Have you been struggling to understand native English speakers? This video from OnTarget English will help you recognize differences between written English and spoken English, and start improving your listening skills.
Despite what you might think, Speaking Frog has nothing to do with French people learning English; it's a site which features
videos and transcripts of speeches by famous people, past and present, real and fictional. The nice thing about the site is that the videos and transcripts are presented side by side, so that you can read the transcript, or refer to it, as you watch. Here, for instance is Barack Obama's Second Inaugural Address from January 2013.
The online magazine TeaTime-Mag gives readers access to English language and culture in the realms of business, economy, new technologies, fashion, urban life, arts, music etc. – domains in which the English-speaking world plays a pioneering role. Watch the video to find out more.
COMMENT I've only just come across the excellent TeaTime-Mag, but it's been going for at least a couple of years. As it's published twice a month, there's a big collection of articles in the archive. One thing they don't mention in the video is that there are three versions of the magazine: for speakers of French, German, and Spanish, which is great is you are ... French, German, or Spanish. It's a pity there isn't an all-English version, but even if you don't speak any of those three languages, don't be put off — there's still plenty of interesting material to read and watch in English. There's also a Teacher Edition with extra content including texts with MP3 versions, and vocabulary lists. All in all, an impressive resource — and it's free.
Is English grammar boring for you? Alfredo used to think so, but he has grown to love learning about grammar. In this video, Alfredo gives you three tips to succeed with grammar and to increase your motivation to learn grammar.
COMMENT Good advice! There's nothing more demotivating for students than having to plough through traditional grammar exercises. By the way, you can find more videos with Alfredo on the OnTargetEnglish YouTube channel.
Last week I reviewed Espresso English, a website that provides self-study learners with a wide range of resources to improve their speaking, listening, vocabulary, and grammar. I was very impressed with the site, and thought it would be interesting to contact Espresso English founder Shayna Oliveira to have some more information. Shayna kindly agreed to answer my questions ...
ENGLISH BLOG: Can you tell us a bit about your background? You're from the US originally. How did you end up in Brazil?
SHAYNA: My interest in Brazil began with capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial arts and dance that I’ve practiced for over 10 years. I had traveled to Brazil several times to train with masters of the art and learn the language and culture, and on one of those trips, I met and married my Brazilian husband. I had received a CELTA certificate in the U.S., so once I was settled in Brazil it was pretty easy to find teaching work.
ENGLISH BLOG: What's it like teaching English in Brazil?
SHAYNA: Brazilians are wonderful to work with – they tend to be warm, personable, and enthusiastic about learning English. Native-speaking ESL teachers are in high demand, and it’s common for teachers to give both group classes at English schools and private lessons to individual students. The pay is so-so: enough to get by, but it’s not easy to put away extra savings. However, the quality of life – tropical climate, delicious food, a rich culture – can’t be beat.
ENGLISH BLOG: When did you start Espresso English, and what gave you the idea?
SHAYNA: I launched Espresso English in January 2012 after noticing that many of my students – who typically had demanding jobs as well as family and social commitments – missed or canceled 30-40% of their English classes. This really hindered their progress, and they often expressed frustration at not having enough time to study.
That gave me the idea to launch a website with quick, easily understandable English lessons posted online and delivered by e-mail – so that even if students are extremely busy and only have 15 minutes of free time, they can get a daily “espresso shot” of English to continue learning and developing their skills.
ENGLISH BLOG: Do you create all the materials yourself, or do you have some help?
SHAYNA: I create all the materials myself, although I’ve gotten help from a voiceover artist in recording some dialogs.
ENGLISH BLOG: What percentage of your time is devoted to Espresso English?
SHAYNA: When the site first started, it was a side project that took about an hour a day to write each new post. Now I spend a total of about 20 hours a week creating new material, improving the existing material, and corresponding with students.
ENGLISH BLOG: What have you done to promote the site?
SHAYNA: Primarily Facebook and Google ads, as well as encouraging current visitors to share the lessons if they enjoy them.
ENGLISH BLOG: What sort of feedback have you got from users or other EFL teachers?
SHAYNA: Most of my readers are students who enjoy the clarity of the lessons and the fact that many of them are available in video, audio, and text forms. Last year, I focused quite a bit on grammar; several subscribers have requested more lessons on spoken English, listening, and vocabulary – as well as more advanced material – so I’ll be focusing on those areas going forward.
ENGLISH BLOG: You offer a lot of free materials on the site. What's the take-up like for the paid courses and ebooks?
SHAYNA: The take-up for the paid courses/e-books is small, but it’s enough to make it worthwhile. It’s great that even a small percentage of paying students can provide enough resources to fund the continuing development of both paid and free material.
ENGLISH BLOG: What are your future plans for the site?
SHAYNA: I plan to creating courses that help students with their major “pain points” in English. One of the first e-mails that new subscribers get includes the question, “What’s your biggest difficulty in learning English?” – I then create courses based on the most common answers. The next ones will likely focus on listening, pronunciation, and vocabulary.
ENGLISH BLOG: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
SHAYNA: Both my online and offline students cite listening as one of their biggest challenges – so I’d like to start an ESL podcast that focuses more on learning conversational English.
ENGLISH BLOG: Well, good luck with that; we look forward to seeing the results. And thank you for answering our questions.
I've been meaning to do a post about Espresso English for a while now, and have now finally got round to it as my students are on holiday this week.
Aimed at self-studying English learners, the Espresso English offers regularly updated short lessons on topics including Vocabulary, Business, and Pronunciation. Many of the lessons come with video or streaming audio.
