Monday, December 31, 2007

Irregular Verb Chat Board

I often begin a high intermediate or advanced level grammar class (yes, at my school, we do have dedicated grammar classes - and they last three hours and meet three times per week! For more on teaching grammar, click here.) with a review of irregular verbs. Irregular verbs are important building blocks of our language. Making mistakes using irregular verbs are not 'fatal' (they do not usually impede comprehension of what the speaker is saying), but they do mark the speaker as not being well educated. In the case of not knowing them for the advanced Cambridge exam, repeated errors of many irregular verbs will lower a student's marks in writing, speaking, and English-in-Use. In addition, verbs such as teach, bring, and seek when used in the past tense may not be comprehensible to a non-native speaker if they do not recognize the root changes in spelling and pronunciation.

Here is a game board that I created for my intermediate through advanced level classes. I had tried using other similar boards, but they did not have enough verbs in my view; this one has 72 irregular verb forms. With this chat board, students practice using irregular verbs to make up questions and answers in the present perfect and simple past. For the fastest students, it takes about 20 minutes to do the whole board (but I've had classes spend 30 to 40 minutes on it). You can judge if the students are engaged or starting to lose interest. I usually ask fast finishers to go back and review the verbs that they didn't land on during the 'game.'

There are several advantages of using this board for communicative activity. First of all, the idea of using grammar in a game changes the mood of the students. They are given a model for how to ask yes/no questions using the present perfect followed by a simple past wh-question (information question), which requires a longer response. You can add to the activity by requiring students to ask an additional follow-up question using any verb to gather more information from their partner.

Second, students control the speed at which they perform the activity and can do it independently. The teacher can circulate around the room, listening to pairs, trios, or larger groups as they are asking and answering questions using the appropriate structures. Errors can be corrected quickly, and the teacher can also answer questions when students are unsure of meanings.

Irregular Verb Chat Board (print an 8.5x11 copy) Below are the model question and response forms that I write on the white board.
Equipment needed: Chat boards, dice, game pieces
Directions: If two students land on the same verb, they either move back or forward one to a different verb. Also students should understand that if they answer 'no' to the first question, their partner must continue asking a question until they respond, 'Yes, I have.' After a 'yes' response, the partner can then ask a wh-question. To speed up the activity, students can always answer 'yes.' It doesn't have to be true, and this is often fun and funny because students must make up information to respond to the wh-question:
Yes/No Question: Have you ever [verb/past participle]....?
Answers: Yes, I have./No, I haven't.
Wh-Question: When did you [verb/base form]? Why did you [verb]? (What...?, How...?, Who...?, Where...?, How much...?, How many....?
Answers: I [verb/simple past] yesterday./I [verb/simple past] because.... and so on.
**Exceptions: With the verb 'be', we do not use 'do' or 'did' to ask wh-questions. In addition, verbs such as 'cost' are not generally used with people as the subject, unless you're talking about how much slaves cost in the 1800's.
Student A: "Have you ever bought a car?"
Student B: "No, I haven't."
Student A: "Have you ever bought a bicycle?"
Student B: "Yes, I have."
Student A: "When did you buy a bike?"
Student B: "I bought a bicycle two years ago."

Finally, students in both conversation and grammar-focused classes all seem to appreciate that this simple activity using dice (a die) and game pieces (or small scraps of colored paper, jelly beans, m&m's, etc.) makes the reality that they're practicing grammar easier to digest.

This kind of board has multiple functions. For more advanced level students, it can be used to practice the second, third and mixed conditional forms. Again, you should model the structure on the board for students, and then let them have a go at it. I hope you enjoy using this 'chat board' in your own classes.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Students Teach Vocabulary

One of the most difficult topics to cover in my exam prep classes is vocabulary development. Although CAE students have a lot of reading exercises and attend vocabulary/idioms classes, many suffer from lack of adequate vocabulary to excel on their exams.

Since one of the best ways to 'know' or 'understand' something is to teach it, the past six months I've been experimenting with switching roles with my students. I model a one-hour vocabulary lesson on wildlife and animals in which I provide warm-up questions and realia (e.g., 50 or 60 photos and illustrations of different kinds of animals and stuffed animals, plastic dinosaur figures, etc.) to stimulate discussion and help students learn how to correctly pronounce names of animals or what to call certain creatures or toys (teddy bears or stuffed animals). In addition, I have a set of downloaded materials from Lanternfish displayed in plastic sheets used to introduce more vocabulary. Students work in pairs, and then I ask individuals to share information they've gained about their partner's preferences in animals, for example. Sometimes they're asked to describe animals, or they can play 20 questions with their partner (e.g., Does this animal have horns?; Can it climb trees?; etc.). Students enjoy themselves and the hour flies by; then, they're told that they'll have an opportunity to team-teach vocabulary to the rest of the class.

Depending on the class size, I put students into pairs or threesomes, providing a range of topics for them to choose from. They are asked to cover two topics in one hour. (In the future, however, I plan to reduce the coverage to one topic.) The goal is to present useful vocabulary and activities to engage the class in certain language and reinforce the new words. Usually students are horrified at the idea of presenting for an hour, but after reflecting on the lesson on animals and wildlife, they see that their job is to get the other students to speak and to activate language on specific subjects.

Invariably, students come up with creative ideas and have fun being 'the teacher(s)' and putting me in the position of 'student.' Once I had to mime a race car driver and a baseball pitcher. Another time I had to role-play a paramedic, explaining how to handle an accident victim, using information discussed in the vocabulary presentation.

