Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Useful Phrases

Useful Phrases for Giving Advice, Making Complaints, Etc.
These standard phrases are useful in a variety of common situations in everyday life. Each phrase resource also includes a follow-up quiz to check your understanding.

More Useful Phrases - Saying No Nicely, Showing Preferences, Making Suggestions, and more. Here are some more useful phrases with follow-up quizzes for everyday situations:

Learn English Videos on TeacherTube and YouTube

From: Jacob Richman
Subject: [TESL-L] Uploaded New Learn English Videos to TeacherTube and YouTube

A member of the TESL list has uploaded new Learn English videos to TeacherTube
and YouTube. The topics of the new videos are:Animal Vocabulary and Computer Vocabulary

The two sets of videos include 5 versions for each topic:
  • English Only,
  • English-French,
  • English-Hebrew,
  • English-Russian,
  • English-Spanish
The direct addresses of the 10 new videos are located at: http://www.jr.co.il/videos.htm

Enjoy the videos and have a good summer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Whole Brain Learning

Overview - The Brain

The Right Brain - 2 and the Left Brain - 1

  • The left hemisphere (1) is concerned with logical and analytical skills
    An example of a left brain ESL EFL activity is the studying of first the simple past and the present perfect followed by an exercise in which students need to choose whether to use the simple past or present perfect. Example: Jim _______ (not/see) that film yet.
  • The right hemisphere (2) is the center of visual, rhythm, "artistic" abilities

    An example of a right brain ESL EFL activity would be an exercise in which students need to recognize patterns in a set of pictures. Example: Look at these four pictures. What do they seem to have in common? What is different? Using color coding when writing sentences in different tenses on the board.

The Reflex Brain - 3

  • Stimulated by activity, the reflex brain (3) makes sure the brain has the oxygen it needs to function well.

    An example of a reflex brain ESL EFL activity is any game that includes physical activity. Example: Acting out the present continuous in a guessing game.

The Limbic System - 4
  • Links memory with emotion and is stimulated by "self investment" i.e. personal involvement

    An example of a limbic brain (4) ESL EFL activity is any activity that requires personal emotional investment Example: Describe to your partner the most difficult decision you have ever had to make. NOTE In my opinion, this is an area in which teachers need to be very careful. Asking students to divulge personal secrets, while engaging them emotionally and possibly serving long term memory, can be very risky business!

The New Brain - 5
  • The new brain (5) is the area of the brain that creates new material

    An example of a new brain ESL EFL activity is any activity that asks students to take concepts learned and process the information to come up with new and unique uses. Example: Poetry and essay writing. Students are encouraged to extend their knowledge of English into creating something "new".


July 24, 2007

Hello every body!
My name is Phan Minh Tri. I am new learner and grateful to meet you. I contradict myself, On English language. I like it, I dislike it too.
I like it since throught it we know each other, know Vanessa –my respectable teacher. The more I know much world cultrure and many human knowledge too. Many research work, work tool, …and means that are written by English and guided by English language. It is also an international language.
I dislike it. As you know it takes much time from us. It is a barrier in finding scholarship and getting a good job… I have considered it as the first hostile.
Now I determine to change it to my good friend, my advantage, my enthusiasm.
I wish you many enthusiasm about English and it will be your advantage in working and living.
Thank you!
Phan Minh Tri.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

More on cultural literacy & idioms

Here's the next and presumably last installment of the cultural literacy (& idioms) discussion among ESL instructors on the TESL list.

Everyone (here and there) pretty much agrees that studying culture and idioms is a good thing. The question of "how much" and "which ones" still remains. I would add "how" and "when" to the list.

A few points to think about:
  1. Language by its very nature is idiomatic & often figurative (not literal) - all languages, not just English
  2. Can you recognize and identify idioms and idiomatics structures in your own language?
  3. What are some of them?
  4. How do they relate to culture? (eg come from sports, pastimes, popular culture, etc)
  5. How are they like or different from English idioms?
  6. Are there any idioms or expressions in your own language that are the same or almost the same as in English?
  7. How would you translate into English or explain ones that are different, e.g. don't use the same cultural images?
Becoming more aware of culture based idioms in your own language will help you understand how they work in English.

