Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Proofreading In-Class Writing

Many ESL students fail in-class writing exams because they don't proofread and correct careless errors before they hand in their paragraphs or essays. Several months ago, I wrote a post with some advice on strategies to use when proofreading at the end of an in-class writing exam. Since many of you are currently approaching final writing tests or exams, I'd like to review a few of these strategies.  Tomorrow, I will  discuss  how to look for, find and correct 5 common errors ESL that students make. well as how to look for, find and correct  In a third post, I will discuss how to proofread for 5 more common ESL errors.

Proofreading Is a Learned Skill 

All writers, including professional writers, make mistakes when they write. This is usually because they are writing their ideas as fast as they can so that they don't lose their train of thought rather than concentrating on structure or grammar mistakes. If they stop to correct errors, they will often lose the flow of the ideas. Therefore, even the best of writers have to go back and proofread to find their mistakes AFTER they have finished writing.  

Unfortunately no one, including native speakers, is born knowing how to proofread. Finding errors in your writing takes a lot of practice, but you can and will improve if you use effective strategies instead of just reading your paper once at the end of an exam. 

Leave yourself time to proofread 

Make sure that you leave yourself enough time to proofread at the end of your writing test. This means you MUST make a conscious effort to reserve 15 minutes at the end of the test just to look for and correct mistakes. Frequently check how much time you have left, and make sure you are sticking to a schedule. Do NOT write up until the last minute and expect to be given time just because "you're not finished."  If you are at the advanced level, and write until the teacher tells you to stop,  you can be sure that you stand a good chance of failing, no matter how good your content is because you are indirectly saying you don't think it is important to proofread or correct errors. 

Leaving time for proofreading requires discipline and practice. Start by practicing writing timed paragraphs under pressure and reserving time for proofreading. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.    

Proofread for the errors YOU make most often 

Turn the errors in your previous writing efforts into a learning opportunity. Carefully reread previous compositions that teachers have marked and count up the type of errors you make most often. Determine whether these are careless errors, or due to lack of knowledge. If you don't understand  the error, ask for help and find out how to fix the problem, or learn the rule. Always rewrite your previous in class compositions with the corrections included. This will help you to "internalize" the corrections. Then, each time you write, proofread for these specific types of errors.  

Of course, there are some errors that all ESL writers consistently make, but  all students  makes their own individual errors - often based on their own culture or language transfer problems. For example , Chinese students often forget to add the pronoun WHO in a subject adjective clause, a mistake other language groups do not usually make. Spanish students often use double subjects. Russian students frequently forget to use an "it" subject, or have serious word order problems with adverbs and prepositional phrases. Farsi writers often use for + ING incorrectly.

Proofread for ONE type of error at a time 

Focus on ONE SPECIFIC type of error at a time when you proofread. Start with the most serious one - the one that interferes with meaning. For example, if you have a serious problem with verb tenses, proofread all the way through only for possible verb tense mistakes. This means that you need to proofread all the way through your writing several times, maybe up to five or six times, depending on the type and frequency of your common mistakes. Remember, even the best proofreader will not find all his or her errors in one read through, and you are not the best writer, or proofreader

Read your paper out loud as S L O W L Y as you can 

If you are in class whisper or mumble each sentence out loud, and read as slowly as you can to make sure you hear every word. We all have a tendency to fill in missing words when we simply read with our eyes because we expect them to be there. We also do the same thing when we read from the beginning because we are reading for meaning.  Often your ear will catch many mistakes that your eye doesn't, or that it compensates for.  For example, your ear is more likely to catch a missing verb than your eye. Your ear will also notice that you are using an infinitive when you should be using a gerund "inf". Why? This is not about rules, but simply about knowing that the infinitive sounds wrong. Who cares why?  Reading out loud can also help you catch verb tense errors, word form, singular plural errors and Sentence Fragments.   

Proofread from the end rather than the beginning

Instead of starting with your first sentence, go to your last sentence and begin proofreading from the bottom. This way, you will be focusing on grammar and sentence structure rather than on content.  When you proofread from the beginning, you are so familiar with the content that you can often skip over errors because your mind adds words that are missing, or compensates for the mistakes. You simply don't see them because you are looking at meaning rather than grammar and sentence structure. When you work from the end,. you are much less likely to be distracted b y meaning, and will therefore catch many more mistakes than the other way around.