These photos highlight some students covering sports and music vocabulary. We listened to "We Will Rock You," talked about vocabulary that we heard in the song, and did a song cloze. Afterward, we worked on action verbs, using illustrations from a picture dictionary and matching vocabulary word strips to pictures.

I'm always amazed that after their initial reluctance, students are able to embrace the idea until they finally present what are very memorable lessons. All students participate and complete the assignment, coming up with creative ways to present and activate vocabulary. I will continue to incorporate this element into my CAE classes.

Using English in a Game to Seek Nuclear Disarmament

Can a game teach students English and world history? Most ESL teachers know that the best way to engage their students in English is to give them a task which forces them to think in English. Here is a link to an activity which can be used as a warm-up or follow-up to engage advanced level students in a discussion of World Politics and History. On the page where you find the game, check out the Reading section in the right column which refers to the 'Conflict Map.' From there, you can get to additional texts on 20th century wars, the history of the Nobel Prize, and briefs about Nobel Peace Prize Laureates .

Unfortunately, the topic of world politics is one that usually elicits blank expressions or frowns in many of my students. Most of my young adult European students do not have (and admit to never having had) an interest in world history or affairs. Incredibly, many of them do not even follow the daily news while they're studying English here in the USA. I suppose that puts them on a par with many of our young Americans. Nevertheless, with the Primary and Presidential elections around the corner, I have high hopes that this game will pique their interest.

Anyway, I'm excited about it as I believe part of my role as an ESL teacher is to light a fire in students' minds using English to broaden their horizon. All of my advanced ESL students have the advantage of being bilingual or multi-lingual. They really have the communicative power to make a difference in the world if they ever decide to take their skills seriously. (The above link will take you to the "Peace Doves Game" at the site which was brought to my attention at Larry Ferlazzo's excellent resource site.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is there a 'standard' English?

Because we teach Cambridge exam preparation courses at my school, the issue of 'standard' English often arises. In this case, we distinguish between American and British English, but obviously, as other posts have pointed out, there are many Englishes spoken in the world today.

What I tell my students is to try to be consistent in spelling and pronunciation. Since the University of Cambridge recognizes American English as a 'standard' English, it can be used on the writing and speaking portions of its test. However, Cambridge does inform instructors that if a student spells 'colour' the British way, (s)he should also spell 'humour' with a 'u.' In addition, students shouldn't call the trunk of a car the 'boot' one time and a 'trunk' the next.

Since students are living in Southern California, listening to American news programs and meeting Americans, I advise them to focus on American English idioms, pronunciation, and spelling. For the Cambridge exam, they do need to recognize British accents, including Scottish and Irish, but they don't have to imitate the pronunciation themselves. They also ought to recognize that a 'fortnight' to a Brit is two weeks to an American and a 'queue' is a 'line.'

For more differences between British and American English expressions, click here. For a very extensive compilation of information on the subject, see Wikipedia.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How to do your own podcasting

For those of you who have been wondering how to get into podcasting, this is a link to very useful info on the topic from the Splendid Speaking site (affiliated with flo-joe). I haven't yet tried getting into audio production, but it is definitely something I'm earmarking for the future. To get to the information, just click here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Does English threaten other languages?

The other side of the discussion about whether American English is threatened by immigration is whether English threatens other languages. This has been an ongoing topic of concern for people in many countries. The French, for example, are well known for their struggles to keep the French language pure, and you have probably heard of Franglais. Here's Wikipedia's treatment of the term and its usage, followed by an online article published in March on how English seems to be infecting not only French but also Spanish.

The issue of English as an imported tongue, displacing native languages, is a concern to speakers in Africa too. I ran across this article in the Tide News of Nigeria which points out that by making English the national language, the government devalues Igbo, which is spoken by millions of Nigerians.

Interestingly, 2008 has been designated the 'International Year of Languages' by the United Nations. I am sure I will be paying attention to the developments of this novel celebration, and we should have much more food for thought about all languages, including English.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Woot! or W00t!

Believe it or not, 'woot' was named a 'word of the year' by a prestigious English dictionary publisher. Since I've only recently become a regular computer user and have never been a gamer, this interjection is one that I've never used. Since I am an English teacher, I suppose I should be aware of such a noteworthy utterance. Here's another link with lots of comments about this 'ritual' listing of English 'words of the year.'

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Is American English threatened by immigrants?

A few weeks ago the Los Angeles Times published the findings of some research into the use of English by Spanish-speaking immigrants. In my view, however, the results were not surprising or unusual. What seemed unusual was that the Pew Research Center investigated the language habits of Hispanics, only to conclude that by the third generation, most children of Spanish-speaking immigrants are primarily English speakers. Perhaps this study was undertaken to quell people's fears that Spanish is overtaking English in some parts of our country.

On a similar note, the LA Times earlier covered a lawsuit concerning the Salvation Army's firing of employees for speaking Spanish on the job. Democrats and Republicans have been divided on the issue of whether or not it is discriminatory to fire workers who do not speak English in the workplace. In the Salvation Army case, two women lost their jobs because they were speaking Spanish while sorting clothes. The question of how essential it was that they speak English is the issue. In addition, how far should the government go in protecting people's right to speak other languages in the workplace? Should it be illegal for employers to fire someone for speaking other languages at work?

