Approaching: Linguistics!

Studying at an open university course means many things nowadays. I don’t know if it compares to regular studies at the humanities department, but we have a whole lot of individual studies. Compared to the time I was a full & first time student here at the university of Oulu we don’t have that many contact studies now. Language and philology studies used to be much more contact oriented. There was a requirement of 80% participation in classes. This Basics Studies 25ECTS course is very different and requires plenty of individual study in the form of reading papers, writing essays and reviewing peer work.

Today I read a paper (sociology) for our Approaches to linguistics course, a course that appeared out of nowhere. We thought all our courses were visible in Optima, our digital learning environment, but haha- No! This individual study course had gone into hiding and one of our teachers notified us last weekend, during our workshops. I hate surprises. I thought I had a plan and that I was well ahead of that plan. This course appearing out of the blue is not catastrophic, but it’s 9 more papers on linguistics to read and a learning journal to write.

I started with Spolsky’s Styles, gender, and social class and jotted something down in what I call “my learning journal”. It’s a bit like this blog, but more academic ( I hope!). I like sociolinguistics and this particular, well-written paper was a joy to read. It was edutaining.

There was something in that paper that I liked very much. Spolsky wrote about the role of language in social bonding and how speakers seem to be “moving in the same rhythm” when they unconsciously adapt their speech to each other. Moving in the same rhythm – that’s exactly how it feels when you talk to someone you bond with! It’s like a dance.

Sometimes it feels a bit laborious to study this much individually because you don’t get to bond with fellow students so much by talking. Nothing really stops us from talking and discussing studies, but with people scattered around and some people working full-time jobs, it doesn’t happen too often. It’s also different to sit in the humanities cafeteria if you compare it to WhatsApp-conversations.

At the moment I hope there won’t be new surprise-assignments coming up. My calendar starts to fill up with TODO items to be done before mid-June. I have countless academic papers and novels to read, essays and learning journals to produce. I’m also trying to find a job, which IS time-consuming. I try to keep up with different job boards to see if there are any suitable openings. I sometimes wonder if I have too fuzzy goals for actually landing a new job (yet)? Well, no luck so far, but busy days reading and writing – essays and applications.

The only grammar book I will ever need?


We have a grammar assignment coming up where we are divided into groups and assigned chapters to read from”The only grammar book you will ever need”. (Susan Thurman ; Edited By Larry Shea. Adams Media 2003).

Me and my group were assigned the chapter Writing better sentences. We will read and ponder what challenges we face with the phenomena  of the chapter ourselves in our academic essays. Then we will prepare for explaining the topic to the rest of the group. The goal is to provide tips on how to improve our writing, using our own essays as examples.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 9.33.00Reading the chapter about how to write better sentences  I found loads of useful material on the internet that cover topics described in the book:

Many of the topics are familiar to me, but I also learned a few things. I had for instance never heard the expression red herring. I realise many people dislike grammar – maybe because it’s sometimes associated with something very dull and laborious. That’s a challenge for any grammar teacher. Having the students present different grammatical phenomena to peers will make it impossible not to learn ( I think!). Having to teach a topic, you really need to know it inside out.

Risks in using the student centric teaching methods and peer teaching:

  • You can’t avoid traditional lecturing if students decide to use lecturing to teach their peers
  • Students may only get a deeper understanding of the topic that they were assigned to read and present themselves
  • If a group or groups don’t do their homework well enough to teach the rest, then what?

As a teacher (or student) you would have to make sure to have a plan B to fill in the gaps. After all you need to make sure that the required learning objectives, for example “to discuss structures of English and English grammar from different theoretical perspectives” (like on my basic English philology 25 ECTS course) are achieved.

It remains to be seen if the book I mentioned will be the only grammar book I’ll ever need, especially if I ever get to teach younger students who speak Finnish as their native tongue. I’ve still found my old Lukion Englannin Kielioppi by Irja & Mikko Mattila useful as it contains grammatical terminology in Finnish. Now that book is useful for someone who doesn’t understand what an auxiliary verb or helping verb means and needs a translation.

Sit back, catch up and hold on

I pulled through a weekend of intensive English philology contact studies. Sorry for the messy post, but I just had to write off this feeling of accomplishment. (Yay!) Our lectures started at five PM on Friday and carried on on Saturday, for the whole day. Friday evening is not the most energetic time of the week for me, I have to admit. We were supposed to pick up phrasal verbs in our grammar studies as well as hang on until after 8 PM to deliver the speech we prepared. Can’t really say we could sit back much.

