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5 Ideas for interactive language learning tasks in Zoom

5 Ideas for interactive language learning tasks in Zoom

Whether you’re teaching online by choice or because it’s no longer possible to meet your students face-to-face, you’ve probably been spending a lot of time thinking up ways to keep your lessons fun and interactive. While it’s true that online teaching comes with plenty of constraints, there are also opportunities for adaptation and experimentation. Some of the things you try will have disappointing results, but others will hit the mark and become staples of your lessons for months and years to come. 

The list that follows may be short right now, but I’m confident that it will continue to grow as I learn from others and continue experimenting with the new technology. Read More »

Why it may be a good idea to focus on one country when building your language teaching business

Why it may be a good idea to focus on one country when building your language teaching business

Difficult times call for bold measures…

Current world events have caused a lot of uncertainty when it comes to employment. Among the worst affected are the young, recent graduates who have never properly entered the job market. Many businesses just aren’t hiring, and the type of work traditionally used to tide young people over (part-time, service sector) has all but dried up. 

One side effect of the current circumstances is that people who have long been thinking of starting their own businesses are finally deciding to take the plunge. Language learning has been a popular choice for combating the boredom of long hours spent in lockdown, which in turn has inspired many people to flog their services as online language teachers. As many have discovered, though, finding students to sustain their enterprise presents a whole new challenge that can be difficult to overcome.  Read More »

10 ESL websites that will save you a ton of time

10 ESL websites that will save you a ton of time

Teachers are very busy people, and it’s always a struggle to find enough time to put together high-quality content for lessons. The problem is perhaps more acute for online language teachers, who often deal with learners of very different ages, needs and levels of ability. Factor in unsociable working hours and the effort of turning print resources into digital resources and you’ll understand why teachers need all the help they can get! 

That’s why I’ve decided to throw together a list of some of the websites I’ve turned to over the years. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I wanted to cover as many types of learners as possible, from young to old, beginner to advanced. I’ve provided a brief explanation of what to expect on each site, but my advice is dive in and take a look for yourself. Hopefully you’ll find something that makes life easier when the time comes to throw together a last minute lesson. Read More »

Why should language learners read aloud?

Why should language learners read aloud?

How often in your daily life do you read aloud? Unless you have small children, the answer is probably “not often”. For most of us, the vast majority of the oral reading we did was back in the early years of elementary school, when we were still learning to read. At that stage, it was important to read aloud in order for teachers to grasp our strengths and deficits as developing readers. With this information, they could provide the assistance needed to address the issues preventing fluent reading.

As we grow older, and the mechanics of reading are presumed to have been mastered, reading is assessed through comprehension. We read a passage, and then answer questions to demonstrate that we have read well. Assessing comprehension can alert teachers to reading problems, but it cannot shed much light on the nature of the problems. In other words, while teachers might know that their students are not reading well, with only comprehension scores to go on, they are none the wiser as to why. Read More »

10 Best Animated Movies for Learning English

10 Best Animated Movies for Learning English

My son was less than two years old when our family moved to Japan. Now, there are many things to be concerned about with a child that age, but we were particularly eager that he learn to speak Japanese. After all, this wasn’t an extended holiday. We intended to settle down. 

Fast forward a year and we found ourselves worrying that our son might not be able to speak English, the language we’d assumed would be native to him. We did our best to talk and read to him in English, but we sometimes worried that we weren’t doing enough. We didn’t want to turn our home into a cram school, but thankfully we discovered an activity that could entertain us all and provide our son with some much needed English input, watching movies. 

I like documentaries and my wife is partial to romantic comedies, but we were pretty sure that neither of these would go down well with a three-year-old. Thankfully, the school where I was working at the time had a great selection of English animation movies. We probably watched 50 or more of these over the next few years. Some had a greater effect on my son’s language development than others.  Read More »

Should language teachers correct their learners?

Should language teachers correct their learners?

To correct, or not to correct? That is the question…

Actually, no. When it comes to teaching languages, it is much more nuanced than that. Rather the question is how, when (and when not) to correct in order to achieve the maximum benefit to learners in terms of language development and motivation. 

Investigate the subject and you will soon discover that there is a spectrum of opinions concerning the role of corrective feedback in language learning. Some say that uncorrected errors become habits with negative consequences that can persist for years. Others insist that errors are a vital part of learning and that excessive correction from the teacher negatively affects motivation and self-perception as a language learner. Occasionally, these beliefs are tied to the teacher’s own preferences as a language learner, but more often they come from the broader educational context and the expectations placed on students and teachers. Read More »

Transcription for Language Learners: Is what you’re saying the same as what I’m hearing?

Transcription for Language Learners: Is what you’re saying the same as what I’m hearing?

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 »

Video Recording: a great way to reach out to remote learners

Video Recording: a great way to reach out to remote learners

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 »

Poodll Net reading tool introduces new features

Poodll Net reading tool introduces new features

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).

Preview Reading

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: the language learner’s best friend

Flashcards: the language learner’s best friend

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 »

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