Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cleaning up my blog and adding a clock

There is always a choice when it comes to working on my blog. Being a neophyte at this (thus everything takes me ten times longer than a savvier blogger would), I'm in a constant battle with myself. Should I just focus on content, or should I invest more time now trying to organize what I've already written and make my growing number of entries easier to find and access?

A few weekends ago, I did reorganize my blog, adding a directory and labels to my posts. Another modification was the addition of Twitter, which simply encourages me to make a habit of pausing and taking stock of what I'm thinking or doing.

Today I hid my archive which may bother people trying to find an August 2007 post, for example, but I'm trying to get a handle on best use of the navigation panel space. Since I show five posts per page now, it's easy to see the most recent additions. I haven't learned yet how to show only part of a post so that a reader can choose to read a long entry or move quickly on to the next one.

This year is the first time I've used the calendar with my Cambridge students, and some of the CAE students say it's really nice to have the homework posted here. They've even asked if I could put up homework assignment reminders for their Tues-Thurs teacher (which I now also do).

Today I added a clock to my blog which I hope readers find useful and even thought-provoking. I tend to lose track of time when I'm visiting a site. Our lives these days are so much governed by the clock that perhaps it will give my readers in other parts of the USA and overseas a sense of what time zone I'm living in. Hope you enjoy the new features. As always, user feedback is welcome.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Is there more power in English-language graffiti?

A few weeks ago when I took the photograph of the sign at Palomar, I got to thinking about signs that are put up for public viewing but which are considered both artistic and criminal. Though there are some lengthy deconstructions of graffiti, such as "Graffiti and Language", here I'm pondering why so much graffiti is in English in non-English-speaking countries.

Here's one in Vienna, Austria, for example, The Mad Realness. Is that the name of some rock band? Perhaps. What is 'mad realness'? Is it a literal translation of something German? I'm clueless.

Language is very central to who we are as people, and putting writing on walls (like ancient hieroglyphics) is something very human, too. I think we have always aspired to leave messages or words behind and played with language, and probably command of a language has always been associated with power.

As for English-language power, I used to remark to my Japanese colleagues (I don't think they ever took me seriously, however) that if they wanted to make the Japanese language more 'powerful', they needed to publish their most important work in Japanese, not English. In this way, the public would have to seek out translators or learn Japanese themselves in order to follow the latest achievements of these non-English speakers.

Instead, (though I haven't done a statistical study to support this hypothesis) it seems that the Japanese who are most recognized for their achievements are often those that have superior English skills and/or are fearless about using their English in public forums. In other words, we may be aware of only a small cross-section of outstanding scholars because here in the USA, we don't pay too much attention to publications in languages other than English. What we must be missing!

For more information about graffiti, in general, you can click on an older version of graffiti terms, which contains some history of this communicative form.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Strange English Sign at Palomar Observatory

As some of you may know, I've had other postings dedicated to funny English signs, usually photographed in non-English speaking countries. However, recently I discovered that there is some funny English being displayed right here in Southern California. I couldn't resist taking these photos of a sign at the foot of the entrance to the Hale Observatory on Palomar Mountain outside San Diego. It says, "Do not pick the fern." I don't know who did the translations of the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, but I wonder how good those are. Did the translator make a typographic error, dropping the 's' making 'the fern' singular? Is it okay to pick the other plants? As it reads now, the viewer is left wondering which fern the sign is referring to, and why this directive was translated into Chinese, Japanese and Korean only. There were lots of Spanish speakers at the observatory when I was there. Do the rest of the non-English speaking tourists know what a 'fern' is in English? Are Asians more prone to picking ferns than other tourists outside the observatory? So far, it's a mystery to me. There seems to be a subtext here, but I don't have the full context to figure it out. Can you?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Fun Vocabulary Practice for CAE Students

Play the BBC's Word Master game online. There are three levels from easy to difficult. You have a limited amount of time and a limited number of tries to get the correct word. There are a total of ten sentences with a blank in each. You can click for a definition, and you can see how many letters are in the missing word. Even the 'easy' level, however, can be challenging.

The focus of the game is on activating vocabulary. From the context and definition, the player is challenged to come up with the word that fits the blank. It's an excellent entertaining way to practice your British English.

Check out the other games and quizzes on the same page with 'Word Master.' These are also fun and great for practicing vocabulary and thinking in English.