While I do believe it's fine for people to speak other languages in the workplace, I can imagine situations where it is essential that everyone speak the same language. For example, in hospitals, there are large numbers of medical personnel who are non-native English speakers. I learned from a nurse from the Philippines, who was taking my TOEFL course several years ago, that the hospital that had hired her required a certain score for her to get permanent employment status. She thought it was a waste of time since she had the nursing skills to do the job. However, I was relieved to hear that there was some English requirement (though I'm not sure that the TOEFL test was appropriate for a medical job). If a non-native speaker doesn't understand or misunderstands the patient, the doctor, or a fellow nurse, major mishaps could result.

If you want more to chew on, check out 'The Web of Language', a blog by Professor Dennis E. Baron at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where you can find more thoughts on the position of English in the USA and elsewhere in the world.

Finally, is American English under threat? No, I don't think so. Yet throughout our history, as various immigrant populations grew and spread, and we heard their languages on the bus, in stores and supermarkets, and in the waiting area at the dentist's office, many Americans got a bit paranoid that they might need to know a language other than English. This anxiety continues today, but in time, that fear will change to pride in the fact that the majority of Americans will speak more than one language.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Farewell to CAE Students

It's always hard to say good-bye to students that you've been with for 11 weeks. I taught Advanced Cambridge Exam prep classes every morning this fall, and I had two groups to bid farewell to. The tradition at our school is to either go out to breakfast or to bring food to the classroom for a meal together. Here are some parting shots of my two classes, the last with co-teacher Lauren. Happy holidays and best wishes to you all for 2008! The test is behind us. Enjoy your travels and have a safe return.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Discrimination against English-speaking Latinos

While searching for information about 'broken English', I ran across a first person account of an American who was ostracized for speaking only English in his workplace. The story made me realize how much an individual's personal history can affect their ability to embrace English or to shun it.

Although the above article was published about two years ago, the topic of bilingualism or 'English only' in the United States is still very much alive and continues to fascinate me. This link to NPR contains an excerpt of a book entitled How I Learned English and some audio material for any instructor wanting to further explore this issue and/or to create a lesson around it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

'Englishization' of Japanese

As some of you may recall from an earlier post, I am informally studying Japanese again. Every time I have a lesson, I'm reminded that some of the most difficult words to say or recognize in Japanese are often English words. This link will give you a little taste and explanation of why that is.

Would you recognize 'chiketto' as 'ticket' or 'gurobaru herusukea' as 'global healthcare'? Though I've been told many times that the Japanese government is aware that the katakana writing system encourages Japanese pronunciation of English, there still seems to be little effort to teach English in the classroom without the support of this writing system.

A further invasion of English into Japanese is explained in the above link. That is, Japanese teenagers, especially, are inventing words that are half-English and half Japanese, such as 'sutabaru' meaning "to patronize Starbucks."

When I was a kid growing up in L.A., my Nisei parents and relatives used to use blendings of Japanese words in almost exactly the same way that the Japanese are using English - only the Japanese part came first. For example, my mother would say that the neighbor was 'monku'-ing again ('monku' in Japanese means 'complain') about our cat going in her backyard.

I'm sure someone somewhere has done a study of these phenomena, but I don't know of one. If anyone reading this does, I'd be interested in hearing about it. There must be lots of stories like this for other languages too. Please do send them my way. :-)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

More on Use of Wikis in the Classroom

Last week on National Public Radio, there was a short story about technology in the classroom which gave some press to wikispaces. The other wiki host mentioned was pbwiki.

As you can see in the column next to this post, I have a wiki on wikispaces, which has been working quite well for me. However, there was one disturbing discovery this week. Someone got into one of the member profiles and replaced a friend's photo with his own. I have no idea how this lurker/hacker managed to do it, but it's so thoughtless.

You should definitely check out Mr. Sheehy's wiki and blog. He's a high school English teacher in South Dakota, and he's using his wikispaces with great flourish, if you're looking for ways to use yours.

Betty Azar, Marianne Celce-Murcia, and Michael Swan on Teaching Grammar

From time to time, it is stimulating to check out what's happening in the field of TESL (or TESOL) either by attending a conference or reading a journal. In my case, I spent a few hours this weekend reading through several articles published in a special edition (September 07) of an electronic TESL journal.

This issue focuses on "The Current Status of Standards of English Grammar" and features such well-known writers/teachers as Betty Azar, Marianne Celce-Murcia, and Michael Swan. I recommend taking a little time to digest the writings and reflect on your own teaching style.

At my school, we have 2 hour 45 minute 'grammar' classes (which meet 3 times per week). We use Betty Azar's GBT (grammar-based teaching with her textbooks), with some FonF (Focus on Form) along with the New Interchange series (which has a more concept-based teaching approach - CBT), always in a communicative language context. From all of the writers in this e-journal, I gained reinforcement of the idea that the most effective language teaching methods are those that engage the students because of interesting content and useful grammatical constructs that allow them to express themselves and be understood.

I agree with Swan who says that "a glance at any history of language teaching will show 'language in use' has been taught, well or badly, since languages were first studied" and that much of the debate over whether to teach 'meaning' or 'use' in the context of grammar structures might be better spent on more fruitful endeavors (Swan, 2007). In addition, I fully understand Azar's defense of her GBT approach, which some have apparently identified as one that excludes communicative language teaching (CLT). She emphasized "doing both" as her motto; I'd say do 'all' of the above - which means use all the tools and concepts you have available to get your students to use their English well and often.

The one discouraging thing about reading some of these articles is the realization that when practitioners and academics of ESL try to talk to each other about subjects that should lead their readership to enlightenment, they can lose us in a sea of acronyms. I had no idea there were so many three-letter 'words' for every school of thought about ESL teaching!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Is 'Engrish' another form of English?

