Thursday, 19 July 2012

August's EL Gazette print edition - 'Guidance causes course chaos at US unis

The print edition of the August 2012 EL Gazette is now hitting the doormats, and it has now gone live in its online digital edition at

It includes an exclusive investigation into how a Homeland Security gaffe tripped up "Intensive English Programs" over an accreditation law change in the US.

There's also my report on an Arab League backlash against the predominance of English-medium degree courses in the Middle East. (The Gazette has been invited to attend a conference on English-medium education in Cairo in October, about which more later.)

And there's my interview with a CLIL specialist with the education ministry of Flanders - the Dutch-speaking autonomous region of Belgium - on CLIL and "bilingual education" in an officially bilingual country.

There's now a tutorial on how to register for EL Gazette digital (it's free.)

Monday, 16 July 2012

"Colloque Cryptozoolgie", Dinant, Belgium

This first appeared in Fortean Times, issue 290, July 2012. I have corrected the French-language spelling mistakes that appeared in the print article, and for which I apologise. (Thirty-year old French O Level, as alluded to in the report!)

Dinant local boy Adolphe Sax immortalised sitting on a bench in the street outside his former house

The Belgian town of Dinant lies at the foot of the Ardennes mountains and at the end of the railway line from Brussels. You've done Dinant in a couple of hours, taking in the grey, onion-domed church and the cable car ride to the citadel that dominates the town. Local boy Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, is immortalised in bronze, sitting on a bench on the pavement with his instrument outside La Maison De Monsieur Sax, "more or less on the spot where his original house stood."

But I wasn't in this underwhelming small town in Belgium to pay homage to Monsieur Sax. I had come to Dinant for the annual "Colloquium of Cryptozoology" – a whole weekend of cryptozoology talks – in French!

The eleventh colloque de crypotozoologie was in a nearby hotel that had its own forest in its grounds. The colloque had long breaks for meals – with cherry beers and chocolate mouse because, "we are in Belgium, after all." Talks were generally a shortish 40 minutes or less – of which I was glad, seeing as they were in a foreign language in which I had only a 30-year-old O-Level.

The town of Dinant, onion-domed church on the River Meuse in the foreground, citadel built by the Dutch during their brief occupation of Belgium in the background

It was a cosy affair with less than forty attendees. Most punters hailed not from Belgium but from France – a mother and daughter from just outside Paris, two Parisians of Russian origin and a retired couple the way from Marseilles, another six hours by train after a change at Brussels. This made my Eurostar commute from London to "any Belgian station" (according to my ticket) look easy. I found those from the South of France easier to understand than the Parisians and Walloons, (Francophone Belgians) whose French was harder to follow.

"Any Belgian station"

Ornithologist Jean-Jacques Barloy kicked off proceedings, lecturing on (as far as I could tell!) "Audubon's mysterious birds." Apart from his better-known encounter with a huge "Washington's eagle" (FT 262), ornithologist and artist John James Audubon described in his 1839 masterwork Birds of America other birds unknown to science (FT222:42–44). These included the small-headed flycatcher, the carbonated swamp warbler, Cuvier's kinglet and Townsend's bunting.

The mystery bunting, based on a specimen sent to the Smithsonian by one John Townsend, may have been a more colourful bird that lost its pigment during its preservation or storage. Barloy says Audubon's mystery kinglets, warblers and flycatchers were down to his tendency to name birds based on their resemblance to bird families in Europe, when they were really nothing of the sort. These birds were "misidentified or confused" rather than unknown.

Chemist and telecommunications engineer Michel Raynal said reading about the "Florida Monster" in Charles Fort’s Lo! first got him into cryptozoology thirty years ago. The lack of concrete evidence for cryptids "poses a problem of proof", but Raynal gave examples of, "in the total absence of sightings," animals whose existence was correctly predicted before their eventual discovery.

Michel Raynal

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace both noted that Madagascan orchids "each had a corresponding pollinating insect" but for the magic orchid Angraecum sesquiipedale, the pollinator was unknown. The 20cm nectar tubes sticking out of the magic orchid suggested that whatever pollinated it would need a proboscis around 25cm (11 inches) long. Wallace compared the "search for such a creature" with the then recent discovery of the planet Neptune – found by observing "perturbations" in other planetary orbits. Walter Rothschild discovered the mystery missing moth Xanthopan morgana praedicta ("predicted") in 1902, with a proboscis of the anticipated length.

The entire population of the small, dark brown Guyanan lizard Gymnopthalamus underwoodi is female. It reproduces pathogenically. Raynal said that many pathogenic lizard species started as hybrids between two sexually reproductive species, and a sexually reproducing lizard Gymnopthalamus speciousis was known from the same habitat. Some bits of DNA in G. underwoodi weren't in G. speciousis, allowing scientists to predict the DNA sequence of the missing species that hybridised to produce G. underwoodi – with considerable accuracy, as it turned out when the aptly-named lizard species Gymnopthalamus cryptus was finally discovered up in 1993.

Raynal also noted reports of rhinos from apparently rhino-free Gabon. The African nation of Gabon does, however, have some recently evolved ticks now feeding on a range of big mammals – bison, for example – but very similar to specialised rhino ticks. Rhinos ticks are, notes Michel, easier to produce than “testimonial proof”.

A selection of rhino ticks

Doctor of cinematography Florent Barrère looked at the now well-known giant squid, and the more dubious giant octopus or "kraken octopus", once believed to lurk somewhere off the Cote d’Azur. Pierre Denys De Montfort's 1802 Histoire Naturelle de Mollusces includes a "colossal octopus" along with De Montfort's drawing from an ex-voto in the chapel of St Omar in St Malo, Brittany, giving thanks for saving the life of a sailor threatened by a gigantic octopus.

