Teaching Business English

I was surprised recently when an application form for a prestigious language company asked what specialist areas of business english I had taught.  ‘Fair question’, you might say, what’s the problem?  Well, the problem is that on the application form there were only four lines on which to enter responses and I have now taught Business English for twelve years.

‘I don’t get it’ – I hear, ‘just note down financial, sales & marketing, industry, and logistics english.’

In fact, that’s what I did, whilst noting in my ‘supporting statement’ that I considered each and every one of my business english students to have specialist needs.  Blanket bombing these students with general areas of business english as found in most pedagogique books does not, to my mind anyway, tackle precise needs.  In fact, it simply shows writers of english learning materials to be over-generalists.  Understandably, they do this in order to reach larger markets for their books, without really hitting the ‘individual needs’ nails on the head.

I give some examples:

In my experience it is possible to be teaching english to those working in pharma-covigilance preparing files to present to a committee (eg. the FDA) to gain a vaccine patent (or to a rival company’s lawyer preparing to appeal against that decision), whilst in the same day teaching english to someone selling his company’s high precision machine tools.  Alternatively, I could be teaching english to specialists working in the aluminium or steel industry preparing to present their production processes at a conference, or to financers juggling with CDOs and credit default swaps.  Maybe I’m helping forwarding agents communicate with customs, shipping agents and transport companies, or IT geeks setting up new data base management systems.  I could even be teaching english to sports lecturers preparing to give lectures in english on the neurological aspects of sport which involves a high component of statistical analysis, or english to designers of high-tech tv broadcasting equipment preparing to attend a trade-fair to market their products on the international stage.

Yes, I could go on.  As I said, I’ve got twelve years of similar teaching experience and all these teaching situations have been personally experienced.  This is just a small sample.  And the reality is that a lot of time is spent scouring the internet sites, including TEFL sites, finding specific materials to match specific needs – and much time is spent designing such material myself.

Facilitators, we should be, absolutely, but I’m not too sure all the authors of TEFL materials have yet taken that on board.  However, I do appreciate that this more detailed approach is coming – about time!  There are now newly published books designed for ‘logistics’, ‘oil and petrol industry’, ‘law’, ‘aviation industry’,   ‘maritime industry’ etc. , and a breath of fresh air they are too. (see here!)  Personally, I find them much more useful than the ‘general business’ books, and for the moments of ‘light chat’ or ‘small talk’, similarly, I try and let the student (s) direct which way the conversations go, with prompts, be it towards cooking, football, the weather, or holidays.  And I’m sure most other business english teachers do the same.

There, I’ve got it off my chest.  But that’s ok because I know very few people are actually going to read this and if anyone does who is not a business english teacher- well, perhaps it gives a bit of an insight into the reality of teaching business english as experienced on a day-to-day basis.

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Iran and Middle Eastern Politics

As concerns about Iran working towards nuclear capability sweep the news, Neil MacGregor of the British Museum presents another perspective: The 2600 year old story of the Cyrus cylinder and it’s significance for today’s middle eastern politics.

I put this on my blog simply because I believe it essential for us in the west to have a greater understanding of –  ‘The Iranians’.

This have certainly widened my understanding and appreciation of Iranian culture.  At a time when global politics can seem to be hanging by a thread, surely that can only be a good thing?

Offa’s Dyke Hike

Pandy lies on the ‘Offa’s Dyke’ – an ancient border between England and Wales which was contructed to keep the warring English and Welsh tribes apart.  ‘Offa’ was once King of Mercia (757-796 A.D), and Mercia is an ancient area once comprising most of central England.  In marrying off his daughters, Offa united England and became its first overall king.  He then had extensive influence, including continental contacts with Charlemagne and the Pope.  However, the Vikings soon began arriving on the English shores and upset Offa’s hopes of greater European Union.  That would have to wait another 1300 years – at least!

                 

Today, Offa’s Dyke is a long distance footpath running between Chepstow in the south to Prestatyn in the north.  That is to say,  from sea-to-sea along the Welsh/English border.  On route, it wends its way through fields and woods, over stiles, up hill, and along ridges.  It is a rambler’s delight.  I walked the eighteen miles from Pandy to Hay-on-Wye one grey, drizzly day, several years ago, sweating  buckets as I  climbed uphill, then getting drenched in a continuous downpour for the last five miles of the ridge.  That was after spending a day (and night!) getting to the start point by an assortment of public transport and camping in a field behind a pub.

 My tent stood alone in the pub field, whilst surrounded by sheep who seemed rather bemused by its presence.  That is, until they caught me looking at them.  Then they guiltily averted their eyes to concentrate on the tufts of grass they were muching instead.  I’d placed the tent in a shady corner of the field where beech trees overhung a small brook. Quite lovely, I thought.  I’d even placed the tent opening towards the brook; facing away from the field, pub and road behind me.  And looking across the gently trickling waters, I picked out a track slowly curling up a steep slope ahead and followed it’s twisting path as it rose and rose; onwards and upwards.

