Wednesday 27 August 2008

12 Second Video Clips for EFL ESL

What can you do with a web cam, 12 seconds of live video and some EFL ESL students? Well quite a lot when you start to think about it.

12 Seconds TV is a new website for microbloggers! Unlike it's text based equivalents, Twitter and Plurk, 12Seconds TV enables users to post 12 second video clips. Apart from that it is very like any other microblogging site. You can sign up to follow the feeds of other users and comment on other users' video clips. 12 second TV also integrates with Twitter so that you can configure it to post links to your video clips into your Twitter feed.

The image above shows how to record a 12 seconds TV clip. Click the image to enlarge

How to use this to create video materials for EFL ESL students
Here are a few ways you can use 12 Seconds TV to produce materials for your students or to get your students producing English.

  • Vocabulary record / word of the day - You could ask your students to create a video vocabulary record using a12 second clip to record the words and example sentences. You could also do something like this yourself as a kind of 'Word of the Day' channel.

Here's an example:
  • 12 Second Learning Diary - Ask students to record a clip each day saying what they have learned and how they have improved their language.
  • Personal diary - You could ask the students to add a 12 second personal entry each day on anything that concerns them or any personal news they have.
  • 12 Second News Reports - Ask students to read the news ( in English or their own first language) and then produce a 12 Second report on one of the main stories that they are interested in.
  • Present continuous (sound on or off) - You can record 12 second video clips to demonstrate present continuous sentences. You can do this with sound on or with sound off and the students can guess the sentence
Here's an example:

  • Questions for response - You could set up clips with questions and ask your students to respond online. They could also set up a sequence of their own questions for other students to respond to.
  • Guess the object - You or students could give a 12 second description of and object and viewers have to listen and guess what the object is. Getting students to create these clips will help them to be concise and really identify the key concepts behind describing objects.
  • 12 Second sales pitch - A variation on the idea above is to ask students to produce a 12 second video trying to convince users to buy a particular object. Again this helps them to identify key concepts, gives them practice with using language of persuasion and the 12 second limit may well help them to push for faster speaking speeds and better fluency.
  • Moods - You can create video clips of yourself or your students expressing different moods. This can help them to learn the vocabulary of the moods, but you could also use it to get students to predict the cause of the mood ( and practice present perfect; "He's angry because he has just been made redundant." etc.)
  • Sentence each day story - You or your students can build up a story by adding a new sentence to the story each day. You can make this more interesting by using a few props or even costumes. You could get each student to build their own story by adding a sentence each day to their 12 Seconds feed, or you could add a sentence each day, get your students to watch it and decide what they want to happen next.
Here's an example:

What I like about 12 Seconds TV
  • It's free and a really simple idea.
  • I like the restriction of having only 12 seconds to produce something
  • I quite enjoy looking at what some other users have produced (though not all)
  • It's something that would be simple to get students using everyday (as long as they have a web cam on their computer)
  • The site produces an embed code for each video, so you can add the videos to a blog or multimedia materials without having to go to the original site or feed.

What I'm not so sure about
  • It would be really nice to create multiple channels so that you could create a number of different types of 12 second programme feeds (but I guess this is something that only a very few people would want to do).
  • The site isn't really suitable for younger or more culturally sheltered students as some of the people expressing themselves through this medium are a bit 'wacky'.
  • As ever be sure to protect your students privacy and make sure they don't give away too much information about themselves and their location, especially in the case of younger students.
Well I hope this helps you and your ESL EFL students to have some learning fun. I leave you with a question though and welcome your comments on this; Is 12 seconds too short?

Related links:
Activities for students:


Nik Peachey

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Text to Speech for EFL ESL Materials

Text to Speech (TTS) technology has come a long way in recent years and this is nowhere more evident than on the Read The Words website.

I've just been having a look at the site and trying to decide whether it has real potential for helping EFL ESL students with their listening, reading and pronunciation.