De Montfort's drawing of a common octopus, suspiciously similar to his "kraken octopus"

In De Montfort's drawing, the octopuses' huge tentacles coil round the rigging of a ship. The problem is the De Montfort's is the only existing account or image of the ex-voto in the chapel, which was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944. The ex-voto, possibly based on secondhand accounts collected from Dunkirk sailors by De Montfort, may never have existed. And elsewhere in Historie Naturelle de Mollusces there's a drawing of a common octopus looking exactly like its colossal cousin.

We were then treated to the "Belgian premiere" of Marie Voignier's documentary L’Hypothèse du Mokélé Mbêmbé – with English subtitles, hurrah! It follows a permanently glum Michel Ballot through the dense, noisy jungle of Congo Brazzaville in search of an alleged living dinosaur. Ballot has a remarkable resemblance to scary German actor Klaus Kinski. His appearance and demeanour lend an already odd enterprise that otherworldly quality familiar from the tense Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski going-mad-in-the-jungle movies Fitzcorraldo and Aguirre: Wrath of God. Recommended! Ms Voignier (on the left, with Ballot on the right in this photo) couldn’t make it in person, nor did she provide any more information about her mysterious film, although she hopes to do so next year.

Sunday's talks started early so those with a train to catch in Paris could get there before French presidential election campaign madness gripped the city. The day opened with sixth-form college English teacher Alain Bonet. The fortean-tinged French blockbuster movie Le Pacte Des Loupes (The Brotherhood of the Wolf) inspired him to research the "Beast of Gévaudan" – the creature (or creatures) that terrorised a region of southwestern France from 1764. Several official hunts, some with thousands of royal dragoons, led to several courtiers and military men ending their careers when attacks resumed again, before these fizzled out three years later.

Bonet found a surprising number of original documents still survive from that era. Some attacks were recorded twice or mis-transcribed – one boy victim of La Bête became a girl in the next report of the same incident. From this data Bonet has drawn up "the definitive list" of La Bête's victims – 128+ attacks, 49+ attacks with wounds, deaths 104, total 281+. Most attacks were on girls or women, or males under 16 – men outdoors would have usually carried tools or weapons.

English teacher and Beast of Gévaudan enthusiast Alain Bonet

One of the two animals shot in hunts for La Bête was an "extraordinary wolf" but smaller, with too many teeth. Hybrid wolf-dogs and unlikely wolf-hyena hybrids were among the explanations offered. Bonet suggests La Bête was a wolf showing unusual behaviour, so startling that witnesses misidentified it. While there are records of attacks on humans by wolves in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, these were definitely wolves, not a “bête exotique”. Contemporary France had more of these, such as la Bête de Toulon and la Bête de Cote’Azur.

Father of cryptozoology Bernard Heuvelmans was, of course, Belgian, and Catherine Gravet, doctor of literature at UMONS University in Brussels, examined the 25 different "argumentative techniques" Heuvelmans employed in his apparent mission to convert the world to his cryptozoological ideas.

Dr Gravet's revelations on Heuvelmans were more bizarre than any of the weekend's mystery animals. Heuvelmans regarded cryptozoology as "more important than oncology" – the study of cancers. He was disturbingly keen on indoctrinating "the youth" to his crypto-crusade. He sent Tintin's creator Hergé a dossier of cuttings and drawings – made by one of Heuvelman's several brief wives, an illustrator – of the yeti. This insinuated its way into Hergé's interpretation of the yeti in Tintin in Tibet. Heuvelmans used his influence to ensure that bestselling Belgian adolescent paperback thriller series Bob Morane (he's a secret agent who saves the world) included a Heuvelmans-quoting sidekick and a civilisation of tool-using yetis who join Morane in fighting the perfidious Chinese Communists.

Dr Catherine Gravet

The signature of Tintin's creator Hergé greets Eurostar arrivals at the top of the escalator at Brussels South Station

And another woman who was briefly Madame Huevelmans – Monique Watteau, aka Alica Lindburgh – channelled Heuvelman's eccentric mission to convert unbelievers to cryptozoology through a series of messianic "eroto-fantastique" novels.

There was one other Brit at the Dinant gig, marine biologist Dr Charles Paxton, and we both learnt an important French word that weekend – témoignages –"sightings". With Monsieur Bonet the English teacher translating into French, Dr Paxton told how he number-crunched data from sea monster accounts from 1758-2000. He concluded that the creatures seen were "closer than you'd get by chance alone", suggesting witnesses underestimated the distance they were from the animal. He put a two-metre high model of a "tall black monster" on Lake Windermere, and asked people to describe it. While it was actually 337 metres away, most people described it as 500 metres away.

Children proved "lousy witnesses" in Paxton's Windermere experiment, female witnesses "significantly underestimated" the upright object's size, "males slightly over-estimated" its height. This prompted much Gallic giggling and a joke by Monsieur Raynal in French, the only word of which I caught was "pénis."

Dr Paxton has also extrapolated from a curve of discoveries of marine animals over two metres in length since Linnaeus that there remain quite a few whales yet to be discovered. There are only two known marine reptiles "above two metres", the leatherback turtle and the estuarine crocodile (sea snakes aren't quite long enough to make the grade). This, concludes Dr Paxton, makes it "statistically unlikely" that any sea monsters out there yet to be discovered will turn out to be plesiosaurs or other reptiles.

Dr Charles Paxton, en Anglais!

Self confessed "Belgian bigfooter" Eric Joye is the director of Abepar asbl, the organisation that organises the colloque, although Eric pretty much is Abepar asbl. Eric ended the colloque with his account of his latest trip to British Columbia in search of the elusive hominid. He had already treated attendees to his impressions of sasquatch grunts, screams and calls over dinner. He described the chilling experience of hearing a sasquatch call, imitating it and getting a response. Although coyotes are also good mimics, and Eric once got a coyote yelp in response to his impressions, the sasquatch call was "recognisably not a coyote."

Eric Joye

The French-speaking crypto-scene seems more rigorous in its researches than its English-language equivalent, which is too often reliant on enthusiasm alone. At the Dinant crypto-gig, cryptozoology was seen as a discipline, not a hobby, with consideration given to "investigative tools and "the rules of evidence". And Francophone "cryptos" understood that you also have to write up your findings in a way that engages the reader. It's a pity so much Francophone crypto-literature, of an intimidatingly high standard, never crosses the language barrier.

