Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

March 14, 2012

My four Ps for polished performance in English language.

The idea for this post came out of a text chat discussion we had on Gapfillers a little while ago when, we came up with a formula for improving  performance and skills in English.

The title of the discussion was ‘How to get my English to a high level’ and the first three Ps to emerge (they all just happened to start with P) were:

Patience, Perseverance and Performance

and then the fourth and equally important Practice.

With this Posse of  Ps it’s hard not to reach your English goal (and hard to keep away from P-words too :-)! )

So let’s expand on them and see how they can help you to achieve your dream in English.

Patience.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your English. If things take time to sink in, make sense or execute don’t worry. If you keep on at a steady pace then you will, almost without realising it, achieve the milestone that you are aiming for. One day you will suddenly realise that you know something, really know it in your muscles, that you have been struggling to master for a while. Remember that language learning goes in a series of plateaux and is not a straight, onwards and upwards, line. You may feel that you are not making any progress for what seems like a long time and then suddenly, almost overnight, you get it! With patience these steps will happen and you will see and feel them. This will give you even more confidence to keep going!

Perseverance

This attribute helps you to pick yourself up, even after you have had a setback, and push forwards. It is easy to give up. It is easy to say I’ll never do this. Let’s say you took an exam and didn’t get the result you wanted you can shrug your shoulders and say that you’re not ever going to get the grade you need or you can learn from the experience and get back on track. Sometimes when you have this experience you need someone to support you and help you to keep going and find out where you went wrong.  A mentor, however, can only show you the way and encourage you. At the end of the day YOU are the one who needs to draw on your inner strength and focus on your dream again and take action to move closer to it.

Performance

By performance here I mean actually using your language. Speaking and writing as much as you can and making sure that you have an audience to receive this performance and sometimes even rate you on it! I speak to English learners every day and many of them tell me how they don’t have opportunities to speak or they can’t find anybody to look at their writing. Then I speak to others who have found themselves language buddies online and they speak every day and assess each other’s writing! You have to try to create opportunities for yourself and it’s so much easier today with the internet.

Be brave if you can’t find a group then why not start one yourself!

The fact of the matter is that languages improve with use and so if you need to improve, then you have to use them. You cannot rely on your books alone you MUST get out there and speak and write.

The more you perform the better (especially if you have good feedback) your performance will get.

Practice

The difference between practice and performance is that one is ‘real’ and the other is preparation for real. If you speak then your purpose is often other than the words and sentences  – it is to communicate something to someone. When you write it is to convey and message, or information, or get an assessment in an exam. On the other hand when you practise you are trying to perfect your skills for the performance. It’s rather like training in sport or rehearsing in music. It is in the practice where you can experiment with new words and phrases or a new style or new ideas. Practice is the focused way in which you get your skills to performance level. It is here that you can try things out, experiment with new words and phrases or new approaches to writing. You can ask people if you are right or gauge someone’s reaction to your new style or new vocabulary. Try and test, test and try, and you will broaden your language for the ‘real’ times.

But both practice and performance work together to get you those high level skills that you desire.

So, here you are; the 4P approach to getting your language skills to shine and achieving your goals in language whatever they may be.

And in case you are interested, here is the ‘warts and all’ transcript from that PPPP chat!!

GapChat

9/02/2011

How can I get my English to a really high level?

Welcome to live chat.
09:02 Berni: Don’t forget GapChat at 13.00 GMT today! See you then 🙂

12:51 Berni: Hello and welcome to today’s GapChat. How can I get my English to a really high level? I’m very excited about this topic as I think Gapfillers is a perfect way to start!

12:59 Berni: Add your comments in the box and press send. Don’t worry about just watching what others

are doing. Add your comments when you feel ready.

13:00 Berni: Hi Blanca I hope you manage to stay with us today!

13:00 Blanca Morales: Hi Berni, I´m sure you have the clue to get my English to a really high level?

13:01 Berni: I was hoping you would give us your advice as your English is at a very high level already!

13:01 Blanca Morales: It seems to be working at the moment.

13:02 Berni: I think one point about you Blanca is that you keep going and always look for areas of your English to work on – this is very important!

13:03 Berni: Three words that I think are very important (and they all begin with P) are Patience, Perseverance and Performance

13:04 Berni: HI Cee welcome – any nuggets for today’s chat?

13:04 Cee: Hi. Just getting my brain into gear!!

13:05 Blanca Morales: It is but it´s true my commitment to keep it going is high, that´s part of my life but when you´re just a learner is more difficult.

13:05 Cee: Would you add a further p – practise

13:05 Berni: Great idiom Cee! It means to get ready for action.

13:06 jay: Hi Friends..

13:06 Blanca Morales: I agree with these 4 P principles you two have just mentioned.

13:07 Berni: I agree Cee practice and performance go hand in hand you need to take opportunities to perform and then depending on the outcome go back and practise (note 2 spellings pof practice/practise noun/verb).

13:07 Berni: pof obviously? = of Lol!

13:08 rosamund: Hi, everyone! I’ll butt in when I have an idea – you seem to have got off to a flying start!

13:09 Berni: HI Jay welcome we are exploring what you should do to get your English to a high level and have come up the the 4P process! Pretty cool!

13:09 rosamund: butt in = interrupt, cut in. i suppose it’s a bit informal

13:09 Berni: Wow we’re producing great idioms today! Hello Ros welcome.

13:10 Berni: By the way cut in was our word of the day earlier in the week.

13:11 jay: This is first time chattting with you guys am new..Could you tell me about this use of chat..

13:11 Berni: So, how can we really use this process of patience, perseverence, practice and performance to push our skills?

13:12 Cee: Do you think getting your English to a high level is a staged process? – read, listen, speak. So that, in stages your confidence builds along with your ability?

13:12 rosamund: Hello, Jay – nice to meet you! What are your ideas about getting your English up to a high level? I think it’s important not to overlook the little opportunities that crop up (= occur) in your everyday routine. A friend of mine learned Polish while he was travelling to work on the metro eveyr day. It was the only free time he had, but he made use of it with a notebook, a list of vocabulary and sometimes headphones!

13:13 Berni: Jay we meet and chat each Wednesday about a topic on online English language learning

13:13 rosamund: Oops! typoe = I meant every

13:13 rosamund: typo – oh dear

13:14 Berni: The topic is voted for by Gapfillers members and then we discuss and look at ways we can use Gapfillers (and other things) to improve English skills

13:14 Cee: Great idea Ros. I have heard of people learning a language by listening to the radio – song lyrics as well as conversation.

13:15 Berni: We are looking at how to really make a difference to English language skills. I think to do something every day (even 5 or 10 minutes) will help.

13:16 Berni: The important things you have in thes example Cee is that this is authentic, real English and so is a good model.

13:17 Berni: The negative side of just listening to songs or radio is that in some way you need to convert this into an active skill – speaking or writing

13:17 Blanca Morales: Once you have reached an advanced level if you want to overcome that plateau level you feel at, you really need a professional to make your English progress. There I come to sth o learnt from Berni, which is brilliant: language auditing -is the spelling right?-

13:18 Berni: Yes, Blanca I agree you have to have someone chack that you are correct and that you don’t keep making the same mistakes – language auditing is a way of assessing your own language for the mistakes you make over and over

13:19 rosamund: Yes, Berni, i agree – what’s ideal is to be able to make the most of the time you have – the word of the day doesn’t take long for people to absorb – and the grammar exercises here on Gapfillers are also short. Some people like to make their own notes on reading or listening exercises to reinforce what they’ve covered – it depends on how your brain works, really. This can be a way of making the learning more active, to take your point, Berni. it’s not active active, but it’s not just passive – you’re taking sth and doing sth with it.

13:19 rosamund: did you mean ‘check’ Berni? My dictionary doesn’t have ‘chack’. (ho, ho!)

13:19 Berni: Jay what is your opinion on getting your English to a really good level?

13:20 Berni: Oh Ros Lol!

