becoming a p “lurker”?

update: not too far off with my title. Plurk as stalkerati central: People + Lurk = Plurk
another micro-blogging site to compensate for Twitter’s recent shortcomings…more to come later

to learn italian or english? both…

One of the greatest rewards of teaching is when your students teach you something. I have taught one of the most challenging courses in my 4 years here this spring semester: Advanced Italian Grammar a.k.a intro to Italian linguistics. I attempted to present students to the scientific study of language, from phonology to morphology to syntax to sociolinguistics. Interspersed there was also the history of the Italian language as well as a unit on dialects. I was very enthusiastic about this course and we all know that a good dose of enthusiasm is contagious…

As part of the course requirements, my students were to keep a linguistic diary. I wanted them to consult various forms of media and reflect metalinguistically on Italian. These 10 journal entries for many were expected: influences of foreign words in the Italian language, phonetic and semantic variations of dialects, denotative and connotative significance in newspaper headlines, web, etc. Then, a few students surprise me: YouTube videos, movie clips, Italian corporate websites & advertisements to provide great examples of living language and how the scientific study of it is actually relevant.

One student used this as a sample of the development of oral proficiency for an Italian ESL (English as a second language) learner and takes this discussion to the concept of sociolinguistic awareness. The ESL student asks the Corriere della Sera’s resident expert of Italians why it is so difficult to understand spoken English. Beppe Severgnini (columnist, author) replies to this question:

L’inglese, come mi ha spiegato il guru Giles Watson con cui ho aggiornato “Lezioni Semiserie”, è ostico per l’orecchio italiano. Noi – come i francesi e gli spagnoli – parliamo una lingua “syllable-timed”, in cui la velocità di pronuncia corrisponde grosso modo al numero di sillabe che contiene. L’inglese è una lingua “stress-timed”: la durata della frase corrisponde al numero di accenti con cui chi parla sceglie di scandirla.

English, as it was explained to me by the master Giles Watson…is unpalatable for the Italian ear. We (Italians)-like the French and Spanish-speak a “syllable-timed” language whose pronunciation tempo is determined by and large by the number of syllables contained in an utterance. English is a “stressed-timed” language: the length of the statement corresponds to the number of inflections that the speaker wishes to articulate.


Even more interesting are the “one-a-day for a month” reasons Severgnini provides to encourage Italians to learn English. I will highlight those that I found utterly amusing 😉 (all translations are mine…)

1 Perché siete stanchi di dire “Non parlo l’inglese, ma lo capisco…”.
1. Because you are tired of saying “I don’t speak English but I understand it…”

2 Perché parlare con le mani, alla lunga, stanca.
2. Because speaking with your hands, in the long run, is tiring.

3 Perché capirete come riempire quel modulo su internet (un terzo della Rete funziona in inglese).
3. Because you will understand how to fill out that online form (1/3 of the Web is in English)

4 Perché così, quando vi insultano all’estero, evitate di ringraziare.
4. Because when Italians are insulted abroad, you won’t thank them.

6 Perché in America saprete leggere i cartelli stradali (one way non è una canzone di Frank Sinatra: vuol dire “senso unico”).
6. Because in America you will know how to read street signs (one way is not a Sinatra tune:…)

14 Perché quando sentirete “Vorrei shiftare la vostra attenzione sul break-even del nostro business, un must che stressa la necessità di downsizing”, almeno lo sapete: vi stanno licenziando.
14. Because when you hear “I would like to shift your attention to our business’ break-even point, a must which stresses the necessity to downsize”, you will know that you are being fired.

15. Perché un po’ già lo parlate. No comment, in fondo, è una frase completa.
15. Because you already speak it a bit. No comment, is in fact a complete sentence.

20 Perché comunque è impossibile far peggio di quel ministro italiano che, a New York, ha chiesto “gamberetts and fagiols”.
20. Because it’s impossible anyway to speak worse than that Italian minister in New York that asked for “gamberetts and fagiols”.

26 Perché capirete le canzoni inglesi e americane, e vi renderete conto che spesso sono più cretine delle nostre.
26. Because you will understand American and English songs and realize that often they are more idiotic than Italian songs.

27 Perché se George Bush dovesse invitarvi a cena, potrete commentare la cucina della Casa Bianca (Good heaven! How can you eat this junk, old boy? Now I see why you’re so nervous all the time and you ended up messing around in the Middle East…).
27. Because if Bush were to invite you to dinner, you could comment about White House cuisine (Good heaven! How can you eat this junk, old boy? Now I see why you’re so nervous all the time and you ended up messing around in the Middle East…).

