Focus on patterns, not just exceptions

November 2, 2011

My advanced level students seemed surprised yesterday when I corrected their mispronunciation of the words figure and feature by referring to the pronunciation of bigger and teacher. Of course, negative transfer from the L1 means that Spanish speakers tend to pronounce words as they are written and thus pronounce the u in the final syllable of the two words mentioned above. Yet, the final syllable of words in English spelled er, re, or, our, ure, ar, tend to be pronounced in the same way – /ə(r)/.

It surprises me that this particular pronunciation pattern hadn’t been pointed out to my students’ before, as they worked their ways up to an advanced level.

Surely part of our jobs as language teachers is to work with, and exploit patterns and regularities (as well as the exceptions!) in English.

Another example of this kind of thing, with beginner level students, might be showing how regular English question patterns are – e.g. Can you..? / Do you..? Did you..? Are you..? and working with this pattern, rather than over-analyzing conjugations and subject and auxiliary inversion.

It would nice to hear other patterns that you think English teachers should exploit!

For authentic listening material, just Ask!

August 6, 2009

In a recent discussion with a group of Mexican teachers about the importance of using authentic listening texts in class, I was surprised to hear someone say that finding such material is difficult.

Surprised because it seems to me that never before has it been easier for teachers to expose learners to real language in the classroom. The availability of so many free web-based audio and video streaming, recording and editing tools combined with the popularity of all kinds of different reality TV shows means that we can easily get our hands on messy, idiomatic, ungrammatical real language or samples of different world Englishes.

“Old hat!”, I hear you say
Now, obviously I am by no means the first to write about using reality TV in classroom. Here’s an excellent article from the the Internet TESL Journal, for example. Meanwhile, Gary Denness, author of the excellent Mexile blog, was actually on Big Brother talking about teaching with Big Brother.

What I wish to bring to the attention of teachers here in Mexico and beyond, however, is this:

Jing screen shot of Ask & Record Tool Bar

Jing screen shot of Ask & Record Tool Bar

The Ask and Record tool bar. It’s great! It allows you to record live any audio that is playing from your computer.

Yeah, and..?
You may be wondering what the point is – after all, you could just play the Youtube or Dailymotion video in the classroom, right? Well, what I love about this is that you can record just the segment or snippet of the video that you want to focus on. I mean, sometimes you don’t want students to watch the whole video; perhaps only a few turns of a conversation are really of interest; perhaps students will be distracted by the visual information when you really want to work on their listening skills; perhaps there’s no internet in the classroom; perhaps you only have access to a CD player…Whatever, this is a very cool tool for teachers. You can download it here.

Over egg it, why don’t you?
Unfortunately, you may have to sit through hours of mindnumbing, crap telly in order to find something you can actually use in class. But do not fear, help is at hand – I set up a Posterous page with some snippets of real English so that you can see what I mean. Please take a look here. Feel free to use it and contribute.

Free English Courses

July 15, 2009

I came across a blog post today of 20 Free English Language and Literature Courses. Click here.

Now, in my honest opinion, most of the general courses seem a bit too grammar focused (see my comment above for more on that) but you may find something useful to help practice. Furthermore, the pronunciation link doesn’t work while the listening files on the American English Audio Course were, in fact, inaudible – it sounds like an American woman is talking to a washing machine.

Anyway, here are 2 (of the 20) that I think are worth checking out if you want to improve your grammar:

Grammar Workshop This is from so it’s a safe site. You register and they send you grammar practice materials each week. Grammar exercises for intermediate and advanced level students here.

Here something that I posted ages ago on another website for students about practising English for free:

There are literally thousands of websites for learners of English. Here is a short list of ones that we like:

Word Power is a website that describes itself as “a free survival guide for all who would like to perfect their spoken English language.” In the Business Word Power and you will find definitions, recordings and exercises with which you can practise business vocabulary. Many of the themes such as meetings, telephoning and socialising relate to work we do in class. And, there is also a section on football vocabulary!

Yappr – A free website which helps you learn English through videos. Highly recommended!

The British Council’s website:

And this is what the BBC has to offer:

Is this the future? Practise your English online with a native speaker for free! (after you’ve downloaded Skype):

Would you believe it? Free books online:

The Business podcast, from Macmillan, is a monthly interview focusing on working life in the UK. The Podcast offers authentic listening practice for you: