Friday, December 11, 2009

Reading Guides from Publishers

Teachers who have the opportunity to read books with their students can supplement or pull together materials from the book publishers themselves. This is something new for me, so I'm putting these links here so that they'll be accessible to you and to me in the future (when I forget the names of the sites!).
  1. Random House
  2. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  3. Penguin
  4. W.W. Norton
  5. Macmillan
  6. Harper Collins
NB: Students who are doing independent reading may also want to check out these resources. Readers Guides can help you to read more critically and encourage a self-dialog when you are not part of a reading circle.

'As far as I know' or 'As far as I'm concerned'

Sometimes when students get to know you well enough, they ask questions AFTER class that they didn't ask IN class. For example, recently after school, one of my Cambridge test prep students asked if she could use 'As far as I know' and 'As far as I'm concerned' interchangeably. Good question!

How can ESL students learn when to use these kinds of expressions correctly? They must be 'active' listeners. I mean, they must make it their business during the day to listen for these expressions in conversations, on TV, on the bus, in the supermarket or department store, or anywhere else they might happen to overhear spoken English. And how often DO these expressions occur?

My advice to the student was to think of the meaning of the verbs. 'As far as I know' expresses some uncertainty about one's knowledge, whereas the other expression has to do with something/someone that affects or 'concerns' the speaker. For example, we might say 'As far as I know, the school closes for two weeks at the end of the year,' meaning that that's the information I have, but I didn't search for or double-check it. On the other hand, I might say, 'As far as I'm concerned, the problem is solved.' In other words, 'From my view, because I'm not affected, the problem doesn't exist.'

These little expressions when used appropriately make students sound more native, but few language learners ask enough questions or listen well enough to figure out exactly how to use them. I guess the moral to this story is, when studying a foreign language, pay attention to the little stuff.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Reading Circles for Cambridge Exam Preparation

Every time I teach a Cambridge Exam preparation course, I try to do something different. This time, instructors were asked to consider doing 'reading circles' around one of the set texts for the Cambridge Advanced Exam. Even though 'The Pelican Brief'' by John Grisham was published back in 1992, it was one of the two texts chosen by Cambridge for the fifth writing task.

Using assigned roles, such as Discussion Leader, Connector, Word Master, Passage Finder, and Summarizer, we experimented with 'Reading Circles.' In principal, a class of ten students could be split into two groups with each person playing one of the roles. However, depending on the level of motivation and commitment of the individual students, it can either work beautifully or fall into an off-the-top-of-the-head /seat-of-the-pants type of discussion. We found that the 'circle' approach worked best with the whole class together with students sharing roles. Because students were unfamiliar with 'circles, it was necessary to often reinforce the value of reading circles (e.g., can use higher level vocabulary and language than what is used in everyday conversation, can explore a topic in greater depth, can learn about sociopolitical processes that result in socio-cultural differences between people, can examine values such as importance of protecting nature, and so on) in preparing for the Cambridge exam. However, most effective was setting a date for completion of the book with the promise of viewing the movie version, giving students something concrete to aim for. As a result, we completed 'The Pelican Brief' in six weeks (reading from six to ten chapters/week=45 chapters).

Having read one of the set texts for the CAE Paper 2, the students had the option of tackling Question #5. Students with a solid grasp of the book (we read the full-length version in paperback form) were encouraged to attempt this question if it was the best topic for them. That is, they were encouraged to choose this writing option for Part 2 of Paper 2 if they really had something to say, could expand with some details (characters' behavior, events, settings, personalities, etc.), and could view the story in some 'real world' or broader context. Students were also given some practice writing an essay and review of the 'The Pelican Brief.'

In addition, after viewing 'The Pelican Brief' (starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington), we had a lively discussion comparing the written and film versions of the story. Since I saw the movie years ago before reading the book, I must say that this time, the mystery was much easier to follow, with the novel in my head. The viewing promoted discussion on other film interpretations of books, such as 'Jurassic Park' and 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy.

Based on this experience, I can highly recommend reading circles as a way of engaging students in literature and exam preparation. I look forward to trying other approaches to implementing reading circles in future classes.

NB: I have tried shorter reading/film activities. One that stood out as highly successful was a two-week afternoon activity with an intermediate level group. We read 'Sarah Plain and Tall' first, followed by a viewing of the Hallmark TV special, starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken. The students really loved the movie, which followed the book quite closely using many lines directly from the book and had outstanding acting performances. The movie brought the story to life and stimulated lots of discussion about gender role stereotypes, rural vs. city people, living in the American Midwest vs. Eastern seaboard, human relationships, man vs. nature, and so on.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Some Review of the AWL (Academic Word List)

If you are looking for some short online activities to review vocabulary from the Academic Word List (AWL) for TOEFL preparation or to enhance your academic skills, check out the following pages. They cover some expressions from A to H and J from the AWL. I will be adding to the list in the coming weeks until I get through the whole alphabet. Have fun!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Halloween 2009

Halloween Festivities! First, you've got to do a little work - it IS still CAE exam preparation. Onward with student presentations! Then, off to the Shores for pizza and fun! Even though we didn't win a prize, WE know whose pumpkin was the real winner, don't we?






Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sing 'The Star Spangled Banner'

A few weeks ago when we were discussing customs and traditions, one of my CAE students asked if I would sing the National Anthem. I sang a few bars but promised I would teach it to them. The following week after searching on YouTube for a simple, straightforward rendition of the song (and failing!), I ended up downloading a music track for 'The Star Spangled Banner', and we sang it karaoke-style.

There are several reasons to teach our National Anthem. First, there's actually quite a lot of useful vocabulary (dawn, twilight, burst, perilous, banner, broad, stripes, 'the land of the free and the home of the brave'). Secondly, as with any song, by singing or saying it aloud, you get a sense of the rhythm and pronunciation of English. You learn to pay attention to stress patterns and to link final consonants to words with initial vowel sounds (dawn 'searly light). Finally, if you live in a town with football or baseball teams and your students attend games, they can participate in the opening ceremonies and sing the National Anthem with the crowd of sports fans. Even though these students are not American, they can take part in our tradition of singing this song and, unlike some Americans, actually understand the meaning of the words.

Here I also include The National Anthem link to Wikipedia which gives the history of the anthem (for a longer content-based lesson). Now stand up and sing!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Did you do it by accident or on accident?

It's hard enough teaching Cambridge students differences between British English and American English, especially in the use of prepositions ('at the weekend' vs. 'on the weekend'; 'in hospital' vs. 'at the hospital'). Now, apparently, in addition to regional differences in American English, I may need to be aware of generational differences in prepositions. Today NPR's (National Public Radio) 'A Way with Words' discussed the finding that 'by accident' (accidentally) is used by people who are 30 years of age or older while the under-30 age group sometimes uses 'on accident' to mean the same thing.

Good grief! At this rate of 'evolution,' will all the prepositional phrases that I use and teach sound odd to the next generation? Where did 'on accident' come from? Is the change related to the expression 'on purpose'? The word wizards on NPR didn't have an answer to this either....

Monday, October 5, 2009

What's the point of other Englishes?

I am currently studying Japanese using textbooks and some online resources and wondering again about all the English that has gotten into the Japanese. In fact, a few nights ago on T.V., I watched a news clip about Japan's interest in 'gureen enerugii' (グリイーン エネルギー) - that is, 'green energy.'

