Chunking and Pausing

chunkingMany students focus their language learning on memorizing vocabulary. The  most committed ones usually write down the noun, or verb, or idiom mentioned by the teacher in class as if that would be the solution to all their problems. Well, even if that were true, those words would be soon forgotten behind other lists and pages in the student’s notebook never to be seen again. 

But there’s an approach that can be used in class and by students on their own. Fluency and vocabulary memory can be greatly improved by students using CHUNKING AND PAUSING – techniques for effective speaking:

Even intelligibility and clarity improves much more when students focus on volume, pace and chunking instead of only on pronunciation. 

  1. Collocations – strong tea 

                            – heavy traffic /heavy rain 

                             – the national soccer team

2. Idioms – to get cold  feet

Against all odds / 

 

3. Phrasal verbs

put up a great fight / 

put up with your boss

4. a whole sentence / clause

Thousands took to the streets –

 

The Teacher must help students to:

recognize chunks and 

practice their use

 

Pauses and chunks package information for the listener. Speakers divide speech into ‘chunks’, which may be single words or groups of words to communicate a thought or idea, or to focus on information the speaker thinks is important.

Without the use of pausing and chunking, it is  hard for listeners to follow your meaning and they may be overwhelmed with too much information.

Look at these examples. Try reading both of them out loud. Which one do you think a listener would understand better?

Contextualization: 

Sample 1

Does it really matter whether people speak with an accent as long as they can be easily understood many people now believe that in an increasingly globalized world we should accept variations in pronunciation that is accent. however there’s no point in speaking with an accent if people can’t understand you is there?

Sample 2

Does it really matter /

whether people speak with an accent /

as long as they can be easily understood?//

Many people now believe /

that in an increasingly globalized world /

we should accept variations in pronunciation /

that is / accent. //

However /

there’s no point in speaking with an accent /

if people can’t understand you /

is there?//

Speech chunks and pauses are marked with a slash / or // for a longer pause.

http://www.uts.edu.au/current-students/support/helps/self-help-resources/pronunciation/pausing-and-chunking

Source: University of Technology Sydney 

But chunking is only one rung on the language learning ladder. All that vocabulary must be firmly grounded on basic but solid grammar structure. vocabulary notebook

Cheers and good speaking,

Mo

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What Do EFL Students Want?

I simply love the cartoon below and the myriad of variations of the text. But it leads me to try to find some answers to this ever-present question.

what we want

WHAT DO STUDENTS WANT? 

Find below some of the answers my own students have given me in recent months:

“A tough teacher”

“A demanding teacher”

“A patient teacher”

“A kind teacher”

“A teacher who teaches me English”

“I don’t like English so I want a teacher who’ll make me like English”

“My worst grade in High School was 7. The subject? English, of course” 

“Never needed it.”

“Read for gist and presto”

“I can understand what I hear or read by Deduction and logic”

“I want to speak and understand in one year”

“I want perfection in my writing and speech”

“I want to speak proper English not the ‘patois’ my father uses” 

“I don’t know exactly”.  

And the list could go on and on. 

Students’ wants can be endless but their needs – as far as language learning applies are simple:

They need a teacher who loves the language

who knows what he’s teaching

Who can motivate and create opportunities for students to grow

If students really want to learn, they will have to dedicate time, effort and money, how much they invest (especially time and effort) will determine the return they’ll have on e investment.

what I want 2

As regards to perfection, no one can expect it in a language that has regular and irregular verbs and tons of exceptions to any rule. Beauty yes, perfection just a pie in the sky. So be realistic, optimistic or even pessimistic but leave perfectionist in the closet.

Keep on growing.
Cheers,
Mo

The Marshmallow Challenge

Earlier this year at the National Conference for Teachers of English in San Jose, Costa Rica,  I could attend several workshops and plenary sessions regarding English learning in the 21st century.

