The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Away from my desk ...

Well, I'm now almost exactly halfway through my 5 weeks of summer teaching and I don't think I've managed to improve my time management skills any - I'm still spending much more time "in school" than I should be and struggling to get any time at my desk. Very behind with my schedule for other projects, but not panicking just yet!

Below are a few other things I've noticed since I've been "out at work" for most of my time:
  • My tea consumption has dropped considerably - one flask has to last me through most of the day!
  • I'm feeling really out-of-touch with the news. I'm so used to listening to the radio for most of the day - a bit of breakfast TV and the evening news doesn't feel the same. Didn't realise I had become such a news junkie!
  • Lunch has been reduced from a nice hot salad or a dish of pasta to a snatched egg sandwich!
  • I'm struggling to switch off at the end of the day - I'm dreaming about teaching.
  • My regular swimming has been almost completely sacrificed :(
On the plus side though, I'm really enjoying the adrenaline buzz of teaching and the interaction with colleagues. I'm feeling much more alert and perky than usual, even though I'm exhausted at the end of the day. I'm also getting a chance to pull lots of things out my wardrobe that I don't usually wear and enjoy putting together new outfits each morning :)

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Spreading the word

On Monday afternoon, I did a "guest lecture" for all the pre-sessional students at Bristol Uni. My topic was Choosing and using a dictionary; an insider's guide. I've often felt that I'd like to do more to combine the two elements of my work; teaching and publishing/lexicography. I find it a bit frustrating that I don't really have time when I'm teaching to do more than little 5 minute slots of dictionary training. And the talks I get to give at conferences are a. usually for a specific publisher about a particular book and b. usually to teachers and other ELT folks rather than students. So it was really nice to be able to pass a bit of my inside knowledge about dictionaries accumulated over the past decade or so on to some real students.

I tried to put something together that would give students an overview of what's available on the market in terms of learner's dictionaries (from all the different publishers, books, websites, mobile apps) and also specialist dictionaries and other vocabulary books. But at the same time, give them some concrete ideas about how they can use them in their own context. As I said last week, on a very intensive pre-sessional EAP course, you don't get much time in the classroom to deal specifically with vocabulary, so it's nice to give students a bit of guidance as to how they can work on vocabulary independently - both for comprehension and production.

Guest lectures are optional (and at the end of a long teaching day), so I was quite pleased to get a healthy turnout. I'm a bit rubbish at judging numbers, but I'd guess that about 150 students turned up. We had a lovely lecture theatre in the Physics dept which felt fabulous to speak in. It's a proper old-fashioned lecture theatre with lots of wood and curved banked seating - I almost felt as if I should be wearing a gown! I meant to take a photo once all the students were in, but inevitably, I got caught up in chatting and getting ready, so I completely forgot. Here's one I took of the empty room though, you still get an idea of the space.

It took a big chunk out of my Sunday to prepare the presentation and it did mess up my schedule a bit, taking out what's usually a non-teaching afternoon, with lots of other work piling up on my desk. I really enjoyed the experience though, so I think it was worth it. It'd be nice to do the same thing elsewhere, but I'm not sure how I could make it work from an economic point of view. Would other institutions pay me to deliver a talk or are they too used to publishers doing this kind of thing for free?

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Saturday, August 13, 2011


Well, I've made it to the end of the first week of my summer teaching stint ... and now I'm spending the weekend trying to catch up on myself!! As ever, my first week seemed to be largely taken up being incredibly inefficient - rushing around chasing up computer log-ins, missing textbooks and board markers. Although I'm only meant to be teaching three mornings a week plus one full day, somehow the morning's seem to spread across to mid-afternoon and by the time I've sat down and had a cup of tea and sorted out my huge accumulated pile of papers, the day seems to have disappeared and I haven't done any of my 'other work'. I really do need to set aside clear non-teaching blocks this week when I don't get tempted into marking or researching lesson ideas.

The actual teaching has been the relatively easy bit. I've got a nice little class and this year I'm taking over a group who've already done 5 weeks, so they're already 'broken in' and not quite as shell-shocked as the new intake. Even so, I've had the niggling feeling that I haven't really done any proper language teaching yet. Most of the week's been taken up with setting out the ground rules for the end-of-course assessment - lots of academic skills stuff about format and word limits, choosing a topic and writing an outline, using the library and all that preliminary stuff. I'm hoping that next week I'll get onto something a bit more linguistic - I'm itching to get down to some nice juicy grammar rules and the AWL ...

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Confirmation niggle

I try not to moan on this blog, but the occasional work-related grumble can't help but break through. In this week's spirit of finishing off and tidying up, I sent off two big chunks of work at the start of the week (to different publishers). Each one represented scores of hours' work and together they amounted to £3000's worth of work. Both were emailed as attachments and each was copied in to two members of in-house staff. To date, I've had no confirmation that either has been received!

Now unless there's something wrong with my internet connection and both have mysteriously gone astray (which I very much doubt), that strikes me as pretty poor etiquette, especially as both editors had been pushing me to get the work finished and stressing how much they needed it on time! It kind of leaves you wondering why you bothered to rush...

Whenever I receive any material, via email or post, I always make sure that I confirm receipt straight away and I have to say that most of the in-house folk I work with are pretty good about it too. It surely doesn't take much just to fire off a quick email saying "I received the stuff you sent, thanks.", does it?!

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Year planner

Fitting in freelance projects is always a bit of a juggling act, with things starting and finishing all the time, short projects and long projects, delayed starts and extended deadlines. I try to keep track of everything on a wall planner with different coloured lines to show different jobs I'm working on or have coming up:

Sadly, I generally end up using quite a bit of Tipp-Ex as start dates and timings constantly shift! Which is why I always look forward to the one fixed point in my year; my summer teaching stint at Bristol University that starts on Monday. Although it can be hard work and a bit of a shock to the system - getting up in the morning and having to get out the house on time! - it's also a fantastic break from my usual routine and gets me away from my desk for a big chunk of the day. And it helps me to divide my year up into pre-teaching and post-teaching, a gap that's going to be extended this year by a long holiday at the end of my teaching stint which means that I won't be back at my desk properly again until the start of October - hopefully, feeling fully refreshed and raring to go again.

Just got to get as many bits and pieces finished off and loose ends tied up as I can this week so that I don't have too much spilling over into my teaching time.

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