The absolute worst words for me to say in Japanese are the words that are 'English' words, but are transliterated into Japanese, like アイスクリーム (aisu kureemu), アメリカン(amerikan), or コーヒー (kouhi) - ice cream, American, or coffee. These words are the dead giveaways that I am definitely NOT Japanese (even though my bloodline is '100パーセント' (100%) Japanese. That's a topic for another day!)

For a quick overview of loanwords in Japanese, I found this link to be instructive and fascinating. Of course, vocabulary has moved in the other direction too. Wikipedia contains a list of Japanese words that have found their way into the English dictionary.

Exploring my roots in anthropology, I recently read an article on 'karuchua' (culture) and how Japanese primatologists adopted that word to describe behavioral patterns observed in monkeys (i.e., the famous potato-washing monkeys). Here it seems that 'カルチャー' was chosen to distinguish it from human culture (bunka 文化). In addition, Michio Kawamura, the author of a recent article entitled 'Interaction Studies in Japanese Primatology' (Primates 50:142-152, 2009), wrote that "as a native Japanese speaker, I am aware that papers written only in Japanese or papers that can only be expressed in Japanese contain unique ideas and important observations. I will not be able to introduce all the ideas that even their original authors could not express in English."

To answer my own question, perhaps the point of 'Japanese English' is to be able to use some items or concepts (using Japanese transliterations of English words) for which there doesn't seem to be a Japanese equivalent. On the other hand, Professor Sharon Traweek (personal communication) mentioned years ago that in her field of comparative science studies, Japanese physicists often spent time creating new combinations of kanji to create a Japanese word for a thing that already had an English label. Similarly, the French avoided transliteration of the word 'computer' by coming up with their own term, 'l'ordinateur', which you're expected to use when speaking French and doing business in France (M.B. Vineberg, pers. comm.).

As English continues to spread around the world, there has been a lot of transliteration going on. Some words or concepts are easily adopted, but others seem resistant to this process. Now that, to me, is fascinating!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Most' and 'Almost'

Below I'm trying out the coloring and centering features. They make the writing look like poetry, don't you think? The topic of this post is again one that was inspired by my private student who was confused about these words. His errors made me recall the many other students, especially Japanese and Korean, who often misused 'almost' and 'the most.' So, here's a little lesson on their usage.

Almost
all (or Most) students have had problems understanding
when to use 'most'and 'the most (+ noun)' and how to use 'almost.'
Are you one of those students?
If so, I hope that these examples and a few sentences will help you
get the feel for how and when to use these expressions.

It is often said that
'Most people like pasta.'
If you mean that the majority of people (everywhere) like pasta,
then do not use 'the' in front of 'most'.

**The most people like pasta**
is a grammatically incorrect sentence.
However, if you are referring to
the largest number of people that you've ever seen

or the largest quantity of food you've ever eaten,
then you could say,
'
The most people (that) I've ever seen in my life were at
President Obama's inauguration ceremony last year.'
Or, if you're talking about pasta, you could say,
'The most pasta I've ever eaten was in Italy.'

Some other ways to use 'most' follow:
"Most of the students at my school are from Switzerland", or
"Most students at my school are from Switzerland."

Now, when should you use almost?
What is the meaning of 'almost'?
What part of speech is it?
'Almost' is an adverb which can be used to
modify the meaning of adjectives (also verbs and adverbs).
Therefore, we wouldn't say,
**Almost people enjoy going to the beach in San Diego.**
Almost in this case is not the same as most.

A
lmost can precede a quantifier (a type of adjective), such
as 'all' or 'every' in 'everyone',
to create the meaning 'close to/nearly all'
or 'close to/nearly everyone.'
Then the following two sentences,
'Almost all people enjoy going to the beach in San Diego,' or
'Almost everyone likes going to the beach in San Diego'
have very similar meanings and are grammatically correct .


Monday, September 21, 2009

Putting More Color in 'Many Englishes'

For two years, I've been blogging away here at 'Many Englishes' and apparently never noticed that I could write using a rainbow of colors. Hmmm.... This is an exciting discovery! In addition, I see that I can justify or align my writing to the right or left, center it, or have bulletpoints automatically generated. How did I not notice these features earlier? I will definitely exploit them in the future. Oh boy!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Should We Teach Four-Letter Words?

I often tell students to stick their necks out, risk humiliation, and use their English as often as possible. Male students, however, often want to use those profane four-letter words, like 'fu_k!' and 'sh_t!' They seem to think it makes them 'sound' more 'native' or perhaps 'cool.' Some say they use these expressions even in their own languages. Great.

I haven't seen any statistics about non-native speakers who use profanity being better received or perceived by natives. But, at least, in my classes, I let students know that 'fu_k!' is not an appropriate word to yell out when their team doesn't get a word in Taboo or Hot Seat (vocabulary games). And it is totally inappropriate to yell 'Fu_k you!' at a female salesclerk who decides not to sell a student a package of cigarettes because she doesn't recognize a foreign passport as proof of age - no matter how absurd her decision might have appeared to this male student.

Another problem with non-native speakers getting in the habit of using some common expletives is that they might not be able to control their use in formal situations. For example, I had a cute blond female FCE (Cambridge First Certificate in English) student who used 'sh_t!' during her first practice test interview. In Part 2 of the interview, she was given a set of pictures that she found difficult to describe in English, and her initial reaction was to say, 'Oh, sh_t!' Although this student was tape-recorded and the entire class heard her inappropriately using the expression, she repeated the error during the second practice exam. ('Sh_t!') Unfortunately, this student did not pass the test. I hope it wasn't because she used that four-letter word when she wasn't supposed to.

Last week, a thoughtful, mild-mannered Korean student who teachers are very fond of and who has made great progress in learning English practiced a new expression from his host dad. What was the idiom? 'I don't give a sh_t!' Apparently, on the back of the host family's car, there was a bumper sticker with these words on it. When the student asked what the words meant, the dad explained that they mean, 'I don't care.'

Thinking that the expression was simply another way to say that, the student tried it out both in the classroom and in an essay. Of course, the outcome was quite embarrassing as his morning teacher was quite shocked to hear him using the expression in conversation practice in the classroom. The evening before, I was also startled to see the same expression appear in a description of his weekend in L.A. The student was trying to express the idea that although it was very hot in the city, he had enjoyed himself. 'Because I was with two beautiful girls and a guy friend, I didn't give a shit.' I could sort of understand what the student meant, but it was definitely unexpected in the context of the writing assignment.

Personally, I believe that ESL teachers should let students know what these four-letter words mean if the topic comes up in class but, in general, to advise students against using them in public or with strangers. This also includes other expressions, such as 'God damn it!', 'Holy shit!', 'asshole!' or 'bitch!' Know what they mean, but don't make a habit of using them. That's my rule.

Nevertheless, for those of you who disagree, here's a clip of a documentary film dedicated to the f-word, and some other expressions using the word 'shit' from an online dictionary.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Read Using Online Resources

Recently our school has put together a student library. However, funds are limited, so besides some new purchases and teachers' donations of used/recycled books for leisure reading or studying, I've also been looking for free online books. Happily, I've found at least one site that has quite a few 'classic' novels and short stories that can be either downloaded or read online.

