Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A, E, I, O, U, … Y Teach Vowel Sounds? – Part 1

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Why are Vowel Sounds so Hard to Teach and Learn?

I have a terrible confession to make. Even though I have taught pronunciation for more years than I care to count, I avoided teaching vowel sounds whenever I could. They were just so hard to teach; inevitably we would all wind up frustrated.

First, describing how we make vowel sounds is just hard. One of the first hurdles teachers encounter is that there is no contact of the articulators like there is when we make consonant sounds. In other words, we don’t touch our tongue, teeth, tooth ridge or lips when we articulate vowel sounds. So, when, for example, we teach the /θ/ and /ð/ sounds, we can tell students to stick their tongues between their teeth. But, when we teach vowel sounds, there is no such easy description of what students should be doing with their mouths.

Another problem is that all vowel sounds are voiced, so there is not that easy distinction the way there is with consonant sounds, like the differentiation between /v/ (voiced) and /f/ (voiceless) for instance. Similarly, when we are making all of the vowel sounds, we don’t block the airflow the way we do with some consonant sounds, such as /p/. In short, the way we differentiate between and describe vowel sounds is much less concrete and easily understood than the way we talk about consonant sounds. Read more »

Monday, June 22, 2015

Repeat After Me

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

How much choral repetition do your students do in your lessons? What percent of the class time is devoted to having your students repeat words and phrases in unison? If your pedagogical approach tends to be more or less along the lines of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), your answer is probably, “Not too much.” In fact, you might even be reading this with a little grin as you think, “Well, none, of course. Choral repetition is boring and not very communicative at all. Why bother?”

That certainly was my response for many years. I felt like every moment I spent on choral repetition was time the students did not have to learn new things or communicate with each other. Besides, choral repetition is an inherently teacher-fronted activity. It’s boring, demands nothing from the students but mindlessly repeating after the teacher and brings a creepy, robotic quality to the classroom. Right?

As it turns out, no. Read more »

Friday, May 29, 2015

My Dear

DorothyZemachBy Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

If Facebook were a country, it would be the largest one on earth (see exact stats from January 2015 here). That’s a lot of people… and some days, it feels like most of them are sending me chat messages on Facebook.

Now, there is much that I value about Facebook, and much benefit that I derive from it specifically as an English teacher and textbook writer. That is perhaps a post for another day. Today I want to look specifically at the chat function, and why it causes me so many problems—even with other English teachers. (I should note here that I do accept friend requests from ELT teachers I don’t know, because I figure we have a profession in common; and conversations on my main page, which are often about some aspect of English or language or teaching or reading and writing, are richer with more participants.)

For one thing, I find chat in general (not just Facebook’s) invasive and demanding. Email I can respond to at my leisure—chat is pressure. I answer, and instantly there’s another prompt I have to respond to. Now, if it’s important, I don’t mind that—in fact, I want that speed and immediacy. I use chat then with people I work with, who need a fast answer to something pressing. I also use it with my son, because that’s the fastest way to reach him—although even then, I use it when we need to discuss something urgent. If I’m just checking in, I send a text message. Read more »

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Who’s the expert?

David-BarkerBy David Barker
Author and Publisher of Materials for Japanese Learners of English

At every ELT conference, there are plenary speakers. At major conferences, these are often “big” names who are well known in the field. The reason for their fame is normally either that they have published a lot of books or done a lot of research on language learning, language teaching, or both. They are acknowledged “experts” in the field, which is, of course, why they get invited to be plenary speakers in the first place.

Over the years, I have noticed a couple of things about plenary speakers. The first, I’m afraid to say, is that a great many of them turn out to be a major disappointment. In some cases, they are poorly prepared; in others, they have nothing new or of interest to say. In a surprising number of cases, they are simply very bad at public speaking! Read more »

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Music has Meaning – Part II

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

The Functions of Focus

Recently, I shared the research of Reed (2015) in which she sheds light on the disconnect between what speakers mean and what students may actually hear. Specifically, when proficient English speakers shift the pitch change from the end of a thought group in order to communicate a specific meaning. For instance, when a speaker says, “My boss said he’d fix the problem” many English learners may assume that the problem had been or would be fixed. Conversely, proficient English speakers would understand that the pitch change on the word “said” implied that, in fact, the problem probably hadn’t been resolved at all.

Not hearing or failing to understand the meaning that is communicated by these pitch changes on focus or prominent words can put our students at a major disadvantage. They end up missing out on key information that their peers will have gotten and they are often incapable of making the predictions that help good listeners follow a conversation. Read more »

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Music has Meaning – Part I

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Two Very Different Conversations

Imagine the following conversation: A student approaches a teacher after a lecture. The student says, “I am very busy this week. I know the paper is due on Friday, but can I hand it in on Monday instead?” The professor responds, “You can.”

