Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘elt’

Christmas activities

Here is the collection of Christmas activities which I presented at the International House Sevastopol seminar on Saturday December 21st 2013.

Some of the activities are available on the web, some I have created, and some are versions of time-honoured none-Christmas EFL activities adapted to the festive season. If there’s no link, click on the picture within the presentation and it should take you to the activity. Hopefully the slides are self-explanatory, but if not, feel free to leave me a comment.

In addition, here are some photos from Christmas 2010 which my family gave me permission to take and share. I talked about one of them using fotobabble.

Lights on a garden tree Snow on Christmas Day! Barrel organ as part of Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Red phone boxes in the snow Stuffing the turkey Pigs in blankets Part-cooked turkey Table set with crackers Table set with crackers Turkey in the oven Fully-cooked turkey Ready to pull crackers Eating Christmas dinner, wearing cracker hats Christmas pudding in the microwave Pouring brandy on the Christmas pudding The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) Evening meal of Christmas cake and leftovers... Christmas cake IMG_4106

I realise that this is a bit late for many of you, but you can save it for next year 🙂

Moving to a new country (Sevastopol)

A few days after I arrived in Sevastopol, Lea Sobocan posted this on facebook:

I have a request for my PLN – more specifically for the segment of you who have experienced living in another country/culture.

I’m currently discussing moving to another country/immigration with my students and I’d really appreciate any thoughts, feelings, difficulties and joys to be found in living abroad. Preferably in audio form, but whatever works for you.

Some of the people I’ve spoken with saw immigration to another country as something you just get up and do and they seem to be certain everyone will greet them with open arms. I’d like to offer a more balanced view and a first-hand account of someone who had this experience.

Any help, in form of text, audio clip or similar will be greatly appreciated.

Lea had helped me before by recording a clip about her favourite TV show, so I thought it was only fair I return the favour. I recorded this audioboo about moving to Sevastopol, then promptly forgot about it:

A few days later I was surprised to get a message from Claire Hart telling me that she had created a series of activities around my two-minute recording. I asked her to share the result with you, and I think you’ll agree, it’s a pretty good lesson. Thanks Claire!

How Claire used the recording

Killing a bit of time before the first class of the day, I found myself reading my Twitter feed. One of the tweets that popped up was from Sandy Millin. It was a link to an audio recording she had posted on Audioboo where she talked about her experience of recently relocating to Sevastopol, Ukraine. The class I was about to start teaching was a C1 group who had asked for practice listening to British people speaking because they tend to find their British colleagues difficult to understand. I’d been using excerpts from BBC television series and BBC world service podcasts with them over the previous weeks, but Sandy’s recording seemed to provide a refreshing alternative to that.

I decided to take a chance and improvise an activity around Sandy’s recording with just 2 minutes to go before the class started. This was a bit of a challenge, but I found that having to think on my feet rather than going through a pre-planned, pre-rehearsed routine made me more present and alert. What was striking is how surprised the learners were to learn that Sandy is a real person and she’s talking about experiences that she has really had. I suppose this just goes to show how learners get used to listening to people playing fictional characters having scripted conversations with each other. When I told them that I actually know Sandy, their enthusiasm shot up even more. I’ve used this recording with several groups at a range of levels and, interestingly, all of them seem to have understood more of what Sandy said than they usually understand when we listen to a recording designed for English learning. Even my A2 group could accurately recount the key points that Sandy made and include some of the detail.

The “real-ness” of this activity was particularly palpable when I used the recording with a group of eight, five of whom have moved to Germany from either Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Poland or Romania. When I asked them to consider why people would move to a foreign country, what difficulties you can face when you make that move and how you can overcome them, the non-Germans in the group were able to tap into their real experiences and share those with the others. When I asked them to write short texts evaluating the benefits and difficulties of moving to a foreign country, what I got back from them were honest and touching accounts of how hard moving to a foreign country can be, but how it can help you to find a better quality of life. They put a lot of effort into writing these texts because the topic was important to them. Even the learners who haven’t had the experience of moving to another country themselves, seemed to have a lot of empathy for Sandy and were keenly interested in what is going on in her life.

The lesson skeleton

1. Look at the statement “I’ve just moved to Sevastopol”

  • What have I done?
  • When did I do it?

2. Ask the learners if they know where Sevastopol is. Can they find it on a map of Europe? What do they know about Ukraine? Which countries are its neighbours? What languages do they speak there? What food do they eat? Have they ever visited this part of the world?

