Thursday, April 27, 2006

Some of my good friends and colleagues in The Merchant of Venice

On April 22nd, in Al Multaqa Social Club, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain, my friends and colleagues appeared in the Shakespeare comedy, The Merchant of Venice'. The performance was crisply delivered and entranced the audience, who loudly applauded at the end of the play. Let us hope that the players can be prevailed upon to give us some more Shakespeare as soon as possible. It was greatly needed and much appreciated.

This is my tribute to them.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Friday, April 21, 2006

Review: 'The Merchant of Venice'


‘The Merchant of Venice’
United Arab Emirates University Al Multaqa Auditorium Al Ain

Ordinarily, ‘all that glisters is not gold’ but it was tonight at the Al Multaqa UAE University Social Club, where teaching staff from HCT , UAEU and Al Ain English Speaking School put together a glittering performance of Shakespeare’s comedy, ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

In the title role, Mike McPherson was loyal, generous and the perfect foil to John Rigg’s sensitive portrayal of Shylock. Mel Tyers (Gratiano), Caroline Goettsche (Jessica), Libby Stack (Portia), Ben McGrath (Lorenzo), Rick Johns (Bassanio), and Jeff Weiss (Judge), in fact the whole cast, contributed to a splendid evening’s performance that was professionally and convincingly delivered.

Jeff Weiss also directed the players and his experience learned in Vancouver, Canada, where he gained his BA in Theatre Studies showed; on and off stage, movement of the cast was exact, convincing and precise; the minutiae of all the entrances, exits, and movements was dealt with so that there were, as Jeff put it, “no empty spaces”.

From delivering a line to actually moving, Lorenzo (Ben McGrath) found that ‘on the stage, all movement is in curves; and he swept away his beloved Jessica as per directions.

Tricked in the final act of judgment, Shylock, resplendent in skull cap to mark his skullduggery, showed his dismay for all to see. Exultant in victory, Antonio’s relief was equally visible, with the devilish Gratiano rubbing salt in Shylock’s wounds with “O upright judge! Mark. O learned judge!” right in Shylock’s ear, repeating Shylock’s own comments only a moment earlier on the judge’s pronouncements, seemingly in Shylock’s favour.

Unwilling to show mercy, Shylock was arraigned by majestic Portia; “it(mercy) blesses him that gives”; he remained unblessed, stumbling at the hands of the law at the final hurdle, brandishing his knife with not a little relish before being denied his ‘pound of flesh’, Portia stating finally, “~as thou urgest justice, thou shalt have more justice than thou desir’st”.

Most pleasant contrast to the scenes in court was provided by Jessica and Lorenzo in Portia’s garden at Belmont; Shakespeare’s skill in creating images that would have stirred the audiences of the day, was beautifully and repetitively extolled with the famous lines that begin “In such a night ~”, first from Lorenzo waxing lyrical about the moon and the ‘sweet wind’ and then from Jessica, equally expressive on the events such a night would have witnessed down through the ages.

Shakespeare called this play a comedy, but a modern interpretation of the meaning of that word would have done little to mollify anyone coming to the play and expecting to be made to laugh much, but Bassanio’s (Rick Johns) joy at beholding Portia ensuring his never becoming a ‘heavy husband’ for her, was joyful; his prancing to and fro boisterous, his words joyous, and his species of ‘leapings and clappings’ perfectly and expressively executed upstage for all to see, hear and enjoy.

A very appreciative audience showed that the suspension of disbelief while being willing, was tonight totally unnecessary at this splendid evening’s entertainment.

All the proceeds of the performances were in aid of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Doctors Without Borders, whose expressed mandate is:
To raise public awareness of the plight of the populations we treat
To raise funds for MSF missions around the world.

Let us hope the cast can be prevailed upon again soon to give us what we crave; more Shakespeare introduced to these shores.

Robert L. Fielding (Photos: Michael Rigg)

Sunday, April 16, 2006



MSc: Teaching English/ESP (Aston University 1997)

BA (Hons) Organisational Studies and Linguistics (Lancaster University 1987)

RSA Cert TEFL. (Pilgrims 1986)0

City and Guilds of London Institute: Full Technological Certificate in Mechanical Engineering Production (Oldham College of Technology 1972)


EFL/ESP/EAP Instructor-English Language Lecturer - at the following:-

University of Durham Taught pre-sessional courses (August/September, 2002)
University of Bahrain English Language Centre (Sept 2002 – 2003)
Taught EAP/ESP at various levels
Sultan Qaboos University Language Center, Oman (1997 – 2002)
Taught English for students of Sciences & English for Educational Purposes. (Intensive & Credit Courses
Member of Editorial Board of ‘Forum’, the Language Centre’s English Language Teaching Journal
Regular contributor to ‘Forum’ (see Publications)
International Turkmen Turkish University, Ashkabad, Turkmenistan (1996 – 1997
Taught English for Academic Purposes, Phonetics, English Language through English Literature
Wrote material and tests for the above courses.
Bilkent University School of English Language, Ankara, Turkey (1993 – 1996)
Taught EAP and Writing for Freshmen students.
Dogu Akdeniz Universitesi, Magusa, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (1992 –1993)
Taught ESP and wrote materials and textbook
Cukurova University, Adana, Turkey (1990 – 1992 )
Taught EAP and was Speaking and Listening Coordinator
St. Joseph's High School, Izmir, Turkey (1998 – 1990)
Ege Lisan Merkezi, Izmir, Turkey (1998 – 1990)
El Meselemiya Higher Secondary School for Boys, Gezira Province, Sudan (1997 – 1998)


