Imbolc

Today more winter is behind us,

Than remains in front of us.

For today’s the day of Imbolc!

A day when all the ancient folk,

Would celebrate the coming spring.

Back then it was a greater thing,

But if you look around, with any luck,

You’ll see a marmot or woodchuck,

Sticking his head out of the ground,

Checking if his shadow can be found.

How this started, no one knows.

But if he sees it, back he goes!

If you’re wondering how to celebrate,

Just light some candles. Dance! Create!

Clean your house or bake some bread.

Put a lampshade on your head.

Celebrate without a worry.

Or you could just watch a certain film,

That stars the great Bill Murray.

MAYBE?

Maybe I need,
Inner peace,
Some sense of deep release,
To reach existential answers that lay within,
Shaking off the old,
Shedding my proverbial skin,
Continually looking in the same old mirror,
Hoping vainly somehow for a reflection that’s clearer,
As I search for the better,
Through word and through letter,
I find that my mind wanders instead,
As experience raises its ugly head,
But it is what it is,
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Maybe I just need a new hat.

A NEW STATUE

~A NEW STATUE~
We have a new unknown soldier,
Tens of thousands the world over,
Suiting up in self protection,
Facing risk of self-infection,
To care for us and those we love,
The ultimate push comes to shove,
Empathy for patients alone,
Isolated and on their own,
These soldiers of science and fact,
Facilitating last contact,
Steeling themselves from emotion,
With professional devotion,
Sadness and death their daily fight,
With few glimpses of hope and light,
Hail the unknown healthcare worker,
Pandemic-worn – still no shirker,
For their lives and for all they do,
We need many a new statue.
–Ken Donner
2021/01/01

DECEMBER 1st

I’m feeling kind of giddy now that it’s December first,
This year’s been kind of shiddy,
Many might call it the worst,
I don’t have to rhyme the reasons,
Cuz you know them well enough,
Suffice to say that there’s been way,
Way way way too much stuff,
So one more month to get through,
Then it’s twenty-twenty-one,
And this annus horribilis,
Is officially done,
Now don’t get me wrong,
Chances are strong,
We’re not out of the woods,
It’s still not clear whether the new year,
Will deliver the goods,
Let me just say this,
Full of vinegar and piss,
I’m feeling kind of feisty,
How this year goes,
Nobody knows,
We’ll wait and we just might see,
But I shout it now,
From the highest bough,
And I don’t mean to be crass,
If twenty-twenty-one,
Is a twenty-twenty rerun,
I’m prepared to kick its ass!
–Ken Donner

Read a book.

“How can I increase my vocabulary,” is a frequently-asked-question for English as a Second Language teachers, along with “how can I get better at grammar?” For my part, the answer to both questions is one and the same: read a book. Throughout my career as an English teacher, I’ve observed that students who excel at expressing themselves in both written and spoken language are invariably the readers. Of course there are countless internet-based resources with both online exercises and printable worksheets, but how truly effective are they? The third method described by Bo Lundahl as “deliberate/intentional vocabulary learning”[1] is the most straightforward method, as one simply, “[studies] words and phrases and [tries] to learn them.“ (Lundahl 2012: 338) This was the method used when I was in high school. We were required to buy a vocabulary book containing lists of words that we were expected to memorize the spelling, definitions, and the usage of, and which we would be tested on every week. It was an unreservedly and relentlessly dull way to learn the vocabulary we needed to know for the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).[2] These were words like microcosm, demonstrative, problematize and other words that are almost never used outside of academia and which we would forget one nanosecond after the exam was over.

Leo Van Lier would certainly agree that this deliberate/intentional method is an inauthentic (read: unnatural) way of learning vocabulary. In his chapter concerning authenticity, Van Lier clarifies that in order for the classroom to “become more ‘natural,’ [it] must try to be less like a classroom, and more like some other place.” (Van Lier 1996: 123) What, then, would be considered an authentic way of learning vocabulary? The answer is, once again, read a book. Read books written in English. Read them in some other place besides the classroom and read them often. The more you see the English language written in its correct form, with correct spelling, usage, and context, the better you will get at both English vocabulary and English grammar. Adding listening into the mix incorporates the elements of pronunciation and intonation, leading further to total mastery of the language. This is Lundahl’s number one vocabulary learning method, described as “listening and reading when the focus is on the content (learning vocabulary from meaning-focused input).” (Lundahl 2012: 338) Using text-to-speech while simultaneously reading a text is the way I personally read online Swedish texts. (Unfortunately, this method does not work very well with printed books.)