Next year, Abepar asbl's director promises conference-goers Dinant's famous koek biscuits traditionally made in the shape of animals, churches and such – but custom-made in the form of a sasquatch footprint.

* "Cryptozoologia", Abepar asbl's website, is at, where there are proceedings from its conferences as (paid-for) downloads. The 12th colloque crytozoologie is in Dinant in April 2013.

* There's a five-minute video of this year's event here.

© Matt Salusbury

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Private tenants protest letting agents' "scam"

Private tenants protested outside Drivers & Norris (D & N) letting agents in Islington's Holloway Road yesterday (Saturday 14 July). The action was in support of two prospective tenants who paid a total of £300 in fees for reference checks which has not been refunded, despite no services being delivered to them by D & N, and no tenancy agreement having been signed. The "D & N Three" asking for the money back - Phil Tsappas, Kyri Tsappas and a friend who is supporting them - are still homeless.

As Phil put it to me, there was "no deal, no contract signed" for a tenancy via D& N. Kyri told me that he and his fellow "applicants applied to secure a tenancy... Drivers & Norris failed to provide service."

The action was called by the newly-formed Haringey Private Tenants' Action Group (HPTAG) – the two-bedroom flat that the three people had applied for that is let by D & N is in Haringey.

The Drivers & Norris Three walked into D & N's Holloway Road office shortly after 11am, asking for the fees to be refunded, and to speak to the lettings manager, Sean Corrigan, although they were told his was out. It appeared at one point that lettings staff had phoned Corrigan and that he was on his way, but this turned out not to be the case. Meanwhile, HPTAG people assembled in the street outside, with banners and a megaphone.

Inside Drivers & Norris with the protesters (and a sales manager)

Phil Tsappas told me that their guarantor had been charged £60, and that he and Kyri had been charged £120 each for each reference check, making a total of £300 for all of them. The guarantor had failed the reference check. One of the D&N letting team told the D&N Three that the issue of the £300 fee was "not our fault, we didn't conduct it" (the reference check.) Phil told me the check had been carried out on D&N's behalf by FCC Paragon, who he says seem to do reference checks for most of the letting agents in Haringey. The Three then went to another letting agent – Winkworth, who also use FCC Paragon and, according to Phil, quoted them £150 each for a reference check.

D & N staff declined to give me their names and told me they had no comment to make.

Phil says he's done some research and the cost charged to a letting agent by FCC Paragon for each reference check is "£17-£19, we think."

A Police Community Support Officer arrived shortly afterwards and asked those protesters inside the D & N office to leave, as it was "private property" and that the D & N "guys feel like they're being harassed". Two police constables and Islington Division's CCTV van also showed up soon afterwards, with the police remaining in the D & N office for the duration of the protest.

The D & N Three left the office to join the protest outside. PC 577 at one point came to the door to tell them one of them could come into to talk to a sales manager from the lettings team. The D & N three declined – one of them told me that this was the same D & N employee who told him on the phone that he should consider himself lucky D & N hadn't kept their whole £800 holding deposit.

The Drivers and Norris Three

Despite the pouring rain, most of the 800 leaflets the protesters had brought along were handed out to mostly sympathetic passers-by, including one of the very few customers going into the D & N office on what's normally its busiest day of the week.

Jacky Peacock, director of Brent Private Tenants' Rights Group – on of very few such organisations in the UK - explained to a concerned-looking PC NI 577 that there are currently "no regulations" in place on what letting agents can charge prospective tenants. Jacky told me tenants can only go to the the Property Services Ombudsman if the letting agency is a member of one of the industry's associations. What about local trading standards officers? "Low on their list of priorities" according to Jacky.

Shoppers in busy Holloway Road were addressed by demonstrators by megaphone, who called for "affordable homes secure tenancy and end to rip-off fees!" One protester using a megaphone told the small crowd that "Drivers & Norris are having a laugh!"

In "discussion" with Drivers & Norris sales staff

One protester told me that letting agents offer "incentives that are designed to fail" - for every flat a letting agent has on books, five groups of applicants will look at it, "they take one [group of tenants], how many holding deposits do they keep?"

The D & N Three plan to return to demonstrate outside Driver some time end of next week, and until they get their money back.

Haringey Private Tenants' Action Group's next meeting is a on Saturday 21st July, 2012 11am, Cafe Life, North London Community House, 22 Moorefield Road, London N17 6QN, near Bruce Grove Station. All welcome. Email:

The police (and a PCSO) arrive


More photos from the event by NUJ freelance professional photographer Peter Marshall (please ask him for permission to reproduce!)

Haringey Solidarity Group's housing page

Recent Guardian "Comment is Free" piece "Landlords and letting agencies watch out – your tenants are angry and mobilising" by "Rentergirl" blogger

Photos: Matt Salusbury

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Every Time I Think of You - Islington in the Eighties - film is now live

The film Every Time I Think Of You has - after some delay - finally gone live on the Blueprint Theatre website. It features two of my photos of Islington from nearly 30 years ago. Read more...

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

From EL Gazette - 'digital destruction' for EFL textbook industry? Wearable simultaneous translation on the way...

The EL Gazette's website redesign isn't expected until September, so meanwhile here are some of my articles from recent issues of EL Gazette.

The Gazette now has a Twitter feed.

Publishers prepare for ‘digital destruction’ - will Apple's new e-textbook venture change EFL publishing forever?

Looking to the future - wearble simultaneous translators

When Teflers want to take Tesol to the next level - doctorates in Tesol and related subjects

UAE teachers ‘learn the wrong skills’

South Sudan students fight over outlawed language

Israeli English-medium unis ‘a cheap option for students from England’ (The Gazette avoids using the word 'English' to describe residence in a constituent part of the UK, it's easily confused with the language!)