Teaching English Oxford University Press
'An Introduction to Writing Articles'
'Teaching Students How to Focus on Topics'
'The Teacher is a Learner and the Learner is a Teacher'
'Learning to Read the World: Using Literature in the Language Classroom'
'Oguz Nesil' Journal of Turkmen Turkish Educational Organization
'Lexical phrases and Native Language Interference in Writing'
'Bil Lingua' Bilkent University School of English Language Teaching Journal
'Language, Writing, and Creativity'
Applied Linguistics
'Communicative Coherence: A Different Approach to Teaching Grammar'
'Re-ordering and Re-combining: Manipulating Language to Re-draft’
'Forum' ELT Journal
'A Place for Eponyms in English Language Teaching’
‘Forum’ Sultan Qaboos University Journal of English Language Teaching
Academic articles: ‘Students’ Errors and their Implications for Syllabus design’
‘The digital future’
‘Using authentic language in the classroom’

‘Reflections’ Journal of Sultan Qaboos University
Short Story: ‘Reactions’: A new look at the short story
Article: ‘Cryptic clues to the pigeon-holes of the mind’
New York Times:
'Changes in Britain'
Cyprus Today
‘GAP’: Pumping Prosperity to Turkey'
Turkish Daily News
'Cinema and Society'
Oldham Evening Chronicle
'Greenery and Friendliness in a Furnace: The Sudan'
'Ginger's Tale'
The Travels of a Family and their Cat. (Available at & Barnes and Noble)
‘Other people-other worlds’
The collected short stories of Robert Leslie Fielding (Available at & Barnes and Noble)

Gulf News ‘Notes’

‘Writing is discovering’ (other parts to follow)
‘How to be creative with words’
‘The advantages of working in groups’
‘Taking exams’
‘Becoming a student’ (forthcoming)
‘Avoiding fallacious arguments’ (forthcoming)
‘Time management for students’ (forthcoming
‘Reasons to read’ (forthcoming)


British citizen/Native speaker
Married to a citizen of Turkey
Holder of a clean British Driving Licence
Date of Birth: 25.9.1949
Website: (This site is used to provide my students with a broad range of reading material – from IELTS information, to articles about time management for students, advice when taking examinations, together with articles of a more general nature, and short stories and poems.
Available on application

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

General Interest for English Language Learners #2

Plan, plan and then plan some more


Robert Leslie Fielding

(This article appeared in 'Notes'/Gulf News - Nov.19 2005)

Robert Leslie Fielding says one of the best methods to manage your hours of study is by creating good lists and prioritizing.One thing new students at university find out is that there isn’t enough time to do everything you want to do — let alone for everything you have to do.

That is the first step — sorting out your life into the two sorts of things.The things you have to do and the things you want to do.This division may seem unreal to you — you may think that that both lists are equally important, and you are right — they are.So the first thing to think about is what you really want to do — what is your main goal?If it is getting a good qualification, you probably know that what you have to do is more important than what you want to do.If your main goal is to have fun at university, then the second list is the one for you.

Now try fusing the lists into one — this means combining work and leisure so that you come out cheerful as well as successful.

Get things down to one list:- What I really want to do. Then prioritise.

Sub-divide your list into immediately important to complete and not so immediately important to complete. Now you face what’s right in front of you and what is farther back.

Keep a diary/agenda — make it a visual one that is big enough to look at as soon as you wake up. Put your timetable on the wall next to your bed — it’s the first thing you see when you wake up — the times of your first lectures are in bold and highlighted, so they stand out. You wake up at 7.05am and your first lecture today isn’t until 10am — you have time. You wake up at 7.05am and your first lecture today is at 9am — you ought to get up — take a shower — get yourself ready — eat something — collect everything you need. You wake up at 7.05am and you haven’t got any lectures this morning — yippee! This morning is for other things — for you to catch up — do the things you need to do.It’s for all the usual things — washing, eating, all that stuff you do when you get up — but you now have a bit of time to do that other stuff you’ve been putting off or else haven’t had time to do.Prioritise — shops open at 9am; library at 8.30am.

Action — take books back to short loan (or pay a fine) and then go to the supermarket to pick up what you need to live.Keep a list on your mirror or somewhere you look at regularly — jot stuff down when you think of it (toothpaste is running low — milk is off — coffee is low) — add them to the list as you come to them while they are running low — not when they’re finished — you’ve got to brush your teeth before you go out. Coffee? You can get a cup at the place next to the library.

Prioritise and think. Be constantly on your guard — after a while it will become second nature. For more important stuff, write it down on something you look at regularly.

Get a notice board on your wall — to the left of the washbasin mirror — you look at that fairly often, don’t you? Put a smaller version on the back of your door so you see it when you’re leaving your room.

Add to the notice board — remove stuff that’s ancient — write in new stuff — use post-its and use colours to highlight important deadlines.

Fill your day. Don’t run about like a headless chicken though — give yourself enough time to do the things you need to do. And give yourself a break — sit down — talk to friends over a coffee. Don’t have too many breaks or coffees.

Eat regularly. Don’t let yourself get hungry or thirsty. Visit the bathroom as often as you need to (obvious enough, but you’d be surprised how many people get uncomfortable because they haven’t found time to visit the toilet).

Plan your day around the places you are timetabled to go — they are the musts on any of your lists of places to be at certain times. Remember, being late isn’t an option.

