The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

TED’s 30th anniversary + TOP 10 moments for women in TED

The article below was published on Glamour, March 5th 2014. Here it goes:

Today, TED announced that Charmian Gooch, an anti-corruption activist who cofounded the watchdog organization Global Witness, is this year’s winner of the $1 million TED Prize. (Gooch will explain on March 18 how, specifically, she will use the money to make her “wish” for the world a reality.) You can watch her incredible TED talk—and read through her detailed annotations—on ted.com. But that’s just one of many TED talks given by women that have inspired us. To celebrate Gooch’s win, and TED’s 30th anniversary (yes, TED turns 30 this year!), we asked Anna Verghese, deputy director of the TED Prize, to curate the top 10 moments for women in TED that we all need to see.

TED-Prize-Charmian-Gooch-Anna-Verghese
2014 TED Prize Winner Charmian Gooch (left), and TED Prize Deputy Director Anna Verghese (right)

“There are now more than 1,700 TED talks—”ideas worth spreading”—available online, many of them by badass women,” Verghese told Glamour. “I’m honored to make recommendations of just 10 of the many talks, from scientists to artists, writers to leaders, that have made me feel smarter and more prepared to take on the world in just 18 minutes or less.” Watch a few to get through the afternoon slump at work, or take ’em all in later. We guarantee you’ll be inspired!

Sheryl Sandberg: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders 


“This is the talk that preceded [Lean In],” says Verghese. “[It’s] a great, unconventional, persuasive take on the way that women take themselves out of the running for leadership positions.”

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story


“The young Nigerian author gives a beautiful, elegant, and at times hilarious talk about the danger of believing a single, narrow story about anything or anyone,” says Verghese. “My favorite anecdote: When she arrived at college in the U.S., her roommate asked to hear some of her ‘tribal music.’ Chimamanda pulled out a Mariah Carey CD.”

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are


“An essential talk for all young women! Cuddy is a psychologist and Harvard Business School professor who explains how our posture and body language shape not only how others see us but how we see ourselves,” says Verghese.

Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the Intelligence, Passion, Greatness of Girls

“The Nobel Prize winner from Liberia shares powerful stories about the unlocked potential of girls worldwide, who are still far from [being] treated as equal citizens,” says Verghese.

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

“This blockbuster talk came out of one of our TEDx events in Houston,” says Verghese. “Brené’s take on vulnerability—and why it’s essential to our relationships and to our success—has won her millions of fans worldwide.”

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius


“The author of Eat, Pray, Love offers unconventional advice on how to nurture your own creativity,” says Verghese. “Her advice: Take some pressure off yourself, but never stop creating.”

Courtney Martin: Reinventing Feminism


“A beautifully heartfelt talk, she describes the three paradoxes that define her generation’s question to define the term [feminism] for themselves,” says Verghese.

Angela Patton: A Father-Daughter Dance…in Prison


“The is the amazing and moving story of a group of preteen girls who organized a father-daughter dance in the prison where their fathers were incarcerated,” says Verghese. “I wept.”

Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight 


“Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroscientist who observed her own stroke as it was happening. This is one of the most popular TED talks of all time,” says Verghese.

Cynthia Breazeal: The Rise of Personal Robots

This MIT professor “talks about her love of robots—which began when she saw Star Wars as a girl (R2D2!)—and new kind of intelligent, personal robots she designs,” says Verghese.

Did any of your favorite TED talks by women not make this list? Do you love one of the talks Verghese selected? Share your top picks in the comments below!
Photos: James Duncan Davidson (Gooch); Mike Femia (Verghese); videos courtesy of TED

Filed under: ■ Conference Speakers, ■ GLOBAL, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, ■ Women

Shh…tresss

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

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Kelly McGonigal interviewd by TED Blog (January 8th, 2014)

The Science of Willpower: Kelly McGonigal on why it’s so dang hard to stick to a resolution

It’s the second week in January and, at about this time, that resolution that seemed so reasonable a week ago — go to the gym every other day, read a book a week, only drink alcohol on weekends — is starting to seem very … hard. As you are teetering on the edge of abandoning it all together, Kelly McGonigal is here to help. This Stanford University psychologist — who shared last year how you can make stress your friend — wants you to know that you’re not having a hard time sticking to a resolution because you are a terrible person. Perhaps you’ve just formulated the wrong resolution.

McGonigal has, for years, taught a course called “The Science of Willpower” through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program and, in 2011, she spun it into a book, The Willpower Instinct. The TED Blog spoke to McGonigal this week about how willpower is often misunderstood, and what we each can do to improve it. (We also asked her about today’s talk — Why dieting doesn’t usually work.) Below, an edited transcript of the conversation.

First question: why is willpower such a struggle?

It’s a great question. I define willpower as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to. That begins to capture why it’s so difficult — because everything we think of as requiring willpower is usually a competition between two conflicting selves. There’s a part of you who is looking to the long-term and thinking about certain goals, and then another part of you that has a completely different agenda and wants to maximize current pleasure and minimize current stress, pain and discomfort. The things that require willpower pit those competing selves against each other. Willpower is the ability to align yourself with the brain system that is thinking about long-term goals — that is thinking about big values rather than short-term needs or desires.

The reason that so many things can trigger that kind of conflict is because that’s the essence of human nature. Modern cognitive neuroscientists see this as the fundamental structure of the human brain — that there are competing systems that think about the world differently and that respond to challenges differently. I think of it as: the immediate self versus the future self. We need both systems for survival.  But a lot of our modern challenges really tempt us to be in the mind-state of immediate gratification, or escaping immediate discomfort. It can be quite a challenge to access the part of you who is willing to take that big picture and tolerate temporary discomfort.

So, given this idea of two competing selves who want different things, how effective are New Year’s resolutions for tapping into the ability to think long-term?