29 Perché un brasiliano, per chiedere a un tedesco in Italia di presentargli un collega francese per discutere dello svedese Ibrahimovic, parlerà inglese.
29. Because a Brasilian asking a German in Italy to introduce him to a French colleague to discuss the Swedisch Ibrahimovic will speak in English.

31 Perché è trendy, baby.

on a new model for education

although I downloaded the article as soon as it appeared online, I just read Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance this past weekend. I had my usual lapsus calami and for the nth time this year, questioned what I do. Like Mike Wesch, I teach at a large public university. Also like Wesch, I teach, for the most part, required courses for which students put in a minimal effort. Unlike him, I do not have large classes, because they are capped at 25 (though they usually are closer to 30). Unlike him, the content being delivered is in a foreign language and one thing that I have discovered with each passing year is that if a student takes degree requirement courses reluctantly in English, many have an even stronger aversion to those offered in foreign languages. The excuses range the gamut: I’m not good at languages to why should I study languages? everyone speaks English.

I applaud Wesch for what he does in his classroom—he wants his intro to Cultural Anthropology students to co-construct knowledge about different topic areas, not only to explore them, but to live them through World Simulation. As I read the brief methodology he presents in the last paragraphs of his article, I chuckled to myself: not because I dismiss it but rather because I embrace it. I have been using such a technique, under the guise of foreign language level-appropriate communicative activities.

Since the 80s, foreign language educators have been trying to encourage students to simulate various scenarios that they would encounter if they were in an environment where the foreign language is used. Providing students with authentic input (this is where the Internet as a “medium” helps students get “the message”) and having them attempt to negotiate meaning and construct knowledge is at the base of each and every lesson. Ask any of my students if they are able to sit where they lay their backpack in my class, and the answer is no. They move around a lot, with partners or in groups, working on jigsaw activities, where each student is responsible for becoming and expert on his/her topic then moving on with other groups to share information and knowledge and learn from his/her classmates. They simulate, role-play, discuss, share and reach the objective of the activity, doing this for the most part in the foreign language. 

The fact that this methodology, these techniques are being implemented in courses other than language courses gives me hope. Why? Because it is not just “those crazy language people” who have unconventional ideas about the teaching and learning dyad.

Ay, there is the rub—the out-dated educational model. Students come to my class expecting a lecture … some even in English. Apparently, the grammar translation method to language learning is still alive and well in many classrooms and institutions in this entire continent. We, as a department as well as a united front with other FL departments, have pleaded with the university administration to allow us to address the issue of how foreign languages are learned in the freshman seminar offered to our students. To date, we have been unable to get time in that seminar.

This tells us that administrators too are unaware or wish to remain uneducated about acquisition theories and techniques and the role of technology in language teaching and learning pedagogy. Moreover, they fail to recognize that the “lecture” designation given to our courses is completely inaccurate, arbitrary and unsound.

So, how can we update this model of education? Do we start at the top and work our way down to the students, or do we start with our students and move up the hierarchy? What do you think?

i’m making some noise!

A number of weeks ago, Melanie McBride suggested that I make some noise about Web 2.0 technologies and user rights. I am an avid user of these technologies who appreciates the level of engagement of social media, and a scholar who would like to continue to implement these computer-mediated communication tools as regular instruments to my foreign language teaching and learning repertoire.

Last fall, after exploring Facebook for a number of months, I was put off by it for a number of reasons, in particular the excessive spam continuously received after adding modules…and that was extremely frustrating given that the modules are fantastic and that is one of the greatest features of FB. OK, I am sure there is an academic use of FB that I could have contrived, but I tired of it before I could investigate it further and develop something. In addition to this, a NY Times article from December 2007, I posed the question “Is Facebook Public?” and found this concern to be quite valid as a researcher/scholar. Then, with other FB issues “Leaving is hard to do” as a former user I do feel that I have no rights. 

So then, what options to I have? Not to participate? That would be wholly unacceptable to me, as I am a technophile / Web 2.0 aficionado. There is a call to create a personal policy that gives users rights and real options (I strongly urge you all to complete the survey Social media: Essential user controls) because we have every right to control and own what we choose to share. We tend to show greater ownership when it comes to e-commerce but not social media. I wonder why?

