What do we want?

Something. When do we want it? Some time.

I chose not to teach the A2s for a good reason, and the stories which Fred brings back from class are quite sufficient to confirm that I made the right choice.

Sooner or later, though, the AS classes start turning into A2s. That generally really happens in the second term when the final exams are suddenly much closer. This year, AS3 have already gone A2. They are the Economics class, which means that they have a grossly inflated view of their abilities as if they know it all already.

There’s not much you can do with such classes. It’d be easy to keep trying different things to see whether something will satisfy them, but I dislike pandering to students in this way and I know that there’s nothing which will satisfy them. If I tried to do some proper English lang. and lit. with them, they’d find it too hard and hate it.

There’s no passion for English. What we’re meant to be doing is giving them the skills to do tests such as IELTS and TOEFL, but it’s like programming a computer to do some mundane administrative task. The code isn’t interesting and the result a yawn.

I can always pretend that everything is fine and nothing is wrong. I’ve already spent one year of my life talking to myself in class. I don’t see why I can’t do the same again.


Where do Bavarians come from?

My brain; its idle moments.

It’s easy, I believe, not to think about place names and their origins. They’re either familiar and require no consideration or obscure and cannot be recovered whether you think about them or not.

Unlike many other languages, a lot of place names in English are obscure because at some time (late Middle Ages, I think), the names were no longer understood. I’ve seen dictionaries of place names in which the Old and early Middle English names are quite clear, but from late Middle English onwards, a lot of names are suddenly becoming quite garbled as if no one knew what they meant any longer.

It’s possible that the Black Death of the 14th century is responsible in part because they people who might have understood (i.e., the clergy) were all dead, and the few who survived said X, which everyone else misheard. Or the name had already changed, but the conservative orthography gave way to the spelling of a place name which no one had understood in a very long time. (I will observe that I’m merely speculating idly as I’m required to do on the Internet.)

But for some reason this morning, I was thinking about Bavaria and wondering whether it was meant to mean anything and how it should be segmented. The –ia part is just your usual Latin ending forming a denominal adjective, which has then been renominalised. I quickly dismissed Bav-ar- when it suddenly struck me that the source was probably as simple as Ba-var-.

In Old English, the suffix –ware meant “inhabitants, people”, and is found in names such as Wihtware “people of the Isle of Wight” and Centware “people of Kent”, as well as words such as burgware “inhabitants of a town, citizens”. Historically, it’s also another adjectival formation (PrG *-war-ja-), which has been renominalised and is cognate with the Latin –ia.

After a quick search on line, I found I was right. Bavaria is a compounding of the Gaulish (Celtic?) Boii and PrG *-war-ja-, the name having been adopted by the Marcomanni after they defeated the Boii.

The money vacuum cleaner

AKA, The Chinese Empire.

When I was at university, I did the Age of Discovery paper which, I’m sure, included a lecture on the trade across the Pacific in which silver from South America poured into China. I can’t recall whether we were told what happened to the silver after that, but did it ever benefit anyone outside of the Chinese Empire? I’ve always had the impression that the Empire is like a money vacuum cleaner, sucking up all that it can get, but only ever spending a minuscule proportion of that.

Now Europe needs money, and has come begging to about the only country which has any cash going spare. I was reading about some of the local reactions to that, which also raised the question why the vast amount of money the imperial government has should not be used on the people of China first. I think it’s a good point. In addition to that, my question would be why the Empire is also wasting huge amounts of money on some space programme, which isn’t really achieving anything beyond the stroking of the imperial ego. There are more important things here on Earth which need to be dealt with.

And if the Empire does agree to help Europe, what’s it going to want in return? One suggestion was that Europe would have to STFU about Tibet, Taiwan etc., and start letting China have some of the better hi-tech toys among other things. If there is some agreement, I can’t help but feel that it is a pact with the devil. It cannot be a good idea to allow a country with such an appalling record (not just over the past 60 years, but all too often during the past 2,500) to have some sort of control over the few countries on the planet where there are democracy, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. (Well, in theory, at least.)

Perhaps history will eventually show that it was all for the best, but I’m straining to see how a paranoid tyranny, which is devoid of ethics, which is accountable to no one (except through violent revolt), and which is so avaricious, can possibly benefit the world. (And have I just described America for the past two centuries?)

Johannes Cabal The Detective

By Jonathan L. Howard.

It’s Cabal’s second outing, which finds him apprehended after trying to steal the Principia Necromantica from the Mirkavians. Cabal looks to be in big trouble, but the villainous Count Marechal needs the necromancer to resurrect the recently deceased emperor in order to stage a coup. In the ensuing confusion, Cabal escapes aboard a steampunk airship, the Princess Hortense, which is flying to Katamenia via Senza. (All very Ruritanian locales; somewhat Austro-Hungarian Empire.)

But not all is well on board the vessel, with two mysterious deaths and Leonie Barrow, who has the means to reveal Cabal’s true identity to the authorities, yet doesn’t, just as Cabal cannot quite abandon her to her fate either.

