In the age of Twitter and Facebook, what's happening to English vocabulary?

paddling on river
In one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to, the question was asked about whether on not platforms such as Twitter/Facebook/Orkut or Instant Messenger services are bad for one's vocabulary.

Anirudh Maitra, entrepreneur and designer of weboword feels very strongly about holding on to the 'old' vocabulary.

He believes that the usage of web2.0 platforms will affect spelling and due to the speed required in response, young people will repetitively use the same vocabulary from a restrictive pool.

Considering the fact that the number of words in the English language is growing exponentially, as a direct result of the lexis coming in from all of these new technologies, coupled with the effect of globablization (other cultures learning English and bringing along with them a variety of new words of their own), I think that's nonsense.

So this is what I responded:
  • Language is dynamic. Words that remain necessary, stay.
  • Those we no longer need, go. It's simply the nature of the game.
  • We don't need to hold on, we need to move with the river - the river has its own force. Fight the river: drown.
And it seems that we're not the only ones pontificating the question. The Boston Globe is asking whether language is dead or simply just evolving here and Grammar Girl's come up with her own Strunk and Twite.

What do you think?

Do we really still need words like eleemonosynary?*

Useful books related to this posting:

The Adventure of English. The Biography of a Language (Sceptre) Absolute genius

Mother Tongue: The English Language

A History of English: A Sociolinguistic Approach (Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics)

p.s. Thanks Neal for the crazy word via twitter - and no I am not going to give you the meaning as it all too perfectly supports my point!

Help Alexander Educate African Prisoners

alexander maclean
Alexander McLean is quite a special guy.

At 23, he is Director General of the Africans Prisons Project and right now he needs a bit of help from us.

Back when he 18, he was doing a gap year before university in Africa, volunteering at a hospital in Kampala.

While there he met a handful of prisoners who were in a pretty bad way. Coming from the UK, he was shocked at the human rights abuse so he became involved and decided to go visit their prison.

Of course, that was even worse so he took it upon himself to buy some construction materials himself and renovate the infirmary, supervising the prisoners with the physical work.

They named the infirmary after his grandma.

After it was built, almost as an afterthought, Alex asked the prisoners if there was anything else they needed.

They replied "Education."

So simple, so obvious eh?

prison libraryAlex went back to the UK, collected books and money from his family, friends and fellow university students, went back to Uganda and started working on building and filling up the library.

In 2007, the African Prisons Project got its official status as a British charity with the objective of building more libraries and infirmaries and they'll need a bit of your help to do this.

From their website: African Prisons Project

Education & Rehabilitation

In all the countries we have visited, rehabilitation of prisoners, though mentioned by the authorities, falls by the wayside because of more pressing issues such as security and feeding prisoners. Many lose their houses, families and job prospects. This can be in part due to the shame of being in prison, but also because some inmates cannot contact their families who assume they have died in prison or been executed.

Access to books or any form of schooling is severely limited. Many detainees cannot read or write, but are keen to learn so that they have some chance of employment when they are released. APP is one of the few organisations building libraries in prisons. In Uganda, prisoners have used APP-provided facilities to take O levels, A levels, and are soon to start university programmes. In Kenya, the prisons service has improved the APP-created library by appointing a full-time librarian and establishing links with the Kenyan library services to receive new books.

Needs raised by prisoners:
  • Library
  • Basic literacy and numeracy
  • O levels and A levels
  • An environment conducive to study
  • Computers
  • Vocational and skills training

Will you check them out?

Do you have any teaching/ ex-Uni books kicking around at home, in your school's library, in your office that instead of throwing out you could stick in the mail instead?

donated books arriving

Would you like to buy a beautiful CD of the prisoners singing?

Can you help spread this message via twitter or on your edu-blog?

Useful links related to this posting:
Previous Projects
Future projects
Alexander McLean (real world award interview)


The Susan Boyle EFL Video Lesson

duckWhat is your secret ambition?

If you could go back in time, do something else or be someone else what would you do? What do you still hope to achieve before you die?

Susan Boyle, a Scottish, unemployed 47 year woman just stumbled into fame and fell into the hearts of millions.

By taking part in ITV's 'Britain's Got Talent' competition she showed us that ducklings can still become swans, that dreams must never ever be given up on.