The Cambridge Preparatory Courses will be starting up in a few weeks, and I plan to try using Read Print as a way to get my students to enjoy some great short stories, such as H.G. Well's 'The Country of the Blind,' or novels such as '1984' or 'Animal Farm.' 'Read Print' welcomes feedback, and you can also become a fan of the site on Facebook. Check it out, and see what you think.

Monday, September 7, 2009

'Watch Out' for Opportunities to Learn English

Sometimes English can be so tricky. Take an easy word like 'watch.' Recently, as a student was leaving the bus from the front end, the bus driver advised, 'Watch your step.' The student, therefore, paused at the door waiting for the hydraulically operated steps to unfold. After the steps were locked into place and the door was wide open, the driver repeated, 'Watch your step...'

Thinking that this expression meant 'wait a minute,' the student didn't move, so the bus driver again said, 'Watch your step...' By now, the student was getting a bit annoyed. The steps WERE down, and it was not obvious why the student should wait to get off the bus. What should he say? What should he do?

Finally, the bus driver repeated the expression,'Watch your step.' This time the student impatiently replied, 'I AM watching the step!' To the student's surprise, however, the bus driver shook her head in disgust, remarking 'Never mind....' At that point, the student realized he'd misunderstood and, blushing with embarrassment, quickly got off the bus.

At our private lesson later on, I explained some of the many uses of 'watch':

'Watch out!' (Pay attention! Something dangerous could happen.)

'Watch your head.' (Someone might say this to you so that you don't hit your head on a low entryway.)

'Watch your language!', or 'Watch what you say!' (Be careful of the words that you use in speaking. Don't be rude or inconsiderate when you speak.)

'Watch your speed.' (It seems like you're driving too fast, so slow down. Or, maybe you just saw a highway patrolman, and your friend was speeding. You don't want to get a ticket.)

'Watch what you're doing.' (Pay attention to what you are doing.) and so on.

The great thing about listening and 'watching' what people are saying to you - catching these little expressions and actively engaging in an interaction using these kinds of new phrases - is that you can learn a great deal of colloquial English by doing so. Add in a measure of stress and embarrassment, and you ensure that you will NEVER forget the meanings of these expressions.

So, get out there, ESL students, and pay attention to the phrases that people often use. Stick your neck out (meaning, 'take chances/risks'). There are boundless opportunities to learn English. Watch out for them. You can encounter an opportunity any time and anywhere.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

'You're 20 minutes early for the iBT, so you're too late!'

I thought we had everything worked out for the internet-based TOEFL. I checked my students online profile, and the name matched his passport perfectly. Nevertheless, on Monday following the scheduled Saturday test, I queried Patrick about his exam. Well, actually, he wasn't able to take the test in the end.

"Whaaat!! Whyyyy?," I asked, gasping. He was 20 minutes EARLY; therefore, he was too LATE to take the exam. According to ETS rules, you should arrive 30 minutes before the iBT to ensure that there is enough time to check you in before the exam. However, depending on which test center you choose, this arrival time is flexible. After all, if there is no line of students waiting to be processed for the exam, it does not take a half-hour to check in. Unfortunately, in the case of my student, although his test center was not crowded, the person at the front desk was poorly trained. Despite there being no line of waiting students, Patrick was prevented from taking the test as planned, and , of course, lost his registration fee too.

If this is standard policy across all ETS centers, why were some of my students downtown being admitted five minutes before the exam and others being told they were too late when they were 20 minutes early? Obviously, one ETS center manager was trained to provide good service whereas the other manager was trained to follow directions to the point where she behaved like a mindless, thoughtless robot. In the process, a young, non-native English speaker was turned away from the TOEFL test center feeling crushed, angry, sad, defeated, robbed.

As a TOEFL instructor at a relatively small school, I can only imagine that this maltreatment of students is going on all the time across the USA. All I can do now is to get the word out to other teachers and TOEFL students. READ and PAY ATTENTION TO EVERY PRINTED WORD on your registration form and profile for the internet-based TOEFL.

1. Make sure that your profile name matches your passport name EXACTLY (i.e., if you have five names, put them all there. There is no space for middle-name, so put the middle names in the last name box. Better yet, go to the test center and register face-to-face and get a written note from the person who registered you stating the date, time, and place that you got registered.)

2. Arrive early - at least 45 minutes, but maybe one hour! early and check in at the front desk. If you arrive 29 minutes early, be prepared to argue for your right to sit and take the test, since you're supposed to arrive 30 minutes EARLY.

3. If you encounter any problems at the test center, do not leave without getting a piece of paper with signatures of the test center manager, clerks, and so on. Document what happened and why you were denied admittance to the exam. Make ETS personnel accountable by getting their names and contact numbers.

Good luck!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ETS Fails, Part Deux

My last post was about Educational Testing Service's policy toward students whose names don't match their passports exactly. If you thought a name change could be done online a day before the test, please beware that this is NOT possible.

One of my students discovered last Friday (he is registered to take his iBT on Saturday) that to make a name change and not lose his money, he had to FAX a copy of his passport and full name five business days in advance of his test. He tried several times on Saturday to FAX his information, but the ETS fax machine did not respond until Monday morning. Furthermore, ETS will NOT send a confirmation of receipt of the change in name, meaning that it is up to the student to keep checking his profile before the exam date to make sure that the change was made.

We don't know yet what happens if the change isn't made by ETS prior to the exam. I have advised my student to go on Wednesday or Thursday to the exam center with a copy of his FAX and demand that the test center expedite confirmation of the name change before Saturday. I told him to be sure and get a signed document showing that someone has taken responsibility for him to be allowed to take the exam on Saturday. We'll see.... Good luck, TOEFLers!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ETS (Educational Testing Service) Fails

Recently one of my students went to a TOEFL test center to take his exam, but to his dismay, the test center would not admit him. The reason? As he was from Spain, he had more than one surname and had 'mistakenly' entered only one of his two surnames on his application form for the test. Consequently, when he arrived at the exam center, he was denied permission to enter because the last name on his registration form was not IDENTICAL to his passport name. Despite the fact that there was no doubt that he was indeed the person identified in the passport and that the passport number matched his registration form, he was denied access to the exam center. Even worse, the test center refused to credit the student with the $150 that it cost to take the exam - all of this from an organization that is a 501(c)(3) non-profit company.

In addition, in the span of 20 minutes, my student observed the same thing happen to a student from Mexico and another from Argentina. These students also lost their $150 for not having written all of their names on their passport. The girl from Mexico had a California driver's license with the same name as was on her registration form, but not with her. Because it would have taken two hours to retrieve the driver's license, the people at the test center did not allow her to take the test, even though she could have shown the alternate identification afterward. Why not?

It seems that the test center could have accommodated all these students (especially the latter student from Mexico) and permitted them to take the exam and not mark it until verification had been received from ETS 'Central.'

This has been going on for some time so that ETS could have fixed this problem. In fact, the same thing happened two years ago to another student of mine who left out her second name (she had four names!); she was from Paraguay. Is there a pattern here? Does ETS encourage students with multiple names to omit one or two because of apparent lack of space on their online application form?

