Monthly Archives: May 2012

Text book blight. Why do they and teachers teach adults to use elided forms?

Or why Spaniards sometimes seem unreliable – a business problem, a language solution.

A number of my Spanish business students make use of telephone conferencing when talking to contacts in other countries. Some use Skype and others use something a bit more expensive, but seldom is video conferencing used and frequently the main language is English.

Typical contact patterns are Spain – Poland [English], Spain – India [English], Spain – Thailand [English], Spain – UK – USA [English].

There are two major problems encountered in these exchanges that I have never found mentioned in the limited number of text books I have read. The first is caused by textbooks and teachers trying to teach ‘authentic’ English in particular contracted forms.

Can and can not or can´t – there is a Spanish tendency to not pronounce the final letter in consonant clusters very audibly. So can´t sounds like can to an English ear [a Spaniard will often hear another Spaniard saying can’t, so colleagues in the same room in a telephone conference know that the speaker is saying can’t but the English listener at the other end of the telephone conference only hears can. This tendency to hear can is compounded by the listener wanting to hear a positive answer.

UK We need delivery by next Wednesday
Spain – we can* do that
UK Good so we are agreed!
Spain – I said we can*
This ping-pong can carry on for a while, much to all parties frustration until:
UK OK, bye

Wednesday – no delivery

UK But those ****** Spaniards told us they could deliver – ******** siesta merchants.

While in Spain there is bafflement at how stupid their international contact are, but self congratulation that the Spanish were so polite – not being too direct and not using the dreaded no word.

And all because Spaniards are taught to say can’t (badly) and not to be too direct – because it is impolite.

Do your students also suffer from text book blight?

The second problem – subject of another blog and the solutions for both will appear under the misunderstanding page.


Proficiency and a concordancer

Yesterday I was wondering about the relative frequencies of use of couldn’t, shouldn’t and oughtn’t in written and in spoken English, with 15 minutes to kill before the next lesson I fired up my concordancer and ran some searches.

My student was early and so we started before I had finished. During the lesson we fell to discussing his latest essay and my highlighting his use of ‘At first’ at the start of a sentence. I had no problem with the position or the words, but more with what was not written.

At first, concerning the best way to organise the Film Club,. I propose that each departmental group should select their movies for a month.

 I said I felt that ‘At first …phrase..’ was often followed by a contrasting phrase joined by but, however or then.

At first my student didn’t accept this view, so I turned to the concordancer as it was already loaded and ran a scan resulting in over 100 examples from the written corpus and 30 odd from the spoken. We started to wade through the texts.

 … . You didn’t see it [[at first]], but you saw if you held you head at the …

…….. [[At first]] Buzz saw nothing, but then she gasped in horror. Each …

[[At first]] Clare kept in touch with Annabel after her sister returned to New York, but as her own life became increasingly

 After these three within the first few examples his opinion modified slightly and we searched for an alternative – Firstly, or Initially -.

 I now have a student who will turn to a concordancer when he is not happy with the feel of a sentence, we are moving from semantics to pragmatics which is progress indeed.

 So if you teach Proficiency students, or strong minded Advanced students a concordancer can be an ‘authoritative’ way of backing up your own gut feel and possibly a step towards learner autonomy.

Aster – a fine wine at a better price – an example of serendipity

A couple of weeks ago I visited a branch of Carrefour in the north of Spain to buy some lunch whilstout for the day bird watching .  Out of habit, I drifted through the wine section looking for a Ribera Del Duero wine I had not tried before.  I didn’t find anything ‘new’ but  spotted and purchased a bottle of Aster 1 reserva 2004 (for the princely sum of 5.99€).  The price seemed to be unusually low for a wine from that bodega, so I was a little dubious but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The wine turned out to be excellent, well structured, long with a considerable amount of fruit – great with jamon or lamb.  2004 was an excellent year, the wine is well made, it should  keep for another 10 years or so.

The following weekend I visited France  via a couple of Carrefour branches  buying whatever they had (9), then last weeked I was travelling to Santander via Bilbo and another Carrefour and acquired another 11.

The last batch of wine turned out to be 2003, a very different wine, smoother, more approachable but still a very good example of a very good Ribera.  So I now have a choice, 2004 for meat and 2003 for everything else.

After this amount of time the wines have thrown small deposits –  wine diamonds indeed.

If you get the chance and like ‘big’ red wines buy and try.

If you want a Spanish view try visiting :