Thursday, September 28, 2006

Advice for Becoming Certified to Teach English Before You Leave for A Foreign Country

When a reader wrote in to ask, “I wonder what you have to offer in the way of advice for becoming certified to teach before I leave for some other country from the USA?” I couldn’t help but take the time to respond a bit to a person poised on the brink of such a potentially life-altering event as this. The reader further added, “Do you think that an online TEFL course would suffice, or would it be better to do a CELTA course?” What a loaded question that is. Can’t you just picture the trouble I could get into answering that one? Here’s some of what my response contained plus a few additions.

While a good TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course from a reputable school or institute can be a tremendous boost in preparing you for the rigors and challenges of ELT (English language teaching) abroad, my preference is towards the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). The quality of TEFL certificate courses can vary considerably and great care should be taken in selecting a TEFL certificate course. Personally, I recommend an official CELTA course first while in the USA, Canada or the UK for a more than a couple of good reasons.

First - CELTA training will provide you with well-founded teaching tools and skills that will stand you in good stead once you begin teaching. The CELTA course is rigorously monitored so quality is highly constant across a variety of different schools, institutions and organizations that offer it.

Second - The CELTA is recognized world wide as a solid EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teaching credential, meaning that your English level is high and that you have proven knowledge of English language teaching techniques. It also indicates that you have in fact practice taught at satisfactory levels and that you understand learner needs and how to approach them, among other essential ELT basic skills.

Third - Almost all officially recognized CELTA programs have job placement services for their graduates, which means you can land your first job before you leave the USA. You'll have local contacts provided for you and the reputation of the school behind you as well. You may even be able to get leads on a second or even third position from your CELTA course provider as time ticks on if you need a change. This offers an excellent introduction to teaching while helping to minimize elements of the "culture shock" often experienced during your first overseas job.

Fourth - A CELTA course is designed to prepare you for the realities of teaching EFL abroad to learners who may know little or no English. With the confidence and ability to teach English to foreign learners without a knowledge of their L1 is an important skill that will often place you head and shoulders above many other "local" English teachers who frequently rely heavily on use of the learners' L1 (first language).

Fifth - Taking the CELTA in the USA, an English-speaking country, will enable you to start preparing your own "care package" of materials before you leave for your new job. It happens that many locations where we find ourselves teaching English simply do not have an extensive array of materials available. At home in the USA however, virtually any materials you'd like to use is not only available in abundance, but is usually dirt cheap as well.

If you need more information you can check out my article series on English language teaching at I sincerely hope this offers you some guidance. Best wishes for a great career in a location that’s interesting for you

… and good luck, you’ll need it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

English Language Teachers: Why Teach English?

"Why do we have to study English?" When your reluctant learners ask this dreaded question how do you respond? How can you motivate them to really want to learn and use English? Here is an approach I've used successfully.

Often when I give an academic presentation plenary speech or English teacher training session, I ask the audience, “How many countries have Spanish as the first language?” Since I live and work in South America you’d think the response would be swift and forthcoming. Usually it’s not. After the group has sweated it out for a couple of minutes or so I ask, “Would you like to see the list?” They do, of course so I project the 20 key Spanish-speaking countries, which are:

El Salvador
Costa Rica
The Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico

The Fun Begins

Then the fun really begins. My next question is, “How many countries have English as a first or official language?” To twist the screw just a bit more I add, “You’ll all English teachers, so you should know where the language is spoken, right?” They agree that they should and for the next few minutes set about fathoming the English L1 list. More squirming, a few shouted out queries and I let the pressure off. “How many do you have on your list?” Rarely does the number exceed ten or fifteen. Take a moment; how many can YOU list?

Countries with English as the Official L1

“Would you like to see my list?” I ask. You know what the response unanimously is. “Do you think that is something that might be useful for an English teacher to know?” A resounding “Yes!” always follows.

In truth, there are at least thirty-five English L1 countries!

Surprised? Most English teachers are. And my current list might not even be all-inclusive by now. At any rate, here it is:

United States, Trinidad & Tobago, Belize
Barbados, Canada, U.S. Virgin Islands
Guyana, British Virgin Islands, Australia
Falkland Islands, England, Grenada
St. Nevis / St. Kitts, Jamaica, India, Bermuda
South Africa, Bahamas, New Zealand
Cayman Islands, St. Vincent, Grenadines
Samoa, St. Lucia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone
Singapore, Liberia, Ghana, Ireland
Hong Kong, Zimbabwe

Why not check out the official country websites for these and other countries for some eye-opening information on the impact of English on their respective cultures? Many foreign country websites include news, local current events, audio, radio and streaming video as well. Need more information? Just “Google” the country name to get a trainload or two of related websites.

What's the Point

So what’s the point? Just that it’s helpful to provide practical aspects to learning English. World travel and commerce are just two of the many reasons to be cited for the practicality of English-language learning. The internet, e-mails, chats and forums all contribute to a preponderance of English-language use online. A plethora of English teacher resource websites and a growing cadre of English language learner websites help contribute to the usefulness of the tongue.

The international news is online at so many websites it’s almost embarrassing to try to keep up with them. Did I also mention music, radio and entertainment?

How about online and computer games, fun places to learn and practice grammar and usage, or getting assistance in researching a hard-to-find-information-on theme and podcasts?

Scientific, technical and medical knowledge are posted online in English first, even when the initial production of the knowledge was not in English. Linguistic Imperialism? Hegemony? Perhaps, but reality nonetheless.

So next time you get the question, “Why do we have to study English?” don’t pout, start ponying up with some practical aspects for your learners. It may well help them to see things in a different light. Learning English can be both fun and useful. Help your learners to see how and you may rarely have to face the dreaded, “Do we have to study English?”

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Developing English Language Speaking and Conversation Skills in LEP Learners

Focus on Speaking

When asked by the Department Director to “focus on developing speaking ability” with a group of adult university learners supposedly in the upper intermediate level, I embarked on a program involving multiple integrated skills. These were LEP learners with passable knowledge of grammar, but below-standard oral communications skills. Their English language speaking skills needed urgent development.

Speaking and listening are complimentary language skills. (S. Thornbury, 2002; Brown and Yule, 1983) “If you can say it, you’ll understand it when you hear it”, is a mantra I’ve taught and learned language by for more than a decade of my English language teaching experience.

Useful Criteria

In developing speaking and conversation skills I’ve found the following strategies to be useful:

Use a survey or questionnaire to determine learner interests, background, learning styles, etc. (L.M. Lynch, 2004)

Play speaking and vocabulary games for practice

Give frequent and regularly recorded oral evaluations
(M. Thompson, 2001; Eggan / Kauchak, 1994; Hilles ref. by Thompson, 2001)

A Speech Development Program

Preparing a speech development program begins with an oral evaluation of each learner. A voice recorder or video camera both are useful aids. Played back, the teacher then has opportunity to analyze speech patterns and problems in more detail, noting such aspects as:

- Pronunciation (G. Kelly, 2003)
- Connected speech (G. Kelly, 2003)
- Grammar use in context (M. Swan, C. Walter, 2002)
- Discourse markers
- Fluency
- Vocabulary / lexis use in context (A: Worrall,1965; H. Setzler, 1981; R. Dixson, 1983)

Analysis Tools

A video recorder (analog or digital) allows the teacher to make note of physical mannerisms that accompany the learners’ speech as well as the speech itself. Relevant and recordable speech-associated traits (C. Ashcroft, 1993) include:

- Rocking motion of the body or head
- Arm, hand and / or facial gestures
- Foot tapping, leg swaying
- Posture, head and / or body positions
- Other physical idiosyncrasies

A survey or questionnaire which takes the learners only a few minutes to check off, select or answer short questions can provide needed, in-depth information on their interests, hobbies, family, preferred learning styles, motivations and other aspects essential in preparing and conducting an effective speaking development program.

Effective Speaking Practice Activities

A selection of speaking practice activities to offer multiple opportunities for oral discourse must be programmed. Although many learners are shy or self-conscious about speaking in front of others, with practice, this soon diminishes to manageable levels as learners gain confidence.

Effective Activities are ones such as:

- Speech – generating Games (A. Lloyd, A. Prier,2000; J. Hadfield, 1984)
- Oral communication – based short activities (P. Ur, A. Wright, 1996)
- Oral presentations (D. Gutierrez, 2005)
- Dialogues (E. Hall, 1967)


Since speaking and listening are complimentary language skills, by applying a program based on complimentary speaking and listening comprehension development, learners can improve their English language speaking and conversation skills by using multiple integrated skills-based activities. Using language experience with adults (K. Kennedy, S. Roeder, 1975) and teaching vocabulary / lexis in context are highly beneficial in speaking skills development. (V. French, 1983) Regular practice, assignments and oral production involving a spectrum of oral discourse methods will be an invaluable resource for both the English language learners and the English language teacher.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Throw Away the Course Book and Adapt Authentic Materials

Use Authentic Materials?

