An Electronic Magazine by Omar Villarreal and Marina Kirac ©


Year 3                                   Number 76                   August 17th    2002


Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being SHARED





Sunday morning. I got up a bit earlier to finish this issue of SHARE. Doesn´t time fly? It´s almost a half past ten and the rest of the family are getting up now.  Ernie, our dog, is banging the kitchen door as a clear signal that he won´t put up with the rain any longer and that he wants his breakfast. Me too (take out the bit about the rain and I still want my breakfast). By the way, Ernie was 10 this week. 70 years old some people say, if you count those then dog years in man years. If that is like that: he doesn´t look it. You should hear his strenuous banging right now. Nobody 70 years old can have that stamina and be so persistent…!

I´ve got to hurry now. I need a shave (and a good breakfast, I insist) and then we are off to Mass. It´s going to be another great day. All in the family.


Before starting, a small pause to SHARE a very short message a dear SHARER,

Sonia Svetlicic  sent us:


“It is so nice to be mailed by people whose faces you don't know  but whose hearts you always feel so close to yours.”


We feel the same way too. Drop us a line this week.




Omar and Marina






1.-         Grappling with Grammar.

2.-         Frisbee.

3.-         Pronunciation Games.

4.-         Cambridge University Press announces.  

5.-         News from the British Council: IATEFL Scholarships.

6.-         Universidad Nacional del Litoral : Nuevas Licenciaturas.

7.-         Starting Over.

8.-         Jornadas sobre Práctica y Residencia Pedagógica.

9.-         An Invitation from “The Group”.

10-         Korea TESOL Journal : Call for Articles.

11.-         Language Gene Found.

12.-        Pierre Stapley strikes again.







Our dear SHARER Gonzalo Cruz Padilla from Lima, Peru  wants to SHARE this article with all our readers. This article was written by world known Rod Ellis and is copyright © The Language Review, 1999. 


Grappling With Grammar


How can we teach grammar in ways that enable learners to learn grammar? This has been one of the key questions that researchers have grappled with over the last thirty or so years.

This question arose as a result of research that showed that language learners have their own built-in 'syllabus' which governs both when they learn particular grammatical features and also how they learn them. The research demonstrated what many teachers have long known-students often don't learn the grammar they are taught. It indicates why this is so; learners only internalize those grammar features they are ready to learn and they learn each feature very gradually, passing through a series of transitional stages. There are perhaps two ways in which teachers can try to address this problem. The first is to make sure that the teaching syllabus matches the learner's own syllabus. That is, teachers need to teach specific grammatical features when they know that the learners are ready to learn them. The difficulty with this solution is that it is not easy to find out if learners are at a stage of development that will enable them to learn a particular structure. This calls for sophisticated diagnosis, thus solution is probably not very practical.

The second solution is to circumvent the problem. We can do this if we direct the teaching of grammar at explicit knowledge rather than implicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is knowledge about grammar- understanding the rules. Implicit knowledge is knowledge of grammar-knowing the rules in an intuitive way that enables them to be accessed quickly and easily for purposes of communication. It is this kind of knowledge that underlies the learner's built-in syllabus and which is acquired gradually. We can avoid the difficulties of trying to match the teaching syllabus to the learner's syllabus if we make explicit rather than implicit knowledge the target. Of course, such a solution only makes sense if it can be shown that learning explicit knowledge is useful. How, then, should we teach explicit knowledge of grammar? The traditional way is through direct instruction.

An alternative way is to use a grammar-discovery approach. This involves providing learners with data (in the form of a listening or reading text) to illustrate a particular grammatical feature and getting them to analyze, to arrive at an understanding of how the feature works. In effect, this requires learners to become active-thinkers.

