If: It’s Hypothetical (SoCS)

If is a preposition at the beginning of a clause supposing something. In many European languages, “if” requires a verb in the subjunctive tense, because it is speculation about something that hasn’t happened (yet) or an alternative or hypothetical scenario. In English, the subjunctive would be thus: If I were...

But nowadays, most people say “If I was” so the subjunctive is falling into disuse. But it is very much alive in the Romance or Latin languages as well as many others. Learning what comes after “if” in Spanish means I have to think of how to conjugate the verb that follows. After a while, it becomes a habit: “Si quisieras” (if you want…) sounds right and I feel proud of myself for remembering to use the subjunctive! I was brought up in a highly literate family, my parents requiring us to speak properly – we would get corrected if, for example, we said “Me and Joe are going to the concert.” Commonplace nowadays, but not right. It sounds sloppy, ignorant. An “if” clause, however, would perhaps not sound so dissonant, because it has become acceptable not to use “were” as a subjunctive verb.

Also, most verbs in English don’t have a different form for an if clause: “If I wanted” is the same form of “want” as would be used for past tense in any context. I would wager that most people who read this may not even know what I am talking about! (Subjunctive? What is that?) If you study French, or Portuguese, or Italian, for more than one college semester, you will definitely have to learn it!

“If I were hoping to go on a cruise” is actually correct, but often now you will utter “If I was hoping to go on a cruise.” It still sounds dissonant to me, but it doesn’t bother me because I don’t use the subjunctive as often as I used to. Sometimes I forget all about it. I guess English speakers think IF is enough to signal a hypothetical event. Eventually it will be so rare that saying “if I were” will sound strange.

As for going on a cruise…I’m ready to go! No ifs, ands or buts about it!

(My attempt at stream of conscience writing this week for the SoCS challenge.)

FPQ: School Daze


I haven’t participated in Fandango’s Provocative Question lately, but I’m back! And #104 is a good one for me, because I am a former teacher and education has always been an interest of mine:

Today’s provocative question is about formal education. We all have our opinions on how best to educate and prepare our children to succeed in today’s highly complex world. So this begs the question:

What do you think is the one subject (or thing) that should be taught in school that isn’t?

Oh, there are many answers to this question! Students today don’t learn about half the things they should nowadays, and especially in the U.S. Therefore, I cannot just name one, but three, but grade level may determine the priority given to each.

  1. Life skills: this includes how to maintain a bank account, how to treat others in a civil society, how to live on your own, conservation, the responsibilities you have as an adult, parenting, managing a household or a budget, etc. This encompasses a wide range of topics, which are always changing (for example, in the past I might have said “how to balance a checkbook” but young people don’t use checkbooks anymore). This should be taught in middle school and high school. In middle school it could be more about decision-making, civility, and diversity. The curriculum should be somewhat fluid, because different communities might have particular needs and students have different needs. High school students maybe even should have some input about what is taught.
  2. History should be a required subject every year of high school, and also middle school. One high school year is not enough to learn all of U.S. history, which is always being added to. And standards for teaching history include many things that we weren’t taught when I was in high school, such as Native American history, and minorities’ contributions to our society. (When I was in school, it was mostly about leaders, dates, etc. We had Black History but it was a separate subject and not mandatory.) At least two years should be dedicated to U.S. history, possibly three, and at least one year should be world history.
  3. Starting in elementary school, from kindergarten on, all students should learn a foreign language. This is a very rare thing in American schools and most Americans are not only monolingual but woefully ignorant about the rest of the world. Even high schools don’t always require it. All research shows that the best time to learn another language is before the age of 12. My local school district in Des Plaines used to have Spanish classes as part of the curriculum in elementary school but only once a week and this program was discontinued along with the dual language program when budget cuts had to be made. It should be as important a class as math or English. One of this country’s major shortcomings is ignorance of other peoples and cultures. We are a large country and a world power but so is China and all their students learn foreign languages starting in elementary school. In fact, BECAUSE we are a world power, we should be more knowledgeable about the world . If other nations can teach these things, why can’t we?

