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The Silence of the Lambs

Sunday, 6 November, 2016 0 Comments

Monster with lambs

“Nothing makes us more vulnerable than loneliness except greed.”
— Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs


Talkin’ Industry 4.0

Saturday, 5 November, 2016 0 Comments

Today, at the 29th IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference in Munich, I’ll be talking about the language of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its seven key components: Industry 4.0, IoT, Big Data, cloud computing, robotics, AI and cybersecurity.

As with the three preceding Industrial Revolutions, which were powered, respectively, by steam, electricity and transistors, the cyber-physical systems now driving this fourth upheaval will transform manufacturing and replace William Blake’s vision of dark Satanic sweatshops with that of a better, cleaner, cleverer place — the smart factory.

“And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?”

Jerusalem by William Blake (1757 — 1827)


The inspired choice of Brexit as Word of the Year

Friday, 4 November, 2016 0 Comments

A few hours after the Collins Dictionary had named “Brexit” its Word of the Year yesterday, the High Court in London ruled that Britain cannot start the process of leaving the European Union without a vote in parliament. Clearly, Brexit is a word that will not go away in the foreseeable future. Or ever, perhaps.

Brexit Brexit means “the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union” and the word became popular as the UK headed towards June’s historic referendum. In fact, lexicographers recorded an upsurge of more than 3,400 per cent in its use this year — an increase unheard of since Collins began monitoring word usage.

Collins says “Brexit is arguably politics’ most important contribution to the English language in over 40 years, since the Watergate scandal gave commentators and comedians the suffix ‘-gate’ to make any incident or scandal infinitely more compelling.” Brexit is far more elastic than Watergate, though, because not only does it sum up the result of one of the most dramatic events in British political history, it has inspired terms such as “Bremain”, “Bremorse”, “hard Brexit” and, of course, Grexit. Note: It has also been adapted to describe unrelated events coming to an end, such as “Mexit” for Lionel Messi’s someday retirement. God forbid!


Phraseum: A conversation with Ondrej Bobal

Thursday, 3 November, 2016 0 Comments

Ondrej Bobal is a serial entrepreneur from the Czech Republic who has created several startups, including nextstories.com and auto.cz, which was subsequently acquired by Germany’s Axel Springer SE. He’s currently busy with Phraseum, a project he describes as a tool for collaborative learning that’s also a social network.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: What is Phraseum and why did you create it?

Ondrej Bobal: Phraseum offers a community of phrase collections, or Phrasebooks, based on common topics, projects, or grammar lessons. Tags not only allow users to save and categorize phrases as they like, but they generate suggestions for other phrases related to a specific topic.

Phraseum allows you to collect words, phrases and sentences from anywhere on the web, while you browse and organise them into social phrasebooks. Phraseum is social, so you can share phrases and phrasebooks with anyone else on the site and follow other people if you like the kinds of things they are saving and sharing. A Spaced Repetition System allows users to memorise phrasebooks they are following.

My aim is to create the biggest crowd-based database of phrases to allow learners to find suitable ‘real language’ phrases for particular situation and meaning (by searching tags). There is no such tool on the internet so far.”

Eamonn Fitzgerald: Can you give us some facts about Phraseum: Monthly active users, number of countries where it’s used, most popular sections and so on?

Ondrej Bobal: “7,000 monthly users, mainly form countries where Phraseum was covered in media or blogs: Spain, Argentina, Brasil, Egypt, Indonesia, Germany, Poland — all over the world:-)

The most popular phrasebooks are English phrasal verbs, email communication, presentation…. The content is focused on real language — phrases you will not find in the text books.

Example from Phrasebok emails and online communication:

“Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.”
“Hey, no hurry but when you get a chance would you mind…”
“Let me know how your calendar looks for a quick talk.”

Phraseum

If learners use built-in memorising tool for the phrases, they can master them quickly and be more fluent and confident using real language.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: How could teachers use Phraseum in the classroom?

Ondrej Bobal: A good place to begins is Nik Peachy’s recent post on Using Phraseum to learn lexical chunks.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: How can English learners best use Phraseum?

Ondrej Bobal: They can create their own collections by clipping phrases and chunks of language while browsing the web or follow already published phrasebooks and memorise them using Phraseums’s memorising SRS tool. After few weeks they can master hundreds of phrases.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: Thank you, Ondrej.


The faithful departed

Wednesday, 2 November, 2016 1 Comment

There is a Mexican saying that we die three times: the first at the moment of death, the second when we are lowered into the earth and the third when our loved ones forget us. Día de los Muertos, which corresponds with today’s All Souls’ Day, is dedicated to ensuring that those who loved us will not be forgotten.

This morning, at 7 am in the Theatinerkirche in Munich, a special memorial mass was celebrated for the souls of Kit Fitzgerald ( 6 September 2015) and Mick Fitzgerald ( 2 April 2011) of Ballylanders, County Limerick; and Mary Walsh ( 27 December 2004) and Tom Walsh ( 12 June 2012) of Mullingar, County Westmeath. May they rest in peace.