As you maybe noticed, I tried using some phrasal verbs above. They’re not easy for non-native speakers! We waded through a whole bunch of practise sentences. The group quickly agreed that if you need to use phrasal verbs in writing, it’s best to check their exact meaning, as especially the fully idiomatic phrasal verbs can be tricky. I didn’t do that for the ones above, so you’re welcome to comment, if they are totally rubbish from a native speaker point of view! Non-idiomatic and semi-idiomatic phrasal verbs can be tricky as well, but less so than the idiomatic ones. It surely requires getting to know the idiomatic expressions well before the phrasal verbs come naturally for me in everyday conversations. I’m only happy that academic writing and our essays shouldn’t contain phrasal verbs anyway, it takes off some of the pressure of learning loads of new expressions in  a short time. (For example during this course).

After 8PM yesterday I was already a bit tired, at the time it was my turn to deliver my academic speech. The speech I prepared about B.F. Skinner on “Behaviourism and operant conditioning in education today”. I wasn’t as focused as I had hoped I would be, but I think it went okay anyway. Interesting figures were presented in all speeches and I have learned to like speeches more. I used to hate giving speeches, because it made me so nervous. Now I think it’s a good skill to have, but I still don’t like giving speeches unprepared. I like to be prepared.

After a good nights sleep and letting waving my family goodbye off to spend a Saturday full of winter fun at a fell an hour and a half’s drive away from here as I went back to the classroom like the rest of the study group. I tried not to think of the sun shining outside and the white snow reflecting the light, giving energy to those doing outdoors activities. I tried to think about the motives I have for taking this course and sitting inside on a beautiful Saturday. And I love to be on this course! Not just because I hope it will help me accomplish my goals. But also because I enjoy sitting and chatting with a fellow student about the short story (May Day) we were assigned and our interpretations, speculating about whether we were right or not.


But today, a Saturday in the end of March 2017, we weren’t just hanging around chatting and speculating around a novel. There was more grammar, academic communication and literature.

I continue to be amazed by language and it’s many different aspects.

And English philology is not just “English” to me anymore. It’s studying the methods for researching language from different points of view, learning and teaching and categorising. I used to have that relationship to Swedish during my studies, yes, but now I’m getting a hang of it again.

I realised we’ve now reached the point where we have sat through more than half of the contact lectures, but there’s still a lot of work ahead on this basic studies course (25 ECTS). I’m getting to a point where I’m thinking I now understand how little I know about this amazing subject. But I hope that’s a good sign!


I have developed a love for foreign language studies already as a kid, when writing letters to pen pals in faraway-countries. On our holiday to Catalonia a few weeks back, both my kids (9 and 11) went to have tennis lessons with a teacher who only spoke English. I ‘m glad, that especially my daughter, who just started learning English at school could get that kind of experience. I hope it taught her, that even with the little vocabulary that she now knows, she IS capable of communicating in a foreign language. I think she figured out that she doesn’t have to “stand by” and wait for a green light, (like the one in my picture taken in Catalonia) to allow her to use the few words that she knows. You start somewhere, and the most important thing in learning a language is to make good use of every little bit you know. That’s the philosophy I would like to spread as a (hopefully) future English language teacher.

EDIT: You can try learning phrasal verbs from videos. Here’s one example teaching phrasal verbs using BRING: English teaching videos



Working on the speech and improving my essay about Skinner (vol 3.)

I’ve been holidaying in Palma de Mallorca (image of a tram in Port de Soller!) for a week. After returning it took me a while to get myself back to being an organised student at home. Now I’m finally continuing work on improving the essay I have to write on Skinner.

PS: I have not made a trip to the library to find “more academic sources”, like I should have, according to the peer review feedback. I added the academic source Approaches to Learning: A guide for teachers that was used for my teacher studies, where I learnt about Skinner the first time.


I’m learning more about the “fellow” so I can prepare the 5 min. speech we also have to give next week. I vaguely remember I need to provide some sort of a plan for the speech by Wednesday…


Speeches, essays, grammar and literature all go together

As adult students in the open university course, we don’t have contact studies that often. In the weekend we met on Friday evening and for the whole of Saturday.

On Friday evening we rushed through a 31 page Intonation course, – using printouts describing to us, how intonation affects the meaning of sentences or words. As a Finn, it’s not always easy to make a distinction between falling and rising tones and how they affect the meaning of a word, question or sentence. It takes some learning to understand where you can go wrong and what you can teach your future students to pay attention to.

