Thursday 28 July 2011

Pronunciation related tools

Technology has been very useful in finding ways to help learners with pronunciations issues, which were in the past addressed by the teacher. I have collected some interesting pronunciation tools that can definitely help students when teachers are not around.

For pronunciation of individual sounds

Printable phonemic charts

Interactive phonemic charts

Teaching English/ British Council

Phonetics Focus/ Cambridge English Online

The Sounds of American English/ University of Iowa

Interactive exercises and games

Phonetics Focus/ Cambridge English Online

For listening to pronunciation of words and connected speech

Forvo/ All the Words in the World. Pronounced

Howjsay / A free online Talking Dictionary of English Pronunciation 

For practising pronunciation of words and connected speech

I encourage you to browse through these tools and see how you an use them either in or out of the classroom!

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Guest post: Correcting the Translator

Today`s guest writer is Lindsey Wright. She has written a post on an issue I have always paid attention to, but never got round to writing about: the use of online translators as allies to learning.

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

In today's modern world, online translation technology enables us to quickly and conveniently understand online content written in foreign languages. Services like Google translate will even offer to translate entire websites. As impressive as this is, native English speakers who have used these services will still find grammatical errors and dissonant wording. While it is certain that computers have not yet perfected the subtle art of language translation, human students of the English language could benefit from the valuable practice of correcting online translators' mistakes. With a little ingenuity, online translation services can become useful tools for students and teachers of the English language, no matter whether they are in a traditional classroom or in an online school. The following activities, grouped by difficulty level, are just a few examples of potential translator exercises.

Beginner Level

For English learners only just starting to familiarize themselves with grammar and syntax, translators can be excellent for reinforcing lessons in simple rules and constructions, such as subject-verb agreement, prepositions, verb-preposition combinations, or any other fundamentals of the English language.

Beginner Activity

1) Teach a lesson on a simple rule of English grammar and/or syntax.
2) Give several single-sentence examples as references for your students.
3) Have the students type, in their own language, single-sentence examples similar to the those given in the lesson. For example, in a group of students learning about prepositions, a Thai student may type "เด็กอยู่ข้างหน้า," producing the online translation, "Children in front" while a Spanish speaking student may type, "El pajaro esta volando por encima de la casa," which could be translated as “The bird is flying over the house."
4) Have the students check and correct the translation against the examples, and go over them in class.

Further examples:

Basic Lesson: Verb Preposition "Jump over"
Type into the translator: "El gato salto sobre el zapato."
View result: "The cat jumped on the shoe."
Correction: "The cat jumped over the shoe."

Basic Lesson: "Verb + Subject"
Type a single sentence into the translator: "ไก่ของคุณอยู่บนโต้ะ"
View the result: "Your chicken on the table."
Correction: "Your chicken is on the table."

Activity objectives for beginner learners:

1) To gain experience in using the words and/or constructions taught.
2) To make connections between English and their native language.
3) To note the differences in the use of words and constructions between English and their native language.
4) To ultimately reinforce lessons taught in class by checking for and correcting translation errors, as well as confirming correct sentence structures when there are no errors.

Intermediate Level

Intermediate students who have already begun to understand grammar and syntax can comprehend larger sections of text, but might still struggle with application. As such, simple short stories are helpful tools when teaching and reviewing vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. The Internet offers a large selection from sources such as Grimmstories, which has bilingual versions. An alternative is to use well-known stories from another language.

Intermediate Activity.

1) Select a story and prepare the students by reviewing new vocabulary they will encounter.
E.g., select the story "The Magic Tree."
2) Select the link to the version of the story that is written in the native tongue of your students. E.g., if your class' native language is Spanish, select the link for the Spanish version of the story. 
3) Translate the story or webpage with an online translator. E.g., translate the Spanish version of "The Magic Tree" into English with an online translator and present it to the students to correct.
4) Allow the students a brief period to correct any errors they detect on their own.
5) As a class, go over the translated story, sentence by sentence, asking the students what corrections should be made. E.g., Incorrect: "...through a meadow in the center found a tree,"
Corrected: "In the middle of the park there was tree..."

Incorrect: "The child may carry all his friends to the tree."
Corrected: "The little boy brought all his friends to the magic tree."

6) Read a correct version of the story to the students in English.
7) Finally, give the students the correct version to compare with the corrections they have made.

Activity objectives for intermediate learners:

1) To learn and review vocabulary in story form.
2) To review and apply rules of grammar and syntax.
4) To give students experience in selecting words with similar definitions for a specific context.
3) To practice listening comprehension.

Advanced Level

Advanced English learners already have a solid understanding of syntax and grammar rules. However, to ensure they possess the ability to apply this knowledge, it is good to have students edit works that have already been translated. This allows them to learn the subtleties of English and tests how much of the language they actually comprehend.

1) Translate a document written in a foreign language. Good sources are news articles, longer stories, letters, or even documents the students themselves have written in another language.
2) Have the students edit the translation mistakes themselves.
3) If possible, have students proofread each other's editing.
4) Have students type up or present the final corrected versions of the document.

Example: Translating the News.

Translate a news story, such as "EU Incorporó a Venezuela en Lista Negra por Tráfico de Personas." selected from the Spanish news site, Univision Noticias.
Translate: "Venezuela joined in EU blacklist for trafficking."
Edit: "Venezuela was added to the EU blacklist for human trafficking."

Activity objectives for advanced learners:

1) As there is no single correct English version, students' language ability will be challenged.
2) Students will develop reading comprehension.
3) Students and instructors can explore subtleties and nuanced rules of the English language together.

These are only a few ideas on how online translators can be used as practice for English learners. If used with foresight and creativity, translators can become very valuable tools in creating lesson plans for any English level. Likewise, an added bonus of the use of translators in the classroom via these activities is that students will definitely realize that online translation is neither a substitute for doing homework nor composing English documents from scratch. So instead of trying to cut and paste into a translator for class, students can instead learn their stuff from correcting those same translators, gaining confidence and experience at the same time.

Note: The examples mentioned in this article are in Spanish and Thai, but the activities can be applied to all languages. Also, the activities assume a group setting, although students who are studying alone could still utilize them to improve their English.