If asked why they rely heavily on course books for English language teaching, among a variety of other reasons, one that emerges is the seeming unsuitability of available authentic materials. Principal reasons cited for this “unsuitability” can include:

- Unsuitable material level

- Too difficult

- Too long or short

- Use of grammar or language

- Irrelevancy of themes

- Not adapted for specific use

- Not adapted to student learning styles

While these factors are certainly present and accountable, they need not prohibit the use of authentic materials in the English language learning classroom. Let’s briefly examine how authentic materials might be incorporated into an English language teaching curriculum or course of study.

Availability of Authentic Materials

Authentic, that is, materials produced primarily for the use of native speakers of the target language, are easily available from a number of sources for most of the world. Some more common sources include:

- Books
- Magazines
- Newspapers
- TV
- Radio
- Internet
- Videos
- audiocassettes
- Course books
- CDs
- libraries

Most of these sources are readily available even in remote or poor regions of the world. In more highly “developed” regions, they may all be potential sources of materials for the English language learning classroom.

Adapting Authentic Materials

Successfully utilizing a continuing series of authentic materials in your English language learning classroom is simply a matter of adapting those materials to suit the needs of your language learners. Some keys to successful adaptation of authentic materials include:

- converting them into workshop activities
- adjusting the length of the materials
- simplifying or explaining key language elements
- converting authentic materials into a variety of exercise types

Learners benefit from listening materials spoken at “normal” conversational speed vs. English language learner directed listening materials which have been “altered” or “slowed” to enable “improved comprehension”. All well and good, but if the learners ever need to apply that learning and listening practice in a real-life situation – they’re lost. Why? Because – no – body – talks – like – this – in – real –life – in – any - language. (gasp!)

Authentic language videos, CDs, newscasts and radio programs can provide invaluable insight into current events and cultural aspects of English-speaking countries for language teachers and learners in other parts of the world. A benefit of recorded material is the ability to be able to rewind and repeat it as many times as necessary in order to effect increased levels of listening comprehension. The impact of the imagery provided in these clips is incalculable. Course books which are written and marketed for “use in all the world”, simply cannot hold up to this level of cultural knowledge and impact.

So even if you can’t “throw away your course book”, do realistically consider adapting more authentic materials for use in your English language learning classroom. You’ll ultimately be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What English Language Teachers Want to Know

The Problem

When a group of English as a foreign language teachers was surveyed as to what Tepic areas most interested them a surprising variety of Topic areas emerged. As with a growing number of ELT professionals, there is a continuing need for training and development. Many teachers, though wanting to grow their current boundaries, have neither the time, interest or resources to pursue a higher degree or effect a full return to formal education. The answer, in part, may well be foe savvy administrators to schedule a series of well-planned, in-depth English Teacher training workshops and seminars beyond what may be available locally or regionally from such organizations as TESOL, IATEFL, ASOCOPI, the British Council and others.

The Topics

Here are key teacher training topics which consistently emerge as preferred areas of interst for progressive educators.

• Short Class Activities

• Using Drama

• EFL Learning Games

• Vocabulary Development Techniques

• Listening Comprehension

• Using Short Stories

• Giving Presentations

• Creating Materials

• Using Art & Pictures

• EFL Teacher Certification

• Using Songs

• Writing Skills

Need for INSET

Each area is pertinent in its own right and care should be taken to provide an extensive variety of themes in any program of INSET (In-service training) that well-meaning administrators may undertake.

As standards for ELT develop and improve worldwide, increasing pressure on tenured teachers will cause a growing need for in-house teacher training programs that introduce new techniques and English language teaching concepts, update English teachers on new language acquisition theories and reinforce sound language teaching practice.

Additional Topics of Interest

Some additional topics of interst to a lesser, but more experienced group of English language teachers were these areas:

Learning Disabilities

Virtual EFL Teaching

Preparing Evaluations

Reading Comprehension

Training Program Providers

Local universities may have programs or experienced, Teacher Trainers available. Nacional and regional teacher organizations may also be called upon to offer recommendations for INSET programs and materials.

The Internet, TEFL websites like, and others are also good sources for locating programs, materials and Language Training Consultants who can provide hended input for teacher development initiatives.

Finally, a stepped-up program of technical reading, ELT online forum participation and in-house discussions can likewise be of aid in upgrading the level of English teacher interest and involvement in advanced training in ELT topics. Magazines like:

· Technology & Learning (

· English Teaching Professional (

· English Language Teaching Forum (

· ESL Magazine (

· Internet TESL Journal (

· Its-teachers (

· Modern Englishn Teacher online (

· Oxford ELT Journal (

Use these numerous options to assist you in planning your personal improvement program. They can also provide guidance for the establishment of a departmental or faculty development series of English language teacher training workshops, seminars and training sessions.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Part 1 Should English Language Formal and Summative Evaluations Be Knowledge or Performance Based?

Viva la Revolution

A revolution is in progress. It’s tranquil and orderly in places, but not so quiet in others. This revolution has swept up the academic world almost in its entirety from students to TEFL teachers and professors, administrators, curriculum designers and materials developers. It’s creating new jobs while obsoleting others. It’s altering the face and structure of the teaching, learning and language acquisition processes. The focus of the hubbub can be summed up in three key words: testing, evaluation and assessment. These three words can strike fear and terror into the hearts of teachers and students alike on a daily basis.

Five Categories of Assessment

Of the five categories of assessment: Placement assessment, Formative assessment, Diagnostic assessment, Summative evaluation, and Self- assessment. (Cucchiarelli, Panti, Valenti, 2000). We will consider aspects of Formative assessment and Summative evaluation.

Formal or Formative assessment such as Progress tests and semester partial exams, provide ongoing monitoring of student progress and are used by the teacher to gather feedback in order to adjust the educational process to insure that learning is occurring and to correct learning errors. (King and Rowe, 1997)

In Summative evaluation such as achievement tests and final exams, a grade or score is received at the end of a program or course and / or aims to assign grades to certify the student’s global level of knowledge on the topics taught. Based on this grade or score, the language learner is permitted (or not) to progress to the next level, semester or school year.

Knowledge vs. Performance

Testing occurs in one of two format types: “Knowledge of Language” or “Ability to Perform” using the language. (Spratt, Pulverness, Williams, 2005)

Some examples of knowledge tests can include:

-Proficiency tests
-Norm-referenced tests
-Discrete-point tests
-Language sub-skills tests

Some examples of performance tests can include:

-Achievement tests
-Criterion-referenced tests
-Communication skills tests
-Integrative tests
-Receptive tests

So the question becomes then, “Which type of test is best for formal and summative evaluations designed to assess language learning and ability or language level?” In my opinion, this should be done using language performance assessments. In part 2 of this article we’ll examine some reasons why.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Use the Soccer World Cup to Teach English

Use the Soccer World Cup in Germany as an English Language Teaching Tool?
No, I’m not kidding. Using popular events like the soccer world cup in Germany to teach English is in fact, practical. The learners’ Affective Filter (Krashen and Terrell, 1983) is so low using events like these to teach English, “a cockroach could leap over it”.

Can you imagine the reactions of my learners when I announced, “For English class everybody has to watch the world cup matches”?

“That’s great!” “Teacher, you’re the best!” “Oh man, we’ve never had an English assignment like that before!”

Although not a huge soccer fan myself, I did think it would be interesting to see matches between teams you know never get to play each other during a regular season. Italy vs. Ghana? The USA vs. the Czech Republic? Holland vs. Ivory Coast? Awesome!

To work the games in to English language practice, learners must use their skills in a number of different ways by applying Task-Based Learning (J. Willis, 1998) in addition to some Content-Based Instruction (Richards and Rogers, 1993). Do Ghana and Italy do business together? If so, what kinds of products or services? Useful activities for learners include ones such as:

-Preparing and giving profiles of the competing countries including economics, geography, capitol cities, etc.

-Being able to locate the countries on a world map and give bordering countries and geographic features

-Talking about key players on each team or dialogues between players / coaches / fans

-Describing aspects of key players on each team – age, height, weight, hair, looks, marital status and other features like bald, braces, glasses, tattoos, etc.

-Soccer match elements like player positions, scoring, and even how to play the game

-Giving commentary on game plays and goals using active or passive voice

-Making predictions using future tenses “going to” or “will”

-Using discourse markers or modals to express uncertainty (perhaps, possibly, maybe, might, could, may, etc.)

The learners are free to work up whatever formats they wish as long as they stay active and involved in the process. Some games are recorded with highlights reviewed / discussed in class. A few games are watched during class hours via multi-media facilities available at the university.

