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So, How Many English Phonemes Are There?

2 Apr

Open a book on English phonics based on the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and you will learn there are 40 phonemes (sounds) in the English language produced from either a solitary letter or combination of the 26 letters in the alphabet.  However, there is some debating this number of phonemes, 40, and the discussion can be quite “phonemenal.”

English phonology is the study of the sounds that make up the English language.   Very important stuff to ELL’s and ESL teachers concentrating on helping eager students improve their speaking and pronunciation.

Masha Bell mentioned there being 44 phonemes in an article written two years ago (March, 2011) by Masha Bell for The English Spelling Society.

And in a discussion prompted by the suggestion of strictly 40 phonemes, a participant wrote,

“One hears numbers ranging from 36 to 46 for the number of phonemes in English. In teaching or learning English, one can disregard the exact number and simply teach the potential phonemes that participate in the greatest number of minimal pairs or sets first, and then work down from there.”Mxmanic

I hope you’re not reading this post to once and for all find the definitive answer – how many phenomes are there, anyway?!  Because, I am not giving an answer.

Personally, I believe an answer of how many phonemes there are may vary depending on which Nation’s English in reference.   Australian English varies in pronunciation from Canadian, and then there’s Britain to consider.   I’m sure there’s a phoneme count difference based on culture.

Despite there not being a general consensus across the globe on phonemes, I agree with “Mxmanic” when he suggested forget about the exact number and teach the ELL’s what they need to know!

Great advice, anyway you pronounce it.

Thinking in a Foreign Language

20 Oct

It’s often said that thinking or even dreaming in a foreign language is THE marker of genuine fluency, but is this actually true?  Cogito ergo sum.  Je pense donc je suis.  I think, therefore I am.   Descartes sure thought so, but how does this apply to thinking in additional languages?

Answering this question requires getting to the absolute basis of what makes up a language.  Are words merely symbols or labels which we affix meaning too – replacing one set of labels for another repeatedly until our neo-cortex finally chooses one over another automatically?  Or is language an alternate reality one steps into and out of, imbued with culture and context?  I pulled this interesting comment from an online discussion on a similar topic:

What makes language exciting is that each one divides up the world into sometimes overlapping categories or concepts but there are different “seams” and “patches” to every quilt — you can say things in German which cannot be said in English.    -Unknown

What a beautiful thought – the world as one big cozy quilt of overlapping language patches, each filling in where another falls short.  French is the language of lovers, Japanese for sound effects and English for sarcastic, utilitarian purposes?  But seriously..

Learning a new language is not just about rote memorization of vocabulary and phrases.  One has to memorize and intuit new sets of labels and labeling systems for everything around and within them.   Effective teachers use miming, images or symbols to illustrate the meanings of new words rather than offering handouts and translations into their native language – attaching a new word to a image or movement makes it easier to think of, rather than translate from.  Many language learning resources take advantage of this (consider Rosetta Stone for example).

Linguists suggest that dreaming and thinking in another language is a goal of language learning.  There isn’t a set amount of time that one has to study for before being able to do this.  What matters is the amount of time and consistent effort a person puts into learning the desired language and immersing themselves in language and culture of the language that counts.   Within a few months (to years.. ahem..) of learning a new language, a person may start to notice some of their inner dialogues are in the new language rather than thinking in their native language and then speaking the translations.

Learning a new language takes time, effort and motivation.  Every person will experience language learning differently and there is no one formula for fluency.

So, as they say in Korea… 화이팅! (Fighting!)^^

 

 

The Best Ways to Learn English

8 May

Students eager to add English to their language fluency repertoire often find themselves trying a variety of learning methods and materials looking for the magic key that will instantly make them good at English.

Films, TV programs, radio, books, music, private tutoring or even travelling overseas to participate in an intensive language experience and education program are all great ways to learn ESL with good results, depending on the sincere efforts of the learner.    I’ve had students employ some or all of these methods as part of their English-learning adventure, and while I can’t attest wholly to their individual effectiveness as this would truly depend on a list of nameable factors, I can pass along my suggestions as to what methods seem to be the most enjoyable and popular among my avid-ESL-learning students here in busy Seoul.