The grammar-discovery approach has a number of advantages. It is likely to be more motivating than the direct approach - in general, learners find it more interesting to discover something for themselves than to be told it. It also helps to foster the curiosity and the analytical skills needed to work on language autonomously-one of the hallmarks of successful language learners. Together with Steven Gaies, I have recently put together some materials designed to teach grammar through awareness-raising (see Ellis and Gaies 1998). Each unit is based on a problem that we know learners of English as a second language commonly experience (e.g. the use of the present progressive tense with stative verbs as in * I am weighing 60 kilos). The learners begin by listening to a text that contains examples of correct usage. They first process this for meaning. Then they listen again, this time focusing their attention on the target grammatical feature. Next, they use the data to try to arrive at an explicit understanding of the rule. This provides a basis for an error-identification task. Finally, there is an opportunity for the learners to try to use the correct grammatical structure in their own sentences. These materials incorporate a number of features. First, they aim to teach grammar through input-processing by helping learners to attend to particular grammatical features; they train the skills of noticing. Second, the materials make use of oral texts on the grounds that learners need training in being able to notice grammatical features when they are listening. This is very difficult for learners, particularly if the features are redundant (i.e. are not essential for understanding the meaning). Third, the materials employ a grammar-discovery approach. Learners are shown how to analyze the data in order to arrive at an understanding of how it works. Fourthly, the materials provide practice in monitoring-the learners are asked to use their explicit knowledge to identify and correct errors they typically make.


Grammar teaching has undergone a lot of rethinking in recent years. There are some theorists, such as Stephen Krashen, who believe that it should be abandoned, or at least relegated to a very minor role in a language program. There are other theorists, such as myself, who recognize the problems inherent in the teaching of grammar, but who believe that ways round them can be found. Irrespective of these differences, many teachers will continue to feel the need to teach grammar. Perhaps, what is important, is that they do so with an understanding of the difficulties involved in learning grammar and experiment with possible solutions. Teaching grammar through awareness-raising is one of those.


Rod Ellis is Director, ILT, University of Auckland, New Zealand




2.-          FRISBEE


For the lovers of words, our dear SHARE Stella Maris Franchione from Tandil, Pcia de Buenos Aires, sends us this article on the origin of Frisbee. Care for a game?


“Arthur "Spud" Melin has recently died. With his business partner, Richard "Rich" Knerr, he successfully marketed the Frisbee, as well as several other joyful additions to human silliness, such as the Hula Hoop, the Slip 'N Slide and Silly Putty.

But neither Arthur Melin nor Richard Knerr can lay any claim to inventing the thing. And, despite their registering the name as a trade mark back in 1959, it's also pretty clear that they cannot claim to have invented the word "Frisbee" either. It's not a
surprise that folklore should have grown up around an item that has become an archetypal part of the American way of life; what is odd is that the most commonly quoted story about where its name came from may even be true.

The direct history of the device is well known. For a long time, kids had played with throwing metal pie tins. Just after World War Two, two former Army Air Corps pilots named Warren Franscioni and Fred Morrison, based in San Luis Obispo, California, found a way of moulding war-surplus plastics into a concave aerodynamic shape that mimicked the action of pie tins but was a lot lighter and bruised
you less when it hit you. This was 1948, and the term "flying saucer" had just appeared. Franscioni and Morrison borrowed it for their new toy - it was also at various times called the "Rotary Fingernail Clipper", the "Pipco Crash" (after Morrison's company) and the "Pluto Platter".

The pair sold their saucer toys in California markets in the late 1940s and early 1950s, without huge success. Around 1955, they met Melin and Knerr, who had been running a novelty toy company since 1948 under the name of "Wham-O", from the name of their first product, a wooden slingshot. They bought Morrison out (but didn't pay anything to Franscioni, it appears) and marketed the Pluto Platters with mixed success. It was only after they renamed it the "Frisbee" that the device really caught on. The rest, to coin a cliché, is history.

But why "Frisbee"? It has been said that it came from the name of Mr Frisbie, a US comic strip. But another story takes us across the continent to the Frisbie Baking Company of Connecticut. The Frisbie company sold its pies in tins embossed with the firm's name. As elsewhere, the empty pie tins were found to be throwable with a little skill. It is particularly said that games with them were played by Yale undergraduates around the time of the Second World War and after. Naturally they borrowed the company's name for the game. Quite how Spud Melin or Rich Knerr heard about this from 3000 miles away is not clear, but it is suggested that one or other of them encountered it during a sales trip to the East Coast.

Despite the anecdotal nature of the link, and the lack of really firm evidence, it is now cautiously accepted by the experts that this is indeed where the name came from.
The saddest part of all this is that the Frisbie Baking Company went out of business in 1958, just when a respelled version of their name was about to become famous.”