Lateness gets to you — you feel rushed, impatient, flustered, self-conscious, rude, and you miss things. A lot of important stuff comes early on in the lesson — don’t expect the lecturer to change just because you’re always late — she’s got deadlines, too.-

Keep track of time
Critical to doing things on time is remembering them with enough time to spare. Sounds obvious but your memory needs help sometimes.
1. Write down everything important
2. Abbreviate if you can
3. Place everything you’ve written down in a prominent place
4. Associate ideas- Wednesdays mean no classes in the afternoon - Mondays and Tuesdays’ classes start at 9am - 8.30am library opens; 10pm library closes - Lunch costs about Dh25 - 6.30–9pm means time for studying - Lunch is at 1pm every day - Keep some free time - Stop for one hour between 1 and 2.30pm every day - Rest after 9pm (Working too late will ruin your sleep)

Keep time for friends — and they’ll keep time for you - Friends who won’t wait aren’t good friends - Big swats are no fun — permanently serious swats should be avoided - Wasters are also a serious problem. Don’t become one and don’t hang out with them — you’ll soon become one if you’re not careful - A good friend doesn’t mind you having to work sometimes - Don’t lose your grip on time — control it/don’t let it control you!

General Interest for English Language Learners #1

The wheel and the microchip


Robert Leslie Fielding

(This appeared in UoB News and Views
University of Bahrain - Issue No. 64 May-
June 2004)

Man's most important invention was the wheel, or so I was led to believe at school. In the years since leaving school the wheel has played a significant part in my life, as it inevitably has done in the lives of everyone.

Since the first wheel appeared, in Mesopotamia, some 5,500 years ago, its impact upon the lives of those who used it has been dramatic. Its first uses most probably would have been close to its primary uses today; aiding the movement of something or somebody over some distance, with other uses including the milling of wheat to make flour, for example.Later, some 4,000 years ago, the henges (stone circles) of Britain were built and used to mark the days of the year, early calendars, and used to study astronomy generally with the portals marking the solstices and the stones arranged in a circle to mark important times in the year. In what was then becoming an agricultural world, seeds could be sewn with some predictability, and crop harvests increased because of the optimum use of the growing season.

During most of the 20th Century, and more particularly in the latter half of it, the wheel figured prominently in the developments that changed the lives of everybody. In the fields of science and technology, in mechanical engineering, the wheel was and still is instrumental in producing everything from the airplane to the knitting needle. Even flat surfaces, toothed racks and the teeth of gearwheels are all generated using the wheel, revolving as a cutter, milling flats and shapes into metal, grinding precision components to dimensions accurate to tenths of thousandths of an inch. The sleek profiled curves of automobiles and planes, and the round plastic surfaces of children's toys are all manufactured using the rotation of the wheel at some points in the manufacturing process. Presses and drop forges make their mark on huge, red hot billets of steel, and gleaming sheets of aluminium and stainless steel, die-casting machinery moulds hot, malleable plastic or alloy into familiar household containers, tubes, bottles and packaging, all using the rule of Pi and its circular derivative creations to complete the pressing into shape of the submissive and ubiquitous substances: iron, steel, plastic and glass.

In the shaping of our landscape, in the damming of rivers, culverting of streams and draining of swamps, and in the construction of bridges, motorway flyovers, canals and docks, the wheel has been and continues to be the prime mover.

Circularity is so pervasive today that is has become part of our thinking. We talk of circular arguments, vicious circles and the like, probably without always consciously realizing the extent that the geometrical shape influences our lives, but a shape approximating to the circle would have only been evident prior to the invention of the wheel because of the natural world: through the sight of the moon and the sun in the Heavens above, and in the shapes of flowers and in cross sections of felled trees.

Similarly, in the related fields of history and culture, the wheel, the circular shape, figures prominently. The myths surrounding Camelot, and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have become metaphors for justice and right; forums and meetings are ideally held around round tables. Theatres in the round dominate the cultural life of many British cities. There is something democratic and empowering about the circle, and its utility in the form of the wheel is inestimable; the round table has no corners, and everyone sitting at it has no more advantage due to their position on its circumference than anyone else.

As a concept as well as a shape, the circle is related to revolution, the overthrowing, often violently, of the social order. In Thomas Kuhn’s terms; “political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit.” (Kuhn 1962) Essentially, in simpler terms, the coming to the top of those that were formerly underneath, the underlying principle of the circle and the wheel, and this suggests the principle of 'catastrophism' (Palmer 1999), which assumes that conditions on Earth during the past were so different from those existing at the present that no comparison is possible.

In terms of scientific revolutions (Kuhn 1962), the concept of ‘catastrophism’ also seems to apply more closely to developments in the advance of scientific progress. In Kuhn’s own words, a scientific revolution occurs “when an existing paradigm ceases to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself previously led the way.” (Kuhn 1962)

Finally, in mathematical terms, the circle remains an unfathomable puzzle, with the ratio between circumference and diameter evading a truly definite, absolute value, pi.Now, when half the world has moved away from primary industries such as mining, and even partly away from manufacturing, to tertiary, service industries, pride of place is given to the center of the technological revolution, the microchip. The wheel is still as useful as it ever was, but in a world where the movement of information is dominant, it has virtually no place. For in terms of anything substantial moving along the so called ‘information super-highway’ and telecommunications generally, little in the way of physical material actually moves.

The advent of the microchip clearly marked new ground in terms of what had gone before it. For Daniel Bell ('The Coming of Post-Industrial Society'), and other writers such as Alvin Toffler ('The Third Wave', 'Future Shock'), the tertiary/post-industrial phase is characterized, not by man overcoming nature (primary industry) or man overcoming the man-made world (secondary manufacturing industry), but by overcoming man himself, putting curbs and checks on ‘human nature’, and using it in fields such as marketing. In this last ‘conflict’ the microchip is arguably as important as the wheel was to those who invented it and subsequently came to use it.

