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Babel

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Check out the promising new magazine, Babel, written by linguists for non-specialists. I’ve read a bit of the first issue and I thought it was at a fairly nice level–new ideas if you haven’t had any linguistics classes at all; not too challenging if you have, but still plenty of interest. There are some great people on board. I wouldn’t have heard of it if it hadn’t been for David Crystal’s blog post about it, due to being fairly absent from Twitter. (Thank goodness for Google Reader.)

For now, you can read the first issue of Babel online or download it. It has a very wide range of topics, including an article on xenolinguistics from someone who definitely knows his sf.

They were just looking for book reviewers via their Twitter account, too, if you’re interested (I probably don’t have quite enough of a linguistics background, alas, and there’s that appalling parentheses addiction, too).

Twitter As a Lifeline

I wrote before that Twitter was like a magic cafe or an eternal, really good TESOL conference, but it can actually be a lifeline in times of disaster.

When the Tohoku Earthquake hit Japan, I was in California, but I was using Twitter at the time, on my @readable account with a lot of Japanese users. Many of them quickly tweeted 地震だ–”it’s an earthquake.” I realized something was wrong when, even fifteen minutes later, they were tweeting things like まだゆれる–”it’s still shaking.”

For people who were and are in a disaster area and are not totally fluent in the local language, the situation can range from stressful to life-threatening. Even being in the Tokyo area (distant from the tsunami and major quake damage), with aftershocks, confusing power outages, train stoppages, and food shortages, is proving a challenge for many people. People who have made a good effort to learn Japanese are still finding that a whole host of new vocabulary is cropping up–planned power outage, aftershock, evacuation, contamination, nuclear power plant, and so on.

For the first couple of days, information from official sources was hard to get (at least overseas) in English–people kept saying to watch NHK World News, but when I turned it on, it was often just a loop of tsunami warnings, or a loop of translated news that I knew to be many hours old. (I knew the news was old because Twitterers like @makiwi, a food writer, and @TimeOutTokyo, an entertainment magazine site’s account, were tweeting live news in English–read about Six 6 Tokyo Tweeters Who Kept the City Informed here. And while NHK World News was behind, CNN and MSNBC and so on were woefully behind, and just so bad overall that I quit bothering with them. Meanwhile, BBC’s radio announcers mangled Japanese place names so badly that I couldn’t understand where they meant, which was pretty useless. While there was some good mainstream reporting later [caveat], I would not currently rely on these news outlets in a crisis where I needed to make decisions.)

During this time, and even (to a great extent) now, if you wanted to get information about things like the current status of the nuclear plants, who could help with emergency translation (seriously–medical experts were volunteering on the spot!), what all those microsieverts and millisieverts meant, where you could get shelter, how you could get from Point A to Point B with the expressways closed, where get temporary medication refills, which train lines were running, where to buy bread and batteries, how to use Google People Finder to check on survivors, who would take English-speaking volunteers, where to get information on cooking with limited resources, how to extend a visa or replace a passport, and so on, you could find the answers on Twitter. And during the aftermath, many of my Japanese friends say that Twitter has also helped them feel less alone, more reassured, and constantly encouraged, despite the stress and confusion. Some people have criticized Twitter for spreading hoaxes and rumors, but those spread by word of mouth, too (and for, heaven’s sake, even newspapers). Critical thinking, asking questions, and checking with reliable Twitterers all go a long way.

People rapidly came together on Twitter to help each other find information, connect users to other users who could translate something or supply an answer, and otherwise assist each other (even outright offering spare rooms to strangers). I noticed people’s lists of followers exploding, and not just those (like @makiwi and @TimeOutTokyo) who were valiantly translating NHK live and otherwise providing information you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Anyway, I can tell you that if I’d been in Japan, I wouldn’t have wanted to have been without Twitter. At the moment of a crisis, of course, it’s better to head for high ground, get under your desk, or whatever rather than checking Twitter (although at least one person was apparently rescued from a rooftop due to Twitter, since he wasn’t able to make a call but could send a tweet!). After that first moment, though, Twitter’s usefulness really kicks in. Disasters of one kind or another–floods, invasions, earthquakes, wildfires, uprisings–can happen almost anywhere. And despite the way we humans naturally tend to think, you’re not immune to disasters if you’re an outsider who is only there for a year or two: without fully-developed family and social networks, high-level language skills, knowledge of your surroundings, a fully-stocked household, and so on, you are probably more vulnerable.