© World Wide Words, 2002




Our dear SHARER Philip Toews writes to us:


Playing games is a great way to get students comfortable with pronunciation.  Most games focus on minimal pair pronunciation.  I have posted a few games  on the web site addresses below.  I hope that they are helpful.  You may  want to modify the games to your own class needs...simply choose the word  pairs where your students have the most difficulty and play the games with them!
Here are a few pronunciation games:
Philip Toews
Professional Educator





Our dear SHARER Paula Gelemur from CUP Argentina sends this announcement:


We are pleased to invite you to the following talks:

Saturday August 24th, from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm
Colegio Santísima Virgen Niña - Cuenca 2651 - Buenos Aires

- A task-based approach to the teaching of English to pre-adolescents

We will reflect on questions such as how to help our students become autonomous learners and how to implement self-assessment in the classroom. The different components of tasks will be analysed and all the concepts will be illustrated with examples. In the second part of the talk, teachers will be asked to design a sequence of tasks following the task-based approach.

- Updated resources for the teaching of advanced language: the Cambridge Dictionary CD ROM & Exploring Grammar in  Context

The talks will be given by Paula Gelemur, Senior Educational Representative for Cambridge University Press.
Admission Free-  Enrolment:  Cambridge, Tel: (011) 4322-5040/4328-7648

Saturday 31st August,  9.30 to 12.30
Universidad de Belgrano.
Salón Urquiza - Subsuelo.- Zabala 1837. Belgrano. Bs. As.

The Facultad de Lenguas y Estudios Extranjeros at Belgrano University invites you to
participate in the following seminar:

The British and American English Paradigm: differences and similarities
by Professor Alejandro Parini. MA, DipTEFL, MIL, FRSA.

Head of Continuing Education, Universidad de Belgrano.

Visiting Professor, City University, London.
Updated resources for teachers and translators: The Cambridge Dictionary CD-Rom
& Exploring Grammar in  Context
by Paula Gelemur,  

Get acquainted with the Cambridge Dictionary CD ROM, a state-of the-art resource with a thesaurus and powerful filters for researching language, improving your English in translations, reports, etc, and creating vocabulary activities for your students. Explore the most outstanding grammatical structures of both written and spoken English from a discourse analysis perspective in Exploring Grammar in ontext, McCarthy´s latest book.

Fee: $ 10
Certificates of attendance will be issued by Universidad de Belgrano.
For further information and registration:
contact Mariana Cota on 4784-4010 or at






Our dear SHARER Mary Godward, Information Services Manager, The British Council, writes to us:

IATEFL Conference 2003 - Scholarships available


As you may be aware, IATEFL has scholarship funds for attendance at its International Annual Conference to be held in Brighton, UK, in April 2003.

The First-Time Speaker Conference Scholarship is awarded from the donations given by IATEFL members. The fund aims to help newcomers with between three and ten years' experience in the ELT profession to attend as a first-time speaker at the IATEFL annual conference. For 2003, the scholarship will cover the conference registration fee and provide help towards four nights' accommodation, meals and travel expenses. The deadline for receipt of all applications is Friday 4th October 2002.


The IATEFL TTEd SIG Conference Fund has been set up to enable a teacher trainer or trainee to attend the annual IATEFL conference. One or two scholarships are usually awarded each year. Applications for the scholarship must be made  before 31st October.

For further details on the scholarships, please check the IATEFL website at 


Mary Godward
Information Services Manager - The British Council
Marcelo T de Alvear 590 - 4to / C1058AAF Buenos Aires
Tel: +54 (0)11 43119814/7519 - Fax: +54 (0)11 4311  7747






Our dear friends and SHARERS from UNL send us this information about two new B.A´s for teachers who are Tertiary institutions graduates.


La Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Universidad Nacional  del  Litoral  (FHUC-UNL) tiene  abierta  la  inscripción  para  las  licenciaturas de  Investigación
Educativa  y Español como Lengua Extranjera.  Estas carreras  destinadas  a docentes  terciarios  tienen  dos años de duración y permiten convertir  el título en universitario.  La primera promueve la formación de profesionales capacitados para  abordar  los  problemas  y  procesos  contenidos  en  las prácticas educativas, y  además para elaborar, ejecutar y evaluar proyectos relacionados con dicha temática.    La segunda apunta a docentes de idiomas extranjeros y profesores de Letras  que  les interese enseñar el castellano en ámbitos académicos del extranjero.  