Hong Kong reforms spell boost for UK higher ed

Press Association retracts incorrect story of 66 ‘banned’ colleges

Software ‘can tackle translated plagiarism’

Business schools scrap overseas alumni interviews

Top spot for ‘squeezed middle’ - new English phrases for an age of austerity

Qatar, one to watch

US unis favour ban on educational agents

The digital (pdf) edition of the July 2012 EL Gazette will go live on Friday 6 July, if not earlier.

When Teflers want to take Tesol to the next level…

Matt Salusbury asks academics about the motivation and choices behind taking an ELT-related doctorate

(From the April 2012 EL Gazette)

Why take a doctorate in ELT, Tesol or a related subject? We asked ELT/Tesol academics what motivates Teflers to take a doctorate, what influences their choice of university and how they go about seeking and getting on a PhD programme.

Dr Nick Andon, programme director for MA ELT and applied linguistics at King’s College London (KCL, part of the University of London) and his colleague Dr Martin Dewey say that both the proportion of international students and of students choosing ELT-related topics are increasing. There are between thirty and forty PhD students in ELT and linguistics; of these probably about half are ‘related to ELT’. About half of its PhD cohort are international students. KCL’s PhD programme includes extensive training in research methodology and academic writing for native speakers as well as non-natives.

Many PhD students know how to apply for a PhD, having done an MA, often at the same university they have in mind for a PhD. But for students coming from a different university system, it can be confusing. Andon and Dewey argue that it is essential to find supervisors who are experts in the student’s chosen field. They concede that finding information on lecturers’ expertise is not easy as there are ‘lots of ways to get information. Making this information more accessible is something we’re working on,’ says Andon. In practice, most enquiries about PhD courses come in the form of emails to individual academics – ‘Students contact us because they have heard of our work.’

One ELT and applied linguistics student at KCL surveyed fellow PhD students’ motivations for embarking on a PhD. These included ‘to pursue their own academic interests, to use the gained knowledge practically in their own contexts, and finally to further their careers’. Current PhD students commonly mention their enjoyment of learning and a PhD’s ‘value for their career advancement’. One international student cited ‘increased competitiveness’.

Doctoral candidates in EFL and linguistics choose a university for the ‘expertise of the staff members … close relationship with the staff members, supportiveness of staff’ as well as location and ‘availability of funding’, while international students ‘commonly mentioned international ranking’, according to the same survey.

English literature lecturer Leigh Wilson supervises all twenty PhD students in the University of Westminster’s Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies. Of these, between a third and a half are ‘international’ and ‘probably two’ are doing PhDs directly related to ELT; English literature PhDs account for a far bigger proportion of the intake.

Westminster PhD students start their course registered for an MPhil. After about a year and a half working on their doctor ate, there’s an interview which, if successful, transfers them to the full PhD programme.

A PhD supervisor won’t necessarily know how their student’s chosen area of research fits into a particular subject. ‘You don’t do a doctorate in a particular subject,’ says Leigh, while her colleague Andrew Caink, a linguist, says of PhDs, ‘Whether it is called linguistics or something more specific, each PhD will be focused on both a very specific issue and the wider implications for the wider field.’

A UK PhD differs from one taken at a continental European university in that ‘you’re not inserted into a programme, it’s about the topic … and your relationship with your supervisor. In other countries you are much more inserting yourself into an existing programme.’ This difference is an attraction to those coming to the UK from overseas, says Wilson.

After about four years of work, PhDs in the UK end with a viva, with the candidate having to defend their work verbally to university staff and an external examiner. In continental Europe vivas are in front of an audience, but in the UK they’re always behind closed doors.

KCL offers both a PhD and an Education Doctorate (EdD). Andon says the EdD is ‘considered more professional … the EdD in King’s is more structured: students submit a number of papers, their thesis is half of the degree’, while in a PhD there is only one thesis.

Dr Indika Livange, senior lecturer at the School of Education of Griffith University in Australia, said its EdD ‘is structured and has coursework which leads to a writing of the thesis later on (practitioners such as teachers who don’t have a background in research find it more conducive), while a PhD is entirely research-based. Both qualifications are equal.’

Brett Baker of the research programmes team at the University of Melbourne’s applied linguistics department said of students’ motivation to do a PhD, ‘The main reason is professional advancement. Nearly all candidates are experienced language teachers – usually, but not exclusively, in Tesol.’ Melbourne’s arts faculty now has a first-year ‘compulsory coursework component of two subjects’ after which students have to defend a 10,000-word research proposal before they are ‘confirmed’.

After that, explains Barker, candidates are ‘expected to complete their dissertation in the following two years, though it is common to take three years’. Australia’s PhDs are ‘fast by international standards’, typically done and dusted within four years, due to restrictions on students extending their PhD candidature if they’re not finished by year three.

Michelle Plaisance of the English Language Training Institute at the University of North Carolina in the US said of their Tesl doctorate candidates, ‘Many want to pursue teacher education at the university level, while others wish to assume leadership roles’ in public-sector schools or ‘positions in global education networks and government organisations. I only know of one student in our programme who is not a native speaker. He was planning to open a bilingual charter school in a neighbouring country.’

Publishers prepare for ‘digital destruction’

Matt Salusbury investigates how Apple is set to take a bite out of the textbook industry

(EL Gazette, April 2012)

Soon after the death last year of Apple’s cofounder there appeared Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, which claimed Jobs had identified the textbook industry as ‘ripe for digital destruction’. But the launch of Apple’s iBooks 2 for its iPad tablet in January suggests that the most valuable company in the world wants educational publishers such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to be partners, not casualties, in the new technology.

With an estimated 1.5 million iPads worldwide ‘deployed in an educational setting today’, according to Apple’s senior vice president of marketing Philip Schiller, what are the implications of the new, improved version of iBooks and the Apple–Pearson partnership for English language teaching and ELT publishing?