There is no doubt in my mind that the practices of ETS violate all business and non-profit business models for customer service. I have searched online to see if there is a pattern of exploitation of foreign students by ETS, and not surprisingly, there IS. (However, it's not just foreign students who are being ripped off by ETS. College-bound Americans are subjected to numerous tests monopolized by ETS. That's another story.)

Check out Americans for Educational Testing Reform, which has numerous links to related articles from the New York Times to the BBC. In addition, you might want to read this query from a Nigerian student. There is a curious reaction to one question about names not matching on test day. I am now wondering if Muhammad (who had a very long name) had a problem taking the test in the USA. Some of the responses from other parts of the world suggest that the over-the-top security measures taken by test centers in San Diego reflect some peculiarly American paranoia about students taking multiple TOEFL tests under aliases. Other absurdities from ETS are discussed at this site. I'm sure you can find many more .

Watch out, students. This is what ETS is coming up with next - a way to profile students that have traits for success. Heaven help us if this also becomes another exam score that must be submitted along with the SAT and/or the GRE test results.


This post is dedicated to my TOEFL students Alicia and Chema.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Learn Accents to Improve Your Pronunciation

In searching for a video that might be instructional for ESL students to improve their pronunciation, I ran across this set of material produced by Amy Walker (Parts 1 and 2) who displays a range of different English accents and demonstrates how to learn them. In addition to the demo, she gives some great tips that would be useful for anyone trying to master the pronunciation of a foreign language.

Ms. Walker's most important tip is to be completely fascinated by the 'accent.' If you are captivated by the language and its accent, then you will pay attention to the pronunciation of the consonant and vowel sounds and to the way breath, mouth, and tongue are used in speaking, to the melody or 'melodic patterns' of the language, to its rhythm and stress, to its grammar and word meanings, and to that essence-like thing that she calls the 'vibe.'

In a nutshell, to be successful at capturing an accent and improving your pronunciation so that you sound more 'native', you must be very observant, analytical, and willing to practice, practice, practice! Just do it! Ten minutes a day, even.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The End of the Line

You may have noticed my Twitter comment a few weeks ago about a movie by the above name. I also ran into an article in The Guardian, entitled The End of the Line, regarding the disappearance of the semi-colon. Apparently, the French continue to be very upset about the bad influence of English on their language. In fact, last year they pondered and fretted over the possible elimination of their beloved semi-colon, blaming its waning use on English-speakers.

Personally, I like the semi-colon and always teach students how they can use it in their writing. It can act as a long comma, especially in wordy lists, or a short period to connect two ideas that shouldn't be too far away from each other nor too close. I think a semi-colon offers writers another tool for creating connections and coherence in their expositions. Nevertheless, I wouldn't engage in a battle over it. There are so many bigger issues to debate. For example, is 'I should of done it' acceptable English yet?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Academic Word List

The Academic Word List contains 570 words that occur in high frequency in academic literature. To support TOEFL vocabulary development, I have created some vocabulary builders at ECEnglish/Learning. There are also several links to vocabulary-building activities at my own site (scroll the blog directory on this page).

In addition, you should check out these excellent links: Academic Vocabulary Exercises and Using English for Academic Purposes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Learning English from the Beatles

Even though the Beatles no longer exist as a group, their music lives on. I have always used Beatles' songs in my Cambridge classes. Happily, this spring I had two students who were big fans, so they were great supporters of song clozes in the classroom.

Students: If you want to know about the history of the Beatles before you sing, look at the above link and print out the song cloze sheet below.

Teachers: If you want to make this into a full lesson rather than use it only as a warm-up or cool-down activity in class, you can preface or follow up the song activity with reading, discussion, and vocabulary-building.

Here is the song cloze sheet. Try to fill in the blanks by listening a few times to the following video. Double-check the words you chose to fill in the blanks with these song lyrics. Finally, sing along with the YouTube video of 'When I'm 64'. I guarantee you'll enjoy learning to listen, read, and pronounce English this way.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Funny Message

Last month I traveled to Switzerland where I met up with several former students. At the hotel in Zurich, I received the following typed message from the clerk at the front desk:

"Mrs. Hofer call me and she leave a massage for you: Friday 19th
2009 around 7pm is the Meetingpoint Bahnhof ok. Mrs. Hofer reserved a restaurant."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Improving Your Speech Through Songs

Many students are too shy to sing a song for 'fun' in class. To overcome that initial reluctance to sing, I always explain that I do songs for pronunciation. I don't care at all whether a student sings in tune or out of tune. In fact, I demonstrate how students can simply say the words (as if reciting a poem) along with the singer, and don't have to carry a tune at all. I do expect their lips to move.

Song clozes challenge my students to actually hear the lyrics (= the words to a song) and to teach them the rhythm and stress patterns of individual words as well as how words are linked together in phrases and sentences.

One of the big 'hits' with Cambridge students this spring was an oldie by Kenny Rogers called 'The Gambler', a thirty-year-old country-western hit. If you want to try doing this song as practice, print out this cloze sheet and then listen to the following YouTube video link. It usually takes two or three 'listens' to get all the words. The complete song lyrics are here.

Some of my students drove to and from Las Vegas singing this song, and found a slot machine called 'The Gambler' with a photo of Kenny Rogers on it. Have fun! Think about the lyrics - maybe there's an ace that you can keep, too!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

In with 'hopefully' and out with 'it is a hope'

Here is an amusing review by Roy Blount about a few books on the use of English. The main point of the review is that the English language is changing and apparently not to everyone's liking, including perhaps his. English, I suspect, is evolving faster than any other language in the world because it has invaded just about every language niche imaginable.

Blount focuses on the question of whether or not the 'fuddy duddies' like me who remember that there was a difference between 'who' and 'whom' should enforce proper English rules or openly embrace the current trends in English.

Interestingly, when I looked up 'hopefully' online, I discovered that back in the 18th century, it was used the way we use it now (see Webster's definition). Sounds like a fashion trend....

Yesterday, in the teachers' room, some of us were reflecting on the wording of the Declaration of Independence (a reading of it was aired on National Public Radio in honor of July 4th), and one of them wondered what we would say today to a student who used an expression like 'a more perfect union.' Can something be 'more' perfect than perfect?

Language is - bottom-line - for communication. As long as our listeners or readers get a general meaning from our spoken or written "utterances", I guess we can feel assured that the words and phrasings we've used 'work.' Is there some grand book of acceptable usage in the Temple of English? Thankfully, no. So, writers and speakers around the world can hopefully continue to play and create with this captivating language.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Online Word Formation Crossword #10

One last crossword puzzle for anyone test-prepping. The Cambridge exams are only a week away for my three classes. We are planning our end of session breakfasts or dinners, and this year, a school-sponsored Cambridge farewell party at the Cove. Let's hope there's lots of sunshine on Friday afternoon.

Here's the link for Word Formation Crossword #10. Enjoy! Watch the clock at the bottom of your crossword, and try to beat your last time!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Online Word Formation Crossword #9

Ready for the next online word formation puzzle? Here is Number 9. I hope my students and others preparing for the CAE find this a useful activity. So far, none of my students have been able to do the puzzle in less than two minutes. How about you?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Do you, like, use 'like' much?

