Saturday, September 27, 2014

"English Language and Usage" website

Are you a non-native English teachers full of questions to ask about English, and nobody to turn to for help? Well, lots of free help is already existing out there, waiting for you to make full use of. Here is one of those sources of free help: English Language and Usage website.

If you are to lazy to go there and find out for yourself, here is the self-introduction taken from the page cover:

What it is:

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required. 
How it works
Anybody can ask a question. Anybody can provide an answer. Good answers are voted up and rise to the top.

So, what else are you waiting for? Go, ask questions, or just look at the questions asked and the answers provided. I am sure you'll be delighted, and no longer feel like the poet in Tennyson's poem In Memoriam:

An infant crying in the night
An infant crying for the light
And with no language but a cry ...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Learning resources in English for ASEAN K-12 learners/educators

You can find them all on this page:

Almost anything you need, really! From writing, public speaking, American English, business and entrepreneurship, gender issues, civic engagement, to world geography ... things that expand your horizon, fill your knowledge gap, and, of course, improve your English at the same time.

Come and be engaged, friends!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Crowdsourcing as a Class with Blogger

Crowdsourcing as a Class with Blogger 

The first few days of school can be a bit of a blur for students who are bombarded with syllabi and class rules. One of the ways I like to break the cycle of “sit and get” that first week of school is to use a crowdsourcing activity to put the responsibility of establishing expectations on my students. Instead of telling them what I expect, I ask them questions like:
    • What would make this class feel like a community?
    • What can your peers do to make you feel welcome?
    • How can you help to keep this classroom a safe space?
My students have been in school for 10 years by the time they get to my class, so they have a pretty good idea of what makes a classroom a welcoming and safe community.
Screen shot 2014-08-16 at 3.54.38 PM
The second day of school, I asked them to discuss what they thought was polite versus rude when engaging in different forms of communication. In small groups, they had time to talk about their particular mode of communication. Then they constructed a “dos and don’ts” list of behaviors for face to face communication, text messages, photos sharing with commenting ability (Snapchats or Instagram), and email. Given the large number of students using photo sharing apps, I was particularly interested in their take on what was polite and what was rude.
Screen shot 2014-08-16 at 3.50.38 PM
The challenge is that I don’t have enough wall space or white board to capture all of their incredible ideas. I also want to make sure we can reference the ideas they generate throughout the year.
Instead of crowdsourcing on the board, which is temporary, students post their ideas directly to our class blog. Our class blog is a space specifically designated for them to share ideas. I have a class website, but the class blog belongs to them.
Using Blogger to Crowdsource
Step 1: Set up your blog
You’ll find the Blogger app by clicking the collection of squares in the upper right hand corner of your Gmail. Blogger is Google’s free blogging tool, so it’s attached to your Gmail account.
Blogger - click on blogger icon
Step 2: Give your blog a name
Blogger - create a  new blog
Step 3: Change setting to allow students to email and text directly to your class blog
Screen shot 2014-08-16 at 4.13.23 PM
You’re all set! Now students can use their devices in class to post their ideas and crowdsource. You can capture it in one shared space where everyone can view the information that has been generated.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Transatlantic Trouble: British and American English

Transatlantic Trouble: British and American English

Although British and American people technically speak the same language, there are lots of variations in the kinds of English we speak. We’ll discuss some of the most important ones, focusing on both language and culture. This time let’s think about how British and American people talk about achievements.

◆◆◆ I nailed it! ◆◆◆
SARAH says:
A big difference I’ve noticed between American and British behaviour is the way in which we talk about our achievements. Americans seem to “sell themselves” more, whereas us Brits tend to be more humble. For example if I cook a nice meal then I might say “this isn’t so bad today…” or “this is quite good” if I do say so myself, but if Sam cooks a nice meal then he has no problem in saying “this is amazing!” In the UK it doesn’t look good to boast about yourself, your skills and achievements. We even have some expressions to describe this idea, for example we say “don’t blow your own trumpet,” or “don’t sing your own praises.” Of course in a job interview it’s different—you are expected to sell yourself, but in a social situation I prefer to be more self-deprecating. Although I may know I am good at doing something, I would never say so, because I don’t want to appear “full-of-myself.”

