, which in turn was plagiarized mostly from various joke sites on the Internet.
I discovered some time ago that the joke about the shopkeeper and the dog set up the grammar of reported speech quite nicely, and I've been using it in my classes to introduce reported speech.  And eventually I just decided to make it into a separate little Google Slides document so I didn't have to scroll through all my jokes every time I wanted to use it.]




In case the slideshow doesn't load, here is the script below:
A man walked into a shop…
…and he saw a cute little dog.
He asked the shopkeeper, "Does your dog bite?" 
The shopkeeper said, "No, my dog does not bite." 
So the man tried to pet the dog and the dog bit him. 
"Ouch!" he said. "I thought you said that your dog didn’t bite!" 
The shopkeeper replied,
"That is not my dog!"
Spot the difference:
The shopkeeper said, “No, my dog does not bite.”
"Ouch!" he said. "I thought you said that your dog didn’t bite!" 



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ken Burn's Vietnam War Documentary--first thoughts

I don't know if this is news stateside or not, but PBS has been making an effort to make Ken Burn's new Vietnam War documentary accessible to the Vietnamese public.
The first 5 episodes have been all subtitled in Vietnamese, and are available for free in Vietnam on the PBS website here.  (Presumably the other 5 episodes will follow eventually).
Despite the fact that Ken Burns's version differs in several places from the official communist version told by the Vietnamese government (in Ken Burns's version, Communist leaders occasionally make mistakes) the Vietnamese government is showing toleration.  Hanoi isn't promoting this new documentary, but they aren't censoring it either.  Any Vietnamese person with a computer and an Internet connection can watch it.

And, if my Facebook feed is any indication, it's creating a buzz here in Vietnam.  Both among the expat crowd, and among the Vietnamese themselves, many of whom seem to be quite fascinated by this documentary.

At the moment, I've only watched the first 2 episodes, and dipped in and out of episodes 3, 4, and 5.  (Episodes 6-10 not yet available here in Vietnam).
I'm not sure if I'll bother meticulously watching the whole thing.  (I do, after all, already have a few Vietnam War documentaries under my belt, so I probably don't need to watch all 18 hours of this one.)  But if I do end up watching all 18 hours, I'll end up giving it a full review and adding it to my TV review project.

For now, I'll just note down a couple things.

Ken Burns and his team are master story-tellers.  So there's nothing to complain about there.  (But of course you knew that already).

Also, I appreciate the fact that the Vietnam War is so polarizing, that it's impossible to make any narrative of the War that won't upset someone.
That being said....,
I do have some disagreements with the first episode.
The episode mentioned only briefly that at the 1955 Geneva Summit, all sides had agreed to nation-wide elections in 1956, but that the U.S. later cancelled these elections and installed a dictator in South Vietnam instead.
They mentioned the elections being cancelled only off-handedly, and then put all the blame on Diem, instead of on Diem's U.S. allies.  (In fact, the United States government was also against the 1956 elections, because everyone knew Ho Chi Minh would win).
The Ken Burns documentary makes it sound like the U.S. was the victim of Diem, and got suckered into the war because of him.  The reality is more that the U.S. created Diem's regime.

This is a major point, and more should have been made of it. It completely undermines the traditional story that the U.S. was fighting for democracy and freedom in Vietnam.  It also means that the whole war was illegal. (It violated the 1955 Geneva Summit).

Also:
The Ken Burns documentary mentions that the CIA warned Diem about meddling too much in the election results, but that Diem ignored their advice.
Like a lot of things in the documentary, this is technically true, but somewhat misleading in its emphasis.  It makes it sound like the CIA had a problem with rigging a democratic election in principle.
In actuality, the CIA didn't have a problem with Diem rigging the election.  What the CIA had a problem with was Diem making the results look unbelievable.
The CIA advised Diem that he could rig the election, but that he should only win the election by a believable margin, and under no circumstances was he to win by 99% of the vote.
So Diem instead won the election by 98.2% of the vote.  (Diem considered it a loss of face if even 2% of the country voted against him.)

Also...
you can always detect bias slipping into any account of the Vietnam War when they use the phrase "The Viet Cong controlled most of the countryside" instead of the alternative phrasing "most of the countryside supported the Viet Cong."
The former phrasing implies the countryside wanted to be liberated from the Viet Cong, the latter implies that the countryside was the Viet Cong.
The latter implication is more historically accurate.  But Ken Burns uses the former phrasing often in his documentary.

Other notes:
1) My Vietnamese girlfriend watched part of it with me, and she was very amused at how the narrator mispronounced all the Vietnamese names.  She thought it was the funniest thing ever.  "It's just like you say those names," she said to me.

2) Looking at the old archival footage, it's amazing how much Saigon has changed.  It looks so peaceful back in the 1950s and 1960s--no traffic jams, only a few vehicles on the road, everyone bicycling instead of on motorcycles.... I was able to recognize some of the big Cathedrals, and some of the other iconic buildings, but other than that, you'd never recognize today's Saigon from that old footage.
Started: The Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

Started: Beloved by Toni Morrison


From Slideshare.net: His hers yours mine

I'm linking to this in an effort to keep track of and index useful teaching material.  The above link is useful for teaching possessive pronouns.

