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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 3; Issue 1; January 2001


Into English
Writing and Translating into English as a Second Language
A Practical Guide to Recurrent Difficulties
by Alan Duff DZSd.d. Zalosnistvo, Ljubljana 2000
ISB N 86-341-2340-5

Alan Duff was one of the pioneers of lively, student-centred exercises in the 1970's and 80's. With Alan Maley, he wrote classics like:

    Seems Intriguing
    The Mind's Eye
    Variations on a Theme

The two Alans were writing techniques teachers could use to bring their classrooms to life, at a time when people like Brumfitt , Widdowson and Trim were mouthing their book-long platitudes about " communication", "communicative approach".

Into English is an excellent book for teachers with advanced students and works on the interface between mother tongue and the target language. Here is how Duff himself introduces the book:

" Into English is the synthesis of the best or most interesting examples of language drawn from materials in which I have worked as a translator or editor for the past decade. Although the source material is relatively recent - most of it, indeed, dates from the past five years- the basic approach was developed over twenty years ago, in the late seventies, when I wrote a book called The Third Language."

Here are the areas the book covers: Word Choice
Word Order
Use of Articles and
Formal Correspondence
Meaning and Ambiguity.
Problematic Structures
Over-translation and
Style and Register.

All the way through the chapters you will find boxes full of examples of hilarious English, much of it written by native speakers. Here are a few examples:

Most of the weather is in the Northern half of the country ( BBC Breakfast News)

The public will get more for their money- but they will have to pay more for it. ( Channel 4 News)

Please hang your order before retiring on the doorknob ( Mexican hotel)

Note that if you take of your shoes during flight, feet tend to swell, and you may have difficulty getting them on again. ( airline in-flight magazine )

Into English is a mixture of brilliant language technicism, liveliness and fun.

Scuola di Barbiana
The school at Barbiana
Lettera a una Professoressa
Letter to a woman teacher
edited by Don Lorenzo Milani
Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, 1996

This 1960's classic was translated into English in early 70's but I do not know if Amazon.com could find you a copy of the English version now.

The School at Barbiana describes a village primary school in the central Italian mountains run by a priest in full revolt against the values of Italian State Education.

The school runs as a democratic community and the peasant children make many of their own decisions about what should be learned and how and why.

The book consists of the children's long, polemic letter to a State School teacher. The text is passionate and angry:

Social Climbers at 12 years old In your school even the kids' motivation, what they are studying for, is a mystery.

Day after day they study to be present when you call the roll to get a diploma. And in doing this they distract themselves from the wonderful things they are learning. Languages, history, science, everything becomes a mark and nothing else.

Behind those sheets of paper there is only the individual's self-interest. The diploma and cash. None of you people admit it, but that's the fact.

To be a willing learner in your schools, Teacher, one needs to be a social climber at the age of 12.

There aren't very many 12 year-old climbers. Not surprising, then, that most of the kids in your schools hate school. Your vulgar invitation to the kids deserves no other response.

When I go back and read The School at Barbiana, I think of my own three children's negativity towards the schools they went to in UK. Why does it have to be so bad? Why is there so much boredom, so much time wasting, so much repetition and copying, so much meaningless stuff?

    The reforms we propose

So that the dream of equality should not stay a dream we put forward three reforms:

  • no one should fail and be thrown out
  • if there are retards, offer them really full time schooling, from morning till night.
  • The aimless ones just need a goal

A fitter is not allowed to only deliver the well finished jobs. If he were, then he would not do anything to succeed with each and every job.

But you teachers, you know you can reject jobs as and when you please. This is why you happily work only with the kids who succeed for reasons that are nothing to do with school.

If you know of a recent translation of this classic text, please let HLT know.

Unravelling an Enigma
by Greg Nees
Intercultural Press 2000.

Why should HLT review a book on German culture? Mainly because Nees's work is an excellent example of how to go about conceptualising the culture of any country and language.

Look through the German cultural themes below and decide what would be the main cultural themes of the English speaking people your students are aware of.

If you teach English in Cote d'Ivoire, the obvious English speaking people will be Ivory Coast and Nigeria.)

German cultural themes, as explored by Nees:

  • the need for order and the obedience to rules and regulations
  • the insistence on clarity of thought
  • compartmentalisation
  • a love of rational thinking and abstract debate
  • the sharp distinction between insiders and outsiders
  • as strong sense of duty.

If you teach English in Indonesia, you may well find yourself referring to Australians. How would you describe their cultural themes? If you are Australian, how would you define your own societal values?

I would propose Germany as offering a methodology for thinking about whichever culture you and your students are confronted with.

Clear, direct, sensitive and a good read.

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