I think it depends on how you go about making your New Year’s resolution. Typically, when people are making a New Year’s resolution, they don’t start with the right questions, so they end up making a resolution that is ineffective. Most people start with the question: “What should I do?” It may not even be a conscious, implicit kind of thing, but they start from: “What do I criticize about myself that it’s time to change?” Or “what is it that I don’t really want to do that I know I should do?” It’s kind of a typical self-improvement perspective. “I don’t really like exercise, I guess I should do it.” Or “my closet is a mess, it’s time to get organized.” “I’ve never had a clean desk in my life, but I think that good people have clean desks, so this is the year I’m going to have one.”

People come up with resolutions that don’t reflect what matters most to them, and that makes them almost guaranteed to fail. Even if that behavior could be very valuable and helpful — like exercise — if you start from the point of view of thinking about what it is you don’t really want to do, it’s very hard to tap into willpower. If there’s no really important “want” driving it, the brain system of self-control has nothing to hold on to.

The kind of New Year’s resolution that works is when you start really slowing down and asking yourself what you want for yourself and your life in the next year. What is it that you want to offer the world? Who do you want to be, what do you want more of in your life? And then asking: “How might I get there? What would create that as a consequence?” When you start from that point of view, then New Year’s resolutions can be incredibly effective. They begin to turn your attention to choice points in your everyday life where there really are opportunities to align your energy and attention in the direction that matters to you. I think most people start from the choice points, without wondering whether this is even the right thing to be choosing. People get to the behaviors too soon, in my opinion.

Any tips for how to find those big things and then narrow them down to specific resolutions?

A very practical way is to ask: At the end of 2014 — on January 1st, 2015, looking backwards — what are you seriously going to be grateful that you did? Is there a change you know that you’re going to be glad you made? What would that feel like? That can tap into something that feels really authentic.

I was just doing a radio interview at one of the NPR stations in New York, and I was chatting with the studio producer. I asked her if she had any New Year’s resolutions, and she’s like, “Oh yeah — to stay fit.” She sounded so not enthusiastic. Then after a few seconds of silence, she said, “I’m kind of thinking about finding a way to play the piano again.” She was lighting up a little more. “It used to be so important to me, and I really miss it. It’s like my soul wants to play the piano again, and it would be giving it back to my soul.” And I’m like, “That’s your resolution! What is this getting fit stuff?”

By the way, you can spend the first week [of the year] looking around. One year my resolution was to focus on being a better mentor, and to look for ways in every professional relationship to do that. You start looking around, and you see every conversation as an opportunity to choose that value and move toward that goal. Just spend a week saying, “If what matters is improving my health, if what matters is spending more time with my family, if what matters is reconnecting to creativity, what choices do I make every day that either could get me closer to that?”

So on those things you feel like you should be doing — the going to the gym or the quitting smoking — is there a way to build your willpower towards those things?

One of the things I always encourage people to do is to not try to do things alone, and to start outsourcing their willpower a little bit. If it’s exercising, you should be doing it with a family member, a friend, a co-worker. Or sign up for a series of classes after work. Because then, it’s like a bigger pool of possible willpower. If you’re exhausted after work, and you normally would say, “Screw it, I’m going home,” if there’s somebody who is going to meet you in your office, and say, “Hey, aren’t we going for a walk now?,” it doesn’t matter if you feel like it in that moment. There’s going to be a bigger pool of motivation that will support you through when you’re feeling most exhausted or least motivated.

Another thing I encourage people to do is — if there’s a behavior that they put off or don’t do because of anxiety or self-doubt or because it’s boring or uncomfortable — bribe yourself. If you hate exercise but truly, truly want the consequences of exercising, you should give yourself permission to do whatever you don’t want to let yourself do — like read trashy gossip magazines, or download a whole series of a TV show that you can plop on in front of you on the treadmill. As long as it doesn’t conflict with your goal, then you should go ahead and pair the thing you don’t want to do with a reward that you might otherwise not give yourself permission for. That can be very effective for beginning to prioritize and make time for things.

Also, give yourself permission to do small steps rather than think that there’s an ideal you need to meet. I wrote a review paper about two years ago showing that you can get pretty much the same health benefits from doing 5 to 15 minutes of exercise a day as from an hour. There are a lot of things like that, where we think, “I won’t get my novel done unless I can put aside a whole weekend to write.” Well, you could create a novel in a paragraph a day. So I encourage people to think: what’s the smallest step that they could take that is consistent with their goal? And not necessarily worry about whether they believe it’s sufficient.

That is actually very freeing.

New Year’s resolutions can be fun! If you think of them like a science experiment, you can always learn something from a resolution.  A lot of times, people aren’t willing to learn the lesson — and sometimes the lesson is that you think you want to change this, but you don’t really want to, and sometimes you don’t need to. That sometimes we look for the things we think we can control.

It’s funny how this happens sometimes even when we go after the things that really are core to our identity. I did this New Year’s resolution makeover once with this woman who had made the same resolution year after year to become a better cook, because she thought that’s what good moms and good wives did. She was a terrible cook, and she didn’t want to learn how to cook. That’s a mistake people make, is they think they’re just going to fundamentally change who they are with a resolution. “I’m going to become a morning person.” “I’m going to become a health nut.” “I’m going to become organized.” The best resolutions are ones that strengthen something you already are, but you may not have been fully investing in.

Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourselfDerek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself I wanted to ask about the idea of working with other people and outsourcing willpower. Have you ever seen Derek Sivers’ talk on TED.com? It’s called Keep your goals to yourself and it suggests that people are more likely to achieve goals if they keep them private.

There is some data that suggests you might feel like you have accomplished your goal if you can create a public identity as somebody who is pursuing that goal. And I have overwhelming feedback from my students in my Science of Willpower class that, if they actually can truly create the identity — that they really sense that “I am someone that trained for a marathon,” or “I am somebody who is committed to this” — that it actually makes it easier to make choices.