The very first workshop was presented by Jair Felix with a hands-on approach:

The teachers’ challenge was to build the highest frame using uncooked spaghetti, string, tape and topping it with a marshmallow. Right from the start most teachers sat on the floor and started discussing ways and ideas on how to build the tallest structure. And the biggest challenge was resisting the urge to eat the marshmallow.marshmallow

The marshmallow challenge was inspired by a  TED talk by Peter Skillman. (You may watch the YouTube edition following this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p5sBzMtB3Q)

Teachers were then challenged on how they could help their students find inspiration.

What’s the problem? The marshmallow

What skills are important for this challenge?

Teamwork
Negotiating
Listening
Planning
Communication
Role taking
Patience
Collaboration

Some of the conclusions:

  • Children usually have the best performance in this task losing only to architects and engineers
  •  Their minds haven’t been screwed up by notions and the world.
  • High stakes negatively impact the result.
  • The art of prototyping – how to learn from mistakes?
  • Learning takes place when there’s critical analysis of the input. You’re not expected to be perfect as a student. There’s always room for failure.
  • Diversity in the classroom

Incentives + Skills = success ✔️
Incentives + Low skills # success ✖️

“Teaching is a contact sport because we’re always dealing with other people.”

screen-shot-2012-06-24-at-9-55-48-pm

Cheers,

Mo

 

TOEFL OR BUST

How can you measure the level of communication skills a person has? Can they write? Can they read and interpret a text? Can they understand what they’re told to do? Can they express their thoughts in a clear and objective way? Well… that’s a tough task in your mother tongue. Imagine in a second or third language.

I’ve never been much of a supporter of language exams conveying the idea that Language is just one more school subject in which you must have high scores. And it feels like it’s just one more scheme for publishers to milk money off potential victims. toefl guideYou and I know that language is much more than 101 points on TOEFL (out of 120), for example. But the reality is that there is a need for more objective and fast assessment tools for specific purposes; and exams still are the tool du jour to do that.

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. Today the TOEFL iBT (internet-Based Test) is the most used tool to measure the student’s  ability to use and understand English at the university level in North America. And it evaluates how well they combine their listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks. TOEFL-test

So… when a former student, Vitoria,  contacted me and asked me for some classes to prepare for the TOEFL I was a little hesitant and tried to come up with excuses not to take her on. I said that I like to teach real-life communication not preparatory tips and schemes to reach a high score in a test; I didn’t have an open slot for a new student; I only teach from home; Etc. But how can a teacher say No to a student? Answer me that if you can.

I took the TOEFL back in 1987/88, not yesterday you could say, a time when no computers were used (yes, Dinosaurs also have feelings) – you would receive a booklet with the questions and an answer sheet and be interviewed by a real teacher. Maybe a little more nerve wrecking than just recording yourself.

As in all exams, the goal is to narrow as much as possible the scoring criteria, so even if you come up with a question such as “What’s the meaning of life” – the examiner will be looking for very specific content.

In Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, summarizing is a highly valued skill and connecting the dots in order to answer what has been asked.

A key point is: Make sure TO ANSWER THE QUESTION.keep-calm-and-pass-the-toefl-2

In the Writing Section the student will be judged based on their development, organization and language use.

In the Speaking Section, the students will be analyzed based on their:

Delivery  – clear, fluid, pronunciation, intonation, pace

Language Use – grammar and vocabulary – apparently raters love some connecting words and phrases such as:

  • because
  • so
  • after that
  • on the other hand (which is a very good phrase and requires attention because many students still say “IN the other hand/way/side”)
  • I want to mention
  • what this means is

Topic Development – fully answered, clearly expressed, connected ideas.

What this means is…

  • don’t speak too quickly
  • time yourself when you practice
  • listen carefully
  • summarize the opinions.

