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Improve English fluency with the Mind Games app for Android

Mind Games (Android only) from Mindware Consulting, Inc is an app designed for improving cognition, not designed to promote language learning, but it offers a few fruitful games to improve fluency in English. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=mindware.mindgames

This post only reviews the free version, playing as a guest, not as a registered player. The app only requires limited permissions, which I like. Ads do get annoying, as they sometimes jump to half the screen size, but you can click “hide ad” to dismiss these.

A subset of these games involve high-level use of English: Speed Trivia, Vocabulary Star, Word Memory, Abstraction, and Vocabulary Power. Here is a description of these games and how you might use them to enhance your fluency in English.

Speed Trivia (unlimited play in free version) Answer questions by sorting the four mixed-up letters (or letter sequences) in the answer. Thus there is vocabulary retrieval and spelling knowledge tested. Here is an example item. “What activity other than jumping are kangaroos good at? oxi   g   n   b  → boxing.” I wish that the letter combinations were divided by syllables–it’s much harder (and probably not as productive for making sound/spelling connections and memory) to compose words with groups of letters that cross syllable boundaries. Nonetheless, this is a fun game that does involve a wide variety of vocabulary.

vocabularystarfrommindwareVocabulary Star (unlimited play in free version) Each round is three minutes. The game interface is just like Speed Trivia, but instead of a trivia question & mixed-up answer, you get a definition and a mixed-up word.  This one may be more useful for fluency if you try to think of possible answers before looking at the four sets of letters at the bottom of the screen.

Word Memory (unlimited play in free version) This game is designed to train “working memory” to hold lots of words at-the-ready. Whether it achieves that is questionable, but it is likely to be much harder to do this game in a second language, and if you can make connections between words or combine them in sentences to remember them, you may actually have a positive impact on your English fluency & vocabulary retrieval. So, you get three lists of ten words to memorize, for a total of 30. Then in the next part of the game, you see a word on your screen and have to tap a button to indicate if the word was on the lists or not. One of the words on my list the first time I played was “peen,” which I’ve never seen before, but which I remembered was on one of the lists. This helped me remember to look it up later. It’s part of the head of a hammer.

Abstraction (only available 3 times free) You see a bunch of words, and for each one, you press a button “abstract” or “concrete” to categorize the primary meaning. This is a useful vocabulary game, because it forces you to apply a binary sort on a broad variety of nouns based on their meaning, and thus can improve retrieval of those words when you need them for speaking. The game can also be helpful for grammar–when to use a/an and when is it unnecessary? Most abstract nouns are non-count, and articles work differently in English for count and non-count nouns, so this game is useful for distinguishing and remembering count and non-count nouns. (Some concrete nouns, especially those that denote substances, are also non-count, like “water.” Conversely, some abstract nouns have both a countable and an uncountable meaning: “The only thing to fear is fear itself” uses the verb and the non-count noun for a generalization, while “I have many fears about my future” uses the count noun. Many abstract nouns, in fact, have a count and a non-count version. There are also abstract ideas like “an attitude” which are countable, so this is only a tendency, not a rule). Pay attention to the suffixes (word endings) that are frequent in the abstract nouns. When you hit play, you get text instructions. There are some weird words, like “double-hung window,” which is only relevant if you need to buy a window-mounted air conditioner or buy new windows, and “propinquity,” which I’ve never had occasion to use, but most words are relatively frequent, with a combination of everyday and more academic terms. The first time I played, I scored in the 18th percentile, so don’t get discouraged.

Vocabulary Power (only available 3 times free) While this app does have solid definitions/synonyms, it’s just a multiple choice meaning matching game, and there are dozens of these out there, so nothing special. I’d play it three times and be done.

 

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For fluency–let TED Talks get you talking

TED Talks are a popular resource to learn about ideas that may transform our world. They also provide a platform for developing English fluency, vocabulary, pronunciation, listening, and more.  Let’s look at fluency, for example. Try this.

1. Watch a cool TED talk (one of the 6-minute talks if you’re in a hurry) at http://www.ted.com or with the Apple or Android TED app.

TED

2. Turn on the subtitles and watch a second time, and if you’re using the web browser version, click on any phrase to skip around the talk to parts that interest you the most.

3. Pause the video three times to ask a question. Yep. Just pretend the speaker can hear you. Ask out loud if you’re in a private space; imagine speaking your questions otherwise.  For each question, speak (or imagine speaking) a possible answer.

4. Tell a friend about the parts of the TED Talk that interested you. If there isn’t someone nearby who’d like to hear about it in English, pretend there is! Even without a real audience, speaking to an imagined audience will boost your fluency.

5. Add a comment here recommending TED Talks that others should check out. Thanks!

Video lessons on pronunciation with Rachel’s English

rachels english

The “Rachel’s English” website provides a large library of high-quality, short, and engaging videos about various features of American English pronunciation. Rachel’s explanations are clear and accurate. The videos are hosted on a YouTube channel, so playback is compatible on most devices. The “Sounds” section offers videos on specific vowel & consonant sounds. The “Pronunciation” section offers videos on intonation (be sure to scroll down the page), and on features of fast, connected speech (“linking and reduction”). Some of the “Blog” posts are also fun and useful to explore. What is your favorite video on the site?

Groovy English pronunciation activities at Okanagan College Online

Pronunciation was a popular goal in the poll we recently ran on this blog. Okanagan College has hosted this pronunciation site for quite a while, and even though the technology is a little old, the site hard to beat for creative, free, online activities for practicing clarity of specific sounds.

okanagan

Check out the tongue twisters like “It’s the right light with the glimmer in the mirror” or the great “minimal pair” activities such as those at http://international.ouc.bc.ca/pronunciation/minpair07.html, where you can test your listening accuracy to sounds that are very close.

You will need a number of plug-ins to make the site work: Adobe Shockwave, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Acrobat Reader, but there are links to all three on the front webpage. You’ll also need QuickTime for some video content. Sometimes using a different browser can help too. If you can’t get the sound interfaces to work, you can always download the .pdf “workbook” on each sound, which will give you access to almost all content.

Enjoy, and as always, get connected by leaving a comment on this site.


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MICUSPinterface

A Great Academic Writing Resource

Suppose you are writing a paper and you’re trying to refer to one of your sources. You feel like you’ve already used “according to” way too much. You could go to MICUSP, the Michigan Corpus of Undergraduate Student Papers at http://micase.elicorpora.info, for inspiration. This “corpus” (a body of texts) is a searchable collection of dozens of real student papers that received a grade of “A” at the University of Michigan. Try looking up the words according to. You’ll see 835 examples in 365 papers that you can explore by subject, assignment type, and more. As you browse examples, notice what other language is also used to reference sources. Beyond indicating references, what else do you notice about how “according to” is actually used?
Leave a comment here: what did you find useful on/about MICUSP?