Sometimes I even get embarrassed if Sam says nice things about me in front of other people. One of my previous students once told Sam she thought I was a good teacher and he replied with “I know!”—I felt so embarrassed! I thought he should have said something like “Well she really enjoyed teaching you so she’ll be happy you said that.” I was worried that he sounded a bit arrogant…

SAM says:
There is no doubt that on the whole, Americans tend to build themselves up more than Brits. In the U.S., it’s seen as extremely important to raise children to believe in themselves in order to be confident in what they are doing. The traditional British idea of self-effacement is often seen by unaware Americans as a sign of weakness or lack of confidence.
This idea is ingrained in American culture. We like to think of our country as the land of opportunity, where anyone can succeed with enough hard work, determination, and self-belief. Whether or not this is in fact true, is beside the point. Being proud of yourself, your family, or your country, and not being afraid to say so, is seen as a great quality to have in America. It’s why so many Americans can say definitively that we are the best at nearly everything. We don’t need proof; we’ve got blind faith and boundless self-confidence!

But all jokes aside, why would anyone want to sell themselves short? I’ve never understood why Sarah feels embarrassed in such situations, and am frankly astonished when she later scolds me for being so arrogant. What she also fails to realize, is that in my opinion, I am being humble about her achievements. Honestly, to say that Sarah is a good teacher is a complete understatement.
= = =

Sam and Sarah Greet have been teaching English and travelling the world together for seven years. Sarah is from Bristol in the South West of England, and Sam is from the U.S. city of Philadelphia. Despite being together as a couple for many years, they are always finding differences in the way they speak.

The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We offer practical English lessons for both adults and kids in Tokyo and Yokohama. For more information, please visit British Council

Monday, May 26, 2014

A New Role for Avatars: Learning Languages

A New Role for Avatars: Learning Languages

| May 2, 2013 | 2 Comments


Most experts agree that the best way to learn a language is by immersing yourself in it. Now, with  more sophisticated technology, another theory around language learning is being tested: the use of avatars to practice speaking.
Alongside traditional methods, like listening, repeating, and digital flashcards, created by companies like Rosetta Stone,  Livemocha, and AccelaStudy, a few tech companies have leveraged the idea that becoming someone else helps to learn a foreign language, especially when speaking it.
Companies like Second Life and Middlebury Interactive Languages both offer digital avatar programs to give language learners a chance to practice their skills in virtual environments. Britain’s Language Lab has created “English City” using Second Life, where learners are promised realistic conversations with native English-speaking teachers, also using avatars, in virtual but plausible digital environments, like checking in at the airport, going to an art museum, or giving a presentation.

“Speaking practice was only possible in the classroom, and that meant very little practice for students who have no contact with English outside their school.”

Few studies exist on the effectiveness of avatars for language learning, and just as recently as 2009, a study conducted by Griffith University on digital technology and second language learning found that “although significant advances have been made recently with chatbots [avatars] for conversation practice… reliable programs of this type are ‘still some way off being a reality.’”
That reality is now here – and while Second Life and Language Lab are meant for the language learner at home on her laptop, what about using digital avatars in classroom environments? Some teachers say that language-learning avatars work well for classroom students, if used in a slightly different way.
English teacher Ana Maria Menezes uses web tool Voki with her high school students in Uberlandia, Brazil, and said she has watched them become more comfortable speaking English when it’s not really “them” doing the talking. Voki, a free education web app created by Oddcast, allows students and teachers to create their own talking character – they can be historical figures, animals, or a person that looks just like the user.

Teachers and students can give their character a voice by using one of three methods: text to speech, recording by microphone, or uploading their own pre-recording audio file. Voki characters can speak in over 25 languages, and 150-plus voices, according to Eric Kiang, Voki’s Product and Marketing Manager.
Menezes has students record themselves speaking English, and then has them play it for the class on a computer, using their avatar.
“Most of my students were very embarrassed when asked to record their voices while speaking English; many of them had never actually heard themselves using a foreign language,” she said. But students felt more comfortable watching their avatar speak for them. “It has to do with the ‘hiding behind the mask’ effect: when we speak behind a mask, it’s as if you’re another character, you’re safer and less exposed.”
Middle and high school Spanish and German teacher José Picardo doubts that using avatars alone causes dramatic improvements in learning a new language. “But I do think that incorporating tools such as Voki into the teaching and learning that goes on in my classroom, and practices such as regular peer-assessment, has had a very positive influence in attainment.” Picardo puts all of his students’ avatars on the departmental blog at Nottingham High School in Nottingham, UK, where they can be used by teachers, parents and students both as a showcase of student work as well as for peer review and assessment.
For Menezes, the most important use of digital avatars is the ability to get students doing more speaking outside the classroom. “Years ago, it was unthinkable to assign speaking homework to EFL or ESL students; all we could expect from them at home was to complete written exercises or write texts. Speaking practice was only possible in the classroom, and that meant very little practice for students who have no contact with English outside their school. Using an avatar for both for listening and for speaking purposes, I clearly noticed several improvements in their language use: Students were braver when expressing themselves and were also able to observe their pronunciation for the first time.”
One drawback teachers mentioned is the learning curve to use the apps; Second Life’s virtual world recommends that students be 16 to use it. Menezes mentioned there is a ramp-up time to using Voki, too, and that students need access to good recording equipment and fast Internet connections to get started. But even with learning curves, the technology is intuitive and tech-savvy students catch on quickly.
“Is there such a thing as a non-techie 13-year-old?” joked Picardo. “It could be argued that using these tools ensure that we are teaching children a range of skills that are necessary for later life, not just foreign languages.”
Even for the non-techie school setting, though, there’s another option. Wake Forest Latin teacher-scholar Ted Gellar-Goad developed an original pen-and-paper avatar game for his Latin prose composition students. Students role-play and interact in ancient Rome, in the spirit of Dungeons and Dragons, and the game is meant to help students stay engaged and have fun performing the arduous task of writing difficult Latin sentences.
For the imaginative teacher, there’s always a way.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"I'm afraid I disagree with you" - or, How to disagree in English?