The website was created by Shayna McHugh, a 28-year-old English teacher from the United States who now lives in Brazil. Here are just a few of the free resources available from Espresso English:
VERDICT Espresso English is an impressive achievement for a single teacher, and deserves to be more widely known. The videos, in particular, are very well done, although I wish the speed of delivery wasn't quite so slow on some of them. I'm adding Espresso English to my list of Top English Learning Sites (see left-hand sidebar).
I already posted something about Palabea way back in 2008 (see here), but they've launched a new version, and Palabea is now totally different. Here's what they say:
Palabea—the speaking world is the first marketplace that allows users from all over the world to learn languages and share knowledge while speaking via video chat about a topic they are really interested in!
At Palabea you can create palabeas (video chat about a topic) for free and earn money for that. You can create online lessons via video chat, upload video tutorials, organize a teaching schedule and fix a price for your palabeas.
If you want to know more about Palabea.com, please visit our Press site. There you will find a collection of our press material.
COMMENT I haven't tried the Palabea, but if you have, I'd be interested to know what you think. Please leave a comment below.
The Business of English from Australia Network is a 15-part series for intermediate to advanced English language learners which looks at the language used in everyday business situations such as meetings, presentations and negotiations. You can watch the episodes online or download them as a video podcast. Full transcripts are available for each episode.
COMMENT Each ten-minute episode features a short business sketch which is then dissected by the presenter. A fantastic resource for learners and teachers alike. Check out the Australia Network site for more English video series, including Study English, an IELTS preparation course.
English courses in Philippines thrive as overseas students enjoy combining textbooks with trips to the beach. Michaela Cabrera reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: Students from around Asia and Europe have been flocking to the Philippines to learn English. Here, language courses come with classrooms by the pool, field trips to the beach, and instructors doubling as tour guides. English proficiency schools have mushroomed across the country, with thousands of students coming not only for the affordable courses, but also for the chance to travel. French student Laura Samzun did some backpacking around the region, before starting her course work. ENGLISH-AS-SECOND-LANGUAGE STUDENT FROM FRANCE, LAURA SAMZUN: "It's less expensive to go to Philippines, to come back in France, and to pay school than to stay in France, so that's why. And, because I really wanted to see Asia, to travel." REPORTER: More than 500 schools offer language programs around the country, and one-fifth are concentrated in the sunny island province of Cebu. Most students come from South Korea, where university graduates find that high proficiency in English gives them better job prospects. The intensive language courses have also attracted English learners from Japan, China, and Europe. Capitalizing on the success, tourism officials have begun promoting the programs at travel fairs abroad, positioning the Philippines as an alternative destination to the U.S., U.K. or Australia for English learning. TOURISM DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENITO BENGZON SAYING: "It shows to the world our proficiency in English, our competitive advantage, and of course you can already mix it with the fun and enjoyable and memorable part of it." REPORTER: Both education and tourism, after all, are a practice in hospitality, where the Philippines has been known to please. Michaela Cabrera, Reuters.
COMMENT Learning a language also means learning about the culture. The beaches may not be exactly tropical in Bournemouth or Brighton (not to mention the weather), but Britain does have a rich cultural and historical heritage to offer students.
It's been a (long) while since I came across anything really new or exciting in the world of online language learning, but Duolingo looks like it could be both. And it's completely free. To find out more, read this brilliant review by Adam Costa. Also check out the fascinating TED talk by Duolingo creator Luis von Ahn.
COMMENT At the moment, English is only available for Spanish speakers. Hopefully, more language options will be added soon (English for French speakers, please!). I signed up for the German course (for English speakers) and spent about twenty minutes working my way through the beginner's level (I haven't done any German for over 30 years). I found it quite motivating, though more advanced learners might find it frustrating not being able to choose their point of entry without doing a test. If you are interested in learning a language online, you should also have a look at busuu.com, which has more language options, but is less motivating IMHO. And make sure you check out the Top ELL Sites in the menu on the left.
Among other things, the iPad is a wonderful tool for language learners. I've already posted several articles about iOS apps for learning English on The English Blog, but having recently become the proud owner of a new iPad (I had an iPod Touch before), I thought it would be fun to start another blog where I could talk exclusively about ways in which teachers and learners of English can use Apple's magical device. So, if you've got an iPad, or are thinking of getting one, head on over to iPad English (www.ipadenglish.net) and join the conversation.
I received an email from Dr. Tobias Lorenz telling me about Glovico, a Fairtrade online school where native speakers can teach their mother tongues via Skype: "... we want promote additional income opportunities in the developing world and foster intercultural dialogue. Having started out with Spanish and French last year we are currently moving into more regional languages at the moment."
COMMENT If you're a learner, the first lesson is free and there's a money-back guarantee, so you can't go wrong really. If you're a teacher, you're not going to become rich—the recommended asking price for a 55min lesson is €5 to begin, so perhaps that's why there are only two teachers offering English lessons at the moment. However, if you're not in it for the money and want to get some experience of online teaching, Glovico could be the answer.
I first came across Edulang's daily news-based English lesson service English Addicts back in May 2009 and gave it a very positive review. At the time, full membership cost a whopping 120 euros (though some lessons were available for free). Things rarely stay still in the digital world, however, and since December 2011, Edulang have been offering an annual subscription for just one euro. To be more exact, you decide how much you want to pay (so you could still pay 120 euros—or more—if you wished). Half the money goes to charity, which seems like a good way to persuade people to pay more than the strict minimum.
I still think English Addicts (see demo video here) is a great way of improving listening and reading skills, and there are now over 1500 lessons available in the archives. That should keep all you learners busy for a while.
Other Edulang applications available on a 'pay what you want' basis include the TOEFL Test Simulator and its TOEIC counterpart (which I reviewed yesterday).