13:20 Blanca Morales: Can you see what I´m saying?

13:21 Berni: Yes Blanca – have you faded again?

13:23 jay: Berni..Actually i have a habit to improve my english skills.i used to find new word from dictonary and write it a pice of paper..i will read number of times whenever getting time on whole day…like traving ,roaming and somtimes while do bathing..!!!!

13:23 Berni: If you really want to improve your skills then you have to kep an eye on what ‘real’ speakers do – I find some students get to a reasonable level and then just go round in circles.

13:24 Blanca Morales: In fact, practice and awareness are important to boost the learning process.

13:24 jay: ‘real’ speakers means….native speakers?

13:24 Berni: This is a great idea Jay if you keep looking at the word and using it you will remember it! Make sure you look, listen, speak or write even a little every day.

13:25 Berni: Yes that’s right or very good speakers (they may not be native) I think having a good model is important that way you don’t ‘learn’ mistakes

13:25 rosamund: Yes, Jay – that’s a good idea. Do you ever put the word on a post-it? They’re little bits of sticky paper that you can stick on the fridge, or the bathroom mirror, so you look at them regularly. I have different colours, as i find even that can help words to stick (= sink in = become absorbed / learned).

13:26 jay: but whenever iam trying to speak in english ..iam always used to form sentence in my monther lang..then iam transalate it…some times i cant trsnalate what am thinking..

13:27 Berni: So to summmarise – we need to be patient and persevere, we need to practise and perform as much as possible, we need to have good language models and finally we need to expose ourselves to some English every day

13:27 Cee: Ha ha – some of the English used in the media is really quite poor!

13:28 Berni: Aha Jay now this is important – try not to do this as it rarely comes out right – use what you already know in English and start with simple sentences – what do you think Blanca?

13:28 Berni: I agree Cee it can be awful but there is still enough that is good to use I feel.

13:28 jay: Yes…Rosamund..used to stick papers on my walls,TV and bike!!!

13:29 Berni: Jay, you sound as though you are already doing everything you need to do to improve your English! Now try and ‘think’ in English!

13:30 Berni: Right so how can Gapfillers help?

13:30 Cee: Jay , my friend had a rule when learning French – If I wish to speak in French I must think it French too! She said it was very useful.

13:31 Cee: Whoops, ‘Think IN French’, not it -another typo

13:31 rosamund: It’s a much better idea to simplify what you’re thinking in your own language and base what you say on sth you know is right. It’s always interesting wondering how you would actually say sth in your own language – often it would be really difficult, so better not to translate too much of the time, just occasionally. It’s essential to vary your different types of learning, too. You can get bored and stop taking things in.

13:32 jay: sth means?

13:33 Berni: it means something (an abbreviation often used by teachers!)

13:33 Cee: Sth is an abbreviation of the word- something

13:33 jay: Fine

13:33 rosamund: sth = something – sorry, Jay. sb = somebody so = someone. You’re talking to someone who has spent too much of her life in different dictionaries.

13:34 rosamund: That’s why i know how much time you save doing work on this site and not having to look things up! I’ve been there and done that! (= That has been my own experience.)

13:34 Berni: I love the picture of you living in a dictionary Ros! I am sure this would improve language skills a lot!!

13:35 Berni: Jay, where are you joining us from today?

13:35 jay: From India

13:36 Berni: I’m in cold wet UK!

13:36 Berni: How often do you use English actively?

13:36 rosamund: Wow! Do your friends and family all call you Jay – or is that short for another name?

13:37 jay: Actually we used to speak in english in office hours..

13:37 Berni: Is that a rule or just your habit in your office?

13:37 rosamund: Was that for fun, or because you had to, for work purposes?

13:38 jay: because in india more than 500 native language is there..so English is gobal language for Indians.

13:38 rosamund: The idea of 500 native languages makes my head spin!

13:39 Berni: I think English has been a common language in India for a very long time – how do you feel it compares with English in the UK?

13:39 Cee: Wow, 500 native languages!

13:40 rosamund: In a typical secondary school in the UK we might have 12 – 15 different native languages – only in some would there be more than that – but I can’t imagine there being 500!Top of Form

13:41 jay: Berni..We used to follow UK English only

13:41 Cee: Jay, do you have to speak some English before you start employment, or do you learn it whilst you are working?

13:43 rosamund: What sort of English do you usually need – presumably social English, and also some sort of work-type English, vocabulary and phrases to do with meetings, correspondence, pay and conditions?

13:43 jay: from working environment only…Actually here lot of pepole good in English…

13:44 Berni: Good question Ros – it does depend also on what you need/want to learn – you can plan your programme to reach this goal.

13:45 rosamund: We have a lot of material on the site which should be useful in a work context, Jay.

13:45 jay: I want both !!!! Social as well as Work-type

13:45 Berni: Jay, this is the best answer – everything! can I ask you how you use the Gapfillers site to help youo improve your English skills

13:45 rosamund: Yes, we always laught when people who haven’t learned a language say they want ‘telephone English’. i mean, what do you want to say on the telephone?!!

13:46 jay: Because its makes bore if you speaks only work-type english with friends..Am i right?

13:46 rosamund: laugh – sorry!

13:46 rosamund: I agree, it is boring – and you can be a bit of a bore, too.

13:47 Berni: I think you are right Jay the more widely you use English the better it will become – is there a P word for this?

13:47 Berni: Also, doing things that are not work-related will keep you interested and often you learn more because you are enjoying the topic!

13:48 Berni: Lol Ros, especially if people can only talk about their jobs!!

13:49 rosamund: Shall we invent a term for using Englihs as widely as you can, over as many areas and fields as possible – what about calling it ‘parachuting’?! Jay, Blanca, I’m being silly here, just ignore me.

13:50 rosamund: English – I meant to type

13:50 Berni: Actually parachuting could just work!

13:50 Berni: So, Jay how did you find out about Gapfillers?

13:50 Cee: I can see Potential for some typing lessons here, people!! We are all making lots of typos!

13:51 rosamund: Folks, I’m sorry, but I have to go. Good to chat – thanks for your ideas – I’m going to go and have another think about some of this. have a good week, everyone.

13:52 Cee: I like the term ‘parachuting’, Ros.

13:52 Berni: Bye Ros and thank you for your ideas and thoughts – see you next time!

13:52 Cee: Bye Ros.

13:53 jay: Its really good!

13:53 jay: Got some new word from here

13:54 Berni: I think you are doing the right thing with your practice Jay – maybe you can formalise it a bit more so that you have an idea about the progress you are making. Do you get the word of the day?

13:55 Cee: That’s the good thing about coming onto Gapchat – you see people using everyday, ‘real’ English including idioms, slang and abbraviations. It’s all very useful!

13:55 jay: yes..

13:55 Berni: Which area of your language do you think you need to improve the most?

13:55 Cee: AAghh, abbrEviations! Sorry

13:56 Berni: Lol Cee!

13:57 jay: Simple sentence format and vacabulary

13:57 Berni: In speaking or writing?

13:58 jay: both

13:59 Cee: I have to leave, now. Nice to ‘see’ here today Jay. Thanks again Berni. See you all next week.

13:59 Berni: I see – how much listening practice do you do?

13:59 jay: Bye Cee….

13:59 Berni: Bye Cee thank you for all your input it was very helpful. See you soon 🙂

14:00 jay: i have no extra listening proctice! just i will intract with my co-workers and friends ..nothing else

14:02 Berni: I think this is something you can do to improve – try to find some listening exercises on Gapfillers (or another site you use) make sure there are some exercises so you can test yourself but this will help you to get exposed to good English models in different topics.

14:03 Berni: As you hear more of these examples you can use them in your own speaking and writing and this shoudl help you with your word order and grammar – but be patient it won’t happen overnight.
14:13 jay: Thank you so much for your support..

14:14 jay: Have a great time..Bye

14:16 Berni: It is my pleasure – see you soon! Bye 🙂

Do you need help with your IELTS exam?