There is something as mysterious in the microchip as there is in the circular form, particularly to the uninitiated. The chip is a marvel of miniaturization, and the functions it can perform are staggering, but the dimension that is truly amazing is the time taken to perform an operation. With miniaturization has come the furious pace of micro-processing.Consequently, in terms of what has gone before, the spectacular changes in velocity and range, made possible by the advent of the micro-processor, amount to or will amount to, in retrospect, something more closely related to the principle of 'catastrophism' (Palmer ibid.), and while that notion is generally applied to the geological formation of the planet, it is a useful concept in any explanations relating to the history of the wheel and the micro-processor.

Social and historical commentators looking back on the events that surround these two technological developments, viz the wheel and the microchip, may well come to view the history of them in precisely that way.

The other major differences between the two inventions are the visibility or otherwise of each event, and the dissemination of each. With the wheel, the concept of rotation would have been well known, visible and logical, and thereafter the wheel would have become freely available to those needing it, in the area in which it came into being. The introduction of the microchip, on the other hand, involved relatively small numbers of specialists with technological expertise and access to certain resources not freely available, and the invention would not have been 'visible' to those not involved, and nor was it freely available initially, being protected by patents and by secrecy.The massive, almost cataclysmic change in the temporal velocity of the processing of data made possible by micro-processors is most easily demonstrated by the following comparison.

At a time when England was most productive, the Victorian era, when manufacturing industry was in its heyday, and virtually everything produced had the words ‘Made in England’ stamped on it, the cutting of material into the shape of a gentleman’s jacket was dramatically speeded up by the introduction of powerful and accurate presses that had been modified to cut shapes in cloth rather than metal. Thousands of suits could be cut daily, removing the onerous task of cutting each one by hand.By the time the micro processor had made its mark on the same process, different sized jackets could be cut just as accurately and far quicker one by one than the multiple cuttings of the heaving presses of Victoria’s age. Furthermore, the machine could be programmed to cut each length to different dimensions, a feat that would need a major re-tooling operation in former days. Many different sized jackets can now be cut individually much quicker than could a single stamping of say twenty uniform sized pieces of cloth. This comparison of modus operandi may be a simple one, but it is one that can be readily comprehended by those only used to thinking in terms of mechanical movement and limited speed.

In the waging of modern warfare, from the horrors of the Great War in Europe, and more recently, to the ultra high-tech deluge of weapons raining down on those below, the wheel is still a force to be reckoned with. Tanks and guns, tank transporters, personnel carriers, helicopters and planes all rely on the predictability and certainty of the wheel. Shells and bullets fly more accurately and deadlier to their targets because of rifling in circular barrels. However, now, instead of a speeding bullet or shell going in a straight line, we have the so called ‘smart bomb’, which is directed to its target by computer, turning right and left as the need arises. The rifling in the circular barrel suddenly has much less importance.For this is the nature of the world we inhabit, and in which the microchip holds sway; one in which a once productive sector of the economy has become virtually extinct, and with it, a significant proportion of the working population has found itself in a world it doesn’t understand, nor feels it will ever be able to.

The transition from a world where the wheel was the dominant form/icon to one in which a motionless piece of silica is dominant, has been a swift and unnerving one for many, and a welcome and empowering one for those who can adapt.

Wheels run on tracks, roads and lines, and have probably contributed to perceptions tending to be linear. The directions around which the micro-processor operates, on the other hand, are numerous and have causes us to challenge our ways of thinking, so that now, a more lateral rather than linear approach to the solving of problems is more usual and indeed vital. The old remedies and ways are giving way to a new, sometimes confusing plethora of answers and possible solutions.

Guns still fire bullets out of circular barrels, and four-wheeled tractors still plough land, but in the management and governance of people and how they spend their time, both in and out of the work place, more traditional modes of thinking have given way to what I will call a ‘multi-path approach’ to management.

Now, many more dimensions can be called up and utilized because of the speed and power of the micro-processor, and consequently, people have to attempt to ‘keep up’ or perish as others progress and succeed.

The development in information technology that has changed all our lives, of course, is the Internet. The World is a ‘global village’ and everyone is linked to everyone else. This is not quite true though; perhaps a majority of the people inhabiting the planet Earth still do not have access to clean, running water, proper sanitation or electricity, let alone a telephone connection to the Internet, or a pc to communicate with the rest of the world online.

For many of those unfortunate people crowding round the peripheries of our biggest cities, living in sprawling slums and ghettos, there is little use for the microchip or even the wheel. Manpower, or more usually womanpower, is still the dominant force; without roads or any sort of infrastructure, these poorest areas have little provision for the wheel, none at all for the micro-processor.

The Earth is round, but some of those living on its surface are differently positioned with regard to its wealth and opportunity. The true benefits of the wheel and the microchip have still not reached all four corners of the Earth.

Kuhn, Thomas (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions University of Chicago PressPalmer T. (1999) Controversy: Catastrophism and Evolution Plenum
Robert L Fielding

Education #2

Creative Writing for Learners


Robert L. Fielding
(This appeared in 'Notes'/Gulf News)

You want to write a story but you don’t know were to begin. You’ve already started but you’ve run out of steam You’ve written a story but your English could be better. You think you might like to try writing a poemIf this is you, then here are some tips that might help you to overcome your problems.

Where to start.
Any story starts in your head – with an idea – sometimes ideas just pop into your head. Waiting for ideas to come along is one way of getting ideas – making them come along is better.

Start like this:-
Carry a notebook and jot things down as they come to you. Once you start, you’ll be surprised how often you get ideas –writing them down will help you remember them – that’s good for later.Write something every day – sit at your computer and write – keep a journal – do anything, but write – don’t worry about what you write – just write whatever comes into your head.

Get a focus- now use your notes to help you to write – writing develops thought processes. Read what you write – leave a little time before you read over what you have written – germs of ideas take time to develop – all the best writers will tell you that sleeping on an idea lets the subconscious work on it. Return to your writing and develop a theme – the focus of your writing.

