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Oh, The Places You’ll Go

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cm vs. in (what's our problem with A4 anyway?)

cm vs. in (what's our problem with A4 anyway?)

You never know where a one-on-one lesson will wind up. Last week, an attempt to help my youngest student (who’s in high school) get started on a paper wound up with an excursion into the world of open source and alternative software. N-chan’s laptop runs a Japanese operating system and a Japanese word processor, and it’s a bit of a disaster trying to set up papers the way her teacher requires them to be set up. As is to be expected, the teacher is quite rigid about things like spacing (1.5 lines), margins (1 inch), font sizes, etc.

However, N-chan’s word processor is set up for A4 paper and Japanese spacing conventions. We’ve tried to fix things before, and it kind of worked, but not very well. To my surprise, even line spacing is a kind of cultural idiom. In Japan, apparently, it’s done by entering the total number of lines one can fit on a page at that spacing. This makes sense, but our attempts to convert from A4 to 8.5 by 11 and then to 1.5-spacing didn’t work out. Maybe if I could read Japanese better, I could have found a way to switch it to American-style line spacing, but no luck. As a last resort, I suggested downloading the English version of OpenOffice.Org so that she could simply work in English. (I prefer NeoOffice, but she doesn’t have a Mac.) She got permission from her dad to download it and install it, and it seems to be working out OK so far. When she clicked to download it, it detected her Japanese OS, so I first had to force it to download the English version (which it proceeded to automatically download from the “nearest” server at KAIST in Korea! Oops!). Then we had to change its settings to use inches instead of centimeters, again because the installed program detected a Japanese OS. I felt compelled to tell her “Inches are not better than centimeters–actually, centimeters are probably better than inches, but your teacher is going to give you instructions in inches. So we need to use inches.” (When I’m telling a student that she needs to stop using something that she’s used to and start using something else, I feel that it’s critical to point out when it’s NOT because the previous way was wrong.)

After that I showed her where to set up the margins (OOO defaults to .79 inches for some weird reason) and line spacing. Next week I’ll make sure it’s still running smoothly for her, because now that I know there are interesting differences like how line spacing is calculated, I’ve realized it’s not just a matter of looking in the right place to find the setting you need to change. I knew there were vocabulary differences–for example, another N-chan’s father told me that Japanese word processors use a verb that means “paint” rather than “highlight”–but now I’m curious about all the deeper differences.

Anyway, helping students download and set up a free word processor such as OOO or NeoOffice may be a good idea if their native-language version is causing problems with their assignments. Have you ever tried this?

Not Just Another Peer-Reviewed Journal

In terms of free, high-quality online language acquisition research, we have an embarrassment of riches (now there’s an idiom for you!). There’s a wonderful new addition to the hoard: L2 Journal, and it comes with an excellent pedigree. L2 is a “fully-refereed, interdisciplinary journal” that’s being offered online at no cost via the University of California’s eScholarship Digital Information Repository, supported by the UC Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching and the Berkeley Language Center Website. The editorial board and executive committee contains familiar names like Claire Kramsch and Rick Kern. The journal will be addressing a broad range of second-language acquisition topics, including “pedagogy, bilingualism and multilingualism, language and technology, curriculum development and teacher training, testing and evaluation,” etc.

Photo of dictionary open to 'education,' notebook, pencil by cohdra at

No excuse for not keeping up with the research!

With that kind of backing, this is likely to become one of the most reputable free online journals. Although you need to sign up for a free membership to access the articles (and they’re all PDF), it should be worth it to get access. This is the kind of thing for which you usually need access to JSTOR, etc., and is usually difficult or impossible to get to as an individual, a public school teacher, an overseas volunteer teacher, or (often) an EFL teacher at all. As far as I can tell, there are no restrictions on who can make an account–I left “institutional affiliation” blank, since I work for myself, and was able to register with no problems.

Because it’s coming from the UC system (and is headed by Dr. Kramsch), I expect it’ll have a number of heavily theoretical papers that may turn off some teachers. I encourage you to give those papers a try–sometimes they pay off!–but also to look at the other papers. There are three articles available so far (all PDF), and I think all of them have practical elements. The one I’m currently reading, “Corrective Feedback and Teacher Development” (Rod Ellis), is very practical as far as I’m concerned–an article need not have a lesson plan to be applicable to what I do in my lessons. So while the journal may not be light reading, I think its high standards will pay off for teachers who take the time to sit down and read it.

Interestingly, the journal is being conceived as a one-issue-per-year model, but with articles published as they are ready–so it sounds like it’s really a year-round publication. You can read about the submission guidelines and also, because they are a little more technologically advanced than most journals, receive alerts when L2 publishes a paper on a topic in which you’re interested. That’s an excellent service to offer.

I’m very excited about L2! What an excellent resource for us to have. (I’ll be adding it to the Free Online Journals post, of course.) As always, if you have another one to suggest, let me know.