So…  my best piece of advice for my students is: practice, practice, practice. Make the language your constant companion. And shine on.toefl 1

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

Constructive Feedback

I have just asked this 21st Century Oracle also known as Google about a definition of feedback and here’s what I got:

“information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

synonyms: response, reaction, comments, criticism; More

reception, reviews
“we welcome feedback from the viewers”
 
I’m reading now the feedback from the latest TEFL conference in Costa Rica and  – phew – all of them were very positive. Not that there is anything wrong with negative feedback as long as it can be used to fix or change mistakes in my presentation.  But it does help boost one’s ego to hear good things about your work.
I tried to keep the feedback format very simple and objective. I handed the attendees a Post-it note and asked them to write at the beginning of the session what they expected to learn  from that workshop.  All questions were related to the theme of the workshop “Dogme and Technology – and how to use technology in class – only one attendee expected to learn how to use Linux and http whatever (which I’m clueless about since I’m just a language teacher 😉
After they’d finished the task I asked them to pass the note to the person sitting on their left (of course, the first time I tried it I forgot to give them clear instructions and there was some confusion = cause- effect). At the end of the presentation I asked them to write on the back of the note at least one thing they had learned during the workshop. If they hadn’t learned anything they could just write zilch, zero, nada.Feedback
All answers were very positive – and the best part is not that they all loved the presentation (which doesn’t hurt) but that they felt that they could use technology in their classrooms and not be afraid of using it (exactly the idea of the workshop).
Talk about constructive feedback!
Cheers,
Mo

Teachers Daring to Join the Change

I have just returned from four wonderful days in beautiful Costa Rica. The multitude of things one can do there is amazing – Costa Rica’s strikingly diverse terrain — lush forests, wildlife reserves, and tropical beaches — offers a little something for every traveler. Beach-lovers staying along the Pacific Coast can enjoy a palm-fringed coastline for sun and surf. Nature-seekers staying in the Northern Plains or along the Caribbean coast should pay a visit to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca before venturing inland to zip line above Monteverde’s Cloud Rainforest and hike Arenal Volcano. Whether you seek sun, nature or adventure, there’s much to discover in this paradise. IMG_9535

So which of the above took me there?  None. The reason that brought me to lovely Costa Rica was The National Conference for Teachers of English http://www.nctecostarica.or.cr/ – which gathered English teachers from all over the country and speakers from the US, Canada, Mexico and even from Brazil.

OK, I must confess I played truant one afternoon and went sightseeing at the Volcán Poás – up in the Costa Rican Alps. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the crater though, since it is quite regularly covered in heavy fog, but I could most definitely smell it – sulfur and other intriguing aromas. IMG_9428

Who would have “thunk” that a Brazilian Teacher of English would be invited to participate in such an honorable event. Talk about breaking paradigms and stereotypes. “Native Speakers of English” never have and never will have exclusive rights to the teaching of their language, especially when it is to speakers of other languages.

I was invited via twitter by Jonathan Acuña, the program’s organizer, (may God bless technology)  and the theme – Dare to Join the Change – really challenged me to embrace the opportunity and say “Why not?”

First of all, I’d like to congratulate the organizers – I’ve had my share of TESOL conferences and some of them – dare I say it – were rather poorly organized and structured. NCTE Costa Rica did a wonderful job in getting together different speakers and workshops spread all around the “Centro Cultural Costarricence Norteamericano” – with every classroom having support personnel and dedicated staff. Loved it.

I had been warned of the Tico Time issue (which is not exclusive to Costa Rica, by all means), when things tend to follow their “own time” and tardiness is expected and sometimes even embraced. Not this time. Sessions started sharply on time – save some technological glitches. The plenaries also started punctually as scheduled.

The workshops tended to focus on English Learning in the 21st Century: diversity in the classroom, Fluent x Accurate spoken English, natural learning  and so much more. (Stay tuned for coming blogs on particular issues discussed in the conference).

