Thursday, August 28, 2008

Learning Vocabulary

I currently am teaching high-level grammar classes in the program where I work, and the one thing I notice most is that students lack so much vocabulary that they end up using high-level gramamar structures with only beginning-level vocabulary. In other words, they can order a hamburger from McDonalds just fine, but they can hold a conversation on basic environmental issues like recycling. Again, this is supposed to be a high-level class.

Two reasons (of several) that lead to this problem are that (1) students spend most of their day engaging in everyday conversation topics or activities like shopping, ordering at a restaurant, or riding a bus (They don't has their roommates about socio-political events over breakfast, which might not be natural anyway), and (2) students tend to learn a word here and there with no real vocabulary study method in mind.

For my students, I try to help them learn words basic on topic----words that are directly related to a common theme and that can be easily used with the grammar structures we are learning in class. So, if we are learning about adjective clauses (e.g., "I like people who are . . . ."), I would teach them positive and negative personality traits that could be used with the structure (here's a very short list):

  • outgoing
  • generous
  • dependable
  • hardworking
  • dedicated
  • motivated
  • enthusiastic
  • self-centered
  • selfish
  • agressive
  • rude
  • overbearing
  • unconventional
  • shy
  • serious

As students have learned vocabulary in such a way, they seem to be able to express clearly their ideas at a higher, more fluent, level.

So, do you have other ideas for building vocabulary?


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Family Activities: What do you enjoy doing together?

It is often said that family is at the center of social activity. However, each family is different, and many families struggle to have good relationships. So, describe your family and tell us what are some of the things you do to improve relations between your siblings (brothers and sisters) and your parents.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Learning ESL: Tips for Students

One recent visitor ask me about my teaching style and philosophy on language learning, and I wanted to share my own personal views on the subject. I always discuss these points with my students right from the beginning of class to give them some perspective on learning:

1. Just because you live in a country where English is the main language does not mean you will learn it. In other words, some parents believe that if they send their children to the US, the students will somehow automatically learn the language. Unfortunately, I have many students who come to class, but then spend their time in their apartments after class, by themselves or with students from their country, and they never get out into the community to use English. And when I say "use" English, just going to McDonalds and buying a cheeseburger everyday doesn't count. Some of my students who made the best progress volunteered in the community, go a job on campus, and took community classes to really use their English beyond the classroom.

2. Learning English takes time, and you will have good days and bad days. Some students become frustrated when they don't learn as quickly as they expect. Students learn differently, and not giving up is key.

3. Learn how to study. Hours spent in the library without a clear understanding of study skills won't help much. I always try to teach my students HOW to learn, including tips on how to best learn vocabulary and other skills. Without this knowledge, students tend to waste time not realizing that they might be more effective ways of learning than they are currently using.

So, do you have any comments or experiences that have helped you learn? If so, please share them.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Beijing 2008 Olympics: What's your favorite event?

The olympics showcase some of the best athletes in the world, and the events are often exciting to watch. So, which is your favorite event and why? Personally, although I don't swim much myself, I enjoy the swimming events because you can win or lose within a fraction of a second. There is a lot of variety in the types of strokes and events. Please share your ideas.