People are really interested in creating habits, and there’s so much excitement now about habit design. Habits are really, really hard to create because they require complete automaticity. You need to basically be making choices in the absence of any motivation and it takes a long time to get that in place. But when you have a value or commitment, that’s something different. It can be a conscious choice that when you’re in a restaurant — if your identity is as somebody who takes good care of your health — then that becomes a default way to make a good choice in that moment. Anything that you do to create that identity can actually make it easier to make choices that don’t feel like deprivation.

That’s one side of that research. Then there’s the whole other side of how social support and pride can support having more strength to move towards your goals. If you know that other people are paying attention to you, and you know that you’re going to be able to celebrate your success — you’re going to be able to post on Facebook that you actually did run that marathon, or even that you just made it to spin class, or whatever your version of that is — that anticipating that social sharing is very motivating for people. It’s more motivating than even success in itself. The self-savoring is not as motivating as knowing you’re going to be able to savor a success with somebody else. Then when you hit the wall — when you experience setbacks — social support encouragement is also so important for getting back on track.

I think that from top to bottom, making your resolution social allows you to access different supports, both internal and external. One more reason to go public — being a role model for someone. People will do things when they know that they’re inspiring change in others. It’s a natural progression that you see in many areas — whether it’s people who are recovering from addiction, or someone embarking on a physical challenge. This is what people naturally do.

Sandra Aamodt: Why dieting doesn't usually workSandra Aamodt: Why dieting doesn’t usually work And did you see Sandra Aamodt’s talk, Why dieting doesn’t usually work?

Yes! My talk was right after hers at TEDGlobal 2013. I remember basically agreeing with everything she said.

So her idea — that the brain seeks to keep weight stable over the long-run, and so dieting can often backfire because it makes a person so focused on food — fit with the research you’ve looked at on willpower?

There are two things she said that really stood out to me, and that I agree with very seriously. One was that she talked about the importance of being kind to yourself. She made the point that self-compassion is much more motivating than self-criticism. That’s very important. When I first started teaching the Science of Willpower, it was the thing nobody believed — researchers and psychologists and writers have done a great job of getting this message out, because I don’t get near the resistance I used to get to the idea. And still, it’s so amazing how many people believe that they are more motivated by self-criticism and shame than anything else. They aren’t really paying attention to the effect on their behavior and choices when they are that hard on themselves.

The other thing I remember Sandra saying was about the futility of trying to lose weight. And that’s absolutely right. Whenever I’m in any situation where people are asking me to talk about losing weight, I always try to change the language to creating health because you cannot control weight. It’s exactly what Sandra said — the brain and the body, they will fight you. Losing weight is almost always a consequence of making good choices — but it’s not always a consequence. You can make good choices and not lose the weight. The most important thing in Sandra’s talk was the idea that making the healthy choices is going to give you the consequence of health, even if you don’t lose the weight.

She showed a really interesting graph of four health factors — eating fruits and vegetables, exercise three times a week, not smoking, and drinking in moderation — and how, if people who are overweight do just one of those things, their risk of mortality lowers to the same level as a normal weight person.

I hope TED has more talks from obesity experts, because nobody knows this research about how weight doesn’t predict health. There’s so much important science out there that people are not paying attention to. That was my favorite part of her talk.

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friendKelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend To bring it back to your TED Talk, How to make stress your friend, it sounds to me like what you’re saying about willpower is related — that it’s not so much whether you have willpower, but how you think about willpower.

I’ve been joking about that — that my work has always been to basically take an inner experience that people reject, force them to accept it and understand it, so that they can make peace with it. One of the reasons why I teach this Science of Willpower class and wrote the book is because I kept hearing from people that they felt like they had no willpower. They thought they were the only ones and that their willpower struggle was uniquely wrong with them — they were so lazy, they were so stupid, they were so hopeless. They didn’t understand the fact that we all experience willpower challenges. It’s part of what it means to be human.

It is similar to the way that I’m now trying to help people appreciate stress, and understand that this is human and that it can help us. It’s not always helpful, but there are aspects to it that, when we can make friends with it, we have a lot better chance of using it to good ends. I feel the same way about willpower. When you understand what a craving is and why it’s there, you can also appreciate the part of you who can make a different choice.

One of the big lessons from The Science of Willpower is if you really fight the inner experiences, it’s not going to end well. If you decide you’re going to fight cravings, fight thoughts, fight emotions, you put all your energy and attention into trying to change the inner experiences. People tend to get more stuck, and more overwhelmed. When you try to control the things that aren’t really under your control, you get to feeling more out of control. Whereas where you really have the freedom is in your choices.

That’s very similar to stress. If you think you can’t feel stress and that stress is always going to be toxic, you’re magnifying any of the toxic aspects of stress. By fighting stress, you’re making stress worse.

So, make friends with the fact that you can move towards goals that are really important to you?

Yes. Willpower is about being able to hold opposites. So I can feel the emotion, I can feel the craving, and at the very same time, I just make my awareness big enough to hold my commitment to make a different choice. Your ability to hold those opposites is what gives people willpower over time.

Filed under: ■ GLOBAL, ■ Happiness, ■ Stress, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

TED Talks Pinned: Speaking of HapPINness

Recipes for feeling happy? Browse through the talks & sites below and decide what suits you best.

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■ Stay in the moment

About Matt Killingsworth’s TEDTalk

When are humans most happy? To answer this question, researcher Matt Killingsworth built an app, Track Your Happiness, that let people report their feelings in real time. Among the results: We’re often happiest when we’re lost in the moment.

About Matt Killingsworth

Researcher Matt Killingsworth designs studies that gather data on happiness. While doing his Ph.D. research at Harvard, Killingsworth invented the Track Your Happiness app.

He’s now a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar examining such topics as the relationship between happiness and the content of everyday experiences, the percentage of everyday experiences that are intrinsically valuable, and the degree of congruence between the causes of momentary happiness and of one’s overall satisfaction with life.

