Dogme Revisited

I know I promised myself I would revisit a talk from IATEFL every week, and it’s not that the inspiration from IATEFL has dwindled away, not at all;  it’s just that I didn’t realise how much time blogging took and how little time I’d actually dedicate to it.  Maybe monthly is more do-able than weekly.  Of course the math doesn’t add up as I got closer to 52 ideas than 12 from the conference, but I guess that will make me realize which ideas really have stood the test of time.One idea that has really been sticking with me and I keep revisiting in my lessons is Dogme.  I can’t believe I haven’t given it any proper attention until now.  I am not a converted dogmatist, not by any means, but I think it’s a term to describe where I was going in my teaching before I knew the word for it.

I have used Ken Lackman’s Conversation Activated Framework several times with my students and always with much success.  (See previous post.)

So I was interested to re-visit some of the other talks I went to on Dogme.

First, I looked at my notes from Luke Meddings and Burcu Akyol’s ‘Unplugged and Connected’ talk, but was a bit disappointed.  Maybe because my hopes were too high–this would be my ideal teaching scenario, integrating technology with unplugged teaching.  Everything Burcu expressed about teaching and technology I thought was spot on.  I like the idea of using technology to promote learner autonomy, interactivity and engagement.  I loved that she didn’t overwhelm us with tools, but gave us three useful ones:  Evernote, Scoop.It and Linoit.  I’ve been using for awhile, but I haven’t had time to try the other two out.  I like the idea that these tools could be a record of what we do in class rather than a coursebook because I think students do want to go aw from a course with something, even if it’s something they never look at again.

Then I looked at my notes from a talk that has been in the back of my mind because it really sums up the way that I feel about Dogme:  ‘Of course!  Using a coursebook AND engaging with emergent language’ by Rachael Roberts.  I don’t really get what the big debate is about and don’t see why it has to be all or nothing one way or the other.  Rachael brought up a good point by asking the quesiton:  who just uses a coursebook without teacher/student interaction?  I think a teacher who does that is going to be a ‘bad’ teacher, even if (and probably especially if) they follow an unplugged approach.

I absolutely loved the video she showed us, Q&A from Storycorps, and I think she’s got a point.  Materials add a richness to our lessons that student conversation alone cannot capture.  Materials can add variety and engagement, but more importantly expose students to motivating and relevant language in context.  Materials can scaffold learning and provide opportunities for noticing and practice.

Q & A from Storycorps

Rachael recommended three things to provide opportunities for emergent language:  make things engaging, encourage noticing and restructuring, and repeating and recycling.

In the question and answer session following the talk, Chia made a good point.   She said, ‘good teachers use the coursebook as a springboard for other things.’  I think the debate isn’t really about dogme versus coursebooks, but about us trying to arrive at what makes a good teacher.

David Crystal Lecture: English Accents

David Crystal
David Crystal (Photo credit: University of Salford)

English Accents:  Past, Present and Future

Last night I enjoyed listening to David Crystal talk about English accents.  He’s such a great speaker, full of funny anecdotes and imitating different accents–impossible to capture in a written context so I’m afraid this blog will never do it justice.  Well, attempting the impossible, here’s a summary of what he said:

Everybody feels strongly about accents.  They feel it from the gut.  They have associations, like his example that a Birmingham accent sounds thick.


It goes back to the stone age and our need to recognize that someone is a part of our tribe and not an enemy tribe.  It’s about survival.

It’s about identity.

It’s not about being intelligible, but expressing who we are, which group we belong to, in an effective way that travels through space and darkness.

Accents have existed from the beginning of English, but it wasn’t until more recently that we began to associate personality traits and prejudices with certain English accents.  We know accents existed in middle-English because of different spellings.  Chaucer and Shakespeare write with different accents for different characters.  Shakespeare takes the piss out of foreign (French) accents, but never different English ones.

So how did our attitudes to accents develop?

Stereotypes began in the 18th Century along with the emergence of a middle class.  Before industrialization there was only an upper and a lower class, but suddenly there was a growing middle class with money to buy themselves the same luxuries of the rich.  And they could buy everything, but not the way they spoke.  Until elocution classes came along.  This was also the age of politeness when people wanted to be associated with refined behaviour and education.  Accents as we know them today started in the late 18th Century, with RP developing around 1800.  This was the first time that accent represented a class, not a region.  It was the accent of education, of public schools and also of the British Empire, making it one of the fastest spreading accents of all time.  It also become one of the most widely recognized accents (that and the US accent).

However, this is changing rapidly.  The number of RP speakers is in decline with only 2% of people in England speaking it (and fewer people elsewhere in the UK).  It is being replaced by modified RP accents.

RP itself has changed over the last half century, both in it’s formal character (how it sounds) and people’s attitudes toward it.  Vowels are shifting, as people who study the Queen’s speech patterns are noticing. Will and Harry  use glottal stops.  Not like in ‘bottle‘ so much as at the end of words like ‘hot.’

RP  is also  losing its positive associations, with more and more people regarding it as elitist.  People prefer regional accents because they are deemed warmer, more customer-friendly and trustworthy.  You’re more likely to buy a car from someone from Edinburgh or Yorkshire than from someone who speaks RP.

Or from a Brummie.

Why is Birmingham still perceived so negatively?  Well, there isn’t anyone famous who has made it familiar or acceptable.  All famous people from Birmingham continue to use RP and the media continues to poke fun of the accent.

You can see this transition between which accents are considered acceptable by following the BBC.  In 1980, they had one person with a Scottish regional accent.  She got hate mail.  They took her off.  By 2005, they had a whole programme celebrating accents and regional accents are the norm.  Now in 2013, this same Scottish woman is presenting the 6 pm news.

Actually, if you think you’ve got an accent, you’re wrong.  There’s no such thing as an accent.  You have lots of accents.  We have variations of accents.  When we speak, we accommodate, or adapt our speaking to be more like the person we are speaking to if we want to connect with them.  Everybody does this.  In the past we could identify where people came from by their accent, but now there’s so much exposure to accents and with accommodation, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where someone is from.

What’s interesting is that this accommodation is happening globally.  Other languages are influencing English.  For example, English is becoming in certain contexts (like India, Caribbean, Africa) less stress-timed and more syllable-timed.

It will be interesting to see what happens to English accents in the future.  How they change and how the associations with them change.  Especially as power drives language.