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Teaching English as a Foreign Script – Part 2: Spelling

Pre-teens at a spelling beeIn this second post, Jon Naunton, co-author of Business Result and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series, discusses the peculiarities and difficulties of teaching English spelling to students in Libya.

If you missed it, read Jon’s first post about teaching The Alphabet.

After we had taught the letters, it was time to start creating short words and introducing students to spelling.

Vowels were a particular challenge – while vowel sounds may be shown in Arabic using marks similar to accents, Arabic largely has no need to mark the vowel, as the order of consonants is enough to transmit meaning.

Clearly the first task was to lend a value to each of the vowels, so ‘a’ became / æ / as in cat; and o / ɒ / as in dog and so on.  Words were set out on flash cards and taught alongside visual images. Many words can be built phonically and students would get tremendously excited when they managed to decipher what was written on the board. Eventually we moved onto writing full sentences of language that had been introduced far earlier. For instance: ‘Hello, my name is Ali’ and so on.

When people talk about the difficulties of English spelling they often cite rare words like plough and all the different sounds that the combination of letters –ough can make. (Think of ‘enough’, ‘through’, ‘though’ and so on.) Believe me, the problems are much more basic than this! We had to start with far more basic concepts.

One of the early tasks was to introduce and teach the simplest digraphs – one sound from two letters – such as –sh for / ʃ /, –ch for / tʃ / and –er for / ə(r) /. We covered wh– for wh– questions very early on. Later on we showed how the final ‘e’ in a word could sometimes make the preceding vowel take on its full alphabetic value (think of ‘Tim’ / ɪ / and ‘time’ / aɪ /). The multitude of ways of realizing the same sound was another area that students always found perplexing. The long / iː / could be represented be as in ‘be’; –ee as in ‘see’; –ea as in ‘please’, and so on.

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Activities to get students speaking

Teenage boy giving presentation in classDiana Corcos, a teacher and teacher trainer, gives us a few tips on how to get students speaking in class.

Recently, I was in the staff room looking at the timetables for the next term. I was worried because I’d been given one of the larger classes…about 30 students. I am not keen on big classes so I decided to spend some time thinking about how I could get them all involved in some speaking activities.

I know from experience that it’s really important for pronunciation and memory, as well as providing a change of activity to keep students interested; but it’s a challenge!

So I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas I’ve used successfully in the past.

■ Get your classroom layout right

Have students’ desks and chairs arranged so they can see each other and you can move around easily. The students need to know that you’re listening and commenting on their progress as well as keeping an eye on them!

■ Keep control – without raising your voice

We all worry about losing control of speaking activities in large classes but they can work if you don’t have to shout. Try this way to get your students to listen

Tell your class that when your hand is held up you expect everyone to be quiet and listen. At first, only a few students will see your hand go up, but they’ll tell others and in a few seconds everyone will be quiet and you can speak. It’s really just the same as them putting up their hand to speak to you, so they’ll soon get used to it.

■ Grab their attention right from the start

Behaviour problems, especially with large groups, can happen when students drift into the lesson and it takes a while before everyone’s ready to start.  So have something they can get on with immediately.  Always have a task ready on the board when they come in – but keep it short. I use a kitchen timer which rings after a set time. My students always work in pairs.

Activities might be as simple as open-ended questions e.g.

  • Why do people live in cities?
  • Is school uniform a good or a bad thing?
  • Does money bring happiness?

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How using apps and online resources benefits ESL students with limited resources

Teenage girl using smartphoneIn this post Justin Birch explores how using apps and online resources can benefit ESL students with limited resources.

From spelling to grammar to intonation, learning a new language can be difficult. With its exceptions and broad geographical influence, the English language is no different. However, times are changing. Non-native speakers of English now outnumber native speakers 3 to 1. With the enormous increase in the number of students taking on English as a Second Language (ESL), especially those with limited resources, an array of wallet-friendly apps and online resources have cropped up to make the learning process speedier and less tedious.

