Tag Archives: speaking

Speaking Journals: A Step-by-Step Guide

9 Dec

An advanced ESL student asked me this week about how she can polish her speaking (and listening) skills while studying solo.  Her goal is near fluency, and I think it’s quite achievable for her – and quite formidable since she’s only ever lived in Seoul.

Already, she listens to American dramas and reviews the content with a script she’s purchased.  She also plugs into English radio while she’s working or studying, keeping a notepad handy for any new words or phrases.  Yet, she wants more practice speaking!   The few hours a week we have together is fantastic, she admits, but eagerly wants more chance to talk.

What are my suggestions?   I wanted to pinpoint ways she can speak outside of our lesson time, and learn from it  – by using a speaking journal.

A SPEAKING JOURNAL – This is great for smartphone users, who already have (or can download easily) an app for voice recording.  I suggested for her that instead of writing a journal, which she has done extensively in the past, she should “speak a journal.”  And to keep it interesting – don’t just make it about what you’ve done today or plan to do tomorrow, even though that is very great practice.  Because of her advanced English functioning, I suggested she change the topics – which focuses vocabulary, expressions, context, tone and so forth.

Here’s a step-by-step plan to get started with an ESL Speaking Journal:

  1. Find the app on your smartphone, or get one – iphone or android.   I have an android phone which came with a voice recorder, but you may want find one with more functionality.
  2. Try recording a small clip – introduce yourself – and see if you can email it to yourself.  The voice files should be able to be sent using a variety of social media popular in your country.  In South Korea, my students and I send and receive voice recorded files using email, SMS, and KakaoTalk.
  3. Now, prepare to speak!  Daily.  I recommend 5 minutes of continuous talking with only minor pauses in speech.  Pushing yourself to speak without stopping is a great way to strive for ESL fluency.  Think fast! 🙂  For the first time, talk about whatever comes to mind – about your day, what you’re doing, plans for dinner, etc.   Try to flow from the past to the future, which ensures you use at least a few verb tenses.
  4. Grab a companion journal (or a few pages from your current ESL Writing Journal^^) to write in.  In this journal, start a list of potential topics to discuss, so that you can refer to it on days when you don’t know what to talk about.  This is also a great place to add new vocabulary and expressions that comes up with this activity.
  5. Day 2 – First, speak about  a topic that interests you, for 5 minutes continuously, little pause in speech.  For example, I love tea, so I could talk about tea for 5 minutes.  In a second language that may be difficult because there is a lot of topic-specific vocabulary.  Great!  Along with speaking practice, “rounding out” your ESL repertoire is what you’re striving for.
  6. Day 2 – Second, listen to yesterday’s speaking journal recording.  By reviewing each recording a day later, it gives you some time to separate from what you’ve talked about so you can listen with a more objective ear.   With pen and companion journal in hand: Listen for errors in grammar;  Look up vocabulary words that would have been good to use; Write down expressions you liked using or would have liked to say;  Think of, or look up, some idiomatic expressions on the topic that you could have used.
  7. Once you’ve been actively keeping a journal for a week, ask your ESL Teacher if you can send her a file for a listen.  She or he may be able to give a listen and offer some advice!
  8. And most importantly, have fun.  Learning a language is difficult, takes time, and there is no point in time where you can say “I made it!”  Keep ESL a learning adventure and you’re bound to enjoy yourself.

If you have been keeping a Speaking journal, have tried it in the past or are eager to give it a whorl – please leave your advice and comments below!

Advice for Learning How to Give Advice

5 Dec

Knowing how to politely give advice is not only an excellent tool for making small talk, but helps ESL students establish friendships with native English speakers, engaging with them in a meaningful, friendly way.

I could probably conjecture that most Koreans are eager to make friends with an English-speaking foreigner so they can practice their English, share cultures, have an interesting time, and from my experience, perhaps because they genuinely want to show you “their Korea.”  And from my experience meeting new Korean friends, there is always a lot of advice sharing.  I hadn’t realized how often we native English speakers offer our thoughts and suggestions to others, especially to co-workers or friends.

I always make sure to include a good lesson or three on how ESL students can give advice.