I came upon it as a result of a question a colleague had.  He was teaching possessive pronouns in English World 3 Unit 12, and he noticed that the textbook taught the form as "This hat is mine" but the test at our school used the form "Whose hat is it?  It is mine."  So after searching on the web, I found this slideshow that could be used for this grammar point.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

(Book Review)

Started: August 16, 2017
Finished: September 18, 2017

Why I Read This Book
Over the past few years, I've been concerned that I've been developing an Internet/ television addiction.

I spend hours mindlessly surfing the web, or watching TV, and I seem to have a hard time pulling myself away.

I keep telling myself, "You should read more books and watch less Youtube".  And yet, night after night, I find myself wasting my time watching Youtube.

After spending some time trying to psycho-analyze myself, I decided that perhaps part of the problem was that I was just tired in the evening, and lacked the capacity to engage with the more difficult books on my reading list.
After 9pm, I just couldn't muster the will power to read The Civil Wars by Appian of Alexandria, or Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers.

But endlessly watching Youtube wasn't a solution either.  Staring at a computer screen for hours was bad for my eyes, bad for my posture, and bad for my health.

....The solution, I thought, was to find more light reading to do in the evenings.
And so I went into the bookstore, and looked for the most low-brow escapist fantasy fiction I could find.  And I came away with The Thief.

Brief Background
As always, living in Southeast Asia, my reading choices are limited by the poverty of selection.
There are probably a hundred better fantasy novels out there, but in my local bookstore there was only a handful of young adult fantasy novels, and this series was one of them.
I swear, it is completely impossible these days to find a stand-alone fantasy novel.  Everything is part of a series.
But the series looked intriguing, so I decided to start with the first book.
This is the first book in The Queen's Thief series (W) and (although I had never heard of it before) it was first published in 1996.  So the fact that it's still on the bookshelves 21 years later means that it can probably be considered a classic of sorts.  (Within the YA genre, I figure 21 years is a long time to survive).

Quick Disclaimer and Spoilers
I've got nothing against this book.  It's well-written for a YA book, and Megan Whalen Turner is a good storyteller.
Nevertheless, it's probably not a productive use of time for me, at my age, to spend too many words over-analyzing a Young Adult novel.  So I'm going to try my best to keep this short and sweet.
I'm also going to spoil things, because the book is so short that it's hard to talk about it without giving stuff away.

The Review

This is a fun little fantasy novel.

It's set in a world which is the author's own creation, but which is heavily influenced by ancient Greek and Mediterranean culture.  Most of the names in the book sound Greek, and the pantheon of gods and goddess is reminiscent of Greek mythology.

[Sidenote: The modern fantasy genre as a genre was pretty much single-handedly created by Tolkien.  And Tolkien was interested in Norse mythology.  Which is why most fantasy books have an old Northern European feel to them.  If Tolkien had been interested in Greek mythology instead, the genre would look totally different today.  Megan Whalen Turner's book is an example of how the genre would look if it had been influenced more by Greek culture than by Norse culture.]

I was pleasantly surprised in the beginning chapters to see how well-written the book was.
The story is told through the first person narration of the main character Gen, and through her narrator, Megan Whalen Turner has a great conversational narration style going on.  It really carries the reader effortlessly through the pages.

The characters are also intriguing.  At least initially.
At the beginning of our story, our hero is forced on a journey against his will with 4 other characters, who are in part travelling companions, and in part jailers.
At first, we really don't know anything about these characters, and we're not sure if they will grow to become friends, or adversaries.
Megan Whalen Turner plays with this expertly.  Right from the beginning, she shows us both the strict authoritarian side of the Magus (the leader of the journey) as well as his more sympathetic side.  So the reader is constantly guessing to see if he and Gen will end up becoming friends or enemies.  And Megan Whalen Turner keeps this suspense up throughout the whole book.

There's another boy on the journey, Ambiades, who develops an antagonistic relationship with Gen.  Throughout the book, I kept wondering what was going to happen.  Would this be one of those stories where Ambiades starts out like a jerk, but by the end of the book we see his noble side, and he and Gen develop a mutual respect for each other?
Or was Ambiades going to be like Malfoy, where he starts out like a jerk, and then just keeps getting worse and worse as the story goes on, until by the end he has nothing redeemable about him?
The dynamic starts out with a lot of promise, but unfortunately it doesn't get developed much further than that.  We never get to see a more complex side to Ambiades.  He ends up being just a villain in the end.
And worse, we never get a satisfying show-down with Ambiades.
If he was just going to be a one-dimensional villain, fine, but then at least give us some sort of climatic showdown between Ambiades and Gen.  Instead Ambiades just quietly dies off-screen.
 (Actually that being said,  although I found Ambiades story arc to be unsatisfying in general, I do think it was a bold move for Megan Whalen Turner to finish off Ambiades by just having him get pushed off a cliff off-screen.  There's something fascinatingly chilling in the whole callousness of the death. Especially considering Ambiades was still just a teenager, I didn't expect him to just get pushed off a cliff suddenly.)