My workshop was titled: “Dogme never fear, Technology is here” followed by the subtitle “How can media and dogme work together”  and was based on the premise that the simplicity in methodology and movement preached by Dogme in ELT can be enriched and empowered via the use of technology (including social media). The key is to reach a balance between effective language reception and production and unplugged learning. You may see my power point presentation following this link:  https://onedrive.live.com/embed?cid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07&resid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07%21835&authkey=ABRDhO-mHMCqr58&em=2

During the training session, the attendees were wonderful – all teachers highly Tech Monstercommitted to growth and improvement. One thing that was pretty common during the workshop was the fact that most teachers still resist to the use of social media. Technology can be really scary if you don’t know what to do with it. And less than 10% (at least in my workshop) were on LinkedIn. I urged them to create their own LinkedIn profile immediately because it is their professional digital card to their careers.IMG_9447

That’s just a brief insight of what happened on 3 days of intense and powerful collaboration. The conference was tuanis (“too nice” in Costa Rican slang).

My advice? Next time you hear about a teachers’ conference dare to join the change.

Never fear.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

 

 

Podcasts for Teachers of English as a Second or Foreign Language

A few weeks ago I blogged about my favorite podcasts for EFL/ ESL learners (you may check the list here https://americanoidblog.com/2015/12/30/could-you-say-that-again-please-podcasts/ ) and some teachers have been pestering me, I mean, begging me, did I say that aloud?…  Some teachers have asked me about podcasts for their “continuing education”. As a self-employed educator and teacher trainer I know the need we all have to recycle, review and learn something useful for the development of our professional careers. When we work for a school or some other sort of organization, there will be times, if we’re lucky, that a course, tutorial, etc will be paid for and we will enjoy the fruits of working for a wise employer. But if you work on your own, any freebie, such as a cool podcast, is really welcome.

As far as I know, there are not many podcasts directed to teachers of English as a Foreign podcasts.jpgor Second Language (EFL / ESL) but still they are in a larger number than those for teachers of other languages. Still looking for a podcast directed to teachers of Spanish (Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera o Segunda Lengua).

From my experience as a long time podcast listener (since I got my first iPod in 2005) podcasts are catchier, more entertaining and informative when there are 2 or 3 people participating and they don’t go on and on for over 30 minutes (Exceptions may apply when necessary). The podcasts listed here combine knowledge and some informality with some sense of humor and not taking themselves too seriously (with the exception maybe of podcast number 4, which can be quite funny while not trying to be).

So here they are in alphabetical order (in their own words):

  1. TEFL Commute – it’s a podcast for language teachers. It is not only about language teaching.  Lindsay (yes it’s a He), Shaun and James try to present a light-hearted listen aimed at brightening the teacher’s daily commute to class. Each episode is built around a topic that could be used in teaching http://www.teflcommute.com/
  2. The TEFL Show – In these podcasts Marek Kiczkowiak and Robert McCaul explore different issues related to teaching and learning English, as well as other languages. http://theteflshow.com/
  3. The TEFLology Podcast – it’s a podcast about teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) and related matters, presented by three self-certified TEFLologists. http://teflology.libsyn.com
  4. Vaughan Live – Although this podcast is geared towards Spanish speakers trying to learn English, Richard Vaughan many times presents some comments as an EFL teacher with more than 40 years of experience and some points are quite insightful and useful. As many teachers do, Richard loves listening to his own voice so beware. http://www.ivoox.com/podcast-richard-vaughan-live_sq_f180769_1.html
  5.  Masters of TESOL: https://mastersoftesol.wordpress.com/ Great interviews with some great minds of ELT and SLA. (Thanks Marek for the suggestion)
  6. TEFL Training Institutehttp://www.tefltraininginstitute.com/podcast – with great talks and interviews on all TEFL matters ranging from discrimination against teachers, teacher talking time and much more.
  7. ELT: WTF https://elt.wtf – no, no, no cursing allowed, I think. What Tim feels about ELT – as the name implies, Tim presents his insightful observations and ideas from Delta and other teacher certification, backpacking teachers, and much more.

Hope these podcasts will help you on this rewarding journey (not financially though) of teaching. If you happen to know of a cool podcast for EFL/ESL teachers please let me know and I’ll be happy to add it to my list above.

Cheers,

Mo