     ‘Tomorrow,’ I thought, ‘tomorrow I’ll start early’.

I turned and faced the other way, looking past the pub at the field’s end.  It wasn’t an especially attractive pub, but it was functional and I’d call in later.  Beyond the pub, across the road, were more sheep, munching more grass, in more fields. It was all so delightfully and quintessetially Welsh.  Just the sound of my brook trickling and the sheep studiously munching.  It was that quiet.  Sloping vales of green, green grass – in fields framed by dry stone walls.  And more sheep.  Sheep in big flouncy fleeces growing dirty-grey.  Young sheep, observant, with ears alert and protruding.  Little lambs sticking close to mums, heading-butting stomachs as they take a drink.  Sheep baa-ing and bleating, and always looking worried.   You can see that in the whites of their eyes watching you while they munch. Heads down, eyes up.  Munch, munch, munch…

Further to the right, however, stood a striking vision of doom.

‘Good heavens.  I would look worried munching all day beneath that’, I thought.

A dark, foreboding form blocked out the sun.  It also blocked out the sky and cast a dark shadow over the munching sheep.  It was a huge, monstrous black mass, itself kept in shadow by one dark, menacing cloud hovering over it’s summit.  Its name, I shortly discovered, was Skirrid Hill.   And it was deeply cleft- as if an incensed god had axed it in two.  I shivered and felt a cold chill, despite standing in the sun.

                    

But the hill also had an attraction:  The attraction of danger and peril, death and doom.  So, like a docile, hypnotised zombie being pulled towards it (or like Frodo approching Mordor!) I left my tent and walked across my field, past the pub, along the road and up a side-lane;  slowly being drawn beneath its shadow.

At the top of the side-lane stood another pub.  But this pub was evidently much older than the one at the bottom of the lane being a  traditional, country pub built with large, chunky stone blocks.  Outside hung the pub sign:  The Skirrid Inn.  The sign imitated the black hill beyond and into its cleft was struck a bold bolt of lightning.

‘I’ve found Mordor!’ I decided.  ‘Surely, Tolkein must have visited ?

              

Entering inside, the pub was cool and dim.  It was also empty:  An empty large hall-sized room operating as a bar.  Bulky oak dominated – on ceiling joists, cumbersome tables, weighty chairs, warped floorboards; a staircase spiralling upstairs with a forearm-sized banister, and solid sidedoors with oak patterned grain, lines and knots. Cast-iron too was evident – as great iron handles and locks on the side-doors, as the black curling railing on the spiralling staircase, as fireplace tools standing beside a great hearth that was sure to give a roaring blaze on colder days.

A barmaid appeared, silently, as a ghost in a haunted house, and I ordered a beer (a traditional ‘real ale’).  Asking about the pub, the barmaid instantly handed me a brochure which mysteriously appeared in her hands.  I took it over to a table, with my beer, and sat down on a roughly-hewn bench whose back rose up against the wall.  Then I read the brochure which explained that the pub was the oldest pub in Wales (first recorded in 1110 A.D.); that it was one of the most haunted places in the U.K., and that it had been used during the ‘bloody assizes’ conducted by the infamous ‘Hanging Judge Jeffries’.

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Historical interlude:

Following the death of Oliver Cromwell (1656), Charles II was ‘restored’ to the throne.  The political classes then split.  On one side were the protestant ‘Whigs’, who distrusted Catholicism and preferred parliamentary power to the monarchy.  On the other were the ‘Tories’, who favoured the Anglican church, were hostile to Protestant dissenters, and preferred monarchical power to the parliament.

Charles II died and was succeeded by Catholic James II, whose catholic inclination certainly rocked the boat! Rebellions arose, particularly in S.W England.  The largest of these was staged by the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate brother to Charles II.   So, James II sends Judge Jeffries to deal with the problem, which meant arresting the rebels for treason.  The resulting trials becoming known as the ‘Bloody Assizes’ in which hundred were arrested, tried and executed.  The Duke of Monmouth was executed in 1685 (decapitation).

In fact, James II played a bad hand.  As Judge Jeffries carried out his trials and executions, order was brutally restored.  Hence Catholicism’s foothold in England strengthened. But this alienated the Whigs beyond breaking point.  In consequence, they requested that James II’s daughter (Mary) and her Dutch husband (Protestant William of Orange) come to England and jointly take the throne.    The people of England supported the whigs, including the military, and the request was granted.   James II was dethroned and William crowned king.

Hanging Judge Jeffries’ held court sessions upstairs above the public bar of this Skirrid Inn.  If the accused were found guilty, the condemmed were kept in a small, downstairs cell (the barmaid showed me the room) before being hanged in the morning (the barmaid showed me the notches in the oak beams made by hangman’s ropes).

