A Zoomy week

Over the past year, I seem to have spent slightly less time on Zoom than a lot of my colleagues, so I’ve largely escaped the phenomena of Zoom fatigue. The past week or so, though, has been quite Zoomy.

TEFL Commute podcast: First, I joined Shaun Wilden, Lindsay Clandfield and Ceri Jones via Zoom to record an episode of the TEFL Commute podcast on the theme of words. We chatted about words we love (and hate), untranslatable words and new words we’ve come across recently. It was good fun and lovely to catch up with them all. You can tune in to hear our wordy picks and musings here.

NATESOL 2021: Then, I had the pleasure of giving the opening plenary for the NATESOL Annual Conference on the theme of language change and its relevance in the ELT classroom. I’d originally meant to be delivering the talk in Manchester last May, but like so many other events, the conference was first postponed and then went online. It was a shame that I didn’t get to meet the NATESOL organizers – who I’d got to know quite well over a year of to-ing and fro-ing and discussing changes! – and the NATESOL members. However, they still managed to generate a really friendly atmosphere for the online event and I thoroughly enjoyed both giving the talk and also interacting afterwards in the Q&A and via Twitter.

I was particularly pleased to get such positive feedback on the way I dealt with emerging language around identity. I’ve been trying to learn more recently about issues around diversity and inclusion, attending a number of webinars, reading articles and blog posts, and just generally listening to different voices. So it was really good to hear that I’d managed to raise an important topic in a way that seemed to hit the right note.

A masterclass on how to integrate language change and allyship into our TESOL practice in an engaging inclusive manner that invites discussion.

Emily Downes (via Twitter)

Collins webinars: Then I just had time to pause and reset ahead of two webinars for Collins ELT about vocabulary teaching. Both sessions attracted a wonderfully international audience with over 300 participants across the two sessions from countries as diverse as Romania, India, Peru and Botswana, all joining in with the chat and the Q&A. Thanks to everyone who tuned in and contributed.

The #StetWalk Community

One of the things I love about being a freelancer in a digital world is all the different professional communities I get to be part of. There are ELT teachers, ELT writers and the wider ELT freelancer community. There are lexicographers and corpus linguists. I’m part of my local Society of Authors group. And over the past year or so, I’ve become part of a fabulous #StetWalk community who I share my walk breaks with.

‘Stet’ is an editing term which means “let it stand” – an editor writes it in the margin when they cross something out then change their mind and want to leave it in. US editor, Tanya Gold, adopted the StetWalk hashtag to describe when an editor (or writer) stands up from their desk and goes out for a walk to take a physical and mental break from staring at their screen.

Check out the video below to meet some of my fellow #StetWalkers and to see how I snuck into an American editors’ conference!

https://t.co/CVT63T38ot?amp=1

#coronaversary: rollouts and re-entry

It’s a year today since we went into our first lockdown here in the UK. As someone with lots of contacts in countries who’d gone into lockdowns earlier, I was already being quite cautious, so I don’t have a last pre-lockdown photo gathered with friends doing ‘normal’ things to share. It has been a chance to reflect back on the last 12 months though personally, professionally and of course, linguistically.

In my series of ten blog posts last summer, I examined some of the new language to come out of the pandemic – or coronavocab – and in my latest post, I give a bit of an update on some of the new trends and expressions that are coming to characterize the kind of language we’re using to talk about what’s going on in 2021. I look at coronavirus vs. Covid, jabs vs. shots, rollouts and re-entry.

Read the full post here.

A.S.Hornby Dictionary Research Awards

In recent months, I’ve become involved with the A.S. Hornby Educational Trust as a member of their expert panel for the A.S.Hornby Dictionary Research Awards initiative (ASHDRA). It’s an interesting new role and something I’m really looking forward to being part of it. The scheme aims to facilitate innovative research into areas of lexicography that will feed into practical benefits for learners of English.

We’re particularly interested in research in the following areas:

  • Research into low-cost lexicographic resources to improve the learning and teaching of English in under-resourced classrooms in public education contexts
  • Classroom research into how learners currently use dictionaries with a view to making recommendations to improve classroom practice
  • Research geared to the development of teacher and / or learner training in the use of dictionaries and other lexicographic resources to enhance English language learning
  • Critical evaluation of available lexicographic resources (electronic or paper) with proposals and accompanying materials for improving their pedagogical effectiveness
  • An investigation of the potential role of dictionaries and/or other lexicographic resources for pupils in schools in English-speaking countries for whom English is an additional language, with proposals and accompanying materials.
  • Research geared to the development of lexicographic resources which go beyond the scope of conventional dictionaries and are of practical use for EL learners

The call for proposals for the 2021 award is now open and we welcome proposals for both academic and practitioner research. So, if you’re interested in dictionaries in ELT and have an idea for a research project, find out more on the Hornby website. I’m really looking forward to seeing the range of proposals that come in.

