Thursday, 21 August 2014

Let the magic of Harry Potter help you learn English!

One of the great ways to get your students to start improving their English language skills is by reading. Books are great for learners of all stages, but you will probably find that most students get a little bored with grammar books and exam texts after a short while. 

So why not encourage them to start reading a book in English?

If you are unsure where to start, which book to choose, then I would highly recommend Harry Potter.  These books are loved by many people, young and old, plus they have been translated into a multitude of languages worldwide. So the likelihood is that your students will have already read some in their own native language, or perhaps seen the movies in English or with subtitles. As such, they may already know one or two of the stories, so moving across to reading it in English will prove to be much easier for them.

The books are fun, they are written primarily for young teenagers, so they are perfect for learning English, as the vocabulary will not be complex, nor academic, and the language will be the day-to-day language in use today. Your students can easily learn and start using new vocabulary, new phrases and new ways of speaking just by reading the dialogues in the stories.

In addition, you can also encourage your students to listen to the stories at the same time as they are reading them, by downloading many of the audio versions that you can find for free on YouTube. All-in-all, this will help your students to learn the correct pronunciation and improve their speaking simultaneously!

So next time you want something a little more 'magical' in your English lessons, get Harry to help you out!

The English Teacher

Monday, 18 August 2014

Talking to the Natives!

A lot of my students say that they want to talk like a native. I have a problem with this. Well, in fact I have 2 problems with this. 

Firstly, they will never ever achieve it, in my view, even after 20 years of seriously studying English. If you were not born a native then you will always have a 'foreign' accent riding as a priority in your brain. Yes, you may get to a level of true fluency, and even be able to think in English, but pronunciation will always be tinged with a hint of something a little more exotic. So, why waste your time, and why bother when I personally think that English speakers as a second language actually do sound quite lovely. For example, I love to hear the injection of the romantic Italian lilts of pronunciation into English, and besides, it demonstrates your bilingualism without any effort whatsoever! Ok, I understand that some people could have a more 'brutal' rather than 'complimentary' accent in English, depending on their own native language, however a lot of this can be ruled out with good pronunciation training. Yet my overriding belief is that you will never totally, utterly and completely get rid of your own accent and why should you. As long as you are understood then in reality your speaking English goals have been achieved successfully!

Secondly, which 'native'? England, or the United Kingdom to be precise (as it stands before the Scottish referendum!) as it is littered with different pronunciation, names for things and local idioms. You would have to choose WHO you want to talk like. I once had student from Azerbaijan, and he pinpointed this down to the accent of Michael Caine. Good for him I thought. Nice and trendy, and so I did my best to help him achieve this goal. Yes, I explained my opinion on the matter too, but if that's what he wanted then who was I to stand in his way? However that 'trend' is also something to bear in mind. A 'cool' accent today may be frowned upon in a few years time.

However, they are my thoughts, but I must now expose you to something that you could show to your students if they wish to explore the different accents of the UK. Whilst there are many examples on YouTube there is only one that I would recommend, that is from Angliophenia.  The channel is very professional, yet fun and entertaining, and will introduce you to wider aspects of all things besides the English language, such as food, TV shows, the worst British rulers, and even the attraction of Benedict Cumberbatch! However, 'One Woman, 17 British Accents' is the video that I wish to get you to see, and you will understand why this is a good video to show to your students and demonstrate the accents of the UK.
"Siobhan Thompson performs a tour of the accents of the British Isles - and the celebrities who speak with them! "
Siobhan also recommends the following:

Five lessons to help you do a better British accent here:

So... enjoy!

The Teacher Abroad

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Speak... just a little bit more?

Today I want you to think about how you can make your students say more.

I am hoping that you all know that learning a language is learning how to speak it, not just following grammar or comprehension activities.

However, do you know any good ways to get your students to not only speak, but to give a really good answer? In a nutshell, to say just a little bit more.

Students who are taking English exams, particularly the Cambridge FCE and CAE, as well as the IELTS, need to do just that. They need to say more than just the simple reply to the question, yet not too much that the examiner has to stop them. Also, for conversational reasons, to offer just that little bit more information engages your listener, and in return you too become more engaged and can have a more fulfilling conversation.

So, I thought today I would share my little 'trick' for helping students do just that. This is my suggestion, or recipe, to follow for a nicely rounded and colourful answer to any question. In fact, it is a method that does not restrict itself to English.

I tell students to do the following, if they can, when replying to a question where they wish to either demonstrate their English abilities (for example, in an exam situation) or they wish to engage their listeners (for example, have a good conversation).
  • Describe
  • Compare
  • Speculate
  • Opinion
 I'll give you an example:

Friend: Rachel, do you like ice-cream?
Rachel: Yes, I do. I like chocolate ice-cream. (Describe) You know, the real chocolate ice-cream, rich and creamy, with lovely chocolate chunks in it. (Compare) There is a great place in my town that makes lovely ice-cream, much better than the supermarket stuff, as it's homemade and really delicious. (Speculate) I might have an ice-cream later today since it's hot. (Opinion) I think there is nothing nicer than having a cool ice-cream on a warm afternoon.

Then you finish it off, if you are in a conversational situation, with 'How about you?'.

Doesn't that sound great? Detailed, delightful, entertaining, engaging, interesting and informative. Much better than a simple 'yes' or 'no' as a response.

So next time you want to get your students to say a little bit more, give them my 4 point recipe and see how they do. I am sure they will find it useful.


The Teacher Abroad.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Exploring English: Language and Culture

Whilst we're all lazing in our sun loungers and enjoying the long hot days of summer, all teachers will know that September is creeping up on us. ESL teachers in fact probably don't get a summer off, not entirely. I know that I don't! Often this is a time when school kids and workers want to 'top-up' their English, whilst they have more time free and the days are longer. However, in preparation for the new school year to come, I wanted to bring to your attention this new FREE course offered by the British Council. It starts 1st September and looks to be something that students can either follow on their own or in fact be used in collaboration with teacher guidance. 

So... have a look HERE. It is FREE after all!

The course is advertised as follows:
It is a course for people who are learning English and who are interested in finding out more about British culture and improving their English language skills.

The course will use short videos to present a different topic each week, including English as a global language, the environment, entrepreneurship and literature. Filmed in Great Britain, these videos will help you to develop your listening skills as you watch authentic examples of people speaking English. Our experienced tutor will examine some of the language used in the videos and will draw your attention to useful points that will help you improve your spoken and written English.

The course does not follow a language syllabus but takes authentic English in context as its starting point. Short quizzes and discussions will help you measure your understanding and practise your English throughout the course. At the end of each week you will be asked to describe your own feelings and experiences about that week’s topic in a short piece of writing.

The Teacher Abroad

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Don't insist on English! - A talk from

Today's post is a little different. We've spoken about in the past, but thought we ought to feature something thoughtful, inspiring and relevant on this page. So what did we choose?

Patricia Ryan: 
Don't insist on English!

"In her talk, longtime English teacher Patricia Ryan asks a provocative question: Is the world's focus on English preventing the spread of great ideas in other languages? (For instance: what if Einstein had to pass the TOEFL?) It's a passionate defense of translating and sharing ideas. (Filmed at TEDxDubai.)"

Click the link below, watch and enjoy!