Language teachers know that often the best lesson plans are those they develop themselves. Course books are fine used in moderation, and there is a wealth of ready-made lesson plans that can be found all over the Internet. But nearly everything needs at least some tweaking, if not a full scale adaptation if its going to suit the personality of the trainer and the specific needs of the learner.
But the big issue is time. With all the best of intentions its not easy to set aside time to develop new materials. This is where automated text analysis tools come in handy, and can save you time when creating reading comprehension activities. One such example is lingleonline.com. They are newly out of beta, and it looks like there are still a few wrinkles that need ironing out, but it’s well worth a try. Although it is not possible to upload your own text for analysis, there is an extensive database of recent news articles from a variety of sources, and it is fairly easy to find something topical and appropriate.
All of these tools are fairly customiseable, and if you you don’t like any of the words or expressions selected automatically for the gapfill exercises you can delete them and add your own with a little extra effort.
The goal of Lingle is to serve as a platform where you can build up your own collection of lessons, that your students can actually access and use online, so it lends itself well to creating self-access homework exercises. It is also easy to print .pdfs. But as with any automated tool, you may want to do some cutting, pasting and tweaking before you’re entirely satisfied with the result. As their user base increases the tool is only going to improve, and at 40€ for a year’s subscription it’s not bad value, and they have a free 30-day trial to take it for a spin.
Il n’y a pas photo. Si on veut monter d’un niveau dans l’apprentissage d’une langue, rien ne vaut un séjour à l’étranger pour se mettre dans le bain. Mais tout le monde n’a pas cette possibilité, donc comment faire pour créer une expérience d’immersion pour booster ses compétences?
À Nantes, et dans beaucoup de villes de France, il y a un véritable engouement pour le café des langues, ou café polyglotte. Il y a cinq ans quand nous nous sommes lancé dans l’aventure du café des langues (activité que nous avons dû arrêter pour manque de temps, malheureusement), il fallait bien fouiller pour trouver des rencontres pour échanger dans une langue étrangère autour d’un verre. Aujourd’hui il y a presque un embarras de choix.
Quel est le principe? Chaque groupe a son propre fonctionnement, mais on retrouve des points communs partout. On se retrouve avec un petit groupe de personnes, d’origine française où étrangère, le plus souvent dans un lieu neutre tel qu’un café ou un bar, et on cause dans sa deuxième langue (ou troisième, douzième…peu importe). Les séances sont plus ou moins guidées, selon l’approche des animateurs, et il peut y avoir une petite participation financière (en plus de la consommation). Mais il ne s’agit pas de cours de langues. Il n’y a rien de scolaire – on peut laisser les mauvais souvenirs et les blocages à la porte, car au café des langues les nuls, ça n’existe pas. L’atout des cafés des langues est l’ambiance décontractée, qui peut nous décomplexer de nos réticences à ouvrir la bouche. En plus, tout le monde est dans le même panier, et les fautes sont tolérées, voir encouragées, car c’est ainsi qu’on apprend!
L’équilibre apprenant / locuteur natif varient selon le groupe. Si on à tendance à ramer un peu dans la langue cible, il peut être un peu intimidant si on se sent en minorité. Mais il y a tellement de groupes différents maintenant qu’on est sûr de trouver son compte quelque part.
Au début on ne trouvait que l’anglais, mais aujourd’hui il y a des groupes où on peut parler allemand, chinois, espagnol, portugais, russe… Certains groupes proposent différentes langues sur différentes soirées. D’autres séparent les langues avec un animateur à chaque table. Seul bémol: plus il y a du monde, plus il est bruyant – il faut resté bien concentré pour suivre le fil de la conversation.
