Class Activities: Spot the Difference

“OK guys, we’re going to describe this picture…” you say to your eager students. Silence is their response. We’ve all experienced the silent response and will continue to experience it for as long as we teach a foreign language. But what are some ways to alleviate it? One activity that I’ve been trying of late with both younger learners and adult learners utilises spot the difference pictures. Most people love a good puzzle, so to give them something they may enjoy in their L1 and transfer it to something that makes use of the language patterns they are currently learning can give some light-hearted relief and much-needed spontaneous speaking practice. How to use the spot the difference pictures? Well, your imagination is your limit as with any teaching scenario. I’ve used them to cover: prepositions of place descriptions with progressive continuous descriptions of people (appearance) descriptions of the scene differences in thoughts and emotions (via body language and facial expressions) As for how to use them? Well, again… imagination is the key. I’ve used them in pair work, group work and whole class work, and have also made a team game out of them. The game being that the students work in teams to communicate with one another and write down the differences as quickly as possible. This is most effective with the younger learners since they like the competitive side of things, but I’m sure it can be adapted to suit all ages. I’m sure there are other ideas of what they can cover as well… and I’d love to hear about...

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Academic Vocabulary
May12

Academic Vocabulary

As many of you will know, the study at university in an English speaking country you’re likely to need the right TOEFL or IELTS score. And that’s a lot of work. Speaking to some of my international classmates though, I’ve come to realise something. Even though they have an excellent command of English and the right score, they don’t always have the tools for the academic setting. They sometimes lack the relevant vocabulary. Vocabulary that many of us take for granted. So what do they need to study? Endless wordlists to increase their vocabulary to the 20’000 mark or something absurd? Not exactly it would seem. In reading Thornbury’s How to Teach Vocabulary I came across an interesting piece of information I’ve encountered before. The restricted number of word families in use in academic settings. Thornbury has some interesting notes on vocabulary and the book is well worth a read – the whole series is actually! Anyway, he firstly notes that a core vocabulary numbering 2000 of the most frequent word families will account for circa 90% of words in use in many written texts. Add to these 2000 a meagre 570 more word families that have been written about recently as being frequently used in academic texts and the reader will have a bridge a large gap. The 570 most frequent academic word families (found here) are said to cover 1 in 10 of those in use in academic texts. Which may not seem like a lot, but when added to the core of 2000, you’re bound to be on pretty solid...

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Study Materials: The Dictionary Debate

Everyone owns one.. at least one. Or at the very least, has access to one. People that don’t even study languages own one. Dictionary play a pretty major role in the lives of people of all ages. They’re set a standard for us to follow… sometimes we disagree, and sometimes we all get along. So how can language learners make the most of them? I’ll steer clear of the descriptive elements and this will be more prescriptive… No, I’m not telling you that you have to follow it, but these are just some ideas that I’ve had from both my own learning and also from observing my students during class. Paper versus electronic: I love paper books and much prefer them to reading on a screen, that is, with the exception of the dictionary. I much prefer electronic dictionaries. By electronic I mean the portable, dedicated, electronic dictionary and not the web-based dictionary, which I also dislike reading but will use if I really need to. It’s all about personal preference here and relatively straight forward. However, in the class, I prefer my students to have a paper dictionary; they’re less distracting and kids don’t rely on them as much as they do the electronic variety because they actually have to read words (shocking I know!) to find what they are looking for. In any case, weigh up the pros and cons of each and make a decision 🙂 Bilingual Dictionaries: Fantastic for early learners where they don’t have a base strong enough in the target language to decode the meaning. Very easy to use and make it quick to understand a concept. The problems are that they often lack example sentences, so usage can be a little askew from an over-reliance on them. Also, students need to realise that they should cross-check the vocabulary both ways (both ‘to target language’ and ‘from target language’). This will alleviate some of the issues with usage out of context, but not all… nothing is perfect. Another concern, a minor one… batteries die. But c’est la vie right. Monolingual Dictionaries: Once a learner has a strong base in a language they should, in my opinion, be moving to a monolingual dictionary. This isn’t necessary the fastest way to find the meaning, but it has the highest overall benefit to the learner. They have something to work from and they have to read and decode the meaning in the target language. More exposure equals more learning right? Plus, moving away from an over-reliance of the bilingual dictionary and using it as a crutch can actually hinder learning. Although, there are obviously going to be times when the...