Of course, you can’t necessarily sit there and wait for information to flow in–you need to either already have a well-developed Twitter network or be willing to seek out and find additional useful people to follow (or both). And you need be adventurous and creative in your use of English and the local language to search Twitter for the information you need (and not hesitate to ask people who might be helpful). Two places to start are 1) my Twitter guide for ESL students (simplified, but suitable for anyone, including people who use Twitter but haven’t explored its various functions–hashtags, for example, became very useful for regional information-sharing), and 2) my Twitter lists. To use Twitter lists, click on the name of the list and then the “Following: ” tab at the top. You can choose to follow individual members, who will show up in your Twitter timeline as usual. Or you can follow the whole list, but the members won’t show up in your timeline unless you also follow them individually. To read tweets from the list, you’ll have to go look at the list in your Twitter app or on Twitter.com.

Anyway, sorry for the length, but I hope this is useful to someone (although I suppose it’s better if it’s not, eh?). If you have any questions, let me know–and take care!

Please take a moment ….

dousojin by me

Please consider donating to ongoing relief efforts in Japan. Many people in the northeastern areas still do not have access to sufficient food and other supplies, and those coastal villages were not wealthy to start out with (fishing and farming villages disproportionately inhabited by the elderly). I donated to Second Harvest Japan (also accepting volunteers in Japan). TimeOutTokyo has more suggestions about how people both inside and outside Japan can help, plus things you can buy, including music.

If you’d like to read more about the situation, I recommend the posts at Global Voices. They’ve translated posts from Japan into a variety of different languages (e.g., Onagawa, the Hometown I Once Knew.)

Anyway, thank you for reading this, and take care wherever you are (and remember to prepare for whatever disasters tend to strike your part of the world–even if you’re just living there for a year or two!).

Post-Holiday Link Roundup

I wasn’t able to post here during the holidays, but I was somewhat active on Twitter. Here are a few links that I shared that may be of interest to you, rewritten a bit for context and easier clicking.

NaNoWriMo: Noveling

November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an international event in which people of all kinds attempt to write 50,000 words’ worth of a novel. If that sparks all kinds of questions in your mind, check out What is NaNoWriMo? and How NaNoWriMo Works. The goal is not to turn out a perfectly formed, exactly 50,000-word short novel that is publishable and beautiful and perfect (although all of these folks managed to turn their NaNos into something that DID get published!). It’s just to get people writing and, even better, writing more than they probably ever thought they could. We all know how thrilled students are when they achieve something significant like their first letter, essay, speech, or phone call in English. Imagine writing your first novel…

I’ve tried it once before and didn’t get too far, but I met some really great people–one of the keys to the thing is that having other people around you at write-ins and so on really helps you push forward! I’m still friends with some of the people I met. Yesterday, I went to a pre-kickoff “meet’n’greet” event in San Jose. There were tons of people there, and it was pretty exciting.

“But wait,” you may be thinking, “I don’t even live in North America!” No problem–there are groups all over the place. Check out NaNo Near You for groups in Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Ireland, Japan, Spain, etc. etc.–there are about 500 chapters around the world.

My crazy idea is actually to write something that’s for English learners. I really like some of the extensive readers on the market, but there aren’t enough out there (particularly original ones rather than re-writes). There’s also not enough that’s in American English. I think I’d like to take a stab at it. I’m pretty sure that even if I manage 50,000 words, many of them won’t be usable. However, that’s better than just continuing to do nothing but think about it. It’s the same principle as when we encourage students to stop thinking everything over and just speak. I don’t know if I can pull it off, but I’m planning to give it a good try!

Annie Rizzuto at Prestwick House also wrote about “the most wonderful time of the year” and how exciting it could be to work with students. NaNoWriMo has a Young Writers Program, in which students can set their own word count goal, and an educators’ guide including lesson plans, a forum, and more.

I wonder if anyone at the Office of Letters and Light (the people behind NaNoWriMo) is interested in hosting a similar, flexible-goal version of NaNoWriMo for language learners … L2NoWriMo sounds good to me.

Anyway, if you’re doing it too, let me know!

P. S. This is my 100th post! I wanted it to be on something more serious, but I’m serious about both ER and writing. So this will do! Oddly enough, it comes just after my 100th post over at Readable Blog.

Hi, CATESOL visitors!