In your imagination, was the student an English learner or a proficient English speaker? What the student understood about the conversation could be wildly different depending on his/her level of English. In fact, if you visualized an English learner, most likely the student understood the professor’s words, the locution. He/she would have left feeling content in the understanding that it was perfectly okay to submit the assignment late.

However, a proficient English speaker would have subconsciously understood that when the professor stressed the word “can,” he/she was communicating an additional message, in this case a contrary one.  As noted by Wells, the speaker typically states one thing but implies something further (Wells, 2006).  The proficient English speaking student would have probably felt much less confident that the teacher was okay with a late submission than the other student because he/she would have heard the illocutionary force of the message. Read more »

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

It’s almost that time of year again!  That special, exciting time of year when all ESL/EFL teachers’ minds turn to thoughts of … conferences!  Well, maybe it’s just me.  I have to confess, I just love attending teaching conferences, both big and small.  Lucky for me, the conference season is just around the corner.  TESOL is holding their annual conference in Toronto, Canada on the 25th to 28th of March, and, for those of us on the other side of the pond, the IATEFL Conference is scheduled for April 11th to 14th in Manchester, UK.  There are also heaps of local offerings, as well, over the next few months; this means that almost everyone will have the opportunity to access professional development in the near future.

I know what you are thinking.  Conferences can be expensive to attend, especially the big, international ones, what with transportation, accommodation and the conference fees.  Many programs are facing budget cuts and there may not be money to fund all those who want to attend.  I can relate.  In fact, in the past 14 years, since I first attended a TESOL conference in St Louis, Read more »

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lights! Camera! Action!

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Okay, so maybe I have been accused of being a bit of a drama queen from time to time (ha ha!), but I also think using skits in my ESL classes can be a great way to encourage students to practice target language and have a little fun.

Backstage

Incorporating short skits into our lessons plans can check a number of pedagogical boxes. First, they give students more practice using target language. After all, our students aren’t studying grammar just so they can know English grammar rules; they actually want to be able to use the grammar they have learned. Keith Folse makes an excellent point In “The Art of Teaching Speaking” when he says, “When people – including our learners – refer to “second language ability,” their primary goal seems to be speaking. … Almost all of my ESL/EFL students dream of the day when they can finally say, ‘I speak English well.’” (Folse, 2006, page 3-4) The only way our students can become proficient English speakers is with a lot of practice.

The kind of practice our students benefit from is targeted in that is prompts a specific target structure or target vocabulary that the students have already learned. Also, a good practice speaking activity allows time for students to plan their speech. Read more »

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Adjective Clause Lesson that was Really Great

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Being able to adeptly use adjective clauses in speaking and writing is useful for upper level English learners. According to Folse, “adjective clauses – whether ‘full’ or ‘reduced’ – are very common in English” (Folse, 2009, page 193), so students need to be able to understand them when they see them or hear them. Moreover, advanced ESL and EFL students often struggle to bring complexity to their speaking and writing, and adjective clauses can be a great way to do this.

However, students often make these common mistakes when using adjective clauses (Folse, 2009).

  • They may use the wrong relative pronoun. (The teacher which is from Canada is my grammar teacher.)
  • They may leave out the relative pronoun entirely.  (The teacher is from Canada is my grammar teacher.)
  • They may include an object pronoun after the verb (The teacher who I like her is from Canada.).
  • And they may forget they need to omit both the relative pronoun and the verb be in a reduction (The grammar book that written by Azar is great.).

Fortunately, there are some easy and fun ways to help students avoid these common adjective clause errors! Read more »

Thursday, January 15, 2015

“We Shall Overcome” – A Song Activity

heyer_picBy Sandra Heyer
ESL Teacher and Author of the textbooks True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs
Songs and Activities for English Language Learners

In recent interviews, iconic American singer Tony Bennett has been critical of today’s songs for not having “lasting quality.” He might be right; only time will tell. I admit I have brought flash-in-the-pan songs into my classroom, knowing full well that they will probably not hold up well over time. But if, like Tony Bennett, I am still practicing my craft at age 88(!), there is one song I’m quite certain I will continue to share with students. That song is “We Shall Overcome.”

“We Shall Overcome” is a chameleon of a song. It was perhaps originally a folk work song, then a hymn, then a protest song during the tobacco workers’ strike in South Carolina in 1945, and finally the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The song is sung around the world during times of political turmoil, sometimes in English and sometimes in translation. For example, hundreds of thousands of people sang it in Prague during the weeks of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, and it was an anthem of the apartheid movement in South Africa. Read more »