In the meantime

11 Jan

I swear I have some thoughts on ESL. Really. I do. In the meantime, read this post from my friend James. Very thoughtful, and interesting.


a live thought

2 Dec

I’m reading Teaching Pronunciation: Using the Prosody Pyramid by Judy Gilbert and I’ve only read the first page and already have something to reflect upon, but not as a teacher, as a learner of a second language myself.

…the most basic elements of speaking are deeply personal. Our sense of self and community are bound up in the speech-rhythms of our first language (L1). …Therefore, it is common for students to feel uneasy when they hear themselves speak with the rhythm of a second language (L2). They find that they “sound foreign” to themselves…

As someone who has spent most of the last 3 years speaking, reading, writing, and listening to Korean, I can certainly relate Gilbert’s statement. I’m not embarrassed when I make a grammatical error, but I feel quite sheepish when I am not understood due to my pronunciation. And (unscientifically speaking, just based on my experience) I find pronunciation to be more important when speaking Korean. The main reason for this is that as ‘Globish’ becomes more, well…global, the average English L1 speaker will have encountered enough varieties of pronunciation to adjust to the L2 speaker. And while there are dialects of Korean, the average Korean speaker has spoken Korean exclusively with other L1 speakers. When you combine this with the fact that there is always a ‘risk’ taken when speaking in L2, it is very easy for me to feel frustrated due to the lack of communication based upon pronunciation.

But what causes my lack of pronunciation?

Much of it is tied into the fact the speech rhythms of English are quite different. For example, at the level of the word every syllable is stressed in Korean. This is a drastic contrast to English (I’m looking at you /ə/). Taking a more macro view, last night I was doing some listening work with a student and in the sentence She and her husband enjoy traveling my student couldn’t pick up ‘her’ because I completely dropped the /h/. Now, because I’m quite fluent in English 😉 there is a tendency reluctance for me to switch to Korean as it were when I am speaking. For example, the Korean word for subway is 지하철 (roughly* /dʒi hɜ tʃaʊl/), yet because I have a severe case of L1 interference when I try to speak at regular speed I end up saying /dʒi ə tʃaʊl/. Thankfully, my friends have developed an ear for Kevin’s Korean, but I still wish to improve.

* extremely rough as the /ㅓ/sound doesn’t quite exist in American English (think British pronunciation of hot).

Anyway, wanted to share that before I dove back in.

getting out of a jam

14 Nov

Tonight I had a meticulously prepared lesson plan. Many CCQs, all of the stressed syllables in the tricky vocabulary words marked, my handouts already folded and cut as I wanted them. Sadly, I forgot to photocopy one single page, and that page was the lynchpin around which everything built. (If you’re curious, it was from Reading Extra, a book I recommend.) I realized this 10 minutes before my lesson, after I finished my dinner and was reviewing my plans. It was at this point I 1. panicked 2. became grateful that I’ve taught for 3 years.

This is a class of 2 middle school boys, roughly at the same level of English proficiency, and who desperately like to compete with one another. I began class by asking, “What is the capital of the United States?” They raced to say, “Washington, DC!!!!” Next I asked, “Which planet is third from the Sun?” This took a bit longer, but eventually they answered. My final question was, “What weighs more, a ton of gold or a ton of feathers?” They both got that one wrong ^ ^ I asked what kind of questions these were and they said, “Trivia.” I elicited various trivia topics from them, reviewed question words, had them write a sample question for each topic, and off they went using the language they knew, in topics they choose, and doing a task they were interested in.

I won’t get into the specifics of the language work at the end (fixing their questions and the like) but it was productive, enjoyable, and saved me!

does two posts in a day constitute a roll?

6 Nov

Holiday photos

1.Teacher borrows a notepad from a  student and draws 2 big rectangles.

2. Teacher imagines these are family photos and describes the people and the event.

3. Students draw 2 big rectangles on their notepad page.

4. They do step 2 with a partner or small group.

5. Report back to group about their partners’ photos.

The post that accompanies this is here. As always, there is a reason Scott Thornbury is on my lil blog roll.

International Understanding Class

6 Nov

My school has a class called International Understanding. It is after school, once a week, for 1.5 hours. This is the closest to dogme I can get. Once a month we Skype with a middle-school class in Malaysia. The students set the topics (so far we’ve done food, and the next two topics are Korea/Malaysia, and books) and then I talk with the students to find out what they generally want to talk about in that topic. I will admit, with these students being pre-intermediate it helps that I’ve been living in Korea for 3+ years so have an idea of what they may be interested in. Creating the lessons based around these topics in a three week preparation cycle for the Skype conversation is quite a bit of work, but the pay-off is amazing. Here is a recent run-down of the 3 week cycle.

week 1

My students performed a jigsaw reading of a general text about Seoul. They warmed up by talking with each other about city life in general, then I pre-taught the necessary vocabulary, and divided the students into 4 groups. Each group read their text, answered some questions about the text individually then checked with their group members. Once everyone had the proper information, groups mingled and collected information. Afterwards, they got back together and re-visited the warm-up questions now that they had more specialized vocabulary and had been talking specifically about the city they live in. At the end of the lesson I asked them which places in Seoul would they be most interested in introducing to the Malaysian students. After they discussed it amongst themselves, they let me know.