I suppose Johannes Cabal The Detective is like Murder on the Orient Express with a necromancer instead of a Belgian and an airship instead of a train. Comparatively little necromancy occurs in the course of the story although there is a late encounter with a lich, and Cabal is more James Bond than a commander of undead armies. (I want the name of a well-known lich from literature, but the only ones I know are Acererak or Kartak Spulzeer from the D&D pantheon; I suppose there is Glámr from Grettis Saga.)

I liked the story, but it’s like Howard wanted to do ’tec fic’ and decided to cast Cabal in the lead.

And suddenly it was over

The end of marking.

I was looking at AS3’s tests last night and wondering whether I could finish them off before I had to go to bed. I picked up the next one and found that the remaining half a dozen were actually spare copies of the paper.

The results were where I’d expect them to be. With a little crude conversion, the average mark for both classes is probably somewhere on the border between IELTS 5.5 and 6.0; or, to put it verbally, the fringes of the upper intermediate zone. The averages for my two classes were 58% and 59%, and roughly agreed with the averages for Mark’s classes.

The reading, over which I had no real control, was still in that border zone I mentioned above. The one girl who got full marks had probably seen the questions before because she’s otherwise an inattentive dullard in class. She was the one who asked me to find information for her about the organic farm volunteer scheme, which she should’ve been able to do herself if her reading proficiency is so brilliant.

I did rather blast their writing to shreds. The topic wasn’t an easy one for a start, but there were just too many flaws: failures to fulfil the task; incoherence; unsuitable vocabulary; incompetent handling of grammatical structures. The average for the writing was much the same as the overall average, but that’s where the little darlings are.

Very grey and hazy this morning, and it had to rain. The latest I’ve seen is that there’s a cold front heading our way, which will be the late October/early November cold snap.

Live Journal is sort of live

And sort of not, but there may be complications.

Having failed to access Live Journal using Firefox, I decided to try Chrome, which proved more successful, and then I tried IE9, which was also successful, and I was actually able to post a new entry. Then Firefox started behaving as well. It ended up being a matter of reloading the page.

This morning, no such luck, and I now have a theory, which will probably be proved wrong, that the “problem” is with my Internet assistant and the way it works. However, that clearly hasn’t always been the problem and the issues surrounding Live Journal have nothing to do with anything I might be running on my machine to bypass the pernicious, unnecessary and self-serving censorship which blights the Internet from the Empire.

I am still working on the tests from the week before last. I managed to finish off AS4 yesterday and have started working on AS3. (No, I’m not sure why I’ve been marking the classes that way; I keep getting them mixed up.)

As I may have mentioned (and probably have on one blog or another), the writing is diabolical and has led to much red ink being spilt. The topic is also diabolical and although I have some vague idea how I might approach it myself, I’m not really sure what I’d say. Although IELTS writing task 2 is meant to be the sort of thing to which anyone with half a brain can respond, the topic in this case is more like something which needs to be researched first. Certainly, I don’t think advertising alone is responsible for the high sales of popular consumer goods, but the driving force may not be the needs of society itself. That is, a particular item becomes desirable regardless of advertising.

Sooner or later, every response to the task has gone off the rails somewhere because the little darlings haven’t thought about the topic properly. They also don’t seem to have understood some parts of the topic or they have ignored others.

Academically, the answers I’ve seen have, by and large, been Ds, but we’ve spared students that humiliation by giving them a bonus. The idea, which I’ve tried in the past, is to apply academic writing criteria to show students that all those A’s and Bs which they’ve had in the past were unrealistic. (In fact, all those sorts of marks indicate is a high level of proficiency at intermediate level; they’re a poor indication of actual competence in English in comparison with native speakers.)

The problem they’re going to have at university is when their essays are marked not on their English, but the actual content. I’m curious to know just how many of our students have got to some foreign university only to be packed off to some remedial English programme taught by someone whose catchphrase is, “What the hell was your English teacher doing?” If you, dear reader, happen to be one of those people, I can assure you that I was teaching English. You can lead a horse to water

Still marking

A sea of red ink.

It’s been a little difficult accessing the real Internet for the past couple of days although that’s not the main reason for not posting much. I’ve been feeling too tired to write anything and I’ve been busy with the aftermath of last week’s tests.

The marking of the AS English tests from last week drag on as I wade my way through them with no great enthusiasm. Each one ends up drenched in red ink as I observe how illogical the little darlings’ arguments are, how vague, and how ungrammatical. I warn them about starting with nowadays, and I’ve reminded them that because is not always preceded by a full stop; and I need to remind them again that and and but are also not always preceded by a full stop either.

There’s also the puzzle of the missing and, which has me wondering whether it’s a feature of the local language. The conjunction is often omitted between two phrases, which makes me wonder whether the local language employs dvandva compounding. The other possibility is that they think the tripartite A, B, and C structure which English likes so much can be legitimately reduced to A, B.

