Lost in Translation

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Have you ever seen the movie Lost in Translation?  The main character, played by Bill Murray, has some strange experiences while working in Japan.  The situation seems almost surreal to someone who has not experienced Japan.  However, if you’ve ever lived there, what happens to him is not all that extraordinary.  After having been exposed to a bit of Japanese culture, what happens to him seems closer to everyday life.  Culture has a big impact on our activities and our perceptions of what is happening.  How much impact, then, does culture have on something as integral as communication?

It is very difficult to teach Canadian communication norms.  Most people who have been raised in Canada aren’t even aware that the language structures they use may carry a different meaning when literally translated, simply because the meaning of the expression has been internalized.  Often we think our expressions are logical.  Continue reading

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Good Habits to Consider When Creating Accessible Documents

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Have you heard the phrase AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act)? The accessibility movement is a global phenomenon that has implications for all stakeholders in education.  In Ontario, colleges and boards expect (I hope this is not too much of a generalization) that materials produced for instructional purposes comply with accessibility standards based on the media being employed.  Media includes printed documents, electronic documents, web based offerings, and interactive and passive multimedia presentations. The United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States have also passed accessibility legislation.

I have found that following good practices to create accessible digital documents results in an improved experience for all.  Some general guidelines to improve document readability are

  • consistent titles,
  • legible fonts,
  • easier to understand tables ,and
  • colour contrast considerations.

Last year, I attended accessibility certification workshops. Four days of training involved document accessibility design, mobile App design, video captioning, and web accessibility design and Continue reading

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My Annotated Web Resource List

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So you’ve been hired to teach ESL – congratulations on making it this far!  But the question now remains: How? What? And where? If you were to look online for ESL resources, you’ll be surprised and relieved (perhaps also overwhelmed?) at what you’ll see before you.

There are many resources available to you aside from your colleagues (an obvious choice, and an invaluable one at that).  Scouring the Internet can prove daunting and endless.  However, here are a few tried and tested sites that will take you to your class with confidence.

Some good finds:
www.eslgold.com/

ESL Gold is a very popular and widely used site for ESL teaching material.  The site is categorized nicely for you to easily select what area, skill, and level(s) you’d like to focus on, which is especially Continue reading

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“And when you finally fly away, I’ll be hoping that I served you well”

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A great song lyric from Rod Stewart’s Forever Young

 Listening to Irfan’s voicemail message, my mind darted back to a November morning in 2007 when he and his older brother Arman walked into my class.

They stopped, stared, and smiled. They said hello and sat down. They pointed to their names and addresses on the paper they carried. They had barely made it to level 1. As a novice teacher in the first year, I was more nervous than they were in the multi- level classroom. At 22, Arman was shouldering the responsibility of caring for his widowed mother and younger brother. At 18, Irfan had moved to Canada with no knowledge of English. They had worked in a factory for a few months before they’d been laid off. He wasn’t even aware he was entitled to Unemployment Insurance (EI now). Continue reading

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She Went Out With Newman? How Seinfeld Helps Teach Pronunciation!

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Like many of you, I have taught pronunciation from some books. You know, the ones that have the schematic diagrams of where the tongue is supposed to go. I’ve even seen some teachers have mirrors in their classroom so the students can see the acrobatics going on in their mouth. Does this method work? I suppose so, but I find it really boring. I know it isn’t fun for the students because it certainly isn’t fun to teach. One day, I decided to try something different. I don’t think this would work for lower level students, although I would like to try.

I really am a fan of Seinfeld. What I like about the characters is that they are over the top when they deliver their lines, even more than most comedies. I thought I would experiment with a scene from this TV show to see how it would work with my students. Continue reading

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Encourage Extensive Reading with MReader

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My multiple initiatives to kick-start an extensive reading program using the MReader resource at 4 different institutions flopped for a variety of reasons. My disbelief in these failed attempts led to another kick at the can.

