The right thing.

December again?!! Where has 2019 gone? In last week’s blog I told you that when I realised I didn’t really understand the terminology people were using to describe English, I lost confidence in my ability to teach it (and use it!) This in turn led me to feel I was some kind of an imposter. So, I did what I believed to be ‘the right thing’ and buried my head in a grammar book, trying to ‘learn’.  As I also said last week, after reading Leo van Lier’s book ‘Introducing Language Awareness’, I realised that this, although useful, hadn’t been the best way for me to do it.

If you’ve been following this blog since its launch over one hundred issues ago, you’ll be aware that here at ETC International College we encourage learners to think and use the language, rather than just learning ‘rules’ about it. There’s a reason for this. As I said way back in Blog #2, October 2nd, 2017, “Often, teachers and students become obsessed with whether a piece of language is ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’, depending on ‘rules’, rather than thinking about whether it (communication) has been successful. These ‘rules’ have often been written a long time ago and been based on a language which bears little resemblance to English. This idea of right or wrong is often not very helpful and wastes time.” So beware! I’ll leave you with a quote from Blog #1, posted September 26th 2017 This blog is intended to make you think about English, after all, what comes first, the language or the grammar?” Until next week.

Open Ears. Open Eyes. Open Mind.

Wecome back to the ETC International blog. As I said last week, when I was lacking in confidence in my early years of teaching, I decided to do something about it! Believing falsely that I was teaching a ‘subject’, English, I forced myself to learn ‘about’ it. In short, to learn about ‘grammar’. This is probably what most people do in this situation, possibly because we are conditioned to learn in this way from an early age. Of course, I started by looking at grammar books and trying to learn ‘rules’. Although I’m not ‘knocking’ it completely, I realised later that what I should have been doing as well, if not necessarily ‘instead of’, was actually ‘thinking’. Funnily enough, this was the theme I started with when I began the blog in September 2017! A lot of water has flowed under the bridge on our blog-journey of discovery since then, and we seem to have come full circle.


Thinking about language and how I used it, is what I should have been doing, not just trying to memorize what other ‘experts’ were telling me through their ‘grammar books’. Here is a quote I wish I’d found earlier in my career; it’s by Leo van Lier in his book ‘Introducing Language Awareness’:


“Language awareness does not mean sticking your nose into a grammar book or textbook in a more intense manner, rather, it means looking up and around, and pricking up your ears to hear and appreciate the language around you.” How true! If only someone had told me earlier! I then found another quote from Richard MacAndrew: “The three things we all need are ‘open ears’, ‘open eyes’, ‘open mind’, but the most important of these is ‘open mind’.


Had I followed this advice earlier, I believe I could have developed more quickly and would now recommend teachers and learners alike to take heed! More on this next week. J

Imposter Syndrome

In last week’s blog I mentioned how when I first started teaching, I was terribly lacking in confidence where ‘grammar’ was concerned. Although my lessons were ‘successful’ and no one ever complained, I often felt it was only a matter of time before I was ‘found out’. I was ‘teaching’ successfully but was my success ‘deserved’?

At times I felt like an imposter. I later found that I was not alone in this and teachers weren’t the only people to feel it. I now know that this condition has a name: ‘Imposter Syndrome’. It takes many different forms and affects different people in different ways. Here is the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:

“Imposter syndrome: the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved.”

In my case I felt guilty that I was being paid when knowing so little about my ‘subject’. I later discovered I was not alone in this insecurity. Later still I realised that perhaps I’d been coming at it from the wrong angle: was I really teaching a subject?  In next week’s ETC International blog, I’ll delve deeper.

Room 101

Blog 101 sounds a bit like Room 101, doesn’t it! If you’re not sure about Room 101, it was introduced in the climax of ‘George Orwell‘s futuristic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and  is the basement torture chamber in the Ministry of Love, (which is really the Ministry of War), in which the Party attempts to subject a prisoner to his or her own worst nightmare, fear or phobia, with the object of breaking down their resistance.’ (Wikipedia).