As a former IELTS examiner and with over 15 years of experience preparing and coaching people for the exam especially at Bands 7 and 8 I know what it takes to achieve these scores.

I work a lot with professionals (especially doctors) who need high band scores to move on with their careers.

Using my own Advanced English training site, Gapfillers and my own expertise in IELTS I can help you to get the score you are looking for.

Join my IELTS Group in Gapfillers and get regular updates about preparing for the exam and also the chance to join in my teleseminars and seminars and all the other IELTS training opportunities I offer.

Joining is easy;  follow this link, register (it’s absolutely free), (don’t forget to tick the IELTS group button) and that’s it!

As soon as you register you will have access to my free 1-hour presentation THE TROUBLE WITH IELTS – the link is on the welcome page. Watch or download it, it’s your choice.

I hope to see you there 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

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February 15, 2012

My IELTS Speaking Test is tomorrow – Can you help me TODAY?

This is a cry that I get often.  I really don’t understand why people leave it so late. Going over the exam procedure, making sure that you know what to do and when things are happening, checking the times etc.. is one thing you should do the night before, but trying to address the whole speaking test the night before or even in the days before the exam begs the question – should you even be doing the exam?

In actual fact my advice to students the night before their exam is (when they have checked the points mentioned above) to relax, watch a movie, read a book or magazine (in English) and go to bed early!

Frankly I would not be prepared to give this kind of last-minute coaching for two reasons. Firstly it wouldn’t be helpful and I don’t want anybody investing their time and money in something that isn’t going to help them to succeed and secondly, I have a feeling that if the result wasn’t the one wanted then I’d probably get the blame! So, my BIG message to all IELTS students in this post is please, please don’t leave things to the last-minute.

If you take a driving test do you get into the car the day before for the first time? Language is a skill the more you practice the better you get generally. Speaking is the most fundamental part of a language and you just need to find opportunities to practice. If you can’t speak well how on earth will you manage in your new country, your new job, or your new study? That’s what the IELTS is testing! Do you have the right level of English to succeed in the venture that you are embarking upon?

Your approach to preparation in the IELTS tells me a lot about how you will succeed. I meet students who are organised, who have a plan and who create a process for their learning and their preparation. They balance their general English practice with their IELTS test practice and know that it is impossible to get a good band without both. They are usually successful. I also meet students who keep on just ‘having a go’. This approach to the IELTS exam is VERY EXPENSIVE and will not guarantee you success. If you do not get exposure to English except via the Cambridge practice tests then getting a high band score is going to take a VERY long time and in some cases where a student’s English is not of a high level it will be impossible.

There are no short cuts. Either you have the language or not and no amount of IELTS practice can make up for a lack of good English language skills just as really great language may still not get you your score if you don’t prepare well for the exam itself.

So, particularly in the speaking, make sure you give yourself the best chance and start to practice as soon as you can and way before you go into the exam.

When it comes to speaking there is no substitute for actually doing it, getting out into the world and creating opportunities to use English with other people. These don’t have to be English native speakers – you can practice with other people who speak well or with other IELTS candidates who are looking for the same band score as you.

Yesterday I was speaking to Zakir from Pakistan. He is taking his test this week and he told me how in the last test he only scored a low score but wanted to get a 6 or 6.5 this time. His strategy for improving his score is to speak every day with a friend who is about the same level and they go through the test pretending one of them is the examiner and the other the IELTS candidate. They choose lots of topics and ask and answer the questions as if it were the real exam. They also take some time to chat as well. I was amazed at his level of fluency and confidence through using this simple technique to improve his speaking.  If you don’t have the chance to speak to a teacher, join a class or converse with English speakers then a simple arrangement like this will really help you to get some fluency and use your English.

On my Gapfillers site I encourage members to find speaking buddies – other members who are on the same IELTS journey who they can connect with on Skype in order to practise the speaking. I also run speaking workshops where we practise the test and talk about how to approach the speaking using practice exercises to improve performance. The speaking may only be a short part of the test but I really feel that it is one in which you can have a lot of influence over your score so it’s really worth making that extra effort to make it good!

So, here are some tips to improve your speaking:

  • Find speaking buddies to practise with
  • Record yourself – it’s good to hear how you sound and this will help you to hear where you hesitate or where your speaking might not be clear
  • Take any opportunity you can to speak – join a local English club or start one yourself! Look for an online one or start one yourself
  • Choose some topics write them on bits of paper, fold these up, put them in a container – everyday choose one at random and speak about it non-stop for 1 minute (then extend to 2 minutes) Choose some ‘silly’ topics like oranges or purple shoes etc.. if you can manage 2 minutes on this then the IELTS Part Two will not be a problem
  • Don’t stick to IELTS books go beyond this and just get out into the world to found opportunities if you have a wider experience then you will have much more to say in the IELTS exam
  • For pronunciation find recordings of poems or other short pieces and try to imitate the speakers – record yourself and compare

Finally, look at the video at the top of this post. There is a question at the very end. Make sure that YOUR answer is YES!

Do you need help with your IELTS exam?

As a former IELTS examiner and with over 15 years of experience preparing and coaching people for the exam especially at Bands 7 and 8 I know what it takes to achieve these scores.

I work a lot with professionals (especially doctors) who need high band scores to move on with their careers.

Using my own Advanced English training site, Gapfillers and my own expertise in IELTS I can help you to get the score you are looking for.

Join my free IELTS Group in Gapfillers and get regular updates about preparing for the exam and also the chance to join in my teleseminars and seminars and all the other IELTS training opportunities I offer.

Joining is easy;  follow this link, register (it’s absolutely free), (don’t forget to tick the IELTS group button) and that’s it!

As soon as you register you will have access to my free 1-hour presentation THE TROUBLE WITH IELTS – the link is on the welcome page. Watch or download it, it’s your choice.

I hope to see you there 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

November 1, 2011

25th Edition of EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival – November 2011.

I am thrilled to be holding the 25th EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival here this month (November 2011).

The theme for this carnival is:

The Most Popular Posts on your Blog

 

I have received so many fantastic entries that it really is an amazing feast of  great, great posts!

 

I asked people to search through their archives, dust off the post that got  the most visitors, comments, retweets and show us what EFL/ESL/ELL blog readers are most looking for!

As teachers we don’t often get a chance to ‘show off’ or ‘brag’ about our achievements so here is your opportunity to take out your most celebrated piece of  writing and showcase it again for us all to admire!

 

This carnival is simply the best of the best!

Enjoy the feast!!

I’ll begin with my own top post:

 10 Top Tips for Improving IELTS Scores

It is not a particularly momentous post but it keeps getting visitors and comments!

Everybody can paint! 

Sabrina’s Weblog – by Sabrina  De Vita

I will start this post by thanking my students for having inspired me to write it, and I would like especially to thank Gisela for being so generous as to share pieces of her life with us every class.

10 Most Common Questions From English Language Learners

English and Culture | Notes on Life and Language in the United States – Lindsay McMahon

This article covers the 10 most common questions that I have received from English language learners including grammar points and strategies for learning English.

It’s not onlyabout errors

4C – Tyson Seburn

I admit it. I’m a slacker with regards to actively participating in Shelly Terrell’ #30goals.  It’s certainly not because I think they aren’t worth my time or not applicable to my teaching, but for one reason or another, they’ve been put on the sidelines this February, along with active blogging and commenting on others’ blogs. 

Tools for the 21st-Century Teacher

Sandy Millin – Sandy Millin

This is far and away the most popular post on my blog, largely thanks to Ann Foreman and the British Council Teaching English facebook group. thanks Ann!

Post-it notes 

(Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas – Sandy Millin

My second blog is designed to crowdsource ideas for how to use different ‘prompts’ in class. Post-it notes have proved the most popular. Can you add any other ideas?

INTEGRATING TECHNOLOGY: “Strange Animals” class project

The machine goes onDaniela Tomatis

We’ve just finished a class project which involved 12-year-old Middle School students.