Keep returning and keep taking notes – writing requires some dedication – don’t worry, once you get hooked you won’t be able to stop – really!

Read stories to enjoy reading – if you find the kind of story that you like, you’ll probably like writing them – read – enjoy – remember what you enjoyRead stories to notice – read a story that you like more than once – read for pure enjoyment the first time – read to notice things the second.

Notice how a story starts – how your attention is grabbed – compare stories – look at stories that don’t grab your attention – ask yourself why.

Notice how a story develops – can you tell what’s going to happen before you finish it – is the end a complete surprise – did the writer give you anything to help you forecast the ending.

Notice the people in the story – can you see them in your mind’s eye – are they real – how much do you know about them from the story – write down what you think you know about each person in the story – you’ll be surprised how much you do know.

Notice the action- what happens – how does the writer tell you.

Look at the dialogue – is there enough – good dialogue makes for good reading – it’s believable if you can hear it in your head – is there enough.

Show don’t tell – does the writer show you or tell you – are you there in the thick of the action or are you a spectator, hearing about it from someone else.

How does the story make you feel – do you want to read some other stories by this author – why – why not?

Return regularly to your own writing – start to write a story from an idea that has come into your head because of what you have written down or what you have read – write it down – leave it for a while – return to it- read it – do some more thinking – sleep on it – but don’t leave it too long or you might just lose interest completely – stay on task – keep a focus on your writing and on what you read.

You get a good idea, write about it – talk to a close friend about it – talk to someone you trust – someone who has your interests at heart – not just anyoneHave confidence in yourself – the uncertainty you feel is normal – you are no different from anybody else who writes.

Think of yourself as a writer now – that is what you are – what you have become – thinking that way will attune you to ideas and to language.

Know yourself a little bit more – examine your motives – understand why you are happy – what makes you sad – write it down – rest on it – return to it – use it.

How to continue - how your story develops depends on what you have already written. Nobody wants to be fooled by what you write, so look at what you’ve written already to find out where you can go.

Keep going like this:-draw story lines on a piece of blank paper – know where you are going – then go there – you can always scrap the idea if it doesn’t work out.

Put yourself in the central character’s place in the story – what could happen?

Put yourself in the reader’s place- what would you like to read about happening.

Be yourself – you are the writer – you can do anything you want or go anywhere you want.
Don’t expect to get it right first time – experiment – learn – try again.

Feel yourself developing as a writer – look at what you have written recently and what you wrote some time ago – are the two different – you bet they are!

Trouble with language; if English isn’t your first language, writing is going to be harder for you. You will have to develop your knowledge of English.

You can begin like this:-Begin with poetry – grammar isn’t such a problem in a poem – read some modern poetry and see for yourself. Learn to find words that express what you feel – look at the world and put words to what you see – write it all down – keep a record of words – live through the language.

Get a thesaurus as well as a dictionary – use the thesaurus more than the dictionary – get a feel for words. Use words creatively in poems – don’t worry about rules of grammar – let yourself go – only let others read when you are ready – get someone you trust to read for you – be encouraged by their comments – don’t be downcast if they don’t like it at first – maybe they aren’t like you. Move from lines of poetry to lines in a story – develop ideas using words that are not written in sentences – develop sentences when your ideas make you write more.

ELT Teaching Article #1

Generating words from other words

Robert L. Fielding

(This article was published in UGRU Journal - United Arab Emirates University - Edition 2)