For more information on this topic go to my previous post  Proofreading Under Pressure 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Have Fun Writing: Feel Like a Superstar

Do you want to have some fun writing, feel like a superstar  and have a good laugh at the same time?  Go to Wacky Web Tales   and try it out. I promise that you'll have a good time, and will want to do several exercises after you have done the first.

This is a very easy program to play.  Here's how it works. The Wacky Tales Program includes 50 or 60  different topics. After you choose a topic, and fill in a series of boxes with specific words, the computer program then creates a wacky ( funny) story using your words to support the title of the story.

  1. Choose a topic. 
  2. Fill in the blanks with  your own words. Be as crazy as possible. 
  3. Click the button at the end and see what story the computer has created with your words.
  4. Read the story. Notice the beginning and how the story grabs your attention.
  5. Have fun and rewrite your first story in another crazy way, or rewrite it in a logical way. 
  6. Try out several more. 
  7. This is a good way to try out new vocabulary and see how it doesn't belong, or how it does belong depending on the story line you choose to tell. 

Here is an example of what I got when chose the topic It's the Thought That Counts and used the words that are in bold in the resulting paragraph below.

It's the Thought that Counts

The final result:

It's the Thought that Counts

Have you ever gotten a birthday present you didn't want? Did you not get the one you really wanted? Well, that happened to me this year!

I really wanted a(n) Iphone with a(n) new camera on it. I saw one in the store and it was only $800. I mean, that's not too much money. I could save up my allowance for that in 250 weeks! But instead, all I got were socks . Who gives socks as a birthday present?

Mother says it's the thought that counts, and I guess she is right. But next time, I hope my parents think of the really cheap computer with a(n) expensive video game on it!

Good Luck! 
Have some fun and let me know if you enjoyed it, 
or what kind of results you got 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Improve Your Pronunciation Part 2

In my last post I wrote that word stress and intonation are very important if you want to speak English clearly.   

Here is an excellent article  by Kenneth  Beare from esl.about.com  on a specific method you can use to help yourself to improve your stress and intonation. 

Recently, while creating a course on presentation skills in English, I came across a wonderful book by Mark Powell entitled Presenting in English. In it, there are "sound scripting" exercises which help learners become more expressive by taking sentence intonation skills to the next level. 

These examples use a method of bolding key content words and CAPITALIZING the most important words chosen for the best emotional impact. This starts off with a simple sentence paragraph that an intermediate student might use to practice and ends with a more advanced selection that is typical of a presentation. Click on the example link at the end of each, then click back on your browser to return to this page. 

Easier Paragraph to be Read

Our school is the best in town. The teachers are friendly, and very knowledgeable about English. I've studied at the school for two years and my English is becoming very good. I hope you will visit our school and try an English class. Maybe we can become friends, too!

Paragraph with Sound Scripting Markup

Our school is the BEST in town. The teachers are friendly, and VERY KNOWLEDGEABLE about English. I've studied at the school for two years and my English is becoming VERY GOOD. I hope you will visit our school and try an English class. MAYBE we can become FRIENDS!   To hear an example, go back to the original article at About.com  

More Difficult Paragraph to be Read

In this day and age, facts, statistics and other numbers are used to prove everything. Intuition, gut feelings and personal preferences are all out the door. Of course, there are some who are trying to battle this trend. Recently, Malcolm Gladwell wrote Blink, a best-seller which explores the usefulness of making split-second decisions based on intuition rather than careful consideration of all the facts and figures.

In this book, Gladwell argues that initial impressions - or gut-feelings - are quite rational. However, that this "split-second" thinking process moves faster than what we usually associate with thinking. If you are one of these people - and there are many of us - Blink provides "proof" that you're actually quite a rational human being.

Paragraph with Sound Scripting Markup

In this day and age, facts, statistics and other numbers are used to prove EVERYTHING. Intuition, gut feelings and personal preferences are all OUT THE DOOR. Of course, there ARE some who are trying to battle this trend. Recently, Malcolm Gladwell wrote BLINK, a best-seller which explores the USEFULNESS of making SPLIT-SECOND DECISIONS based on INTUITION rather than careful consideration of all the facts and figures.