Other activity possibilities are:


-Developing vocabulary lists in context based on vocabulary elements (Thornbury, 2002)

-Discussion / descriptions of cities where games are played

-Local architecture

-Regional foods



-almost any cultural aspect learners may find new and interesting

At the end (gasp!) of it all, learners will have compiled an extensive “portfolio” of written and multi-media materials that have allowed them exhaustive practice in the four English language basic skills. Written practice can be either Process-based (White, 1987) or Product-based (Fowler, 1988) Learners have also had extensive listening comprehension practice in English. With different sports moderators and commentators from different countries speaking English with a variety of accents, elements of listening and their associated difficulties can be examined. (Brown and Yule, 1983)

So, these activities are turning the soccer world cup in Germany into a marvelous English language teaching tool. The process could be rolled over and used with other international sporting events as well, like the Olympics, Baseball World Series, American football Super Bowl or numerous other world regional events. Think about sports or other types of events where you live. How might you effectively exploit them to teach your English EFL or ESL learners?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Three Fun Ideas for Teaching Grammar to TEFL Learners

Grammar. The very mention of the word strikes fear into the heart of the staunchest language learner. Many English EFL and ESL teachers also feel the pit of their stomach churn at the thought of preparing and giving a grammar lesson. But what are we to do? If lexis and vocabulary are the building blocks of language, then certainly grammar is the mortar or structure that holds them together. Teaching it and learning it are therefore inescapable. The only thing to do then is to make it as interesting, pleasant or at least as painless as possible. Here are some ideas to help you do just that.

1. Use Grammar Games

Both learners and teachers alike love to use games in the English EFL ESL classroom. So, make extensive use of games to teach and reinforce critical grammar points. What, you say you don’t know any grammar games? Or perhaps you’ll quip that you don’t have a good stock of them so you can’t count on regularly employing them for use in your classes? Au contraire! They abound on English teacher websites, commercial publications and in the minds and hearts of your colleagues worldwide. If you have a good game to share, post it on an ELT forum or TEFL materials / activities website. Create your own based on popular games you’re familiar with. Use pursuit and turn-taking games, card games, board games or TPR-based games to get maximum involvement of your learners. Actually, you should get in there too. Don’t be a lazy butt.

2. Use movie and video clips

“Go ahead, make my day.” Now who was it exactly that first said that? Yes, yes I’m sure you know. Now change it to other verb tenses. Change it to a question. Change it into different question forms. Make it imperative. You get the idea.

“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” If you don’t know the initial speaker of that line, three slaps with a wet noodle for you. What verb tense is there? Now change it into different forms.

Watch a three to seven minute clip from a movie scene or video. Write down what grammar forms you hear. Then have the class do it. Does everyone agree? No? What are the different forms they come up with? What’s correct? Go back, watch the clip again and check. Do it until you’re satisfied.

3. Use Audio-only Segments

Now it’s getting tougher. Listen to an audio clip. A commercial, story, dialogue or news segment. From where? The radio, cassettes, TV, CDs / DVDs, etc. Note the grammar points used. Can you change any of them? How? Why? What does the change do to the meaning? Does it become formal or informal? Imperative? Humorous? Don’t forget to have the learners practice and deliver these short dialogues aloud. (Everybody wants to be Dirty Harry or the Godfather) My learners like scenes from “Matrix” and “Frantic” with Harrison Ford. James Bond film scenes rate highly with my learners too. The ladies like to be Julia Roberts or Demi Moore from almost any of their flics. Angela Bassett and Sigourney Weaver frequently portray “strong women” with good dialogue strings and soliloquies which give the female learners character choices. It works for me and it definitely works for them.

Try it out for yourself. You’ll see. Just remember to pick an interesting clip that’s not too long. It must have snappy dialogue either between two characters or a quippy comeback on the part of one of them. You could even have the learners suggest some clips, programs and / or scenes to use.

So Bunky, don’t let the term “grammar” strike fear into the hearts of your learners (or you) ever again. Work up some grammar – teaching activities using these techniques and grammar could become your – and their – favorite lesson type. If you have questions, would like additional suggestions or guidance, please feel free to contact me at:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Five Tips to Become An Expert English Teacher

Although there are scores of variables that can directly or indirectly affect rating as an EFL or ESL English teacher, many of them are out of your control. The school environment, the class profile of the learners, available materials, schedules, curriculum and most administrative aspects are among these.

There are many others that you can and should take control of, using them to your best advantage at all times. Examples of these elements include your individual skills and abilities as an EFL or ESL professional, materials you create for the use of your learners, your character, personality and approach to English Language Teaching (ELT) and your knowledge of the teaching / learning topic – the English language itself.

Here are five basic tips you can use on a daily basis that will enhance your notability as an ELT professional. Here they are:

1. Learn everything you can related to English Language Teaching and Learning

Attend classes, short courses, workshops and seminars. Read ELT methodology books and magazines both online and off. Subscribe to education-related magazines that will help you in your career. There are many available at no cost online. Try out for example. Just like a surgeon who must purchase tools and equipment so he can practice and improve his skills, you must invest in the tools that will make you a better English teacher.

2. Read everything you can get your hands on.

Read texts, non-fiction, biographies, read everything you can find. When you become a voracious reader, you become a more knowledgeable, better teacher. There are no short cuts to excellence. Look online, at professional organizations like TESOL, Inc. and IATEFL. Check local public, private, language institute and university libraries for collections of high-level technical materials. The internet has so much material available online at no cost, it would be embarrassing not to take advantage of it. Immerse yourself. Learn and grow. The payoff will show up in the classroom – in more ways than one.

3. Become active in professional organizations and SIGs (Special Interest Groups)

There should be at least a couple of professional organizations available in your country or region, like those mentioned above, that have SIGs. Find an area that interests you and go for it. Don’t just sit on the sidelines, get out there and DO something. Participate, share your opinions and ideas, ask questions. Then apply what you can to your teaching to maximize the experience. Try something new on a regular basis.

4. Increment your academic production

If you’re not writing articles, opinions, journals, commentary, reflections and even lesson plans that you post online for the perusal and use of other ELT professionals worldwide, you need to get cracking. Your learners aren’t the only ones who are interested in what you do in the classroom and beyond. I want to know too – yeah, really. There are local, regional, national and international technical publications that will take your work as well. No, you don’t need a PhD either. If you have a tip or technique your students love or that helps to get you through a tough teaching point, curious minds around the world want to know. Share it with us online at one of the more than 100 EFL / ESL Teacher websites like Not sure how to write it up? I’ll be glad to help you outline and draft your piece to share with the world.

5. Attend ELT Conferences, workshops and seminars

Not only do those professional organizations offer opportunities to grow and learn, but you can share your ELT knowledge, skills, experiences and abilities too. Attend all the sessions that you can, but by no means stop there. Skilled, knowledgeable presenters are always in demand. Set a goal to prepare and present a workshop, poster or academic session. Hone your research, writing and Power Point skills in the process. Do “test runs” on your colleagues at your school or institution for your and their enlightenment.

So there you have it. If these tips sound like you need to do some work, you do. But the work you put into fine-tuning your knowledge and teaching will be reflected in the number of smiles and high-scoring communicative learners you’ll produce. If you begin to notice the difference, so will others in the front office. That’s where the money comes from. The pride and satisfaction comes from those faces in front of you. Finally, if you’re the bashful type and need a gentle push in the right direction, please feel free to e-mail me at with your question or concern. I’ll be glad to help.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Is EFL or ESL English Teaching Practical for Home Schooling?

Home Schooling is Popular

Home schooling is becoming increasingly popular. Why? Because in some areas schools are too dangerous to consider. Parents want to have more control over their children’s learning environment. Schools in some districts lack essential quality in resources and staff to effectively educate children for the challenges of today’s global society. With home schooling, parents are able to expand the learning platform of their children to an almost infinite degree. School districts provide the required curriculum for children so that parents don’t go off on a non-productive tangent. This also helps to ensure that home-schooled children are on track with their peers of the same age and grade level.

What about those cases in which children have a first language other than English? Though not yet in supremely large numbers, the growing discovery of alarming numbers of children with illegal immigrant status raises the question of English as a Second Language (ESL) home-schooling and literacy. The task of developing fluency in English stretches from the children through the parents and even the grandparents in many cases. Immigrant families are cash-strapped. Often due to low levels of educational achievement, lack of marketable skills or even illiteracy, parents feel they are “trapped”. To earn more they must learn more, but how can this be accomplished without English language fluency?

Using A TBL Approach

One of many possible scenarios is home schooling using a TBL (Tasked-Based Learning) approach. In this approach, learners are taught useable, marketable skills using English as the language of instruction. In-demand skills such as Nursing Aids, Home Health Care Aides, Auto Mechanics, Electrician Helpers, Carpentry and construction trade workers, Cooks and even Teacher Aides could be brought up to marketable standards rather quickly. Certainly most would require less than a year of preparation to begin “giving back” to the economy that many now only abuse to the detriment of tax-payers and home owners who currently carry an over-burdened share of the economy.

Using a TBL approach, several problems would be addressed at the same time.

-Immigrants would learn a marketable skill

-Immigrants would learn English

-Immigrants would regain their personal pride and dignity

-Parents could set a valuable example for their children

-Children could be eased more into mainstream American society

-Children could more easily acquire useable English language skills

There are already quantities of online and low-residency English language and other programs available for both adults and children.