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The beer was great, the history – chilling, and the barmaid turned out to be both friendly and informative.  Not a 17th century phantom at all.  In fact, I took a second beer with her before heading back down the lane to my tent.

Next morning, with the dew still wet on the grass and the sun still low, I packed up my tent, hoisted my rucksack, traversed the brook, and set off up the hill towards Hay-on-Wye.   ‘Skirrid Hill’ now stood behind me, slowly shrinking in size as my feet plodded forward.  The initial climb was steep and soon I was sweating profusely whilst panting like a dog.  Legs and lungs ached as I pushed ever upwards, higher and higher, counting steps to mark progress.   In reality, the ascent is only a few hundred metres.  But with a 35 kg rucksack on my back, I felt every single one.  Each metre was gained with a straining of sinew, a stretching of tendons, a torturing of muscle, and a cursing of joints.  I was learning the hard way that I was out of shape!

The summit was achieved before mid-morning.  I slumped down on a grassy verge and took a well-earned rest.  Finally my heart stopped pounding and calmness in my breathing resumed.  I could then appreciate exactly where I was.  Larks warbled above and from a pathside spinny – thrushes chirped.  But besides them – I was virtually alone.  Virtually, for I espied some military men gathered amidst the gorse a hundred metres away.  Soon they also espied me and slipped silently away like disturbed deer.  I guessed they were SAS men on training from nearby Hereford.

Continuing on, the route now eased.  The following twelve miles would be along the high (Hatterall) ridge, flat and easy going.  And that was how it was as the miles slipped by.  But what a view !  For mile after mile patchwork plains below stretched out towards hazy horizons; towards Gloucestershire on one side and the shapely Welsh ‘Black Mountains’ on the other.  And yes, they looked ‘black’. Again I was reminded of Tolkein and the black, ominous mountain of Mordor in the distance to which Frodo had headed.

   

Finally the Ridge ended, abruptly, and dropped for several hundred feet.  This is ‘Hay Bluff’, a site enjoyed by hand-glider enthusiasts who come here to take advantage of the rising thermals.  I watched them float for a while, slipping off my rucksack and sitting on a spikey clump of heather.   Then it was time to move on.  So,  finding a path down, I stepped over the edge and began my descent. And this time it was my calves that complained bitterly.  I could feel then stiffening up and knew they’d be hell tomorrow.  But I still had a few miles to go to find a camp site in Hay-on-Wye and I hadn’t even reached the bottom yet.  March on, tired legs.  March on…

On reaching the bottom it started to rain.  As a light spray, at first, then growing in force with huge water droplets falling straight down and splatting into puddles.  I knew the final few miles would be less pleasant.

I arrived in Hay-on-Wye:  A small, market town known for its second-hand bookshops.  There are many – small,  large, specialist, and general, indoors and outdoors, with thousands of old, rare, popular, contemporary, obscure, fiction, non-fiction, hardbacked and  paperbacked tomes on display for any discerning bookworm.  Outside, signs like pub signs hang above the shop doorways.  These occasionally mislead thirsty drinkers who stumble in looking for a bar and find instead a silent hush of book-lovers standing between aisles with noses between book covers.

I first made the same mistake and then found a pub which served hot meals.  I entered, leaving my soggy walking smock and dripping rucksack near the entrance.   I then received the most welcome mug of tea;  trout, peas and chips; open-fire warmth, and pint of fruity ale that I’d ever had; along with the information that there was a campsite just a mile out of town.

The following morning it looked as if rain was settling in for a while.  So, packing away the tent again, this time soaking wet, I decided to make a run for home and returned first by bus to Hereford, then by train to Oxford.

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(None of the photos are mine – only the words.  All from google images, helping me revisit this corner of England).

Gone fishing – in Martigues.

 To be perfectly honest, fishing is not really my cup of tea.  If I want to spend time peacefully sitting beside a river, lake or canal – then I  will – with a book and a tin of beer.  That’s my idea of idyllic bliss.   I guess I  just haven’t got the patience for fishing, and trying to ‘outsmart’ a fish does seem a bit dumb.

           More my style:            

But then, neither am I completely cynical about the sport, job, or ‘past-time activity’, depending on which label you care to apply, for I do understand it to be one of the oldest, and hence longest-lasting occupations of humankind.  So there must be something in it.  Perhaps ‘a love of fishing’ is something you’re born with, or born into?  Perhaps, it’s in some people’s blood, or genes?  And perhaps these are people whose ancestral roots were close to water at a time when fishing was a survival strategy rather than simply a weekend affair.

That’s three ‘perhapses’ – I could give more.  Evidently, I’m no expert on this subject despite having previously lived close to the River Thames in Oxford (England), and now living close to the Caronte Canal in Martigues (France).  Shame on me – you might say.

