Monthly Archives: February 2012

Sign Language

During our recent travels, I have noticed that the large, black, motorway information boards appear to display messages in a ‘tone’ which is specific to the area of Great Britain in which we are travelling.

Scottish signs ask searching questions: ‘Have you checked your tyre pressures?’ ‘Do your child seats meet safety standards?’ 

English signs tend to be factual and informative ‘No fuel at next services’ ‘J18 – J20 Congestion.’ ‘J4a…20 min’

Welsh signs. Hmmm. The nicest way I can put this (and I speak as someone who was born in and continues to live in the ‘Principality’) – Welsh signs tend to state the obvious (in two languages) and are no help whatsoever. For instance, as you push through a bank of fog, the sign emerges with its illuminated letters spelling the words ‘Beware Fog’. Or, during torrential rain you will be informed ‘Surface Water On Road’ – to which my immediate response is usually the worst kind of sarcasm. 

On Saturday, after driving 380 miles through snow, slush, sleet and flood – I paid my £6 Wales entrance fee, at the Severn Crossing toll-booth, and continued West along the M4. It was dark, raining, the air temperature outside was 1 degree Celsius.  The first sign displayed the message – ‘Bad Driving Conditions’. I could feel the Basil Fawlty in me beginning to awaken…

So, as practitioners, who are trying to guide and empower learners, the language we use is very important. Do we ask genuinely effective questions in which the learner becomes an active participant in their own learning? Do we only inform, making the learner a passive recipient? Or, do we frustrate the learner by telling them something which they already understand and is no help whatsoever?

At this point, I wish to make it very clear that I am in no way inferring that the motorway signs are representative of a ‘national teaching style’. 

However, we only have one motorway in Wales – the Welsh bit of the M4. So c’mon boys! Get some ‘tidy’ messages up there…or are you just ‘’avin a larff,like’!

PS Finally…my favourite. 

Twilight…the M4…England, between Swindon and Reading. The message reads…‘SIGN NOT IN USE’. Oh, the delicious irony.

PPS Would have been even better if it had read ‘Do not read this sign’.


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