Can she still speak Czech?



Almost 60 years ago I got to know a Czech woman, Alina, quite well. She lived in a South Wales mining town, Mountain Ash, where I frequently went to stay with an aunt and uncle. Alina and her husband had become good friends with my relatives and though they were all much older than me – I was about 14 at that time – they included me as an equal in their conversations.

I learnt some of Alina’s history – part of it was quite dramatic. In 1951, when she was about 20, she escaped from behind the Iron Curtain. It was a winter night and  as she crossed the frontier  she could hear the boarder guards and their dogs searching for people. The guides disappeared, abandoning her alone in in the dark and the snow. Alina lay down and waited. A dog found her… and licked her face. Alina loved animals and maybe the dog was sensitive to that. Anyway, it didn’t bark or betray her presence.

Eventually, she made her way to Britain. Alina had been studying medicine in Czechoslovakia but in Britain she became a nurse. One of her patients was a Welshman, Alun. They married and settled in  Mountain Ash.

I wasn’t a language teacher, or even thinking of becoming one at the time, but I was curious about the Czech language and asked Alina to say something in Czech. With difficulty, she managed to say the equivalent of “Hello”, “Yes” and “No”. But when I asked her to say some sentences, she tried but was unable to do so: “I’ve forgotten all my Czech.” I was amazed that it was possible to forget one’s native language. At that time, there were no other Czechs in the town (and probably not in the whole of Wales) so she didn’t speak Czech because there was nobody to speak Czech with, but I hadn’t imaged she couldn’t. But that was what she felt.

Shortly after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 she went back to visit her family. For the first couple of days she was able to understand most of what was said around her but not to speak. And then suddenly she could. Nearly all her Czech came back though she hadn’t used it for 40 years. Her family and friends in Czechoslovakia said she sounded a bit funny “like an old film”. She didn’t stay long enough to update her Czech but, if she’s still alive, I am sure she can still speak the Czech of her youth. After my aunt and uncle died (they were a lot older than Alina) I stopped going to Mountain Ash and lost touch with Alun and Alina.

The story stayed at the back of my mind for years because I was puzzled as to why Alina said she’d forgotten her Czech but later demonstrated she could still speak it.

Then I came across Caleb Gattegno’s distinction between “memory” and “retention”.

As I understand it, memorising information costs the learner a lot of energy to make arbitrary elements stick together. For example, the names of objects, places and people. This is part of learning a language but just a small part because only a few such words are necessary to master a language. If they are not used regularly, these words may be forgotten.

By the age of 5 all normal children (not deaf or brain damaged) are fluent in the language of their environment but that’s not because they’ve acquired a lot of words. They’ve learnt more important things. They can put the words they know into sentences with the correct grammar and say them with the correct rhythm and intonation. (By “correct”, I mean the way their family and other people around them do it.) They retain this part of the language with practically no effort – just keeping their eyes open and paying attention to what they see and hear; both the situation and the sounds associated with it. Sound and light are forms of energy to which we are naturally receptive. They carry information in the same way the water a sponge absorbs contains food. Human beings are information sponges. What is learnt this way can never be forgotten because it was never memorised in the first place.

Several of my older relatives suffered from Alzhiemer’s Disease. It was clear which parts of the language they had memorised because little by little they forgot them. They forgot the names of uncommon objects and places they never visited, and then the names of people they didn’t know very well and eventually the names of their spouse and children. But what they could say, they said correctly with the grammar and accent they’d always had.

If Alina is still alive, she’ll be in her nineties. Unless she has completely lost her power of speech, I’m sure she can still speak Czech.

If you’re interested to know more about Gattegno’s distinction between Memory and Retention it is discussed by Piers Messum and Roslyn Young on YouTube: The Silent Way, part 4c: Memory and retention; acquaintance

You could also read Caleb Gattegno on “Memory and Retention, The Science of Education Part 1, Ch 5, p153. It’s free online on Slideshare. But, be warned, Gattegno is not an easy read.


What is your favourite tool?

#ELTchat is a (more or less) hour-long conversation which takes place on Twitter every Wednesday at 20:00 GMT/UTC.

On Saturdays one of the moderators puts up a blog post where followers can propose topics for the following Wednesday. Once the moderators have reviewed the topics they create an online poll and #ELTchat followers are asked to vote.

Summaries and Transcripts Index
At the end of the chat someone ‘volunteers’ to make a Summary of the discussion, the moderators providing the Transcript.


