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Archive for April, 2007

Here are some thoughts on my doing a master’s degree by distance education at a UK university while living in Canada. My wife and I work full-time and we have two school-age children, so home life can be a hectic whirlwind. Here are some reflections at the end of the course.

1. Approaching forty seemed the right age for a master’s. If I’d put it off much longer, any remaining enthusiasm may have waned.

2. Working in the North American higher education system pretty much necessitates having a higher degree.

3. The qualification may aid professional credibility in terms of giving presentations and publishing opportunities, should I ever decide to explore (however fruitlessly) these avenues of interest.

4. Chipping away at the workload in the available snippets of time has not been easy. It can take a couple of hours just to remember my line of reasoning from two weeks ago.

5. After a day’s work, preparing dinner, kids’ homework, bath and story time, and planning the next workday, my thirst for the fruits of academia is somewhat diminished.

6. Aspects of the course can be tedious. For example, bulletin board posts are required as the “attendance” component of the course. However, they are unassessed. Therefore, some people post inane drivel, whereas others guilt you into making a decent effort.

7. The level of support from the university has been first-rate: Quick response to all questions and excellent feedback on all draft and final assignments.

8. At more negative moments, I recall the quotation that says a thesis is simply the transferring of a set of bones from one cemetery to another.

9. On the plus side, I have re-evaluated many of my core teaching beliefs. And found them all to be entirely justifiable!

10. Overall, the necessary learning process and sense of accomplishment made the experience, for me, worthwhile and justifiable.

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It’s grim up north

On the day that Barnsley FC inadvertently secured survival in the Championship, thanks to a late Ipswich equaliser at Leeds, it seems fitting to upload a couple of images showing the absolute majesty of the Yorkshire countryside.

Yorkshire view

Outsiders and comers-in might sometimes claim that the various Yorkshire accents fail to match the beauty of their natural surroundings. They’d be wrong of course.

And here’s a link to prove it. Have fun translating these melodious Barnsley phrases into your native tongue:

Local Barnsley sayings

Yorkshire view 2

You reds!

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What is a wapentake?

A wapentake is an obsolete administrative area in the north of England. It is a sub-division of a riding. A wapentake originally indicated an assembly point where votes could be cast by the showing of weapons.

Wapentake seemed an apt name for a blog: a vague reference to a meeting place where views and arguments can be thrashed out with lexical weaponry. I grew up in what was the ancient wapentake of Staincross.

Yorkshire wapentakes

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Back seat

Notes to self on avoiding recurrence of sciatica:

1. Don’t drive the minivan.

2. Do not attempt to compensate for the driver’s seat deficiencies with lumber supports, heat/massage pads and other futile paraphenalia. You still can’t sit up straight in it.

3. Don’t think tripling your journey time by taking the bus will alleviate the problem.

4. Just because your back feels much better doesn’t mean that it is ready to face the same punishment that you inflicted on it previously

5. Don’t guilt yourself into returning to work too soon.

6. Do not drive the minivan.

7. Don’t continue walking when that familiar burning pain returns to your hamstring area.

8. Don’t assume that a straight leg raise of 90 degrees can’t be reduced back to 30 after a couple of days in sedentary meetings.

9. Do not approach the minivan.

10. Sell the minivan before you succomb to the temptation of inflicting it with a sciatic problem it will understand.

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“Sounds like you have an accent!” said a pharmacist to me last week.

“Sounds like you do as well!” I replied, detecting her Canadian lilt

I don’t have an accent!” she retorted, as if I’d accused her of having inferior origins.

” Everyone has an accent,” was my final word. before she went off to tamper with my prescription.

That little sparring match got me thinking about language barriers. As I’m a native speaker of British English, albeit a northern version, it seemed odd to think of being faced by a barrier in Canada. But it’s there all right.

It isn’t just the obvious North Americanisms. Everyone knows you get cookies not biscuits, diapers not nappies. You go to the washroom, but not for a wash. Not primarily anyhow.

When I first arrived in Canada, the size of the language gap took me by surprise. A simple request for a tankful of petrol was met with bemused incomprehension. “You’re, like, thankful for petroleum?” Maybe they thought I was saying grace before the car got its weekly feed. It’s possible. Some places in Canada are an awfully long way from the nearest Esso station.

The communication rift was like being thirteen again. Nobody understands me! Did I have to relive that time of trouble. I wanted to write meaningful pop lyrics on the cover of my notebook again. I wanted to make statements through my clothes. Then it dawned on me. The answers weren’t to be found in the pages of the New Musical Express, but on Sing Something Simple.

I just had to find the right expressions for the right stores and institutions. These simple guidelines weren’t on the immigration papers. Toronto claims to be the most cosmopolitan city in the world: most languages spoken, most diverse ethnic mix, and so on. All cities with a huge ethnic melting pot tend to simplify language for everyday social and business transactions: Especially when the service industry is largely staffed by non-native speakers. No use trying to be witty, ironic, or overly polite. You just smile and get your point over as quickly as possible.

My conversations in banks, shops, and cafes had to be redrafted and severely pared back. I’ve travelled a fair bit, including in places with scribbly alphabets, and I used to pride myself on my resourceful communication skills. In far-flung places beyond the spread of English, you can use mime and doodles to get by: like in Australia for example.

Several years later, I’ve learned my lessons. The Canadian phrasebook has been duly swallowed, and I’m approaching near-native levels of fluency. Mind you, I still make the odd slip. Here are samples of my new language ability from everyday conversations with the locals:

“Hi. Fill up. Regular”

“Hi. Medium. Double double.”

“Hi. Good thanks.”

“Hi. Chilli deal. Wholewheat. Boston Cream.”

“Hi. Could I gedda tray with that?”

“Good morning. Is it possible to buy a ticket for the next train to Ottawa?”

“Sorry, my mistake. My Canadian English isn’t particularly hot. Allow me to rephrase that.”

“Could I gedda ticky terwoddawa?”

I made up the railway station bit. I mean railroad station. Doesn’t have the same charm somehow. The Railroad Children? I mean, they sound really destitute. Which brings us naturally enough to Jenny Agutter’s underwear and lingerie in general. The one truly great thing about living in Canada is that I get to wave at trains in pants and suspenders. I never did that on a Yorkshire branch line.

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