We have granite counters and a granite floor in our kitchen. Two out of three people who comment about our kitchen say,  ”I love marble.” Since they are making a compliment I never correct them. In such small talk the difference between marble and granite is not important. When people ask where I bought the material, how difficult it is to clean, etc. I respond using the word granite without pointing out that they had initially said marble.

When selecting building materials, contractors usually not only use terms like marble or granite but describe multiple characteristics of the stones being considered.

I am amazed by the fact that when most people discuss their teaching and when those who prepare teachers speak at conferences they rarely describe multiple characteristics of the words they use. “If you give your students an interesting topic, they will do communicative activities; if you start class with icebreakers your students will feel relaxed; it is better to focus on meaning initially so students do not feel tense when they speak–later you can focus on form.”

If two out of three people mistake objects we can see and touch why do we assume that those who hear abstract words understand them? And why do we not describe multiple characteristics of abstract words when contractors feel compelled to describe multiple characteristics of concrete words?

I have been mystified by this phenomenon for decades. Beyond Rashomon–Conceptualizing and Describing the Teaching Act (TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 1; March 1977) was my first stab at dealing with the issue. Breaking Rules (Longman 1987) was an expansion of the article. The advantage of both of these is that they are thorough; the disadvantage is that they are quite dense.

I am attaching a recent reworking of the theme of the importance of analyzing what we do from multiple perspectives that I hope is more accessible.

John

abcs

PS Rashomon is the name of a short story about a woman who sells her hair. Kurusawa took the title and applied it to another story by the same author and made a movie of it. In the movie, various characters give different descriptions of the same event. I showed the movie in my classes for many years. Because the movie was made in Japan, there are English subtitles. In one scene, a large structure is shown during a rain storm with a lot of lightening and thunder. During the scene it is possible to see a person walking under the structure. The caption reads, RASHOMON. I paused the video at this point and asked teachers to write down what the meaning of the caption was. Common words were thunder, lightening, storm, rain, a person walking. In fact, the structure was a gate. Gates in Japan at the time of the action in the film were 3 or 4 stories high and there were rooms in the two structures that held the lintel–the wooden bar that sat horizontally on the two pillars.  Mon is Japanese for gate and Rasho is the name of a person so Rashomon is Rasho’s gate or the gate of Rasho just as we call the bridge that connects NJ and NY The George Washington Bridge.