On textbooks, moving, and being cold in Australia

Sorry about the lack of updates lately! I have now been in Australia for one year, which means (supposedly) I am a third of the way through my PhD already.  My days are filled with reading textbooks (all eighteen of them) and analysing vocabulary lists, which I know sounds incredibly tedious exciting. I’m also currently in the middle of moving so even though we’re still on the break between semesters, I haven’t had any time to update the site or blog.

Just a few of my new best friends

I am extremely excited about the house I’m moving into (not so much about all the money I’m spending on furniture though), especially since it has ducted heating & cooling. Australia may be known as a hot country, and it doesn’t exactly get that cold in winter – the average temp around here is 15° C / 59°F – but to North Americans like me, it is very cold indoors. Houses aren’t built to keep the warmth in, and a lot of places just have electric heaters which are very expensive to use. The place I live now is usually only 12° C / 53.6°F when I get up in the morning. I cannot wait for spring! Plus I will be able to have a cat at the new place, so Canaille will soon have an Aussie cousin. The other major accomplishment this past month was buying a car. I’m still getting used to driving on the left, though it’s actually sitting on the right side of the car and using my left hand to shift into drive that I still find bizarre. I keep reaching for the seatbelt on the wrong side!

She’s the same age as some of my students

So while I’m still distracted from the blog thanks to real life, here’s a quote from Paul Nation on the vocabulary in language textbooks that teachers and students should think about:

“It is worth noting that there are principles that some teachers and course designers follow that go against research findings. These include: ‘All vocabulary learning should occur in context,’ ‘The first language should not be used as a means of presenting the meaning of a word,’ ‘Vocabulary should be presented in lexical sets,’ Most attention should be paid to the first presentation of  a word,’ and ‘Vocabulary learning does not benefit from being planned, but can be determined by the occurrence of words in texts, tasks and themes.’ Course designers who follow these principles should read the relevant research and reconsider their position.” (Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, 2001, p. 387)

I am particularly interested in the first three principles, and I’ve already posted about use of the first language in classrooms. The issue of lexical sets is what I am focusing on right now and will hopefully be able to write about on the blog soon.

  • Good luck with the move. Yeah, I can’t comment on Australia so much, but NZ houses are built terribly (and it’s colder). The big old wooden villa I lived in in Wellington was always around 8 degrees when I got up in the morning, couldn’t afford heating, I was sick pretty much all winter.

    •  I’ve heard that it is indeed much worse in NZ. I plan to visit only in summer!  I just found out the window in my toilet room doesn’t even close. It’s these weird slatted glass things and a thick metal screen so you can’t open it all the way or climb through it, but it seriously cannot be shut. So bizarre to me!!  And it can get below freezing every once in a while in Adelaide so I really don’t see the logic in designing or building houses with such poor insulation and open windows.

  • The left hand side of the road is the correct side to drive on because steering requires more precision and dexterity than shifting, you have more precision and better motor skills with your strong hand than your weak hand, and 80% of people are right handed therefore the steering wheel should be situated such that you are controlling it with your right hand and shifting with your left.  As you know, I’m American, and I don’t even drive a manual by the way, I just really started thinking about this one day and came up with that.

    For what it’s worth I agree with your quoted academic, you certainly can benefit from memorizing vocabulary outside of context (I can’t imagine using anything other than Anki for this, but anyway) though I would add that I think it’s also highly beneficial to make a point of using those same vocabulary words in-context somehow (make yourself use them when writing an entry on Lang-8 or in a blog or forum comment or something, etc.), I wouldn’t use either-or, I’d go with both (though if I had to pick I’d say learning them by using them in-context is probably better).

    Oh, and I’m heavily against not using the learner’s native language to teach them a second language, I think doing that is immensely stupid, there’s no good reason whatsoever for it.

    …does it ever snow in Australia?


    •  It snows quite a bit in the Australian Alps in the east.  Lots of ski resorts in the mountains. It probably snows in Tasmania too since it’s always cooler down there. I think they get the cold Antarctic winds that bring snow to New Zealand as well.

      •  Ah ok, just curious, thanks.

  • Samantha

    A good tip for surviving cold australian houses in winter is an electric blanket, so you’ll be toasty warm at least when you sleep! 🙂