Underneath the pavement, the beach

This is the follow-up to my previous post, ‘Find someone who‘ which detailed several problems with the TESOL sphere. The title for this post comes from the Situationists, and is a reference to the sand found underneath the paving stones torn up in the Paris 1968 revolutionary clashes.
There is little to be achieved by only complaining about one’s problems. Certainly, it is relieving to vent. After the venting, however, we have inaction, a restored status quo. There needs to be some sort of action, no matter whether it is a tactical advancement or sabotage.
A lot of us work outside our contracted hours. For those of us creating material to be used in classes and where we retain copyright, I would absolutely advise you to sell this on. Could you sell it as an ebook? As a zip file of materials? If you don’t retain copyright, could you subvert laws and means by only using Creative Commons Share Alike media in your materials? This means that anything created must be shared with the same license. It would also mean that your organisation doesn’t benefit at the expense of everyone else, even if they do stop you from selling it on yourself. If not, totally ensure that you provide only a paper copy to your organisation so that they cannot make a digital version without some effort. Mostly PDF scans look like PDF scans. Remember to add your name under the title or at least somewhere that is a pain to cut it from. If your materials are good and you get acknowledgement without any kind of benefit other than kudos, you might as well be paid in social media likes.
Working to rule is still a thing that feels a bit mean to some of us. I disagree, though I believe I ought to do it more. It’s doing what you are contracted to do. Essentially, anything else is a freebie. If you are freelance, you probably think that freebies are horrible. If you work for an institution, these are often disguised as ‘Everybody normally comes in early to prep and leaves late after marking’. I bet everyone did it because everyone else did it before. Do you know whether everyone else has the same contract? Have you considered that working those extra bits normalises working for free? If you can afford to work for free, lucky you! Just don’t help bring about a culture where everyone else does.
For some of us, we do a phenomenal amount of CPD, including paying for our own qualifications which our organisations benefit from through bragging rights to students. If it isn’t recognised, don’t do it, or if you want to do it, don’t declare it. If your employer wants to parade your CV around, they ought to damn well pay for what’s gone onto it since you’ve been with them. This is one of the reasons I stopped working for one agency: they wanted an updated CV, but there was no extra to be paid as a DipTESOL holder. It doesn’t have to be a diploma or degree, though. Courses, conferences and even webinars take time away from our families friends and chances of getting a nutritious meal instead of being too tired to cook.
If employers are trying to deskill the profession, we need to fight back, and perhaps even fight dirty. Abandon new syllabi and teach better, knowing its better for students to not get the advertised ‘product’. Or transform the materials in such a way that only the highly skilled can use the supplementary materials. Make lesson plans unintelligible except to the initiated. You might get a stern talking to, even a warning. I might advise you, however, that the writing is already on the wall in this case and that you should probably be seeking alternative employment.
The social side of things is a different beast. Staff rooms not being safe, well, I have no idea beyond hoping others will call out bullshit if you can’t. Sometimes, even this doesn’t work. If you can keep a diary of anything, get it down on paper, or even have sympathetic witnesses who can vouch for you it might help (but equally might not). If you really can’t take it, you could consult your union if you have one if your employer is unwilling to act. If you don’t have one or get no joy, and you don’t mind burning your bridges consult the department of employment or similar. You might not have a job to go to for that employer and there would be no good reference, but there would be some kind of record of complaint at least. A declaration that there are problems. I don’t have any easy solutions here.
Similar to the invisibility of LGBTQ+ identities because it can be risky. Does one out oneself to make a point of visibility or look after oneself? I think it’s a personal decision, and you might have to go the union/department-of-employment route here, too.
I started with the Situationists and I will end with them. “Be reasonable, demand the impossible.” What is ‘impossible’ for employers and the industry at large is frequently not; it is only ‘reasonable’ and therefore right.

Find someone who…

Find someone who works more than their contracted hours without monetary compensation.
Find someone who hasn’t had a pay rise for the last five years.
Find someone who can’t afford to buy a house despite home ownership being common among people their age.
Find someone who works in a place where the staffroom is smaller than a classroom yet caters to the same number of people.
Find someone who is praised for their preparation and achievements without any recognition in job security.
Find someone who is constantly job hunting in order to transcend precarious employment.
Find someone who has made sacrifices for their workplace in spite of there being no reciprocation.
Find someone who is expected to conduct research despite having no allotted time nor payment provided to do this.
Find someone who has their working hours cut due to undersubscribed courses while their employer looks to finance new campus buildings.
Any other ideas, add them to the comments.