Memorial to Heroic Defenders of Sevastopol

Memorial to Heroic Defenders of Sevastopol

3. Show them information about the population of Sevastopol, its climate and its landmarks and ask them to say what questions this information gives you the answers to. You can also use this as an opportunity to practise saying long numbers, comparing temperatures or discussing what sights they enjoy visiting.

Chersonesus, an Ancient Greek town in the suburbs of Sevastopol

Chersonesus, an Ancient Greek town in the suburbs of Sevastopol

4. Ask them if they think Sevastopol would be a good place to go on holiday to. Why/ why not?

5. Ask them to brainstorm reasons why someone would move to Sevastopol. Then ask them to speculate about why Sandy, an English teacher who is originally from England but who’s lived in a few different countries, would move to Sevastopol.

Why would you move to Sevastopol?

6. Listen to the recording and give them level-appropriate questions to answer. A lower-level question could be: What words does Sandy think you should learn first when you move to another country and why? A higher-level question could be: What difficulties did Sandy face when she arrived in Sevastopol and how has she been able to overcome them?

7. As a follow-up or homework task, you can ask the learners to write a text on the benefits and difficulties of living a foreign country.

This presentation has slides connected to each of the steps in the lesson skeleton:

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

What I’ve learned here is that if you make a recording where you honestly describe interesting, unusual or important experiences in your life and share it through sites like Audioboo, you can produce meaningful authentic audio material that learners will respond really well to because it’ll resonate with them and their lives. The response I’ve received to using this recording has been extremely positive and my learners are now keen to know what Sandy does next.

About Claire

Claire Hart

Claire Hart teaches general English, business English and technical English to university students and business people in Southern Germany. She frequently presents on topics such as using authentic materials, mobile learning and teaching technical English at ELT conferences. She’s also a course book and teacher’s book author and an online materials writer, specialising in business English and ESP materials.

Reading speed

During my Delta I put together a course proposal designed to help IELTS students improve their reading and writing skills. As part of it I did a needs analysis. Here are two of the questions:

D2: How do you feel about reading in English?

1 (It’s very difficult – I often don’t understand) 0
2 4
3 1
4 1
5 (It’s very easy – I always understand) 0

D3: Why?

“I think I need to learn more vocabulary”

“The time is very short for deep reading, so when I skim through the article, I can’t find the right answer easily. Moreover sometimes in T, F and NG  question, I find it hard to decide whether it was F or NG”

“i have to read more news paper and do alot of practice”

“i am worried about time because texts are very long so time is my enemy”

“no time”

Half of the students mentioned time as a particular problem, so I had to look for ways to help them. It was difficult to find much information about reading speed, but I strongly believe that it is an area which needs more of a spotlight on it, especially for exam students. I have therefore tried to share what I found, but I would be grateful if anyone else has any ideas.

FInding an appropriate speed

The only methodology book which I could find with information about reading speed was Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language* by Christine Nuttall (3rd edition: 2005).  She says:

A flexible reading speed is the sign of a competent reader. Instead of plodding through everything at the same careful speed, or always trying to read as fast as possible, students must learn to use different rates for different materials and different purposes, and must have practice in assessing what type of reading is appropriate in various circumstances. Unless you encourage them to skim and scan and treat some texts with a degree of irreverance, they may never learn to take these risks, which are a necessary step towards becoming a more effective reader. (p31-32)

Now it’s true that we may tell students to skim or scan certain texts, or that we may give them questions or a time limit to try and encourage them to do this, but what can we actually do to help slow readers learn to process text faster?

*I get 10% of anything you spend if you click on the Amazon link and choose to buy something. Thanks in advance!

Average speeds

The average native speaker reads at approximately 300wpm (words per minute) according to most sources I could find. One article on Forbes lists the average reading speeds for different kinds of native speakers, including college graduates and high-level executives. In contrast, Jensen (1986:106, in Anderson 1999) states that “at the end of a reading course, even advanced ESL students may read only 100 words per minute or less.” To get a sense of what different speeds feel like, Breaking News English has the same text available at 100, 200 and 300 wpm.

As well as getting through the words, you also need to understand them. Nuttall states that 70% comprehension is generally considered enough (p58). Non-native speakers have various problems here:

  • unknown vocabulary;
  • vocabulary which they only recognise in spoken, but not written form;
  • cultural information;
  • unfamiliar or complicated grammatical structures;
  • (for some learners) characters different to their own language, and possibly in a different direction too;
  • and probably many other things…

It is therefore important to choose relatively straightforward texts, generally below the student’s current reading level, when focussing on reading speed.