Mammy praying on the road to Knock

“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.” — Marcel Proust


The story is about…

Tuesday, 1 November, 2016 0 Comments

… simplicity. The 20 thrillers written by Lee Child have sold more than 40 million copies in 75 countries and one of the secrets of his success is that each story can be summed up succinctly, in a word or two: justice, retribution, salvation or Jack Reacher, for example. Along with Child’s advice to tell the story so tightly that it can be expressed pithily, he offers the following six tips for writers:

1. Set daily word counts
2. The only qualification you need to be a writer is to be a reader
3. Character is king
4. Don’t fall in love with your characters
5. The beginning of the story is crucial
6. Ignore advice!

After losing his job in the television industry in 1995, Lee Child turned his hand to writing novels. His role model was the American pulp fiction genius John D MacDonald and it was his tough-guy character, Travis McGee, who offered a template for Jack Reacher. Child recently explained his fascination with MacDonald and McGee in an excellent BBC Radio 4 programme, 21 Shades of Noir: Lee Child on John D MacDonald.

Note: The 21st book in the Jack Reacher series, Night School, will be published on Monday. The second film in the series, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, premiered on 21 October and has taken in almost $94 million at the box office so far. Moral of story: Keep it simple and encapsulate your concept in a word, or two.


Halloween: The evening of the witch

Monday, 31 October, 2016 0 Comments

The Three Witches are characters in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth and they first appear in Act 1.1, where they greet the brave Scottish general with the grim prophecy that he shall be king. Together, they represent chaos, conflict and impending doom, and the spell they cast on Elizabethan Era audiences continues to echo down the centuries as young readers of J.K. Rowling’s popular witchcraft books will know.

Much of our fascination with witches comes from the belief in their ability to bestride the borders between the natural and the supernatural, which is part of the aura of Halloween. It’s not all that long ago when homes and barns were blessed on All Hallows’ Eve to protect people and livestock from witches, who were believed to accompany malignant spirits as they wandered the earth this night.


Kim Cattrall reads Rosemary’s Baby

Sunday, 30 October, 2016 0 Comments

Satanism on Manhattan’s Upper West Side? Ira Levin’s 1967 novel Rosemary’s Baby sold more than four million copies and launched the modern horror genre. The following year, it was made into a controversial film starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes and directed by Roman Polanski. This weekend, especially for Halloween, it’s being read terrifically, terrifyingly, as part of BBC Radio 4’s Fright Night series by Kim Cattrall, the English-Canadian actress who became famous as Samantha Jones in Sex and the City.

Rosemary's Baby

“Are you aware that the Bramford had a rather unpleasant reputation around the turn of the century? It’s where the Trench sisters conducted their little dietary experiments. And Keith Kennedy held his parties. Adrian Marcato lived there too… The Trench sisters were two proper Victorian ladies — they cooked and ate several young children including a niece…Adrian Marcato practiced witchcraft. He made quite a splash in the ’90s by announcing that he’d conjured up the living devil. Apparently, people believed him so they attacked and nearly killed him in the lobby of the Bramford… Later, the Keith Kennedy business began and by the ’20s, the house was half empty… World War II filled the house up again… They called it Black Bramford… This house has a high incidence of unpleasant happenings. In 1959, a dead infant was found wrapped in newspaper in the basement…”


The old made modern

Saturday, 29 October, 2016 0 Comments

In his 2012 award-winning album, Ground Of Its Own, the English singer Sam Lee created something unique by giving traditional song the theatrical treatment. A typical example is his interpretation of the transported convict’s lament, Goodbye My Darling. The vocal and the video are pure drama as an 18th-century ballad is turned into 21st-century storytelling. Lee’s native London, with its immigrants and its elites, plays a leading role in the production.


Those whose business has to do with fish

Friday, 28 October, 2016 0 Comments

It’s Friday, which means fish for dinner, as was tradition in our home as was the observation of the Angelus, which begins “The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary…”

The general belief is that when T.S. Eliot was composing The Four Quartets and wrote “Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,” the church he had in mind was Notre Dame de la Garde, overlooking the Mediterranean at Marseilles. Another school of thought suggests he was thinking of the Church of Our Lady of Good Voyage, which watches over Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts. A noteworthy feature of this church, and relevant to Eliot’s poem, is its statue of the Virgin Mary. It stands between two spires and she cradles in her arms not the infant Jesus, but a sailing ship.

This excerpt is from the section titled “The Dry Salvages” — apparently les trois sauvages, which is a small group of rocks off the North East coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Note: Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages.

Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,
Pray for all those who are in ships, those
Whose business has to do with fish, and
Those concerned with every lawful traffic
And those who conduct them.

Repeat a prayer also on behalf of
Women who have seen their sons or husbands
Setting forth, and not returning:
Figlia del tuo figlio,
Queen of Heaven.

Also pray for those who were in ships, and
Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea’s lips
Or in the dark throat which will not reject them
Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell’s
Perpetual angelus.


Watching robots working

Thursday, 27 October, 2016 0 Comments

There is something satisfying, almost mesmerizing, in watching these robots working at the Komatsu Spring Industrial Company, which was established in 1941: “Since then we have worked consistently hard in the design and manufacture of springs, displaying developmental ingenuity to become one of the world leaders in the field of precision springs and playing a leading role in the precision mechanical equipment industry.” Japanese manufactuers, given the country’s demography, have no choice but to adapt.

The background music, which these robots love, is Sountrive – Goko Bane.