A web site for the developing language teacher

NOVEMBER 2008 - issue 11/08


Welcome to the November Newsletter.


6. PS - Internet/computer-related links


1. Hello

A couple of short articles to begin:

Oxford Researchers List Top 10 Most Annoying Phrases

Not all University of Oxford researchers are uptight and humorless, "irregardless" of what you might think. In fact, a bunch of them compiled a list of the Top 10 Most Irritating Expressions in the English language -- just because we needed one.

Though maybe "you could care less," the scholars in question keep track of linguistic mangling and overused buzzwords in a database called the Oxford University Corpus. The voluminous record keeps track of books, magazines, broadcast, online media and other sources, watching for new overused, tiresome phrases and retiring those that fade from use (or misuse).

The great hierarchy of verbal fatigue includes:

1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

The list appears in a new book, Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, by Jeremy Butterfield. Since it's always possible for the Oxford brainiacs to "borrow you" space on the list for your own complaints, you're invited to offer your favorite overused or abused phrases in the comments section below.

As for this Oxford-educated reporter (that's my scarf over there), I'm going to include the examples I already seeded into this report -- and the internet buzzword "snarky," because "sarcastic" is good enough to get that job done (if that's not being too snarky).


Why Some People Have A Better Head For Languages

ScienceDaily (Oct. 26, 2008) — Learning a second language is usually difficult and often when we speak it we cannot disguise our origin or accent. However, there are important differences between individuals with regard to the degree to which a second language is mastered, even for people who have lived in a bilingual environment since childhood.

Members of the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group (GRNC) linked to the Barcelona Science Park, have studied these differences. By comparing people who are able to perceive a second language as if they were native speakers of that language with people who find it very difficult to do so, they have observed that the former group is also better at distinguishing the sounds of their own native language. However, there is no difference between the two groups when they hear sounds that do not form part of the language.

The results of this research, “are very promising for predicting an individual’s aptitude for learning languages and could be useful for designing strategic protocols and programs that optimize successful learning outcomes", explains Begoña Díaz of the GRNC, one of the authors of the study, together with Albert Costa and Núria Sebastián from the Department of Basic Psychology in the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Barcelona (UB), who also form part of the GRNC. The researchers Carles Escera, from the Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology at the UB, and Cristina Baus, from the Department of Cognitive Psychology in the Faculty of Psychology of the University of La Laguna (Tenerife) also worked on the study.

In order to study individual differences in the perception of speech, the authors of the research evaluated the perceptive abilities of 126 university students born in the Barcelona area, who came from families that only speak Spanish and who therefore learned Catalan when they started compulsory schooling. Thus all of them were born and brought up, and lived in a bilingual environment. This population is ideal for the study as Catalan has some vowel sounds that most native Spanish speakers find particularly difficult to perceive.

From the initial cohort, 31 people were selected who corresponded to two different groups: the most and the least successful when it came to perceiving the sounds of the second language (Catalan). The ability of the brain to register differences when faced with audio stimuli was measured for these 31 individuals. To do this, the electrophysiological response of their brains to different sounds was recorded and the amplitude of an electrical wave called the mismatch potential was calculated. Since the amplitude of this wave increases with the increasing ability of the brain to register an auditory change, comparing the amplitude of the mismatch potential between the different groups allows us to establish whether there are differences in auditory processing.

In order to assess the subjects’ general auditory capacity (non-linguistic) all 31 of the selected participants listened to tones composed of different frequencies, of different lengths and which were ordered differently. Linguistic auditory capacity was measured by exposure to vowel sounds in the mother tongue (Spanish) and to vowel sounds in a language that was unknown to the participants (Finnish). The results showed similar amplitudes of the mismatch potential for the two groups when the participants listened to sounds that were not from their language. In contrast, when they heard sounds from their own language (Spanish) the amplitude of the wave was significantly larger for those individuals who perceive the second language (Catalan) better.

“Therefore, these results show that there is a positive correlation between specific speech discrimination abilities and the ability to learn a second language, which means that the individual ability to distinguish the specific phonemes of the language, both in the case of the mother tongue and in the case of other languages, is, without a doubt, a decisive factor in the learning process, and the ability to speak and master other languages,” concludes Begoña Díaz.


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Lesson plans, activities & articles are very welcome. Send them to


Unit 9 & 10 of Michael Berman's upper intermediate business course is now available for download at:


Download Tony Buzan's iMindMap. Try it out & see how efficient it can make you.


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Happy teaching!


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The New Michigan ECPE Speaking Test by Michael Reid

In June 2009 a completely new format for the University of Michigan ECPE speaking test will come on line. The older one-on-one interview consisting of little more than personal introductions and a topic discussion is to be ditched in favour of a more complex five-stage activity involving two candidates and two examiners which will last for between 25 and 35 minutes. For both students and teachers this poses a range of challenges. Here we want to review the different stages of the new speaking test and highlight some of the points that teachers and students will have to bear in mind.