Earlier on the ESL teaching list, an instructor made a good point about not teaching idioms since their frequency can be very low. The ones about gambling do not show high usage frequency, at least not on UK lists. No doubt many other idioms known to native speakers are also low frequency. This brings up the question of what exactly cultural competency consists of.

In the original posting with all the gambling expressions, the writer mentioned certain gambling idioms only to show that they are part of a speaker's cultural competency. This does not mean that every student needs to learn gambling idioms. However, the teacher could mention it when idioms come from gaming. Likewise, a term such as "touch bases" might be explained as deriving from baseball, without going into details about the rules of baseball. Quite a few idioms in American English come from baseball and are applied to everyday and workplace situations that have nothing to do with baseball.

Anyone who has played the game Bingo will, of course, know where the expression "Bingo! comes from when it is used to indicate success or a winner. Whether or not a teacher should go into detail to explain the origin of such terms is, at best, a moot point, but they are unquestionable part of a speaker's cultural competency no matter how they are taught or learned.

Some years ago, Kenneth Croft, a San Francisco State University professor, developed a test to judge students' ability to compete certain culturally-bound expressions, e. g., "red, white, and ______," "a penny for your _______," etc. Croft's contention then was that the ability to complete a series of such expressions was indicative -- or at least related to -- cultural competence. Perhaps an updated test would be useful today. (Sutherland, US State Dept)

Comments have been made on teaching idioms. Idioms are of utmost necessity in using and understanding English. When you ask a student to "look up" a work in a dictionary you are using an idiom. It would be a bit frustrating to see your class staring at the ceiling. Also, as a student learns idioms, they become more confident about inferring meaning. My students wrote reflections
papers on ways they have learned English. One student wrote that when I said "Let's pick up where we left off yesterday" she realized pick up meant begin/ return and left off meant stopped because I referrred to the page numbers of the book. In the eight word sentence four words made up two idioms. (Flierl, Williamsville NY)

As Wayne Hall wrote, idioms have a wider range than the set of "colourful expressions" often quoted. The metaphoric use of "see" in "I don't see what you mean." is idiomatic. So is the use of "do" by the casual dresser who says "I don't do suits". Such idioms are all around us and include the going to future with it's use of a spacial verb to refer to time. These idioms need to be taught.

Correspondents have also mentioned business idioms that use sporting metaphors. It may help if the student knows the background to the metaphor but it isn't essential. Many UK businessmen use expressions like "making it to first base" or "take a raincheck" without even thinking of the US sporting origin of the idiom. Even more common in business English is the idiomatic use of war and battlefield terms in business. "Boeing is winning out over Airbus but Airbus is fighting back" "Pepsi has enlisted the aid of a new PR company". These idiomatic usages are less obviously idioms than the more colourful idioms that take a metaphor and use it as illustration like the high profile low usage "raining cats and dogs" but I think they are very useful to learners, especially those who need English for business.

Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, shows how our use of metaphors is far more widespread than we may have realised (good is up, seeing is touching, eyes are limbs, life is a container etc.) and it is often the experiential and cultural base of metaphors that slide into idiom, for idioms are nearly always closely connected with metaphor. I don't see a need to teach idioms as such but learners definitely need exposure to some of the concepts behind idioms they are exposed to. Chinese learners, for example, rarely realise that "see" can be used in a sense other than the literal one. Showing the metaphoric link between vision and cognition can give an insight and is useful later in idioms such as "It's perfectly clear that ...", "That was a brilliant idea" and "give an insight". (Tibbets, teaching in China)

Visual reminders can go a long way to help students understand and use idioms. I gave an assignment where I had students work in partners. I had idioms written on slips of paper, and the students drew one. One partner wrote the idiom on a sentence strip, and the other partner drew a picture on a large sheet of paper. There were very cute representations of such idioms as: button your lip, on top of the world, like a chicken with your head cut off, etc. We posted as many of these as our bulletin boards would hold. If you had the materials, perhaps older students could do the same thing with overhead sheets -- one student or set of partners assigned to prepare and present one idiom per class period, for example?