    One good way to start elementary school students to learn another language is to implement a dual language program. Many school districts have bilingual programs, but that is not quite the same. Each school would select a foreign language that is predominant in their community and hire teachers fluent in both languages. Then the regular curriculum – math, reading, science, social studies, etc. could be taught in both languages from the beginning! Instead of trying to figure out how to find the time to teach foreign language, just integrate the foreign language into the regular curriculum. This would have the benefit of teaching children academic as well as social language. There are some good examples of dual language programs in the U.S. (which in some cases have replaced regular bilingual programs) and Canada has had them for a long time. But it isn’t a priority here, so therefore, unless you live in an enlightened district, it won’t be done. I have taught in a couple of dual language programs and it is definitely the best way to teach children a second language.

You may wonder, how on earth is it possible to add all these extra things to the curriculum? I don’t know about life skills, but these other subjects (language, national history and world history) are part of the regular curriculum in most countries and judging from recent studies, the major industrialized countries are all doing a better job at educating their kids than American schools. I remember learning that in a typical British school, kids may have up to 11 regular subjects each year! (If you are in Britain and reading this, perhaps you can verify if this is still the case.) In the U.S., we have for too long emphasized the teaching of subjects that are part of standardized testing, so social studies and foreign language became less important or even ignored. Learning about other countries – history, geography, politics – and their languages is so important in the world we live in today, and I think we do a great disservice to our students by not giving these subjects the emphasis they deserve.

Oh, and by the way, ALL students should have, as part of their regular school supplies, an iPad, tablet or laptop computer. Yes, all this costs a lot of money, so why not budget more for education and less to build weapons?

FPQ: Rediscovering My Joys

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week encourages us to look inward, at ourselves. Fandango writes: I saw this question on a site that offers up a bunch of “deep, philosophical” questions and this one intrigued me. It’s about evolution, but not in the context of Darwin’s evolution of the species. It’s more about evolution of the individual and about who you are and how you change over time. Here’s this week’s question, which is essentially about you. I hope you’ll have fun with it.

Is the concept of “you” continuous or does the past “you” continually fade into the present and future “you”? (Yes, it’s both.)  Considering that your body, your mind, and your memories are changing over time, what part of “you” sticks around? (My essence, my soul, my identity).

Now that I’ve answered both questions in brief, I will expand, as I am wont to do!

I once had a revelation about myself that I told my daughter: You may have changed a great deal since childhood, but whatever you were good at and interested in when you were 10 will come back around when you are an adult. Cee’s On the Hunt for Joy challenge has a theme related to this: rediscovering your childhood joys.

For me, it was art (I drew and doodled incessantly) , languages (I fell in love with Spanish in 5th grade), cultures (I was fascinated by the pictures in my parents’ National Geographic magazines), cats (I have always had one as a pet, except when my son had allergies growing up), and writing (I wrote many stories and even a short novel when I was a kid).

This is one of my more recent drawings – it’s a combination of drawing and watercolor. First, I chose a photograph I had taken. Then I drew it freehand with black pigment liner. Then I used watercolor pencils for the color and background.
Another of my obsessions – cats. This is the best cat drawing I have done, but not the only or most recent one!

Another art form I love is photography, as any reader of my blog knows. I first started taking pictures with a Brownie black & white camera when I was about 10.

I took these photos of my friends with my Brownie camera in 1966!

In high school, I bought an Olympus SLR and got “serious” about photography. It helped that I had a boyfriend who was a photographer, and he taught me how to develop my black and white pictures. Later I installed my own mini darkroom in the second bathroom of an apartment I lived in in college.

In my late teens and early adulthood, for years I tried to become something that I couldn’t become – a musician (I’m not very talented in music, much as I love it), a best-selling author (I don’t have the discipline), a counselor (I have trouble giving advice on the spot) – and then I dreamed of being something that I could become, but didn’t: a linguist, an anthropologist, a translator at the United Nations – and finally became something I’d thought about in childhood but never thought I could become: a teacher. One of my sisters was a great teacher and she was very patient. I have never been patient.