Mais, « qui ne tente rien… »
Voici une liste plus ou moins à jour de groupes qui sont installés dans la région de Nantes, mais peu importe la ville, une petite recherche sur Google et on trouvera son bonheur. Il y a sans doute d’autres cafés des langues dans la région nantaise. Si vous en connaissez un, merci de rajouter les informations dans les commentaires en bas.
|« Stammtisch »||allemand||Café Le Flesselles, Allée Flesselles, Nantes||19h00, 2e et 4e jeudi de chaque mois (hors vacances scolaires)|
|Café bilingue Nantes||toutes (destinée aux familles)||Voir programmation||Voir programmation|
|Café franco-chinois||chinois||Le Lieu Unique, Nantes||20h30, le mardi|
|Café polyglotte franco-portugais||portugais||Café Casse Goutte, rue du Beau Soleil, Nantes||21h00, le mardi|
|Café polyglotte franco-anglais||anglais||Bar Monsieur Machin, 5 rue St. Léonard, Nantes||20h30, le mardi|
|Café polyglotte franco-espagnol||espagnol||Café l’Art Scène, 19 rue du Château, Nantes||21h00, le lundi|
|Café polyglotte franco-allemand||allemand||Delhi’s Café, 6 allée d’Orléans, Nantes||20h30, le mercredi|
In these days of decentralised workplaces, telecommuting and extreme mobility the traditional face to face interview in an office is increasingly being replaced by telephone or webcam-based interviews.
If English is your second or foreign language, telephone interviews can be particularly challenging. Whether by telephone or face to face, many of the same principles for effective interview technique apply, including the golden rule:
Prepare, prepare, prepare!
In this post we’re going to look at some particularities of preparing for phone and webcam interviews.
Telephone interviews are real interviews, sometimes used as a preliminary interview to sift out applicants who will then be invited for a face-to-face interview. They may also be used as a final interview in the case where the work is telephone or Internet-based, where telephone skills are paramount, or where you are applying for a job abroad.
The length of phone interviews varies from 20 minutes to about an hour, with the average length being half an hour. The advantages for the employer: they are time and cost-effective, they test the candidate’s verbal communication skills, and also their ability to cope with the unexpected. There are also advantages for the candidate: the ease of referring to your CV and application form or letter during the interview, the possibility of being interviewed in a casual or informal environment (in your pyjamas if you prefer!), and the fact that there is no time or money wasted in transport. Actually – wearing pyjamas is not such a great idea. You will feel more professional if you are seated at a desk, and dressed for action.
Telephone-only interviews have some disadvantages too. You don’t have the same visual clues to help you gauge the reactions and responses of the interviewer. They can also seem very short, not allowing much time to think about your answers. There is not much of a lead-in: very little small talk or ice-breaking at the beginning. Often the interviewer launches straight in to the difficult questions.
If at all possible, make an appointment with a specific time and date for the call. There is nothing worse than a prospective employer calling you when you are doing your grocery shopping, about to take the dog for a walk, or just hopping out of the shower. If you are given a general time slot rather than a specific time, ensure you keep your mobile with you, charged, topped up and switched on. If the interview will be held using a landline that you share with other users (family members, flatmates etc.), ensure you prime anyone who answers the phone to try and sound professional. You may also want to replace any joke answerphone messages with something you would want a prospective employer to hear, just in case they call at a time you are not able to answer the phone. You will need as quiet and private a location as possible for the actual interview.
Keep a copy of your application and company information handy, along with what you need to take notes. Where possible access to the Internet may be helpful if you need to check any details about the company, for example.
Make a list of your USPs – unique selling points. What makes you better than most of the other people who will be applying? But don’t just read out your notes – it will make you sound unnatural.
If not using a webcam, smile as you speak – it will make a positive difference to your tone of voice, and make you sound more lively. Also, remember to use verbal signals to communicate that you are listening, such as « ok », « uh-huh », « I see », « I understand », « yes » etc. You can also reflect back what the speaker is saying to show you are listening, with phrases such as « I hear what you’re saying », and « So, if I’ve understood correctly, … »
Speak clearly, and not too fast. If English is your second language, remember that SPEED is not the same as FLUENCY. The interviewer may not be familiar with your accent, and will be more impressed with your clarity than how fast you can speak. Have a glass of water on hand – you don’t want your voice to crack up at a crucial moment.
