Teaching Academic Vocabulary

ESL students and teachers alike are often concerned with how to improve vocabulary, and for good reason. Words are the building blocks of any language. The more vocabulary you know, the more you can use and understand. Some studies show that students need to understand about 98% of the vocabulary in an academic reading passage to understand it. Standardized tests often use vocabulary as a measurement stick. Needless to say, if you’re an ESL teacher, you will always be integrating some type of vocabulary-building into your classes.

But once students have a solid foundation of vocabulary, how can you make it even better? This post is written with a very specific demographic in mind: ESL students who are entering or are already studying at American universities.  A lot of these tips and ideas might apply to classes, but I wanted to focus on this specific group because sometimes it’s so hard to find practical ways to improve their vocabulary. At times, they seem to know it all already. 

But then, of course, they don’t. And that’s why they need you.

Continue reading

5 ESL Story Ideas

Computer brains use ones and zeros to organize and process information. But human brains use stories.

Don’t believe me? Read The Storytelling Animal for an entertaining and insightful look at this phenomenon; read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World if you want a mind-blowing novel on the same topic.

If you teach English as a second language, you should be using stories in your classes. Not only are they the ideal information-delivery mechanism for the brain, they’re also fun and interesting. And we all know English learners need to be entertained.

In this article, I’ll list a few activities that can be done in class to incorporate stories. I’ll explain how to do the activity, what materials you should use, and why it’s beneficial for learning.

Let’s get started.

Continue reading

Pronunciation versus Accent: Why it Matters for ESL Teachers

Picture this: You and your friend meet someone for the first time and have a conversation with her. She speaks a little differently from you and your friend.

Now imagine scenario 1: When you finish the conversation and the woman leaves, your friend says this to you:

Where do you think she’s from?

Now scenario 2: the woman leaves and your friend says:

What was she saying? I couldn’t understand most of it.

To me, this is the difference between accent (scenario 1) and pronunciation (scenario 2).

If you’re a language teacher, you should focus on improving your students’ pronunciation, even if they say they want to speak with an American/British/Australian/whatever accent. Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll be able to convince your students to focus on improving their pronunciation and accept, maybe even embrace, their accent.

Continue reading

Talking about your day in English to improve fluency + a funny video

I’m a learner of three languages: Spanish, Korean, and German. In each of these languages, I can verbally put some sentences together and describe my day. And sometimes I do just that – to no one in particular. Either when I’m in the car alone or lying in my bed just before falling asleep, I’ll start rambling on…

Heute habe ich etwas spannendes getan…

Mañana voy a ver mi amigo…

오늘 재미있었어요…

I’ve talked to a few other people who are at similar phases of learning languages, and some of them say they do the same thing.

I really think it helps keep the language fresh in my mind. It keeps me fluent. And it’s just fun to see how long I can go.

I made the connection with this kind of practice (what should we call it? is there an academic name for it yet? how about “unrestrained solipsistic L2 vocalizations”?) when I recently re-watched a favorite YouTube video of mine.

Meet Marko…

Continue reading