I am quite skeptical of this week’s focus in my Multimedia in Technology Applications class. We are focusing on reworking our instruction sets into audio-only instructions. I just do not feel that audio without any text or visual scaffolding will be effective. Too many issues and misunderstandings could come up; for example, as with accents and dialects. Although I have lived in Texas for more than 15 years, the Deep South influence can still be heard in my speech. And a recent trip to New York City proved I can pick up a New Jersey accent within a few days, much to the surprise of my students when I returned. I’m talking here . . . forget about it! I have a few videos I show my students with Australian and Eastern Indian narrators; they complain about not being able to understand the narrators even though English is being spoken. The cognitive demand is just too high . . . the reason I bombed Calculus in college was because I didn’t have enough experience listening to a Pakistani speak English to understand what he was explaining. Because I am switching back to an ESL position at my campus, I have been reflecting personally on all the second language acquisition concepts I will need to cover this next school year, and it seems there is just too much room for error in the English language for students to be presented with only audio instructions. Just consider basic homophones and homographs; homonyms could be included but to a lesser extent since understanding the meaning relies more on context rather than seeing or hearing the word. Regardless, these are just one example of how confusing English can be to even native speakers resulting in years of study even though college. I mean seriously, my husband and I have been arguing over the correct pronunciation of the word bury for years . . . and we are both correct! And let’s not even get into figurative language . . . that’s another blog post entirely! Sure, my students get used to my voice and speech after a while, but what about the push to break down the classroom walls and share knowledge around the world. I want students in India to access my website and learn about constructing circuits, but will they struggle with understanding my Southern draw? I need them to see the text and the graphics too! However, it works in reverse too. I see the benefit of providing audio along with text as a way to support my future ESL students. They NEED to hear how new and unfamiliar words are pronounced. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard my son mispronounce words he has read in books because he had never heard the words before. Until someone corrects him, he will continue to pronounce the word incorrectly and may not even recognize the correct pronunciation if it were only presented audibly.
Why Would Someone Eat a “Hot Dog?” March 22, 2013
Our “Learning and Cognition” professor has presented us with a challenge on one of my favorite topics this week – figures of speech. We have been asked to come up with some examples, and if we speak a language other than English, share a few phrases or sayings showing how they might be baffling to English-speakers.
As an adolescent and young adult, I was not a fan of literature or poetry, so the figurative language I mainly remember are a few family idioms – and Southerners have some humdingers! Have you every squeezed blood from a turnip? Well, you can’t! Can you make a horse drink? No, but you can lead him to water! When I met my husband, he introduced me to a whole new set of adages from his family – he would always say, “My mother always told me . . .” and finish with one of a slew of sayings. We ended up coining a term “Rose-isms” for them (her name is Rosemary). Here’s one I have to tell my students all the time: “If if’s and and’s were pots and pans, we’d all cook up a storm.”
When I became an ESL teacher many years ago, the concept of figurative language as well as translation confusion really “came to a head.” In Texas, the majority of ESL students are Hispanic, and I knew very little Spanish. The aides who worked with me really helped me understand some of the issues I might encounter. One of them pointed out that the term “Special Education” can be confusing to limited-English parents – who would not want a special education for their child? She could not simply translate the term to educación especial; she had to find another way to explain it when translating at parent conferences. I had a very strange conversation with an Arabic-speaking student about why someone would want to eat a “hot dog.” This is when I realized we needed to have some lessons on figures of speech. In order to teach figurative language to ESL students, it often helps to give them a few examples in their own language. I was working with an advanced-level ESL student, and we found several Spanish idiom websites and blogs such as “Grammar Party” (Roof, 2011). As we read through the examples and talked about them, we came across la carne de burro no es transparante, which means “the flesh of the donkey is not transparent.” I laughed so hard because it reminded me of a saying my husband uses when someone blocks his view of the TV – “your daddy wasn’t no glass-maker.” As it turns out, the figurative Spanish version – “you make a better door than a window” – sends the same message my husband intends.
As an English teacher, one of my favorite (and my students’ favorite) figurative language lessons was having students illustrate the literal version of an idiom. English Idioms Daily Blog held a contest in 2012 resulting in some fantastic examples of just this lesson. Children’s book author Tedd Arnold does a beautiful job with illustrating several idioms and other figures of speech literally in his three books: Parts, More Parts, and Even More Parts. As a math teacher, I would tell my students all the time that “there is more than one way to skin a cat” meaning some of our word problems can be solved in more than one way.
Arnold, T. (2004). Even More Parts. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group.
Arnold, T. (2001). More Parts. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group.
Arnold, T. (1997). Parts. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group.
English Idioms Daily Blog. (2012). Kids’ English Idiom Art Contest 2012. Retrieved from http://www.english-idioms.com/kids-idiom-art-contest-2012/
Roof, Erin. (2011, March 10). Funny Spanish Idioms [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://grammarpartyblog.com/2011/03/10/funny-spanish-idioms/