If you know you will be having a series of interviews, immediately after the interview make some notes on the questions you were asked, and think about how you could do better next time.
They will probably be the same as what you could expect in a face to face interview. Here are some examples of the more difficult typical questions. These are the kinds of questions that, if you don’t prepare the answer, you are unlikely to answer well:
Do you have any other tips for effective interviews over the phone or webcam? What are some of the more difficult interview questions that you have heard? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.
If you are learning English and you have never heard of TED Talks, you need to stop what you are doing take a look at it right now. It is a fascinating collection of talks on a huge variety of subjects, each talk with subtitles in a number of different languages, and a transcript to follow with clickable links to navigate your way around the talk. This makes it an excellent tool for improving your listening comprehension.
If you are an advanced learner, all of the talks are accessible. If you have a lower level, you may find that many of the talks are too long. You used to be able to search for talks by length, but for some reason this function has been removed. However, many of the short talks (under 6 minutes) have been tagged « short talk », and you can access a list here (or select view all tags/short talks from the home page).
One of my engineering students put me onto a short TED Talk entitled How to Start a Movement, by Derek Sivers. Let’s look at how you might use this video for a listening comprehension activity.
1. First activate the English subtitles
2. You can also view the whole transcript from the drop-down menu « show transcript ». This becomes especially useful when you want to focus on specific vocabulary in the talk. For example, in this talk you will hear the word « guts ». After watching the video once you may want to go back to the point in the video where this word was used. Simply select ctrl + F (PC) or cmd + F (Mac), type « guts » in the « Find » field, and it will highlight every instance of the word in the transcript. To return to the exact point in the video, simply click on the word « guts », and it will return you to the right spot.
What are the qualities of a good leader?
Make a list of the top ten qualities, thinking about good and bad leaders you have known. Now watch the video, and make notes on the following question:
How do the principles in this talk relate to leadership? What qualities of good leadership are mentioned?
You will notice that there are a number of idioms and phrasal verbs in this talk. For example:
How are these expressions used in the talk (use the « find » function mentioned above to locate where in the talk they are used)? Can you guess the meaning from the context? If not, you can use a good online dictionary such as Dictionary.com to check.
For further vocabulary work, watch the talk again, and make a list of no more than ten new words or expressions, under one of the following categories:
For some writing practice, use the comments below. You could comment on the following:
The first follower is an underestimated form of leadership in itself.
Finally, note that you can also download the talks to your hard drive for later viewing. This way you won’t have the option of using subtitles or the transcript, however.
How to use automatic captions to improve your listening skills. There are many ways of using video clips to improve listening skills. YouTube automatic captions uses voice recognition algorithms to create subtitles.
To learn a language, listen to it first. The best means to learn a language is through frequent exposure to its sound patterns, even if you haven’t a clue what it all means.
Do you write in English? Do you get tired of using the same old phrases and vocabulary? Are you looking for a way to spice up your writing style? Do you agonise over choosing the right word or combinations of words?
JustTheWord is just the tool you need.
There is a ton of online dictionaries and thesauruses out there, but sometimes time doesn’t allow an extensive search for the correct word combination. JustTheWord combines the usefulness of both dictionaries and thesauruses in one place. Its database is the 80,000,000 words of the British National Corpus, and it has a powerful and simple search function which produces a list of word clusters for you to choose from.
Say you are writing a description of a new product for a catalogue. You want to say that the product is « very useful », but on the page that combination looks a bit boring. To find out what other adverbs you can use with « useful », type the word in the search bar and hit combinations. You will receive a page with a long list of word clusters. To narrow your search, click on « ADV *useful* » at the top right of the screen, which will lead you to a manageable list of about a dozen examples of adverbs that are used to modify the word « useful ».