Más  informes en la FHUC-UNL, tel.: (0342) 4575105, int.  107;



7.-         STARTING OVER.


Our very dear friend and SHARER Bethina Viale writes to us:


This story is loosely based upon German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche´s  (neechuh) philosophical propositions called   ----  Eternal Return. 

He said: what if, one day, you were approached by a demon who told you that
you will have to live this life, that you are now living, over and over again
in exact repetition, forever? 
You could change nothing. 
Not a word, not an act, not a rain drop, nothing.
Everything would be the same and you would relive it over and over for eternity. 
What would you do? 
Would you throw yourself down, gnash your teeth, and curse the demon?
Or, is your life of such a satisfying magnitude that you would leap for joy and bless him because you have never heard of anything more divine?
"Take a second to think about these options. 
How would you respond?
Most people would not choose to live their life over again as they have lived it.
Now look at the same general proposition, but this time in a somewhat more lenient light:  Is there one time in your life that you would choose to live over and over? 
Not the whole thing, just a selected part. 
What is it and why would you choose that time or that event?  That answer may tell you a great deal about what you value and perhaps some of the new choices you should be making.

Now suppose you could - and you can -construct your life, starting today, in such a manner that you would be content to live it over and over again for all eternity, how would you construct it?  

What would you do and in what manner would you live so you would have no regrets about reliving it innumerable times? 
Would you give yourself the courage to take the risks?  Would you write the great novel?  Would you sing the songs, make the movies, write the scripts? 
Would you start your own company, travel, seek new adventures, push the envelope in your current lifestyle?  What would you do?
Try it today.  What have you got to lose. . .

better question: what have you got to gain?





Estimado Prof Villarreal


Remitimos información referida a las I Jornadas Nacionales sobre Prácticas y Residencias en la Formación de Docentes que se realizarán en la ciudad de Córdoba, los días 14, 15 y 16 de Noviembre de 2002. Esperamos su participación que enriquecerá y ampliará las perspectivas de estudio y de análisis de la temática convocante. 

                                                         Comité Organizador


Prácticas y Residencias en la Formación de Docentes

Primeras Jornadas Nacionales


Córdoba 14, 15, 16 de Noviembre de 2002


Cátedra de Metodología, Observación y Práctica de la Enseñanza.

(Facultad de Filosofía y Humanidades, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba)

Instituto Superior de Formación Docente "Carlos A. Leguizamón".

Instituto Superior de Formación Docente "Reneé Trettel de Fabián".




Profesores vinculados a propuestas de Prácticas y Residencias de niversidades y de institutos de formación docente.


Presentación de Ponencias:


Los ejes temáticos para la presentación de ponencias, serán los expuestos a continuación. Contienen algunos sub-ejes tentativos para orientar la producción de los respectivos trabajos, a manera de sugerencias, que no intentan condicionar la expresión individual de sus productores.

Los trabajos podrán representar reflexiones de carácter teórico o sistematizaciones de experiencias relacionadas con la residencia y las prácticas. Las ponencias serán sometidas a la evaluación del Comité Académico, para su exposición y difusión en las Jornadas.


A.- Los "espacios para la práctica" en los currícula de formación de docentes.


¿Sólo trabajos de campo?. ¿Qué margen para los contenidos?.

¿Espacios para la integración, la aplicación o espacios con identidad propia?.

Proximidades y distancias con la investigación en educación.

Revisar una relación: Didáctica General y Didácticas Específicas en las Residencias.


B.- La relación entre instituciones comprometidas en las experiencias de Práctica y Residencia en la formación de docentes.


Encuentros y desencuentros.

¿Convenios, Contratos y/o Trabajo Cooperativo?

Las Residencias en la formación de docentes. La tensión entre la gestión y la propuesta pedagógica.

Del nivel inicial al terciario. Del espacio escolar a otros espacios educativos. Experiencias de Residencia.


C.- Sujetos, prácticas e identidades.


Profesionalización y modos actuales de subjetivación.

Los sujetos de la relación pedagógica: vínculos, resistencia y circulación de poder.