I can appreciate fish, though- whether captured by poets or artists:

Pike, three inches long, perfect Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold.
Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin. They dance on the surface among the flies.  (Ted Hughes. Pike)

   – or by cooks: 

But spending hours beside an expanse of water, staring at the rod and float waiting interminably for a fish to bite and then to pounce and jerk it out of the water – is, to re-iterate, really not my thing.

However, to get to the point, it obviously is the thing for a large percentage of my recently adopted Martigues’ population.  In fact, I actually wonder whether more Martigues people go fishing than go to watch Martigues FC (possibly), go to church (surely?), or go to the saturday night disco (definitely, no disco in Martigues).  So, why the great fascination for fishing in Martigues? I’ve seen the 8 kms length of the Caronte Canal in Martigues crammed with hundreds of fishermen from dawn to dusk (yes, literally!)  – especially when the dorade season is at it’s height.

                     

(Martigues is 30 kms west of Marseille at a juncture of the Caronte canal, which leads to the Mediterranean, and the Etang-de-Berre; a large sea-water lake).

Well, firstly, after 15 months of living in Martigues I now appreciate the many different forms that fishing takes.  There are the shell-fishers, ankle-deep in surf whilst balancing on coastal rocks to gather mussels; the canal-side fishermen with fishing toolkit boxes discussing baits and currents with fishing neighbours; the waist-deep fishermen standing firm against the flow casting into deeper mid-channel waters; the ‘bourdigues’ fishermen, stretching nets across the Caronte canal from side-to-side;

        

– the small-boat fishermen gliding out upon the Etang-du-Berre with the sunrise and using rods and/or nets; the professional mussel  collector on his open-top barge , dredging the Etang-du-Berre to return with loaded crates; the serious sea-fishermen heading out into the Mediterranean for the tuna weighing up to 600 kilos and worth a tidy fortune, and the professional deep sea fishermen on larger boats in search of the tuna shoals with the aid (so I’m told) of helicopters.

Such are the modern day fishermen.  Previously other local techniques were engaged in.  The most interesting of these is the ‘Seinche’, the last of which occured in the 1960sThe ‘Seinch’ (watch report here – in French) was a technique whereby a local would stand on a clifftop at ‘Le Carro’, observing the sea and waiting for a sign of an approaching tuna shoal.  The sign was a milky-white colouration of the water.  On viewing this, the watch-out would then blow a conch-shell and the local village men would run for their boats and head out for the shoal.  They would then encircle and trap the tuna in nets, catching them in their thousands!  The practice came to a halt as the shipping industry along this stretch of coast grew and forced the tuna shoals further out to sea.  Hence the use of helicopters today.

A ‘Seinche’:                                                               Trident fishing circa 1900:

Another central Martigues technique from the past involved using tridents from bridges.  At certain times of the year shoals of fish would swim up canal from the Mediterranane to the Etang-du-Berre.  Locals would then simply lean over the bridges and spear the fish as they passed beneath.

So, fishing in Martigues, and along the coast, is an intrinsic part of Martigues culture. Collecting shell-fish and learning how to fish goes back to the origins of our homo sapiens species.  Perhaps it was one reason for human migrations out of Africa 100,000 (give-or-take) years ago.  Meat, and the cooking of meat, led to cerebral growth, which aided further technological advances, and with environmental/population pressures global exploration began. One route taken followed the coast into Central Asia and then cut back into Europe.  With the ice-age making the north of Europe inhabitable, communities spread throughout the Mediterranan zone.  Initially these were hunter-gatherer communities following animal herds on annual migrations whilst exploiting food resources found along coasts and inland rivers.  Then sedentarism kicked-in, to be followed by the neolithic’s introduction of farming,  which became integrated into Western Mediterranean and Atlantic coast cultures around 5500 B.C.

Fishing and shell-fish gathering, thus, goes back a long way.  Millenia ago it was discovered that mussels thrown upon a fire would open up their shells to deliver the edible flesh within and then provide useful tools themselves, such as for scraping hides and collecting fat.  Sheep domestication too began early on as a sedentary mesolithic practice, and sheep were grazed throughout the French Mediterranean littoral during winter before being led up into the Provencal hills in summer: A practice known as ‘transhumance’ which continues today.  Communities existed between the hills and the coast, benefitting from both.

Mesolithic evidence of human occupation in the region of Martigues begins around 7,500 B.C at a site known asl’abri-de-Font-aux-Pigeons’.  It’s an overhanging cliff shelter over-looking the town of ‘Chateauneuf-les-Martigues’.   The site was first excavated in the 1950s by  M.Escalon de Fonton who termed the fine stone artifacts and shell-impressed pottery finds he discovered as being ‘Castelnovian’ in culture.  The site was continuously occupied into and during the neolithic period during which time several other local sites came into existance e.g. Collet-Redon and Ponteau-Gare.