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Using L2 for L3

Just some thoughts on learning a foreign language through another learned language. If English is your L1, many people only attempt to learn another language through English. And that’s fair enough, but it might not be the most practical if you have other tools at your disposal. Professor Arguelles strongly suggests people that dream of being a polyglot learn French and German. With English, French and German at your disposal there is a wealth of material available for the language learner. The same could also be true for Japanese and Chinese, and to a lesser extent, Korean. But this is the argument for using a L2 because of materials access and availability. How about using your L2 to learn L3… or L3 to learn L4 even? Sometimes it is just more practical and efficient. If you’re an English speaker that has studied Spanish to a high level for instance, would it make more sense to learn Portuguese or Italian through English, or to learn them through Spanish? My vote would be Spanish because of all of those similarities in grammar and vocabulary. My own personal example is for using Korean as  tool for studying Japanese, again, due to grammatical similarities and the large cross-over in vocabulary due to the Chinese influence. It’s not just a matter of making it easier for yourself though, there are other things to consider. Like what things? Well, in using your L2 to learn L3 you’re going to appreciate the finer details of your L2. You will effectively be learning your L2 in more depth by studying your L3. These are things I have found with my own studies. Through elementary level Japanese study I consolidated and clarified things in Korean I already knew but didn’t really know. You may learn things you never knew, you may have a few a-ha moments when you finally understand something that you have been using but didn’t really know the why behind it, or you may just find it more time-efficient because of the similarities. There are of course negatives that include misunderstandings of explanation and what-not, but you do always have the dictionary option to cross-check anything you’re not certain of. But basically, what I’m mainly talking about is using a language that is similar to one you are learning to lessen the burden. It doesn’t have to stop there though. Professor Arguelles’ suggestion of learning French or German first is a valid one. Even if these languages aren’t similar to the one you are studying, due to the quality of materials available they may still be the best option. I know a number of people that have learned English and now use it learn...

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Study Materials: LingQ

First in the series of looking at study materials is going to be LingQ. LingQ is the brainchild of Steve Kaufmann. Steve speaks a number of languages very well and the site is very much a mirror of his own preferred learning style, by self-admission. In short, if you can’t be bothered reading what I say about LingQ… visit, sign-up (it’s free), and try it out. It’s not going to be a waste of time… so enjoy the offerings in English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Swedish, Russian, Chinese and Japanese… and soon to come it looks like Korean. In long, I’ll say a bit more but I should start with a disclaimer saying that I don’t use LingQ to it’s full potential. I only use a few features of the site as I have my own learning style that works for me, and if it ain’t broke as they say. Anyway, I’m happy to use LingQ as a supplement to my own methods. Let’s start with the bad… I find LingQ a little slow at times; probably due to the high user number. I find LingQ a little cumbersome to navigate and use at times, but that’s probably due to my familiarity with the system. It’s online, so website downtime can mean learning downtime (although many things are available offline if you download them). Plus I’ve never seen LingQ down. A server crash could kill your learning database….. so could a harddrive crash at home…. or a small fire 😉 Now, let’s get on with the serious stuff. What is at LingQ… umm, what is at LingQ that I use: Texts, lots of multi-levelled, good quality texts. Audio, lots of multi-levelled, good quality audio. Confidence building graphs that tell you how much you have read, listened, etc. There are also a few other things at LingQ that I don’t make use of, such as: A form of flashcard system (the cards are called LingQs I believe… I could be wrong) – I prefer Anki as I can take it anywhere and it’s what I’m used to using. Tutoring service where you can speak with natives of your target language and receive a report detailing corrections – I use Skype conversations and if I want my speaking corrected I record the conversation to go over with a tutor or language exchange later. Have your writing corrected with a report – I use other sites such as Lang-8 for this. I’ve probably missed a few things, but like I say, I only use LingQ for a few features; it’s a supplement to my learning, not my entire learning. And as an added note, I...

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