“Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay” — now in print!

Yesterday, I was excited to receive my copies of the new TESOL publication, Effective Second Language Writing (in the Classroom Practices series), which opens with my chapter: “Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay: A Content-First Approach.”

In my essay — which is far longer than five paragraphs! — I set out the arguments against teaching (only) the five-paragraph essay/theme form, which I have been making for several years along with my former colleagues Andy McCullough and Ruelaine Stokes at Michigan State’s English Language Center. I then describe the sustained content-based writing course Andy and I developed at MSU for the advanced level of the IEP. (Another article we all wrote together appears in this month’s Second Language Writing Interest Section newsletter.)

The volume was edited with remarkable thoroughness and patience by Susan Kasten, and includes a total of 18 chapters on different aspects of second-language writing from around the world. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it. Come to think of it, it’s so long since I wrote my chapter, I should probably re-read that, too, and see what I said. (This project was launched at TESOL 3 years ago!)

It’s Paddy not Patty!

March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, commemorating the patron saint of Ireland. So, I was rather disappointed to receive this email today from CVS:

The “nickname” for Patrick is Paddy not Patty (St. Patricia?)!

The confusion is uniquely American, and I believe it stems from a pronunciation feature of American English. The “d”s in Paddy are pronounced with a “flap” sound (not a full /d/ as in British and Irish Englishes), which sounds very much like a /t/ — compare “ladder” and “latter”: they sound almost the same in American English. So, it’s not surprising that Paddy might be heard and subsequently misspelled as Patty.

But to turn St. Patrick into a beefburger just doesn’t seem right.

An architect’s view of writing

I’m glad that I saved the current issue of one of my alumni magazines, The Penn Gazette*, from the recycling bin long enough to read Denise Scott Brown’s essay “From Words to Buildings: What good is language to an architect?

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=chicago+bean&iid=3364983″ src=”d/2/9/7/Snow_Blankets_The_b291.jpg?adImageId=11079764&imageId=3364983″ width=”234″ height=”141″ /] (* I am an alum of Penn’s Graduate School of Education, but they keep sending me the magazine anyway, presumably in the faint hope that I might eventually make enough money to give some of it to the school …)

Scott Brown argues that language plays a critical role in the visual arts:

The client’s brief—a verbal statement—and the building’s social and visual context come first. They may provide merely a schedule of accommodations and relationships, or add qualitative instructions on character, performance, and context. Either way, they raise the problem of creating the physical from the verbal.

I find this especially interesting because this is basically the opposite of most research writing, in which the words come after the research and are an attempt to reconstruct the study for the reader. In architecture, writing appears to be primary: it is the source of the architect’s work, not the report of it.

This again points to the importance of knowing how writing functions in particular professions before trying to teach it to future professionals.

National Grammar Day

March 4 is …. National Grammar Day! Sadly, ESL teachers don’t all get a day off to celebrate (or, maybe, we should teach especially well on that day?). This is a publicity stunt by the “Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar,” one of many self-declared and self-aggrandizing stewards of the English language. Their website isn’t actually terrible (although you get bonus points for spotting some of their inconsistent punctuation on the home page), but linguists find the idea that English grammar needs promotion or protection laughable. After all, the language has survived — flourished, in fact — without (despite of?) efforts to save it.

And while I’m thinking about it … why National Grammar Day? Does the U.S. need to serve as the world’s linguistic police? Or does SPOGG only promote good American English grammar? Do they fear our friends from the north are trying re-introduce the widespread use of the letter “u”? Or are they afraid of British ex-pats complaining, “It’s ‘Have you eaten yet?’ not ‘Did you eat yet?’!”

So, I unilaterally declare every day to be henceforth International Grammar Day, dedicated to using the resources of language to boldly communicate meanings in whatever ways work!

Language and Climate Change

Climate change or global warming: which sounds scarier? I heard an interesting interview this evening on NPR with Berkeley Linguistics Prof George Lakoff in which he describes the way that language “frames” the way we understand science. His criticism of scientists for not considering the way their words will be interpreted by the general public is well made.

(There’s an amusing typo on the NPR page right now: Lakoff is described as a “professor of linguists” — presumably, then, he studies the curious behavior of his fellow linguists.)

This is one more reason that all scientists should take a good scientific writing course, and that all university writing programs should get serious about writing in the sciences, not just the humanities. And since more and more science is being written in English by non-native speakers, we ESL specialists need to be part of that conversation.

Any thoughts? Do share! Click leave a comment at the top of this post.

A professional plagiarism problem

One of my arguments for the importance of understanding plagiarism is that it is not just an academic obsession: in the “real” world, real writers can face scandal and even legal action if accused of plagiarism. Traci Gardner has this detailed summary of the latest such case over on NCTE’s InBox blog. I need to brush up my German and read the novel at the center of the controversy, Helen Hegemann’s Axolotl Roadkill. (If I’ve translated the blurb on amazon.de correctly, it’s a semi-autobiographical novel about excessive drugs, partying, and speech in Berlin. Excessive speech? Now I’m curious what Sprachexzesse really means …)

This reminds me of the most famous recent case in academia, in which Steven Ambrose, a well-known historian, was accused of plagiarizing from a book by Thomas Childers, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania (a Penn undergraduate wrote a nice article about this for the Penn’s alumni magazine). The situation here was more complex: the issue was whether Ambrose gave adequate credit to Childers — in the German novel, there are (apparently) entire pages lifted from other sources.

Regardless of the merits of the accusations and defenses in either case, you don’t want articles and blogs about plagiarism to be the first hits in a google search for your name! Another reason to teach and learn plagiarism well as early and often throughout every stage of higher education.

You can watch my video introduction to plagiarism and paraphrasing for ESL (mostly graduate) students here.

On Brits in America

With thanks to the Living the Scientific Life blog, here’s comedian Ricky Gervais with his Top Ten list of “Stupid Things Americans Say to Brits.”

It’s all in good fun! He missed my pet peeves:

1. I love your accent! (Thanks, it’s all natural.)

2. You’re from England? I went to London once. (Compare: Oh, you’re American? I went to Disneyland once.)