Certainly English taught as a second or foreign language is practical for home schooling. Teachers and tutors must make classes interesting, lively and on occasion even fun if they are to maintain the interest and attendance of these LEP (Limited English Proficiency) learners. In so doing, the problem of non-English speaking or LEP learners of all ages can begin to be addressed in earnest. Over-crowded, cash and resource-strapped schools need our help. This is one way that we, as concerned TEFL professionals, can give it to them.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Five Creative Methods of Teaching English to TEFL Learners

As English teachers, we’re almost always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to stimulate our language learners. It was ELT author and researcher Stephen D. Krashen who gave us his Affective Filter hypothesis of Second or Foreign language acquisition. (Krashen – Terrell, 1983) His hypothesis states, that conditions which promote low anxiety levels in class allow improved learning on the part of students. When learners enjoy class activities their Affective Filter is low and they learn more. New and different activities “out of the norm” also lower learner affective filters.

Here are some not-so-commonly-used techniques for adding that “new twist” to your English or foreign language classes. Giving learners something new does wonders in relieving boredom, spiking interest and lowering the Affective Filter of learners on whom you may have “tried everything”.

1. Using an iPod

Do you learners carry iPods or cellular phones? Don’t curse and swear at them for using technology in their lives. Turn it to your advantage! A number of good websites now exist that can get you and your learners up and running using this latest new technology for language learning and practice. Here are useful website for more podcasting information:

Podcasting: Audio on the Internet comes of age

Morning Stories

Podcast Pickle <

Internet TESL Journal

2. Let Mr. Bean Help You

You all know him and love his humorous twists on daily living. So don’t just sit there nodding, grab a CD or VHS full of episodes and try a few out on your learners. Let them do the talking. They can offer suggestions, write to Mr. Bean and his other characters, express opinions and do comparisons of his world vs. their own. By the way, is he REALLY an alien? Follow his antics, get video clips, program guides and more at:

3. Ask Walt Disney for Advice

Although I’m old enough to remember his presence and passing, Walt Disney can still make us laugh, smile, cry and cheer with the antics of scores of his characters and their families. Take some short “clips” from his animated stories. Change the situation. Alter the characters. Modify an ending or a beginning to cause a whole different outlook on age-old themes. Are your stories and characters better? As long as they’re different, stimulating and generate interest or discussion, that’s all that matters. Everyone, even you, will have a great time coming up with new twists on these classic themes. Try it!

Visit Disney online here:

4. Letting Learners Create Lesson Materials

Turnabout is fair play, or so they say. Take a day to switch roles. Have you ever let your learners write an exam? How about planning a fun class? Having a “hot” conversation on a topic that THEY want to talk about – music, movies, cute guys / gals, techno-babble? Nothing is taboo – well almost nothing, anyway! What do you think they’ll talk about? You’d be surprised!

5. Join the Club

Let’s all go to the Conversation Club. What you don’t have one? Okay then, start one – every Thursday from 2:00 pm to 2:30 pm or whatever time, day and duration may suit you and your learners. The key is to give THEM the majority of control, or at least as much as possible. Use props, use realia, use pictures, music or whatever you and your learners may have on hand to start, stop and sustain the activities. Other “clubs” you could join include:

· Pronunciation clubs
· Reading clubs
· Movie clubs
· Acting Clubs

Use your and your learners’ imaginations. The sky’s the limit – or maybe the Administration’s sky is the limit. But no matter, just try something new for starters.

Try some of these not-so-commonly-used techniques for adding that “new twist” to your English or foreign language classes. Give your learners something new to relieve any boredom and spike their interest. Can’t you just hear those Affective Filters falling now?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

6 Ways You Can Develop New English Language Skills or Learn New Information

A New Approach Every Decade

It seems with every decade a new approach or theory of English or other foreign language learning comes into vogue. Keeping up can be daunting, even exasperating for TEFL English teachers worldwide. Each of us has our own environment and particular situation in regards to materials, facilities, time constraints, knowledge, training, skills and abilities among other venues. Let’s not even talk about administrative demands. Despite these, there are some commonalities. Our EFL / ESL learners all want the same thing in varying degrees – to develop English language skills.

So first, let’s consider some ways people can learn new information or develop new skills and abilities. Regardless of currently accepted approaches or theory some aspects are staple and constant. There are, essentially, nine ways students learn new information or develop new skills. These key methods are:

Observing someone else, then copying their actions

We all know this one. It made millions for Arthur Murray and numerous other dance instructors. We watch, and then we try until the movements are fluid and natural looking. It takes two to Tango in more ways than one. Ever watch an infant? As you coo and talk to him / her, they watch your mouth intently. Later, they’ll try to mimic you and other speakers. It works, of course. After all, YOU can talk quite well now, can’t you?

Practicing doing something on our own

Actually, I learned to play rudimentary chess this way, practicing by “playing” against myself for hours on end. Many fishermen learn and develop their skills using this method as well. For language learning, students could try using CDs, tapes, videos or mimicking speakers live, on TV or radio.

Having a personal instructor or trainer

From learning to skate to getting a Black Belt, this is a preferred method for many physical skills. When learners attend a formal class this method is being incorporated too.

Taking a course from a knowledgeable person or source

For study and learning of abstract knowledge like the arts, language or music, most people would tend to use this method. At some point or another most learners do attend a class in the target language, especially in the USA, England, Canada or Australia where English is the first language of the people.

Keep trying and failing until the action, sequence or information is “acquired”

Whether growing a new business or learning to ice skate, this is one way, albeit a painful one at times, to learn a new skill. In acquiring speaking and listening comprehension skills, learners need to continually try and “fail” in the production and comprehension efforts.

Following guidelines or instructions on how to do something

Want to build your own computer? Assemble a model plane, car or boat? Hit a straight drive or bowl a 300? Most likely you’ve used this method with electronics or in assembling a toy, a framework, and a piece of furniture or something like a tent. In a language pronunciation segment, learners follow speech reproduction guidelines to improve their sound production accuracy.

Think about each of these methods or approaches and I’m sure you’ll come up with some skill, ability or knowledge you obtained using several of them. You’ll likely also note that different types and kinds of skills required different approaches on your part. You likely tried to learn something in one way, failed, and then tried another approach or two successfully. So keep learning. Keep growing and Good Luck.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Could Computers and the Internet REALLY Replace TESOL English Teachers?

A Controversial Question

At ELT English seminars, workshops and TESOL conferences, one question I’m frequently asked is whether I think computers will eventually replace English teachers. I flash back to the film “Matrix”. In an early scene, our neophyte hero “Neo” is learning Kung Fu by being plugged in to a computer. Scant hours later, he opens his eye, sits up, and announces, “I know Kung Fu!” The ensuing scenes depict how an older, more experienced mentor (a.k.a. a teacher) follows up by evaluating young Neo’s “skills”. “Show me”, the teacher asks in typical fashion. Now if you’ve been following along with me so far, you already have a clue as to my asnswer to these teachers’ question.

Computers replace a human English teacher?

Are you kidding?

“Ain’t no way, Jose.”

But English teachers, don’t totally relax just yet. What I think we DO need to do is to “re-invent” a portion of the concept of “school”. Here’s what I mean.

Reinventing the Concept of School

Schools, at virtually any level, will need to be virtually and interactively linked to an extensive array of external resources. This means that the “traditional” board, markers and OHP will need to give way to additional, integrated resources that expand the classroom environment to an almost unlimited degree. I mean the works; audio, video, internet, webcams, IM, TXTing, chat, e-mail, RSS, even real-time multi-media input feeds. The classroom and its students would be linked to additional resources like:

Government facilities
Science, technology and medical centers
Other learning Institutions

In this way, students would more normally utilize learning activities such as web quests, inter-active dynamics and virtual tours to expand and deepen their knowledge on principles and concepts. The learners would no longer be limited to the knowledge, resources and facilities available at the institution where they attend classes. Instead, the world, literally, is their classroom.

Impact on Learning

How would this directly impact learning? Well, if you’re learning computers, wouldn’t direct access to Microsoft Corp. materials and training be a real boon? Technology students would doubtless derive immense benefit from direct links with MIT (, Cal Tech (, or Lucent Corp. ( Engineering students would thrive on access to NASA located online at: (, Boeing (, Westinghouse (, Dupont ( or a host of other high-tech corporations.

Law, Government, Human Rights and Political Science students would be at the top of their game hard-wired into Federal, State and local government databases, or FBI (, the London Metropolitan Police (, the CIA ( and ATF ( ) databases with their accompanying local, regional and national resources. Health majors could be up to date with real-time events in Pathology, Epidemics research, natural disaster response resource information and population health threats through the CDC (, medical and health networks or the UN ( The possibilities are almost endless.

