A Rhetorical Question
While taking the Eurostar from Paris to London on my way to Cambridge last month, I was reading my latest issue of the IATEFL Teacher Development SIG Newsletter as the train entered the Channel Tunnel. And I remembered the first time I took the Eurostar a long time ago with my daughter when she was a little girl and she got hungry just before we entered the tunnel so I bought her some lasagne which she ate during the crossing. Then when we got to the UK and people asked her ‘How long was the tunnel?’, she replied ‘Just long enough to eat a lasagne!’ That is an example of logos, an appeal to logic, one of the so-called Three Musketeers of Rhetoric and that what this post is about: rhetoric.
Because in that TD SIG Newletter in David Crystal’s regular column on ‘Reflections on language, languages, learning and teaching’ he relates teaching to drama and acting and also mentions lecturers and writes that “…the sad fact is that most lecturers have never been taught how to lecture…Yet there is vast experience in the world, dating back over 2,000 years, dealing with the subject of how to communicate. It is called ‘rhetoric’. A course in practical rhetoric ought to be an obligatory element in the induction on any lecturer.” Hmm, ‘rhetoric’ I thought; that makes sense—especially as it’s coming from Sir David, an OBE as well as Patron of IATEFL. That is ethos, an appeal to authority, another of the Musketeers of Rhetoric.
So when I went to the Waterstone’s bookshop in Cambridge to stock up on some summer reading and came across a book entitled You Talking to Me: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama by Sam Leth (Profile Books, 2011) , I decided to buy a copy. On the Eurostar back to Paris I read the introduction in which the author insists that we mustn’t think of rhetoric as archaic, ancient or old because in fact rhetoric— although we might not call it that—and traditional rhetorical techniques are all around us in the modern world: political speeches, advertising pitches, Homer Simpson-speak and yes, also in teaching. For example, the 3 R’s of Rhetoric are… Repetition, Repetition, Repetition; and repeating, rephrasing, recycling is of course a good teaching principle, practice, procedure–right, my fellow rhetoricians.
BTW: in the UK I also went punting on the Cam one evening. You know, if you’re ever in Cambridge you should go punting on the river so you can get some views of the colleges that you just can’t get on foot—but probably choose a better punter than me. That is pathos, an appeal to emotion, the last of the Three Musketeers of Rhetoric.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of my book on rhetoric and to any comments —or rhetorical questions—from you…
Gary Anderson, Cambridge ELT International Teacher Trainer