Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Busy Busy

by AJ

Lots and lots going on right now...

1. Im currently working on three different distance courses. One is an informal English conversation course, for a Thai student. She'll be living/working in America next year and wants to learn slang and informal everyday conversation. So far, we're using a combination of movies and books. The first movie she chose was "White Chicks". I just transcribed most of the slang from scene one, explained it, and posted it to the online course.

This movie is a good choice for her goals... as its filled with slang, jokes, and casual English. My student found the first scene quite difficult to understand. It is indeed filled with plenty of slang.

Which made me realize, again, how utterly useless most textbooks and courses are. The poor students spend years learning formal English... then come to America (for example) and can't understand what anyone is saying. What's worse is that the courses they take in HS and University are often titled "English conversation". (Of course formal English has its place... its just not very useful in everyday conversation).

2. Im developing a Business English course (Visionary Leadership).. this one has been slow going.. but Im getting there.

3. Im developing a TOEFL writing course. One of my (Japanese) students is planning to take the TOEFL test next year and wants to focus on writing, which she considers her weakest skill. The good news is that the TOEFL test has been overhauled. She will be taking the new test.

I think the new format is a big improvement. Its a departure from the strict grammar-translation mindset of the old test. Instead, the new TOEFL aims to imitate authentic communicative situations. Skills are integrated. For example, the "writing" section involves a great deal of listening and reading. First the student reads an article. Then they listen to a recorded lecture on the same topic as the article. The student can take notes during the lecture.

Finally, using their notes and the article, the student writes an essay about the topic. The test designers are hoping to more closely imitate real-life situations. Since the TOEFL test is mostly used to screen university students, the new test aims to mimic the types of tasks required in school (listening, taking notes, reading articles, writing essays, discussing topics).

This new test will be internet based. Which means its also ideally suited to distance learning. For my TOEFL writing course, Im first hoping to imitate key aspects of the test. Ill provide an article to my students. Then Ill record myself giving a lecture on the same topic (or find someone else to do it). The student will read the article and listen to the lecture (an MP3) first. Then we'll have a Skype conference to discuss both. Ill explain vocabulary and difficult concepts. We'll discuss both the language used... and the ideas/concepts involved.

Then the student will write an essay on the topic... probably using a blog. Ill review the essay. In the comments section, I will rewrite some, or all, of the essay using standard academic English. The student will review my rewrite and compare it to their original essay. During our next Skype conference, we will discuss both the original and the rewrite... then move on to the next article/lecture.

Being a big believer in Free Reading and Free Listening... I also plan to incorporate/encourage plenty of both. Research on FVR (Free voluntary reading) and on the Movie Technique (Focal Skills) shows that both are very effective at raising TOEFL scores. So Ill continue to be an evangelist for both!