So, I agree that the “traditional” approaches to teaching and learning, not only English and other foreign languages, but numerous other fields as well, will continue to evolve to serve the needs of learners, business and educational institutions. With CBL (Content-Based Learning), well-prepared TEFL English teachers, armed with knowledge, skills and continually developing technology, have nothing to fear from computers. Technology is yet another powerful tool in promoting the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, now and in the future. What do YOU think?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Using Short Paragraph Stories to Teach Simple Past in English – Part 1

Whenever I have to teach the Simple Past tense in English, one activity I always use is speaking and writing practice using some short “stories” that I made up. Writing them was a lot more difficult than I’d originally imagined since use of only regular verbs in a narrative is not really authentic language. Native speakers simply don’t talk that way. But, to give my EFL English students some practice in writing the forms of regular verbs in past and especially in pronouncing them, I came up with a couple of shorts using only this form. They’re harder to read and pronounce than “normal”, but the intensive practice seems to be quite helpful. So, I continue to use them even though I know this speech pattern is not going to occur in natural English speech.

Since my learners are all from a Spanish-speaking country in South America, Colombia, they typically exhibit a problem in pronouncing the –ed verb ending in its various forms. I’d noticed the same propensity towards pronunciation problems with –ed regular verb endings in other Spanish-speaking areas, so I prepared exercises to help with this early on. Students in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama and Ecuador have all benefited from these simple “stories” I hope that perhaps your EFL / ESL students will too.

TEFL Learners can read the story paragraphs aloud, focusing on the correct pronunciation of the verb ending forms. They can fill-in the blanked out endings in the paragraph to practice adding –ed or just –d as required. Also they’ll practice with when to change “y” to an “i” before adding –ed. For example, Play becomes played, and stay becomes stayed, but try and cry become tried or cried. The stories could be cut into strips and re-ordered, acted out as a “skit”, pantomimed, or a variety of written exercises and comprehension activities could be added. As an added feature, I boldface the verbs in the paragraphs.

I attempted to create short paragraph stories that would be of some interest as well. One is set in the Old West and is called, “The Sheriff of Calico County”. The others take place during a visit to the zoo, and during a bank robbery, respectively. They’re entitled, “The Zoo” (169 words) and “The State Bank” (131 words). Kinda catchy titles, ain’t they? There was just a bit of “writing license” taken in the creation of these short paragraph stories. Hey, it worked for Shakespeare, didn’t it?

Here are two as examples for you to try out.

The Zoo
Last Wednesday we decided to visit the zoo. We arrived the next morning after we breakfasted, cashed in our passes and entered. We walked toward the first exhibits. I looked up at a giraffe as it stared back at me. I stepped nervously to the next area. One of the lions gazed at me as he lazed in the shade while the others napped. One of my friends first knocked then banged on the tempered glass in front of the monkey’s cage. They howled and screamed at us as we hurried to another exhibit where we stopped and gawked at plumed birds. After we rested, we headed for the petting zoo where we petted wooly sheep who only glanced at us but the goats butted each other and nipped our clothes when we ventured too near their closed pen. Later, our tired group nudged their way through the crowded paths and exited the turnstiled gate. Our car bumped, jerked and swayed as we dozed during the relaxed ride home.

The State Bank
This morning at 8:33, someone robbed the State Bank downtown. The thief entered the bank and stated that he wanted all their money. The thief smiled but looked very tired. The tellers seemed worried. The thief received the money he requested, asked to be excused, then stormed out quickly as the door revolved. He dashed down the street and screeched away in a damaged car that rattled, squeaked and smoked. It appeared that he really needed the money. The police soon arrived. They barreled and chased down the street. They searched and questioned bystanders, but the thief vanished. The police failed to catch him. Investigators abandoned the case and neglected to do anything else. The money was never recovered and the thief was never identified the report of the incident ended.

In part two of this article series, I demonstrate the use of a similar style, but much longer piece for practicing simple past of regular verbs. If you’re successful and want to try another of my “stories” or two, just e-mail me for more. Better yet try your hand at coming up with a couple of your own. Either way, I’m happy to be able to share these with you and I’d be happy to hear how these worked for you and your EFL / ESL English learners. So, feel free to let me know how well these worked (or didn’t) for you.

Good Luck

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Do EFL English Schools Really Need Native English Speaking Teachers?

The Need for Native English Speakers

As the need for proficiency in the English language continues to explode worldwide, there is an ever-increasing need for more and more EFL teachers. All too often however, non-native English teachers find the phrase “native speakers only” included in adverts and English EFL or ESL requirements. But, do schools really need native-speaking English teachers? On ELT forums like , blogs and web pages across the internet, commentary flies back and forth at a fast and furious pace. Here are some opinions regarding native vs. non-native English speaking EFL / ESL teachers:

A Problem for Non-Natives

When a prospective non-native English teacher posted about his inability to gain an ELT position in his native country, his error-filled post was responded to as follows:

“…I counted around thirty mistakes in your message. If I was a school owner, why should I hire someone whose written English skills are poor, or who writes so sloppily it looks like they couldn't care less? Alright, so some of your mistakes may be due to the way we have become used to writing on forums, "dumbed down" if you like, but if you want to show people you have the skills that you claim to have, then why not show them by at least writing in proper English?”

The Whole Package

The ensuing comments give some insight as to why schools would “openly” target native English speakers only, when they say:

“Unfortunately, most ESL positions in Asia and particularly China specify native speakers only, moreover, they want those from certain countries like UK, Australia and the USA. A non-native speaker’s language and teaching ability may be better than a lot of native speakers but I doubt whether administrators or recruiters will want anyone other than blue-eyed, blonde Caucasians to parade in front of prospective parents and their students.”

“As has already been mentioned, the reason people want native speakers is that they want "the whole package". Someone who can talk about odd British sayings, what Americans eat for breakfast, differences between UK regional accents; things a native speaker will know instinctively, things a non-native speaker may not. Or simply the chance to talk to "a native speaker."

Not Everyone Agrees Native Speakers are “Best”

But not all necessarily agree that a native speaker is always the best option. Consider this alternate opinion posting:

“…it's more often than not better for the students if their teacher is a non-native speaker (providing of course that you CAN use English as good as a native speaker). That is because you had to learn this language as well as your students do, so you know exactly which things will be difficult and how to explain them most efficiently.”

Need For EFL Teachers is HUGE
The Need for EFL / ESL Teachers is HUGE Right now. It would be foolish to think that only native speakers can fill all the positions available worldwide. Non-native speakers should look for jobs in less discriminatory areas and countries after ensuring that their English communication and teaching skills are honed to their best. Non-native speakers will usually find that their best allies in their quest the native-speaking English language teachers.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 80 countries. Get your FREE E-books, “If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" or "7 Techniques to Motivate Your English Language Learners and Make Your Classes More Dynamic" by requesting the title you want at:

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What Makes Listening Difficult?

Of the four basic English language skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening, the most difficult to acquire is listening comprehension. It is also the one skill which cannot be “taught”.
In evaluations that university English and foreign language institute EFL students must take at least three times a semester, the area which is most critical and the one in which they experience the greatest difficulty is listening comprehension.

What makes Listening Difficult?

There are four clusters of factors which can affect the difficulty of language listening tasks. Here is what they are and how they affect listening comprehension skills.


• How many are there?
Is one person speaking at a time? Are there a number of speakers? Do some of them speak at the same time?

• How quickly they speak

Does the pace of the speaker allow sufficient “time” for mental processing of the speech by the listener? Does the language of the speaker flow at a faster or slower rate than the listener is accustomed to?

• What types of accent they have

Does the speaker (or do the speakers) have an unfamiliar accent or manner of speaking that is less comprehensible to the listener? Is the listener accustomed to variable accents and speech types?


• The role of the listener
What is the listener’s purpose in listening? General comprehension? Specific information? Pleasure? Business? Extraction of critical data?

• The level of response required

What does the listener have to do in response to the speech? Act? Respond? Think? Enjoy? Nothing?

• The interest in the content or subject

Is the listener involved in the content or subject matter? Is it something they want to, need to, or must know?


• Grammar
Is the grammar and structure in use familiar to the listener? Is the listener able to use or assimilate the grammar – structure used in this context?

• Vocabulary

Is vocabulary or lexis that is new to the listener being used in the speech? Is the quantity of new words substantial? Noted linguistics author Scott Thornbury says, “Count 100 words of a passage. If more than 10 of the words are unknown, the text has less than a 90% vocabulary recognition rate. It is therefore, unreadable.” The same holds true for a listening comprehension passage.

• Information structure

Is the information or material being presented by the speech in a form that is clear and understandable to the listener? Is the presentation order logical, progressive, have redundancies or is presented non-sequentially?

• Background knowledge assumed

In comprehension of the speech, is prior knowledge required? Is any prior knowledge required substantial, highly specialized or technical in nature?


What kind of support, if any, is available? Support in this context refers to whether there are pictures, diagrams or other visual aids to support the text.

While there are a number of approaches that can be utilized to improve listening comprehension, one important key is regular and consistent practice. An EFL or ESL teacher may also provide a measure of guided practice in developing key listening comprehension skills. Taking these other factors into account, listening comprehension segments can be identified which may tend to cause problems for learners or that have a sufficient number of suitable aspects to make them practical and useable.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Three Mistakes Foreign Language Teachers Make That Cause Learners to Fail

Are you guilty of any of these erroneous practices in ELT or language teaching? Any one of them can easily derail the students’ efforts in language acquisition and learning or cause them grave problems. So, review these areas, make any needed adjustments to your teaching practice. Don’t you be a stumbling block to your learners’ progress.