(Arabic speakers may have an additional problem, which you can read more about here.)

Testing reading speed

Nuttall describes a method for finding out students’ reading speed which is unfortunately far too long to reproduce here. You can find it on page 57 of her book.

There are many different reading speed tests available online and as apps, which you can use easily if you have internet access, or by asking students to find out their reading speed at home. These tests are all designed for native speakers, so students need to have a fairly high level of English to use them in order to reduce the number of problems which they might encounter from the list above. Here are some of the ones I’ve tried:

There are many other sites and apps available. The best ones have comprehension questions after the speed test to give you an adjusted speed based on how much you understood. In case you’re interested, I read at about 400 wpm in English on a screen – I read somewhere that screen reading speeds are normally slower than paper speeds.

I love reading

I wonder how fast he can read?
(Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @katysdavis, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/)

Not always bad

Two habits which I used to discourage my students from in the past were subvocalizing (forming the sounds of the words while you are reading, and sometimes even murmuring them) and following the text with a finger/pencil. I have now realised that I do these things too sometimes, as it can be appropriate for some texts. However, if this is the only way your students can read, then you need to help them broaden their range of reading styles, or to select reading matter which is more suited to their level in terms of grammar, vocabulary and cultural knowledge.

Why is slow reading a problem?

In an ideal world it wouldn’t matter how quickly students read, and they would have all the time they needed to get through every text. In reality, students who can only read slowly are probably losing out in class, as their classmates race ahead. They will also find exams more difficult. Finally, it stops them from becoming the effective reader described at the start of this post. As Nuttall says:

The relationship between reading speed and comprehension is complex, but they are certainly closely linked. A slow reader is likely to read with poor understanding, if only because his memory is taxed: the beginning of a paragraph may be forgotten by the time he has struggled to the end of it. But it is not clear which is the cause and which the effect: do people read quickly because they understand easily, or do they understand easily because of the speed at which they read? (p54)

By only treating reading as a vehicle for grammar or vocabulary, or at best a few comprehension questions, rather than training students to improve their reading speed, we are leaving slow(er) readers behind, and denying them the chance to reap the benefits of a range of reading styles. Here are some ways you can help them.

Chunking

Fluent readers group text into multi-word chunks or ‘sense groups’, enabling them to move across the text quickly. Each position their eye stops in is called a ‘fixation’. The fewer fixations your eye makes, the faster you will read. For example, the previous sentence might be broken into the following sense groups by an efficient reader:

The fewer fixations / your eye makes, / the faster / you will read.

Less efficient readers might chunk it like this:

The fewer / fixations your/ eye /makes, the /faster you /will read.

or even read it word by word. Nuttall again:

The student’s problem is often that he does not know the target language well enough to chunk effectively. Many students read word by word, especially if the text is difficult, so to encourage good reading habits, a lot of practice with easy texts is needed. There is never enough time for this in the classroom, so this is [an] important purpose for an extensive reading programme. (p55)

To train students to chunk effectively, it is important to use texts which are relatively easy, as Nuttall says above. There are various things you can then do with the text (adapted from Nuttall p55):

  • Put it into centred columns on a page. The reader tries to force himself to make one fixation per line:

Centred column

  • Do the same thing, but have students use a ‘mask’ (a piece of paper) to reveal the lines as they are reading them. You can also do this on an OHP (or using some IWB software, but I don’t know specifics) to manage the speed they’re reading at.
  • Put it into Spreeder. Set it so that it is just above the students current reading speed. For example, if they read at 100wpm, set it for 120wpm. You can choose the size of the chunks, but unfortunately it doesn’t chunk in sense groups. However, it requires a lot less work than either of the ideas above! It is also something students can use at home very easily.

I also think that this concept is a good argument for using the lexical approach, as that should help students to recognise chunks more easily.

Other ideas

Encouraging students to use a mask (a piece of card with a whole cut out to show only one line and the first part of the next) can give them more awareness of the speed at which they are reading. By moving it down the page at a constant speed it forces them to move their eyes faster and not get bogged down when they come across words they don’t understand. They could also hold a piece of card above the lines that they are reading – Nuttall (p59) recommends above rather than below the line, so that the flow of the eye from one line to the next is not interrupted.

