Monday, August 29, 2016

Friends on Facebook?

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

There it was, in my local newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, nestled among accounts of shootings and police brutality, was an article I found so relevant to my professional context that I had to channel my mother and clip it out to take in to work. The title, Should you be Facebook Friends with Teacher?, really rang a bell with me.

I don’t have children, so I don’t need to worry about being friends with their teachers. I also don’t teach children anymore, so I don’t have to grapple with the question of friending the parents of my students. However, as a teacher of adults, I often get friend requests from my students. I also get friend requests from other teachers who are friends with their students. All these friend requests, while flattering, put me in an awkward position. I suspect I am not alone.

My Facebook Friends are my Friends

As Ciulac’s brief article in The Baltimore Sun pointed out, “Facebook is where I blow off steam to some of my dearest friends.” I am not in “teacher mode” when I am posting pictures of my husband renovating the bathroom or of my gorgeous new niece. The pictures I share on Facebook are personal, meant for friends and family who really know me. I have been known to post pictures of professional accomplishments, but Facebook gives me a chance to share my proud moments with my friends. It is not my resume. As one of the experts in Ciulac’s article argues, teachers “are entitled to a private life, as well as having their own embarrassing friends and family.” Read more »

Thursday, August 25, 2016

I am Sorry, but Apologizing in English is Really Complicated

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

Remember when you were a kid and after a fight with your brothers or sisters, your parents would make you apologize? Even though my sister and I are great friends now, when we were younger, we’d get into some terrible battles. I was older and wilier, so it was often my unkindness that was to blame. But, when we had to make up at my mother’s insistence, the “I’m sorry” I muttered could never have been mistaken for a genuine expression of contrition.

Finding the Words to Say Sorry

But, why was that? Isn’t it enough just to say the words, “I’m sorry” when we’ve done something harmful to another person? Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Let’s assume that we are talking about genuine apologies here, not my coerced childhood apologies to my sister. According to Trosborg (1987), the language we use for an apology depends on the severity of the complaint (e.g. bumping into a stranger on the street versus running over a neighbor’s pet) and the relationship between the apologizer and the apologizee (e.g. a woman in a yoga class versus a supervisor at work). Read more »

Monday, August 15, 2016

Offers they CAN Refuse

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

“How about lunch next week?”
“Are you interested in attending the training on Friday morning?”
“Are you free to get together tomorrow for coffee?”
“I’m having a party Saturday night at my house. Can you come?”

As an ESL instructor in North America, one of my most fervent hopes is that my students develop a social life that includes hanging out with other American students. I know from experience that cultivating relationships with proficient speakers is a great way to acquire language. When I lived in Russia many (many, many) years ago, it was my desire to communicate with my Russian friends that motivated me to navigate the complexities of Russian grammar, not the grades I received in in my language classes.

The Problem with Making Plans

However, making plans with proficient English speakers can be a process fraught with invisible pitfalls. As I described in previous blogs (The Art of Yes, But … and Can I Please Borrow your Car?), language learners not only need to know the grammar of the language they are using, they also need to know about the unconscious linguistic maneuvers speakers make when they are doing something in that language. Read more »

Monday, July 11, 2016

English Spelling: Making Sense of the Chaos (Part 4)

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

In previous blog posts, I shared my own personal struggles with spelling, I described the class I have been teaching for a year, I shared some hard-learned lessons about teaching spelling to international students, and I listed some of the key elements to an intermediate level spelling curriculum.

This is all well and good, you may be thinking, but isn’t teaching a spelling class about the most boring thing you could ever do? Not at all! Because spelling is a tough, personal, and challenging mental activity, it’s really important that my classes be as active and interactive as possible. I want my students to be moving, laughing, talking and learning. So, now I want to describe some of the activities I used in my spelling class to help liven things up and give students multiple exposures to spelling “rules” to ensure greater retention.

Activity #: What Color do you Hear?

As I mentioned in Part 2 of this blog series, students have a really hard time hearing the difference between certain vowel sounds. If they can’t distinguish between /ɪ/ and /iy/, how in the world can they begin to spell words containing either of those sounds? To provide students with extra practice with this, we play “What Color do you Hear?” Read more »

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How to give a good presentation

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

In a previous post, I shared a video on “How not to give a presentation.” That was a humorous attempt to highlight some of the mistakes that people most commonly make when they give presentations at conferences. Shortly after that, I did a lecture on “How to give a good presentation” at a Japanese university, and I posted it on You Tube so that students who couldn’t attend that day would be able to watch it later. I didn’t really think about it after that, but I noticed recently that it has had almost 200,000 views, so I decided to do a shorter, edited version, since so many people seem to be interested in the topic.

Here is the new video. If you prefer to read about it, the main points are summarised below.

When you give a presentation, it is important to remember that your audience Read more »

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

English Spelling: Making Sense of the Chaos (Part 3)

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

The “rules” of English spelling can appear to be so random and unreliable, they drive students (and at least one teacher) to distraction. Since I’ve started teaching an intermediate-level spelling class, I’ve had to re-learn some of these “rules” in order to help my students make sense of the chaos that is English orthography. I don’t call them “rules” in my class, though. When I did, my students were very quick to complain that with so many exceptions, they were hardly “rules.” Instead, we refer to them as “tips.” That just seemed to make everyone a lot happier.