El saber y el deseo. Los posibles recorridos del deseo en torno al saber y al conocimiento.

La labor tutorial en las Residencias. El desafío de una construcción casuística.

Prácticas y Residencias en los procesos formativos. ¿Proyectos con otros o sobre otros?

D.- Evaluar en "los espacios de práctica" y Residencias.


¿Qué, a quienes y cómo?

Observación y disciplinamiento.

¿Hay alternativas para la acreditación?

¿Evaluar para qué?


E.- Prácticas y Residencias. Contextos políticos e institucionales.


Reformas, instituciones y escenarios cotidianos.

¿Se puede hablar de autonomía? Múltiples significados.

¿Construcción colectiva de proyectos?

¿Estrategias de supervivencia? ¿ Espacio para la reproducción? ¿Lugar de resistencia?


Requisitos para la presentación de Trabajos:


La presentación de los trabajos estará antecedida por un Abstract de 200 palabras como máximo, que deberá ser remitido hasta el 20 de Agosto de 2002.

Los Trabajos definitivos deberán ser remitidos hasta el 20 de septiembre de 2002.-

Los Abstracts y trabajos deberán estar encabezados por: datos del autor (nombre e institución que representa); comisión/eje temático donde desea inscribir su trabajo (conforme a su contenido) y título del trabajo.

El formato a observar es el siguiente: Word 6.0/7.0 ó RTF, Times New Roman 12, interlineado 1,5, hoja tamaño A 4.

La presentación de ponencias aprobadas en el marco de las Jornadas dispondrá de un tiempo límite de exposición de 15 minutos.

Los trabajos deben ser remitidos por correo electrónico a la siguiente dirección:


Mayor Información:  Secretaría del Congreso:


Lic. María Luisa González, Escuela de Ciencias de la Educación, Facultad de Filosofía y Humanidades, Pabellón Francia, Ciudad Universitaria. Informes: TE/fax: 0351-4334073. Jueves de 16:00 a 20:00 horas. O a las siguientes direcciones electrónicas:, ó






Our dear SHARER Horacio Salgado from “The Group” sends us this invitation :

Ultimas funciones del año en Capital y Gran Buenos Aires

Consultar por descuentos por cantidad

Leonardo 'Da' Musical
A story inspired by the life of the incredible genius. Musical for students
of English from 8 years old upwards

Zona Sur (Teatro Español)
Fri, Sep. 6:  2:30 p.m. / 6:30 p.m.
Zona Norte (Teatro Stella Maris)
Fri, Aug. 30 : 10 a.m. / 2:30 p.m. / 7 p.m.
Wed, Sep. 25: 2:30 p.m
Fri, Sep. 20: 10 a.m./ 2:30 p.m./ 6 p.m.
Zona Oeste (Teatro Col. Sto. Domingo - Ramos Mejia)
Fri, Aug. 23: 7:30 p.m.
Tue, Sep. 3: 2:30 p.m.
Capital Federal
Thu, Sep.  5: 10 a.m./  2:30 p.m. (Santa Ana - Belgrano)
Fri,   Sep. 13:  10 a.m. / 2:30 p.m. / 7:30 p.m. (San Jose - Once)

Jack and the Beanstalk
Based on the original story adapted to contemporary values. Musical for
students of English up to 8 years old

Zona Norte (Teatro Stella Maris)
Wed, Aug.  21: 2:30 p.m.
Tue,  Sep.   17: 10 a.m./ 2:30 p.m.
Capital Federal
Mon, Sep. 9: 10 a.m. / 2:30 p.m. (Santa Ana - Belgrano)
Tue, Aug. 20: 14:30 (Col. Alfa Holy Mary)
Thu, Sep. 26: 10 a.m. / 2:30 p.m.
Zona Oeste (Teatro Col. Sto. Domingo - Ramos Mejia)
Thu, Aug. 22: 2:30 p.m.

A computer virus has the world in jeopardy. It's time for action. It's time
for the... Q Squad.
Screen Theatre comedy for students of English at EGB1 & EGB2 levels

Capital Federal
Thu, Aug. 
29: 2:30 p.m.
La Plata
Fri, Aug. 
30: 2:30 p.m.