Making Work For Yourself

Well, first a famine and then a feast, that is, if self-indulgent nonsense is at all a signifier of a festival atmosphere. 3 posts in 36 hours!
Sometimes I think of expertise in teaching as the intuition that being time served gives to you. It’s not the sleepwalking through a class but that you can do everything through habit and stay alert to the novelties of the day. Other times I think of it as the way that you can get through a lesson without needing to plan a rationale with a 3000-word literature review and a methodology section. You already have the skills to pay the bills, as it were.
However, comfort zones are made to be broken out of. This year I am teaching a listening module (yay!) with endless amounts of faff for the resources (no way!) but which I chose to do myself (ey?) in the name of pedagogical thoroughness (hmmm!). Where do we draw the line between martyring oneself to The Absolutely Correct Way Based on Proper Scientists of Learning and being a heretic to the cult of Maybe This Is Good Enough and The Students Will Never Bloody Notice?
“It’s why they pay us the big bucks,” said a person (this very week) that would be unlikely to read this blog. Except, I feel that part of me in the standardised parts of my job feels very frustrated that some of what I do is not The Absolute Correct Way but is definitely only Maybe Good Enough. The bits of my job where I have designed the syllabus and where I have lots of independence make me really happy, although for a few of those there were some marathon reading sessions on good practice for reading and writing pedagogy.
“That book basically teaches itself,” said someone in a staff room this week. I didn’t even have a small aneurysm. I sat on my hands and did nothing; no arguing, not even a grumble. I just disagreed, felt that I understood the time pressures but wondered why they even had a Master’s degree if they enjoyed being deskilled so much.
Anyway, there’s assessment as well. Not being much of one for exams, them being a single event that might not be representative of learning development, I sort of eschewed them as much as possible until this year going with portfolios and ongoing assessment. Unfortunately, I don’t think portfolio assessment is the way to go unless you are teaching a light load and have plenty of time for painstaking assessment necessary. My portfolio assessments make up a much smaller proportion of grades this year, but I do have exams to give but they are smaller, less stressful affairs. I would much rather be able to conduct task-based tests more often, but 30 in some classes and I teach 30 hours a week at different places and with different systems. The Absolute Correct Way is toast again.
Am I a bit sorry? Well, I have the flail out, yes. Is there any way around it? Well, probably not until I start a Patreon or something (joke).
So, what can be done? Well, at best, I can probably plan my time a bit better, which should be easier now I cancelled Netflix. I could do a bit more assessment in down time and use time at home as down time instead. I also have a lot of repeating classes next semester, so that is a small mercy and I won’t need to mess about with video editing software on a crappy Linux computer with insufficient RAM at midnight next autumn or winter.

Resource: Intonation Graphs

As regular readers know, I love phonology and anything to do with pronunciation and listening. I also have a need to make my learners aware of what happens in the stream of speech. They need to catch the intonation to be aware of any discourse functions, any attitudinal functions and, to the extent that they can be considered anything beyond rules of thumb, grammatical functions.
So, intonation graphs. Get the graph, draw the pitch and even write the words on the graph. Something like this.
A graph. X axis is Time. Y axis is Pitch. In the middle of the Y axis, parallel to the X axis is a midline. This graph shows the rough intonation pattern for Michael Caine's line in The Italian Job, "You're only suppose to blow the bloody doors off!"
Get it here as a Word document or PDF.

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons – Redux

You are in a classroom. There is a dais with a desk, behind which there is a blackboard. In front of you there are eight novices awaiting instruction.
I choose to engage the novices.
Go ahead.
Today, I have a plan. However, I am interested to know if you have a different plan. My plan can be for another day. Please imagine different situations that you and Rob or Vanessa (our regular Non-Player Characters) might be in. Use last week’s lesson as a planning guide. If you need help, please ask me.
Roll D10>3 and D4<4 for successful engagement and +1 courage.
D4 falls off desk… =1.
It went really well, actually. The students planned in two groups of 4. One group decided on explaining a road relay (and did very well indeed), and the other planned to teach how to make miso soup, which they underestimated the complexity of, but I see this as a good learning experience. I also think that by giving my students a metaphorical look behind the curtain that they can understand the success criteria for the tasks I create a bit better. I would still like a bit more linguistic complexity in their output, but today I am going to take this as a success.
XP +D6
Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

excitELT: workers rake the coals


Image from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, 1966. Public domain. Could it be a group of teachers worrying about whether they will survive the industry/profession dichotomy?

OK, I know. “Marc, you are one of the people that are involved in Teachers as Workers, aren’t you?”
Actually, probably less than you think but, you know, I support them. I just don’t know how much I actually do apart from I’ve wrote a blog and struggled to archive some stuff for the group.
Anyway, yes, I could have submitted a presentation about how ELT is less exciting and more exploitative. However, I did a bit about listening, and other people did stuff about working issues for teachers.