She strode on to the stage with chutzpah, took the jeers from the crowd and with her head held high opened her mouth. The sound that came out made my stomach flip and tears prickle at my eyes.

- I joined her Facebook Fan club.

- I worried about the consequences of her new fame.

- I thought about her cat.

- A friend gave me a play-by-playback of her choice expressions, perfectly imitating her accent.

- I spent way too many hours creating a lesson plan for our students.


Do they have dreams, goals, objectives they'd still like to accomplish? I bet they do. And I bet they'll love this:

No internet access/ laptop in class? Do A (extend with SimplyConversations AmbitionsAchievements set), then C + D in class and set B + E as post-task.

If you enjoyed using this lesson with your students don't forget to share it with colleagues, and of course, don't hesitate to let me know now what you think of Susan Boyle's performance - go on, tell me, how many times have you watched the video too?


p.s Thanks muchly, Lisa, for helping me out with the editing!
Any possible errors, typos etc though are all mine - find any, do let me know.

p.p.s If you like working with videos in the classroom, Jamie Keddie's TEFL clips is 'chocka' with great lessons.

p.p.p.s Here are the links to global teachers who have also been using the Susan Boyle saga in their classes and blogging about it, many different approaches and tips - definitely worth have a look at so you can continue extend the lesson or do something different:
  • Susana Canelo:
  • Natasa Grojic:
  • Janet Abruzzo:

Creative Commons License
The Susan Boyle EFL Lesson Plan by Karenne Sylvester is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Need mentoring on being a better English Language Teacher?

in sky
Alex Case of the TEFLtastic blog has just set up a mentoring experiment / forum on the website.

Go check it out and sign up if you're a EFL/ESL teacher looking for some help or a teacher trainer looking for a way to help out the noobs.

And, of course, anytime you've got a question on
  • teaching speaking
  • student-centered teaching
  • teaching IT or financial students
  • using technological tools

don't hesitate to email me - I might not always have the answers, but I might know someone who does!


The Price of Water in Airports - Using Anger to Create Discussion in an EFL Classroom

So there I was in Stuttgart Airport, minding my own business, dipping in and out of the book on randomness (The Black Swan) recommended to me by a banking student, waiting to board my flight to London.

An announcement interrupted the silence with the message that the flight was delayed.

Not being in a real rush, this didn't bother me.

Hmmm... felt a bit thirsty.

Walked on over to the big shiny drink dispenser where I was met by Coca-Cola's demand for €2.50.


for what's essentially tap water and it struck me, as everything does these days, that aside from the fact this is annoying as all get out, it's the basis for a lesson with my EFL students and a blog posting.

It's these fundamental, ridiculous, all too prevalent, little ways that the world has changed into a dog-eat-dog society -something we all notice but aren't doing squat about, that I'm both blowing a fuse and showing you it's this very kind of thing that can initiate interesting conversations with your language learners.

  • Nothing feels better than the occasional gripe, whinge and moan.

  • Can your students complain, bitch and say what sucks, in English?

  • Can they decry humanity?

Have they got the language skills to do this?

Seriously, discussing the things that piss us off is a very vital part of the way we communicate - and generally, this lexical set isn't featured in your textbooks, is it?

We wouldn't want to upset anyone.

  • 'It annoys me when' is sorry, not 'It drives me up the wall'
  • 'I can't stand it when' is not 'I've had it up to here'
  • 'It frustrates me when' is not 'It gets on my nerves' or 'It makes me madder than a tick on a cow's back' (I think that's Caribbean) and it's not 'It makes my blood boil.'

For heaven's sake, let's treat our students like the adults they are.

Personally, I'm fed up to my back teeth of companies that think that it's okay to make €2.49 in profit out of one of my basic human rights. What if I was an old lady who needed to take a pill? What if I was a poor student who had to go home to visit a dying relative, using up my last pennies to catch a flight? I should just go without a drop to drink unless I fork over my hard earned cash to buy some kingpin yet another yacht?

I tell ya, I'd like to give Coca Cola a piece of my mind.


Feels great to have a good rant and blow off some steam, vent a bit, doesn't it?

I have a theory.

If any of you can back it up with a sweet SLA (2nd Language Acquistion) quote, that'd be great - Scott Thornbury, you're a wonderful walking quotapedia, got anything for me?