A few of the difficulties I’ve noticed when teaching “Giving Advice”:

  • Advice is cultural and may not always be polite or practical when transferred to the listener’s culture.  Real life example:  Me – My stomach hurts today. Friend:  You should try making a big dung. 
  • It’s better to give advice that is closer to neutral rather than politically, emotionally or otherwise “fired up.”   In other words, suggesting solutions that are too strange can feel awkward and create distance between the speaker and listener. Real life example: Person 1 – I am tired of riding the bus.  Person 2 – Well, riding the bus saves the environment, so you should be happy about doing it.  
  • Being polite is not easy in a second language, even with the best intentions.  Native English speakers can often take offense easily (and here I’m speaking as a polite, “I’m sorry” loving Canadian).  Real life example:  Me – I’m feeling sick.  Co-workers – You ought to come to work anyways like other Koreans do.
Some resources for getting starting in planning your lesson on giving advice or for learning how to give advice:
Boggles ESL – Giving Advice printable and problem cards for Adult ESL learners.
MyEnglishPages – Asking for and giving advice.
ESLhq – Giving advice board game.
AuthorStream – Here’s a Powerpoint presentation that can be used in the classroom.
Try my Giving Advice Flashcards (pdf) – which can be downloaded and used in your ESL Classroom freely!  (FYI – the “star” symbol represents VERB with my students and I). Enjoy^^

The ESL Conversation Classic – “20 Questions” Printable Cards

1 Nov

I often find shy students who are proficient in English much more challenging to teach than early beginners who are brave in the face of learning a new language.   Trying to warm students up and get them feeling comfortable is an important task that every ESL Teacher should be or become expert at.  It will make your teaching life easier and more enjoyable.  Simply diving into a lesson without a group of smiling, engaged faces may prevent the not-so-social students from contributing during class.

In addition to being shy, I find quiet students are always the least likely to ask questions.  Having a “free-talking” class where I’m asking all the questions and they’re doing all the answering, isn’t exactly conversation.  So, here’s where the 20 Questions game is a perfect activity to bring together small groups into laughter and discussion, as well as to get students asking questions.

Here it is!  Feel free to download myJennifer Teacher – 20 Questions that includes instructions and the printable cards.

I also suggest you check out my list of amazing Classroom Conversation Starters and warm-ups that get students talking.

26 Fresh ESL Conversation Starters to Get Students Talking!

10 Oct

I love teaching conversation in the ESL classroom.  Part of it must be that because the students able to “converse” in English are

better able to demonstrate their personalities, preferences, thoughts… and therefore, I get to know them better.  Often it is simply hilarious to see the range of answers students feel free to share in a comfortable environment.

