Archive for Tag: vocabulary

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

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

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

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

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Monday, June 13, 2016

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

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

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/.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Amazing Adjectives

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

Descriptive adjectives can make students’ speaking and writing richer and more interesting. However, my students tend to rely on the same, worn out adjectives time and time again: good, fine, nice. You might have heard responses like this before if you also teach English and/or have teenagers.

Azar’s Basic English Grammar does a great job of introducing students to adjectives in a couple of places. In Chapter 1, Using BE, there is a section in which students are introduced to the “be + adjective” combo and in Chapter 14, students get more practice with the syntax associated with English adjectives. However, some students need to spend a little more time experimenting with using adjectives in order to use them accurately.

A Lot of Adjectives

For many students at all levels, using a wide variety of adjectives in speaking or writing is less of a grammar problem and more of a vocabulary problem. In other words, once students learn the words old and young as beginners, they may not be motivated to learn substitutions like ancient, elderly or mature and youthful, juvenile and fresh. After all, there are so many words to learn in English, why waste time learning synonyms when the original word will do?

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A, E, I, O, U, … Y Teach Vowel Sounds? – Part 2

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

The Trouble with Teaching Vowels

In last week’s post, I described why vowel sounds are so difficult to teach – they are hard to describe, there may be differing phonemic symbols for a single sound, and there are just so many of them in English. But, I also acknowledged that, even though they are daunting, we should cover them in all of our ESL and EFL classes because they are essential to communication. Specifically, the stressed vowel in a focus word needs to be pronounced comprehensibly or speakers risk obscuring the entire thought group. This is even more important for conversations between non-proficient English speakers who, research shows, rely more heavily on the sounds articulated than on the context for making sense of an utterance. I concluded the post with a promise for practical and painless suggestions for teaching vowel sounds.

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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.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Significance of Synonyms

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

Not “fat” but “round”

Usually, when I get my hair cut here in Belgium, I just make my next appointment while I am at the salon. Face to face conversations that involve dates and times in French are just so much easier for me. However, I neglected to do this a few weeks ago, so I had to call my hairdresser to make an appointment. When the phone rang, one of the other hairdressers answered it. I explained that I wanted my hair to be washed, cut and dried. I know the name of my hairdresser, but when she asked me who usually washes and dries my hair, I didn’t know. I said the person was young and had short dark hair. Unfortunately, that describes several of the assistants at the salon, so the woman pressed for more information.

I panicked. The only truly defining feature that I could think of at the moment was that the girl who washes and dries my hair is a bit plump, while all the other girls are stick-thin. If I had been speaking in English, I would have said that the girl was a little bit “curvy.” I could have also said “heavy” or “curvaceous” or “big-boned” or “full-figured” or “voluptuous” or “heavy-set” or … well, you get the idea. My French vocabulary, though, is simply not that extensive. I wound up apologizing and saying that she was “fat.”

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What’s in a Name?

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

What’s in a Name?

That’s what Juliet asks in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I can’t argue with that, but I can point out that the different names by which something can be called may be problematic for our students. It’s something worth considering when you teach vocabulary. If you know that many of your students may be going for education, for business, or for a new life to English-speaking countries, you can be assured that there will be some unique vocabulary they’ll encounter. Countries like the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the US all contain regional variations on what we consider more standard vocabulary. For that reason, you’ll be doing your students a great service if you have lists on hand that focus on the most common regional variations in vocabulary the students will encounter in order to supplement your lessons on more standard words.

I’m a Brooklyn boy, so I know very well that New York City English has a character all its own, mostly to do with its vocabulary.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part 3: The Constraints of a Limited Vocabulary

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

Just recently, I wrote a post about the importance of all students developing a robust vocabulary. In Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning, Jack Richards (2008) stresses that often one of the barriers between Intermediate and Advanced level students is that Intermediate learners rely heavily on lower-level vocabulary. In order to break into Advanced level language learning, students need to know 5,000 to 6,000 words. To further complicate matters, “knowing” a word goes far beyond being able to fill in a gap on a quiz. Students need to be able to, among other things, pronounce it, know the grammar rules that govern its form, differentiate it from similar words (for instance, ”cup” and “mug” distinguish between words that look the same but have different meanings (such as mean, as in unkind, and mean, as in “what does that word mean?”), discriminate between different levels of formality and attitudinal meanings (as in, “ask” and “demand”).

What Goes with What

In addition to a well-developed vocabulary, students also need to be adept users of collocation patterns. This brings to mind a presentation I attended at IATEFL a few years ago about Advanced learners. The speaker, Ben Goldstein, showed a letter about a trip on the screen and asked the audience to identify the words we thought upper level students would find challenging. In other words, what would we pre-teach if we wanted to use that letter in a class? Then, he pointed out all the words that a student might think he or she knew, but really didn’t. For instance, a learner might think “get” is a pretty low-level word and it is certainly in the 1000 word list. However, when paired with “carried away”, it becomes an Advanced level lexical chunk. I found this revelation fascinating because, even though I am an experienced teacher, I had not thought to pick out those smaller words. How embarrassing! Goldstein’s presentation proved to me that even though a word might seem “easy”, I need to be more aware of how it is being used and how it might trip up my students.

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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.

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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.

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