Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Practice Pronunciation Online

The course I'm taking this semester at Alliant International University has been stimulating as I have been exposed to several online sites that can be used to help students improve their English outside of class. For pronunciation, most educators would agree that online sites and software are pretty good these days, but that students will still greatly benefit with class or a tutor's help with problematic sounds or combinations of sounds. Most non-native speakers of English want to be able to produce novel sentences without fear of being misunderstood or being laughed at.

Below are some sites worth checking out. The first one is a demo of two software programs (for different levels of students) which can be purchased online (I'm not a marketer of this software, and watching the demo doesn't cost you anything, which is as far as I got). The great thing about this software is that the user can get visual and aural feedback of his/her own pronunciation, using software that produces a sound wave of the model speaker as well as the student's sample and allows the student to compare his/her sound wave file with that of the model. For low level learners, I like the minimal pairs practice at Many Things, but this site does not have video images so that a student can actually see someone saying the words or sounds. For free online viewing of English sounds, I highly recommend Jennifer's ESL site, which has a lot of helpful YouTube material. The only thing that is missing at these last two sites is a way for students to get feedback on their pronunciation. For this, students can always purchase a small hand-held digital tape recorder or download a free recorder for their computer from Audacity.

In addition, there are fun audio and audio-video recording sites which are free up to a certain number of megabytes (I'm giving you the homepage links), such as VoiceThread and Podomatic. You can sign up with e-mail and some basic information about the user. Instructors can also create sites where students can go and record themselves for feedback. I have not yet tried to use these last two devices for classes. I have had students do homework/quiz recordings using Audacity and e-mailing me their work as a wav or mp3 file. Voice Thread is perhaps an easier way for students and instructors to interact with each other aurally and visually. I am sure that many of my readers are experienced at Voice Thread or Podomatic already, so I welcome links and examples of how well it can work!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cambridge Practice Word Formation

I have noticed, using Blogger Stats, that many people who visit this site are looking for Cambridge Exam practice. For those of you looking for word formation practice, two years ago, I created 10 crossword puzzles which cover 180 different word forms from the Cambridge exams (FCE, CAE, CPE).

To get the most from these crossword puzzles, drill yourself and see how fast you can fill in the squares (if you're familiar with the words, for example). There is a timer below the crossword puzzle so that you can see how fast you're able to come up with the 18 word forms. When you finish the crossword, click on the "pause" button at the bottom of the page to see your time. Also, if you click on the wrong letter to answer the crossword, no letter will be printed in the crossword. In other words, if you keep hitting the same key and no letter is printed in your puzzle, it means that you haven't chosen the correct letter.

Are you ready to play? To bring up all the pages having to do with word forms or word formation, click here -> word formation or on the blue "word formation" label below this post. Hope you find these puzzles helpful and a fun way to practice word forms. Good luck!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"R" is for "Range" (More words with multiple meanings)

Most test rubrics (= a set of instructions or a description of skills that assessors use for evaluating an individual's abilities in speaking or writing, e.g.) state that for students to obtain the highest score on an English exam, they must display a range of grammar and vocabulary. What does that mean exactly? What does range mean?

Range is another word with multiple meanings. It has so many, in fact, that I've devoted a separate post for it. Range is a verb and a noun that relates to a variety of topics. First, we can speak of mountain ranges, such as the Rockies or the Alps or other lines of mountains. Second, there is the range of a singer's voice from low to high notes or a range of ages of students in a classroom from 18 to 35 years old. This meaning of range is what assessors are looking for in a test-taker's grammar and vocabulary production. That is, assessors want to see that a person can understand and use simple to complex language during the test. (Similarly, range is used as a verb, so it can be said that "The class ranged in age from 18 to 35 years old.") Third, a range is another term for a stove. In the USA, in the kitchen, people either have a gas range or an electric range. Fourth, a range refers to the large open fields where 'buffalo roam' and 'the deer and the antelope play' (as in the famous American ballad entitled "Home on the Range") or where cowboys herd(ed) cattle. Finally, golfers, hunters, and cameras have rangefinders, devices that compute how far away something is.

Whenever you learn a word like range, which is only five letters long and a single syllable but has multiple meanings, pay attention because that is precisely the kind of word that Mr. and/or Mrs. Cambridge like to include on their exams. Also, pay attention to the contexts in which the word is used and prepositions that go with the word. In addition to all the previously mentioned meanings of range, you will hear people talking about being in range or within range or being out of range. These expressions are related to the idea that something or someone is near enough or too far away to be detected or to consider something. For example, if you have an annual income of $30,000, then a Mercedes-Benz is probably out of your price range. If you encounter something at close range or from close range, you are very near it.

So, the next time you hear someone say range or you see this word used in writing, think about these multiple meanings. What other small words do you know that have so many meanings?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Helping Arabic Speakers to Write Cursive

When we were children in elementary school, we learned to print letters and later on, we learned to write in cursive. My husband and many other native speakers I know gave up writing cursive once it was no longer mandatory. That is, teachers used to demand handwritten essays, not ones with printed letters. Because these native speakers had already mastered printing, they did not have the interest to learn yet another writing system. Not only that, their handwriting was evaluated as poor or illegible which made these students dislike writing even more.

Apparently, there were and are some teachers that think we shouldn't go through a two-stage process teaching students first to print and, later, to write cursive. We should just start with cursive. If young adults want to learn to print later on, they can easily pick that up. Before I started teaching Arabic speakers, I never thought about why non-native students have such difficulty writing longhand. Now that I have seen Arabic speakers writing in Arabic and realize that they didn't go through a two-stage process to learn Arabic, it seems obvious that we should teach students to write in cursive first. The letters flow into each other in one direction whereas when you print, you have to pick up your pen or pencil to make a new letter.

Since, as far as I know, there are no classes offered at IEPs to teach students how to write cursive, I decided to go online to see what materials are available for my students to learn. Arabic writing definitely seems to bear resemblances to cursive writing in English, except the script is produced and read from right to left instead of from left to right. Because time did not allow me to actually teach my students to write script, I did some research online and found some great sites. I'm passing them on to you in case you are facing the problem of wanting to learn to write or are a teacher wanting to guide students to learn by themselves.

For those students that would like to see an animation of cursive writing, I recommend Donna Young's site. On this page, you can see the letter "a" being written. To the right in another box, you can click on other letters (small or capital letters) that you want to see "animated." If you want to see how words are written in cursive (i.e., how the letters are connected together), you can also choose many examples at this same site. Unfortunately, the whole word examples are not in animated form. Nevertheless, you can download numerous worksheets for practice writing words in cursive and connecting the letters together.

Another site, perhaps easier for lower level students to understand how to use, is called "Handwriting for Kids." On the page I have just linked you to, you can find study sheets that students can practice using, including writing numbers (showing which direction to move your writing instrument depending on whether you're right- or left-handed). At this site, to see the animation of lowercase or uppercase letters, all you have to do is place the cursor over the letter.

A final consideration in helping non-native speakers to write cursive is the relevance of handwriting in the modern world. For a brief discussion on that topic, check out this FoxNews clip between a young entrepreneur and a former 4th grade teacher.