Media and comprehensible input

From Stephen Krashen's mailing list:

Two Steps to Take
Published in the Korea Times, Feb. 28, 2008
Letter to the Editor

Dear editor,

I'm writing in response to a Feb. 25 Korea Times article, "English Education Needs to Start at Earlier Ages".
Prof. Ahn Young-sop is 100 percent correct when he points out that the overemphasis on testing is hurting English language education in Korea. The situation is the same worldwide, and the only ones who profit are companies that produce the tests and test-preparation materials.

His suggestion of expanding the use of English in media also makes sense. Research in language
acquisition tells us that we acquire language when we understand what we hear and what we read, and media can provide a great deal of "comprehensible input".

Studies done over the last decade, largely in Asia, confirm that wide self-selected recreational reading has a powerful effect on English language development for students of English as a foreign language, and those who establish a reading habit in English will continue to improve as long as they keep reading.

Prof. Cho Kyung-sook of the Busan National University of Education has been an important contributor to this research. The obvious step to take is to vastly improve English collections in public libraries and school libraries.

Another obvious step to take is to increase the amount of English aural input. Fortunately, this can be done for free, through http://www.eslpod.com, which provides a wide variety of listening experiences for intermediate students of English as a foreign language.

Increasing written and aural input will be far more effective and far less expensive than other paths, such as the establishment of English villages, starting English very early, and hiring more foreign teachers.

Stephen Krashen,
Professor emeritus
University of Southern California


English grammar practice on the Web

We know some SLA authors say explicit grammar teaching is not the most efficient way to help our students learn a language. However, many teachers believe that specific grammar work is needed in order to deal with some difficult grammar points or structures and some students, especially those who are older, want to have grammar explanations and practice because they prefer to learn the rules before attempting to use the language in communicative situations (or because they need it to pass their exams). Anyway, many teachers and students demand grammar practice exercises and we can find a lot of them on the Web. As Levy & Stockwell (2006:185) have written:

"Despite this general movement away from drill-based grammar instruction, it is perhaps ironic that many people new to the field consider this type of activity to be the essence of what CALL is. Drill-based activities most certainly still have their place in the language curriculum."

The main ESL directories have wide grammar sections which include links to sites with grammar tutorials, exercises and activities.

Some of the websites which offer good repositories of grammar quizzes and exercises in their servers are the following:

  • About.com : With quizzes for different learner levels and grammar topics.
  • Activities for ESL Students : Grammar Quizzes about Places and different levels (Easy, Medium and Difficult).
  • Basic Grammar : For lower levels and review.

  • Clicknlearn : Multimedia activities for Spanish Secondary Education students.

  • E.L. Easton : Grammar section with links and exercises related to different parts of speech (Adjectives, Articles, Conjunctions, Nouns, Prepositions, Pronouns, Verbs).
  • English4U : Alphabetical classification and level rating.

  • English-Hilfen : Excellent German site with tutorials and related exercises. You can subscribe to their newsletter with the latest news.

  • ESLGold : From low beginning to advanced.

  • Learnenglishfeelgood.com : English grammar tests that focus on topics that ESL students often find difficult to understand.

  • Manythings.org : Some of the quizzes you can find here are also at the A4ESL site.

  • NonstopEnglish : If you register and login you can see which tests you have done and how successfully.

  • Road to Grammar : More than 300 interactive exercises and a section for younger learners.

  • World English : Exercises and tests covering the main areas, including a diagnostic grammar test.

Other sites with grammar games and other activities are the following:

  • Grammar Safari : Suggestions for "hunting" and "collecting" examples of specific words and structures as they are used in documents accessible to anyone on the Internet.
  • Netgrammar : Lesson plans on grammar contents with explanations, exercises and skills practice.
  • Tenses : English tenses tutorial.

Now that you have visited all these rich grammar practice sites, you should forget about them according to Steve Kaufmann's language learner's manifesto.

Of course, grammar games and tutorial exercises are not the only way to learn grammar with Web resources, there are more possibilities, just in case grammar should be taught at all. Levy & Stockwell (2006) see three main types of grammar instruction with computers:

"Grammar teaching in CALL generally takes one of three forms: grammar tutorial exercises, learner-centered grammar instruction, or communicative grammar instruction...

...(Learner-centered grammar instruction) places greater emphasis on the learners to deduce the rules of the target language for themselves. One means of doing so that features regularly in the literature is the use of concordancing and corpora...
...The only way in which learners are able to have access to 'unlimited' language input is through authentic communication, be this with native speakers or with other learners of the language. The choice of the appropriate form of computer mediated communication is a difficult one, and different types of CMC allow for emphasis on different aspects of language learning.

With regard to grammar learning in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) activities, Chapelle (2005) comments the following:

"Whereas much grammar learning might best be carried out through explicit grammar teaching, we have seen that CMC tasks offer a wealth of opportunities for learning through language practice that is not directed specifically at the teaching of any particular grammatical point... CMC provides a mechanism for valuable communication, but shaping the mechanism into valuable opportunities for learning is the pedagogical challenge. Here the research is very difficult to interpret because researchers have studied a variety of phenomena, but the overall finding is that teachers need to plan for good CMC exchanges."


Types of web resources for language teaching

From Woodsy’s photo gallery

This post is part of "The First ELL, ESL & EFL Carnival"

It is frequently said that the Web is full of teaching and learning resources.

What kind of language teaching resources can we find on the Web?

What do we mean by "web teaching resource"?

Teaching resources in general are a source of aid or support that may be drawn upon when needed to enhance the quality of teaching and therefore facilitate learning. They may be physical (board, book, poster, video projector, chart, ...) or conceptual and methodological. When we refer to web teaching resources we are talking about the different kinds of materials and tools that we can find on the WWW, with the same purpose of improving the quality and efficiency of learning in activities which make use of those resources.

Therefore, a first distinction can be made between materials, which provide contents, and tools, which let us process those contents, create our own materials or interact and collaborate with other people in learning environments. The type of web resources to be used will depend on the kind of activity to be developed.

As we know, when we search for contents in the Net, not only can we find text documents, also images, videos, audio files, presentations, conceptual maps or documents with a diverse kind of interactivity and graphic or multimedia combinations. Whatever their form of presentation, in my view, there are three general types of web materials for educative use:
  1. Teaching materials. They are usually created with a curricular didactic aim and may include different kinds of documents and activities: practice exercises (grammar, vocabulary, skills), tutorials, simulations, games, etc.
  2. Authentic materials. Their communicative or social function is authentic; they haven't been modified or adapted for teaching purposes. They can be used as a resource in discovery based learning activities and web tasks for language learning.
  3. Reference materials. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, manuals, concordancers online.

Web tools used as a teaching and learning resource can be classified according to its function:

  • Navigation
  • Search
  • Office online tools
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Content syndication
  • Communication
  • Content and learning management systems
  • Social networking
  • Multimedia edition
  • Didactic materials authoring

This could be an initial sketch to be completed and developed. Internet as a language learning resource is not only an immense network of contents with multimedia facilities, but also a communication technology that promotes interaction with other people and the media, providing the conditions for a more socio-constructive, cooperative and student-centered kind of learning, which takes into account the learner needs and fosters her or his autonomy.