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.

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.

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!