These two links will take you to other activities you can try to help students improve their reading speed:

Increasing reading speed for EAP: three areas to focus on – Katy Simpson Davis

Improving reading speed: activities for the classroom – Neil J. Anderson

There are also hundreds of sites aimed at native speakers to help improve reading speed, which you can find through any search engine.

Summary of key points

To become effective readers, students need to be in control of a range of reading techniques, one of which is the ability to read a text quickly.

Being able to read quickly is particularly important for exam students, who normally have to read a lot of text in a short period of time.

Texts used to practise reading speed should be below the student’s current reading level.

Chunking is an important skill that efficient readers have, enabling them to read groups of words in one go, without having to read every word separately.

I hope you have found this useful. Do you do anything else to help your students improve their reading speed?

Useful links for Delta

During my Delta I gathered a list of links which I returned to again and again. I’ve also seen many useful links since that I wish had been around before I started my course! I thought I’d share these with you, and I will try and keep the list up-to-date as I find more things which I consider useful. Please let me know in the comments if you think I have missed anything or if any of the links are broken.

delta-header

General

If you want everything in one place, try ‘How to Pass Delta‘, a very reasonably priced e-book written by Damian Williams, who was one of the tutors on my course. Another excellent resource is ELT Concourse’s Delta index, recommended by Katy M. I particularly like the myth-busting they do about Delta.

I collected all of the Delta posts I have written on my blog into one page.

The one which is probably most useful is called Preparing for the Delta, including advice about some good books to read before the course and a lot of ways you can improve/brush up on your Word skills in preparation for all of the typing you’ll end up doing.

Lizzie Pinard, who got a Distinction in all three modules, has been writing an incredibly useful series of posts about the Delta since she finished her course. Here is her annotated list of the resources she read before and during the course.

Chris Wilson wrote a summary of an ELTchat entitled ‘How to survive, and make the most of, your Delta‘. Chris also recommended tools he uses to keep track of references from his background reading for Delta, and shared his Delta diary from throughout the course.

Anthony Ash did the Delta full-time in Autumn 2014, and wrote a series of posts about his thoughts on various things that come up during the course. These cover the highs and lows of someone going through Delta, and give a good overview of what the course is like. He has also written a series of posts offering a general introduction to the course, particularly useful if you have no idea what it is or how it works!

Olya Sergeeva has written about her Delta too.

If you’re considering doing a Distance version of the course, but are struggling to find a local tutor, Alex Case may be able to help.

Finally, although this is advice designed for MA students, I think Laura Patsko’s tips on how to recover from an MA can definitely be applied to Delta candidates too!

Module One

ELT Concourse has a comprehensive Module One preparation course, which is completely free. You probably won’t need many of the other resources here if you use that, but just in case…

I created a ‘Delta’ group on Quizlet, which contains all of the Delta-related flashcards I made/could find. Quizlet is a great resource to help you brush up on your terminology, which is especially useful for parts one and two of Paper One of the exam. If you have never used Quizlet, here is my guide to show you how to make the most of it. There is also an app available for Apple devices.

The Cambridge website has a list of materials for Delta candidates, including various past papers. David Harbinson has compiled a list of books and resources for Delta Module One.

Dale Coulter created a step-by-step guide to the Delta exam, divided into one post for each of the two papers: Paper One; Paper Two. Lizzie Pinard did the same: Paper One; Paper Two. She also created a list of useful resources to help you revise for the exam, as well as a countdown which you can use as a last-minute checklist to make sure you know everything, or a starting point to plan your studies. Ricardo Barros describes how he prepared for the exam, as does Yuliya Speroff. I’ve written a post with ideas about how to lay out your answers in the exam and information on how I prepared for it.

Emma Gore-Lloyd made an infographic with questions for evaluating the effectiveness of a test, relevant to Paper 2 Question 1, and much prettier to look at than a lot of the things I was revising from!

You can also find a guide to the exam on ELT Notebook and tips from Lu Bodeman. Roya Caviglia has created a flowchart with a breakdown of the marks for each section of the exam. Barry O’Leary has general tips for how to prepare for the Delta exam and tips for dealing with Module 1Elliot Brett wrote about how he felt about doing the exam and his tips for success. Jamie Clayton reviewed the Distance Delta Module One course.

Module Two

Information about all of my Delta Module Two assignments is available on my Delta page, including a summary of feedback on two passes (one merit for an essay) and two fails, so you can get some idea of the problems I had and what I learnt from my experience. At the other end of the scale, Ricardo Barros tells us how he got a distinction in at least three of his LSAs (nobody ever finds out about LSA4!) and shares his bibliographies. He has also shared the bibliographies from Konstantinos’ LSAs, mostly focussing on young learners. Stewart offers practical tips for writing your background essay and lesson plan based on his experience from his first two LSAs.