There's a cute poster of a number of idioms illustrated at this website -- the top poster -- back to school with idioms: http://www.teachertools.org/bulletinboards_dynam.asp#eoy

I'm sure you're all familiar with this website for ideas for idioms: http://www.eslcafe.com/idioms/id-list.html (Pfeifer, Arizona, USA)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pronuciation Special from about.esl.com

VOA Special English Dictionary - Pronunciation File Added

This Special English Dictionary contains about 1,500 words and makes an excellent vocabulary goal for intermediate level learners. Each word now includes a definition and an audio file with the correct pronunciation. Broadcasts of the VOA use this Special English Dictionary as the basis for broadcasts, allowing you to prepare yourself for listening practice. Of course, some might say that the VOA provides a rather one-sided point of view. That may well be the case, however, for listening comprehension practice the broadcast provides an excellent resource.


American English vs. British English

While there are certainly many more varieties of English, American and British English are the two varieties that are taught in most ESL/EFL programs. Generally, it is agreed that no one version is "correct" however, there are certainly preferences in use. The most important rule of thumb is to try to be consistent in your usage.

Spelling Differences between American and British English.

This fun tool "translates" British English to American English and vice versa. Finally, once you've understood all the differences (good luck!), you can try this American English vs. British English quiz.

Top 1000 Words - Pronunciation Files

The top 1000 words resource now has pronunciation files for each word. Click on the word and you'll hear the pronunciation; click "return" to go back to the resource.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

fun with words

I'm pleased to see you checking in one by one. Do be brave and post original messages too - not just comments. New messages are a good place for introductions (or re-introductions).

Do you have an idea about something, a question or a request for a particular lesson? Just post it as an original message.

Recently I've added about half a dozen new students to the class, so you may see them here eventually - but not until they complete the entire first lesson. Unfortunately, online classes have a high attrition (drop out) rate, especially at the beginning. Because of that, I decided not to invite new students to join the blog right off.

I've been posting a lot of study resources lately. Now it's time for some fun. Having fun, even useless fun, with words advances your language skills. Even if it does not seem to, you still need to enjoy language to make the best use of it.

Jokes are one way to have fun with language. They can be quite confusing though. The humor often depends on a play of words - multiple meanings and even misunderstanding. Additionally, jokes are often culture specific. You may need to understand the cultural context, to "get" or understand the joke.

Word games are another. Anagrams and palindroms may be too complicated but let's try them out. Do you have them in your own language?

An anagram is a word or phrase formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase.
For example, Elvis to Lives. What anagrams can you make from your own name or other words?

Here are links to anagram generators:
We'll save palindromes and jokes for another time. Now, have fun trying out those anagram generators. Share some good ones with the rest of us.

One of mine, for Vanessa Vaile" is: "AVAIL AS SEVEN"

More fun with words sites:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


(Note from Vanessa - here is Gusa's introduction that was in drafts. Please reply and let's get some discussion going)

Hi everyone,

It´s the first time I write to all you and I guess I have to introduce myself.

My name is Gusa, is not my real name, it´s a nickname. I have five sister and one brother and I'm the youngest and when I was born, my father chose my name: Consuelo ( I don´t know the translation to English but the meaning is: when a person is sad and you or whatever makes this person happy). My mother chose the name of all my silibings, and they have really nice names, but I don´t like mine and neither the rest of my family and they began to call me Gusa.

I live in Madrid,which is the capital of Spain. I have been living here for fourteen years. I came to study audiovisual communication and now I work in a film production company, I'm in charge of the production documentary film department. I love my job, because almost everyday is different, each documentary is a new world, and I have to learn about the new subject everytime.

I know it is a brief presentation, I promise to write and comment [more] but [writing in English is very hard].

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Studying Culture

I think you will find this discussion from the TESL list interesting. It raises issues and questions about "cultural fluency."  What do you think? What are your experiences

ESL professor Merton Bland asked: "So what cultural elements do you feel warrant a place in the ESOL curriculum?" Dave Kees, presently teaching ESL in China, resplied, I think we have to add a few more questions to this. Again it comes to a needs analysis. So perhaps we should ask:
"So what cultural elements should be taught in ESL classes and for which students? Also, when should they be taught?"
Another teacher, Nelson Banks, pointed out earlier that ESL students in America may need to learn some very American specific language and even geography. Do they need to learn every state and its capital. Low-level students should start learning some things about California (Los Angeles, Disneyland, etc), New York (Manhattan), Washington D.C. (and that it's not Washington State), etc.