This is my not an academic theory:

Expressing anger appropriately (i.e. not always politely) and effectively (i.e. not the F word, Mr Pinker), is excessively difficult and in my opinion, it could well be one of the last steps to successfully mastering another language.

I know that this task would not be easy for me to do in Spanish and near on impossible in German. But what about when I need to? What if I'm meeting up with a group of colleagues and I want to tell them that something in our project is driving me nuts?

What do you think?

How would you use this lesson tip in a class? Would you tell a story like this first (using your own pet peeve or niggling issue - you need the passion) giving your students a list of idioms to follow along with?

Or would you present the lexis first (see bold vocabulary) and ask your learners to make a list of things that bother them then share your own story as part of the conversation?

Do let me know your thoughts and tips for using Anger in an EFL lesson.


Question from a reader, life with the wolves

Got an email in the inbox yesterday and rather than writing out a list of things that my reader could do, I thought I'd first turn it over to you guys and get you to help me write her!

What do you think? Are you game - hope so!

Hi Karenne

Hope you're well. Good to read the responses to my fossilized errors question. Thanks!

I have another question regarding a "problem class." I hoped to get some more advice as I'm sure I'm not the only one in this situation...

I have an all-male Business English class that just wants to chat about sport and their weekends etc. The company is paying for the ongoing/unlimited lessons and doesn't check up. "English class" seems to be just some time-out from work and an opportunity to chat with colleagues.

cosmosvdiablas by mikebaird flickr
I see the benefit in this - stress reduction and motivation to use English to talk about what is relevant to them. However, they seem to have no interest in actually improving.

Homework/ revision is never done, error correction/ new vocabulary work in any form doesn't become incorporated and "structured lessons" (eg. current affairs news lesson plans) are hijacked into irrelevant conversational tangents (about sport!) or met with minimal participation.

I try to work with their interests, but still feel like we are going nowhere. At Upper-Intermediate, they are able to communicate most ideas, regardless of impeding errors. If something is misunderstood, then they just clarify it in German. This is a long-term class that I have recently "taken over."

Do I just go with the "pack mentality" here and accept working within the boundaries that they have defined?

Any suggestions welcome!


To help S.F, simply click on the comments and let us know your thoughts (you can do this anonymously) or email me too!

Useful links related to this posting:
Fossilized errors
I hate the word homework
Where's the love y'all (brainstorming topics)


8 great articles in the ELT blogosphere this week

earthHere's a quick list of some of the great postings I read this week whilst out and about in the English language teaching/learning blogosphere:

  • Gavin Dudeney's musings sparked off a lively debate on the role of gender in ELT.
  • Johanna Stirling's encouraging TEFL teachers and language students to become involved in a literacy project: did you know that 90% of women and 80% of men are illiterate in Afghanistan?
  • Lindsay Clandfield has us day-dreaming of the year 2050, when finally we teachers will have nothing more to do but press a couple of buttons! Of course, that would end up meaning that Asimov was right. Sigh. (link from Scott Thornbury via Twitter).

What can your Business English students teach you?

I have another great secret.

My students are incredible people.

They are bankers, managers, managing bankers; they are CEOs and CFOs, web programmers and designers; they are parents, they are wives and husbands, they belong to groups and associations - they work in the Energy sector, the Automobile industry, in Finance and Marketing.

They're champions.

They have hobbies. They have dreams, ambitions. They've failed at stuff, won awards and prizes, done a lot with their lives. They certainly know a heck of a lot more about business plans and web design than I ever will.

So you know what I do?

I listen and learn.

Sometimes they're so passionate about all the things they can teach me how to do, that while they're sharing their immeasurable knowledge, they completely forget they're speaking in English. Sometimes, I feel like I'm floundering in a sea of vocabulary that I'm sort of, kind of aware of but don't really know what it really means (the investment bankers).

I get them to teach the stuff they do in their normal lives as if I were one of their pupils.

I concentrate on the structure of the sentences while they do this, correcting their mistakes subtly, simply as a part of the conversation and encourage them to pay attention, to self-correct and auto-correct each other.

And all the while they are becoming completely themselves in my language.

Are your students special people too?

Who are they? What knowledge have they got, what do they really know heaps about that they 'd enjoy teaching you? Are you willing to let them be the bosses?