If you’re a conversation teacher in an English as a Second Language classroom, there may be times when you feel as though you want fresh ideas, a change in routine or some way to remain slightly unpredictable so your students remain curious as to what tricks you have up your sleeves.
Always remember to keep in mind your students’ unique personalities and language learning journey, and never underestimate how engaged they can become with the right activity!
Here is a list of 26 fresh ESL Conversation Starters to move your class!
  • Me, Only Better – Have each student name one thing they would love to change about themselves – either physical “I want a nose job”; a personality trait “I want to be more patient.”; or any other thing they concoct.
  • Top Chef – Give your students a list of 3-5 ingredients, from tame to strange, and ask them what they would cook with them, using all the ingredients.  How would they prepare it?  Who do you think in the class would win top chef?
  • Time Capsule – What would you want the people in the year 2200 to know about life on Earth right now? What objects best represent who we are as people, our accomplishments, our joys and sorrows?  What would your students include?  A good group activity where everyone has to make a suggestion and then explain their reasons why they feel it is important.   If they found a time capsule from 1900, what do they think would be in it?  Change the year to see how the contents of the time capsule change. 
  • Horoscopes – Print out the horoscopes from the day’s newspaper and everyone takes turns reading their horoscope.  Does it seem to match what is happening in their life?  Perhaps you could then have them write the horoscope they would love to see printed!
  • What colour are you?  – Everyone has to write down which colour best represents them and take turns describing why.  Go around the circle naming things that are that colour until the group gets stuck.  Change colours.
  • If I won the lottery… – They should write down two of the things they would do first if they won the lottery.  What does this tell us about who they are, if anything?  A good intro for teaching conditionals.
  • What is your dream job?  – People take turns describing their dream job.  Why don’t they take the steps to achieve it?  How would their life be different if they were in their dream job?
  • Biggest Fear – People share the thing they’re most afraid of.  This can be fun and superficial, or can get quite serious and personal.
  • Genie in a Bottle – Three wishes granted!  What would they choose?
  • Numerology – If you’re born on September 21, 1983, your number would be calculated as follows: 9 (Sept) + 2 +1 +1 +9 +8 +3 =33 … 3+3 = 6.  Your number would be 6.  Print out the numerology meanings of the different numbers and have the students see if they feel they’re a match to their number.
  • “The worst thing I NEVER did” – People love to feel they did the right thing, so have your students talk about a time when they were tempted to do a bad thing but in the end remained virtuous.  Can be quite funny, and range from tame to outrageous.
  • Call me Pharaoh – If you were going to be buried like a pharaoh, what would you want included in your tomb?  Depending on the size of your group, you may need to limit the items to 5 or less.
  • Bucket List – A list of things they want to do before “kicking the bucket,” or in other words, before they die.  Again, you may need to have everyone go around and start with the first thing, then second round the second thing… keeps people talking. Engage listeners to raise their hand if they would do it, touch their nose if they wouldn’t, etc.
  • Ask me a Question – Everyone gets to ask the teacher one question that should be answered honestly (well, as honestly as you feel you should professionally).  Be prepared, students love this!
  • Name three things in your Bedroom/Bathroom/On your desk – Make it even harder by not allowing them to repeat something that another person has already said.
  • Going on a Picnic – What would you bring to our imaginary picnic?  One of my favourite answers ever received for this one.. “a string quartet” Yes!  You’re invited! 🙂
  • What is your favourite _________?  – This blank can be filled in by almost anything!  …movie, actor/actress, hobby, thing to do before going to bed, subject in school, food, thing to share…  And don’t forget to give reasons.
  • What was your last purchase?  What was the last thing each student bought before class started?  Have every student ask a question about each other’s purchases.
  • Maestro, If You Please – Play a piece of classical or world music, without words preferably so students can concentrate on how the music moves them.  Have them write down answers to the 5 W’s – Who, What, When, Where, Why. For example: Where is this music taking place?  Students share and discuss their answers.  It’s really interesting to see the diversity of answers.
  • Guilty Pleasure – Have your students “fess up” and share one of their guilty pleasures… Okay, mine is eating raw cookie dough!  I just can’t help it!
  • Desert Island – If you were to become stranded on a desert island in the middle of the ocean, what would you want to have with you?  Have students try to narrow down the items to 6 and then 3 and then only 1!  Interesting to see who chooses for comfort and who chooses for survival – or is this the same thing? 🙂  If there were only one other person they could bring on the island with them, who would it be?
  • Grandma’s Words – Your students should pretend they’re giving their best piece of advice for a younger generation.  Have each person share their own personal wisdom and then perhaps share it as a group.
  • “You should have been there!” – Have students describe the best, most fun day of their life and tell us why we should have been there!  Who would have liked to share in that day and why? Who wouldn’t?
  • I Never – A game that never gets tiring.  Students take turns saying something they’ve never done, for example “I’ve never ridden a horse” or “I’ve never driven a bus,” and anyone who has actually done these things has to tell a story about it.
  • Whodunnit?  – Everyone writes down one amazing thing they’ve done that seems outrageous or surprising.  All the ideas go into a hat and people take turns pulling ideas out and guessing who has done the amazing thing.
  • Things – I love this game!  Who has played it?  Choose a topic…such as “Things you shouldn’t say to your mailman” or “Things you should eat while driving” and have students write down answers on slips of paper.  Put them in a hat and take turns drawing answers (make sure to have them hide their pens!) Who wrote which answer?  This is a favourite cottage game with my friends and I…
And if that’s not enough, The Internet TESOL Journal has about a thousand additional questions to get your conversation class started!
Enjoy!