VOCABULARY CHALLENGE: 5 WAYS TO STORE WORDS 

The machine goes on – Daniela Tomatis

I love words.

What about your concept questions? The famous CCQ’s

TEFL Matters – Marisa Constantinides

I thought my most popular post was going to be the one on Word Clouds, but, no, it looks like teachers have searched for and read different posts most.

According to google analytics, the most visited post in the past year has been is “What about your Concept Questions? The famous CCQ’s”

But according to Edublogs stats in my dashboard ,

The Power of Play for Education and Language Development  is the one.
The wandrous whiteboard challenge

English Raven – Jason Renshaw

Here’s a new challenge for teachers out there interested in trying things out and sharing the results!

Opening your classroom door to the world

My Integrating Technology journey – Jennifer Verschoor

If you would like to heighten your students’ cultural awareness, consider Opening your classroom door to the world.

Songs in EFL Classroom

A Journey in TEFL – Eva Buyuksimkesyan

I have written many times that I really enjoy using songs in the classroom. I know how effective these real songs can be.

The Best Websites To Help Beginning Readers

Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

I thought it was time for another list of Websites Of The Year.  This series of “The Best of…” posts will be continuing off-and-on until I run out of useful topics.

For English Teachers – Angoltanároknak: ELT Rap

 For English Teachers – Angoltanároknak  – Erika Osváth

Although this is a post I’ve put up fairly recently, it has become very popular in a very short period. I’m guessing, because apart from it being fun, it gives teachers – and maybe teacher trainers too – ideas about exploiting rap songs in teaching EFL.

Building your own PLN with Twitter

Te@ch Me – Hakan Senturk

A practical guide to build your own personal learning network (PLN).

Teaching English through songs in the digital age (part 1 of 4): Background readings and resources

Educational Technology in ELT – Vicky Saumell

In case you didn´t know, I´m an avid tweeter, especially for Professional Development and networking with colleagues all over the world.

Visualising Ideas – Notes for teachers on “How To Steal Like An Artist” By Austin Kleon

Visualising Ideas – Naomi Epstein

A visual and humorous look at why and how teachers should collaborate

Prezi vs Powerpoint « Classroom201X

Classroom201X – Pil Bird

I do quite like this post… but I’ve never quite got why it gets so many more hits than the rest of my posts, but it does and there’s a good stream of comments there as well…

Very Funny Ads

TeflTecher : Tasks, Videos and Opinions for Tefl Teachers – Ian James

I love using adverts in my teaching. If you ignore the fact that they’re trying to flog you something and focus on their narrative structure, they can provide you with an endless supply of mini-stories for “retelling” activities.

A close up on translation | close up

close up – Ceri Jones

what a great choice for a blog carnival -so easy to choose – just let the stats do it for you 😉 and nice to look back at an old forgotten post and all its comments too.

Love Them Before You Know Them

About a Teacher  – Greta Sandler

I can still remember that day as if it were yesterday. It was my first day at a new school and my first year as an elementary teacher. My lifetime dream was coming true. So special was this day that everything around me was inspiring.

Teachers and Learners – Roles That Complement Each Other

Vicky Loras’s Blog – Vicky Loras

Teachers should share their enthusiasm with students. In the process of learning, there are numerous things that play a significant role towards making it a smooth, pleasurable and constructive process.

10 Tech Tools for Teacher Training Courses

Nik’s Learning Technology Blog – Nik Peachey

….this course took place in a computer room with 1 Internet connected computer per teacher.

What follows below is a brief outline of the tools I used to achieve this and how I used each tool.

Introduction for free #edtech20 project gateway to knowledge in #education20 in the New Age of #Curation #leadershipday11

#edtech20 #socialmedia #curation project gateway to knowledge central.ly/web20education/  – DUMA CORNEL LUCIAN

I present this project in #mmvc11 because 2011 is the beginning of New Age of Curation

Chiew Pang Interviews Shelly Terrell

iAskU  – Chiew Pang

Shelly Terrell’s interview just managed to edge Chia Suan Chong’s by a few visits.

Daily Routines Tagging Game

a cLiL to cLiMB – Chiew Pang

Not an article as such, but it’s proven to be rather popular.

C1 Lesson Plan – Reading: Facebook, more harm than good « A Muse Amuses

A Muse Amuses – Neil McMahon

I’m on a roll today – another tweet (can’t remember who from I’n afraid – if you know, let me know) tipped me off to this article on facebook so I’n gonna use it as a springboard

Restaurant | English Advantage

English Advantage – Walton

My most popular post is actually a lesson plan for a restaurant role play. I guess it’s so popular because I tried to include a lot of materials like specific role cards and even notes for the waiter to make the role play as realistic and also as adaptable as possible. I’m also fairly proud of my restaurant discussion questions which focus on problems at restaurants, something fairly common that isn’t always covered in textbooks.

Should teachers be encouraging the use of ?English? names in our classrooms?

Teaching the Teacher – Stephanie

Because using ‘English’ names as a replacement to a child’s name really, really bothers me.

Focusing Curriculum Around Skills « Core4All

 Core4All – Alan Matan

This is a blog focusing on the Common Core State Standards as a way to drive ELL curriculum.

12 Angry Men: A Dramatic Activity Plan

So Where Did It Go Wrong?  – Gordon Scruton

One of my more popular posts on my teachers’ blog, based on my love of old movies.

What is Cohesion & Coherence? (Cambridge Testing Explained)

Understanding How We Learn  – Gordon Scruton

Reverse reading comprehension – lesson activity

www.mikejharrison.comMike Harrison

This lesson idea proved a hit, with 1,300 views! Still amazed it struck a chord with so many!

10 contemporary motivation theories and how they explain why your students just aren’t ‘into it’ « one year

one year – Adam Simpson

My most successful post in terms of comments, hits, retweets, you name it!

Don’t Make These 7 Mistakes Teaching English Abroad

TripbaseKatie Sorene

7 most commonly made mistakes made by English teachers working overseas such as over-emphasizing pronunciation rather than communication, overdoing the grammar and missing home too much! Helpful tips to prevent English teachers who venture abroad from falling into these traps.

Blog challenge: compare and contrast photo

A journée in languageBrad Patterson

Anne Hodgson posted a quick pic post yesterday and its humor got the ball rolling on a fun idea.  We sent a few tweets back and forth and decided to challenge you to choose two photos to “compare and contrast” something similar but different.

Seven Teaching Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs

everythingESL.net – Judie Haynes 

In Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas (ASCD, 2010), Debbie Zacarian and I listed seven teaching strategies for mainstream teachers of ELLs.

The giant is no longer asleep

ELT Bakery –  Eduardo Santos

This post is about the current economic situation of Brazil, part of the BRIC, and a very interesting ad done by Johnnie Walker. This post let to great discussions about the current economic situation in some countries from my PLN.

Educators’ News – August 22-26, 2011

Educators’ News – Steve Wood

Let Sleeping “Cat” Lie

Janet’s Abruzzo EdublogJanet Bianchini

This post has been one of the most popular ones I have ever written and it is also one of my favourites. 

Looking forward to the next carnival?

The 26th edition of EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival will be held on January 1st 2012 and hosted by David Deubelbeiss  – use the submission form to submit your entries. 

The Carnival welcomes any blog posts, including examples of student work, that are related to teaching or learning English. You can contribute a post to it by using this easy submission form. If the form does not work for some reason, you can send the link to Larry Ferlazzo via his Contact Form. Let Larry Ferlazzo know if you might be interested in hosting future editions.

You can see all the previous editions of the ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival here.

August 20, 2011

IELTS Myths

I have worked with IELTS students for many years and over this time students have told me many things about the IELTS exam that I term ‘myths’.

The reason I consider them to be mythology is because they are mostly not true and secondly they can become a huge distraction to students who are preparing for the exam. At best they are harmless pieces of  ‘folklore’ but sometimes they can actually be detrimental and act against good performance in the exam.