I’m afraid I disagree with you.

May 7, 2014 by Kate Woodford disagree
Last week we looked at the ‘softeners’ (polite words and phrases) that people use to make requests sound nicer. This week we’re taking a look at the sort of phrases that people use when they are disagreeing with people and they don’t want to sound rude or express opinions that sound too strong.

The statement, ‘I disagree with you.’ sounds very strong in English and people often choose not to use it. However, if people do want to express strong disagreement and they use this phrase, they often ‘soften’ it slightly by first apologising:

I’m afraid I disagree with you there.
I’m sorry, I disagree with you there.

Another way of slightly softening the statement ‘I disagree with you.’ is to introduce it with ‘I have to say’:

I have to say, I disagree with you, James.

Very often, though, people prefer to use phrases that are less strong when they are disagreeing with statements. A very common way of doing this is to use the phrase ‘I’m not sure…’ or another phrase with a similar meaning:

I’m not sure I agree with you there.
I’m not sure that’s always true.
I’m not convinced that’s the case.

Statements such as these usually mean, ‘I don’t agree.’ even though they seem to be saying something less certain. They are generally just a gentler way of saying it.

In a similar way, people may disagree with a statement by seeming to ask a question. Again, this is a slightly ‘softer’ way of disagreeing:

Statement: In any case, women are better at these sorts of tasks than men.
Reply: Is that really true? In my experience, men are just as good.
Response: Is that always the case? I know plenty of men who are just as good as women.
Response: Do you think so? I’m not so sure that’s the case.

A third way of ‘softening’ disagreement is by first saying that you understand what someone is saying, or that you accept that part of what they are saying is true. You may then go on to say exactly what it is that you disagree with:

I take your point – she’s a very experienced teacher, but I’m afraid I don’t think she’s right for this particular job.
I do understand what you’re saying. I just don’t think we have the resources to do this.
I hear what you’re saying – the problem needs fixing. I just don’t think now is the time to do it.

Of course, you are free to disagree in any way that you choose, but if you want to make sure that you don’t sound too direct or rude, here are a few useful hints.

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Monday, May 5, 2014


Picture it. You're typing away. Perhaps you're working on a presentation for the office. Perhaps you're writing out invitations to a pretty little picnic. Or, maybe you're just writing to a pal reminding them about National Donut Day.
Regardless of the reason, you never want to commit one of those easily-missed spelling crimes. It happens to the best of us. Some words are just so darn similar.
So, to help maintain your professional goals, your social calendar, and, of course, your sparkling reputation, here's a quick visual guide for those very similar, and oft-confusing words. Happy spelling!
Bigstock's Grammar Guide: 12 Works You Might Be Misusing
Check out the images used in this post in our Misused Words lightbox. 



Here in the United States, we speak the same language as our ye old predecessors in Great Britain, but we don't always speak it the same way. So, we asked our oh-so British receptionist, Ryan Lovett, to give us a crash course in some of the more notable discrepancies.
Here are 20 words that have pretty different meanings in Great Britain than they do in the U.S. Made with royalty-free images from Bigstock.

1. Jumper 

2. Trainer 

3. Pants

4. Bird

5. Bog

6. Rubber

7. Braces

8. Trolley

9. Chips

10. Coach

11. Biscuit

12. Shag

13. Dummy

14. Lift

15. Hooker

16. Flannel

17. Football

18. Hamper

19. Vest

20. God Save the Queen! 

Ryan would like to thank his office minions in helping him with this in-depth report.

Friday, May 2, 2014

How to use newspaper article in language class (British Council blog)

An excellent article about the challenges that teachers need to overcome to be able to use newspapers articles in class. 