I wasn’t actually a great teacher. I was, in fact, mediocre as a classroom teacher, and kept losing classroom teaching jobs. I was better at being a “pull-out” resource teacher (teaching ESL and bilingual literacy to smaller groups of students who came to me during their classroom’s literacy time). I was better at this because I didn’t have to worry about 10 things at once and didn’t have to keep track of 20+ kids at the same time. I also love languages and was very passionate about language acquisition and a strong advocate for bilingual education. So that job (where I spent more years and was happy) utilized more of my strengths: using Spanish every day, teaching English as a second language, enthusiasm about learning, working with students, doing creative holiday projects and writing projects with them.

I started a paper recycling club at my school one year, and this is me receiving an award worth $200 for the paper recycling we did. The money was used for the school’s club fund. I have always been passionate about environmental issues.

On the other hand, classroom teaching emphasized my weaknesses – midway through my teaching career, I found out I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). This is not a good thing to have if you are a teacher but at least I knew it wasn’t because I was a failure – at discipline, executive functioning, at remembering to send in my attendance every morning, at trying but never succeeding at being organized. This diagnosis helped me become more accepting of who I am and not ashamed of what I am not.

Now I’m happily retired and doing the things I used to spend hours doing when I was a kid: drawing, writing, learning foreign languages, pursuing intellectual interests such as politics, international affairs, and traveling (I didn’t do these last few much as a kid, although I have fond memories of family trips and I never avoided controversial topics with my parents, which didn’t always work out very well). I love other cultures and seeing new things.

Here I am with my cousins in Tanzania in 2018 (that’s me in the light colored shirt) – we are about to learn a traditional dance in a Maasai village.

These interests have always been a part of me, even though I have evolved a great deal in my journey of self-discovery. I’m not so hard on myself as I used to be. Finding out about having ADHD was a revelation about my entire life – why it was hard for me to make new friends, why I daydreamed so much, why I talked out of turn in school, why I was a “slow reader” (I wasn’t slow – I just got distracted so that by the time I had finished a page, I couldn’t remember what I’d read and had to go back and read it again), and why I was constantly losing things.

Besides the self-discovery that comes with maturity, I look back at my life and sometimes feel I really haven’t changed that much. I’m still me. I sometimes think I’m still that girl I was in high school. I still have the same soul, which I will have until my dying day. I carry buried memories and emotions of the last 68 years in my brain, but I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, because that doesn’t matter. I have a good life – everything I need and much of what I want. I’ve been lucky, I know that and I am grateful.

SYW: Re bake sales, cops, fungus and, like, other stuff too

Here are my answers to Melanie’s Share Your World this week.


(the last two are courtesy of Teresa of The Haunted Wordsmith)
1. Is it wrong to sell store-bought pastries at a bake sale?
No, not if you acknowledge that.
2. Have you ever interacted with the police?
Yes, I have gotten a few tickets – in the days before cameras were installed to catch people speeding, etc. wcophen the cop actually stopped me in person to tell my I was over the speed limit. I also have had “conversations” with police officers who called about my son or came to my house to bring him home, mostly regarding acting erratically or possession of marijuana. I dreaded those interactions!

3. What will you remember most about this past year (this question will show up again, in late December, just FYI)
The wonderful trips my husband and I took – to Egypt & Israel in Dec. 2018/Jan. 2019 and to Europe in June-July 2019.

Also the embarrassing and shameful behavior of our so-called president, Trump. It never gets better and his lies just keep mounting. I think lying is default with him – it’s so natural to him that it’s the first thing that comes out of his mouth. The Mueller Report – which everyone seemed to think was anti-climactic because he refused to indict Trump but in his hearings last week he made it clear that he considered Trump guilty. Every day Trump says something outrageous – either racist or defending some of the sleaziest characters in America.
trump is a ra-ist
4. Is it better to have fungus on your toes, your tongue, or your pizza?
None. Mushrooms are a fungus, and often found on a pizza, but I am not fond of them. But at least on a pizza, I can pick them off.
Weird mushrooms at Park Ridge farmer's market
5. What is one slang word that makes your skin crawl?
I have two:
I have never approved of the word “suck” to mean awful or terrible, yet I occasionally say it myself now because I am so used to hearing it in everyday speech.
The word “like” used several times in a sentence or to denote someone’s speech or reaction to something – it’s so lazy. Can’t people come up with a more descriptive word for a reaction to something – “I was like…”? Or what’s wrong with the word ‘said’? “I said I couldn’t believe he did that” is proper English; “I was like, I can’t believe he did that” is lazy and so – teenager-ish, yet people keep saying it well into adulthood. But once again, it has become so pervasive that I hear myself using ‘like’ that way myself. UGH!!