So here are 10 IELTS Myths (there are plenty more) all of which have been said to me by my students quite recently. I want to explain to you why you should ignore these and stick to the real work of preparing successfully for your exam!

In this post I would like to explode some of these myths and explain why IELTS candidates should ignore them.

 

 

So here are my top 10 myths:

  • You can get a higher band at X centre

When I was an IELTS examiner in London some years ago,  this belief used to amuse me. I often examined with other examiners who attended various different centers. We would meet each other at different centres and so wherever students went for their IELTS exam the same examiners would be there! There are many more centres nowadays but examiners do still move around.

Secondly, examining the IELTS  is standardised and all examiners do a lot of training to ensure that they are all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ i.e. all giving a standardised result. Wherever you take the exam you will get the same experience and chance.

  • Some examiners are stricter than others

If you take on board what I’ve said above then this cannot be true. All examiners have to give all candidates the same experience and they train rigorously for this.

All examiners want you to be successful and get a good score but they can only score what you give them on the day!

  • Only x number of candidates will get a high band at each centre

Every IELTS candidate has the same chance and if you perform well enough to achieve a high band then you will get a high band.

The way to make sure that you get the band you want is to prepare well, make sure that your English is at the right level and not waste time worrying about these things.

  • If I pause for more than 10 seconds in the speaking I can’t get a high band

This could be a very dangerous thing to believe because it means that you are counting time instead of thinking about how you perform in the speaking test.

I am quite sure that the examiner is not checking the length of your pauses. If they were doing that they would not be paying attention to what you say and then they would not be able to score you at all! If you think about this it is ridiculous.

It is true that if you hesitate too much then your speaking will not be fluent and that will affect your score. Instead of counting pauses though, make sure that you can answer the questions fluently. Counting the length of your pauses can only interfere with your communication and I am sure that it will end up being stilted.

  • Certain centres will not give high bands to candidates from x country

This is a new one on me. Examiners only check passports to see that you are the person you say you are. Their role is to test your English performance and not to make judgements about your nationality. IELTS examiners have no control or influence over visas – they are simply assessing your English.

  • I have to include these words (usually a list) in my task two or I won’t get a high band

Sadly I have seen essays that are ‘word-packed’ and often the communication is lost. The most important thing about the essay is that you answer the questions in a communicative and convincing way. You are at liberty to use any words and phrases you wish and,of course, if you use a range of good vocabulary that will hep you with your final score but throwing words at the essay just because you think they will impress the examiner is a dangerous thing to do. Using words appropriately and sensibly to give your essay some sophistication will get you marks but throwing words at your essay willy-nilly because you think they will earn you marks won’t help you at all.

It’s better to spend your time broadening your overall vocabulary and perfecting your writing style so that you are able to use new words in the right way.

  •  I have to keep practising the IELTS practice test to get a good band score

This can be a very boring and limiting way of preparing for the test. While it is important to prepare for the IELTS and understand what is expected in each part of the test, you need to remember that this is a test of English and the better your English, the better your chances of doing well. Don’t limit yourself to IELTS tests use the great wealth of English language material on the internet to help you too.

  •  IELTS is the most difficult English exam

IELTS is actually a very straightforward exam – there are no tricks. It tests your ability to use English in certain tasks at a certain level and that is all. There are many tests of English for many different purposes and if you are well prepared and have the right English level (this is very important – you need to be band 7 to get band 7) then IELTS is no more difficult than any other exam.

  • If the examiner doesn’t like my opinion I won’t get a high band

The examiner’s job in the writing and speaking is to see if you are able to present ideas and arguments in good English and to test that those ideas are plausible and backed up so that they are convincing. At no time will the examiner judge your ideas (as long as they are sensible and fit in with the question).

You are in control of your speaking and writing not the examiner. You should use this position to demonstrate your excellent use of English. If you are waiting for the examiner then you will not perform as well. Take the lead and convince the examiner of your opinions.

  • I have to give the examiner the answer they want in the speaking

This tallies with the above myth. The examiner has a list of questions that they will ask you but it is your job to take those questions and use them to demonstrate your English. The examiner has no idea what your answers will be and they also have no idea in their head of  an answer that they want – that is your job. They will simply listen and mark you according to how you managed to respond.

 

So my advice is not to listen to these myths they will not help you. You should concentrate on what will help you and that is sustained, regular practice in both your English language and the IELTS exam preparation.

 

Do you need help with your IELTS exam?

As a former IELTS examiner and with over 15 years of experience preparing and coaching people for the exam especially at Bands 7 and 8 I know what it takes to achieve these scores.

I work a lot with professionals (especially doctors) who need high band scores to move on with their careers.

Using my own Advanced English training site, Gapfillers and my own expertise in IELTS I can help you to get the score you are looking for.

Join my free IELTS Group in Gapfillers and get regular updates about preparing for the exam and also the chance to join in my teleseminars and seminars and all the other IELTS training opportunities I offer.

Joining is easy;  follow this link, register (it’s absolutely free), (don’t forget to tick the IELTS group button) and that’s it!

As soon as you register you will have access to my free 1-hour presentation THE TROUBLE WITH IELTS – the link is on the welcome page. Watch or download it, it’s your choice.

I hope to see you there 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

June 8, 2011

Who’s in my PLN? My very enlightening interview

In May Brad Patterson threw down a challenge to members of our PLN (Professional Learning Network) – choose someone from your PLNand try to get to know them better. He provided us with 5 questions and we could add extras if we wanted. This has inspired a number of interesting posts which can all be seen on Brad’s blog.

Quite often with these challenges I realise they are out there and get geared up to participate just as they are coming to a close! Fortunately this one came across my radar quite early on, but it was Eva Büyüksimkeşyan asking to interview me that finally gave me the push I needed to get on board with this challenge!

My choice is Shaun Wilden. Shaun and I moderate #eltchat together (along with other members of this team; Barbara Sakamoto, Marisa Constantinides, and Shelly Terrell), we meet on various online events and have even met face to face at IATEFL but I realised that I don’t really know much about him at all other than he supports a football team in a rival county to mine and, I think, likes marmite (could be wrong there – it may have been a joke!)

He is a great member of my PLN always cheerful, very patient, a very hard worker and always seems to know how to do everything – especially tech-wise. As such we are very fortunate to have him on the #eltchat team. He also has a wicked sense of humour (more of this below)

I put Brad’s 5 questions to him and then added a couple extra.

So here it is! Everything you wanted to know about Shaun Wilden – and more!

1) If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be?

Without a doubt they would say energetic (unless they knew the word hyperactive).  Ex-students have told me that they were exhausted at the end of lesson with me. I am forever moving about and can’t sit still.  I’d hope they would say funny, I do like to tell a joke and am very sarcastic, which most of my Czech students cottoned onto.  As a third one, I’d think they’d say crazy – if I can make a lesson out of something, I will.

2) What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Hmm, let me think, top shelf will have yoghurts, berries and some home made jams and chutneys. Second shelf has lots different cheeses, eggs and probably some cold meat. Next is the wine rack, which is full of white wine chilling, and then finally there is some defrosting turkey mince, which I shall be using to make tonight’s dinner.

3) If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?

I would to be a chef.  It’s my dream to have a small restaurant cooking good rustic food. I love cooking, it is my number one hobby and I’ve been told I’m quite good at it.  Since moving back to the UK a year ago, I have also started growing my own vegetables and would be more than happy to spend my days growing and then cooking food.

4) What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?

I think one of the hardest things about our profession is it being taken seriously.  I still not sure that my family fully comprehend what I do or what I was doing for 20 years abroad and just the other day a UK TV programme used the TEFL industry as an example of way to see the world and have a fun (in a disparaging way – in fact our profession is fun but not in the ‘this is not a serious job ‘ way).  For such a vast industry things such as the fact it is poorly paid, and that it can treat teachers badly constantly amazes me.  Likewise, perhaps naively, I am astounded when teachers who have nothing more than a 4-week cert fail to see the need for developing themselves. 