Peter Brereton presented Teacher Low Points: Disillusionment, Demotivation, and Burnout. Sadly, I ended up walking in halfway through the 10-minute plenary because I had other stuff to sort out upstairs, but what I did see was good, engaging and made me happy that somebody is talking about this.
Bill Snyder talked about the notion of isolation in teaching, despite being part of a community. There was also the difference between isolation and solitude, and the amount of anxiety and how we can help each other by talking and stuff.
Sam Morris talked about emotional authenticity in teaching, and the issue of rife fixed-term contracts and the massive amount of part-time teaching (in universities) happened to crop up, because teachers sometimes become more “emotionally authentic”, or ‘themselves’ close to the end of a contract. Basically teachers who know they are getting to the end of the contract, with job anxiety and such, stop worrying about masking their feelings and let them out. I raised the question about whether there was a link in the research about whether there was any link to teaching quality by keeping teachers precarious. He said he’d read research and it pointed to the opposite. I think I also had a longwinded comment-question thing (yes, I can be am one of those people) about feeling guilty for being open about my feelings with adult students. I think the crux was: students are adults, they arguably need English of the real world, feelings are the real world, why hide feelings (though, don’t be weird, you know).
Of the videos, Scott Thornbury painted a vulgar picture of the Spanish ELT employment scene, with pitiful wages and no development to speak of in the language school sector. That would be mainly the same in Japan, though there are a very few cracks of light to be found outside the chain schools.
On a side note – I was a bit worried that it was going to be a bit of a talking shop for people who just work in universities, which kind of happens at a lot of conferences, I guess, and that was the majority of people, but there were some people from language schools and high schools as well. I like talking to people, especially people who don’t just work at universities, because what is a conference for if not to learn from people you might not otherwise meet? (Not wholly a rhetorical question, by the way).

Whose Cared A Lesson In? excitELT Tokyo 2018 hangout summary

Well, hello. This is a summary of my hangout at excitELT 2018 at Rikkyo University’s Ikebukuro Campus. It was really good fun and the best thing was just nattering to people I know from Twitter and meeting new people!


My slides are here, but because it was a ‘hangout’, there was audience participation, and this is what I am going to put in this post.

What’s missing from materials for listening?

Michael Griffin

  • A range of speakers: kids, seniors, non-native speakers.
  • A variety of subjects, especially interesting/useful subjects.

Matt Shannon

  • Natural language, especially at a low enough level for junior high and high school students.
  • Clear intonation patterns.

What are some activities we could use to teach/practice bottom-up listening?

Matt Shannon

  • Spelling bee.

There was also the discussion that listening can be taught with a reactive focus on something students have found difficult rather than “something pulled out of your arse” (Jones, 2018)¹.
Also, it was discussed, especially with Matt Shannon and Ruthie Iida, that some teachers in Japan are teaching English using kana, thus making it ‘easier’ for students to pronounce words, though this might render them less intelligible than if they were taught standard pronunciation of, especially vowels such as /ɜː/, /ɔː/ and /ʌ/ which can be important for contrasts, which might make the differences between Japanese and English phonological categories clearer. I said also my dream would be having enough time on the curriculum for children to be taught pronunciation using the IPA without stressing parents, teachers and kids that they can’t pick it up. However, I’ve changed my mind about this, and teaching absolute beginners without orthography might be a good idea based upon Mathieu (2016), until there is a critical mass of vocabulary or evidence of contrastive phonemes having been learned.
Comments, are more than welcome.


Jones, M. (2018) Whose Cared A Lesson In. (‘Hangout’ Presentation) excitELT Tokyo, May 6th 2018.

Mathieu, L. (2016) The influence of foreign scripts on the acquisition of a second language phonological contrast. Second Language Research, 32(2) 145–170. DOI: 10.1177/0267658315601882 (Open access)


1. I said, “I could mince my words, but I don’t think I will.” Listening and pronunciation can make you angry, I tell you.

Pronunciation: a ragbag of activities, methods and ways to teach it

This post, ironically, is something I’ve put off writing for ages and ages, less because the topic is daunting but more because it’s dauntingly large and I could easily get carried away. However, Kamila, whose blog you should definitely follow, asked me to write something about pronunciation and so I will.wp-image-173208861.

Focus on FormS (i.e. pre-selected) or Focus on Form (i.e. reactive)?