Simultaneous with the launch of the new iBooks software, publishers Pearson launched digital versions of some of its textbooks for Apple’s iPad. It was announced that ‘most’ Pearson titles would sell in this format for $14.99 or less via an education sub-section of Apple’s iTunes store. A 30 per cent cut of each e-textbook sales will go to Apple, as is already the case with each iTunes music download.

Pearson’s development labs in Chandler, Arizona and Boston, Massachusetts had been working for months in secret to produce all-singing, all-dancing interactive extra digital material for its iBook editions of Pearson’s biology, algebra and environmental science textbooks. Also in Boston, McGraw-Hill had been doing something similar to bring five of its maths and science titles out in iBook versions. Pearson geometry and algebra iBook textbooks are promised soon, as are iBook versions of natural history reference books from Pearson’s DK (Dorling Kindersley) imprint. Production costs for the extra interactive textbook material are believed to be ‘high’.

These new kinds of textbooks use Apple software and work on iPads and some iPhones. The iBooks come with ‘interactive content’ that includes videos, audio material, 3D images, weblinks, flash cards and assessment tools that can generate up to 5,000 test questions to check students’ understanding. While current printed algebra textbooks have a maximum of around 1,000 pages, Pearson’s new iBook algebra textbook has 2,500 pages, and there’s a whole picture gallery where there was once just a single illustration.

There are no ELT titles planned in the iBook format yet, but Pearson’s chief press officer Genevieve Shore told Arizona’s The Republic newspaper, ‘We see enormous potential to create these kinds of programmes for more subjects, more stages of learning and more geographic markets.’

The new format has obvious attractions for the EFL sector, which has long had to face the cost and complexity of distributing most of its physical products abroad. Fiddly and easy-to-lose laminated cardboard flash cards can now give way to digital flash cards. EFL books for beginners can have instructions that are practically language-free, mostly in the form of video animation or with links to a translation.

Apple has also released a new software title, iBooks Author, which lets anyone with a Mac drag and drop material into templates to create and publish their own multimedia textbooks to be sold via iTunes. But technology blog ZDNet has warned writers to beware of the software’s end-user licensing agreement (its terms and conditions), whose restrictions include the statement, ‘Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your work for distribution.’

Apple isn’t the only company trying to crack the textbook market. Amazon recently launched the Kindle Fire tablet device that uses Google’s Android operating system. It can handle colour illustrations and costs about half as much as an iPad.

Universities will already be worrying about the fate of that nice little earner – and source of much-needed student jobs – the campus bookshop. Critics of the iBooks textbook platform note that education providers are ‘locked in’ – the textbooks will only work on Apple products, and small print means you’re only buying a textbook for one course year. Over a four-year course that could add up to more than the print version.

Dr James G Hutton, who teaches marketing and communication at Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, predicted that the iPad’s range of distracting bells and whistles would soon mean that ‘many students realise that e-books are not conducive to serious study, and want their paper books back’. And can students really handle at least two and a half times as much material as in conventional textbooks?

Many schools and parents would be nervous at the idea of younger students going to school with a £400+ piece of kit in their bags, although even sceptical techie website the Register praised ‘any effort to lighten the backpacks of students overloaded with hefty textbooks’.

Only time will tell whether iBooks – or other products, which could eventually include ‘open’ e-textbooks that work on any device – turn out to be just a gimmick or will change the face of ELT and its publishing sector for ever.

E-book economics in court - US Department of Justice anti-trust action against Apple and some of its iBooks partners (the Freelance, June 2012)

A forthcoming issue of the Gazette will have an "intellectual property update" of developments in this area of interest to EFL teachers.

UAE teachers ‘learn the wrong skills’

This first appeared in the April 2012 EL Gazette

CHANGES TO the school curriculum in the emirate of Abu Dhabi (part of the United Arab Emirates) requiring English-proficient teachers mean UAE universities are turning out teaching graduates with the ‘wrong’ skills who cannot be deployed in the emirate’s schools.

Abu Dhabi adopted its New School Model in 2010, for the first time requiring primary school teachers to teach several subjects and be proficient in English. But the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) director general, Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, told news website Middle East Online that teacher training departments of the UAE’s federal universities were still turning out teachers specialising in either English, maths or science and only capable of teaching one subject. And recent teacher training graduates hadn’t been familarised with the new curriculum or current methodology either.

Adec hired 314 Emirati nationals for educational jobs in the twelve months up to February, but some of these were administrative positions. The shortage of English-proficient teachers with the right skill set has impeded Adec’s drive to put proportionally more Emirati nationals into state education, forcing it to recruit 1,000 teachers from Australia, the UK and the US, while the proportion of Emirati nationals teaching in Adec schools rose only 3 per cent to 46 per cent of teachers.

None of Zayed University’s 110 teachers graduating since 2010 has found a job in Adec schools. United Arab Emirates University has begun tailoring classes to produce graduates equipped to teach to the new curriculum.

South Sudan students fight over outlawed language

This first appeared in the EL Gazette of April 2012

A FIGHT broke out in February over whether higher education should continue in ‘Arabic pattern’ (Arabic medium) or English at Bahr El Ghazal University in the newly independent east African nation of South Sudan, with two students ending up in hospital.

South Sudan’s first constitution last year outlawed Arabic and introduced English as the only language of education. Bahr El Ghazal was one of several South Sudanese universities exiled to the Arabic-speaking North during the conflict that resulted in South Sudan’s independence. It recently relocated to South Sudan, bringing with it many students who had started their degrees in Arabic. In practice, some Bahr El Ghazal faculties still offer Arabic-medium courses.

NGO the Gurtong Trust Peace and Media Project reported that leaflets said to be produced by the university started circulating in February urging students from other universities to transfer to Bahr El Ghazal to continue their studies in Arabic.

Then a lecturer told his Arabic-medium social sciences class he’d henceforth be teaching in English, asking Arabic-speaking students to ‘seek assistance’ in following his lectures. When some students ‘stormed out’, students from the English-medium course came to see what was happening. To everyone’s surprise, a fight broke out between Arabic-medium and English-medium social sciences year-two students, which ended with two students treated for serious injuries in the nearby Wau teaching hospital.