5) What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

I am not a great book or film person. I spend too much time online so read more blogs etc than books. I do have the odd book on the go on my ipad as I spend a fair amount travelling.  Currently I’m reading ‘Reelin’ in the Years: The Soundtrack of a Northern Life by Mark Radcliffe.’ He is a radio DJ and in this book he has chosen a song for every year of his life and writes about the memories of each year.  As an ex-dj the idea of a song for each year really appeals to me. As for films, I’d rather have a good dvd boxset. As a committed Whovian you’d probably find me watching old episodes of the series though you can never watch them too many times.

Extra questions

6) What are your top 3 tips for successful language learning?

I’ve probably said to my students on numerous occasions – ‘don’t worry about how you say just say it’ and I think that is an important factor in learning language. Taking a few risks builds confidence. Certainly in my experience of learning Czech (a very accurate language), I was put off on more than one occasion by the teacher’s correcting every little thing.  Secondly, be interested in your learning.  Far too many of my students learned English, well tried to learn, by coming to a once a week class expecting to learn everything by attending class once a week for forty weeks.  Those that did best, invested time outside to learn, be it watching something in English, finding times to study and so on. My most ‘successful’ student went from A2 to C2 in a couple of years by working out he could learn on his daily commute – he recorded our lessons and played them back in the car. Thirdly, have a good teacher, be it at the end of an email to help or in the classroom a good language teacher can inspire, guide and advise. As far as we have gone down the path of technology and self-study there is still no substitute for a good teacher.

7) What is your greatest memory?

My greatest memory – well this one’s a little tricky.  I’ll share with you the story I often use as a live listening. I’m not sure it qualifies as greatest memory but it’s one helluva story.  At university I learned to fire breathe (well it beats the geography degree I was supposed to be doing) and one night while at a house party in Athens (where I started my career), I met a juggler who was keen to learn to fire breathe.  ‘Oh I’ll show you’ and off we head to the balcony. Now when breathing fire you should always check the wind direction and never, ever use petrol, as it is too flammable. Being full of bravado (no I wasn’t drunk) I took a mouthful of the liquid the juggler had for his fire clubs, lit a club and went outside to breath it out and duly impress the crowd.  I ‘spit’ out the liquid in front of the flame and there is a whoosh – the whoosh being the sound of the petrol (for that is what it was) igniting and the wind blowing it back in my face.  Oh no ‘I’ve set fire’ to my hair I thought but no not quite – I had set fire to my face. Luckily I was surrounded by EFL teachers who always know what to do and one had some excellent burn cream. They smeared it all over my face and took me outside to get a taxi to the hospital (far quicker than waiting for an ambulance).  We saw lots of our Greek friends outside – it was carnival season and the cream looked like clown whitener so they thought I’d dressed up for carnival…anyway seven days in Greek intensive care followed but am glad to say all worked out well though of course it put an end to my super model days. Oh well modeling’s loss was EFL’s gain.

Thank you Shaun looks like we might be all visiting your restaurant one day sounds awesome!

May 20, 2011

English language learning tips – my Top 10 posts

I decided to go through my archives today and see which of my posts for English language learners were the most popular and put them all in one space so that they would be easy to find.

So here goes my top 10 posts of all time giving tips for language learners

And the winner at number 1 is…………

10 top tips for improving IELTS Scores

It does what it says on the tin I think.

Coming in a very close 2nd….

10 goofy ways to practise speaking skills.

Another obvious title – I really enjoyed writing this 🙂

Pipped at the post at number 3 ……

10 ways to increase your vocabulary

Mmm, seems the number 10s have it!

And in a respectable 4th place ……..

How to be a good language student! 10 suggestions

Those number 10s really have a certain Je ne c’est quoi!

Half way at number 5…….

Are some people better at learning languages than others?

Well – find out here 🙂

Coming up close behind at number 6……

English Verbs that Confuse!

I was certainly confused – hope it sorts you out!

Getting to the end – in at number 7 ……

7 great virtues to help you write well in English

I think I preferred the 7 Deadly Sins

In 8th place (one fat lady number 8 – think about it – Bingo???)…..

Register – choosing appropriate language for the context

An oldie but popular it seems

Not last nor least ….. at number 9..

Using Modal Verbs – part 3

I wonder what happened to parts 1 and 2 ?

And in 10th place – Wayhey you made the Top 10!!

Countable and uncountable nouns – now you get it, now you don’t!

Wow! What a collection.

So my top 10 most popular posts of all time.

ENJOY.

And just in case you get bored with reading all of these here’s a video of my place where you can come and study all of the above!!

April 1, 2011

Is learning English becoming overwhelming?

Sometimes everything comes to a head and we have so much still to learn and we don’t seem to be making progress. It can be frustrating, we make the same mistakes even though we’ve gone over this point a hundred times. We are working hard and getting nowhere;

” That’s it, that’s the end of it we are not capable for progressing any more  – this is our highest level and this is where we are going to stay, We’ve reached our ceiling and there’s nothing more to do!”

Learning a language ( and this is true of many things) is not an ‘onwards and upwards’ activity. There are peaks and troughs, hills and valleys and worst of all seemingly endless plateaux!

Do you remember learning to ride a bike as a child? How many times did you wobble? How many times did you fall off? How many times did you throw the bike down and stomp off?

In the end though wasn’t it worth getting  back on, trying again and finally succeeding?

How good did it feel when that happened and how thrilled were you to be able to ride off down the road alone!

There is only one way and that is to be patient and persevere.

So back to language. There is a great saying in English ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’  Things of great value take time and burn slowly. Take a deep breath, step back and think hard about what you have really achieved so far. You will probably find that it is much more than you give yourself credit for.

Then analyse your English honestly:

  • What is your goal?
  • Where are you having problems?
  • Where are you feeling frustrated (think of some actual occasions when your English wasn’t good enough – is there a pattern?)

Once you know where the blocks are (or try and get help identifying them if you don’t know) then break everything into manageable chunks and go step by step. For example if you think your vocabulary is letting you down then design some strategies for improving this – read a book a month, or a daily news article or learn 10 new words a week – whatever works for you.

Don’t be too ambitious do as much as you can manage – 10 minutes a day is better than 2 hours once a month – keep it simple. Try and use ‘dead time’ in your day while traveling or waiting for a bus or train, that way your learning won’t be interrupting other activities and vice versa.

So here is the 4P approach to learning English (we came up with this at a Gapfillers forum chat)

Patience:

I’ve said a lot about this already. It is vital – you cannot learn all you need to learn in a day. If you start your study knowing that you must be patient it may stop you from becoming overwhelmed.

Perseverance:

I firmly believe that anything worth having is worth pushing for and unless you persevere even when you don’t seem to be making progress you will NEVER succeed!

Practice:

No skill will improve without practice so unless you dedicate some time to improving and developing your English regularly then you will become frustrated and you will not make progress. Honestly, if you are not prepared to practise you might as well go and find something else to do instead!

Performance: 

This is actually using your English! There is little point in doing all the hard work if you are not going to step up, be brave and actually speak or write. There are opportunities across the web to do this – find some. Make some opportunities for yourself to perform your English!

Finally here are 10 top tips to help you improve your English and stop you getting overwhelmed or frustrated!

  1. Do a bit every day
  2. Plan – an approach or strategy for your learning
  3. Choose something interesting
  4. Consolidate
  5. Choose something with (immediate) feedback
  6. Set a time limit
  7. Follow the tips and advice given on the web-site
  8. Join a forum or chat room and USE IT
  9. Re-visit, repeat and recycle
  10. Smile 🙂 you know more than you did 10 minutes ago!

Some other posts you might like:

 Setting SMART goals for your English Language learning

Grammar is dead – Long live grammar!

Making progress as an advanced learner

Doing a language audit

Still overwhelmed? Maybe I can help you.

March 9, 2011

Setting SMART goals for your English language learning.

You have a language dream – how can you get there?