I ago for the Focus on Form every time. If something needs to be taught, you’re going to have your students realise more easily if you can show them what they haven’t been able to do yet, get them to be able to do it afterwards, consider the difference, and go about their communication again.



Whenever I am giving feedback on phonology, I tend to use an IPA phonemic transcription, usually contrasting an error (i.e. improbable intelligibility) with a standard example (i.e. easily intelligible). Why? You can show that at the phonemic level that two sounds are different. This works, in my experience, with segmental phonology such as single phonemes, phonotactics (basically combinations of phonemes, and a clear example would be consonant clusters in standard English versus epenthesised consonants produced by L1 Japanese and Korean students, and also when looking at suprasegmental features like connected speech and also even intonation. Huh? Why?
I don’t really spend any time being explicit about learning IPA characters out of context. Mostly the characters make the sounds my students expect, with only a few exceptions among the vowels. Because it’s always there, it usually sinks in fairly well and fairly quickly. Also, nothing goes on the board with modelling and practice.

Sagittal diagrams and mouth shapes

Sagittal diagrams really have worked well. I normally draw sagittals up on the board whenever I need them instead of having a set of sagittals on PowerPoint like I feel I should. It’s second nature to me now but I do remember the steep learning curve.
For some sounds, you really need to show the mouth shape, too. I have used chalk drawings, photographs of my own mouth, and paused video in VLC to show the way people’s mouths look when they are articulating particular phonemes. The video one is particularly useful because you can show how the mouth moves from one sound to another smoothly, which is beneficial for making sounds more salient (easy to perceive) when listening (Hardison, 2018).
I usually give feedback on mouth shapes and point of articulation in really simple terms like “lips more spread”, “put your tongue in the place for /g/ but hold it and let the sound come through your nose” and such.

Stress and Rhythm

“English is a stress-timed language” chorused everyone on my DipTESOL during phonology brainwashing input sessions. I often demonstrate it by writing a short passage on the board (with transcription) and then have students mark the stresses, and check by speaking it and clapping. To make it more visually salient, I might flash open palms (thanks ELFPron – I can’t find that post I took your idea from) or stretch a brightly coloured (bunch of) rubber band(s). Depending on class size and space in my bag, I might also bring a triangle and beat it muted for unstressed syllables and open for stressed syllables and semi-muted for secondary stress. This might be easier for some than others.


I know exaggerating intonation is really tempting but I don’t do it now because the mimickry makes me realise I sound like a dick when I do it. What I do instead is just mark it on the board and/or use gesture to make it more salient. I was, at one point, going to do a lot of classroom research on intonation teaching but I was really busy and it never happened but I could add it to the endless list of things I feel driven enough to add to a list but not driven enough to carry out.


Hardison, D. M. (2018) Effects of Contextual and Visual Cues on Spoken Language Processing: Enhancing L2 Perceptual Salience Through Focused Training, in Gass, S. M, Spinner, P. & Behney, J. (2018) Salience in Second Language Acquisition.

Other blogs

Hit the comments if you want to give other tips. Also, obviously, check out ELFPron and Pronunciation Bites.

Manipulation or Motivation?

I will probably flesh this out in a few weeks with more references and make it longer so if this interests you, maybe bookmark this.

Motivation and Anxiety

Today, Zoltán Dörnyei presented at the TESOL conference in Chicago and he presented about engagement. Now, engagement is one of those words that everyone knows the meaning of but when asked to define it they define it differently than the next person. I don’t know how Prof. Dörnyei operationalises engagement so I am not going to put words in his mouth. What I am going to do is situate his talk in a wider context regarding affective factors in language teaching.
Motivation and engagement are positive words. They signify positive affect toward an act, and when used to talk about teaching and learning, they are used to support the idea that being on task and wanting to be on task is good. It’s an obvious good thing because in our minds, being on task means that language gets acquired.
Consequently, foreign language anxiety, as put forward by Elaine Horizont and her colleagues (1986) is the extreme negative effect of using and learning a foreign language. Obviously engagement and motivation are good and anxiety is bad. However, what we do to foster increased motivation and engagement and lower anxiety are not just commonsense, value-neutral acts.