Language, like nature, according to the American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, is an endless combination and repetition of a very few laws. When you hear a word, it makes you think of another, and another, and so on. Whether words are thoughts or vice versa, it is obvious that words encapsulate thoughts and sometimes images of objects. The English word ‘dog’, for instance, conjures up the familiar animal so beloved of children, postmen, and gamblers.But say the word ‘dog’ and it is quickly followed by other words – ‘cat’, ‘Alsatian’, or ‘dirty’, depending upon the way your thoughts line up.If they line up horizontally, you are thinking paradigmatically, if vertical, syntagmatically.
Let’s look at this.
Paradigmatic – horizontal - dirty dog - dog in the manger - dog days - sheep dog
Syntagmatic – vertical - dog Alsatian cur mutt
These two planes of thought: the horizontal variety and the vertical one show us what is possible in the world of word-association. Horizontally patterned associations are probably prompted by words that are frequently heard in everyday speech.Vertical patterning, however, probably inclines us to use our creative side – accessing our knowledge of the world and the things contained in it that we are aware of.In the paradigmatic mode, those of us who produce similar combinations of words (dog days, sheep dog, dog in the manger) are likely to belong to similar communities of usage of words – speech communities.In the syntagmatic mode, people who can readily produce similar items from a single point of origin probably indicate by doing so that they share a similar interest or intellectual niche rather than a spoken one.By way of proof of this last point, if we take an arcane selection originating from the word ‘dog’, we will readily come to realize that those persons producing the names of several little known breeds of canines come from those amongst us who are interested in dogs, but who have virtually nothing else in common save this interest.‘Dog days’ and ‘dog in the manger’ are both expressions that are infrequently used these days and anyone aware of them and still using them would probably come from a group socialized in a certain region at a certain specific time in recent history.Using such patterning in ways that reproduce both current expression and similar fields of knowledge can and should be put to good use in the language classroom.After all, our students need to know or at least be aware of currently used collocations in language (chunking) as well as a generally expected world of discourse illustrated by a limited and more or less clearly defined lexicon, be it from the fields of medicine, geology, or meterology – whatever students feel is their intended field of study.Alternatively, the encyclopedic knowledge used by students might be captured by a vocabulary that approaches general knowledge – non-specialist, by definition.If this is the case, the vertical pattern will vary somewhat from patterning associated with a specialized field like dentistry or ornithology.Any brief look though a thesaurus will confirm that many words are either out of use or at least are not useful to us in our own everyday lives.With paradigmatic patterning and selection, we have any starting point within our range of reasonably frequently used words, and those combinations (and only those) that are used sufficiently frequently by members of our speech community.If we start with the unlikely word, ‘Hell’ we may come up with the expression, ‘Hell on Earth’, but not the more earthy expression, ‘ruddy Hell’.The first is found in common speech whereas the second is actually defined as a vulgarity. Educated people might well be expected to use the former but not the latter, in polite company.Moving on to sentences – syntactical sequences, though not necessarily semantic ones (‘Green ideas sleep furiously.’), we notice now that both paradigmatic patterns emerge as well as syntagmatic ones. Some have called this lateral thinking. I bring it to mind with regard to creative writing, and connected in particular with what has been called ‘brainstorming’ by some, and ‘formation of schemata’ by others like Rumelhart.Either way, I want to suggest that both ways of association – paradigmatic and syntagmatic, can be used to good effect with students traditionally ‘stuck for words’ when writing.Beginning writing a short story this way can and does lead students down avenues not previously explored, but profitable and productive ones for all that.Writing, “The man entered the room’ on the board or the blank page, immediately brings scenarios to mind, vertically and horizontally.Horizontally, we get, ‘The young man entered the dining room.’Vertically, we get ‘The bank-robber (usually male) entered the bank.’ If this word is used instead of the fairly neutral word, ‘man’ other related and associated words readily come to mind.A robber entering a dining room, for instance, rarely amounts to anything suggesting drama unless the hour is two in the morning. Entering a bank, however, robbers usually intend availing themselves of the contents of the bank’s safe without the need to sign a withdrawal form; they intend robbing the bank, which is why such men are called bank-robbers. The word,’ bank-robber’ readily and easily conjures up the word, ‘bank’, and a lot of other words like ‘gun’, ‘security cameras’, and comically and somewhat theatrically, the utterance, “Stick ‘em up!”And with the words, ‘robber’ and ‘bank’ come the intentions of the robbers and the expected outcomes of their visit . So much for vertical associations.To combine both horizontal and vertical, we could get, ‘The bank-robber entered the bank through the window that had been left open for him.’From this sentence it is clear that the bank is closed for business, or that the window in question is in some under-utilized part of the bank if the bank is still open.The words, ‘had been left open for him’ suggest there is someone on the inside helping the bank-robber. Sometimes the horizontal is more productive than the vertical plane. A skillful combination of both is probably the most productive of all.With students who haven’t many English words in their vocabulary, thinking of words in their mother tongue can be used to generate other words in the manner suggested above. The main thing is engaging students and helping them to produce words that they themselves have thought of rather than words their teacher gives them. ‘Ownership’ of language in the sense that the words and expressions, and the ideas too, originate in the student’s head and in that sense ‘belong’ to her.
Robert L. Fielding

Looking back at Oldham (written in the former dialect of the region)

Looking at Oldham in 2003 and remembering how it was more than a hundred years earlier.

By Heck, in't it all grand, an' in't it all changed too. Thur's no chimneys, so I spose thur's no mills an' nowt to do fer t' folks as live in Owdham now.Things curtanly 'ave changed. I dunna know what me an our Sarah ud do today, 'appen we'd walk out an look at yonder 'ills like we did when we 'ad time off us wark, which weren't so often i’ them days.Them hills are t' same though, jus' same as ever thi were back then, aye an' t' weather too, that’s jus' same, wi clouds rollin' in from t' West to cover our mucky town an' wesh it too nearly every day of our lives. I reck'n Owdhamers today know all about t' weather o' our days, cept 'appen they've getten better clothes on thur backs an' better shoes on thur feet an aw.Them as worked alongside me an our Sarah ivery day of our lives ur o gone now, but we miss 'em, tha knows. Oh, aye, we do that. Why we even miss t'folks as owned t' mills an' made us all wark so 'ard fer so long fer so little. Ivery now an' then they'd lay us o off, jus fer a bit till everything picked up again, but they needed us jus like we needed them. We didna think so at t' time, but we did.That wer't secret o them days, yuh know, it were what kept us all goin' through thick an' thin, mostly thin, I can tell yuh. What kept us goin were each other, an' knowin' that everybody i’ t' town had summat to do, summat that contributed like to t' prosperity an' t' welfare o them as lived under those grey, cloudy skies. An' you know what I'm tellin' thee, knowin' that we were all like children playin' in some dirty back yard somewheer, appen i' Hell it felt like at times, knowin' that kept us from goin' mad, an' it kept us o together.We sent all us cotton all over t' world to them places we saw in picture books at schoo, wi them as 'ave dark skins like our collier lads comin' up from a days wark three 'undert feet below, an' we allus wondered what thid be like as were wearin' our cloth an our cotton. An' now we can see 'em walkin' about Owdham. That's summat, that is, seein' folk us we used to only know i' picture books, an' appen they're glad to be 'ere even though they don't see 'alf as much sun as they're used to seein' where they were browt up.But still, jus' you listen to what I'm tellin' thee, don't go argifyin' an' gettin' upset wi 'em jus' because thur different, because they look different and talk different. They're all God's childer, aye, each an' ivery one o 'em, jus like me an' our Sarah, jus' like them lads goin' 'ome from t' mills an' t' pits over theer. Them lads is black faced an' all, an' thur proud t' 'ave black faces, let me tell thee. Black faces means wark an' wark means brass, a bit anyroad, an' they o live in t' same sort o' houses close to thur wark like ah suppose you all do what's 'ere today, drivin' roun' in yon motor cars 'stead o' walkin' iverywheer like me an our Sarah used to do back in those days when life were simpler un we allus knew exactly who we were an' exactly what we 'ad to do t' get t'eaven.
I wrote this after seeing the photograph of Oldham hanging here on the walls of the Art Gallery. After I had visited the gallery, I sat on the terrace outside and had a cup of tea and looked at much of the area I had just been looking at in the photograph. It was this that prompted me to write the piece.

