Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hunters & Gatherers

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

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

I’m guessing that most of you are familiar with the idea of a “hunter-gatherer” society. According to Wikipedia, this is a society in which “most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals.” One feature of this kind of society is the division of labour between the sexes, with men tending to be hunters, and women more likely to be gatherers. However, the Wikipedia article stresses that hunter-gatherer societies tend to be egalitarian, with women having just as much power as men. This is because equal importance is given to the role of hunting and the role of gathering.

In many ways, I think the hunter-gatherer metaphor is one that can also be applied to language learners. Some learners are hunters, some are gatherers, and some (the most successful ones) give equal importance to both. In the field of language learning, “gathering” might be taken to mean collecting new words, phrases, and structures as you discover them. However, just as an effective gatherer of food is not someone who simply waits around to be given things, effective gatherers of language need to be constantly on the lookout for new “nourishment” for their language ability. Gatherers of food actively search for it, looking under rocks, inside holes, and even in the trees above their heads. In the same way, efficient gatherers of language have to be constantly aware of their surroundings and open to the possibilities that present themselves. A Japanese woman I know who works for a publishing company once told me that she thought the secret of successful language learners is that they constantly have their “antennae” raised. In other words, they are always sensitive to new language, and they unfailingly notice it when it appears. Read more »

Monday, June 24, 2013

Words! Words! Words!

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Whenever I am at a TESOL Conference, there are a few speakers I go out of my way to see every year. Keith Folse is one of them. Whatever he is speaking about, I know I will learn something new and have a great time doing it. He is entertaining and witty and so, so smart. (Can you tell I have a bit of a TESOL crush?)

Anyway, I managed to make one of his presentations at the 2013 TESOL Conference in Dallas, Texas in April. It was, as always, genius! He spoke about practical activities for learning vocabulary, a great topic for me, as my students needs to master lots of academic vocabulary quickly to succeed in their mainstream secondary school classes.

Folse organized his suggestions around Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, which I had never heard of before. At any rate, he contends that if teachers structure vocabulary development around this instructional design model, students have a better chance of retaining vocabulary. At the risk of miscommunicating Folse’s message (I hope he will see this and correct me if I misspeak), I wanted to share them with you.

1. Gain learner attention of target vocabulary. Folse says there are several ways we can do this. We can present the students with a problem that prompts the target vocabulary, ask them questions that contain the vocabulary or show them an advertisement with the vocabulary. I sometimes like to start a lesson with a simple card match (word to definition or word to picture) to see what students already know and to show them what words they will need to learn. Read more »

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

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

Back to Basics Blog for Teachers

I often ask students whether they have any problem understanding “small” English words like “a,” “the,” “it,” “at,” and “in.” They invariably reply that they do. Luckily, I have some great advice for them:

“There’s no point in worrying about them. You’re never going to understand them properly anyway, so you might as well just give up.”

I want to stress that I am not being facetious when I say this – I genuinely mean it. As I have mentioned before, I really struggled with Japanese when I started to learn it, and it was the small words that caused me the biggest problems. Actually, if someone asked me to choose the most difficult part of Japanese, I would have to say not a word, but two single letters. Japanese has something called “particles,” and the difference between two of themwa and ga—(these are single letters in the Japanese alphabet) is completely mystifying to speakers of languages like English that don’t use the same system. Of course, this is not something that is unique to Japanese. I have observed the same phenomenon with speakers of Asian languages trying to learn English articles.

Whilst it is true to say that wa and ga are mystifying for non-Japanese, it is also true to say that they are pretty mystifying for Japanese speakers too! Of course, Japanese people can use these particles correctly, but very few could explain the rules that govern their usage. Read more »

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Helping ESL Students Hear

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

The other day we had a CPD (continuing professional development) session at my school. The topic was Teaching Hearing Impaired students. At first, I was a bit skeptical that the session would be valuable for me, as I don’t have any hearing impaired students at the moment. Nonetheless, I am always up for learning something new and usually really enjoy the opportunity for professional development. As I have said many times before, when I am “finished” learning about how to be a better teacher, it is time to get out of the business!