A Dilemma

I have some great colleagues dotted around the various places I work at. At one, there is a colleague – let’s call him Bob, because I don’t know how comfortable he would be with me sharing this conversation and actually attributing it to him. Bob was at a conference when an attendee or presenter talked about “tricking” his students into being motivated to participate in tasks or activities. Bob was aghast. Bob thinks that this is manipulation. Manipulation is not usually considered good. Manipulation to be motivated is bad, then. But being motivated is good, so how does one reconcile this?
We are human and therefore we all have the right to make our own decisions. Students sign up for classes* and therefore are motivated enough to attend lessons, and another reason to sign up may be to have accountability for language learning behaviour like doing homework, reading, listening to podcasts, etc. Nobody signs up for classes to be subjected to manipulation. Yet this is what we do if we are trying to exercise control of other people, however noble our intentions.
So, what is our solution here? People will make irrational choices. In language teaching, what is often comfortable is not always the same as what is supported by evidence from research. People like this because they have a fixed idea of what ‘studying’ and therefore, learning looks like, because they may be equated to one another due to the near synonymy. Do we manipulate our students into our way of doing things? I’d say this is too patrician and also reduces the opportunity to foster learner autonomy.
If students are not given information to base their learning choices upon, and the teacher simply dictates what happens, they will either go along with things or they will reject the teaching through disengagement or non-attendance. If teachers trick students into participation, no choice is occurring, thus limiting the opportunity to decide upon participation, and reducing the likelihood of voluntary participation in future activities. It doesn’t matter how engaged the students may be; the fact is that there was no choice and if students feel lied to or manipulated then trust in the teacher (or even, in extreme cases, all teachers) is reduced. However, if we explain why we plan the activities we include in lessons, students can hear our rationale and if they don’t agree they can either voice an opinion or choose to participate or do neither. We can inform students about more fruitful ways to study than they may be used to. Therefore, when trust is established, then information is reliable and taken on board and acted upon.


*At least the adult ones do, and I include university students in this even though they may have been strongarmed into deciding to go to university and they could always drop out by choice.


HORWITZ, E. K., HORWITZ, M. B. and COPE, J. (1986), Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety. The Modern Language Journal, 70: 125-132. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1986.tb05256.x

A totally unqualified riff on #Alt-Ac and me in Applied Linguistics/Language Teaching

Radio silence! I have syllabi to write and such. It is the very short break between the end of one Japanese academic year and the start of another. It is my first year that I will be mainly a part-time university teacher at three universities with marginal face-to-face freelancing.
One of my sweet distractions lately has been that, should my pipe dream of being a tenured lecturer not actually materialise, it might not be a bad thing because the working conditions for tenured staff can be absolute crap anyway. No, I haven’t been listening to The Auteurs again. I’ve been reading about alternative academia, or #Alt-Ac.
I don’t get grants to do research because I am part-time and I am – without doubt – not even registered as a blip to the people in charge anywhere that would fund anything as someone who would be doing anything remotely worth money to research and take time out and have a weekend at a conference and blah, blah, blah. The research I do is because either:

  1. it would be useful once and I might be able to use it again;
  2. it might be something I can show in a portfolio to get a better job;
  3. I might be able to sell something like materials based off the research and thus be a provider of children’s shoes to my household.

Would I be a better or a worse researcher if I were actually forced to be in an office dealing with millions of emails and several meetings and whatnot? I don’t know, but it would be rather nice to learn about research methods from media other than books and podcasts. A bit unlikely for a serial part-timer, mind but I do have an embryonic duoethnography probably underway once I actually get my arse in gear.
I keep entertaining doing a PhD (and will probably do a MRes so I can get academic credit for a biggish project I have on my mind). The only problem with a PhD is thinking about recouping the cost if I did one part-time or even recouping the cost of a wage cut if I did one full time. I know money isn’t everything but it’s very difficult to support a family on scholarly knowledge alone.
But Marc, you are getting ahead of yourself. Aren’t you a mere part-time instructor? Yes, I am. I also know that I have publications coming out, the probability of more, and might even have more publications than existing full-time instructors. I am pretty sure that my corpus work, if it actually ever sees the light of day when it is reviewed will be decent, and it’s not like there are a ton of ESP corpus linguists in Japan at the minute, unless I am woefully ignorant (and I kind of hope I am, in this case). There is a shortage of people obsessively interested in teaching listening and/or pronunciation (again, prove me wrong. Please!). There is no shortage of Task-Based Language Teachers in Japan, and my new job may mean that I get a bit more input there but I don’t know, so I’m not looking to carve a path there exactly though I have a book idea I am trying to work on because I have one more day off per week this year!
So, the new academic year: I am really looking forward to it, I have some cool courses to teach, some old and some new. I will have international students for the first time in about five years as well, which is nice because it keeps me on my toes pedagogically. And I can probably get at least a few blog posts and maybe a paper out of some stuff.
Anyhow, unfocused ruffian seeks tons of cash to research listening or make corpora. Hit me up in the comments if you want to give me money (joke [perhaps]).
You may also want to avail yourself of the not dry at all Research in Action podcast by Dr. Katie Linder.