Lizzie Pinard gives you her reading list and feedback from her LSA1 on lexis (collocations).

Matthew Smith shared his Delta Module Two assignments and Joanna Malefaki shared her grammar one and her vocabulary one. Jemma Gardner shared her experimental practice assignment, on the subject of Dogme. Ricardo Barros has shared an example of some of the materials for his LSAs on phrasal verbs and listening. ELT notebook also has examples on developing fluency and phrasal verbs. Emma Halliday shared an example of a listening essay (merit) and lesson plan (pass). Please bear in mind that Cambridge does not take plagiarism lightly, and it can result in you being banned from the course – these are examples only, so please do not copy from them!

Talk TEFL has a Delta LSA survival kit full of lots of tips and decoding some of the many acronyms on Delta courses.

Katy M has written about her experience of doing Delta Module Two, including some practical tips for how to reduce your stress levels. Jamie Clayton wrote some notes from different weeks of the Module Two course, including tips for planning lessons.

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus and Jennie Wright have written a book called ‘Experimental Practice in ELT‘ which came directly out of their experiences of Delta Module 2. It includes lesson plans and ideas for the five most popular topics for the Experimental Practice part of the Professional Development Assignment. It’s available from the-round for a very reasonable price.

Mike Harrison runs the Experimental Practice Academy blog, including interviews with various people about their Delta experimental practice.

Lizzie Pinard explains:

And if you need a bit of a laugh, I would highly recommend The stages of a Delta assignment, all of which I have definitely experienced! You could also read The Secret DoS on why we should banish the word ‘practise’ from our aims.

Module Three

Information about my Module Three assignment, on teaching exam classes, with a specific focus on IELTS reading and writing, is available on my Delta page.

An overview of types of syllabus was a useful primer for different types of syllabus, although I would recommend reading about them in more depth before you write about them.

Jonny Lewington shared his Module 3 essay on young learners, for which he got a distinction (well done!). He also has a related book list on his blog. Robert William has shared his Module 3 essay on IELTS. Please remember that these are samples only: Cambridge looks on plagiarism very seriously – if you copy sections of these assignments, you are likely to  be disqualified from the course.

Anthony Ash has a general overview of Module 3. Lizzie Pinard has guides to writing each section of the Module 3 assignment:

Skills

Skills are reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Lizzie Pinard’s Delta Notes* is a series Lizzie has produced based on the notebooks she kept during her Delta course. Here are her notes on:

I have a list of online bookmarks, which I constantly add too. The links below take you to the bookmarks tagged ‘Delta’ and:

Systems

Systems are grammar, lexis, phonology and discourse management.

I looked at conditionals (grammar) and multi-part verbs (lexis) for my two systems LSAs. For the latter, I found a couple of particularly useful articles in the Macmillan Dictionaries magazine, including one about the pronunciation of phrasal verbs, by Adrian Underhill. You can find my full bibliography in my assignment on my Delta page.

Lizzie Pinard’s Delta Notes* is a series Lizzie has produced based on the notebooks she kept during her Delta course. Here are her notes on:

I have a list of online bookmarks, which I constantly add too. The links below take you to the bookmarks tagged ‘Delta’ and:

Other

Lizzie Pinard’s Delta Notes* on:

Emma Gore-Lloyd is doing the Delta at IH Seville intensively in autumn 2014. She’s writing a series of posts including some reflection questions for her weekly blogging.

I have a list of bookmarks on diigo to which I regularly add. I tag all of the ones I think are relevant to Delta. You can subscribe to the list to find out when I add anything new.

Remember that it will all be over at some point, and you’ll be able to go through the post-Delta phases described by Joanna Malefaki.

And finally, if it’s all getting a bit much, go and see English Droid.

(*This series is a work in progress, and I will add more links to it as Lizzie writes the posts.)

Good luck!

Ways to practise your languages

One from the archives, from my first year of post-Celta teaching. I’ve just found this file on my computer, last opened on 1st April 2008. I’m still pretty happy with it, although I’d probably make it a lot longer now! What do you think?

