Sunday, May 30, 2010

Short Stories for Free

If you're like me, you're always on the lookout for free well-written resources online. For high intermediate to advanced students looking for meaty short fiction, this is the place for you. For teachers seeking material for reading circles, Booktrust (supported by the BBC) has a great site called The Short Story.

Most recently, my class discussed Sticks and Stones. The connections to our own pasts were strong because everyone has observed or experienced some form of bullying. This piece was a challenging read, but we all enjoyed the great discussion that followed. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

TED for Listening Practice

I highly recommend that teachers, students, and idea people around the world visit TED. At TED, you can choose from a huge selection of video material, from academic lectures to a mesmerizing performance of poems sung by Nathalie Merchant. I guarantee you will find something of interest for the classroom, for a lively discussion with family and friends, or simply for your listening pleasure.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ways to Use the Your Expanded Vocabulary ('en')

Now that you've considered the suffix/prefix en, you may realize that you still can't recall their meanings or think of ways to use them spontaneously. Below is an example of a dialog using several of the expressions from the previous posting. Whenever you read or watch TV, pay attention and watch out for words that you've been studying. Hearing the words or seeing them again in print in another context will reinforce the vocabulary and give you confidence to use them in your daily speech or writing.

John: 'Lighten up! You're too serious. You need to enjoy your life each day. Studying English isn't just about strengthening your vocabulary. It's also about broadening/widening your horizons.'

Maria: 'But I want to enlarge my vocabulary and sharpen my skills in writing and speaking. I wish I could lengthen the day so that there were more hours for me to practice and review what I learn. It really brightens my day when I hear or find a way to use a new idiom or expression.'

John: 'Yeah, I know what you mean. However, you can deepen your knowledge of the language by using it in the 'real' world, too - not just doing exercises. If you're a shy person, you can keep a diary or journal and write in it every day, trying to use new expressions and think in English.'

Maria: 'You're right, John. Sometimes my determination is weakened by a feeling of overwhelming anxiety as I realize there is still so much vocabulary that I don't understand or know how to use. But I'm going to start writing in English to myself every day and ask my teacher to tell me if I'm using expressions correctly....'

Doubling Your Vocabulary with Affixes (e.g., 'en')

English is loaded with prefixes and suffixes (=affixes), small particles that can be added to the beginnings or ends of words which change them from adjectives to verbs or nouns and which can change their meanings from positive to negative. If you learn how to control these affixes, you can dramatically increase your vocabulary. Wouldn't you like to do that?

One of the first affixes that I teach my students is 'en'; it can come at the end or at the beginning of a root word. Can you think of some common words that take the suffix 'en'? To start with, consider this string of common adjectives: wide, long, short, high, strong, soft, hard light, dark, bright, sharp, broad, and large. Can you turn them into verbs by adding 'en'?

wide - widen
long - (length = noun) lengthen
short - shorten
high - (height = noun) heighten
strong - (strength = noun) strengthen
soft - soften
hard - harden
light - lighten
dark - darken
bright- brighten
sharp - sharpen
broad - broaden
large - enlarge

See if you can come up with some other words using the prefix or suffix 'en.' Keep your eyes open for other patterns of word formation and add them to this list.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Unilinguaphobia - Fear of monolingualism?

What is 'unilinguaphobia'? Although here in the USA, there is no official national language, there are organizations that do promote the idea that English be the only language used in any official context. Most Americans do not see the point of learning other languages because English has become the tourist lingua franca throughout the world. So, we definitely are not worried about unilingualism. Then, what would make our neighbors to the north - also predominantly English speakers - suffer from unilinguaphobia?

In Canada, there has been a long-term battle to ensure that French be recognized as a national language along with English. Thus, if you want to be employed by the Canadian government, you need to be bilingual in English and French. Apparently, if you are conversant in only one of these languages, you can lose your job. This phenomenon prompted me to consider our own language policy. Do we have one?

It is not my purpose to discuss the sense or nonsense in enforcing a law that mandates bilingualism in another country. The USA has tried to balance the racial make-up of the government workforce with quota-like systems and has also experimented with bilingualism in areas, such as the Southwest (Title VII). Since 2002 and the No Child Left Behind policy, we have begun to focus attention back on performance in English by instituting Title III programs.

The question remains, however, of the effectiveness of any federal program that funds schools at the local level in order to achieve some loftier goal, such as (American) English only in the classroom, which should lead to competence in this ubiquitous language. The problem Americans seem to face is not a fear of unilingualism but of multi-lingualism.