Alright. Or is it all right?

“Can you say this in English?” Students (and teachers) often ask for black and white answers regarding ‘rules’ and whether or not they can or can’t say something in English. I remember fretting over whether I was supposed to say compared ‘with’ or compared ‘to’ until someone reassured me they were both alright. (Or is it all right?) The teacher who says: “well, you can say it but it depends on the context”, is often asking for trouble. There are so many shades of grey! We shouldn’t forget however, that although English is a global language and is not ‘owned by’ any particular people, it would be dull to think of it as just a set of rules to learn. It is an art. Eugene Delacroix, the French artist who painted ‘Liberty Leading the People’ in 1830, wrote: “The enemy of all painting is grey!” Maybe “the friend of all Englishes is grey!”

The Process of Unseeing

Welcome back. To follow up on what I was saying in last week’s blog, and one of the areas I asked the audience to consider at the recent English UK South conference,  I want to begin today with a couple of definitions from the Oxford dictionary

Recognition is: the identification of someone or something from previous encounters or knowledge.

Cognition is: the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought,      experiences or the senses.

The US poet, Nuar Alsadir, (2019) writes: “Learning the words for colours is perhaps the process of unseeing….Once we become able to connect whatever it is before us to a category or set of familiar expectations, we apply what we’ve gathered from previous experiences to the present situation and use that to frame our interpretation.”

She goes on to say: “The danger is that … rather than cognising, we re-cognise, refer to a thing in a category and, in effect, not see the thing any more but its generic image.”

Could being taught ‘the rules/uses’ in the way I mentioned earlier, mean your ability to have a genuine reaction is short circuited?  More next week.

What are “rules”, anyway?

Welcome back. First of all, I’d like to say hello to everyone I met at the English UK South conference, which was held at Talbot Heath School, here in Bournemouth on Saturday the eighth of February. The event was very successful and helped to put Bournemouth back on the EFL map. I did a presentation on the subject of ‘Imposter Syndrome in EFL’, and must say a big thank you to everyone who supported me in my efforts.

As I said in last week’s blog, learning the name and form of a structure and then proceeding to memorise in how many ways it is used, is a popular way of doing it. It suits many people and has a proven track record. However, as I have said in previous blogs, not everyone likes it that way and sometimes you can become more concerned with learning the rules at the expense of the meaning. Last week I mentioned the structure traditionally known as ‘the present simple’.

In one popular grammar book the entry for ‘the present simple’ begins: ‘the present simple is used to…’ and then goes on to list over a dozen uses!  I suggest that, learning to recognise all these dozen uses and remember them, although suiting some people, could dampen the enthusiasm. (Kill the passion!) Next week I’ll come back to this ‘recognition’ idea.

One One One

Hi, everyone. Welcome once again to the ETC/Athena blog. I hope you enjoyed finding out a little more about me last week. As I said in September 2017, ETC is passionate about learning and teaching English and believes language is an art. Many people believe rules have a place, but they can sometimes prove to be a quite the passion killer.

As Michael Lewis says on page 8 of ‘The English Verb’: “One of the main causes of confusion for most students is the fact that teachers have been so worried about how to explain to their students, that they have not always given enough attention to understanding, at a very deep level, the really fundamental problems of English.” For example the case of the structure traditionally known as ‘the present simple’, if you try to learn the long list of uses which often accompanies it in grammar books, then you might be in danger of  being unable to see the wood for the trees. This goes for both students and teachers!


More next week.

25,000 words?

Welcome back to the ETC International College Blog. I realise that in the 25.000 words I’ve written so far, I haven’t really introduced myself. Well, I’ll put that right today. My name’s John Kay and I have been an English language teacher and trainer for over thirty years. (Phew!) I am married and my wife and I have five grown up children. I have taught in a number of countries and if you want to see what I look like, although I am younger in them, please go to You Tube and watch the British Council, Teaching Speaking, podcasts at:

I have had exhibitions of my paintings and sculpture and had two books of poetry published. I am a member of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) and a member of their ‘C’ Group. (‘C’ for Creatives). In 1999 I won the only ever Poetry as a Foreign Language Poetry Competition with a poem entitled ‘Moshav’. There, now you have a better idea of who has been contacting you every week for the last couple of years.