You like the feel of « extremely useful » and insert it in your writing. But later as you are rereading your work, you decide that « useful » doesn’t really do the product justice. What alternatives might there be to this word? Back to JTW for a second look. Enter your original phrase « very useful » in the search bar, and this time select alternatives. This will produce two lists: the list of alternatives to « very » that you have already seen, and a list of adjectives with a similar meaning to « useful » that partner with « very ». The number beside the word combination indicates the number of times it is found in the corpus, which is also represented visually with a green bar.
You decide you like the look of « very beneficial » as an alternative, but to make absolutely sure you’d like to check how the expression is used in actual written text. Simply click on the expression, and you will see a list of excerpts from actual texts in the corpus where « very » is used with « beneficial ». This also gives you other useful information, such as the fact that « very beneficial » can be followed by FOR or TO.
Another way that JTW helps you is that it indicates word partnerships that are either rare or simply not used in English writing. For example, keeping with the « useful » example, you may have heard some English speakers talk about something being « real useful ». Perhaps you are wondering if this is appropriate in written English, so you enter the phrase into the search bar and select « alternatives ». It will return a short list of word clusters that indicate with a red bar that the combination « real useful » isn’t found anywhere in the corpus, and is therefore a bad word combination in written English (although we know from your list of « useful » combinations that « really useful » is possible).
As a learner, if you keep a vocabulary notebook (which you should!), rather than just writing lists of words, you will retain new vocabulary better if you also write a definition and an example sentence. JustTheWord is great for finding authentic example sentences. Furthermore, we often remember new words better in word partnerships.
Imagine you have just learnt the word « confidence ». JTW can show you other nouns that are regularly used in partnership with this word, thanks to the number showing the frequency of use. If your focus is business English, you can record the following in your vocabulary notebook: « business confidence » and « consumer confidence ». You will see that « no confidence » and « self confidence » are also common.
As a teacher, you may be preparing a lesson on collocations or word partnerships, but don’t have time to dig through a dictionary or thesaurus. Simply enter your key words into JTW, and you have a ready made list of collocations to choose from.
I’m sure you’ll agree that JTW is a very useful, extremely helpful, really beneficial, particularly valuable and especially practical tool!
Can you think of other ways to use it? Why don’t you share your ideas in the comments?
That’s what Winston Churchill said about the Americans and the British. George Bernard Shaw referred to American English as a « foreign language », and Oscar Wilde quipped:
We and the Americans have much in common, but there is always the language barrier.
I am often asked if it’s better to use American or British English. I remember being surprised when I first came to France that people routinely refer to them as two different languages, as in : « Are you learning American or English? » This is reinforced by language schools offering courses in « American English ».
Just how different are they? I was watching a quebecois film the other day, and although after 14 years in France I am very comfortable understanding spoken French, I probably only caught one word in two of the broad Canadian French accent. Surely English on the two sides of the Atlantic can’t be as different as French?
Well, it all depends where you go. The term « American English » is deceptive – which « American English » are we referring to? You put a Minnesotan and a New Yorker in the same room and you may wonder if they are speaking the same language. Well, slight exaggeration, but accents and vocabulary vary widely.
And then there’s « British English » – in some parts of England you only need to drive a few miles to hear accents change dramatically, and even such basic language building blocks as personal pronouns aren’t always consistent. Go to Yorkshire where you can still hear people use « thou » instead of « you« .
As a New Zealander I generally say I speak « British English » when asked, but then hear myself saying « sidewalk » instead of « pavement » (or the more kiwi « footpath« ) and there is often a conspicuous /k/ in my pronunciation of « schedule« . I guess I’m just linguistically confused…
The fact of the matter is that in our day of globalisation you can get away with a variety of different ways of speaking English. In France I tend to teach sentences like: « Have you been to the doctor yet?« , knowing full well that one day my student will be in the US and hear someone say « Did you go to the doctor yet?« , and will at that point have to decide whether his teacher really knew what he was talking about, or whether Americans have just got it wrong. The truth is that both forms are completely correct, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on, whether you’re American or British. I have to admit I still balk when an American friend assures me that « If I’d have known you were coming, I’d have baked a cake » (I’m tempted to do my teacher thing and say, « If I KNEW you were coming!« ), but even there, that « mistake » is so widespread – who am I to say that this is not « standard » English, as it certainly is standard in parts of the world.
