This post will describe a presentation that I did with my class during the same unit that I described in my last post. We studied different types of businesses and organizations throughout the unit. For their final project, they had to give a presentation about an organization that they were interested in.
The premise was that they were spokespeople for their chosen company or charity and the rest of the class were wealthy investors/donators who had $100,000 to donate or invest. The student who raised the largest amount of money for their organization would be the winner.
This week’s post is something new for this blog: a movie review. Movies involving language learning are rare, so I had to write about Arrival. It’s best to read this post after seeing the movie; it’s a “car ride home from the theater” type of rant and might not make sense if you haven’t seen it yet.
Arrival has an unlikely hero. Amy Adams plays Louise, a professor who hears that aliens have touched down on earth during a lecture on Portuguese. She’s soon recruited by the government to figure out what these visitors want. Since she’s a skilled translator and speaks several very different languages (Farsi, Chinese, Sanskrit, and it’s implied that she’s fluent in several others), Forest Whitaker’s character believes she’s the person who will be able to learn the aliens’ language and communicate with them.
Louise is a cool character. She’s an insanely talented polyglot who learns an alien language, sees the future, and saves the world. It’s not every day that a linguist gets to do that in a Hollywood movie.
Minimal pairs are one of the most helpful tools for any pronunciation teacher. They have been proven to help significantly with the perception of unfamiliar phonemes. And since perception of a phoneme is required before production can occur, minimal pairs can also help students when they are ready to speak.
Before you dive into minimal pair training, you should have first done some kind of needs analysis of your students. This could be a done with diagnostic test, or something as informal as listening to the phonemes that your students mispronounce. It’s also possible to predict what types of phonemes your students will have problems with based on their native language – Arabic speakers will often have difficulty with the /p/ phoneme, Japanese speakers will often struggle with /l/ and /r/, etc.
Once you’ve identified phonemes that you want to practice with your class, then you’ll want to either create or find lists of minimal pairs. Here are a few different sources:
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.
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.
Virtual reality is here and it’s only going to get bigger and bigger in the next few years.
If you don’t know much about virtual reality and don’t believe me, go to YouTube on your smartphone and search for “360 VR” (360 degrees, virtual reality). Choose a video that looks interesting and start watching, but move your phone around. That’s right: you’re controlling where the camera goes.
Now, that’s cool. But can you use VR to teach? I’m sure there’s going to be tons of apps and equipment hitting the markets, but you can already do some activities in class with VR that’s already available, and you won’t have to spend more than $20.
I recently finished Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis. As a teacher of language, I’m interested in books that claim to have tips, tricks, and yes, even “language hacks” that can help people learn a language quickly.
This book, on the surface, looks quite different than the last book I reviewed. Becoming Fluent was written by a Foreign Service Officer in the US Department of State and a professor of psychology at a major university. What are Benny Lewis’s credentials? Well, just take a look:
Pretty impressive, right? So, what are his methods?
Actually, what he writes in Fluent in 3 Months isn’t too different from some of the content in Becoming Fluent, with some basic language learning/teaching tips thrown in.
And while I believe that it really is possible to become very good (“fluent” is tricky to define) in just three months, I don’t think we language teachers are in danger of losing our jobs due to a sudden rise in language autodidacticism.
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…
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.
When I start my pronunciation unit on the “th” sounds, half of my class sounds like snakes and bees.
That’s because many languages don’t have theta (/θ/) or eth (/ð/) sounds, so those sounds come out as /s/ and /z/ respectively. If you do a speaking exercise with a lot of words with “th”, you’re going to hear “sssss” and “zzzzz” until you start helping certain students improve their pronunciation.
Since both of these sounds are represented with a “th” in English writing, you can teach your students the symbols – θ for unvoiced, and ð for voiced (these are real letters, just not in English. You’ll find θ in modern Greek and ð in modern Icelandic – pretty cool!)
For Arabic speakers learning English, this will make sense to them since they have two different letters for these two sounds:
ث = θ (unvoiced) and ذ = ð (voiced)
Arabic speakers will have no problem pronouncing these sounds since they have them in their language. But they might have trouble choosing which sound to use when they see a “th” in writing, so they can still get something out of a lesson on these two sounds.
Let’s consider a few more things when you’re teaching the “th” sounds.