What’s your standard?

What’s your standard?

In questo articolo del nostro blog, Paul Bowley fa il punto riguardo un momento fondamentale nel percorso di apprendimento di un lingua: la valutazione del proprio livello. 

Quali sono le modalità per monitorare i proprio progressi? 
Che tipo di test si possono fare?
 certificazioni linguistiche esistono e che ruolo hanno?

La tabella riassuntiva finale aiuta a orientarci e a farci capire qual è il nostro “standard” attuale e quello a cui possiamo ambire.


One essential part of teaching and learning English is assessment. There are various ways this can be done:

  • Continuous informal assessment: both teachers and students should always have a reasonably good idea of learners’ ability and progress. Assessment of this kind is conducted in the context of objectives, expectations, overall group performance, intensity of study and real experience. This kind of evaluation is not normally expressed as a quantifiable measure but more often as a verbal summary of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Regular course testing: most courses will periodically subject participants to some form of formal or semi-formal test. The tests ask questions relating to specific material presented in the course and cover a variety of skills. Results are expressed as a grade or a number.
  • Local formal testing: Italian universities, schools of specialisation and even some companies sometimes require people to pass aa admission test which includes an English component. It is particularly important that the candidate finds out as much as possible about the test format and the required standard. These kinds of test can vary enormously, and the preparation needs to be appropriately targeted and it may be necessary to use a variety of sources of material.
  • International certificates: we all know about the Cambridge First Certificate (B2) and Advanced (C1) exams. But there are many others, including the IELTS and TOEFL systems. These exams are very carefully prepared and administered and are recognised throughout the world. Before taking any of these tests, however, find out what certificate is appropriate for your situation and level. And remember to prepare well using the right material.

In Europe, nearly all assessment in English language ability uses the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This is a useful way of defining a person’s general linguistic ability. Here is a chart explaining the meaning of the various CEFR levels.


The problem of English spelling

The problem of English spelling

Immagine banner Paul Bowley new post blog

La “complicata” relazione tra ortografia e pronuncia della lingua inglese mette in spesso in difficoltà gli italiani e a volte, come vedremo, anche i madrelingua.

Nel nuovo post di “Stay in the loop”, il blog della Paul Bowley School, analizziamo questo fenomeno partendo da una amena poesia del 1902 e da … un goffo tweet del presidente uscente degli Stati Uniti d’America.

English is, basically, an easy language to learn.
But there is one difficulty that speakers of other languages always encounter.
The relationship between spelling and pronunciation is inconsistent and illogical.

A lot has been written and discussed about this phenomenon, but I would just like to offer my sympathies by quoting a poem written by Lord Cromer and published in the Spectator of August 9th, 1902.

“Our Strange Lingo”

When the English tongue we speak,
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it’s true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose and lose
And think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone –
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don’t agree.

A word of advice on reading this poem: look for the rhymes.
Anybody who thinks that English pronunciation derives from spelling will not be able to read it and will certainly not be able to understand it!

Even mother-tongue speakers of English find spelling a little tricky sometimes.
It isn’t the first time that Donald Trump has made a spelling mistake. But this recent post on Twitter about his inability to accept the result of the presidential election caused some consternation – and amusement – in Poland. Can you see why?

Tweet di Donald Trump cancellato per gaffe sui termini Poles e pols

Maybe it was an oblique reference to the pandemic. But it just goes to show that incorrect spelling can cause serious misunderstandings!

Listen to the music … and repeat!

Listen to the music … and repeat!

Nel secondo post di “Stay in the loop”, il blog della nostra  scuola di inglese, Paul Bowley spiega l’importanza della musica nell’apprendimento di una lingua, raccontando la sua esperienza personale come docente e quella dei suoi allievi. 
Ascoltare musica innesca una relazione emozionale tra noi e le canzoni e rappresenta una modalità divertente e funzionale per migliorare il proprio inglese. Ascoltando musica da bambini esercitiamo la nostra innata capacità di  imitare e replicare  i suoni. Anche da adulti non dobbiamo rinunciare a questo approccio e capire il ruolo cruciale della componente emotiva nell’apprendimento di una lingua.
Buona lettura e … buon ascolto!

When I first arrived in Macerata to work as a language assistant all of thirty years ago, I noticed that some of the young people I taught seemed to have a natural flair, or at least a particular interest for English. But not just English as a subject at school. They were really interested in listening to and talking in English.

In many cases, they had one thing in common: they loved listening to English songs. They listened to Dire Straits, UB40, Michael Jackson, Queen, Bon Jovi, Guns’n’Roses, U2 and countless others.
They said this was how they learned English! It was a far cry from school lessons about the present perfect progressive or studying Beowulf and Wordsworth.
But the amazing thing was that these kids really wanted to tell me – in English – about their love for English music. They also wanted to know what music I liked. They wanted to share. It seemed to me then, and I’m sure now, that this was a highly effective approach to learning English.

