lunes, 13 de abril de 2015

#IATEFL2015 online coverage #1: Interview with David Crystal

As a Manchester, IATEFL 2015 registered blogger, I have to admit I have not had the time to catch up the way I would have liked to, but here I am, with my first report.

This time, I'll be talking about an interview with David Crystal (available here), which of course, was the obvious choice for me to start!

As usual, a bit of a report of what was said, and my own input, in a different colour.


The Crystals have been pretty active in this 450th celebration of Shakespeare's wonders, and they have been busy publishing materials for all our enjoyment. The illustrated Shakespearian dictionary is mentioned by David, with a few interesting tips and tricks regarding our approach to Shakespeare in the classroom:

  • Shakespearean language has to be learned in context, and we need to have the pictures in our head of what these words represent in order to make sense of the images Shakespeare so very skillfully presents!
  • Before approaching the play on paper with your students, see it on stage or watch a DVD! I looooved this bit of advice. Watching "a book" on DVD/YouTube/stage should not be a "sin" or a form of "cheating", it is yet another interpretation of the book in print through the eyes of the semiotic systems of image, sound, motion, and I agree entirely that this is a valid way of going about it!
  • Act a bit of Shakespeare in the classroom. Nothing more exciting, methinks!

Now off to my personal favourite bit: Original Pronunciation. I've written about this in my review post of the latest Crystals' book here, but I would like to write down some of the points David raises in this interview.

David reminds us that the powerful resource of rhyme in Shakespeare's sonnets (because if I remember correctly blank verse does not rhyme except in the last verses of each scene?! Do I remember my Shakespeare?!) does "not appear to work in Modern English". We all remember the lovely Sonnet 116, and the supposed rhyming pair "loved"-"proved" [lʌvpru:vd], which in OP would be something like [lɤvd - prɤvd]. You can hear more about it here:

Crystal invites us to experience Original Pronunciation (OP) here:

The last part of the interview leads us back to the "You Say Potato" book. Apart from retelling some bits from the book, David mentions the fact that the accent issue is complex, and that in order to faithfully represent the idea of how accents change, there had to be more than one person in the book, a "young person, and a slightly less young person". He mentions the fact that there will be an audiobook version later in the year (looking forward to it!)

There is an interesting discussion in the interview regarding the notion of accents. As we have heard countless times, accents are "all over the English speaking world" and they are "mixed". We are no longer speaking about RP as the norm, but as a "mixed or modified RP", what other authors called General British, which Crystal defines as "educated, understandable". This is a complex issue as well, in my opinion. Clearly, if you read the news, what the media sees as RP is the "Queen's English" or the "Public School English" which Cruttenden (2008) called "Refined RP" and is now termed "Conspicuous General British". I think this RP they may be talking about, spoken by 2% of the population, is not necessarily what we may call "General British" and of course, "Regional General British", which I associate more with universities and the media.  So when we say "RP", what are we really talking about? I would also question the use of the term "understandable", as my students would claim that it is General American that sounds "intelligible" to them, and not really British varieties, but it may be a problem of exposure. Worth another post!

Crystal then addresses learners of English by urging them to embrace the idea of keeping traces of their native language in the accent of English, except for "spies, who are the only ones who need to be anonymous" (LOL!). He sees English as a "garden of flowers", with each individual accent making a different variety and bringing colour to it (<3). David tells teachers that the priority should be students' clarity, and an approach to flexibility, that is, not focussing on teaching every single feature of an accent to students. He mentions, for example, the features of glottalisation (as in [hɒt -hɒʔ] and GOOSE-fronting (as in [ku:l - kʉ:l]), clear examples of the changes to General British, that ought to be accepted in the English classroom. Exposure to different accents as early as possible is key. Crystal does make a point as well of "knowing how to do it", that is, having the necessary tools to teach pronunciation of the accent(s) of choice. (Worth another post! #2)

As an answer to a question on the importance of stress and connected speech over the segmentals, David believes there is more an issue of complementarity. David also mentions the fact that if we look at the different Englishes around the world, 3/4 of the speakers actually employ syllable-timed versions of their accent, which is why, in his opinion, stress-timing as a teaching priority is actually outdated. The challenges to the "stress-timing" hypothesis have been going round since the early 1980s, including some papers by Peter Roach and Cauldwell, among many others. Very very interesting topic, by the way.

To conclude, Crystal presents some pieces of advice for teachers to "keep up with the times" by "listening, listening, listening" to English, to young speakers of English in the media, especially social media, in the understanding that the young speakers of the language are the ones pushing the language forward, the future parents of the future generations. He reminds us that we should not underestimate the power of Internet, as these generations take "screens as central, books as marginal".

All in all, a short, yet enjoyable interview, with that lovely accent of Crystals' (IMO) and his smooth, "surfable" intonation patterns (really worth teaching!), but first and foremost, with a very engaging discussion of hot topics which may at times be a bit "thorny" for teachers.

I expect to be able to report more on the online coverage of IATEFL 2015 soon!

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