In his book, Gladwell argues that INITIAL IMPRESSIONS - or GUT-FEELINGS - are quite rational. However, that this "split-second" thinking process moves FASTER than what we usually associate with thinking. If YOU are one of these people - and there are MANY of us - Blink provides "PROOF" that you're actually quite a RATIONAL HUMAN BEING. - To hear an example, go back to the original article at About.com  

Try it: You might be surprised at how much better you sound 

Record yourself trying out this method and see how it sounds. Use the microphone on your computer, or better yet use your cell phone.  Then, try to create some of your own practices. Choose several easy paragraphs, bold important content words and CAPITALIZE them. Record yourself several times until you feel that you are beginning to sound right. Then, repeat the activity as often as you can.

The READING PAGE  has many articles in the Intermediate reading section that would be useful for this kind of practice. Start slowly with only one paragraph until you build your skill and confidence.Then try reading for a longer period of time. 

Remember put some expression in your voice. English speakers do not speak in one tone. Our voices go UP and DOWN. We pause AND we STRESS important words in sentences. .

Here are a number of other useful articles on improving your pronunciation. 
  • Pronunciation Techniques  This is an excellent series of 25 articles from Kenneth Beare at About.om on various techniques and strategies to improve your pronunciation.  
  • How to Improve Your Pronunciation   This is an article specifically aimed at Chinese speakers which has a lot of very useful information on aspects of their pronunciation they should work 
Don't forget to visit the PRONUNCIATION PAGEwhere you will find an increasing number of pronunciation tutorials and practices.  Also check out the pronunciation links on the right hand page.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

10 Tips to Improve your Pronunciation

Many of you speak English well enough to get a good job, but are being left behind, and don't really understand why. 

Sometimes it is because you don't have "local experience,"  or aren't the "right fit." Other times it is because you make too many grammar mistakes such as using the wrong verb tense  when you speak. But often the problem is people simply can't understand you because of your poor pronunciation. 
The issue of accuracy versus fluency is a huge one in ESL, but I will talk about this in a different post. Today, I want to tips on how to improve your pronunciation.   

What We Expect From You     

No one in an English speaking country expects you to sound like a native speaker.  That would be both impossible and ridiculous in a multicultural country where so many people have accents.

What employers and others DO expect is  for you to speak clearly enough so that they can understand you without having to make a major effort. The issue here is not being able to pronounce things perfectly, but pronouncing your words and sentences clearly enough to be completely understood.  

Native Speakers too Polite  
One problem is that most native speakers  in Canada, the U.S. Britain,  or Australia  are too polite to tell you they can't understand you. They don't want to hurt your feelings, so they ignore the problem, and pretend to understand. 

As a teacher, I have found that even in a "safe" classroom environment students from different countries don't tell their own classmates that they don't understand them. This results in a lose lose situation for both parties. The listener doesn't find out what the speaker wants to say. The speaker doesn't realize that he or she has a pronunciation problem, and continues speaking just as badly.

Make the Effort 

Improving the way you speak is difficult, but unless you do so you will continue to find yourself missing out on opportunities that you are qualified for. 

Here are a few strategies that will help you to improve your pronunciation and other people's ability to understand you. 

Develop some awareness  

 If you want to improve, you need to be aware of what kind of problems you have.  Although some people have a good ear, most people need to focus on specific areas of their speech. Otherwise they will continue to have the same problems no matter how long they live in an English speaking country.  This means you need to analyze your specific pronunciation problems, and work on improving them by doing a lot of practice.

Open Your Mouth  
Open and move your mouth when you speak. Show your teeth. Let your tongue both your teeth and the roof of your mouth. 

Many Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, German and Russian speakers don't open their mouth when they speak English.  This makes them sound like they are mumbling and makes their English very unclear. from countries where you do not need to open your mouth very wide to make sounds, or to speak clearly. However, English has many open sounds. Opening and moving your mouth can make a HUGE difference in your pronunciation. 

