Monday, December 16, 2013

Have you ever wanted to invent a language?

Have you ever heard of Klingon, xxx, or Esperanto?  Oh, you have heard of Esperanto! What separates humans from other animals - I must finally admit - is language.  Without getting mired in a huge discussion about the definition of language, I will simply say that speaking languages is what we mostly do.

For a fascinating look at what we can learn about human language from creating them, check out this feature article from one of UCSD's  newsletters. If you're a fan of StarTrek or the Lord of the Rings/Hobbits, you may have wondered if the strange languages spoken were just mindless, entertaining babble. Actually, they weren't. A lot of energy and creativity has gone into inventing languages for movies.

If you want to follow up on Klingon, or be one of the first in your neighborhood to speak it, there are books and websites to teach you, such as the Klingon Language Institute.  Goodreads even has a page devoted to the best books on Klingon and other invented tongues.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Teaching Articles

Teaching the use of articles to a low intermediate group of ESL students can be tedious, especially if it's focused on lots of repetitious exercises, choosing between "a" or "an," zero article, or "the." My students in a grammar seminar were fairly competent at understanding when to use "a" or "an" with a countable noun beginning with a vowel sound and understood that "the" has to be used with certain proper nouns, such as rivers, mountain ranges, and islands. The hard part of using articles was deciding when to use them within larger structures than a sentence.

For that, an engaging and challenging activity for lower level English language learners is trying to put missing articles into a short paragraph. For this activity, I used paragraphs from an online site called News In Levels. This great site summarizes random news of the day in one paragraph. It has four levels for ESL students from Level 0 to Level 3. In addition, a few key words from the target paragraph are highlighted and defined, and there is a cloud-based audio recording of the paragraph.

To illustrate one way that you can use these paragraphs for teaching use of articles, you can view and/or download a copy of an exercise I did in class.  Later, I used the same cloze activity to quiz my students.

For some thought-provoking generalizations about grammar instruction, you can also have a look at Diane Larsen-Freeman's digest. 

***I checked the online link to News In Levels which began in 2011. It states that the site was begun as a school project and was meant to last for 1000 days. The producers of the materials are requesting donations to keep it going. It is currently free. If you like the paragraph samples, then I suggest downloading some before they disappear or making a small online donation to see if we can keep it going.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Do you have time? Or, do you have the time?

What is the difference between the two expressions in the title above?  For an example of what can happen when you confuse these two expressions, please read this post at my sister blog.  I have used the example in listening and vocabulary classes in addition to dedicated grammar classes. When students think that articles are not significant, it might help them to pay more attention if they have a clear image of how one little word like "the" created an embarrassing misunderstanding.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Reviving "Picturing English"

My sister blog "Picturing English" is being updated to another format, using photographs instead of original cartoons. The concept of the blog is the same as before. That is, for me, "a picture (any kind of picture) is (still) worth a thousand words." However, there is a twist on this notion as my photographs will very often be of signs or written objects.

This past year, I've taken a renewed interest in signs, advertisements, and headlines as a way to learn vocabulary. I love picture dictionaries, but not all vocabulary can be illustrated in such texts. Not all vocabulary can be mimed or acted out or easily drawn. Signs can be photographed, and in that way, they can be viewed as illustrations. The color, shape, font, background scenery or backdrop, and any accompanying drawings or designs provide context. All of those go to illustrate important meanings. I hope the readers of Many Englishes will find Picturing English to be a useful supplement to learning and mastering English.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Can You Teach English without Teaching Culture?

Most people would probably answer the above question with an unequivocal "No!"  On top of that, why would you want to teach a language outside the context of the culture that uses the language?  I guess I'm not like most, however, because I can see the point of teaching English in Switzerland, for example, using books that were created with Swiss people in mind - not for immigrants living in the USA and trying to learn American English.

The question of whether you can teach English without teaching culture is worth discussing. Maybe what we need to think about is whose culture we should embed the English in, ours or the culture where English as a foreign language is being taught.

At the beginning of this year in the Saudi Gazette, there was an article about how some Saudi families complained to a Saudi university about teaching English that had "inappropriate pictures and components of Western culture." Will learning English embedded in American culture change the value system and unique cultural views of an Arab student?  Does globalization via language lead to loss of unique cultural identities?

