>Google vs British National Corpus

>Tom Robb’s article on the Google corpus contrasts it with the British National Corpus(1). It seems to me that the British National Corpus is generally regarded as a cornerstone of English, a proper garden like the ones I saw in London with all the flowers and bushes arranged in neat rows in the front of everyone’s homes, and Google as a wild field where anything goes and grows.

I think teachers realize the shortcomings of Google as corpus. But that does not mean that there are not some cautions that need to be applied when using the BNC. For example, using the BNC website recommended by Tom we find there are only 232 examples for “Email”(2) but 283 examples for “telegram”.

Relying solely on the BNC is like driving a car by looking in the rear view mirror. The BNC will never reflect any new currently accepted language. Google will.

(1) “British National Corpus (BNC) is a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of sources, designed to represent a wide cross-section of British English from the later part of the 20th century, both spoken and written.” The written part composes 90% and the spoken part 10%.
(2) Actually 43 “email” + 189 “e-mail”. A comparison on Google reveals 5.6 BILLION for “e-mail” or “email” and 11.8 million for telegram.

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>Our students, their jobs, their English

>I’m working on developing a new course for a vocational college, as I mentioned before. I wanted to do some research on the students who have graduated early this year to see how they are using their English.

If students don’t use their English they will lose their English. But the English they will use will be the English they need and the English they need will be determined by the jobs they find (or other special interests). If we teach the English for the kinds of jobs they will find then they will be able to (1) do these jobs well and will also (2) retain this English and not forget it.

I sent a survey questionnaire to the students who graduated earlier this year from the college. The results are interesting:

42% are working in manufacturing or trading businesses. This is by far the largest group of industries that my students have entered. This, of course, is reflective of the type of businesses present here in Guangdong.

14% have no job at present. They may have had a job for awhile but not right now.

The other students are in various industries such as: travel & tourism, teaching & education, telecommunications, banking, hotel, IT, etc.

In these jobs the students are working in a wide variety of roles, such as, administration assistant, customer service executive, data processor, engineering dept. assistant, shipping documents clerk, merchandiser, Photoshop touch-up artist, purchaser, receptionist, teacher assistant, salesperson, telegraphic transfers clerk for a bank, translator, etc.

So our students enter a wide variety of industries and have a wider variety of roles. Can we make any useful generalizations out of those industries and jobs?

Manufacturing and trade are the industries that most of these students enter (42%). So to produce an oral English course and target English to discuss products, specifications, prices and costs, quality, shipping and transportation, plus English for other more general office functions like meetings, agreeing and disagreeing, handling complaints, etc, cover most of the students’ needs.

This kind of information is very helpful to not only provide direction in what the students need but what they don’t need, as well. For example, previously they were using coursebooks which had units on things like the stock market and the company annual report, etc. It is likely that the students would forget much of this vocabulary before they get a chance to use it.

On a side note, half of the students say they like or even love their jobs, about a quarter think their jobs are just OK or so-so and another quarter say they don’t like their jobs. So it’s nice to know that most of them are happy or somewhat satisfied with the jobs they found.

>Making podcasts for low level English students

>Here are a few ideas for making podcasts for your students:

1. Make recordings of your experiences like the time you met someone famous or thought you were going to die in an accident. Don’t be boring but be simple.

2. Interview friends and other teachers. Don’t rely on the friends to be simple enough or talk slowly enough. If the friend is using some language that you feel is too advanced for your students then jump in and ask your friend to define it or define it or restate it yourself.

3. Take your students on a tour to a favorite local haunt. There is a shopping mall here that is immensely popular with all students in this area. Record a tour of the location that they could listen to and use to follow your footsteps. Describe what you see, tell some funny stories and go in to the shop and talk to some clerks about their products. I did this with my notebook computer in my bag running Audacity with a microphone clipped on my shirt. Many mobile phones have recording functions on them. You can include some insights into some of the businesses or some of the fashions even if you have to look them up on the Internet. Check this out.

4. Make your case for your method. Students always want to know what is the best/fastest/easiest way to learn English. Explain how you are teaching your students. Some of our teaching methods are counter intuitive. I think Grammar-Translation makes a lot of sense but is not as good as Communicative Approach. If our teaching method is not always easily accepted by students you should take every opportunity to “sell” your teaching methods over and over.