Promoción función en su colegio. Valor de la función sin importar la cantidad de alumnos

Leonardo 'Da' Musical:  $ 1.000.-
Jack and the Beanstalk:  $    850.-
Q SQUAD:     $    700.-

Contact : Santiago Salgado - Productor General
The Group Entertainment Co.

4743-9300 -






This Call for Papers for the  Korea TESOL Journal has been sent by our dear SHARER From:  Kevin Landry <> :

Editorial Policy
The Korea TESOL Journal, a refereed journal, welcomes previously unpublished practical and theoretical articles on topics of significance to individuals concerned with the teaching of English as a foreign language. Areas of interest include:

1. classroom-centered research
2. second language acquisition
3. teacher training
4. cross-cultural studies
5. teaching and curriculum methods
6. testing and evaluation

Because the Journal is committed to publishing manuscripts that contribute to bridging theory and practice in our profession, it particularly welcomes submissions drawing on relevant research and addressing implications and applications of this research to issues in our profession.
Action Research-based papers, that is, those that arise from genuine issues in the English language teaching classroom, are welcomed. Such pedagogically oriented investigations and case studies/reports, that display findings with applicability beyond the site of study, rightfully belong in a journal for teaching professionals.

The Korea TESOL Journal prefers that all submissions be written so that their content is accessible to a broad readership, including those individuals who may not have familiarity with the subject matter addressed. The Journal is an international journal, welcoming submissions from English language learning contexts around the world, particularly those focusing upon learners from northeast Asia.

General information for authors

Submission Categories
The KOTESOL Journal invites submissions in three categories:

I. Full-length articles. Contributors are strongly encouraged to submit manuscripts of no more than 20-25 double-spaced pages or 8,500 words (including references, notes, and tables).

II. Brief Reports and Summaries. The KOTESOL Journal also invites short reports (less than 1,200 words), manuscripts that either present preliminary findings or focus on some aspect of a larger study. Papers written in pursuit of advanced studies are appropriate for summarization.

III. Reviews. The KOTESOL Journal invites succinct, evaluative reviews of scholarly or professional books, or instructional-support resources (such as computer software, video- or audio-taped material, and tests). Reviews should provide a descriptive and evaluative summary and a brief discussion of the significance of the work in the context of current theory and practice. Submissions should generally be no longer than 1,200 words.

To facilitate the blind review process, do not use running heads. Submit via email attachment or on diskette in MSWord or RTF file. Figures and tables should each be in separate files, bitmap files (.bmp) are preferred. Hardcopy versions may be requested at a later time.

Inquiries/Manuscripts to:
Dr. Park Joo-Kyung, Editor-in-Chief
and Trevor H. Gulliver, Managing Editor at

Submissions received before September 30th will be considered for publication
in Korea TESOL Journal Volume 5 (Fall/Winter 2002). The Korea TESOL Journal accepts submissions on a continuous basis. Find the Korea TESOL Journal in ERIC. Find more info at <>.





Our dear SHARER José Luís Tourís from Santa Rosa, La Pampa wants to share this revealing article with all of us:


Language gene found


The first linking of a gene to language could speed our understanding of this most unique and most controversial of human abilities.

4 October 2001

John Whitfield


Language problems run in the 'KE' family. Members of several generations speak "as if each sound is costing them their soul", one researcher has said. They struggle to control their lips and tongue, to form words, and to use and understand grammar. "To the naive listener, their speech is almost unintelligible," says geneticist Anthony Monaco, of the University of Oxford in England.

Researchers today unveil the single gene that, when it goes wrong, causes this speech breakdown. The gene - the first to be definitively linked to language - switches others on and off, and so could lead the way through a genetic network of language learning and use.


Finding one gene is like finding one part of a car. It looks useful, as though it's part of a larger mechanism. But we don't know what it does, what other parts it interacts with, or what the whole vehicle looks like. "It's an unbelievably complex system, and we've got one tiny glimpse," says Michael Tomasello, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

We shouldn't have to wait long for more parts to turn up. Geneticists are on the trail of genes that control brain development and affect a range of mental disorders. The human genome sequence lets them do much of the groundwork on a computer, "saving what used to be months of work", says Robert Plomin, a behavioural geneticist at London's Institute of Psychiatry.