Web Resources

Related TEDTalk: Dan Gilbert on “The Surprising Science of Happiness”

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■ Slowing Down

About Carl Honoré’s TEDTalk

Journalist Carl Honoré believes our society’s emphasis on speed erodes health, productivity and quality of life. But there’s a backlash brewing, as everyday people start putting the brakes on their modern lives.

About Carl Honoré

Carl Honoré is the author of In Praise of Slowness, which dissects our speed-obsessed society and celebrates those who have gotten to slow down. Honoré is an advocate of the Slow Movement, an effort by those all over the world to decelerate the pace of their lives, with everything from “slow cities” to “slow food.” He’s also the author of the book Under Pressure.

Web Resources

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■ Less = HappIer

About Graham Hill’s TEDTalk

Can having less stuff, in less room, lead to more happiness? Writer Graham Hill makes the case for taking up less space.

About Graham Hill

Graham Hill is the CEO of LifeEdited, which works with developers to market buildings that embody small space living. Hill is also the founder of TreeHugger.com, which aims to push sustainability into the mainstream with a design-forward style.

Web Resources

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■ Misfortunes, Stops on the Road to Happiness

About Dan Gilbert’s TEDTalk

We’re doomed to be miserable if we don’t get what we want — right? Not quite, says psychologist Dan Gilbert. He says our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

About Dan Gilbert

Psychologist Dan Gilbert is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, where he runs the Hedonic Psychology Laboratory. He’s the author of Stumbling on Happiness. In the book, Gilbert argues that our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes, Gilbert says, our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy.

Web Resources

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Be Grateful

About David Steindl-Rast’s TEDTalk

We all want to be happy, says David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and above all, being grateful.

About David Steindl-Rast

David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk who writes about gratefulness. Since 1953, Brother David has been a monk of Mount Saviour Benedictine monastery in New York, dividing his time between hermitic contemplation, writing and lecturing.

He was one of the first Roman Catholics to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and is the author of The Ground We Share, a text on Buddhist and Christian practice, written with Robert Aitken Roshi. His other books include GratefulnessThe Heart of Prayer and Deeper Than Words. His most recent book is 99 Blessings. He’s the co-founder of gratefulness.org.

■ ■ ■ Source

■ ■ ■ Links to be added

Filed under: ■ GLOBAL, ■ Happiness, ■ How to Live, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

Last Classes, New Ideas :)

Happy summer holiday 2013!!!

Happy summer holiday 2013!!!

Hello!

This school year is rapidly drawing to a close, so I will take this opportunity to wish you all a very peaceful summer and to reassure you that the ELB is going to still benefit from new thoughts in the summer, just like before. After all, life’s lessons never seem to go on holiday like we do. They are always there, for us to take our pick and share. 🙂

I am writing this post below, to share some thoughts with you, yes, as I have been known to do,  on prejudice and intolerance, the lack of which will help us maintain and cultivate broad-mindedness. Or open-mindedness, if you will. 🙂 Now, what is different about this post is that, in truth, it hasn’t happened yet, by which I mean that the activities I will describe and the links I am about to recommend below are going to be put to work with the students in one of my adult learners groups later today for the first time. Imagine their surprise when I will disclose to them the existence of this article at the end of the class. 🙂 I will be back with impressions in a little while, so hang on.

“Things Should Be as I Think

or

I Know Best About This (Whatever This Might Be)”

 

The first two activities I have come up with sprang from a dialog I witnessed at a class one week ago between two of my students. The general topic of the dialogue was good manners around the world, and the more specific aspect discussed was ways of spending Christmas in Poland. I was surprised to discover how certain one of these students was about THE way of spending Christmas in Poland, the one and only PROPER way. The discussion turned out to be very insightful, as it showed that even open-minded people can have strict ideas and views on certain topics. There is, or there may be prejudice, my dears, even in areas we least expect it to appear. The good part is that once exposed hovering around some ideas in our minds, it can easily go out in a splash, like a candle blown out by a kid at bedtime.

ACTIVITY 1

Imagine:

– that you were offered an all-inclusive opportunity to travel to an area in your country or to an area that you have never visited beforein a poor country. What would you choose and why? 

– that you were living in a slum (a poor urban area in a big city, sometimes found in  developing countries). How would you feel? What would your celebrations/ anniversaries look like? Would you miss anything?

– that you are a CNN reporter who is given an assignment to interview one of the following people: a trainer from India, an Australian writer or a famous person in your country. Who would you choose to interview and why?

ACTIVITY 2

Use the words below to frame or express your own idea about your outlook on the world, on personal success, values and lifestyle:

passion           (a sense of)  purpose             humour              the voice within                   generations                

inhibitions                failures                 disabilities                         problems                          

(passing on) legacies                  (ways of )speaking                  sensitivity (to various issues)                   

Would you cross out any of these words as unnecessary? How about adding anything else to the ones you selected? Explain.

ACTIVITY 3

Watch the recently published TED video below (one of the 29,409 vids currently on the TEDx Youtube channel), in which the stand-up Indian comedian from Bangalore, Sandeep Rao, uses the concepts in Activity 2 above, to shape his own view of life and living. 

Do his views differ from yours? In what ways?

ACTIVITY 4

This is another video to watch and analyse, which is the second part in a CNN series called Talk Asia. It is a very special video to me, because it is a brief, 9-minute guided tour of the Indian universe described in one of my favourite books, Shantaram, a tour given by the author himself, the Australian-born,  controversial and very charming Gregory David Roberts.

There are a zillion questions I could think of asking after watching this video, but the ones that I would probably go for at my class, a few hours from now, are:

  • Can Christians, Muslims and Hindus celebrate together? Can people, in other words, celebrate together if their beliefs, background, and outlooks are very different?
  • Would you like to be able to be “adopted” by a society that is very different from the one you were born in?
  • Do you think you would be able to “adopt” someone who comes from a society very different from yours? How would you welcome them into your world as you know it?
  • How long do you think a society can last? Can societies disappear completely or do they change into something else? What can they change into, if they do and how are these changes possible?

* * * 

Enjoy and be back for extras!

Good day to you all!

