Sam Shepherd

Thercycle-sticker1e are, in this world, many things which annoy me. Things that irk me. Things that get my goat, wind me up, rattle my cage and downright piss me off.Things like muttonheads in cars speeding and/or playing crap music loudly (on no level cool); things like people who justhave to check Whatsapp in the middle of a film; things like driving 4x4s in an urban setting; things like the stupid excuses people have for driving a 4×4 in an urban setting; things like the phrase “I’m not a racist but…”; things like close passes and left hooks; or things like the “Cyclists Stay back” sticker (and notjust because of the random approach to capital letters).

However, this is not just me letting off steam about the things that annoy me, although I could really go on about these for some (probably quite cathartic and therapeutic time). Even…

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An valuable insight into some of the difficulties faced by ESOL practitioners. Worth a read.

Sam Shepherd

I envy my colleagues who teach vocational and academic subjects, sometimes, I really do. I envy the way FE standards and processes are based around the way those courses are run (oh to be a dominant majority) and the fact that their subjects are widely recognised and valued across most of society. Particularly, however, I envy the way they get to plan a whole year of course content in advance, and then use it again the following year with another group of broadly similar students. And then, probably, use it again the year after that. Even if the content changes, as well it might, or the subject needs a little updating, there is likely to be a whole load of content which can be recycled before being reused once again. They are, essentially, jammy bastards.

Because this kind of forward planning is simply not a possibility in ESOL, not really…

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5 things I wish I’d known before my MA


I’ve spent the past two years studying part-time for my MA at King’s College London.  I finished it this summer and just got my dissertation back this week (if you’re interested, you can read the full thing here: Patsko_MA_2013 and – update from spring 2014 – click here to read about the recognition it received!).

I guess that means I’m now officially a master (mistress?) of ELT & Applied Linguistics!

Looking back and reflecting on the whole experience, there are quite a few lessons I learnt along the way, other than things directly related to the course content.

Here are my top 5.

1. How to use the literature

At the top of my list is the thing which easily caused me the most (avoidable) stress throughout the whole MA programme.

I don’t consider myself a great reader–not because I have any specific difficulty, but more because I have a…

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Patterns first – why you should ‘ditch’ word lists and traditional grammar rules

The Language Gym

(Co-authored with Steve Smith and Dylan Vinales)


Last week, during a workshop on vocabulary learning that I delivered in my faculty, I carried out a little experiment with my colleagues which aimed at raising their awareness of the limitation of human working memory by making them experience cognitive overload (i.e. the inability of working memory to cope with a task due to excessive demand on their processing capacity).

The task was simple. One person had a list of twenty words and had to utter each word on the list, one by one ( first word 1, then word 2, followed by word 3, etc.) to their partner. The latter had to repeat at each round all the words read so far, rigorously in the same order as they had been read to them ( relying solely on their memory as they had not access to the list).

As expected…

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Linguistic Flatland: When the Non-Native Sphere fell through Flatland

Recently Adrian Holliday stated,

I no longer review research that compares ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers as though the groups are real and not imagined”

Inadvertently fuelling the everlasting native vs non-native speaker debate, as Geoff Jordan (of Critical ELT fame) and Marek Kikscowiak (of TEFL Equity Advocates fame) engaged in a bitter, yet surprisingly well-mannered dispute over whether there is a difference between a native and a non-native speaker. Continue reading

Foreign language vocabulary: Effective practices for learning and teaching

Research-based advice for teaching vocab


Below are three quotes from one of many “technical reports” published by CASL, the Center for Advanced Study of Language at Maryland University. My intention here is simply to draw your attention to this report on vocab. learning, and, maybe more importantly, to the website. It’s a great resource (Mike Long just told me about it); there’s a rich variety of all sorts of interesting, well-written, well-supported  stuff there, and, since it’s financed by US tax-payers’ money, it’s all available for free download.

Here are the quotes:

Storage and retrieval of FL words

“Initial encoding of new lexical items and repeated encounters leading to additional learning are not sufficient to support fluent language use. Students must be able to reliably store the new items in long-term memory and successfully and quickly retrieve them when needed. In order to understand the specific challenges encountered by foreign language students, it is useful to briefly discuss several critical issues…

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