In Martigues a settlement known as Maritima Avaticorum (a Roman naming), set up on the banks of the Etang-de-Berre around the 2nd Century B.C.   This was an overflow site from a larger site 10 kms west which is known today as St.Blaise built by the Greeks circa 6th century B.C.  Another site of similar antiquity and Greek provenance is at St. Pierre-les-Martigues, 10 kms south.  By this time, of course, subsistence strategies had become multiplex – farming, animal husbandry, fishing, hunting-and-gathering, with vinyards and olive groves dotting the landscape.  Pottery too had substantially developed, in addition to metallurgy with bronze and ironware products commonplace.

Nevertheless, and specific to Martigues, fishing was central to everyday life.  A swampy (‘marecage‘) connection between the Mediterrannean and the Etang-de-Berre had existed since the rising of sea levels at the end of the last ice age.  But once the Romans made it navigable for their ships between 104-102 B.C.  (by creating the ‘Caronte canal’), fishing really took off as a food resource.  And so has it remained.  In the 16th century, for example, thousands of ‘Martigaux’ (Martigues people) lived by and on the fruits of the sea.   There were 1,300 fishing boat captains plus boat builders and net-makers plus schools to teach the young the art and secrets of landing a good catch.

            

A fishing speciality of Martigues has long been the ‘bourdigues‘.  For centuries these were particularly efficient due to the numerous islets at the mouth of the canal/Etang-de-Berre juncture.  Systems of nets could be strung out on wooden frames across them to trap migrating fish.  This caused some conflict between bourdigues owners (for centuries the archbishops of Arles) and boat fishermen, for it restricted navigation.  But the issue was resolved through the establishment of a Martigues fishing union (‘prud’homie pecheurs’) which signalled the demise of the bourdigues.  Today, only one bourdigue exists.  It provides the town with a particular culinary speciality:  ‘Poutagne’.  A caviar prepared from mullet fish eggs.

                

Local fishing knowledge, however, is not like knowing the location of truffles and cêpes.  Fishing knowledge is an open secret.  It is not selfishly guarded.  In fact, local fishermen want to tell you which is the best bait, rod, reel, hook and line; the best time of day as well as the best place, (for which type of fish), and how to predict the currents and the tides which constantly change throughout the course of the year.  And yes, opinions differ.  That is part of the attraction.   Showing superior know-how that has often been passed on from father-to-son and gained through a life-time’s experience is a game of fishing one-upmanship.  Fishing savoir-faire  is then proved through this amicable and competitive spirit in catching the most, the biggest, and the best fish.  In Martigues this is the Dorade Royale.  And yes, they’ll even proudly tell you the best way to cook it.

Perhaps I should put down my books and take up a fishing rod?   That seems the way to become a true Martigeaux!

Top Ten ‘downloadable’ ELT resources

There is a wealth of good English language teaching materials that can be downloaded from the internet.  But read carefully!  You may be asked to state that you are not downloading this material for commercial use, or that if you do download you will delete the files after 24 hours.  Hence, as a disclaimer, I am not encouraging anyone to download and use this material illegally!

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1.  E-Mail English

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E-mail English by Paul Emmerson.

You can’t get better, in the EL publishing world, than Paul Emmerson.   For e-mail english this is the cream and the whole book is here for downloading.   Thanks Mr. Emmerson

2.  English for Logistics

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English for Logistics.   Marion Grussendorf.   Oxford Business English.

From freight forwarding, to warehousing and financial documentation, this book is perfect for logistics students.  The CD for listening exercises needs to be bought, begged or borrowed, but the whole book is here.

This link also gives many other downloadable books from the Oxford Express Series (Human Resources, Sales, Marketing, automobile industry etc.  Files to be deleted within 24 hours of downloading!)

3. Marine English

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This a a whole on-line instruction package including lots of downloadable texts.  Essential for teachers working around the ports of the world.

4.  Technical English

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David Bonamy.  Pearson Longman.   Until recently, technical english was under-represented.  Then the ‘Tech talk’ books by Vicki Hollett of Oxford University Press arrived (which I loved and still use a lot), followed by Technical English 1 & 2.   Also good material.  Clear.  Well-presented.  Interesting.

5.  Cambridge University Press

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Excellent resource for Business English:  Lots of downloadable pdf resources here designed for group lessons and individual teaching.

6.  Macmillan

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Possibly the best ?   So much available.  A great resource.  Nothing more to add!

7.  Hospital English

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For anyone teaching doctors or nurses, in hospitals, clinics or surgeries.   Lots of material here for you.

8.  British Council

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Lesson plans and work sheets at all levels.  You can’t go wrong with the British Council!

9.  Total English: Pearson Longman

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A great general series from elementary to advanced.   Follow this link and there’s a huge amount of supporting material, which can also be used without the book.   You really should check this one out!

10.  English for Tourism

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Browse around this link and you will find more that may interest you – or your students.