When I first became a teacher, every lesson was a bit of a Room 101 because of my lack of knowledge concerning grammatical terminology. My fear of being ‘found out’ sometimes made me feel physically sick before teaching and almost made me give up. (as well as throw up).  I believe this is now related to ‘imposter syndrome’, which is a term added to the Oxford English Dictionary back in 1982.  More next week.

Finally, today is Armistice Day, the day the First World War ended. All the people who have served and died in all conflicts are remembered in the UK today by the wearing of a poppy. From all at ETC International, thank you.

Happy 100!

Well, here it is! Welcome one and all to the hundredth ETC International College Bournemouth Blog! Quite a milestone! We began in September 2017 and now, over 23,000 words later, have arrived at a century. As tomorrow is another Bonfire night, I suppose we should send up a few rockets, let off a few bangers and light a couple of Roman candles, but in my small office it might prove a health and safety issue!

When I was asked to write this blog and the first one appeared on September 26, 2017, I never thought it would reach one hundred. and I’d like to thank the odd couple of people who’ve stayed with it from the start!  We have covered a lot of linguistic ground since then, discussing ‘tense’, ‘aspect’ and ‘modality’, talking about words that are frequently found together and even reading poems about language, For our 50th edition, (October 15th 2018) I gave you extra tips on spelling and signed off by asking you to raise a glass to the next 50. Well, today I’ll sign off by asking you to raise a glass to the next hundred! Cheers everyone! Here’s to more happy blogging!

Happy Halloween!

Greetings Halloween blog readers! As you can see, this is Blog 99! Only one blog away from our landmark hundredth! This is the third Halloween blog! In the first, 2017, we looked at the spooky ‘-ing’ form and the ghostly ‘exophoric reference’ In 2018 it was Area 51 and ghoulish grammar rules! This year we’ll continue the recent theme of pronunciation with a couple of terrifying tongue twisters!

If two wicked ‘wiki’ watching witches watched three wicked watches on ‘wiki’, which wicked ‘wiki’ watching witch would watch which wicked watch?

Apologies if you’re trying this in Germany, as the /w/ and /v/ sounds might be causing a few challenges. Apologies too if you’re in the Arabic speaking world, as the reduced number of short vowel sounds might be causing you a few challenges. Rest assured, here at ETC International, we’re wizards with pronunciation and have a more than a few pronunciation spells up our sleeves! Apologies for the late posting of the blog, by the way, there’s been a lot of sickness about here at the moment!

Until next time. Hope you get treats and not tricks!


The elusive “r”

Still on the subject of pronunciation, after leaving ‘up north’ and heading ‘down south’, my pronunciation of the word ‘bath’. /bæθ/ rather than /bɑːθ/ was a frequent the cause of mirth /mɜːθ/. The same could be said of my wife’s pronunciation of ‘bath’, when she went the other way. “She sounds really ‘porsh’, said my friends.  Sometimes the topic of pronunciation would get quite heated: “There’s no ‘r’ in bath or ‘castle’ “, I recollect my mum shouting at some hapless telly presenter.

Of course, she was right. There is no ‘r’ in ‘bath’ or ‘castle’, but If I’d been more knowledgeable on the subject of pronunciation at the time, I could have said that there was also no ‘r’ in ‘calm’, or ‘walk’, or ‘talk’. If I’d been really brave I could have said there was no ‘r’ in ‘half’ or ‘calf’ and the –ough words seemed ‘totally random’!

English, I learned later, is a non-phonetic language, and the way it sounds is unlikely to match the way it’s spelled! (We’ve focused on the importance of spelling visually rather than auditorily in blogs 47 and 48, September 2018.)

Even the word ‘focused’ sounds like it should have a ‘ss’, and actually, both are in the dictionary.

At the time, I didn’t know about the non-phonetic nature of English, because ETC International, although 30 years old this year,  was just a twinkle in its founder’s eye and I don’t recall it being the kind of thing I was taught at school. Anyway, congratulations to ETC on its thirtieth anniversary. Next week, I’ll try to find something scary for Halloween! Until then, bye for now.