As an experiment I decided to select quite a challenging text and see what the site could do. I also decide to select a British English accent, as in the past I know that TTS systems had struggled more with UK accents than US ones, due to the wider range of sounds in UK English.

Anyway, here are the results. The text is from at: and is about the challenges of text normalisation in TTS.

  • Click here to watch Elizabeth read the text to you.
  • Listen using this media player

This is the actual text you should be hearing:

"Text normalization challenges

The process of normalizing text is rarely straightforward. Texts are full of heteronyms, numbers, and abbreviations that all require expansion into a phonetic representation. There are many spellings in English which are pronounced differently based on context. For example, "My latest project is to learn how to better project my voice" contains two pronunciations of "project".

Most text-to-speech (TTS) systems do not generate semantic representations of their input texts, as processes for doing so are not reliable, well understood, or computationally effective. As a result, various heuristic techniques are used to guess the proper way to disambiguate homographs, like examining neighboring words and using statistics about frequency of occurrence.

Deciding how to convert numbers is another problem that TTS systems have to address. It is a simple programming challenge to convert a number into words, like "1325" becoming "one thousand three hundred twenty-five." However, numbers occur in many different contexts; when a year or perhaps a part of an address, "1325" should likely be read as "thirteen twenty-five", or, when part of a social security number, as "one three two five". A TTS system can often infer how to expand a number based on surrounding words, numbers, and punctuation, and sometimes the system provides a way to specify the context if it is ambiguous.

Similarly, abbreviations can be ambiguous. For example, the abbreviation "in" for "inches" must be differentiated from the word "in", and the address "12 St John St." uses the same abbreviation for both "Saint" and "Street". TTS systems with intelligent front ends can make educated guesses about ambiguous abbreviations, while others provide the same result in all cases, resulting in nonsensical (and sometimes comical) outputs. "

What I like about the site
  • The site is free though you do have to register.
  • The site creates a number of options once it has converted the text to speech. This includes creating an Mp3 file to download, creating an embed code to embed the audio into a blog or website, or download to i-pod.
  • They have quite a selection of avatars and voices
  • The site can convert text from a number of sources including Word, PDF, a website (just type in the URL) or even an RSS feed!
  • You can make the texts private or public
  • There doesn't seem to be a limit on many you can create
What I wasn't so sure about
  • I found it hard to get a link to the avatar reading the text. It would have been nice to be able to embed her into my blog, but I just couldn't get that to work.
  • Processing the text can take a while.
I haven't added any teaching suggestions yet for this posting, as I'm interested to see what other teachers think about this before I do that.

So, if you've listened to the text, please do send in a comment and let me know what you think about the useability of a tool like this with EFL ESL students.

Related lnks:
Activities for students:

Nik Peachey

Monday 25 August 2008

Make Your EFL ESL Yearbook

As ever I'm a fool for technology which can make images entertaining and personalise them, so when I saw this I couldn't resist it.

Nik Peachey or Austin Powers?

This site is called Yearbook Yourself and is based around the concept of the end of year school books that are so popular in some countries. The site enables you to upload an image of yourself and then import it into the style of a yearbook from any year between 1950 and the 2000s. You can then download the images as jpg files.

The site also gives you a little bit of information about what was popular in those years and plays a small music clip from that year.

So how can we use for teaching ESL EFL students?
In order to use it with your students, you or they will need to have a digital image of themselves. Ideally it should be a head and shoulders portrait with the student face on to the camera.
Here are some ideas for activities:
  • Create a yearbook for your class. You could do this by getting the students to select the year when they were born and then convert their portrait to a person from that year. You could follow this up by asking students to research some important events from that year. This is easy to do, just by going to and doing a search on the year. Here's one I did on 1954 The page lists lots of interesting events. You could follow this up by getting students to find out about what their parents were doing the year they were born. They could ask their parents if they remember any of the key events from that year. The students could then report back either orally or in writing to the rest of the class next lesson.
  • Students could decide which year they like best. Give the students a list off 3 - 5 years and then they should create an image of themselves in each of those years (get them to do this at home). They could then email in the images or bring them to class to show and tell the other students which year suits them best and why they would like to have been around in that year.