Click here  and watch Barak Obama speaking. He has excellent clear speech and pronunciation. Notice the way he opens his mouth when he speaks. You can even see his tongue.

How much do YOU open YOUR mouth?  Analyze yourself in a mirror. Then, decide to officially start opening and using your mouth much more. Watch as many native speakers as you can. Imitate them.

Slow Down 

Don't speak too fast. Many  English learners think they need to speak quickly in order to sound fluent.  This  is not true. Fluency is about how comfortably you can speak  English, not how fast.  

If you speak English too fast, you are likely to eat many of your syllables, as well as use the wrong stress and intonation. This makes it very difficult for people to understand you.  These days many young people speak too fast, but that does not mean you should imitate them. Even native speakers have trouble understanding them.  Instead, remember that  effective speakers  don't speak quickly. They pause and put a LOT of stress on their syllables. 

Also, try to speak up loudly enough to be clearly heard.  Help your listeners to absorb what you are saying, instead of struggling to understand. If you have problems controlling your speed, try  to 
  • pause more, especially between phrases and sentences.
  • use more stress to highlight the key words in your message 
  • use gestures to help slow you down.    
Focus on stress and intonation  
Word and sentence stress are important in English. In fact, it is more likely  for someone to misunderstand you because of wrong word or sentence stress than because you are pronouncing a word incorrectly. 

Unlike other languages that stress every syllable equally, every English word has its own stress and intonation. As well, although many languages stress each word in a sentence, in English we only stress  "information" words such as nouns and verbs. All the little words  like pronouns, articles, adjectives and adverbs become shortened, and can sound completely different .

LISTEN to English speakers and focus on the way they STRESS syllables and words in sentences. Pay attention to the way their voice goes UP and DOWN. The rise and fall of our voice makes our speech clear and easy to understand. So, instead of just listening to WHAT people are saying, listen to HOW they are saying it. Try to imitate them, and put a lot of your effort on working on stress and intonation.

Work on difficult sounds 

Make a list of words that you find it hard to pronounce. Analyze which specific sounds are making these words difficult. Don't worry too much about sounds like "th", and r or l. Do, however focus on all your vowels, word endings and consonants that often get confused such as P and D, or K and H.

Learn the phonetic alphabet

Become familiar with the phonetic symbols or International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in your dictionary. Keep it handy so that you can understand what new words should sound like when you use your dictionary.

      Use a Mirror to Practice

   The shape of your mouth and the position  of your lips, teeth   and tongue are very  important in learning how to pronounce words and sounds correctly in English.  To find out what the correct mouth and shape looks like go to Rachelsenglish.com . When you practice, sit in front of a mirror top see if you are making the right shape correctly. Then watch to see if you are moving in the right way.  When you feel you've got it right, practice making the sound at least 20 times. You will feel silly, but it is the only way to improve.

Record yourself 

Most people don't like listening to the sound of their own voice but recording your speech is an excellent way of learning about your trouble spots, not only with specific sounds and words, but with stress, rhythm and intonation. Once you hear the parts that are incorrect or unclear, you can start working on improving them. You may find this uncomfortable at first, but you can't improve unless you know where to start.  
Keep working with a recorder. This could be your cell phone or any other device including your computer, but don't give up just because you don't like the sound. Focus on practicing and improving. Keep the old recordings so that you can compare and listen to your own improvement.

Imitate Native Speakers  

A parrot is a bird that copies the words of humans. It learns to imitate human sounds by repeating the sounds or phrases over and over. This is an excellent way for you to practice rhythm and stress. When you are listening to the news, watching a short video, or listening to a reading or a story on the radio or the computer, try to copy the exact rhythm of the speaker as he or she speaks. Does the voice go up and down? Does it sound happy, angry, surprised or sarcastic? Is it asking a YES NO or an information question or making a statement.  Copying native speakers will help you sound more natural and doing this a lot will make the process faster.

Listen to music and sing along

 In my previous post I discussed the benefits of English music and songs.  Listening to the singers helps you with the rhythm and stress of the language. Listening again and marking the areas where the singer pauses, goes up and down or stresses specific words and syllables can  also help you - especially if you then  sing along several times.  These days thee are also many karaoke sites that put the words on the screen along with the correct rhythm.   Many singers whose first language is not English have recorded English songs and sounded wonderful. Try the Music Page to listen to some of these international singers. 

