Connected English

Get connected—English language learning websites, apps, and ideas at your fingertips


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Humor, idioms, fluency, and … science?

Sandra Tsing Loh hosts a 90-second radio show called the “Loh Down on Science” http://www.lohdownonscience.org/–the show is dedicated to finding humorous ways to introduce the general public to interesting science. Every episode is transcribed with about 95% accuracy. lohdownonscienceYou can work on fluency in two ways:
1. Practice telling someone else in English what you heard about. Speak and/or write without looking at the transcript. Even better, actually tell someone else, by speaking or in an email.
2. Figure out what’s intended to be funny in the episode you listen to. Often, the humor is a “play on words,” or two different meanings of the same phrase. The title of the website is an example: Sandra Tsing Loh is the name of the scientist/writer/performer who leads the site, and “the low down” means the real information about something.
3. Look up an idiom that you find in the episode, by putting the idiom in quote marks ” ” followed by the word definition in your favorite search engine. For example, in an episode  about babies in utero learning which syllables are meaningful in the language of the grownups around them, Loh said “watch your language, parents.” I looked up “watch your language” definition. This gave me multiple views of definitions and related idioms, and let me explore which idiom and dictionary sites I liked.watchyourlanguagedefinition

The Loh Down on Science website isn’t very easy to navigate, but if you click on “FUN CONTENT TROLLER” you can see a list of categories, or if you find the tiny VIEW ALL button in the middle of the left-margin frame, you can see a chronological listing of over 1,800 episodes. To search for topics that interest you, you can use the search box at the top of the page.

When you find an episode that interests you, you can just click the play button to hear it with no transcript, or you can click on the title of the episode to get to the transcript and play the episode too.

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Loads of free advanced English practice activities and tips on one website

L’Université de Franche-Comté in Besançon, France has a prominent “Applied Linguistics” program. Part of the way this program shares its expertise on language learning with the world is to host “English Online France” http://eolf.univ-fcomte.fr, a website with dozens of free interactive games, exercises, and tips for learning English independently. Most of the instructions and menus are in English, which enables advanced English learners from any language background to use the site.

new york minute on franche-comteI especially like the movie trailer dictation exercises under “ESL/EFL Listening Exercises.” Movie trailers contain a lot of dialogue, place names, and slang. You can watch your selected trailer as much as you like, and you can type any word you hear–if you’re right, the word is completed in the text and you win a point.

For these, a QuickTime plugin for your browser is needed, and it works much better in Firefox than in Chrome or Safari. If you test it in Explorer, you can leave a comment here telling us all how it worked.


billie holiday franche comte

In the Reading section, there are some nice activities that model things you could recreate–mixing up the sentences in an abstract in an academic research article, and then putting them back together, as a means of internalizing the structure of research articles. There are a variety of fun “interactive reading” exercises, where you guess the next few words of a reading from among three choices, which rehearses prediction, grammar, and collocations (which words sound right together).

 

Many of the pronunciation exercises are excellent. Influenced by the Silent Way method of teaching language, users are left to intuit rules from the patterns and tasks they observe and experience. The pronunciation tasks are well-designed to reveal patterns of stress, intonation, voicing, and more.

Most of the grammar exercises seem pretty easy (or are hard without explanation of the rationale behind answers), but some are both challenging and valuable practice, such as the “ESL/EFL Making Questions Exercises.” Note the asterisks (*) denoting level of difficulty, and go for two or three stars.

What activities did you try on this site? Which ones do you recommend? Leave a comment with your advice.


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My favorite vocabulary & dictionary site/game

The terrific website Vocabulary.com has been out for several years now, and it just keeps getting better. This is a product of Thinkmap, the group that created Visual Thesaurus (the free sections of which will be discussed in a future post).

cell biology vocab.com list

Text (of definitions) from Vocabulary.com (http://www.vocabulary.com), Copyright ©1998-2013 Thinkmap, Inc. All rights reserved.

You might call it a dictionary with witty definitions. You might call it an advanced vocabulary game that can quiz you on up to thousands of words by definition, example usage, and spelling, and keep track of which ones you’ve mastered. You might call it a massive database of real examples of how words and phrases are actually used. You might call it a way to learn all the forms of a word and their relative frequencies of use in English. You might call it a resource full of useful wordlists that you can bookmark & learn. You might call it a great place to make your own vocabulary lists and quiz yourself on them.

For now, there are no ads, and signing up for an account is free.

Try these steps–then share a link to your wordlist here in a comment.
1. Create a free account and let the system quiz you a little bit—you’ll see it quickly adapt to your vocabulary knowledge.
2. Go to “VOCABULARY LISTS” and click “CREATE NEW LIST.”
3. Give your new list a title, click on the “shared” radio button, and click on Enter words “from text.”
4. Paste in a text with challenging vocabulary for you: nytimes.com and npr.org are good resources for this step.
5. Click the green “GRAB VOCAB” button.
6. Select the offered words that are of interest to you
7. Click the blue “SAVE LIST” button.
8. You’ll now see your list! from here, click “edit” to change definitions, add notes, and select example usage from a database of dozens of recently published articles. You can also click on any word in your list to learn a lot more about it and to see oodles of examples.
9. At any time, click the “LEARN THIS LIST” tab to be quizzed on your words.
10. Come back to this blog post and comment with a link to your cool new vocabulary list!

You might also find the https://www.vocabulary.com/howitworks page helpful. There is a good FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page too.


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Pick up slang, idioms, and fast spoken English on the YouTube “React” series

A little bit of lighthearted fun this week for listening to fast, fluent English and for expanding one’s casual, social vocabulary. A prolific YouTube channel, Fine Brothers Productions, http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL23C220A2C5EC0FDE, produces quite a bit of content reacting to other content–and the Teens React To X series is a great demonstration of everyday English, expression of opinions, fast speech, slang, idioms, and body language.
teensreacttohappywheels
The speech is fast enough that the auto-subtitle feature in YouTube doesn’t work at all for these videos. But, since it’s YouTube, you can replay any part as often as you like.

Which one is your favorite video in this large collection? Leave a comment with your recommendations.