I really enjoyed this lesson. I was reduced to getting feedback from the warm-up discussion, pre-teach vocabulary (which included modeling and drilling), and giving instructions. Beyond that, it was essentially students communicating with other students and I would occasionally check in to make sure things were staying close to the trajectory I wanted.

week 2

I’m a big believer in listening work, so I found videos on-line made by an English speaker (sadly, a North American male like me–I like it when I can expose them to different accents, or at least a different gender) about two of the places the students wanted to tell the Malaysians about (for those who are interested, the 63 building and Gyeongbokgung). Students warmed up by talking about their experiences at these places, what they did, what is there, etc. They then did a gist task and a detail task for each video.

The problem was that I made the detail work too difficult (grade the task, not the material, etc). Only 20% of the students could do it with the majority of the students getting only snippets. Most of this is my fault, of course, though I can’t help but wonder if it is because they never do open ended question work for listening with their Korean English teacher. I’ve seen their tasks and it is all gap-fill listening which is listening for a specific word, not the idea(s) behind the utterance!

To finish up the class, students made a list of questions they would like to ask the Malaysian students which the students then wrote on the board. After the questions were up on the board, students corrected each other’s questions as needed (and it was often needed^ ^).

week 3

Having learned my lesson from the previous week, these materials where properly graded. To begin, I wanted to make sure the corrected conversation questions would be practiced, and that the students would have the questions they wanted to ask the Malaysians, so I gave the students scrambled questions. In the past, I would mix them up at the level of the word, but I decided this time to cut them at the level of a linguistic chunk. I also omitted the question word, so students had to pick the correct word to begin with. For example: economy / in Malaysia / the best / city becomes: What/Which city in Malaysia has the best economy? The students performed this task admirably, with only a few questions causing real problems (these were usually adjective ordering problems: Malaysian famous landmarks as opposed to famous Malaysian landmarks).

Next I gave them a copy of week 1’s text as most of my students don’t keep their handouts, or at least often loose them. I gave them a few minutes to re-read the text and then split them in 2 groups. Each group then made a series of quiz questions based upon anything we’ve covered the last two weeks. After reading my friend James’ blog a few days ago, I remembered that I have, in the past, left students to go at it, so I used the students prep-time to go get a cup of coffee ^ ^. When I came back, the students were diligently working and didn’t seem to really notice that I had left. After, each group picked their best 7 questions and had a trivia challenge. The students seemed to enjoy the competitive aspect, and scolded me for giving teams 30 seconds to find and/or discuss the answers, so I switched it to 10 seconds. In the end, the two teams tied, so they all received candy. One student said, “This is good for everybody.” I joked with her, “Except me!”

So there you have it, my 3 week prep-cycle. More soon.

update: I should really have my students make multiple-choice questions. It’d give me insight into how/what they are thinking (how they see the relations)

something to hold you over

19 Oct

Been busy as of late, but check out this nice dogme lesson from Costa Rica.

The Artificiality of Testing a Living Language

29 Sep

I’ve prepared a speaking test for the 3rd grade students (9th grade in the US system) and so this week in class I am making them aware of the test, the grading system, and where the questions are coming from.

The test structure is simple. For about 1 minute I will ask them questions in the hallway, separately from their classmates. Obviously, this is not a ‘natural’ situation. Then again, there is very little that is natural about a language test.

The grading system has three different points: pronunciation, grammatical accuracy, and comprehension + response. The pronunciation portion is pretty straight forward (if a student speaks British English as opposed to American English, that doesn’t matter as long as they are consistent*), as is the grammatical accuracy part. Where things become slightly problematic is with the ‘comprehension + response’ portion.

* Though one could easily ask if I am qualified to assign a number value to someone who has been trained in British English.

In class I have used the example of “Where do you live?”. The comprehension part is a non-issue. If a student replies, “I am Korean.” they are obviously not comprehending my question. The problem arises with my judgement of the quality of the students’ response. “Seoul.” is to be considered the lowest level response, and thus to receive the least amount of points. “I live in Seoul.” is the middle-of-the-road response. “I live in Yangcheon-Gu*.” is considered to be the best as it is the most precise. However, I feel this flies in the face of the most common answer a native speaker would give. If someone asked me “Where do you live?” I would weigh my response based upon a few things:

  1. context: how much does this person already know about me? Do they know I live in South Korea? Do they know I live in Seoul? How well do they know Seoul?
  2. natural response: in relationship to this question, a one-word response is the most likely to be given!

* Yangcheon-Gu is a district within Seoul. Similar to saying “I live in Brooklyn.” for NYC residents. Then again, sticking with my example, I think someone saying “Brooklyn.” would be the most common response.

Making the questions I will be asking was an interesting operation. The idea was to use things from the lessons they have already studied in the book. This is a very reasonable and fair idea. The trick was how to craft the various functions they have learned (eg. “What do you like to do?” “Don’t mention it” “How long does it take you to…?”) into something that ended up resembling a natural conversational flow instead of a series of unrelated questions which I think would end up being more confusing for the students.  I ended up making 5 “conversational blocks”. I’ll post one below, as the chances of a student hunting down my blog (they don’t even know my last name and I haven’t mentioned what school I work for) are so incredibly low.

1. What time do you wake up in the morning?

1a. How long does it take you to get ready for school? (Chapter 8)

1b. How do you come to school?

1c. How long does that take?

Even though I find this set-up less than ideal (then again, most everything is), it is light-years better than what the old test was in this school (which was coincidentally the same as my last school) which consisted of students memorizing a song (85%) or a text (15%) and then having me compare what they did against the source-text. So, this is a step-forward, and one that I feel is worth celebrating, but there is still improvements to be made.