Connected English

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


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“Got a minute?” Scientific American offers one every day.

Do you want to work on vocabulary, fluency, pitch range, or interpreting technical content to a lay audience?  Scientific American is a long-established magazine that publishes articles on a broad range of scientific topics for non-specialists. One of my students led me to the groovy “60-Second Science” daily audio podcast, which always starts with the question, “Got a minute?”  SAFrontPageAs I browsed the website, it quickly became clear that the Scientific American website offers a rich array of audio, video, and text articles. There are daily podcasts on “science” and then podcasts grouped by various broad topics within science, such as “the mind” or “technology.”

The search interface on the website is very nice, allowing users to refine a search by time period, by genre (podcast, video, article, etc.) or by broad topic area. In the app version (podcasts only), it appears that one can browse by broad topic area, but cannot search on keywords.

Because the content is intended for non-specialists, these brief pieces provide a great model of vocabulary and turns of phrase that allow us to explain technical content to friends, family, potential funders, policy-makers, administrators, managers, and students.

Articulation is crisp and clear, which makes for easier listening comprehension than one might find in less polished audio.

In the free app version (for podcasts only) and when you click on the title of a podcast on the website version, you’ll see a transcript, allowing you to grab phrases that might be hard to catch when just listening alone, and making it possible to speak along with the original to practice clear articulation and smooth delivery.

SATranscriptTo work on vocabulary, you might want to note down words or turns of phrase that seem useful in any one of the podcasts, and then maintain and practice them in a vocabulary.com wordlist (free account needed) or by using a free phone app like gFlash+ that lets you easily set up flashcards with your own content on your smart phone–even flashcards with more than two sides! This particular app (not related in any way to Scientific American) is available for Android, iPhone and iPad, Nooks, and at the Amazon.com App Store.

Another way to use the Scientific American site or podcast app to work on fluency is to search on a term of interest to you, listen to a couple of podcasts and read a short article, and then imagine what you’d say to tell someone in English about this content, synthesizing all three together. Practicing out loud even if you don’t have a real audience is helpful for fluency & solidifying new vocabulary.

There is one disappointment among the Scientific American resources. I wish that audio podcasts would provide an accurate model of intonation one might use in a conversation or presentation when not reading from notes, but intonation is typical of material read aloud by a dynamic speaker. These intonation patterns are certainly appropriate for the solo audio podcast genre, just not very helpful for types of speaking when others are physically present. Nonetheless, if you feel like your intonation in English is somewhat “flat,” it may be useful to imitate the original speakers’ intonation in order to explore a wider pitch range, because the intonation in the podcasts is quite expressive among both male and female speakers.


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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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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?