1. Don’t adapt materials to the learning style and characteristics of the students.

Unfortunately, the learning style most reflected in the classroom is that of the teacher. It is paramount that concepts and material be presented in a way most suitable for the learners. Jack C. Richards, principal author of the widely popular Interchange textbook series said, “Student learning styles may be an important factor in the success of teaching and may not necessarily reflect those that teachers recommend." Why? Because teachers use their own preferences in the class room, not necessarily those of the students. Do an analysis of your class group’s learning characteristics, then apply the results to your teaching.

2. Follow the course book

A course book is usually not intended to be a “bible”, but all too often teachers follow it “religiously”. They do nothing else, nor include outside materials in their teaching. If you read the teacher’s notes that typically accompany an English or language text, you’ll most likely note that the course book is intended to be a guide for teaching with supplementary materials widely used to expand, deepen or reinforce presented materials and themes. Use the course book sequence as a guide. Freely supplement its exercises and course materials with your own creations or at the very least with materials adapted from other sources. As mentioned in point number one, plan your lessons and materials to meet the needs, learning styles and characteristics of your learners.

3. Don’t encourage and promote language practice outside the class room

With an alarming number of schools and institutes decreasing student to teacher classroom contact hours per week it is essential for learners to receive additional practice and input. There are requirements of as little as four hours per week or even less in many publicly or government-funded educational centers. Can a student really learn a language in only 45 hours? Or put it this way, is it reasonable to expect mastery of any sort in a language after six or seven days in a foreign country where that language is spoken? Spread that contact intensity over a six-month period; does that make language learning and acquisition better or worse? Now, throw in the learners using their first language half of each day of language learning and you have a situation degraded to a nearly impossible state. Finally, factor in class and semester breaks of several weeks per year and it’s certainly no wonder Jorge, Chen Shen or Efrosini can’t hold even a basic conversation after studying English (or another foreign language) under these conditions for two, three or even more years. Encouragement and promotion of foreign language practice outside the class room is absolutely vital to the success of the learners.

So again, don’t you be a stumbling block to your learners’ progress. If you are guilty of any of these erroneous practices in ELT or language teaching, make any needed adjustments to your teaching practice ASAP. Then watch your learners grow, improve and practice their new language like never before. Please feel free to contact me with your questions, comments or requests.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mind Your Manners When Traveling Abroad Part 3: References for Business and Cultural Information

In the first part of this three-part series we looked at some advice on how to foster a better, more intelligent, educated and respectful image when you travel abroad. In part 2 of this series, we looked at what to say and how to say it when traveling abroad. In this final part of the series, we’ll go to some sites to see just how to get preview information on speech and conduct before traveling abroad.

References for Business and Cultural Information
An excellent starting reference site for business and cultural information is the Doing Business Guide website with business and cultural information online for 36 Countries at:

Topics included at this site address such areas as:

Let's Make a Deal!
What you should know before negotiating

Prosperous Entertaining
Entertaining for business success

Appointment Alert!
Making appointments

Gift Giving
Selecting and presenting an appropriate business gift

First Name or Title?
Respectfully addressing others

Public Behavior
Acceptable public conduct

Business Dress
Guidelines for business dress

Welcome topics of conversation

At this site extensive business and cultural information are available for Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, England France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, United States, and Venezuela.

If the country you’re interested in does not appear here try the country’s Embassy site online or go to the CIA’s information site for in-depth country information and profiles at:

So when traveling, whether for business, pleasure or vacation, it truly pays to mind your manners. Don’t contribute to an ugly American stereotype or add fuel to increasing anti-American sentiments. You have the opportunity to promote yourself, your business or company and provide a positive influence while abroad if you keep these aspects in mind before, during and after your business or vacation travel abroad.

Please feel free to contact me with comments or questions at:

Mind Your Manners When Traveling Abroad Part 2: Religion is Taboo, Politics are Out

In part 1 of this three-part series we looked at some advice on how to foster a better, more intelligent, educated and respectful image when you travel abroad. In this article, part 2 of a three-part series, we’ll look at what to say and how to say it when traveling abroad.

Watch what and how you speak
Your speech is reflective of who and what you are. It can be a useful tool for the melding of cultures or a battering ram of discontent. Don’t create resentment by continuous babbling about your “affluence”, power, business or social status. People don’t care to hear how “inferior” their way of life may appear to be to you. Dale Carnegie in his classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, said, “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive”. While you’re at it, remember to lower your tone and volume. A loud, overbearing voice is considered to be inappropriate or boisterous in many cultures which favor a calmed, controlled form of speech. Control your tone. You want to avoid coming off as a braggart or imperialist.

Absolutely avoid the use of vulgarity, profanity, ethnic or stereotypical jokes of any kind. Refrain from any derogatory remarks or insults as well no matter how “harmless” you may think they might be. “Humor” can be a quick-sand-laden area for the business or casual traveler. Be wary of it.

Slow down
In France, people often eat half the food Americans do, and the French may take nearly twice as long to do it. Many Latin countries too, operate at a much more leisurely pace. True, life is short. But that doesn’t mean you should do everything at breakneck speed. “See 10 countries in only 14 days” the ads claim. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Americans, in particular, may eat, speak and even live at an accelerated rate, but many cultures do not. In France, to wolf down your food can be a great insult to the cook or family. In effect you might be saying something like, “The food was so bad that you hurried up and got rid of it so you could get away.” Slow down and enjoy the foreign cultural offerings. Smell the flowers. Taste the food. Chat leisurely with the locals. Really take some time to learn how others live. Remember, you can always “speed back up” when you get home.

Religion is Taboo, Politics are out
You know the old saw about avoiding religion and politics as conversation topics. Well it’s still true. Today, more than ever before, religion is not a suitable topic of conversation in public. It’s all too easy to stir up trouble much too quickly. To be on the “safe” side, avoid this topic with all but close associates. Another “land mine” topic area is politics. “Do you agree with what your president is doing?” These and other similar “hot button” questions will invariably come up. Avoid an argument at all costs. You can say that you don’t agree with their point of view without getting into dramatics or an unsightly “firefight”. Change the subject and move on. When I’m asked, “Do you agree to the extradition of drug traffickers from Colombia?”, I give a brief explanation of the effects of drug trafficking in major U.S. inner cities and move on to other topics before things ever get out of hand.

An excellent reference site with business and cultural information for 36 Countries is available online. If the country you’re interested in does not appear here try one of the other sites listed. In the final, part 3 of this series, we’ll go to some sites to see just how to get preview in-depth information on speech and conduct before traveling abroad in: “Mind Your Manners When Traveling Abroad Part 3: References for Business and Cultural Information”.

For the free download to read highly informative part 3, E-mail me at your convenience at:

If You Think English is Difficult Try Mandarin – Part 2

… continued from part 1 …

A couple of students confuse a pronunciation with the name of a Kung Fu TV series actor. The teacher doesn’t get it. They talk about Jackie Chan as the mood of the class lightens. We try a few numbers that are simple to write in Chinese. One, two, three, four, ten, one thousand. Not bad at all, but I’ll definitely need those flash cards and a pronunciation tape. Then comes five, six, seven, eight, nine. We continue with eleven, twelve and twenty. Twenty one and creating multiples of numbers follow. Actually, it’s not difficult at all. Some of the higher numbers are childishly simple to create in both speaking and writing. The class continues creating more numbers by combining characters in Chinese. I glance at my watch. My fist Mandarin class will end in twenty five more minutes. The final number is one thousand three hundred million – the population of China.

The class is interesting, with its musical language, and fun at times, but impractical. Where will we practice? Who is there to talk to? Is anyone, besides me, even thinking of going to China? Where in China is Mandarin spoken? What are the other principal forms of Chinese? These are only some of the questions that pop into my head during the class.

If I intend to have any success with this Mandarin class I realize that some learning and study aids are going to be needed such as:

Recordings of pronunciations
Drilling practice flash cards
Reference sheets of class work
Background information on China’s culture, history, people and geography
Focused practice with functional language (that I could use during a trip to China)
Graphics applied to the materials as a memory aid
Extra tutorials to help me over the “rough spots” in learning the language
Photos and realia for an extra added touch
Study projects on the people, culture, geography, and history of China

An idea of what motivates the other students might be interesting and helpful too. So I’ll try to chat with a couple of them before and after class. Several factors make learning Chinese a considerably more formidable task than learning another Germanic or Romance languages. It should be an interesting experience over all though. I’ll keep you posted of interesting developments. Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mind Your Manners When Traveling Abroad Part 1: They must be Americans

They must be Americans
It was a hot day, so when the couple finished a morning stint at the beach, they opted for a little shopping – in their swim wear. Wrapping a see-through, flimsy scarf around her bikini bottom, and he in his flip flops and sloganed t-shirt, they sallied into a sheik little shop on the main thoroughfare. Onlookers gasped and stared. Mothers covered the eyes of their gawking children. Mature men and women snickered or shook their heads. “They must be Americans”, one salesclerk whispered knowingly to another. Unfortunately, she was right.