Practice Practice Practice 

Practice as often as you can every day. Take a pronunciation class and practice outside of class. Focus on your own trouble spots. Find one or two pronunciation websites or programs online and use them regularly. There are many listed in the links on the right. You  can also go to the PRONUNCIATION page. 

DON'T jump around from exercise to exercise. Focus on one problem at a time and really work at it.  Develop a daily routine with a series of exercises. Then do some special activities such as shadow reading and listen and repeat when you have more time. Record yourself often. 

You can definitely improve your pronunciation if you want to, but you MUST do the work.. There is no magic. Only practice will  help you improve, so be patient with yourself. Don't expect miracles. Expect gradual improvement and accept that it will come if you try.

Here are two short sets of pronunciation exercises that you can every day to help yourself. At least it will force you to open your mouth - THE single most important thing you can do to speak English more clearly. 

Daily Pronunciation Exercise from John Keith Communications  

Daily Pronunciation Exercise from Many Things  

Please leave any comments or suggestions you have in the comment box. 
You do NOT need to be a subscriber to comment. 


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Phrase.In : Which Word is Better?

How many times have you thought of two ways  to say the same thing, but couldn't  decide which one was better? 

I've just discovered a new online tool called PHRAS.IN  which can be very helpful for ESL learners who aren't quite sure which expression or phrase is the right one to use when they are writing..

This is a very simple tool to use. All you need do do is type in two choices, and you will get an answer indicating which choice is the best one.  For example, if you look at the sample  above,  you can see that the expression "What's going on?" is much more commonly used that "What's happening?"

One bonus is that when you type in your two choices, you will also get  a series of examples of how each of the expressions is used, or if they are used at all.

For example, why don't you try comparing " I don't know" with "I have no idea,"  or
"I have no idea" with " that doesn't ring a bell." 

PHRAS.IN  is not really meant to be a grammar checker, but  would be useful for any of you who are struggling with language expression problems (see my post of  April 15th)   phrasal verbs , idiomatic expressions or collocations - words that generally go together like commit a crime, or make a mistake. 

It is also a useful tool to help you correct or deal with common errors or expressions that your teachers have marked on your previous written assignments.
If  you working in English as a Second Language this can be an extremely valuable resource to help your writing sound more fluent, natural and English rather than an awkward translated sentence. 

Try it out and let me know what you think  in the comment box below.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Best Sites to Learn English with Songs

Who says learning English has to be boring? Have fun and learn English at the same time by listening to and singing along to English music.

Listening to and singing English songs can  help you improve your pronunciation, fluency, and vocabulary - both the academic kind as well as conversational expressions and idioms. New words and expressions stay with you much longer when you learn and repeat them in an entertaining and relaxing way than if you are simply trying to memorize a list of words.
First, you are learning them in an authentic context. Second, you are repeating them frequently enough for them to have "staying power" in your memory. 

English songs  can also help you to learn, and appreciate grammar in a whole new way - through authentic English as it is used in the real world, not in ESL textbooks. All you have to do is analyze the lyrics and some of  the grammar built into the songs.

English music can even help you to learn a lot about culture, about people's  attitudes and even about issues and events from around the world.

Music is Relaxing  

Music makes people happy. It can also actively engage them in a way that simply reading a book or doing grammar exercises cannot. As a result, when you listen to English songs, learn the words, and sing along with the singer, something magic happens. You relax!  You begin to enjoy yourself. You stop thinking too much.

When you sing along to the music, you don't have an accent. This is because you are so relaxed that you actually allow your tongue to go to places it needs to go in order for you to make the English sounds you need to make.

If  you really like a song, and sing it often enough, as many of my homestay students have done, not only will you remember  all the words, but you will also SOUND English when you sing it. 

Remember, Celine Dion ,one of Canada's most famous singers, didn't learn English until she was 18. There are many other singers whose first languages are NOT English who sing English beautifully without the trace of an accent.  The famous group  ABBA  is one such group, and so are  The Scorpions , a wonderful band from Germany.