How to use newspaper article in language class

How should teachers use ‘authentic’ texts in class? Author, trainer and teacher Rachael Roberts gives valuable advice on the example of newspapers. She will also be delivering a live-streamed presentation from Belfast on writing effective classroom materials, 11 March 2014.

Back in 1981, Vivian Cook wrote:
‘One of the words that has been creeping into English teaching in the past few years is ‘authentic’. It has a kind of magic ring to it: who after all would want to be inauthentic?’

Teachers and students are naturally attracted to authentic texts (by which I mean any text which has not been produced for the purpose of language learning). Finding that you can read something designed for a native speaker is motivating, and developing strategies to deal with ‘real’ texts enables students to read more confidently and extensively outside the classroom.

But, as Cook goes on to say, we also need to consider just how helpful the authentic text we choose actually is for our students. Many of the features of authentic texts, especially newspaper texts, are far more complex than we might realise at first glance.

First challenge: Text organisation
For example, how clearly is the text organised? This can be a real headache with newspaper texts, which often have very short paragraphs, not necessarily linked clearly to the surrounding text. I remember an activity in the first edition of Headway Intermediate where the students had to order the paragraphs of a newspaper article. It was virtually impossible, because the links weren’t clear enough and because the students weren’t made aware that the first paragraph of a newspaper article usually sums up the whole story.

Second challenge: Headlines
Newspaper headlines can also be hard to decipher. They often use puns or cultural references. This is particularly true of tabloid newspapers, which you might think would use simpler language, but are in fact about the hardest to decipher. Look at this headline, for example, which appeared on the Mirror website not long ago:

It’s Bradley Zoo-per! LEMUR grabs keeper’s camera to join the selfie craze

To understand this headline we need cultural knowledge – to know that someone called Bradley Cooper took a ‘selfie’ (a popular form of self-portrait using a camera, often a mobile phone) at the Oscars (film awards) recently. We also need to know what a keeper is (a zoo-keeper, who looks after the animals) and we need to be able to understand the syntax of the headline. (A lemur took his keeper’s camera and used it to take a self-portrait).

Understanding the genre
If we are going to work with news articles, students need some help and training in understanding the features of the genre. For example, the headline is frequently confusing, but there is often a subheadline which makes things clearer, e.g.:

After actor Bradley Cooper’s Oscars snap went viral, London Zoo’s lemur Bekily gets in on the act

And then the first paragraph usually summarises the story:

This ring-tailed lemur didn’t want to miss out on the selfie craze – so he snatched his keeper’s camera and took his own.

This first paragraph nearly always contains what journalists call the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where and why). Getting students to try and find the 5 Ws (or as many as possible), just using the headline and first paragraph, is a way of leading them into the rest of the text, which usually just adds detail to these main points.

Third challenge: Identifying what certain words refer to
Another common feature is the use of reference devices. Obviously, we find these in all texts, but because of the concise way newspaper texts are written, it can be particularly hard to follow the chain of reference. For example:

Bekily, 12, was watching Tegan McPhail photograph animals at London Zoo at feeding time. Perhaps inspired by Bradley Cooper’s mega-selfie with fellow stars at the Oscars he decided he wanted to pose for one himself.

I think a lot of students would assume that the highlighted ‘he’ referred to Bradley Cooper, because he has just been mentioned (or even Tegan McPhail, mentioned in the previous sentence) when it actually refers right back to ‘Bekily’. To help students with this we could ask them to underline the reference words and then draw arrows to what they refer to.

Fourth challenge: Idioms
And, as you will have noticed, there are also a lot of idioms, especially in the tabloids. With a short article like this one, you can ask students to underline any idioms they find (go viral, get in on the act, mega-selfie) and look them up. They could then try and rewrite the article (or a section of it) without any idioms, putting the original idioms in a list below. If the students have read different texts, they could then swap and ask their partner to try and rewrite the article using the list of idioms given.

Comprehension tasks
Either of these activities could be used with any authentic news text, thus saving preparation time. But what about comprehension questions? Teachers often spend a lot of time thinking up exercises to exploit news articles. And, because they date, the material can rarely be used again.

One solution is to provide a generic task, such as the 5Ws task outlined above. Other possibilities:
  • Ask learners to choose, say, no more than five sentences that seem to carry the main points of the article. This can then be checked by a peer (while you monitor).
  • Ask learners to rewrite a short article, changing some of the information to make it a lie (as outrageous as they wish. For example, Bekily might take photos of the keeper… A partner then reads it and spots the lies.
  • Ask learners to write their own headlines, and talk together to decide on the best one (which will involve discussing the content of the text).
While there are certainly some pitfalls, up-to-date and topical news items can be very motivating for learners, and ways of helping learners to deal with them are a useful tool in any teacher’s toolkit.