Was there ever a grammatical form more maligned than the poor passive voice? Read that sentence again — see what I did? Look, I get it. Strunk and White told you not to use it (while writing several verbs in the passive on the very same page); Word’s grammar checker assaulted you with wiggly green lines; even Orwell warned you against it (and I’m a fan of everything else he wrote).
The problem is that the passive voice is only one way of disguising agency, and I don’t think it’s always the most insidious. When I see rants on Twitter about the alleged use of passive voice in news articles, the examples that are highlighted are almost never actually in the passive voice.* That’s not to excuse disingenuous writing, but it’s important to name the culprit.
Here’s a short article I wrote for the Cambridge Grammar Newsletter arguing for teaching singular they in ESL classes. I look at two contexts: indefinite reference and respecting nonbinary people’s identified pronouns. The downloadable activity has some ideas for explicitly teaching these important uses in class. Hope you find it useful
The third edition of my co-authored textbook Q:Skills for Success, Reading/Writing 5has just been published by Oxford University Press. The new edition is a welcome refresh for the series, which I started writing in 2007 (I know exactly how old it is because I was remember working on the first edition at my computer in Michigan with my newborn son napping in my arms!).
The third edition adds several new readings, including a chapter on the value (or not) of learning foreign languages and another on the gig economy. There are also a ton of videos on the companion website — you’ll even hear Scott Douglass and myself narrative the “Critical Thinking Skills” presentations. So as a bonus, you’ll get British, Canadian, and American accents throughout the book. We’ve also updated the vocabulary lists to align with the Oxford 5000 and Oxford Phrasal Academic Lexicon, which was a really interesting process.
You can get exam copies of any level of Q from your friendly OUP sales rep. It will be available for sale from Amazon and other fine retailers — it’s very new, so it’s not yet appearing everywhere. There is also a “split” edition in two halves, A and B.
What do you think of the new edition? Do let us know!
Quick post to end the year and let you know that I’m writing for the revived Cambridge Grammar and Beyond newsletter. My December post was about the tricky verbs make and let. Let me know if you have any questions you’d like me to answer in future columns!
I’ve unexpectedly spent a good chunk of my sabbatical semester thinking about heteroglossia. This might sound as if I’ve had just too much time on my hands, but I’ve become convinced that it’s one of the key concerns in academic writing. (Tl;dr version: skip to the bottom for the teaching implications!)Continue reading “Hearing voices in the Barr report”
Why did we produce a second edition? The first edition of Grammar Choices was published in 2012, so it’s had a healthy life-span of 6 years, but of course academic English hasn’t changed much in that time! With any second edition, you have to strike a balance between adding and changing enough to justify a new edition, while not alienating users who liked the first edition. There’s always going to be a reading, exercise, or example that you’re angry at me for dropping (sorry).
I work in an intensive English program, whose purpose is to prepare international students for undergraduate and graduate degrees in the US. (So this would be a good time to note that all opinions on this blog are mine alone!)
I’m increasingly bothered by the idea of education as preparation. To some extent, it’s true: we need our schools to prepare young (and not so young) people to contribute usefully to society and fulfill their own potential. Such has always been one of the functions of schooling: education is a public as well as a private good. It’s also true that we in ESL have a duty to help our students develop the language proficiency that will help them accomplish their future academic, professional, and personal goals. To that extent, my teaching is very much concerned with preparation.
But I have a problem when the goal of preparation so dominates our mindset as teachers, curriculum designers, materials writers, and administrators that the lesson, course, or program ceases to have any meaning as an educational experience in itself.