If you came to my segment of the Internet Fair and are looking for an online version of the handout, I’ll upload that and any further thoughts on Sunday, if I can. For now, the basic links I used are here: A Visual Feast

A previous post on the subject is Free Illustrations.

The blog for learners that I mentioned is Readable Blog.

Thank you for coming to my session and checking out my blog!

CATESOL 2010 Sessions

Here are some sessions at the 2010 CATESOL conference in Santa Clara, starting tomorrow (well, the general conference starts Friday), that are being presented by “friends and family” of Talk to the Clouds (and got in touch with me via Twitter):

F R I D A Y

Effective Methods for Error Correction and Offering Feedback
C. Chang, University of Iowa
8:00-8:45 a.m. Great America Ballroom K
This paper will discuss error correction and offering feedback to students in ESL/EFL classrooms. The speakers will first review research on error correction and feedback. Then they will suggest several strategies based on their learning experience to help both teachers and students communicate their needs in the ESL/EFL classroom.

Rapport, Resourcing and Real-time: Social Network Applications for Success
R. Dupuy, UC Irvine
8:00-8:45 a.m. Great America Meeting Room 3
Learn how certain digital social networking tools 1) encourage rapport in English, 2) aid teachers in the resourcing of digital content for the development of curricula and 3) enable teachers to deliver this valuable and relevant curricula in real-time classroom contexts.

Electronic Village Internet Fair
10:00 – 11:30 am
Great American Ballroom J
10:00 – 10:15 C. Bauler – Using online forums to increase interaction in the ESL classroom
10:20 – 10:35 M. Azimi – Vocabulary “Stuck” on the Web
10:40– 10:55 J. Wu – From YouTube to YouThink
11:00– 11:15 K. Johnson – Animate Your Class With Animoto
11:20 – 11:30 C. Ryan – A Visual Feast: Tips & Tricks with Image Sites (that’s me!)

Tweet and Retweet: Using Twitter for Professional Teacher Development
B. Musteric, Ovient International
3:00-4:30 p.m. Great America Ballroom K
Grow your professional network with Twitter. In this workshop, participants will learn how to connect, engage, and collaborate with other teachers from around the world using Twitter. The presenter will demonstrate how to create an account, grow a network of teachers, and use best practices for engaging with others.
(I’m planning to go to this to support the speaker, but if I can’t, I hope to at least come in at the end! Please go if you are curious about Twitter and why it’s so popular with British and EFL teachers!)

Passion and Persistence: Self-Published ESL Authors Tell Their Stories
E. Weal, Sequoia Adult School; E. Roth, American Language Institute, USC; D. Asitimbay, ELI, UC San Diego
10:00-11:30 a.m. Convention Center 209
What motivates ESL teachers to become authors? Why do many of these authors self-publish? What’s their likelihood of success? In this panel discussion, three authors of ESL books will share the pleasures and perils of self-publishing as well as offer tips for those contemplating writing and publishing an ESL text.
(I’d love to go to this, but of course, it’s during my session!)

S A T U R D AY

Informational Interviews: A Practical, Illuminating Speaking Assignment
E. Roth, University of Southern California
8:00-8:45 a.m. Hyatt Mendocino
Informational interviews allow university ESL students to develop their oral skills, expand a vocational vocabulary, and share interview experiences. ESL teachers can provide practical assistance by adding this complicated oral skills assignment, but instructors must carefully scaffold the assignment for maximum effectiveness.

Create Dynamic and Interactive Lessons Using a Smart Board
F. Wentworth, Jefferson Adult Division; J. Wu, San Mateo Adult School
8:00-9:30 a.m. Great America Ballroom J
Many schools have Smart Boards but teachers have not received proper training in how to use them effectively. In this workshop, participants will see how to create lessons from materials they already have.

Principles to Practice in Teaching Reading
Jennifer Bixby, Freelance Writer and Editor; J. McVeigh, Independent Consultant
8:00-8:45 a.m. Hyatt Stevens Creek
How can current principles in reading instruction be applied to activities in the ESL classroom? The presenters will give an overview of current reading theory and demonstrate practical classroom application. Participants will look at sample activities and evaluate their effectiveness in teaching reading strategies.

Critical Pedagogy in TESOL: Rising Perspectives in Global Context
W. Campbell, University of Southern California
4:15-5:00 Hyatt Napa I
Review of articles to explore Critical Pedagogy (CP) and its perspectives as they are manifesting in TESOL. Demographic data of contributing voices is considered while exploring what it means to be a TESOL educator in light of the political dimension of ELT in context of global power relations.