Stage 1: Introductions and Small Talk (3 to 5 minutes)

The first stage is a familiar conversation about the students' lives, but with two twists, both of which appear in the following sentence from the official guidelines: "Candidates are expected to actively participate in the conversation by providing expanded responses and also by asking each other and [the] examiner questions."

The first twist – the demand that students ask each other questions – shouldn't be too difficult to deal with. As a guideline for students, the following formula springs to mind as a good one to follow: the interviewer asks Student A (let's call her Nafsica) a question, Nafsica answers it while Student B (let's call him Angelos) listens attentively and then asks Nafsica a question that will prompt her to expand her original answer.

The second twist is a twist of a completely different magnitude. The expectation that the candidates ask the examiner questions is a much more radical break with received ideas about the proper role of the interviewee. Unfortunately the Michigan web site does not state clearly where the new line of propriety is to be drawn. One imagines that the interviewees are not supposed to turn the tables on the examiners and begin grilling them about their free time activities and professional ambitions. Instead, if Angelos is asked about his hobbies and begins to talk about his passion for bird watching and the fact that he has recently seen some hoopoes on the grassy knoll beyond the boundaries of the city, he might then ask the examiner if she has ever seen a hoopoe or felt the joy of seeing such a rare bird for the first time after long days spent motionless and silent in a hideout.

Students will have to practise coming up with simple questions that examiners can answer briefly. This will enable them to fulfil their new role while also allowing the examiners to fulfil their obligation to keep their contribution to the conversation to a minimum.

Stage 2: Summarizing and Recommending (5-7 minutes)

After three to five minutes the initial "small talk" comes to an end and the new four-stage oral activity begins. In its essence the activity is all too familiar: discussing four options in order to come to an agreement about the most preferable. But in the new ECPE speaking test this familiar idea attains a new level of complexity.

The example task given on the Michigan web site involves choosing between four candidates for the post of high school science teacher. Each student is given a sheet of paper with brief notes about two of the four candidates.

Here we reprint one of the sample sheets on the web site.

Candidate 2 Information Sheet
Hiring A High School Science Teacher

Jessica Peters
The following is a list of some of Ms. Peters' personal characteristics and comments made by her co-workers.
4 years experience as laboratory technician
Recently graduated with science teaching certification
2003 "Employee of the Year" Award
Good presentation skills
Experience with newest technology
No experience with high school students

Robert Barton
The following is a list of some of Mr. Barton's personal characteristics and comments made by students and teachers at your school.
20 years teaching English at your school
Conducts training courses for teachers
Also qualified to teach science
Interesting classroom lessons
Organizes many field trips
Doesn't stay after school to help students

To view the remainder of the article:


Teaching negotiations by Dr. Piotr Jednaszewski

Teaching negotiations can be compared to teaching communication, that is developing such abilities as: speaking and listening - understanding a foreign language. It could be said that negotiations are just more goal orientated forms of communication.

Even the best prepared negotiators with regard to product and company presentation in all assumed and pre-assessed aspects of further international talks can fail through the lack of understanding the other party. The following is my definition of understanding based on research, talks with EFL teachers and negotiations with people from over 40 different countries all over the globe.

Understanding is based on the ability to follow and remember in the logically and individually organized way the heard pattern of symbols, words and phrases, in other words - all that is planned to be conveyed by the speaker. In short, understanding is based on the ability to link the received information logically.

On the contrary, misunderstanding comes with the lack of or inefficiency of such ability regardless of the source. Whereas the source may come from such factors as: false analysis and interpretation, personal over or underestimation of presented information and much less trivial factors like lack of understanding vocabulary, phrases, idioms or certain cultural or socio-cultural aspects deeply engraved in different societies all over the globe.

We teachers and lecturers of English as a foreign language negotiate with our students their engagement in different language projects, communication games and preparing them for final exams. We do also make them aware of English phrases and idioms, colloquial expressions and English culture. Hence how many of us realize that those well trained students might find it difficult to negotiate while meeting people from utterly different cultures, for whom understanding the same language. English, is more than a platform to convey words and ideas.

To view the remainder of the article:



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6 minute English - listenings from the BBC World Service

If you want to get your students reading outside of class, check out the ELT Graphic Novels from They are Classic Comics of some classic literature - Macbeth, Frankenstein, Great Expectations are some of the titles. Beautifully produced. We hope to run a review of them shortly.
Your students can use this to help them remember vocabulary through images.

