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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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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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?