Forked tongue

The study of language divides researchers almost as starkly as languages themselves divide us. They disagree about whether language abilities are an innate feature of our biology or a product of our social interactions. Their opinions differ about whether the brain's language centres are specialized for these tasks alone, or are a part of our general mental machinery.

The controversy centres on theories first put forward by Noam Chomsky in 1959. That children learn to talk without instruction, and that adults construct an infinite number of new sentences from a finite number of words, convinced Chomsky that humans possess an inbuilt 'universal grammar' - a set of rules about the structure of language.

Forty years on, these ideas remain controversial. "You have to decide which side you're on - there's not much middle ground," says Bruce Tomblin, who studies the genetics of speech disorders at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Tomasello, for example, believes that it is our ability to use abstract symbols that distinguishes humans from other animals, and is more likely to be genetically encoded in some way. Grammar, he says, "emerges historically - it's a sociological product, not genetic".


You don't need to believe in special language genes to believe, like Chomsky, in specialized, uniquely human language structures of the brain. "I don't think there are genes just for language, rather that genes build brain structures in such a way as to inform children what to expect," says Martin Nowak, who studies the evolution of language at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. "It's impossible to learn language if we don't have a brain structure defined to expect it."

Family code

Family KE was first described in 1990. The way the disorder was shared out between the generations made it clear that just one gene was responsible, and the discovery was initially trumpeted as a 'gene for grammar'. When the breadth of the family's impairments became clear, there was a retreat from this claim - "I've heard it called the cold fusion of our field," says one psychologist.

The controversy still smoulders over whether the KE's symptoms have more to do with their inability to control their mouths, or some general brain problem, than with language centres. Supporters of a more purely linguistic interpretation of the family's difficulties point to the fact that the family's IQ, although below average, is within the normal range.

Monaco's team had been hunting the KE gene for several years. By 1998, they had pinned it down to an area of chromosome 7. Data from the Human Genome Project suggested that there were about 70 genes in this area. "We were marching down the chromosome," he says, using genetic markers to progressively narrow down the area that might contain the gene.

Two years ago, their march became a run. 'Patient CS', an unrelated boy with very similar difficulties to the KEs, turned up. Comparing the two allowed the researchers to stop their laborious rummage through chromosome 7 and zoom in on the gene. "It probably saved us a year or two," says Simon Fisher, another member of the Oxford team.

The same gene, called FOXP2, is damaged in the new patient and in the afflicted KEs. It belongs to a group that controls the activity of other genes by making a protein that sticks to DNA. The mutations in family KE and patient CS disrupt the DNA-binding area of the protein.


FOXP2 is "an important piece of the genetic puzzle of language", says psychologist Karin Stromswold of Rutgers University in New Jersey. But most language impairments are nowhere near as severe as those afflicting the KEs, and the patterns of inheritance in most families with language disorders are also more complex. The gene's "very messy" effects necessitate further studies of families with more limited impairments, cautions Stromswold.

Monaco's team is currently scanning the genomes of such families."I would be extremely surprised if the FOXP2 gene were a major determinant of more specific language impairments," he says.

FOXP2 is not unique to humans - it is switched on in the lungs and brain of mice. But subtle differences in its sequence or workings may illuminate why humans talk and animals don't, and how our ability evolved.

Ultimately, "we need to understand how genes give rise to brain structure, and how our brain structure gives rise to language", says Nowak. This job is just beginning: a full grasp of such processes is "50 to 100 years away", he says.

Shaking the tree

The network of language genes may be like a tree. Genes such as FOXP2 could be at the trunk - where sawing through them would knock out lots of aspects of language. Other genes might fine-tune aspects such as grammar further down the line; knocking these out would be analogous to lopping off a branch.

Psychologist Heather Van der Lely, of University College London, subscribes to this school of thought. She studies children whose speech and understanding of individual words are fine, but who, like normal adults learning a foreign language, are unable to master grammar. Such children muddle their tenses, saying 'yesterday I jump the fence', for example, and struggle to phrase questions.


"You have to explicitly teach them the rules of language," says Van der Lely. "They never have an intuitive knowledge - they always have to stop and work it out." These are the kind of 'pure' language deficits Stromswold wants gene-hunted. They lead van der Lely to believe in specialized grammar circuits in the brain, and genes to control their development.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone agrees. "It's hard for me to believe that we have genes devoted to influencing the brain in very specific ways that affect language and only language," says Tomblin. He thinks speech emerges from "general-purpose cognitive mechanisms, some of which may be more important for language than others. It's a less tidy view of things, but as I see the data, it looks more tenable."