What is something you're interested in learning about? Or better yet, what is something you never ever thought you'd be interested in knowing more about? Are you sure? You've got some free schooling up ahead of you if you want it.

I must warn you, though, this exercise comes with a warning: your life, hobbies and interests could seriously change beyond repair.

p.s By any chance did you already do this? Tell us what you learned about!

My new template!

Hey, is this the Kalinago English blog?


Just in case this is a repeat visit for you and you're feeling a bit confused, I've been slogging throughout the Easter break and hopefully have come up with something that's both pleasing to the eye and much more organized!

Unfortunately I lost some of the formatting in some of the posts due to the slightly different size of the 'main box' and will work on fixing these during the coming week.

Thanks so much for sending in your feedback to me throughout the last month -via the comments, email and Facebook - it was very much appreciated and helped me to create this new design.

If you like/hate it, don't hesitate to let me know!


p.s. If you're a fellow blogger - I got the basic template (free!) to work with from
Thanks OBT - I love it ;-)

p.p.s Special thank you has to go to Az who sent me 'pages' of feedback -dude, eternally grateful.

Why is my blog and business called Kalinago English?

And why the pictures of the Caribbean? It looks like a holiday in here!

Colleagues, it has something to do with Columbus, colonialism, pronunciation and the importance of language.

Still curious? Come here.


Lesson Tips and Plans - Summary

Workshops and Conference Reports - Summary

Would you like to read about what I've had to say about teacher-training / teacher trainers?


Karenne Sylvester (me)

Teaching English Using Technology - Summary March 2009

  • Nervous about using technology in your classroom? Don't be, we were all where you are standing now. Go on, be brave.
  • A great way to find authentic, up-to-date material is by looking at what the Business bloggers are writing about so hit them up for top tips!
  • Probably my (and my students') favorite source of good clean presentations to inspire discussion is slideshare. Slide on over to learn more.
  • Backbreaking bag of books and realizing you'd better get yourself a lighter laptop? Have a read through this posting on toys for teachers.
  • Want a simpler version of the news on the TV for your students? Have you ever heard of the CNN student news?
  • Want to be creative but worried about violating copyright rules? There is a solution & you too can become uncommonly creative.

Teaching Speaking - Summary of Posts March 2009

Got students who repetitively make the same mistakes over and over and over?
Read this posting: Dealing with fossilized errors

Is ego affecting your students' abilities to communicate?
Pride in the classroom

Get your students talking about the things they're interested in talking about.
Student-centered teaching practices

Does learner style and intelligence affect students' communication abilities?
Your style, my style

How I got into student-centered teaching, kind of a travelogue:
Personally speaking

About Karenne

updated June 2010

Karenne is teaching teachers how to teach speaking - using technology.

I'm a certified TESOL trainer, working as a freelancer in Stuttgart, Germany and I specialize in teaching adult learners in the financial/ banking, energy, engineering and IT sectors. 

I've lived, taught and worked all over the world: from the Caribbean to the US, UK, Australia, Hong Kong and Ecuador.

I recently co-authored Working with Films for Klett Verlag, have written audio material for Didactica and wrote the English version of an animation film, City Animals.  I regularly contribute to teaching magazines both offline and online.

Apart from this blog, I am the sole proprietor and webmaster of Kalinago English and author of SimplyConversationsTM, a pedagogically sound speaking skills system, designed to activate language learners' fluency.  I also take care of the ELTAS website and recently began writing a blog for Business English language students: Business English >5mins.

One of the things I'm most proud of being is "Ning.Mistress" of BELTfree, a private community of blogging teachers in ELT and we are a supportive group of reflective educators. 

I'm also a  Edtech teacher trainer and have presented internationally at IATEFL, TESOL Spain and  for numerous teaching associations, language institutions and community colleges as well as in webinars.   You can hire me to teach you and your colleagues, especially if you are interested in the integration of technological tools in the language learning classroom.

As my teaching philosophy is student-centered so are my  very hands-on sessions.

This is what they usually look like:

Visit LinkedIn
to connect with or to learn more about me in general, read what my colleagues, employers and trainees think about my work or just to know what else it is I've got up in the past.

External sites

Links and my life in social media...

More..? Seriously?


All the articles that appear on these pages by Karenne Sylvester are registered under creative commons, non-commercial, non-derivative, share-alike.