    The 70s didn't really suit me!
  • You could create two images of yourself and then put students in pairs. Without showing the images to each other the students would have to describe the images and decide if they are the same image or different images. Here's an example of two of myself.

  • Comparing students' lives with those of their parents may also be interesting. Ask the students to find out what year their parents were 16. Then ask them to create an image of themselves from the same year. Ask the students to write a text about or discuss how their lives at 16 are different from the lives of their parents at 16.

    I don't look much like my dad!
  • Ask students to create an image of themselves from one of the years and then imagine what that person would be doing now x years later. This is a good way to get them thinking about their own future.
Why I think this is a good site for EFL ESL
  • It's free to use and quite quick and easy
  • I really like the novelty of seeing your image transformed
  • I like the year book concept and the brief information and sound clips from the different years.
  • Personalisation of tasks is always more motivating for students
What could be better
  • It would be nice to be able to try your image in different years before you decide which one you want.
  • There are some links to advertising and products in different shops. Easy to avoid though.

Anyway, I hope you and your students enjoy creating some stimulating EFL ESL materials with this site.

Related postings:

Nik Peachey

Friday 22 August 2008

Manga images for EFL ESL

Many of our younger and even older students are exposed to and enjoy 'Manga' type cartoon art work. 'Face Your Manga' is a site which enables you and your students to easily create manga type image avatars, so I'd like to explore a few ways we could use this site for EFL ESL development.

The site is quite easy to use and you simply click through a few steps, selecting and adjusting different aspects of your avatar's appearance. Once the avatar is complete, you simply email it to yourself and download it onto you computer as a jpg image.

How can we use this with EFL ESL students?
Here are some activities you could try.
  • You could ask students to work at home and try to create an avatar that looks as much as possible like themselves. Ask the students to email their avatars to you. Print these up and then stick them round the class. When students come to class ask them to try to decide which avatars represent which students in the class. Once they have done this, try to get them to describe the features that helped them guess and which features they feel are different in the images from those of the real people.
  • Create a few manga images. Then put the students in pairs. Give one student the image and ask them to describe it to their partner (not show it). The partner of each pair then has to create the same image using the website.
  • Get students to create their alter ego avatar (someone who is the opposite of themselves). Ask them to bring or email the image to you. You can them print them and ask the students to work in pairs in class and describe the avatar to their partner and explain how the imaginary person is the opposite of themselves in appearance and personality etc.
  • Create a set of images and ask students to work in groups or pairs to create an imaginary profile for each character ( information regarding their job, personality, living circumstances, etc). Then ask students to imagine what the relationships between them are. Lastly, ask them to create a short story or soap opera including the characters. Students can then regroup and tell other students about their characters and the story they created.
  • Ask students to create an avatar of a specific person (yourself or a celebrity) then email you or bring their images to class. The students can then discuss and decide which looks more like the real person. This should produce a lot of comparing and contrasting type language ("His nose is bigger" 'The mouth is too big" etc.).
Here's an image of myself and my avatar as an example:

What I like about the site
  • The ability to create images of imaginary people is really useful for EFL ESL materials creation.
  • The art work is good and the number of different characters you can create is huge.
  • The site is free to use
  • Manga images are part of our learners' culture, so they are likely to find this more motivating
  • The interface is pretty easy to use.
What I wasn't so sure about
  • The site does try to charge users for immediate printing of their images. This isn't really necessary though as the quality of the emailed one is sufficient.
  • You have to submit and email address in order to get the image sent to you. (You could give your students your email address so that all the images are sent to you.)
  • You can create avatars which are making rude gestures! It might anyway be wise to deal with what these gestures mean and in which cultures they can be found offensive.
I hope you enjoy Face Your Manga and find these ideas useful. If you want to use an alterantive site that does a similar thing them you could have a look at my posting on DoppelMe

Related postings:

Nik Peachey

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