'Critical Literacy in ELT Project Newsletter has just been published online and it brings you articles written by ELT professionals from Brazil, Argentina and Peru about their experiences with critical literacy in their professional contexts.'
'We are a group of ESL teachers who have recently built a website aimed at exploring the implications of English language teaching on a global level. We would like to inform your members about our activities as perhaps some would be interested in our work. Here is an overview of what we are doing:
"We live in a global village, and English is quickly becoming the most widely used language on the planet. The existence of a dominant global language is unprecedented in world history. Are you an ESL teacher, or thinking about becoming one? Do you have an interest in culture and language? If so, check out, a website that focuses on current issues surrounding the global ESL teaching industry. Everyone has a voice in our forums. Visit us and share your experiences, journeys and even your visions for learning and teaching ESL.
We believe that the manner in which English is taught around the world often serves to perpetuate inequality and power disparities between both people and countries, and are aware of the fact that few of us think deeply about this. We also know that this situation does not need to continue. We feel that the teaching and learning of English can foster greater equality and be a progressive force in our world. We hope that through this site teachers and students of English from around the world can meet together to learn about the implications of the current practice of English teaching. Through reflective and collaborative discussion, we hope to foster the development of an increased awareness of our actions as teachers of English, both globally and locally."
This site is dedicated to the dissemination of TESOL-based research by linking the work of academics to teachers, teacher-trainers, teacher-trainees, English Language Teaching (ELT) decision-makers and researchers. The primary aim of the site is to provide a forum for people to discuss how their research, or an aspect of it, impacts on language pedagogy.
Interesting word game.

If you've visited a site that you think would be beneficial for all or would ike your site to appear here, please get in touch. Thanks.

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A few days, among many, to plan your lessons around in October & November:

5th - Bonfire Night
7th - Marie Curie's birth 1867
11th - Remembrance Day
16th - International Day for Tolerance
17th - World Peace Day
20th - Universal Children's Day - UN
25th - Eid Al Fitr
28th - Buy Nothing Day (varies)
30th - St Andrew's Day, Scotland
US Thanksgiving Day - 4th Thurs. in month.
Buy Nothing Day in US - day after Thanksgiving.

1st - World Aids Day
7th - Pearl Harbour Day
21st - Winter Solstice (& June 21st)
World Peace Day
24th - Christmas Eve
25th - Christmas Day
Xmas in general:
26th - Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa lesson plan:
Boxing Day
31st - New Year's Eve
Tolerance Week - 1st week of Dec.
International Language Week

To see the list of Days:

Wikipedia's excellent focus on days of the year:

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We set it all up for you & you provide the courses. You don't need to provide the actual course, this can simply be an online presence, a way of keeping in touch with your students, a meeting place with individuals or whole classes, an extension of your lessons.

We like it so much that we run our own online development courses at Developing with Moodle. For more information:

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6. PS – General internet/computer-related links

A few computer use rules of thumb:

- make copies of all
- important files
- run scan disk & then defragment the hard drive
- use firewall software - use a virus scan & update the files every week
- install security patches that software providers offer
- update your DirectX files regularly
- don't open attachments without scanning for viruses first
- don't respond to spam
- just delete & forget
- don't send personal or bank information by email
- turn off your computer at night
100 Useful, Free Web Tools for Lifelong Learners
Some lovely photos of Obama & family on election night - maybe use in class.
Martindale's - the reference desk
Excellent Firfox plugin to see what's going on in the world 3D.

'50 websites you'll wonder how you lived without - Essential sites to add to your bookmarks today'
1000 artworks to see before you die
'Tthe sessions are all about great music and the venue strips this to its essence. We aren't picky about genre and will happily open the cab door to anyone who blows us away.' blowing-will-sell-

Slow motion lightning video.
270+ Tools for Running a Business Online
Maybe Vista isn't as bad as it's made out to be.,39029471,49299033,00.htm
The 50 most significant moments of Internet history.
Fly over the mountains.
'Oosah is a Web-based digital media content hosting and management system. Oosah provides individuals and businesses with an all-in-one service for uploading, hosting, managing and sharing their digital media assets. Members can also use Oosah to create new media assets in the form of multimedia presentations that we call "oosahs."
Basic Oosah membership is free. A basic account provides a user with a predefined amount of storage space for their content. Currently this amount is 1 terabyte.'
Fantastic contraption game.
Computer messages I can understand.
Different car ad.
Font Conference - video.
Free AVG anti-spyware prog.
Free Zone Alarm firewall prog.
Get rid of those paid anti-virus & firewall programmes, including Windows firewall, that bog down so much of your system.
Quickly memorise where the numbers are & then identify them from lower to higher.
'JkDefrag is a (free) disk defragmenter and optimizer for Windows 2000/2003/XP/Vista/2008/X64. Completely automatic and very easy to use, fast, low overhead, with several optimization strategies, and can handle floppies, USB disks, memory sticks, and anything else that looks like a disk to Windows.'
A tech guy's problems - video.
Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino together - video.
Convert files online.
Paper fold-up toys - print & make.

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