We all know what it is like to learn English in a traditional way. Usually, we pack our bags, get dressed and attend the classes in person. For us, being physically present in class is still very important for the English learning process.
Debido a la situación que se está viviendo a nivel mundial, muchas universidades, colegios y escuelas de idiomas entre otros, se han visto obligados a cambiar su forma de enseñar a través de las clases online.
Extensive reading – what is it?
Well, it’s like intensive reading: intensive reading for English classes or finding answers for your YES / NO /NOT GIVEN questions in IELTS, but for fun! Extensive reading is reading something that you enjoy or are interested in and lots of it; extensive reading is just reading, and it should be for enjoyment, interest or pleasure.
Reading is a mental activity as opposed to TV which is not; TV is purely visual (although TV is good for listening comprehension and pronunciation among other things, but that’s another story).
Everyone including those of us learning a second language can benefit from extensive reading. Carrel and Grabe (2010) argue that language learners can improve their comprehension and vocabulary by doing a little extensive reading. According to Julian Bamford and Richard Day (in Kreuzova 2019) you should read as much as you can on a variety of topics that you have chosen; the materials should be easily understandable to you from books, newspapers and magazines.
Extensive reading is moving away from the intensive reading of answer identification in your Cambridge, TOEFL or IELTS exams, and the reading skills of skimming and scanning toward a more relaxed form of reading; the kind of reading you do on the sofa because you want to, because there is nothing on TV or there’s nothing on your streaming service worth watching. So, think about what you like to read; are you interested in reading about what English-language newspapers say about your country or region; are you interested in learning about your own country’s history from another perspective? Like cooking? Read a few recipes? Remind yourself, what do you like reading in your own language: try reading the same in English.
I was surprised when I started to learn about British history from the Spanish and Argentinians. I never knew the British invaded Buenos Aries in the nineteenth century. I never knew the Dutch sailed up the Themes and stole the English flagship. It has also been suggested that extensive reading helps in examination results, make them more aware of the grammar when they are reading, increase a learner’s reading proficiency and by extension their vocabulary learning (Prowse, 2000) and (Liu and Zhang 2018).
There are other beneficial effects. It is generally believed that reading develops your concentration. When you’re watching TV, you’re probably doing something else: chatting, eating, doing your nails, interacting with social media, but reading, well reading is a different matter.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love binge-watching The Man in the High Castle on a lazy Saturday afternoon trying to forget work. With a book, you need to concentrate and focus on what is written and everything that it implies. Which brings me to another thing reading improves: your imagination. You can lose yourself in a character or situation, imagining yourself in their situation. Imagine yourself as a different person or asking yourself what you would do in such a situation.
In turn, reading is a good de-stressor; you are more likely to read when you’re in a quiet room, with no TV and oblivious to the world outside and exercising the most important organ in your body – your brain. So, while you are doing whatever you are doing like channel hoping, you are not using your imagination. We switch off our imaginations, but with a book we use our imaginations to a greater extent. Reading enhances your verbal skills; TV is visually-based media and normally uses short and simple sentences whereas books contain complex language more than you would find on TV or in a streaming service. This means using a greater range of vocabulary, longer sentences and more complex sentences; you can become aware of punctuation. So, go and borrow a graded reader from your school’s resource centre, borrow a book from the city library or read some on-line articles in magazines or newspapers on-line.
by Chris Scott, March 2020
Carrel, Patricia. L., and Grabe, W. (2010). Reading. In: N. Schmitt, ed., Applied Linguistics, 2nd London: Hodder Education, Page 215- 229.
Sarka Kreuzova 17 July 2019, Encouraging Extensive Reading, English Teaching Professional (1 09), viewed 31 December 2019, < https://www.etprofessional.com/encouraging-extensive-reading >.
Philip Prowse (2000), The secret of reading, English Teaching Professional, (13), viewed 2 January,2020, < https://www.etprofessional.com/the-secret-of-reading >
Liu. J., and Zhang. J., (2018). ‘The Effects of Extensive Reading on English Vocabulary Learning: A Meta-analysis ‘, English Language Teaching; Vol. 11, No. 6; 2018, viewed 2 January 2020, < https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1179114.pdf >
When we listen to something, it often goes in one ear and out the other – as the popular English idiomatic expression goes, or it falls on deaf ears, but that shouldn’t happen if you want to improve your listening skills; you should be all ears.