So, how does this work?
We listen to music because we like the sounds, the rhythms and the emotions.
But what about the words? Where are the words in this experience?
We listen to the music. We don’t, initially at least, really hear or read the words of the music.
But the words are often there. If we’re honest with ourselves, we realise that we are initially drawn to music for these emotional, non-conceptual characteristics – usually, not just the words.

immagine di un bambino che ascolta la musica felice

So, our relationship with music is prevalently emotional. If there are words in music, those words maintain the same emotional charge and exert the same attraction as the music. This offers an excellent method for establishing the right approach to language learning.
When we were babies, we heard our mother, or our father, making sounds. We didn’t think about them as words with meanings. We thought about them as sounds to initially observe and admire, then to respond to, and to imitate – but always driven by a desire to interact and participate, not only for functional needs like hunger or discomfort, but also as an expression of general emotion, such as joy, playfulness, affection, or anger. They were a way of affirming our relationship with the people we loved most. As we grew, we improved our ability to mimic and replicate sounds. This was the beginning of the way we acquired our own language, and there are interesting parallels with how we relate to music. And this shows us how our we can use music to help us learn English.

Our emotional attraction to music is similar to the attraction for our mother’s words that we felt when we were babies. Both trigger a strong desire to imitate and participate. And the experience of these moments is planted deep inside our mind. Even though they are non-conceptual, formless and purely emotional moments, they are embedded – maybe unconsciously – forever. These are the roots of our language which, in some ways, we experience again when we listen to music that we like, to the point of motivating us to feel strong emotion. We even try to replicate the music in the form of the words (which are basically sounds) that we can sing and move to. 

When we sing in these circumstances, we are expressing a connection that is like the connection we felt with our mother.
We feel part of it, it is an expression of our lives as connected beings, it is profound and energising.
When we do this, we are not thinking in rational terms. We are emotionally involved and that’s enough. It is, however, interesting to notice that, at this point, our only intention is to make sounds to express our emotion and our desire to participate.
The sounds that we make may even not be identifiable as words, but this is the moment when our bond with the music is at its purest. It is emotional and non-conceptual. So we learn songs without even realising that we are learning language.

But then, as teenagers and adults, we can supplement this basic act of bonding by discovering the formal pronunciation and rational significance of the words, or “lyrics”, of the song. Here, non-anglophones can fall into the trap of confusing English spelling with English pronunciation. But if they remain faithful to their initial drive to replicate the sounds they really hear, those sounds will guide them to produce sounds that are much closer to real English pronunciation. This approach is also much more memorable. It’s easy to find the lyrics of a song on the internet.

Reading the words that are being sung is sometimes a surprise because people often imagine the spelling of some written words to be quite different from the way they are actually sung (and said). It can also provide a demonstration of the way English ‘skips’ syllables and creates abbreviations that you would never have thought possible!
Also, be warned that the way lyrics are written often doesn’t really respect the conventional rules of written English.
Introducing, for example, “gonna”, “wanna” and “gotta”! The words of modern pop and rock songs are full of slang and poetic licence, so this is not a particularly good way to prepare for English tests at school!
But it can be highly effective in creating a fascination for English and helping people to find the right “wavelength” of English that goes well beyond anything that could normally be achieved at school.
An understanding of grammar and vocabulary will follow much more easily in the context of a motivated interest in English.


In a nutshell: here’s the procedure!
• Choose a song you love
• Listen to it repeatedly and learn how to sing it (without reading the words)
• Practise singing it just like the original singer
• Read the words and discover what they are and what they mean
• Use the same language in your conversation!

What Does “Stay In the Loop!” mean?

What Does “Stay In the Loop!” mean?

“Stay in the loop!” è il nome del blog della Paul Bowley School nonché il nuovo slogan aziendale lanciato nell’autunno 2020.

In questo articolo che inaugura il progetto, Paul Bowley spiega il significato dell’espressione con esempi pratici e visivi, motivando l’importanza di seguire questo monito.

Buona lettura!

The expression “Stay in the loop!” means keep up to date with the things that are important for what you and your group do.

If you don’t “stay in the loop” then you don’t understand what’s happening and what people are saying.

It’s just like English. If you don’t speak or use English, which is the international language of the world, you won’t be able to follow what’s going on and you certainly won’t be able to be part of it!

“Stay in the loop!” is just a way of saying that English is vital to your participation in the modern world, whatever you do.

If you look up the definition of “loop”, you’ll find that it often refers to a shape you can make in a rope or a wire where there is “a curve that bends round and crosses itself”.
To understand this, maybe it’s easier to look at a picture:

You can see that the characteristic of a loop is the circular shape that is formed.

In aviation, a plane can perform a dramatic manoeuvre called “looping the loop” which refers to the path followed by the plane, just like the rope. Here’s another picture:

You can also find loops in fairgrounds! Have you ever tried something like this?

So the idea of a loop is always connected to something that’s circular and continuous – and it can often be something that’s moving.

In coding, the word “loop” is an instruction to continuously repeat a sequence, possibly until another factor appears which would “break the loop”.

In our expression “Stay in the loop!”, we’re metaphorically referring to what is contained inside our “dynamic circle”: it’s society, it’s business, it’s news, it’s gossip, it’s innovation, it’s everything that’s happening, it’s what – and who – you need to know.

By extension, we could say “Get in the loop!” or “Be in the loop!” – which means you need enter the “dynamic circle” that you’re not currently in.

And if we’re talking about a person who’s really up to date with everything that’s important and new in a particular group or company, we could say “He’s in the loop!”. Sometimes we need to make sure that someone is kept fully informed about a situation or a project. We can tell them “Make sure you keep (or stay) in the loop”.

If you’re reading this blog, then you already know some English.

If you want to improve, then you need to practise your English communication skills and enrich your vocabulary – in other words, you need to

stay in the loop!