Today I found a discussion of 'Engrish' at Wikipedia. I am fascinated - after laughing at many of the photos on the previously mentioned site - by what we find so hilarious and incongruous in the collocations of Asian 'Engrish.' Sometimes the words make no sense at all, but the funniest signs, of course, are those that are comprehensible but somehow break our rules of appropriateness in specific contexts. It's so hard to get students to understand humor (cartoons, funny 'Engrish,' headlines with double meanings, etc.), yet here we have many examples of it being apparently unwittingly produced.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

More Funny Signs in 'Engrish'

This site has a great set of photographs of English signs in Asia. You can watch them as a slide show. Have fun!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

iBT Writing using a Wiki

Yesterday, my TOEFL students used the wikispace for their third online writing. All went well except for one glitch. When students are in 'edit the page' mode and click to look at 'discussion,' they lose their writing if they haven't clicked on the 'save' button. There was no message to warn a student that she hadn't saved her entry. Thus, she lost 20 minutes of writing her response to an integrated writing task.

As I recall, when I started this blog, 'blogger' also did not warn you that the draft of your post had not been saved. Now there is an automatic save function so that even if you forget, your writing has usually been saved in draft form. Until Wikispaces changes their system to do automatic 'saves,' I don't see any way around the accidental loss of writing in my wiki, except to inform students repeatedly to back up their entry by clicking 'save' periodically. They always have the option of handwriting although they won't be able to do that on the real iBT.

The online edits went well for those students who wanted to update their writings. You can see the original, unedited essays by clicking on the 'history' button above a student's writing. Some students who I didn't expect to make editing changes or rethink/redo their previous writings did. I wish that Cambridge also had online writings because I think I could get my students to do more rewrites if they didn't have to handwrite a previously written letter or report. The idea that the students' writing is public seems to be simultaneously intimidating (thrilling!) and motivating.

For students who finished their writing activities early, I had created an online crossword puzzle with vocabulary from the previous week. That also proved to be intriguing to them. In fact, they got so involved that they worked in groups to complete it during part of their break time. All in all a successful afternoon using online resources!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Am I an 'Anglo' because I speak English?

Part of the lunchroom discussion this week was about what politically correct (PC) term to use to refer to a 'White' person. I'm Asian American, but my husband's family came from Eastern Europe. I tell my students that he's 'Caucasian.' However, that term is always met with blank stares, followed by "What means that?" Then, I proceed to use 'White' or 'non-Asian' and get nods of understanding.

Although we often use 'White' and 'Black'/'African-American' in our ESL classes in discussions of prejudice and discrimination in the USA, one of our male instructors said that he really doesn't like to be called 'White' and prefers the label 'Anglo.' However, another instructor asserted that 'Caucasian' was the most PC term, especially in business and in the city of Chicago where she grew up. In addition, since her ancestors came from Eastern Europe, she said she would not want to be identified as 'Anglo,' which could indicate 'English' roots. However, if we see 'Anglo' as identifying Americans by their first language, I could also be considered 'Anglo,' although most people would then think I had 'White' blood in me.

Then, we went on to consider what the best label is for someone from Mexico or from Latin America. Should we say 'Hispanic' or 'Latino/a'? Our Mexican-born instructor dislikes the term 'Latino' because, for her, 'Latino' includes Italians and other Latin-based language speakers. Her first choice for herself would be 'Mexican' and secondly, Hispanic.

To make the discussion even more complicated, one teacher pointed out that 'Native Americans,' who used to be called American Indians, actually prefer that original ethnic label. I can understand their position since people who are born and raised here in the United States are also 'native Americans.'

As if the topic of 'color' (race) were in the air, this morning on NPR (National Public Radio), I listened to commentary about a summit held in California's capital, Sacramento, in which educators gathered to discuss recent findings about the effects of race on educational achievement. In the NPR (National Public Radio) broadcast, the terms 'White,' 'Black,' 'Asian,' and 'Latino' or 'Brown' were used, so to the producers of that show, those labels must be PC. What should we call people like my children who are mixed 'White-Asian' or Tiger Woods? Do the labels matter as much to government once you're out of school?


It's hard to speculate about future discussions of educational achievement in California (or across the USA) where there will always be diversity in people's value systems. For many people, education only has value if it leads to successful employment afterward, and that really depends on personal or family networks, motivation, previous experience, demonstrated ability, and yes, good luck! In California, many of our students would benefit from the opportunity to do apprenticeships to learn skills in fields such as auto mechanics, masonry, plumbing, food preparation, or landscaping (actually quite vital jobs). However, people in these 'trades' (professions) are rarely discussed. I don't remember my children having the opportunity to shadow a 'plumber,' for example, on career day (because who would 'aspire' to be a blue collar worker?) .

If you want to hear and see some of the latest discussion about the Achievement Gap Summit in Sacramento, CA this week, here are a few links: one to news10/abc and another from which you can get to several other related stories.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Simulating the iBT (TOEFL) with limited technology

I'm teaching the iBT TOEFL course again. When I taught at UCSD's English Language Institute, I handled one of the two classes that covered the Listening and Speaking portion of the test. The university has a great language laboratory which allows instructors to simulate test conditions for these two parts of the iBT. Since I'm at a private language school now, I need to be more inventive and creative in simulating the iBT since we lack the space for a dedicated computer lab.