 Alina Alens

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, 2►READ, 3►SPEAK▼, 4►LIFE, ■ Celebrations, ■ Christmas, ■ Compassion, ■ Empathy, ■ Gregory David Roberts, ■ Inspiration, ■ Meet my friends, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ■ The Voice Within, ■ Travel, ■ Voice Matters, ■ Writers, ►META PHORS▼

Happy New Year 2013!!!

Alina How would you

fill in my New Year’s wish below?

Solve and apply! 🙂

“May the ………………… ( best / worst ) of 2012 be the …………………. ( best / worst ) of 2013 – in test scores and much more!”

Done? 🙂 Good work! 🙂

Kliny Christmas Talk - 14.12.12 - 11 

Christmas Thoughts is a PowerPoint presentation of a talk on Christmas I delivered two weeks ago, to be downloaded for your delight and inspiration.  

Happy New Year, everyone!!!

2013

Filed under: 2►READ, 9►EXTRA, ■ Celebrations, ■ Christmas, ■ Talks & Conferences

ELT Workshops to Remember – Whether in English or a Language You Do Not Yet Master

Teachers of English anywhere in the world are fortunate to have access to many training sessions, conferences and workshops. They may be organised and supported by renowned ELT publishing houses, by local training institutions and sometimes by local schools and centres. In this post I would like to focus on answering the question: what makes a good ELT workshop?, and challenge other ELT professionals to join the discussion.

Two things that first come to mind are the applicability of the content presented and the trainers’ charismatic presence, both of which have managed, time and time again, to anchor relevant pieces of information to my long-term memory.

Let’s look at some examples.  Earlier this year, close to 6 months ago, to be precise, I attended coursebook writer Leslie Anne Hendra’s workshop, Shaking Up Grammar – A Goals- and Context-based Approach.  The quality that I noticed and appreciated about her right away was her ability to deliver a wide range of ELT ideas in a very natural, logical, and, for this very reason, a very accessible way. Listening to her was entertaining, yet not overbearing, and the pacing of her discourse was very well-timed. I still remember tidbits from her speech like:

“context is king, queen, and the whole royal family”, “the importance of re-contextualising” into pretty much anything you want (as long as these re-contextualisations serve the purpose of what you planned to teach), some examples of “voice savers”, the idea that “not every use is functional” and that we should strive to look for what is “real” when teaching, because what is real always has the strongest impact. I also enjoyed hearing her say something along the lines of: “I’d like to see the passive return to conversation.” I see the passive here as only one possible example of many others it could be replaced by. It is all up to the teacher or the aware English language speakers to decide. 

Whenever I have the opportunity to attend workshops like Ms Leslie Anne Hendra’s, I am reminded of the worthiness of learning from people who have decided not only to constantly turn their experience into an advantage at their jobs on a daily basis,  but who are also willing to share their knowledge with others and take the time to record the best of that experience in writing, in the form of articles, coursebooks or other ELT materials for future use. In an era in which the future of English language bears the brunt of so much misuse and linguistic over- and under-evaluation in the street as well as in the classroom, I read such fortunate encounters like the one provided by Mrs Hendra’s workshop as a positive sign that things are heading toward a bright rather than a dark future for language teaching in general and for English language in particular.

A more recent example is the series of 3 workshops organised in Krakow on November 17 by PASE under the heading of   Kapelusze Lektora, for teachers of English and other subjects. I decided to attend these workshops in spite of the fact that they were going to be delivered in Polish, a language I do understand, but am, however, far from having mastered yet.

During the talk I had with the two trainers at the end of the workshops – which was in English, by the way -, they were curious to know how much I did understand of what they conveyed and which language I took notes in. To their surprise (and my own, truth be told), I confirmed that I did, in fact understand the gist of each of their workshops. I answered that I took notes in English for the most part, while also jotting down words that I wasn’t sure about or wanted to remember – thanks to the colleague next to me, kind enough to help me with their translation (like “nawyki”, “namowic/przekonac”, “moje przekonania”, “mozliwe do osiegniecia”, “miec wyplyw”, “zdolny” and a few others like “haki” 🙂 – the Polish version of the English “hooks”).

Obviously, I attributed my general understanding of the workshop content to that instinctive type of linguistic understanding that anyone aware of the language of his/her community can develop – after a long-enough time, but, apart from that, I had to reaffirm my belief that people who share similar values, guidelines and views on at least a few topics – like certain psychological approaches to teaching in the case of these workshops, are able to communicate and will reach common ground regardless of linguistic differences. Non-verbal language, the attitude and the “vibe” of the trainer may seem to be the main resorts in such cases, but, fortunately for me, they weren’t the only ones.

I enjoyed the two workshops led by Ms Magda Kidybinska. 

The content of the first reminded me of concepts like celebrating success (which was also discussed at the last workshop led by Ms Aldona Serewa), making the best of the student’s potential, activating leadership, demonstrating integrity, embracing  diversity, enjoying participation, striving for excellence, as well as learning from mistakes and acting in a sustainable manner, concepts I came across in the NGO called AIESEC, 

 which is the organisation that had originally sent me to Poland back in 2006, when I started my cooperation with the Jagiellonian Language Centre.

At the second workshop led by the same trainer I enjoyed the most the resources, tips and activities meant to involve our right brain hemisphere, the discussion on the meanings and understanding of naivete, and the borderline differences between extroverts and introverts or between objectivity and extreme creativity. Throughout the two workshops, the trainer won us over with her charisma and energy. I particularly appreciated her use  of intonation and voice dynamics when addressing us. These are two qualities that I have always appreciated in speakers – trainers and teachers included. 

 Impressive results can be achieved through big, as well as small steps. Kaizen, the Japanese technique of achieving great and lasting success through small, steady steps, inspired the first part of Ms Aldona Serewa’s workshop and led to a very enjoyable and relaxed delivery pace, that allowed for questions to be asked and discussed at any point for the duration of the workshop.