The complete program is available at the CATESOL 2010 site as PDFs. Don’t forget to check the file with the changes and cancellations if you’re planning in advance.

Take a look at my CATESOL Food and Shopping Suggestions post too, if you like!

If you’re going, I hope you have a great time! Hope to see you there. If you’d like to come to my session and can’t, I’ll be adding a new section here for conference handouts and content. However, you’ve actually already seen some of the suggestions here before, if you’re a loyal reader.

CATESOL 2010 Food & Shopping Suggestions

I’m looking forward to CATESOL 2010 in Santa Clara! Some of you will be arriving soon; I’ll only be there starting on Friday, but I thought I’d post some suggestions on where to eat in the area. If you aren’t familiar with the area, it looks like there’s nothing nearby–just corporate offices for Yahoo!, Namco Bandai, and so on. There are places to eat, though, and while I’m not familiar with many of them, I’ve put some of them on a map. (I do spend time in this area, because Mission College is right there, but I live 25 minutes away, so I rarely eat there.) I’m sure the convention committee has made something as well, but I know some people are staying in Fremont and so on, so I thought I’d put together something quickly. (Update: Here’s the official CATESOL 2010 restaurant guide PDF.)

If you have time and comfortable shoes, you should be able to walk safely to most of the more distant ones on the map. You can use Google’s “Walking” option to get directions, and don’t forget to use Street View to get an image of the area. Read on after the map for better suggestions if you have a car or are willing to try to use buses and light rail.



View CATESOL 2010 Food in a larger map

This is not the most culinarily exciting area of the South Bay. If you have access to a car, even driving 5-15 minutes will put you in a much better location. Here are a few suggestions if you have access to a car or can figure out the light rail and bus system (I’m not sure if Google’s public transportation directions work for VTA, but they may):

  • Maru Ichi, real Japanese ramen specializing in a “black garlic” broth (click for map) and lots of other restaurants and businesses, from a Chinese bookstore and a Chinese vegan restaurant to a Japanese cook-it-yourself chain. Highly recommended. Less than 10 minutes by car. (On the other side of the overpass is the McCarthy Ranch shopping center, which includes typical American restaurant chains, Borders, etc.)
  • El Camino Real’s Korean-American neighborhood (San Francisco Chronicle article) won’t impress anyone from L.A., but has lots of good places to eat, including the pricey meat-extravaganza Palace Buffet (lines during peak hours) and a nice supermarket, Hankook, which has a couple of places to get a snack inside, and a separate building several blocks away known as a “food court.” A very simple drive, about 12 minutes away; no highway (map).
  • San Jose’s Japantown is one of only three remaining in the US; the others are in San Francisco and L.A.This one is small and more functional, but there are still good restaurants, a couple of nice grocery stores, and some really good places to shop. There’s even a traditional tofu maker. Oddly, there’s also an Ethiopian restaurant here, Rehoboth, with a good reputation. About 15 minutes away by car, and I know you can take light rail here because I’ve seen the stop! (Map.) N.B.: On Sunday, they’re having a festival, so it’ll be a good time to come but a bad time to try to park.
  • The Mitsuwa shopping center is worth the 15-to-20-minute drive to reach a mini-complex consisting of the large Japanese supermarket, Mitsuwa, which has a ramen shop, a fast-service restaurant, an anime toy store, and a wagashi (traditional sweets) shop inside. Attached to it outside are a Taiwanese noodle and dumpling shop, another ramen restaurant, a very good sushi restaurant (Tomi), and an excellent Japanese bakery and coffee shop, Clover, that serves Japanese-style “Western food” dinners. Across from Mitsuwa, in the parking lot, is Kinokuniya, a Japanese book/music/magazine/stationery store that sells English and Japanese books, including books on learning Japanese and learning English, art books, origami paper, etc. (Map. You can take 101 for a short amount of the route if you want, but it’s not worth the hassle to me. Also, I think there’s one bus that’s a straight shot here.)
  • Book Buyers, the secondhand book shop I mentioned in this post , often has some ESL books. It’s about 15 minutes away, too. There’s an independent new book shop next door, Books Inc. There are lots of other great bookstores in the South Bay, but Book Buyers stands out because of the ESL stock (which varies, of course). There are various places to eat in downtown Mountain View; just check Yelp. Free parking lots are on various side streets.Map.)
  • If you’re staying as far afield as Fremont or Milpitas, which I know some people are, you can check out my Yelp reviews. (As you can probably tell, I do most of my Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, etc. dining out in my own town, and don’t drive to San Jose for it…)

If you have a recommendation of your own to share, or if you have a question, please leave a comment!