One of the challenges and pleasures of having a wiki is finding ways for my students to use it profitably. Since our computers (9) are not equipped with the expensive software of the university and we don't have a staff of computer techs to handle any glitches, I am having my students do one part of a writing test online, using my wikispace. To see some of their products, you can click here. Each student has his/her own page that (s)he can add to or correct as (s)he likes. Since the students' work is public, I've suggested that they make editing changes and corrections. That seemed to get their attention, but I'm waiting to see if they will correct themselves online.

In the future, I will try to load our computers with Audacity and purchase some headphones with mics so that iBT students can do online recordings. However, at present, I plan to record test-takers with a regular tape recorder or my digital hand-held recorder. The advantage of the digital recorder is that a student can see the seconds going by and know when to stop. This method would approximate the online experience. We'll see....

Friday, November 9, 2007

Fun Gadgets for Your Blog

I hope you enjoy the new gadgets I've added to my blog. I do, and here are the links if you'd like to add them to yours. There are two visitor maps: one is a spinning globe (but there are other formats to choose from), and the other is a map of the world which shows red dots to mark where people have logged on from. I put two up because I loved having something move on my page and instantaneously seeing if anyone is looking at my blog. I have no idea if the numbers or locations are real or not, but I like to believe they are.

I've also tried previously to put up a calendar on my blog, but I found Google's calendar difficult to mark and link to this page. The one I've put up is extremely easy for one who's not techno-savvy. Localendar is currently free for me as are the maps.

So, here are the links:
- to get to "," open up the calendar on my blog and click on the name "" at the bottom of the page, below the displayed calendar
- Spinning Globe
- World Map

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween Festivities

To give our students a taste of Halloween, the entire school dresses up for the occasion. Then, each class creates a design for a pumpkin and carves and decorates it.

At noon, we take the pumpkins down to La Jolla Cove and have a pizza party. Afterwards, we have a variety of games and activities, including sweep the pumpkin, identify the body part (reach into a paper bag and feel the material), and pumpkin and costume competitions.

Unfortunately, my camera battery decided to die before the games started, but I think I captured some of the feel of that day. The idea was for all to let their hair down and use their English in a fun social setting, mixing native speakers (the teachers) and students. Flavio said, looking at me and the other "graduate", "Better late than never!" That English was music to my ears.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is there prejudice against Indian English?

Several years ago I tutored an Indian man who had lived in the United States for more than 20 years. What he wanted to do was to change his accent. Although he was a naturalized American citizen and had clearly mastered English, he was starting his own business in San Diego and wanted to sound more 'American,' especially on the phone. He believed that when people heard his "Indian" accent, they were more likely to dismiss him or his product.

Later, I realized what he was talking about as last year, I had to deal with several customer support people for last minute flight and hotel cancellations. (Unexpectedly, my husband had to be hospitalized.) By the end of my conversations, I was feeling angry and frustrated with the representatives of the airlines and hotel who were obviously not speakers of American English and were likely "outsourced" employees of these companies. They sounded like "Indians," but even more irritating was that their expressions were obviously rehearsed (constant repetition of the same lines) and sometimes inappropriate. I didn't feel that they fully understood my English, and I certainly didn't understand a third of theirs.

Since the many Englishes of the world are a focus of this blog, I'm presenting some of the links I visited recently on the topic of Indian (African, Asian, etc.) English. A recent article in The Times of India concerns the plight of Indian English speakers.

As a result of all this interest in speaking a 'standard' English, however, there are lots of employment opportunities for British and American ESL teachers equipped to instruct accent reduction courses. Here's a link discussing what is meant by "accent neutralization" or reduction. Working on accents is big business now because of all the outsourcing of phone sales agents to other countries. There are many tech-support centers based in India (click here) which are trying to cope with the problem of producing agents that have mild accents and appropriate sociolinguistic skills to handle phone talk.

There has been some backlash to the pressure on Indians to change their accents, and I ran across one blog suggesting that Indian English should be recognized as a major English of the world and that Indians should not have to adjust their accents to suit our ears.

Finally, I offer you an amusing 1.5 minute clip of Peter Sellers imitating various British accents on 'YouTube' and a more serious discussion of the variety of English accents from the British Library's collection. You can spend a lot of time here delving into the library's various links and listen to different accents while reading transcripts.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What does "evacuation" mean?

The past few days have been a bit of a stressful blur, but nowhere near as stressful as it's been for the thousands of San Diegans who lost their homes during this week's fires. Almost exactly four years ago, our community was the worst hit by the Cedar Fires, so when we got evacuated (look at meaning #4a under transitive verb and meaning #1 under intransitive verb) on Monday, there was a lot more fear and understanding of how fast windblown fires can travel and how much devastation can follow in their wake. Very fortunately Mother Nature spared our home again and didn't touch our community. For detailed coverage of the recent events, check out Wildfires 2007.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Some more commentary on our "Many Englishes"

Just thought I'd give you a quick link to another site which talks about "Many Englishes". This page has some short listening materials on the topic that would make a good warm-up for an advanced listening/speaking class discussing today's international language (click here). Steven Pinker and Stephen Fry make some observations about the many different Englishes used around the world. Is one English "better" or more "standard" than another?

Putting myself in the position of a student

To be a good ESL instructor, many would say that you have to have taught English in a foreign country. Perhaps even more important, in my opinion, is to have studied a foreign language yourself. I've never taught English abroad, but I have studied several foreign languages in public school and the university. In addition, I had an immersion experience the first time I did anthropological fieldwork (studying chimpanzees) in Africa.

Our research base camp was actually in the heart of a Congolese village in the Equateur region of the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly called Zaire). Despite being able to get by in French in the towns and cities, it was of no value in the village of Wamba. Lingala was the lingua franca of the area, and with no Lingala books or dictionary at hand, I essentially tromped out to the forest every day with people whose language was totally foreign and tried to pick it up by ear.