Most of the tools that were mentioned during the ELTchat on 16th November 2016.

  1. Whiteboards. I think we were unanimous in putting these first as in terms of usefulness. . Mini-whiteboards (either laminate A4 or stick in a polypocket) suggested by Teresa Bestwick. Magic Whiteboard could be useful but it’s pricey.
  2. Coloured markers: another polyvalent low tech tool.
  3. Cork bulletin boards.
  4. Interactive whiteboards were not so popular but I find Explain Everything intriguing.
  5. Marisa Constantinides has created a Padlet with all the tools that were suggested here: #ELTchat Tools Swapshop.
  6. A lot of people use various Google Tools: Google DocsGoogle Slides
  7. I think that the only Content Management System mentioned was WordPress. Google Tools can easily be inserted into WordPress pages with the addon: Google for WordPress.* I think there’s a similar tool for Moodle.
  8. On the other hand several Learning Mangement Systems were mentioned which have integrated tools (forums, wikis, etc.) and students’ work can be tracked and graded.Moodle, EdmondoCanvas
  9. Who doesn’t know Kindle? But how to use it in class?
  10. Various quiz makers for use outside LMSs were mentioned: Quizlet, Kahoot, Quizizz,
  11. Videos games and quizzes: Edpuzzle,, Nawmal,
  12. QR Codes: QR Codes for Teachers, How to use QR codes in the classroom,
  13. Flipbook maker: Flip PDF Professional,
  14. Learning songs (fill-in-the-blanks/dictation) Lyrics Training. Huge choice of songs (not only English).
  15. free screen sharing.

Odds & Ends:

*If people are interested I can explain  how to insert any
webpage in another using “copy & paste” in HTML. No need to learn
the code.

Using Pictures in Class


A treasure trove of ideas for using pictures – Davinna

What a great wealth of ideas and links! Sue

What is ELTchat?

#ELTchat is a weekly, (more or less) hour-long conversation which takes place on Twitter every Wednesday at 7pm BST (20:00 GMT/UTC).

On Saturdays one of the moderators puts up a blog post where
followers can propose topics for the following Wednesday. Once the
moderators have reviewed the topics they create an online poll and #ELTchat followers are asked to vote.

Summaries and Transcripts Index
At the end of the chat someone ‘volunteers’ to make a Summary of the discussion, the moderators providing the Transcript.

Contributors to the ELTchat Using Pictures in Class on 11th May 2016 :

Sue AnnanSue Annan
Davinna Artibey
Jack BarberJack Barber
Teresa BestwickTeresa Bestwick
 Angelos BollasAngelos Bollas
Marisa Constantinides Marisa Constantinides
Glenys Hanson
Hada LitimHada Litim
 Tammela PlattTammela Platt
 Sandy MillinSandy Millin
 David ReadDavid Read
Marjorie RosenbergMarjorie Rosenberg
Colin SageColin Sage
Mildred SamanoMildred Samano


