Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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Editorial - Mark's Editorial Archive

ELTNEWS.com has been the most authoritative website for English language teachers in Japan since 1998. While the ELT industry in Japan has had its ups and (sometimes severe) downs over that period, globally the industry continues to thrive and evolve. British Council estimates point to well over a billion learners of English as a second or foreign language worldwide.

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Onward and upward!

Mark McBennett

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I have no problem with courting a bit of controversy. The academic world of ELT can be so bone-dry serious that when a story comes along that can spice things up a bit, I'll jump at it. I suppose sometimes it means walking a thin line.

So it was with my recent posting of an article from The Telegraph that to some extent mocked the English of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Comments from readers and in emails sent to me have been critical of the article and my decision to post it - and go along with its joking tone - on ELT News. I was asked whether my own Russian language ability was such that I was entitled to poke fun (would the ability to read The Idiot in the original entitle me to have a laugh?). The criticism came from people whose opinions I respect so I did think long and carefully about whether I had made an error of judgement.

If you believe (as I do...really!) that it is the role of an English teacher to encourage and motivate our students in their sometimes fumbling attempts to master the language rather than belittle or mock their shortcomings, then criticism of the post seems natural. If the article were to be mentioned at all, surely it would have been better to present it in such a light, to question its tone and attitude, to criticize the arrogance and smugness of a native English-speaking journalist towards someone struggling with the language.

But Putin is not my student. He is a public figure who tries hard to put forth a certain public image (I've yet to see any footage of David Cameron or Barack Obama's bare-chested horse riding) and always comes across as so stern and serious as to invite caricature and fun-poking. I admit that my personal distaste for Putin's politics influenced my own reaction to the video, but not my decision to post it. If it featured a Russian high schooler and had been posted by his teacher to generate laughs, I know my reaction to it would have been very different.

The video itself is described as having gone "viral," though it is certainly less so than one from 2008 when Putin spoke briefly but in far more relaxed English to a CNN reporter. I've yet to see an article praising Putin's latest speech for effort let alone his pronunciation. On the contrary, reports by the likes of NBC and The Atlantic describe the performance as "awkward" and "uncomfortable" or even speculate that he may have suffered from a stroke. As I watched it, I wondered whether he was tutored by a native speaker and - given Putin's reputation - whether a tutor would have a task as daunting that of Lionel Logue in The King's Speech.

So what do you think? Is Vladamir Putin's English fair game? Or should ELT News be above all this, or at least more supportive of his, and anyone else's, efforts to speak English?

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A bout of illness is my excuse for not having noticed Scott Thornbury's recent announcement that he is bringing down the curtain on his excellent A-Z of ELT blog. In fact he already has, as the June 9 entry - succinctly titled The End - is to be the last. In it he revisits 30 of the one- or two-liners that best capture what the blog was about over the last three years. A couple of brief examples:

8. If I were learning a second language with a teacher, I would tell the teacher what I want to say, not wait to be told what someone who is not there thinks I might want to say. (W is for Wondering)

18. Is there no getting away from the fact that classrooms are just not good places to learn languages in? And that, instead of flogging the present perfect continuous to death, it might not be better simply ‘to take a walk around the block’? (A is for Affordance)

One of the few people who can be thought of as a 'celebrity' in the ELT world, Scott is a prolific speaker and multiple award-winning author. When I recently and very optimistically contacted him about the possibility of joining in my upcoming interview with Chuck Sandy (the two are both key members of the iTDi initiative), he declined due to a busy schedule. He is currently preparing for a summer teaching stint in Manhattan and he has also announced that he will be launching a new blog in the autumn, provisionally titled The (De-)Fossilization Diaries.

So as one door closes another opens. And hopefully I'll find a gap in that busy schedule before too long.

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It is with great pleasure (and no small amount of relief) that I can finally unveil the new ELT News layout.

It's not really a major overhaul, more a bit of cosmetic surgery. Some details remain unchanged, and there are no doubt still many little fixes and adjustments needed (feel free to drop me a line if you spot something). But I hope you will agree that the new layout gives a better balance between daily news updates and the wide range of wonderful features and columns written by our many contributors.

In just the last couple of days I have added the following:

Interview: Chuck Sandy - An Unreasonable Man

Pat on the Back: Reamonn Gormley and the Tale of the Thai Tims (Patrick Jackson)
Looking at the altruistic side of ELT.

The Uni-Files: No, I don't want to hear your opinion. Give me your insights instead (Mike Guest)
More straight-shooting from one of our most popular columnists.

ELT Book Reviews: Reflecting on Teaching the Four Skills (Robert J. Dickey)
Reflecting on Teaching the Four Skills: 60 Strategies for Professional Development

Kids World: Meaningful Messages (Helene J Uchida)
Bringing the here and now into the classroom.

And there's lots more to come, so keep your eyes peeled for more news and content updates, post your comments on the site or on our ELTNEWS Facebook page, share & like on your social media site of choice, and do please consider submitting a story, writing an article or just telling us that we're doing a decent job.

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Sentences like the one above have been the most common tongue-in-cheek reaction to this news reported yesterday by CNN:

This is going to give grammarians a headache, literalists a migraine and language nerds a nervous breakdown.

The definition of literally is no longer the literal definition of literally.

Gizmodo has discovered Google's definition for literally includes this: "Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling."

Language is of course constantly in flux, forever evolving and being reinvented, we all know this. But sometimes the changes are annoying in the extreme to the above-mentioned grammarians, literalists, and language nerds. And editors. Oh, and parents.

Of my pet peeves, words or phrases that when uttered bring to mind fingernails on a blackboard (remember those?), the one that offends my ears the most is "like."

As in, like, when my daughter can't put a complete, like, sentence together without, like...well, you get the idea.

Rightly or wrongly, I've always associated this verbal tic with California. My pre-teen daughter may have picked it up from watching too much Disney Channel, or from American friends at school, or maybe it's now universal among her peers. I hope not.

Habitual use of words such as "like" can, I think, be blamed on laziness. Now that's a personal trait I admit I'm all too familiar with - I would have called it "lack of intellectual rigour", but that would have taken too long to type. But in the spirit of meaning what you say and saying what you mean, I try to make my daughter aware of any verbal laziness she becomes susceptible to (an earlier one was reacting to any and every situation with "Oh, my God!).

In my role as an editor, I'm not fanatical about these things. And this being a site for English teachers, comments are not strewn with non-words (irregardless, supposably) and the misuse of words (literally, totally).

But some things I can't just ignore. Like, you know?


I'd love to hear what words and phrases get under your skin. So head on over to our Facebook page and share your pet peeves.

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