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Irregular verbs revision with minimal planning

  1. Ask the students to cover the board with as many verbs as they can think of. They should stick to the infinitive/first form, and will probably do this without prompting
  2. Elicit any corrections to spelling/form.
  3. Leave a pile of squares of paper/post-it notes on a desk. Ask students to write the past simple form of each verb on the pieces of paper, one verb per piece, then stick the past form on top of the present form on the board. When they have finished, all of the infinitive verbs should be covered by all of the past forms.
  4. Circle any incorrect past forms, including where students have written a past form for a different verb (thinking specifically of fall-felt here!). Ask students to correct them.
  5. Write a separate list of only the problematic forms on the board, and ask students to copy it into their notebooks. We endedd up with 8 verbs from a total of about 40, including feel-felt, think-thought, fall-fell, show-showed, hear-heard
  6. Drill the pronunciation of the pairs.
  7. In pairs, ask students to write a short story including all of the past forms. This took my students 10 minutes.
  8. Create a gallery of the stories/Ask students to read them out.

I made up these activities during an hour of a cover lesson with B1 Intermediate students today. One of them said at the end, completely unprompted, “That was a useful lesson”, so I thought I’d write here so I could remember it in the future!
Enjoy!

Ten blogs in ten minutes (IH TOC 60)

I’ve just finished my presentation at the International House Teachers’ Online Conference to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the IH organisation. All of the presentations are 10 minutes long, and there are 60 presentations in total. All of the videos are (will be) available on the blog. There’s something for everyone!

IH 60th anniversary

For my presentation I had the difficult job of choosing 10 blogs to share with the world. I decided to choose blogs which I go back to again and again and/or which lead readers to other great bloggers. Sorry if I had to miss you out! Here is the presentation, handout and the video. Ten blogs in ten minutes (IH TOC 60)

Thanks to Mike Griffin for inspiring me to do this by celebrating his PLN.

Note: I made a little mistake with the ELTsquared blog, which is actually at http://www.eltsquared.co.uk – sorry Chris!

Happy birthday IH!

Update

Kevin’s blog, The Other Things Matter, has now moved to wordpress: https://theotherthingsmatter.wordpress.com/

The blog starter list has also moved.

The special case of Arabic

At IH Newcastle, we have a relatively high proportion of Arabic mother-tongue students. In my experience, one of the biggest problems they have is with spelling in English, which causes them trouble with both reading and writing. I have tried many strategies to help them to improve in this area, including recommending Quizlet and the read-say-spell, cover-write-check method which was one of the ways I was taught to spell in English. These have had limited success, and until today I didn’t really know why.
I’ve just come across a section entitled ‘The Special Case of Arabic’ by Ann Ryan of the University of Wales, Swansea (in Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy edited by Norbert Schmitt and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp.184-192). She gives examples such as:

  • we get water from deep wheels (wells)
  • you get upstairs in a left (lift)
  • I met my friend in the model of the square (middle)

These examples immediately struck a chord. I had always put such problems down to poor spelling-pronunciation awareness in the learners, but could never understand why these seemed to be so much greater for Arabic learners than for those from other languages, even those written in non-Roman scripts.
Ann Ryan’s explains that in Arabic, words are based on a root that normally consists of three consonants, which can be combined with different patterns of vowels to produce word families, for example k-t-b generates maktaba – library, ketaab – book, kataba – he wrote and so on.
She then goes on to show that Arabic speakers often carry this convention over to their English reading and vocabulary learning, meaning that they use consonants to represent English words. Thus, Arabic learners translated the English ‘cruel’ to equivalents meaning ‘curl’ or ‘cereal’; or translated English ‘finish’ to Arabic ‘fishing’.
Arabic speakers also had much greater trouble in identifying when vowels had been deleted from words than when consonants had been deleted. Their reaction time and errors in this experiment were significantly higher than that of Japanese, Thai and Romance speakers. In short, they have a kind of ‘vowel blindness’. As Ann Ryan says:

The problem seems to take the form of ignoring the presence of vowels when storing vocabulary and an almost indiscriminate choice as to which vowel to use when one is needed.

I would recommend reading the full chapter to follow up on my brief paraphrasing and check I haven’t missed anything!

The implications of this for teaching Arabic students are quite serious. If students aren’t seeing the vowels, or aren’t remembering them, this could inhibit their learning greatly. What can we do to help them notice and pay attention to vowels? In short, to help them completely change a cognitive process which is carried over from L1?

As a visual learner, my only current idea would be to give each vowel a colour, e.g. ‘a’ is red, ‘e’ is blue…and encourage learners to use this in class for words which they struggle to discriminate. What do you think? How would you tackle this?

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Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @notyetlanguage, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

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