Start with your destination. Don’t worry where you are now, how much, or how little you know – where are you planning to go?

Without a destination in sight it is very hard to keep motivated and keep on track. You wouldn’t set off on a journey (at least most of us wouldn’t) not knowing where you were going. Your destination may need to be adjusted on the way and that’s absolutely fine but you really need to be able to plan this learning journey from wherever you are now to where you desire to be and it is this ‘map’ you have made that will help you to develop your skills, keep you focused and help you find the necessary support you need on the way.

One way of keeping yourself focused and motivated is to set targets for your language learning just as you would for any other process that you need to work through to get to your goal. We have all heard about SMART goals in other areas of business so why not set some for your language learning?

Here is a suggestion for how to set such goals to maintain your progress and keep your English language dream in focus.

Watch this overview on what SMART goals are and how to set them

Now let’s have a look at how that can be translated into your English language learning.

GOAL:  this is your overall aim it might be a dream (to use English as well as Pierce Brosnan) or it might be something more concrete (to make sure I get to do all the major marketing presentations next year). In either case it will not happen overnight and you’ll need to work out a strategy to get you there.

So let’s make these goals SMART!

(some of the words differ a bit here)

SPECIFIC

Make them specific and create steps. If you want to be chosen to do the presentations what changes do you need to make to your English in order for that to happen? Here are some things you might need to improve:

  • Get a wider and more varied vocabulary
  • Have better pronunciation
  • Perfect the ability to tell a joke

Whatever you think is stopping you from getting to your desired  level of English write it down. If you are not sure then ask your teacher. If you don’t have a teacher then check with someone else or consider whether you can do this by yourself – should you get professional help?

MEASURABLE

How are you going to monitor your progress?

If we take the specific goals above;

  • You will know if you’ve learned new words.
  • You may be able to find suitable jokes from presentations you’ve heard or by asking colleagues but will you know if you are telling them well?
  • With pronunciation can you really know how to improve it? There are some online tools and you can decide to use these, or use a voice recorder. You may decide that you need some help from a teacher.

The key here is to be honest and really look at the detail. Think carefully about how to measure progress and decide on the best strategy for this. You must be open and balance the reality against the dream. How important is the dream?

ATTAINABLE

Here again you have to be honest with yourself! Could you really ever be just like Pierce Brosnan – no, but you can use him as your model and get closer. Think about what is realistically attainable for you.

  • If you set a goal to learn 10 new words a week in context can you achieve that?
  • Maybe you’ll get a teacher to help with pronunciation and meet once a week face to face or on Skype
  • You can compile a list of jokes from the internet. You could search for ones that are suitable for presentations. You might look for videos so that you  have the audio too and you can copy the speaker.
  • Maybe you can record yourself and then compare with the original. 
  • Could you set aside two sessions per week ?

These are all the kind of questions you must explore.

By breaking the tasks down into smaller chunks you can set yourself an achievable study programme. Small steps that you can achieve well are better than large aims that are too time-consuming.

REALISTIC

In the video the term for ‘R’ is responsible – whose job is it. The answer here is ultimately – yours. However, it is realistic to ask for help if you need it. Then part of the responsibility can be shared with your teacher or the learning group you choose.

More things to consider:

  • How much time can I reasonably spend on studying to make the outcome effective?
  • It’s fine to push yourself but you have to know what you can manage
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help we all study and work better when we have someone to make us accountable

TIME-BOUND

Setting time limits helps us to plan. Maybe you’ve set an overall deadline for being the chosen presenter – say a year. Then you need to break down the tasks you’ve chosen and assign times to those too.

  • Two sessions on vocabulary, one on pronunciation and one on jokes gives you a reasonable study plan for the week – would that work with your schedule?
  • A study programme starts to emerge.
  • The final piece is to add in some assessment – this can be informal but make it regular say every 4 weeks and make sure you are honest about your progress to date.
  • Or better still find an accountability partner – you can keep each other focused and encouraged.

Setting goals that are SMART, being honest with yourself and then sticking to the plan will get you well on your way to reaching your dream.

Two more words – flexibility – if it’s not working re-visit, re-assess – re-plan and – reward– don’t forget to ‘pat yourself on the back’ when things go well – it drives your motivation.

You will get there in the end!

Other posts you might like:

How to be a good language student

When English skills just aren’t good enough

Business English – what is it you really need to learn?

If you would like find out about my English language Mastery programme see here

December 30, 2010

Playing role-play games online – how these can develop language.

Role play games can be fun learning tools for developing language. They give you an opportunity for free expression and great speaking practice. Yet because you are not being yourself, it also allows you to create a completely different character which helps to take away any fear of speaking and lets you perform as someone else! This can be very powerful especially if you are shy or worried about making mistakes.

I often use role-play games in the classroom and as well as practising speaking, we always have a great time! It isn’t surprising then that a role-play game was the first collaborative exercise I wanted to have on my E-learning site Gapfillers. We are currently running our 3rd game and each time there is a lot to learn both as a materials developer and a teacher! Each game is very different and very surprising.

I’d like to explain something about the game, how it works and how it helps with English language learning.

Our Gapfillers murder mystery game – The Art of Murder – revolves around the murder of an Art Gallery owner. The players are all connected with this man in some way and it is their individual relationships with him which form the substance of the story and provide the clues. The investigation is led by a detective and a criminologist acts as moderator. The players are given role cards and other information. The detective will then send out clues and the players have to send each other messages to find the answers and solve the murder. Players can also build relationships with other characters and use these to make it more difficult for other players to get information. We ask that if information is requested it is given out but how this is disseminated depends on the individual group of players. If anybody gets stuck then they can go to either the detective or criminologist for help. These two (they are teachers) are also in the game and will message, encourage and provide a commentary where appropriate.

The game has been written by a writer/poet connected with Gapfillers and not a teacher so the language is not modified or graded. There is a deal of irony and sophisticated language included in the information so the players have a lot to contend with while playing the game. The game is further supported by a series of newspaper articles, a vocabulary and grammar bank of useful language and a weekly blog post which follows the progress of the game.

The very first time we played the game we were expecting players to use the opportunity to practice their reading and writing skills and also to explore topical vocabulary. We also hoped that they would discover some of the nuances in the language of the game and above all have a good time. What surprised us the most about this first game, and also subsequent games, is the way in which the players ‘clothed’ themselves in the personality of their character!

The characters include a countess, thwarted lovers, a journalist, art dealer and artist all of whom have, each time, taken on fully rounded personalities in the hands of our student players. I have collected some of the messages to give you a flavour of this.

These are in no particular order.

  • I have no idea who this ‘guitarman’ is (why can’t he give his ordinary name, like anyone else?), but I find the suggestion we might meet again sinister. Call me hyper-sensitive, but that’s how it strikes me.

 

  • After a good night’s sleep I’m thinkking I’d be glad never to see any of you again in my life…….

  

  • oooooh!
    touchy!
    would that be a good nights sleep… in jail?

  

  • I guess you are right  – i am stressed out

 

  • no i arent accusing them of murder, just that they dont reply to mails

 

  • i shall go have a glass of wine and calm down

  

  • i so wish this was over 😦

  

  • Hello everybody– I am somewhat late with my introduction but hope you don’t mind under the circumstances.

 

  • My name is M T Hart and I am (was?) R T Guy’s girlfiend. We’ve been in a relationship for 3 years now and was hoping something will come out of it:) What now?

  

  • Oh dear! Poor you. You must be feeling very unhappy at the moment we all feel for your sadness.   

 

  • Thank you for your condolences. I’ll try to stay strong

  

  • We all understand.Youwill need take thimgs slowly

  

  • Yes, I have already asked Gugenheim about the cat but he told me that he had never heard about a cat…..So one of you is lying…..I want the truth!!!!!!!! and quickly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve just sent an email to him, so if I learn something I’ll let you know…..

  

  • I am shocked! I thought I was trying to help. Why do yiu think I’m lying and not Gugenheim after all he sold you the forged painting. Hasn’t he proved that he is a liar?