  1. I love showing the students a picture and asking them to ask at least 10 questions about it. Hada
  2. I like to cut up pictures where students have to mingle to find their other half. Sue.
  3. Portrait interviews! Students play characters in a painting and improvise answers. Great for language + rewarding to look at art. Colin
  4. Show pictures and ask students to create a story out of them. Hada
  5. A picture and a caption a day. Hada
  6. Take a picture and make a meme. Sue
  7. Students choose 3 small pictures from a pile that are connected to their life in some way. Then explain the connection to their life in pairs. Colin
  8. Use large wall pictures so all the class with their heads up and collaborating with each other. Easy for the teacher to intervene too. Glenys
  9. Use a picture of a house (a room, a street, a beach…) and build a picture of the people who live there. Sue, Glenys
  10. Jigsaw puzzles with pictures. Do a quiz, right answer gets part of puzzle until they know what it is. Sue
  11. I like picture dominoes – pile of pictures for students to pick up and continue a story. Marisa
  12. In Jill Hadfield’s book Intermediate Communication Games Ch 9: Sci-fi dominoes / Fairytale dominoes – but can make your own. Marisa
  13. Murder Mystery. Draw round someone’s body and lay
    it out on classroom floor. Put some clues round the class and they
    speculate what happened – great for past modals of speculation (but
    GLOOMY!!) Colin, Sue, Marisa
  14. Predict the story in the picture. Mildred
  15. Prediction can be used in TBL lessons – students write the story or dialogue FIRST and THEN hear or read it. Marisa
  16. Get groups to blutack their pictures to different boards & tell their story to other groups. Glenys
  17. Questions Please – Show pictures from a story,  students ask LOTS of YS/NO questions to discover story – then they tell or write it. Marisa
  18. Once they’ve told a story in the Present, remove the pictures and get students to retell in the Past. It feels psychologically past that way. Glenys
  19. I use #ELTpics of energy types to elicit discussion with my scientists. Then they debate pros and cons. Sue
  20. Also use a lot of pictures with my IELTS students to generate content points on a specific theme. Hada
  21. And build on other topics of course EAP – ESP whatever. Marisa
  22. Draw round someone’s body and lay it out on classroom floor. Depending on age/level, they could do comparatives…measure themselves against the outline. Colin, Teresa
  23. Use pictures from the urban landscape for language discussions, e.g. Funny t-shirts from China, cute signs or advertising signs  Sue
  24. Hilarious texts can be produced on the basis of images used for safety from something – government drawings often confusing. Marisa
  25. Pictures of funny toilet signs add fun to lessons. Students can guess where they came from too. Sue
  26. Could also translate the bad English photos people post there’s loads at Teresa
  27. Use pictures of steps in a recipe and write the recipe. Hada
  28. All “how to” images work well and are easy to find on the internet. Glenys
  29. There’s an activity somewhere of ordering the relationship in pictures – when do they argue/get married? Teresa
  30. Put out a number of images in a version of Kim’s Game (look for 30” and then remember as many as you can). Marisa
  31. Using holiday snaps to make little e-books is good for students to take home. Sue
  32. Start with an image of a person and draw their home. Sandy
  33. Students find images to accompany a story. Marisa
  34. Giving students a set of pictures to produce ‘used to’. Hada
  35. Students provide picture of something they used to do. Stick pictures on the board  – students ask questions to find who used to do what. Glenys
  36. Head dictations. Students put their paper/notebook on their heads head. Listen and draw without looking. Then compare and remember. Sandy.
  37. Running picture dictations are great too as avoid learners dictating phonetically – emphasis less on correct spelling at that point. Teresa
  38. Sit students back-to-back. They describe something for the other student to draw. Sue
  39. How about picture dictations or describe and draw. Marisa
  40. Fold paper into e.g. 8 squares. Students draw
    pictures in the four squares on the left. Each picture is one
    sentence/phrase/word. They pass it to another pair. They remember and
    write phrases in the other four boxes. Pass back. Check. Sandy
  41. Use pictures  of famous people. Get students to work out relationships between them. Sue
  42. Put pictures of famous people on students’ backs. They ask 20 questions to find out who they are. Sue
  43. Or scan picture and upload on to a puzzle making app ( and have students predict the pic as they get the pieces. Hada
  44. Use pics of nice places and ask students to write the guide book entries. Sue
  45. Make sure copyright and attribution given. Sue.
  46. Images good for writing captions. Tammela
  47. Running dictation: A dictates and B draws pic of sentences, then when they have all pics, write the original sentences. Teresa


  1. Pictures are useful as scaffolding for lower level adults. Colin
  2. Maybe one of these days I’ll understand what “scaffolding” means. Glenys
  3. I only got it recently 🙂 It’s breaking things down into small manageable steps so students don’t have to leap. Sandy
  4. But isn’t that what good teachers have always done? Glenys
  5. It can be useful to have a term to remind people. New teachers often find it difficult/miss key stages out. Marisa & Sandy.

Using smartphones

Pictures in ELT are great because they allow the students to use their devices in class. Hada

  • Ask students to get their phones out, show a few pictures and describe or discuss them. Hada
  • Using pictures on their phones to find similarities and differences. Hada, Jack
  • Students take own pictures around town and use to discuss rules, e.g. Keep off the grass. Sue
  • Take close up pictures of every day objects and students guess what they are. They then do the same for each other. David
  • At start of week, students share an unusual picture from their weekend. Other students have 20 yes/no questions to guess what they did or where they were. David


The Memes factory, Jack

Mematic, Kombie, Dubsmash. Sue

Sketchnoting. Marisa. See: Sketchnoting in the Classroom  – Kathy Schrock

From Images to Words Marisa Constantinides
Activities described in detail:

  • Find the Differences
  • Describe & Draw
  • Find your other half
  • Pictures & Texts
  • Questions Please
  • Musical Portraits

Ben Goldstein Working with Images. Reviewed by Sandy

ELTpics blog Sandy

Picture this recorded webinar – Sandy Millin

Free Picture Puzzle Makers – HadaLitim

Taking the Pics out of Coursebooks Dave Dodgson. Sandy

Picture Scavenger Hunt – Adam Simpson. Sandy


I used, to find the collage I used at the beginning.
Clipart is not free but a very practical way to find a specific image

‘Can we teach Business English when we are not business specialists’ – summary of #ELTchat 2016:02:17

Business English



This is my first attempt to summarize  an ELTchat and I’m feeling rather nervous about not doing it right.