Next week I want to look further at what we actually mean when we choose particular language. From everyone here at ETC/Athena, have a lovely week. Spring is in the air!

The norm.

Welcome back to the ETC blog. Last week we considered my poem ‘The Millennium Dream’ which first appeared in blog 107, and I shared some of the insights into what I was trying to do. This week I want to finish it off.


Your ooz and arrz soon lost their vowels as you

dropped off again, on the sofa.


If you take away the vowel sounds /uː/ and /ɑː/ (often heard at firework displays) you are left with the voiced consonant sound /z/ a sound often used to show people are sleeping! In English, if you ‘drop off’ you go to sleep. ‘Dropped’ also rhymes with ‘propped’ in the previous verse and has the same /ɒ/ vowel sound, shorter and more energetic. ‘Sofa’ sounds cosier than ‘settee’, doesn’t it? The stress is on ‘ooz’, ‘arrz’, ‘lost’, ‘vowels’, ‘dropped’, ‘off’, ‘again’.


Sorry, we carried you upstairs and

popped you back into your own warm beds.


‘Sorry’, because we’d woken you up and now realised that it was a daft idea! ‘Popped’ you back into your warm beds; in English you also pop food into the oven to heat it up, or pop the kettle on to heat it. ‘Popped you back’ sounds much nicer than, ‘returned you’, and rhymes with ‘propped’ and ‘dropped’ in the previous verses, short sounds to reflect the movement of the action.


Later that century, over breakfast, we wondered

why we all felt so grizzly.


‘Later that day’, sounds OK, but ‘later that century’ sounds a bit unusual, hopefully amusing. We all felt grizzly from  lack of sleep, is implied by the repeated ‘zz’ in the middle of the word grizzly!


Hope you enjoyed this little departure from the norm. Next week I’ll tell you a little bit about myself.


Hi, welcome back to the ETC blog in the second week of a new school year.  I hope you enjoyed the poems last week. The idea of learning English though poetry is something I like and today I want to mention a few things I’ve used in the poem The Millennium Dream. I was lucky to not have poetry ruined for me by over analysis when I was at school, and I know I’m in danger of doing it with you now, but…as many of our blog readers are learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL), I feel justified. I’ll do half this week and half next.


So many years since we woke, and lured you

from your beds with the promise of something special.


I use the word ‘lure’ because, as parents, we knew you wouldn’t come without some enticement. You usually ‘lure’ an animal into a trap! J The promise of ‘something special’ probably intrigued them! I want you to pause after the word ‘you’, so I start a new line. The stress is on the words ‘so’, ‘years’, ‘woke’, ‘lured’, ‘beds’, ‘promise’, ‘something’, ‘special’. It’s a ‘sleepy’ sort of rhythm, using long vowel sounds and diphthongs, /əʊ/,  /ɪə/, /ʊə/, in the first line and shorter ‘awake’ sounds in the second.


So long since we propped you in front of the telly

to watch the big clocks tick and the world light up.


We used cushions to prop them. Prop is a nice word which implies they were too floppy to support themselves!J I use a repetition of hard /t/, /p/, and /k/ sounds, (unvoiced ‘plosives’) and the /ɒ/ vowel sound in ‘clock’ and ‘prop’ to sound like the clock ticking. To ‘light up the world’ can be interpreted either literally or metaphorically here!  The stress is on ‘long’, ‘propped’, ‘front’, ‘telly’, ‘watch’, ‘big clocks tick’, and ‘world light up’ (the rhythm changes to sound like the clock).


Next week I’ll finish it off.