P. S. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter! Currently, a Tweetup is planned for Friday at 6 PM, at the Evolution bar in the Hyatt.

Low Pay, High Qualifications

I’m working on a post about English-related books you can give as gifts. However, I just had to post this cranky message first.

I just took a look at the current issue of Ohayo Sensei (a new one should be out in a couple of days). OS is probably the best source for non-university teaching jobs in Japan.

Recently, there have been multiple job postings in which schools are proposing to offer salaries of ¥220000-240000/month for positions requiring experience, TESOL certification/CELTA, and/or a MATESOL/DELTA. (I’m pretty sure I saw a rate of ¥180000 in an earlier issue.) In recent years, the standard rate for eikaiwa (conversation school work) has been ¥250000 with no qualifications besides being a native English speaker. (We won’t get into that practice at the moment, or the thorny issue of the pay differences between local and foreign teachers.) And ¥250000 was considered low by the people who’d taught in Japan during the bubble economy glory days of the 80s. But okay, the yen is very strong against most currencies and the demand for classes in Japan is dropping…and maybe employers are aware of the awful teaching job situation in places like the USA…

No, I still don’t think it’s OK. I don’t think professional teachers with experience and certifications/degrees should be earning the same thing as completely new, untrained nonprofessionals, period, let alone less.

And keep in mind that in Japan, employers very rarely pay for housing. They may arrange it so you don’t have to pay the “key money” (nonrefundable gift) and deposit, or they may subsidize your rent, but the above positions do not have low pay because they also have free rent. I checked.

Please don’t apply for these jobs.

Just as it’s important for language students around the world to get the message that they should demand professional teachers with language-teaching training … employers need to get the message that they cannot expect to hire professional teachers and pay them as though they are not professionals.

There are other jobs out there; if you have a certification, apply to them. If you have a master’s, explore JREC.

Seek out a reasonable salary level, and even if you are in a situation where you don’t really need a decent salary, don’t aid in lowering the bar for everyone else.

International Kindle at Last

So, previously I posted some caveats about the Kindle, but the fact remained that it was and is a very appealing piece of technology for internationally travelling teachers who don’t want to carry suitcases full of books with them. Even if you didn’t experience the USB issue that my friend experienced, though, the fact was that you couldn’t use its wireless purchasing ability outside of the US–that’s the delightful and financially dangerous ability to think “Oh, I’d really like to read XYZ…” while you’re sitting on a subway platform somewhere, pull out your Kindle, buy it even though there’s not a wifi connection there (because essentially Amazon’s paying for you to use cell networks), and start reading it in just a couple of minutes.

Anyway, good news–the new Amazon Kindle International edition has you covered if you are in Europe, South America, and Asia (scroll for Asia), excepting Finland, Lithuania, Mongolia, Vietnam, Iran, and some other areas that don’t run on 3G or EDGE/GPRS, etc. Some parts of Africa are included. Popular EFL destinations like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan look to be well covered. They will ship the Kindle itself to you–to Japan, for example, the cost is $20.98 (ouch, but it’s “priority courier” and will arrive in 2 to 4 days [!!!] after it’s shipped).

But don’t get this if you’re a bookworm with poor impulse control and a maxed out credit card…Me, I’m not getting one for various reasons, one of which is that I can’t take it in the bathtub. (Get back to me when it’s waterproof.) Plus I live in an English-speaking country and can buy books at Half-Price Books for $1 each, so I hesitate to spend this much money on a gadget–but at the prices English books cost in places like Japan, it might be worth it. Never mind the space you’d save in a small apartment…

If you get one or think you might, don’t forget to click the “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” link on the left, under the product image, when you’re browsing on Amazon. TESOL books, in particular, could use more representation on the Kindle. Clicking on it doesn’t commit you to anything; it just lets Amazon and the publisher know that people are interested in seeing that book in a Kindle version.

If you’ve come up with a creative way to use your Kindle, let us know about it and I’ll post again later, because I think the international functionality means that these will become much more common items among EFL teachers. I may write about it over on Readable Blog, too; for a really serious English learner, it could be a good tool. (To my surprise, Cambridge graded readers are available on Kindle! AWESOME.)