When traveling, whether for business, pleasure or vacation. It pays to mind your manners. Americans especially are becoming increasingly known for their disrespectful behavior while abroad. Did I say becoming? The image of the “Ugly American” is already far too widespread. The stereotype of the loud talking, wise-cracking, inappropriately dressed, wealth-flaunting American foreigners who flaunt their lifestyle while traveling is unfortunately, all too real in some aspects in far too many cases. With anti-American sentiments growing worldwide, international corporations from Microsoft to McDonald’s and business publications like the Wall Street Journal have addressed the theme time and again. Here is some advice on how to foster a better, more intelligent, educated and respectful image when you travel abroad.

Know the local geography
Planning a trip abroad? First order of business – get a map and study it. Have an idea of how the city and its environs are laid out. Know important sites and landmarks. Many good travel guides provide essential information on getting around. This can be especially important if the local language uses a non-western alphabet writing system. On a recent trip in Colombia my wife and I listened in amusement as a foreigner explained to his family the compass directions – incorrectly. He had the directions of north and south reversed despite having the Pacific Ocean sunset in plain view.

Dress moderately
Not enough can be said about paying attention to local dress code and customs. In many countries it is disrespectful for women to dress casually, showing bare skin or body parts, in public. Bare hairy chests or legs on display, even for men, can be considered offensive in many cultures. If you’re not sure what’s appropriate, ask discretely or check informative websites for information on local customs. A useable rule of thumb is no bare legs, torso, back or arms when in public places. Emulate the dress of the locals to be sure you’re being respectful of their cultural norms. Embera Indian women, normally topless in their culture, cover up with a colorful wrap when they visit non-Indian towns and villages along South America’s Pacific Coast so that they are respectful of the social norms of their neighbors. Embera men, with their normal thong loin cloths, wear T-shirts and pants outside their villages for the same reasons.

Watch what and how you speak
Your speech is reflective of who and what you are. It can be a useful tool for the melding of cultures or a battering ram of discontent. Don’t create resentment by continuous babbling about your “affluence”, power, business or social status. People don’t care to hear how “inferior” their way of life may appear to be to you.

In part 2 of this three-part series, we’ll look at what to say and how to say it when traveling abroad in: “Mind Your Manners When Traveling: Religion is Taboo, Politics are Out”.

Please feel free to e-mail me with comments or questions at:

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Tomato: An Important Tool for ELT and Foreign Language Teachers

An Important Tool? Really?

What has a tomato got to do with English or foreign language teaching? Try this. Take a tomato, display it prominently in front of your English or foreign language students. Now ask them to tell you about it. “Ask, “What things can relate?” If one of your learners asks, “Teacher, can I touch it or pick it up or handle it?” you should say “Yes”. Just don’t let them eat it. No prop, no class you see.

The idea is to generate the use of the four basic language skills using a known prop or piece of realia. With the exception of Antarctica and possibly the Himalayas, I don’t know of any other continent or geographic region where the tomato might not be known. The learners then, must come up with as much tomato-based input as they can. From some individual learners there may not be much, but collectively, the input generated could be considerable.

Brainstormed Tomato Themes

Here are some allowable input themes my learners have brainstormed using this exercise.

*Tomato dishes
*Allergies, especially food allergies
*Cooking methods used with tomatoes
*Tomatoes in songs and movies (Remember “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”?)
*Collocations with “tomato”
*Countries where tomatoes are grown or heavily used
*Chemicals and nutrients in tomatoes
*History of tomatoes
*Tomato-colored objects
*Idioms and expressions using “tomato”
*Tomato statistics and records (world’s largest, smallest, etc.)
*Famous people who liked tomatoes (like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who reportedly put catsup on everything she ate )
*Companies that feature tomato products
*Tomato stories and anecdotes
*Words that can be made using the letters in the word “tomato”

By now I’m sure you get the idea.

The Power of Your mind

Try this visualization exercise right now. Close your eyes. Picture a tomato. Can you see it? In your mind, touch it. Pick it up and move it around in your hands. What does it feel like? Is it warm or cold? Can you smell it now? Describe the fragrance of your tomato. Okay, now you can take a bite. How does it taste? Do you want another bite? Would you like to sprinkle some salt or sugar on your tomato? Go ahead. Help yourself.
If you’re getting hungry or otherwise reacting during this exercise, great, your learners will too. Even more so with a real tomato on hand.

So try this language-stimulation exercise to get your learners talking and using English or another target language to actively communicate. It’s been a great help to me with my learners in generating speech and related topics during language class or Conversation Clubs.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Use Web Quests to Promote Extensive Reading in EFL Learners

Do your language learners read enough? Do they even like to read? How can you get them to read more in English or another target language? An all too common problem in foreign language and EFL learners is a lack of extensive reading in the target language. Extensive reading has numerous benefits for language learners. Some key benefits include:

· Development of vocabulary in context

· Extensive use of grammar in context

· Exposure to authentic language

· Exposure to idioms and expressions of the target language in context

· Continuing development of learner interest in a variety of topics

To avail themselves of these and other featured benefits derived from extensive reading however, learners must in fact read – and read a lot. But learners will rarely jump into a heavy schedule of reading unless they both understand its benefits and enjoy what they read. So, stimulating their interest first is paramount to success. Here’s what you can do.

Use Web Quests
One useful and fun way to stimulate or facilitate extensive reading is by using learner-centered web quests based on topics of interest to them. An online web quest is not unlike an electronic scavenger hunt. From a starting site or page learners go successively to additional pages to read and gather facts and information. There can be comprehension questions, charts, graphs, and / or exercises at each stage and a more comprehensive evaluation at the end of the web quest. Learner responses to exercises and evaluation activities are commonly sent to the teacher by e-mail. There are online sites that can be used to facilitate the process or a web quest can be set up using a word processing program like MS Word. Two useful teaching-oriented sites online for piloting web quests are:

* at:

*Quintessential Instructional Archives (QUIA) at:

Online Readings
The online readings can be any of a broad spectrum of formats or topics:

-News and sports



-Articles and stories


-Occupational topics


-Special Interest

-Travel and culture


-Nature, geography or Animals

-Technology, Computers

Topic Selection
Topics should be selected and included based on the needs and interests of the learners. With careful selection and a three to five station web quest, learners have both the opportunity and desire to do more extensive reading in English or another foreign language.

F*r*e*e Sample Available
For a sample web quest for you to try out for yourself or your learners, if you have questions or need help, e-mail the author using “web quest sample” in the subject heading. Good Luck. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, March 20, 2006

If You Think English is Difficult Try Mandarin – Part 1

Several factors make learning Chinese a considerably more formidable task than learning another Germanic or Romance languages. Studying a foreign language is an excellent way for English and other language teachers to improve their own teaching. It also forces you into the role of a student so you can experience first hand the problems, difficulties and challenges your EFL learners face in your classes. Don't believe me? Then look at what happened to me …

Greeting the language learning students with a cheerful “Ni Hao” (Hello), our teacher, Shutzng Zhang begins the second class session of the Santiago de Cali University’s first – ever course in Mandarin. The spartan class room contains a map of China – in Chinese of course, tacked to one side wall, desks, a small table, and white board. There are two worksheets with the vocabulary of greetings written in Chinese characters on her desk. We greet the teacher in return. She wishes to be called “Susana” to spare us the tongue-twisting pronunciation of her Chinese first name. She speaks Spanish fairly well but her English is considerably more advanced. Explanations are done in Spanish to accommodate the class majority.

Practice with vowels follows:

a, o, e, i, u, u

There are 11 Spanish-speaking adult students in the first week of the group. Each in turn tries their hand at getting their pronunciation of vowels and greetings phrases to an acceptable level. Then some consonants follow:

n, t, h, m, x, j, z

As I’d expected, there are more than a few problems in teaching the tonal sounds of Mandarin to speakers of a non-tonal language. Yiu Wing Fung, a Chinese man, has more trouble than others in the group. “Why is he here”, I wonder?

A series of common greetings is written on the white board with the Spanish transcribed underneath. I instantly want to make up (or have the teacher make) flash cards to give me something to study and practice. I make a mental note to ask later. I do ask for and get copies of two key pages of the phrases written on the board. I’ll make flash cards from these later on. That’ll do for a start at least.

Next, the pronouns are written on the board in singular and plural. They’re remarkably similar:

Wu, ni, ta - then ta, ta, nin

There are differences in the pronunciation tones to distinguish them, but I produce my own little chart in singular and plural.

Then the other shoe drops. We get to the tones in earnest. It’s like doing the musical scales. High, low, short, long, up and down. There are going to be three tonal values I think; high, medium and low. I’m wrong. There are five: first tone, second tone, third tone, fourth tone and no tone. Each student runs through their “version” of the pronunciation. Sometimes our young teacher giggles. Other times she simply shakes her head and has the student try again. From the look on her face, we know our speech is bad. We’ll need a tape recording of the pronunciations. Without it there’s no way to check, practice and mimic the tonal sounds. It’s a time-consuming but necessary process.