Recently, requests have been coming in for me to write articles or guest pieces for ELT magazines and blogs however what with my own blogs, website, teaching, teacher-training, web2.0 life and numerous projects, I really don't have a lot of time available.

So, this is my compromise:

If you are a non-commercial (or a very small micro-preneur) site, blog, or magazine in the field of ELT you may use any article that you find on this page,

as long as you
attribute the article to me by
  • providing my name,
  • the original title of the article if you changed it,
  • the date of the article,
  • the url address and blog name.
Please notify me that you've done this and state clearly "reprinted with kind permission" at the end of the posting.

You may not do this if you do not contribute or write any original work of your own or if you are a glorified advertising "hub".

You may not do this if you are a commercial website, magazine or newspaper.

Contact me if there is something you would like me to write, re-write or use.

Advertising, backlinks and sponsorship

An immeasurable amount of time, effort, passion and consistent commitment goes into creating this blog so that I can communicate with my teachers, colleagues and friends.

So honestly, when major corporations write asking for random link privileges without expecting to do anything in return, they lose my respect.

Please pay attention to the following rules before sending in such a request.

young busker by aine d

You are non-commercial / You're a micro-preneur
  • Write a nice email explaining why I should link to you and do not use the words "passionate about my products."  Do not any circumstances attempt to sell to me.   Tell me why the thing you have is good and why my readers want to know about it.  Again, do not under circumstances try to sell to me.  Tell me the truth. Above all, I want to know that you are a human being not a marketer and that  the reason you are genuinely contacting me is because you simply can't afford the marketing costs involved in sharing something you spent a lot of hours creating. 
  • If you spam my blog and my readers you will not receive a response.  Take the time and the courtesy to approach me properly.
    • Also, obviously, are you going to link back to me? I may not link to you via this blog (I have another) but I will certainly add you to the link list on my website or via delicious.

    You are a fellow blogger:

    Do not ask me to put you on my blog roll.

    Attract my attention instead by being a genuine reader and commenter.  If I see you around enough and follow your name (linked url) then, if I like what I see, I will eventually either put you on my blog roll or I will include a posting of yours that deserves a wider audience.

    You are commercial / You are a corporation / You are entrepreneur newly entering the English Teaching Industry:
    • Does your product or service match my blog - i.e. is it about conversation, Business English, software for learning English or teacher training?
    • Will it provide a tangible benefit to the teachers or learners I talk to?
    If yes, please do contact me with a full description of your product.

    Please do not ask me to spend hours downloading and reviewing your product, do this for me.

    Include references and recommendations from real users.

    If your description intrigues me and if I have time, I will check your stuff out.

    Note that I juggle many tasks and it may take me months to do this.

    I am not interested in being paid to write reviews of your product. 

    I have no interest in creating buzz for you.

    If I review a product it's because I genuinely like it.

    I am also not interested in affiliate links unless you have a tried and true product (i.e. the Amazon links on my page). It is not my responsibility to get you hits or conversions. Blogging in ELT is niche blogging - it is not blogging about gadgets and gizmos, or how-to-start-a-business.

    Do not expect 100,000s of hits a month but do know that obviously I reach a very large global audience and therefore, if you are looking for a 'connector' or a 'sneezer', and if I like what you have genuinely, then I am happy to share this information - however you must note that have a strong ethical code and under no circumstances will I do this sort of marketing for you "undercover"    

    Your details will be marked as being sponsored.

    And obviously, it goes without saying that if you still want to advertise on here, after reading all the above, then please think of this page as a magazine or a newspaper.

    Please consult your marketing budget before writing me as I am only interested in receiving genuine offers for:
    • monthly or yearly advertising
    • sponsorship of my blog
    If you would like statistical details about my blogs and website you can find this out via various sources including Alexa.

    I don't have time to do this for you.

    Once you have approached me, however, I will check you out and I will look into your investor relations and recent press releases.  If I find that you have a lot of venture capital behind you yet you're approaching me with peanuts because you think you can take advantage of me then I will not respond.

    In fact if there's anything that I don't like your offer, I won't respond.

    If I do like your offer and I accept it then it goes without saying that I will automatically send you regular updates and reports - you will no doubt have noticed by now, that aside from being professional I am thorough.

    I guarantee, on this, you will be satisfied.