I appreciated the visual aids, case studies and references the trainer included in her workshop, that concluded the Kapelusze Lektora series of the day. I was particularly pleased with her comments on the issue of trust in language learning, and felt that they complemented the previous trainer’s ideas on the topic expressed earlier that day.

 The issue of trust is one of utmost importance, that needs to be approached by any teacher interested in creating a suitable rapport with his students, namely a rapport that fosters and encourages the students’ freedom of expressing ideas in a new language past mistakes and linguistic inaccuracies, or in simpler terms, past the fear of “getting it wrong”. 

Establishing trust, along with establishing mutual respect, should be one of the goals teachers set from the very beginning of the learning process. All the more so if the teacher is interested in pursuing creative paths like what I like to call the metaphor path and try to push the learning towards “aha” moments and long-term language acquisition.

To give an example mentioned by one of the speakers, there are situations in which a creative teacher may start working with a group of students who are not particularly creative and/or not particularly interested in any creative approaches to teaching, who rely mostly on structures and rules, and have a more or less difficult time accepting linguistic exceptions, not to mention anything else that falls out of the strict outlines of their books or courses.

With such students, who may even happen to be adults in positions of authority, CEOs and the like, who rely on their analytical, left brain hemisphere rather than the more creative right brain hemisphere, the teacher has to gradually build up a creativity platform for the students to use during classes, so that they gain a sense of comfort in being creative instead of being frustrated at not coming up with ideas or not really understanding what is expecting from them on a creative level.

The progression may involve strategies like a gradual change from closed, yes/no questions to more open ones, with suggested answers at first. The teacher may choose any strategy he or she considers suitable, including switching roles or hats – to use the workshop headline and inspiration 🙂 – from a facilitator or the students’ “best friend” to a more authoritarian figure of the person in the know, able, knowledgeable and competent to share knowledge in areas uncovered or less known by the students.

With practice, the search for the best teaching strategies as they pertain to individual groups will become shorter and easier. A useful piece of advice here may be: keep changing roles, robes or hats until you get the winning outfit. 🙂

All in all, the pairing of the two trainers was a very good choice, so I feel that congratulations are in order at this point. Apart from the ideas, theories and resources presented, the underlying concept guiding and motivating each of the three workshops was the basic idea of giving, the sharing of knowledge and the expectation of positive outcomes to the benefit of both teachers and students. Last but not least, my thanks go out to the Kliny English Courses director for supporting my, and two other colleagues’ participation in this workshop.  

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, ■ Conference Speakers, ■ Giving, ■ Inspiration, ■ Kapelusze Lektora, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ►META PHORS▼

Back to School

Catching up with old colleagues, summer plans and post-summer thoughts for the future, all while meeting the new-comers, getting your schedule set. Truly, September is all about getting back into business, regardless of whether you’re a teacher or a student.  Top that with some yummie pizzas, a view of the Siberian Ural Mountains and their beautifully peaceful lakes, and a presentation about the use of “Ah!” suspense in teaching and there you have it, the beginning of a new year. There are still a few days before I’m going to meet my new Kliny students, which, everybody knows, is when the real fun begins, so, in the meantime, I’m off picking up some remarkable brains at the conferences and workshops that never seem to let the teaching community down in the busy month of that same old cloudy September.  At the workshop artfully led by Mr Gregorz Spiewak today, we slalomed past eight suspense-filled activities that opened new trails to more creative lesson content and filled our inspiration baggage with thoughts like 1000 ways to fill in these gaps:

“The world is controlled by (1)……………….. (let’s say: teachers) with the help of (2)………………. (maybe, an arsenal of pedagogical purposes, why not?)…” and so on.

Joking aside, and there WAS a lot of laughter we gave in to today, my favourite activity was the so-called “mental” dictation, which can be used to reconstruct images such as a famous painting of your liking. What you have to do is make sure you keep this painting of your choosing a secret until the very end, while spoon-feeding the students descriptive sentences only, one  after the next, asking them to imagine and possibly add more visual details to them, progressively. This activity reminded me of a little experiment of one of my University literary theory professors’. At one of our lectures I and my colleagues were asked to describe the sweet little Red Riding Hood. How does she look? Hmm, she’s tiny, wears braids or one pony-tail, she might be blonde, red- or even dark-haired. We were speculating on various possibilities until we soon enough realised  what the point of the exercise, or experiment, as you may wish to call it, actually was. You’ve guessed, it’s the “imagining” part that is the most important, and this is an utterly personal experience, different with every reader.  This, my friends, is the beauty of reading. From experience, I can say the same about reading your own writings – more on the topic later,  here and there. The musing and sense of wonder remains, that’s a given.       

What’s next on my brain-picking list? The very interesting workshops at the ELT Pearson Conference scheduled tomorrow – see the scheduled activities below, movie treat included! 

 10:30 – 11:30

              Speak Out! Successful Communication in the Classroom, Robert Dean

 12:00 – 13:00 Grammar Practice is Boring – or is it?, Daniel Brayshaw
 13:30 – 15:30    

Cinema treat, where we’ll be watching:

Rebecca Hall-Led Chiller’s “The Awakening”

Haunted by the death of the fiancé, Florence spends her time debunking supernatural claims, using methodical and rational explanations to disprove the notion that the dead can still haunt us. She feels compelled to accept a request to go to Rookwood, a boarding school in the countryside where a boy has recently been found dead and rumours about a ghostly boy haunting the school are causing panic amongst pupils and parents alike.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms

and the ELTea MASTERS IN ACTION Conference recommended and organised by Mr Grzegorz Spiewak himself, and the DOS Training Solutions team this coming Sunday in Krakow. 

ELTea Masters in Action autumn 2012 – to mark the start of the new school year, we are bringing the very best that Canada has to offer the world ELT: the one and only Ken Lackman, with a practical-ideas-packed programme on teaching vocabulary. Totally unmissable! 

 Brain picking, anyone? Some herbal ELTea, maybe?