According to Banks, teaching cultural elements depends on the specific needs of individual students and also the timing for teaching them. Teach cultural material when they can use the knowledge. If taught too far in advance, they may forget it before they can (or need to) use it. For example, should ESL teachers teach American sports terms, like baseball terminology, to students in China? The vast majority of Chinese don't understand baseball at all. So should we teach this to Chinese students?

Yes - if they work for Nike. Kees then recounted meeting meeting the American director for Nike in China. The director said that some of their top Chinese managers don't understand a lot of the American baseball terms Nike managers and personnel use all the time in company meetings. Expressions such as "hit a home run," "it's the last inning", and so on are baseball terms familiar to all Americans. They are also familiar metaphors and colloquial expressions used in daily speech. After questioning the Chines managers, the Nike director learned the they do not fully understanding what is said in meetings.

Although not discussed (yet), I would think that where the student is makes a huge difference too. Those who have already immigrated to or are studying in an English speaking country need more "cultural fluency."  They are also exposed to it and have more opportunity to hear and use language drawing on cultural elements. These are usually from popular culture - sports, pastimes, movies, TV, music, and so on. There are also regional elements. In my opinion, it may not be realistic to learn a large "popular culture" vocabulary well enough to use it in speaking and writing. There are already so many words to learn. We can't expect to master all of them. However, your listening comprehension should be greater than your speaking vocabulary - you'll understand more expressions than you can use in speaking.

Here are some colloquial expressions from gambling. How many can you figure out the meanings for? Can you use them in sentences that are not about gambling?
  • hit the jackpot
  • on a roll
  • ace in the hole
  • Bingo!
  • play(s/ed/ing)  [somebody's] cards close to [somebody's] chest
  • wild card
  • shoot the works
  • let it ride
  • put(s/ting) * money down
  • beginner's luck

Thursday, July 05, 2007

english-at-home.com newsletter

The July issue of the english-at-home.com newsletter is now online. You can read it at: http://www.english-at-home.com/category/newsletter/

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Time for introductions again

OK folks - time to introduce ourselves again. We have a new member, Penelope. Insyteading of waiting for her to introduce herself, let's start the ball rolling. Besides, it's a good opportunity for those who have not been posting regularly to get back in the habit.

I live in a small town in the state of New Mexico. Before moving here in December 1999, I was in Davis CA at the the University of California and in south Louisiana before that. I taught at university in Louisiana, California and New Mexico and then online, but now I am more or less retired. I say "more or less" because I am still very busy even in not working for a paycheck. Today is the 4th of July, which is a big holiday in the US. Mountainair has its Independence Day celebration on the Saturday before the 4th, which was this past Saturday. You can see pictures of the parade on my Mountainair blog, Mountainair Arts at http://mountainairarts.blogspot.com.

Your turn... Kim, Yupaphat, Anita, Mustapha and everyone else...

Causative Verbs

The causative is a common structure in English. We use it when one thing or person causes another thing or person to do something. So, how causatives are formed, and how do you use them?

Basic causative structures

There are two basic causative structures. One is like an active, and the other is like a passive. These examples use the causative verb "have":

I had John fix the car.
(I arranged for the car to be fixed by John -- I caused him to fix it.)
I had the car fixed.
(I arranged for the car to be fixed by someone. We don't know who, so this is like a passive.)

The active causative structure

This is the basic structure of the active form, along with some more examples:

Causative verb
Action verb
her brother
her homework.
The police
the suspect
his car.
the carpenter
our window.

The passive causative structure

In the passive form, there is usually no agent. The action verb is in the past participle, and the object comes before it:

Causative verb
Action verb
our door
her hair
the windows

Other causative verbs

All the examples above use the causative verb "have". However, many other verbs can be used in causatives. In the active form, som of these verbs require the action verb to have "to" before it. These are some examples of the most common causative verbs.

Form of Action Verb
force, compel
plain form
The robbers made us lie on the floor.
[No passive form]
same as "have"
"to" form
I got Jae Won to pick me up in the car.
She got her hair cut.
plain form
I'll let you borrow my bike.
[No passive form]

Help is also used in causative constructions. I'll give you a few examples, but then I want you to try to make sentences with these verbs on your own. You can post your sentences as comments.

Example: Writing sentences will help you learn how to use causative verbs.




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