Learn to use Word EMPHASIS for English Fluency

14 Sep

I can’t emphasis enough how the proper use of  ’emphasis’ helps the ESL learner to sound more fluent when speaking English.  Learning how to use emphasis properly is helpful not only in preparing for English proficiency exams such as the TOEFL, IELTS or the TOEIC Speaking Test, but is equally important for academic and business situations.

Emphasis is the word in a sentence which is spoken with emphasis, in other words usually at a higher pitch and/or accompanied by a pause in speech.  There are a variety of reasons why emphasis is used.  Look at this list below for some reasons.

WHEN IS EMPHASIS USED?

  • the speaker wants to call to attention what is most important.  This is common when expressing opinions.
  • the speaker wants to imply or infer something without saying it directly.
  • the speaker is being accusatory.
  • the speaker is disagreeing with something said.
  • the speaker is being argumentative or sarcastic (emphasis is used liberally in arguing) ^^
  • the speaker has used inversion – in other words, changed the order of a sentence by adding a prepositional phrase at the beginning (example: SUDDENLY, the cat jumped up and scratched his face.)
  • the speaker wants to affirm or deny some action.  (example:  John DIDN’T go to school yesterday.)

LEARNING TO UNDERSTAND EMPHASIS

This is no easy task.  Becoming fluent in English is all about practice, exposure and time.  My husband is Korean and although is English is great, he still has difficulty with emphasis.  In fact, our conversation today inspired this blog post.  He said that when I speak Korean I add in English-style emphasis, when instead, I should learn to use proper Korean emphasis in all cases.  I suppose I had thought emphasis to be a more universal language tool… I was wrong.  There’s my ‘English-centric’ point of view creeping in again! 🙂

Since I’ve found that giving good examples is often the easiest way to “explain” something to my students, take a look below.  This is excerpted from a printable worksheet I created earlier which is in a matching activity for students. You can download it here: Jennifer Teacher – Using Emphasis

Take a look at the following examples, where the bolded words are emphasized.  Say them aloud and notice how the meaning, intention, inference or implication of the sentence changes.

a)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Someone else said it.

b)  did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Disputatious denial; Argumentative.

c)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Disputatious denial; Argumentative.

d)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  You stole something else.

e)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Someone else stole it.

f)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You did something else with the bandanna, not steal it.

g)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You stole someone elses’ bandanna.

h)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You stole one of a different colour.

i)    I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   I “implied/wrote/suggested” you stole it, not “said.”

TEST YOUR UNDERSTANDING!

Do these examples help you to understand the proper use of emphasis?   If so, try explaining the meanings of the following three sentences (leave a comment with your answers):

Q1)  Did you happen to get me a coffee, too?

Q2) What time are we supposed to meet on Saturday?

Q3) Why are you studying English?

MORE RESOURCES

If you feel you need some more help, try these external resources.  There aren’t many available on this unique subject, but here are a couple I’d recommend:

About.com: Learning to use Emphasis in English

Prof. Argenis A. Zapata: Ways of Expressing Emphasis in English

Does poetry help ESL students learn English?

29 Jul

Poems are expressions of how the writer sees the world around them.  They’re rhymes and cadence, tongue-twists and lyrics.  They can be haiku, stanzas, plays or songs.  Poetry is so many inspiring and motivating things, that if you’re not using poetry to learn English as a second language, you’re not embracing the culture from English-speaking countries.

Poems are temporal – they describe the poet’s feelings and their environment in which they live, looking at the world through their own eyes.  And one’s view of the world is influenced by the culture.

I love including poems into my ESL Classroom.  They’re so FLEXIBLE!  You can use poems with any other topic of discussion.

How can I use poetry to learn English

Whether you’re learning English by yourself or taking classes, it’s good to challenge yourself once in a while.  There are countless ways to learn English through poetry.  Any good TESOL teacher would already be employing many different ways to incorporate poetry into learning.   Importantly, you want to feel comfortable when with poems.  Remember, there really are no rules!  Just try to have fun and enjoy the challenge of learning.  Don’t be discouraged.