Dozens of outreach attempts through email, voice messages, coffee break chats, and scheduled meetings resulted in the opportunity to run a formal presentation to appropriate stakeholders. At last, the concept of using MReader as a motivational measuring stick while promoting an extensive reading culture was accepted.

At the college where I teach, the extensive reading program, monitored by the MReader, has now completed its first pilot and will encompass additional students and instructors in the fall.  Why was I so persistent in promoting this package? Continue reading

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Get-to-Know Activities in the Language Classroom

flickr_imageOctober is here and most of us teachers have completed our get-to-know activities. However, if our classes happen to be a continuous intake LINC or ESL setting, it may mean having to repeat these activities more than once. In addition, in some classrooms, we might even have students who have remained with us. In other classroom settings, English for Academic Purposes (EAP) – for example – students might be advancing seven weeks at a time. However, no matter what classroom setting we are in, it is important that everyone feels comfortable and welcome. One way to do this is by spending time with get-to-know activities. These activities do not need to be the same every time. We might not necessarily want to plan for the usual “Hi, my name is ____________,and I am from _____________, and my first language is ___________________,” drill, drill, drill, and stop there. For example, the well-known table name cards activity could be modified according to students’ language level: Continue reading

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About Misplacing Stress

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The topic of syllable stress in English is a difficult concept to teach, learn, or understand.  Often it is an error that is not addressed at all.  Why do teachers minimize it and learners avoid it?  Why are researchers baffled by it?  The rules to English syllable stress are unfathomable.  Oh, there are rules, but when these rules are put together, there would be enough to write a one-thousand page book in very small font.  Obviously a matter this complex is very difficult for everybody to comprehend and creates quite a cognitive load when we try to process stress rules that have been learned explicitly.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics have discovered that stress usually only affects the comprehension of a word if the quality of the vowel is also affected.  What does this mean? I for one have witnessed numerous times in English and French classes how misplaced stress causes a second-language speaker to be misunderstood. Continue reading

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Plagued with Plagiarism

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Recently, a colleague stopped me mid-rant and asked:

“How many hours a week do you spend looking for plagiarism?” The question made me realize that

  1. I don’t know, but
  2. it’s a lot.

In the EAP course I teach, students are required to write 2 essays each month. The essays need to be at least 750 words and include proper referencing, etc. Even though we spend a lot of time in class discussing plagiarism, the penalties both in our school and in a proper university, and the likelihood they will be caught, over the 3 months that students are in the course, many will copy / plagiarise in their first month for 2 main reasons: cultural plagiarism or simple plagiarism.

Cultural Plagiarism: As our Arabic counsellor told me a few years ago, when she was completing her university studies in Kuwait, she was penalized for not simply copying, word for word, from the sources. The requirements for university were just that. Continue reading

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Do we have an Impact on Students?

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Learning a language is tough. Period. And if English is your first language, count yourself lucky. Because truth be told, English has to be one of the more difficult languages to retain, especially if you had to learn as an adult. I know a thing or two about that (minus the adult part).  When my family made the move to Canada, I couldn’t speak a word of English.  In fact, I struggled to learn even at the young age of 8.  Based on my interview, the school felt I didn’t need an ESL teacher and decided to throw me in the lion’s den, unaided and helpless (or at least that’s how I felt at the time).

My homeroom teacher, Mrs. Eadie, challenged me mentally in more ways than I can describe. She never took it easy on me since I understood nothing of the language. Instead, she thankfully treated me like the rest, and if I didn’t understand, well I’d better read up! I welcomed the challenge, although I was quite frustrated at times.  But with the help of both my homeroom teacher and my English teacher, Mrs. Harley, who had me write in a journal every day at the beginning of class, I learned that making mistakes was the only way I was going to learn. I needed to fail a few times before I was able to see the light. Such an invaluable lesson I’d learned: you’re going to fall before you can stand, and that’s OK! Continue reading

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