2019 will go down as a year of many personal discoveries.

Evan scent: I happened on an online blues jazz course which turned me onto jazz on a much more mechanistic level, thus I discovered the genius of Bill Evans. Evans was a contemporary of Miles (Davis) but whilst Miles had the looks of a male model, Evans looked more like a Librarian. Even in the academic world of jazz, looks & presentation count; while Davis went on to become the Godfather/enfant terrible of Jazz, and even though the two briefly worked together, Evans became more of an in character; You had to know Jazz to know Evans, hence my tardy introduction.

What is the genius of Evans?

 Well like most musical geniuses Evans makes it all look childishly simple. Evans´ minimalist playing (like his image) redefines cool. The advent of rap, it may all seem a bit dated, but a world brought up on Evans´music I´m sure would be a little bit calmer. His fluid runs confirm his cool virtuosity, but strangely he is often able to generate those beautifully tear-inducing moments from just three notes (When I fall in love) or an arpeggio. Jazz is hugely dependent on standards, but from my point of view what is the point of producing a carbon copy of the Mona Lisa? Interpretation has to include re-invention and Evans is a master of (non-destructive) re-invention. I defy you to listen to this & not shed a tear. Whilst most musicians struggle with timing… Evans is Dan Dare … his Einsteinian routeless excursions are so cogent, you forget where yo ass dun been beamed up to; as James Brown-like he always gon return yo ass awn da one … File under genius.

Teaching:I now am Auxiliare Conversacion, and as you may be aware, Spain significantly lags behind it´s smaller neighbour Portugal, in its ability to learn & speak English. I found out that the reasons behind this are complex. I live in Mallorca a beautiful island where Catalan is the dominant language/culture. We are a very culturally diverse island 10% English Speakers, 10% German speakers. We also have other immigration from Philipines, Eastern Europe, South American, and Africa. Mallorcans have a birthright of bilingualism (Catalan/Spanish) with Catalan dominant in Education. In many ways Mallorca mirrors my birthplace Trinidad, a mixture of Spanish, English and Hindi languages. Sadly Trinidad´s African language legacy has largely been obliterated.

Is this Mallorcan lack of international language skills a problem? Yes in an island that has minimal industry and is economically reliant on Tourism. Spain changed from teaching French to English in its schools about 20 years ago but, with a lack of native speakers, and a very mechanically different language, this has not worked as well as it could have. I was puzzled by this but through the Auxiliare Conversacion program I have been able to lift the lid a little on this.

  1. Spanglish-The four main skills of a language are reading, listening, speaking and writing. More fundamentally there are the Sounds, Vocabulary and Grammar. The Spanish do a relatively well on Vocab & Grammar. The lack of native speakers, and the major difference in sound mechanics means that the English teachers often speak a heavily accented version of English. Not surprisingly the kids copy this Manuel English to perfection.
  2. Motivation: kids have a poor grasp of size (& time). Mallorca/Palma and their family is the centre of their universe. Not many aspire to leaving, even though a proportion are immigrants themselves. If you live in Paradise why leave?
  3. Confidence: while I found that the Eastern European, Chinese, African, and Philipino kids excelled the Mallorquin kids lacked confidence. From the system, I knew they had the data (vocabulary, grammar), but somehow, they really struggled to speak. Mallorquin kids would say ¨No entiendo Ingles” Yet after 15 minutes I had them speaking & asking questions in English, with no script or any tools. The catch 22 of all this, was why was there this lack of confidence? I´m sure this is reflective of the teaching system where speaking is relegated, as it is difficult to teach (for a non-native) and assess. Writing & reading skills are relatively easier for them to teach and assess. The immigrant kids often spoke English in the house
  4. Method acting ; much of the teaching is done through activity books, which often boils down to fib (Fill in the Blanks aka the dreaded multiple choice). If we take Gardner´s intelligences, this often leaves the less academic kids floundering. This is all the more ironic as Maria Montessori was based in Barcelona for several years and, sponsored by the Catalan government, opened several schools as long ago as 1919. Many of these textbooks have mom and apple-pie as their cultural core: maybe not that appropriate from a country with a President who considers climate activists as doom-mongers, and wants to build a wall around Hispanic Mexico.
    The other problem or elephant in the room is the wide abilities we find in class The books presume every child is the same. We work with kids who can barely speak a word to kids who are fluent.
    I also detected poor ICT infrastructures, where expensive kit regularly malfunctioned, and hence reduced the variety of interactive experience teachers could offer the kids.
    Finally there is a tendency to plough through the books; clearly some kids have not mastered core fundamentals such as the verb to be, how to ask questions(do you), negate, dates, numbers, time & colours. At the risk of blowing my own axe, I can get kids to create or reproduce a question in a couple of sessions.
    Have I come across good teaching practices? Yes and usually these are homemade very simple old fashioned remedies; When I start from the base level I now get them to repeat, and then worry about grammar and pronunciation. By default they understand meaning. This process is remarkable to observe and can happen within a single session (10 mins), or with the high level kids, get them to create their own questions.
My own personal (be)jesas

My personal breakthrough came from my Jazz; a music of improvisation. I made the connection between having information & learning how to apply it, to improvise and construct verbally. Frequently we hear “the Art of conversation is dead” but if you don´t teach the Art, what do you expect? I listen to a lot of radio and presenters never dry up. They always seem to have a response (though not always faultless), and this has to be the result of years of training and experience.

There were other more obvious issues like pronunciation but I found kids are brilliant mimics; they could more or less reproduce any sound or sequence I could come up with. The fact that they reproduced the Spanglish sounds mechanically, was a proof of this ability. A daunting task appeared; was I going to correct 7 years of mispronunciation. Given my constraints, I decided my priority was improvisation & conversation not, mispronunciation, which I deprecated to a secondary task.

Structured Conversations;back to basics

I devised a very simple system of conversations, largely to do about the kids their lives & the Mallorcan cultural heritage … what´s your name?; where are you from?; where were you born?; when is Christmas?; what do you like about Christmas?; when is the epiphany?; how did you celebrate St. Antoni?; who is St.  Antoni?; what is the date of Christmas?; how did you celebrate Xmas?; why don´t you celebrate Christmas?; what don´t you like about Christmas?.

A colleague pointed out that this involved a tense (past) they hadn´t learnt, but I said I never mentioned this. No one in England had ever pointed out to me the grammatical difference between do & did. I learnt this like most things by copying what adults said. This “sitting with Nellie” teaching technique is as old as the hills, but perhaps re-popularised by the language master the late Michel Thomas.

At the end of the conversation, I would flip it, saying “what do you want to ask me” (New Year resolution was a good ´un) and was surprised how quickly some of them picked up on the new question vocabulary I had just taught them.

Did it work?

I´m not 100% sure, but I´ve recorded every interview on paper, and the results are encouraging. After a certain indifference, the kids now jump up, to come to my conversations.
Is it quick?… No.
Is it intense? … Yes.
Is it expensive? Yes. But I hope the quality of the results will be self-justifying.

Belief systems; winners & losers

I was brought up to respect people and their views, but 2019 has proved to me that many people live in their own little world i.e. solipsism. To an extent, we are all psychotic as we have belief systems that don´t always align with logic or evidence. Brexit is the most obvious example of this but if we want to look over the pond, take the unimpeachable Mr.Trump. I´ve talked at some length about the travails of the Labour party, so I won’t rewind that conversation. I can only hope common sense prevails & Labour elect a Northern woman , but I´m afraid we´re miles behind the ostentation in Europe or indeed the US. However it seems Meghan has stirred things up at the Palace (how can you turn down a tax-free $3M p.a.?)

The UK will leave the EU at the end of this month, mainly on a false prospectus, that the British Empire can be revived, and we can reverse globalization where the North of England will once again be the economic hub of the UK.
Trump´s answer to immigration is to build a wall round Mexico, maybe Seinfeld notwithstanding the Americans really don´t do ironing. These belief systems like the flat earth society, don´t stand up to any scrutiny, but bizarrely persist in an Internet fuelled age. Looking a bit deeper this is where slavery, & Gas chambers come from, as these deluded people propagate to the nth degree their evil, pathologically psychotic ideas.

Heroes & villeins; They won´t be back!

These people have to be opposed every inch of the way, as I now really believe (like the Marvel comics) that we the good guys, are in the majority and will always win. As the terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger articulated these guys are historic losers and will always lose with their cretinous ideas. But as they say evil thrives where good men are silent.

Most of us just want to have a family, educate & feed them. This kind of shit has nothing to do with us.

Food matters

The other aspect of this is nutrition & fitness. Most of us consume our food without any idea of its provenance, or effect on our bodies. We have a huge obesity problem in the West as we fundamentally don´t understand the quality of the food the manufacturers increasingly produce. We live longer but at the cost of expensive drugs & treatments that is crippling our beloved NHS: With a culture where people can´t cook, only dietary disaster can result, as food providers become purely financial cash registers. Food use to be a family business but now is largely corporate, and our voraciously revenue hungry Governments are complicit with these unhealthy changes.

 Given the poverty of our education system, we tend to succumb to taste and availability irrespective of whether these foods are healthy for us or the planet.  We now understand the toxicity of cigarettes, alcohol, & drugs, but are years away from understanding our addiction to sugar & meat.

This must change.

New Year a time for resolution

I was a sceptic of these but if we don´t think we can improve, what really is the point of life? Things often seem otherwise but I´m convinced when I finally depart, this world will be a much better place than the one I came into. Sure the evil guys as mentioned want to turn the clock back (we all hate change), but these guys are historic losers.

Along the way we the good guys do have casualties. My best friend also lost his father, and at my stage of life this will only increase.

On a personal note I still practice Yoga & exercise daily, and can only say how this has helped me greatly, at an age when the body is heading south, and the rigours of teaching kids kicks in.

As George Foreman said a “man has to have his dream”.

Mine is still to play it like Bill.

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