So, in a previous blog post, I shared some ‘lessons learned” about teaching spelling. Here, I want to share some of the things I think ESL/EFL students need to know to be strong spellers.

Tip #1 – Some Consonant Sounds have Wacky Spellings
Sometimes consonant sounds are easy to spell. For instance, /m/ is usually spelled with an “m” or sometimes an “mm.” But, some consonant sounds are trickier. Students need to learn that /f/ can be spelled “f,” “ff,” “ph” and Read more »

Monday, June 13, 2016

English Spelling: Making Sense of the Chaos (Part 2)

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

Teaching English spelling can be almost as daunting as learning it. Since I’ve started teaching an intermediate-level spelling class, I’ve learned a lot about how to teach spelling to international students.

Lesson #1 – Students Need to Know Why
Students whose L1 has a more regular sound-spelling correspondence are baffled about why English spelling is such a nightmare of random letter combinations and exceptions to the rules. They often seem to want the teacher to make sense of it all, for us to provide them with a tidy reason that will help them sort it all out. So, the short answer to the question “Why?” is: History. There is a great video on YouTube called “Why is English Spelling so Weird?”  It’s a pretty fast-paced lecture, but my intermediate students seemed to really enjoy learning that there is a logic behind English spelling peculiarities, even if it is buried deep in British history. In short, English spelling is a product of foreign invasions and changing English pronunciation. In my experience, once students learned this, they could stop asking “Why?” and could focus on the task at hand, learning to spell.

Lesson #2 – Students Need to Hear the Sounds
Duh, right? But, I hadn’t realized just how much of a challenge this would be for my students until I was trying to cover all the spelling patterns for the /iy/ sound and the students couldn’t even differentiate between /ɛ/ and /iy/. Read more »

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

English Spelling: Making Sense of the Chaos (Part 1)

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

The experts tell us that that English has a loose sounds-spelling correspondence “as a consequence of 16 centuries of unmanaged spelling” (Brown, 2016, p. 167). That’s just the academic way of saying that spelling in English is nothing short of a nightmare. As a child, I struggled with spelling. I sweated over lists of seemingly random letter combinations every weekend in preparation for Monday morning spelling quizzes. I puzzled about silent letters, schizophrenic vowels, and “rules” that had more exceptions than conformities. I misspelled “maybe” until I was well into high school. Nothing associated with spelling came easily to me.

Perhaps this is why I am so sympathetic when my students express frustration about English spelling. It is far less regular than spelling in many other languages and my ESL students are often perturbed when they realize English words aren’t usually spelled the way the sound, like words are in their L1s. This lack of regularity is the very reason native English speakers spend a disproportionately large amount of school time memorizing words and learning spelling rules (Seymour, Aro and Erskine, 2003).

From Struggling Speller to Teacher

Despite an ongoing personal dread of all things spelling related, I agreed to teach a spelling class last Fall when the adjunct instructor who had been assigned the class got a full-time job elsewhere. I reasoned that, if nothing Read more »

Thursday, May 19, 2016

ESL SmackDown – Writing vs. Speaking

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

Several months ago, I was at a local ELT conference when I heard something I haven’t been able to shake. Eli Hinkel was delivering the plenary and somehow the topic of speaking vs. writing arose. Someone in the row behind me said, “Well, everybody knows that writing is harder than speaking.” Directly after that, I heard screeching tires. Well, in my head, anyway. What?!? Writing is harder than speaking? Everybody knows this? I remember looking around me to see if anyone else was having the OMG moment that I was, and made eye contact with my equally perturbed colleague, but everyone else was happily nodding.

While this seems to have been a given for many of the teachers in the auditorium on that sunny fall day, it wasn’t for me. Writing necessarily harder than speaking? Really? As the plenary continued, I mulled this over.

What’s so hard about writing?

What do writers have to do? Well, they have to think about grammar and vocabulary. But, then again, so do Read more »

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Cellphone Debate

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

We’ve all been there, right? The lesson is going well. The students are engaged. I am sharing pearls of ESL wisdom in an accessible and entertaining fashion. I am scanning the back of the room, when all of a sudden I see a student with his/her head bowed. Sadly, that student is not being momentarily overcome by the sheer brilliance of my teaching methodology. More likely, that student is on his/her cellphone.


According to an NPR report on innovation in education, How to get Students to Stop Using their Cellphones in Class, college-aged students in the US use their cellphones an average of 8 to 10 hours every day and check them an average of every 15 to 20 minutes. If that first statistic doesn’t blow your mind (seriously, 8 to 10 hours every day?!?), the fact that in a 2 hour class, our students, on average, are checking their phones 6 to 8 times just might.

Two Sides of the Cellphone War

Okay, for the record, I know I am old and I have an old person’s relationship with my cellphone. I have an old Read more »