Israeli unis ‘a cheap option for English’

From the April 2012 EL Gazette

ANNUAL UNIVERSITY tuition for students in England rise to £9,000 in September, making universities in Israel – with tuition fees now at least £2,000 lower – an unexpectedly attractive proposition for students from England.

Tel Aviv University (TAU), based in Israel’s capital, recently founded TAU Trust UK. The trust’s chief executive told the Jewish Chronicle that, at a recent London trade fair, ‘so many people were enquiring about whether their son or daughter could do a full degree with us’.

Especially for students in England with Israeli family connections, a three-year English-medium TAU humanities degree at the annual equivalent of around £7,000 is suddenly worth considering.

Other Israeli institutions such as Bar-Ilan University (only £4,800 for a social sciences degree) and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya are marketing English-medium degrees to England and elsewhere.

Since this article was first published in April 2012, we've heard that students from England are expected to turn up in large numbers in Israel, the US, the Netherlands (especially Maastricht University) and Scandinavian countries in an attempt to avoid high university fees in England.

However, we've also heard from several sources that the extremely good - and largely overlooked - deal negotiated by the Lib Dem coalition partners on the terms and conditions of the UK student loans is so generous that after the hassle and expense of travel and health insurance abroad it's not really worth the bother.

Hong Kong reforms spell boost for UK higher ed

From the April 2012 EL Gazette



EDUCATION REFORMS under way in the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (SAR) of China include three-year degrees being replaced by four-year programmes from September. According to World University News Service, the anticipated disruption in the higher education sector is causing some final-year school students to head for a university abroad rather than apply for one within the SAR.

Overcrowding in Hong Kong’s eight universities is expected in September when student numbers temporarily explode as students of the existing final third year and the new-style final fourth year share the same facilities. Lecture halls will fill to capacity, and the Chinese University, City University and Polytechnic University are struggling to complete new facilities to accommodate the extra students. Hong Kong University deputy vice-chancellor Roland Chin told WUNS they were in talks with local secondary schools about using their classrooms ‘in an emergency’.

University admissions are likely to come under severe pressure too, with about 110,000 school leavers competing for 30,000 Hong Kong higher education places. For one transitional year school leavers will apply for the new-style under graduate degree courses a year earlier than previously. A new, and bigger, intake of 17-year-olds will take the Kong Hong Diploma of Secondary Education alongside the usual cohort of 18-year-old applicants to universities via the old system.

The pressure on more popular subject places has resulted in many HK students trying their luck at universities abroad as a precaution. The UK has seen the biggest increase in applications to its universities from Hong Kong. British Council in Hong Kong director of education Katherine Forestier told WUNS applications to UK universities from Hong Kong were up 37 per cent as of mid-January compared to the previous year. US, Canadian and Australian universities are also seeing more applications and enquiries from Hong Kong.

Uncertainty about how internationally acceptable the new school-leaving exams will be has also led to more Hong Kong parents putting their children into UK boarding schools

Taiwan has taken in 3,000 applicants for its universities from Hong Kong so far this academic year, and expects to admit in total 3,000 Hong Kong undergraduates – a fivefold increase in student admissions from the SAR over 2010. Many mainland China universities are accepting Hong Kong exams for (already fiercely competitive) undergraduate admission for the first time.

PA retracts false story of 66 ‘banned’ colleges

From the March 2012 EL Gazette

Matt Salusbury on a tale of two lists

The UK’s largest news agency, the Press Association (PA), has retracted a November news story that incorrectly listed 66 colleges as having been banned. At least 22 of the centres wrongly named as banned were members of language schools association English UK.

The story originated in a carefully worded UK Border Agency (UKBA)/Home Office press release which featured two lists and explained the difference between them. One was a shorter list of colleges whose licences were withdrawn from the UKBA’s Register of Sponsors for breaching its regulations.

The second list named 66 private further education colleges – and some language schools – that had, in English UK’s words, ‘taken a business decision to voluntarily resign from the Register of Sponsors [for student visas for courses lasting more than eleven months] when a prohibitively expensive new inspection regime became compulsory’. The core business of most of these colleges comprises courses lasting less than eleven months (such as EFL courses). Longer courses – now requiring a new inspection regime – only ever accounted for a small proportion of turnover.

It seems the PA had conflated the two lists. English UK contacted the PA, which ‘swiftly agreed to “clarify” the story’ and sent out a corrected version, removing erroneous versions from its website.

English UK reports that by then the UKBA’s Litigation and Correspondence Team had contacted a national broadcaster requesting them to amend the incorrect story that had appeared on its website.

Software ‘can tackle translated plagiarism’

STUDENTS LIFTING text from articles and passing it off as their own work is older than the internet, and anti-plagiarism software to detect this has become standard equipment for universities. A new trend is emerging in the plagiarism arms race – ‘internet-savvy students who are proficient in English’ increasingly seek out English language articles online, cut and paste them and then translate them into the language used as their own country’s medium of education.

According to anti-plagiarism software developers iParadigms, plagiarism of English language articles which are then translated has become such a problem that their customers in the university sector regularly ask them for the means to detect plagiarism in translation.

The company has responded to this demand by producing Turnitin, which translates work handed in by students into English and looks for matches between this and material contained in its ‘massive content database’. Current and forthcoming versions of Turnitin can spot cut-and-pastes of English internet articles passed off as students’ own work even after translation into fifteen European languages.

There’s apparently no software yet to do the reverse – spotting whether English language essays by international students on English-medium courses are cut-and-paste translations of works online in other languages. Languages other than English account for an increasing proportion of global internet content, while English-medium degree courses continue to proliferate worldwide.

Since the publication of this article in the March 2012 EL Gazette, iParadigms sent me an update saying they are working on versions that can handle non-European languages, and a version of Turnitin that can do the opposite - spot cut-and-paste translations into English, is in development.