In the summer of that year, Oldham Municipal Art Gallery displayed the work on their walls, to accompany an exhibition of local photography of the town.
Robert L Fielding
University of Bahrain
April 2003

Friday, April 07, 2006

Multiple intelligences: what teachers can do to help children find theirs

Multiple intelligences: 'lifelong garments woven on the loom of youth'


Robert L. Fielding

Intelligence is, they say, a matter of reaching sensible conclusions on the basis of incomplete evidence, but intelligence is surely also a matter of creating. This creating may take the form of drawing a picture, writing a poem or story, writing a song – anything in fact that involves at least one of the multiple intelligences posited by Dr. Gardner, and many others since.

These intelligences may well have been ‘woven on the loom of youth’ – encouraged by caring parents and insightful teachers, but they may equally well have been ‘woven in the womb’ that is to say that some may be more akin to innate characteristics than learned ones. I suppose it depends on whether you subscribe to the ‘nature’/’nurture’ view of the origins of personality traits and abilities.

Let us here adopt both positions and say that those talents that are God-given should be encouraged and added to, and those that a person has developed since childhood, possibly the products of such encouragement, should be further nurtured until they blossom and bear fruit.

Education is surely about both of these activities – encouraging what is innate and bringing on what can be learned. It is about something else too – it is about helping a learner to search and find new potential intelligences.

At school, I hated Art classes, mostly because of the teacher who sat at the front of the class and only seemed to actively encourage those pupils who showed some aptitude for art or willingness to improve. I mustn’t have shown either and so I was both ignored and ostracized, which shows a terrible failing in any teacher – only teaching those who he thinks he can teach.

However, who can truthfully say that they never concentrate on the better, more attentive students in class? Human nature militates against it being any other way, but most teachers are aware of their failings and try to be fair in their attention to everyone in their classrooms.

I think we must go farther than merely being fair with our time – we must create classrooms in which the young can explore in directions of their own choosing rather than only in directions that we teachers lay down paths to. It is in the laying down of directions, and discouraging others or at least not encouraging others to be followed that we do the most damage to the discovery of students’ potential multiple intelligences.
Robert L. Fielding

Monday, April 03, 2006

Memories are made of this #1.

In Raffles Hotel
Steam trains and cowboys: a child’s vocabulary in the 60s
This A4 Pacific class locomotive ‘Sir Nigel Gresley’, named after the engineer responsible for its design, is an example of the type of loco that still holds the record fastest speed ever achieved by a steam train (123 mph). ‘Mallard’ named after our most common species of wild duck.

As eager children, we would journey up to York station to catch a glimpse of these fabulous engines – we were always rewarded – some days it would be ‘Mallard’ or ‘Sir Nigel Gresley’, but on others it might be ‘Bittern’, ‘Sir Archibald Sturrock’ or ‘Dwight D. Eisenhower’.

Towards the end of their time pulling express passenger trains up and down the country, they began to be replaced by the new ‘Deltic’ class of diesel-electric locomotives. These were named after former Epsom Derby winners, and had names like ‘St. Paddy’, ‘Ballymoss’, ‘Meld’, and ‘Crepello’.

I remember seeing one of these monsters in York station – the vibration from the huge English-Electric engines was so great that the lines cracked underneath its wheels and the passengers heading south had to wait until a replacement engine could be brought in and the lines replaced.
On the Manchester – Sheffield line, through the now closed Woodhead Tunnel, sky-blue electric locomotives pulled passenger and goods trains alike across Dinting Viaduct. They were chiefly housed in sheds in Reddish near Stockport and had names like ‘Electra’, which sounded marvelously modern to us children as we took down their numbers in our notebooks before transferring them into our ‘G. Bland’ pocketbooks, which held all the numbers of locomotives on British Railways at the time.

This was in the 1960s. Living as I did near a line (the Manchester Victoria-Huddersfield mainline), I never missed the chance to watch the huge, dirty trains hurtle through our valley of Saddleworth. In those days, you could set your watch by them with the Palethorpe Sausage train coming through at five o’ clock, pulled by a ‘black-five’, a ‘namer’ like ‘Bihar and Orissa’, or a Patriot class with windshields; ‘E.Tootal Broadhurst’, or ‘Private E. Sykes VC’. More usually though it was a workhorse 73 or 92 numbered locomotive. We soon grew tired of these and made a face at the drivers as their blackened faces peered out at us as they passed noisily.

After the train had gone, we mooched back for tea – dinner, and hoped we would see a ‘semi’ like ‘Sir William A. Stanier F.R.S.’or a Princess class engine – ‘Princess Alice’, for our collection of numbers.

As steam engines, which were responsible for the blackening of dry-stone walls in our valley, came to be replaced by diesels that were identical whichever way they were going, we were drawn down to the railway less and less. Instead, we took to the hills and did our own naming; we watched out for imagined ambushes in ‘Rustlers’ Den’ and the ‘tomahawk’ and the ‘Winchester’ figured in our talk. Slowly, the names of former American presidents, chief engineers from British Railways, the names of Indian states and heroes of Rork’s Drift and the like left our youthful lexicon.