'Like' can be used to mean that you enjoy something or to mean 'similar to.' Now 'like' is also often used informally, as the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary explains, to mean that the speaker is 'thinking of what to say next, explaining something, or giving an example of something.' For instance, 'he was, like, so upset.' Or, 'So I thought to myself, like, I'd better make a decision.' For a well-researched and fascinating look at the common usage of 'like' in speech, check out this 2007 piece from the New York Times Magazine.

As an ESL instructor, I have been torn about what to tell students when they use or try to use this expression during Cambridge practice speaking tests. When I'm in the mode of thinking 'like' is a lazy way of speaking and then notice that I use it, I silently reprimand myself for such sloppiness. Other times, I am tongue-tied in class trying to search for a word other than 'like', when I'm giving a definition or an example of how to use a word. I was, therefore, relieved to find that language experts consider 'like' to be an acceptable and even logical expression.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Online Word Formation Crossword #8

Drill, baby, drill! I'm still trying to get a large variety and number of word forms into my students' brains. For anyone else, trying to practice word formation for the Cambridge exam, as promised, here is the eighth online puzzle. With this 8th installment, we're up to 144 different words. If you see any errors, please let me know.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Online Word Formation Crossword #7

My goal is to get ten Online Word Formation puzzles up, which would translate to 180 different words that you could review here in preparation for June's CAE exam. Onward to word forms No. 7

National Spelling Bee 2009

On Friday, students from my CAE classes watched one of my favorite films 'Spellbound,' which profiles eight adolescents and their families as they prepare for the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. There's a blog up about Speller No. 128, who's competing in this year's nationals. For up to the minute general information about this English spelling competition, click here.

On May 28, 2009 (Thursday), ABC will televise the final round at 8 PM (Eastern). Be sure to watch. It's guaranteed to be spellbinding.

I discovered last week that students from outside the USA can also compete in our 'national' spelling bee. So, why do we call it the 'National' Spelling Bee, when, in fact, it has been international for many years?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Online Word Formation Crossword #6

If you're getting ready for the Cambridge exam and liked the first five word formation crosswords, here is the next one in this series. As before, the 18 words in this crossword are different from the ones found in the previous puzzles. Good luck, and have fun with No. 6!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Online Word Formation Crossword #5

This is the fifth in a series of online crosswords for practicing word formation for the FCE and CAE Cambridge Exam Use of English (Paper 3). There are SO many words that could occur on the exam, students often ask if there is 'a list.' Unfortunately, no.... However, the words that I have included in these puzzles are ones that I've taken from previous exams and exam prep books, going back to 2001 when I began teaching these exam preparatory courses. Each of my crossword puzzles has 18 different words or parts of words in it. By the time you finish this fifth puzzle, you will have practiced 90 different words.

***Oops! There's one error in this crossword. The clue to #4 Across is 'adj of ambition.'

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Word Clouds

You can create colorful and thought-provoking images of words using this wonderful tool called Wordle. This is one of my creations with a bunch of random antonyms. Can you match these opposites? Teachers and students can both have fun with this. Choose your own color combinations and the font you like. You can also print out your creations or save them to a permanent gallery.

Online Word Formation Crossword #4

Are you ready for another word formation crossword? Are your skills improving? This approach to learning word formation is to have some fun reviewing and rethinking these forms. Try testing your speed at completing the crosswords if you've done this one or the previous ones. Practice makes perfect!

Online Word Formation Crossword #3

Here is another challenging word formation puzzle. Good luck!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Online Word Formation Crossword #2

Here's the second online word formation crossword. If you do the first one and the second, you will have reviewed 36 different words. Please drop a comment, and let me know if these are helpful, and I'll continue. I've added a new feature to this blog - a reaction strip. This is a quick anonymous way to give feedback to me about what you think of a particular post. Thanks for your feedback.

Online Word Formation Crossword #1

The word formation section of the FCE and CAE Use of English paper is always challenging. Here is my first online word formation crossword puzzle for reviewing for the FCE, CAE, or TOEFL exams. I've abbreviated the word forms because of letter limits: n = noun, adj = adjective, v = verb, adv = adverb.

The neat thing about this online crossword puzzle is that you can time yourself (see how long it takes you to complete the crossword), and you can get a percentage score for how well you do each time. Hope you find this addition to the blog useful!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Disney English in China

What is 'Disney' English? A recent Wall Street Journal article focused attention on this topic. Although the representatives of Disney schools claim that their educational institutions are not primarily marketing Mickey Mouse to the children of China, it sure looks like it. Nevertheless, according to Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products Worldwide, "We never saw this as an effort to teach the Disney brand and Disney characters. We set out to teach Chinese kids English." I am dubious after watching this video, but is there anything wrong with teaching English while marketing Disney products?

I guess not, but in trying to understand the world's many Englishes, this is one I hadn't thought about before. Does it matter what 'literature' inspired you to learn English? Here in the USA, we say that the most important thing is that you get your children to enjoy reading, whether it's comic books or Sesame Street books or Disney storybooks. However, if you're living here, it's assumed that you want to acculturate your children to our value system.

So, why hasn't the Chinese government reacted negatively to the idea that their most precious resources for the future - their children - are being taught American values through Disney English schools? Clearly, there is no way to remove our culture from this product. Hmmmm....

(For those curious about what Disney Schools are looking for in their teachers, here's an ad displaying requirements for teachers applying for a job with Disney in China.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Great Academic Listening Sites for TOEFL

Students and teachers of TOEFL will find Academic Earth and Education for All to be very useful for improving vocabulary and listening comprehension. Both sites feature lectures by outstanding professors and entrepreneurs representing a wide range of fields. There are ten-minute segments as well as full lectures (an hour or more). Some of the resources provide written transcripts. Definitely visit these free sites for practicing academic listening comprehension.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

George Carlin and Playing on English

A few weeks ago, I saw a recording of an award ceremony commemorating (posthumously) the comedic talents of George Carlin, who was being honored with the Mark Twain Prize at the Kennedy Center. Listening to some of his most famous routines, I realized what a genius he was with words and wondered why I had never seriously explored his work. Take, for example, the first two minutes of his 'Advertising Lullaby.' It's an outstanding demonstration of all the advertising come-ons used in the business, but presented in such an artful way that it was pleasurable listening to it. He always considered the rhythm and sounds and carefully chose the sequence in which to put the phrases together. You can be totally mesmerized by his 'poetry in motion.' The only drawback is that, depending on the age of your students and your own sensitivity, you may need to censor the last 40 seconds of this piece. There's a lot of vulgarity in the last part. This link gives you a transcript of the lyrics without the last stanza.

Of course, George Carlin devotes some attention to seven dirty words that can't be used on television (this excerpt again would not be appropriate for school-age children). Had he not used so many 'unacceptable' words, his work would be ideal for any advanced level ESL class. His abundant profanity, however, requires caution when airing his pieces. Nevertheless, the fact that the Kennedy Center did celebrate his achievements last November, shows that he went beyond notoriety to achieve recognition as a major contributor to the development of the art of American humor.

Advanced-level students, if you can understand George Carlin's work, then you're probably near proficiency level! If you can't yet enjoy this form of entertainment, download, read and interpret the transcript of 'Advertising Lullaby.' Watch the performance again, and just listen to the music of the American spoken word interpreted by George Carlin.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

CAE and the Open Cloze

What is a cloze? For a detailed description of the cloze technique, check out Brigham Young University's English site

In the Cambridge exams, the second part of Paper 3 (Use of English) is the 'open cloze.' It contains written material with gaps. The student must fill them in with his/her own words, and it is quite challenging.