Lundahl’s second method of learning vocabulary is described as “talking and writing when the focus is on the content (learning vocabulary from meaning-focused output)” (Lundahl 2012: 338). In other words, this is a dialectical/discussion based method of learning new vocabulary and concepts. The teaching methodology I trained in originally focused on this kind of learning, so I used this method extensively during my first years of teaching undergraduates. I would assign the students a text, for which we would have a guided discussion during lessons. After a couple of weeks of this process, the students would write a short argumentative paper relating to the topics we had covered. Inciting critical thinking skills was a part of the curriculum so this method served that requirement well. Of course these students were all native speakers at the university level, so it is important to keep in mind that this method is perhaps a little too advanced for younger students. However, I have used this method with great success in more advanced levels. (English C/D/E and English 7) It really stimulates and engages the students and gets them thinking.

In Ulrika Tornberg’s chapter on memory and the learning of words (Chapter 7) she goes a step further than Lundahl’s three methods of learning new words and concepts, and discusses specific methods for assimilating new vocabulary. According to Tornberg, “the fact that we understand a word with the help of clues or dictionaries does not mean that we also know it. The knowledge we have today about how our memory works leads to the realization that word learning is a creative process with several steps. The word must first be coded in a conscious way in order to then be able to pick it up again.” (Tornberg 2020: 140) To continue with the computer analogy, the only way to truly know a new word is to program it into the brain in a way that leads to its retention, unlike the deliberate/intentional method, which does not lead to retention because (for which I ask your forgiveness) retention is not the intention.

In order to determine the ideal way of programming one’s brain, it’s important to be aware of one’s individual learning aptitudes or intelligences. Torberg lists these as:

  1. Linguistic intelligence
  2. Logistical/mathematical intelligence
  3. Visual/spatial intelligence
  4. Musical intelligence
  5. Kinesthetic intelligence  (Tornberg 2020: 141)

There are plenty of online surveys/quizzes designed to reveal one’s intelligence aptitudes.[3] I discovered that I have a high degree of musical intelligence, followed closely by linguistic intelligence. This makes perfect sense because I’ve been musical my entire life, and I’m always humming/singing/whistling, and making up songs about my cat. According to Tornberg, a person with a high degree of musical intelligence “might encode words using music or by rapping or rhyming.” (Tornberg 2020: 141) Incorporating music and movement into lessons is of course a well-established pedagogical practice, but it is mostly used for small children. If an ESL student is really struggling with learning new vocabulary, I would suggest singing it, even if it feels childish. I asked my Swedish husband about a particularly effective teacher he had, and he mentioned his high school German teacher. She told them at the start of the term that she was going to teach them like they were small children, which I’m sure some of them were not entirely comfortable with, but her methods ended up being extraordinarily effective. So, why not try a few songs, rhymes, and games for third year upper-secondary students – after reassuring them that, look, you know it seems weird, but trust you, it works.

Resources:

Lundahl, B. Engelsk språkdidaktik: texter, kommunikation, språkutveckling. 3:e uppl. Lund: Studentlitteratur. 2012

Tornberg, U. Språkdidaktik. 6:e uppl. Malmö: Gleerups. 2020

Van Lier, Leo. “Interaction in the language curriculum: awareness, autonomy, and authenticity.” Applied linguistics and language study. London: Longman. 1996


[1] All citations from Lundahl and Tornberg are translated.

[2] The satirical dictionary website Urban Dictionary defines SAT, among other ways, as: 1) A bullshit exam which doesn’t test anything, be it IQ, creativity, personality, or potential college performance” and 3) Is a major cause of teenage suicide in America. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=SAT

[3] This is the one I used: https://personalitymax.com/multiple-intelligences-test/

TRUMP’S TAX EVASION

Tax avoidance, or tax evasion?
A simple annoyance,
Or criminal equation?
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,
That adage is firm,
We know he’s a liar,
Too cocky to squirm,
But the wagons are circling,
Sometimes cigars are cigars,
So if destiny’s working,
We’ll soon see him behind bars!

Don’t want to wear a mask

I never wore a mask before.

Don’t want to wear one in the store.

Don’t want to wear one in the hall.

Don’t want to wear a mask at all. 

Don’t want to wear a mask today,

Don’t want to wear a mask, no way.

You cannot make me wear a mask.

It’s really just too much to ask. 

It makes it hard to breathe and talk,

To ride a bike or take a walk. 

Don’t want to wear a mask today.

Don’t want to wear a mask, no way. 

But…

I really cannot tell a lie. 

Don’t want to become sick and die.

I do not want to lie in bed.

A ventilator in my head. 

Nothing to do, nothing to say.

Just breathe in and out all day. 

Don’t want to wear a mask today,

But I will wear one anyway.

Fruitless

There is a little cherry tree,

In the middle of the yard.

It really has one job to do,

But finds it really hard.

Its companion apple tree,

Makes apples every year.

But for some reason,

A single cherry has yet to appear.

Perhaps, a pollen problem,

But I do not think that’s true.

The neighbor has a cherry tree,

And it is fruitless too.

This year, there were no cherries,

Just like the year before.

And I wonder, will it be like this,

Fruitless, forever more?