Even apparently pure language disorders may be caused by complex interactions of many factors, warns Plomin. He believes there may be lots of different ways - genetic errors or environmental insults - to reach the same end language problem.

Sliding scale

People differ widely in their linguistic ability and behaviour - the age at which they begin speaking, for example, and the speed with which they master language. Plomin says that language development is probably controlled by "many, many genes, each with a small effect, working in many bits of the brain". Rather than language being something that you've got or you haven't, says Plomin, all these genes conspire to place people somewhere on the scale of linguistic ability.

Plomin is involved in a study of 16,000 pairs of British twins. It has found a strong heritable component to language disorders, but individual genes are hard to pin down: "I'm optimistic, but progress has been a lot slower than people thought it would be," Plomin says.

The genes and brains of unusually gifted linguists, people who can speak many different languages fluently, for example, might also reveal other genetic contributions to language learning. This approach has been neglected, Stromswold says, but a "surprising number" of professional linguists are the offspring of other linguists. "Linguists who marry linguists should trot on down to their local genetics centre," she adds.


It would be particularly interesting if their brains didn't work so well in other areas. "I'd look for linguists who can't balance a cheque-book," Stromswold says.


(c) Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2001






Our dear SHARER Pierre Stapley from Rosario sends this announcement to us.

The very best in this new season, Pierre!


Dear Colleague,


As we are all going through a very tough financial time at the time, I along with many other colleagues, feel that it is important to keep moving forward with education the best we can. This year I'm continuing to offer my talks and workshops with the difference that I can offer some new talks. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at

My very best wishes,



Pierre studied at Peter Symond's College in Winchester and has qualifications in Communications and Computers in Business. He has worked for national and international companies in the UK.  He goes around Argentina giving talks and workshops. He currently teaches "Business Principles" at the Instituto Superior San Bartolomé in Rosario. Pierre is also a freelance writer and webmaster in two countries for a large international ELT publisher.


Talks and Workshops Currently Available              


(a) Language Talks for Teachers & Students (intermediate and above)


Talk 01 - Catchphrases

Talk 02 - Teen Speak

Talk 03 - Everyday Expressions

Talk 04 - Film Language (not suitable for students)

Talk 05 - Cockney Influence on the English Language Today

Talk 06 - Taboo English

Talk 07 - Business Terminology and Sayings

Talk 08 - Life in the UK

Talk 09 - A Pot-Pourri of Language

Talk 10 - Business Talks for Teachers  


(b) Workshops for students


(c) Workshops for Companies


Some of the activities in these workshops are:

* Presentations                           * Office or Factory Tour               * Meetings

* Negotiations                            * Eating Out and Socialising            * Telephoning                

* Plus activities relating to whatever business the students are in.



Time to say goodbye again. This time we chose a message that our dear SHARER  Mara Ibarra sent us. It´s about those very special little ones we want to keep always sheltered in our hearts.


Las Bienaventuranzas según los chicos especiales


Bienaventurados los...


Bienaventurados los que comprenden

mi extraño paso al caminar

y mis manos torpes.


Bienaventurados los que saben

que mis oídos tienen que esforzarse

para comprender lo que oyen


Bienaventurados los que comprenden

que aunque mis ojos brillan

mi mente es lenta


Bienaventurados los que miran

y no ven la comida

que dejo caer fuera de mi plato


Bienaventurados los que una sonrisa en los labios

me estimulan a tratar una vez más


Bienaventurados los que nunca me recuerdan

que hice dos veces la misma pregunta


Bienaventurados los que comprenden

que me es difícil convertir

en palabras mis pensamientos


Bienaventurados los que me escuchan

pues yo también tengo algo que decir


Bienaventurados los que saben

lo que siente mi corazón

aunque no pueda expresarlo


Bienaventurados los que me respetan

y aman como yo, tan solo como soy,

y no como ellos quisieran que fuera


Bienaventurados los que me ayudan

en mi peregrinar

hacia la casa del padre celestial.





Omar and Marina.


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