P.S. Did you ever notice that after you delete a tweet on Twitter, it actually doesn’t “disappear”… compare my archived tweets of less than 48 hours ago….


to those from tweetscan…


@biz what’s going on?

teaching with twitter…the epilogue

Update: as a prelude to this presentation, I was interviewed by lead instructional designer Peter Campbell of Montclair on Twitter. Here is the link to three podcasts recently made available on the University website. I hope you may find some value in my words and my academic use of twitter. It was a truly memorable experience. Thanks again to all my friends and colleagues who have been instrumental in the twittosphere and beyond…

today I presented a faculty forum on teaching with Twitter. I had a good turnout (small group but they were interested) and a cheering section. At the end of the presentation, I went live to my fellow Twitterers to say hello and I want to thank all those who replied. The response was instantaneous–and the audience impressed. 

some of the things that people who didn’t attend may have missed included: 1) my stunning Italian linen dress 😉 ; 2) some notes and observations on twitter in education; and 3) good questions about twitter. Below, I give you some of the key ideas on twitter & teaching and I hope they might encourage you to think about it as a tool in whatever line of work you do.


I want to thank a group of followers for graciously providing me with screenshots for my presentation, which really provided a grasp of the various ways to tweet: Francesco, Luke, Milos, and Sharon, and, of course Michael, for retweeting and saving me, yet again.

Anyone interested in developing twitter as a FL classroom tool, in more defined ways, please contact me as I think it’s truly valuable.

P.S. Thanks also to AJ, who was tweeting about my presentation during my presentation! Didn’t see this until today.


thinking about twitter…

[updated: April 16] gapingvoid is back on Twitter! LOL

over a month ago, I had stumbled across the blog of hugh macleod and took a moment to laugh at myself. of course, one thing leads to another then we started following each other on twitter. This morning I noticed he was not tweeting about alpine TX or his book deal, actually he deleted his twitter account. From avid twitterer (‘cause it does get addictive) to deleted twitterer overnight? i was a bit surprised…

the reality of twitter is this: twitter is becoming the next big thing, the it girl, because it is the new communication tool for business (e.g., JetBlue), politics (e.g., Obama), news (e.g., NY times), academia (i.e., my work), and, of course, schmoozing (everyone else who uses it regularly). We use this social networking service to make connections, to collaborate, to discover, to learn in a way that wasn’t possible before this type of tool. A friend mentioned yesterday that news from silicone valley, for example, that previously would take a few days to break (via other forms of communication), is now instantaneous.

of late, twitter has been making some upgrades, simplifying its layout somewhat. it’s not perfect, could use some more improvements (e.g., it apparently loses some replies somewhere out there in the twittosphere) but it is readily accessible via web, OS applications (twhirl, twitterific, spaz), browser apps (firefox), desktop platforms (netvibes, pageflakes), widgets for blogs, facebook, etc., and, last but not least, mobile phones. This accessibility, the 11+ million users (ok, not all regular twitterers), makes twitter worth exploring.

All I have to do now is convince the 18,000 students who attend the university, and the majority of our faculty and staff … no small task. 😉

r u 2 old?

txt.jpgI just got off the phone with my sitter’s mom, trying to determine whether her daughter is available this weekend for my “it’s March break and I’m gonna enjoy myself”  escape. Of course, she was unable to determine if her daughter was busy. The conversation went like this:

She: Can you call back after A is home from school?
I: Sure, not a problem.
She: Wait, do you text message?
I: Yes.
She: You must be a cool mom. You text!
I (laughing): I had to learn. Students don’t email, they text. I had to learn to communicate with them their way.
She: Wow. I’m trying but it’s tough. Do you get the Times? There was this great article in the business section yesterday.
I: Yes…
She: It’s called “are you too old?” but it’s the letter R, letter U…
I: Yes, I have it right in front of me. (it was the online version at which I was looking)
She: And it has a list of all the abbreviations…
I: I see it.
She: Well, here is A’s number. You could call if you want, but maybe you should text her.
I (still laughing): Thanks, I will.

It’s funny, ‘cause I’ve said this before commenting on a post on terminally incoherent‘s blog, I straddle the technological horse, but apparently as a prof & mom, perhaps am conceived as being “2 old”, then again as a technophile who blogs, twitters, texts, & now pageflakes (although I gave up on facebook), other moms and some profs look at me as if I’m from another planet. 😀

test-driving pageflakes

Pageflakes is an application that has been around for over a year, but, like many things, I sometimes get around to things a little late…hopefully, unlike past things, it is not too late. It is a competitor to Netvibes, iGoogle, etc. that uses widgets and modules to create your personal pagecast and share it or keep it to yourself.

I set up my personalized pageflakes startpage and am interested in playing more with it. Like many things, I am trying to take baby steps, to determine what it is I wish to do with it and where I believe I might be able to do with it (or it can do for me)


Does anyone already have a pagecast? Are there any suggestions, comments or feedback with which you could provide me?  Delving into new Web 2.0 apps is exciting, but since I tend to push the “pedal to the metal”, maybe a speed detector is the way to go this time…