Today, while reviewing adjective clauses, I told students to tell me the difference between the restrictive and non-restrictive form. They rolled their eyes, and I could see them thinking to themselves - oh no! more terminology! However, with illustrations using some examples from the Blue Azar grammar book ('The children, who wanted to play soccer, ran to the park.' and 'The children who wanted to play soccer ran to the park.'), they began to see the difference. The main point was to let them know that "Mr. Cambridge" loves to trick students into choosing the wrong word, in this case, 'that' instead of 'which' or 'who.' That is, if you have a restrictive adjective clause containing essential information identifying the noun, there are no commas around the relative clause and you can use 'which' or 'that' with a thing or 'who' or 'that' with a person. On the other hand, if the adjective clause following the noun is a non-restrictive form, you must use 'who' or 'which', and not 'that.' Isn't the Use of English 'Open Cloze' fun?

Here's an example of a self-created 'cloze' about history. The paragraph comes from an article in 'The Atlantic' (Dec. 2008) by James Fallows entitled, 'Be Nice to the Countries that Lend You Money':

'Gao, _____ I mentioned in my article, would fit no American's preexisting idea _____ a Communist Chinese official. He speaks accented ______ fully colloquial _____ very high-speed English. He has _____ law degree ______ Duke, _______ he earned _____ the 1980s after working _____ a lawyer ______ professor in China, _____ he was _____ associate _____ Richard Nixon's former Wall Street law firm. ______ office, _____ one of ______ more tasteful new glass-walled high-rises _____ Beijing, itself seems less Chinese ______ internationally 'fusion'-minded in _____ aesthetic ______ furnishings. '

The solution is below in the previous post (since the order of my posts on my blog page is most recent first, I have put the solution in an earlier post so that you can scroll DOWN rather than UP for the answers).

Solution to the Above Sample CAE Cloze

If you tried the previous CLOZE example of a self-made Part 2 of the CAE Use of English paper, here's the solution. With practice, CAE Students, you will definitely improve!

'Gao, whom I mentioned in my article, would fit no American's preexisting idea of a Communist Chinese official. He speaks accented but fully colloquial and very high-speed English. He has a law degree from Duke, which he earned in the 1980s after working as a lawyer and professor in China, and he was an associate in Richard Nixon's former Wall Street law firm. His office, in one of the more tasteful new glass-walled high-rises in Beijing, itself seems less Chinese than internationally 'fusion'-minded in its aesthetic and furnishings. '

Good job!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Breaking the 'Broken English' Cycle

Years ago before I got into teaching English as a Second Language, I did research in anthropology, pursuing an interest in comparing Japanese science with American science, in particular, primatology. At that time, I attended some conferences with a colleague from Yokohama University. He was rather frustrated with international conferences where all attendees delivered their papers in English without any regard to the varying skill levels and linguistic backgrounds of non-native English speakers. In his letter to the editor of ISHPSSB, he wrote a short commentary about how English was NOT the international language. Rather, 'broken' English was, for him, the common language. After one particularly annoying experience in Seattle, Professor Sakura posed the question, "Was this really an international conference?"

Since the problem of operating in international forums is undoubtedly a continuing issue for non-native speakers of English, I wonder what can be done in the way of facilitating more cross-cultural communication from both sides. On the one hand, native English speakers need to be more sensitive of second-language learners and should also realize that European language speakers have a clear advantage over those coming from Asian language backgrounds. On the other hand, second-language learners need to be better equipped to comprehend 'real' spoken English.

First of all, Professor Sakura suggested, of course, using visual aids and for presenters not to simply read their papers aloud. Unfortunately, many people enamored of their wonderful computer tools go in the opposite direction and find that almost everything - which can be illustrated now in slides - should be put up on the screen, leaving the audience to figure out what the main point of the talk is. The best and funniest presentation of how NOT to use Powerpoint is presented in this comedy video.

Second, ESL instructors need to provide students with more realistic practice in delivering clear presentations and, especially, fielding questions from the audience. I know from personal experience that it is much easier to deliver a flawless presentation than it is to field questions from the floor afterwards, even if you're a native speaker. Sometimes Americans preface their questions by long-winded monologs to display their own expertise and, at the end, ask their follow-up question. When a member of the audience indulges in such self-serving displays, I have seen many non-native speakers become paralyzed and lose all confidence in their ability to understand English because they couldn't figure out what the question was in the end.

Obviously, a good moderator can immediately put an end to that form of questioning by asking people to get to the point and to be sensitive to non-native speakers. Once, I almost jumped out of my seat when a Japanese sociologist was bombarded by several people from the audience who expounded during the follow-up question period, leaving the poor professor with no way to respond. Eventually, the guy shut down and apologized for his poor English and inability to spontaneously respond to questions from the floor.

Finally, the point must be made that along with teaching English, instructors should try to arm their students with as much information as possible about customs and habits of Americans, in this case. If you know about this popular activity of grandstanding from the audience in the USA, non-native speakers can prepare for it. In addition, they can prepare for a wide variety of question types from the floor by practicing fielding spontaneous questions before getting into the conference room. Another possibility is to request that interested audience join the speaker in a dialog over dinner or breakfast, which gives the non-native speaker a chance to be face-to-face with the people who are seriously interested in exchanging ideas or getting clarification about the paper. This is, after all, the main point of international conferences - the opportunity to exchange ideas with your counterparts from other countries. 'Broken' English, like broken French or broken Japanese, doesn't have to be a breakdown in communication. Rather, it can enhance people's ability to form communities of knowledge. That is the awesome thing about sharing a common language.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fun with English

Everyone loves to have fun with English. Studying sentences designed for native speakers of English can help ESL students who are preparing for an FCE or CAE exam. If you don't understand what's funny or strange about the expressions, ask me here in a comment, or ask another native speaker.

Since the Cambridge Exams seem to be examining students' knowledge of some idiosyncrasies of English as well as their general understanding and ability to use it, you might enjoy the following examples of language play. A post from buzzle.com lists more than 50 sentences that contain homonyms or pose questions about the irregularities of English. Very advanced level students might get the humor in the sentences in this very popular post at Writing English.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Words with Multiple Meanings

The Cambridge testmakers never seem to tire of coming up with word tests for students of English as a second language. The CAE and CPE, especially, are even challenging for native speakers. That's why it is essential to use English all the time while you're preparing for the Cambridge exams. In that way, you'll be used to operating in English and not confused by translations into your native tongue.

On the Use of English section (Paper 3), the CAE has some fun exercises that they didn't have a few years ago. Look at these gapped sentences. One and the same verb fits into each gap. The spelling and form of that word is identical in each sentence.

1. Dominik will __________ his presentation to the class this afternoon.

2. The postman could not ____________ the letter because the postage was missing.

3. The doctor had to ___________ the baby by C-section.


If you chose the verb 'deliver,' you are correct. Usually, there is one sentence that you can figure out (#2). Try out that verb in the other gaps. Does it make sense there? If so, write that word on your answer sheet and move on to the next set of sentences. Never leave a blank answer on the Cambridge exam because you are not penalized for guessing.