    How do blogs work?


    Hi ya ELT colleague,

    If this is your first time visiting a blog you might be feeling a little confused so I thought I'd just jot you some notes.

    • A blog works in a slightly different way to a website.
    • All entries go in a last-date-first-on-the-page format.

    Here's a great video which helps one understand blogging:

    If you landed here from Google because you were looking for something specifically but you've no idea why it brought you here (& thanks for staying to find out), go up to the top-top left corner where there's a search bar and retype what you're looking for.

    If it's about teaching or learning English, you'll find something here I'm sure.

    You can also scroll down to look at the archives of past entries at the very bottom of the page.

    Hope this was useful and welcome to my blog!


    Meeting President Obama In Strasbourg


    I never, ever intended on using this blog for vanity postings, however, something so incredible happened to me last week and, well, I’ve got to share all the photos with my family and friends so it’s going up on here - do hope you’ll enjoy the read too!


    July 12, 2008: backstory

    I hop aboard a plane and go to Berlin for the day just to hear Obama speak.

    Everyone thinks I’m nuts (and I am, but just a little). Figured this was as close as I’d get ever, cause once he’d become President it’d be impossible and honestly even if he didn’t win, I wanted the chance to see this great leader live, not just on youtube.

    I’d volunteered to help man the crowd.

    My job was taking email addresses and moving Americans on over to the booths to register to vote.

    It was a wonderful day, 200,000+ turned up and I couldn’t have been happier.

    Until, Friday 27th March 2009:

    letter from the White House invite

    I pop into the DAZ to drop off my monthly bill for the dogme-style EFL conversation class I teach there.

    While rummaging around in my sack for the invoice, Valerie says ‘Karenne, do you want to meet Obama?’

    ‘Yeah’ I reply. Where did I put the darn thing? Oh, there’s just too much stuff in my bag. What I really mean to say is ‘duh.’

    She smiles and tells me they’ve sent invitations to their entire membership, trouble is I’ve got until exactly 3pm to reply and don’t know my passport number.

    She also warns me I might not be in the target group (youth, and I’m hardly that).


    Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday:

    Checking my emails everyday – nothing.

    Wednesday, which incidentally is April Fool’s day, the email arrives telling me I’ve been picked. Is it a joke?

    Don’t say anything to anyone except my students whose classes I’d missing.

    Thursday comes with a confirmation call, it’s not a joke, telling me I’ve got to be at the ZOF in Stuttgart at quarter past six.

    5amFriday April 3 April.

    UP. Wash face. Do I have enough to drink on the bus? Passport –check. Books to read –check. Coat to stuff with camera, phone etc – check.

    Out the door.

    train to hbf Miss the train.

    Are you kidding me? Jump on two different connections, get there.


    Time to grab coffee at Starbucks.

    Thank god.



    “This is so coooooool” I scream at Valerie when I see the coaches. The very handsome US consulate representative who’d woken up at 3 to take us on to Strasbourg grins back at me “yeah, this is sooooo cool.”

    He smiles and checks my docs and I climb aboard.



    Very sadly, Dr Bachteler, who runs the DAZ isn’t very well, he can’t come with us. He specially organized our breakfast though: Obamers instead of the popular german cookie known here as an Amerikaner (it normally has a white icing). LOL.

    7.00am – 8.15am

    The atmosphere on the bus is just great.

    Valerie’s brought a quiz with her: crazy questions include what kind of car did Obama drive to Harvard in, how did Jessie Jackson get Obama into trouble and what did Obama want to be when he was in the 3rd grade?

    I read my book, some watch the biography on the TV ahead and others snooze – am so psyched!

    Did you know that Barack means blessed?

    8.15 – 9ish

    We make a stop in Renchtal for trips to the toilet, more caffeine and to wait for the rest of the coaches. There are about 8 from different parts of Germany and we’ll be travelling in convoy, police on all sides, going in both directions. So exciting!

    we are in france 9.30am – We’re in France!

    The cops’ uniforms are blue and there’s loads of them everywhere – feels like I’m in a movie.

    James Bond or Mission Impossible.


    10.15am – we’re all still on the buses.

    No permission to exit or enter the stadium yet.

    getting a smoke

    People are going a little nuts locked inside.