Hearing Aids ≠ Perfect Hearing

Anyway, I was glad I went. I had never really thought about hearing impaired students before. To my shame, I cannot even say for certain that I have never had any in my class. I had always assumed that if one of my students had a hearing problem and wore a hearing aid that their hearing problem was “fixed” and I needn’t concern myself any further. Wrong! Apparently, a hearing aid can just help improve someone’s hearing,; it doesn’t remedy the problem completely. Students who wear hearing aids still run the risk of missing some sounds, particularly those from what the speaker kept referring to as “high frequency” range, like the /ð/, /ϴ/and /f/. Imagine the frustration for a student in a pronunciation class working on differentiating between the two “th” sounds when she/he can’t even hear either of them. Read more »

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 6

More Trends in the Language

Richard Firsten

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

Well, here we are at the end of my series on observations I’ve made about changes that I see happening in English. Some of them will probably become permanent and end up being taught as either the grammatically correct forms or acceptable alternatives to traditional forms. A few, in fact, are already considered acceptable alternatives in some dictionaries and grammar books. Perhaps I should have titled this “The Heads-Up Series” since my goal has been to give you, our intrepid English teachers, a heads-up on what you may be teaching in the not-too-distant future. At any rate, let’s take a look at a few more changes I’ve observed.

·        Lay and Lie

Okay, my hardliners, in case you’re not aware of it, these days it’s considered acceptable to use either  lay or lie as the intransitive verb meaning to be in a horizontal or reclined position. The traditional distinction between the two, with lay being transitive (When I set the table, I lay a napkin on top of each dinner plate) and lie being intransitive (They got sunburned because they were lying on the beach too long) is a thing of the past, for all intents and purposes. So you can lay a napkin on a plate and lay on the beach to sunbathe. It’s interesting, though, that this change is a one-way street; it doesn’t work in reverse. You won’t hear people say A mason lies bricks or chickens lie eggs, will you?

·        The Illogic of Less

I’m sure that everybody has heard all sorts of native English speakers say phrases like less calories and less accidents. Traditionally, of course, we’re supposed to use less with uncountable nouns (and adverbs, too, for that matter). As for countable nouns, we should say fewer calories and fewer accidents. Well, more and more I hear and read phrases in which less is used with countable nouns instead of fewer. Read more »

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Teachingem to Linkn Blend

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Recently, I wrote a post about teaching listening. In it, I commented on the connection between certain pronunciation skills and listening and how we need to both teach these skills and make this connection explicit in the classroom. One of these skills, linking and blending, is a way proficient English speakers connect their speech to sound fluid and, according to Hieke (1984), to make speech less articulatory complex. In other words, it sounds better and is easier to say when words are linked and blended. Long ago, I wrote about teaching sentence stress in class, another pronunciation skill essential for listeners, but I have never broached the subject of teaching strategies to help students master linking and blending. So, here is my “two cents.”

Whating and Whating?

When proficient English speakers talk, we don’t say each work distinctly and clearly. Rather, we tend to link some of our words together. For example, “come and eat” gets pushed into one word that sounds like “comneat.” We usually link words when

  • the final sound of the first word is a consonant and the initial sound of the second word is a vowel, as in “come and eat,”
  •  the final sound of the first words is a consonant and the initial sound of the second word is an unstressed pronoun starting with /h/ or /ð/ (we cut the /h/ and /ð/ to link), as in “tell him,”
  • the final and initial sounds of the two words are vowels (we insert a /w/ or /y/ sounds to make this easier), as in “my eye,” Read more »

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Learning to Listen

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

For years (and years and years), whenever I had to teach “listening”, I just popped the CD into the machine, pressed play and hoped for the best while the students scrambled to fill in the gaps, answer the questions or match the cards. I always had the sneaking suspicion that I could, and in fact, should, be doing a lot more to support my students’ listening development, but aside from listening practice and more listening practice, I was not sure what else to do. In spite of my many years of teaching and the confidence I feel helping students with speaking and pronunciation, I felt like a neophyte when it came to teaching listening. So, imagine my relief when, as the Speech, Listening and Pronunciation Chair elect, I was tasked with organizing an Academic Session at TESOL on teaching listening for the 2013 TESOL Conference in Dallas. It was actually Helen Solorzano who organized the session, and all I had to do was show up, take credit, and learn!

Top Down Strategies – Check!

