Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cancer Treatment: Tell or not tell?

Dealing with a disease like cancer can be a very traumatic experience both for the patient and the family. However, different cultures have their own beliefs about life and death, and understanding these differences should guide doctors and family in the way the treat and deal with this trauma. Therefore, how do people in your culture view the treatment of cancer? Does your view of death and the afterlife influence what you say to cancer patients? Do people openly tell the person they have cancer? Share your personal experiences and ideas on this topic.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Emergencies: How should visitors prepare?

Listen and share your ideas on this topic.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Credit Cards: Do they help or hurt students?

Back when I was a university students in the 1980s, credit cards were very difficult to obtain, and thus, students had to either borrow from family or banks, or save their money until they could make purchases. Now, credit card companies can't hand them out quick enough, and students seem to use their credit cards to buy everything from fast food and clothing, to airline tickets and other luxury goods. So, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of having credit cards, and how can students learn to use them wisely.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Search Engines: Are they all the same?

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Preparing for the University: How long does it take?

As an ESL teacher in the United States, I have worked with thousands of international students over the years, whose main goal is to enter North American universities to get a college degree. Unfortunately, a number of these students never reach their goal, in part because of unrealistic expectations on how easy it is to pass the TOEFL and deal with the rigors of academic life. In this poll, 35% of respondents believe entering the university is possible within the first nine months of language training, but from my experience, the timing is longer due to many factors including the students' natural ability to learn, how much the student actually integrates into the community, personal motivation, and the types of courses a student takes. In other words, it is generally much more difficult than students think, and students often feel undue pressure from parents or sponsoring governments or schools to pass the TOEFL If learning how to order a burger from a restaurant is your goal, then this can be accomplished quickly. By raising your language to the level of participating in academic lectures is something very different. What do you think?


Friday, September 21, 2007

ESL Classes: Is taking hard classes a good idea?

What I often see as a teacher of ESL is that students want to take language classes at a higher level than they are prepared to handle. These students say they just want to try a harder class and will do their best even though the material is difficult. Unfortunately, these same students don't realize that their decision is not just a personal one because it affects everyone involved. The other higher students don't want to work with lower students and wonder why the student was allowed into the class, and the teacher feels obligated to slow down and simplify the content so the lower-level student understands the class, and the other students don't want that either. And in the United States, if the student is on a student visa and fails a class, it can affect their visa status. Thus, what seems like an individual decision really can affect many other people. I strongly suggest that students do the best at the classes at their level, and if they want more study, find a private study partner or small study group to give them more practice. What do you think on this topic?


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Children or Adults: Who learns languages better?

Listen and share your opinions on the topic.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Accent Reduction or Elimination?

In one of my surveys on accent, I ask visitors whether they thought it were possible to completely eliminate one's accent when learning English, and I was somewhat surprised at the number of people who really think it is impossible. In fact, in my 20 years of teaching ESL, I have come to realize that accent elimination, contrary to what some might think, is nearly impossible for most people. On the other hand, reducing accent and improving comprehensibility is quite possible, and this should be the goal of most students. Unless students have realistic expectations on how much they can reduce their accents, they will always feel discouraged. So, what is your opinion on this topic?


Monday, September 17, 2007

Holiday Traditions: What is your favorite day?

Holiday traditions are a very important part of a person's cultural identify, and understanding these customs can help us understand one another and build bridges between cultures. Thus, what is one holiday tradition that visitors to your area should learn about to improve cultural understanding? Share your thoughts and opinions on this topic.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Physical Beauty: Is it all skin deep?

An interesting video at called Evolution Film shows have our images of physical beauty are often distorted and cause us to create unrealistic images of what beauty is all about. Furthermore, the idea of physical beauty can vary from culture to culture. Please take a look at the short movie and share your ideas on what the image of beauty is from your cultural perspective.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Ideal Teacher: Does age matter?

In one of my polls, I ask visitors if the age and gender of their teacher mattered to them, and it appears that learners prefer younger teachers, with a slight preference for male teachers. What could be the reasons behind these preferences? Does experience matter as well, or do learners prefer someone younger, perhaps closer to their own age? Are their other factors involved? Share your opinions on this topic.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Culture and Stereotypes: Understanding Others

Listen and comment on this topic. Share your opinions.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mobile Phones: A New Language-learning Device?

More and more people are carrying cell phones around the world, and now companies are trying to turn them into a new tool for learning English or other languages. However, whenever considering the potential of such tools, you have to ask yourself if the technology can be used in a sound, pedagogical way. In other words, just because people have cell phones and we can put audio on them, can people think of good, effective ways to learn a language through them? Are companies just trying to increase their profits, or are they truly concerned about end users: students and teachers. Do you have any opinion on this topic? Please share your ideas.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Making Money and Giving it Away

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Writing Research Papers: The Library or the Internet?

Based on a recent poll, most students use the Internet first, verses the library, to begin start their research for writing assignments. However, is this because of convenience or because students feel they can find better information online? If students' first move is to use Google, then they perhaps don't really know how to use the Internet effectively because Google shows results based on link popularity without performing a content analysis on the actual information (i.e., is the information reliable, authoritative, and bias-free). So, what are your opinions on this topic? Can the library provide better information, or is just a matter of helping students really search the Internet with better skills to evaluate the information? Share your ideas.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Making Friends: Natural Conversation Starters

Although many English textbooks teach students to say, "Hello. What's your name?", how often do we really begin conversations this way? Almost never. Imagine you are on a bus, and someone asks you, "Hello. What's your name?" I would be taken back and very surprised. So, how would you strike up a natural conversation in any one of these situations?:

- waiting for a train
- relaxing on a park bench
- standing in line for a movie
- sitting in a soccer stadium waiting for the match to begin
- attending a wedding of a friend

Personally, at a soccer game, I might simply say something like, "Well, I really hope the team wins this match. They haven't been doing so well recently", or something like that. Now, share your ideas.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Email Services: Chatting and Sharing Ideas Online

Not too long ago, my kids encouraged me to give Gmail ( a try to communicate with them, and I'm glad I did. One of daughters is at college, and I find the Gmail chat feature very helpful, especially since it keeps a record of the chat session. For language learning, I can see this as a very useful tool in that a teacher and student could share a live conversation which is recorded, and the student could review the chat session later. How about you? Do you have any favorite online tools, including email, to communicate and learn English?


Monday, September 3, 2007

Network Sites: Are they safe for meeting people?

Listen and share your ideas on the topic.

Penpals: Finding Friends Worldwide

While cell phones are becoming more and more popular, writing traditional messages, either by regular mail or email, is still an important way of communicating. In fact, there are Websites, like, that put you in contact with other language learners who want to meet other students with similar interests. This is also a great way of using your language skills to introduce yourself and share your hobbies and life. However, like all online services, students should use caution when sharing private information. Do you know of safe and friendly Websites that provide such services?


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Honesty: Do you always tell the truth?

Listen and share your ideas on the topic.

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