Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
I’ve spent the past two weeks in turns delighting and dismaying my FCE students with Reported Speech.
God, I loathe Reported Speech.
It’s everything I hate about everything all backshifted into one pointless morass. It’s prawns, brussel sprouts, hashtags, people who talk about themselves in the third person, carrot jeans, touching people I don’t know and Croc footwear.
It’s completely feckin’ made up. Reported Speech barely exists and barely matters when it does.
In class, I keep forgetting to backshift, particularly between past simple and past perfect when we’re doing endless FCE sentence transformation tasks because it just doesn’t bloody matter. Meaning my Native Speaker correct-because-I’d-say-it sentence is textbook wrong, confusing the students and confusing me as I try to “correct” my speech, so as not to sound natural but to fit the book.
At first students love RP. There are rules, logic (once you get past the fact there’s no real need for it), there’s a table you can copy. They start to lose faith in me when I can’t manage the exercises but that only serves to make them feel better about their own English.
Then we hit reporting verbs and the little light fades from their eyes.
They can no longer get away with doing meaningless transforming of sentences they don’t understand and have to deal with content-ful, lexical items. They hate that. And, to make it worse, there are too many possible answers.
Why don’t we abandon Reported Speech forever in all course books?
She suggested abandoning Reported Speech forever in all course books.
But what about “She suggested that we abandon Reported Speech in all course books.”?
Yes, that’s right too.
– What about “She suggested to me that we abandon Reported Speech forever in all course books”?
Yes, you could do that but there’s no real point having so many words in the sentence.
– OK, “She suggested me that we abandon Reported Speech forever in all course books.”
Well…no, that extra word has to stay in.
It came into my reach recently to change things. I have finally reached the stage of making an impact on materials even just on a really teeny, tiny, three retweets basis.
I have a Speaking Skills self study book with Harper Collins for B2 and higher for which I got to set my own syllabus with 20 units of whatever I wanted. Of course there was a huge amount of compromise but that’s OK, I’m good at that.
But one I had to lose a lot of ground over was the attack I planned on the flanks of Reported Speech’s cavalry. I believe we mostly report speech in quotes.
Since the aim of the book was natural speech, this fit perfectly. My working title for the unit was Reporting Conversations which ultimately became Gossiping. I had to fight for that because there there was no way I was calling it Reported Speech or anything close. No human alive does that. We talk about people, we gossip. But there were concerns that gossip had a negative connotation and maybe we might call it the much catchier Chatting about friends and responding to news.
I think it’s the content of gossip that makes it mean spirited and anyway, so what? We all do it. Most of us enjoy it and, without it, there’d be 70% less conversation in the entire speaking world. Why do we have to pretend our students only want to learn nice things? How about a chapter on Being Bitchy and Slagging People Off? That page would get studied so much the ink would wear off (the non digital version).
But I can compromise so I nicey-ed up some of the conversations and we kept the title. The bigger battle was to keep my direct quote phrases as a teachable point.
No-one believed in them except me.
The editors felt they were just a way of speaking that didn’t really mean anything and would date. But I know I was talking like that over ten years ago and, if anything, that kind of speech is more prevalent in people ten years younger than me. At the cost of sounding intelligent sometimes but that could have been a point of note to focus on too; sounding as thick or as intelligent as you wish to appear in your second language.
As it was, I got to keep one teeny little language note about it. I suppose that was something and I think the conversations they appear in sound reasonably natural as a result.