2020 Projects

It’s that time of year when we all tend to look back on what we’ve achieved in the past 12 months. Working in publishing though, it’s often difficult to talk about what you’ve been working on. Most projects are confidential until they’re published, which is generally quite a few months after you’ve finished work on them, so you mostly end up talking about what you did last year.

In some ways, that’s been the case in 2020, with quite a few projects I worked on in 2019 coming out this year. The year started off with the publication in paperback of How To Write EAP Materials – previously only available as an ebook, now in print and in an updated edition. And in case you missed it, I also created a linked series of videos about some of the things to consider when writing materials for EAP teachers.

Cover image of How to Write EAP Materials

March saw the publication of a position paper I wrote for OUP about the updated Oxford 3000:

Image of position paper entitled "The Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000: The most important words to learn in English"

And in June, new editions of the COBUILD Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Dictionaries, which I’d been involved in updating, came out:

Cover images of the COBUILD Idioms Dictioary fourt edition and the COBUILD Phrasal Verbs Dictionary fourth edition

While in December, the new edition of IELTS Common Mistakes (CUP), which I’d worked on updating earlier in the year, was published:

Cover image of IELTS Common Mistakes for bands 6.0-7.0

Unusually, I can also talk a bit about some of the things I’ve been working on this year, even though they haven’t quite been published yet. I’ve worked on two series of books which have at least been made public already, so I think that means I can mention them.

Throughout the year, I’ve worked on various stages of a series for Cambridge English aimed at pupils in international schools whose second language is English; Global English. It’s the second edition of a coursebook series that goes through primary to lower secondary. I’ve worked on 6 levels in the series in total, researching common learner errors in the key markets for the books to feed into usage notes and targeted practice for the workbooks. For some levels, I carried out research and prepared reports to pass onto workbook authors and for several levels, I did both the research and the writing. The books are due for publication next year, so look out for more news then.

Image of Cambridge University Press Global English series with cover images of three books in the series

I also worked on two levels of Oxford Discover Futures, aimed at secondary level EFL students. I was involved in creating writing workshops for students’ books at the two highest levels, again forthcoming early next year, so watch this space for more details.

Still making the same mistakes … Common Mistakes 15 years on

Back in the early 2000s, I was working primarily as a freelance lexicographer on learner’s dictionaries. I loved the work, but I was starting to think about branching out more into other ELT materials.  One of my first breaks came when I was asked to do some learner corpus research for a new series of books for CUP, Common Mistakes at … and how to avoid them.

I carried out much of the research for the new series looking at the most frequent errors made by learners in different Cambridge exams, starting with First Certificate, PET, CAE and Proficiency, then in a second batch, KET and IELTS.

As I was doing the research, it occurred to me that I’d quite like to take the next step and write the material, so I approached the commissioning editor and asked if they had authors lined up for all the books. It turned out that they were still looking for someone for the Proficiency title, so after producing a sample, I got the gig and my first book as an author was published in 2005. I then went on to author the IELTS Advanced book published in 2007.

Since then, the books have proved popular with students as a simple revision aid to help them tidy up some of those common errors and with luck, nudge up their exam marks. The books have gone on to be published in a number of versions, translated into Japanese and Chinese editions, and more recently bundled together with practice tests.

Earlier this year, CUP came back to me to update the IELTS Adv book for a second edition. When we reviewed the material, it turned out that the language errors that students make really haven’t changed much in 15 years. We did though need to go through and update many of the examples to get rid of references CDs and phone boxes and the like. And of course with lots of examples of data in the IELTS exams, there was a bit of research needed to update some of the stats and dates that got mentioned, as well as a few minor tweaks to account for changes in exam formats.

Cover image of IELTS Common Mistakes


The resulting new edition has just been published, with a very slight name change, as IELTS Common Mistakes for bands 6.0-7.0, available here.

InnovateELT 2020: talking about language change

For me, one of the big disappointments of this strange year has been the cancellation of a number of ELT events I’d been due to attend and speak at. It’s always great to get away from my desk and to meet people face-to-face, whether that’s chatting to teachers, getting to know others in ELT publishing or catching up with old colleagues. I also enjoy the opportunity to talk about what I’ve been working on. Preparing and giving talks is a great way to develop my own thinking in different areas as I have to consider how to best explain my ideas, setting them against the background of the existing ELT landscape. It’s a process that makes me really think and often sends me off to do extra research just to check that I’m on solid ground before I open my mouth!

So I was really pleased when one of my planned talks got moved online. The InnovateELT conference was due to take place in Barcelona in May, but will now be an online event at the end of this week – 18th and 19th September. Yes, I’m going to miss catching up in person with all the other attendees and of course, I’m missing out on a trip to gorgeous Barcelona, but at least I will get to present perhaps my favourite of the talks I had planned for 2020.

