Saturday, December 17, 2011

Test Your Knowledge of French in English (a)

I often tell my students that if their native language is French, they have a distinct advantage over other non-native speakers because about 40% of English vocabulary comes from French.  That is, English is peppered with French, especially our language of food: maitre d', omelette, croissant, baguette, champagne, quiche, prix fixe, entree, soup du jour, and so on.  Then, there are those expressions, that je ne sais quoi quality of things that we admire and déjà vu and R.S.V.P....

So for fun, I've created a crossword puzzle for you to see how much French or English you already know. This puzzle has a timer and gives you clues and hints to the words.  It also can be used for building vocabulary and testing yourself to see how well you know the words.

FYI:  This online crossword puzzle-maker has a few quirks.  You cannot add any apostrophes or punctuation to the target word or clue, and there is a limit of 25 characters for any clue/hint.  When you type in the word, if you hit a key to enter a letter in a blank, it will NOT show if the letter you type is INCORRECT.  So, try another letter.  Also, below the crossword puzzle, you can click for an answer:  for a letter, the whole word, or the whole crossword puzzle.   Good luck!  Have fun!  Happy holidays!  Joyeux Noël!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Test Your Knowledge of French in English (b)

Here is another challenging crossword puzzle for advanced level students of English with some knowledge of French.  The words in the crossword are found in an English dictionary but come from French.  Remember that with this online puzzle maker, there are no spaces, accent marks, or other punctuation allowed either in the target word or the definition.

This is another way to develop and reinforce vocabulary, and I hope you have fun with it.  If you're a teacher, you can also use the site to create your own fun quizzes.  Let me know how you do!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Online Teacher Aides to the Rescue

Are you a creative teacher who wants to customize an integrated language arts or math lesson?  Then, you need to check out Lesson Writer and NiceNet.  These are free websites that allow teachers to create lesson plans using their own materials or using articles they find online.  And for teachers who are assessment conscious - who isn't these days?, there is a truly convenient Easy TestMaker.  All you have to do for any of these sites is sign up with a valid e-mail and create a password.  Voilà!

Here's an example of a page (downloaded first as a pdf) that I transferred to a Word Document, so that I could join it up to other test pages created in Word.  TestMaker is a huge timesaver.  You can do multiple choice, cloze, true-false, and matching tests, format into a single column or multiple colums as you like.  It will create an answer key for you, too.

On the other hand, if you're having one of those days when your mind is on hold and you just want someone to hand you a lesson, check out Teachers First.  These lessons are primarily designed for K-12 students, but there's endless material for ESL instructors here.  Again, this is a free website.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Online Readers with Built-in Dictionary or Translator

If you're looking for a reading site that is already set up for a non-native speaker, this is it.  It's called ESL   You click on any word in a reading of your choice and are linked to a dictionary, which can either translate to any of the major languages in the world or give a definition of the word in English. The main drawback of this approach to reading is that if the word is part of an idiom or phrasal verb, you will not get that meaning by clicking on individual words.  Nevertheless, it is a great aid for learning vocabulary while reading some classic English literature.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The V(owel)-C(onsonant)-silent "e" Rule

One of the most frustrating features of English is pronunciation because it isn't clearly related to spelling. There doesn't seem to be any logic to spelling and pronunciation - no matter if you're a native speaker or a non-native speaker of English. So, are there any rules that we teachers can pass on to our students about how to say unfamiliar words?

The simplest rule that most native speakers follow - even if they don't consciously know it's a rule - is the (V)owel - (C)onsonant - Silent ("e") pronunciation pattern V-C-e at the end of a word.  The easiest way to illustrate is with words: gate, late, mate, state, fate, date, rate, relate, debate and so on. In these words, the "a" in the "-ate" part sounds like [e] in the phonetic alphabet, "e" sounds like [i], "i" sounds like [ay], "o" like [oʊ], and "u" like [yu], with a "y" sound in front of the "u", as in "cute" [kyut] or without the "y" sound, as in "dude" [dud] or "flute" [flut].

kite       vote       cute           complete
trite       dote       mute          delete
cite        tote       flute           compete
bite       mode     fume          
mite      pole       perfume       
site        mole      assume          
lime      sole        crude              
mime     hope     attitude        
crime     cope     dude
fine       dope      rule
wine      mope    mule
line        rode      cube
As you can see, there are a lot more words ending in -aCe, -iCe, -oCe, and -uCe than -eCe.  I suspect that that probably means there are alternate spellings for the long "e" sound in English. And, of course, remember that the above "rule" (V-C-e) is only a rule of thumb.  In other words, there are several exceptions to the rule, such as the irregular past participles, done and gone, whose "o's" are pronounced differently in each word and differently from lone, which does follow the rule.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Written Word

A while ago I did a post about the correct use of English.  This is a link to a similar discussion about the correct use of French.  Why do I take an interest in French if the focus of my blog is on English? Well, in case you haven't noticed or are unfamiliar with the similarities in spelling between many words in English and French (also Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian), about 40% of the lexicon of English comes from French.

To my French-speaking students, the français in English doesn't sound like French but is clearly recognizable in written form.  The examples are numerous: déjà vu, R.S.V.P., rendezvous, sensible, sensitive, à la mode, au pair, de rigueur, unique, and so on... More will be said about the faux amis in English or the "false friends" (words that are spelled identically in French and English, but which have different meanings in the two languages).

However, the point of this post is to indicate that no matter which language you speak, there is a weakening of scrupulous editing by publicists, journalists, and writers.  Does it have to do with the ephemeral nature of written words today?  In the not-so-distant past, the written word literally had weight or tangibility in a hard-covered, bound, paper book and a quality of lastingness...

In the "old days", some very early written words were tediously stamped into clay by hand-held tools, and in the 15th century, the Gutenberg press (with little pieces of movable type) came into use.  In the past, people needed to be more careful to choose the best reporters, keen-eyed editors, and meticulous printers to ensure accuracy of the stories reported or told as well as of the language used. In those days, we viewed writings as permanent records or literary art.  Today, our words get posted on the Internet, put into some virtual storage area - "clouds" even - along with all manner of digital videos, photographs, and musical materials.  Everyone is a writer (including me!), but is the quality of our written words improving?  Do we even understand how or why our writing is changing?