  

  • its very strange that i was unaware of this phobia of his, especially as we were so close

  

  • were you working in the office on the night of the murder? 
  • did you LOCK the door? 
  • or worse, did you let someone in?
  • or perhaps you were IN the office with R T?

 

  • well, Trudy, everyone is a suspect!
     
  • many are accusing me of killing him, i dont understand why, i would not benefit from this at all
    i would only benefit from marrying him, which never happened

 

  • strange you mentioned his temper, it got worse and worse leading up to the murder
  • any idea why that would be?

 

  • I´m sorry there must be a mistake, in fact I hate pets.

 

  • Well, well, well!!! Gugenheim finally show he’s capable of keeping information from us. You know who you can trust in this game, don’t you?? Maybe my dear wife Tik would now like to look to her conscience and come clean about her infidelity, and with whom!

 

  • Funny, isn’t it? I worked with so many of you for so long, including Guy, and now discover I didn’t know you at all. Than kgoodness for the friendship of MT Hart; she has been like a breah of fresh air compared with the rest of you rogues, and she’s lost more than the rest of us!

 

  • So, Gugenheim, what ELSE are you keeping from us??

 

  • Shouldn’t you be more interested in publishing your knowlegde than in trying to make moneay out of it – and possibly landing on the murderer’s “unwanted” list???

 

  • So, what do you know, and what is your price?

 

  • Obviously, I’m extremely interested in your extra information.
    I was just wondering what you mean for ‘price’…
    Anyway we can arrange a fair barter…

 

  • I’d be really grateful if you kept my lover’s name secret.

 

  • I’ve just to stop for a moment and think quietly about it.
    I need to collect my evidence. Right now my I’m quite confused.

 

  • I’m waiting for result, too. No one has already found out the killer. Probably they are afraid. In reality, I think we should be careful. At this point, everyone is likely to be involved in this murder.
    Let’s wait and try to find the solution.

 

  • I have come back – any news??? Holidays without my wife were great…

 

  • Haha very funny!
    Hope the hols were good. I thought you’d taken the money and run away!

 

  • Been talking to your lovely wife – she’s as confused as the rest of us!

 

  • People kep going away & then coming back very strange!!

 

  • You are joking – I had thought the murderer had already been found and guillotined…

 

  • Dear Mr Wragg,
    Much as I would like to help you, I´m afraid that I know little more than what you have already published in your newspaper. As far as I know, the Tofts’ relationship with Guy was simply a business one.
    Sorry I can’t be of more help.
  • Dear Mr Wragg,
    I’ve been doing some thinking since my previous message and I think that I MIGHT be able to help you somehow.
    Of course, this will cost you nothing but it could help if I got to know the name of the victim of a certain “incident” in which Gugenheim was involved.
    I’m sure you will understand that, like you, I want to get to the bottom of this hideous affair.

 

  • Thanks for your message. I’m not skipped town. I have been ill with problems about ciatic nerve. I will grateful your offered information. Bye.

 

  • Lies lies lies, I do not know which paintings you’re talking about – surely La Scala knows the paintings she has hanging on her walls!

 

  • It seems that you want to know more about my grandparents…. first you need to know that they are of great importance to me, I love them more than anybody else and I don’t want them to be involved in this scam. So please don’t write anything about them in your articles… They are pretty old and they deserve to live peacefully. I trust you…I hope I’m not mistaken…

I hope that this demonstrates the kind of language that ‘comes out’ when students are playing such games. They become involved and engrossed in the game itself and somehow the language flows more naturally. They also feed off the language of the other players and the language involved in the game itself  which results in very real and sophisticated usage. Admittedly the players here have quite an advanced level of language but the ability to take on a character and then sustain that throughout the game (which lasts about 5/6 weeks) is not an easy thing to do. As everything is written then there is time to consider and correct but the language being used and learned by our players is amazing!

Games, far from being frivolous, allow students to push their own language to its limits but also, and more importantly, give them the opportunity to draw from the language around them (other players and the language used in the game) to develop and enhance their own.

Gapfillers The Art of Murder is played twice a year within the Gapfillers site. It is open to all members. Our next game will be in spring 2011. (register on Gapfillers for free, see our special Christmas offer available until Dec 31st 2010)

November 16, 2010

Grammar is dead – Long live grammar!

Grammar seems to have featured a lot recently in discussions on language teaching:

  • Is it important?
  • Should we teach it?
  • Is it better to let it be absorbed?
  • Does it put students off learning?

At first I was quite shocked to see these discussions, as for me as both teacher and learner, grammar had been at the heart of language learning. I was probably the last generation to be taught English grammar formally at primary school and I loved it – it’s what got me hooked on language! I studied English as part of my university degree and grammar lectures were compulsory – at this level I found some of the grammar quite difficult and it was only when I began teaching that I was able to make sense of a lot of it. My training as an English language teacher was also focused on grammar and how to approach the skills, functions and notions of language within a fairly grammatical framework.

Having seen the discussions, looked at more recent course books and read various blogs and commentaries I began to feel that perhaps there had been a revolution which I had missed in language teaching and that my approaches were seriously flawed! The absence of grammar signalled something rather chaotic to me and this is what I began to see in many of the course books – a melee of structures thrown together, not enough (to my mind) practice before moving on to the next thing, a lack of concept checking and an all round failure to be really cohesive. There was, however, a riot of colour and sound, support across a myriad of supplementary books and CDs but alas it made me feel very dizzy!

During this period of doubting I watched and questioned my students very carefully on the matter of grammar. From 16 to 60 they all wanted to include grammar in their lessons. It grounded them in something familiar. Terms like imperatives, present perfect, gerund and participle were familiar to many of them and a good working jargon. Those who had not studied grammar quite so formally in their own language nevertheless expected it and felt that it was part and parcel of their language learning. In fact I think, from my straw poll, that students expect their teachers to be well-versed in grammar and might suspect those who are not.

Grammar lessons

So where does this leave things? During a recent #eltchat many teachers didn’t like the idea of grammar lessons but what exactly are grammar lessons? What is the role of the grammar book in language learning? I hope, it is a reference book and not a bible! For me grammar is a magical toolbox, the ‘hammer’ and ‘chisel’ a teacher (and student) can use to put language together. Once students know how the tools work they can take them out again and again to fix their latest language inventions. Whether they know the terminology for the present simple tense or not they will know to use the structure when they need to talk about habits, or states or facts. If they have a pressing need to tell a story they can take out their set of narrative tenses and combine this with the packet of shiny adverbs of frequency that sit next to the prepositions of place. You get the idea. The terminology is a shorthand which, for those who know it, can save time, but the actual grammar tools can be used by everybody.

So, grammar lessons (banish the thought!) would be no more than naming tools without demonstrating their use. A hammer has no meaning unless it is used to bang in a nail!

Grammar progression

Present simple to present continuous, to past simple, to present perfect simple ….. 

Do we need to start with the tacks before we move on to masonry nails? If you are fixing a chair what good is having a masonry nail? Is the past perfect really more difficult than the present perfect? Is the concept of completed actions in the past more difficult to grasp than that of actions which straddle past, present and future? After all there are ways of  expressing all these concepts in every language.

The idea of a step by step progression is an old one. Underlying it is the belief that there is a homogenous elementary, intermediate or advanced type of student and somehow they all find themselves in the same class! Language is not like that, things come from right, left and centre. Learners are not like that, they come with baggage – linguistic, experiential, emotional and personal! So why not start with the learner and their current requirements – now there is a novel idea! Even in a large class there can be some way of finding a consensus. What is it that this group is going to have to go out there and do first? A grammar toolbox needs to be full of shiny, useful tools not a collection of rusty old keepsakes!

I like grammar. I think it is important. I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all of language learning, but please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!!

See these posts on grammar

Prepositions – pearls of great price

English verbs that confuse!

Countable and uncountable nouns

and on books

Choosing dictionaries and grammar books

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