Ears – ears are important; they are our auditory apparatus attuned to sound waves created by the vocal cords of others; our ears pick up sound waves; the ear transforms these waves into intelligible signals that our brains can understand.
Listening for communication is to understand the spoken word; as students need to understand what speech is; sentence intonation and stress that maybe focusing on specific information and interpreting the context and topic – stress, intonation, rhythm and the paralinguistic features such as intonation or volume loudness. A familiar cry from us all when doing a listening exercise in a language class is ‘I don’t understand’.
Normally, in a teaching class where you are leaning the language, as opposed to exam orientation and familiarization, your teacher will play the recording at least twice maybe more using one or more activities; you may even have the transcript to help you.
But why is listening a problem? Is it you? Is it the quality of the recording? Is it noise pollution from elsewhere in the school or from the traffic outside? Are the accents of the speakers strange or unintelligible? Is the recording not being played enough times? Are the speakers talking too fast?
A lot of the listening comprehension problems stem from unfamiliarity with a speaker’s accent; their speed of delivery, idiomatic language and perhaps most importantly from technical elements of pronunciation that the listeners, us the students, haven’t been acquainted with such as pronunciation, recognising contractions, understanding the reduction and blending of sentences at word or cluster level; the adding of extra sounds in rapid conversation between words and the many English words where we don’t pronounce all the syllables or sounds, for example chocolate where it is pronounced choc-late.
There are also may words that sound the same in rapid speech; words that sound almost the same ‘cab’ and ‘cap’, ‘sheep’ and ‘ship’. There is also the familiarity learners have with one particular type of accent; as learners, we have to be open to the fact that speakers of a particular language, be it English, Spanish or Chinese have various accents and speeds of delivery. If we become accustomed to just one accent, we will have difficulties understanding the range of accents spoken by ‘native’ English speakers from across the English-speaking world and more importantly those speakers of English whose first language isn’t English who outnumber native speakers.
Types of Listening
So, what types of listening do we do? There are perhaps two types of listening we do not only as language learners but also in our mother tongue; firstly, there is the listening we do in class or a lecture theatre or on TED Talks; the language here is high in information; we listen for the most part passively; we also watch TV in this way – passively, unless we are shouting at our football team or a politician, but on TV the spoken language is more dynamic with a range of styles formal informal, spontaneous, chatty and prepared. The second type of listening we do isactive, possibly in a conversation, where we have to understand the subtle cues of politeness and turn taking in a conversation. In this type of listening where we are participating, non-linguistic features like body language and facial expressions are used to get our meaning across.
When I learned Spanish, I spent two years just watching Spanish-language soap operas, mini series and movies; the actors had a variety of accents and came from many different countries. As such my listening skills are now very good; it required dedication.
So, how do you improve your listening skills? Listen to as much radio, music and TV as possible; listen to as many accents as possible and learn how the language is pronounced.
By Chris Scott, March 2020
English has a lot of words that can be easily confused not only by those of you learning English, but also by those of us studying English, and by ‘native’ speakers. English is a rich mix of different influences; very little survives of the original Celtic language from the original inhabitants of the British Isles apart from place names such as York; Church Latin brought by the Roman’s persisted until the sixteenth century; the Germanic Anglo-Saxon ‘settlers’ colonised the eastern and southern part of Britain by the 5th century. Then came the Viking invasions in the 9th and 10th centuries; they brought the influence of Old Norse. In 1066, the Norman conquest of England began bringing a heavy Norman French influence. Then with Britain’s expanding trade and eventually Empire new words entered the language brought not only by the British but the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch empires thought trade.
There are also many inconsistencies in spellings; there are homographs (wind and wind), homophones (capital and capitol) and homonyms (produce the verb and produce the noun).
Confusion can come about when the meaning is misunderstood by the listener. When we learn a new language, or study our own language, enter a new job or read a new book we are confronted by new words that can confuse us in the form of faddy neologisms or jargon.