1. Be consistent. Adopt the grammatical habits and vocabulary of one region and stick to them as much as possible.
2. Learn regional varieties. Not that you have to use the different forms yourself, but it’s useful to recognise them so as not to be completely lost when faced with someone who has a different variety of English.
3. Don’t stress about it! The differences are fairly superficial, and any misunderstandings are quickly straightened out.
4. If you are a foreigner living in an English speaking country, why not adopt the local speech patterns? Regional variations make a language rich – it’s boring if everyone speaks the same way. I recently met a German living in South Africa, and it was wonderful to hear her say things like « all raht » (for « all right« ), « is it? », « hectic« , and « pshaw » – made a nice change from the standard German English accent!
So aside from the obvious accent and vocabulary differences, here are a few lesser known British-American equivalents to add to your list:
|jacket potato||baked potato|
|motorway||freeway / turnpike|
If you have any more to add to the list, write them in the comments.
To teachers and students who are new to live online language learning, I often say that anything you can imagine doing in a real classroom, you can also do in a Virtual Learning Environment, or virtual classroom – except better! Well, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but it is quite true that there is no shortage of ideas for adapting language teaching material to the online environment.
When it comes to ideas for language teaching, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Most language teaching activities and methods are just adaptations of old favourites that have been circulated in various incarnations for years, and are easily personalised with a tweak here and there. However, teaching live online does require a little originality to adapt activities to the virtual environment.
So over a few blog posts we’re going to look at some of the classic favourites for first classes, and see how we might adapt them to a virtual learning environment.
I think I am indebted to Karenne Sylvester for this idea, and I have used it for many first classes.
Object: introducing the teacher
Language input: practicing various question forms
Skills input: oral fluency
Think of about 15 words or short phrases that illustrate an aspect of your life. For example, you may choose « peanuts », « 14 » and « Somerset Maugham », if you happen to be allergic to peanuts, you have been in your present job for 14 years, and Somerset Maugham is your favourite short story writer.
For best visual effect in a virtual classroom, make a Wordle of your list of words/phrases. Remember that to ensure that words belonging to the same phrase don’t get separated, you need to connect them with a tilde (~). Once the wordle has been created you can modify it to your liking using the font, layout and colour menus. Although it is possible to save a wordle to a public gallery with a link, I generally find it easier to create a .pdf using the print menu, or simply to make a screenshot. Once you have your image saved somewhere convenient for easy access, you can easily upload it to whatever virtual classroom you are using, or share it over Skype or by E-mail. A recent example of my own is at the top of this post.
With visuals I know I am going to use again, I generally insert them into a powerpoint that I can add other materials to for a ready made class. It’s great to be able to upload all the materials you need in one go, rather than having to create individual slides each time you prepare for a class.
Once you have introduced the task, your student needs to begin asking you questions until they manage to elicit from you the exact answer. Take « peanuts », for example:
Student: Do you like peanuts?
Teacher: No. (It generally takes a few tries before they realise that of course closed questions are not going to get them anywhere)
Student: Hmmm. What is your favourite food?
Student: OK, what did you have for breakfast?
Teacher: Cereal. (At this point you might offer a clue – « Actually, I really don’t like peanuts).
Student: Oh, OK. What food don’t you like.
Teacher: Brussels sprouts 🙂
Student: Or, what food are you allergic to?
The above example conversation would be for Intermediate level students and above, but the exercise can be adapted to any level, and you can decide as the teacher what level of accuracy you are shooting for.
The exercise easily leads into work on the grammar of question forms, so if your wordle is already in a powerpoint you can just add slides with your question forms exercises and you have a reusable class all ready to go.
It can also be extended into an oral fluency exercise by asking the students to create their own list of words or phrases, and having their partner question them in the same way.