5. Don’t just make a recording on any subject but try to steer it in a way to augment units you are teaching in one of your courses. This way you can further the unit, even if you have to ‘assign’ the listening item, or you can use it as a collection of materials students can listen to on a voluntary basis. For example, if you have a unit discussing Human Resources you can interview a friend about their experience in hiring or with working with colleagues.

6. Record your lessons. This is normally quite boring but it can be very effective if you just extract some of the jewels, ancedotes you tell your students, special tips on learning English, fun facts, a story about your travels, etc.

I am also trying some projects along this line and am starting to post them at GCAST.

>Telephone as language teaching tool

>One teacher said, “I am particularly interested in SPEAKING activities for the students, and welcome ideas in this regard. Many of our Foreign language courses are very small (one teacher and one/two students), and so there would be a lot of opportunity for the student to speak.”

I think podcasting may be the wrong tool for this job. I would suggest telephoning.

I’ve been assigning telephone homework for a couple years now. I usually ask my students to read or listen to something first and then call me and tell me about it. Very low level students will usually be able to only read it aloud. Mid-level students will be able to retell the story by paraphrasing the story they read. Advanced-level students will be able to reapply the story to their own situation. “What would YOU do if it happened to you?” “Is that situation the same in YOUR country?”

Their source material may be a copy of the English newspaper, a book they are reading or an MP3 podcast from http://www.podcast.com http://www.unsv.com

Requiring them to digest some English material first, rather than ‘free talk’, exposes them to some new English, grammar patterns and vocabulary, and forces them to use it as they talk to me. It also puts the talking burden on them rather than them simply asking me questions like, “What are you going to do for the summer?”, “Do you like Chinese food?”

I am aware of the research and views against correcting students’ spoken English but I have found correction to definitely be effective with my students with some students acquiring and maintaining correct vocabulary or pronunciation in one lesson.

In a podcast David Nunan made with Peter Neu (soon to be released), Nunan said that instant feedback is more effective than delayed feedback. That is one of the advantages of using the telephone. Additionally, making MP3’s will be very cumbersome compared to a phone call. With MP3’s the student has to sit down with his recording device, probably waiting for a ‘good time’ in a quiet room, start the program, record, edit?, convert to MP3, attach to an Email program, Email it. The teacher will need to receive it, may not listen to it right away but wait for a good time, listen, make some notes on corrections, then give the student feedback a day or a week later by Email or in the next lesson.

Using English by phone is a necessary skill that all people need. Many listening exercises in books have samples of phone calls but why not just do them ourselves? It is more difficult to talk by phone than face-to-face but this is something students just have to learn to do.

I like to teach by phone when I’m doing something else at the same time, often when commuting to or from work by bus or taxi or while walking. I will send a text message to my student, “Talk?” If my student is free they will call me or they will send a message back when they are free.

I have a cell phone running Windows Mobile. I may record the call so that my student can listen to it and my corrections again later. I will also open a text document on my phone that I keep on each student with new vocabulary. This way I can recycle the student’s old vocabulary and add new vocabulary. Also, when I’m doing a face-to-face lesson with my student, I will often have this document open with the phone in my hand and whenever a new word comes up I will add it to the list. There are some words that my student knows but has trouble pronouncing. In this case I will write the work with a “p” next to it, for example: colleague-p.

Of course, if you are writing in your phone at the same time you are talking with your student then you need to use your phone with earphones or some sort of hands-free gear. I like the earphones with wires as the sound quality is just great and better than even using the phone without earphones.

I talk to my one-on-one students every day of the week. My small group students of 5-10 people, usually managers or department heads, have speaking homework to do once a week. I am unable to do talk to all of my 400 college students but I do invite some of my top college students to do it as a way to help them above the classroom “lesson ceiling”.

I also have some special guest teachers to talk to my students. Some teachers have come to me for help with various teaching problems and have even offered to pay me something for the couple hours I helped them. I ask the teacher for a couple hours of their time to talk to my students. Sometimes your students get very comfortable with you. This is good in a way but it is not a realistic for some of the speaking challenges the student will have in speaking with strangers. So I like to have some other teachers for them to talk to, especially teachers with different accents.

Teaching in this way adds a considerable “wow” factor to your teaching and the students feel more like they are being “coached” than just “taught at”. It is less trouble than messing around with MP3’s and podcasts. It saves time and enables you to use some of your gap time or lost time in an effective way. It is instant. It puts the technology around us to good use. It promotes your business. My students are sometimes with other potential students when they receive my “Talk?” message and they tell these people what I’m doing.

Try it. You’ll like it!