Connected English

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


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Funky English online community

What does “funky” mean?  According to vocabulary.com, it can mean “offensively malodorous” or “stylish and modern in an unconventional way.”

funkyenglishfrontpageFunky English at http://www.funkyenglish.com appears to embrace the second definition by developing an online social community for English language learning. Ironically, however, language instruction itself on the site is quite traditional and conventional. Nonetheless, Funky English may be a useful practice site for individuals who would enjoy participating in online forums on everyday life English usage with teachers and students of English.

Since Funky English (FE) is designed as a social networking space for individuals interested in learning or teaching English, it includes “Friends,” “Groups,” each user’s profile page, “Blogs,” and “Forums.” FE also offers a limited number of traditional English lesson topics, but the real value here again is generated in the comment threads that follow each lesson, vocabulary entry, or grammar point. Membership and access to all parts of the site are free.

Recommended sections of the site

forumdropdownThe Forum discussions may be the strongest feature of this site. Some popular discussions are launched by “English Teacher Jamie,” but other lively discussions are started by users of the site. The conversations are full of good tips on language learning, a variety of insights into cultures around the world, and ideas about ways to improve one’s English. The “Ask a Question” Forum promises that one can pose a question about English and get answers. Existing questions can be viewed too, and range from questions about surprising usage in political speeches to the meaning & usage of different members of a word family, e.g. “glorious day” vs. “glory days.”

FEBlogsThe Blogs tool is an interesting way to capitalize on the participatory FE student community. Members of FE can create blogs, and may generate quite a bit of conversation about what they post. Most of the comments seem to be good-natured and polite, so this may be a comfortable environment in which to strengthen one’s English fluency and explore one’s writing voice by starting a blog.

 

 

The Videos section is designed to encourage English listening and pronunciation practice through karaoke. This page features several hundred Ycan and can'touTube, Vimeo, and other publicly available lyrics videos. There are also a few instructional videos culled from YouTube and other sources. By looking at an instructional video, one can follow the “related videos” links for songs with lyrics that match words in the instructional video title, e.g. the word “can’t.”

The “Lessons: Idioms” section has a short set of idioms–the listing for each idiom does provide some useful information about collocates–words that tend to be used with that idiom, e.g. “head into” + choppy waters, and listings explain situations where that idiom would be used. There is not information, however, about how frequent or how up to date an idiom is, so there are a few such as “chin wag” that are a bit out of date.  The value in the FE context is the number of users who leave messages for each other and for English Teacher Jamie, which comprise a conversation about each word, with more usage examples and discussion of usage topics.bookwormcomments The responses to the idiom “bookworm,” for example, led into a conversation about good books to read in English. This conversation-by-commenting is one of the real strengths of the Funky English platform.

The “Lessons: Phrasal Verbs” section also features lively discussions, with some contributors adding cartoons and usage examples from Facebook. The phrasal verbs featured comprise only a very small subset of phrasal verbs in high-frequency use in spoken English. Phrasal verbs often pattern differently in different speech communities: it appears that the usage in the FE community is mainly British, so those in other English speaking contexts might want to “ask around” before adopting a phrasal verb from the site. An example is “break up,” which according to FE, can mean ending a romantic relationship, and can mean ending classes in a university over a holiday break. The latter meaning wouldn’t be meaningful in many English-speaking communities. Instead, “the University went on break” would be more appropriate in the Midwest in the United States, for example. Such variants are not comprehensively provided by Funky English.

The “Quizzes: English in Use” section offers “situational dialogues.” Each “dialogue” only suggests a situation in which to choose how to word a response, but engages the user in thinking through appropriate language usage in responding to that prompt. Again, the format is multiple choice.situationaldialogue

The “Chat” function available on the Home page in FE enables users to text-chat in real time, which could be quite helpful for developing greater fluency. Relative to other social media platforms, however, the number of FE users online at any given time may be small, so sometimes there aren’t enough people online to get a chat going.

Overall, Funky English capitalizes well on the text-based features of social network platforms, and provides a comfortable, encouraging space in which to practice English through participation in comment threads, forums, and chat rooms.

 


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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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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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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.

 

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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