Business schools scrap overseas alumni interviews

From the March 2012 EL Gazette



GRADUATE BUSINESS school admissions departments in the US have for some time used their large and highly organised volunteer networks of alumni abroad to conduct interviews with applicants for MBAs in the applicant’s country of residence.

But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, US business schools are now beginning to scrap this time-honoured (and cheap) method of screening applicants. Business school admissions officers told the WSJ that their principal reason for abandoning their reliance on international alumni was that they were concerned that some alumni weren’t interviewing candidates in English. Some business schools believe that alumni may make an assessment of candidates’ suitability for an English-medium MBA based on an interview carried out in a local language spoken by both the applicant and the interviewer.

Rob Weiler, assistant dean of admissions at the University of California’s Anderson School of Management, said that the evaluation of applicants’ English language competence had become ‘somewhat less consistent’ overseas. The school will continue to use some of its ‘trained alumni’ to interview applicants, but Weiler has over the previous year been remind ing them of the need to interview applicants in English only.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, which has over 88,000 alumni worldwide, previously used ‘several hundred’ of these to interview up to 3,500 MBA applicants in cities around the world for around 800 MBA places. Now Wharton, at considerable expense, is ending this arrangement and flying its six admissions officers to do interviews in Singapore, Sao Paulo and ten other ‘hub’ cities, with a core team of 45 trained current second-year MBA students interviewing on campus in Philadelphia. The remainder of interviews are conducted via Skype.

Other unnamed university admissions officers interviewed by the WSJ expressed continuing confidence and trust in the integrity of their volunteer alumni interviewing teams, but weren’t sure if all reports were based on interviews that had taken place entirely in English. A candidate who came across as ‘engaging and insightful in their native tongue’ could still turn up at an MBA provider unable even to read the orientation material, said one. Graham Richmond, CEO of Clear Admit LLC consultancy, commented of the overseas alumni system, ‘If you get two French people in a room and ask them to speak English together, it’s just not going to happen.’

Top spot for ‘squeezed middle’

Co-written with Manuela Lanza, From the February 2012 EL Gazette

LEXICOGRAPHERS FROM the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in both the UK and US have named ‘squeezed middle’ as 2011’s ‘word of the year’, while Collins Dictionaries found that ‘squeeze’ and ‘middle’ are now seven times more likely to occur together than any two random words.

The term is ascribed to Ed Miliband, UK Labour Party leader, who used it last year on BBC radio. However, Susie Dent, spokesperson for Oxford Dictionaries, thinks it may be older, as former US president Bill Clinton used it to talk about ‘hard-pressed working families squeezed in the middle’.

Squeezed middle, which beat ‘bunga bunga’, ‘occupy’ and ‘Arab Spring’ to the top place, is defined by the OED as ‘the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes and cuts in public spending … consisting principally of those on low or middle incomes’.

Collins Dictionaries analysis shows ‘greedy’ as the English adjective most commonly used with ‘banker’ since 2009, followed by ‘responsible’ as in ‘responsible for the mess’. The verbs most frequently used with banker from 2009–11 are ‘disgrace’ and ‘shame’, said Ian Brooke, the Collins Dictionaries editor.

Gulf State goes for gold

Matt Salusbury on why the EFL industry is keeping an eye on Qatar

(First appeared in EL Gazette, February 2012)

The small State of Qatar, a peninsula jutting from the side of Saudi Arabia into the Arabian Gulf, is gaining a reputation for punching well above its weight in several fields, and education in English is no exception.

Qatar is best known for its Al Jazeera news channel, with over 30 million viewers worldwide. Al Jazeera’s reputation was enough to attract the Chicago-based Northwestern University to set up an English-medium journalism school in Qatar in 2009, joining the numerous English-medium universities that now have campuses on the vast Education City complex just outside the capital Doha. Many institutions in Education City are supported by the Qatar Foundation – set up by the consort of the ruling Emir with the stated aim of ‘democratising’ the countries of the Arab world, a project which is likely to become increasingly important in the post-Arab-Spring Middle East.

Qatar is also increasingly important in global diplomacy. It was the world’s first state to recognise Libya’s Transitional National Congress, and was crucial in galvanising other Arab League countries to take tough action against Syria. Thanks to vast oil and gas reserves, Qatar has the world’s fastest-rising economic growth rate, with projected US dollar investment in the energy industry expected to be in the tens of billions. It is also hosting the 2022 football World Cup. Qatar is definitely one to watch.

According to the census in 2008, of around one and a half million people resident in Qatar, only a fifth are Qatari citizens. There are about as many nationals of other Arab states there as there are Qataris. Qatar’s English-medium universities cater increasingly to citizens of other Arab countries.

Derrick Moloney, PR director of English teachers’ association Qatar Tesol, teaches at the Academic Bridge Program (ABP), a co-educational English language ‘preparatory school’ (preparing for university admission) and part of Hamad bin Khalifa University at their campus in Education City.

ABP has a small intake (about 300 a year) and only admits ‘students who meet the stringent admission requirements and successfully pass the placement tests’ including a high Toefl or equivalent score. ABP’s students are, according to Moloney, from thirty countries, nearly all Arabic speakers and mostly from ‘Arabian Gulf, Middle East and North African regions’.

Moloney describes the ABP curriculum as a ‘nine-month, highly intensive English-language foundation programme’ for EFL/academic English, maths, science and computer science. Its teaching staff are drawn from ‘over twenty different countries’ and all have at least five years’ teaching experience. Many students graduate to one of the English-medium university annexes nearby on the Education City campus – US universities such as Georgetown and Cornell Medical College, University College London and HEC international business school Paris all have a presence there.

Mark Moulding of the British Council told the Gazette that the BC provides a lot of training in Qatar for government school teachers, from kindergarten through to secondary school, via the BC’s English Language Teachers’ Network and through tailor-made courses, which include ‘trainer training and training to teach Ielts’. The BC in Qater also runs Celta and Young Learners Extension training.