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, 2►READ, ■ Conference Speakers, ■ Talks & Conferences

ELT PEARSON CONFERENCE 2011

When: Monday, September 12, 2011

Where: Andel’s Hotel (Pawia 3), Krakow

10:30 – 11:00 Registration
11:00 – 12:00 Great Speakers Need Great Listeners  – JJ WilsonThis presentation focuses on active listening. Taking the notion of ‘the good listener’ as our model, we will first look at several strategies that help students to listen effectively. Then we will move on to a number of innovative tasks. These will include enjoyable micro-listening exercises, pre-, while- and post-listening activities, and collaborative tasks. All will focus on students working actively – sometimes physically – to get to grips with the input. Finally, we will look at some action-learning projects that are based on listening but which involve the other skills: reading, writing and speaking.
12:00 – 12:15 International Education that Brings Employment – Andrzej ButraSince connecting education and employability is gaining significance it is worth looking at changing international education trends and finding out how to increase student interest and enrolment numbers. I will tell you how Pearson Edexcel qualifications are proving a must in the days of Polish Qualification Framework introduction and reform.
12:15 – 12:45 Coffee Break
12:45 – 13:45 Getting Writing Right – Daniel Brayshaw

It is not uncommon for students (and sometimes teachers) to view writing in English as a challenging, solitary and laborious activity. As a result, the skill is often neglected in the classroom and relegated to a ‘homework only’ task. Too frequently the purpose of writing then becomes solely to demonstrate the author’s language proficiency rather than to communicate any real message. Today’s session offers practical ideas for developing students’ written competency by engaging them in the process of writing, working collaboratively in class and setting communicative tasks that reflect real-world writing. The session will be illustrated with examples from New Total English.

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ Talks & Conferences

Food – Then and Now

Today’s lecture on Food in Biblical Times delivered by Janna Gur, author of “The Book of New Israeli Food” and editor-in-chief of one of the leading culinary monthlies in Israel, was a wonderful source of discoveries and confirmations as to what we regard today as staples in our local cuisine, 

 whether we think about our home country or the country we live in.


Many of the vegetables we use today (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes and any kind of potatoes, as a matter of fact, or even oranges) were not used by the ancient cuisine of Biblical times for the simple reason they did not exist at that time. Tomatoes only found their way to those land in the 15th century. What were the vegetables used in Biblical times? They were mainly green vegetables similar to what we know today as cucumbers, along with cabbage, lettuce, watermelons, garlic and leek.  Most of these were considered luxuries and were consumed mostly by the wealthy, who could afford to have a vegetable garden. There were also several kinds of wild veggies that were available at large, which everyone, especially the poor, could use as food.

An interesting fact I discovered was that the ancestor of wheat has been discovered to originate in Israel, which gives credit to the equating of bread with food, in general, in the Bible.

Wheat and barley were therefore among the staple foods in Biblical times, along with oil and wine. Back then people would always drink their wine with water, as they believed that water was purified by the addition of wine. This was the top 3 most important staples then, and I believe it continues to be today. 

The fruits of the land that the ancient region of Israel was renowned for were the following 7: barley, wheat, wine (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates or honey. To this day, dates are used to create a type of honey which has become increasingly popular in the Arab countries in comparison to the bee honey we are more familiar with in Europe. The molasses made of dates has also been a well-known sweetener over the ages.

Another interesting information concerns the identity of the forbidden fruit that is never specifically mentioned in the Bible. You might say, well, it was the apple. You might be surprised to know that historians think that the fig or the pomegranate make for more suitable candidates. If you have ever seen a pomegranate garden, you might agree with their theory.

The 4 best known spices of the Biblical times must have been pepper corn, salt, cinnamon and cumin. As far as herbs are concerned, dill coriander, mint and a wild herb in the oregano/thyme family were the most popular.

Dairy products and meat posed serious conservation problems. They were more frequently used by shepherds than farmers and one person’s intake of meat counted an average of 4 times per year.

Last but not least, Michelangelo went wrong when he seated Jesus and his apostles at the long, rectangular table in his depiction of the Last Supper. According to historians and reputed researchers, they must have reclined (not sat) along a U-shaped table that was popular back then.  Reclining was an attribute, a sign of social standing and a symbol of liberation – slaves could not recline. The menu might have included lamb roasted on sticks over hot coals in a pit served with bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and wine. 

I’m looking forward to Janna Gur’s next lectures during the Jewish Festival this week, that will further explore the historical, religious and cultural contexts of the cuisine of the times when the Bible came into being. 

 In the July issue of the Travel + Leisure magazine there is an article by Peter Jon Lindberg on The World’s Strangest Supermarket Items that gives an interesting perspective on contemporary food items. I invite you to read it and decide on your personal favourites. 

Wherever I travel, I’m pretty much consumed with eating. If I’m not eating, I’m probably looking for food. And when I’m not looking for food, you’ll likely find me looking at food, perusing the shelves of a local supermarket. Sightseeing? There’s no finer. Plus, you get to eat the sights. The Monoprix is my Louvre, Tesco my British Museum.

If one of the perks of travel is the chance to observe foreigners in their natural habitats—unguarded and wholly themselves—there are few better vantages than the corner grocery. No one postures in a supermarket; no one pretends to be someone else. (I once followed David Bowie around a Whole Foods in Manhattan. This was both more and less interesting than you’d think.) Under those too-bright fluorescents, we are all equalized and exposed, our appetites and eccentricities laid bare. You can learn a lot about a culture by watching it shop for groceries. It’s like sneaking into a nation’s house and rifling through the fridge.

