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?  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Word Formation Organizer for Vocabulary Students

This is a graphic organizer (Blank Word Formation Sheet) for my intermediate vocabulary students. They can download it as a Word Document (under the File menu) and type in different word forms along with an example sentence for any target vocabulary. Teachers can also fill in the sheet themselves, print it out, and refer students in the future to this page to download additional sheets. (If you're like me, I'm trying to save myself having to print out lots of copies for every student that loses his/her original copy or wants additional copies to add to.) 

I also teach my students how to use index cards for reviewing vocabulary, but the word formation sheets are another way to review language, especially for exams which focus on being able to transform words into their correct parts of speech.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Besides teaching English as a Second Language, I have a long-term interest in other Englishes. Chinglish, of course, is the word we sometimes humorously use to refer to the kind of English spoken by Chinese who are non-native speakers of English. This post, however, is partly about "Chinglish", the new play that was performed this summer in Chicago and is moving on to New York and (I hope, eventually) the West Coast.

Why did Davide Henry Hwang write the play "Chinglish"? It was in response to his experiences traveling in China. Despite his Asian roots, he discovered, as I have when I go to Japan, that our American upbringing compels us to see connections and disconnections between cultures and people's behavior and language. If we all speak in English, are we actually communicating?

First, I will give you a link to a funny YouTube video which streams a lot of Chinglish signs (some of which you may have seen at with a nonsensical-sounding song. Next, you can play the game linked to the Broadway play, "Chinglish", to get you in the spirit of the performance. The answers are here if you want to skip the game. Finally, these are some links to a description of the play: interviews with the cast and the playwright (1, 2) and a review in the Chicago Sun Times. Cheers to Davide Henry Hwang and success to Chinglish!

Monday, October 10, 2011

"A" is for "Achieve"

Vocabulary is still one of the areas where most students are weak, so I often put up posts here on this topic. I am always searching for ways to enhance student and teacher performance. Unfortunately, there is no one, sure-fire method to improve vocabulary. Repeated exposures to the target vocabulary is a basic strategy. The adage "Use it, or lose it!" applies very well.

English Central is a site that offers video reinforcement of vocabulary. Scroll down the "A" page and look for "achieve." A window will pop up that gives you that word in various forms, the pronunciation and definition of the word, and other forms of "achieve." To the right of the word is an embedded screen which, when clicked on, will open up a stream of video clips with the target word in context. The catch is that you must register to see the sample videos. The basic free membership allows you partial access to the site. The paid membership will get you full access. So far, however, the free membership has been more than adequate for practicing and building a lexicon on a variety of themes or topics. The few extra minutes it takes to register are worth it. Some people went to a lot of trouble to assemble all this material, so we should definitely use it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Correct Use of English

A comment at another site caused me to rethink how important it is to get students to use "correct" English and which structures to fight for and which to accept. This video is a reading on the topic of the English language and the ways in which it is used today (a commentary delivered by the British actor and writer Stephen Fry).

I have been in the position of having taught students the difference between "less" for amounts (non-count nouns) and "fewer" for countable nouns and of being asked why the supermarket check-out sign says, "10 items or less." Hmmm... good point.... Good observation of the use of English in the "real" world! Maybe there's a sign-posting rule that says, "Whenever possible, use a one-syllable word" (even though the two-syllable word "fewer" is, in this case, more grammatically correct).

Unlike Stephen Fry, I still sometimes cringe when I hear someone on NPR (National Public Radio) say, "There's lots of people who ...." There IS lots of people...? Am I being pedantic if I tell my students that the correct expression is "There ARE lots of people who..."? We English teachers certainly have to choose our battles, don't we?

With all my students, I tend to say, "If you follow the grammar rule, you usually can't go wrong. However, language IS a living thing, and it's constantly changing as it is used by people around the world." That's about all I can say when I encounter text-messages, e-mail, Facebook comments, advertisements, signs and so on that break the rules I've struggled to teach. I do, nevertheless, appreciate the fact that my native language is quickly evolving as it spreads from neighborhood to neighborhood around the globe. Now, that's pretty exciting!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Cambridge Proficiency Exam Set Text)

I am so happy that I taught the Cambridge Proficiency Test preparation course the past year. Otherwise, I would never have read Philip K. Dick's profound novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", which is one of the set texts for the CPE Writing Paper.

Recently, I went searching for some audio commentary about the author and came up with several online links. There are some downloadable ones that you can play on Windows Media or iTunes, and some which can only be played on RealPlayer. Below are some of the links. Most fascinating for me are the recordings of interviews with the author (not necessarily about this particular book, however). Seeing and hearing the author in his own words gives a reader another perspective from which to view a work.

For a review of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I can recommend the which has references to some key passages, . This site is ongoing, so the reader may want to check out reviews of other books made this year. To see how the cover artwork on the book changed from its first printing to its most recent one, visit this page. If you're interested in doing a follow-up study of films based on Dick's works, you should look at this link. CPE students have watched the movie "Blade Runner", based on this book. Some students didn't like the movie at all; others liked seeing the book interpreted on screen and then comparing it with the film. The book is definitely a winner!