Top Ten ‘Free’ Learning English Sites

This is a personal selection of English language learning sites that I use and encourage my students to use.   Please feel free to comment or send me links of other sites that you recommend.

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1.  BBC Learning English.com

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Superbe site!  It’s huge!  Everything you need from business english to general english, the news to worldwide recipes, with grammar, vocabulary, podcasts, listenings, video clips, forums, blogs … etc etc.  The site is continuously up-dated with new material added every day.

Slight drawback:  Not so good for the ‘absolute beginner’.   Site aimed at pre-intermediate and plus.

2. Breakingnewsenglish.com

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Created by Sean Banville, this site really deserves recognition and credit.  An enormous archive resource containing texts, listenings and vocabulary consolidation exercises on a large variety of current affairs subjects.  The format is the same for all texts, and each text is accompanied by an incredible ammount of material which can be used to classroom/group learning or selected for individual learning.

Half-an-hour of english learning per day?  Listen, read, gap fill one of these texts.

3. British Council Learn English.org

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Elementary podcasts included on this site!  In fact, all level podcasts and video clips with interactive exercises and transcipts available.  An essential resource.   Learning is fun!

4.  Real English.com

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I like this site.  It may be a little difficult for elementary students, but by hearing the same question asked to many different ‘real people’ on the street you hear many different answers, voices and accents.  That’s important in learning English.

5.  elllo.org

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Semi-real conversations with transcipts and quizzes to help you learn new vocabulary and expressions.  An excellent choice for those busy  ‘ten-minutes-a-day’ type students.  But keep it in your favourites and do visit it for ‘ten-minutes-a-day’.   At least!

6.  Podcastsinenglish.com

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Another podcasts site strongly based on developing listening skills.  That’s so important, and does also help with developing speaking skills whilst building up vocabulary and strengthening grammatical structures.

7.  The English Blog

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There are many English blogs on the internet, but this is my favourite.  A new blog every day with cartoons, video clips and texts based on current affairs/news topics.   It also contains lots and lots of links to other very good English learning and English language blogging sites.

Perhaps for the more advanced students, but it’s fun.  A good way to learn what is happening in the world whilst also studying English.

8.  perfect-english-grammar.com

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A good site to work on your English grammar.  Clear explanations, exercises and video clips.

9.  e-anglais.com

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Another English grammar based site for French people who like to have English grammar explained in French.

10.  Onestopenglish.com

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This is an excellent site!  To access a lot of the material here you do need to subscribe.  However, I strongly recommend the freely available monthly news articles   (click on link) for reading practice, with comprehension and vocabulary building exercises, which can greatly help to expand your knowledge of the English language.

Multicultural issues: France and Britain

‘We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different
beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams’.  (Jimmy Carter)

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Some time ago I caught the midnight metro from the centre of Lyons.  The carriage was almost empty and I took a seat diagonally opposite a young, north African man.   I noticed that he was smoking and talking aloud to himself.  But he seemed in a world of his own and no problem – except that he was obviously quite drunk and distressed.

‘Identity’, he kept repeating, in French, ‘what’s my identity?  I have no identity’.

The rest of his words were in arabic and I didn’t understand them, although they appeared to be angry, rambling words – words that he spat out vehemently, before again repeating his lines about identity.  I stared out the window into the blackness of the metro tunnel and watched a platform appear in golden, glowing light.  No-one entered my carriage at this stop and we moved off again into darkness.

I then made a fatal mistake and glanced over at the young man – just at the moment when he looked towards me.  Our eyes met.

‘Never make eye contact with a crazy drunk’, I should have remembered.

Well, I had and as a result the young man pulled himself out of his seat and lumbered towards me.

‘What’s your identity? he demanded, arm resting on the seat in front of mine, cigarette between his fingers. ‘Your identity, what’s your identity?’

My response was to plead ignorance and explain, in English, that I didn’t understand.

‘Ah!  A traveller,’ he acknowledged as a snake might acknowledge a mouse accidentally entering his hole whilst licking his lips.

He eyed my day-sack (containing car papers, passport etc) lying  on my lap, and in a flash snatched it, turned round and made off down the aisle.  I leapt up and lunged after him, grabbed my bag and gave him a hearty push.  He fell across some seats and looked up at me in astonishment.  Then he was up, on his feet, giving my shins a kick.

‘You want to steal my bag ?’ I growled menacingly, ‘just try!’

He thought about this threat as the next metro station appeared.  The train came to a halt, doors slid open, and the young man swiftly made his exit.

End of story.