WHAT I THINK:  

Sift, sift… What, then, is the BEST way to learn English?  Permit me to offer my humble opinions and then let’s take a closer look at this eye-popping Kaplan International Colleges infographic to see what results they’ve surveyed.

Learning English, or any language for that matter, is a fluid, ebb and flow process of learning, assessing, reflecting, forgetting, re-learning, focusing, taking time off for things that come up in life, re-strategizing, studying…. In other words, it is a human process.  We are each unique learners and bring our own lives to the process of language learning.  It isn’t easy and there isn’t a magic key.

  • A comprehensive approach with lessons and activities planned around the interests and needs of student is what I think is the path to successful, confident second-language use.
  • A focus on conversation/experience with a native speaker – either in group classes, 1-1 tutoring, or by travelling to an English Speaking country like the USA or Canada to infuse yourself into culture and language.

And now the bright and sparkly Kaplan International Colleges Infographic titled “How to Learn English”:

 After Thoughts: 

Only 8% of people think of Canada as an English study destination?  How sad…

Many of my students LOVE to study with the TV Program “Friends,” and find it applicable to real-life casual conversation.  Other popular ones, as this infographic demonstrates are CSI and Gossip Girl.

Films, yes, but I don’t know many who prefer using them over studying with a native speaker or using TV programs which are shorter and more manageable. Yet, they’re popular.  There are some difficulties for the educator to use movies as a basis for lesson planning for the classroom, but do-able.

Using music and song is a great way to learn idiomatic expressions and slang, therefore making it good for informal, everyday conversation and listening practice.  Especially great for the audio-linguistic learner.

Comics are popular in Korea, and after reading some inspiring ones, I love seeing younger students get really involved and creative making their own comics with imagination and spontaneous ENGLISH!

Great work Kaplan! ^^

Experiential Learning for the ESL Classroom – Philosophy and Activities

20 Apr

I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.

Confucious

There has been a lot popping out at me on reflective teaching practices these days, like a hint that’s perhaps telling me to learn more about this topic and to make more time for professional reflection, and among other thoughts, it’s brought to mind the important role that reflection plays in experiential learning.

Experiential learning is not only for learning within L1 classrooms, it can be applied in the ESL Classroom because it builds on the principles that when students are cooperatively engaged in a motivating project, task or experience, and then reflective or mindful of the results and how to further apply them, they are actively participating in the learning (and self-teaching) process.

More than field trips to museums, ponds and post-offices – this is a method of learning with practices that can successfully be applied in the ESL classroom.

A Touch of Experiential Philosophy

Experience-based, task-based and project-based learning becomes experiential when elements of reflection, support and transfer are present after the learning experience (Knutsen, 2003).

In the early 1980’s, educational psychologists Mezirow, Friere and others “stressed that the heart of all learning lies in the way we process experience, in particular, our critical reflection of experience.”   They thought of learning as a cycle that begins with an experience, continues with reflection and ends with action (Rogers, 1996).  And while thereseem to be some discrepancies in the phases of teaching (or facilitating – a word I prefer) experiential learning, I think the heart of the philosophy is satisfied with the four: Exposure, participation, internalization and dissemination.

Experiential learning begins with EXPOSURE, experiencing something, either first hand or through simulation, that is of interest to the learner and is perhaps something the desire knowing about or become interested in during the process.  The educator has introduced the topic, task or project, selling students on it and highlighting expectations.

Through PARTICIPATION, the learner cooperatively participates in an experience using ESL which typically involves group work, and therefore – communication, peer-guidance, taking on roles, responsibilities and following time-lines.

Next comes the critical process termed INTERNALIZATION, where  the educator facilitates reflection on the experience and encourages students to draw attention to how they participated in the process, and their feelings about it.   The importance of this part of experiential learning process can’t be undervalued and it can take careful consideration and experience for an ESL educator to get students thinking and talking here.  Reflection is how the student will come to learn about themselves – how they participated, what roles they assumed, what they found difficult or easy about the task/project, the challenges of group work (especially in some cultures where individual success tends to be the primary focus..ahem..South Korea).