"P" is for "power" - Collocations using Concordancer

How many ways can you use the word "power"? It's a small word - only five letters, but it has a strong meaning. To have power in English, you need to know how to use words in combination with other words. To sound more native, you need to put words together that collocate. That simply means you need to put words together that commonly go together when people either write or speak in English

As you can see, Lextutor searches through a variety of sources for whatever word or combination of words that you type in. I searched the AWL (Academic Word List corpus). A concordancer displays the word in context within a line of text. If you want to see the word used within the context of a whole paragraph, you can click on the word. Or, from the beginning, you can search for the word in a sentence. It's a great tool for both students and teachers.

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.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Revisiting Indian English

One popular post that I've had here at 'Many Englishes' was on the topic of prejudice against Indian English. That was back in 2007.

Since then, I've had fewer phone exchanges with Indian customer service representatives than I had a four years ago, and we're not getting so many marketing calls at dinner time from non-native English speakers either. Maybe some American companies have learned that it doesn't help their product to outsource the telemarketing to people who are not fluent in American English. Perhaps these organizations have also become more discriminating in their choice of telemarketers, or accent reduction training programs have been very effective.

Indeed, last year I heard a discussion on NPR (National Public Radio) about just this topic. Instead of looking at Indian English from the outside, however, I'm trying to look at it from the Indian perspective (as much as I can from where I sit in San Diego). About three years ago, an article came out in the Washington Post which stated that "English-speaking is a self-confidence issue in India." What that apparently meant was that Indians themselves felt that it was important to speak English well in their own country. The article comments about a commercial where a young man from a well-to-do family feels embarrassed that his maid is listening to and singing along with a song in English which he himself can't understand.

What does it all mean? For a variety of comments and reflections on English in India, I offer some reportage from various online sources, such as Chilli in India, Global Voices, Mortarboard, and Language in India (1, 2). These latter reports and articles are presented to open up my readers (mostly American) to views on English from Indian English speakers.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Build Vocabulary from Advertisements and Headlines

Because headlines and advertisements are meant to be eye-catching and extremely condensed summaries of the news or products, they pose a unique problem for most non-native speakers. However, if you see headlines as a way of learning idioms, expanding your knowledge of expressions that often have double meanings, and practicing English in a fun way, you may be surprised by the results.

Here is a copy of some expressions that I cut out of various magazines and discussed with my intermediate level students in a vocabulary class. What is a pet peeve? a trendsetter? the rat race? They are all common expressions in American English. How about watch your words? How many meanings of "watch" do you know? How many ways can you use "watch", meaning "be careful"? What does opt out of something mean? Again, just learning a few phrases can take you quite far if you learn to use them appropriately. You can grow your vocabulary every day. Once you understand the phrase or word, listen and look for it on the radio, on TV, on the Internet, in the newspaper, and in magazines. See how many ways the expression is used. Let the English in!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ways to Attack the Academic Word List (AWL)

Well... it's a new year 2011, and finally I'm getting around to putting up some new posts. That's because my energy recently has been focused on reorganizing my wiki for my TOEFL students, from intermediate to advanced level. There is rarely time for me to get my students exposed to essential vocabulary to perform well on this exam, but this link will take you to a very useful site for practicing vocabulary from the AWL (which contains 570 words frequently occurring in academic texts). Students can work on their own on the computer for homework; I follow up with an in-class written vocabulary quiz.

Are Americans 'Wusses'?

I can't believe it's already February, but I'm happy to see that despite my lack of activity here in 2011, many people have been continuing to visit this site and find useful pages and materials. Thank you all for stopping by and browsing!

This posting focuses on both a socio-cultural development and terms that are being used to describe Americans. Do Americans see themselves as wimps and sissies? How does the rest of the world see us? Are you familiar with these terms? The Wall Street Journal came out with this article last month, and it caught my attention. I definitely see changes in the attitudes of the current generation of Americans with their ability to see jobs as stopgaps, rather than lifetime careers, but I must admit that I don't view them as 'wusses.'

Having just viewed the peaceful 'forced' resignation of President Mubarak of Egypt, my family and I commented about how passive Americans are here at home, especially in the case of allowing our troops (including National Guardsmen) to be sent to invade Iraq years ago, despite a large number of us doubting the existence of WMDs (weaspons of mass destruction). I am not sure if our passivity is an outcome of 'wussiness' or 'wimpiness,' but we do seem to be able to tolerate or overlook many government actions, even on our own soil (e.g., recent airport security measures that can require passengers to have full body-scans or hands-on body searches touching 'private' parts), that look like the 'State' overstepping its boundaries or limits.

Whether you agree with the above characterizations of Americans or not, you've got a few more colorful English words to listen for. Be careful about how YOU use them. As with most informal language that has negative connotations, caution should always be exercised when trying to use it on native speakers.