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Believe me, I don’t write this as a personal tale of heroism – a few pints of dutch courage had definitely helped.  But what was most annoying was that this young man was north African.  Annoying, because I’d previously chosen to defend French muslims from racist comments.  Like several other English colleagues in France, I’d disliked hearing anti-muslim sentiments expressed by non-muslim French. Discussions on the banning of muslim headresses in schools,  as ‘proselytizing symbols of religion’,  were similarly difficult to accept.  I mean, nuns got away with wearing their headresses – and as for ‘proselytizing’; no-one says a thing about the Jehovas Witnesses stopping you in the street.  Hence, these rules did seem particularly, and unfairly, targetted at muslims.  Furthermore, as an English teacher I’d spent hours conversing with the occassional muslim student about Islam, and I’d appreciated their religious devotion and love of God.   Hence, I was prone to offer pro-muslim points-of-view whenever I heard them being verbally attacked.

‘Oh well!  There’s always one’, I decided, ‘just my bad luck, tonight.’

A few weeks later a friend was attacked and knocked unconscious by another north African guy, on the street, in central Lyons.

I then began to find north Africans in France just a little more difficult to defend.

Believe me, this goes against my grain:  I’m trained in anthropology – a study which appreciates the diversity of human experience from a humanitarian point of view.

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I’m white.

That’s just a fact – rather like saying I’ve got brown eyes, a gap between my front teeth, a slight paunch and an in-growing toenail.  Yes, wouldn’t racism be strange if it was based on height rather than skin colour.  But it all amounts to the same thing:  ‘Ugh! I can’t stand tall people, they’re taking all our jobs.  They should be sent back to the land of tall people.’

I’m actually about 5 ft 9 inches – which isn’t that tall for a Brit.  But I’ve become a French Mediterranean dweller where people are generally shorter so I can blend in without feeling ‘different’.  That is, until I open my mouth!   Then a few seconds pass where I see the listener’s brain twist inside-out as it tries to deal with my anglo-franco accent.  Vraiment!  Yes!  I can almost hear the cogs turning as my London/Chateauneuf-sur-le-mer dialect is decoded; a process which  evidently involves substantial mental effort.

 ‘My French pronunciation can’t be that bad!’  I complain to my French wife.

‘It is!’  She simply replies.

So, the process of linguistic elimination continues; first by clearing me of having north African origin.  My physical, facial features help and I’m soon narrowed down to being some type of German, British or American creature.  No wonder the actual content of my words pass over their heads and when I’ve finished speaking French people look at me with a glazed:

‘Quoi?

Thankfully, my wife can interpret, with an apologetic smile, before leading me away as some curio she picked up on a foreign trip.

Apparently, multiculturalism is loosing ground in France.  At least, President Sarkozy has recently declared it:  ‘a failure’ .  For centuries, by contrast, the influx of other nationalities was not a problem.  Like most other European countries, France has grown as a consolidation of numerous peoples:  Romans, Celts, Franks, Germans, Spanish, Italians, Polish, Portuguese, Armenians…  many of these arrived during the twentieth century and now make up 25% of the French population (see here).   This is all part of a ‘French Universalism’, a leading ethos in forming the French Republic; ideologically similar to the American experience – about which former President Jimmy Carter stated:

We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different
beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.  (see above)

But as our colonial crimes now come back to haunt us (the French in North Africa, the British almost everywhere), the influx of Maghrebians onto French soil has not gone down too well.  Integration is seen as a problem.  Many French people say that French and muslim cultures are too different – that Islam does not blend with Catholicism/French secularism, that arabic does not blend with french, that French/European identity does not blend with North African identity.  Indeed, far right politicians (e.g. Le Pen) build their parties on this issue:

The reason and the result is a viscious circle of growing distrust.  Indoctrinated youngsters learn from their elders and climb aboard the ‘anti-assimilation’/’I hate other cultures’ –  band-wagon.  Inexcusable behaviours result.  Jewish and muslim grave stones are desecrated –

          

  – whilst anger surges amoungst muslim youths and elders.  To translate some of the terms in the video below, we hear:

‘We need to kill the whites’.

‘Burn the French flag’.

‘God save us from the devil – that a Frenchman becomes a muslim convert’.

‘Let’s burn the church’.

In addition to seeing sexual and physical attacks in public, protectionism, church burglary, riots and car burning, and intense hate:

And so, Sarkozy’s declaration that multiculturalism is a failure may have some grounds.  Obviously, there are problems of social integration in France.

But does multiculturalism work in Britain – the ultimate global colonizer?  I would like to think so.  I would like to think that multiculturalism adds colour and diversity to British society.  Perhaps I’m too idealistic, but I do like the concept of a ‘family of man’, living in harmony, sharing backgrounds and life-views.  Wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same?  Or even, in the words of one small boy, Pi Patel:

‘Why can’t I be a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim?‘   (Life of Pi.  Yann Martel)

Of course, Britain also has not been without it’s problems of racial intergration.  The late 1950s saw many attacks against in-coming Jamaicans.  Then the 1970s saw race riots targetted against in-coming Asian communities.   There was a major riot in London, 1985, centrered around a racial issue, in which one policeman (PC Blackelock) was decapitated.  More recently, in 2011, London exploded in several nights of violence resulting from the death of a muslim man by police.  However, these days British riots tend to be multicultural affairs and less racially motivated.   In the British context, the wheel has turned and social miscontent and aggression is now ‘collectively’ targetted against the authorities – as seen with 2010 student riots, 2011 London riots; admittedly, often exacerbated by anti-social youths committing violent acts just for ‘the fun of it’.