Of the private language school sector in Qatar, the BC said, ‘The range is very broad and includes … vocational and soft skills.’

According to the BC, ‘Qatar has prioritised English for work and this is reflected in the education reform programme, which involves English-medium education in schools. There are some [English-medium] vocational colleges, including College of the North Atlantic, the Community College and Qatar Skills Academy.’

Some Qataris receive funding for study on English-medium courses abroad from potential employers, the government and the nation’s Higher Education Institute. These students ‘go primarily to the USA, UK, Australia and Canada’, according to the BC.

Looking to the future - wearble simultaneous translation devices update

Wearable simultaneous translation devices may not yet have arrived, but a new wearable computer for corporate ‘field operations’ brings translators that convert voice to text on the fly a step closer to reality.

Japanese electronics giant NEC’s long-awaited Tele Scouter gadget was finally launched in October. Resembling a pair of spectacles, it has frames but lacks lenses and projects text directly onto the user’s retina. Back in 2010, tech blogs reported that there would be an English-to-Japanese version available for use in sensitive situations where ‘confidential translations’ without an interpreter were needed.

When Tele Scouter eventually appeared, NEC told the Gazette, ‘The translation application is not available yet and a release date remains to be decided,’ but it seems to be on the way. See the September 2010 Gazette for Babelfisk, voice-to-text spectacles for the deaf still at the concept design stage.

(This first appeared in the EL Gazette, February 2012, since then Google unveiled a prototype of its simultaneous translation spectacles.)

US unis favour ban on agents



This first appeared in the EL Gazette of February 2012

TWO THIRDS of admissions officers in US universities and tertiary education colleges favour a ban on the use of commercial agents who recruit international students, according to a recent survey, and over 46 per cent believe that ‘agents often help their clients fabricate information on applications’.

The ‘Survey of College and University Admissions Directors’, published in Inside Higher Ed in early December, also revealed that over a fifth of admissions officers reported a ‘problem with fabricated admissions applications for international students’, while over a quarter of respondents said they ‘strongly agree’ that international students turn up with ‘inadequate requirements for entry’.

The survey’s section on international student recruitment noted, ‘At issue is the growing use of commission-paid agents both by students seeking admission and by institutions recruiting international students.’ The survey concluded that ‘many institutions admit some applicants who apply with lower grades and test scores than those typically admitted’. But this was not restricted to admission of international students – institutions taking in under qualified athletes was perceived as a more common practice.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), which represents university and further education college admissions officers, proposed a bar on such institutions using agents back in the spring of 2011, but so far this has not been implemented. At the time NACAC cited ‘complications involving misrepresentation, conflict of interest and fraud’ and an ‘incentive for recruiters to ignore the student interest’ as consequences of using agents.

A group of over 135 educational agents in the US, the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC), whose stated aim is to raise the professional standards of agents who recruit for US higher education, released new proposed guidelines shortly before the survey was published. AIRC’s proposals for ‘revisions to compliance standards’ included forbidding agents from taking a cut of scholarships or financial aid awarded to their clients’, according to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

John Segota, associate executive director for professional relations at Tesol Inc, whose members include English language units at US universities, told the Gazette, ‘Tesol International Association does not have a specific position [on] the use of educational agents.’

Every Time I Think of You - Islington in the 80s

A couple of my photos of Islington in the 1980s appear on screen briefly in the film Every Time I Think of You, which had its one and only showing at the Screen on the Green in Upper Street (Islington, of course!) recently.

The film will be free to view online soon via the link above. It's based on interviews by people living and working in Islington (Chapel Market in particular) in that decade, some spoken by the interviewees themselves, some revoiced by actors. Actors and interviewees alike were persuaded to improvise something about a mystery woman who was known and loved by all in that era, and who went missing on New Year's Eve 1989 - Toni Sling. We only get to see a blurred photo of her. I don't need to tell you it's an anagram of Islington.

As usual, my name was spelt wrong in the film credits, I was down as "Matt Salisbury" in the "photos supplied by" section. My nephew Luke Reilly, like me also Islington born and bred, is credited for "additional dialogue" and "interviews conducted by". Regretably, his interviews of me, centering on working as a bike messenger among the typesetters of 1980s Clerkenwell, didn't make it into the script.

I recommend the film, and there's also an online photo exhibition of Islington in the 80s from which the photos in the film were taken. Click through this, and you can see all my photos from that bygone age, with my credit on them.

The two photos that made it into the film are a legal observer from the 1984 Stop the City demo in Finsbury Square - funny how history repeats itself! - and if you look closely you can see the Islington Council creche bus that someone's borrowed for the occasion. Finsbury Square was just outside the City, and sympathisers among Council workers ran the demo's first aid point and so on from there. While bank-bashing by the likes of Stop the City was the pastime of a tiny minority of mostly marginal punk anarchists in those days, it has become mainstream now.

The other photo is Islington Town Hall, when it was a "Red" council driven by gesture politics of this sort. Nobody bats an eyelid at much higher unemployment figures but it was a national scandal at the time. And beggars in the streets of London started to make their first appearance in my lifetime around then, to the shock of many. The Town Hall's not flying the Red Flag in the photo although it regularly did in those days. They gave up when firemen from the fire station a few doors down allegedly abseiled up the building and took it down, on several occasions. There was also an old bust of Lenin on display at the top of the stairs of the Town Hall at the time, which once had green paint tipped over it. Why green? No one knows. The opposite of red, perhaps>

An image pasted into my early 1980s scrapbook - a strip from the not very funny "Lazarus Lamb" cartoon, from the contemporary Islington Gutter Press, also flits briefly across the screen in the film.

I'm afraid I don't agree with the view expressed in the film that the 1980s was an age of innocence before the internet and mobile phones. The Eighties sucked. They were the low point of human history, when thousand of years of progress stopped overnight, to be replaced with Thatcherite/Reaganite Free Market Fever, which is bizarrely still with us today, only more so.