So, here’s what I learned: it turns out that what I have been doing for all these years was, in fact, “testing” listening and not teaching it at all. I needed to back up a bit and think about listening as speech processing. Dr. Steve Brown spoke about how listening is a combination of top down and bottom up strategies. Stronger listeners make more use of top down strategies, which means they pull from their general knowledge about the context and the topic to make inferences about the listening. Happily, a lot of texts on the market encourage students to do this by including pictures and warm up questions designed to activate students’ prior knowledge about the topic. As a result, even in my very primitive approach to teaching listening, I did occasionally manage to expose my students to top down listening strategies. Read more »

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

May I Have a Copy of Your Presentation?

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

Ah, conference season! These days, of course, it’s really year-round, as different countries have their regional and national conferences at different times. For about the past decade, it’s become common for conferences to ask presenters if they’d like to have their emails printed in the program book. I always say yes, because one reason I attend conferences is to make connections with other professionals.

This is the first year, though, that I’ve had a slew of emails post-conference, from people I don’t remember meeting, requesting that I send them my entire presentation.

Some, of course, are not legitimate—like the one that began “Dear Sir or Madam” and was apparently sent to every email address in the TESOL 2013 program book, even to people who hadn’t given a presentation. But others are genuine; often from teachers who didn’t attend the presentation.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I am sympathetic to teachers who had to miss one presentation because they were attending another (or were giving their own). I am sympathetic too to teachers who couldn’t stay for the whole conference, or who perhaps couldn’t attend at all, because of work or family commitments, or lack of financial support.

Overall, though, I’m not comfortable sending out my presentations. There are a few reasons.

The most important is Read more »

Thursday, May 2, 2013

How __________ (Much/Many) Practice do Students Need to Learn Quantifiers?

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Even though many grammar series, including grammar guru Betty Azar’s, cover quantifiers from the beginning (Basic English Grammar) to the end (Understanding and Using English Grammar), my students seem to continuously struggle with using them correctly. They moan when we review them and moan when they get them wrong in their writing. Even my most advanced students appear to be mystified by the idiosyncrasies of English quantifiers.

Students Face Several __________ (Challenge/Challenges)

The problem, in my mind, seems to be twofold. First, students have to think about count and non-count nouns. At first glance, this distinction appears totally arbitrary when you consider that money is non-count, though clearly it is something we count all the time. Throw in irregular plurals (Seriously, person/people but fish/fish? How is that at all logical?) and you can have a frustrated class on your hands.

In addition to the perils of the count and non-count divide, students also have to choose from a confusing list of quantifiers full of linguistic booby traps. For example, consider the difference in meaning between “a little” and “little”. That tiny letter can mean the difference between being able to afford to buy a coffee and going thirsty. Another hidden quantifier trap lies in what Azar calls the “singular expressions of quantity”. There is almost nothing satisfactory a teacher can say to a student who asks why we say “each student” but “each of the students” when the meaning is essentially the same. It’s enough to turn a lovely group of students into a mob of pitchfork waving villagers! Read more »

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

English, a Constantly Evolving Language, Part 5

More Items in English that May Stick. Only Time will Tell.

Richard Firsten

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

In Part 4 of this series, I presented some quirky things that are happening in English these days, things which I have a hunch may become standard parts of the language or accepted alternative forms in the language as time goes by simply because they’re so commonly spoken, heard, and read by educated native users of English. These quirky things may just be aberrations, but if they’re not, we English teachers may have to accept that they will very likely be taught at some point in the future. Here are some more of these oddities that perhaps won’t be considered so odd down the road.

  • An interesting observation I’ve made is that even though they’re referring to time, many native speakers use where – which signifies a location, of course – instead of using when, which signifies a time. To me it’s a very odd occurrence, and I can’t figure out why it’s so common. Here are a number of examples:
  • There was a moment where I knew that I couldn’t do it on my own.
  • There were instances where she just seemed to drift off into a daydream
  • Did there come a time where you believed he had done it?
  • It happened about ten years ago where I found myself wondering why …
  • One test is called a hand drop. It’s where a neurologist takes the patient’s hand and …
  • I’m lucky to be in a time where more people champion human rights than ever before.

In each and every example above, it’s clear that when is the appropriate word to use since it deals with time as do all the words preceding where in these sentences. I don’t know if this use of where will ever be considered okay, but that doesn’t mean it won’t continue to be commonly heard. Read more »