If you go to the MUSIC PAGE at the top of the blog, you will find many singers from other countries whose first language is NOT English, but who have produced some incredibly good music - again all without an accent. 

Best Sites For Practicing

During the past few years, the Internet has exploded with ESL music sites specifically aimed at helping ESL students improve their English through music and songs. All of the sites have different types of activities that can be useful to practice different things.

Of course, you should try some of the songs and activities on my own MUSIC PAGE. You can find songs to practice specific grammar points, or to focus on different types of content such as family relationships, protest and revolution or love.  A number of the activities include discussion questions related to the topic. Many of the activities come from some of the sites below. A few are my own. I will be adding more as time permits.

Lyrics Training 
This is a highly interactive site in which you can watch You Tube videos of a wide variety of songs, and do cloze activities  (a cloze is a fill in the blank activity. The great thing is that the site is set up like a game in which you can choose to try your skills at easy, medium and difficult levels.  When you finish.,you get a score. You can also click on the karaoke button and sing along with words on the screen.

The Real Canadian Songbook 
This is a site specifically devoted to helping students learn English through music by  Canadian singers. All of the songs include multiple choice quizzes that you can get the correct answer to. The complete lyrics to the song are also included.  Sharon Yoneda, my colleague at VCC originally developed the site  because she felt that it was important for her students and other ESL learners in Canada  to learn a little more about the Canada and its culture. If you live in Canada, or anywhere else for that matter, this is a terrific website to learn more about the Canadian music scene.

ESL Video  
This site not only includes songs, but also listening quizzes for a large variety of videos. Teachers from all over the world have created quizzes for both the songs and any other type of listening. In fact., you can even learn to create your own quizzes with a tutorial on the site. You have a choice of working at the beginner, intermediate or upper intermediate levels, but from what my students have told me, you should have fun with all the levels. .

Isabel Perez's Song Page 
This is a delightful site hat Spanish Secondary English teacher Isabel Perez originally created for her students, but has now won several awards. Although the site doesn't look as flashy as some of the other sites I have mentioned, it contains a lot of terrific activities  that students can download, or print out. The site includes a phonetic symbol program that you can also download and worksheets that involve listening to the song on a audio player (later video). Some of the activities include putting lines in order, listening for specific purposes - nouns, adjectives,  pronunciation of certain sounds and others.

Musical English Lessons International
This website designed and created by Bibi Baxter  has a huge number of downloadable or ready to print activities that students can use to practice their  English skills while listening to music. Like Isabel Perez's site, this is not a flashy one, but don't let that  prevent you from using it to practice more than just fill in the blank activities.  .

Tune Into English
This is a big website with a wide range of activities and links related to music.  It includes self-study worksheets and lyrics analysis, games and activities, charts, and music facts as well as online radio magazines and news all related to the music scene. If you register and go to the teacher's section, you will find 1600 lessons for specific songs.

Learn English with Songs This is a lovely site from FREE English Lessons Online that features videos and online song quizzes mostly aimed at grammar and vocabulary. The site features beginner and intermediate activities and includes children's songs and Christmas songs. It also includes a vocabulary section in the teacher's area)  where you get a picture dictionary of words and their pronunciation.

  • ELLO Music PageThe English Language Listening Lab Online, also known as ELLO  has a good music page. Students can listen to popular English songs, some of which have follow-up exercises.  To do the exercises, click on the "Word Challenge".
  • EFL Club Songs,which also has a wonderful talking dictionary has a wide range of activities that students can do on line while watching You Tube videos. In order to do all the activities, you need to become a member; otherwise you can only do clozes.
  • Mondos: Song Lessons offers a lot of excellent song-related activities for English Language Learners.
  • Learn English Though Song  is a site with 130 songs that have specific lessons go go with them. The lessons range from vocabulary and idioms  to specific grammar points.
  • Grammar With SongsThis site developed by the City College of Manchester allows students to complete fill in the blank quizzes while listening to a number of popular songs.

 Good Sites To Get the Lyrics to Songs 
I am adding a few lyric sites where you can get the words to some of your favourite songs. Most of them include an audio player that plays the song, or a video of the song along with lyrics. This makes it great when you want to sing along,. For others, go to the  MUSIC PAGE  at the top of the blog.  