Thank goodness I'd studied a number of quite different languages by that time (Spanish/French, Quechua, Japanese, and Arabic), for varying lengths of time (6 mos to several years) . You might say I have always been fascinated by language, and the experience in Zaire/DRC has had the biggest impact on my ESL teaching career.

From that first-hand experience learning a second language as an adult through immersion in a work/research setting, I learned very well some of the differences between learning from a book and learning through communication. I also learned that making a lot of mistakes and sometimes being stressed to the point of tears and humiliation forced me to become communicative in a rather short period of time (about five weeks). There was no time for translation; whenever I spoke, I found out quickly if people understood what I said. They didn't correct my grammar, so I have no idea if the quality of my speech was TV or radio broadcast-quality Lingala, which was usually mixed with lots of French. Nevertheless, though I've been away from the language for more than a decade, some expressions have stuck, like the farewell from one of my favorite trackers Iyokango "Dimanche" - Soki Nzambe alingi, tokomonana ntango mosusu. We'll see each other again, God willing....

Recently, to try to recapture the exhilaration of being able to communicate in a foreign language again, I decided to do an English-for-Japanese language exchange with a former student who still lives in San Diego, but no longer formally studies English. S. is trying to learn Spanish now and does volunteer work, visiting with elderly people, practicing her conversational English, and awaiting the birth of her first child.

How does it feel to study Japanese with a former ESL student? I was definitely a bit stressed about it. She had never heard me speak Japanese, and now she knows how truly limited I am. Though not a trained instructor, she has done language exchanges before. I told her I didn't want English translations, but explanations in Japanese. Synonyms. Lots of examples of how to use an expression. She did a good job in her role of teacher. I guess time will tell what kind of student I am, but I got home feeling ambitious (though I wonder now how I'm going to squeeze some Japanese language studies into my schedule).

As I always tell my students, "you'll be surprised at how much English you'll understand after studying it here in San Diego, even if you don't use it again for years." Happily, this was true for me with Japanese as I was able to understand most of what S. was saying this week, even though I haven't used Japanese for many years. To my delight, I can still recognize a lot of kanji and read the phonetic scripts (hiragana and katakana) too (read a little about my translation experience). However, output in Japanese is a different matter. Must practice what I preach now! Oh yes, remember, Evelyn? Practice makes perfect. Use it, or lose it?!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

'Englishing' at Mission Beach, CA

One of the great things about working at a school in San Diego is that we can have excursions that take us close to the ocean. One of the places that apparently doesn't get used much on Friday afternoon is the south end of Mission Beach close to the 'canal.' It was an ideal location for our end-of-session activity.
The weather was perfect for a fall day in San Diego, breezy with whitecaps and frothy waves on the Pacific and sun everywhere. There's a grassy area with grills for barbecuing, so we were able to prepare s'mores, hotdogs, and other food. Though the coals never got quite hot enough, Luciano and Victor patiently waited two hours for their three-inch steaks to reach a medium-cooked color. By that time, everyone else had eaten, but the two guys said that the meat was delicious, seasoned by their huge appetites.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Spellbound by 'Spellbound'

One of my favorite movies for high-intermediate or advanced level students is 'Spellbound,' an Academy Award-nominated film (for Best Documentary) which presents snapshots of the lives of eight American adolescents who compete in the 1999 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee competition in Washington, D.C.

I've shown this movie numerous times, and 'Spellbound' never fails to captivate and entertain. Of course, we have an in-class spelling bee so that students can identify a little with the kids in the movie. In addition, before the national competition is covered in the movie, we take a vote in class to pick the girl or boy who we think will win the Bee. Students are asked to support their choice with information and observations about the various candidates.

Furthermore, watching and discussing 'Spellbound' is an opportunity for students to think about what an 'American' is. Among the competitors are the daughter of 'illegal' immigrants from Mexico, a child from a privileged background who rides horses in her spare time, a bright young hyperactive boy, the son of an Indian immigrant, a low-income African-American student, and so on - a real cross-section of America.

I highly recommend this movie for teaching English through content. Supplementary reading material can be downloaded from various sites, but I often use this movie review. For the spelling bee, I use the list of words for different grade levels from this site. Finally, if you want to inspire students with follow-up readings, you can go to Angela Arenivar's blog to find out what she's doing now eight years later and also read a 2004 news article about Ashley White, the aspiring African American girl from Washington, D.C..

Based on your observations and what was said in the movie, 'Spellbound,' how would you describe an 'average' American? In your view, what qualities do all the children in the movie share? Why do you think the National Spelling Bee captures so much public attention in the United States?

Please post ('publish') your writing in the Comment section; use the 'Other' box, and use your first name so I can see that you've done the assignment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some kind of English - funny Chinese signs

Just a quick link for amusement. I've heard that the Chinese government is trying to make sure that by the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, these kinds of signs will be corrected or eliminated. I think that's a tall order given the huge differences between the Chinese language and English. What do you think? Check out these signs photographed by a fellow ESL teacher who is traveling across Asia with his buddy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Getting back to life as an IEP private school ESL instructor

Taking a summer break from year-round teaching was the best thing ever. In addition to having some time to enjoy our new backyard and the wildlife that has come to settle in (having gotten rid of thirsty, weedy grass expanses in the front and back), getting together with some friends and family, and traveling/hiking, I have also been able to start this blog and wiki. I am excited to see if the program works at all with my students. It will be challenging to find a balance between all that goes with teaching, on the one hand, and continuing to develop the blogs and wiki, on the other. Four more days to go. What have I gotten myself into now?! It might have been better to stay a total technophobe.... Counting down....

