Connected English

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Language for Specific Academic Purposes

Andy Gillett’s UEFAP site, Using English for Academic Purposes, supported by BALEAP (the British Association of Lecturers in EAP) offers a deep set of resources for academic communication in all skill areas. The best segments of the site offer an introduction, strategic advice and practice exercises, and sample phrases for very specific communicative purposes. The advice given is solid, well-researched, and clearly explained.

UEFAPlisteningFrom the front page, users can navigate to sub-sections of the site based on skill area.  For example, in the Listening subsection, one can try out advice on listening strategies with a wide range of audio samples, playable in a wider

 

 

 

 
UEFAPreading

Sometimes, the best content is buried in unexpected places. In the Reading section of the website, for example, content may seem a bit sparse, but if you happen to click on the keyword “Efficient” in the left vertical frame, you land on a well-developed sequence of advice, models, exercises, and tests on strategies for efficient reading.

 

UEFAPspeakingintrophrasesThe Presentation-Language topic in the Speaking section of the site includes a useful list of phrases for each moment in a typical academic presentation, including the dreaded Q & A. The Groupwork topic in the Speaking section offers myriad phrases for language functions that might come in handy in discussion or collaboration contexts. Unfortunately, none of the phrases are contextualized, so information about use and frequency is absent.

 

 

 

UEFAPvocabularyIn the Vocabulary section of the site, there is an extensive and well-explained piece on word roots, prefixes, and suffixes. One can access lots of academic word lists here too.

UEFAPwriting

The Writing section is the most extensive, with many more topics listed. I have found the “Reporting” topic particularly helpful to students in exploring strategies for paraphrasing and summarizing source texts.

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Academic vocabulary and writing practice

Happy New Year! Sometimes, a gift arrives by email. I received one just before the new year: a link to Reading and Writing Tools for Academic English, a site designed by Eoin Jordan and Andy Snyder, instructors at  Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.

This ad-free site offers a suite of nifty tools, games, and practice for academic reading, writing, and vocabulary.readingwritingtoolsAWLtest Let’s start with vocabulary. A quiz with a simple interface asks you to select words for which you know at least one definition, and then reports your probable vocabulary size (measured by the number of “word families” you likely know (e.g. “identity, identify, identification” would belong to one word family)). The quiz includes nonsense words on every page, which is fun. At the end, the results page points out words words you did not recognize at each level of the first 9,000 most common word families in written English. (I’m not sure what corpora this determination of word frequencies is based on.) The test generates a random list each time, so you can repeat the test multiple times. One version of the quiz focuses exclusively on Averil Coxhead’s (2002) Academic Word List (AWL), which is a collection of 570 word families identified as much more common in a corpus of academic texts than in other types of writing such as popular journalism or fiction.

When you explore the reading tools, the most interesting is Reading Mate. You copy in a text and get a markup of words that likely exceed your vocabulary knowledge (as measured by the first quiz), and an analysis of proper nouns, text readability, and more. While the highlighting doesn’t link to definitions or other example usage of highlighted words, it may reveal words that would be useful to look up (or that you see you can ignore and still get what you want from reading the text.) One objective of Reading Mate is to help you select texts that are at your independent reading level; this might be a helpful way to screen a novel or magazine you’d like to read for pleasure, for example (if you can find an excerpt electronically somewhere).

Under writing tools, thesisstatementtutorI don’t recommend the Thesis Statement Tutor for graduate and advanced undergraduate student writers, since it seems to produce overly formulaic thesis statements. Nonetheless, you may find this a useful way to force yourself to think through your purpose and organization of a piece of writing.

 

I do think that there are some ways in which the writing tool Marking Mate is useful. report detailsYou input a text you’ve written and get feedback through an automated text analyzer. Then Report Details provides feedback on academic style and grammatical accuracy. You may be able to find some grammar issues this way, and may be able to identify ways in which a text might sound too informal. Rather than seeing this tool as a sure-fire way to proofread your writing, consider it instead a diagnostic tool that can identify some potential areas for ongoing language improvement. Quite a few instances of unclear wording in my sample text were not identified by this tool. Nonetheless, the prevalence of informal expressions and the types of grammar errors found were spot-on. A nice bonus in Marking Mate is a set of links to advice on the topics identified for further work, and even some additional practice activities. Just click on underlined text in the Report Details.

Finally, I really recommend the Sentence Error Correction Game. sentence error correctionIt’s hard! You’re given a context in which a sentence is (poorly) written. You’re given blanks that indicate a paraphrased, formal, accurate rewritten version of that sentence. Your job is to guess what words might be in those blanks. It’s easy to lose, but after losing, you get to try the same sentence again. It took me three tries to figure out the first one. I think that the greatest value in this activity is in cultivating the ability to paraphrase an idea in formal written English. sentence error correction 2Even if the paraphrase you try isn’t what the game is looking for, the act of trying will expand your fluency and access to your vocabulary.

This site was a delight to discover. I hope that such gifts are sprinkled throughout your new year. Keep sending in your ideas for sites and apps that the University of Michigan English Language Institute can review here.


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Extraordinary academic English learning website

Monash University in Australia hosts an academic English language self-study website, Language and Learning Online, with vast breadth and depth in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and grammar.

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The challenge may be in deciding where to start. If you’d like an overview of everything offered, the site map may be helpful. The site is indexed not just by skill area. If you check out one of the Guides
on the left frame of the page, you can find resources organized by academic discipline (e.g. Medicine or Sociology) and by level (e.g. undergraduate or PhD). Searching the Resource Finder by exercise type today, I found 278 different interactive online exercises.  The site provides an excellent overview of writing genres in a variety of academic subject areas.

I particularly like the treatment of academic reading. Here is an example exercise that gives the user an opportunity to practice locating the specific definition of important terminology in an academic book or paper.

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What section of the Monash site did you find useful. Reply with your comment here!


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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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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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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?