Lyrics Mode  is one of my favourite sites for lyrics because not only is it the best source for accurate song lyrics,  but also because it often summarizes the song, gives you background information on the singer or the group, and includes a forum where fans discuss the meanings to songs. This makes it a great place for you to practice some writing about a topic that actually interests you.

Here are a few more recommended by Larry Ferlazzo Larry Ferlazzo directly from his Best Of posts.
  • Lyreach is a new site that helps you find the full lyrics to a song by just typing in a few of the words your remember.
  • Listen Music is a new web application that allows access to many, many songs. One nice feature is that you can also get the lyrics easily & quickly.
  • Batlyrics is a new site that looks like a great place to quickly and easily find song lyrics.
  • Instalyrics is a new site that shows you the lyrics to any song very, very quickly, along with a music video that goes along with it. The lay-out is very “clean.” 
  • LyricsNMusic is a nice site that lets you easily search for lyrics and you can a very clean and accessible copy. It also finds music videos of the song.

I'm sure this list is not complete, but it is gives you a good idea of the possibilities out there.  If you can recommend any others, please send in your suggestions in the comment section.

In the next few posts, I will be adding information on good karaoke sites, as well as excellent articles about the benefits of  learning a language through music. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Wordle: A Tool to Help you Learn English

Do you ever feel frustrated about trying to remember vocabulary - especially vocabulary you don't use every day?  Keep reading and you may start feeling better soon.

I want to tell you about a terrific and free online  program called Wordle that can help you remember vocabulary, spelling, or even grammar  Wordle is a simple Web page application that helps you create eye catching "word clouds" from text that YOU provide. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, but with Wordle, a thousand words is worth a word cloud. The great thing is that  you can use Wordle to create word clouds for anything YOU specifically want to remember

How Wordle Works 
In Wordle, you create word clouds. These can be entire text that you cut and paste into the program, or they can be individual and specific words that you want to use for something. Some words look bigger and others smaller, depending on what you want to stand out the most. You can make the clouds look as different as you want with with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle  are yours to use in whatever way you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle  gallery to share with your friends. If you want to do more advanced things, there are instructions for this on the website itself.

How Wordle Can Help You to Improve your English  

Let me discuss a few ways ESL students can use it . There are many, many more. In fact, all you need is an imagination to come up with new and different ways to use this to help yourself learn and remember English.

Wordle: Commonly mispelled words for ESL students
Words I Usually Spell Wrong

Sometimes it could be something as simple as words that YOU personally have trouble spelling. For example, many of my students frequently misspell the words daughter, because and favourite.  Many of them keep making the same spelling mistakes because they don't use a strategy to help themselves remember the correct spelling. Using a Wordle poster that you make yourself, and print out and paste around the house, or very visibly in notebooks can help you remember those words. The idea is to start with 15 or 20. Make sure you finally get them right all the time. Then, start another poster. 
Wordle: Personality Words
Vocabulary to describe personality


You can also use Wordle as an additional tool, or method to help you remember specific vocabulary. One of the biggest complaints my students make is that they can never remember new vocabulary. Of course, you need to use it as much as you can if you want to really learn and remember it. Using a Wordle cloud such as the one on the right helps you keep the words right in front of you - especially if you choose bright colours, and a creative layout, print it out and place it in locations where you willWordle: food
look at them, and hopefully use them as often as possible. If you look on the left, you will see Wordle poster for words you can use to describe food. You can do this synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, suffixes, new words you are trying to remember, or old words you want to review.

Wordle: Nouns

You can also use Wordle  to help yourself remember grammar rules you are having problems with. For example, here is a Wordle poster with non-count nouns that do not take "s."  I don't know about you, but many of my students still struggle with this. A Wordle poster that constantly reminds them of particular problem words like vocabulary and homework can be very useful

Although Wordle is very easy to use for basic things such as the posters I have on the page, here is set of  instructions  on how to do various advanced activities, as well as an instruction video.

Enjoy yourselves! Have fun with words! Be creative, and you might have an easier time remembering them.