I’ve been teaching English language learners in Japan for more than a decade, and in that time I’ve developed a keen sense of their strengths and weaknesses in the language. Not all learners are the same, of course, but there are patterns that I know will reliably surface with each new batch of learners. For a long time, however, there was a particular problem that I was reluctant to take on in my classes, pronunciation.
Not to make excuses for myself, but because I’ve been teaching homogeneous groups for so long, I’ve grown accustomed to the first language interference that affects Japanese speakers’ pronunciation of English. In other words, I’ve stopped noticing the systematic flaws in the pronunciation of my students.
A lot of those I teach end up studying overseas in America or the United Kingdom. Students returning from these experiences often reported some kind of failure to communicate that stemmed from poor pronunciation. Most recently, a student told me of how his attempt to order a soft drink, “Coke, please”, resulted in him being handed a cookie by the staff at the counter of a fast food restaurant. Read More »
As teachers, the COVID-19 crisis has forced a great many changes in the way we do our jobs. Not all of these have been easy or comfortable. Personally, I’ve had to transition from blended learning to being completely online. Although my classes have always featured a lot of online tasks and activities, the change has brought significant challenges. Truth be told, it’s been exhausting.
With all the effort of preparing my online lessons, it was only recently that I found the time to wonder how the learners were being affected by all of this? For students whom I’ve never met face-to-face, it’s hard to know. However, I was able to reach out to some of my former students who are still studying to ask them how they’re making out. Read More »
One of our most popular tools, ReadAloud, has received a set of new features, many of them requested by the community of Poodll Net users. Since it first appeared more than five years ago, this oral reading tool has steadily attracted a band of loyal followers. With these followers has come a steady stream of requests for added functionality that would take the plugin from “useful” to “indispensable”. Here’s a roundup of what’s included in the latest version (for video summary, click here).
Even from the earliest days of ReadAloud, users were searching for ways to add a model audio to the activity to help familiarize learners with the text they were about to read. Although the workarounds invented by teachers were often creative, we knew we had to find a way to make it easier to provide this kind of support to learners. Preview Reading enables teachers to provide learners with an audio recording of the text (self-recorded, uploaded, or auto-generated using text-to-speech). As the audio plays, portions of the text are highlighted to help the learners follow along. Read More »
Flashcards are not new. They’ve been around for as long as any of us can remember. In their original form, they were nothing more than a stack of blank cards. Later they came with a hole in the corner and a handy ring to keep them together. My early experiences learning languages revolved around these cards, which I faithfully filled in at my parents’ kitchen table. Wherever I went, I took a set with me, bringing them out to look at when I had a few spare moments.
Although paper flashcards have a special place in my heart, I accept that they have now been superseded by a new generation of digital flashcards that can be accessed from anywhere via a smartphone app. The move to digital has had considerable benefits. Digital cards cannot be accidentally lost or destroyed (and there is little chance of spilling coffee on them). In many cases they can be enhanced with pictures and audio. They can even be turned into games or quizzes. Read More »
Voice shadowing is a language learning technique in which a learner listens to a recording of native speech and repeats the words aloud along with the speaker. The requirements for voice shadowing are simple. All that students need are a pair of headphones and a level-appropriate audio recording in the target language.
Choosing the Right Recording
The length, speed, and complexity of the text are all factors to consider when choosing a recording. At lower levels of proficiency, it can be difficult to find something appropriate, and it is often better (and easier) for teachers to make the recordings themselves. In years gone by, teachers supplied their learners with cassette tapes or CDs, but these days it is much easier to record and distribute audio to students online using a free service such as Record MP3 Online. Read More »
As any good language teacher knows, learners cannot improve their speaking without abundant opportunities to practice. One-on-one, unrehearsed conversation is the best method for improving speaking across all levels of proficiency. However, most learners have limited opportunities for this. One-on-one instruction may take place once or twice a week (if at all), and so other methods are needed if learners are to improve fluency and accuracy in the new language.
Structured output activities are designed to encourage learners to use newly acquired vocabulary and sentence patterns productively (i.e., through speaking or writing). For the purposes of this article, we will focus on speaking. Structured output activities have two distinguishing characteristics: Read More »
I was recently speaking to a Korean friend of mine about how things have changed for him since COVID-19. As you can imagine, there was a long list of differences. Toward the end of it, he mentioned that his children were now getting their English lessons online. As someone intimately acquainted with online language teaching, my ears perked up.
“How’s that going?” I asked.
“Terrible!” I probed him for details. ‘All they do is talk,” he said. “The whole time. Nothing else. No teaching.”
I asked if it was important for his children to be able to speak English. “Of course,” he said. “Most important. But they need teaching. The talking they’re doing in the lesson is…” He trailed off. “It’s like friends.”
The expectations people have of teachers differs vastly from place to place, and there was definitely a cultural dimension to his argument, but I found myself wondering if he had a point. A lot of what goes on in online language lessons more closely resembles socializing than traditional teaching. Read More »
Recording is a great way to help language learners focus on their speaking, reading, and pronunciation skills. Listening to themselves speaking is a great reflective practice for students of all levels which helps create awareness of strengths and weaknesses in the new language. Here are 10 fun ideas using recording that you can incorporate into your lessons. Read More »
One of the most difficult aspects of learning a new language is mastering the pronunciation. Sometimes the new language contains sounds (phonemes) that don’t exist in the learner’s native tongue. Sometimes patterns of intonation are unfamiliar and difficult to imitate. Sometimes the learner transposes features of pronunciation from their first language to the new language. Whatever the challenge, these five strategies can help your learners to dramatically improve pronunciation. Read More »