Monday, September 27, 2010

Chunking: Another Perspective

After his recent On Language column on chunking, Ben Zimmer at the Visual Thesaurus asked me to explain why I'm skeptical about the value of teaching many chunks and collocations. I put my thinking together in a column that is published at VT today.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

TED talks

This semester I'm teaching a level-eight class in our eight-level EAP program. These folks are less than two months away from entering college and they need practice listening to lectures and taking notes.

There are lots of materials available from ELT publishers, but the canned lectures are boring, contrived, and short, rarely exceeding six minutes. Not only that, but they're mostly available only on CDs, and they're bloody expensive.

So this semester, I've turned to TED lectures. Now, these are not going to be useful for low-level language learners, but for my students, they're great. Not only are they a good length, sure, not as long as a two-hour class, but certainly long enough to have structure and substance, but they've interesting--these conferences sell out months in advance even though they cost thousands of dollars per seat, and the videos have been viewed more than 319 million times. They've available free online, so my students can listen as many times as they want, that is they can practice (too many listening classes are just tests rather than learning opportunities).

These are all great features for everyone, but the thing that makes these so great for language learning is the subtitles. These allow students to focus, improve processing by matching across modalities, reinforce previous knowledge, and analyze language. They also come in a variety of other languages, depending on what's been contributed, allowing students to confirm guesses and identify misunderstandings.

Also available are interactive transcripts, again in English and various other languages. These are interactive in the sense that clicking on any sentence takes you to that sentence in the video. This allows students to easily replay short sections in which they're having trouble processing the spoken word.

My students have responded very positively to the following two lectures about choice:
Finally, if you want a copy of the transcript, you'll need to extract it from the page source. Select 'view source' from your web browser's menu then search for "Click on any phrase to play the video from that point". The transcript will follow, but it will be full of html markup. Copy it to BBEdit or some other program that allows searching with regular expressions and search for <[^>]*>. Leave the 'replace' box blank and select 'replace all'. That should strip out all the html.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Richard Firsten is back and less than helpful

When TESOL stopped publishing Essential Teacher, I thought we had seen the end of Richard Firsten's "Grammatically speaking" column. But the column lives again in an online version, which will be published every two months. Long-time readers will know that I've often disputed Firsten's grammatical claims. Well, it's that time again.