Literature is also a topic of our studies. It’s interesting to study world classics and study the language, the symbolism and style, but it’s also amazing how literature can help us understand history and what life was like in another place, at another time. This month we learnt about modernism and read a couple of example novels, The Stranger by Kathrine Mansfield and Counterparts by James Joyce. Although I studied philology and literature before, I find it refreshing to go through some of the common academic techniques for analysing literature, like considering the setting, the narration and the language fabric. After we had discussed and analysed the novels we had read, I actually find I like the novels more. It’s after the discussions that I notice new aspects, symbolism, the complex characters and the many other pieces of the literary puzzle.

Before the meeting in the weekend we had all been writing academic essays on topics given to us and got our first peer-reviews before the workshop. At the workshops we started preparing for academic speeches on those same essay topics. We practised a 5 minute talk in groups, in fact the talks were about “Academic Talks”. Now the next task will be to make an outline for our own academic speeches before the next workshop, where we will be required to give 5 -minute speeches again, on our own this time. I’m a bit nervous thinking about that. I now know a lot about my topic, so filling 5 minutes won’t be hard. The difficulty lies in selecting the key points and keeping the time.

I’m mentally getting ready for creating the first outline for the speech, so I can practise before our next meeting.  I also have homework related to “Phrasal verbs“,  our topic in English Grammar. I’m really looking forward to learning new phrases. Then again working with topics like “the syntactic elements of structure of the verbal group” feels more tedious.

As I’m planning to be away on holiday next week, I have to work harder this week, to make up for the hours I’ll be leaving the books behind.

That’s mainly “what’s up” with my studies right now.

EDIT: I also had a pronunciation homework. Just read it aloud and uploaded it to Optima.

Operant conditioning theory and behaviourism again

In our Academic Writing course we have to start writing on an academic essay.  It’s already some time since I wrote these kinds of things. I didn’t get to pick the subject which makes it harder, I will be writing about B. F. Skinner.

Skinner’s behaviourism and operant conditioning theory are luckily something I find interesting and there are many options for different angles one could write about.

Research says that operant conditioning theory applies to issues like class and student management and it is said to be useful in shaping skill performance, so I think I’m going to argue that it can very well be used when creating learning environments and learning experiences, digital or not. It’s a tough topic for me, because I am not all that familiar with Skinner’s work, even though I had learned the basics of his theories before during my educational science studies last year.

Since the essay is supposed to have only 800-1000 words, it really needs to be well structured and I guess that is one my weakest points. Hopefully I can develop my skills in structuring an essay this spring.  It’s easy for me to write down words, writing down everything I know. It’s harder to get a hold of the structure, to make it right. Also presenting an argument is something that feels hard.

Can I maybe use Skinner’s theories to create better learning habits for myself on the way? Cut my writing sessions into shorter chunks? Award myself with a cup of coffee when I feel I have learned something new about how to structure my argument? Should I scold myself if I go for a walk with the dog instead of reading about the topic I’m supposed to write about?

– Maybe just take the dog for a walk and think about this.

Studies in history, meeting the group and planning writing tasks

Last week I wrote a whole bunch of essays for the North American and British studies. We had a couple of books as readings for the course and even if the due date isn’t quite yet, I started reading and writing so I can make several versions and improve them little by little.

I chose to study and write about British monarchy, politics, government and the media as well as international relations. For American civilisation I chose the topics of foreign politics, media and people and settlement.

It was really interesting to study topics from a history point of view, because it’s so important to understand the past to be able to understand the events that led us to where the world is today.

I think we need to constantly address the freedom of the press in modern democracies. With the rapid development of technology used for spreading news, as well as spreading of propaganda the freedoms we have are becoming much harder to control. Who should be allowed to control the “freedom” anyways? Should we take for granted there needs to be some level of control? Who should determine the methods for control? What if there is no control, what are the dangers we face then?

I see now how the ideas of “American exceptionalism”  have had real and historical effect on the US foreign policy during the past and how it’s foreign policy has been distinct from that of other nations. I also see what a big impact the old British Empire has had on the world and still has (even though the Brits decided to vote for a Brexit).

At the end of last week we finally got to meet our study groups at the university for a a day and half. Always nice to see people’s faces! We dug into grammar, theory of academic writing and literature. I’m planning my first academic writing task for the academic writing course. The topic I got was to find an interesting angle related to B.F. Skinner, the behaviourist and psychologist. Luckily I already know something about him and his theories but there’s more work to do in finding the right angle I will use in my essay.


P.S. To understand how history and the world today link together you could watch Planet Oil combined with listening to Senator Bernie Sanders speaking during the election campaign  in 2016. Planet Oil, is a history documentary in three series, going to the roots of British and American Civilization today.

Bernie Sanders talking about the “Regime change” foreign policy of the US in the pres. election in 2016.

What would you argue are the unintended consequences of regime change policies that Sanders could be referring to on the video?