Apps and online resources can make learning English fun. Instead of repeating common English phrases in a classroom setting, ESL students can play games and complete exercises while learning the ins and outs of the language, even if they are far away from a real teacher or school. The Internet TESL Journal created a site comprised solely of quizzes, tests, exercises and puzzles for ESL students. With thousands of contributions from teachers, students can take advantage of exercises that suit their needs. Users are allowed to choose their level of difficulty in grammar and vocabulary quizzes, and even crossword puzzles. In addition, the site offers a range of podcasts and YouTube videos, including those that allow students to listen and read along. For the technology savvy, the site is also accessible from the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

Though ESL classes can be extremely beneficial, they can also focus solely on the basics. Online resources and apps can supplement basic skills to allow students to learn slang and idioms. This creates more natural sounding dialogue and allows the student to better understand phrases and terms that aren’t available in a dictionary. Sites like ManyThings.org, not only feature games, quizzes, exercises, and vocabulary words, but also a collection of slang terms, English songs, proverbs, jokes, and American stories. Podcasts such as the Learn a Song Podcast, Jokes in English, and Listen and Repeat Podcast can also be fun ways to not only learn the language, but soak up the culture as well.

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Teaching English as a Foreign Script – Part 1: The Alphabet

Writing the alphabetIn the first of a three part series, Jon Naunton, co-author of Business Result and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series, shares his most challenging experience as a teacher: teaching English to beginner students in Libya.

If asked to name the most challenging thing I have done as a teacher I would probably say that it was teaching the Roman script, handwriting and basic English spelling to absolute beginners during my time in Libya. While most of us have taught beginners (usually not real beginners) at some point in our teaching careers, real out-and-out adult beginners are a rarer breed. Teaching students who have no notion of the Roman script also adds a further challenge.

Nearly all our students were males between 18 and 45. Many worked in the souk (market), and a few even had problems reading Arabic. Many fell by the wayside after a couple of courses, but those who persevered have my unswerving and unconditional admiration. They came to school three times a week for a one hour lesson. Most never missed a session. Their sheer enthusiasm and commitment was infectious and motivating for anyone who came into contact with them.

So how did our school go about teaching these students? I make no claims to the programme, as it had been devised over a number of years by previous teachers and directors of studies, notably Sue and Jeff Mohamed and Jane Alexander. Drawing on their experience of teaching primary children, their knowledge of Arabic and the demands of a beginner’s structurally graded syllabus, they created a methodology that was a cocktail of different elements. I would not claim that this methodology had all the answers, but it certainly provided an excellent point of departure and impressive results.

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Teaching values is nothing new!

Having given us some tips for teaching values in the classroom, Susan Banman Sileci, co-author of the new Primary course Everybody Up, now considers whether this is a new phenomenon or not.

EFL teachers, especially those who teach young learners, know instinctively that they’re standing in front of a group of kids teaching more than English. One of those things is values – how to behave at school, at home and out in the community.

I recently spent some time online preparing for a presentation on teaching values and found a few sites expressing worry about this generation of children “The world is on the verge of collapse,” the sites suggest. “What will become of the world with kids like these in it?” Some sites say the biggest problem is video games. Others say it’s divorce. Others blame today’s social woes on bad teachers, rap music, reality TV, the Internet, cell phones and political corruption. If you believe those sites, we’re in trouble.

But then I look back on my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. I remember a lot of talk from the adults around me about how terrible my generation would turn out. There were drugs everywhere. There were rock festivals, disco music, political scandals, race riots, girls wearing boys’ clothes and guys with long hair. Every night we watched the Vietnam War on the news and mourned the assassination of our leaders, from President Kennedy to Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t an easy time either.

I asked my mother about her generation. For kids of the 1950s, listening to Elvis Presley was the end of the world to the adults around her. Before that, moving from the farm to the city was trouble. Even Plato and Socrates worried about their own disrespectful kids and teenagers.

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