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, 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.