Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring iBTOEFLers

The fun part about teaching this iBT preparation class is the multi-cultural composition of our group and the fact that we cover four language skills. It means that Monday/Wednesday/Friday afternoons are devoted to a mix of reading, listening, speaking and writing activities. Though at least one student suggested that I follow a schedule, such as 'Fridays are for writing practice,' I purposely don't follow such a fixed routine. Because we do not give grades at our school, one way that I can ensure that I get writing or speaking samples from every student is to spring it on them. In the past, when students knew that on Fridays, they would have to write for a half-hour online, they would often be absent.

Currently, I'm experimenting between online writing and paper/pencil writing to see if fewer spelling errors are generated this way. I've discovered that several students are not skilled typists. Thus, it is hard to tell if their errors are primarily an outcome of typing mistakes or if they need help learning how to spell words correctly.

I am a strong typist, so I think it's a great idea to have an internet-based TOEFL. However, I now understand why some students feel handicapped having to do the TOEFL test online, especially the hour-long writing component. I've queried Cambridge students about the idea of doing Paper 2 (Writing) online, and many of them also said they'd be at a disadvantage because of their poor typing skills.

Awesome Cambridge Students, Winter 2008!

The ten-week winter Cambridge preparation course went very fast, and soon I'll start training another group of students for the June exams. What was impressive about these last two groups of Swiss students was their determination and dedication to speaking English inside and outside the classrooms. A few will stay on to do the CAE and CPE exams in June, and I'll be delighted to have them in any of my classes again.

The few reports I've heard through the grapevine were that there were no surprises on the March exams. I trust that this means good outcomes for everyone. Everyone learned a lot of English, and you all impressed the heck out of me! Best wishes, Martina, Nick, David, Jonas, Moritz, Alex, Patrick, Ruben, Joas, Philipp, Marcel, Daniel, and Pascal!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Reading English Using Online Resources

Not everyone likes reading online, but if you want to browse through a book without going to the library, you can access many books online. There are lots of sites that come up if you Google 'free reading materials.' However, one of the easiest sites to find a range of classics at is called Read Print. Here you can choose, by author, American, British, and translated versions of books in the 'public domain.' You can't go wrong with any of the selections. In addition, if you want to listen to a book being read, there's another great site called 'Librivox'. Anyone can use this site, volunteer-record a book, or download a recording of a book. You can buy books on CD/tape, but now you can also listen to podcasts by people who enjoy reading books aloud. It is a wonderful tool for students who would like to know what words sound like as they're silently reading the book, or if you just want to be read to and not have to look at the words.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

More on Indian English Accents

I am highlighting a comment that I received recently (February 27, 2008) from a New Zealander. My previous post on the topic of prejudice against Indian English has attracted some attention since last year. I fully expect that, with China and India containing nearly half the world's population, their English accents (should English remain the international lingua franca) will be familiar and unremarkable in the future. Instead of the giggles I sometimes get from European students when they hear Indians speak in a movie (I love 'Spellbound' and 'A Passage to India'), for example, people will begin to admire the accent, thinking it's cool-sounding.

Today many students studying for the Cambridge examinations really don't like the British English accent, saying that American English is 'cooler.' How ironic is that? This is quite the opposite of what I observed in academia a few decades ago, where if you had a British accent - even an acquired or pseudo-British accent, you definitely had an advantage in getting an academic position here. Other Americans love French accents...

So, I definitely agree with maxqnzs. Indians as well as speakers of other Englishes should be proud of their accents. They add color and flavor to daily conversations, and it would be unimaginably dull to live in a world without them.