Tag Archives: Study English

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!

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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! ^^

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^^

Get writing! Why it’s important for ELL’s to write daily

18 Oct

This Thursday, October 20th is National Day on Writing (in the USA) and it’s a great way to promote literacy, writing as a hobby and as a profession.  I am a firm believer that all teachers should be encouraging their students to write, but this is especially true for language learners.

Check out the blog: Common Grounds

My advice ‘to write’ comes not only from my experience as an ESL Teacher, but as a learner of the Korean language.  I tell my students to imagine that they have a separate muscle in their body that is strictly for learning a new language.  They need to work it out! Otherwise, it will become flabby from misuse and underdeveloped from lack of attention.  On my own personal road to learning Korean,  I try to take a little bit of time regularly to relax and write down some thoughts in my journal in Korean, without full regard for grammar and spelling.  If I’m consistent in my discipline to keep writing in Korean, I can quickly see improvements in even my verbal use of the language.

There are so many resources available on the internet to teach you how to write properly, correctly, effectively, and so on.  But the most important thing you can do as an English Language Learner (ELL) is this:

1) Write.

2) Then, write some more.

How Writing Can Improve on your Language Learning:

Writing in English helps you to overcome fears and build confidence.  It pushes you to expand your vocabulary to find the exact word you’re looking for.  It helps you to realize that language is not always “translatable,” and that your first language and the English language come from different cultural contexts.   Writing also helps you discover your language weaknesses or soft spots (what you need to work on).  And writing helps you to improve your overall use of the language.

So, if you want to improve your English, or encourage your students’ to improve theirs – I suggest getting cozy with a cup of coffee, a fresh notebook and a pen that makes your words sing… and start writing!

 

 

Using Music in the ESL Classroom

2 Oct

Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE to sing.  I sing, hum, whistle and work my vocal chords through any song of any pitch from morning to evening, silently or aloud.   It hasn’t always been this way, although I’ve always loved singing.  But, mostly this singing fiesta started when I became pregnant with our little daughter.  Knowing the growing soul and mind inside of me was listening and feeling the vibrations of my voice, I sang.  Now, she’s a toddler and sings along with me.  It’s great!

Here are some creative ways to use song and music in the ESL Classroom.  Please feel free to add a comment with your ideas.

Ways to use music in the ESL classroom:

  • Create atmosphere – Help make your students more engaged in a lesson with music that compliments the theme of your lessons.  For example, if you’re learning about a particular culture, play some of that music.
  • Cloze activities – Create your own or find some online to your favourite songs.  The Beatles are always popular in my classes, because enough people have heard their songs to know a few words or at least hum along.
  • Play the guitar – Playing a musical instrument in class is one of the BEST ways to engage your students, motivate them to participate or generally just make them laugh.  I’m not a stellar guitar player although I can work my way through a few songs, but that doesn’t matter to my students who appreciate that their “foreigner teacher” is a little more “human.”  Even just a little bit of strumming in the background of a lesson or while students are free-talking and you’re walking around definitely makes for a more comfortable space.
  • Teach about music – Teach your ESL students the real-life, practical vocabulary for music such as the different kinds of music, musical instruments, expressions about enjoying or not enjoying music, etc.  This can be very helpful for those interested in socializing with those who speak the language they’re learning, English.
  • Translating songs – This can be a difficult task, but having students translate simpler songs such as nursery rhymes from their native language into English could be an interesting group activity for them.
  • Teach about culture – Traditional music, musical instruments, song and stories can all be taught through music in an interesting way.
  • Teaching syllables – Have students drum beat the syllables in a word: music = (mu)(sic)! Good for beginners and young students.
  • Free Writing – This was a popular activity for some of my adult students… I played two or three different kinds of music (especially without lyrics) and had them just write down anything that came to their mind about how the music made them feel.   For example, for a classical baroque song some students would write sunshine, bright, cheerful, beach, party, meeting friends, and so on.  When the music was finished they could share some of their thoughts if they felt comfortable doing so.
  • Discussing a song – Using a song as a starting point of a lesson on a specific grammar point used in a song, vocabulary or topic.
  • Arranging the song – Print out the song lyrics in strips and have students organize them as they listen to the song.  Great for listening and a good group activity.
Hope this inspires you and your students to sing, sing… sing~! ^^

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!

Should you Take the IELTS or the TOEFL?

14 Jul

The two most popular standardized tests accepted by universities and companies around the world are IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).  They assess a test-takers’ understanding and command of the English language.  Global English proficiency tests are important for those wanting to study, work or live in an English-speaking country with more opportunities available to them with positive test scores. In fact, most top institutions demand scores for either the IELTS or TOEFL upon applying.

What do they test? Both the IELTS and the TOEFL tests have reading, writing and listening sections.   How they differ mainly is in the fourth structures; speaking.  For the IELTS, a face-to-face interview is required, but for the TOEFL six questions are answered into a microphone and sent to an examiner for marking.

How are they scored? Scoring of the tests differs also.  TOEFL uses a numerical SAT-type grade, totaling your scores from all the areas, while IELTS uses what they call bands from 0 to 9 with half points in-between.   Here is a handy Scoring Chart for the major English Proficiency tests internationally.

What testing styles are offered? In terms of convenience, the TOEFL is offered mainly in an internet-based tests, but there are computer-based and even paper-based tests.  The IELTS is offered mainly as a paper-based test, but a computer-based test is available (CB IELTS).   However, both styles require the face-to-face speaking test.  For the IELTS, you choose between an Academic module (for educational institutes) or a General Training module (for non-academic training, work experience and immigration).

Who administers these tests?  An American non-profit, ETS (Educational Training Services), administers the TOEFL worldwide, while the IELTS is administered jointly by the British Council, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia.

And the popular question: Which is easier?  That, my friendly test-taker depends on your knowledge and strengths.  It is best to first determine why you need to take an English proficiency test and then determine which test you need.  Check which test is required by your chosen institution.

If you’ve taken either test, please share your experiences and comments below! ^^

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