Something I am grateful for this week…
My son was in a serious car accident, which completely wrecked the front of his car, but thank God, he was not injured, nor was the other driver involved. I am grateful for the airbag that probably saved his life!

Word(s) of the week: Auld Lang Syne

As it is the first day of a new year, I decided to research the meaning and history of the title (and lyrics) of this famous song, sung all over the world on New Year’s Eve.

auld_lang_syne-couple celebrating

Auld Lang Syne is a gift from Scotland to the world. The words to the song were written in the 18th century, but there are several different versions. The lyrics are mainly attributed to Robert Burns robert-burns(1759-1796), Scottish poet, and the original words are written in Scots, a language related to English but with its own pronunciation, form and unique vocabulary. This is why, popular as this song is and sung throughout the world on New Year’s Eve, most people have no idea what the song is about.

Auld lang syne means, roughly, “old long ago.” The song is about retaining old friendships, that whatever happens throughout our lives, we should remember our lifelong friends and hold them dear. This is an appropriate sentiment as we “ring out the old and ring in the new.”

The popularity of Auld Lang Syne has mainly to do with two factors. First, Scotland was influenced by Calvinism (introduced in the 16th century), out of which grew Presbyterianism. These Calvinist Presbyterians, until about 100 years or so ago, did not celebrate Christmas, which they considered “hedonistic” – the holiday’s most popular customs had nothing to do with the birth of Christ and in fact, most scholars believe that Christ was not born in December. Thus, Christmas was more associated with the winter solstice, celebrated by pagans.


Thus, in Scotland, the more important holiday of this period came to be New Year’s, or “Hogmanay” as they call it. Auld Lang Syne was thus sung during this time and became connected with New Year’s celebrations. Everyone likes a party, so the song, unintelligible to many people, becomes more so – and sung with more gusto – after one has had a few drinks!

Hogmanay celebration, Edinburgh

Hogmanay celebration, Edinburgh

Torchlight Procession, Edinburgh

Torchlight Procession, Edinburgh

Hogmanay Festival Fireworks

Hogmanay Festival Fireworks

The second factor was the American custom of watching television. The Canadian band leader, Guy Lombardo, broadcast a big band version of the song on New Year’s Eve beginning in 1929 (on the radio) and continued to be a yearly tradition until 1976 (by then broadcast on TV). This created another link to the holiday and became the tradition. What is a New Year’s celebration without singing Auld Lang Syne?

Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians

Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians

So raise your glasses one more time and get ready to sing: here are the words (in Scots, then translated into standard English) of all five verses of Auld Lang Syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, (originally “my jo”)
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp, (pronounced “stoop”)
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wandered mony a weary fit
Sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidled i’ the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught

For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Auld Lang Syne-words

English translation:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And long, long ago.

And for long, long ago, my dear
For long, long ago,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For long, long ago.

And surely you’ll buy your pint-jug!
And surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For long, long ago.


We two have run about the hills
And pulled the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many the weary foot
Since long, long ago.


We two have paddled in the stream,
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
Since long, long ago.


And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!
And give us a hand of yours!
And we’ll take a deep draught of good-will
For long, long ago.



All images downloaded from Google Images.
Web sites used for research:

E is for ESL/ELL

May 13, 2015:  E is for ESL/ELL

ESLESL and ELL are acronyms for basically the same thing: ESL stands for English as a Second Language and ELL stands for English language learner. So ESL is a methodology and ELL is the person to whom you apply that methodology in teaching.