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As a very young child in the early 1960s I shared my cot with a very young black boy of Jamaican origin.  I don’t know the exact reason why.  I guess his mother was unable to look after him at the time and my parents offered to help.  Possibly we fought in the cot over a toy or a milk bottle.  Possibly we kicked each other in the night.  But we got along just fine until his mother was able to have him back.  And maybe that’s why I’m now so open to the concept of multiculturalism.  In the late 1970s, many of my school mates in Leicester were Asian. It was just how it was. In Germany, in the early 1980s, I lived closely amoungst the German ‘gastarbëiter’ (foreign workers), sharing a room with two men from Bangaladash.  We got along just fine – once I got used to their incredibly hot curries!   Looking back on these experiences I can only say that they were ‘culturally enriching’ to the full.

These more optimistic sentiments of multiculturalism are expressed in this video clip below:

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So, is this all a utopian dream?   Apparently, according to current Prime minister David Cameron, it is.

Certainly, this is not as harsh as Enoch Powell’s famous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech (1968), which attacked British immigration policies and warned:

‘As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood’ .

Thankfully, his prediction never came to pass. Yet, with the arrival of millions of foreign nationals into British society the question of British identity has become increasingly discussed, debated and disputed.

Cameron’s speech is a recognition expression of ‘British identity and values’, which welcomes and integrates other values, whilst still retaining it’s own core values.  Where there is a clash of values, such as with regard to sexual discrimination or mistreatment, then there is a ‘British viewpoint’, as re-ified through legal and political institutions which have evolved over centuries and through the democratic process.  This ‘British viewpoint’, then, judges acceptability of ‘other’ values and practices within British social life.   Some values or practices may be declared unacceptable, despite our willingness to be multicultural and respect other customs.  Female circumcision is one example, forced marriages another.   ‘The truth of multiculturalism’, thusis that globalization is not a ‘free for all’.   There are cultures and customs to respect if we choose live within them.   This is what David Cameron wishes to re-affirm. 

The French wish to affirm a similar principle:  That there are certain codes of behaviour that unite French people.  That there is a French ‘way of life’ to which immigrants and ex-pats should subscribe in order to integrate.  That such integration involves accepting ethical standards which define a certain ‘French identity’.   And personally, I do accept French behavioural codes whilst living in France.  I drive on the right, regularly join the baker’s queue for my baguette, go to the restaurant more than the pub, take flowers for my hostess when invited to dinner, greet friends and neighbours with a kiss on both cheeks, and don’t indulge in the current British passion for binge-drinking and subsequent vomiting  – so it seems from news reports!  (Incidentally, neither do I do this in England).

On the other hand, I see no harm with halal fast-food outlets; the wearing of traditional costumes, and muslim mosques.  In Britain, through the process of de-colonialisation, peoples from around the globe have now come to settle.   It’s the ebb-and-flow counter re-action to British colonialism.  Now, after decades, that initial British public reaction has changed from a national protectionism to a national acceptance.  Consequently, Britain is a more varied and colourful land.  In fact, I miss this diversity in France.  I miss the curry sauce poured liberally over my chips; the samosa’s and Indian spicy mix from the deli.; the worldwide range of restaurants on the high street, the rastafarian blues’ clubs, and the Nottinghill Carnival.   I even miss the sound of Bollywood movies coming through an Indian  neighbour’s window.  But, for sure, I fully understand French mistrust of those muslims who not only wish to preserve their traditional customs, but also express distain for the (French) culture in which they live – sometimes very aggressively too, as described at the start and as seen in the video.

Perhaps France too should accept their colonial past in which they invaded north African lands.  Perhaps they should accept that importing Algerian workers who were cousins of Algerian rebels being fought in the Algerian war (1954-1962) would not make for a loyal muslim population (read here: approach 4).   Perhaps they should accept the influx of north Africans into France as a counter re-action to French colonialism.  Perhaps that could be a starting point of French/ north African reconciliation.  This takes time and courage; a ‘moving on’ from the past.  The benefits could be a positive multiculturalism of diversity and colour, whilst retaining a core sense of national identity.  

Has this been achieved in Britain?  David Cameron seems to question that it has.  For me, it depends on which article or newspaper I read.   Nevertheless, I aim to be optimistic and see the positive benefits of multiculturalism.  So – how  about this for a British/Indian/Afro-American multicultural blend, as seen on ‘Britain’s got Talent’?

This is multiculturalism at it’s best!   I hope the utopian dream has not been lost.

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Writing this blog is simply a personal attempt to understand.