Just got an e-mail from flo-joe which sent me a link to the new updated Cambridge University test site. Just click here, and you'll go to the home page. From there, you can search for information on ANY of the Cambridge tests.

For those wanting to see a few glimpses of summer activities, I'm eventually going to update my other blog, 'Mbote from San Diego' (see other reflections). It hasn't changed since July and our return from Canada. Time DOES fly! Whoosh.

Monday, September 17, 2007

CAE Wiki

My wiki titled 'englishing' (go to wiki) is primarily for use by students preparing for the Cambridge Advanced English exam. 'englishing' already contains one student-produced word formation reference sheet which I reviewed and edited. After teaching Cambridge preparation classes for six years or so, I've come to the conclusion that building an extensive vocabulary is a key to success on the exam.

How do you build a vocabulary that will be useful? Read, read, and read from a variety of sources. English is everywhere if you pay attention (especially if you're living in an English-speaking country). It's along the highway in the form of billboards and signs; in/on buildings (restaurants, bathrooms, gas stations); on TV commercials; in American/British movies, and, of course, in books, magazines, and newspapers. Usually or often from context, you can figure out the meanings of words and expressions. In this way, you develop a passive understanding of lots of vocabulary.

However, for writing and for speaking, you need more than a passive understanding of vocabulary, don't you? This is where it gets tough. No matter how many times I've taught the CAE, I am always baffled by the difficulty students have in learning and remembering the noun/adjective/verb/adverb forms of common words. The majority of students hate Part Four of the English in Use paper. USING and REVIEWING the words do make the forms stick. Remember to record words and expressions on those index cards or flip cards on a ring (see for an example). You can carry them around everywhere.

When I was a student at UCLA eons ago, I had an American friend who got a Fulbright scholarship to study in Brazil. He was fluent in Spanish as a second language, but he had to demonstrate skill in Portuguese, which he had studied for only a few months before his interview for the Fulbright. Every time I saw him, he had index cards in Portuguese in his hands. It worked! It works!

Good luck on preparing for your CAE, and start enjoying learning vocabulary today!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What is NCLB?

Although I'm not a teacher of ELLs (English Language Learners) in public school, I should be aware of the above acronym (No Child Left Behind), and my readers should too. Maybe you recognized the acronym; I didn't. The politically active and ever voracious reader Exon (a Ron Paul advocate link) was attracted to an article in the most recent issue of CATESOL News. I have to thank him for pointing out the importance of this issue as it relates to American government policy directly affecting all American public school children who are non-native speakers of English.

For extensive coverage of the topic, please check out the following site which pertains to the CATESOL News (Vol. 39, No. 2) article by James Crawford entitled, "A Diminished Vision of Civil Rights: NCLB and the Growing Divide in How Educational Equity is Understood." For the link, click here. To find the CATESOL article, look at the titles in the right column of the home page you linked to.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Not all languages are equal

My last posting made me realize the importance and value of contemplating the role of English in the world and how it affects people's lives. I sometimes push to the back of my mind that I too once worked as a translator (I don't have space to tell the whole story here) - a book translator is quite different from an interpreter or Iraqi translator for American troops. I did not put my life on the line. However, the work did deeply affect my life and that of others. The worst thing was that it negatively impacted on a friend's life and seems to have cost me that friendship. The best thing was that the book was and is still being read ( link ), bringing attention to a close primate relative and an endangered species.

In brief, many years before becoming an ESL teacher, when I was a stay-at-home mom, I translated a Japanese monograph on pygmy chimpanzees (bonobos) for Stanford University Press. At that time, I had rather impulsively agreed to take on two related book translation projects - both were about the great apes that I had studied in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo). One author, Dr. Suehisa Kuroda, had become a close friend after having spent nearly 6 months in Africa together when I was a graduate student in anthropology; the other was Dr. Takayoshi Kano, the Director of the Wamba fieldsite where we had conducted research on pygmy chimps. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond my control, Dr. Kano's book got published in English, and Dr. Kuroda's did not.

What I didn't grasp in working on these translation projects was that publishing a Japanese book in English meant that many, many more people would have access to these works. Duh! In other words, a Japanese author who was relatively unknown in the USA, for example, could quickly become very well recognized here if his/her book were published in English.

Dr. Kano was a shy, retiring man, and usually avoided public forums whenever possible, but after publication of his monograph in English, non-Japanese students and researchers began to aggressively seek him out at international conferences. At the same time, Dr. Kuroda, who had previously been viewed as a pioneer himself (indeed, he was, though junior to Kano) and who had been far more accessible to non-Japanese because of his gregarious nature and lack of inhibitions in speaking English, began to be seen as a secondary personage in his field.

There aren't many English translations in the field of primatology, and any book that talks about chimpanzees as our closest living relatives captures a rather large readership. Little did I know that publishing a monograph in English could or would change the status or image of the authors in an international context.

Language is power, and not all languages are equal.

For more information about translation for all languages, click on the following link.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When can speaking English result in death?

Although this is generally not a place where I discuss politics, it is a place to think about the use of English in the world. On Sunday night's '60 Minutes' program, I had to consider that sometimes speaking English (in this case, working as a translator in Iraq for American soldiers) can be lethal. Not only have Iraqi translators risked their lives for Americans in combat situations (it's well-known that there are few American soldiers who have gotten training in Iraqi Arabic), but even after they've left their jobs with us, they and their families are targeted by the 'insurgents' and anti-American elements. These English speakers have nowhere to go. What a turning point in their lives! Imagine their initial excitement at getting a paying job from the U.S. government because they were bilingual in English and Arabic.