How do you ask, “Do you love me?” one of the ladies asks. In response, the answer; “I love you” along with “I love you too.” Are written and practiced by the class next. The five ladies in the class are thrilled and amused, blushing as they practice the phrases. “This isn’t foe me”, I think, but decide to stick it out another couple of weeks. Maybe with some practice and help I’ll make some progress and develop more enthusiasm.

Some photocopied sheets with the words and phrases on them would help. So would a practice tape recording of the sounds, pronunciation and tones. The spoken language and its related listening comprehension development need more than the cursory “twice a week” class attendance sessions to practice. We need much more exposure than that to internalize elements of the language.

A description with drawings of how Chinese characters are derived proves more interesting for us. For example, the character “sun” plus the character “moon” means “light” or “illumination”. Now we’re getting somewhere.

… Continued in Part 2 …

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Combine Language Learning and Technology to Explode Your Teaching and Learning Success

Are you looking to boost your English language teaching or learning skills to yet ever higher levels? Would you like to stimulate more interest in your language classes or break out of a slump or plateau? Combine the use of a variety of language learning techniques with continually developing technology to spur your successes. Here are some useful ideas and web sites to get you started.


A Web Log or Blog, is not unlike a dairy you keep online. You can write instructions, an essay or post any type of information you want. Graphics and images can be included to illustrate the written material. Sound and audio-visual files can also be placed into a blog for added impact. A teacher can post a reading or assignment where students can comment right online. No papers, no clutter and you can view it almost any time. Blogs are becoming easier to use and access and many sites allow you to set one up for free.


Most professionals have an e-mail address or two. Your e-mail can now become a communicative tool between you and the learners. E-mail can now also include the use of images and sound or audio-visual clips, as well as the message text. Learners can send in assignments as attachments or pasted into the body of the e-mail. They can ask questions and receive timely feedback without waiting for the next class session. Teachers can send out instructions, updates or other information to learners individually, or as a group also without having to wait for the next scheduled class session. No computer?

No problem. In many parts of the world e-cafes are so cheap they’re actually a viable alternative that students can easily afford. Whole “communities” of young learners are based on hangouts at e-cafes in some cultures. Talk to your students about it. You might be surprised.


The use of online games, EFL practice sites student and teacher forums, communities and activities has exploded in recent months in many parts of the world. Virtual communities and online reference libraries now enable learners to problem-solve, research a paper or to more quickly complete assignments that formerly would have taken disproportionately large amounts of time to complete. For example, a few sites worth mentioning include:
A web site which offers free access to books that can be read on-screen
This is a site which has a lengthy listing of virtual libraries in almost any genre and connects more than 900 mostly Spanish language libraries
This site interconnects an advanced academic network of Latin American libraries
This site allows you access and read a large number of its collected works online and contains exposition pages

The official Project Gutenburg web site contains an extensive listing of literary works in English which have entered the Public Domain. It’s online at:

Try some of these useful ideas and web sites to get you started in combining the use of a variety of language learning techniques with continually developing technology to explode your English language teaching and learning successes. If you need to know more about using these or other new technologies to boost student interest and motivation making your English language teaching more effective, feel free to e-mail me at with questions or comments.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

How to Expand Your Recognition and Become Known as an Expert in Your Field

How well known are you in your field? Locally? Regionally? Nationally? Internationally? With the advent of the internet, broad band multi-media and their impact on global communications, you could become a “household name” and “thought leader” in your field no matter where you live or work. Write and publish articles and press releases. Speak at seminars, workshops and conferences. Participate in online forums and discussion groups. Starting a blog, putting up a website, or writing and publishing an online newsletter or a book will all aid in getting your name “out there”, known and recognized. Answer “yes” or “no” to each of the following points, then get to work on the “NOs”. Forget “New Year’s Resolutions”, just Do it! Print this article out and use it as an action plan outline for jump-starting your career this year.

Do you currently:

Write and publish articles and essays in your field?
Jot down three article or essay ideas here now:




Write and publish press releases?
List three accomplishments which could be used in press releases:




Have a personal website?
Give two quick ideas you use on your own free website:



Have an industry-related blog?
What some ideas, articles, notes, etc. that you could post on your own blog?




Publish or subscribe to a career-related newsletter?
Subscribe to at least two newsletters in your field. Write their names and online addresses here:



Participate in online forums and discussion groups related to your work?
Note three forum / discussion boards of interest below:




Have you written a book in your field of expertise?
Everyone has at least one good book in them. What might yours be about?
Jot down some quick ideas here now:




Do you speak or present at career-related conferences, workshops or seminars?
List the dates, places, and themes of three or four upcoming seminars, workshops or conferences:





You should have answered “yes” or “no” to each of the above points and identified some prospects for action in each area. Now you can get to work on the “NOs”. Forget “New Year’s Resolutions”, just Do it! Remember to print this article out and use it as an action plan outline for jump-starting your career this year. Good luck and if you’d like additional suggestions and ideas or have a question, please feel free to e-mail me. I’ll be glad to help. Just do it!

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an expert author and photographer offering Web Content Writing Services for top-quality articles on: Education, Language learning, Salt and Fresh water fishing, exotic foods, South American travel and culture, Ethnic issues – Blacks, Latinos, Indian native tribes, Health, Internet business resources and more … His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape From America, Mexico News, Brazil magazine and hundreds of sites online. For fr*e*e sample articles and available web content e-mail:

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Learn Technical English Fast: Use ESP Workshops to Promote Reading Comprehension in LEP Learners

With the continuing expansion of English as an integral communications tool for education, science, technology, business and commerce, post-secondary education technical students are increasingly finding themselves in positions requiring them to manage high-technology studies in technical English. If you teach EFL, technical or business English, or teach a technical subject in English, you can use ESP workshops to successfully promote enhanced reading and comprehension in LEP learners.

A group of my Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students studying an Electronic Engineering class on antenna design had an American textbook in English, so it was necessary for me to convert chapters of the text into a series of ESP reading and comprehension workshops designed to allow the students to practice strategies for de-constructing the written text as an aid to understanding it.

A Series of Workshops

When my LEP Spanish-speaking Law faculty students were required to study aspects of Capital Punishment used in the USA, I again produced a series of materials as both written workshops and full multi-media presentations.

For my LEP Economics students to do comparative population studies of Colombia (population 44,222,000) with:

South Korea (population 47,700,000)
Poland (population 38,587,000)
Argentina (population 38,428,000)
South Africa (population 45,026,000)
Ukraine (population 48,523,000)

A series of ESP workshops and multi-media presentations proved to be invaluable in promoting their reading and comprehension of their program’s technical materials in English. The process of creating effective ESP written workshops is not easy, but is well worth the effort required. It both benefits the learners in reading and comprehension of difficult written material and develops the resourcefulness and skills of the EFL teacher.

Preparing the Workshop

In preparing an ESP written workshop, the reading text is broken down into manageable segments which can be more readily understood by LEP learners. Students are taught to identify in context such elements as:

Cognates - words which look the same in different languages; True Cognates have the same or similar meanings, usage and connotation in different languages while False Cognates have different meanings, usage and connotation in different languages

Connectors - words that join simple and complex sentences with others. Examples of connectors are: and, but, or, so. They can be of different types, depending on their function. There are connectors which express addition, contrast, time sequence, choice, cause or result

Referents - words that refer to others that have been used before. They are used to avoid word repetition. Commonly used ones include such parts of speech (words) as: pronouns, determiners, quantifiers and proper nouns

Affixes – consist of prefixes and suffixes. A prefix is a syllable added to the front of a root word to make another word with a different grammatical function. A suffix is a syllable added to the end root of a word to make another word with a different grammatical function

In addition, a list of key, high-frequency vocabulary is prepared along with a glossary of technical terms which may prove to be difficult for the learners. Pre-reading activities, while-reading and post-reading activities are incorporated into the written workshop to complement and round out the total package. A variety of exercise types are used to provide in-context practice with the lexis and grammatical elements of the reading. Comprehensive support in the form of graphics, photos, diagrams and pictures are included, as are video, animation and sound files when reading and comprehension workshops are produced online in websites, blogs or class pages.

ESP written reading and comprehension workshops can be an invaluable aid for LEP learners who need to understand and apply technical material related to their field or study or employment. A good workshop may take from three to five hours to prepare, but is timeless and can be used and re-used for years. With regular and frequent practice in ESP workshop preparation, teachers can often reduce preparation time significantly. The benefits to the learners are countless. If you’d like some examples of complete, prepared ESP written workshops, feel free to e-mail me at: for an immediate reply with samples.

Prof Larry M. Lynch is a certified English language teacher / trainer, bi-lingual copywriter, expert author and photographer specializing in business, travel, food and education-related writing in South America. His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape From America, Mexico News and Brazil magazines. He teaches at a university in Cali, Colombia. To read more or get additional original, exclusive language education based articles and content for your class room, news letter, blog or website contact him at: