About the Author
In 2001 I joined some colleagues from the International Office (of the University of Westminster) on a promotional trip to Mexico. When we got to Mexico City, I did something which I now know you’re not supposed to do. I went straight out for a long rambling walk through town, seeing as much as I could. Laid low for the next day with altitude sickness, I took the opportunity to reflect on my administratively-overburdened professional life. (At that point I was Chair of the Department of English and Linguistics.) The outcome was a modest commitment: that whatever else I did over the next ten years, I would clear the desk for at least an afternoon a week, and follow a single pedagogical idea wherever it led.
The idea, when it came, was to create a two-week speaking skills course from scratch with a small group of like-minded colleagues (two of whom, Caroline Caygill and Rebecca Sewell, are now co-authors on A Handbook of Spoken Grammar). We met, we designed, and by 2003 we were teaching the course on the University’s Summer School of English. So, where did the idea go next? Well, I looked over the data we collected – thousands of pieces of reformulated language that we had written on the whiteboard as our students talked about themselves – and I noticed that a certain kind of language kept recurring. After a bit of googling, I came across the term ‘spoken grammar’ and the publications of corpus researchers such as Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy. Our Handbook is an attempt to identify the items amongst this grammar that the students on our courses would enjoy and find useful.
I first taught English when the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges sent me to a village in south-west France in 1977. Ten years later I joined the Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster), where I worked as a lecturer and manager until 2010. I’ve written and co-written a number of grammar practice books for Oxford University Press. What next? Who knows? Another dose of altitude sickness might help.
Strategies for speaking natural English
Ken's Recent Blog Posts
The last two units in ‘A Handbook of Spoken Grammar’ (follow the links ‘Titles’ and ‘Language Practice’ on the DELTA website for details), deal with ‘heads’ and ‘tails’, both of which involve the repetition of information outside the normal English clause structure. Heads (also called ‘headers’ by Carter and McCarthy in the ‘Cambridge Grammar of [...]
For better or worse, we often seem to repeat what the person we’re talking to has just said: - The traffic is awful today. - I know. Terrible, isn’t it? When we were researching ‘A Handbook of Spoken Grammar’ (follow the links ‘Titles’ and ‘Language Practice’ on the DELTA website for details), we noticed three [...]
A few years ago, I noticed that one of the students in my class would often add little remarks that her friends or family had made into her conversation. She would never turn them into indirect speech by making grammatical changes, but would instead prefix the quotations with the word ‘look’. In other words, she [...]
Part of the research for ‘A Handbook of Spoken Grammar’ (follow the links ‘Titles’ and ‘Language Practice’ on the DELTA website for details) involved going through pages of the language that we had reformulated for our students on speakings skills courses, highlighting recurring features. One thing that would come up now and again were examples [...]
In writing ‘A Handbook of Spoken Grammar’ (follow the links ‘Titles’ and ‘Language Practice’ on the DELTA website for details), we wanted to include some key aspects of ‘vague language’ (e.g. ‘sort of’, ‘a couple of’, ‘a bit of’ etc.). The word ‘thing’ (and ‘thingy’, ‘thingamajig’, and ‘thingummy’) has a number of uses: - There [...]