40 years TESOL Greece

Dorothy Zemach

Using Metaphor for Teaching and Learning

To go hand-in-hand with a conference on teaching and learning English, the presenter invites participants to examine something in their lives that is entirely different; and through this examination to draw relevant metaphorical conclusions about teaching and learning.

In their groundbreaking Metaphors We Live By, Philosopher Mark Johnson and linguist George Lakoff call metaphor “unavoidable, ubiquitous, and mostly unconscious,” claiming that “[w]e live our lives on the basis of inferences we derive via metaphor” (1980). The presenter will share insights gained from years of musical study and performance and show how examining and understanding this experience carries knowledge over into her linguistic and teaching career. A music student, after all, like a language student, must listen, repeat, practice patterns and drills, learn theory, rehearse alone and with others, and perform with meaning and passion in order to communicate. Musical examples will highlight the presentation.

Dorothy Zemach holds an MA in TEFL from the School for International Training in Vermont, USA. After teaching ESL for over 25 years, she now concentrates on writing and editing materials and conducting teacher-training workshops. Most recently she was a plenary speaker for IATEFL 2018 in the UK. Her areas of specialty and interest are teaching writing, teaching reading, business English, academic English, testing, and humor. A prolific textbook author and editor, Dorothy is a co-author for Macmillan’s flagship course Open Mind and the series consultant and co-author for the dual skills course Skillful. Website: http://dorothyzemach.com

Dorothy's Interview by Marjorie Rosenberg

Interview questions – Dorothy

TESOL Greece

What got you interested in the topic of metaphors?

As someone who loves reading and literature, I’ve always loved metaphors. But it was when my walking partner put a book into my hands that she’d been talking about with great enthusiasm (Metaphors We Live By, by Lakoff & Johnson) that I began to think about it particularly with regards to teaching. The Johnson who co-wrote the book was Mark Johnson, who teaches at the University of Oregon, just down the street from me, and he kindly agreed to chat with me for an hour. We had a lovely meandering conversation about metaphors for teaching and how teachers can use metaphor for reflection, and this talk is in many ways an outgrowth of that conversation.

How do you feel metaphors relate to teaching (can help teachers in the classroom)?

It’s a bit like a solar eclipse, I think—that is, sometimes you see it best by not looking at it directly. A good metaphor can help you understand something more deeply. Interestingly, a lot of teachers already describe their work metaphorically, Dr. Johnson pointed out, and many of them even use the same metaphors. Gardening, for instance, is a common one—teachers talk about planting seeds of knowledge and how they feel when their students reap the harvest of their hard work, and so on.

But metaphors are also personal, and what is enlightening for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. However, I think my talk will demonstrate not only what my metaphors do for me but also how you can find and develop your own.

How are music and language similar, and how are they different?

Ah, well, for that, you’ll need to attend the talk. 🙂

How can music affect one’s teaching?

My talk isn’t actually about using music in the classroom, although it is, of course, a tool teachers commonly use. I’ve used music in a variety of ways, from soft background music to provide a café-like atmosphere so students speak up (which helps their pronunciation and intonation) to singing songs (also useful for pronunciation and intonation, not to mention vocabulary and grammar) to listening to songs, one of the best ways I know for noticing and practicing elision—and of course songs provide rich texts for topics and culture.

Do teachers need to be performers? Does this help them in the classroom?

I think every teacher is to some extent a performer in the classroom already, but if what you really mean is “entertainer,” then no. Some teachers are naturally bubbly and outgoing and theatrical, but that doesn’t mean every teacher has to be. What teachers need to be is authentic. Students can sense when teachers are comfortable with themselves, and they respect that more than one teaching style or another. Be yourself, as the saying goes; everybody else is already taken.

Do teacher communities ultimately assist language educators and how can language educators make the most of them?  

Oh, absolutely. Communities help us solve our problems and become better, more effective teachers. But even more than that, they inspire us. Teaching is hard work! And it’s our communities that restore us. That’s one reason I love conferences so much. Yes, you might lose a bit of sleep, but mentally and even spiritually, you’ll be so refreshed and renewed that you’ll return to your classroom with a new light. The more open-minded and active you are—willing to listen to new ideas and try new things, so you can keep what feels right to you and put aside what doesn’t—the more you’ll enjoy and appreciate these opportunities for professional and personal growth.

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