4. You'd ___________ go to the doctor about that cough; you've had it for a month now.

5. Most students are studying to ___________ themselves in English.

6. ESL students who speak English all the time will be _________ able to pass the CAE.


Did you recognize the modal expression 'had better' in sentence #4? 'Better' is the word that works in all the gaps. Isn't this fun? If you play with words, it makes learning English more of a game than a pain in the neck.

Look up some other uses of 'deliver' (e.g., deliver a blow) and 'better.' Make the dictionary your friend!

If you liked this post, you can find more recent ones with similar activities by clicking here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Words that Go Together

Just as certain food goes together in our minds - spaghetti and meatballs, hamburger and fries, chips and dip, so do certain words. A collocation is a word pairing, and there are lots of them in English, the same as in your native tongue.

On the CAE and CPE, testmakers seem to like digging up collocations for your fun and pleasure on the English in Use section (Paper 3). It's a good idea to start making collocation-collecting one of your hobbies.

For example, we talk about 'biting sarcasm' or a 'biting wind,' meaning that the wind or the sarcasm was painful to bear. However, we don't say that the pain in his shoulder or head was 'biting.' In other words, a headache does not collocate with 'biting.'

There are many examples of this in any reading or song or movie that you encounter during your studies. Try to be alert for collocations. Also refer to my previous post about how reading one paragraph per day very carefully can enhance your understanding of the English language and lead you to greatly expand your vocabulary.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Random thoughts on iBT, CAE, and blogging

I'm switching hats again, this time back to CAE after a break in order to teach a four-week TOEFL crash course. So far, despite having had only five students for the iBT class, there have been good results. A Swiss student reached his goal of 100 (out of 120), so he will be able to come back to the US and get into a choice college or university (assuming his undergraduate grades are also at a high level). There was another strong TOEFL candidate from Austria who passed the CAE in December. He also has a good chance of breaking 100.

Now I'm getting back into gear to teach our new CAE Preparatory Course, using the Oxford Series called 'CAE Result.' I used the book last year in the fall, on a 15-hour/week schedule. This time I will be following our school's 2009 curriculum of 22.5 hours/week dedicated to Cambridge prep. Most instructors and students seemed pleased with the extended hours in the winter session, so we'll continue.

Each time I teach a closed class, I try to think of ways to use this blog. Last night I put up another calendar from Calendars Net (my last one from widgetbox disappeared after a year, and I never bothered to replace it). In the past, students liked having an internet calendar where they could see reminders of homework assignments and upcoming tests or activities. I'll see if I can get that going again.

My plan this year to do more blogging has been a positive experience. Though I hadn't planned on teaching a blogging class, that recent experience forced me to become familiar with wordpress.com, which has proven to be quite user-friendly, friendlier than it was a few years ago. If you haven't visited Our Hi Five yet, please drop by and leave a comment on one of the student's posts. I will try to keep that blog alive after school with any interested students.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

English Spelling Makes No Sense

This is a link to a site that may help you with English spelling. I've often told my students that even native speakers have trouble spelling correctly. The disconnection between the pronunciation of words and their spelling makes achieving literacy in English quite a daunting task, even for people who are native speakers. Take heart, ESL students! And if you're good at spelling, then be proud of yourself!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Useful Planners for Teachers

If you have to do or like to do record-keeping, I'm sure you'll find these free organizers and calendars to be very handy. Even if you're not a teacher, you may find some of the charts and templates useful for studying, for planning a project, and for journaling.

Donna Young's site has a well-organized range of materials for almost every purpose imaginable. Time Savers for Teachers also offers some free downloadable record templates for teachers. I recommend a visit to both sites to see which materials might serve your purposes and also to get ideas of how to use them.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Textmessaging and Learning English

There have been several articles written on the topic of textmessaging and its effects on native speakers of English. The following site called Learning Now brings this topic up for comments and contains a range of thoughtful arguments for and against teaching SMS in the public school classroom. What are the pros and cons of teaching these skills to ESL students?

On the one hand, we want our students to learn standard American English. On the other hand, we want them to know how to use English effectively. Certainly, in the "real" world, outside the classroom, where communication often takes place via textmessaging, it is important to recognize common shorthand expressions, like lol, tmi, imho, and omg. At the same time, we can teach students that register or level of formality affects whether to use those expressions or not. Also, I've discovered that these expressions are finding their way into speech. If someone says, we're now bff, or asks if something is tmi, without knowledge of these acronyms, you have no idea what people are saying.

Here's a starter package of expressions I found online. I say have fun with them because if you can't have fun with a language, what's the point of studying it? ttyl....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

ESL Students in San Diego Start a Blog

We finally published several posts on a blog created by and for students studying ESL here in San Diego. It's called 'Our Hi Five'. I hope that readers of 'Many Englishes' will check it out from time to time. Bloggers at 'Our Hi Five' are intermediate level, and we have an ambitious goal of producing one new post per student per week. So far, we have some recommendations for local restaurants, a description of Lichtenstein, and an introduction to the La Jolla seals and the Children's Pool controversy. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Can you learn English by memorizing and reciting speeches?

'Back in the day' when I was studying Spanish as a second language, memorization and recitation were two techniques often used to get students to produce accurate and well-pronounced language. However, when I was taking classes for my TESOL Certificate, this approach to language study was pooh-poohed. At least ten years ago, it seems that teachers of English as a second language had decided that the 'communicative' approach was best.

I'm a linguaphile and had much more drill-like instruction, especially in Spanish, and I can say that it definitely helped my pronunciation and grammar. As in any endeavor, the purpose or goals of the course are hopefully in line with those of the students. At that time, I wanted to become fluent in Spanish, to sound as native as possible and to be literate and articulate. (I wanted to be a Spanish teacher.) Even some decades later, I am pleased and surprised at times to find that I can still read a great deal and understand many different tenses. The vocabulary is what has faded.

Because of my own success with Spanish, I often wonder if I should incorporate more of the memorization and recitation method that was effective with me in Spanish. Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal points out that in Japan, several schools are emulating the approach of an English teacher named Mr. Makoto Ishiwata and making students memorize the speeches of Mr. (now President) Barack Obama. What is the reasoning behind this approach?

Actually, it's quite simple. Read, listen to, and memorize the words, the vocabulary, the pronunciation and intonation - and even the gestures of Mr. Obama, and then deliver the same speech in English, just as you heard and saw it. The result will be an ability to reproduce accurate and clear English speech. The next step is to use some of the language in other contexts and to take English's collocations and rhythms and intonation that are imprinted on your brain out into the 'real' world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

English and the Generation Gap (Top 50 words from the AARP)

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) published (October 2008, AARP Bulletin) a list of 50 words that every 50+year-old should know in order to be able to comprehend their children and grandchildren. I've discovered that, even in the workplace, there can be a generation gap between senior-aged instructors and the twenty- and thirty-something teachers.

My first taste of this was last year when a younger instructor joked that I was probably a 'cougar.' Curiously, this word was also listed by AARP as an expression seniors should know. Is this a reflection of the times? Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

Some of the other expressions to make the list are crackberry, google, vlog, webisode, and wikidemia. Some common acronyms used in textmessaging are BFF, IDK, LOL, OMG, ROFL, and TMI. If you've got fashion-conscious young relatives, you should know bling, tatted out, tramp stamp, scooby doos, and soul patch. If someone young is (or you're) into 'love,' you should know what baby mama, cougar, cupcaking, and flirtationship mean. Your peeps are your closest friends or your family, and then there are brodowns, bromances, a frenemy, and nOObs.