The AS students are in for a little shock, though, because we’re using an EAP mark scheme, which reveals most of them to be academically D-grade students. We’ve ameliorated that a little by adding 10% which, if I’m asked, is the Neat Handwriting Bonus.

Anyway, time flies and I need a break. It’s been a long day, which was ended with a long staff meeting, and I need to indulge in some escapism, and will as soon as my Internet assistant is back.

I want to answer the question


We gave the little darlings their first monthly tests on Thursday and Friday, and I just finished marking PAL 1’s efforts before lunch. The marks are fairly good overall being A’s almost without exception. As usual, they’re nearly all writing the same answers to the two writing tasks and they’re all exceptionally dull.

The response to the first writing task, which is a letter to a long-lost family member tends to run:

I haven’t seen you for a long time. I miss you so much. I remember we played together when we were children.

I’ve become interested in badminton/tennis these days. You play badminton/tennis, don’t you? We can play together.

We can go to the restaurant when you come. I’m looking forward to seeing you.

And in outline, that’s pretty much the whole letter. It does have me wondering how I or any other native speaker might deal with a letter (well, let’s be honest, mail message) to some relative we haven’t seen in a long time.

Dear Aunt Sadie,

Mum and Dad have just told me that you never really were dead, but have actually been on an archaeological dig in the unfashionable part of central Africa, uncovering a lost civilisation of zombies which was ruled over by dimension-jumping vampires. I haven’t forgotten the days when you used to come crashing through the window in the middle of a sword fight with Count von Zarovich, scoop up a couple of scones from the coffee table, and crash out again. Life round here has never been half as exciting since and I’m sure you’ll have plenty of tales to tell me about your time in Africa. I’m really looking forward to catching up with you.

Life for me has changed as well. I think the last time I saw you I was quite keen on dinosaurs, collecting cheese, and the One-legged Midget Football League. That’s all passed into history. These days I spend my time stalking celebrity lookalikes, ordering furniture and having it sent to the wrong address, and building a life-sized replica of the Great Pyramid out of peaches – authentic in every detail. All great fun.

We must have a big celebration when you return before Mum and Dad start demanding the money back for the cost of the funeral which we held for you when you allegedly died. Would it be too ironic to have dinner at the old railway station, which is supposedly inhabited by the ghost of a commuter whose spirit will haunt the place until the train arrives on time? But perhaps you’ve had enough of the dead from digging up zombies and vampires.

Anyway, I’ll see you when you get back.

All the best,

Mr Bamboo.

Now, should I be waiting for comments from EFL teachers who, having assigned their students such a task, wonder why the letter is full of vampires, zombies, and central African civilisations?

Students, be original, imaginative, and write your own letters. A lack of English ≠ a lack of imagination.

There’s a reason for weekends

Finally the week is over.

Working for seven days in a row is proof of the necessity of having a weekend. We’ve had our monthly tests over the past two days, which isn’t really quite as relaxing as it sounds because we’ve ended up invigilating for the equivalent of four classes, two at a time without a break. At the end up that, we then have stacks of marking to do, which will kill off quite a chunk of this weekend.

I was having a look at the critical thinking book which appeared on my desk this morning. Lisa the Librarian said she’d seen it among the books which have been dripping into her library over the past few weeks. I open the book, and there are pictures of Hitler and some Stasi officers, who look like they might be taking part in some gay revue called Germans in Puffy Trousers. There are pictures of the covers of low-brow magazine which I now realise are there to keep the boys interested, and there’s also a picture of a couple of women sunbathing in a London park. There’s quite an interesting juxtaposition across two pages later in the book with Osama bin Laden on one and sperm clustering round an ovum on another.

The book, Critical Thinking for OCR AS Level by Rob Jones and Michael Haralambos, might have some saucy pictures (I can’t imagine such pictures in school textbooks when I was in the 6th form), but it actually looks quite interesting. There is some stuff in it I could do with my AS classes. For example, I noticed a section on arguments in writing which would be useful for the AS students in so many ways.

It’s a pity that we just don’t have the time to deal with all this stuff. Apart from the TOEFL book and Listening to Learn, I’m also dishing out units from a book called Advanced Vocabulary in Context because of students’ annoying mania for those somewhat useless TOEFL and IELTS word list books. AViC takes a themed approach and focuses quite a bit on collocations, which is an aspect of English which seems neglected at intermediate level.

However, I’m afraid I have to cut this short or I’ll end up neglecting my tea.

Rehabilitating names

Out with 迎龙路, back in with 香榭街.

I’m coming back from Yamazaki at lunchtime minding everyone else’s business because they’re too dumb to mind their own when I see some idiot cyclist ride front of an electric scooter because the silly sod’s paying no attention.

This brought my attention to some council workers putting the finishing touches to the street sign near the south-east corner of the ground of the school. The street has now reverted to its original name, 香榭街. I don’t know whether that’s the whole street or just that end, and the rest is now called 迎龙路. Must try to remember to check tomorrow morning. (Checked eventually. The whole street has reverted to its original name.)