We learned words like ‘lariot’, and expressions like ‘dry-gulched’; we rode through ‘Blanco Canyon’ with Wyatt Earp and Doc Halliday, and the ‘Dalton gang’ into Dodge City.

Our youthful minds were full of episodes of ‘Wagon train’, ‘Wells Fargo’ and ‘Laramie’, and the green and purple hills of Saddleworth with names like ‘Pots and pans’, ‘Alphin’, and ‘Alderman’ became so many ‘butes’ like the ones we had seen in the blood-red sunsets of Montana on our TV screens.

We used expressions like “Aw shucks”, and “Well, I’ll be” and talked out of the corners of our mouths in imitation of our heroes; Dale Roberston from ‘Wells Fargo’ and ‘Trampus’ from ‘The Virginian’.

We ‘toted’ revolvers - ‘six-shooters’, and wore ‘Stetsons’ as we re-enacted the ‘shoot-outs’ and ‘ambushes’ that we loved so much. We watched out for ‘sheriffs’, ‘deputies’ and ‘bounty-hunters’ as we crept around the bulrushes at the edge of Royal George Mill lodge, and learned to duck when one of the mill foremen spotted us and threatened to tell our fathers working away inside if we didn’t “skedaddle” or “beat it”.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Thinking skills: Part One of Several

Critical thinking in everyday life
Most of us rarely achieve what we are truly capable of in life. For various practical and circumstantial reasons we do not become what we may have desired.

A commitment to learn is rare, but it is vital if we are going to do something with our lives. Many will think this sounds like some form of punishment – that you can’t have a life and a commitment to learning – but this is nonsense – we never stop learning, it’s just that most of the time we aren’t always conscious of the fact that we are.

It is not possible to become a success just by the act of willing it, though you do have to want it enough to succeed. There’s no substitute for hard work – changing your habits requires time and effort – think of it as a continual process of development – you are not going to suddenly wake up one morning and say to yourself, “Hey, I can think critically now!”

Stages of development as a critical thinker
Stage One: The unreflective thinker (who is not aware of any problems with his thinking – most of us probably fall into this category without really knowing)
Stage Two: The challenged thinker (on whom it dawn that there is a problem in the way he is used to thinking – still a lot of out there)
Stage Tree: The thinking beginner (who tries to improve but without practicing regularly – that’s where I come in)
Stage Four: The practicing thinker (who recognizes the need to practice)
Stage Five: The advanced thinker (who advances with more and more practice)
Stage Six: The Master thinker (who is skilled and insightful automatically)
Strategies to move from Stage One to Stage Six

Strategy One: Use your time more effectively

Everybody wastes time some of the time – even most of the time – we worry, regret, mope, sulk, wish – but we waste it nevertheless. Use that time practicing critical thinking instead of whiling away the hours in front of the TV. Ask yourself these questions:
· When did I do my best and worst thinking today?
· What did I really think about?
· Did I work anything out?
· Did any negative thoughts frustrate me?
· What would I have done differently today?
· Why?
· Did I do anything to help me achieve any of my long term aims?
· Did I act in accordance with my stated values?
· What would happen if I spent every day like today?
Spend some time over each question – write your answers down – look at them later, and then later again – rethink the questions. You will have probably found out some things about how productive or otherwise you are – about how much time you waste – how you could use that time in more productive, fulfilling ways. The next stage is to actually actively and consciously do something to change.

Strategy Two: Tackle a problem every day

Early each day, choose a problem to solve. Be systematic – this is not an exercise in daydreaming –
Ask yourself these questions:-
· What exactly is the problem?
· Can I put into the form of a question?
· Does this problem relate to my goals and my needs?
· How – in what way?
Steps to follow:-
State your problem clearly – imagine someone is listening to you.
· Work out what kind of things you are going to have to do to solve it?
· Be realistic here – work through achievable steps – otherwise you’ll give up or postpone decisions
· Determine the information you need to help you solve your problem
· Go through this information – analyze it – how can it help you – is it all relevant?
· Work out your options- write them down – record them into a tape recorder – play them back – see if they sound reasonable and plausible
· Work our a plan – step by step what you are going to have to do
· Monitor the results and implications of what you do – change if things aren’t going the way they should be, but BE PATIENT – allow time for things to reach critical points

Strategy Three: Internalize intellectual standards

Become more and more aware of the standards of good thinking practice:-
· Clarity
· Precision
· Accuracy
· Relevance
· Depth
· Breadth
· Logic
· significance

Strategy Four: Keep a journal

Write things down – be systematic – number and date everything you write – know where to find it
Journal Format
Write – describe 1 situation that was significant to you (at the time)
Write down how you responded to that situation – be truthful and precise
Analyze – think about – what is happening in that situation – go under the surface
Assess the implications of your analysis – did you learn something about yourself?

Strategy Five: Reshape your character
Adopt an intellectual stance:-

· BE tenacious – persevere – don’t let up or give up
· BE autonomous- self-reliant-individual
· BE courageous – it’s going to take courage to change and confront issues and/or people
· DON’T BE aggressive, intolerant – all those negative qualities that will stop you working with people
· HAVE empathy – look at things from others’ viewpoint
Try to work on ways of improving yourself in the 5 ways – monitor your behaviour – be aware of yourself – think about the way you think – examine any biases you have – get rid of unfounded prejudice

Strategy Six: Deal with your ego
It’s natural to have an ego – but as thinking beings, we must learn to recognize bias based solely upon the working of the ego – specifically:-
· Being irrational
· Being unreasonable
· Being illogical
· Being irritated
· Being irritable
· Bullying to get your own way
· Being too inhibited and oversensitive

More to follow from
Robert L. Fielding