It took me a few days to stop using the Spanish word coger in South America; I could no longer coger el colectivo I had to tomar el colectivo (take the bus) in South America. In English there are a number of ways we can confuse ourselves; the first are the superficial differences between the ‘Englishes’ usually to do with spelling or semantics – the meaning of a word. For example, there were two computer programmers; one from America and one from England. When the English programmer and finished writing his program, he sat down to watch a TV programme; then, when the American finished her program she sat down to what her TV program. Which program or program you use depends on where you are and what you are doing. In the next two examples the meaning of each sentence is different; In England it is quite acceptable to say “I’ve never seen such a gorgeous ass”; you would be complimenting someone on their donkey, but using the exact same words in the United States could land you in gaol or is it jail? I get easily confused by these two words. There are also confusions brought about by time, for example, until the early twentieth century, it wasn’t unusual for people of a certain education to say, “I’m feeling rather gay today.” This meant “I’m feeling rather happy.” During this time people sometimes said they felt rather ‘queer’ or strange; both gay and queer have different meanings today – in the early twenty-first century; these are prime examples of the semantic shift in words. England also has a fantastic culinary tradition; one such culinary delight is the faggot; I love faggots and regularly eat them – faggots in England are large meatballs by the way. However, I am sure this is still an arrestable offence in some parts of the United States and the wider world.
Time has also changed the meaning of wicked and cool; in the late 1990s they meant something like fantastic or really good. In today’s news media the words snowflake and gammon have taken on a new meaning. These words are often used as terms of abuse in the news media it is debatable how much they are used outside the confines of newspapers and troll or water armies. Confusion can also occur through pronunciation; in the American ABC comedy TV series Modern Family the character Gloria Delgado-Pritchett played by the American-Columbian actor Sofía Vergara is asked by her husband to get some baby cheeses and she orders lots of baby Jesuses. But there is also confusion brought about by homophones; for example, which of the following means to be still or not moving? In her Grammarly blog Top 30 Commonly Confused Words in English, Brittney Ross mentions two confusing words: Complement and Compliment; both words are spelt differently; they both have different meanings but the same pronunciation both for the verb and noun forms. So, what happens when we hear these words, how do we learn how to spell them? Stationary or stationery? Confused? It’s common to confuse these two words even among so-called ‘native’ speakers, so look at the two words in context: The train was stationary, so I popped into the stationery store and got these envelopes and pens. How do I get around the problem? In my head I tend to stress the final vowel in both words and remember the context; that helps me remember the spelling. And there are the principles and principals: There are fundamental principles we all live by; one of them is that we shall not steal. Many school principals have at least a master’s degree is the headmaster of a school. How do you remember which is which? Well you could use spelling mnemonics; for example, my pal is a school principal. The other way of confusing you is the non-transparent spelling system; we don’t always mean or say what is written; in English vowels aren’t pronounced or used. Take, for example, the word chocolate; in Spanish all the vowels are pronounced, in English we are lazier and drop the second ‘o’ vowel sound, so it’s pronounced as choclate.
So, knowing how a word is pronounced and practicing can often help our spelling, but there is also the problem of the spell check; how many of us have used the spell check and this marvellous device has sent the wrong word making us look completely illiterate? Embarrassing isn’t it! As Brittney Ross says in her Grammarly blog Top 30 Commonly Confused Words in English ‘your word might be spelled right, but it may be the wrong word.’ We also have the double entendre is a figure of speech that has two meanings or interpretations; this form of ambiguity can cause confusion in meaning, for instance, newspaper headlines are notorious for this; take for example this headline, ‘Strikes to Paralyse Travellers’; does it mean that travellers will be physically paralysed or does it mean that the infrastructure will be paralysed and travellers won’t be able to travel? Anther confusing example is that 21 taxes choke tourism operators – Parliament cries; a parliament crying because tourism operators were choked by twenty-one taxes!
Chris Scott February 2020
Brittney Ross [n.d.], Top 30 Commonly Confused Words in English, Grammarly blog, viewed 30 December 2019, < https://www.grammarly.com/blog/commonly-confused-words/ >.
Mirror.co.uk 17 August 2016, Strikes to Paralyse Travellers, Mirror, viewed 30 December 2019, < https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/strikes-to-paralyse-travellers-638297 >
Richard Annerquaye Abbey January 24, 2019, 21 taxes choke tourism operators – Parliament cries, viewed 30 December 2019, https://thebftonline.com/2019/editors-pick/21-taxes-choke-tourism-operators-parliament-cries/