    Someone gives the okay for the smokers to hide between the coaches – everyone’s becoming a smoker today.

    “It’s a town hall, not a Pep Rally” Valerie dutifully reads from her sheet.

    “Behave!” she warns. We laugh.

    “The letters you’ve got in your hands are color-coordinated, once you’re in, head to the section that corresponds to your color.”

    We’re off, we’re on our way. Helicopters chop the sky.

    I climb down the stairs clutching my blue letter from the White House.

    “Oú?” I ask. Mum’s french lessons try to make their way back.

    “N’importe” she says. I look at her. She Paris-shrugs.

    “OK, Merci.”


    Is there any kind of calm way of saying there was a free seat in the middle, front row?

    Is there any kind of calm way of saying:



    There is no calm way. OMG.

    that is my chair I am in the front row the world has gone mad

    I can’t believe it.

    I throw my coat over a couple of seats to the left and save them for Valerie and DAZ crew.

    They make it a couple of minutes later.

    I meet my seat partners, one from Heidelberg and the other Spainish. We practice our questions and wow, can-you-believe-it at each other.

    The lady tells me her kids had the chance to come but they’d said no. Teens, eh?

    Michael says to me “I dreamed this. I dreamed I would sit in the front row.”

    I smile at him. “The angels must be listening.”

    And then tell him “I dreamed I got to shake Barack’s hand. But that’s not going to happen, now is it?”

    He shrugs back a maybe. “You never know” and I laugh then we have a philosophical debate about how humans are never satisfied.

    A week ago we didn’t know if we could come to this.

    An hour ago we didn’t know we’d be in the front row! Shake the President’s hand? We’re special enough, just being here.


    The rest of the people from the various buses are filing in. They can’t believe we’re in this special section.

    I see some friends from Tübingen, the Empire Study group, Lawrence and Scott – howdie! Everyone’s taking snaps of the podium.

    This is much, much better than a pep rally!


    The French are coming in and we watch the stadium filling up. Lisa Dobie (not sure how to spell her name) sits on a stool.

    She tells us that she’s as excited and honored as we all are and then begins to sing…

    13.15 The press arrive

    13.30 The final cleaning

    13.48 Sticking the seal on the podium

    13.55 The secret service stand on all corners of the stage.

    13.58 The speech goes up on the podium.


    He’s here!!!


    Michelle looks lovely!

    Gorgeous dress – think I’ve seen it before, how responsible!

    Obama steps in front of the podium and the crowd quiets.

    He tells us that he’ll give a speech for about 15 minutes and then it’ll be down to us, he’ll spend the rest of time answering our questions.

    His speech is interesting and as always, he is eloquent.

    He talks about the issues of blame, the relationship between Europe, US an the emerging nations; talks about trade barriers and dismantling nuclear arms – the usual politico speak but somehow he makes it all sound true.

    And then he takes questions from the crowd and we get a real chance to see his character.

    He moves across it just like a boxing coach, more sports personality rather than a politician: relaxed, in control, natural – he owns this stage.

    And then Obama listens.

    His answers aren’t planned, his agenda isn’t the only only thing in the room and he thinks before he answers, considers what the person has said and what he is going to reply rather than simply saying what we want to hear.

    He makes us laugh!

    His warmth and honesty shine through and I feel as if he is someone I know personally. My head nods at some of the harder-hitting points, forgetting it was “Obama, The President” just for a moment and just a sage friend communicating.

    Did you know that Barack means peach in Hungarian?

    15.15? –something around then.

    We think it’s all over. We watch as he leaves the stage and then goes to the back, then

    there’s a swarm in the crowd over there!

    He’s shaking hands.

    He moves towards the VIPs on the right.

    He’s shaking hands.


    NO WAY.

    He’s coming this way… he is coming towards me and

    Shock. I shake his hand. How strange to feel that he is real.


    What a world.






    Michael gets to shake his hand too.

    We all do, Valerie and her sister and her sister’s boyfriend.

    And the student who got told she’s looking good and the professor who was thanked for being there and the guy who shook both Michelle’s and Obama’s hands and we are all bubbling, so excited, we share our stories, share love, excitement – our hope that this man will really bring us the change we all want to be a part of.

    How very, very cooooooooooooool.

    hey spring has arrived finally

    And on the way home, I notice

    Spring has finally come.


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