There are different programs for ELLs that fall under the general category of ESL. If you are an ESL teacher, chances are you are teaching students from more than one language group, so you teach them in English. (This is different than bilingual education, in which students are taught first in their native language, so that they develop academic skills and

Teacher Ms. Houck with her ESL students. (From Google Images)

Teacher Ms. Houck with her ESL students. (From Google Images)

strategies without the additional load of learning a new language. When they are ready to learn English, many of the skills and strategies they’ve learned “transfer” to the academic work they begin doing in English. Children who come from families who read to them or with them, take them to museums, talk to them about all kinds of things will learn a new language much more quickly than those who don’t get this support in their native language.)

To help ELL students understand, you use lots of supports: visuals such as gestures, pictures, graphic organizers, etc. or objects (“realia”) to illustrate something you are teaching them – something they can look at, touch, smell, feel… You write their

Graphic organizer for a story (Google Images)

Graphic organizer for a story (from Google Images)

experiences in their own words to model the writing process and you let them write their own books with illustrations (see my post “Children’s literature”). ELLs enjoy seeing their work “published”!

You use physical movements, which you teach them so it triggers a memory of what you are talking about, such as making a line with your hands for “horizontal” or shivering to illustrate “cold” or “frigid” or “Arctic”.

You also use poems, rhymes, chants and songs. These are great ways to remember things or concepts. I can still recite TV commercials from the 60s! These silly jingles somehow just stay in one’s head and get filed away in the brain for access much later when there is a trigger for that memory or that response.

I remember having someone from a local nature center come to my classroom of 4th and 5th grade bilingual students to teach them about the water cycle. She taught them a song about precipitation, evaporation and condensation and tried to encourage them to sing it several times. However, at that age, the kids were embarrassed – it wasn’t “cool” to sing

Diagram of the water cycle

                        Diagram of the water cycle

silly songs in front of their peers, so most refused to sing it. However, later, when I gave them a test on the water cycle, which we had studied in English, I would hear some of the students singing to themselves – just barely audibly – “precipita-a-a-a-tion”, “evapora-a-a-a-tion”, … Yes, it definitely helped them remember!

“Sheltered English” is considered ‘best practice’ pedagogy for English learners. You write out language objectives and content objectives for each class, and discuss them with the students so they know exactly what to expect and what is expected from them. You give them as much chance to participate as possible. You use visuals, realia, chants & songs, experiences they can talk and write about, you provide opportunities for students to develop listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in English, and your classroom is full

Graphic organizer for the five senses

       Graphic organizer for the five senses

of colorful pictures, bulletin boards, graphic organizers, spelling patterns, illustrations of math vocabulary with definitions – anything that helps the students advance their academic English skills.

ESL teachers do these things because learning English (or any language) is easier when it is in context. It is easy enough to learn social language – kids pick this up within a year or so because of their socializing with others, watching TV, being surrounded by English everywhere they go.

But academic English is much harder to learn. Not only the student has to learn the content (such as math or science) but they have to learn the language and higher level vocabulary at the same time. It is comparable to an adult who has a basic working knowledge of a foreign language – say Russian – going to Russia to enroll in a college level program in, say, physics. So not only she has to learn about physics, beyond whatever knowledge she’d

Hands on a globe --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

              Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

gained in high school physics classes, but she has to do all her coursework in Russian, which is not her native language! Young English learning students are at a further disadvantage because they have not yet developed sophisticated vocabulary, particularly if they come from poor families whose members have had limited education in their home country. It takes five to seven years to learn academic English (or academics in whatever language) and during these years, ELLs generally lag behind their native English speaking peers. It is a struggle for many to catch up.

Because I have always loved language and have learned two foreign languages myself, I can relate to the struggles ELLs have. I understand how important it is to know the context when you are trying to decipher a conversation between two native speakers of the language you are attempting to learn. I know how helpful it is to learn cognates (words that are spelled similarly and sound almost the same in two languages, such as television and television) or to make other connections between words in one’s own and another language. Talking on the telephone is difficult in a foreign language because you rely on a person’s body language and looking at their lips as they speak to figure out what they’re saying. All these things are intuitive ways that you use to try to learn another language. But with young students, they have to be specifically taught.  And to do that, the teacher must be specifically taught how to teach students whose native language is different that his own.

Group picture of my bilingual second grade class

                                                   Group picture of my bilingual second grade class