Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Pronunciation goes 2.0

I've been looking this week at Forvo, which is a kind of web 2.0 pronunciation site. The site allows users to request, and add audio clips of the pronunciation of different words from a huge range of languages, so if you want to know how a word is pronounced you can either do a quick easy search for the word and then listen to it, or if the word isn't already within the database, you can add it and request a pronunciation.

The site also categorises words into lexical areas such as brands, acronyms, sports etc which is very handy

You can also be helpful and add the pronunciation to words which have been requested in your language.

The site offer free registration, but you can find words, request words and pronounce words without registering. The benefit of registration is that you'll be notified when someone pronounces your word for you.

What I like about it
  • It's a great idea and it's free
  • Very easy to use interface
  • Lots of different languages
  • Sound clips load quickly and a reasonably good quality
  • Registration isn't required
  • Potentially a huge and growing resource

What I'm not so sure about
  • Like most things on the web, especially Web 2.0, you can't be sure of the quality or authenticity of what you are getting, so if you are using this with students check out the words they are after and make sure the quality of the pronunciation is good (My litmus test was 'aluminium' and it feel somewhere between the UK and US versions)
  • Watch out for students who want to pronounce the (four letter) words that they shouldn't be using (though probably better for them to pronounce them well than badly)
  • It would be really nice to have regional variations of the pronunciation, but I guess that's broadening out the amount of work a bit far.

How to use this with students
  • This is a nice self access resource for students to check their pronunciation
  • You could give students a list of words and get them to find out how they are pronounced
  • Get students to add some words that they want to be able to pronounce
  • Use the site to dictate words while students listen, then get them to go to the site and check that they have got the right words
This is a really nice application of the Web 2.0 concept to pronunciation and it will be really interesting to see how this site grows and develops.

Hope you enjoy it and can get your students involved.



Friday, 18 April 2008

Iconic teen video

Using video clips with teenagers can be enormously motivating for them, IF you get the right content. Getting the content right involves taking a look into the lives of our students and finding out what kind of things they are watching.

One of the most high profile examples of this is LonelyGirl15.
LonelyGirl15, which became a Youtube phenomenon, depicted a young teenage girl talking to her camera and discussing some of the intimate, bizarre and often incredibly trivial issues of her life. The ‘show’, a series of 2 -4 minute clips, was soon attracting audiences of millions and it soon emerged that it was a ‘fake’ and that the LonelyGirl15 was an actress working with a small film crew and script writer.
Since then the show has transformed into a sort of on going thriller. there is now both a UK version, KateModern as well as the original LonelyGirl15 series.
For more information on the plot and background see: LG Pedia

These two shows provide a huge potential source authentic language as teenagers in the UK and North America speak it. It’s also wrapped up in a context and genre which teenagers / 20-somethings can identify to. Though using this material isn’t without its pitfalls and drawbacks.

What I like about it
  • The clips are short, but self contained and will download quite quickly.
  • They really show the way that English is being used by young adults.
  • The clips are quite enigmatic and the story is inferred and implied rather than depicted, so the material can be useful for developing students thinking and deductive skills.
  • Many of them deal with young people’s issues and attitudes
  • The characters seem like very ordinary people
  • The clips can be very engaging

Here’s a just a couple of examples, from a collection of hundreds of clips which I think could well be usable.

From LonelyGirl15: Boy problems

From LonelyGirl15: Parent problems

From KateModern: A proposal

From KateModern: The order

Some ideas for using this material with students
  • Students to watch a single clip and make deductions about the story, what’s been happening to the character, what the relationships are to other people mentioned etc.
  • Students to watch different clips then build up and exchange character information and try to decide what the relationships are between various characters
  • Students view the clip without sound and make deductions about the topic and mood of the person
  • Create gist or specific information questions
  • Get your students to watch and then write questions that they would like to ask the character
  • Get your students to create and video their own response to one of the characters in the videos
  • Get your students to watch for cultural information and look for things that would be different with their own culture (clothes, household objects, way people interact, gestures etc.)
  • Get students to watch and compare a clip from the UK and the North American series and identify differences in the use of language.
  • Get students to watch and compare a clip from each series without sound and look for cultural and environmental differences between UK and North American culture
  • Create discussion classes around some of the issues touched on in the clips
  • Students create their own localised version of the series.
What I'm not so sure about
  • Some of the clips contain violence and bad language and show young people drinking. This is something you might actually ant to deal with in class, or avoid altogether, so be careful which clips you choose.
  • You might have to be prepared to defend your use of this kind of material if your students go home and start watching it in front of their parents
  • Much as I find this view into the world of 'young people today' (Did I really write that?) quite intriguing I also find it slightly disturbing
Anyway, whether we like this kind of content or not, it does seem to be the kind of thing that is becoming increasingly popular as internet entertainment, and if we really want to engage with our students and engage them in our classes, I don't think we can afford to ignore it.

I would also love to hear from anyone who has been using LonelyGirl15 or KateModern with your classes, so please post a comment and share your experience.



Your big carbon feet

I’ve just seen this new website called the Carbon Account. It’s sort of an ecology 2.0 social network. Once you register you fill in details about your household and your travels, the meter readings for your bills and the amount of miles you travel in your car etc and it will then calculate your carbon emissions for you.

You can see what the carbon emissions of other users are too and work at reducing your carbon emissions. You also have the option to network with other site users to offer support and encouragement, so the site is a bit like a weight watchers for the environmentally sound!

If you want to see how it works then take a look at the video on the site at:

The site also has some well written information on what carbon emissions are and how they are calculated. The site owners can also help set up special accounts for groups and give tips on reducing emissions.

This is a really good site to base a class project on.
  • Collecting and inputting the relevant data provides a lot of rich vocabulary work for language learners as well as having a meaningful outcome, and building awareness of the environment and our impact on it.
  • Students could monitor their carbon emissions over the course of a few months and see who can reduce them the most.
The only thing that does bother me about the site, is that it involves parting with quite a lot of detailed personal information, but they do seem to have a sound a very reassuring privacy policy. So why not give it a try with your students.

Hope it goes well



Thursday, 3 April 2008

IATEFL Online Conference 2008

Well apologies to any regular visitors who have noticed the lack of activity her over the last week. This is mainly because my time over the next couple of weeks is being consumed by one of the biggest meetings of English language teachers in the World. The IATEFL annual conference.

I've been working as part of the online editorial team for the event and there are now some very active, discussion forums going on a whole range of ELT related subjects. Over the next week, the face to face event will begin and when it does we hope to be broadcasting and archiving a whole range of the live events including video and audio of interviews, plenaries and workshops.

So if you don't have the time and money to get along to Exeter UK from now until 11th April, then come along and sign on for the free online conference and get the opportunity to share experiences with teachers from all over the world.

Come and join us at:

And if anyone is going along to the face to face event.

Hope to see you there.