At home the supermarket is the most mundane environment you know. Transfer that environment to an unfamiliar setting and our differences come into relief. At first it all seems boringly normal: the same motion-activated doors, whining toddlers, and treacly Muzak you’d find at your neighborhood Stop & Shop. But look closer and you begin to notice: something’s off. Milk in bags. Unrefrigerated eggs. Blatantly racist cartoon characters used to sell rice. Cucumber Pepsi. Hamburger chewing gum. Myrrh-flavored toothpaste. (Alas, no frankincense deodorant.) Globalization may or may not be flattening the world’s tastes, but all manner of regional quirks are still on display at foreign supermarkets. A walk down the aisle reveals the extraordinary range, and geographic particularity, of human cravings—for cephalopod-flavored potato chips (right there with you, Japan!), black-currant-flavored anything (good on you, Britain!), or rank-smelling durian fruit (you’re on your own, Southeast Asia!).

Browsing in supermarkets is also a fine way to hone foreign-language skills. The shelves are basically one long menu-reader, complete with handy illustrations. Let’s see…mulethi must be Hindi for “licorice,” berenjena is obviously Spanish for “eggplant,” and cavallo seems to be Italian for “horsemeat.” (Wait—horsemeat? That’s sick, Italy. Sick!)

Grocery stores offer a window not just onto the culture and cuisine at hand but onto that culture’s taste for othercuisines. Who’d have guessed that the Swiss have a jones for Mexican food? That Australians are mad for Malaysian? That Japan is obsessed with French pastry? It’s also curious-making to see which of our own foods have made the leap overseas. In Europe, high-end food shops stock “gourmet” imports from the U.S., which typically means Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Old El Paso taco sauce, and B&M Baked Beans. Do any Americans still eat B&M Baked Beans? Europeans think we do.

Some travelers go to supermarkets just to laugh at the inadvertently funny labels—your Bimbo-brand bread (Mexico), your Barf laundry detergent (Iran), your Jussipussi dinner rolls (Finland). Yet the packaging can also be seriously beautiful. In Denmark even the dish soap looks elegant; a tin of Spanish tuna could take your breath away. The best foreign groceries double as surveys of graphic design. I have a Neo-Constructivist can of borscht, purchased at a Perekrestok in Moscow, displayed on my living room mantel. But I’m weird like that. My collection of international novelty foods may soon outnumber the actual foods-for-eating in my pantry. I suppose in a really bad blizzard I could finally bust open the decade-old Laotian fish paste, though I’ll hold out as long as I can. That tube is really something.

When it comes to food packaging, few countries can compete with Japan, whose supermarkets are a wonderland of vibrant logos, kooky names, and cute (if occasionally creepy) mascots. Everything is packaged like sugar-charged breakfast cereal, even the bonito flakes; you’d think only children shopped for groceries there. Yet I know plenty of adults who queue up at Tokyo conbini stores to buy each seasonal Kit Kat bar on the day of its release: chestnut in autumn, candied potato in winter, cherry blossom in spring, and 200-odd other flavors throughout the year.

Of course there’s only so much cheese-and-fish sausage you can leer at without becoming utterly ravenous, which is another benefit of foreign grocery stores: they are the visual aperitif, the mental amuse-bouche that presages your next meal. Nothing fires an appetite like a stroll through the supermarket, especially if it’s really, really huge. The rule at home is never to shop for groceries hungry, but abroad I’d never do otherwise. By the end of a trip half my suitcase is filled with groceries. Indeed, some of my all-time favorite foods and ingredients were found—by sheer luck—in far-flung supermarkets: Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce, from Belize; Laxmi-brand dal from India; Capilano honey from Australia; Amora mustard from France; Yancanelo olive oil from Argentina. Drizzling that oil on a ripe tomato takes me out of my Brooklyn kitchen and straight back to Buenos Aires.

If U.S. Customs would let me, I’d fill a whole other suitcase with yogurt. The entire world appreciates yogurt more than we do; it is the soccer of food. Seriously—walk into any overseas market, go to the (never-less-than-vast) yogurt section, and buy the first brand you see. I guarantee it will blow your mind. And it comes in a little glass jar or a dainty ceramic pot! That you get to keep! For the frustrated American yogurt lover, this all seems patently unfair.

It’s not just about food, either. The pharmacy section is always a treasure trove of horse-tranquilizer-size malaria tablets, jars of “milking jelly” (for cows, not humans), vials of “lung tonic,” and a bunch of other potions and elixirs you never knew existed. (And I’m sure the FDA would like to keep it that way.) Buying medical products abroad is risky, though, since the packaging is usually so inscrutable you have no clue what you’re buying—could be antacid, could be oven cleaner. Maybe both. Traveling in Borneo years ago I came down with a nasty chest cold; at a Kuching supermarket the pharmacist sold me a bottle of cough syrup that I swear was 60 percent deet. Upside: I was cured in 40 minutes.

Regional peculiarities aside, our planet is undeniably shrinking, and foreign treats are increasingly available in our hometown markets or, more so, online. Whether we’ve really gained from this is unclear, but it’s true that something—a certain thrill—has been diminished. Back in my Anglophilic youth I visited London once a year, and my first stop was always at the local Tesco, where I’d buy sackfuls of the things I couldn’t yet find back home: Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, Walkers pickled-onion potato crisps, Ribena black-currant juice, Flake bars, Crunchie bars, Lion bars, Batchelors Mushy Peas (I ate them straight from the can), and, most coveted of all, McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Hobnobs (“the nobbly oaty biscuit”!). The latter became a real problem for me for a while, as I would beg and pester any U.K.-bound acquaintance to please please PLEASE pick me up a dozen packets of Hobnobs here’s a £50 note and an extra suitcase please PLEASE don’t forget I love them so.Friends learned to stop telling me their travel plans.

Years later, when imported Hobnobs suddenly materialized at a yuppie grocery near my Brooklyn apartment—selling for three times the U.K. price—I briefly worried that I might go broke and corpulent from eating cookies 24/7. Turns out the novelty wore off quick. A Hobnob in any other country, I discovered, was simply not as sweet.

Filed under: ■ Conference Speakers, ■ Food & Travel, ■ Israel, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ The Jewish Festival in Krakow, ■ Travel +Leisure Magazine, ►FESTIVALS & EVENTS▼

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