Connected English

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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.


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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.