As for the main plot:
The story is a classic journey story.  The characters set out on an expedition, find a treasure, and then return.
The story stagnated a bit in the middle, with a bit too much description of the journey, but on whole the book was short-and-sweet enough that there is little to complain about.

Also there is a surprise ending which reveals none of these characters are who they said they were.  It was a good twist ending that caught me off-guard.
Other than that, there's not much more to say.

Notes:
* This video here is a good succinct summary of the book.  I agree with pretty much all of her complaints, although I wouldn't go as far to say the book is unreadable.  It's short, the prose flows, the book is as readable as you could ask for.  Underwhelming, maybe, but readable.



Video Review
Video review here and embedded below:



Link of the Day
Young Noam Chomsky on Daniel Ellsberg (1969)

Solutions Grade 8 Unit 3 Lesson C "In the Country" p.26

Google drive folder HERE
Vocabulary p. 26 docs, pub
Reading p. 26 docs, pub

Match the word to the definition
1. capital___

2. farm___

3. first language___

4. independent___

5. industry___

6. industrial___

7. language___

8. population___

9. spectacular___

10. tourism___
A). the number of people living in a particular area

B). an area with a lot of factories

C). an area of land with fields and buildings that is used for growing crops and keeping animals as a business

D). communication between people, usually using words

E). a particular type of business

F). the business of providing services for tourists, including organizing their travel, hotels, entertainment, etc

G). the language that someone learns to speak first

H). the most important city in a country or state, where the government is based

I). not controlled or ruled by anyone else

J). extremely good, exciting, or surprising


Match the word to the sentence:
capital, farm, first language, independent, industrial, industry, languages, population, spectacular, tourism

1. Japan has really _______________ scenery.


2. Paris is the _______________ of France.


3. How many _______________ do you speak?


4. She works on a _______________ .


5. The _______________ of Japan is 127 million people.


6. Hollywood is famous for its movie _______________


7. _______________ is an important industry in many countries.


8. Madeleine's_______________ is French, but she also knows English and German.


9. Most of the population lives close to the factories in the _______________ area.


10. The Republic of Cuba became _______________ in 1902.
Answers:


1. Japan has really spectacular scenery.


2. Paris is the capital of France.


3. How many languages do you speak?


4. She works on a farm.


5. The population of Japan is 127 million people.


6. Hollywood is famous for its movie industry


7. Tourism is an important industry in many countries.


8. Madeleine's first language is French, but she also knows English and German.


9. Most of the population lives close to the factories in the industrial area.


10. The Republic of Cuba became independent in 1902.


capital
farm
first language
independent
industrial
industry
language
population
spectacular
tourism

North Wales


Read the text and match the headings in the box with the paragraphs (A-D).

____ industry   ____ introduction  ____ language  ____ scenery

A. Wales isn’t an independent state--it is part of the UK.  It is situated in the west of Britain.  It has a population of about three million and the capital is Cardiff.  Most of the population live in the industrial south of the country.


B.  The north of Wales is one of the most beautiful parts of Britain.  There are spectacular lakes, valleys and rivers.  There are also wonderful mountains--including Snowdon, Britain’s second highest mountain.


C.  Two languages are spoken in Wales: English and Welsh.  Welsh is a Celtic language and is one of the oldest languages in Europe.  Only 20% of the total population of Wales speak Welsh, but in the small villages and towns of west and north Wales, about 75% of people speak it as their first language.

D.  The two main industries in the north are tourism and farming.  Many people come to walk and climb in the mountains or go kayaking on the rivers.  There are lots of sheep farms in the hills, but it is difficult to make money from sheep farming, and many farms are closed.  Young people have difficulty finding jobs in north Wales and many of them are leaving to get jobs in the city.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Finished: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner  (Review coming soon...hopefully)


From Phnom Penh Post:
Hun Sen lashes out at US for deportations

I saw this from a friend's Facebook page.  On their Facebook page, that friend wrote:
America, we are living in dark times when this guy can claim the moral high ground.
(The background here is that while stories about deportation have focused on Latinos and Muslims, the US has been deporting Cambodians born in the US after their families fled the Khmer Rouge. I should also note that when Pol Pot ran his government in exile from within Thailand, he received aid from China and, you guessed it, MURCA. In the childlike worldview of Kissinger and his acolytes, the Khmer Rouge was anti-Vietnam, and thus a Friend of America.)

English World 2 Unit 10 Grammar p.104

 (Supplementary Material for Specific Textbooks--English World 2)




Google drive folder HERE
PowerPoint: drive, slides, pub

Sunday, September 17, 2017

More IELTS Speaking part 3 links.  (I've used these successfully in my own classes).  Both of these focus on Useful language

Signposting Language – Speaking Part 3
and

She first link is a PDF that is already to print out for the students.  
The second link needs to be copied and pasted onto a worksheet for the students.  My version is here: docs, pub

(I'm linking to this here as part of an effort to keep track and index my materials).