The fear that someone else's different and often attractive new language and culture will displace or "infect" one's own language and culture seems to be built into our human DNA.  This fear has probably existed since the first bands of human beings encountered people from another region, with another language and different customs and dress.  Throughout our history, languages have disappeared along with the indigenous people who spoke these rare tongues and who lived in non-industrialized small-scale societies.  Isn't it a legitimate concern that - with the spread of English and the cultures that embrace it - we will lose linguistic and cultural diversity? Do speakers of major languages such as French, German, Arabic, or Spanish, spoken by millions, have to fear that their cultural values will be destroyed or mutated by English?  Which English is the most dangerous?  After all, English is a national language of England, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Singapore as well as several African countries.

I've gathered some links together on the title topic and offer them to my readers for commentary and for cogitation.  For example, here is a discussion started by a well-regarded online ESL instructor. Another teacher argues in an advertisement and blog for its tutoring services that English is not enough. Finally, this one opens up a discussion of how to actually create a class to teach English as a foreign language and be sensitive to the "culture" issue.

As always in teaching a foreign language, the difficulty lies in implementing the principles and theories of cultural relativism in "real" classrooms. Often the books or materials teachers have to work with (if any at all, in some places) have been created for ESL students studying in England, Australia, the USA, or Canada. The vocabulary and topics concern life in those countries where English is the native language but may be inappropriate in Russia or Vietnam.

Going back to the original question at the beginning of this post, can we teach English without teaching culture?  I doubt it.  However, I do think we can incorporate more of the language (vocabulary) and context of the local environment when dealing with students learning English as a foreign language.  What I mean is that if you are teaching American English in Switzerland, for instance, it probably doesn't make sense to use a text that talks about baseball or American football heroes. It makes more sense to give Swiss students language and vocabulary for talking about relevant topics such as Alpine sports, famous Swiss mountaineers, or the cultural norms and customs of Switzerland. Indeed, there are many Englishes, and maybe our texts and other materials should reflect that reality.     

Monday, June 17, 2013

More Signs for Building Vocabulary

As you know from previous posts, I enjoy signs in English.  Not only can they be funny, but they contain a lot of useful vocabulary for non-native English speakers.  Recently, while surfing the web, I found this great link at ManyThings.  It has an extensive set of photos of signs in English. Please do have a look.

I've also included a list of some of my previous posts about signs (1, 2, 3, 4).  Enjoy!

P.S.  This is an amusing one which works best if you know who Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, and Steve Jobs were, and who Kevin Bacon is.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Another Funny English Headline

Today my husband set aside a page from our local newspaper because of a very funny headline. This one got by the editor(s), but there must have been numerous readers who called in about the error in word choice/word form.  The headline in the paper edition was
"Day Two of Furious Turkey Demonstrations" 

I looked for the link online before photographing the newspaper.  The online edition had been correct(ed) as you can see here.  

Do non-native speakers understand why the original headline is so hilarious or strange?  Do you know the bird "turkey," which Americans eat at Thanksgiving?  This headline seems to be announcing that turkeys are furious and demonstrating for the second day.  I wonder if UT San Diego will make a formal apology since the above use of English error makes the reader start off laughing about something serious.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

"Spellbound" Revisited

Can't believe it's almost the end of May 2013, and this is my first blogpost of the year!  Better late than never, though....

A popular post at this site is my lesson plan using the movie "Spellbound."  Because the Scripps National Spelling Bee is just around the corner and the star of the movie, Nupur Lala, who won the national bee in 1999 was recently interviewed, it seems appropriate to mark this first post of the year with a reminder of the upcoming Scripps National Spelling Bee.

It begins this week on Wednesday, May 29th, with the Preliminaries.  On May 30th, the semi-finals and finals take place (You can watch these in real-time at ESPN3).  There's a 13-year old girl who is returning to Washington from Granger, Indiana, for the third time.  Good luck, Kate Peterson!  Enjoy the competition all players and aficionados of spelling!  It's always a spellbinding event!

P.S.  Here's another Addendum to "Spellbound by Spellbound" from last year.

** Now that the National Spelling Bee is over, you can view the competition as a replay at ESPN 3.  There is also a link on YouTube to the final round words and the student who won the 2013 bee.  Congratulations, Arvind Mahankali!