When it comes to music, there's crunk and emo plus disco naps and mashing up. It used to be that checking vitals was what the doctor does, but it now applies to checking your electronic devices. Do you floss, friend, jump the shark, rock, or talk smack?

If you really like to be emphatic, you can say it's fo'shizzle, obvi, and totes. And if you're looking for some colorful language, how about the bomb, off the chain, ridonkulous, sick, tight, and wack?

From the British Isles, you have chav, nutter, snog, and T5, and that brings us to the last word on AARP's list, a word for a great-looking (-shaking) butt - a badonkadonk.

You may not want to use these expressions in your own speech - risking misuse, but understanding them may be a worthwhile endeavor.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Word or A Paragraph a Day and You're On Your Way

In an attempt to consolidate (bring together) my creative output into one space, I am putting a few of my posts from my wikispace into this blog. This way I can expose my readers to some ideas that may have gotten buried in the wiki.

What follows is a sample of what can be done with a SINGLE WORD, such as 'sure.'

* What does 'sure' mean? What are some synonyms of this word? (e.g., certain, confident, inevitable, yes!) Can you create four different sentences using 'sure' to display the meanings of 'certain,' 'confident,' 'inevitable,' and 'yes!'?

Examples:
1. "I'm sure that the meeting is tomorrow at 10 a.m. because it's posted on the bulletin board."
2. "She is very sure of herself, but she's not overconfident either."
3. "It's a sure thing that we will die some day."
4. If someone asks if you want to play volleyball after school and you do, you can say, "Sure!" (meaning "yes").
5. "I sure wish someone would answer my question."


* What part of speech is 'sure'? It's an adjective, except in example #4 and #5 where it is acting as an adverb. Can you come up with some antonyms of the adjective form of sure? (e.g., unsure, speculative, uncertain, questionable, skeptical, indefinite, unreliable, etc.)


* What are some other forms of sure? For example, do you recognize the verb forms 'insure', 'ensure', and 'assure'? What do they mean? How do we use those forms? What are some related noun forms of the adjective sure? (e.g., sureness, insurance, assurance)


* Where can you go to find the answers to the above questions? There are many online resources (e.g., online dictionary and thesaurus), but you should have your own copy of a dictionary and thesaurus, which are what I used for this demonstration. These two items should be in the toolkit of any language learner, including native speakers who want to improve or check their English.


* What else can you do after playing with the word 'sure'? You can start paying attention to uses of all these words that have related meanings or forms. Look at this excerpt from a 'Science News' article.

Here is a READING ACTIVITY (TWO PARAGRAPHS) for you, to give you an idea of how you can expand your vocabulary in a meaningful way after you've focused on specific words. Keep your eyes open for any kind of article that might have one of the vocabulary words or expressions that you learned.

Below you will find an excerpt of an article from 'Science News' (Vol.165;02/07/04) about 'Unsure Minds.'

* Before you start reading, what do think the article will talk about? What is meant by an 'unsure' mind?

* Now start reading, and don't stop for words you don't understand. Don't use a dictionary. Pay attention to words related to the title and the word 'unsure.'

'Unsure Minds, People may not be the only ones who know when they don't know'
by Bruce Bower

A cat crouches on a kitchen floor, gazing up at a glass of milk high on a counter. The animal's muscles tense. Its tail bobs from side to side like a metronome. The distance from floor to counter is a long way to cover in a single feline leap, perhaps too long. With a slightly cocked head, the cat emits a tentative meow. Finally, the animal springs for the counter. Half a world away, African monkeys moving through a stand of trees spot a few chimpanzees in the distance. The monkeys freeze, staring intently at the powerful apes, which sometimes kill and eat monkeys. Staccato chattering erupts in the monkey troop as the chimps move closer. Suddenly, the monkeys scatter.

As these two cases illustrate, situations arise in which animals act as if they need to make decisions but are uncertain what to do. From a scientific perspective, though, it's hard to know whether cats, monkeys, or any other creatures truly experience a sense of uncertainty. The capacity to think about one's own thoughts has long been regarded as a trait unique to humanity. In this view, only we creatures with a gift for gab can truly appreciate life's uncertainties and wallow in self-doubt.'


* Some words related in meaning to 'unsure' have been highlighted in the reading. Do you recognize them? Good.

* Do you agree with the last statement? Are humans the only animals that can feel uncertainty? If you disagree, how do you know that your dog or cat, for example, isn't sure about what to do in a situation? Is it a momentary hesitation that tells you Fido is 'unsure'?

* Next, reread the two paragraphs for other vocabulary that is new. Action words make writing come alive. What are some action verbs? (notice the words written in italics) Even if you didn't understand the meanings of the verbs, could you guess the meanings by the context?

* There are some other verbs that have to do with the way an animal looks at something or sounds that they make. Can you find them? Can you guess what they mean?

* Finally, choose a couple of the words that you think you understood and double-check the meaning with a dictionary. Then look up two or three more which you couldn't guess at all. After you find the meanings of the words, ask yourself if it's one you might use in the future. If so, then add it to your stack of index cards or an alphabetized list of words.


As I hope you can see, you can greatly expand your vocabulary and reading comprehension by examining just one or two paragraphs a day. You can use this technique or strategy with any type of reading (magazine or newspaper articles, reading textbook, online report, directions for using a new camera, etc.). This strategy also gets you into a topic or subject and thinking in English. Try to read about a variety of topics/subjects, not just sports or entertainment. On the Cambridge exam or the TOEFL, you could be asked to read about, discuss, or write on any subject.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

'As pure as the driven snow'

Students often produce funny (sometimes 'haha' funny and sometimes 'strange' funny) English in my classes, but I always appreciate their efforts to use new expressions in their speaking or writing. However, teaching students how to use idioms or expressions in appropriate contexts is quite challenging. It's often not possible to supply simple synonymous phrases, and many ambitious students want to try out their new expressions immediately without attending to the contexts I (or a book) provide for an expression's usage.

For example, recently, a student wrote in his journal that what he liked best about San Diego was "the ocean, as pure as the driven snow.' It struck me as quite funny at the time I read it (I laughed), but explaining how to use this expression was not that easy.

A student has to understand that this 'pure' evokes an image of newly fallen white snow, which hasn't had time to get dirty from particles in the air falling on it or from vehicles driving over it. In addition, we usually use that expression to describe the nature of a person who is innocent, virtuous, or unspoiled. Thus, 'the ocean, as pure as the driven snow' doesn't work on two counts. First, the ocean is usually thought of as a colored, fluid entity, unlike newly driven snow which generally piles up into a powdery white mass. Second, the student's metaphor refers to some thing's appearance rather than to someone's basic character.

What is difficult to decide as a teacher is whether to encourage the misuse of an expression (i.e., complimenting the student for using 'as pure as the driven snow') in order to avoid discouraging the student from experimenting with idioms or phrases that (s)he doesn't yet completely control, or to discourage misuse by immediately correcting the student and re-emphasizing correct usages. I know it's not quite so black and white, but finding the right touch or balance between encouraging use of new vocabulary and correcting misuse is a daily dilemma.