Finally, a process termed DISSEMINATION occurs where what has been learned in the classroom is brought into the real-world.  It’s hoped that the learner successfully transfers the newly acquired knowledge or assumptions from the experience into future actions and opportunities for learning.

Experiential Learning Activities for the ESL Classroom

Sounds good.  A realistic experience, motivation, reflection…key words that resonate  and a process that makes sense to my senses, exciting me as an educator.  Great, so what types of activities would exemplify experiential learning?

Keeping in mind that the ESL educator needs to provide the situation and structure for the experience, but also facilitation for students’ reflection on the process and even on the cultural difficulties of teamwork (thinking Korean students here^^;), the lesson plan needs to reflect this.  The educator can adapt lessons to suite beginner to advanced ESL learners.

Think – do my students have a need/desire to learn this?  Are they interested in this?  How can I pull their personal skills and experience into the project/task?  How can I get their feelings invested into this?  How can we reflect on it without my pushing them uncomfortably?  And of course, as you may have guessed, do we have the time and tools to invest in a project/task such as this?

This list is not extensive – just something to get us thinking.  Please add some of your own ideas by commenting to this blog post!  ^^

  • Making  a poster
  • Making a PowerPoint presentation
  • Conducting an interview
  • “Re-Branding” a commonly used product
  • Dramatizations
  • Role-plays
  • Journaling
  • Making a video
  • Situational English – bringing the world to the classroom (restaurant, airport, etc.)
  • Making a music video
  • Creating a gameshow
  • Making a mock job or travel fair where each group represents a different profession or country
  • Making a trip itinerary
  • Creating a survival English booklet
  • Debates
  • Re-writing and illustrating fairy tales
  • Making or joining a book club
  • Creating a class website
  • Making a social etiquette book to help travelers or business people new to their country
  • Writing a research paper
  • “Teach a class”  – where they design and implement an English lesson, teaching it to the class.
  • Create a treasure hunt using clues (or even QR codes?)
  • Organizing a Fundraiser
  • Making a comic book
  • Doing a magic show
  • Puppet show

Examples of Experiential Learning in Action:

  • An adult ESL learner and business professional, participates in a classroom simulation – he’s bringing an important new client to a restaurant for small talk and a casual meeting.  The students have key topics they’ll need to discuss, but mostly the conversation is unprompted.  The teacher has set up a mock restaurant scene in the classroom to help them feel they’re really in the scene.  They’ll video-record the simulation, watch it, and reflect upon the process with the facilitation of the teacher.  They’ll hand in one page of reflective writing to the teacher next class.
  • A class of university students has been divided into small groups that have each been given a profession to explore and research – lawyer, doctor, anthropologist..  The class is going to give a mock job fair, with each group creating a small dramatic presentation on why others should choose their professional career upon graduation.  As part of their preparation, each group is encouraged to interview someone who is really in the profession they’ve been given (the professor has already prepared the contacts with industry professionals ahead of time, who in fact, also speak English^^).  Individually, each student is responsible for  journaling about the process as they go along.  The mock job fair day has all the groups presenting.  Afterwards, the professor does a great job of facilitating the reflection process and getting the students to discuss their experiences.  Many students realized that working in groups was more difficult than they expected, and some were surprised to find themselves in a leadership role.    A female student who was first aggrieved to learn their group had chosen CEO when in fact she wanted Artist, came to realize she learned a lot about being a CEO and was now more keenly interested in business.  They’ll journal about their personal reflections and hand in their journals to the professor.

—–

Kelly, C. (1997). David Kolb, the theory of experiential education and ESL.  Japan: The Internet TESL Journal, v.3, no. 9.  Found online at http://iteslj.org/Articles/Kelly-Experiential/

Knutsen, S.  (2003).  Experiential learning in second-language classrooms.  Canada: TESL  Canada Journal, v. 20, no. 2.

Rogers, A.  (1996).  Teaching adults (2nd ed.). Buckingham: Open University Pre

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