I’ve looked at previous summaries and noticed that there’s no “model” – people go about it in different ways. This is reassuring.

I volunteered to do it because I’ve been feeling guilty for some time about taking advantage of all the work the moderators do to set up these sessions without giving anything back. I would never have believed that it was possible to have useful discussions on serious professional topics within the Twitter constraints of 140 characters in a post. How wrong I was!

I chose this particular subject –  teaching business English – just because it’s not one I was a priori particularly interested in but, as usual, the format and being confronted with other peoples’ ideas drew me in.

This session was moderated for most of the time by @angelos_bollas.

His first question to start us off thinking and chatting was: “Are you Business literate? Do you need to be one in order to teach Business English?”

  1. At least a minimal interest in business is necessary.
    @HadaLitim, @patrickelt (Patrick Andrews), @angelos_bollas
  2. Teachers don’t need to know everything about, for example, balance sheets or current business trends because students can explain them. Getting students to explain is a meaningful speaking task. The teacher’s job is to help students get their English right..
    Patrick, Hada, @GlenysHanson, @Marisa_C  (Marisa Constantinides), Angelos, @Ashowski (Anthony Ash)
  3. Content can be provided via input: reading texts, student provided documents. There may be confidentiality issues using company documents.
    Patrick, @TalkenEnglish, Hada.
  4. Should we feel silly in front of students if we don’t know a term? Should we fake it till we make it? Students can do/be trained to do the research for specialised terms.
    @TalkenEnglish, Hada, Glenys, Angelos, @SueAnnan
  5. Difficulty of managing classes with people at different levels of the hierarchy (the CEO + his secretary + department heads). A problem raised by Patrick and lived by others but no solution suggested.
    @getgreatenglish (Marc Jones), Glenys, Angelos.
  6. It was news to me that teaching Business English has prestige attached to it. 😲

I was surprised that in the middle of the session that Anthony thought the chat wasn’t going anywhere. Surprised because I usually agree with what Anthony writes. Though it wasn’t the sort of chat where people jump in all the time with references to lots of online resources, I felt the participants were really reflecting on what, why and how they deal with the subject. It’s true too that the discussion was less lively than the one in 2011  – I wonder why? Maybe more Business English is taught these days and teachers generally feel more comfortable with it.

The consensus seemed to be “Experience is an obvious advantage. But advantage is not necessity” as @TalkenEnglish put it.

Complete transcript >>



Using the determiners a/an or the

Going naked

going nakedThe first step in understanding how a/an or the are used before nouns, is to realise that the default is not to use them at all – just to use the noun alone.Just as the bare verb, known as the Simple Present, is the default form for verbs and needs no justification for its use, the bare noun – no preceding determiners – is the default form of nouns in English. It seems common sense that if a speaker uses a word, they should know why they do so, but many learners have been led to believe that a determiner is required before every noun and so put one in, more or less at random.

It’s very easy to express oneself at length without using any determiners before the nouns. For example:

Jean lives in Paris which, as you know, is in France. He’s young and goes to university where he studies hard. He likes to enjoy himself too. He plays football, listens to music and reads science fiction among other hobbies. In spite of recent events, he’s not afraid of terrorist attacks. He goes out a lot to eat in restaurants, attend concerts and visit friends. He doesn’t often go to bed early.”

In traditional grammar books you will find long lists explaining various reasons for the “absence” of determiners in each case in the text above. Don’t clutter up your mind with them! It’s very difficult and rather ridiculous to justify a negative. If asked why you live where you do, is it normal to give reasons for not living in the myriad of places where you do not reside? If asked why you chose your profession do you usually explain why you are not an opera singer, a Jain monk, a deep-sea diver or any of the thousands of professions you have not adopted?

It’s much simpler to focus on the positive reasons for using the determiners a/an or the.
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