Wednesday, November 28, 2007

English Teachers in the Classroom

So, how much does a teacher's use of English affect students' learning of the language in the classroom?As you can see from this poll, only 37% of students responded that their teachers use/used English usually or always in the classroom, where as 29% said that their teachers seldom or never use/used English. What do you think the reasons are for these results, and in what ways does this affect students? Share your experiences and opinions on this topic.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Culture Training: Breaking Down Stereotypes

Although ESL/EFL students most of their time learning English, little time is often spent on learning about cultures and how to adjust to new environments. One of the greatest concerns is that people develop stereotypes (or negative images) about another cultures, and these perceptions can lead to making false judgements about other people. For example, many international students coming to Utah and the United States think that all North Americans eat is fast food (hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza), but they are surprised to see that the university cafeteria serves food from all over the world, and salads are a very popular choice.

So, is there a stereotype that people often have about your culture? If so, share what it is, and help us understand your culture better.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

School Grades: How are they determined?

One question that often comes up is whether ESL/EFL teachers should grade students based on their attitude and participation in classes, and if so, how much should this be part of the grade. In other words, what is the relationship between actual English ability and attitude. In the program where I work, students can move up to the next level in the program if the pass the class with a good grade, and 15% of the grade is based on participation. However, if too much of the grade is based on just whether they participate or not, and not how they perform on language tests, students might move up but not be ready in terms of their true ability. What do you think on this topic? How should students be scored and graded?


Monday, November 19, 2007

Learning English: Is exposure enough?

Having taught ESL/EFL for the past 20 years, I have come to realize that mere exposure to the target language isn't enough to learn English. In other words, thousands and thousands of students come to the United States with the hope of learning the language, and their parents often think that by just being in the country, their children will pick up the language. Unfortunately, the reality is that many students come to the US, attend ESL classes, and then tend to speak their native language with their friends the rest of the day, only to return to the class the next day for a sprinkling of English. In fact, some ESL students complain that there are too many other students from their country in their class, and therefore, they can't learn English. However, these same students just speak their native language once they walk out the classroom door.

For many of these students, they end up being able to carry on basic day-to-day conversations and order a hamburger at a restaurant, but they never reach a higher level of communication skills that leads to interesting conversation. What do you think about this?


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Famous Tourist Spots: Where do you suggest?

If an international visitor were to visit your city, what places of interest would you recommend he/she to visit? It doesn't have to be an internationally-famous place, but a place where people can find out about the local culture, history, or geology. In my city, there is a famous cave called Timpanogos Cave, and it is a favorite site for locals and international visitors. You can see more about this site at You can earn about the geology of Utah and the history of the people who first lived in this area. Now, please tell us about a tourist spot in your area and why we should go there.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Intensive Verses Extensive Reading

Getting ESL/EFL students to read sometimes can be a challenge, particularly if their only experience has been years of intensive reading that has been way over their head. In other words, students are sometimes asked to read articles or books that are way too difficult for them, and students then have to use their dictionaries to figure out the meaning of every other word. So, while we thing students are improving their reading and vocabulary, they just end up hating reading entirely and never read for just pleasure.

Extensive reading, on the other hand, is having students read a lot for pleasure, but the reading passages are well within their linguistic reach. For my students, if they can understand 95 percent of what they read, then continue with the book. Otherwise, choose something easier. In this way, I want students to be exposed to high-frequency vocabulary they could recycle in everyday language, particularly in a productive, speaking way. So, what are some ways to encourage students to read more and love it? Please share your ideas.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

English: Should it be the official language?

There are movements around the United States to make English the official language where any government business can only be done in English (e.g., getting a driver's license). This could spread to the workplace or other situations. However, do such laws help foster unity within a society---a sign of patriotism, or do the become a divisive issue. What do you think?


Monday, November 5, 2007

Polls: Do you have an idea?

As you see on my blog, I have a weekly poll on some aspect of language or culture to help us share our ideas on various topics. Now, I'm looking for ideas on future polls. What topics would you like to discuss and see in a poll? Please post your ideas. Randall

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Common English Errors: Are native speakers good models?

In a somewhat joking way, I recently asked how many of my students have native English speakers as roommates, and I replied by saying, "Oh, that's too bad." They were surprised by my response, but I commented on how often native speakers (regardless of language) are not perfect role models of how language should be used. This, of course, can lead learners to learn the language incorrectly and/or question what the right usage is. For example, which sentence is correct?

She is tired, so she wants to lie down.
She is tired, so she wants to lay down.

Thus, how can ESL/EFL students best learn from native speakers so the use English correctly? Share your ideas.