Here's the '60 Minutes' link for your own contemplation.

June 2007 - Some Brilliant CAE Students!

Above, co-teacher Amy with our class. To the left, having practiced making origami cranes for good luck on the CAE exam, students are receiving small farewell gift bags. The other photo shows us on this last day of school before the week of the 'real' CAE exam. Congratulations on passing, Tabea! and many thanks for sending me these pictures!

Now I can see you all (Tabea, Jeannine, Rahel, Melanie, Lilly, Diego, Michaela, Lukas and Roman) any day of the week and remember our good times together. Please visit my blog from time to time and try out some of the links. So, what's up?

Getting connected!

Ah hah! What a surprise to find that linking people to my blog got them to come to mine! (I'm curious - did the server tell you that you just got linked up to someone's blog, and then did it give you the place to go?) What a great feeling to know that this 'vacation' time invested on the internet has already paid off. Out of the virtual world that I've inserted myself into came some voices from fellow educators. Thank you very much, Larry and Claudia, for dropping by! And thank you to the several former students who have come by to say 'hello'! I'm encouraged that this can be a great tool for my fall classes.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Adding Links and the Power of Photos

Today I added several links to this blog for teachers and for students (several of these blogs were listed by OTAN, but I checked each one out myself). Of course, you can spend several additional hours following all the links to those links, some of which also looked very informative. I rarely buy an ESL book anymore because there are so many free lesson plans and online materials available. The options are endless.

I've got four weeks to go before I get back to full-time teaching at the International Center for American English in La Jolla, CA. I am so glad that I used some of this summer to learn more about this great technology. My next job is to contact former students (since I don't have classes right now to make assignments to) and see if I can get them to comment about what they're up to and how they're using their English now - if at all!

So far, I've only had a few comments - more like e-mail transactions in a public forum - from a few students who I saw recently. They all posted comments at 'Newspaper class 2007' which is simply a standard class photo with no commentary. Now that I've invested in a digital camera, I can see that a class photograph is also an important tool for opening up online communication with ESL students.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Building up an ESL blog community

To my delight, this month I received a hard copy of the summer edition of the OTAN (Outreach and Technical Assistance Network) Online Connection (, and guess what was inside the issue? A full two pages by Marian Thacher of "Blogging as an Instructional Tool." Because of that, I've spent another 20 hours looking at other people's blogs, accidentally going to Lorelle's blog (see my links for educators and bloggers) and subsequently watching a video of her July presentation in San Francisco which was all about blogging (it is an investment of an hour, but worth it to see this animated speaker in action - lots of ideas about how to keep your class awake after watching her!).

What have I learned about blogging as an educational tool? First, you've got to invest some time to start one and then more time keeping it alive. Second, it's better to write short posts rather than long ones. Get the idea out there. Third, if you want anyone to read your blog, you've got to do your part and visit other people's blogs, leaving your blog as a calling card. Finally, when teaching, give your students the opportunity to be read and heard either by building their own blogs or posting writings on yours. However, the shy Asian ones may not ever do it in English.

P.S. If you go to my other blog (Mbote from San Diego), you'll see that in July after the return from Alberta, I was continuing to work on developing my blogging skills. I've got the 'hammer,' and now I can show you how to overload a blog with photos. Next job, figure out how to link photos to my posts, so you don't have to look at all the pictures if you don't want to!

Friday, June 29, 2007

English only?

Should we push English as a national language in the USA ? What exactly would that mean? Would we only allow people who can read and write English to get a driver's license? (BTW, I heard a funny story from a student this year who took the written exam for her driver's license in German, but the translation was so bad that she failed the exam. She decided to take the test in English, and then she passed.) Should we get rid of all bilingual education programs? Should we break up communities of Chinese speakers in Pasadena, Spanish speakers in LA, and so on and make sure that store owners speak English only? In fact, it seems the opposite is happening. Police as well as store clerks are being taught, for instance, to speak Spanish in order to better serve their communities and clientele. It does seem true that you're likely to get farther economically and socio-politically in this country if you can use English effectively. Witness Arnold Schwarzenegger, from 'Pumping Iron' to 'Terminator' to Governor of California! He couldn't have done it without commanding the language. Language is power.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Use it, or lose it!

This blog is for all students and teachers of the many Englishes that are spoken and written around the world. I'm American, but I am often told by my Asian ESL students that I look 'soooo Japanese.' Sometimes they and others seem worried that they travelled thousands of miles to the USA, only to be taught English by a non-native speaker. But since there are so many Englishes spoken, should it matter that I'm a 'native'? Sometimes, non-native speakers know the grammar of a foreign language better than they know that of their native tongue.

In addition, this blog is for anyone who wants to comment on learning or teaching English as a foreign language and to post experiences, observations, queries, etc. about the many Englishes that have come to represent the 'international language.' A Japanese professor colleague from Tokyo University once told me at a conference that the 'real' international language is not English, but 'broken English.' He seemed to have a point there. People were essentially communicating in English, even though it was not standard American or British English.

What then is the best way to teach English, especially to the many students who have been using 'broken' English (Spanglish/Japanglish, etc.) for years? If students can communicate effectively in English, does it really matter that they mispronounce many of their words, drop s's and articles, or use present perfect when they should use simple past?

Inspiring students!