The title of my talk is Changing language for a changing world and it came out of some corpus research I’ve been involved in over the past couple of years for Collins COBUILD to feed into a number of new editions of their reference resources. I’ll be talking about just some of the language trends we identified – and a few that have come along since! – how new language is (and isn’t) relevant in the ELT classroom and suggesting some practical ways of tackling new language in class. Click here for a short video I made to introduce my session

If you’d like to join my session and the range of other fascinating-looking sessions happening over the course of the two-day event, click here to find out more and to register.

Tackling coronavocab in ELT

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been involved in something of a blogging marathon, posting 10 blog posts in 10 days entitled: 10 ways to tackle coronavocab. It was partly inspired by my work on ETpedia Vocabulary – which consists of sets of 10 tips for tackling different areas of vocabulary teaching. But this time, I looked at different ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has affected the way we use language and ideas for bringing that language into the ELT classroom. It aimed to highlight some of the new and trending vocabulary as an interesting starting point for short vocab activities, but it also explored ways in which that could act as a springboard for looking at more generally transferrable language points, such as word formation, collocation and phrasal verbs. In each post, I look at some of the key vocab and the stories behind it, give plenty of examples in context and suggest ideas for 3 or 4 different activities to try out with students.

coronacoinages

Below are a list of the angles I covered – click on the links to read each one:
#1 Coronacoinages: new words that have been coined to describe the coronacoaster we’ve all been on over the past few months.
#2 Trending terms: words that have suddenly spiked in frequency as we get used to the new normal of face masks and hand sanitizer.
#3 The Science: some of the technical terms that have become so familiar to describe the pandemic and what the epidemiologists are telling us.
#4 New compounds & contexts: words that aren’t new but are being used in new ways and new combinations, think social distancing and social bubbles.
#5 Learning & Teaching: the language being used to describe the new realities of homeschooling and asynchronous teaching.
#6 Metaphors: Have we been fighting a war against the virus, hunkering down and waiting for it to pass or trying to dampen it down and snuff it out?
#7 The Stats: Do you know your R rate from your exponential growth? A look at the terms behind the numbers.
#8 Phrasal Verbs: whether things are ramping up or easing off, it seems phrasal verbs have proved popular in a crisis.
#9 Work: WFH and what collocates with Zoom – investigating new ways of working and new words to describe it.
#10 My Corona: the importance of equipping and enabling students to express how the virus has affected them, what they’re struggled with and what they can’t wait to do.

Phrasal verbs

Hopefully, the series makes an interesting read, a bit of a record of the strange times we’re all living through and provides some practical classroom ideas. I’d be really interested to hear if anyone tries any of them out with students and how they go down.

 

Researching new idioms and phrasal verbs

At the end of last year, I had one of those jobs that you start anticipating eagerly over breakfast each morning! I worked on the team updating two Collins COBUILD dictionaries – of phrasal verbs and idioms.

COBUILD idioms      COBUILD PVs

My colleague, Penny Hands, had done some of the initial work of compiling a list of possible new additions, then I had the fun of searching for them using the New Monitor corpus, part of the larger Collins Corpus, made up of the most recent data from both conventional sources (such as print media) and also social media.  I used the initial list as a starting point, but my research led me in all kinds of directions and threw up some new ideas too.

It was a fun job on several levels. Firstly, new language is always fascinating and because phrasal verbs and idioms both tend to be at the more informal end of the register scale, they’re often just inherently quite funny and playful. Then, there’s the technical challenge of constructing corpus searches to find what can be quite variable combinations of words (such as separable phrasal verbs where the object can come between the verb and the particle – push [it/the deadline] back, and variable idioms – drop the mic, drops mic, a mic drop). You want to come up with a search this isn’t too open so that it also finds too much ‘noise’ (examples that aren’t the target phrase), but isn’t too narrow so that it doesn’t find a wide enough range of the possible variations.

My findings then fed in as part of the updates to the new editions which have just come out. My post over on the Collins ELT blog gives a flavour of some of the types of things we found and added.

Language trends

Recently over on my blog, I’ve been looking into a number of language trends, some related to the current coronavirus pandemic, some more general.

Hibernation: I looked at the way people have started talking about hibernating businesses: pausing operations during the current crisis. It’s one of the few hopeful metaphors around that suggests a temporary and even natural suspension of normal life. Although I wrote the post a month ago and the process of the global economy stretching itself and waking up again is now looking like being more gradual and hesitant than it might have seemed then.

hedgehog

Photo by George Kendall on Unsplash

New ways of teaching and learning: In my second post, I looked at the terms we’re using to describe the new ways in which the world of education has been trying to adapt to the lack of classroom teaching. Are you talking about online teaching, remote learning or distance learning? And what about the new words (retronyms) we’ve had to adopt to distinguish those approaches from face-to-face or in-person teaching and learning or even Zoom classes?

Watching TV: Then in my most recent post, I looked into a longer term trend in the way we talk about what we watch. With more people watching content on their phones or other devices rather than sitting down in front of a conventional TV, I investigated the kind of language we might need to be teaching students to describe their contemporary lives and viewing habits.