What a difference an ‘ea’ makes

Bernardo is one and a half weeks through a very enjoyable but intense four-week CELTA course on teaching English to speakers of other languages. So instead of getting to grips with bits of French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and/or Romanian, Bernardo has been trying to look at his native tongue through other people’s eyes. Pity poor people who have to learn English! Did you know that, for instance, if you put the letters e and a together, the ea pairing can generate five different sounds?

Try it, say these aloud, then drop the consonants to see what sound you are left with:

  • bread, dead
  • beat, cheat
  • bear, wear
  • dear, near
  • break, steak

Where is the logic? It’s enough to make Bernardo want to run back to Romania, where the little oddities of the language – such as putting indefinite articles before the noun but definite articles after them – now seem perfectly rational in comparison.

Articles in various European languages.

Articles in various European languages. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(My plug-in that suggests pictures to go with what I am writing about came up with the above map. I have little idea what it is about. I am guessing that it is a summary of the patterns of articles – grammatical ones, not newspaper ones – and that the pink countries do the same thing, the light blue ones do their own thing, the purple ones in Scandinavia do what Romanian does, and that the dark blue is the “norm”. It would be interesting to read the text that goes with it, but keep reading Bernardo’s interesting prose for now OK; you can hunt around for the article article afterwards.)

Although Bernardo did teach English as a foreign language for a full year a long time ago, he has never had any formal training in teaching, so the concepts of what makes good teaching practice have been an eye-opener. Bernardo has been lucky to have been able to do summer language courses in both Portugal and Romania in the past two years, and he had great teachers in both countries, so he has been able to look back and think what techniques did those teachers have that made their courses so stimulating. If you are going to be a teacher, model yourself on the teachers that you really admire, the ones that inspired you.

Up till now Bernardo had always thought (without really thinking it through) that teaching almost by default must mean constantly passing on knowledge – give students the grammar, give them the rules, etc. It’s like a one-way flow of information. But in reality one of the most effective ways of teaching is to let the pupils do it by trial and error and work it out for themselves, often in pairs or groups, and make them practise. (As a pupil Bernardo never really wanted to “do” or practise anything, just sit back in the hope that the information would enter his brain and thus immediately make him very very gifted. Let the teacher do the hard work!) This is why Bernardo has never really mastered a language; he wants to be fed the rules but never practises or reinforces his knowledge. Buckle up, Bernardo!

So everybody, in his blog today His Master’s Voice should be guiding you on the imperfect subjunctive in Portuguese or somesuch. Well, look it up yourself, you lazy bastards! Study its form, then write up a few sentences using the imperfect subjunctive. Write a whole novel in that tense if you want. Then with your partners check and correct each other’s work, OK? You’ll soon get the hang of it. Don’t forget to like the imperfect subjunctive on Facebook. Bernardo was up until 2am writing his teaching plan for the lesson that he taught today (the lesson plan was a novel in itself, more fiction than fact, as it turned out), so while you do all that, he’s treating himself to an early night. The snoring will start in a few minutes and hopefully it will continue for at least eight hours.


4 thoughts on “What a difference an ‘ea’ makes

    • Hi, I would recommend it – it’s a great course; expensive but well worth it. In some ways I wish I had done it part time (which would have taken nine weeks instead of four) because this truly has been the busiest time of my life; but on the other hand the momentum that you get from doing it full-time, and just being able to immerse yourself in it and focus solely on it is great. Better than doing it in dribs and drabs, I think. So go for it! Cheers

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