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Productive Skills: Resources for Independent Learning

Girl with headset looking at computer monitor smilingHelen Stepanova is an English language teacher, teacher trainer and author, currently working as a Business English teacher in Latvia. In this guest post, she looks at some of the resources available for improving students’ productive language skills.

Nowadays the Internet provides numerous possibilities for students to improve, polish and master their English language skills. In my lessons I introduce these options, explaining how my students can use them and inspiring them with my own personal experience.

I have divided these resources into two main groups:

1. for receptive skills, with 2 subgroups: reading and listening
2. for productive skills, with 2 subgroups: writing and speaking

In each group there are several useful resources. Choose the most appropriate ones for your class.

Receptive Skills

Productive Skills

Reading

Listening

Writing

Speaking

1.Fiction literature 1.Radio 1. Social networks 1. Social networks
2.Professional literature 2.Audio books 2. Language learning communities 2. Language learning communities
3.Bilingual parallel texts 3. Films  3. Writing Clubs 3. British Council
4.Newspapers, magazines, online news 4.Podcasts  4. Private journal 4. Speaking Clubs
5. Blogs 5. Conversations 5. Couchsurfing
6. Scripts 6.Music 6. International learning and volunteer programs

In this post, I’ll be looking at Productive Skills. I covered Receptive Skills in my previous post.

Writing

1. Social networks

Skype, Twitter and Facebook are examples of free resources to communicate in written English as you would orally. Write in your Skype profile that you are looking for a native speaker to improve your English. When someone contacts you, explain your needs and offer to correspond on a regular basis. You can then chat with them through Facebook chat, on Twitter, through blogs, etc. The disadvantage of this approach is that people are unlikely to correct your mistakes (unless you ask them to); however as the correspondence is very informal and friendly, the learner can relax and express himself/herself freely. Twitter messages make you formulate your thoughts very concisely, as the maximum length of the post is 140 characters. It teaches you to write the core idea. Blogging is also a good way to present your ideas to a wide audience and invite comments and corrections to your writing.

2. Language learning communities

Language learning communities, such as Lang-8, Phrase Base are specialized sites to help you polish your language skills, where native speakers from 180 countries will correct your writing for free. First you have to log in, and then write your text, publish it and wait until a native speaker (possibly even a teacher) checks it and gives a detailed explanation of any mistakes. You can write your own blog, correct posts of other participants if they are in your native language, make friends, create your own community, and expand your network.

3. Writing Clubs/Classes

These are a very popular form of mastering the language. The teacher gives you a theme for your writing and a deadline to submit your work. The goal is to write an essay, to develop writing skills and to monitor your mistakes, both grammatical and stylistic. Sometimes writing clubs can include written debates on a particular topic. When the discussion is over the teacher individually comments on mistakes, or a peer assessment is provided. Different Universities offer such courses, and there are several such classes on Coursera.

4. Private journal

This resource demands a higher level of motivation, as the student has to commit to keeping a regular journal. It can be a fictitious or simply a record of everyday events. The habit of writing regularly promotes a habit of thinking in English. There are several online journal tools, such as Life Journal. Nobody monitors your mistakes, but Life Journal’s password and encryption system keeps your information safe and private, unless you choose to share it to get feedback on your writing.

Speaking

1. Social networks and 2. Language learning communities

The same principle as with writing, with one difference – you have to talk with your new native language friends. Speaking demonstrates any gaps in your language knowledge. Corresponding with pan-pals through social networks, ask them to have a conversation via Skype or another service. Regular real-life conversations will put what you’ve learned into practical application. The best practice will come from conversations with a native speaker, but even if he/she is not, you will learn to speak spontaneously and across a variety of different topics.

3. British Council

The representative office of the British Council is in every country. The main aim of the British Council is to help to share British expertise and knowledge with over 100 countries worldwide. You can attend seminars and workshops in English, meet English-speaking partners and master your speaking skills.

4. Speaking Clubs

This is a very popular forum to improve your speaking skills. Clubs are often organized to discuss the latest news and talk about different subjects.

5. Couch Surfing

Participating in a ‘’Couch Surfing’’ club allows you to host travellers at your house and to connect with new friends all around the world by staying at their houses while travelling. You can offer your guide services in your home town and invite the foreign visitors just for a cup of coffee, which will definitely involve and improve your speaking skills. Some examples are CouchSurfing, HomeExchange, and The Hospitality Club.

6. International learning and volunteer programs

Participation in different learning and volunteer programs, such as archaeological excavations, building projects, medical volunteering, wildlife conservation or life-long learning programs, such as Grundtvig practical learning for adults, gives you the opportunity to improve your speaking skills significantly.


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Receptive Skills: Resources for Independent Learning

Young woman wearing headphones and writingHelen Stepanova is an English language teacher, teacher trainer and author, currently working as a Business English teacher in Latvia. In this guest post, she looks at some of the resources available for improving students’ receptive language skills.

Nowadays the Internet provides numerous possibilities for students to improve, polish and master their English language skills. In my lessons I introduce these options, explaining how my students can use them and inspiring them with my own personal experience.

I have divided these resources into two main groups:

  1. for receptive skills, with 2 subgroups: reading and listening
  2. for productive skills, with 2 subgroups: writing and speaking

In each group there are several useful resources. Choose the most appropriate ones for your class.

Receptive Skills

Productive Skills

Reading

Listening

Writing

Speaking

1.Fiction literature 1.Radio 1. Social networks 1. Social networks
2.Professional literature 2.Audio books 2. Language learning communities 2. Language learning communities
3.Bilingual parallel texts 3. Films  3. Writing Clubs 3. British Council
4.Newspapers, magazines, online news 4.Podcasts  4. Private journal 4. Speaking Clubs
5. Blogs 5. Conversations 5. Couchsurfing
6. Scripts 6.Music 6. International learning and volunteer programs

In this post, I’ll be looking at Receptive Skills. I’ll cover Productive Skills in my next post.