Try these suggestions yourself or with your ESL Teacher:

  • Do poetry theater, having students act out short plays.
  • Introduce children’s books.  You’ll find rhymes and rhythms, the words often sound pleasing and sing-song when read aloud by parents and educators.  This is a perfect approach for ESL Learners!  Of course, you don’t want to insult adult learners with children’s books, but bringing these concepts into the classroom through the pondering of poetry is a wonderful way to promote language learning and literacy.
  • Song clozes.  These can be of any kind of music and with varying degrees of difficulty.  A great cross lesson for learning slang.
  • Write haiku style poems about the weather or class.
  • Teach rhymes, riddles and tongue twisters and then have the students make their own.
  • Write a poem together as a class on a topic you’re learning about. Include key vocabulary.
Please leave a comment for discussion!
Have you tried some of these suggestions?  Which one was your favorite?  Thanks for sharing.

What to expect on the TOEFL iBT Speaking test – sample questions, too!

22 Jul

The infamous speaking section of the TOEFL iBT (the internet based TOEFL test), has many ESL hopefuls nervous.  That’s fair because the pace of the questions and the content can be difficult for even some native English speakers.  Of the overall TOEFL iBT test, about 25% is speaking, accounting for approximately 20 minutes of test-taking time.   It focuses on academic English and to get a great score you need to answer questions in a clear, concise way demonstrating an understanding of the material.

 

Breakdown of the 6 Speaking Questions/Tasks:

To ace the speaking part of the TOEFL iBT you need to know what to expect.  There are 6 speaking questions which you answer by speaking into a headset.  Let me break them down for you:

The first 2 questions are called Independent Tasks and are on topics familiar to the test-taker.   You have 15 seconds to prepare an answer and 45 seconds to speak.

A sample Independent Task question is: “Some universities require first year students to live in dormitories on campus.  Other’s allow students to live off campus.  Which policy to you think is better for first year students and why? Include details and examples in your answer.”

The last 4 questions are called Integrated Tasks and involve using more than one skill – reading, writing and speaking for example.  In some cases you can read the question first, then listen to it, prepare your answer and then speak.  Other times you’ll listen first, prepare and then answer.  After listening and reading the test-taker is given a short time to prepare a response, about 30seconds, and then must proceed with answering as requested.  Usually the response time is 60 seconds.

A sample Integrated Task question is “For thousands of years humans have been able to domesticate, or tame, many large mammals that live in the wild together in herds.  Once tamed, these mammals are used for agricultural work and transportation.  Yet some herd mammals are not easily domesticated.  A good indicator of a mammal’s suitability for domestication is how protective the animal is of it’s territory.  Non-territorial mammals are more easily domesticated than territorial mammals because they can live close together with animals from other herds.  A second indicator is that animals have a hierarchical social structure, in which herd members follow a leader, are easy to domesticate , since a human can function as a ‘leader.’ ”  <THEN YOU WOULD LISTEN TO A SHORT 1-2 minute LECTURE BEFORE GETTING A QUESTION…> “The professor describes the behavior of horses and antelopes in herds.  Explain how their behaviour is related to their suitability for domestication.”

 

Now, if you’re thinking that seems difficult – you’re not alone.  The TOEFL test can be one of the most important tests of your life, your score determining whether or not you can be accepted into the overseas school  or company of your choice.  Never fear!  Jennifer Teacher is here!  If you’re ready to start preparing seriously for your test, contact me.

Learning to speak like an English Canadian

20 Jul

Hello, eh!  Native English speaking Canadians may have the best pronunciation amongst ESL Teachers worldwide.  Whether or not you agree, Canadians do have a crisp, clear way of speaking and can often be good listeners, a skill ever so important in conversation.

So how does an aspiring student of English learn to speak like a Canadian?

  1. Seek out a Canadian conversation tutor who you can spend time talking with, picking up their style of speech, idiomatic expressions and pronunciation.
  2. Listen to CBC Radio Podcasts on your mp3 player when walking through town or riding the bus.  Try to imitate how they’re speaking.  They have quite a selection of available podcasts, but the Radio 1 is my favourite.
  3. Watch Canadian films and TV programs – yes, we make movies and TV shows, too.
  4. Find a pen pal that you can have Skype conversations with!  If you’re interested in this opportunity, please let me know.
If you have experience with Canadian ESL teachers, tutors or friends – please leave a comment below and tell us what you think of their English!
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