Reading

  1. Fiction literature

This is the best option for those who love reading. The choice of books is enormous, from historical adventures to mainstream and children books. It’s possible to relax and learn new vocabulary and grammar constructions simultaneously. Project Gutenberg is a free online library.

  1. Professional literature

If your students are learning English for a specific purpose (e.g. Engineering), reading professional literature is a great way of improving students’ knowledge in that professional area, and in English at the same time. You could also try reading the lectures of world-renowned academics, which are now uploaded to the websites of many leading universities. MIT’s Open Courseware and Coursera are two examples.

  1. Bilingual parallel texts

On one side you’re given English text, on the other there is a translation in your native language. This option is convenient for those who like to read original texts of any complexity, without having to stop to look up unknown words. This resource is very helpful, as the structure and ability to look at the translation immediately allow students become more confident in reading and lessen their fear of long texts.

  1. Newspapers, magazines, online news

Nowadays there are plenty of news websites and online resources for reading, e.g. BBC News, Daily Telegraph, Reuters, and CNN. By reading online news, students kill two birds with one stone – they read articles that are interesting and relevant to them, and learn a lot of new words that are common in press reporting. Reading these daily and writing down any unknown words will help students develop their vocabulary.

  1. Blogs

There are thousands of blogs on the Internet dedicated to different themes – travelling, fashion, gardening, children, phychology, etc. Use a service like Technorati to find relevant blogs. Several times per week bloggers update their pages with new stories. Like with online news sites, students will be interested in keeping up with new posts and will learn at the same time.

  1. Scripts

This is one of the most amazing resources for improving reading skills. We all have our favourite films, and reading the script can be a great way of entertaining students and showing the use of English in more natural, informal settings. The same will apply to plays. Sites like AwesomeFilm, The Daily Script and SimplyScripts have loads of movie scripts available as PDFs.

Listening

  1. Radio

There is possibly no better source for listening practice than radio. There are hundreds of different radio stations where you can listen online, so try listening to a station from a different country to your own. It also helps to listen to different dialects and accents, e.g. British English – BBC Radio, American English – Voice of America, Canadian English – CBC Radio, Australian English – ABC Radio Australia.

  1. Audio books

There are advantages and disadvantages to listening to audio books. The lexis can be learned quite easily, however not everybody likes listening to books. It is a matter of preference. Audio books can be downloaded for free from, for example, the University of South Florida’s Lit2Go program, New Fiction, and LibriVox. Or they can be purchased from sites such as Audible and AudioGo.

  1. Films

This is an ideal way to master listening skills, as all three VAK styles are used: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. If something is unclear, it is easy to rewind back and re-watch that section of the film until it becomes clear. Reading the script before watching, or watching the film in students’ native language first, will also help. Repeat words and phrases, imitating the actors’ intonation, will help to get students’ kinaesthetic memory working.

  1. Podcasts

Short audio lessons or stories recorded by native speakers are what will really help students. Choosing podcasts at the right language level for your students, and with themes that are interesting and relevant to them, is crucial to maintaining students’ interest and motivation. You can even subscribe to podcasts to be sent the most recent episodes automatically. Try a service like ESL Podcast.

  1. Conversations

Encourage students to find a friend – either a native speaker or someone with a good level of English – and to talk with them in English. Thanks to social networks such as Facebook, Skype, Google+ and Lang-8, it’s very easy now for students to connect with native speakers and improve their English effectively.

  1. Music

Listening to music is a great way to develop English skills. When you are listening and singing your kinaesthetic memory is working. Even if it is difficult to understand the lyrics, music is poetry and is often very idiomatic. Students will pick up key phrases and words to add to their vocabulary.


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Teaching vocabulary through different learning styles

Two school girls playing games

Helen Stepanova is an English language teacher, teacher trainer and author, currently working as a Business English teacher in Latvia. Here she talks about teaching vocabulary using different learning styles.

Nowadays vocabulary teaching seems of especially great importance. The English language is becoming more and more popular all over the world in all spheres of social life. Therefore any individual who wants to succeed in our business world has to be able to speak English.

English teaching / learning is a hard and many-sided process, where both participants – learners and teachers – should follow certain rules. Only through mutual co-operation are good results possible.

Knowledge of vocabulary seriously influences the knowledge of the foreign language in general. The more words a person knows the more secure he/she feels himself/herself, the more willing he/she is to communicate.

How to memorise new words? How to make it easier for the students to perceive new words and to keep them in mind for a long time?

According to the physiologists there are three ingrained learning styles of perceiving new information, so-called VAK styles: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.

The teacher can try to help his/her students to define their styles of perception and to facilitate them to memorise new foreign words using the techniques most appropriate for their learning styles.

Visual style

This style suggests that students turn the words into pictures as they have a great visual memory. 35% of students have such style.

Auditory style

This style suggests that students perceive the world through sounds of voice, its tone and timbre. 25% of students possess this style.

Kinaesthetic style

This style allows students to perceive the information through feelings, emotions, instincts, contacts; their muscles play a huge role in learning.  40% of students have such style.

In reality the pure type is rather rare, however it is often the case that students have a blended style – visual-kinaesthetic or visual-auditory. Knowing the students’ style the teacher can choose the most appropriate tools and tasks to teach the students.

I have been working as a teacher for more then 14 years and have collected a number of techniques that have been extremely useful in helping to teach vocabulary.
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